“At a size 6?
At one million dollars?
When Mr. Right marries you?
When you find your purpose?
Maybe when you arrive,
you will realize
the trip is over…” – Brooke Castillo
When we don’t achieve what we’d like in our external lives, it’s really easy to get caught in, “I’ll be happy when…” It’s a dangerous place to be though, because when we pin our happiness on the external world conforming to our personal wishes and preferences, we may be consigning ourselves to indefinite misery. Sometimes if we can’t let go, we get dragged kicking and screaming.
I’ll be happy when I get that promotion at work. I’ll be happy when the kids go off to school. I’ll be happy when I retire.
I’ve been reading this great little book by life coach Brooke Castillo called It was Always Meant to Happen that Way. In it she says, “Everything that is meant to happen does. Everything that isn’t meant to happen doesn’t. “
Imagine that you believe that…what does it feel like? When things happen, you just know it was meant to be. Likewise, when things don’t happen, is it easier to let it go?
It’s kind of like the Taoist story of the farmer. Let’s face it, we never really know what anything is for, do we? Sometimes things that happen seem so good, and then later we’re not so sure. To quote Hamlet… “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
If nothing is good or bad, and things and events just are (or aren’t, as the case may be), how much mental energy does that free up?
And if everything is truly in divine order right now, is it okay to exhale and just…be?
“An old man at church once told me never to give the devil a ride. Because if he likes the ride, pretty soon he’ll want to drive.” – Anne Lamott
Some of our biggest regrets in life have the most innocuous beginnings. It’s often the little things, the seemingly insignificant choices we make, each day, that become the fabric of our lives.
How we spend our time: Where we go. What we do. Who we talk to. And, what we talk about.
In a book called The Compound Effect, Darren Hardy discusses how our habits, the things we sometimes do without thinking about them, can make our break us. Simply deciding to take a fifteen minute walk every day on your lunch hour may not seem like much, but if you do so every day, after a year or two, you will notice the difference. After a couple of weeks, or a month or two, it may seem unimportant, but over time, the impact will be revealed. It is that way with so many of our little habits.
On the flipside, the little things we do that are not so healthy, like sipping on a sugary drink every afternoon at work, may reveal themselves as choices that seemed unimportant at the time, but had larger repercussions later.
When we adopt healthy habits and keep positive company, we establish a trajectory which will lead us to a particular destination, if we stay on course. Small adjustments may mean arriving far from your intended destination.
It’s good advice: Be careful who you give rides to…and make sure you stay in the driver’s seat.
I’ve been thinking about storytelling since I watched Life of Pi. (Yes, I hear the collective sigh from my former English teachers.) As several wise persons have noted, it’s not so much what happens to us in life, but our response to what happens to us, that reveals our character. And much of how we respond to what happens to us has to do with the stories that we tell ourselves, and others, about the events our lives.
If two stories have the same events, and the same ending, which is true? This is the question in Life of Pi. And the answer: the one you like better is the one that’s true.
There’s a great deal of wisdom in that observation. While we can’t go back and change the past, we can change the lens, change our focus, and thereby also change our understanding and attitude about the things that happen to us. Our beliefs shape the world and vice versa. The world shapes us, and we also shape the world. What we see we believe. And what we believe we live, and relive, over and over.
Every problem and every difficulty, when turned around, is an opportunity to learn and grow. The question is, do we allow our challenges to dictate our attitudes? Our treatment of others? Our goals and aspirations?
Often we get comfortable with familiar stories. Stock characters. Stories of good and evil. But real life is rarely so black and white. We all have within us capacity for great kindness and great cruelty. Whichever aspects of our consciousness manifest in our behavior is a direct result of the choices we make – the little choices – day in and day out.
Whether you grow your capacity for kindness is up to you.…because what you think upon grows.
“I thought such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish.” – Anne Lamott
One of the important things I’d like to think I’ve (mostly) learned over the years is not to make decisions in the emotional heat of the moment.
Sometimes, in the midst of an emotional storm, it’s tempting to take some action, to relieve the pressure of the intensity of our feelings. We can start to mistakenly believe that if we take drastic action, we will arrive at the solution to the problem, whatever it may be.
Unfortunately, this is rarely (if ever) the case. In my own life, I haven’t yet made a decision in a state of emotional turmoil that seemed wise when I considered it later. As an adjunct to this, conflict resolution became much easier when I learned that every thought does not need to be shared aloud. Indeed, there are a great many better left unsaid.
One of the things I noticed when I started meditating was the sheer amount of garbage manufactured by my mind, on an almost constant basis. I daresay this power would be impressive if it could be put to good use – though I think that’s the idea behind affirmations and positive thinking. But sometimes the mind has to be left to just wear itself out spinning crazy, awful stories.
And they are just that: stories. Fortunately, a regular meditation practice helps make that clear, because when we start to believe our own stories we’re treading on dangerous ground.
Eventually the mind grows tired, and we can step out of the “thought-emotion-action” loop, thereby gaining access to our greater wisdom. If we can weather the emotional storm, watching it until it dies down, and acting in the calm after the storm, we stand a better chance of achieving the outcome we truly want.
