As we approach the end of the year, it is a wonderful time to reflect and take stock on what we’ve learned. Some learnings are easy, many come through unexpected challenges. We’ve asked our consultant team to share some of the lessons that have emerged for them this year, and hope they provide you with insights that you will find helpful.
What I’ve settled on is as much something I aspire to, as something I’ve learned. Here it is. Life may turn out to be shorter than we had imagined, but one thing is for sure – Life is definitely better than we could have ever imagined. We have all been richly blessed. There’s so much joy and beauty available to us every day, and so much fun to be had in almost every moment. I’ve learned that I want to be more lighthearted and playful, and really experience all the fun that’s available to us. This is a bit of a reach for a serious, hard-working German girl like me, so if you see me off track, please remind me to lighten up.
One of my lessons focuses on my 2017 year of “cleaning house” – both literally and figuratively. Sold my condo, said goodbye to being Condo Board president for 15 plus years, now sharing a tiny little house with my sweetie, gave away more than half of my furniture…. and simplified. The smallness is comforting, the shedding of “stuff” allowing me to breathe more freely. Marie Kondo’s book, “The life-changing magic of tidying up” was inspiring. Admittedly, progress on eliminating “keepsakes” and books/documents (some of which are still sitting in the basement…old family photographs (half of the faces not identifiable!), the syllabus for a class I “might” teach, past work creations) are slower-going, as Kondo suggests they can be – but my progress is real, shedding a light on how “tidying up” has freed (and continues to free) my mind and my soul.
I have come to carry 3 words with me this year that have meant A LOT! Be. Here. Now. They point me to the understanding that the present is all I have, and I dare not waste this precious resource by micro-planning every little step of an anticipated experience, nor replaying (and often affirming my own righteousness in) an unpleasant past experience. “Be here now”, has helped me stop to breathe, to stop the flow of words in my head, and to listen to the sound of my heart, my breath, or the silence inside me. Quieting my mind has become a practice I look forward to every morning. . . I am an early riser and I love to watch dawn color the sky. Being here now, in the present, is also directly linked to presence, which is the very best part of myself that I can give to another. Or to the sunrise.
Manage Anger and Frustration
I have been working hard to control my anger and frustration when situations arise. Since I am the only person that knows when anger is building, I have learned to recognize the danger signs when they begin. I can choose how to react in a situation and just because my first instinct is to become angry doesn’t mean it is the correct response. I realize that when I start to get angry I need to stop what I am doing and breathe deeply. This interrupts my angry thoughts and helps put me back on a more positive path. Also, if I imagine how I look and behave when I am angry I probably would not want to be around someone like that. A great person once shared that if I “Pause, find Peace and Pray, I can’t but help create an Attitude of Gratitude.”
Redefine Time – this came up twice! As consultants, we are not bound by the typical 9 – 5 clock of an employee. Does this impact how we see time?
I have been challenging my misconception about time. . . the clock is useful for some things, but not as a way to experience and evaluate my life. Have I done everything I wanted to do before I turned a certain age? Did I get everything finished that I wanted to do on Friday? What crazy pressures! Because my life is no longer constrained by the clock, I am experimenting with the natural rhythms and ebb and flow of things . . .like my energy, the need to balance work, play and rest, the times for eating.
One lesson for me this year is to be mindful of how I spend my time. I am aware that time is a finite commodity. Am I doing what I want to be doing? What I need to be doing? Or am I just doing? I am working at being more aware of the choices I make in how I spend my time both at work, in volunteer capacities and at leisure. Even when all I am doing is playing spider solitaire on my cell phone, I can give myself permission to be in a restful state — almost meditative — accepting that down time is a reasonable choice sometimes rather than berating myself about “wasting time.” And I can make intentional decisions about the work I choose to do — having fun, finding meaning and earning money! Rather than feeling obligated or compelled to work at things that are stressful and demotivating. (Yes, I am fortunate to be able to choose this.) And I am finding that being is a valuable way to spend my time — being with family and friends, being outdoors, and being with my colleagues – with you all … who provide me with energy, perspective and support.
