Tapestry of Life
My dearest friends
Whatever that can be said about 2011, is that it was not boring.
Most would agree that 2011 has been a year full of surprises, excitement and lessons. This year saw the crumbling of many institutions, world wide social and economic activism and sadly loss of lives in human made conflicts and in natural disasters.
I greeted 2011 in my last New Year’s newsletter with much enthusiasm and hope, and I wasn’t disappointed. 2011 has been a year of surprises, learning, discovery and growth in many ways for me too.
As clichéd as it sounds December is always a time of reflection for me. It’s a month where I feel unsettled in an uncomfortable but good way. I feel I must take account of the past year, and reflect on my learning and plan for the next year. I take account of whether I have lived well, meaningfully and honourably and am curious and hopeful that I am on a path that makes sense in the long run.
December is a time I look closely at the tapestry I have woven during the year, and notice the beautiful designs as well as the untidy stitches, or half finished embroidery and take a step back as I try to imagine the overall emergent design and how this looks and feels.
What have I woven in to the tapestry, what design and picture has emerged that was not before, what designs am I continuing and what may I need to unpick and redo?
As I stand on the brink of entering my 40th year, it is even more significant that I reflect and take account of this tapestry of life. Here is my account of the most important learning.
I like the word ‘practice’. I use it often. It gives me a sense of learning, in a way of trying out things, reflecting on outcomes, and applying that learning the next time around. It allows me to be gentle with my self and realize that living a good life is not perfectly executed, but is at all times a ‘practice’ of trial and error.
Living a life of joy requires vigilant practice. It is too easy to fall in to negative self-talk and to focus on what is not working rather than what is working. But what I have found is that laughter is really the best medicine. I found that even in my darkest times, from somewhere within me I found laughter and mirth. Generally amusement at myself or there was always irony in the dark situations that life threw my way. Not the sarcastic or superficial, ‘I don’t care about what’s happening’, ‘I will pretend nothing is wrong kind’ of egoistic laughter. But the kind of genuine, gentle, amused laughter that comes from deep inside you, seeing the irony of life, of your own human fallibilities and of the cosmic jokes that are constantly played on you, just so that you have an opportunity to become a better person. There in lies the practice and possibility of joyful living.
Have you found laughter in the twists and turns that life throws your way? Are you amused by your own humanness? Where can you find joy in the lessons that your are learning right now?
Living a life of Integrity and Authenticity
If anything that we have learnt in the past few years of the economic and financial melt down, is that one thing that has been solely missing in organizations and in individuals is authenticity and integrity. People sign up for a life of materialism and wealth, for quick fixes of happiness. The media and the advertising industry promises instant gratification for anything. There is a quick fix for unhappiness, for being too fat, or too thin, or for lack of friends, for boredom, for the perfect relationship etc. This is what we teach our children too. We forget that things that are worthwhile in life require hard work, commitment and passion. So we forget who we are and what’s important, and we learn to lie to ourselves and to our loved ones, and to our friends, neighbours, employees and our customers. We live a life of inauthenticity.
Your integrity is tested when you are under hardships. If even under the most severe hardships you live by your values and principles you are living with integrity. This doesn’t mean this is easy to do. We are only human, and we have moments of weakness. Even if we have given in to our weaknesses and yet, if we are able to reflect and learn from them, and strengthen our core, we will practice living with integrity.
Authentic living is when the gap between your practice of living vs. what you say or believe, is small.
I have come to learn that to live with authenticity takes real courage. It means having to live with responsibility and being accountable for your actions and their consequences. Being authentic and responsible is an uncomfortable, fearful and vulnerable position. It means being at the edge of who you think you are, and facing to who you really are, and stepping in to being who you want to be, often without a safety net or guarantees that you will get it right.
Yet you do it. Because that’s what human life is all about. To forever reinvent yourself, to become the best possible person you could be. To live a life of reflection. To live an unreflective life is to squander the gift of human life.
You also learn that just because you act with authenticity, the people you are interacting with or the situations you find yourself in may not always be authentic. This can be often puzzling and you may feel betrayed by the unfairness of it. But life is not meant to be fair. Life is just one big lesson! Recently I read a lovely quote (very relevant to me as I am a vegetarian)- “expecting life to be fair just because you are a good person, is like expecting an angry bull not to charge at you just because you are a vegetarian“. This is when you must call up your values, your integrity within you and find out who you really are, what you are really made of, you learn to trust your intuition and judgement and act mindfully, skillfully and compassionately with integrity, congruence, love, self respect despite everything. Eventually what will remain around you is what is authentic, as inautheticity cannot survive for too long in an environment of authenticity.
The wonderful thing about getting older is that you have had time to reflect and practice this – who you are, who you want to be – countless times, and somewhere in your thirties (hopefully) or at least in your forties, you recognize yourself, and have gained the skills to make changes to yourself, and are able to become comfortable with how you have crafted yourself. Of course as you get older, you also realize that it is also more difficult to make the changes to how you have honed your habits (negative and positive), as they have become well established neural connectivity’s in your brain, body and mind. But hopefully by the time you come to the second half of your life you have gained the wisdom for self-reflection and are able to act with responsibility to yourself and others.
What are you doing today, right now, to check your sense of responsibility and authentic living? Have you learnt the art of gently laughing at your human fallibilities, of taking responsibility for your actions and their consequence, of having the courage to make changes to your self, to become the best possible version of yourself?
Juggling Judgment, intuition and Compassion
I have found my self always avoiding the word (and action) of judgment as I feel that it is limiting and not fair to the person or thing or situation being judged. I was judgmental about being judgmental.
