About a year ago I spent two weeks in Österström, a conference center in a beautiful and green environment just outside Sundsvall. I was attending Phase II of The Human Element in order to become Licensed Human Element Practitioner. It was two intense and explorative weeks where we participants socialized and studied from early morning to late evening and the need for rest was imminent. However, we managed to negotiate one free half-hour every morning. The requirement from our facilitators Ron Luyet and Per-Åke Sundholm was to use this time to reflection or mindfulness. I used it to get out and run in the darkness and cold. It became a very nice start to the day even though I am not a morning runner.
A particularly beautifully dark morning, I felt really refreshed and strong despite the early morning hours and the lack of breakfast in my stomach. I kept an eye on the watch and noticed that I had a really good pace on the way out on the 320. Just before the turn after three kilometers, I realized it might be my first workout with a sub 5:00 pace of this winter season. I felt happy and excited and I kept the speed up to continue the fast pace through the three kilometer mark. I felt strong and went on for another kilometer or so when it suddenly hit me that I was measuring my outside results again, and that I had tricked myself back to the same old behavior of being satisfied over a possibly good running result!
I had spent time with Ken Wilber’s quadrant for over a year and worked with myself to get away from all the high requirements of delivery and physical performance. During my first THE with the management team at Frontwalker in January 2011, I realized that I had a habit of criticizing myself hard for deficiencies in my performance, very hard. Deficiencies that are not really about poor quality or low work capacity but rather badly calibrated acceptance levels based on a lower self-esteem than I wanted. I realized during these exploring days that I found it hard to accept myself for who I was, for the inner qualities and values I carried within me and definitely hard to accept my inner fears and shortcomings. And this was something that I for one year had worked with before I went to Phase II, which made me more and more able to appreciate my ambitions, I could laugh at my great need to be relevant and competent and that I liked myself more and more … just for being me.
But now I ran at 12.5 km/h and I realized that I had returned there again – to the outside! For sure I measured myself on the outside, and I knew I wouldn’t be very happy to come back after six kilometers in a time well over 30 minutes. That’s not the way it should be, this was not the person I wanted to be, so I started walking. With my arms crossed over my chest. I dragged my legs after me in anger to show to myself that it was not important with time and performance. I was at this Phase II program to learn to appreciate my inner self, not my outer appearance, so I punished myself to prove my theories.
After a few minutes of stubbornly walk it felt both strange and stupid. I was also terribly bored and started to freeze out there in the winter cold. I started searching for the emotions I thought would be so important, and I wondered if it should be like this. Did I really want to have it like this for the rest of my life, would I not be able to compete anymore? Suddenly a new insight hit me from yesterday’s topics on self-concept and self-esteem. I had not really understood those concepts about the behavior towards myself – ”I include myself” and ”I control myself” and ”I’m open to myself”. I suddenly realized how parts of this fit together. It’s not about avoiding the external measurements and requirements on performance. It’s not about focusing only on the internal characteristics and values. It’s not high self-esteem to be indifferent to my external results.
High self-esteem means that I can include myself and all my physical sensations from both inside and outside, that I control my life to the degree I want and can in the current situation, and that I am open to myself and allows me to think and feel without internal censorship. High self-esteem means that I do not stand or fall with my external results, that I am not my feelings and thoughts. I released my crossed arms and began to speed up lightly. Thoughts swirled and I felt I was close to a quantum leap. High self-esteem means that I can look at my watch and see that I’m in for a good result for this run, put some strength and focus on it during the session and then be able to handle my disappointment when I don’t reach my goals! I increased the speed even further. I looked like a steam train when breathing moist air heavily out in the cold air. I realized with anger that I was minutes after my five-minute pace, and that I would not make the thirty minute limit, but at the same time I thought that I liked and accepted myself so much that I could take it. With one kilometer left I increased the speed even more, reaching a speed of almost down to 4:00 per kilometer.
Over the last few meters towards the luring breakfast, it dawned on me that I was involved in a process which resembled everything in life. Sometimes we experience wonderful moments and we make great results and the feelings are light and comfortable to be in. At other times we are in difficult moments and times when we do not live up to our own requirements and expectations. Feelings become harder and requires more energy. But that’s the way life is, and it is these contrasts that allows us to appreciate the good moments. If we can’t be in the pains and feel the dark thoughts, then we can’t fully embrace the wonderful times in life when everything feels euphoricly good.
With these insights, I stumbled into the breakfast room. I felt angry and sad, and I was very disappointed in myself and my childish behavior during the workout. But I was also very happy that my stronger self-esteem allowed me to fully embrace those feelings, without any fear that it would mean that I was rotten or worthless. On the contrary, I enjoyed myself and I valued myself very high in that moment while I was experiencing turbulent emotions inside.
This paradox has meant a new beginning in my view of the inside and outside, self-acceptance and self-criticism, and I am very happy that I one year ago tripped myself and got the chance to experience life’s paradoxes in a short half hour out in the Swedish winter morning. Well, a good half hour, it should be …