There’s a theory- well, it’s actually a “law” (The Law of Thermodynamics, to be precise)- that claims energy can neither be created nor destroyed. The basic idea is that energy can only be transferred or transformed from one thing to another.
You’re probably thinking “WTH does this have to do with my legacy?“. Well, assuming this “law” is true, this means that the energy in and around us is always there. There isn’t ever a time or place with “no energy”. The energy is either neutral (conserved), positive, or negative. I’m definitely not a physicist, and for all I know what I’m saying is total nonsense… but if I’m happy I’m emitting positive energy. If I’m pissed, I am emitting negative energy. And there are sometimes when I’m just not happy or pissed, but I’m just kinda “there” (i.e., “neutral”).
When I’m mad, my “energy” or “vibes” tend to pour over into others around me. People can sense my mood. When I’m full of joy, people tend to reap the benefits of my joyful mood. We have the potential power to take our “energy” and affect those around us in a positive or negative way.
And THIS is where your legacy comes into play.
In thinking about our short time here on Earth, we don’t have a lot to leave behind. I know some people may think that living until 100 seems like a long time, but it really isn’t. We are born, we go through this awkward phase of learning how to walk, talk, and get along with others, and for most of us, we actually die still trying (or not trying…who knows…)
But the point is, in this short time, the only thing we think we leave behind is the memory of who we are and what we contributed to the world while we were alive, but memories can only go so far. On the other hand, if energy can neither be created nor destroyed, then what happens with our energy when we’re gone?
All the times we bestowed grace and love on those that carried negative energy… all those times, instead of adding to the fire of hate, we diluted the flames with kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and love (all of these towards ourselves and others)…
Feeling horrible sometimes is inevitable. Loss and pain (physical or emotional) is inevitable in life and it’s only natural to feel what we feel. But I don’t think that our feelings are “the energy”. The energy that is transferred and transformed by us and through us is in how we respond and process those feelings.
The key is not to turn off our humanness, our feelings, emotions, but rather take a step back, maybe even take a few breaths (or more) and really consider what kind of energy we are putting out there.
Even if we do nothing, energy, by the law of nature, will naturally spread out. It’s like a hot pot that has been removed from the stove: eventually it’s going to cool down. The energy spreads out of the pot and into the air.
So here I am thinking, we have 3 choices: we spew out negative energy, positive energy, or somehow try to find a way to conserve our energy or at least keep it neutral, because it’s here to stay, and it’s indestructible.
This, I believe, is where your legacy is. It can’t be seen with our eyes, and sometimes it isn’t directly or automatically felt, but if the law is true, I believe we are always leaving our mark and establishing an unforgettable legacy.
Make it a good one.
(Photo found on trinity Roselle foundation; no copyright infringement intended)
Some may argue that maturity comes with age. Some argue it comes with experience. I don’t know which one is right, but maybe it’s both. What I have learned at my ripe age, is that maturity isn’t about being perfect. It’s about being real. It’s about being honest, and it’s about not letting the desire for pleasure or fear of pain be the motivation for the decisions we make in our life.
Immature people speak and behave based on their current emotions and personal feelings. This behavior is based on their understanding of rules, trade-offs, and the social order around them.
For an immature person, everything is seen as a trade-off. These children (and a shocking number of adults) approach life as an endless series of bargains. I will do what my boss says so I can get money. I will call my mother so I don’t get yelled at. I will do my homework so I don’t fuck up my future. I will lie and pretend to be nice so I don’t have to deal with conflict.
Nothing is done for its own sake. Everything is a calculated trade-off, usually made out of fear of the negative repercussions.
You can’t live your life this way, otherwise, you’re never actually living your life. You’re merely living out an aggregation of the desires of the people around you. In a sense, you’re a slave. To become a mature and emotionally healthy individual, you gotta break out of this bargaining and calculating way of thinking, and realize the higher guiding principles.
“Ideally, after some time, we will begin to realize that the world cannot always be bargained with, nor should we subject every aspect of our life to a series of transactions. You don’t want to bargain with your father for love, or your friends for companionship, or your boss for respect. Why? Because feeling like you have to manipulate people into loving or respecting you feels shitty. It undermines the whole project. If you have to convince someone to love you, then they don’t love you. If you have to cajole someone into respecting you, then they don’t respect you. The most precious and important things in life cannot be bargained with. To try to do so destroys them.”
You cannot manipulate happiness.
While people who navigate the world through bargaining and rules can get far in the material world, they remain crippled and alone in their emotional world. This is because transactional values create toxic relationships — relationships that are built on manipulation.
A mature adult gives without expectation, without seeking anything in return, because to do so defeats the purpose of a gift in the first place.
Life is far more complicated than simply pursuing one’s pleasure and avoiding pain.
As children grow up, they experience the shocking realization that the world does not cater to their whims, and that the only things in life of real value and meaning are achieved without conditions, and without transactions.
As a mature adult, you sit and think critically about yourself and about what you’ve chosen to care about, not through word, but through deed.
What level of maturity are you actually operating on?
Sit down, get honest with yourself, and really pick apart whether or not your interpretations of your actions actually make sense. Are you just deluding yourself? Do your actions reflect what you think is important? If not, where is the disconnect?
