Over 15 years, I've made huge leaps. Yet each leap contained countless small steps. My path—from self-aversion to self-compassion, from non-stop striving to intentional being, from anxiety to relative ease—was gradual. It's hard to pinpoint a single moment, but eventually I had appropriate tools and enough practice, and my heart shifted. When I revert to old habits, I trust there's a safe space within me: I re-connect with breath and awareness.
During a mindfulness class, I shared a piece of my journey: For years, I looked externally for approval. I asked my loving husband repeatedly some version of "Am I okay?" His reassurance was never enough, and not because he wasn't genuine, but because I was looking in the wrong place. What I needed—in the core of my being—was my own approval: my own love and acceptance. And once I found this, I stopped asking him those questions, because I trust that I'm my own anchor; my own friend.
One of my students responded, "How did that transformation happen? Can you describe it?" These processes are difficult to pinpoint. There were many small steps along the way, and the way is zig-zagged, not straight. But I made a commitment: I truly wanted to befriend myself. My tools were meditation, journaling, therapy, self-portraiture, gardening, mindfulness, listening, and being. During one of our unplugged sabbaticals, I went out for a run to the end of the island, not a single person in sight. I sat on a rock and sobbed, feeling old and new wounds. This experience didn't provoke shame nor did it provoke external focus: I didn't want to hide nor did I need help. I could stay with myself. I trusted that everything I need is inside me. As my meditation practice deepened, so did this sense of trust. (I still need human connection—love, hugs, and support—but my true ground comes from within.)
Small steps have huge impact. Small steps pave paths of great awakening. Each person has their own journey; their own deepest intentions. What's most important is to listen to our own heart and then begin: take the next small step and then the next. Forgive ourselves when we falter—which we will—and have the courage to begin again. Bit by bit: this is how we change.