Ten years ago I graduated from my undergraduate work. I work at a university so this time of year always brings back fond memories. I cannot believe so much time has passed. It is so hard to see how much we have changed and all that we’ve endured unless we take the moment to do so. Here are ten things I’ve learned since graduation:
Your parents want what what they think will increase happiness and decrease pain, not necessarily what is best for you. They do this through the lens of parent love, but their wishes and hopes for you may not be what is in your best interest. Take it with a grain of salt, consider their love for you, and do what you feel is in your best interest, not what will make them happy (I’m still learning to do this).
Education is always beneficial, but it doesn’t matter what your degree is in… as long as you finish it. So, make sure you spend the four years of college (or 11 in my case since I went on to get a PhD) studying something that inspires you. You get a job through who you know and who you are as a person, not solely because you have the “right degree”… it doesn’t exist. But being smart, creative, and an agile thinker will always serve you well.
You will regret more of what you don’t do than of what you do. It is better to make a move and make a mistake than to never move at all. I saw a bumper sticker with the quote, “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” ~John Bingham Amen to that!
Don’t stoop to another person’s level. Since entering into the “real world” I’ve realized there are a lot of lazy, lazy, lazy, uninspired people out there… don’t be one even if you find yourself surrounded by them. They may make more than you, have a better office, have a better title, but at the end of the day you know that you did your job to the best of your ability and then some. Always take pride in your work.
Don’t compare yourself to others. I am very guilty of looking at others and thinking, “wow, they must have it all, they must not have the demons in their head like I do”. This is false. All the perfect people and families you see on Facebook are just facades. There is always more going on than you can imagine. So don’t compare yourself to others.
Learn to forgive yourself. I have an easier time forgiving others than I do myself. It has been one of the hardest things for me to learn how to do and I’m still not good at it. The compassion you show others should also be shown to yourself.
Never lose your enthusiasm for life. Marvel at a sunset, take time to smell the flowers blooming, be in wonder at the beauty of a butterfly, let music wash over you, jump for joy when you hear the ice cream truck, trick or treat, believe in Santa for the night, do everything that you did as a kid. Just because your body ages doesn’t mean your soul has to.
Great friends are there when you are at your worst and at your best. They are there when you make mistakes, they are there when you are successful. They provide support when your soul is crushed and they laugh when your spirit soars. You will only find one or two that are truly great friends… count your blessings when you do.
You will never stop learning who you are. The 20’s were a wild ride and so far the 30’s have been a great period of self-discovery, but you will never “figure it all out” or have a complete understanding of what you need in this life. But always make time to get to know yourself along the way. You may be surprised at what you learn.
Serenity. I love the serenity prayer because it is so relevant, “grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The last part is the hardest for me… the wisdom to know the difference between that which I can change and that which I cannot change.
Shenpa is a Buddhist concept that I’ve been spending a lot of time studying and contemplating recently. I study mostly Pema Chodron’s teachings and this is a big construct for her. Shenpa really causes us great pain and makes us continue to reach for ground. The Tibetan translation is “attachment”, but the construct is much more. It is about the sticky, clinging, distracting reactions that we are so hardwired to have to both external and internal thoughts, feelings, and actions. I felt this was a good analogy of what shenpa is:
Here is an everyday example of shenpa. Somebody says a mean word to you and then something in you tightens— that’s the shenpa. Then it starts to spiral into low self-esteem, or blaming them, or anger at them, denigrating yourself.
I struggle with this a great deal… the experience of someone (even myself) saying/doing something mean or hurtful and the following spiraling down of low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness that happen after.
One of the interesting things is shenpa’s relationship to meditation. One of the goals of meditation is to learn to stay with feelings that we normally pull away from and to work to see our true minds and self. Quite often during meditation we will have to face insights into ourselves and these insights are often of things that we might label “bad” or “wrong” even though it is never a good practice to label things as “good” or “bad” in general. They just are. So, ironically, the more insight we have into ourselves, the greater potential for shenpa to take hold and to bring us down. It is a balancing act…awareness and acceptance without judgment. Very difficult.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I can be a better person. The first thing I need to do is give myself some space in terms of forgiveness. Yesterday cannot be changed, you can only focus on this very moment and how you will be tomorrow. Why don’t we practice that a bit….
