Feeling Confident I’ve got the Tools I Need to Live My Best Life

As my daughter once aptly stated, we are each the guru of our own lives. I agree with her wholeheartedly, but sometimes a few guideposts along the way can be helpful. It isn’t always easy to attune to your authentic self, and because the nature of life involves change, being aware is a constantly evolving process that requires frequent reflection.

There is such a plethora of specialists and self-help books to inform and advise that even knowing which book or podcast to begin with can be inundating.

One of the first resources I found useful was Goddess to the Core. In her book, Sierra Bender identifies four aspects of self: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. She states it is important to honour each aspect and achieve balance. I’ve discovered in practice that what might sound easy enough is anything but easy to do.

In his book, Finding Your Element, Ken Robinson provides an opportunity for self-discovery by examining your life to discover your aptitudes, passions and attitudes. He encourages you to consider what makes you happy and to identify your circles of well-being.

I’ve sketched and cut out clippings from magazines. I’ve engaged in workbooks and creativity resurrecting activities. I’ve read so many books. I even wrote my own authenticity outline that I use and refer to often to help keep me on track as well as acknowledge growth and change. The resources are out there, you just have to choose what feels right for you.

But figuring out who you are, what your talents are, and what you feel passionate about isn’t necessarily the key to happiness. Despite the fact that we are living in the most educated, wealthy and technologically advanced time ever, people are struggling more than ever. Suicide rates are up. Mental illness is more prevalent. Autoimmune diseases are on the rise. What are we missing?

Recently I viewed a Ted Talk titled There’s More to Life Than Being Happy. Emily Esfahani Smith spoke enthusiastically, believing she may have the answer to that very question. She posits that our goal of achieving happiness is misguided and that in fact chasing happiness creates unhappiness.

 

Esfahani Smith states that the key to living your best life is through finding meaning. She identifies four pillars for meaning: belonging, purpose, transcendence and storytelling.

Belonging is about being in relationships where you are valued for you are; your authentic self.

Purpose is not about what you want, but what you give. It is about using your authentic gifts, talents and strengths to make a difference. It might be achieved through your career path, but it can also be manifested through relationships, family, volunteering and other activities.

Transcendence happens when you feel the connection to a higher reality. It may be a spiritual experience that is manifested through religious beliefs and prayer or through other ways of connecting with the Divine such as yoga, meditation, and creativity.

Storytelling in this framework refers to the story you tell yourself about yourself. Emily posits that we all make up stories based on our experiences and what other people tell us is our truth, but we have the ability to edit and rewrite our story of who we are.

Emily Esfahani Smith summarizes her presentation with the words, “happiness comes and goes, but when life is really good and when things are really bad, having meaning gives you something to hold onto.”

So far, most of what I’ve been discussing is quite esoteric. It is wonderful to contemplate and examine the higher aspects of ourselves, but I think an important key to living a good life is through your actions. After all, we are physical beings, and our bodies need nourishment and attention to be at their best too.

I recently viewed a documentary that was making a case of correlation between children’s success in school and their routines at home. As a retired teacher, I can attest to the amazing difference introducing solid routines had in managing students with ADHD, FASD, and other broad-encompassing challenges.

As an adult, I see how I benefit from my routines as well. Just like finding your purpose, your routine should be individualized and reflect your specific lifestyle and needs. My Mister has a high metabolism, so eating regularly is one of the top considerations for him. For me, sleep is the most important. I need at least eight hours of solid sleep to function properly. Having Diabetes, I need to check my blood sugars frequently, eat regular and balanced meals, and take appropriate insulin doses.

Every day I am thoughtful about what I need to function optimally. I choose foods from a variety of sources at each meal to achieve a healthful diet, including lots of vegetables. I know that exercise gives me energy and invigorates me mentally too, so I practice yoga and go to the gym three to five days a week. Being in connection with my circle is vital to my health too, so I try to balance quiet and meditation with social opportunities, conversations, and facetime chats with my family.

Psychologist Susan David presented a powerful Ted Talk on the Gift and Power of Emotional Courage. As she spoke about concepts like emotional agility and authenticity, I recognized the truth in her words. Managing our emotions with honesty is challenging in a society that values positivity, but fake positivity is just as destructive as inauthenticity in any aspect of self.

