Adulting: Learning Life's Lessons
This was a banner year for me. It was a year when I learned that I know some stuff. Situations came up that would have truly been emotional disasters a few years ago, and I handled them with something akin to grace. Let me share some of my lessons with you.
When my children were teenagers and I decided to chime in on their issues, one of their favorite lines was from a song performed by Don Williams: Don't want your well-thought-out advice. That's what this article is all about. That's what I'm offering here, the things I've learned in my 72 1/2 years and perhaps some well-thought-out advice to make your path a tiny bit easier.
The first thing that comes to mind is to recommend that you buy the book by James Allen. It is a classic and I have turned to it at many times in my life when nothing seemed to work. I practiced what he says for a day or so and all at once things got back on track. He mentions that the mind is like a garden and we have to tend it by plucking the weeds (negative thoughts). I think of myself often as the "thought police." After many years of practice, my mind stays relatively clear of negativity. As a Man Thinketh
When I first began the journey years ago, it was a constant chore, always checking in with my thoughts and often finding them mucking around in fear, anxiety, resentment, jealousy, anger, you name it. It only gets better with diligent practice. The more adept I became at keeping my thoughts centered in peace and gratitude, the more happiness I experienced. Something Abraham Lincoln said: "People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be," has always resonated for me. Happiness is a choice. The tools are there to achieve it; it's a matter of searching them out. And here may I quote the Bible: "Knock and it shall be opened to you; seek and you shall find."
Worrying: A Totally Useless Occupation
I hear so many young women with families talking about the fact that they worry all the time. I did too. A woman who has since died said something to me once that made me determined to stop worrying about my children. Her words were (paraphrased), "If you keep worrying about them, you will bring what you're worried about to your doorstep. Negative energy draws in more of the same." We all need to think about this where our families are concerned and see them in our mind's eye as happy, healthy and thriving. That is what we want to draw to our doorsteps.
Years ago, there was always one person, usually my husband, who was the subject of my negative thinking, resentment, anger, etc. Looking back, after the constant practice of clearing away those thoughts, I realize that I was frustrated with myself, not him or anyone else.
We have what are often called "shadow people" in our lives. We tend to project the things about ourselves that we don't like onto them. When I explained this to Joe, his reply was: I don't know about all that. I'm just glad you quit that s**t. Joe has always had a way with words.
I have had so many people tell me over the years that they cannot control their thinking. This is simply not true. When I first began weeding out the negativity, the only way I could stop it was to totally occupy my mind. Oftentimes, I would go to the shopping center, go for a walk, watch mindless television, anything to shift my consciousness. That's what the book As a Man Thinketh is all about: a shift in consciousness.
As you practice weeding out negativity, you will realize that it's much easier to nip it in the bud when it first begins than to let it gain a strength of its own and begin to get your emotions involved to a major degree. By that point, you're angry or sad or frustrated, and it's much harder to make the shift in consciousness you're hoping to make. I know you're thinking: Well, this is getting pretty tedious. I don't want to do all this stuff. Remember, this is about a more fulfilling, more peaceful, happier life. We all want that. Don't settle for existing.
One thing I learned from my wonderful psychologist is that even though it may not have been pleasant, we try to recreate the time when we were young because it's "comfortable." If you grew up in a family where worry and negativity were prominent, you will have a harder time with this shift. Remember that you are not looking for what's comfortable, but what will eventually bring you joy.
We All Have Choices
I have been through every stage known to man in my evolution to a reasonably happy woman. One of the stages was the martyr stage. If you've ever been there, you know that you work harder, have more responsibility, sleep less, and sacrifice more than anyone can imagine. You also let everyone around you know this at every opportunity. Along with this mindset comes a huge chip on the shoulder that is amazingly unattractive.
Please listen to the words I'm going to say if you are in that space. WE ALL HAVE CHOICES. Do not kid yourself. Any situation you are in can be changed. Sit down with yourself and have a long conversation. Lay out your options. Do not stay in denial and tell yourself there are none. Lay them out and consider each one. If none of them work for you, stay in your present situation but recognize that it is a choice and get the chip off your shoulder.
I remember how I felt when I was in this space and I know no one in it wants to hear what I'm saying. I was so self-righteous, sacrificing, and looking back on the whole thing, ridiculous. Here is the message: If you choose not to make changes and to stay in your present situation, make your peace with it and realize that it is your choice.
Looking back, I realize the martyr is looking for praise and attention. However, the attitude that goes along with the martyr role is a turnoff and drives people away, just the opposite of what is hoped for. Take a look at why you do the things you do. Always look within. No one does anything to us. We do it to ourselves. Think of the people in your own lives who complain constantly about all they do and how tired they are, whether it's at work or at home, at church or somewhere else. Ask yourself: Do I want to come across like that? Is that someone I would want to spend time with or someone I would likely avoid? The long sighs and attitude we practice when we are lost in self-pity are not only unattractive, they do anything but cause others to want to help us out!
So give it a break. Smile. Realize: It's your choice! Time goes by quickly. Don't waste another precious year, as I did, on self-pity. Take complete and total responsibility for your life and realize that wherever you are, you are there because you refuse to make the changes you would have to make in order to leave that place.
My second bit of advice is that you rid your life of problem people. This was one of the biggest hindrances to my happiness. If you are having trouble identifying problem people, you likely do not have them in your life. Before I began to examine my own life, I attracted them like bees to honey. They gravitated to me. There was a term that was popular back in the '60s called "codependency." I've read books about it, and I'm not sure that it necessarily applies to what I'm speaking of, but I know it is close.
