When I’m tired, I reach for ice cream. I reach for caffeine. I reach for something to put in my mouth. What I need is sleep. I reach for chocolate cake. Again, and again.
Sometimes, I roll out my yoga mat. Sometimes, I set the alarm and sleep for thirty minutes. Sometimes, I motivate and go for a run. Often, I reach for the phone, the email, the internet, the sink full of dishes. Reach for distraction. If I can get myself to sit still with empty hands, it always comes as a huge relief.
I have been thinking today about the word “witness.” I’ve been thinking of it in the sense of partnership, very closely linked to accountability, i.e. if I know I’m meeting my friend to go running, I had better show up. If I make a pact with someone to send writing every single day – one word is our minimum – I had better do it.
In order to be the coach I myself would want to hire, I know I need to hold my clients accountable to what they say they’re going to do. And to witness them, even when they don’t follow through, to hold that space, to ask what happened, to listen for the truth.
When I’m tired, I drink a can of Diet Coke and read the Seven Days Classifieds. (Mama! says Aviva. No Diet Coke!) When I’m tired, I don’t want to be accountable. I don’t want a witness to my less-than-virtuous choices, my soda pop, my soft serve. When I’m tired, I am vulnerable to self-reprimand. Resting is one thing, drawing inward, restoring. But hiding is another, ringed with shame. It can happen quickly; suddenly I’m high up looking down. I’m tempted to go down that slide, where I start out tired and wind up in a mud puddle of self-doubt.
But what if I want to climb back down the ladder instead? To stand on the ground with my own two feet? I don’t want to go down that slide. This is a choice.
And so I practice. It’s not about being good. It’s not about doing better next time. This isn’t about self-improvement or striving. It’s about loving myself unconditionally. Imagine that.
Yesterday, I spoke with someone I love about his work-related struggles. He shared with me that his situation at work sometimes “pummels” his self-esteem, his sense of worth, and that he naturally assumes that anyone in his position would respond in this way. That’s how second nature it is for him to go down that slide.
Speaking with him, I realized something. Maybe he is facing these challenges – what he is experiencing and perceiving as challenges – for a reason. Maybe the reason is that he is ready, ready for some new growth. The little boy-child he once was may be asking, “Will you love me even if I don’t succeed? Am I worthy?” When I shared this, I saw something soften in his face.
What is difficult follows us. Trails us. A shadow, a child. We keep turning, we keep growing. We get opportunities every single day to know ourselves better, to learn and re-learn and un-learn our tricks of the trade, the habits and patterns, the choices, conscious and unconscious, the self-defeating, the self-serving, the self-preserving ways of responding and reacting to life. We get the chance to wake up.
Someday, today even, we open our eyes and see reality for what it really is: This present moment. This self, this no-self. This chair, these sandals. This breathing body. This belly pushing against the button of my pants. This frizzy hair. The sugar and caffeine coursing through my veins.
I am present. Like a student in class, I hear my name and raise my hand:
How about you?