 

 

The tool box for living your best life is complex. Determine your authentic strengths and talents, passions and aptitudes. Find a community where you feel like you belong. Identify your purpose. Transcend to connect with a higher reality. Start telling a positive and empowering story about who you are. Work to achieve balance across the four aspects of self. Create a routine that sustains and energizes you. Honour your emotions. Start wherever your heart calls you.

So yeah, I’m feeling confident I’ve got the tools I need to live my best life.

Feeling Aware, Learning to Trust in the Truth of My Authentic Self

In the age of the internet, google, and social media, we are increasingly bombarded with self-help advice on how to do everything and even how to be. We are told what to eat and not eat, how to raise our children, how to dress, what our personality is, how to succeed, how to exercise, how to be happy. The list is endless and it can be confusing.

Scrolling through Facebook for a few minutes, I was inundated. Pop-up ads and articles abounded. Dryer sheets that cause hormone imbalance.  Pro-vaccination versus anti-vaccination rhetoric. Current diet trends. The 36 habits that will make you a millionaire. How to exercise for your body type. How to attract and keep a man.

In my observation, there is no one path that suits everyone. The best advice, in my opinion, is no advice. Instead of trying to propagate right action, our efforts as parents, teachers and mentors need to encourage people to learn how to trust their own intuition.

As Jennifer Lopez stated in her speech on Goalcast, “Nobody knows what’s inside you. Only you know what you can accomplish and what you’re capable of… your gut, your dreams and your desires.”

Are we born with this innate knowledge, or is it something we need to be taught? According to Toltec wisdom, we are born knowing. Toltec wisdom arises from the essential unity of truth, embracing a spiritual way of life. In their book, The Fifth Agreement, Don Miguel and Don Jose Ruiz share the magic of the agreements and how practicing them can help you to recover your authentic self. The result of practising the fifth agreement is the complete acceptance of yourself and everybody else, just as they are.

As little children, we are free, without self-consciousness or self-judgment. We speak the truth because we live in the truth. Then we are taught all the symbols and stories of society and we start to judge ourselves as not good enough. We learn to deny what we perceive; the truth of our own greatness.

Education is imperative and information needs to be transmitted, but without judgement. We have a responsibility to teach our children language and skills, stories and history. But we must also teach them that they are the creators of their own belief system and corresponding reality. We must assure them of their uniqueness. We must express to them the power of the word, in thought and intent, because you become who you believe you are.

Anthropologists, psychologists, philosophers and scientists alike have postulated that we live in a common reality. I watched a Ted Talk by anthropologist Wade Davis who stated that “all people share a common experience.” In, “How to see past your own perspective and find truth,” Michael Patrick Lynch referred to a common reality and gave three tools to determine truth: 1. Believe that there is a truth; 2. Dare to know through understanding; 3. Adopt humility.

 

Isaac Lidsky, in his talk on “What Reality are you Creating for Yourself?” also speaks of a virtual reality. He posits that what we see as reality is unique and personal and is masterfully constructed by your own brain. You can choose to see through the fiction of the collective story through awareness. You can be taught and learn with practice how to create a reality that is empowering, that brings about change, and most of all, that brings you deep happiness as you fulfil your highest purpose.

 

Brene Brown is a psychologist who speaks of the power of stories, and particularly the power of owning our own stories. To abandon the social story of who you are and embrace your individual story, you must believe that you are special. You must learn to listen to your intuition and trust it.

Several years ago, my story of who I was, my reality, was shattered. I had a breakdown that forced me to re-examine the evidence. I meditated and prayed and engaged in intense psychotherapy. I thought deeply about my truth and created an authenticity outline. I learned to let go of the stories that were holding me back and I learned to embrace my true self.

Recently I have been struggling to process events from the past, and then in a moment of synchronicity I experienced enlightened thought where the past and present collided. The readings, prayers, wisdom, and faith that were coming into my awareness in my present were the key to my healing from the past. I understood that the past is over and that the light of my spirit is as alive and vibrant as it always was.

While struggling to process past trauma, I have also been challenged with my weight. I have been feeling unhappy about it. When a good friend of mine whom I respect and trust suggested the ketogenic diet, I was drawn to consider going on it. Then I recognized that it is only another belief system. It isn’t right or wrong. It is not the truth, it is an idea. If I approach the knowledge with skepticism, I can see it for what it is – an option.