See Beyond our Thoughts
I’d say the most important lesson I’ve learned this year is to realize that I don’t need to believe everything I think or anything that anyone else thinks. I grew up in a household that was incredibly loving, full of extended family members who created a safe space for me and my cousins to play and laugh. It was also a household where “father knows Best” and everyone else’s thoughts came in second or third or nowhere at all.
So, in college, I was suddenly in a place where everyone wanted to know what I thought. Thinking was encouraged. And I got to voraciously read and discover other thinkers thorough-out history. I got to organize my thoughts around theories that inspired me and writers who were so articulate in discussing and defending their thoughts. I had many many journals which I used to express my thoughts about everything. You could say I became enamored by my own thoughts. And eventually gained expertise in helping myself and others explore their thought patterns, understand their origins, determine whether they were limiting beliefs and learn to shift or change them to create better results.
So, you can imagine my surprise, during my final year of my doctoral program, as I’m finishing up a 400+ page dissertation, to realize that I don’t need to believe what I think and that I don’t need to even heal my thoughts or shift my thoughts or have anything to do with my thoughts. And that there’s a space beyond thought, a place of Presence and stillness and nothingness that holds more beauty, more potential, more joy than any of my thoughts or other people’s thoughts could ever imagine or express.
This experience is allowing me to relax into being “ordinary” and free to be with other people’s thoughts without the need to be on the defense or offense of anything. It’s bringing into my life a sense of groundedness and compassion and curiosity and insights the likes of which I have never experienced before.
Accept Ourselves as We Are
This year has been a year of unfolding awareness around the passage of time – of shifts in the way I hold myself in relationship to the world, an enlarging awareness that my presence – our presence – on the earth is but temporary, and the startling reality that things I never expected have planted themselves firmly in the landscape of my life.
I have been toying with existential questions – why are we here, what purpose does any one individual have, what is the meaning of this thing we call life? I invited myself to lift and lift and lift above the details of the daily human experience and really try to SEE what made sense about life and living. What a surprise when I realized that my presence on this earth – from a larger perspective – is absolutely and utterly insignificant! Creation will not care if I eat kale or write bad music or am good at cleaning the kitchen. I will not invent the light bulb or paint the Sistine Chapel or have my name attached to some doctrine. The details of my daily life are inconsequential, and I am not required to place any kind of signature whatsoever on human history.
Paradoxically, the moment I had that realization was the same moment in which I understood fully that it is my own unique way of being, instead of my way of doing, that contributes to all of creation in a way that is meaningful and sustains the goodness that surrounds us always, whether we know it or not. It was the moment in which I knew, without doubt, that expanding in love and kindness, compassion and generosity, caring and integrity, honesty and grace and offering THAT to the world (and to myself) is truly the only job I have as a human being. Less doing, more Being!
So, let time fly or drag or whatever it does today or tomorrow. My intention is to love every moment of this glorious, mysterious, messy, confusing gift called life – and to graciously forgive myself if I slip now and then! To paraphrase one of my favorite sayings – when the tide rises ALL boats rise!!
And we invite you to share your lessons learned or your aspirations for next year with us as well in the spirit of giving that frames this time of year. Here’s a start on 2018. . .
Next year I want to study sound, and the effect it has on our lives. . . the good, the bad, and the ugly. When friends from a big city come to visit me in rural Arizona, they consistently say, in a reverent way, “It is so quiet here!” The effect of abusive noise, including those noises in our heads, and the benefit of beautiful sounds (like Joyce’s harp at the Summit) are topics I want to explore.
Thank you to all our contributors: Julie Wechsler, Jill Bachman, Michael Cavanaugh, Mary Lockhart, Rory Gilbert, Noushin Bayat, Carla Rotering