My parents were in their early 30’s when I was born, a period that I cannot believe that I am fast approaching in my own life (and no, this is not a pregnancy announcement, but more of a realization announcement). Growing up, I was incredibly blessed to have had a stable and loving home that allowed me to enjoy all the wonders of childhood. I remember looking at my parents in awe, wondering if one day I too would know how to navigate life on my own and terrified by how complicated it all seemed. Then suddenly, I was flung into a self-centred and turbulent stage of adolescence, followed by a period of self-discovery and experimentation in my early 20’s. Amazingly I came out on the other side of my younger days relatively unscathed, having found a more stable and grounded sense of identity in my late 20’s. Today I am finally ready to take on the title of adult and confront the complexities of life with a simple truth.
I could most certainly write an entire book about those earlier stages, with all the turbulence and self-discovery that one encounters throughout those prominent years. However, I will save those stories for another time and today, on the eve of my 30th birthday, share some of the lessons I have learned from years of growing, learning, and living on the roller coaster that has been the past 3 decades:
Context reveals peace and clarity – After years of egocentric living as an adolescent and young adult, peace was finally attained when I shifted my focus outward from the self towards the larger context of connectedness. Mother Teresa says, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” When we view every situation solely in relation to the self, we miss out on the interwoven stories of others that we are also a part of. Being able to recognize the larger context in which we exist helps to clarify the whys of seemingly unfair situations and releases us from the “why me?” of narrow, self-focused living.
Your body is a temple that needs tending – I remember one crazy summer when I worked 2 jobs, was taking an art class, and doing hot yoga every day. It was a time when my body was unstoppable and my energy stores ran deep. Today, my need for an extra cup of coffee, a few more hours of sleep, and good ergonomics is undeniable. Through this sobering shift, my understanding of the body has grown from merely being an afterthought into one of respect and partnership. The body is a map of the past, present and future; a gift from your ancestors and a divine mystery of creation. As such, it deserves and needs to be cared for, understood, and valued as an important part of how we experience life. Yoga Girl (aka Rachel Brathen) explains that “My body is connected to my emotions. My emotions are connected to my thoughts. My thoughts are connected to my ability to stay present. And my ability to stay present is connected to my body.”
Time speeds up with its own passage – I used to waste the days away without a care in the world. Time was a vast and never ending desert that I had my whole life to traverse. However, somehow in the blink of an eye that desert has transformed into a high-speed highway without an off-ramp in sight. The days fly by as I try to schedule and manipulate every second I have to keep up with all the have-to’s and should-do’s that clutter up the day-to-day. However, time is not a dimension that we are meant to control without intense stress; rather it is a reality we are free to climb on in order to better enjoy the view on the ride of life. For when Alice asks the white rabbit in Wonderland, “How long is forever?” The white rabbit responds, “Sometimes just one second.”
Everything is subject to change– My first year as a Public Health Nurse was one of intense learning and growing up. I was no longer a student who could hide behind the certainty of books and scheduled classes. I needed to figure out how to navigate the working world of office politics, waiting for vacation time, and going with the flow; for as a very wise colleague would always remind me, “everything is subject to change.” This I have come to realize is true in every facet of life including our relationships, the environment, the economy, and our priorities. This fact has led me to the practice of the Beginner’s Mind, the freedom from getting stuck in the expectations of past experience. It is an attitude that accepts change with openness and curiosity. Studying the works of Jon Kabat-Zinn has helped me to better understand and embrace this way of being which “allows us to be receptive to new possibilities and prevents us from getting stuck in the rut of our own expertise, which often thinks it knows more than it does.”
Love is all you need – This is by far the simplest but most important lesson I have learned, period. Monetary success, job titles, and fancy things are all ways that we as humans create stress through competition, arrogance, and egocentricity. Putting all these above relationship is what fuels the endless rat race many of us are trying to find rest from. We have a tendency to complicate life by over-crowding it with all the wants and shoulds that quickly become our top priorities. But what I have come to appreciate with age, especially as time speeds up and everything keeps changing, is that the one constant I can cling to and be comforted by is love. Money, jobs, and stuff are not bad things in and of themselves, but when we think they are the ultimate be-all-and-end-all behind our efforts, it becomes easy to lose context of the bigger picture: our connectedness to one another. I always find it tragic how humans can take this truth and distort it over and over again through the corruption of religion and politics by exploiting others all in the name of power. However, I believe that the solution is simple, free and available to all in every situation: love one another (John 13: 34-35). That’s it. Period. And so, just as The Beatles sang, revolutionaries in their own right, “All you need is love.”
