There's a quote that is often mistakenly attributed to the Buddha while it's actually from Buddha's Little Instruction Book by Jack Kornfield:
In the end just three things matter: how we have lived, how we have loved, how we have learned to let go.
I'm doing pretty well with the first two things that matter. It's that third one that I struggle with - how I have learned to let go. I'd even go so far as to say I pretty much suck at it! But I'm not talking about letting go of grudges or an inability to forgive. I'm talking about letting go of unrealistic expectations for myself and letting go of my fixed mindset around perfection. That fixed mindset says "I'm not quite smart enough or good enough or productive enough, and I lack willpower". I've learned that it's the fixed mindset that sends me down a path to the judger pit. And trust me, it's not a pretty place. In fact, that's the last place I want to be so I'm working on shifting that fixed mindset to a growth mindset where I take the learner path to a place of possibility and opportunity. But, as you might know, or at least imagine, that shift is so much easier to talk about than to do.
As I've been recently contemplating the shift I realize that one important step is to expand my capacity to embody patience. I can have oodles of patience when it comes to how I live and love others. And don't get me wrong, it's not as it I don't love myself. I do! But I also judge myself harshly and to the point that I don't let go of the self-judgment. I agree with Kornfield and the idea that what matters in life is really basic. That's why I'm committed to working on mindset shift, letting go, and embracing life fully. Looks like a little (or maybe more than a little) patience is in order.
No doubt you've had your own experiences with patience. Maybe, like me, you recognize and exude the beauty of patience when it comes to some situations or people. But maybe, also like me, you and patience are complete strangers when it comes to how you treat yourself. One of my all time favorite books is a slim little volume titled The Book of Qualities. The author, J. Ruth Gendler, brings to life a host of emotions and virtues through personification. She re-introduces me to the complex cast of psyche characters every time I venture into the book. For this week's inspiration, and in order to uphold my commitment to suck less at letting go, I became reacquainted with Patience.
Patience wears my grandmoter's filigree earrings. She bakes marvelous dark bread. She has beautiful hands. She carries great sacks of peace and purses filled with small treausres. You don't notice Patience right away in a crowd, but suddenly you see her all at once and then she is so beautiful you wonder why you never saw her before.
Isn't she wonderful? I want to keep remembering how beautiful and powerful she is. And let's not forget that you and I are beautiful and powerful too! Here's hoping that you are able to fully live, love, and let go, or at least join the ranks of those of us who are working on it every day. It's really all that matters.
In my ordination service nearly 10 years ago, I was presented with a stole made by a talented fiber artist in Chicago. I had commissioned her to create a vestment that would symbolize and express a combination of natural elements with images I felt represented my personal theology: fire represented by a chalice of compassion, earth represented by a tree of life, air represented by wings of a dove, and water represented by waves of challenge. I would probably choose the same symbolism today, even as my own theology has become more deeply Humanist over the years.
What I'm thinking about today is that symbol of water - the waves of challenge. I had no idea when I chose that image just how much challenge I would face as ordained clergy, or just how incredibly high those waves would grow and how harshly they would crash down upon me from time to time! But I think the image of challenge as waves is an important one. And the idea of making waves is just as important. You see, I spent much of my life trying desperately to NOT create waves. Perhaps it was the time I grew up in, the regional or religious culture, or simply my gender that influenced and fueled the desperation. But what I remember thinking is that making waves was absolutely not appropriate. As a young adult and then as a parent reaching middle age, I wasn't comfortable with making waves, even if it meant sacrificing a part of my own authenticity. But then I hit the 50-year mark. Oh yes, turning 50 was an unexpected awakening for me. There's something about coming to terms with the reality that life moves forward, not backward, and death is imminent, that creates a shift in thinking. I won't say I'm 100% comfortable with making waves but I'm now dedicated to being authentically me, waves and all.
One of my recent favorite quotes hits the proverbial nail on the head:
Don't worry if you're making waves simply by being yourself. The moon does it all the time.
I might change that quote to say Don't worry if you're making waves simply by being authentically you! In my study of applied positive psychology one of the core strengths that contribute to well-being, or flourishing, is authenticity - living one’s values and beliefs, being true to oneself and expressing that truth to the outside world. This refers to fundamental identity, not simply opinions. So if by being your self you make waves, don't sweat it. If you're making tsunamis and hurricane size waves of destruction that's something else. If you have an ounce of self-awareness, you know the difference.
