Last Sunday Meriel threw a birthday party for me out on the beach in front of our cabin. It was a lovely gathering of friends, sharing sun, sand, swimming, and sumptuous food together, including many pounds of crab that our generous neighbour Rob shared, a gift from the Strait of Georgia on which we live. As the sun was setting in the crimson dusk, my friend Jill asked me, in front of all of our guests, “Well Michael, what have you learned in your 74 years of being on this planet?”
All of a sudden I felt I needed to perform, to say something inspiring, and captivating that would insure my place in the Hall of Fame of Wise Elders. Unfortunately I went blank! I couldn’t think of anything to say. I did say something mildly acceptable, but more importantly, the question has been alive in me ever since. This month’s newsletter is dedicated to a partial answering of that question.
I want to make a distinction between what I have learned as information, which I sometimes practice, and what is wisdom that is deeply embodied and an integral part of who I am. They are mixed together throughout the letter and I am not wanting to pawn myself off as an expert, or guru, only a fellow traveler on the winding road of life. I don’t want to preach platitudes and bumper stickers, only share what I have learned through direct experience. I hope you find a few of these “practices” helpful for your own journey…
15 Lessons on the road to 74!
#1Self criticism is an act of violence. Through much of my life I wasn’t even aware of the voices of criticism in my head. As I began to meditate they became very loud and I noticed that these voices were separate from me, the observer. Finally, I realized that these old voices came from decisions I had made in the past and were never “the truth” about me in the moment.
If we said the things we say to ourselves to others we would likely be incarcerated. Yet, most of us engage in perpetual conversations about our lack, imperfections, shame, short-comings and doubt. It’s not that we are going to stop having these thoughts, but we can stop engaging with them, allowing them to be there as simply noise from the shadows of our past and the collective unconsciousness.
Practice: Journal about your abusive inner criticisms. Love them and affirm your own essential goodness on a daily basis.
#2 Love begins with authentic kindness towards ourselves. My early childhood was filled with chaos, abuse and loss. Before my third birthday I found my mother’s body after she had committed suicide. I made a decision that it was my fault and therefore I was unlovable, which led me to push myself. I thought hard work would make me worthy of love. After seven decades I am finally learning to love myself, especially when those old stories arise.Can we make a choice to love whatever is arising within us and grant kindness and curiosity to those negative thoughts we have towards ourselves and others? Consider the possibility that whatever arises in us is an opportunity for growth, healing and bringing wholeness to ourselves and the world.
Practice: When we have a negative thought or emotions, can we just say to ourselves, “And I can love this too”? Try it and make your heart smile!
#3 Things are always the way they are and never the way they’re not. Much of my life has been spent in my head, judging, criticizing, analyzing and wanting things to be different than they are. What an enormous waste of energy to be continually resisting what is and missing the beauty, inspiration and joy that surrounds us.
Notice the amount of time we spend fretting over things that aren’t the way we want them to be and yet can’t control. Endless hours are wasted complaining and talking about the way things “ought to be” or are “supposed to be”. When we can embrace things as they are, and not as they should be, we become more present and are able to meet the challenges in our lives and the world with greater clarity, focus and vision.
Practice: Explore your complaints and notice if there is anything you can do about them. If you can, take action! If you can’t, practice silence and enjoy the fullness of the moment.
#4For the most part we live in either the remembered past or the imagined future. Much of my own life has been spent trying to overcome things which I felt were done to me in the past. I’ve assigned blame to others without considering their intention, history or motivation. They’ve become my story. Somewhere I began to realize that I have a story and I am not my story.
If you think your memory of the past is an accurate representation of what actually happened, ask your siblings or someone else who was there and you will get an entirely different story. Notice how often we are living into some future fantasy of how the unknowable future is going to turn out. Both of these keep us from truly experiencing the brilliance of the present moment.
Practice: When you find yourself fretting about the past or future, stop, breathe, notice what’s happening in your body, what emotions are arising and be present to the moment. Then look outward and find the beauty that surrounds you.
