I turned 28 this week, after a grueling and crushing 27th year. I hope for 28 to be redemptive, vital, and free- but most of all I hope I can maintain the strength to let it be whatever it is. I’ve learned some things since I was born, believe it or not, and I thought I’d try to name a few here. Some are things that are well-integrated in my life. Some are like impossible feats that I am still in the earliest stages of adopting, but they ring true to me. Here goes:
1. I am free.
I consistently have to remind myself that I’m never stuck. When agonizing over a life decision I have to remember that I am making just that, a decision. It’s a free thing, not a confining thing. Usually I have more options than I’m even considering, and anyhow, practically any decision is reversible or at least changeable. Even if my circumstance is unfavorable but I’ve chosen not to change it due to a given pros and cons list, I’m also always free to alter my inner state.
2. The only thing I need to be is present.
I learn over and over again that if I am only present and grounded in my surroundings, in my current situation, in my breath and body, everything else falls into place. With true presence I am already a good listener, kind, confident, productive, content; I naturally and organically acheive a decent life balance.
3. I know what to do.
When I feel truly conflicted about something, I have learned that I can ask myself the question as though asking an outsider and usually find the answer I’m seeking. Sometimes I even write the question down and respond as though I’m a friend writing a letter to someone. I’m continually surprised at my own wisdom, and I know that everyone has this ability. Ultimately, most of the time, we already know what to do; it’s just a matter of listening to and trusting ourselves.
4. Rise early.
This is a personal truth, and I don’t pretend to know that it would be universally beneficial. I don’t pretend to know, but I sure do believe it.
5. It’s always ok to ask, it’s always ok to say no.
I did a lot of work with assertiveness when I realized how large a problem it [or the lack thereof] was for me in my personal and professional relationships. Perhaps the most important thing I learned about assertiveness is that it’s always ok to ask (with consideration and acceptance of all possible reactions, consequences, and outcomes), and it’s always ok to say no (considering the same.) If everyone followed this rule at least generally, so much guess-work would be taken out of all kinds of relationships. We could trust that everyone would ask for what they want and need, and not give what they can’t/don’t want to, so we could stop using our energy to try to be mind-readers.
6. “I don’t need to have an opinion about that.”
This modern mantra is something I adopted from yogi Scott Moore. It is useful in catching myself being a “hater,” being negative, judging something uselessly. That’s not how I want to be in the world.
7. Emotional life is only a part of life.
This is something that I knew, but hadn’t integrated into my experience, when my friend encouraged me to look into the Enneagram. I truly realized (based on what my “type” appears to be) that all my life I have viewed the entirety of my experience through the lense of my own feelings and emotions, and large swaths of my life is spent entirely in my head- in fantasy, story telling, and even imaginary dialogue. It’s been very useful for me to learn to shrink the proportion of energy devoted to my emotions in order to gain perspective, to get some space, to take care of other areas of my life while I set them aside for a time. This isn’t to say I’m learning to suppress them, but I’m learning to let them be simply an important part of my life, not the entire ocean I swim in. When I find myself lost in inner dialogue, I now use a technique that a good friend passed onto me, where I say to myself, “stop tape.” This brings me back into my full and present reality.
9. Have no expectations.
One of the most invaluable lessons I’ve learned is to drop my expectations (of everything but myself.) I can have feelings, opinions, hopes, boundaries, and needs, and I can express these freely, but I can’t force a person or a situation to concede nor should I put too much into convincing or trying to manipulate them. Having expectations is basically having a false sense of control over the uncontrollable. This is very different than having low expectations, which is usually how people respond to me when I tell them I try to have none. It’s not a pessimistic view in which I expect disappointment, and therefore keep my expectations low as a protective mechanism. It means that I express myself, allow others to do the same, and take responsibility for staying or vacating situations that violate my values or compromise my boundaries.
10. I am responsible.
In every situation, or especially in conflict, I now start by finding where my responsibility lies. Responsibility is different than blame. Blame is who’s fault is it; responsibility is the way in which the parties involved responded to each other in a given situation. I can’t blame someone for doing me harm if I had a hand in it, which 99% of the time I will have had. Even if my hand was a passive one, like not pre-emptively outlining a need, or just allowing buttons to be pushed without speaking up. Sometimes bad things happen to me and I have no hand in it, but then my hand becomes my response.
11. Hold on to let go.
You can’t throw a ball that’s not in your hand. For a long time in my youth, with hippy parents, I was sort of swimming in the new age sentiment of “letting go.” It took some drawing out of some fairly hellish experiences to learn that the only way to let go is to first hold what ails you; learn it, greive it, and accept it. “Letting go” before you’ve really held something close is called suppression and it doesn’t work, at least not long term.
12. Balance isn’t constant.
It is impossible to maintain a constant, unfluctuating, balanced life. With some aspects maybe the fluctuations are minimal, but I’ve found it’s more often a swing. An ebb and flow. Phases, rather than an everlasting amalgomous mix. I won’t always be maintaining every aspect of my life to my own satisfaction. Some things have to be a trade-off.
13. I won’t find what was never lost.
Ubiquitous is the motif of “finding yourself.” I have to remember all the time that the Self I tend to go looking for here and there is already in her entirety within me, and she always has been and isn’t going anywhere. Changing location, occupations, or relationship status doesn’t put me any closer (or further) to reaching my potential. Novel experiences can open us in new ways, and speed certain portions of development up, but they equally hinder other portions that would be developed by staying put, deepening our committment.
14. I am (and everyone is) inherently worthy.
Buckminster Fuller said, “The true business of people should be to... think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.” I earned my living the minute I was born, and so did every being on Earth. When I realized my inherent worth I also realized the courage to pursue what I naturally incline toward, rather than what might provide the most stability or acceptance. I’m fine as a stand-alone being. I don’t feel obligated to give all I have to others, because I know I’m worth something to them without doing so. I can allow myself days off because I have a sense of worth without productivity.