I think one’s feelings waste themselves in words; they ought all to be distilled into actions which bring results.
– Florence Nightingale
On a day to day basis I speak many words to my colleagues, clients, friends and family, and have many more come right back at me. Most of the time, my ability to communicate takes very little thought or effort. Words flow easily from my consciousness and then impact the world as they may. But really, how many of us actually take the time to really think about our choice of words before they escape from our lips? And what is the effect of all this chatter around us?
I’ve gotten so caught up in life over the past few months that I haven’t been able to prioritize time for meditation and prayer. My only time for quiet reflection has been during my weekly yoga class, during which I realize how affected I truly am by all the noise coming at me – gossip, complaining, negativity. In many yogic traditions, the mantra Om is employed as a mystical connection to the Divine. In church, we sing and pray with words that connect us to our Creator. No matter how we connect, words are a powerful way of coming to understand our humanity. However, I believe we need to be careful how we use their power. Letting our negative thoughts slip out can be a danger that only breeds more negativity, It is an easy release in the moment that usually feels good…we all love a good vent! But without action, our words lose their meaning and start to work against us.
I invite you to join me during this busy season to take some time to reflect on the chatter – what you say and what you hear. Even a few minutes of meditation a day can start to change the way you think and respond to the crazy world around you. Peace, love and happiness result from actions which, are born from words spoken with intention.
What is it about the things that we don’t have that make them so damn desirable? If only I had a bigger house, a better body, more money, a vacation booked next week…then I’d be happy. It’s a funny thing that we humans do, always looking around at what we don’t have and worrying about what is to come. With all the change and excitement that I’ve experienced over the past few months, you would think that I wouldn’t have time to look around at what colour the grass is on the other side. But that is the problem with our “monkey minds,” the natural state of the mind is to be unsettled and restless. These uncontrollable thoughts create fear, which is at the core of most unhappiness we may experience. There are some days when the most difficult part of a yoga class is just quieting my mind of all the chatter: the should’ves, could’ves and would’ves.
However, the truth is, there is no perfection, only peace that comes with acceptance of the process. Life is not about having every single thing that we desire to create happiness. It is about work, growth, trust, and practice; for the monkey in our minds cannot be caged, but rather tamed. All the should’ves, could’ves and would’ves are not real. What is real is that you are in the right place, at the right time, exactly as you are. Let your own monkey out to play on the grass that you have the privilege of standing on at this very moment. That is the practice of mindfulness and the art of happiness.
This is a quote that comes back to me time and time again. Now I’m not sure who said it first, Oprah perhaps. Well, whoever it was, they hit the nail right on the head and I’ll tell you why…
I am three days into my new job as a Public Health Nurse in British Columbia, and once again I am the new girl who doesn’t know what she is doing. It is an awful and awkward position to be in. It is a time of focusing on all of the things you do NOT know in an effort to help your supervisors focus your training and make it more efficient. The problem is that the whole self-assessment process makes you realize just how MUCH everyone else knows in comparison to you. As I mentioned above, I’ve been through this before, and it was only about a year ago. But it’s funny how quickly the memory fades once you are comfortable and competent in your skills, and you have good friends to talk and laugh with at work. However, when you are smack dab in the middle of the whole new employee-orientation process, it feels like you will never get back to that place of comfort.
It is a truly humbling experience and one that I am ever grateful for. I get to learn, grow and do what I love to do every single day (well…very soon). So in order to get through the uncomfortable part, I am using the image of a butterfly as my inspiration. It was once a caterpillar: the newbie who hadn’t yet earned her wings. But what if the caterpillar, feeling unsure and different, let the external image of the butterfly let her feel less than she was worth? The problem with using others’ outsides as our point of reference, is that there is no context to how they got there. The truth is, the butterfly was once a caterpillar.
The same is true in yoga, which is why I am so in love with the practice. The only way to truly improve is to look within and believe in what your mind, body and soul is capable of…absolutely anything! It is not about looking around the room to see what everyone else is doing on their mat (no matter how tempting it may be). Each are on their own journey, whether they have been practicing for 10 years, 10 days, or it is their first class. No amount of comparing or emulating is going to get you anywhere faster than your own journey will allow, and chances are your destination is not the same as that other person’s anyway. Rather be grateful for the guidance and inspiration that others provide. But always let your final resting place be in your own story, not on another’s passing cover.