After my marriage ended, I had to make big choices every day: anger versus compassion, forgiveness versus resentment, more television to distract the children versus reading that Dr. Seuss book for the tenth time. I wasn't just struggling, I was growing. I was getting wiser.
It's easy to forget that we're all growing and getting wiser, moment by moment, just by living. From studying spiritual leaders and refugees, and from working with clients, I have observed a common thread, a means of approaching life in a way that results in wisdom. I have distilled a meaningful practice that guarantees wisdom for free, that you can do anytime, or all the time.
Self reflection is the ability to watch oneself as an observer. If we cannot observe what we are doing or feeling, then how can we reflect on it, and make changes if we so desire? This doesn’t mean we have to be perfect!
Yes, I lose my temper with my children sometimes. But more importantly, I reflect on the triggers, and apologize when I’m out of line. This way, I can do better the next time (or the time after that).
2. Get in touch with radical compassion.
If everyone on the planet were truly kind to everyone else, then obviously the world we live in would be a better place. Yet, most often, what I see is that we are most unkind to those closest to us, and to no one more so than ourselves.
We must all show ourselves nurturing and love, even if we think we need it from someone else. If your child (or any child) came to you in tears and said exactly the kinds of things you say to yourself when you're beating yourself up (emotionally), would you not gather that child in your arms and be loving and compassionate?
I thought so. This is the barometer of compassion. So treat yourself as if you would treat a beloved child.
3. Try not to judge ... at least try!
This is a separate issue from law enforcement or protecting ourselves or others from those we deem unsafe. It’s about recognizing that we are all just humans doing the best we can.
As Maya Angelou famously said “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
Of course, you and I and everyone else judges all the time. Bringing some self-reflection to your judgment is important, followed by some compassion for yourself for judging, and for those you’ve judged.
Remember: we often judge others either for having qualities we don’t like in ourselves, or for having things or qualities wish we had and have not cultivated!
Let go of whatever negative emotion you are attaching to with distracting strength — whether you are directing it at yourself, or at someone else. Forgiveness is not about condoning behavior; rather, it’s about releasing an emotional hold over you, be it anger, resentment or fear.
In other words, forgiveness crucial for your health as well as for your mental, psychological and spiritual well-being! As health experts have confirmed, forgiveness lowers blood pressure, prevents against heart disease, reduces stress, and much more.
5. Find the humor in life, and laugh (a lot)!
The Dalai Lama is known for his sense of humor, among other things. Laughter is a great antidote to suffering.
Viktor Frankl learned the crucial lesson of humor during his time in concentration camps. As he wrote in his bestselling book Man’s Search for Meaning, “It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds …”
Life is too short not to spend an hour or two scouring YouTube for comedic relief.
In short, go on and live, reflect, forgive, laugh and love, and congratulate yourself for getting this far.
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