Happiness and health come when there is no disconnect with your virtues and your thoughts and behaviors.
Don’t get me wrong: The problem is not you. The problem is what you’re choosing to value, how you’re choosing to see the world and the way in which it operates.
You didn’t fuck up because you caused pain. You fucked up because you caused pain for bad reasons.
Sometimes we think we are the mature ones, so we go around trying to make others “mature like us”. But you can’t go from a child to an adult without being an adolescent in between.
Maturity happens when we realize that it’s better to suffer for the right reasons than to feel pleasure for the wrong reasons. Adulthood occurs when we realize that it’s better to love fully and unconditionally and lose, than to never know what it means to really love, and what LOVE is really about.
Eventually you learn what pain is worthwhile, and what pain is just kicking you further from inner peace and joy. Choose wisely.
(NOTE: This is a summary and interpretation of one of my all-time favorite authors, Mark Manson, in his article “How to Grow the Fuck Up: A Guide to Humans”; a VERY long, but VERY WORTH TAKING THE TIME TO READ piece I absolutely LOVE.)
We all think we are a nice person, and when we act in an unloving way, we justify it by blaming the other person’s behavior. Sometimes we believe that by being “mean back” in those moments, we can teach them a lesson, or “inspire” them to change.
Mathematically, that equation simply doesn’t add up. It is impossible to use a negative action, like anger, to produce positive genuine actions, like love.
Maybe the other person’s behavior is intolerable, but when we use their behavior to justify being intolerable ourselves, we mold ourselves into that same ugliness we are trying to change.
To continue having a bad attitude because “someone did something you didn’t like” will only end up with us hating ourselves. We slowly become more and more like the person we despise. When we do not like ourselves, all we get is unhappiness, bitterness, loneliness, and neediness. So if you think about it, KINDNESS and LOVE always win.
Once upon no time, there was a little Soul who said to God, “I know who I am.”
And God said, “That’s wonderful! Who are you?”
And the Little Soul shouted, “I’m the Light!”
God smiled a big smile. “That’s right!” God exclaimed. “You are the Light.”
The Little Soul was so happy, for it had figured out what all the souls in the Kingdom were there to figure out.
“Wow,” said the Little Soul, “this is really cool!”
But soon, knowing who it was was not enough. The Little Soul felt stirrings inside, and now wanted to be who it was. And so the Little Soul went back to God (which is not a bad idea for all souls who want to be Who They Really Are) and said,
“Hi, God! Now that I know Who I am, is it okay for me to be it?”
And God said, “You mean you want to be Who You Already Are?”
“Well,” replied the Little Soul,” it’s one thing to know Who I Am, and another thing altogether to actually be it. I want to feel what it’s like to be the Light!”
“But you already are the Light,” God repeated, smiling again.
“Yes, but I want to see what that feels like!” cried the Little Soul.
“Well,” said God with a chuckle, “I suppose I should have known. You always were the adventuresome one.”
Then God’s expression changed. “There’s only one thing…”
“What?” asked the Little Soul.
“Well, there is nothing else but the Light. You see, I created nothing but what you are; and so, there is no easy way for you to experience yourself as Who You Are, since there is nothing that you are not.”
“Huh?” said the Little Soul, who was now a little confused.
“Think of it this way,” said God. “You are like a candle in the Sun. Oh, you’re there all right. Along with a million, gazillion other candles who make up the Sun. And the sun would not be the Sun without you. Nay, it would be a sun without one of its candles…and that would not be the Sun at all; for it would not shine as brightly. Yet, how to know yourself as the Light when you are amidst the Light -that is the question.”
“Well,” the Little Soul perked up, “you’re God. Think of something!”
Once more God smiled. “I already have,” God said. “Since you cannot see yourself as the Light when you are in the Light, we’ll surround you with darkness.”
“What’s darkness?” the Little Soul asked.
God replied, “It is that which you are not.”
“Will I be afraid of the dark?” cried the Little Soul.
“Only if you choose to be,” God answered. “There is nothing, really, to be afraid of, unless you decide that there is. You see, we are making it all up. We are pretending.”
“Oh,” said the Little Soul, and felt better already.
Then God explained that, in order to experience anything at all, the exact opposite of it will appear. “It is a great gift,” God said, “because without it, you could not know what anything is like. You could not know Warm without Cold, Up without Down, Fast without Slow. You could not know Left without Right, Here without There, Now without Then.”
“And so,” God concluded, “when you are surrounded with darkness, do not shake your fist and raise your voice and curse the darkness. Rather be a Light unto the darkness, and don’t be mad about it. Then you will know Who You Really Are, and all others will know, too. Let your Light shine so that everyone will know how special you are!”
“You mean it’s okay to let others see how special I am?” asked the Little Soul.
“Of course!” God chuckled. “It’s very okay! But remember,’special’ does not mean ‘better.’ Everybody is special, each in their own way! Yet many others have forgotten that. They will see that it is okay for them to be special only when you see that it is okay for you to be special.”
“Wow,” said the Little Soul, dancing and skipping and laughing and jumping with joy. “I can be as special as I want to be!”
