In a world full of carefully curated social media images, we can easily fall into the trap of thinking everyone else has it all figured out. These images represent a skewed reality, in which the chaos of real life resides just outside of the frame. Knowing that everyone has a messy story reminds us that we, too, can be brave enough to show our true selves to the world.
Self-Expression: Beyond the Illusion
Writing was my solace in a world suddenly ripped by tremendous loss and grief. When presented with the exciting opportunity to write for this column, I leapt at the chance. My heart wants to tell you that a symphony of characters naturally spilled out of me, landing on the page in perfect composition. The reality? It was a choppy mess. Feeling defeated, I succumbed to the deadline looming over me and disappointedly submitted the article I initially wrote.
The irony wasn’t lost on me that I couldn’t adequately express myself while writing about self-expression. I had placed a massive amount of expectation on this debut article, with persistent thoughts on what it should look like and how it would be received. The truth remains that when we become so wrapped up in the thoughts of others, even unintentionally, our authentic selves become lost. I could not hear my genuine voice in that first draft, so I chose to begin again.
Then it happened.
My shoulders dropped, my breathing became fuller, and my heart calmed, almost immediately after making the decision to start over. My body, realizing that I was now being true to myself, physically responded. This is what happens when you are in alignment with your true self. Your body will clue you in, sometimes much faster than your mind will catch on. Do you notice that? Even at this very moment, do you notice what your shoulders are doing? This awareness of the present moment, without judgment, is the practice of mindfulness. While my mind still had its hesitations, the relaxing of my physical body confirmed that starting over was the right choice to make.
What happens to a baby when you play bouncy music around them? They bounce! As adults, the firm grip of shame can make it feel near impossible to express ourselves in that childlike, unbridled manner. When expression is tied to an end result, a preconceived image or other peoples’ perceptions of us, it will manifest itself into false thoughts like: I can’t because I don’t have enough talent. I can’t because I don’t look a certain way. I can’t because people will judge me.
The Heart: A Challenge
Knowing that these thoughts exist, I will challenge you to a practice of mindful self-expression. Begin by selecting a descriptive word you have difficulty believing about yourself, but which you desire to be. Then, speak the statement (fill in the blank with your chosen description) “I am ____.” Literally say it out loud. There is great power to speaking words aloud into existence. How did it feel, physically and emotionally, when you said those words? Simply notice, without judgment. Repeat the statement, again out loud. Is it feeling different? Repeat it one more time. Now, hold this intentional statement in your mind as you move into the second part of the practice.
Carve five minutes out of your day to dedicate to expressing yourself in a creative manner. No, seriously, set your timer for five minutes; you are worthy of this gift of time devoted solely to yourself. This can be anything that your heart feels compelled to do. Turn a song you love way up in the car and sing as loud as you can possibly muster. Pull out some paper along with your favorite writing utensil (I’m partial to fine-line Sharpies) and begin doodling. My personal favorite, put on your favorite tunes and dance! Do something physical that expresses a vulnerable part of you. Now, here’s the important part. Once you have completed one of these activities, pause. Become aware. What is your heart doing? Is it beating heavily? What is your mind saying? What thoughts are coming up? How do you actually feel? Simply notice, without judgment.
The Practice of Being You
The answers that come up when you partake in this simple yet profound mindfulness practice are not always easy to face, but doing the work enables you to choose actions that truly reflect the authentic you, which, in turn, allows space for others to freely express themselves. Give yourself full permission to be yourself, and notice how that changes how you show up in this world. I bet it is glorious.
Dedicated in loving memory to Raheeq “Kiko” Alzaidan, who always found creative ways to express her true self.