Lesson #10: Notice the World Around You

Note:  I don’t quite have an update on the boat or apartment for you yet.  It’s coming, since we have 4 days to get out of here!  Work has been slow since the last update, because I pushed myself so hard that I ended up getting sick with a cold or the flu or something.  We’re still plugging away, but we haven’t accomplished enough to justify an interesting update post.  So, in the meantime, I will share another of my 35 Lessons in 35 Years.

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Life is fascinating.  It really is.

Living in the city in a warm climate, I have had less reason to stay inside and more reason to be out and about, exploring.  I really am an avid people-watcher, and amidst this sea of humanity that we call Houston, there is much to watch.

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Coming out of a challenging–yet very necessary, important, and beautiful–time in my life, I carry all that I have learned with me as I observe this world we live in.  I love to watch and to talk to other people and realize that each and every one of them is on a journey similar to my own.  We all see life through the clouded lens of our own perception, and our journey is one of clearing that lens.  And eventually removing it.

We are all on a journey to find and understand love, to belong.  We are all searching to discover who we are.  We are all emerging from the fog of perceived unworthiness.

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We all have a story to tell, and lessons that we’ve learned.

Watching everyone with this knowledge, removes the filter of judgement.  Yes, people do funny things.  We all do very funny things!  We get caught up in dramatic spats that are largely irrelevant.  We valiantly fight shadows and chase ghosts.  But seeing this in ourselves and in everyone else reminds us of our common humanity.

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When I rode my bicycle to work, Rob asked me if I would like to bring a MP3 player.  While I often do enjoy good music, I declined the offer.  The beauty of my ride is to be a part of everything and to experience it all:

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The singing of the birds in the morning

The lights on highway 3

The rising sun that greets me

The ducks swimming along the bike trail

The gentleman taking his morning walk

The crossing guards I see every morning

The smell of breakfast cooking at the local restaurants

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I used to wander through life, completely lost in thought and always seeking distraction.  When I read about the importance of “present moment awareness,” I laughed because this was something I was simply unable to do!  My mind was always busy, always noisy.  I couldn’t just force it to be quiet!

And I was right.  Quietness is not something that can be forced.  It was only through looking deeply into those thoughts, and into my mind’s reason for being noisy and seeking distraction, that I was able to find peace.  Peace was my reward, for my journey into the heart of my fears, my journey toward seeing reality as it is.

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So if you find yourself unable to put that phone away, or always wanting those headphones on, maybe just putting it away isn’t the answer.  Look deeply, and lovingly discover what it is that you are trying to escape.

Lesson #1: Fear Exists Only in Your Head

Note: On my birthday, I posted 35 lessons that I learned in 35 years.  A number of you suggested that I tell the stories behind the lessons, in my posts.  I thought that was an excellent idea, and this is the story behind my first lesson.

There is nothing to fear.  It is all in your head.  I know you don’t want to hear that right now, but it is only your mind that you wrestle with.  Sit with this today.  Sit with this beyond the point where you are resistant and afraid.  Sit with it until you see how absurd it is.

From a letter from a friend, written to me last winter

We are afraid, because we don’t understand.  We don’t see reality as it is.  We misunderstand ourselves, so that we fail to see our own value, our own worthiness.  Because we misunderstand, we seek validation from outside of ourselves.  And when we perceive that other people possess the ability to determine whether we have any value at all, we give them tremendous power over us.

Today I am going to share some fears that I have faced, in my life.  Each was large, and seemingly insurmountable.  And each turned out to be nothing, but misunderstanding and misperception.

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1.  Fear of Trusting

I had been hurt, and it was never going to happen again.  I put up walls, and cut myself off from everyone.  I had that “secret garden” inside, and nobody was getting anywhere near it.

I was comfortable doubting myself, and I was comfortable holding people at arm’s length.  I really felt like it was worth it, to never be close to anyone, if it meant I would never be hurt.

It was really through my writing, that I finally made the decision to tear down the walls.  Through the blogging community, I met people who were so positive, so encouraging.  At first, all of this positivity hurt.  And the awareness of the fact that it hurt, led me to look deeper.

Being able to let people in, being able to be honest, I found that I was meeting a long-standing need that I didn’t realize I had.  Trying to go it alone, I was living a mediocre life–and that life was much worse than the pain of being hurt or betrayed.

Learning to trust again was difficult, but it was infinitely worth it.

