Continuing the puns. I know the stress isn’t exact, but I mean that being your full self = beautiful. Got it?
And so we begin.
Now that the internet and social media allows us to circulate ideas and memes and quotes and philosophies and manifestos, I feel like I’m constantly bombarded with links like “15 Ways to Live Your Best Life (#4 will blow your mind)” and “6 Requirements for the Optimal Life (I can’t believe I didn’t know about #5)” and “12 Things Spiritually Evolved People Do Differently (#10 will change your life)” and “3 Truths Everyone Needs to Know.” Surely someone has already done “101 Lists of How to Live Exactly Right”
Normally, I dislike adding to a full pool. But in honor of my birthday this month, I challenged myself to articulate my version. Not because I believe that there is some definitive list which perfectly applies to everyone. But articulating why I live the way do and what matters most to me has been a good exercise in appreciating the beauty of mySelf.
In the process, I realized that this blog already expresses these ideas. No shock there. But fitting into this linear format was a challenge, which is why the ideas aren’t numbered. Like all things, they are interdependent.
If I were skilled at graphic design, I would find I way to show the overlaps and connections. In my mind’s eye, they are threads on a web or petals on a flower—touching and supporting each other for the sake of the whole. My transitions for this linear presentation are only some of the many connective tissues among these ideas.
The broadest summary would be that I believe we find liberation is through sustaining physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. What follows is how I do so.
All is impermanent. Sometimes changes occur on timelines we can’t detect, like the seeming permanence of actual slow geologic time.
Security is an illusion. Just because you want success doesn’t mean you will have it. Just because you want children doesn’t mean you will have the opportunity. Just because you hope to live to old age doesn’t mean you will. And just because you have some of these things doesn’t mean you always will.
Just as I unexpectedly drove past two separate car accidents, which killed two of my classmates—there are no guarantees. I am alive and they are not.
This life is the only chance you have as you. You must do what you wish. You will not always have the time.
Nothing lasts, so be sure to foster—
Whether or not you believe in your own divinity, I hold that we are all manifestations of the divine, of spirit—of which the universe is composed. In the words of Alan Watts: “You are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself.”
For many, connection to the sacred manifests as some assemblage of spiritual practice, religion, ritual, community. But I think Gibran explains it better: “Your daily life is your temple and your religion.” Meaning that regardless of the religious beliefs you might espouse, your actions are the truest expression of your spiritual work. If you spend most of your time consumed with mindless work, that is your religion. If you constantly demean other people—family, coworkers, strangers—that is your religion. If you are always willing to offer help, that is your religion.
Yogi Bhajan also expresses this sentiment exceptionally well: “If you cannot see God in all, you cannot see God at all.”
The balance to sacred connection is disengagement—from the unproductive, the inconsequential, the less than real. I mention this because no matter how much you create sacred space, you can still be distracted.
For example, I try to disengage from the material. Life is not about achieving someone else’s expectations. I want to take care of my body, and I appreciate my body. But I don’t spend my time and money blindly following someone else’s standards of physical appearance. I would much rather appreciate my body and create my own appearance than follow fashion.
I try to disengage from unproductive conversations, real or virtual. There is a certain blonde conservative pundit whom I find particularly useless. But I don’t wish to share names, articles, references, etc from people who espouse useless drivel. You know, like the correlation between soccer fandom and moral decay. Or shock jocks who joke for hours without saying anything worthwhile, but plenty offensive. Worse, people who spread harmful BS, like the female body “knowing” how to “shut down” pregnancy if the woman suffers a “real” rape. Distracting chatter is exactly what they want.
I try to disengage from finances, as much as possible beyond taking care of myself. Once my needs are met, it’s not much difference between $5,000 or $50,000 extra. Would I like to have more financial means than I currently have? Sure. But I don’t want to be so unconscious that I live extravagantly simply because I can. And I definitely don’t wish to chase down money because I believe a salary benchmark is truly meaningful.
Life is short. How can you possibly have any time left over for nonsense if you put all your efforts into what you wish to create?
