On the final day of this year’s Annual Peer Voice Project Alumni gathering, Christina facilitated self-reflection exercises and small group discussions on the topic of “Personal Ecology as Wellness.” According to Rockwood Leadership Institute, personal ecology is defined as, “maintaining balance, pacing, and efficiency to sustain our energy over a lifetime.” As I have been contemplating my wellness through the lens of personal ecology, I have been reflecting on whether my actions, mindset, and environment support me in maintaining balance, pacing and efficiency – enough to sustain me throughout my life. For me the answer is yes! And no. And the “no” answer is what has me a little stuck. And curious. And self-judgey. Which brings me to my main takeaway from the activity.
The handout Christina used for the activity included a breakdown around different areas or dimensions of wellness; everything from physical health to connections to cultivating awe. As I thumbed through the handout, I could feel something rising on the inside of me. I wasn’t sure exactly what the feeling was but I knew it was nothing good and I didn’t like it. I could feel myself about to disconnect from the whole activity until I read further down and saw Christina’s reminder: “Acknowledge when shame or guilt arises, but please don’t give it any power. These exercises are about self-awareness and honesty so you can recognize where you’re already winning and where you have more work to do….Also, don’t take on what isn’t yours…” There, she said it. The word that jumped out to me was shame. Christina called it out. Shame was exactly what I felt coming up for me. So back to my personal ecology. Yes, certain areas of my wellness feel like they are in flow. I am doing purposeful work that I truly enjoy surrounded by people in my life who love and trust me. And no. Other areas of my life/wellness feel blocked and neglected. Like everyone, I sometimes struggle with keeping all of the balls in the air, which is one thing. But it’s the story I tell myself about myself not being able to keep all of the balls in the air, that’s my shame story.
Each part of our personal ecosystem affects and changes each other; our wellness simply does not exist in a vacuum. Traditional physical and mental health systems have tended to focus primarily on a person’s physical health “conditions” or mental health “symptoms.” But for those of us living our lives in pursuit of healing, happiness and well-being, we understand that we are whole beings – mind, body, and spirit. Our minds and bodies, environments and relationships, finances and spirituality, all are inextricably intertwined. When my world is in harmony, I flourish. It matters when something in one (or five) area(s) of my life is kinda off or stays off for a long time. It matters when my body is in physical pain, not just for my body’s sake, but for my mind and soul’s sake as well. It matters if I am consumed with worry about finances or traumatically engaged in an unhealthy connection. Our personal ecosystems are intricate and delicate. And they are also resilient. We are resilient.
As I sat there in that room on the last day of our gathering, feeling indicted by my shame over not having all of my stuff together and how uncomfortable it felt to acknowledge that, I also had permission to not own it. That was the takeaway for me from the whole activity. I can reframe shame. The shaming messages we receive from others or send to ourselves are not truth. I can choose to look at where I’m winning, and celebrate that. I can also choose to acknowledge that there are areas of my life that are not so hot right now and that’s ok. Even with my missteps and mistakes, I am still enough. As the poet Nikki Giovanni says, “I’m so hip, even my errors are correct.” What if those areas of “not so hot right now,” in our lives only serve us as opportunities for deeper growth and self-compassion? The truth is, we do not have to wait to have things all together before we can bloom and flourish. We are enough right now, with the right to keep getting better.