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2.  Fear of Who I Am

For many years, I held grudges against myself.  I didn’t want to know myself, I didn’t want to understand, because I was afraid.

Because of this fear, I rushed to judgement.  I was a drama queen.  I was disorganized.  I was immature and irresponsible.  I knew these things, and I knew that they were the reason that I did what I did.  I knew this, but I didn’t want to think about it.  So I never looked beyond the judgement.

This judgement led to a very negative self-dialogue, and it led me to act out the perception I had of myself.  It wasn’t until last winter, that I realized that every perception I had of myself was likely false.  It didn’t matter where the perceptions came from–what mattered was that they were wrong.

I needed to truly look at my behaviors and tendencies; to observe and understand them.  Getting rid of the labels, I was able to see why I was doing what I was doing, and what I was trying to get from it.  I saw that I was only trying to meet the needs that everybody has, and that nothing I was doing was judgable.

We need to hold off on the judgement–of others and of ourselves, if we want to move forward.

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3.  Fear of the Unknown

My life was mediocre.  But it was a familiar mediocre.

In the summer I sailed.  Then I returned to a job I didn’t love.  I did the same things, day after day.  I didn’t love them, but I knew what each day would bring.

There were a lot of fears that kept me from leaving sooner, from following my dreams.  But most of them fall into the category of “fear of the unknown.”

If I left my job, and the part of the country I had spent my entire life, I would be leaving the familiar.  Who knows what I could expect?  What if it was just as bad, or worse, than the life I was leaving?

What I didn’t understand was, the move would be a fresh start, with infinite possibility, if I was willing to let it be such.  I made the move, and that was the big step.  After that, if things did get as bad as they had been, I could handle it from there.

In the end, however, things have been better than I possibly could have imagined.  My fears, that the pattern would repeat itself, were based on nothing, other than the thoughts in my head.

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Nothing outside of your head can truly hurt you.  It really just is you mind that you wrestle with.  And it is absurd.

But it is also a part of the human condition.  We all experience fear, and we all will continue to experience it as long as we are alive.  There is no need for any of us to become angry or frustrated with ourselves because of it.

We will feel fear.  But we need to realize that it is only in our heads, so that we can understand it, and work with it.

And then move forward.

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Thoughts on Courage

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”
Mark Twain

At least once a week, I am told that I am brave.  And my reaction to this praise, is to laugh.  Me, brave?  I am a person whose life has been dominated by fear, for way too long.

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I’ve held back from trusting people, because I feared being hurt.

I’ve hung back in the shadows, afraid to stand out, because I feared rejection.

I spent 10 years in a situation that no longer suited me, because I was afraid to try something else.

I spend one year getting nothing more than one chapter done on my book, because I feared that it wouldn’t be good enough.

I’ve remained silent when I have seen other people being mistreated, because I feared that it would happen to me.

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We’ve all let fear get the upper hand, and we’ve all acted in ways that we are less than proud of.  I can criticize survival mode, because I’ve spent much of my life experiencing it.  Fear has been a constant state for me, for most of my 34 years on this earth.

So what does it mean, to be brave?  Does having courage mean that we’re never fearful?

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I don’t believe that it does.  I think that courage is simply a matter of making a choice.  It’s a matter of realizing that the risks of maintaining the status quo are greater than the risks of making a change.  It’s a matter of taking a situation that could destroy you, and using it to create something amazing. 

There is fear involved.  Great changes always involve some amount of fear.  But courage involves understanding the fear, acknowledging it, but moving forward anyway. 

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I was terrified the first time I sailed through a storm, but the prospect of never being on the water again was even more frightening.

I was terrified when I requested autism testing for my daughter, but I was even more afraid of her not getting the help she needed.

I was terrified the first time I opened up to all of you on this blog, but I was even more frightened of not accomplishing all I can with my writing.

I was terrified when I quit my job and moved across the country, but I was even more afraid of staying in a situation that made me unhappy.

I was terrified the first time I rode my bicycle to work, but I was even more frightened of not discovering another source of joy in my life.

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The risks of doing nothing, of staying on the shore, are almost always greater than the risks of trying something new.  Stagnation should scare you more than failure.  We humans have the amazing ability to get back up, after we fall flat on our faces, but we do not have the ability to turn back time, and to do all of the things that we wish we would have done.

We all experience fear, every one of us.  But have courage–work through it so that you will not look back on your life, and see nothing but a list of things you wish you would have done.  Our time here is precious, and it is up to us to make sure that we live fully.

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