I’ve been contemplating what living my best life means and how that commitment manifests in reality. It’s all so elusive, murky and abstract. My best seems to change from day to day, from hour to hour. Sometimes I’m rocking it, yet at other times my best is quite simply the shits.
What are the factors that contribute or negate from my ability to consistently rock my productivity and contribution?
One thing I’ve discovered, having the discipline to follow through with my intentions is integral. It sounds basic but it’s not easy, especially if I am having health challenges, low energy from lack of sleep, or a lack of vitality from emotional or mental distractions.
Practicing virtues, I’m recognizing, makes a big difference in achieving a positive outcome.
Back when my now adult children were in elementary, the administration decided to have the school participate in a virtues project. There were fifty-two virtues in all. Being smack dab in the trenches of the survival years, I didn’t pay the project a great deal attention.
Until one day while I was sitting in my mini-van waiting to pick up said youngsters the words on the school sign caught my eye. “Virtue of the week: detachment.”
The idea of teaching detachment as a virtue horror-struck me. I ranted to my kids on the drive home, imploring for them to explain how detachment could possibly be virtuous when everyone knew that the opposite, attachment, was the virtue. They tried their best to educate me on the value of letting go of expectations from others, but it was in vain. I remained unconvinced. By the time I was preparing supper I’d forgotten all about it.
Years later I re-opened the cupboard labelled Detachmentand discovered my horror was connected to my own lack of boundaries. As in, I did not have many. Furthermore, I had no idea how to create them or enforce them or how valuable they could be. As I learned how to honour my boundaries and those of others, I finally understood the value of detachment.
Here I am again, considering the value of virtues, but not limiting my exploration to detachment. I googled virtues and discovered that virtues are embedded in most cultures, are often taught as part of educational systems, and are an important part of religious doctrines. Aristotle wrote extensively on twelve virtues. The Pope identified seven that correspond to the seven deadly sins. Confucius and the Sikh Gurus agreed on five, albeit not quite the same five.
Truth, compassion, honesty, integrity. Faith, justice, courage and charity. These are a few of the virtues that I believe, when practiced with commitment, can assist in one’s endeavour to live a better life. To transcend the ordinary and embrace our Divinity.
Jonathon Haidt presented a Ted Talk titled Religion, Evolution and the Ecstasy of Self-Transcendence. Haidt postulates that virtues are embedded in our morality. He describes a state of altered consciousness, achieved through meditation or prayer, that uplifts us to be good and noble and to see the sacredness in everything around us.
I re-read one of my all-time favourite books, Ishmaelby Daniel Quinn, and discovered some more virtuous nuggets embedded in its prose. In his “earnest desire to save the world,” the protagonist answers an advertisement in the personals; “Teacher seeks pupil.” What follows is a heart-wrenching exploration on the evolution of humankind and the nature of good and evil.
Ishmael, the teacher, turns out to be a gorilla. He has an urgent message for humankind about what Mother Culturehas taught us a Taker society and how we can choose to change the story, to change our lives and in so doing save the world from destruction and ourselves from extinction.
From Ishmael we learn that in order to live our best lives we need to give every other species on the planet the right and the opportunity to live theirs. We are not the Divine rulers of this planet. Earth was not created for us alone. We are a part of all creation, no less, no more.
I watched a documentary on Netflix called Minimalism. Letting go of stuff, of material possessions, to achieve lightness was something the producers identified as a virtue that helped them to live their best life by living deliberately and with intention. I can’t claim to relate to living the minimalism lifestyle, but I appreciate the concept of living with intention.
Sometimes in our modern world we rely solely on the internet to answer our questions. When it comes to understanding how to live a virtuous life, the answers are more likely to be found in the wisdom of the teachings of our ancestors. Or perhaps in the opening of our spirits. Even as we strive to be our best, it is well to remember and accept, we are only human after all.
So yeah, I’m feeling disciplined, committed to practicing virtues and living with intention.