That said, I often find myself repeating "simple" sentences that reveal profound truths. I've picked them up in various places. They remind me to keep things simple, to lean into self-awareness and lean away from seeking approval from the outside world. I want to share a few of them and explain why they're so meaningful to me:
1. "The only way around is through." We all live with ghosts, with elephants in the room, with things that make us uncomfortable and that we want to avoid at all costs (I've got a boatload of this stuff, as readers of this blog know well). And it is precisely the things we avoid, that frighten us, that shape and define our lives. Sooner or later, everyone notices what you're NOT talking about, what you're not dealing with -- even when you spend your whole life pretending that nobody notices because you are trying not to notice. We prefer to just walk around the pain, shun the discomfort, turn the page, and assume we've left it all behind. If only.
You won't be surprised to learn that a brilliant psychologist first looked me in the eyes and told me -- "the only way around is through" -- and it rocked me then with a sudden awareness. I'd spent an entire year in therapy with this psychologist refusing to talk about what I most needed to talk about. She listened to me every session, saw through my endless "arounding and arounding," and at the end of each session would simply smile and say "the only way around, Chuck, is through."
I had to accept all that "through" means. It can take a long time, but it has to happen, sitting with the fear and, yes, turning around and talking to that ghost you've been trying to ignore. Guess what? That ghost is you. If you want to be whole, you need to stop going around, buckle up and start talking to that ghost. I am trying and, trust me, it gets easier as you do it.
2. "Don't just do something, sit there." One of my favorites, and I say it to myself every day. It reminds me to choose reflection before action. It doesn't mean NOT acting, but it simply prioritizes thinking before acting. I heard this phrase in a podcast with a philosopher, and it made me laugh in the way brilliant epiphanies often do. Never forget that you have every right to take your time, to reflect upon your values, and to think before you do anything. Can you overthink? Yes. Can you act too often without thinking? Yes. Is there a happy medium between acting and thinking? Yes -- do both, of course, but think first.
3. "In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities; in the expert's, few." Another favorite. This phrase compels me to see the world with fresh eyes, not to make assumptions about other people, about situations, about what's happening around me. The "beginner's mind" is curious, like a three-year-old's mind, and that's a beautiful thing. Have you ever watched a three-year-old walk around, seeing the world as if for the first time? They absorb knowledge like spongers; and they are filled with a sense of wonder and amazement and possibility. If someone tells me, "you're acting like a three-year-old," I thank them.
There is one foundational mistake in life: assuming that you know all there is to know, which is the curse of the expert. Question everything, Constantly ask "why?" and sincerely seek answers to "why," just as a three-year-old does. "Why" is the only question that matters, and we need to ask it, of ourselves and of the world around us. The older I get, the more I realize all the things I don't know and the more wonder I feel. The expert "knows" but fails to comprehend what he doesn't know. For this reason, the expert needs to re-learn the things every three-year-old knows -- that the world is large and filled with mystery, wonder, and infinite possibility. Open your eyes, the way a child does. See, as if for the first time.
4. "Put on your own mask before helping others with theirs." You hear this instruction on every airline flight, and it's a profound truth to live by. Balance care for others with care for self. This is not selfish, but the beginning of all selflessness. If I'm not well or whole or safe, how can I help others be well or whole or safe? Doctor, heal thyself (as the ancient Greeks used to say). If you want to help others, to guide others, you need to have traveled the path and gotten to the other side. Have I tried to help others whilst I was broken? Oh yes, many times. And it's never really worked out for anyone involved. Helping others without focusing on ourselves can be a form of avoidance, of deflection and denial. If I can save another, then somehow I will might saved. It's a great theory, but it never works that way.
You must self-care, daily. If I'm stressed out, I need to meditate or go for a walk in nature or talk to a mentor who helps me find my way. When I'm restored, I can help others. When I'm not, then I need help. Life is about learning how to get the help you need and then helping others get the help they need. The word for this is community, and it starts with caring for self. Put on your mask.
It's ironic, at least to me, that I have social anxiety and yet the way I manage that social anxiety is through building community around me. When I help others, I am also helping myself to build a world of trust around me, where people are nurtured through community. To save myself, to protect myself, I seek to build community, and so I manage my social anxiety by being more social. I've found that it works . . .
That's enough food for thought for today. Feel free to share comments, musings, etc. below.