Saturday, April 23, 2011

Who taught you your limits?

A few days ago, my older sister posted a bunch of photos to Facebook. They are pictures of us growing up that I haven't seen in years.

As I was flipping through them, I came to this photo:

1988 Senior Prom
And my reaction to this photo was, "Oh, that's a nice picture. Hey, that's me. (dawning realization) Wow, I'm not hideously ugly. (Insert some other exceptionally negative thoughts that came immediately after that one). Huh. Why did I think I was so fantastically strange looking for so long?"

I was honestly shocked to look at this picture and think that this girl is attractive. And then to realize that this girl was me. This is me going to the Senior Prom with the cutest guy in school. I had been shocked when he asked me, first of all, because I didn't hang out with his crowd, I had a crush on him (like all the girls did), but I didn't know him at all. I just knew he was tummy-churning cute, and he'd never given me the time of day before.

Now, the point of this post, the reason that I wanted to share it is this; this is a good example of believing old programing subconsciously. 

I was taught as a young girl that I was ugly. Incredibly, hideously ugly. I grew up really confused about that fact, I spent a lot of time scrutinizing myself in the mirror and trying to figure out where I had gone so horribly wrong. What was it about me that was so disgusting? A difficult quest at best, because the person who was teaching me this about myself was telling me these things because of issues HE had, not because of issues that I had. 

But as a six year old, you don't have the ability to discern whether the person who is entrusted with your development is qualified to help shape your sense of self worth or not. 

As children, we tend to believe what we are told. For instance, my sister used to tell me I was loud, sticky, and funny. I believed her. (I think, actually, that's a pretty accurate assessment. One I'll own proudly to this day, although I've learned to temper the loud bit somewhat, I still find myself sticky, dirty, and the butt of my own jokes frequently.)

Yup, that's me. Yup, she taped my mouth shut. I identify so much more with this girl!
One day in high school, I met a boy named Kris who introduced me to the idea of learning to love myself. This was a strange, foreign concept which seemed selfish at best. Kris was patient with me while I learned the edges of the beginnings of what it would be like to one day learn that lesson, and for that, I am forever grateful to him. He was the beginning of my becoming. Oh that we all can have a Kris in our lives!!

Anyway, my point here is that as I grew older, and I removed my stepfather from my life, and I began to heal from my interaction from him, I began to be able to discern his voice inside my ego concept. I began to sort. Wait a second, this is from him, not from me. 

I could, like seperating white checkers from black ones, put things on one side that came from my heart, and hear his voice inside my own in other things and put those things on another side. Learning to hear the person who taught you something about yourself is often very difficult, because if we learn the lesson from a trusted source, we also learn to continue to tell ourselves that concept as truth.

For instance, "You are lazy." If you were told this for years as a child, you will learn to say it to yourself, because you were taught this about yourself, and it becomes "I am lazy." This is the programmers concept now being repeated in your voice to yourself. And now you REALLY believe it. It has become enough truth that you are telling it to yourself, and this makes tracking the source and sourcing the truth of the statement very very difficult.

When I think about this, I wonder how much of our selves are defined by other peoples off handed comments and concepts along the way. Who told you that you had limits? Physical, emotional, artistic? Who told you you couldn't sing, or dance, or weren't an athlete? Who told you you'd never be great? Who told you who you are before you had a chance to become who you can be?

I'm sharing this because my belief is that we are all becoming, every day. I don't believe in limit. I believe in living. I believe that if we work hard to remove the limits of our learned ego, and then to set our own egoic definitions aside, we can approach everything, even that which we've been doing our whole lives, with a beginner's mindset. With joyful, childlike, limitless humility. With a desire and ability to LIVE!

On the beach in Martha's Vineyard 1989. Still confused about who I am, I have several cutting scars on my arm.

It is okay to be bad at something. Its okay to be a beginner at something. Its okay to try something, to try something again! Its okay to let go of all you thought you knew and start over. Its okay to believe in yourself when no one else does. 

In the last four years, I've learned that I'm not ugly. What I didn't realize was that (and here is how powerful our minds can be), I didn't become un-ugly four years ago.

I had managed to untangle my concept of how I look from the decision point forward, but I hadn't been able to go back and give grace to the girl of my past, not the child, not the teenager, not even the young mother.

Seeing this prom picture brought me back to how powerful our concept of our self can be, how limiting it can be, and it made me wonder, if we could all hear criticism in our lives and use it as lesson, but not as ultimate fact, how far would we all go? What could you achieve if you weren't gullible enough to believe you had limit, but you were humble enough to stay a beginner?


Scott said...

Wow...That's some very good stuff you unleashed. Lot's of food for thought. It's very hard to revert back to a beginners mind since we can't help but carry and be affected by all the past baggage that we carry. But I do try to think like the beginner at times..always learning new tidbits and trying to fit them together with old tidbits...put them together in different with them, look at things from a different perspective, etc. I'd best not start to ramble too much tho....

I learned a lot of my limits while climbing in the Beartooths as a teenager. That's where I kind of "woke up" to more of what and who I was. I have a tremendous amount of perspective that few others have from those days and I tend to look thru those glasses even to this day. It's not a beginners viewpoint necessarily, and I would love to explore that more.....and weed out some of the previously conceived concepts of who and what I am. I've got some work to do!

Sorry to hear that your step-father was so very off base and took his issues out on you. Cruel, to say the least.... It will help me to view and treat my step-son more carefully.'re soooo not ugly!!!

Thanks for this post...Scott

Min said...


Thanks for baring your soul once again. Your willingness to share your vulnerabilities challenges me in a very good way.


Mindy Pannell

Unknown said...

Scott, thanks so much again for stopping by and reading. I'm grateful that my journey might bring thoughtfulness to yours, I have a sneaking suspicion that this is what we are meant to do for each other! Yeah!

Beginners mindset is indeed a difficult concept, and I think it has to start with detachment of ego. None of us want to let go of our ego, we've spent years cultivating it. We allow our attachment to our concept of ourselves, whoever it was formed by.

I think the first practice is to make space between your emotions and your reaction by observing each emotion with curiosity as it arises.

Through this practice, you start to define which emotional reactions protect your ego, and which honor your boundaries, your integrity.

Once you have wiggled free of the pain that living in an egoicly defined state causes, you have the ability to be willing to be a beginner, looking for the teacher in every person, being able to hold your own knowledge in one space while being completely open to possibility for learning in another, even and especially if its from a person you don't particularly want to learn from.

Its a fascinating journey, I think the more we let go of needing to be right, or needing other people to know that we are pretty sure that we are right, the more doors to becoming open, the more wisdom you have access too, and the more humble you become.

Now I'm rambling!! But its a favorite topic. Good journey, beginner!!


Unknown said...

Mindy, thank you so much. We are all brave together, you inspire me to look closely and share what makes me grow, I'm brave because you ask me to be, and for that, I'm grateful!!