Part 4 of 4: 40 lessons I’ve learned in 40 years (ON LIFE, LOVE, & LEADERSHIP)

40 lessons on life, love, and leadership

{Part FOUR of FOUR}

Here we are! The final 10: #31-40 of 40 lessons learned in 40 years. Go here if you missed part three. 

31. Prioritize joy (not happiness) and feel your pain to end your suffering - Joy and happiness, pain and suffering. They may seem like the same thing, but there is a very important difference between them. Joy and pain live within the present moment, while happiness and suffering live in the past and the future.

Joy and happiness: When we seek happiness, we are often thinking of lack and what, in the future, we can attain, gain, get, have, create, be to feel happy. Happiness requires extrinsic circumstances to fuel our sense of well-being and ‘enoughness.’ But joy, my friends, it lives inside us and can emerge even when our outer world is challenging or downright heartbreaking. It is pure and it can be experienced in places like your breath or the genuine kindness of a stranger. It does not need anything to happen or to be so for it to exist. It exists. We can cut it off when we prioritize happiness over it. When we think we need something external to be happy - we focus on lack and we do not see or feel the joy that is always within us. 

Pain and suffering: When we avoid pain, we trap it in our bodies and our psyche. We then get to re-live that pain, over and over again - this is called suffering. Our unhealed stories leave imprints in our very DNA and if we push away feeling pain, we eventually become someone we don’t recognize anymore. We become suffering. One of the greatest gifts I have ever been given is the permission and the wisdom to feel my pain. To release pain, we must be brave and feel it. Feel the rejection. The grief. The embarrassment. The shame. The guilt. Feel it, scream it, dance it, shake it, rock it, learn from it…and then let that shit go. To feel whole and undivided within yourself, choose joy, not happiness. Choose pain, not suffering. 

32. See everything as miraculous - Life becomes mundane and routine when we lose connection with the miracles happening everyday, all around us. Nature, our bodies, ideas, language. It’s incredible what our brains alone are doing to be able to speak and breath. We take it for granted, it has become mundane and expected. But these things are all miracles. If you have lost the ability to relish in the miracles in your day to day, I suggest you change things up. Do something radical - something that scares you. Go sky diving or white water rafting. Travel to a place where the culture is wildly different than yours, integrate and learn. Sign up for and attend a 10-day silent meditation retreat (Vipassana is all over the world and free). Commit to 30 days of kindness and contribution. It doesn’t matter what you do, but do something that will change things up and wake you up! Whatever you do, don’t let another miraculous day pass you by.

33. Be clear on your intentions behind your decisions - It’s easy to act out of impulse. It’s another thing to act from our intuition. Impulsive decision making often has a feeling of, “Yes! This is the answer! This will solve my problems (or at least temporarily cover up the pain I don’t want to feel).” It stems from fear and lack. Intuition is more rooted. It can still feel scary, but it feels like the answer came from your body (from a deeper knowing that is grounded in love). There is no illusion of this decision solving all your problems and you aren’t running from anything either. There are many practices you can use to cultivate a better relationship with your intuition. I call these practices, listening practices. I’ll teach you two that I use regularly. One: for any decision you’re making ask yourself, ‘why?’ at least 5 times. This will get to the heart (your deepest intention) of why you are choosing a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’ From this place you can more clearly decipher if that intention is based out of fear or love. Two: when you are deciding between a ‘yes’ and a ‘no,’ ask your body, ‘does this feel heavy or does this feel light?’ Our body always knows the truth of what we need. This can take a bit of practice if you aren’t used to listening to your body. It will take time to trust it and decipher between your body sensation and your head. But keep at it - it’s a priceless (and simple) practice that will be an invaluable guide for you.

34. Be mindful of the company you keep - When it comes to relationships, I adhere by the quality versus quantity philosophy. What this means to me is that the most meaningful relationships I have, I tend to. Like a garden, I may have many flowers in my space that I love and appreciate. However, there will be a few that get the most of me. How do I decide which flowers get the most of me? It’s simple, I gravitate to the ones that help me blossom as much I help them blossom.

