Road to Enlightenment

I want to be free.
Free from the judgment of others.
Free from society’s ideals and expectations.
But mostly, free from myself.

The above series of brief thoughts is profoundly meaningful in my life’s journey, and I imagine in many others’. The last line, however, is perhaps not only the most consequential of all, but also the most complex and challenging freedom to achieve.

I am harder on myself than anyone else is. This is probably true of most of us. I set high expectations and lofty goals for myself and I think that usually this serves me well in the kind of life I choose to live. Sometimes, this can cause disappointment or self-deprecation.

But beyond my desire for self-acceptance, there is an intricate and almost contradictory truth: there are elements of myself that I don’t particularly like and which don’t serve me and my relationships well – those aspects mainly relate to attitudes, reactions and emotions. In short, I want to continue to learn to love and accept myself as the person I am, but in order to be content with my existence and to feel I am living a progressive, blissful and healthy life, I need to continue to change and grow in the ways that I can. I know that there is a very natural and constructive way to strike this balance, which involves being content in who you are in the moment while seeing the need for change and working steadily towards those changes with patience and focus.

Some of my attributes and tendencies are innate in my personality and some of them are a product of the environment in which I’ve lived my life to this point: both macro and micro. Furthermore, certain of those attributes have developed over the period in my life in which I began to explore more complex, mature relationships with the people around me. It is in those relationships – with family, friends, colleagues, lovers, partners – that we experience the greatest highs and lows and perhaps our deepest disappointments and injuries. For me, this is certainly true.

I’m not quite ready to explore some of those aspects of me here, just yet – to a degree because they are not easy to articulate, but chiefly because this process means laying myself a little barer and holding myself more accountable to the changes I want to see in myself.

So, for now, I’ll simply reiterate my philosophy of responsibility for self. I know that only I can choose to change and grow, and this includes recognizing my opportunities for growth; big and small, easy and difficult. It means listening openly yet discerningly to those who care about me and who are willing to constructively share perspectives as well as to my own internal voice. This discernment involves wisely sifting through information for pure truth, which is sometimes obscured by fear, pain, alternative purpose. Moreover, it requires more objective observation of the world, other people, myself and the interaction between them all. Ultimately, I know that I must take full responsibility for myself – my choices, attitudes, reactions, actions. While “shit happens” and people will hurt me, it’s ultimately up to me how I move forward. If there are two facts I am certain of in all of this, it is these:

1. There is much in life I cannot control.
2. I can control my state of mind and what results from that.

I do see this lifelong journey of freedom, discovery and focused change to be one of spiritual and emotional enlightenment and I have to say, I’m pretty excited because I can already see the benefits that some of these changes will beget.

Broken and Beautiful

We are all broken.

Life is full of beautiful, wonderful experiences. It is also inevitably peppered by challenge and difficulty; that seasoning being heavier for some than others. Our struggles may have marred our childhoods, adolescences, adulthoods, or all of the above. Arguably, some of the most severely impacted are those who had abusive childhoods or experienced profound illness or the death of someone close to them. The most jarring trials frequently involve pain and damage caused by those we love – parents, spouses, etc. We surface with baggage: insecurity, self-doubt, disappointment, anxiety, mistrust, heartache, unforgiveness, anger, resentment, and so on. In short, we emerge broken.

One of the themes I’ve consistently written about is the concept of finding opportunity in our struggles. I believe that while none of us wants to struggle or experience pain, we always have a choice in the way we deal with those challenges. We get to choose our reactions and our actions. We may use our adverse circumstances to induce lessons learned, or we can hide them deep inside us and allow the pain to poison us. I want to take this notion a step further.

We all have brokenness – our life’s struggles cannot and should not be compared; we are all different and are all impacted differently by what we experience. Still, we can look at the similarities and bonds that connect us rather than judging one another. When used for good, for positive change, for building relationships, for creating opportunity, our brokenness is not all for naught. Our brokenness can in fact become beautiful.

The Japanese art of Kintsugi involves repairing cracked, broken pottery using molten gold. The Japanese believe that the damaged pottery, with its mended fractures and breaks, is even more beautiful and valuable than before. This is a very meaningful metaphor for each of our lives, and the scars and cracks in our beings which result from our ordeals. In giving ourselves the permission to work through and heal from those trials, we may in fact emerge stronger and more complete than before.

kinstugi

In order to utilize the pain of our circumstance to create beauty, we must find repair; healing, forgiveness, growth. We must also accept in ourselves and each other the reality and asset of our brokenness. In our lives, we can benefit from these two choices to catalyze amazing transformation.