So much is sacred, including your—
Your body is the vessel through which you live this life. It is your most sacred space—holding and processing your thoughts, emotions, and energies. Take care of your temple.
As far as I can tell, physical health, on the most basic level, is like depositing checks in an account. At a certain point, the body will start to draw on those deposits. The better the checks, the more the body has to draw upon. And perhaps the better the checks, the later the drawing may occur. But once the body begins to cash the checks, you cannot compensate for past crap or bounced checks. Years or decades of low nutrition or high inactivity cannot be fully offset by good checks later.
I have far too much energy not to mandate physical activity as well. I hate working out, feel really gross and bored in gyms; I need more engaging things to do. Thus I gravitate towards asana, dance, tai chi.
Your body is profoundly sacred, your senses immeasurably magnificent. You are absolutely worth the time and effort to keep yourself healthy.
Staying healthy helps cultivate the sacred, a well as cultivate—
Intuition. Gut instinct. Autonomy. All ways to live a life which you determine, moment by moment.
Though you can learn from others, ultimately you hold the highest wisdom for yourSelf. You have everything you need. Dogma is unnecessary—accept that which you have decided to hold true for you.
You are the guru—anyone who tells you that the answers, the truth, the way are outside of you is lying. Outside sources at most provide a framework. Information. But you know what’s best for you.
One of the most important lessons in my life was understanding that my ego mimics the voice of my intuition. The ability to distinguish between the two is one of the best things I have ever learned to do. The other important lesson is cultivating the willingness to heed my intuition.
“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened.
But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” ~ Nietzsche
Following your own intuition includes honoring your self-expression, however you define it. Trends are just distractions. Maybe your appearance. Maybe creative outlets. Maybe how you raise your children. Again, disengage from what other people want you to say and do and wear and believe. You might have to wear business casual, but if lime green makes you happy, then find a way to wear it.
Meanwhile, always maintain—
integrity / grace
Be real in your interactions. Within yourSelf and with others. Verbal, physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. Say it because you mean it. Don’t if you don’t. Do what you say you’ll do. Directness is often difficult—it’s vulnerable to be real. But it’s essential for maintaining equanimity in a crazy world. Be one who brings more, not less, grace to your community, job, family, passionate pursuits.
My measure of integrity for anyone is how that person handles challenging situations. You’re kind and accommodating when things go your way? Yawn. I mean, congratulations. Your measure of integrity is how you handle yourself when when things get f&!#^ed up. When you’re the object of unfair criticism. When you’re the object of justifiable rage. When you’re the target of cruel gossip. Real grace is being compassionate and constructive, even when you feel justified to lose your temper and lash out. You don’t have to be a doormat. But you can be mature in your disagreements.
For the record, I find this work to be some of the hardest in my life. For example, once I requested that someone clean her own mess, she yelled at me in front of dozens of people that I was crazy and had an agenda to make her look bad. The temptation, of course: yell back that she was juvenile and ridiculous. But I knew that wouldn’t be productive. Actual response: calm disagreement, repetition of my request.
Another time a yoga teacher (yep) taunted me in a parking lot, in front of her students (seriously), after her efforts to have me fired were unsuccessful (true story). This is your practice, Stephanie, I thought. Keep breathing, keep walking. Breathe, left foot. Breathe, right foot… I never looked back.
All that inner work helps to—
stay present and be real
Savor the present. Everything is impermanent, so relish all the sacred.
Contemplative traditions emphasize releasing both past and future, regret and anxiety. Moreover, staying present helps physical health. When you’re not caught up in dis-ease, can connect you more fully to your intuition.
Now that we live with so much virtual existence, it’s even more essential to have intentional disconnects. I understand you can be present and read a Twitter feed. I appreciate social media, smartphones, blogs (natch) for what they are. Modern culture provides so much easy access to live passively—vicariously though TV, video games, movies, online worlds. Those outlets are not valueless. But they are not a substitute for your reality.
