I wrote a few weeks ago how I had kept a list of rules to live by in my pocket when I first moved out west. This list helped me clarify my purpose, let go of things that were holding me back, and more confidently transition into the person I was trying to become. I was restoring myself into a healthier person and the rules aligned my behavior and my vision for a better life. They also made decision making a lot easier. If it didn’t comport with the rules, it was out.
I am once again reminded of what works and what doesn’t work for me, and have set aside some time to think of life’s new rules. Here’s what I have come up with so far:
1. Do Less
- Being over-busy and in hurry has become a sort of status symbol I can no longer relate to. Cancer has forced the issue of pacing in my life, and easing the tension on my schedule and has allowed a lot of other meaningful things to take root. I don’t know when it became vogue to be so over-burdened, but it never made me feel satisfied. It made me feel overwhelmed, isolated, and always behind. It felt a lot like trying really hard to be bad at something. Slower right now suits me, so I am committing to less and making more time for the priorities in my life.
2. Listen Up
- I talk a lot. I love to be heard, to be understood. I would probably dominate any conversation anytime if I didn’t stop myself. I’ve realized, however, that most people fight things they don’t understand. You can’t truly understand someone or something if you aren’t listening. I’m aiming for more peace in my life, for more understanding, so naturally I have to listen better because you can’t grow what you don’t know.
3. Have Integrity
- This is my mid-thirties take on being honest. Being honest and telling the truth are elements to having integrity, but integrity calls on us to do something more. It is about being proud of the person you are when no one is looking and not worrying about what you have represented yourself to be because it’s the truth. If you have integrity around your actions and identity, life is easier. Plain and simple.
4. Practice Kindness
- I have found it increasingly easier to be kind as I progress through treatment. I see very clearly that kindness starts from within, and if I am not kind to myself first it will be nearly impossible to be kind to others. Everyone on this planet is suffering under something, we all just wear it differently. If we practice kindness, we lessen our own burdens and can radically lessen the pain of those around us. It is really a hard choice?
5. Try New Things
- We routinely box ourselves in with thinking that things have to be this way or that way. We get used to life’s shortcuts in our minds. We come to rely on the routine and knowledge that what was true today will be true tomorrow. Trying new things challenges those boundaries and allows room for new thought. If we change our expectations, we change our lives. What if the things that were hurting us or holding us back simply evaporated? Trying a new mindset can absolutely work that way in life. It has in mine and it has made all the difference.
6. Be Seen
- I like to say that Brene Brown studies vulnerability and that I live it. Living out loud, sharing my struggles and fears, and being candid about my journey has been remarkable. What at first sounds terrifyingly isolating and a lot like standing naked in a spotlight has turned out to be the most community building experience of my life. The most immediate obstacle to being understood is the defensiveness of others. Defenses short circuit our ability to truly hear others (See #2 above). Vulnerability opens the pathway for communication, for understanding, and it has built some amazing bridges in my life recently.
7. Listen to Your Gut
- I am convinced that we have an internal compass inside us that guides us. It’s that voice that alerts us to danger. It also broadcasts a more subtle message- that of our true calling and path. I have a harder time dialing into this, probably because it’s hard to quiet my mind enough to hear it. Things like fear, self-doubt and worry tend to drown in out. I made a promise to myself early on in this journey that I would listen to my gut because it never leads me astray. I’m sticking by that promise, and working on ways improve my ability to tune into my own inner navigation system.
8. Do Good Work
- I’m stealing this from my father-in-law. He was a man I respected, admired and now miss dearly. When I was younger I took this adage to mean we should put our best efforts forward in our professions and strive to make sure our work product was something we were proud of. I think that is still true. I would now add that it is our responsibility to put forth positive change in the world. I believe in aiming for quality, connection, and purpose. We should capitalize on our strengths, refine our crafts, and be conscious of our imprint on the world. Hopefully we strive to give more than we take, and to leave the world in a better condition than we found it.
9. Honor Your Body
- I’m still working on ways to make sure I treat my body with respect during treatment…Okay, and in life in general, too. For me, I know I have to keep moving, hydrate, and try to eat things that fuel me without doing harm. I’m not looking at it from a position of trying to force or change the body I was born into, but from a position of doing what I can with what I have to make sure I keep myself healthy. This looks different for everyone, but I think we can all feel into whether we are doing enough, or the right kind of thing, to keep us on the right track moving forward.
- I’ve saved the best, and the toughest, for last. Forgiveness is a gift to the giver, not the receiver. I certainly haven’t mastered it yet. I expect letting go of injuries from others starts with the deepest admission that they have, in fact, hurt you. It’s a scary lid to kick off because after that you are left with the big mess off pain and sometimes no immediate solution. And let’s be honest, sitting with pain is never awesome. Forgiveness means learning to make peace with something that defies peace, something that drives the unruly edges of conflict in our hearts. But forgiving others frees us up from judgment, lightens our hearts and lets us focus on what is important today. It’s less distracting. Refusing to forgive just lets the injury perpetuate, it is a constant handing over of my serenity to someone who I feel has already wronged me. I am also slowly learning the value of forgiving myself and putting down what I cannot change. It’s part of leaning in to the here and now and making the most of the opportunity I am handed right this moment.
Any time I feel something come up that is in conflict with this list, I pause. I remind myself of my vision for my life (to be a more content person) and I challenge the current action against that bigger goal. If it doesn’t align, I do what I can to let it go and press forward. It’s never perfect, it’s always balancing who I want to become against the skills I have to get there. But like any under-developed skill, I have to work at it. I have to practice until I get stronger and my body and mind naturally fall into a confident rhythm. I’ll get there, and I’ll carry this list as a reminder until I do.
Give Em’ Hell