I’d like to start off today’s post by asking you a question, and we will return to this a little later on. “If you could accomplish just one more thing in your lifetime, what would that be?” While many people are intrigued by this prospect, others are crippled with fear. How you respond to this question provides you with valuable insights into how you carry yourself through this life.
I’ve always been one who finds solace in rules and structure, so it’s not surprising that in my quest to live what Brene Brown calls a “wholehearted life”, I’m grappling with a happiness plan or a good life framework. What I’ve come up with is my ABC Guide to Social Cartography.
“A” refers to AWARENESS, which I define as a not only mindfulness but also self-assessment. I’m slowly (and I mean painfully slow) adopting the Buddhist practice of treating feelings and emotions as simply transitory “things” in our life that are not worthy of obsession or preoccupation. The metaphor that is often used to explain this is to view all things that we experience as clouds that pass in front of us. We can take stock of them, but we have faith that the “cloud” will blow by and another will take its place. It’s very liberating to release some of my focus and ownership of painful or unhappy thoughts. You may have heard others say: “Our thoughts are in us, but we are not our thoughts.” For me, the tricky part is applying this reasoning to the joys and happiness that come into my life as well. For this mindfulness to work, I need to be cognizant that every feeling, good or bad, is transitory. It’s learning to be present with what is happening at the moment, while simultaneously not getting hung-up in the past, or anxious about the future. It’s easier said than done, but definitely something to which I aspire. The second aspect of “awareness” involves checking in with my body and mind in a more tangible fashion. Life is always a balancing act, and if I allocate too much of my energy to work, or to play, or to rest, then the other two get out of sync. I’ve always relied on my sleeping pattern to inform me of whether or not I’m meeting this balance in my life. As an athlete, I’m well aware of how important diet is in determining my mood, performance, and general sense of well-being. I think we all know when we are polluting our body, but we have a tendency to ignore our body’s warning signs.
“B” stands for BUOYANCY, or in other words, how well I can navigate life’s ups and downs. It was Robert Burns who said: “The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry. And leave us nothing but grief and pain, for promised joy!” When my drug and alcohol addiction was in full swing, I spent my days numbing myself, as I vainly attempted to fill an aching void inside me. The insanity of doing that was I not only numbed the discomfort but I also blocked out any hope of joy entering my life. During the past four months, I’ve been embracing Brene Brown’s philosophy of “Daring Greatly”. If I want things to be different in my life, I need to do things differently. Personal growth through the lens of vulnerability allows me to step out of my comfort zone and “enter the arena”. Buoyancy comes into play in that it bolsters me during the “learning curve”, or in the inevitable failures. My new mantra is “What have I got to lose?” It may not be pretty at the beginning, but having the courage to keep picking myself up and trying again will lead to tremendous personal growth. For instance, writing this blog is my attempt at daring greatly in my creativity. On so many occasions in the past, I would have kept my writing private, telling myself it wasn’t good enough; or I would have been consumed by constant re-editing trying for perfection. In both cases, my creativity would have been stifled and my personal growth stunted. Making big decisions in our life can paralyze us with fear. It’s the gap between the desire to make a decision and actually following through on that decision that nourishes our self-doubt and fear. I don’t want to live a life of big promise and poor performance. I now see that taking a leap of faith and “doing” instead of “thinking” is intoxicatingly empowering.
Finally, “C” is for COMPASSION, and this is manifest in both my interactions with others and my self evaluation. If I’m to be compassionate, loving, and empathetic with the people in my life, I must first be self-loving. This is not to be confused with being selfish. I’ve written about this before as my attempt to quiet that “enough voice" in my head. We all have that little thing in us that tells us we’re not good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, or brave enough. This self-love is also intricately tied to accepting that I am not my past. My past has shaped me, but it doesn’t define me. I wholeheartedly believe that I am blessed to have lived the life I have lived, warts and all, because it’s allowed me to be where I am today, and that’s exactly where I need to be, and want to be. In terms of my compassion for others, the skill I need to work on most is my ability to listen to others. I need to remind myself daily that the opposite of “listening” is not “waiting”, like I so often do, to add my own opinion, or to tell other people what they should do. It’s so difficult to really “be with someone else” rather than to “be there for someone else”. I know I’m not doing this correctly when someone is speaking to me, and I’m thinking about what I’m going to say next, or how I’m going to respond. When all that self-chatter is going on in my head, how can I really say I’m listening to you?
Now, let’s return to that question I asked at the beginning of this post: “If you could accomplish just one more thing in your lifetime, what would that be?” Approaching this question through Awareness, Buoyancy, and Compassion frees me up to dare greatly and have faith in where I take my actions. For me, this question works best if I reduce it to its simplest terms. All I want to do in my life is to leave this place with an immense sense of gratitude for the opportunity I’ve been given and a strong desire to be an energy of positivity in this life.
What would your choice be?