35. Learn to have difficult conversations - a difficult conversation is not a fighting one - it’s a relating one. It’s a conversation that requires us to be metaphorically naked - to slow down, stay out of the ‘story,’ and feel for the common truth that is always there. It is a conversation that does not point fingers, it shares our experience and asks the other to do the same. It does not hold grudges, it holds space for seeing with compassion. It does not reject, it reframes. It does not create from expectations, it creates from agreements. It does not run, hoping the conflict will just go away, it boldly confronts the disagreement from a place of genuine curiosity. It does not decide it is ‘right’ at all costs, it is a stand for loving resolution even if that means healthy boundaries will need to be made. Forgiveness and healing are born of difficult conversations. The strength of vulnerability is realized within a difficult conversation. And peace is the outcome when humans stop needing to be ‘right’ or perfect and start needing to be honest and human.

36. Our scars are our sermon and our mess is our majesty - There is this amazing Japanese art called, Kintsugi (or Kintsukuroi). This art is referred to as the precious art of scars. It takes broken pottery and instead of discarding it or trying to ‘fix’ it with clear glue in a way that no one can see its flaws; it repairs the broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with lacquer dusted gold. The philosophy behind this art is that the imperfection is seen as a unique piece of the objects history, which adds to its beauty. Don’t waste another moment shaming, hiding, or criticizing the parts of yourself that you feel are broken - instead discover the gift that is to be born from it.

37. Become the kind of person you admire - Treat folks with a true and earnest kindness. Meet others eye to eye and heart to heart, mingle with care and curiosity, fall in love everyday. Be the qualities you want from others. You want respect - respect others (even those who challenge you). You want to be seen - see others (even those who challenge you). You want love - love others (even those who challenge you). Oh and while you’re at all this respecting, seeing, and loving of others - remember to offer that up to yourself too. In fact, if you’re struggling giving it out, that’s a sign you need to start giving it in first.

38. The most important words you can ever say to someone are “I believe in you.” - These are the most powerful words anyone can ever hear. They cause the ‘moving of mountains’ and the creation of new miracles. You don’t need to hear it over and over again, but to hear them even once from someone who genuinely means it - can change everything. Spend time with people who say and express, “I believe in you” and mean it with their whole hearts. And spend time with people you can say and express, “I believe in you” and mean it with your whole heart.

39. Write vows to yourself - earlier this year I embarked on a journey I referred to as Project Self-Love (an ongoing mission really). I decided everything I would do for another, I’d explore doing for myself. One of the things that was born from that project, was to marry myself (to marry my soul). When I share this with people, there was a common reaction - both a dismissing (like, how silly/weird) and a curiosity. The dismissing is our ego. The curiosity is our soul. This is a common back and forth battle in humans - the question is, which will you choose? Writing my vows was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. Not only did I commit to myself in a way I have never quit put into words before, but I started showing up differently for myself after my ceremony (which was a women’s circle of 9 women who also each married themself that night - most were reluctant, yet walked away grateful and in touch with themselves in a whole new way). For me, it was as if an instant shift took place within me. It wasn’t about a hopeful promise or a fairy tale love - it was about truth and stepping into my life with my full self. It was owning my value, beauty, and worthiness without question. After my experience, I think we might see a lot less divorce and self-hatred in the world if we were all to take the time to journey through a rite of passage through writing vows to our soul - a commitment of self-honoring and self-love. What a thing to behold!

40. Cultivating a beautiful state of mind is the first step to everything you ever wanted - The years I spent teaching mindfulness to at-risk and incarcerated youth taught me the most precious gift I have ever held - Peace of mind. The suffering I caused myself for so long - the suffering I see so many causing themself - breaks my heart. Peace of mind is my rallying cry and my deepest ‘why’ for my work - because peace in the world will come when we collectively create peace in the mind (a beautiful state of mind). We are all so much bigger, better than we know. We are so deeply held and supported and loved. I have witnessed people in circumstances that make my chest feel likes it’s caving in. Yet, I have witnessed these people with more joy than I have ever witnessed in someone with all the luxuries one could ask for. You can see the stars twinkling in their eyes because they have not forgotten the truth of their soul. Here is maybe my truest and most important lesson I have learned to date…Peace of mind is possible if you’re willing to consciously be with yourself, when it feels like it’s not. No more running, escaping, excuse making, deflecting, deferring, hiding, and blaming my friends…the world needs us to heal. Your peace of mind is a stepping stone for peace in the world.

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