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I am confident the ketogenic diet works for some people. So does the End Diabetes diet, which is a completely opposite approach. It’s all about our beliefs. When I felt the happiest, most vital, alive and free in my life, when I was at a weight that felt perfect for me, it was on Vancouver Island. It was after I left a controlling, unhappy marriage and lived in freedom for the first time in many years.

When I had the freedom to choose whatever I wanted, to create my own reality, I chose to make good decisions that felt right for me. I exercised a lot, especially jazzed to have found a passion in the practice of yoga. I spent tons of time outdoors in the abundant nature of the island. I ate delicious food and drank gorgeous wine, as I liked. And the weight literally fell off. And it stayed off for a long time. I thought I’d arrived, that I’d figured out the happiness diet.

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Then I got Lyme’s disease. I suffered for two and half years with chronic pain, fatigue, and weakness. At one point, I had to crawl up the stairs, not strong enough to stand. Stairs were the most challenging, the Lyme spirochetes having burrowed into the connective tissue in my knees. I put on almost fifteen pounds.

Despite my illness and my pain, I was ridiculously happy. I was head over heels in love with Mister. I was confused. My happiness diet theory was clearly flawed. I have been so tempted, so many times, to diet again, feeling judged by others as less than. But I resisted, choosing to focus on my health and my intense healing regimen.

When I could start exercising again, and especially after I was healed from Lyme’s, I thought the weight would magically fall off again. But it didn’t. I went on Fuhrman’s End Diabetes diet, ostensibly not to lose weight, but to improve my blood sugar. In the twelve weeks of being diligent I didn’t lose a single pound. Mister did. But my body could not let the weight go.

As I was sharing this story with Mister, he looked at me with his loving eyes, and I knew that none of it mattered. Whether I lost the weight, stayed the same, or gained more, I’d still be me. And me is good enough, exactly as I am in this moment. I don’t need to be constantly driven to be better, look better, live longer, be healthier. I can relax and choose in each precious, blessed moment of my life to be who and what I want to be.

Our power and happiness is in our choices. It is in the acceptance and love of ourselves and all others. That’s where everything begins.

Light-heartedly I laughed at myself and Mister joined in, saying, “Ain’t nobody gonna tell my Baby what to do!” He held my hand and kissed me tenderly, affirming I am perfect, just as I am. In that moment, I knew, in the depths of my heart, that I am going to be okay.

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I’m still a warrior, aware of the stories and searching for my truth. I respect myself and I respect what others have to say. I listen to the stories, the ads and the advice, but I listen through the filter of my awareness. I will not disrespect other people’s points of view and I won’t allow anyone to disrespect mine. I love myself. I will be a part of the change in the world by changing my own.

So yeah, I’m feeling aware, learning to trust in the truth of my authentic self.

Feeling like I’m Going Around in Circles, Trying to Discover my Dharma

I began this soul-searching quest long before I’d ever heard of the term Dharma, but desperate to discover its existence none-the-less.

My initial query into the realms of living a purposeful life began in my early thirties. I was in a challenging marriage. I had three children. Money was tight. I felt overwhelmed. Watching Oprah one afternoon, the baby asleep, the toddler busy crafting and the eldest at school, folding what seemed like a never-ending flow of laundry, the tiniest of sparks was ignited. Oprah was interviewing Sarah Ban Breathnach and they were discussing the topic her book, Something More: Excavating Your Authentic Self. Inspired, I bought the book, along with an artist’s sketchbook, a towering pile of glossy magazines, and a fresh package of pencil crayons. I went about digging into my past, trying to resurrect my identity through photos and memories and compilations of artistic endeavours.

I suffered a severe depressive episode in 2007. Despite having made some discoveries and even making some changes in how I lived, I was still trying (and unsuccessfully I may add) to please others. The daily denial of my very identity, as well as unprocessed traumas from the past, left me experiencing thoughts of suicide and hopelessness. During my recovery, the spark I’d identified years earlier expanded. I awakened, again, to the knowledge that I had to make some profound changes. I knew I had to unearth my authentic self once again.

