Feeling Disciplined, Committed to Practicing Virtues and Living with Intention.

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.

 

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.