I subscribed to the theory of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover‘. I now hold this way of being with the paradoxical “the first time someone shows you who they are, believe them” (Maya Angelou). I judged being judgmental as a negative trait, ONLY if I was making a negative judgment of the person. I failed to acknowledge that I do make judgments about people – positively, always giving the benefit of the doubt. I prefer to see the good in people than acknowledge the negative.
Not acknowledging all the positive and negative facets of a person, thing or situation is unwise and can harm you.
So here’s what I learnt and want to practice.
Take in to account the messages that you are given about a person, a thing or a situation. These messages may come from other people, from the person or situation you are encountering or they may come from your intuition. Learn to trust your intuition. Our bodies and brain pick up many clues and messages unconsciously and our intuition (gut reaction) is a way of these being made known to us consciously. Sometimes, the hard evidence for the intuition may not be available. Then actively and patiently look for the evidence that confirms or disproves your intuition. Over time actively reflect on how often your intuition or gut reaction was correct and learn to be discerning about its accuracy.
Accounting for the negatives and positives, being ‘judgmental’ isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just means you are making an informed decision and being discerning. It is wise. You can take more responsibility for the choices you make, rather than berating about how ‘things just happened to you’. Embrace the positives that are presented. With the negatives, the shadows, risks presented – work with them, find ways to overcome them, deal with them, and if all else fails, acknowledge them with compassion.
Are you listening to the messages you are getting from without and within? Are you acting with the wisdom that resides in your body, heart and mind? Are you acting with good judgment and compassion?
The art of Grace
Everyday life presents you opportunities to practice and become your better nature, to act with responsibility, with love and kindness, with authenticity and integrity. When they all come together, grace enters you and your presence. To act with grace takes courage, humility, compassion and gratitude.
People sometimes confuse graceful living as belonging to those who are born to wealth and have had access to education and mistake it with living the high life of expensive items, fancy houses, fine wines and brands etc. That’s not really the case. Grace can be found in many places in all sorts of situations.
I saw grace in my beloved cousin who was suffering from cancer. There were times of pain and hardship, and even through these, I saw her true nature of wit, love and joy in her when she was with her loved ones. When she left us, she left the gift of grace in our memories.
This is how acceptance for life’s curve balls fill you with grace. There are somethings in life you cant change. You can only choose how you respond to it. Loving, grateful and positive acceptance is graceful living.
I see grace in the person who works for me in my home. Her living conditions are very hard economically and otherwise. Her relationship with her mother is hard, as her mother refuses to talk to her. Yet when the water service is cut off from their homes, she wakes up early in the morning at 4 am, collects water in buckets from the public tap, and keeps at her mothers home, so that her parents don’t have to carry heavy buckets of water or be inconvenienced. This is grace to me. She knows her mother won’t thank her, and will not still talk to her, but still she does what is right. The she comes to work in my home, smiles and greets me in the morning and makes me a scrumptious lunch, and I am none the wiser to the hardships she has gone through in the morning. She is acting with courage, humility and compassion. This is grace.
Grace flows when you practice forgiveness and compassion. Forgiving someone for hurt or anger or injustice they have caused you doesnt mean you are not acknowledging the wrong doing or that you have not become wiser and more skilful at not getting yourself in to such situations again. Forgiveness means that you release from you the negative energy that you carry with you about that person or situation. Forgiveness is not sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength. The most difficult thing I find difficult to do is to forgive myself. I find it difficult to forgive the foolish mistakes I made, for any anger or hurt I may have carried for too long, for repeating the same mistake. It is difficult to say to yourself, that you are only human and some life lessons take longer to learn. Genuine, from the bottom of your heart, truly releasing forgiveness takes time, effort and great skill, and it takes a lifetime of practice. But any act of forgiveness is a good start, and then you practice it everyday, and grace flows in your life because you are so much lighter.
When I look at the tapestry that I call my life, I like to think that I too have been able to act with gratitude and grace more often than not. But it has not always been easy to act with grace. Especially when you are faced with hardships, heartache, and injustices. But these opportunities are presented so that you can practice the art of graceful living.
I have had many reasons to be graceful and grateful and that’s mostly due to the family and good friends that I am surrounded by. Many times, I have been amazed how their presence, their unwavering love and support has held me up and seen me through. I realize I am strong and powerful. Yet, I know I can’t do everything on my own, and I don’t need to. I am grateful to their presence in my life.
Are you living your life with gratitude, facing life’s little curve balls with courage, accepting the bounty and riches that come your way with humility and treating even those who hurt or anger you with compassion?
The grand design
When I step back and reflect on the tapestry of life that is being woven as I write … I realize that this is all connected. None of these lessons stand-alone. Every single thread is important in the tapestry. Every colour ads to the picture emerging. If I cut one thread the rest may unravel. There is something to be said about this tapestry weaving of life, you can’t undo the past, but you have a choice about the next stitch.
I take a further step back and the tapestry shows a pattern that is emerging that I am happy with, that I am grateful for. I can see the blessings that have come my way. I can see the people who have guided me, loved and supported me and been my lessons along the way. I can see the wonderful, joyful, painful, incomprehensible situations that I have been through and how the story in the tapestry is colorful and rich because of them. I not only see but feel the bounty and abundance that is my life and I am grateful.
My dearest friends, I wish you a life of deep insight and intuition, grace, authenticity, joy, hope and abundance this coming year,
With much love and blessings for a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year,
Image Credits -Image downloaded from artgallery.nsw.gov.au – tree of life