Adjusting Our Sails

“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own . . .” Epictetus

Somewhere along the journey of life, I adopted the philosophy of the Stoics – understand what I can control and what I cannot control in this world. Perhaps, in childhood naivete, I simpily felt happier when I focused on the moment, choosing to respond to life by redirecting myself to experience moments of joy. As an adult, I have spent the last several years intentionally thinking about who I am, the events in my life (catastrophic and insignificant) that have led me to this point – in this space – in this moment.

Like so many others across this planet, I am drawn to the philosophy of the Stoics – a philosophy nearly 2,000 years old – because it acknowledges suffering, heartache, and pain; it also offers concrete ways to lean into living – to be present in the moment. Those of us who practice this philosophy rely on its four virtues: courage, temperance, justice, and wisdom. After all, have we “found anything better than being brave, than moderation and sobriety, than doing what is right, than truth and understanding?” (“What is Stoicism?)

As I have written before, this is not an easy mindset to adopt, but I believe it is an important one for it develops resiliency, positivity, and authenticsim. It allows us to face the reality of life in the scariest of moments, and it forces us to understand that we can only control our responses to situations and to others.

For example, when neither of my parents showed up at my senior band concert to for the recognition ceremony, I turned to my sister in the flute section, hugged her, and gifted her the rose the band director had handed me. In the moment, I couldn’t understand why my best friends and their families were emotional- many feeling sorry for me. In that moment, subconciously, I chose not to focus on what appeared to be a traumatic experience to others. Instead, I turned to someone I love dearly – someone I have protected and encouraged her entire life.

I share the senior band moment, because it reflects a mindset many of us hold but don’t fully understand until our feet have kissed the earth for many years – until we gain wisdom. Life has been filled with those moments, and I am realizing that I have nurtured in my own children and others I mentor. When life doesn’t pan out like we had hoped or we are in the moment of crisis, we can “adjust our sails.” When we realize that we can only control our emotions – our words – our actions, we can face whatever challenges we experience. We can get one step closer to authentic living.

Living Life in “Next Play Speed”

Graham Betchart’s work with athletes applies to life – all of our lives

Living present – feet firmly planted in the moment – has become my life’s philosophy – my daily mission. This mantra, though, wiggled its way into my life as the whispers to live a more authentic life turned into rather obnoxious clamours! It took the worst year of my life to force me to listen and to understand the importance of mindfulness, living focused on what is happening in the moment, and loving the life I am living.

I arrived at this point out of necessity when I realized I was alive without really living. The stresses of my life were killing me, especially when I considered the way I medicated myself with food. Because I am a naturally bubbly, gregarious person, to others, I seemed to have a great life, and for the most part, I did. I was raising two amazing children who are the center of my universe, I have incredible friendships that sustain me, and I have been called to teach (a gift in itself).

What I didn’t realize, though, was that unresolved life trauma was impacting my habits – not facing them posed barriers to truly being alive. Like so many of us, I was letting life happen. And then, 2014, the worst year of my life, shoved me so violently, I realized I had to make major changes. The year began with the diagnosis of my 21-year-old daughter’s brain tumor and ended with difficult emotional trauma at work. By the end of 2014, when I went to my annual physical, I was the heaviest I had ever been, I was depressed, and I felt like the world was about to collapse on me.

I had two choices: continue on the same path or take intentional control of my life. I chose the latter.

Shifting to living in the moment – the next play speed – required me to make several key changes. First of all, I had to understand how the trauma of my childhood impacted my adult relationships and my coping mechanisms. This occurred through counseling, reading important texts by others navigating life intentionally, and journaling. I am also fortunate to have a few friends in what Brene Brown calls a square squad – the few people in my life who hold me accountable and are honest with me about my thoughts and actions.

Second, I realized only I could take back my health. I joined a weight loss program and focused on my diet and exercise. Focusing on my mental and physical health changed the game for me. The more I realized I could control my food intake and the amount of exerecise I expended, the more I realized I could also redirect my thoughts. I began to hold on less to the past and worry less about the future; I began to lead a more authentic life.

In sports, atheletes who develop the next play speed let mistakes go immediately, and they certainly don’t worry about mistakes they might make in the future. Instead, they live second by second focused on the game so intensely they can change their direction on the playing field in less than a second. They are fully present in the moment. Obviously, the future does require attention in terms of planning for our security and happiness, and learning from our past mistakes also informs our now; however, they do not have to dominate our thinking.

I have also realized that I am a work in progress, and the best I can do is live the most authentic, present life I can. For those who hope to live a more mindful, authentic life, start today. Spend 5 minutes focusing on what is happening around you – the sounds – the people – the breeze – the smiles – the purr of the cat. The more we practice these little moments of truly paying attention, they become habit. They allow us to live in the next play speed.

#MakeRoomForJoy