Last year, like many before, was another 365 days of living, making decisions, taking risks, loving, learning, forgiving myself, and others, and being present.
Last year, like many before, our family was immersed in illness.
The calls came often. More often than any year before. Older son was in the hospital again, then again, and again. Then, yet again. He often worried if he’d wake up the next morning. He grew quiet. So quiet. And he already was. In utero, as a child, when depression threatened, when life was happy and when it wasn’t, and always. Except in the long, beautiful, and wonderfully exhausting moments when he talked. So, I sat with him in that quiet. That long, daily quiet… The complications also came. The actions the medical practitioners took to preserve his life led to other life-threatening issues. The umbilical cord, cut long ago, proved it had never really been severed. I felt it pulsing and flowing and exchanging. I knew his fear.
Thankfully, younger son fared better. He had only two extended hospital stays. He worried though, for most of the year, that he might not see his 20th birthday. From January 1st, August seemed like an impossibility. He did not have to tell me. I knew it. I could see it in his sullen shoulders and his walk, in the way his eyes studied the floor inside and the ground outside, and in the way he lost his love for healthy living. It was present in the way he forgot about his camera that used to capture so many moments of looking outward and upward.
I remembered too, 2014, when both sons were finally diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis. I recalled the fear I felt back then every time the phone rang. How, every time it did, a bomb exploded, everything in my immediate surroundings shattered into me, and my heart seized.
My ringer, silenced now for five years, exploded again with the calls for sons one and two. The blasts though, remained hushed. I kept my phone on me always but continued to chose to remove the sirens’ wails when the calls came. With each silent blast, I knew less impact. Or maybe, I just felt it less because most times (I’d love to say each time) my heart slowed down enough to allow the rushing, punishing waves to reduce, ripple, and flow through me.
In the meantime, I chose to continue living, working, being mindful of myself, of my sons, and others. I chose to keep evolving, taking risks, and balancing my needs with all the demands of life.
The following are the life lessons learned and re-learned in the last 365 days.
1. Take notes to listen well, free all parties in the dialog, and love
When having conversations, take notes. If our pen moves to write, our lips will more likely stay closed, and we will not only listen with our ears but with our hearts. We owe it to ourselves and others to listen well. When we engage with our hearts, we deepen all of our relationships. We hear and then speak with a deeper understanding and love.
When we are sitting at bedsides, hearing the fears of our loved ones, we learn in a more powerful way how to really listen. I’ve been a note-taker for decades, and the practice has served me well in all settings — education, work, court, and on the phone or couch, or at the dining room table with those closest to me. Many times, when I took those notes, I tried to listen to the hearts, but part of me made sure to listen to the things I wanted to refute too. Last year, I learned more powerfully, that my notes had to be only on what the other person wanted me to know, including the ways that I hurt them. My notes no longer were their words only but became the colors in the space between the words that they needed me to see.
It is a beautifully remarkable thing to give the gift of genuinely hearing another’s heart and being able to minister to them in that way. It liberates both them and you in the process. Often, they will say things that sting and in recoiling upon being bitten we move back into ourselves so far we can no longer hear. In note-taking, we can absorb color rather than bleed red, and then we can love more freely and limitlessly.
2. Dive into our minds, create white space, then write on the walls
Our brains are continually talking. What they say is often reinforcement of the self-limiting and self-defeating notions we carry. We must dive into them and clean the mentally dirty house. Refute and sweep out the negative beliefs. Make our own white space.
When we have cleared out the crap, we can re-write new thoughts and the views we want to have. We can hang those new thoughts and beliefs upon the walls of our minds. Then, we can take them from our minds and write notes to ourselves (See above). Once we make those notes concrete, we can hang them up in multiple places where we can see them. We can let those tangible notes speak to us regularly until their messages become new permanent fixtures in our minds. Note: Don’t be afraid to throw some white back upon those walls from time to time. This type of writing is a work in progress. It is always changing, always getting updated.
When we suffer, we sometimes lose focus of our aspirations and goals. Goal-setting and goal-progressing fall to the wayside. When my family’s life was irreversibly changed in 2014, I allowed this to happen. My goal-setting, discipline-monitoring, and self-growth-progressing practices that I had developed, modified, and used for 35 years fell to the wayside. I have begun reclaiming those practices. New notes are now continually being written on the white wall space in my mind, which I then transfer to paper. In a short time, I already see progress.
3. Be authentic
Who are you? Who are you, really? Be that person. What are your beliefs, values, hopes, and desires? Let your actions, and perhaps, what others perceive as inaction, be congruent with those beliefs, values, dreams, and aspirations.
When you look inward and see qualities, behaviors, thoughts, and feelings that you do not like, recognize that these are changeable. You are the master of yourself and of any change you want. Everything beyond you is outside the realm of your control. You can, though, be in command of how you prepare for those things, how you think about those things, and how you respond to them. So, start with these three things, figure them out and be yourself. Be yourself, even if everything and everyone around you appear the opposite. It is the only way to finding contentment within yourself and with others.
