Stay with yourself. That’s what my therapist told me during a marriage counseling session several years ago. I had been complaining that my husband was always moving ahead of me whenever we went someplace together. He would start heading toward the car when I wasn’t done putting cream and sugar in my coffee at Starbucks. He would start walking ahead of me when we got to the store or the festival or wherever we happened to be together. This really bothered me. I wanted him to slow his pace and be mindful of me so that I wouldn’t feel constantly ditched. As I told all of this to my therapist he suggested I stop worrying about what my husband was doing but think about what I really wanted. Did I want to take the time to put cream and sugar in my coffee just the way I liked it? Or did I want to abandon that little pleasure because I felt the need to be where someone else was at? Was my husband putting that pressure on me, and what would I get out of running to catch up? Running to catch up would still leave me feeling ditched because what I wanted was for him to change and wait for me; plus the enjoyment of my coffee would be greatly deduced in the process. Stay with yourself. That was a revolutionary thing to hear. It not only encouraged me to withdraw from attaching my wellbeing to another person, it also encouraged me enjoy my own company, accept who I am, and find happiness in the process.
So often we are rushing from one thing to another trying to catch up to where we think we should be, giving no attention to where we really want to be. What is best for someone else isn’t necessarily best for us. Once I started embracing my slower pace, staying with myself, and denying my impulse to catch up with my husband I found that I felt much more centered, calm, happy, and loving. I also found that my husband was completely fine with my slow pace. He wasn’t rushing ahead as a way to passive-aggressively communicate to me that I was too slow or that I needed to keep up. He wasn’t thinking about me at all. He was going at his own pace and doing what made him happy and comfortable; it didn’t dawn on him that I wouldn’t do the same for myself. Once I realized that I was the one interpreting his quick pace as abandonment I was able to take the focus off of him, and allow myself the freedom to take as much time as I needed to put sugar in my coffee.
I realized recently that I also lose track of myself in situations when no one is around for me to compare my pace to or need anything from. I had a rare evening at home alone and decided to watch a movie. Mid-way through the movie I decided to make a sandwich but I felt I should be quick about it. I rushed into the kitchen, slapped cold chicken between two plain slices of bread and started heading back to my movie. I then realized I was about to eat a really shitty sandwich. I love sandwiches and I didn’t want to waste my appetite on a shitty one. What was my rush? Why was I in such a hurry to get back to my paused movie? Nothing. I headed back to the kitchen and retrieved condiments, tomatoes, avocado, and lettuce. I made myself a great sandwich then continued on with my movie feeling much more satisfied with both the movie, my snack, and myself.
Stay with yourself. That has become a lifelong practice and a mantra for me when I’m feeling out of sorts. Often, when I’m not staying with myself I can imagine pieces of myself breaking away and floating separate from me like a balloon.. Sometimes several balloons, or parts of myself have escaped and are floating at a close distance, and other times the balloons can go completely rouge and fly off into time and space without any warning. Mostly they just slowly creep away from me without my even knowing it and before I realize what’s happening I feel totally out of sorts. This is when I pull on the balloon strings and reign them back in, reminding myself to stay with myself. Ideally, over time, I will lose myself less and less, and be able to be exactly who I am where I am at. But like anything worth doing, staying with yourself takes practice and it’s one of the best and easiest mantras to access when you feel like you’re being tossed around by life. Just stop, breathe and remember: stay with yourself. It’s the only way.