Last month I was preparing to do a talk for a group of people who had asked me to come and speak with them about my work, and how I practice living a wholehearted life.
I said yes without thinking too much about it, but when it came to the day and I still hadn’t decided exactly what to talk about, I got to thinking about what I stand for today…how I aim to live as I walk through my days and the topsy-turvy way our culture seems to prioritise having what we want, instead of wondering who we are called to be in this world and how to live our lives accordingly.
Despite what our culture attempts to sell us, our lives are not defined by our job titles, the amount of money in our bank accounts or the number of ‘likes’ on our Facebook profiles.
What really matters is the quality and depth of our relationship with the world around us.
How we experience life has little to do with what we have but it has everything to do with how we show up in the world, how we live our values and the recognition that we are needed by one another. Alongside our capacity to praise life and the more than human world.
Every now and then I do a check in about the words that have most pull or meaning for me right now, asking myself the question, what do I stand for today?
Centering on my breath and coming to stillness…today I stand for vulnerability, courage, service and praise.
Deep breath…It’s even vulnerable typing that and knowing I plan to send it out to all of you!
But words have power, and naming these things can support my intentions to show up in life in alignment with my values.
So how do I do this? What is it that makes this something more than just words I claim and aspire to?
Well so far what I have come to is the need for practices to lean into and foundations to stand on…OMG I think I just wrote my first ever ‘six things you need in order to…’ blog!
Yay! Here goes…
- I need to know my values and check my words and actions against them. When I do or say something that isn’t aligned with how I want to show up in the world I practice self-empathy, circle back, clean up and recommit almost daily.
- I need to know how shame operates in my life and where all my not good enough and unworthy parts live. With tender care, I keep welcoming back and embracing all the shadowy parts of myself that have not known love or don’t imagine themselves worthy of love and belonging.
So many of the people who come to sit with me want to cut out, or get rid of parts of themselves. The lazy part, selfish part greedy part, indecisive part and on and on, ad infinitum. Through the lens of self-compassion, I can see that these parts only ever want to be seen, acknowledged and valued for what they intend to contribute to our lives, such as ease, pleasure, understanding, safety, comfort. Even if we don’t like the results of their contributions, we can still hold their intentions with understanding and curiosity, gently transforming old wounds with kindness and warmth.
- I need to learn to leave myself alone a little, or a lot! To remember I am not a problem to be solved or a project to be completed. My worthiness has already been decided. I am enough as I am, and so are you.
Don’t change. Change is impossible, and even if it were possible, it is undesirable. Stay as you are. Love yourself as you are. And change, if it is at all possible, will take place by itself when and if it wants. Leave yourself alone. The only growth-promoting change is that which comes from self-acceptance. – Anthony de Mello
- I need teachers and elders to lean into. People who will tell me the truth and wake me up, give me a little shake now and again and a lot of love. As humans we have only been living this isolated life for such a short time, in the absence of stories, ceremony, being needed in other people’s daily and ordinary lives, and it’s not how we are designed to live. The loss of the village is very hard for us all and a source of grief for anyone who stops still long enough to notice.
- I need to practice good grieving, accompanied and witnessed as often as possible by people who recognise themselves as needed in this shared human endeavour. Grief is not something to be suffered through or endured. It’s a practice, a sacred skill. Nobody should be left alone to grieve. I’m not sure that can even really be called grieving. In my experience grieving without witnesses would be more accurately called suffering and loneliness, and these are not the same as grief.
In every case where grief and praise are still honored, there is one aspect that remains the same with all people: grief, even for an individual’s loss, is a thing for which a lot of people are necessary. A tribe is necessary even if it’s just to be a kind of resilient nonjudgmental human basket, against which the griever is able to thrash. – Martin Prechtel
- And I need ceremony and rituals, and a thousand different ways to honour and express my gratitude and awe at this wonderful and extravagant gift of life! I speak to the moon, take offerings to the trees and the sea, tell the flowers how exquisite they are and make beauty wherever I can.
“What does it take to stand quietly like somebody under a clear midnight sky, taking it all in? Things going well doesn’t seem to help with this. Good fortune isn’t pervasive on this matter and it rarely gives us pause. It’s when the news isn’t good news, that’s usually the time you find the limits of what you can bear to know.” – Stephen Jenkinson
Please don’t misunderstand me, I am not here telling anyone how they ought to live. Only what makes sense to me, on my good days. For some time now I have been attempting to live life in a way that demonstrates that I know everything is alive. That shows how I recognise that I have been gifted something extraordinary and precious. And that it won’t last! Everything I love will die away.
Like a beautiful, blood red full moon, an exquisite sunset or the wild orchids and bluebells currently carpeting my woods. Fleeting and even more beautiful because I know they won’t last.
These words below from The Wild Edge of Sorrow by Francis Weller speak sweetly to this inevitable loss.
Everything we love we will lose
“I’ve have come to have a deep faith in grief; have come to see the way its moods call us back to soul. It is, in fact, one of the voices of the soul, asking us to face life’s most difficult but essential teaching: everything is a gift and nothing lasts. This is a painful truth. To accept this fact is to live on life’s terms and not try to deny the simple truth of loss, what the Buddhists call impermanence. When we acknowledge grief, we acknowledge that everything we love, we will lose. No exceptions. Now of course, we want to argue this point, saying that we will keep in our hearts the love of those who depart his earth before us: our parents, or our spouse, or our children, or our friends, or, or, or – and yes, that is true. It is grief, however, that allows the heart to stay open to this love, to remember sweetly the ways these people touched our lives. It is only when we deny grief’s entry into our lives that we begin to compress the breadth of our emotional experience and live shallowly.”