When we go on retreat, what are we retreating from? And in the afterglow of a retreat, how do we respond to the inevitable ups and downs of the challenges we face to re-integrate? Though these are difficult questions to answer, the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible is waiting for us. This essay explores the challenge of creating lasting change, while outlining a framework that can help support it.
A mentor once challenged me to simultaneously feel both gratitude and anger. Go ahead and try it. I’ve never been successful, and I’m not sure it’s possible. The inverse, of course, is also true. When “negative” emotions take root, it can be very hard to feel their opposite. It’s as if we have two basic energetic tracks in our mind/bodies: the “positive” emotions like happiness, joy, gratitude, love, etc., and the “negative” ruts of anger, frustration, hurt, fear, etc. From this dualistic paradigm, it’s easy to imagine an answer that is both simple and attainable: I’ll just cultivate the positive emotions and let go of the negative ones.
I work for the machine three days a week, making money to provide for my family and playing the game. It is soul-sucking work, not because it is inherently bad or wrong, but because every fiber of my being knows that I am called to something much more aligned with Life. Most of us are living lives of quiet desperation, trapped in the matrix despite seeing our plight. Knowing is not enough. The structures that we need to support the new world still mostly exist in the minds and hearts of our future selves.
A poem for my beloved, with whom I will celebrate 23 years of marriage next July. As with all true loves stories, the winding path of our lives together has spanned breathtaking mountain vistas as well as excruciating dark valleys. Surprisingly, and completely unpredictably, we recently passed through one of these shadowy places. In the impenetrable darkness of that long and lonely night, we could barely imagine dawn's arrival. And yet, we are now standing together in the sun's resplendent light, blinking in wonder at our heart's capacity to forgive, to change, to heal, and to embrace the profound mystery of sovereignty.
There are moments in life when our hearts reawaken to the centrality of love. If you have children, perhaps you remember the moment when you first held your newborn. In that liminal time, your heart sang and called out its reminder for you to live from your greatness—your best self. If you don't have children, perhaps you remember the experience that unfolded after the death of a loved one. My first touch of death happened when I was 9, and my cousin, David, died after a tragic battle with leukemia. He was only 6, but the love and openness he shared during his short life touched many people. Even at that young age, I remember thinking about how my life would be different because of him. I deeply yearned grow into a person whose life would express the fullness of this gift we've been given. Death and birth are two experiences that can open the window of our hearts, and let the breezes flow through and enliven our spirits.
I used to dread going to work. My office space, originally built as a temporary partition, had become a long-term work "environment" that I experienced as dark, stale and lifeless. As a web developer, I yearned to spend less time in front of a computer and more time outdoors. I set up a part-time remote work arrangement, in part because I couldn't fathom spending 5 days a week there. Inspiration struck, however, and I found a way to not only transform my lifeless space, but also my experience of work and life itself. I now look forward to going to work most days, and smile every time I open the door to the sight and smell that awaits me upon arriving to my office.
I'm not going to tell you who to vote for, or how important this election is. As the old parable goes, "who is to say what's bad or good?" Feeling angered by that statement? This article is for you, then, because the larger story is so much bigger than this election cycle. The world we've created, and in which almost all of participating, is a reflection of the inner state we cultivate each day. As Einstein said, "no problem can be solved by the same level of consciousness that created it."
Perhaps you've read the hype: each of us is born with a "genetic set point", which roughly determines our lifelong, baseline level of happiness. It's typically expressed as roughly 50% of what makes up our specific level of happiness, along with 10% life circumstances, and another 40% "personal outlook". Maybe you read The Happiness Advantage, watched some TED talks, started a gratitude practice, journaling or meditation. You found some temporary respite, but all evidence pointed to the sad reality that you drew the short straw around your happiness set point. Life, inevitably, returned to its baseline. Perhaps, like me, you even wished that some fatal illness or accident would take you from your misery. After all, who wants to endure a lifetime of suffering and then look back on your death bed at the wreck of a broken life?
Many of us in the web development industry have been pushing pixels around screens for decades now. If you're like me, you find a lot of satisfaction in the creativity you are able to bring to your work. For me, though, nothing in my career truly prepared me for the insight that was hiding in plain sight all this time, just waiting to be embraced: how profoundly I could transform my experience—my YouX—simply by bringing my creativity and love of building off the screen and into the real world.
This morning I stumbled upon a reflection I wrote back in 2010 but never published, and was struck by the relevance in terms of recent conversations. It felt like a letter I had written to my future self. In it, I discussed three key insights: 1) Be the change we wish to see in the world, 2) embrace my gifts and offer them to the world, and 3) simplify by consuming less and appreciating more. These insights feel more true for me today, and also more possible, than I ever could have imagined.