On my birthday this summer, I reflected on the past year and all those years before. I notice that I get watery on the days surrounding my birthday. Not sad or wistful or nostalgic exactly. There is something about the transition from one year to the next: one year of life ending and another beginning. These liminal spaces allow us to occupy our lives in a new way as we move into, out, and through. Also, I think the older I get the more I realize that while so many things change, the core of who we are and what we want to express does not. Maybe we change the way in which we love and accept ourselves and those around us. Hopefully, we expand and allow for more room to authentically be who we need to be, but the ways in which we have empowered or denied ourselves don’t change the core of who we feel we must be.
Here are some things I have learned in my own journey, in life and in spirit, in 35 years of living.
One: Love and connection are what make life worthwhile. Love comes in any forms and shapes and so does connection. But loving other beings and being loved is what repositions us and shows us our place on the planet. Love offers us opportunities to awaken over and over again. Loving and being loved allows us the opportunity to become ever bigger, ever brighter versions of who we are.
Two: I owe my parents and my ancestors everything. They gave me a life and a lineage. Even my craggy, hard-to-love parts have an ancestry and in loving these parts, I heal up and down my ancestral line. In living out those passions that are at my core, I honor those who came before me and those who will come after.
Three: These years are hard won. Yes, this life and these years are given to us. For that we can be grateful. But our time is hard-won, meaning to live an engaged life in which we are trying to serve out our purpose means almost constant confusion, uncertainty, and doubt. Good thing we can pair these with gratitude, generosity, and grace. As Pema Chödrön says, “to be human is to be continually thrown out of the nest.” Life involves struggle but isn’t only made of struggle. Doors open when we least expect. Someone draws open the shades. We open a window and the whole room is aerated. One of my favorite song lyrics is from Mary Chapin Carpenter: “We’ve got two lives, one we’re given and the other one we make.”
Four: I need to be grateful for all of my experiences. This isn’t the same thing as “Everything happens for a reason,” which I don’t believe in. But all of our experiences have within them something to teach us. We never know when something is good or bad. We think we know for certain but we really have no clue. Everyone and everything can be our teacher if we allow them to be.
Five: Our dreams don’t go away just because we ignore them. Those dreams, those inner yearnings are what we are meant to follow. They will knock gently. They’ll amp up the stereo. But they will also pull up a chair and stake out our front door until we pay them heed. To ignore our dreams is not only harmful to us but is an inherently selfish act. Our dreams offer opportunities to give back to a world we are in constant collaboration with. That world wants us to be who we are meant to be.
Six: Those who call you selfish, silly, or unrealistic for honoring your call and your voice are not your allies. Wish them well but don’t allow them into your sacred circle. And don’t give them the first listen to your most tender wishes and newest goals.
Seven: We will fail over and over again. And we have the opportunity to try after we fail. As social work researcher and storyteller Brené Brown says, “There is no innovation and creativity without failure.” When we see someone else failing, it’s not our job to catch them; it’s our job to hold our hand out and help them up and on. When we fail, we have a choice. Let that choice be to recognize our strength and power and bravery in trying—and to try again.
Eight: Not everyone will love us or like us and we won’t love or like everyone and that’s okay. We don’t all like the same kind of music or the same kind of food, why would we expect to like every single person? That said, respect is always possible even without fondness.
Nine: Animals make life better. One of the best decisions I ever made was getting a dog. Maggie helps me lighten up, laugh, and pay attention to ordinary pleasures. Like eating, walking, snuggling, sleeping, or, ahem, every fascinating smell on the one mile path [not that this is a specific example or anything].
Ten: Bodies of water always make me feel better. And often so do trails surrounded by trees and wildlife. But something about being in touch with the movement and aliveness of water comforts me.
Eleven: It does violence to yourself to force yourself to be someone you’re not. To try to like things you don’t like or do things you know aren’t in you or for you is not benign. It is destructive of who you are.
Twelve: Being in relationship with others is hard. I will fail over and over again but I will succeed as well. Honesty is everything: I’m sorry, I love you, I’m scared, I want to offer you something. Even when it’s hard. Even when it feels too vulnerable.
Thirteen: I do not have the ability to change everything but I do have the ability to change my attitude. And changing my attitude often takes less than I think. Sometimes even the tiniest thought or action can create a tidal wave of emotional or psychic change.
Fourteen: Beauty is all around you all the time. Beauty in nature, in other people and their kindnesses, in art, in community, in love, in the consistency of the sun flooding the sky with color at daybreak and dusk. In the moon and stars sweeping light across the night sky. Beauty wants you to find it and to notice. So much of life is about that noticing.
Fifteen: Ask for help when you need it. People so often are looking for ways to be helpful and generous. But first, you have to ask.
Sixteen: Be generous. With yourself. With others. Offer help when and how you can. Offer not out of obligation but out of kindness, abundance, and shared humanity.
Seventeen: Limit consumption of suffering. Human beings of ever era have thought they lived in the worst of times. In part, this is because we are hardwired to cling to tragedy for our survival. This is not to minimize war, poverty, racism and hardships of all kinds but rather to ask for caution about how and when we expose ourselves.
Eighteen: Don’t turn away from suffering and do your best to make the worst times a little bit better. Grow your container to hold space for others’ suffering and your own. But more so, figure out ways to help. How can you be a part—even a tiny part—of making things better?
Nineteen: Read more. Always. Turn off Netflix and pick up a book. Better yet pick up a book by someone of a different nationality, ethnicity, vocation. Pick up a book by someone who has a different way of seeing the world and learn why.
Twenty: Praise people who are doing work you admire. Do it now. Don’t wait. Reach out and say “Brava!” and “Thank you.”
Twenty-one: Find joy in small things. Write them down. Look at them when you are feeling sad, overwhelmed, or disempowered.
Twenty-two: Open to love. Even when it’s hard. Even when its not practical. Even though there are no guarantees.
Twenty-three: Trust your gut. Listen to your body and inner wisdom and not your crazy-making mind. When you feel your gut say “No,” pay attention. When you feel your gut say “YES,” pay attention to that, too.
Twenty-four: Remember that everything is impermanent. That means give thanks for the moments that still you into gratitude and awe, that charge you into living, and remember heartbreak and anger and sorrow will shift over time.
Twenty-five: Gather for meals. The Buddha said if we realized the power of giving we would never let a meal go by without sharing part of it. It’s true. Invite people over for dinner more.
Twenty-six: Figure out where your gifts meet the worlds’ needs. Occupy that space as much as possible. (Some of these gifts, you will know right away. Other ones take a lifetime to discover. It is all okay.).
Twenty-seven: Banish the shoulds. Thank them and show them the door.
Twenty-eight: Art and music and story has always been what made you come alive. Remember that.
Twenty-nine: Live in the places you love that feed you. Just because someone else loves a place or you think you should doesn’t mean you will. Absolve yourself of guilt and make a home in the places that feed you.
Thirty: Cherish those you hold dear. Tell them you cherish them. Not once, twice, but every chance you get.
Thirty-one: Never stop learning. Never forget you have much to learn. Take a class. Take up a new language or hobby or job. Follow your curiosities. Don’t listen to voices, yours or others, who condemn or judge.
Thirty-two: Do the thing that scares you. But first, make sure you have the support you need.
Thirty-three: 99 percent of the time, self-doubt is fear in disguise.
Thirty-four: Friendship is one of life’s greatest gifts. Love friends, bolster them as they bolster you.
Thirty-five: Dance! Sing! Laugh! As often as possible.
And one for good measure
Thirty-six: Trust in your ability to navigate this world one day at a time.