Life often seems like a steep mountain: we are either climbing up, with face forward and into the wind, or we are tumbling back down. There are some things I have learned, at this point in my climb, that I wish I could always remember, as though they could be written on some ever-present chalkboard in my mind. I find that when I forget these things, I start feeling dissatisfied, deflated, and discouraged. Instead of marching up the hill with courage I start sliding down again. Mercifully, these lessons have the power to lift me up, dust me off, and to help keep me climbing onward…if I will only remember them.
Nothing is Personal
“Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality.” ~ don Miguel Ruiz
Most everything feels personal: the way others treat us, what happens to us, what does not happen that we wish would, and so on. But I have learned that life is not out to defeat me personally and that other people’s behavior toward me really says more about them than it does about me. Life is really difficult a lot of the time. Sometimes things go my way and sometimes it feels like the entire universe has conspired to destroy me, but either way it is just life being life, flowing up and down as it always has for every person who ever lived. Moreover, other people’s behavior says far more about them than it does about me. Even if I should do something really mean to someone, on purpose, even still their response tells more about their character and emotional life, than it does about me or what I did. As I learn to depersonalize both life events and the behavior of others, I find more room for forgiveness, for joy, and for acceptance of both my own life journey and that of those around me.
My Life is My Responsibility
“Pain is inevitable, but misery is optional.” ~Tim Hansel
It is my job, and mine alone, to manage my emotions and I cannot blame anyone for the state of my life. Joy is much more of a choice than we like to think it is. Oh, how we love to blame others for our problems and pain: our parents, partners, bosses, clients, patients, coworkers, children, and friends. If only others would behave differently toward us then we could have a better life, then we could have joy. No! You are responsible, at all times, for your attitude and for your level of joy and life satisfaction. It is your job to do the work to heal the pain of your life, if needed, and to get your needs met in ways that honor both yourself and others. Blaming is what victims do and there is no hope or power in living the victim role. Personal responsibility is the hallmark of empowered maturity. No matter what has happened to you in the past or what you are struggling with now, the path to peace is responsibility which is a much more peaceful, empowered, hopeful way to live than chronic victimhood.
Only the Present is Real
“Feel the power of this moment and the fullness of Being. Feel your presence.” ~Eckhart Tolle
The only timeframe that actually exists, the only true reality, is this moment right now. The past only exists in our memories and the future only exists within mind-made imaginings of what might be. Only now is real. I have learned that living in the past (whether a positive past or a negative one) or worrying about the future robs this moment of its life and power. Only now can we exist and thrive, only in the now can we live and hope and love and struggle and learn. Now is the only time that can be lived so I commit to remaining present in this moment, even if it is painful or scary, remembering that it will soon be replaced by the next moment and that I will be stronger and more courageous for having lived “now,” with full presence.
Joy and Sorrow Always Exist Together
“I’ve come to realize that life is much more like a set of parallel train tracks, with joy and sorrow running inseparably throughout our days.” ~Kay Warren
In every single moment of life there is some joy and some sorrow. Even in the most joyful of moments there is a kernel of sorrow, if in nothing else but the fact that joy inevitably fades. Likewise, in the most sorrowful moments imaginable, there are kernels of joy, if we are willing to see them. I have had to release the lie that happiness will come once I rid my life of all the sorrow and collect only joy. This is impossible and is not life’s goal. The goal is to accept that both exist together, at all times, to be open to experiencing both as fully and openly as possible. And to avoid becoming too loyal to the sorrow, letting it cancel out or eclipse the joy. Joy cannot be diminished by sorrow, no matter how great the pain, but we can choose not to see it. I choose to be grateful, always, and to see the joy, allowing it to be just as vital and true as any sorrow this life may bring.
I Do Not Have the Power to Control Others
“We must learn to live well in a community of people who are sometimes wonderful, too often unspeakably evil, and usually somewhere in between.” ~Dan Allender, PhD
I have learned that I cannot control other people. Darn it! The world would be a much better place if I could! Ok, probably not, but it sure feels that way sometimes. So much of my life energy has been spent anguishing over wishing I could change others, whether it is their behavior, perspective, beliefs, thoughts, or feelings. What great relief it was to accept that I do not have the power to change or control others, and that it was never my job to do so. Accepting this opened space for me to love and accept people just as they are. Letting people be as they are is an extraordinarily loving thing to do and I have learned that trying to change or control others is actually an act of immense cruelty.
