May 14, 2017
I remember being a twenty-something — what it felt like to be alive at that age. At twenty-something my future was forever, in spite of evidence to the contrary.
Forty years later I feel enormous gratitude that I can still appreciate the magic of my youth, and also look forward to the gift of more time to experience and appreciate what is of value to me today.
Back then time frequently stood still. Today it rushes forward like one of those trains in Europe that goes a million miles an hour toward a destination I’d prefer to avoid.
So in hopes of providing some benefit from the years I’ve spent in between, here’s some of what I’ve learned so far:
- Vulnerability is your magic weapon.
As you may have heard me say before: ‘We’re never more powerful than when we’re completely vulnerable and have nothing left to defend’.
The years have made me more vulnerable mentally, emotionally and physically. And I hope they have softened some of the rough edges.
When the walls go up and you’re defended against feeling a particular emotion, joy is an impossibility. You can’t shut out one emotion without affecting all of them.
Remind yourself to feel them all. They only last 90 seconds if you don’t resist them or hold on to them.
- Use every part of you.
Some of us are better at meeting the world with our intellect, some at connecting emotionally, and some at using our body to tell us what’s going on. A lucky few inherently know how to use them all.
I’ve worked on strengthening my ability to manage my emotions and also to be in touch with, and understand, the wisdom my body offers. Meditation and mindfulness have made a difference.
Today I notice when I’m holding my breath, which usually means I’m trying not to feel something. I notice twitches and tensions and contractions. Bodies are a wellspring of information for things that I might have a hard time seeing intellectually or emotionally. The simplest tool I have is to notice when my body is tight. That often alerts me that something needs my attention.
Use it all. Remind yourself to pause, breathe, notice what you’re thinking and feeling, and soften your body. When you remember to pause you’ll be in touch with every part of you — intellect, emotions and physicality. You’ll make the best decisions and experience the most intense joy when all three are working together.
- Respect everyone; no exceptions.
When I remember to pause and look into the eyes of whoever I’m with, something shifts. Whether it’s a co-worker, grocery store check-out person, lover, child, family member, or friend. I’m reminded that they all have their insecurities and their defenses and their fragilities, just like me. No exceptions to that.
Allow yourself to see behind the defenses and the walls. See yourself reflected within your idea of them. Because who and what you see is simply information about you. Consider letting the relationship, however brief, bask in the warmth of acceptance. In the recognition that, like you, they are doing the very best they can with what they’ve been handed.
Beyond challenging. Maybe humanly impossible. But not a bad rule to live by anyway. And there’s no quicker pathway to pure joy.
- Don’t discriminate between emotions.
Anger, sadness, glee, love, arrogance, self-righteousness, compassion, fear, impatience, generosity, greed, selfishness … I’m learning to appreciate every encounter with every emotion as information that will serve me if I see it for what it is—an alert that something wants my attention.
Think about how narrow your life would be if you were content all the time. No bumps or prods to ensure your ongoing development. Growth is something we’re all hard-wired to need, whether we like it or not. Though eternal contentment sounds awfully appealing when we’re in the throes of upheaval, life would dull and tarnish very quickly.
The only way to get to joy is through making friends with all your emotions.
- Meet everyone as though you’re meeting them for the first time.
I used to do that with my son when we were having a hard time. It gave me the opportunity to fall in love with that wonderful boy and then young man, over and over again.
Drop your stories about them. And then consider bringing yourself to them in the same way. Show up fresh, and if you’ve been dragging a lot of heavy baggage from your own history, see if you can gently lay it aside for just a few minutes. See what that feels like.
Falling in love with everyone each time you meet is the essence of pure joy.
- Offer what you’d like to have been given when you were young.
Acceptance. Affection. Outgoing concern. A shoulder and a listening ear. And the topper, I wanted to get a clear message that they had every confidence in my ability to rise to whatever occasion life would present.
When you’re accepted just as you are, imperfect as that may be, and you can feel the outgoing concern for your wellbeing coming from someone who loves you, you can sometimes relax enough to accept all of yourself. Even the parts that hide in the shadows and darkness that come out occasionally and bite you in the butt.
I suspect that the best word to summarize what I’m exploring here, the over-arching theme, is kindness. Being kind to yourself and everyone you meet seems to generate a degree of pure joy that nothing else can replicate.
Nimo Patel says it beautifully here. I hope you’ll take a moment and give yourself a 4 minute gift.