“Yes, and you can start right now,” said God, who was dancing and skipping and laughing right along with the Little Soul.
“What part of special do you want to be?”
“What part of special?” the Little Soul repeated. “I don’t understand.”
“Well,” God explained, “being the Light is being special, and being special has a lot of parts to it. It is special to be kind. It is special to be gentle. It is special to be creative. It is special to be patient. Can you think of any other ways it is special to be?”
The Little Soul sat quietly for a moment. “I can think of lots of ways to be special!” the Little Soul then exclaimed. “It is special to be helpful. It is special to be sharing. It is special to be friendly. It is special to be considerate of others!”
“Yes!” God agreed, “and you can be all of those things, or any part of special you wish to be, at any moment. That’s what it means to be the Light.”
“I know what I want to be, I know what I want to be!” the Little Soul announced with great excitement. “I want to be the part of special called ‘forgiving’. Isn’t it special to be forgiving?”
“Oh, yes,” God assured the Little Soul. “That is very special.”
“Okay,” said the Little Soul. “That’s what I want to be. I want to be forgiving. I want to experience myself as that.”
“Good,” said God, “but there’s one thing you should know.”
The Little Soul was becoming a bit impatient now. It always seemed as though there were some complication.
“What is it?” the Little Soul sighed.
“There is no one to forgive.”
“No one?” The Little Soul could hardly believe what had been said.
“No one!” God repeated. “Everything I have made is perfect. There is not a single soul in all creation less perfect than you. Look around you.”
It was then that the Little Soul realized a large crowd had gathered. Souls had come from far and wide ~ from all over the Kingdom ~ for the word had gone forth that the Little Soul was having this extraordinary conversation with God, and everyone wanted to hear what they were saying. Looking at the countless other souls gathered there, the Little Soul had to agree. None appeared less wonderful, less magnificent, or less perfect than the Little Soul itself. Such was the wonder of the souls gathered around, and so bright was their Light, that the Little Soul could scarcely gaze upon them.
“Who, then, to forgive?” asked God.
“Boy, this is going to be no fun at all!” grumbled the Little Soul. “I wanted to experience myself as One Who Forgives. I wanted to know what that part of special felt like.”
And the Little Soul learned what it must feel like to be sad. But just then a Friendly Soul stepped forward from the crowd.
“Not to worry, Little Soul,” the Friendly Soul said, “I will help you.”
“You will?” the Little Soul brightened. “But what can you do?”
“Why, I can give you someone to forgive!”
“Certainly!” chirped the Friendly Soul. “I can come into your next lifetime and do something for you to forgive.”
“But why? Why would you do that?” the Little Soul asked. “You, who are a Being of such utter perfection! You, who vibrate with such a speed that it creates a Light so bright that I can hardly gaze upon you! What could cause you to want to slow down your vibration to such a speed that your bright Light would become dark and dense? What could cause you ~ who are so light that you dance upon the stars and move through the Kingdom with the speed of your thought–to come into my life and make yourself so heavy that you could do this bad thing?”
“Simple,” the Friendly Soul said. “I would do it because I love you.”
The Little Soul seemed surprised at the answer.
“Don’t be so amazed,” said the Friendly Soul, “you have done the same thing for me. Don’t you remember? Oh, we have danced together, you and I, many times. Through the eons and across all the ages have we danced. Across all time and in many places have we played together. You just don’t remember.”
“We have both been All Of It. We have been the Up and the Down of it, the Left and the Right of it. We have been the Here and the There of it, the Now and the Then of it. We have been the male and the female, the good and the bad; we have both been the victim and the villain of it.”
“Thus have we come together, you and I, many times before; each bringing to the other the exact and perfect opportunity to Express and to Experience Who We Really Are. And so,” the Friendly Soul explained further, “I will come into your next lifetime and be the ‘bad one’ this time. I will do something really terrible, and then you can experience yourself as the One Who Forgives.
“But what will you do?” the Little Soul asked, just a little nervously, “that will be so terrible?”
“Oh,” replied the Friendly Soul with a twinkle, “we’ll think of something.”
Then the Friendly Soul seemed to turn serious, and said in a quiet voice, “You are right about one thing, you know.”
“What is that?” the Little Soul wanted to know.
“I will have to slow down my vibration and become very heavy to do this not-so-nice thing. I will have to pretend to be something very unlike myself. And so, I have but one favour to ask of you in return.”
“Oh, anything, anything!” cried the Little Soul, and began to dance and sing, “I get to be forgiving, I get to be forgiving!”
Then the Little Soul saw that the Friendly Soul was remaining very quiet.
“What is it?” the Little Soul asked. “What can I do for you? You are such an angel to be willing to do this for me!”
“Of course this Friendly Soul is an angel!” God interrupted. “Everyone is! Always remember: I have sent you nothing but angels.”
And so the Little Soul wanted more than ever to grant the Friendly Soul’s request. “What can I do for you?” the Little Soul asked again.
“In the moment that I strike you and smite you,” the Friendly Soul replied, “in the moment that I do the worst to you that you could possible imagine ~ in that very moment…”
“Yes?” the Little Soul interrupted, “yes…?””Remember Who I Really Am.”
