Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Last Things

What if you knew that everything you did this week would be the last time you were ever able to do it- that your life would end with the week? Going to the grocery store, cleaning your house, watching a movie, driving your car, taking a walk, spending time with the people you love... How would your attitude and awareness change if you knew going in that you would never do that thing again? Most likely, you would be more present than you've ever been- you would hone in on each.and.every.single.moment doing your best to pay explicit attention and enjoy what you have for the time you have it. Even something like scrubbing your kitchen floor could become new and sacred because it's no longer just a chore- it's a part of life. Your life.

Here's the thing- we don't usually get the luxury of such a head's up. Every day, every minute, every action could be the last.

I know, it sounds like a really difficult (nearly impossible) task to cultivate that much awareness in every second of our days (and potentially a bit depressing), but the point is not to focus on dying- it's to focus on being grateful and present. The payoff for presence is priceless. The payoff is a richer and more meaningful life filled with deeply connected relationships, less angst about the mundane, and greater clarity about your reason to exist.

We spend so much of our time racing from one thing to the next we never notice we've passed by, what would have been, some of the most precious memorable times in our lives. At the end of the day, the week, the month, the year, our life- it's not going to matter how many emails we've answered, how many errands we've run, how many things we've accumulated, or how much money we've made. What is going to matter is the answer to this question:

How well did you love?

 How well did you love the people you cared about, the things you were passionate about, yourself, and the life you lived?

Living the answer to that question will redefine the choices you make because the superfluous noise and stuff will fade, and what's truly important will come forefront. Love what’s important to you to the best of your ability. Be open, patient, compassionate, and accessible. You never know if that thing you're doing is the last chance you'll ever have to do it. Don't let a single sacred second pass you by. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

We Are Not the Same

 A few days ago I had a conversation with a friend about her sister who recently found out that she has stage 4 breast cancer. She mentioned feeling guilty when heading out to run thinking, "my sister can't do this...", but then realized her sister would be the first to tell her she's ridiculous and encourage her to go live her life; don’t waste it feeling bad. Go and run for her. 

The last several weeks I had wondered if my ability to decide to quit my job and pursue a happier path was a spoiled luxury- what about people, especially females, living in other countries and cultures who would never even be able to dream about doing what I’m doing? What about people in our own country having trouble finding jobs? I felt guilty and wondered if I needed to learn to just suck it up and be grateful to have a job and the freedoms I do have, but then I realized what a stupid excuse that was to get stuck. The fact of the matter is, I am lucky enough to live in a place and be in a position where it is an option for me to set off and explore other paths. (When I say “lucky enough” I am referring only to the fact I live in a country and culture where I have the freedoms to make decisions like the one I’ve made. I am not referring to life being super easy and I just happen to be independently wealthy. Neither of those things are true for me. Additionally, the position I'm in I've worked really hard to get to for several years.)I can dream and pursue. I can find out what makes me come alive, and maybe through it be able to help others in some way.  

 "Your playing small does not serve the world."
-Marianne Williamson
Over the years I’ve found myself intentionally dumbing down so I wouldn’t offend, threaten, or make anyone feel insecure. I would hide that I knew the answers to questions or pretend I didn’t understand when I did, I wouldn’t lift as much or run as fast or train as long because I didn’t want others to feel discouraged if they weren’t at the same level. At some point along the way, I recognized how counterproductive that was. No one is going to be inspired if no one is flying higher.
It is our responsibility to cultivate and excel at what we are born to do. Pretending that we’re all at the same level in the same circumstances is absurd because we’re NOT. I suck at playing music. Some of my friends are unbelievable musicians. I’m great at cooking. Some of my friends can barely make toast. So, they’ll write a song, and I’ll make dinner. We are still equal, but we are not the same.

The point is this: just because someone else can’t and you can is not your excuse to not do whatever it is you can do, and do it really well. Go be amazing. Go do what you do best, and do it proudly.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Are You Having the Right Conversation?

What the hell are you talking about? What do you mean "right" conversation?

Here, let me explain. Up until about 7 months ago, I was having all of the "wrong" conversations. I was depressed and miserable. It's all I thought about. It's all I talked about. My co-workers and I commiserated countless hours about how much we hated our jobs. We talked about how much we hated our jobs when we weren't at work. I even talked about it to people who didn't work with me outside of work. It pervaded every aspect of my life. People say that work is just a fraction of your life, but here's the thing: It's a very LARGE fraction of your life, and if you hate that large of a fraction, it is inevitably going to taint the rest of your life too.

November 2011, I made a decision to gather every bit of resolve I had, stop bitching about my shitty situation, and change my life. I never used to subscribe to the cheesy sounding phrases like, “At the moment of commitment the entire universe conspires to assist you.” (Goethe) or “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” (Coehlo).

"Bullshit." I always thought to myself.

But here I am 7 months after making the decision to blindly step out and accept the consequences of defying all rational sounding logic and reason, and found the need to revise my perception of what I used to dub 'cheesy new agey bullshit.' Since I've begun taking steps to pursue a passionate meaningful path, I've been meeting others who are doing the same- sometimes in the most unexpected times and places. Every one of these connections has had a gift to offer, whether it was another connection, a lead into something that might be interesting/productive (which is how I found and landed the fellowship), encouragment and/or inspiration for my journey.