It’s a process, and a non-linear one at that. In the words of Anne Lamott, “You can get the monkey off your back but the circus never leaves town.”
That’s why they call it a practice.
“Earth laughs in flowers.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Photo by Virginia Olson 2013
I see so many people in my world longing for a real connection. Though there are many ways in which technology purportedly makes our lives easier, it does not seem to help in making that connection. Conversely, it seems to have become a sort of crutch for the socially challenged, making it ever easier to dodge face to face or even real time communication.
Now I won’t deny the convenience of texting. It’s very useful, in certain situations. But it’s certainly not for serious conversations, or any communication with depth or subtlety. (Yes, you can use that phone to make calls, too. Really.)
If we consider that most communication is non-verbal, what happens when the non-verbal is non-existent? When we have only the written word to go on? For concise communications (See you at your place at 7) it works. For anything else, it’s a potential disaster.
Now that we have instant messaging, online dating, cyber sex and even virtual relationships, where does that leave us in our embodied lives? While it’s true that the speed of communication has shrunk the world, and made long distance connections considerably easier than even a few years ago, what does that say about the nature of our relationships?
From where I sit, it looks like people are lonelier than ever. Sitting in front of a monitor chatting with your virtual partner isn’t quite the same as sitting down to dinner with him/her. And as I watch people struggling to form and maintain real emotional intimacy in the here-and-now, I wonder if we’re losing something vital. And how we might get it back.
While I want to maintain contact with those I care about whose lives are at a physical distance from me, I also recognize there’s an equally strong feeling of emptiness that digital communication evokes within me.
As with so many things, perhaps it’s really a question of balance. If we can balance our virtual relationships with our proximal ones we may be able to experience the best of both worlds: satisfying, meaningful relationships with loved ones both far and near.
Yesterday I went to a workshop on funeral pre-planning. I was by far the youngest person in the room. It turned out to be one of the most fascinating, informative, and thought-provoking seminars I’ve ever attended.
As a society, it seems like we are in denial of death. This doesn’t make sense to me. Death is a part of life. And our own death, too, is significant, in the sense that it is a reminder of the fact that we don’t have “all the time in the world.”
And since we don’t, isn’t the time that we have, by virtue of its very finite nature, all the more precious? Considering that few of us, if any, know exactly how much time we have, it seems even more important to not waste it in activities that don’t mirror our highest intentions for ourselves.
One of Stephen Covey’s seven habits is “Begin with the end in mind.” And thinking about your own death is one of the most effective ways to do this.
Imagine…your own funeral. Who is there? What are they saying about you? If you write your own eulogy, you will know how you really want to live your life, and what you want to do with the time that you have here.
Recommended reading – The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey
It’s true. There’s no getting away from yourself. You can go to the ends of the earth, but you can’t outrun your own fears, insecurities, or vulnerabilities. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, or how good your security system is, or how well-insured you are.
Sometimes it’s tempting to change things up. You may feel that moving to a new town, or getting a new job will change your life in a way that’s meaningful. While this might be the case, often the sense that life will be better following an external change is simply a reflection of an internal longing. And this seems to be particularly the case when it comes to moving away.
Personally speaking, in my various moving experiences over the years I found that whatever problems or issues I was experiencing in one location simply re-appeared in another. Sometimes they never disappeared at all.
Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t make changes in your external life. By all means, if something’s not working for you, take steps to change it. At the same time, it’s important to realize that real change comes from within. And that much of what you see outside of you is a reflection of what’s inside of you.
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” – Wayne Dyer
Recommended reading: Kabat-Zinn, John. Wherever you go, there you are.
“From the end spring new beginnings.” – Pliny the Elder
Photo by Virginia Olson ©2013
I’ve been reading Mira Kirshenbaum’s book Everything Happens for a Reason. It’s a thoughtful exploration of how we assign meaning to events in our lives, particularly as to the way that challenging events give us opportunities to grow more fully into ourselves.
One of her key points is that the meaning is not in the event itself, but rather the meaning is within each of us. So, while two people might experience the unexpected loss of employment, they may each tell a different story about how that event was a catalyst for some sort of personal growth. According to Kirshenbaum, when we look for meaning in a life event, we can place it in one of ten categories/stories:
- To help you feel at home in the world
- To help you totally accept yourself
- To show you that you can let go of fear
- To bring you to the place where you can feel forgiveness
- To help you uncover your true hidden talent
- To give you what you need to find true love
- To help you become stronger
- To help you discover the play in life
- To show you how to live with a sense of mission
- To help you become a truly good person
Of course, the alternative is to believe that everything happens at random and nothing has any meaning, ever. In that paradigm, it’s easy to fall into despair and see ourselves as hapless victims in a series of events we have no control over.
While it’s true to a great extent that we can’t control what happens to us, what we can control is our response. If we allow the challenges we experience in life to shape us, to change us for the better, that says a great deal about the development of personal character.
To take it a step further, if we actively participate in the process by viewing these events as opportunities for growth, and we maximize the value of each in helping us become more fully who we really are, we may find a greater sense of peace within ourselves and a greater sense of purpose in our lives.