For example, you know that amazing part of the movie/show/game when the main character totally loses it and screws up and then realizes true strength/forgiveness/power? And when the other person takes advantage, but then someone else comes through? Yes! I love that part too. And you know what? That could be your life. If you really live your life, things will be even more messy and difficult than they are in the movie/show/game. But guess what—things will be far more beautiful, meaningful, and remarkable as well.
Have the ultimate, live-action, sensory, high-definition experience. Go outside. Get moving. Talk to people face-to-face. Plant a garden, play an instrument, volunteer in your community. Be in your miraculous (and hopefully healthy) body and your miraculous planet.
Being in the world is the perfect reminder of the—
interdependence of all life
Everything is interdependent. Geologically, biologially, chemically, atomically, energetically. And for humans—culturally, socially, politically, economically.
Tolerance is an obvious corollary to interdependence. As Norman Maclean wrote, “we can love completely without complete understanding.” Jesus talked about it a lot.
We all need to take care of each other. Not because we all agree all the time, but because we all depend on each other. Not just humans caring for humans, but humans caring for all life.
Reciprocating the abundance of nature means that we—
I am so fortunate that I don’t buy very many material things. For example, so much of my clothing is from swaps—imbued with memories of friends. I love to cook, but I try to resist most kitchen gadgets.
No matter what people or Monsanto say, we don’t actually have dominion over nature. It’s hubris, by the way, to say that humanity will destroy the planet. That’s impossible, clearly. But we are definitely capable of destroying our habitats and ecosystems, and ultimately ourselves.
Nature is also the model provider of—
Humans are obsessed with scarcity. Fixated on not enough. But we have everything we need. We grow enough food to feed the planet—but it’s not distributed in a way which feeds everyone. We have enough money to fund homes, schools, churches, community centers, jobs—but it’s not distributed in a way which provides for everyone.
I stop listening when people complain about trivial concerns. A few months ago, I heard a group of people complaining about the recent cold winter, how much they looked forward to warmer weather. That is, until someone mentioned pollen season (link), and groans ensued.
“First world problems” can be a misleading label—I prefer “1% problems.” Most people in the world live with far, far less than I. Having lived in and visited many third-world places, I have witnessed far more dire and heartbreaking circumstances than anything I have seen at home.
Like kids sitting on the ground—on the dirt, no cushion or even cloth—for hours every day because they’re so desperate to have a basic education.
Like portioning a few gallons of water water for cooking, cleaning, bathing, and drinking.
Like families of four or more people living in a space half the size of my one-bedroom apartment. (Which is why my home always felt extravagant.)
I have seen how most of the world lives—what they don’t have, what they don’t eat. Many thousands of Indians live amidst dumps and landfills. Not nearby. Nearly in and on. By now, keeping my perspective is involuntary. Furthermore, my life, even at a low end of the US economic spectrum, is finer than what royalty had a century or two ago, and certainly better than the conditions of the global 99%. Indoor plumbing. Hot water. Plentiful food. Secure home. A full closet.
So often we focus on scarcity—who has more, who is better or smarter or happier. There will always be those with more. But there are far, far more of those who have less.
Recognizing all this abundance fortifies—
Let’s review—we have a finite, sacred life in an amazing vessel, with countless opportunities to express ourselves and follow our instincts, with the ability to connect with everything around us in countless ways. We exist with so much other life on an amazing planet, all of which shares and provides its resources.
Why, exactly, do people complain so much? Alan Watts describes my sentiment much, much better:
“As it is, we are merely bolting our lives—gulping down undigested experiences as fast as we can stuff them in—because awareness of our own existence is so superficial and so narrow that nothing seems to us more boring than simple being.
If I ask you what you did, saw, heard, smelled, touched and tasted yesterday,
I am likely to get nothing more than the thin, sketchy outline of the few things that you noticed, and of those only what you thought worth remembering.
Is it surprising that an existence so experienced seems so empty and bare
that its hunger for an infinite future is insatiable?
But suppose you could answer, “It would take me forever to tell you, and I am much too interested in what’s happening now.”
How is it possible that a being with such sensitive jewels as the eyes,
such enchanted musical instruments as the ears, and such a fabulous
arabesque of nerves as the brain can experience itself as anything less than a god?