#5 Our perceptions are always being shaped by our past. One of the areas I’ve always struggled with is money. I’ve made and lost a great deal of it in my life, but my old story of lack and not being enough has dominated my relationship with money. One strategy has been to just ignore and avoid the subject. How’s that for financial planning?
The way we see the world is crafted from our ancestral and familial patterns, cultural perspectives, trauma and early experiences. These perceptions form our beliefs and our actions are an expression of those beliefs. We think that there is an objective world “out there”, when in fact what we see is a function of what we believe. The world is subjective to our beliefs. The outer world is always a reflection of our inner world.
Practice: If we want to know what our beliefs and perceptions are all we have to do is to look at our life. Journal on your beliefs and ask yourself, is this really true?
#6We always have a choice.I vividly remember in 1972 when I walked out of the Est training and realized, “Damn, I’m completely responsible for my life!" Up until that point I had acted as if I was a victim of my circumstances. With that realization I began to develop the power to choose being responsible over being a victim in life.
While we may not have chosen our circumstances, we can always choose how we respond. Between any event and our reaction there is a momentary gap in which we can choose our response to any situation we encounter. The more present we become, the greater the opportunity to respond with clarity, kindness and appropriate action.
Practice: Throughout the day notice when you get triggered and explore the myriad of ways you could respond. The awareness will lead to more empowered choices.
#7What we resist persists. Two examples of this in my life are my resistance to being rejected or abandoned. These painful experiences from my childhood led me as an adult to vigilantly avoid experiencing them by shaping my identity to be liked or accepted. The more I did this the more the experience of feeling abandoned and rejected would grow. I would literally draw people towards me that would reject or abandon me or at least I would feel as if they were. I have learned to use these experiences as opportunities to give myself the love I have been seeking from others and the world.
In any moment that we are resisting what is, we are also asserting that the thing we don’t want exists. By embracing and loving whatever is arising in us we are freed from the prison of our own thoughts. They will either disappear or show you what it is within you that is wanting to be healed or attended to.
Practice: Embrace what is and use what we have been avoiding to give ourselves that which we have been looking for from outside ourselves.
#8 Our wounding is our gift. I would not wish my childhood experiences on anyone else. The intensity of my experiences are what led me to the work I do today. My teaching, radio show and coaching all comes from the trauma, injustice and disappointment of my childhood. I could not effectively support others had I not had these experiences.
That isn’t to say I wanted the wounding or wouldn’t have rather done without it. But, in the seed of every wound is the gift of our evolution and healing, not only for ourselves, but for humanity. Practice: Explore what childhood wounds and disappointment have contributed to your current gifts, strengths and talents.
#9 What we see in others says more about us than them.I am still challenged with this one, even though I continue to realize the truth of it. I get triggered when provoked, or told what I should or should not be doing. If I stop and pay attention it is clear to me that the people who rattle my complacency are showing me where I need to cultivate equanimity.
Our judgements, criticisms, and blameof others shows us what our own personal work is in this interconnected world. We are constantly co-creating life in relationship to others. Our rugged individualism is a lie. The people who most annoy us are our greatest teachers. Practice: Think of someone who really rattles your cage and write in your journal what they invoke or awaken in you? What is the teaching that wants to emerge?
#10 There is no objective world out there.I tend to exert enormous energy trying to meet my own ideals of perfection. As if there was a right and perfect way of doing things. In this way I create stress and anxiety for myself, for instance by wanting to get this newsletter just right. But, I am the one that sets these standards. Of course there are consequences for everything we do and it is important to be mindful of the consequences of our actions.
If we learn to look at the world from a whole systems perspective and begin to see how everything is connected and inter-dependent we will see how truly subjective our world is. The more we strive for perfection (an objective) the more stress and anxiety we create.
Practice: Notice places in your life where your perfectionism is creating anxiety or stress. Ask yourself, what is the standard or ideal I am trying to attain and where did it originate.