15. I go where I’m looking.
When mountain biking or skiing with my father growing up, I would sometimes dangerously hesitate near a precipice or through rough terrain, focused on where I didn’t want to end up and acting from fear. He told me this, “if you look where you want to go, you kind of naturally just go there.” I didn’t realize how profoundly this influenced my life until just a few years ago.
16. Listening is a skill and a practice.
It’s incredible how rare it is to interact with someone who is truly listening to you. I still miss the mark all the time, but the effect is consistently astounding to me when I at least try. In the toughest conflicts, deepest despairs, and in our greatest successes- we all only want to be listened to.
17. There is no problem
99. 9% of the time, everything is actually just fine- the problem is in the past or future/in the mind. Maybe you’re heart broken or stretched thin professionally, but maybe you’re actually just sitting on your porch in the sun drinking some water right now. The only regret I feel when looking back on problems is the web of stress that needlessly eminated from them. Handling only what has come to me is so difficult, but I try to remember that it’s going to be OK. I can and will make it through everything, even sickness and death.
18. “I believe in nothing, everything is sacred, I believe in everything, nothing is sacred.” -Tom Robbins
This quote represents the pursuit of the cosmic perspective to me. My life is pretty dang close to non-existant in the realms of time and space, and so it doesn’t matter at all. And yet, though it’s unlikely we’re alone in the universe, life is obviously unfathomably scarce, and so I matter immensely and my little life is incredibly important if only for its sheer rarity. This perspective makes it easier (and imperitive) to enjoy my life for the fun (and beauty) of it, and not to take anything too seriously (or lightly.)
19. Show up.
Anything at all worthwhile requires that I show up and keep showing up. To my desk. To the river. Someday, to my family.
20. Voids are fertile.
A plant too long in one pot wraps its own roots around it’s neck and chokes. An at first frightening lull in work can end up providing the space for an entirely new and fruitful endeavor. The end of a relationship brings space for other kinds of people, and new awareness. Sometimes you need to tear things away to let other things grow. “The acrobat who swings from one trapeze to the next know just when he must let go. He gauges his release exquisitely and for a moment he has nothing going for him but his own momentum. Our hearts follow his arc and we love him for risking the unsupported moment.” -Erving and Miriam Polster
21. Say no.
I heard someone say in an episode of On Being that as a kid, you viewed luxury as spacial. A bigger house, a big car, a big screen TV... these were signs of a successful life. As we grow older though, we find that true luxury is actually temporal. It’s an empty space on the calendar. Everyone wants your time, it is the ultimate currency. Protect and invest it.
22. Say yes.
Alternately, a good way to find yourself stagnant and stuck is for the scales to tip too far to the “no” side. A dear friend once said to me, “you know what’s great for stagnation? Radical new experiences!” Say yes when appropriate to chances for bonding, forging new connections, learning, growing, strengthening, and even for just the weird and the wild. Howl at the moon every once in a while.
23. I am self-validating.
My feelings, thoughts, opinions, and choices, are complete as I experience and perhaps express them. I don’t need to convince anyone to see things my way for it to be valid. I don’t have to be rational, I don’t even have to be good. No one has to “understand my argument.” I get to live my own life (and in fact, I have to.)
24. All I have is now.
I have a poster on my wall made by some friends of mine that says “the past is dead, the future unborn, be here now.” When I classify things based on past experience I limit their possibility, and same with naming things in terms of their potential for disappointment or success, I doom them. It’s like trying to time travel.. to hurry through or to relive. Someday never comes. Back when is like a vapor. If I want something for my life now is the only time.
25. All I have is here.
The “promiseland” is here. Black Elk, a Sioux cheif, had a vision where he was at the center of the world. This was a mountain in South Dakota, but he then mentions that anywhere is the center of the world. This is very technically true, also, as any given point in space is the center of the observable universe from that perspective. I try to live in the world that I live in, meaning that though it feels easier for me to be centered in the mountains of Utah, I cannot live the life that otherwise speaks to me from that location. I have learned that the same state is acheivable anywhere.
26. There are no stunt doubles or stand-ins.
No one’s going to live my life for me (and if they sort of do for a while, they won’t always and then I’m back at zero.) Getting swept up into someone else’s life, dropping the reins and letting them direct me through, is self-abandonment. I am learning to be a good friend, parent, and boss for myself. I try to show up, take care of my needs, fan my own flames, keep myself safe, and push myself. I will ask for and allow help from others so long as I do not come to expect or rely upon it irreparably.
27. Breathe, sleep, drink, eat, move, nap, walk.
I decided to lump these basic habits into one lesson because otherwise they’d take up the whole list. I could amend them with some extra words: breathe consciously, sleep enough, drink water, eat enough and well, move as often as possible, nap daily. Walking helps with several things: it is meditative, decent exercise, and a brilliantly pleasant mode of transportation if I can pull it off. I try to go on a walk every day.
28. Everything is connected.
It was hard to organize this list. It actually probably took me about 8 hours from beginning to end. I ended up coming up with over 100 possible items to include, then combing through I realized that almost all of them could somehow be combined. Teasing and separating for efficacy was difficult. The more I really started to read- starting about 7 years ago- the more I found it impossible to organize my bookshelf by subject like I used to. Things started blurring too much the more I understood them. Does this book on linguistics go into philosophy, anthropology, or psychology? Does this art book go in with business or botany or metaphysics? The work of integrating the knowledge of the oneness of everything is the greatest, most ecstatic, completely impossible task of living. Finally I gave up and arranged them by the color of the spines.