“Oh, I will!” cried the Little Soul, “I promise! I will always remember you as I see you right here, right now!”
“Good,” said the Friendly Soul, “because, you see, I will have been pretending so hard, I will have forgotten myself. And if you do not remember me as I really am, I may not be able to remember for a very long time. And if I forget Who I Am, you may even forget Who You Are, and we will both be lost. Then we will need another soul to come along and remind us both of Who We Are.”
“No, we won’t!” the Little Soul promised again. “I will remember you! And I will thank you for bringing me this gift ~ the chance to experience myself as Who I Am.
” And so, the agreement was made. And the Little Soul went forth into a new lifetime, excited to be the Light, which was very special, and excited to be that part of special called Forgiveness.
And the Little Soul waited anxiously to be able to experience itself as Forgiveness, and to thank whatever other soul made it possible. And at all the moments in that new lifetime, whenever a new soul appeared on the scene, whether that new soul brought joy or sadness–and especially if it brought sadness–the Little Soul thought of what God had said.
“Always remember,” God had smiled, “I have sent you nothing but angels.”
When I was six years old, I remember getting the training wheels off my Rainbow Bright bicycle and riding alone for the first time. The feeling was exhilarating and the fact that my bike was Rainbow Bright made it magical. What a glorious moment for a six-year old. I was fearless.
Needless to say, the bike apparently wasn’t that magical as I fell off and scraped my knee. My father ran to me, scooped me up, and took me to the house. Although I was hurt, I hadn’t cried until I looked down and saw the blood. The blood horrified me. Just the look of it made the pain grow exponentially. “The blood! The blood!” I screamed. The pain, not from falling, but from seeing the blood, was unbearable. My father never let me live that down…
Now I’m 34 years old and still sensitive to the sight of blood, but it doesn’t intensify the pain. I’ve since learned that neither blood or riding a bike equals pain. I can enjoy a bike ride without fear of falling off. I can see blood and not feel immense pain.
But when we are traumatized with other horrific events, such as being betrayed by a spouse’s infidelity, everything that is connected with the infidelity becomes the “blood” that intensifies our fear. Now, whenever I pass a massage parlor, I feel pain. My emotional pain increases and I experience tension, anxiety, fear, sadness…(the list could go on). Whenever I hear my husband’s phone go off, I experience the same feelings. Whenever I am triggered (my triggers are numerous!) I fall into great despair. My emotions go into a downward negative spiral and my creativity peaks as I start envisioning all the times he acted out and was unfaithful. I create stories that may have never even happened, and somehow manage to make it the worst possible scenario imaginable. I then relive those events in my mind and heart, over and over. While the betrayal was real, and the emotional turmoil and trauma I experienced was real, the pain wasn’t something I needed to hold on to. It is natural to grieve and feel “broken-hearted”. All those feelings are natural and should be appreciated. You’ve been hurt! Hurt hurts! It’s supposed to! But it doesn’t have to last, and it doesn’t have to be recreated or tightly held on to. Even now, as we pick up the pieces of a shattered dream, there are days when I feel paralyzed by my fear of him acting out again, of being betrayed again.. and I am totally justified to feel that fear. I could even let that fear control my entire day.
It’s fear. Fear of the unknown.
Fear of ambiguity.
Fear of being hurt again.
It is insecurity. The feeling is real, for sure. But it doesn’t have to affect me unless I let it.
I could have decided, at six years old, that considering the pain involved, riding a bike was way too risky and not worth the effort, but I didn’t. My desire to experience life and all it had to offer- especially on an awesome Rainbow Bright bike (did I mention the rainbow streamers on the handle bars?) with the wind blowing through my hair as I rode down the street- was stronger than the fear of experiencing that pain ever again.
It took me a while to finally understand that massage parlors, prostitutes, other women, porn, and sex were not my enemy. They were doing what they were supposed to do. They were doing their job. It’s a reality I could not fight. To deny their existence would be a battle I was sure to lose, every single time. Every time I tried to fight that battle, I would feel more pain and more fear.
What I did learn was that not even my husband was my enemy. He was just doing what he does. He was “doing his job” too. That was his reality at the time, on his path in his life. It was his choice and there was nothing I could do to prevent that from happening, and nothing I can do to prevent it from happening in the future. In fact, even if I decided to get a new husband, lover, or partner, there’s still nothing I can do to prevent it from happening again. People will make their choices whether or not I like them, because that is reality.
Emotional and physical pain sucks. Betrayal sucks. Infidelity sucks. Lies suck. Liars suck. Reality can really suck. But in the end, it’s still reality and whether or not I fear all of that, it’s still a reality. I can choose to remain resentful, mad, angry, sad, depressed, insecure and fearful, but the crappiest reality about that is that it will only affect me in the end. Me staying resentful, mad or angry and depressed won’t affect anyone else but me. And why would I want that? Life will still play out in unpredictable ways. It will bring joy and it will bring sadness.