In 2015 my interest piqued again. This time, thankfully, the journey of self-discovery was not triggered by depression. It was activated by a series of life events that had me curious about what path my life would take next. I was in transition, no longer teaching, and yearning to change directions. I was looking for insight into how my talents might manifest into a new career. I picked up a copy of Ken Robinson’s Finding Your Element and began to devour the readings and complete the activities with earnest.

While I appreciated the insights I gained around my aptitudes, attitudes, passions and opportunities, the answer didn’t announce itself to me with dazzling clarity. Frankly, I was still just as muddled up and confused as when I began. It seems that I have been gifted with a plethora of lovely gifts, but none of them stands out as “the one.” I have many talents and interests, dreams and desires, but none seems more pressing or important than another.

So, I carried on as people do, still confused, yet happy enough engaging in a multitude of different tasks. I filled my days with a variety of writing projects I have on the go, household chores, trying out new recipes, exercising, and engaging with family and friends. Then a close friend of mine invited me to join a book study of Stephen Cope’s The Great Work of Your Life. I was back on the hamster wheel, running, or perhaps sauntering, in search of my apparent greatness.

From the start, I was irritated by this book, which seemed to hold forth as its premise a promise of being able to discern your dharma if only you look to it. Inspired by the dialogue between Krishna (God) and Arjuna (a human warrior) in the ancient and sacred texts of the Bhagavad Gita, I felt certain that my dharma would finally be revealed to me. But alas, I felt even further confused as the examples held forth of great lives seemed too magnificent and grandiose.

The women in my group felt similarly challenged, finding the examination of the lives of famous artists like Beethoven and Emerson daunting. The flavour was patriarchal, despite the inclusion of women like Susan B. Anthony and Jane Goodall. These women devoted their entire lives to their causes. The important work of raising families and being wives and mothers didn’t seem to be acknowledged. As women, each of us present felt drawn and divided. Laughing, we quoted the song by Meredith Brooks, I’m a Bitch.

 

After reading the first three pillars of dharma, we were gathered together for discussion and Kim shared with us a video by Adam Leipzig titled How to Know Your Life Purpose in 5 Minutes that was illuminating for her. She found his road-map to finding your purpose useful, while I got derailed with the statement, “What do you feel supremely qualified to teach other people?” I was educated and worked for over twenty years a teacher in a variety of educational settings, but none of my life experiences left me feeling supremely qualified.

 

As it turns out, it isn’t uncommon to find it difficult to discern your own area of supreme qualification. It is often a skill that comes so naturally and easily, the fact that you didn’t need to work your ass off to obtain it obscures it. Sometimes your dharma isn’t so easily identified because it doesn’t manifest as a career or calling, but as a way you live your life. My friends encouraged me to let my feelings, not my thinking, guide me.

I finished reading the book. I meditated. I prayed. I tried to let it go, claiming, who cares anyway? I’m living my life! I’m happy! But it is next to impossible for me to lie to anyone, let alone myself, and I couldn’t shake this grasping need to know the answer to the question, what is the purpose of my birth?

One evening my Mister and I were scrolling through possible Ted Talks when my eye was drawn to a presentation by Elizabeth Lesser titled, Say Your Truths and Seek Them in Others. She shared, among many poignant stories, a truth that was revealed to her when she was a mid-wife delivering babies; that we’re all born completely unique. At birth, we are certain of our magnificence and shine in our authenticity. Then we are socialized into covering up our differences and attempting to conform. She challenged viewers to uncover their souls, challenge themselves to stay open during painful life situations, and look for the sacred awe.

 

Exploring my feelings, I recognized that what has always held the most meaning for me in my life are connections with people. Not the fluffy exchange of niceties we practice in polite passing, but the powerfully, fully engaged and meaningful sharing of souls. When I looked back on my life, I noticed that the benchmarks I valued weren’t when I graduated from University or started teaching in a new placement or bought a new home. They were all about relationships. When my children were born. When my father died. When I married. When the adoption was granted. And how I felt in all the little moments, when I saw souls bared naked before me, and felt, in return, seen.

And so, I finally arrived, if there is such a thing, at an answer that feels good enough. Kim, you will be happy to know I completed my homework assignment. It’s a little bit late, and I’ll probably even change my mind, but this is my elevator pitch: I create meaningful relationships by encouraging and supporting others to express their authentic thoughts and emotions.

So yeah, I’m feeling like I’ve been going around in circles, trying to discover my dharma.