If you struggle with dreaded social comparison or just can't seem to allow yourself to be authentic because you're too concerned about the idea of making waves, please know that there are ways to increase your strength of authenticity. It's something I continually work on! Try being mindful (see yourself as if for the first time), reflect on your values, and know the difference between your own motivations and external motivations. Living authentically increases your vitality, improves your personal well-being and your well-being in relationships to others, and it does something else too. A hospice nurse in Australia spent time with palliative care patients who were in the final weeks of life as she studied regrets expressed by dying patients. This nurse reported that the most common reget she heard was "I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me." Living authentically means living, and dying, without regret.
Waves that are created from a place of authenticity, fundamental identity, and expressing your truth in a way that is loving and respectful may indeed present a challenge. But these are the kind of waves that are perfect for surfing! Be yourself, don't sweat it, catch a wave, hang ten, shoot the curl, and hang on for the ride! Cowabunga!
When I consider my own life journey and the spaces between where I am now and where I want to be, I consider what matters most in life. It is easy to be terrified of those in-between spaces but I choose to be inspired by them and the gift they offer: opportunity to reflect on my priorities in life and the gratitude that calls for expression! I am reminded of a favorite poem I first heard well over a decade ago. For me, it's about connection, what is important, and keeping company with myself in the empty moments - the in-between spaces. It's titled The Invitation and I offer it to you here. Enjoy!
It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon.
I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain!I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it, or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.
It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithlessand therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see beauty even when it’s not pretty, every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence.
I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”
It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.
It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.
copyright © 1999 by Oriah Mountain Dreamer.
Oxytocin, not to be confused with Oxycontin, is my current drug of choice! I first heard about it years ago when I learned that Oxytocin is a neurohormone that is primarily made in the hypothalamus region of the brain and is released into the body via the pituitary gland. The great thing about Oxytocin is that it lowers the heart rate and levels of cortisol (that nasty stress hormone responsible for heart disease and high blood pressure), among other health benefits. I was reintroduced this past weekend and I'm now on a mission to get my fill of Oxytocin every single day. I mean seriously, who doesn't want to lower levels of cortisol and the risk for heart disease? And it's the way I get my Oxytocin that's the best news of all. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
In the scientific study of resilience, also known as positive psychology, understanding neuroscience and how we can learn to be flourishing well beings is, for me, transformational. With a most inspiring and intellectually impressive group of women and men that meets monthly in NYC, I am studying applied positive psychology. And it was just a couple of days ago that my reintroduction to Oxytocin took place. I will spare you the plethora of scientific details (mostly cause I can't possibly remember everything) and encourage you to do a little research for yourself. But here's the really good part. You can make Oxytocin your drug of choice too with a simple act that I hope you're already familiar with. Hugging. Whether you give or receive a hug your body will experience a release of Oxytocin. Now I'm not talking about the side hug or half hug, but it needn't be a romantic hug that leads to the bedroom either, although that could release some Oxytocin too! I'm talking about a feel-good embrace. Different studies claim various lengths of time for the hugs to be effective but I'm committed to following Dr. Paul Zak's simple prescription of 8 hugs a day. Even embracing your pet counts, although I'm not sure your pet tarantula will be cooperative.
I firmly believe that people need more hugs these days. Having served religious communities as clergy for the past ten years I've seen the longing for human touch. We need the connection and need to feel that we matter. Research out of Ohio State University shows that hugging and physical touch becomes increasingly important as we age. So hug your grandma or elderly neighbor! And don't forget the babies. Children who receive loving hugs typically grow up to be less stressed adults. We all need hugs and we all need our Oxytocin release.
But wait, just like the infomercials for miracle cleaners and kitchen knives, there's more. Oxytocin is known to increase the likelihood to trust and be generous with strangers, improve communication among couples, and motivate compassion and forgiveness. And we all have it within ourselves. How awesome is that? And there are other ways, aside from hugging, that Oxytocin is released (i.e. snuggling, breast feeding, massage, and even prayer) because it's all about connection. But 8 hugs a day sounds great to me. Or I could take it up the nose since there are Oxytocin nasal sprays available. Nah, I'll take my drug of choice by hugs. Uh-oh, It's noon and I've only gotten 3 of my 8. Gotta get hugging!
I had hoped to post once a week, and did for a short time. Unfortunately, my doctorate research and other obligations have taken priority over the blog. BUT, I will return soon! Some postings may be articles I've written for publication, messages I've delivered in congregational settings, or excerpts from papers written in my doctoral classes.