Last year marked almost a quarter of a century of the balancing act of parenting, work, and life. Those years, often bent by fear, was shattered three times in 2014, and many times since then. I remember vividly when my car was ripped apart by the SUV that ran a stop sign. In the aftermath, I had to have my body repaired, get therapy for a year, and learn to navigate a new physical normal. Even as I write six years later, I can feel the pain coursing through the left side of my body. In the impact of the accident and the few seconds it took for my car to spin uncontrollably and hit another, I saw my sons. I thought how much I wanted to say, “I love you” to them one more time. And how much I wanted to be present to help them navigate and accept the diagnoses they had received only months earlier.
For me, that moment defines authenticity. That moment confirmed for me what truly matters in my mind and heart, who I am at my core, and what my most sincere, honest desires were. That moment highlighted my bonafide intention and purpose for living. That moment began my deepest journey to finding unshakeable peace. Peace with myself, tranquility with others, and serenity with circumstance. Order and peace through controlling my mind a little more each day, embracing the uncontrollable, and refusing to compromise who I am for anyone.
4. Live compassionately
Live compassionately with yourself, first. Once you do this, you will be capable of extending that compassion to others.
Having concern for and increasing understanding of yourself allows you to see better and know humanity. The struggles and sufferings of others become yours, and yours become theirs. It’s all one. We’re all one.
When we approach life and others from a heart of compassion, we open the doors to increased internal and inter-relational acceptance, peace, fulfillment, and joy.
With the medical traumas of last year, I more often — not always — chose to give myself what I needed. That meant simply, long walks, strength training, healthy eating, sleep, good reading, and silence. Lots and lots of silence. How raptured I am in silence. By showing myself compassion in these Maslow-hirearchian lower rung ways, I found the strength and courage I needed to be compassionate with my sons when their crises and fears threatened to overpower them. And when those same crises opened their mouths to attack. I found the compassion to love myself and them when they retreated inward, and when, out of fear, they pushed me away. I discovered better how to choose the compassion and the companionship of space when space was needed. And I learned how compassion is dressed in the mighty thing called acceptance.
5. Be creative
We all have some form of creativity in us. We need to use it, practice it, grow it, and allow it to blossom. I used to see creativity as some form of art: music, sculpting, drawing, painting, and the like. But creativity refers to anything we invent from scratch.
The engineer who designs something new is creative. The child who draws a pink dog with three heads and nine legs is creative. Creative is the businessman who comes up with a novel idea for a business and builds it from scratch or who recognizes that he must abandon a project and start again. The individual who plans his day, establishes short and long-term goals, and pursues them is creative. The person who journals privately or chooses to write in a public forum is as well. The life-long learner is creative.
When we do not use our creativity, it does not just fade away. It becomes a disease that eats away at our core. We come to have a sense of emptiness that grows. We entertain thoughts and feelings of lacking something that we cannot quite put our finger on. We live in superficiality because we fail to explore and cultivate the deeply planted original and imaginative seeds within us that weep for germination.
Regardless of my abilities or lack thereof, I yearn to write. Sometimes, it calls to me. As I’ve gotten older, the desire screams louder and more often, and cannot go ignored for too long. In the moments I give myself to the calling, I find both challenge and fulfillment, and accompanying joy.
Inside you, there is something creative that wants to get out. What is it? Please do it. Just start.
6. Live right here
Thank you, friend, who shared this statement with me. It resonated then and resonates now.
Living right here is the only way to live. It means being present. Fully present. It means taking notes to better attend to what others need us to understand. It means being conscious of the moments as they happen. It means feeling and embracing everything that comes. It requires steady openness.
When what comes is trouble, or difficulty, hardships, personal affronts, or unfairness, our call is to embrace them. For when we do, we convert them into positives and opportunities for self-development. These things will come no matter what we do. They come to help us grow, to make us more mindful, compassionate, determined, creative, grateful, and joyful. Resisting them is a waste of energy and the birth of cancer in our minds, hearts, and spirits.
On the days that I live “right here,” in the moment, I am simultaneously actively present and involved, and sitting back watching events flow. It’s art created moment by moment, in my mind first, and subsequently, in all my interactions with happenings and with others.
When I choose to forget to live right here, I forget what is in my realm of control, and I get bothered by trivial and unchangeable things. I literally run into a wall that blinds me, dams and damns me, and robs me of the opportunity to grow and blossom and to help others do the same. But who ran into the wall? I did. And in doing so, I blocked out the warmth and nurturing of the sunlight. I stifled and drowned myself. I denied myself the limitless benefits of taking the risk to live right here.
7. Embrace our ordinary
We all want and seek recognition. The acknowledgment we desire may be small-scale within our close network of family, friends, and acquaintances. It may be large-scale, as in the way of our political, business, and entertainment leaders and trendsetters. The truth is that all of us, even those we might want to emulate, are ordinary.
Let’s embrace that ordinary. That ordinary connects us to every other person on earth. That ordinary gives us permission to be ourselves. That ordinary allows us to enjoy the beauty and peace of simplicity. That ordinary helps us to see others’ hearts, to be transparent with them, and to accept them as they are.
Underlying the recognition that we seek is a desire to be accepted. Self-acceptance, which is true acceptance, must come before anything else if anything else is to be worthwhile. Self-acceptance begins with the identification of our unique ordinariness. This ordinarinariness wants, and hopes, and fears, and needs as it lays in a hospital bed, or doubts its self-worth, or achieves a milestone and shines brightly. This ordinariness, like that of every human being, holds value and validity, is worthy of consideration, and it makes each of us magnificent.
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