As imperfect human beings, we are so often afraid to face and share our brokenness, even though none of us is complete and faultless. We set unattainable expectations of ourselves and each other. I have long felt that when we seek and choose positive and effective relationships, we find the strength to heal and the desire to grow, but this starts with openness and communication, which takes time and comfort. These uplifting and bolstering relationships can be of any type, but ultimately we should ideally choose to share our lives with people with whom we can be ourselves, and who bestow upon us acceptance and support. And, in the context of a romantic partnership, an ideal mate accepts us without judgment and loves us in our brokenness; helps us to see our value, encourages us to aspire to change and greatness. This is very different than a mate who demands change, who points at our weaknesses and brokenness and calls us inadequate. Rather, it is a choice we make for ourselves; to want to be better and have better for ourselves, and that desire is based on love and acceptance. We are pushed to be extraordinary.

Perhaps we were never meant to be flawless and uninjured – we can use our experience and pain and turn it into wisdom and opportunity. In embracing our flaws and imperfection, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, we can uncover profound beauty and value within ourselves, and discover opportunity to achieve the successes and attitudes we strive for. In our restoration, we are stronger and more precious than before.

Perhaps we were never meant to be complete and self-sufficient – in sharing our pain and experience with others and accepting our need for them, we exchange this wisdom, offer acceptance and inspire evolution and advancement in our own and others’ lives. And, not only do we grow and nurture others, we benefit these relationships with deep intimacy, too.

We are beautiful in our brokenness.

Harmony

How often have you heard someone say that they seek to find balance in their lives? I would guess quite often, and I think the idea is a noble one. When we say we seek to find balance, we might mean that we are trying to keep grounded in the midst of difficulty, or that we are trying not to spend too much time in any one facet of our lives, like our work. Perhaps we are referring to our emotional state, and finding a place of peace and quietude inside of us. Or, we are trying to ensure that our own and our partner’s needs are met equally.

Again, I stress that this is a very noble pursuit and one which is probably lifelong for most of us. But, I challenge us to think of this concept of balance in a different way, and so replacing the idea of balance with harmony.

I know I’m not the first to say this, because this idea came up in my life years ago in conversation with someone close to me. What resulted from a beautiful and profound conversation was that balance is not what we should or can seek, for a few reasons.

I’ll begin to explain my point by providing a visual: what do you imagine when you picture a scale in balance? The two sides of the scale sit precisely across from one another, neither higher nor lower. When the scale comes perfectly into balance, there is no movement. And, as long as nothing touches the scale, and no weight is added or taken away from either side, the scale will remain in balance forevermore.

Life is not like a scale. Day by day, even hour by hour, circumstances and environments change. We are impacted by other people, the weather, our own internal physiological workings, and many other conditions often out of our control. Because of this, we can never truly have life technically in balance, nor should we want it to be I’d argue, as this alludes to a lack of growth and change.

Furthermore, change is good for us, most of the time, even when we don’t like it. And when something changes within us or around us, it will impact other areas of our being or our life as well. The idea is to remain in a state of harmony as much as we can, even when our life is changing, and even when those changes challenge us. Harmony, in this context, means there is accord, peace, synchronicity. We find ways to move with the change of our lives, allowing change or even negative circumstances to stimulate us to grow.

This can be applied back to the ideas we often hear discussed about finding balance. For example, if we are busy in our work life and wish to find ways to protect our personal time too, we find strategies to ensure that where one day might be overrun with work, another day might be dedicated to play. It is not the ratio of work to play that matters, it is rather important that each of our needs are adequately met, whatever that looks like for each of us. We are all different in this respect and as long as we are not anxious, resentful or excessively fatigued by the proportion, we can find a way to feel harmony with the manner in which our life is composed. Likewise in relationships, there will always be compromise, but if both parties work at meeting each other’s needs and both feel at peace with what they are giving and receiving emotionally, physically and spiritually, it is immaterial that the quantity of give and take be exactly equal. I think we would all agree that in enjoying life, quality is more important than quantity and the joy we receive from quality relationships and experiences is immeasurable.

