From losing both my parents to becoming a mother to leaving a corporate career and starting my own business, the last decade was full of growth, challenges, and surprises. Here’s some of my top lessons learned:
My behavior toward others is a reflection of my behavior toward myself
Depending on how I’m feeling, my whole world can look different. The very same behavior from others gets a different response from me, depending solely on how I am feeling about myself in that moment, and how I’m treating myself. I noticed this trend acutely in the daily dealings with my kids because my reaction to their actions would vary so widely based on how I felt inside, even though their actions were often the exact same. If one of my boys hit his brother, I could either yell at him and threaten him with a time out (which never works), or explain to him lovingly and firmly what’s wrong with his actions, and how to express himself in a more constructive way. I always wanted to do the latter, but some days I couldn’t keep myself from getting worked up about it. After repeated observation, I noticed the only difference was my own inner state and my behavior toward myself. I noticed that when I am kind to myself, I’m kind to others. When I’m loving myself, I love others. When I’m irritable with myself, I act irritable with others. When I’m snapping at someone, I’m usually unhappy inside, or in a state of loathing myself.
“As within, so without”
Once I realized this, my outlook on the challenges I was facing changed dramatically. I set out to understand myself better. The challenge is that often, we can be unaware of how we’re feeling inside because we’re so caught up in our thoughts. It can feel like we ARE our thoughts and feelings, not separate from them. Extricating ourselves and observing our thoughts can feel like a monstrous task in itself.
One of the best ways I found to construe how I’m feeling inside is to notice my behavior when interacting with other people, or even my tasks for the day. As an example, notice how you feel when you say “Good Morning” to others. Do you really feel like it’s a good morning, or is it something you’re saying without actually feeling it? Or if you’re dreading the tasks that lay ahead of you, it shows you an undesirable inner state and perhaps at a deeper level, your unhappiness with your life. Something as innocuous as your reaction to your tasks can be a giveaway to what life is trying to tell us about the direction you’re taking, and how to adjust the sail of your boat so the wind of life can take you in a different direction. The key to this inner change? Start noticing everything. Penetrate the depths of your being by noticing your behavior; it can radically shift your understanding of yourself, your life, and even lead to spiritual awakenings.
Emotions don’t define me
But emotions do have to be felt fully so they can be let go of: I can feel anger, I can be angry, but I am not anger. Though I can feel a full range of emotions, they don’t define me because there is a differentiation between who I am and what I feel or think. I am neither the feelings, nor the thoughts that go through my head, because they pass, only to be replaced by new thoughts and feelings. My choice in the seemingly endless and uncontrollable stream of these thoughts and feelings is to either let them pass by, or latch on to them. It’s liberating to realize that we don’t have to identify with our emotions or thoughts because they simply come and go if we don’t grasp at them and grow them by focusing on them.
Sometimes we don’t understand life events for years
There have been times when I thought the world was crashing in on me. I felt unsupported, and abandoned by all of life and even God. Circumstances and events would occur that would take me directly opposite to what I had been hoping and praying for, or where I thought I should be headed. And in the heat of those disappointments, I felt let down and unhappy with life. I felt like a victim. But it was only after a time of healing my pain and coming to peace with life as it was that I could see how those particular events led me to either learning a tremendous lesson, or took me in a direction that was actually better for me. Appearances can be deceptive. I lacked trust in life, and in God, and my precious lesson is to judge not what happens as good or bad, but as an opportunity to patiently listen to what lesson is unfolding for me, discover my resilience, and increase my faith that what’s happening in my life truly is what’s best for me.
Up and down is the cycle of life, so don’t fight it — allow it
Creation is made of opposites. Night and day, good and bad, happy and sad. The list goes on. Just when you’re feeling good, then you’ll feel down. If not the next moment, then for sure the next day, or the next week you’ll be feeling the opposite of what you are today. Accepting all of it as a part of the cycle of life, and empathizing with ourselves in the low times is the key to surviving and thriving. It’s helpful to console yourself and give yourself the courage you need to keep moving forward with encouraging thoughts like “I know you’re going through so much, it’s so hard, but I love you, it’ll get easier”.
Listening to your heart is life giving
Though most of us like to think we can figure everything out with our brain, what I have found is that the brain is best used for accomplishing cut and dry tasks, not for figuring out the journey of life with all it’s twists and turns. That’s where our heart leads the way. Over the last decade, I observed the inner battle between my heart and mind. My mind was limited in it’s potential, it wanted to control circumstances, and fear ruled it easily. When I went with what my mind was telling me, it seemed intellectually correct, but I was cut off from my heart. All of life would conspire to gave me signs that I should follow my heart. I vividly remember the time that I went through heart break — I felt so low for so long, and I was tired of suffering. I wrote my heart a letter saying that there was no room in this world for it, and even though I loved the innocence and depth of my beautiful heart, I had to say goodbye to it so I could lead my life through my head alone. Within a month of that persistence, I found myself at a doctors office for a weak heart and very low blood pressure. As I laid there getting an EKG, I understood that life would not permit me to let my heart die without me dying a physical death myself. For the sake of my life and my childrens, I was forced to acknowledge my heart and open up to it again.
The path of the heart is not easy, but it is our heart that understands our souls purpose, and is connected to our intuition and joy. The heart is not afraid and it is resilient without bounds. Living life from the heart is a life of joy, of humility, and a path that leads to the fulfillment of our highest potential, our destiny. Make it a practice to connect with your heart daily, without miss.
Distress and disasters can be miracles in disguise
That feeling of despair, feeling like things will never get better, it’s just not meant to work out etc can feel intense and deeply constricting. But when you have faced it all, there’s nothing to be afraid of anymore. We all wish that life could feel good all the time, that we’re all smiles, being swept off our feet with love, successes and the like. But given the nature of opposites in all creation, we know that distress and disasters strike inevitably in our lives. It’s part of the human experience, and not one person is spared (take heart that you’re not the only one!). In my life, everything that made me feel secure like money, friends, close relationships were ripped away from me. I was totally insecure, vulnerable, and on my knees not knowing what I was supposed to learn, or why it was all happening. It was an ego death with an important lesson: Don’t hide from what needs to be faced, for it too shall pass and lead to a peace that surpasses all understanding along with a deep knowing of your own power and resilience.
Let it go, let it go, let it go
(Try singing that just like the holiday tune “Let it Snow”)
More than anything, it feels like the last few years have been an exercise in Letting Go. Letting go of the people who hurt me, letting go of expectations, letting go of wanting anyone to give me anything. Though letting go can be painful, when it’s all said and done, it feels renewing inside. Because the more you let go of people, stuff, circumstances, the more you get in touch with who you really are. In my experience, the stronger I held on, the more cruelly life would rip it away from me, and when I was holding on with a delicate grip, life changes happened more gently. Letting go has taught me just how self sufficient I am, that I am all I need along with a healthy dose of faith and trust in a Higher Power who is Benevolent and Loving. So the next time you find yourself holding on to a relationship, a job, a house because of a feeling of lack or insecurity, be gentle with yourself and let go — not necessarily all at once, but in phases.