While living in a bus/ tiny house, a really good bath is rare. And as you know from past posts, I really really love baths.
So when my neighbor said she and her family were going out of town and that I could use her huge bath while they were gone, I jumped at the chance. Or should I say, I swam into it.
My step daughter set aside a tea cup of rose petals from her birthday flowers that I could use…she knew I was super excited about this bath. (She’s sweet like that.)
I turned on the water, covered it in Avie’s petals, and got in. As I soaked in my tub o’ bliss, I did something that I realized I do a lot when taking a bath.
It was hot. Really hot. Like if I listened to my heart and body, it was too hot.
But I was enduring it, because I had this weird feeling that that was what I was supposed to do.
“Everybody loves hot baths.” I thought. “So I need to like this.”
I suddenly realized what I was doing. “Wait a second. I don’t like this. It is ruining my bath experience to endure too hot water. Why am I doing what I think is expected of me when there is not even another human in this very huge bathroom?”
I listened to my body and my heart. I turned on the cool water until it was only mildly warm.
Just the way I like it.
And I was proud of myself, for once, for making a choice, be it ever so small, that was what I wanted, not what I thought I should want.
A few days later, I was reading an old journal entry about my fears that I had in getting married a week before my May wedding.
I was struggling with some immediate fears. There was a gas shortage at the time, as in no one could get gas in our entire town, which is a pretty legitimate reason for a bride to be worried about her destination wedding. I didn’t know if my guests would make it, or even if I would make it to my own wedding.
I was also struggling with future fears. I was wondering things like “Will I be a good wife?” And “will my husband and step kids see things like my tendency to get depressed and not love me any more?”
I said this in my journal…“I am supposed to be feeling happy and giddy right now. What is wrong with me?”
And then I wrote these words…
“What should I be feeling is not the best question. A better question is ‘why do I feel the way I am feeling, and how do I love myself in that place?’”
That question really helped me move on, through my fears, and be kind to myself. In that moment, I really needed a friend, and that friend needed to be me.
Who was this Should and why was I letting it control my life?
I wrote down some of the characteristics of Should:
Should always comes with a comparison.
Should doesn’t just come from one person. Your family, your friends, your teachers, your media, your culture, all contribute to this set of unspoken rules that dictates how you are supposed to live your life.
Should often asks you to neglect what your heart wants.
Should and Guilt are best friends.
If you’re not careful, Should will control some of the biggest decisions of your life. (This one was particularly poignant for me, since I stayed a touring musician for 13 years because it was “supposed” to be my dream job. Everyone said so. I wasn’t happy for at least half of those years, but I kept enduring because of my litany of shoulds)
Should is good at getting taxes done. Sometimes your taxes need to get done. But if we only lived by shoulds, the world would never have poetry.
A few days after journaling about all of this, I heard someone say “all good things in life are on the other side of fear.”
I had this thought: overcoming fear sounds hard. I don’t want hard. I want to listen to my heart. I don’t want any shoulds. So if someone says that I should overcome my fears, I am not going to do it.
And I realized this: overcoming the should in my life doesn’t only mean doing exactly what my heart wants in the moment.
If I only did what my heart wanted to do, I would spend my days eating pounds of chocolate, watching every episode of the The Bachelor, and taking semi-warm baths. I would probably only work one day a week, and I would never go to another baby shower again.
So where is this happy medium…between letting ourselves do what we want to do and letting our desires wreak havoc on our future?
I feel like the key to this is what I told my husband and kids when we first got married (because I really don’t like a sink full of dishes.)
“When you do your dishes right after you use them, you are loving your future self. You’re saying “future self, I don’t want you to have to wash a sink full of plates with three day old Mac and cheese on them and that smelly peanut butter knife that is crusted on for eternity. I love you too much for that. So future self, I am doing these super easy not crusty dishes now, just for you.”
It is related to one of my favorite bits of wisdom I heard years ago “Much wisdom is found in looking for the fruit of something when it is still a seed.”
Listening to whether you need to take care of present you or future you in that situation will help you know what to do.
Sometimes, it is important to let go of should and take care of present you. Nurture her, forgive her, love her. When she is especially emotional or especially needs to rest, give her that rest. Give her that healing.
Other times, you need to overcome that feeling that you get right before going to the gym because you are making an effort to love future you.
We don’t even need to frame that feeling as what we “should” be doing. It doesn’t need to be about obligation or duty. It can be about living your best life.
What are some “shoulds” in your own life? Can you tell the difference between doing things out of obligation and doing things that will contribute to the beauty of your life? What has your own journey of self compassion been like?