And, when you consider that this incalculably subtle organism is inseparable from the still more marvelous patterns of its environment—
from the minutest electrical designs to the whole company of the galaxies—
how is it conceivable that this incarnation of all eternity can be bored with being?”
I have encountered many children and adults living in desperate conditions, laughing and shining with more joy than many people who typically inspire envy.
Recognizing abundance often helps you to find—
This doesn’t mean the only worthy employer is Médicins Sans Frontières. Rather, do work in your life that you find meaningful. Vocation or not, paid or not, career or not. Find what honors your own sacred. Make art. Help homeless people. Teach math.
Gibran’s description of work is my favorite: “to love life through labor is to be intimate with life’s innermost secret.”
Through all these interactions you can further your own—
Being present and real enriches your life, exposes you to the many dimensions and textures of existence. Though it’s comfortable to stay in the easy places, be willing to venture beyond.
Learn about more than your familiar. Again, interdependence and tolerance assist these efforts. Allow yourself to be uncomfortable—you might gain something invaluable. That doesn’t mean you’re a pushover who doesn’t make your own decisions. Merely that you’re not so arrogant that you won’t witness anything other.
Difficult situations may reinforce your own beliefs. Or you might change your mind. Either way, be willing to be uncomfortable. None of us is perfect. Some of my dearest friends have pushed me out of my comfort level or confronted me on bad behavior, and I am a much better person as a result.
If you choose to believe in principles which others have stated, let it be because you truly feel the same, rather than simply maintaining blind allegiance. Again, honor your self-determination.
As you know and do so much, you are responsible for your own—
Only you can do the work of your life. Just as you are the guru, you are the disciple, a word with the same root as “discipline.” You are the laborer. Just as nothing outside of you provides the real power of transformation and wisdom, nothing outside of you provides the work. Nothing can show up in your place. OccYOUpy.
It’s hard work. It’s hard to hold boundaries, to be honest, to disagree, to be vulnerable, to surrender. Your ego will always make excuses, often in the guise of your intuition. But no one has the market cornered on challenges, depression, hard knocks, or any other setbacks. No one succeeds solely by luck or angelic intervention. You have a choice. About everything. And whether you show up is one of the greatest choices. The more you show up, the more the rest of the universe will join you.
And given that life is impermanent, the present is the right time. To start a business. To read a novel. To write a novel. To stop eating crap and eat real, nourishing food. To stop hanging out with unsupportive people and have genuine friends. To explore. To learn. To love.
“The life I could still live, I should live.” ~ Jung
Act now and never give up.
Most spiritual traditions have the end goal, so to speak, of liberation—nirvana, moksha, heaven, samadhi. The end of suffering. Regardless of what you believe, I maintain that transcendence and liberation can exist in any moment. In all moments.
“There is another world, but it is in this one.”
There is another way to live, that’s not the futile chase of money that rapes the planet. You can do it now.
There is another way to love, without conditions and judgement. You can do it now.
There is another way to interact, with detachment and compassion. You can do it now.
There is another way to respect yourself, as divine beings who deserve care and respect and who take care of all other life. You can do it now.
“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God”
~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The universe has unfathomably vast proportions to our human brains—its size and energy are massive beyond our comprehension. Likewise, the size and energy of subatomic particles are the inverse—tiny beyond our comprehension.
We are as unfathomably tiny to galaxies as atoms are to us. Likewise, we are unfathomably massive to atoms as galaxies are to us. Either way, I believe the universe wants us all to be epic. To go beyond our apparent potential.
A friend posted this on his birthday:
“The older I get the less I regret. I can now see that at any given moment,
I did the best I could believing and thinking what I believed and thought at the time.
I love the understanding that happens as I grow and evolve and am so so grateful for the friendships that held and taught me along this gig called life.
This love thing is all that matters. It surpasses all time and space
and everything else is just scenery and backdrop.”
The universe wants all of us to have love, to make love, to be love.
“You have come into this world to do this,
to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.”
~ Mary Oliver
SK © 2014