I was recently in a two-week intensive class for facilitators. Like most classes these days it was on Zoom. Eighty to one hundred strangers from 20 different countries were together everyday for 3 hours for two weeks straight. To say I was saturated with information would be a major understatement not to mention the deep work we were doing in the process. A couple of days in I caught myself repeating an old habit. There I was smiling and moving my head up and down feeling the need to be a “good student” and feeling responsible for making my teachers feel comfortable.  I would not have even realized I was doing this years ago. I was meeting all of these people for the first time. Shouldn’t I look pleasant and approachable? Not necessarily and maybe not at all.

After the first couple of days I was so tired. This was partially because of the nature of the class, but it was also because I was making myself appear a certain way for the assumed benefit of everyone else.  No one asked me to do this at least not that night. Culture and gender rules and roles have demanded I do this my whole life.  It was a headache to have to smile and look alert for 3 hours straight. Literally, I had a headache and my face felt tense. It was hard to relax even after class. This was a theme that played out in many parts of my life. Namely, I was to do what I needed to do to help others and show up the way that would make everyone else comfortable – everyone but me. “Julie, what would help you feel comfortable?” wasn’t even a thought or question. Fortunately, I was catching things like this faster and faster and turning my attention toward what I was feeling and experiencing. My body is always assists in this. For the remainder of the class I paid closer attention to myself. I allowed myself to turn my camera off when I wanted to be more to myself while I listened and observed. Thank you, Zoom. I also allowed myself to not worry so much if someone saw me looking bored, tired or even disturbed by someone’s comment when my camera was on.  I let myself listen with my eyes closed when that felt good. I was still tired at times, because, like I said, it was a lot of information, deep learning and practice for two weeks straight, and it was late because of time zone differences. Because of these adjustments I did not have constant tension in my face and headaches the whole time. I wasn’t perfect at catching myself, but perfect is not the point. Every time I catch myself that is growth. I notice myself. I see and feel myself. I am actually aware of my own experience. I lived for so long not even realizing the pressure I was putting on myself in enormous ways and smaller ways like I have written about here. I lived with terrible headaches and other body aches for too long.  Sure I still get them, but not nearly as often. When I do get them mercy has helped me care for myself better, gentler. Mercy has helped me have a better relationship with myself and others. Mercy is a foundational piece of all of my teaching.

It takes a lifetime to become aware of habits that hurt us, catch ourselves in the act and create practices that help us.  Thank God I discovered mercy. Thank God my body helped me learn it. Thank God I have an amazing teacher who helped me with it. Thank God I took the challenge to be more merciful.  I think my life depended on it. I feel healthier and stronger because of  what it opened up in me. When I look back on how hard I was on myself it moves me to tears. There are tears of sadness over how very hard it was to live that way. I didn’t even realize I was living that way. There are also tears of relief there is a way out.