I'm talking about the people who, although they call themselves your friend, seldom do anything "friendly." They have a subtle way of making you question your own worth, often inserting thinly disguised insults into conversations. They are the "friends" who are always ready to go if you're buying, planning, and picking up, but never do any buying, planning, or picking up of their own. They often accept invitations but don't reciprocate. If you're ill, they tell you after you're well and your real friends have called and checked in on you that they had meant to call but things just came up.
They're the "friends" that you sort of dread seeing and don't know exactly why. Well, here's the why: They don't give a flip about you. They sense that you have low self-esteem and will let yourself be treated any way they choose to treat you. It's an ego boost for them and they get free meals and many psychological perks from the relationship. You, on the other hand, spend a lot of time asking yourself why you put their happiness ahead of your own.
Here is the advice for this situation: GET RID OF THEM. Do not worry about hurting their feelings. Believe me when I say they just don't care that much. I emptied my life of these kinds of relationships about seven years ago. I cannot tell you how freeing it is. You don't need to be rude to anyone. All it takes is not responding to a couple of calls and they're gone. Why? Because they never cared about you in the first place. Send them on their way and wish them well.
Remember, don't blame others for your issues. Always, always look within. As my husband says: "No one can walk on you unless you lie down and let them." Once again, Joe's a word master! Truly eloquent guy.
This article is about happiness. This is how I got there. I am hoping some of it will work for you. Getting rid of "friends" who don't treat you well will give your self-esteem a huge boost simply because you stood up for yourself and finally realized you deserve better. Eliminating problem people clears up space to attract new friends who will honor you and your life.
Don't Miss the Present Moment
I believe that we miss so much of life by fretting about what may happen in the future and regretting or reliving things that happened in the past. Eckhart Tolle says, in his magnificent book the Power of Now, "If you're not present in your life, who is?" Think about the implications of that statement. If we are constantly shifting back and forth from past to future, we are literally missing our lives in the present.
I can remember during times when I was stressed and anxious, totally tuning someone out as I fretted about what might happen later in the day or even the next day. Once a dear friend said, after one of those moments: You didn't hear a word I said, did you? Thank goodness, she was a true friend and understood. Be present. Live this life right now, not yesterday's life or a life that doesn't exist yet in the future.
Having suffered bouts of depression on and off all my life, I will say that keeping my thoughts firmly in the present and out of the past has helped me tremendously in fighting off the "plague," as I've always thought of it. If depression is a problem for you, do not hesitate to get help. Find someone you feel comfortable talking to and someone you like. I saw one woman I didn't like at all and who didn't like me. I never went back. The right person for you is out there. Don't settle; wait for the right person.
Guilt Is Irrelevant
I feel that I must say something about that wretched thing, guilt, at this point. I believe women are more indoctrinated to some degree to "feel guilty" about certain things than men; however, I know men who are pretty good at it too. The only thing I have to say about the subject is to quote the words of my spiritual teacher Tom Clark, who left the planet many years ago. He told me at times that I would continue his work, and perhaps I am when I say these words he taught me: GUILT IS A TOTALLY USELESS EMOTION.
Absorb it, believe it, take it to heart. I believe this from the bottom of my soul. Guilt serves no purpose whatsoever. Do not waste your time. If your conscience didn't stop you from doing whatever it is that made you feel guilty, the only thing left to relieve your guilt is to "confess." That brings another person into your mess and often hurts them horrendously. Let it go. It is a pointless emotion. Spend your time pursuing your joy instead. It's much more rewarding.
I'll Take Spirituality
I am not a person who is interested in religion of any kind. I have contrived my own "brand" of religion. It has to do with clouds and sky, light orbs, animals, wind, rain, sun, moon, dreams, thought projection, I could go on and on. There is a passage in the Bible that has sustained me through many, many dark times, times of panic and times of unhappiness and grief. This is the passage: Be Still, and Know That I Am God.
For me, this is the ultimate act of faith and often the hardest to do: to give up control, to give up fretting, to give up the chatter and paranoia in my mind and trust that a power bigger and more perfect than anything I can comprehend will take my cares and tend them for me. And here I will quote Richard Bach in his classic Illusions when he says: The "Is" Ain't No Swamp Cookie. For some it is God, for Bach it is the "Is." For some, it is Allah, others Buddha, others "Spirit," others "higher power." For some, there is no God and no Buddha or other power that they believe in; and I would urge them to let life itself and the extraordinary being they are become their higher power.
I could go on and on. It is that thing that we know is better, purer, more powerful, grander and infinitely more loving than we can conceive. And for me, making that power part of my life, expecting miracles, expecting goodness, speaking to that power and making it part of my everyday experience has been one of the most comforting, empowering, and freeing experiences I have had. A young friend of mine tells me that she prays to the universe. I say Amen. What resonates for you and gives you joy is your higher power.
Beyond the End of the Visible Path
So there's my well-thought-out advice. Let me add that I have copious faults. I am overweight, I use bad words, I lose patience with my husband, I curse my hateful cat, I drink entirely too much coffee, I am judgmental at times, gossipy at times, etc. We are not dealing with Gandhi here. Choosing to do the things I've suggested will not take away your humanness. My hope is that it might make your life happier and more full of light. If you decide to take the steps I have suggested, please don't view them as work but as a new beginning, which I know will bring you great joy.
We were in Florida for a few days this past weekend and visited Alligator Point. The photo below was the inspiration for this article. When I saw it, it made me think of the words "elevated path." I think that's what enables us to find our joy, an elevated path: the practice of mindful thinking, the practice of being present in our lives, the practice of holding whatever higher power we believe in close to our hearts. If you will notice, in the photo, we do not see where the journey ends. That's the beauty of life; there could be miraculous things in store, just beyond the end of the visible path.