Since then, I’ve had a lot of bikes and I’ve fallen down a lot as well. I chose to ride again, despite the numerous crashes. I’ve learned that some falls I could learn from and take certain measures to prevent similar crashes. But there were other falls that were completely out of my control.
I can let that insecurity ruin my day, month, year, and even life. Or, I can let it go.
I’m not saying don’t feel your pain. I’m not saying don’t process your pain or deny your pain. I’m saying don’t dwell on it.
At one of the largest turning points in my life (my 2nd year of undergrad in New York) I was ready to throw in the towel and give up on life. I was flunking all my classes. I walked in on my boyfriend of 4 years sleeping with another woman. I had two jobs and still, my bank account was nearing zero. I was living off of canned tuna and rice. I was living in a basement and still couldn’t afford rent and was being evicted.
“Why try anymore? I’ve done so much already and nothing happened. It’s too much work, and I don’t know if my efforts will ever pay off. What if I’m destined to live this life? Why not just accept it?” I told myself.
Here I was, a small town girl from Idaho, living in New York trying to make something of myself, but no matter how hard I tried, I kept failing. I wasn’t smart enough. I wasn’t pretty enough. I wasn’t good enough. It’s not fair! Why does everyone else have it so easy and I have to struggle? No one loves me. No one will ever love me. I’ll always be a failure. I’ll never find happiness… “I quit! This is hopeless!” I told myself.
On what I decided was my last week of class, my professor noticed my glum attitude and asked me to dinner. That night changed my life. We talked about why I was sad, what I was so disappointed in, and why I was blaming my life and problems on external things like other people, my childhood, and “bad luck” or “destiny”. She told me:
“Everything that you have done in the past, and everything you are doing right now, and everything that you will do in the future is because YOU chose to do it. Everything that you didn’t do in the past, and everything you aren’t doing right now, and everything you don’t do in the future is because YOU chose not to do it.”
I fought back, “No! I don’t have a choice in this! I tried! I did my best! It didn’t work! It’s hopeless now….I’m not at fault! This is just life. I’m being realistic!”
She repeated what she told me, again, and again, and again, until it finally sunk in. “THIS IS YOUR LIFE, AND ALL OF IT IS YOUR CHOICE. AND YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR CHOICES AT ANY MOMENT…”
Wait… what? I can change my choices at any moment? At each and every moment in my life, I can change what I chose to do or not do…
13 years have passed since that day. The greatest lesson of my life. Sometimes I still want to externalize my disappointments. But I’m constantly reminded of her words. I learned that honestly owning up to your choices (good or bad) takes a lot of courage. I learned that if one choice didn’t put me where I wanted to be, I had to make a different choice.
So ask yourself: “Do I like where I am right now in life?” If not, “What did I do to get myself into this situation?”
Now ask yourself: “What can I choose to do now to change my situation?”
The good news is, no matter what choice you make, IT’S ALL YOURS!
The bad news is, that no matter what choice you make, the consequences are all yours too. So choose wisely…
But if you really want it, you do what it takes. Yes, the first few steps are the darkest and scariest, and it might mean leaving New York with your tail between your legs, feeling like a failure while you get into your broken down 1987 Toyota Camry in the middle of summer with no radio and no air conditioner, with one door hanging off it’s hinges, and driving across the country to move back in with your parents and starting all over until you get back on your feet… (or not! That’s just what it took for me.) The point is, no one is to blame for your life, and changing it is scary because we are essentially stepping into the unknown- out of our comfort zone – that place where, ironically, all the juiciest, yummiest, priceless payoff is waiting. Yup… A good life takes effort, work, and time.
I learned that no magic fairy dust or princess wand was going to bring bliss to me on a silver plate… (Yeah, I think I may have honestly hoped it would at that time. And why not? I deserved it! I was a good person. I had good intentions. I was a hard worker. I was nice…I thought…)
What I learned was that no one on this Earth owed me anything. What I learned was that those first steps, however scary, ultimately empowered me and served as a reminder that I AM THE MASTER OF MY LIFE. If it sucks, it’s because I let it suck.
This life is all yours. If you don’t like it, or notice you keep seeing the same disappointments, CHANGE something you are doing in your life! But your life is yours, and only yours, for the taking. It’s your birthright. Own it. Your ONE life is here for you now.
Profound wisdom from an author of one of my favorite books, “Taking Our Places: The Buddhist Path to Truly Growing Up” by Zoketsu Norman Fischer. He recently spoke at a Stanford Baccalaureate explaining why your life is not and has never been about you…
“A moment is a moment. As with all other times in life, there are highs and there are lows. Today you may be feeling high, and that is beautiful. Time passes though, and you forget about that moment. But right now, you have the skills, connections, and obligations to do great things. And this means not only great things for yourselves- you are expected to do great things for others and for the world. So let’s be honest: the future really is in the youth. And yet the truth is it is not always going to be easy to survive your promising life, anywhere in the world. There is so much competition, and anxiety about that competition, that it is possible that success won’t come easy, and it’s also possible that success won’t come at all. Or maybe it will come in abundance, but you don’t find it as meaningful as you thought it would be. Or, maybe success comes and you find it satisfying but only at first when it is still bright and shiny and exciting, and later at the state and with the implications of the successful life you have lived, it will wear you down and you will find yourself tired and confused.