#11Fear is frozen energy. I am someone who has often been stopped by fear. Fear of not being enough, of getting hurt, being rejectedor encountering some catastrophe. When I allow myself to feel this fear I can better allow myself to lean into and see what it’s protecting as well as what is possible by moving through it.
We are, at our most basic level energy, and energy is patterns of movement. If we can turn towards our fear and see it as a teacher, we will enliven ourselves and energetically move from problem to possibility. If your breaking old patterns and stepping into new realms of personal development and expansion you will encounter fear. It is the doorway to the life that is calling you. Practice: Practice leaning into your fear and discover what possibility is calling to you from behind the curtain of fear and resistance.
#12 Communication lives in listening more than speaking. One of the great learnings for me in the corporate world is this one. I so often saw how when a leader listened for another’s contribution, he had an empowered team and when another watched and listened from a place of not trusting he had people getting away with as much as possible. I can also see how my own listening for approval has often caused people to back away from me.
Listening shapes speaking. Consider your performance when you are around people who encourage and believe in you versus when you are with people think you are incapable or going to fail. The way we listen creates a field of possibility and we have a choice as to how we listen to others. We are always listening through some kind of filter. Why not make it a positive one? Practice: Journal about the different ways you listen to friends, family, co-workers and people in your life. See if you can reveal the filters through which you listen and notice how it shapes both your and others' speaking.
#13Forgiveness is for you, not the perpetrator.Some years ago my stepmother passed. My father had died several years before leaving her his estate. My expectation was that his money would be passed on to me, but my stepmother, who I never got along with, gave it to a distant cousin instead. It wasn’t until my vision quest last year that I realized the physical, mental and emotional cost of holding onto my resentment and left it out in the wilderness.
When we hold on to resentment we are literally re - living the events from the past. Forgiveness doesn’t say that you condone the behavior that has caused you pain. Forgiveness means you give up the right to continue to make yourself miserable over something that happened in your past.
Practice: Notice any place you are holding onto resentments from the past. In your journal write what the benefits and cost are of holding on to them. The hard part is to choose to let go and move on, being joyful in the face of it all.
#14 Gratitude calls to you more of what you want more of in your life. Recently I realized that my complaints and focus on what my partner wasn’t doing was keeping me from seeing what an amazing contribution she was not only in my life, but to the world. I have taken on the practice of looking for and sharing the amazing gifts that she brings into my life.
As author and social entrepreneur Lynn Twist says, “What we appreciate, appreciates”. When we express our gratitude to others or to life, life becomes brighter, more joyful and rich. The recipients of your gratitude are also empowered. All of us wants to be seen, heard and appreciated.
Practice: Who in your life has contributed to you, to whom you have not yet expressed your gratitude. Let them know what a contribution they are to you today.
#15 You make a difference. As I have said much of my life, my work was focused on doing good work in order to be loved and admired. In looking back I am amazed that I have made a difference in many people’s lives. Finally, I am able to acknowledge that I am doing the work I was born to do and that everything we do impacts the larger community and the field of consciousness itself.
Everything we do in life affects everything else. The more mindful we become of this truth the more we reclaim our essential goodness. If we listen to the chatter in the head about scarcity, not good enough, unworthy, too hard we miss the opportunity to savor the precious gift of life we’ve been given.
Practice: Know that what you do makes a difference. If our intention is to be of service to the world, our actions will follow...
I’m grateful to my friend Jill for asking me this question. It has led me on a deep personal inquiry. I hope that you will get something out of my words for yourself. Again, as information these things become shallow platitudes. My hope is that you will inquire into them and see how the fit in your life, what possibilities do they open up for you, and how can they connect your heart with the heart of humanity… There’s nothing new here, just a reminder to keep growing, loving and serving. Thank you for reading this far. Your thoughts and responses are so welcome. It might take a while to get back to you and your feedback is invited and welcomed… Thank you for being a part of the Well of Light family. With deep love and infinite gratitude, Michael, Meriel & the Well of Light team