Letting go of limiting beliefs
British-Asian poet, mindfulness coach, yoga instructor, and French and Spanish language teacher Lena Shah always felt she was different to the mainstream Asian community growing up.
Seeking independence, she took shelter behind corporate professional success and material comforts—achievements that ensure status and credibility ‘within the tribe’.
This, however, became “armour” over time, shielding her from a lingering yet powerful sense of alienation and an overwhelming sense of not being heard. A cycle, which, in time, became just as confining as the community-based limitations she had rejected. Feeling pressurised to continue in a career when she knew there were other things out there but, at the same time, feeling helpless and overwhelmed at the thought of making such a big shift, Lena could see that she was tumbling towards a breakdown, which became the necessary break-through, six years ago. It was then that she discovered mindfulness and its use in therapy. Learning to focus on her moment-by-moment thoughts and feelings allowed her to reconnect with her ‘authentic’ self and begin the process of healing.
Now a mindfulness coach herself, Lena has just published Impetus - No cover up, a beautifully designed, fiery, and transformative book of healing poems, prose and vibrant illustrations to provide comfort and support to others, written with the benefit of her mindfulness and yoga training.
In this exclusive article, she shares her own story and provides guidance on how to break free from self-limiting beliefs.
By Lena Shah
“Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there”
I initially encountered mindfulness back in secondary school, when aged 13 I scored 100 percent in a philosophy exam. At the time, however, I was too embarrassed to acknowledge and pursue it.
The embarrassment came from wanting to fit in with the crowd. Philosophy wasn’t cool, especially being that I was different from the other girls, with brown skin (born into a non-practicing Jain family). To feel included I needed to be tall, blonde and good at hockey and netball. Good grades weren’t enough.
I also rebelled against any relatives who tried to enforce Jain principles on me. We were only told about what was forbidden, hence I saw the religion as another way of culturally alienating me at school. I was also not impressed with the authoritarian nature of men in my community, and the way I saw women behaving like slaves in the home. Definitions of Jainism show the religion to be related to wellbeing. However, as with everything, there is often a difference between theory and practice.
It is very easy to label oneself something to fit in with a tribe. However, due to the combination of not connecting as a child to any religion, trying to fit in with predominately British white peers at school, and viewing the traditional role of women within my community as one of submission and entrapment, all I cared about as a teenager was leaving my hometown, seeking financial independence and not learning to cook (as a strategy for avoiding being called into the kitchen).
I also rebelled against my community by not studying traditionally-chosen subjects of Maths and Accountancy at A-level or university. I had a gift with languages and studied International business with the aim of finding a business role where I could wear nice clothes and earn good money.
“Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness”
Attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
These childhood beliefs and experiences made me cling to limiting beliefs. My fear of not earning well was linked disproportionately to losing financial independence and a loss of status within my family. The cover up of nice holidays, shopping, eating out regularly—the surface image – was my armour.
In Splintered Innocence, author Dr. Peter Heinl writes well about authoritarian abuse. I now realise I was trapped as a young adult in the fear of going off-piste. The armour of a corporate job and financial independence were my only defences to preserve a (false) sense of self-worth against being unmarried at the age of 35—a status seen as shameful in my community.
The consequences of self-limiting beliefs can include…
* Highly charged emotions
* Lack of creativity
* Imprisonment of the mind no matter how many holidays, restaurants and shopping trips one goes on
* Lack of self-worth
* Developing a victim mentality, and
* Forming addictions. Apart from the obvious ones relating to drugs and alcohol, those with self-limiting beliefs can become addicted to overthinking, fear, control, pleasure seeking through mindless activities, or self-denigrating comparisons with others.
These external factors make up our internal environment and the limiting beliefs, despite our conscious desires, subconsciously hold back our growth. Even when we think we are taking positive actions, if we are not fully committed inside our own mind and body then things will keep falling apart.
Fear-based thinking often leads to making excuses, such as convincing ourselves that certain activities are frivolous because they do not offer instant gratification or reward. Evolve Your Brain author Joe Dispenza hit the message home in a talk I once attended, when he told the audience, “So you want to set up that business, retrain in that area or write that book, but in reality you are too busy going out for dinners and talking on the phone every evening about what isn’t working out for you”.