It could be that as time goes on from this day, some of your personal relationships don’t work out the way you hoped they would. It’s possible that your sense of self doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. It’s possible that there will be disappointments, setbacks- some acknowledged and some buried deep within and not acknowledged. In short, it is very possible that from this day forth there is some pain awaiting you: bad love affairs, betrayals, losses, disillusions. Likely, you are going to have some seriously shaky moments. Maybe as you move through the decades it will become increasingly difficult to maintain the idealism and hopefulness that you have right now. It could be that one day you wake up and you find yourself wondering what have I been doing all this time? Who have I become?
You’ll keep busy. You’ll have a lot of things to do. And if there are such feelings, you’ll try your best not to notice them. If there is any despair, disappointment, discouragement, or boredom that you’re feeling years from today, you’ll try not to notice and I bet you’ll be able to do that- to not notice it…
I should say something encouraging.. and I do intend to do that! But, I figured I would be more convincing if I were also pretty realistic and it is realistic to say that your lives from now on will not be that easy. It is realistic to say that the skills you will need to survive may be more than, or other than, the skills that you have so far in your lives. Because the truth is that it takes a great deal of fortitude and strength to sustain a worthwhile, happy, human life over time in this actual world that we live in.
So here comes the uplifting part:
Your life isn’t and has never been about you…
It isn’t, and it has never been about what you accomplish, how successful you are (or are not), how much money you make, what sort of position you ascend to, or even about your family, your associations, your various communities, or even about how much good you do for others in the world.
Your life, like mine, and like everyone elses, has really only ever been about one thing: LOVE.
Who are you, actually? And where did you come from? Why were you born into this life? You didn’t ask for it. When this short human journey is over, where do you go next, and why and how does any of this exist? What is the point of it all? Not even your Nobel-prize winning professors know the answers to these questions- these inevitable and unavoidable questions. The only thing we know is that we are here for a while and then we are gone, and that WHILE WE ARE HERE, WE ARE HERE TOGETHER, Which is why the only thing that completely makes sense, the only thing that is completely real is LOVE.
This is not a mystery and this is not news or some great discovery. Everyone actually knows this even though we forget about it. Love is always available to you wherever you look and when you dedicate yourself to love- when you dedicate yourself to be kind to everyone you meet, not just the people on your side, AND not just the people you like and approve of, but EVERY human and EVERY non-human being, then you’re going to be ok.
In your life, whatever it brings, even if it brings a lot of difficulty and tragedy, your life will be a beautiful life. I hope that you find this uplifting…
But there’s more… HOW do you love? What does this mean? How do you make your love real so it’s not just a pretty idea? This does not happen by itself. It takes attention, commitment, and effort over time. It doesn’t come from wishing or believing or assuming. You’re gonna have to figure out how NOT to get distracted by your personal problems, by your success (or lack of success), by your needs, desires, suffering, various interests, and ALWAYS keep your eye on the ball of love, even as you inevitably juggle all the rest of it. So you have to commit yourself to love and you have to have a way- a path or a practice for cultivating love and strengthening it throughout your lifetime no matter what happens, because love is not a feeling, it is an overarching attitude and spirit. And it’s a daily activity.
When you go about this practice of cultivating love, whatever practice you choose, the most important characteristic of this practice is that it must be useless- absolutely useless. In other words, it has to be an activity that has no practical effect other than to connect you to your heart and to your highest and most mysterious purpose- a purpose that is literally unknown because it references the unanswerable questions I mentioned a moment ago.
We’ve been doing so many good things for so many good reasons. Lots of good things for our physical health, psychological health, emotional health, family life, future success, economic life, for your community, for your world… but the practice of love that you choose must be a practice that is useless. It doesn’t do anything but to touch our lives beyond all concerns. For example, you could practice gratitude. Have you ever woke up in the morning and just been grateful for another day?
Another practice might be the practice of giving. Giving doesn’t have to be money or gods. Giving can be a daily intention of just a kind word or smile. Or you could practice kind speech on all occasions even difficult ones – committing yourself to speak as much as you can in kindness, and with inclusion of others and their needs, hopes, and dreams – not just speaking from your own side.
Or you can practice beneficial action – committing yourself to intentionally acting with a spirit of benefiting someone else (For example, you could wipe the counters after you’ve used a public restroom, or you could pick up and throw away someone’s garbage in the park) .
Or you could practice identity action, recognizing that when you do anything you are not, and cannot do it alone by your own power. You’ve never done anything alone and by your own power because inevitably whatever you do involves others, and the whole world involves others in a world of support. For example, you cannot breathe air on this Earth without the trees producing oxygen.
Or you could practice compassion – which is going toward, rather than turning away from, the suffering of others and your own suffering. We all want to avoid pain so much that what we do in our lives is focused on avoiding pain- making pain disappear. But oftentimes we cannot make pain disappear- so can you go toward it rather than run away? Can you become softened or brought to wisdom by the unavoidable pain found in others or yourself?