In my own life, part of seeking harmony is in being content with current circumstances without having to actively change them, and change them quickly. Rather, I am working at living within them and choosing to let them impact me, help me grow and consciously making an effort to ensure present circumstances are as positive and joyful as possible for all those involved. As with any self-reflection and self-improvement challenge, this isn’t easy, particularly when we start out in discord with whatever is happening in our lives, but this presents an enormous growth opportunity. I have the chinese characters for harmony tattooed on my forearm, placed there shortly after the aforementioned conversation that started this thought process rolling years ago.

This isn’t to say that many times we must choose to change our circumstances (relationships, jobs, finances, living situation) in order to bring about positive change, but sometimes we simply do not have immediate control or cannot act quickly. If you are looking for continuous growth, movement and peace in your life, then I challenge you to think about harmony, rather than balance, as one of the keys to happiness.

Challenging Love

There was a time when life was pure and simple. Each day was a new discovery, and one sought with innocence and without fear of failure, rejection or heartbreak. Those childhood years, while recollected easily by most of us, are left behind with little remembrance of what it truly felt like to be so free.

As adults, it is perhaps impossible for us to ever be that innocent and liberated again, and probably there are biological imperatives surrounding this. With every disappointment in our lives, we learn to build walls and to convince ourselves to be careful, to be suspicious, to avoid vulnerability. Indeed it is important to be careful sometimes and certainly, vulnerability isn’t synonymous with self-preservation; an activity we flock to so naturally.

I’ve called myself an open book many times in my life. I’ve also frequently been told I shouldn’t be one. I make myself vulnerable in all sorts of relationships, and you can be damn sure I’ve had my heart injured more than once. Let me say that in no way is this an attempt to draw comparisons or assume I’m better or superior to anyone, but I’m personally happy I live my life that way. To me, healthy, successful relationships are founded in part on transparency and open communication, and then built on understanding, empathy and trust (among other things). To leave myself open to hurt is to also leave myself open to being understood. To open the pages of my heart to be read by others is to allow them to know and comprehend my story; where I’ve come from, where I am at present, and where I’m headed – at least as much as is within my ambit. Expressing my raw emotions and impressions to others allows me to feel authentic in a moment or inside of the expanse of an entire relationship, knowing confidently I’ve not held back any part of myself. I’ve given the relationship as much chance at thriving as possible, by genuinely pouring out my heart. I’ve poured out kindness and love on another person both by focusing on all the wonderful things I see in them, but also by pointing out areas where the relationship could be healthier. I open myself up to my intrinsic desire to change the things about myself that I can; wanting to improve myself and make the relationship better, recognizing I can only choose to change myself.

I’m not willing to risk a life of regret and misery, resenting those who have hurt or disappointed me. I’d rather thank them for the lessons they helped me learn. I’m emphatically unwilling to settle for a mediocre or merely content life rather than one that is overflowing with joy, satisfaction and even opportunities for astonishing growth fueled by pain. I’m loath to even consider the possibility of sharing my life in the context of a romantic relationship with someone who doesn’t push my life over the edge and into an experience of love, elation, discovery and evolution that I cannot experience by myself. Sure, love comes easily to me and I find myself feeling love towards strangers sometimes. But mind-blowingly passionate, expansive and selfless love is something rare and worth searching out and waiting for. I no longer believe in ‘one true love’ but I do believe that two people who are right for each other will mutually desire and deliver each other unsurpassed ecstasy and make one another continuously strive for more – more love, more joy, more wisdom, more transformation, more achievement, more exploration, MORE.

Of course, I remember many happy childhood moments with my family and the many blessings I was bestowed. However, I don’t recall what was going on inside me during my earliest formative years. I would imagine, though, that when I’m able to quiet my mind, accept my circumstances, and flow forward with a smile, that peace I feel is probably similar to the innate peace that lived in me as an innocent child. The immense love I’m able to feel in my heart is probably a reflection of the love that filled me to the brim as a youngster, unafraid of how vulnerable it could cause me to be. I imagine that the desire I have to make others happy is something preserved still from that time, when love was paramount and still unblemished.

My goal is to seek such unbridled passion, such courageous love, and to continue to regard life’s struggles as gifts, no matter how hard they might make me push myself. From another perspective, I’ll endeavor to see others as innocent, grown up children, like me, who have just been hurt by life and thus to remember that when they hurt me, it is probably not with that intention. Finally, I challenge myself to draw from within me the innocent, fearless love of a child, combine it deliberately with the wisdom of an open-minded, optimistic adult and accept the realities of life’s disappointments with a smile.