I Always Have the Power to Control Myself
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” ~Viktor Frankl
I do, though, have the power, at all times, to control myself. No matter what others choose, I have the ability to choose what I will believe and do and this gives me great strength. It means I do not have to be controlled by the expectations, behavior, or emotions of others because I am separate from them, I own my own mind, beliefs, feelings, and choices, even if those are in opposition to that of others. And, when I do have conflict with others because of differences or disagreements, I have the power to choose, at all times, how I will behave, who I will be, and how I will feel. I can be connected with others while not being controlled by them (try as they might) and I can use boundaries and even conflict to enhance my connection with others, if they are willing.
Everything is Not So Serious
“I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose.” ~Woody Allen
Sometimes everything starts to seem just so intensely important when really very few things in my life are actually matters of life-and-death. More to the point, I am not really as important as I sometimes think. Nothing is more unbecoming or obnoxious than a person who is excessively self-important. Of course I matter, and so do you, but every event, every thought and feeling, everything we set our mind to does not have to be a matter of grandiose success or utter failure. Sometimes life is just funny or weird or unpredictable and sometimes things just do not go at all the way we want them to. I have learned the value of laughing at myself, I can be pretty hilarious though I am rarely trying to be, and I often find myself faced with the choice to either get upset about something that does not really matter that much…or just laugh.
There is Always a Reason People Are the Way they Are
“Here is a tough truth to swallow: people behave the way they do because they are doing the best they can given their circumstances, skills, and abilities. This is a good thing to remember when you are trying to forgive someone.” ~David Hafter
If we knew where people had been, what they had been through, how they grew up, what they have had to overcome, the demons they fight everyday…we would not be so judgmental. The human soul, in my view, wants more than anything to be at rest, to have peace, to feel joyful and whole, and to offer kindness and love to others. When that is not happening there is a reason. I have learned that the more frustratingly difficult, the more aggravating and hateful a person behaves, the more pain they live with. This is not an excuse for their behavior since we are all responsible for healing the pain of our lives and for protecting others from the wrath of our internal dragons, but it does provide an explanation. And it can increase our ability to offer patience and kindness to life’s difficult people…and to ourselves when we are hurting.
I Do Not Have to Be Perfect
“Perfection is self-abuse of the highest order.” ~Ann Wilson Schaef, PhD
I have learned that the obsessive need to be perfect that rises up inside of me is a symptom of shame and fear. The unspoken, implicit lie is that if I can be (or appear) perfect then that will make me valuable and loveable, both to myself and others. What a bunch of horse manure! Our lovability and performance have absolutely no rational connection to each other. That is, our performance impacts our lovability and worth zero percent. At some point we learned they were connected, that is, someone taught us whether through their words or actions, but as adults we can expose this despicable lie for the malarkey it is, and accept that our worth and value come from a much deeper, more spiritual place than our perceived skills, abilities, or achievements. Once your sense of worth is disconnected from your performance, then you will have freedom to do your best, to honor your efforts, to really love yourself and others in a way that is accepting and healing.
Relationships Matter More than Anything
“I suppose that since most of our hurts come through relationships, so will our healing.” ~William Paul Young
Nothing in all of life matters more than our relationships. They are the way we grow, heal, learn, expand, and become all we were created to be. Both the positive and negative relationships have tremendous power to teach us about ourselves and about the nature of true, selfless loving. The awesome, supportive people in my life are great gifts and I rely on them as anchors when my soul aches. But I am grateful, too, for the people who have hurt and angered me. They have given me the greatest gifts for they have challenged me to look at myself, who I choose to be, how I choose to behave, and the heart I want to have beating inside my chest. Difficult people are just hurting, whether they know it or not, and they remind me of the parts of myself that are hurting, the parts I am always working to love and heal.
Perhaps some of these lessons speak to you, but my deepest hope is that you are able to learn your own best lessons, the ones your challenges, pain, and problems are trying to teach you. Those hard-earned, personal lessons are the ones that will mean the most to you, and will have the power to give you new breath at just the moment you think you cannot take one more. Learn well!