All of these practices share one thing: they come from love. They encourage love. They produce more love. And when you do them over time, little by little it conditions your heart and you discover that you are living in a world full of love, and for your life and for our lives collectively in the times to come, of all the things we need the most, we are going to need much more love. LOTS OF LOVE.
In good times, love is lovely, and in hard times, love is absolutely necessary. Love turns tragedy into opportunity. It turns something unwanted and difficult into a chance to drive love deeper- to make it wiser fuller more glorious and more resilient.
Fenton Johnson said, “One can and should lay great plans, but life has its own ebb and flow and our first duty is to be present to that ebb and flow. We must realize that failure and success are social conceptions that can be useful but that in their conventional definitions have little to do with what really matters, which is to study and practice virtue.”
Timothy Kelly said, “How one lives one’s life is the only true measure of the validity of one’s search.”
So, please, do seriously think about it. Not in a grim way, but with a certain amount of joy and lightness. It is amazing to be alive. Amazing. Unlikely. What is really worthwhile and what is just a distraction, no matter how much another person tells you what is and what isn’t. Only one person can do that, and that is you.
I’m happy for the life you’ve had so far, and I’m congratulating you and hoping for your life a head, a life of challenge and difficulty and passion. What an opportunity.
Watch here if you want to hear it for yourself! (Starts at 29:00 and ends at 57:30).
We all make mistakes, and we all seek forgiveness. Ironically, we also tend to downplay our own mistakes and over-dramatize the mistakes of others. And because we know what our intentions were, we expect forgiveness to come easy for the ones we have hurt or disappointed, yet we find it so difficult to forgive those that have crossed us. Why do we do this?
It’s hard to move on from our past mistakes especially when people keep bringing you down, or reminding you of your failures or bad decisions.
We all make mistakes and it’s important to remember that not all mistakes are one-sided (well, some are…) I’ve never liked the word “mistake”. I prefer to call them “bad calls” or “bad choices” because mistakes make it sound like we didn’t have a choice in the matter. When we make bad choices, our job is to own up to them. Now if you’ve paid your debt, even if the other person hasn’t moved on, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t move on. You don’t have to wait for someone else to move on in order for you to. Sometimes forgiving yourself is the best thing you can do. When we forgive ourselves or others, we are not saying that what was done was ok or somehow justified. When we forgive ourselves or others, we are simply saying that what has happened is done and we love ourselves and others enough to move forward and grow from that experience. This doesn’t mean that crimes should never be put to justice. What it means is that we don’t have to ridicule, put someone down, or remind them of bad decisions made (and it might help a little, or a LOT, to acknowledge the role that you played in that experience as well).
But if someone keeps bringing up your past or telling you that you will always be a horrible person because of something you have done, that’s ok. It isn’t a reflection of who you are, it’s a reflection of where they are in life at that moment. And it’s ok to forgive yourself for what you’ve been through. Although it is ok to feel bad and maybe even a little regret for the bad decisions you’ve made, it is NOT ok to stay there and live in the past, and it is NOT ok to allow another person to keep you or pull you back into that past.
We are progressive beings. We move forward, we evolve. Most importantly, we love, and we love passionately. Our spirits thrive on goodness. We feel joy in kindness and being kind.
And so maybe the next time someone belittles you or tells you how horrible you are because of your past, try this:
Think deeply at the last time you held a stubborn stance when someone apologized to you. Look back on the last time someone let you down and you hesitated to forgive them or respond in kindness. Remember that time when you were judgmental about someone who did something you questioned as morally wrong.
Regardless of how unkind another is, regardless of the mistakes others make, we too, have unkind moments. We too, make hurtful choices. We too, have difficulty forgiving.
I have a challenge (for myself, and I ask it of you too). The next time someone makes a mistake, instead of pointing out the flaw, how about looking for a way to encourage them?
“You’ve come a long way. I’m so proud of your progress. Look at how well you’ve been dealing with ….”
And if they still are struggling, maybe add kind suggestions that get them thinking, such as:
“I noticed that when x,y,z happened, you responded by doing, a,b,c. I wonder if your message got across to them effectively…?”
Perhaps these small gestures can end the cycle of this blame game, one person at a time, and encourage empowering relationships instead.
Maybe, instead of blaming and pointing fingers, we can build people up. Bring forth encouragement when people are at their lowest. Remind them, by our own actions, that peace prevails. Goodness prevails. Love prevails. It always has, and it always will.
And if that doesn’t work (because sometimes it won’t) and those SOBs keep bringing you down, fly high! There’s a story I once heard that goes something like this:
When a storm is coming, the Eagle sets its wings so that the wind will pick it up and lift it above the storm.
While the storm rages below, the Eagle is soaring above it.
The Eagle does not escape the storm. It simply uses the storm to lift it higher.
It rises on the winds that bring the storm.
When the storms of life come upon us – and all of us will experience them – we can rise above them by setting our minds and our faith toward a greater good.
The storms do not have to overcome us. We can allow our faith and fearless inner peace to lift us above them.
Faith is what enables us to ride the winds of the storm that bring sickness, tragedy, failure and disappointment in our lives.
Like an Eagle we can soar above the storm. Remember, it is not the burdens of life that weigh us down, it is how we handle them.
