How to Own Your Life

To our minds, a glass of water is either half empty or half full. The glass of water is what it is. We are the ones who label it half empty or half full. The human prefrontal cortex is designed to categorize phenomena in a binary manner: black and white, good and bad, short and tall, good and evil, empty and full. But reality “out there” is what it is. Half full or half empty, good or bad, all depend on our perceptions. And it is within our power to reframe our perceptions. Particularly about our childhoods. Letting our minds tell us things “should” have been different—things we cannot go back in time and change—is an absurd waste of time. Wishing we could change something we cannot is a resentment. And resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for someone else to get sick. We cause only our own suffering. Rather than moan about the distance between reality and our expectations about how reality should have been, we need to ask ourselves what we need to do to clean up our stories about our entire pasts, including our childhoods. Because our stories probably contain judgments that tell people about our expectations rather than convey an accurate portrayal of our pasts.

On the other hand, let me introduce one more paradox: I believe that all children should say their parents did the best they could, and that all parents should tell their children that they, the parents, could have done better. If parents tell their adult children: “We did the best we could as parents,” they inadvertently invalidate the children’s experience of childhood. It tells them: “We did the best we could, so if you are not psychologically perfect, then it is your fault, not ours.” Though it is not intended to further wound the child, saying, “We did the best we could” to your child is narcissistic and lacks empathy. Even if parents did the best they could (and of course they did—only a psychopath would make an effort to be a lousy parent), it is offensive to say it to your own children. However, children actually should tell themselves: “My parents did the best they could” (even if their parents were abusive, emotionally withholding, demeaning, suffered from Munchausen syndrome by proxy, pressured them to get good grades or be religious, or did not know how to attach and connect in a loving, positive manner). Specifically, although we may have learned inferior attachment skills from our primary caregivers, it is of no benefit to blame them for anything. Blaming parents, siblings, and other caregivers is just another resentment. We may disagree with the choices they made, we may not be able to condone their behavior, but now that we are adults we are 100 percent responsible for who we are and whatever wounds we need to heal.

Please try this “owning your life” exercise on for size: find a mirror, look into your own eyes in the mirror, and say the following to yourself:

  • I am supposed to be me. 

  • I am supposed to look exactly as I look. 

  • My life is supposed to be exactly the way it is. 

  • My childhood was supposed to transpire exactly as 
it transpired. 

This act of “owning your life”—embracing every single moment that has transpired because every moment contributed to your being exactly who you are today—is a way to release all of your mind’s resentments. “Owning” who we are, including our childhoods and everything that brought us to this present moment, simply means radically accepting reality and “giving up all hope of having a better past.” And once we have stopped being victims of the stories our minds created, we can decide which daily tools—gratitude, loving relationships, helping others, healthy living, exercise, authentic communications, meditation, eating correctly, being in nature, and so on—will give us our adult version of “the good life.” The main tool we are going to explore here, to help us be as authentic as possible, is congruence. Let’s spend a few moments deciding who we should be and how we can make our outer worlds congruent with our inner worlds. For example, we might decide the following: 

  • I enjoy life more when I am involved in an intimate relationship. 

  • I need to spend more time in nature, hiking, surfing, and sitting on park benches. 

  • I am going to make an effort to live a more balanced life. 

  • I love expressing myself through art, dance, theater, music, writing. 

  • I have outgrown some of my friends. 

  • I need to make amends with... 

  • I need to communicate more authentically with …
  • The way I earn money would be more fulfilling if … 

  • I need to figure out a way to make my relationships more harmonious. 

  • I need to stop stressing myself out by rushing 
around—it is okay to relax.

We are fairly myopic as a species. We tend to think in terms of months—mortgages, rent, credit card bills, and so on—when it may behoove us to think otherwise. For example, the average human lives 27,375 days. How many days old are you today? Statistically, is your life likely more than half over, and you are still complaining about things that happened 20,000 days ago? Conversely, even if you have another 20,000 days to go, have you already planned what you would like it to say on your tombstone? Wanting our tombstones to read “Beloved, Loving Husband” or “Beloved, Loving Wife” or “Beloved, Loving Father” or “Beloved, Loving Mother” or “Beloved, Loving Sister” or “Beloved, Loving Brother” exponentially increases our tolerance around our loved ones. We need beacons. We need long-term goals. Long-term goals help guide the daily choices we make. Isn’t it time we committed ourselves to having more compassionate, loving relationships? 

Find out about programs with Ira Israel at Kripalu.

Excerpted with permission from How to Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re an Adult, © 2017 by Ira Israel.

Ira Israel is the author of How To Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re an Adult: A Path to Authenticity and Awakening and creator of the best-selling A Beginner’s Guide to Happiness, A Beginner’s Guide to Mindfulness Meditation, Mindfulness for Anxiety, and Mindfulness for Depression video series.

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