I had walked so long with the posture of a loser that I felt like one.
Every step with my head down, avoiding eye contact with other people, shoulders slumped. Every step a defeat.
Except for one place — the gym. The gym was home, my center of confidence. My headphones blasted Eminem or Dr. Dre, and I walked tall. Walking in, feelings of focus and determination. Walking out, feelings of satisfaction.
Your self-image is linked to your emotions and movement patterns. Amy Cuddy talks about this in a popular TED talk, “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are”. When we feel good, we walk confidently. But the opposite is also true — walking confidently on purpose triggers positive emotions.
The same applies to smiling. Smile, and you feel happier.
For most of my life, I felt broken and incomplete. I thought I just needed to do something amazing that would “fix me”, and then I would allow myself to feel happy. This story felt like constant, underlying fear and anxiety that manifested in my body as chronic pain and excess tension.
A story about being broken leads to a broken body and mind. It is the definition of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But we can always change our stories, at any and every moment. Awareness is the key — awareness of both our posture and our emotions.
I meditated almost every day last year. I found that meditation caused a ripple effect of awareness throughout my life.
I remember standing in the shower, crying about the stress I felt at the time. I was in debt, scared I wouldn’t graduate, and felt overwhelmed. Everything seemed to be falling down around me.
At that moment, a choice presented itself.
I realized I was addicted to my suffering. I was addicted to feeling bad about myself, judging myself, feeling like a victim, feeling like an outsider. I had created a negative story about Zak and I was sticking with it… up until that moment when I ripped off the bandage and let go.
The goal is not to stop feeling pain. Pain is natural, pain is normal, pain is necessary. The goal — if there is one — is to put pain in its proper place, with proper meaning.
After graduation, I realized how much meditation was helping my mind and body. So I went to a 10 day meditation retreat, as I knew life back home would be stressful while I planned my next move.
During the retreat, I learned this: nothing is inherently good or sacred. Nothing is inherently bad either. The trick is always in how you react to the pain, and what story you tell yourself about the pain.
As Richard Rohr says, “You either transform your pain or you transmit it.”
I used to have a story that I felt pain because I wasn’t good enough. That one day, I would be physically and mentally perfect, and I would never feel pain again.
But pain doesn’t work that way. And so my new story is this: whatever pain you are going through, can be transformed into strength and empathy for others who are hurting.
In the end, the only way to get rid of pain is to move through it — to feel it, acknowledge it, and let it go. Then, to choose a different way, with intention.
As you practice this, an amazing thing happens: you start to feel lighter. More buoyant.
You start looking at things differently… and things start changing. You begin to notice when you are feeding negativity and self-destructive thinking. You smile; you choose a different path.
And you are grateful for the gift of pain, because it means you are alive.