...on Contentment, Self-Esteem and Integration

Looking back at my life, I’ve often perceived it as a series of life circumstances and events which contributed to a sense of splitting, division, and inner disintegration. There were specific traumas, intense bullying at school, living with conflicting inner narratives of perfection and shame, and even going so far as to change my name, in order to create a new life from scratch at 17 years old. What I didn’t know then, and know now, is that simply because you move to a new place – city, country, continent – and may do things like changing your name, that your previous life won’t actually disappear. This whole thing of “starting from scratch” is a complete fallacy. There is no way of actually starting from scratch for we are all made up of the events in our lives up until the present moment. We can’t just go: “I’m going to forget about that whole section of my life and pretend it never happened.” But at 17, I thought I could do this, and so I tried. I tried so hard that it’s only been in the past couple of years, since I became 29, that I have been actively integrating my past with my present.

My spiritual and therapy studies were definitely a key factor in getting to this place where I can look at my life, and say “Ok, these different aspects of myself need to come together, or else things will never change.” But whilst I was actively keeping things separate, or beginning to awake to ideas of inner integration, life was never really balanced. There were many highs, and many lows, but rarely anything in between. I always felt like I was battling something inside of me. The highs were never good enough, the lows were always too intense. I confessed to a friend the other day that since my adolescence, when my suicidal ideation was very active, that every single time a low was particularly low, that was the place I always ran too. I guess something happens in one’s psyche, that once you consider suicide, it ceases to be such a scary place and one may wonder there much more easily than the average person. And then I also confessed, that a few months ago, I went back to that place with such intent that it actually scared me. And in a way, this jolted me back to life, with a strong intention to remain alive.

A few days later, I decided to let go of everything that my ego was attached to: my past narratives, my ambition, my profession, my job, my house, my friends, my community, and the country where I lived. I admitted that I felt vulnerable and weak, and had lost any strength I might have left to fight against this inner turmoil. I decided to go back to Portugal and figure it out from there. A few days after that, a dear friend suggested a different kind of job in a different therapeutic field, and I remembered my motto of following the clues. I felt like I had nothing left to lose anyway, so I applied, got an interview, and two weeks later, I had the job. It was the most gruelling interview process I’d ever experienced, but equally, it was also one of the simplest ones. I went to each interview – there were two – with the simple intention and reassurance of showing them who I was and what I could do. I may have many shortcomings but not understanding human nature is not one of them. And so, I walked in as myself, with all the experiences I’d lived through and studied about, and, most importantly, with no expectations whatsoever. Remember, I had decided to leave the UK, anyway. I had no expectations or particular desires about the job: my only intention in those interviews was to be my genuine self.

This past week, I received the report for my 3-month review. It was extremely positive, but also, extremely consistent with my core personal values: consistency, integrity, reflection, methodical, compassion, awareness. In short, it was me. The job review reflected me, because even now, my main intention every day is to be myself, as authentically and genuinely as I can. And so, these past few months, have been quite new to me: there haven’t been highs or lows, there’s actually been a plateau, with vastness and peacefulness. And this is very new to me. This feeling of balance, of no drama, no expectations, no explanations, filled with soulfulness, grace, and fulfilment. A feeling of just being. Obviously, I don’t feel this way every minute of every day, but overall, the past three months have felt like this. And I’m so grateful for it. So grateful, in fact, that I feel that I’m finally beginning to understand what gratitude is. As I reflected this back to a close friend, I voiced what this feeling was: contentment. Not the ever-elusive happiness, which I always feel is conditioned by expectations and attachments. No, it’s not that for me. There is a freedom that I’ve never felt, and it’s beginning to show in other areas of my life. I even managed to put some money aside for savings this month – the first time, in a very, very long time! This contentment feels like this: no matter what happens - good or bad - I am certain of my ability to face it. That even though I’m fully aware of my areas in need of development, that I’m okay with them. And I realised, that for me, at this exact moment in my life, contentment is about living my life in the present moment, whether it’s a high, a low, or a plateau.

My flatmate told me the other day, as I was telling him about this feeling: “You’re being so much kinder to yourself.” This really resonated with me, and I think this is where the inner integration might also be showing: I understand myself better, therefore I’m more able to apply the compassion and kindness that I usually reserve to others, to me. Even my mother told me last night, that this was very important right now. I guess that even from afar, she has seen me give and give and give to others, without ever giving anything to myself in the form of compassion and kindness. This is why self-compassion has been my most preferred term to talk about “self-something”. To me, it evokes a sense of action, of effort, of consistency, of integrity, and of love towards the self. Interestingly, as much as I always roll my eyes at the expression of self-esteem, I read this quote during this past week as well, which really struck a chord:

“Self-esteem is the ability to see yourself as a flawed individual and still hold yourself in high regard.” – Esther Perel

I really loved this quote, and I think that it really encompasses the message of this post. The idea that two seemingly contradictory realities can be valid at the exact same time, is one of the most common paradoxes of human nature. That’s why I’m loving this plateau… it feels like there’s no conflicts between my differing realities. They just are. Together.