“We tend to think of nourishment only as what we take in through our mouths, but what we consume with our eyes, our ears, our noses, our tongues, and our bodies is also food. The conversations going on around us, and those we participate in, are also food. Are we consuming and creating the kind of food that is healthy for us and helps us grow?” -Thich Nhat Hanh
If thoughts, behaviors, perceptions, and experiences are food, what kind of “food” do you feed your mind/heart/soul? What thoughts do you have? Do they help you grow or do they hinder your growth? Do they give you inner peace or cause you stress?
While we wish to put the huge responsibility on others outside of us, we are responsible for taking care of our “soul” the best we can. How? By being selective of what we put in or allow into our mind and body, and by being mindful of what we are neglecting when we don’t take care of your soul.
When we are born, we were given a body to house our soul. The body carries us physically, but our soul is like a priceless tool that helps us navigate our way through life.
As we navigate our way through all these experiences, however, we will inevitable experience both the things we LOVE as well as the things we don’t- the things that bring us comfort as well as those that cause us much discomfort. That’s life. That is the human experience.
There are those who try to take just the good and escape the “bad”. Some people use alcohol or drugs, while some people do other things like shopping, eating, compulsive sexual behavior, codependency, overworking, violence, etc. But as long as we are alive, there is only one thing that we are guaranteed, which is that life will always change. We can take it and run with it, or we can sit and pout.
When I founded Soulful Detox, my intention was to simply share my experiences and how I either overcame adversity and where I still struggle. Soulful Detox was me just trying to get to know that “soul” inside and the daily little toxins (resentment, control fear, etc.) that slip in. This journey, which I hope you will join, is simply a place where we learn how to detoxify so that we can live a more empowering, loving, meaning and fulfilling life.
About one year ago I came across a story by Neale Donald Walsch (author of Conversations with God) called “The Little Soul and The Sun”. I hadn’t thought about it since, but in a recent “I Am” meditation, I spoke the words “I am compassion” (Honestly, sometimes I feel like what I say is just wishful thinking, but the whole point of the I Am Meditation is to feel more aligned and connected to your higher self). The moment I said those words, I was reminded about The Little Soul and The Sun. If you haven’t read/listened to this story, I highly recommend it.
The Little Soul and The Sun is basically about a little soul that ponders who he is and what his purpose is. The little soul finds out that he is “light” but remains curious and presses God for more answers. Excited with his new found identity, the soul asks God if he can now “be the light and feel what it is like to be light.”
God responds “You are like a candle in the Sun. You are there, along with a million other candles that make up the Sun. And the Sun would not be the Sun without you. So how to know yourself as Light when you are among the Light? Since you cannot see yourself as the Light, I will surround you with darkness.”
The Little Soul asks “What is darkness?” And God replies, “It is that which you are not.”
God reminds the Little Soul, “When you are surrounded with darkness, do not shake your first and raise your voice and curse the darkness. Rather, be a Light unto the darkness, and don’t be mad about it. Then you will know who you really are, and all others will know too.”
In the end, the Little Soul exclaims to God that he wants to be special by being Forgiving as well. And so it was… he was given a life in which he had to learn forgiveness by experiencing times in which he had to forgive.
The story is a tear-jerker but really got me thinking about my own life and my own unpleasant experiences. Who am I? What is my purpose? If we are all from God, and God is Light, then the Light that I am might be compassion.
Well… It might be a bunch of things. But the word Compassion hit a soft spot in my heart as I was doing my I Am Meditation. Let’s say I was Compassion (or whatever I may be). Then it would make sense that for whatever difficulty I may encounter, it is simply an opportunity for me to remember who I am. To practice being Compassion. If I am confident and stand strong in who I Am, then dealing with the obstacles is much more easier, because I remember that they aren’t obstacles- they are blessings. Here is my chance to learn my truth, act accordingly, and avoid reacting as someone that I am not.
Maybe my purpose in life lays down before me every day, in different ways, in different moments, through different encounters- and yes, some of those are testing my compassion and obstacles that make it difficult to be so. If life were a video game, it could be seen as though every moment or event or person is just one level. If I pass, I move on to something better. If I pass, I graduate that stage and become a little smarter, a little better, and a little closer to awakening to my higher self. The sad news is that you can’t skip that shit. If I throw that opportunity away- if I piss and moan at the difficulty or inconvenience and hassle of the opportunity, I go farther away from the goal -alignment with my true self. Mastering this game.
There comes a time when you are at the end of your rope. You tell yourself (and every one else) that “I’ve done everything I can do. There is no way I can change this situation” and then you realize that you indeed did not do everything you could do. To change the mind is a scary thing. We are so sure that we are justified in expecting another person to change. Their behavior is inappropriate and out-right bad. But after a while of this kind of thinking, I realized, it’s not the situation that needs changing. It’s the way you look at the situation that needs changing. And besides, it’s a hella lot more empowering that way, because it’s 100% all your choice. This may not be everyone’s goal, but it’s mine, and the reminder helped me re-examine my current struggle and accept the challenge graciously.
Neale Donald Walsch’s “The Little Soul and The Sun”