I forgive myself for my indiscretions. All of them They do not define who I am as a person or how much I truly care about others. Forgiving myself does not mean that I am pretending that they did not happen, it merely means that I am choosing to move forward and no longer giving them the power to make me suffer. Just like forgiving another, the act of forgiveness does not mean that I have forgotten, it means that I have chosen to no longer suffer because of that experience.
It is a small step, but one that I feel I needed to take. And I might need to do this every day, every morning, until that little voice in my head has quieted.
What’s the worst that could happen? Have you ever asked yourself this? What is the worst that could happen right now for me in my relationship with J? The worst thing that could happen is that is over for good. Okay. What’s the worst thing in the world that could happen to me? The worst thing I can think of is losing all of the people I love and being alone, truly alone.
So, that gives me a little perspective in terms of how difficult my situation is. I have it pretty good, to be honest. I’m not a horrible person, as I like to judge myself to be. I’m a human being that loves people, that has made mistakes, but is making an effort to better understand why I’m doing what I’m doing and making an effort to change. I have friends who love me, I have my health, I have my education, I have drive, I have passion, I have freedom.
The last few weeks I’ve really recommitted to my running and it feels so go. It is one of the most cathartic things I do. I love the feeling of my body being strong. It is also a time for me to mediate. Running mediation. I don’t know if it is a real thing, but it should be… like walking mediation, just faster. I focus on my breath, my feet striking the ground, keeping my upper body relaxed, how my body mechanics are working by taking inventory of what muscles in my legs are doing the work and adjusting as needed. It is a very liminal experience. I focus on breathing in the smells and seeing the smallest elements of the world around me. While I’m doing this, I often listen to music because it helps focus my mind.
Meditating in general can be very liminal. The focus on specific things gets your mind prepped for meditative moments. I think it is important to note that meditation doesn’t have to be done over long stretches of time, just doing it little by little and acknowledging those events will eventually lead to longer periods of meditation. It will be episodic, especially when you are running while meditating. Although in general your mind tends to be a bit episodic when doing sitting meditation as well.
It never fails… when you are suffering, something comes along to give you the refocus and hope you need. Perhaps it is a friend, which I am very grateful for B…she has been such an amazing support, or perhaps it is an article. I follow a blog that has some wonderful words of wisdom. Today, the one that I found it my inbox was “11 Ways to Become the Person You Love“. How appropriate! The first one is really important and I need to spend some time contemplating it and learning to practice it:
Stop judging, and appreciate the beauty within you. – Judging yourself is not the same as being honest with yourself. When it comes to living as a compassionate, non-judgmental human being, the only challenge greater than learning to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, is learning to walk a lifetime comfortably in your own. In every smile there is beauty. In every heart there is love. In every mind there is wisdom. In every human being there is a soul, there is life, there is worth, and there is the ability to see all these things in everyone, including one’s self.
And number 11 is one that I will spend more time working on:
Keep looking and moving straight forward. – Moving on doesn’t mean you have forgotten; it means you have accepted what happened in the past and choose to continue living in the present. Moving on doesn’t mean you’re giving up; it means you’re giving yourself another chance by making a choice to be happy rather than hurt. Through all the problems you have faced, the burdens weighing down on your shoulders, the pain in your heart, you have only one thing to say, “I survived and I now know better for next time.”
It is important that I continue to work on forgiving and accepting myself for my failures. And that I never forget my struggles because they have helped me become the person I am today. I’m worth the effort. I’m not a horrible person. I’m a person who has made mistakes and I have the ability to learn from those mistakes. I’m a compassionate person with the ability to forgive others and need to give that compassion to myself.