My clients also often tell me this, when we discuss integrating practice into their own weekly routine. My usual reply is, “Start with just one minute, then two, three, four, and finally five”. Watching the TV for five minutes less, or going to bed five minutes earlier can be the beginning. Mindfulness practices that build a sense of presence during our daily routine—such as brushing our teeth, getting ready after a shower or drinking a cup of tea—slowly begin to train our bodies and minds into connecting more to our centre, making us more aware of ourselves.
Step back to move forward
“I don’t have time to convince and defend to put up a show or even to pretend.”
Extract from ‘Simply trust’ by Lena Shah
It may become a necessary act of self-preservation to temporarily take a step back from certain social habits, or make changes in how you approach juggling activities where others are depending on you, in order to move closer to a truly authentic heart-based way of living.
The fear associated with the risk of disappointing others often prevents us from even attempting this. Action only comes when we know deep down that if we do not take these necessary steps then we will die an inner kind of death—becoming robotic as we go out about our day feeling passionless, lifeless and empty. As Joe Dispenza once said, “Do you love yourself enough to take effective action?”. The right road isn’t always the most glamourous and shiny but is sometimes the ONLY way to ignite the inner fire of creativity, joy, fulfilment, self-worth and freedom.
Allow yourself the time and space to expand and create. Reconnecting to the body through mindfulness breathwork (breathing exercises) are a way to start, followed by self-enquiry. I express this concept in my poem within Impetus - No cover up, ‘Being The Mountain’.
Our posture is our approach and openness to life –
in the centre of your owned life’s stage.
The sturdy, steadfast Mountain
inspired in the quiet.
Standing strong with grounding
Balance and calm infiltrating through the body and mind
Awareness on your breathing;
The humble breath,
the beginning and end of everything.
Connecting you to the Universe inside and out.
Through the soles of your feet, your spine.
From the core of the earth
to the sky and beyond.
Mindfulness and Yin Yoga coach Lena Shah says that she was trapped by self-limiting beliefs during her 20s and 30s, but has been able to liberate herself through mindful introspection.
Heart based living
“Your greatest fear is the vehicle which will transport you further and higher than any plane”
Extract from ‘Simply trust’ by Lena Shah
Achieving heart-based (authentic) living is a challenge and can often be associated to privilege, where certain people are seen as having more freedom and less day-to-day financial worries. If this is a limiting belief, as it can be when debating whether to take a wage drop or a risk by moving into a less secure position, drawing upon the help of a mentor, therapist or coach can be extremely powerful. Some services are provided free of charge while others can be provided as part of a service exchange or redefinition of what ‘taking care of ourselves’ really means to us, perhaps necessitating re-budgeting your spend on luxuries that aren’t delivering the deeper fulfilment you still desire.
Accepting that our thoughts are not the really us—that they are often producing themselves from old experiences and habits that we don’t need to identify with—is also a liberating place from where to start any mindfulness action.
When I was in the depths of my own despair, feeling like I was on a hamster wheel for months on end, I forced myself each day to write three words or phrases on things I had seen or heard that were rays of hope, as little as they were. I did this to help retrain my mind to take in more of the good.
The brain is hard-wired to be negative as Dr. Rick Hanson, founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, explains in detail in his work and teachings. This behaviour of the brain is based on ancient survival mechanisms despite us living in a modern world.
Living in the First World, having our basic needs met and having choices, can still lead to a defeatist attitude at times because change is hard. Often we go into auto-pilot and straight into self-sabotage. When this negativity and despair takes over it is can be helpful to recognise and remind yourself of the stories of people who weren’t so lucky, whether famous or people you know personally.
Recognising that you are in a low place, and giving yourself the time to remind yourself of all the wonderful things that have still happened in the world out of the most horrific situations, can help soothe and calm the mind, bringing back a sense of trust in your own self and its unfolding.
Where would we be without our limiting ideas, beliefs?
Our rightness and wrongness?
F R E E
F A L L
Allow yourself this chance to simply be.
What’s the worst that can happen?
‘Letting go’ by Lena Shah
Impetus - No cover up by Lena Shah (Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd.) is out now on Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes and Noble, or via the publisher’s website in paperback and eBook formats, priced £14.99 and £9.99 respectively.
For more information on Lena Shah’s mindfulness coaching, including practice mindfulness routines, visit www.metaworkscoaching.com. For more information about Impetus - No cover up, visit the author’s website here.
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