“Closing your heart does not really protect you from anything; it just cuts you off from your source of energy. In the end, it only serves to lock you inside.” — Michael Singer, The Untethered Soul
I visited Seattle this past June to attend a work conference, and was lucky to extend my trip on both ends to see two close friends who moved to the city years ago.
Ajith and I worked together while he was a student at University of Illinois, but we hadn’t seen each other for a good part of a decade.
Dave and I were college roommates, the best men at each other’s weddings, and our sons were born five weeks apart, but we’d only seen each other once since he moved to Seattle years ago.
In the collective 72 hours I spent with these two old friends, there was a lot of catching up to do. It’s always an interesting experience to try to encapsulate long periods of time into shorter conversations. What do you chose to share? How do you paint the picture of your life?
As I talked with both of them, I realized I was painting a picture of life having its way with me. Of course, there were moments of joy, success, and nostalgia weaved through the stories I told, but they were too often swept aside by the riptide of my struggles.
Ajith and I hiked up Dog Mountain in the Columbia River Gorge on the most beautiful day of my trip. It’s a 3+ mile hike from sea level up to the 2,948 ft. summit, through dense forest and endless acres of mountain wildflowers. Our conversation contrasted with the uplifting surroundings. We were both at pivotal moments and cutting new paths in our lives, with different stories but the same weight of challenge.
When we got to the peak, Ajith found a comfortable spot to shut his eyes for a few moments. I sat and watched a raven dance on the breeze. The sounds of the other people disappeared as a I focused on this beautiful creature, barely flapping its wings but performing a seemingly effortless, acrobatic dance in the wind.
I tried to figure out the purpose of the raven’s dance. Was it hunting? Traveling? Something else?
The raven appeared to just be having fun. It appeared simply to be enjoying the day.
I was jealous of that raven.
I wanted to simply enjoy life again.
As I reflect back on 2017, it was a year that kicked my ass in what felt like a constant barrage of bad news and heartache. I became angry, frustrated, and jaded. I started to feel like the year had become penance for my transgressions of the past. I had plenty of joys to be grateful for, but I allowed pain to overwhelm the good. I closed myself to the joys of life. My energy for life was depleted.
In the last few months, I’ve become more intentional about walking towards joy and away from anger and frustration. I walked away from constant noise of social media for the last three weeks so that I can restore my energy and focus. I’ve been protective of myself. I’ve been good to myself. Most importantly, I’ve allowed myself to open back up to joy — to the energy that feeds me.
So what does this mean for 2018 and beyond? I have to reaffirm and, in some ways, restate my personal code. These ten words guide me well and redirect me when I get lost, but life also helps me understand them in new ways.
Be real. Authenticity and vulnerability will always be the cornerstones of my life — and sometimes there’s a cost to this. When I have to choose between authenticity and affirmation, the former should always prevail. When I tell my authentic story, it’s full of all the vulnerable emotions that life evokes. It’s not always tidy, but it’s the only way I know how to be: real. If others find value and comfort in my story, all the better.
Love always. These have been the most difficult two words of my code. Love is sometimes the last thing I want to express when I’m hurt and angry, when the world doesn’t make any sense. I’ve learned, though, that love always means that I need to focus love inward before I can possibly give it to others. It means I have to be good to myself first. It sometimes means that the most generous form that love can take is walking away from situations and relationships that bring out the worst in me. I know that life is most fulfilling when I imbue love in my daily actions — by being good to myself, those whose lives I intersect, and the environments in which I live — but that my love is not infinite and must be focused in the right places.
Share beauty. Part of my personal doldrums has stemmed from my lack of being outdoors regularly. Seeking out and breathing in beauty helps reset my compass, find peace and reflection, and remind myself of the humility inherent in my humanity. I used to have my garden for this daily renewal, but now I need to make the time for this immersion. I’ve satisfied this urge by doing a fair bit of skychasing this past summer and fall, but there’s no doubt I need to breath more fresh air in the new year and when beauty strikes me — whether it’s in a garden, the back country, setting sun, or the human spirit — I’ll be moved to share the moments with others.
Lead well. Leading well is motivating others to help create a better future. It requires setting an example, vision, intent, authenticity, compassion and — above all — integrity. I often stumbled this year when it compassion was required, letting frustration get in the way of true engagement and understanding. The new year gives me an opportunity to become a better leader, as a professional, citizen, and human.
Learn more. This stanza of my code originally was listen more, but I’ve revised to learn more. My personal growth occurs when I remember to be quiet and inquisitive in a way that allows the experience and expertise of others and the wisdom of the natural world combine with my own self-reflection. Only then can I share those moments of learning that I want to amplify for others. I hope to spend the new year outside of my personal echo chambers, expanding my own understanding.
In the last couple of years, I’ve let external factors take life’s wheel far too often. That’s not who I am. That’s not who I want to be.
I approach 2018 with renewed authenticity, an open heart, the thirst for beauty, purposeful intent, new curiosity, and … energy for life.
Happy New Year, my friends. Own it.