A friend and I were discussing the parallels in our lives, and I told him what I just told you. His response:

"The universe conspiring? Yeah, I thought that was bullshit, too. All I can say is that I've learned to rethink that. I don't even think it's that cryptic. I just think that when you're NOT having the right conversation and expressing your dreams and interests, then you don't see opportunities that are all around you all the time."

When I read that, I stopped and thought, "Oh my gosh. Without even realizing it, my vocabulary has changed completely." I've (mostly) stopped bitching about my job and now when I speak, it's about the changes I've been making and about the passion I'm purusing. It's about living life to the fullest- I mean REALLY living it, and not just ferverntly swearing you're going to live it after someone dies and forgetting about the resolve a few months later.

Because I stopped stifling myself with my own dark depressing confines, I opened up and am able to have productive conversations with others who share in the desire to lead lives of passionate meaning and joy. Those conversations spark inspiration, hold me accountable, and propel me forward.

So here's a challenge- watch your conversations over the next week. Are they confining and limiting or are they encouraging and expansive? Do you feel depressed and heavy or inspired and energetic? Make an effort to mindfully change the way you speak. Put your dreams and desires out there- they have a way of coming back to you with quality company and opportunities attached.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Give Yourself Room to Grow

As I was watering my hanging plant this morning, I thought about how I had basically just cut off 80% of it a couple of months ago. The vines had become scraggly and the leaves were sparse. I made the painstaking decision to hack off 3 feet of vines leaving only fragments of what still looked fairly healthy. Amazingly, this plant that was but a shadow of what it had been, is now regenerating with completely brand new bright green leaves.

This is a big month for me. This is the final month I will be in the apartment I've loved for over 6 years. I have been getting rid of a lot of things over the last few months, but this month is when it all really happens. About 80% of my things will be sold off, given away, or maybe stored. As much as I would love to say I have no attachment to my stuff and this is just a step in the process, the reality is, I do have an attachment. These things are what made my apartment a cozy little home- a sanctuary from the world when it got to be too much. These are things that have been gifted to me over the years, things I've acquired during my travels, things that I've had since I was a child....

But in that moment of sadness I was feeling, I happened to decide to water my plant. My plant reminded me that sometimes we have to cut back what isn't growing anymore. We have to make the painful but necessary decision to give ourselves room to grow, even if that means we have to prune away first. It's not just about the physical possessions, it's about the spiritual, emotional, and intellectual too. I am sorting through everything I've literally and figuratively accumulated over the last few decades of my life in order to give myself room to grow and become a better and healthier version of myself.

In the end, what initially appears to be a setback is actually setting the foundation for more growth and progression than would have been able to happen if I didn't first cut back what was no longer serving me. It's a difficult process because I have to give up what had become so predictably comfortable. By clearing space to grow, I'm also increasing capacity to learn and love. Paul Coelho wrote in 'The Alchemist', "...when we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too... Because when we love, we always strive to become better than we are."

I want better of myself so that all that I love will benefit. What good am I to anyone or anything if I'm so attached to my comfort that my existence is just an excuse for everything around me to stagnate too?

Here's to taking a step back in order to fly forward.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Buying Back My Soul

Celebrating having given my official "I'm getting the fuck out of this place" notice at work over a beer with a friend, I was marveling over how amazing my life is right now. My boss was actually happy for me since he's known I've hated the job nearly since I walked in the door. He was, however, curious to know how I've been able to take so many trips and still be able to walk away from my stable well paying income. I told him, "I'm a resourceful girl. I've been spending only on specific things, saving, and working towards this moment for a long time. I am completely free to do what I want when I want, and I will never again be in a position where I can be controlled and treated like shit just because I need the paycheck. I am giving you a 4 week notice to be courteous, but if there is any undesirable backlash, I'll walk now." 

It was one of the most liberating moments of my life. 

I am doing all of those things I've always wanted to do, but until this point, was too afraid to actually do them. At work I would sarcastically respond, "livin' the dream" when anyone asked how my day was going. Now, I really am. No sarcasm. 

I said to my friend, "I know this party could be over after this year is up because I have no idea what I'm going to do when I am, once again, in the position with no income; however, right now and this next year are already amazing." He responded, "You know, this party could be over right now- tonight." 

That's when I remembered: Oh, right... that's a huge reason why I made the decision to change my life's course now- because my life could be over at any moment. It's so easy to forget. Sometimes we even want to forget just how very mortal we are, but we shouldn't. We should remember it, always. It will change the way we live.

I can finally, for the first time in my life, say that if I knew I was going to die now, I'd be proud of myself and my life. Before, I was scared to die because I felt that my life had no meaning, but at the same time, I wanted it to be over because it had no meaning. I'm finally free- I bought back the soul I sold to pay my rent. I made choices and changes because I realized and accepted that the responsibility for my life is in my hands. If I don't direct it, someone else will, and for the last few years, someone else did. 

But not any longer.