STOP FIGHTING FEELING NOT GOOD ENOUGH
I came to a realisation this week. The feeling of “enough” doesn’t last very long – whether that is feeling good enough, having enough, being enough, doing enough or experiencing enough. Each of these types of “enough” come from the same striving, grasping place and are of course interlinked, but some manifest more strongly in our psyche than others. I’ll share two of my own particular hang-ups and why I am learning to live with them rather than get rid of them.
Not Feeling Good Enough
For me, an underlying sense of not feeling good enough is particularly ingrained. There are moments when that nagging voice is quietened and it sometimes feels like my whole life has been orchestrated to bring about those times. For a while, I felt “good enough” after completing my PhD. I had achieved something that was not only hard to do (especially whilst working full time) but was an expression of my own deeply held passions and interests. Yet last week, the not-good-enough voice was back reminding me that I hadn’t yet written any academic articles to share my findings (the shame!). How quickly my ego convinces me to look for the next thing that will prove my worth to myself. Whilst reflecting on this last week, I noticed the same ego-dance after giving a presentation to 60 of the most senior leaders in our organisation. I had been anticipating and preparing for this for days. It went really well and I got great feedback. For the rest of the day, I was on a high. But then, the not-good-enough voice reappeared. OK it said, so you got through that. But what about the next time? What if you can’t repeat the performance? What if it was just a fluke?
Not Living Fully Enough
The sense of not being enough also has a strong hold on me. I feel like I am constantly seeking to live more deeply, more fully, more in the moment — to eek every possible richness from experience. This can lead to a somewhat schizophrenic state – I am trying to slow down and smell the roses whilst at the same time keeping myself busy by cramming as many life-enhancing experiences in as possible. I’m craving the healing power of rest as I read lists of 10 ways to be more productive and get more from my days. I’m googling meditative retreats whilst drinking bullet-proof coffee. Like many, I am haunted by a sense that on my deathbed, I will look back and regret not savouring the preciousness of life and I imagine a future self that manages to live so much more fully. This state of “not enough” is beautifully illustrated by the lyrics of In My Mind by Amanda Palmer:
….When they put me in the ground
I’ll start pounding the lid
Saying I haven’t finished yet
I still have a tattoo to get
That says I’m living in the moment
And it’s funny how I imagined
That I could win this, win this fight
At this point, I could of course reach for any of a number of motivational books or blog articles to help me fight this feeling of “not enough”. In fact, there is a whole TED talk playlist for those times. But I am beginning to wonder whether fighting the feeling is actually helpful.
My ego will constantly look for reassurance but, like the Buddhist idea of the hungry ghost, will never be fully satisfied for long, no matter how much gratitude-journaling or affirming-mantras I throw at it. I could tell myself I am doing just fine, that I am already complete and worthy of love. But, somewhere deep down, my mind knows that I am reassuring myself based on a place of fear. At a basic level, it goes like this: I feel something unpleasant (not enough-ness), I would rather feel something else thank you very much (enough) so I attempt to change my thoughts and perspectives to bring about a new state of being which I find more pleasant. I am trying to escape from suffering. In our age of self-improvement and “life hacking”, the shadow side of this avoidance can be hard to see. But my hunch is this: I am expending a lot of energy fighting against my state of being and this is creating an inner tension. As Tara Brach would put it, I am giving myself a double arrow. Not only do I not feel enough, but I tell myself it is wrong to feel this way. This also reinforces a false view that I am the master of my inner state — commanding and controlling my destiny; micro-managing my thoughts and feelings. I treat myself as something to fix and my life as a battle to be won.
But what if life is not something to be overcome? What if it is OK that I do not feel ‘enough’ a lot of the time and simply accept this as a basic state of my ego? What if there is something beyond the dualism of enough/not enough? Something that has more to do with grace and surrender than will-power and triumph. More of a saying ‘yes’ to what is here right now in all its messiness and paradoxical glory rather than fighting against it. Amanda Palmer’s lyrics continue:
But maybe it isn’t all that funny
That I’ve been fighting all my life
But maybe I have to think it’s funny
If I wanna live before I die
And maybe it’s funniest of all
To think I’ll die before I actually see
That I am exactly the person that I want to be
The ending of this song, for me, speaks to an acceptance of living with a state of not-enoughness and of a lightness and playfulness towards our human condition rather than a master plan to try and transform it.
Funny though, isn’t it, what happens when you accept something……
(c) Sarah Taylor 2019