I used to go through my day judging everything about my life. Did I eat good or bad food today? Was my workout strenuous or half-ass? Was I kind enough? Productive enough? Grateful enough? Were my relationships “normal?”
If I’m not vigilant, I can almost visualize a meter that measures and evaluates my efforts of the day and the status of all the different important areas of my life. If these numbers don’t not suit my record-keeper, my inner judge can critique not only how I did not measure up in that area, but also how I fall short in other categories while she’s at it.
The beat-downs can be brutal, and I shudder to think that anyone else would talk to themselves this way—but I know they do.
In order to get this judgment back in balance, it was time for me to adopt a new philosophy. Although I still have goals and aspirations, I want to live more universally and intuitively. Instead of a set of measurable, logic-based guideposts, I want guiding principles that weave a gossamer fabric into my life and make it more transcendent.
Although this framework is open to change and expansion, here are eight intentions that I set for my life—maybe they will suit yours, too:
- Live with compassion.
Having compassion was never that difficult. I understood other people’s burdens, wanting to help them feel less pain or more joy, but I did not offer that compassion or the forgiveness that follows to myself. Without this piece, my feeling for others was not as heart-felt as desired. In fact, it was incredibly self-serving. I didn’t spend my time hearing them, sitting with them, or holding space, but rather unconsciously trying to lift myself up by having the best opinions, most enlightening things to say and all the right solutions.
Moving forward without the need for everyone’s adoration or approval, I can listen and give one of the greatest gifts we can give another person: our full attention. If, and only if, they ask for my opinion or help do I give it. They are capable and hold their own solutions, so encouragement and support serves them best.
2. Embrace fear.
For years I though bravery meant overcoming fear—stomping it out. Why does fear have to be our enemy? It served a purpose for us at one time and is a body reaction to perceived danger, whether it be physical, emotional or spiritual. Now, perceived danger is generally more like perceived pain, so I am conditioning myself to get more comfortable with discomfort. The bigger the leap of faith I take, the more fear is triggered—fear of abandonment, failure and disapproval. Instead of trying to conquer it, or let it go, I visualize fear as a scared child that I take by the hand and, with gratitude, lead forward.
3. Cultivate curiosity.
I have always been an information junkie. In the past, I had an appetite for facts and theories, but not necessarily an interest in how they could apply to my growth as a human. My current goal is to incorporate new knowledge into my life—not just to make me sound more intelligent, edgy or enlightened.
When someone has something “negative” to say to me (about me or anything or anyone I care about) I try not to react defensively; instead, I meet their opinions and ideas with curiosity. What fuels their perception? Sometimes it is a truth I do not realize about myself, and I can evaluate that. Sometimes it is just their perception, which is still valid and useful as long as I do not automatically take it personally or let it trigger some fear in me.
Recently someone told me that given a couple of glasses of wine and an audience, I seemed to enjoy humor at his expense. My initial reaction: That’s preposterous! I am kind and caring. Upon reflection, I had to admit that my unexpressed emotions toward him prompted unwanted ugliness. Lesson to me: saying what you feel while embracing fear is much better than hurting someone in resentment.
4. Find comfort in sitting still.
Planning and controlling the chaos around me used to be a necessity. The more out of control my life got, the more detailed and inflexible the blueprint. I asked a great friend of mine what her plan was for her vacation and was completely astounded when she said that for a week-long trip she only had one hotel reservation. Anxiety overwhelmed me, and it wasn’t even my vacation. How was it even possible to just be present and enjoy the moment, allowing things to unfold and making choices accordingly?
Sitting still has come to mean that I will not chase or try to over-orchestrate events, interactions, and especially relationships. I will also not run from all the “what ifs” that could cause me pain or discomfort with any of these. I will try my best to be present and enjoy moments and people for what and who they are, balancing this with communicating what I want or need. The key is understanding that we can only control our part of the equation. In the embrace of my fear, my new mantra is, Sit still.
5. See beauty around me.
In a practice of gratitude, I look for beauty in the things and people around me. Obviously this is an easy practice on a surface level. There are hundreds of truly beautiful things around us at any given time: flowers, artwork, writing, faces, souls.
In an attempt to dig deeper and expand, I look for beauty where it is hidden, in the dirt where the beautiful things grow; in the wounded or broken who show me what courage and resilience is; in the pain that makes me stronger and more compassionate; in the people who annoy me; in the closed doors that redirect me to open ones. The whole world becomes beautiful—not in spite of its flaws, but because of them.
6. Fill the void.
When we cut something out of our life, there needs to be a place holder, or the old patterns and choices can settle back in again. This can be true of everything from nutrition to beliefs, thoughts and addictions. If we stop eating sugar to get healthier, what are we going to eat instead? If we are recovering from an addiction, what will we do when the desire to use our favorite “drug” threatens to drag us back into darkness? If we want to believe in our worth, what is the new story we will tell ourselves?
When I feel like numbing with sugar, I can have a healthy snack, or even better, employ another energy clearing activity, such as music, exercise, laughter, writing or even deep breaths—anything to change my state. Sometimes it boils down to doing something, anything, to get through that moment. This is not failing to feel; it is putting it on hold until we can balance the emotion with logic.
7. Trust myself to choose.
For decades, I made mind-based, complicated pros and cons lists that minimized decisions to some strange mathamtical formula complete with weighted priorties. I am learning to trust my intuition or gut feelings, which are spirit based. They are not neat, orderly or formulaic, but they feel good and so far seem to align much better with my path. This quote sums up my feeling:
“Intuition makes sense after you follow it, not before. You don’t get to know the beauty unless you take the risk.” ~ McCall Erikson
I want to know the beauty, so I try to trust myself and choose to take those leaps of faith with more calm and joy.
8. Help others do the same.
This is the easiest and the hardest of all. I am eager for everyone to find guidelines that help them find more joy and connection in their lives. Where I used to just tell people, here is what I did, you must do the same, I grasp more each day how to do this gently—without stealing their voice, their choices and what makes their heart sing. Although we are all connected and can support one another, each of us has to make our own way, empowered by our own ability.
I am sure we can all agree that as soon as we commit to an ideology the challenges to it begin. So, I still have days that I give unsolicited opinions, try to control my chaos too tightly, make long pros and cons lists, and eat a Cadbury Egg, often all at the same time.
In my new awareness and commitment to simplifying and enriching my life, I have compassion and remind myself that this is all a process with challenges along the way. Life is not pass or fail.
Author: Lisa Foreman
Image: Used with permission from Tarreck Raffoul
Editor: Toby Israel