One of my favorite books when I was a kid was the Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel, a book series about two good friends, Frog and Toad.
In one story, Toad is inspired when he walks by Frog’s beautiful garden. So Frog offers Toad some seeds, encourages him to put them in the ground, and reassures him that soon he will have his own garden.
Toad is filled with enthusiasm – but then he becomes anxious, frustrated, and worried when his plants do not grow. He shouts at his seeds and Frog comes hurrying over, wondering about the noise.
He tells Toad, “You are shouting too much. These poor seeds are afraid to grow.”
As Toad thinks about his frightened seeds, his heart melts, and he tries a different approach. He sits with his seeds in the dark and reads them a story. He sings songs to them. He recites poems. He plays them music.
He finally falls asleep, exhausted.
When Frog wakes him up, they both see little green plants shooting up from the earth.
Toad exclaims, “At last, my seeds have stopped being afraid to grow!”
The separation of bad habits
When we struggle with messy coping strategies, like Toad, we long to grow seeds of new life.
This growth can touch some pretty tender places. It may bring up strong feelings of anxiety, anger, fear, or grief.
When we get triggered by cravings or painful emotions, we may feel scared and start to panic. We may get caught in a feeling of impending down: “Oh no, this shouldn’t be happening!”
We may feel like our seeds will never grow. And like Toad, we can shout at our seeds in frustration – which only makes us more hesitant, and more frightened.
But like Toad’s plants, our seeds require kindness: patience, tenderness, understanding, space, water, nourishing soil, and room.
One of the most powerful ways we can show ourselves kindness is by making room for our seeds, exactly as they are.
When we blame ourselves
When we sift underneath our anxiety about our growth process, we often find a sense of hyperresponsibility. There’s often a subtle way we blame ourselves. We think we should’ve been in more control – that we should’ve created a more pleasant or ‘positive’ experience.
This belief is a common one underneath many compulsive habits.
“I should’ve stopped this”
In Buddhism, this is called this ‘the second arrow.’ The first arrow is the painful emotion, the craving, the stirred up and agitated feeling or thought.
But then when we blame ourselves for feeling the way we do, we’ve shot ourselves with a second arrow, compounding our pain.
This ‘second arrow’ brings extra stress and tension, extra pressure about needing to get ‘it right.’
This second arrow is akin to believing that the growth of our garden is completely in our control.
And the second arrow is also what makes us shout at our seeds.
Blaming ourselves for our feelings
When I feel this second arrow in my body, it feels tight, tense, and this great squeezing pressure, from my head and around my chest and into the bottom of my guts.
My mind spins with thoughts like, “You should’ve stopped this from happening,” or “You’d better fix this!” or “You’d better not make a mistake!”
So much pressure. When we’re caught in this space, it’s no wonder that we turn to false comforts to self soothe.
Relaxing our anxiety about imperfection
It sounds simple, and counterintuitive, but when we feel triggered, when we feel anxious, and when we feel stirred up, what helps is to make room for our experience, exactly as it is.
When we do this, we’re practicing a deep but simple form of love: we’re accepting reality as it’s unfolding, and as it’s unfolding through our being. This is how it is right now. This is what’s alive in me right now. May I be kind to what’s here.”
With compassion, we embrace our experience: “I see that you’re scared. It’s okay that you feel scared.”
This is how we sing to our seeds.
And this is how our seeds feel less frightened to grow.
Freeing your heart from self blame
Do you struggle with blaming yourself for feelings of anxiety, craving, or frustration? This may be especially true if you’re someone who’s highly sensitive, as HSPs tend to be more conscientious and prone to anxiety.
You can try this on for yourself.
The next time you find yourself craving, feeling caught in anxiety, or shouting at your seeds, stop. Pause and check in – what are you feeling in your body?
Is there some way you’re blaming yourself for your feelings, or experience? What does this blame feel like?
Then bring in compassion and empathy. Try telling yourself, “I see this is hard for you. It’s okay that you feel scared, and stirred up.” One of my favorite phrases is, “It’s okay that this is hard. I’m here with you.”
And then see what arises. See if your seeds deepen their roots, bit by bit. See if they feel less frightened to grow.