On Friday, in rare form, I inadvertently scheduled myself into a 12-hour day of plans. It started with an appointment with a friend to look at an old RV he’s getting rid of, which my husband and I would use as a backyard bedroom for a family member who might come and stay with us for a while, and ended with helping at a bake sale table at Big Sky High School’s cabaret show, which my stepson Jaden was in as part of the drama department. I left the house around 9:45am and returned just after 10:00pm.
Upon realizing that I had set myself up for such a full day, I thought about whether it would behoove me to reschedule a thing or two and I decided it was all either important, time-sensitive stuff or stuff I really wanted to do and was looking forward to so I chose to take on the 12-hour day to the best of my ability. And this is an important distinction to pause and highlight here – the fact that I chose how my day would unfold verses what many of us so often do which is to feel as though we’re victims of our schedule or victims of circumstances. One of the biggest transformations for me in the quality of life department was when I started taking responsibility for all the aspects of my attitude, my emotions, my thoughts, my actions, and how my life was playing out. It was a huge realization for me when I discovered the truth of how my quality of life is based solely on the choices I make. Everything is a choice. Nothing is heaped upon me that doesn’t involve a choice that I make in regards to whatever it is that’s happened. No matter what, I always have a choice. And it’s those choices that determine how I spend my time and also the quality of my own well-being.
Over time, the practice of mindfulness has the capacity to change our way of thinking, being, and interacting with the world and everyone in it. It can enable us to become a truly happy person – the sort who’s happiness is little in flux, who’s happiness is steady and unwavering. And it’s not that challenges and difficulties and hard, heart-wrenching stuff stops happening, no. That’s not a thing for anyone, ever. It’s that the relationship dynamic with them changes. Difficulties become opportunities and the hard stuff becomes fuel to open our hearts just a little bit more – because that’s a process that never comes to completion. The heart, like the mind, is a bottomless well of depth and substance. There will always be more to traverse and discover. There’s always more understanding and compassion that we can develop.
I’ve learned that happiness – true happiness – is not the absence of hardship or pain or discomfort or discontent but the inclusion of it that makes all the difference. Because all that hard, challenging, difficult stuff is not separate from life. As much as we try to hold out on having some kind of strange hope that unexpected things will stop happening or that people will suddenly quit acting in ways we deem inappropriate or that uncomfortable moments or feelings will somehow vanish none of these things is possible to experience. They are all 100% impossible. And I don’t toss that percentage out lightly or in a cavalier fashion. It’s not a theory or woo woo philosophy – it’s an inherent truth that life contains suffering, struggle, pain, and difficulties. One of the biggest obstacles we face in developing a high quality of well-being and a strong sense of self is that we adamantly subscribe to the illusory notions that life can and should exist without turmoil or discomfort. With our thoughts and views we shape and make the world – and unfortunately those thoughts and views are often filtered through lenses which deeply contort and obscure the nature of reality and seeing things just as they are, verses what we want them to be.
So, getting back to my 12-hour day on Friday, not only did I go into it with the understanding of how I myself created it but I also made up my mind to utilize it as a chance to practice bolstering my attitude and my interactions with others throughout the day, as I knew my energy would of course start waning, and along with that my physical pain levels associated with my nerve condition would also start increasing. So rather than setting myself up for failure by begrudging my 12-hour day and sloshing through it as though I were a victim to the schedule I had arranged, I set myself up for success by making sure I got enough sleep the night prior, meditating in the morning before I headed out, planning my meals and how I would eat lunch and dinner while out and about, and then staying fully tuned into my practice of mindfulness while in the midst of doing things that day and meeting with a variety of people in a variety of settings and circumstances.
On Friday, I wound up encountering a range of different situations that went from pleasant and delightful to gut-wrenchingly challenging, depending on who it was that I was meeting with – I ate my lunch in a music recording studio and I ate my dinner in the car on my way to volunteer at the cabaret show – and I got home with such high levels of physical exhaustion and pain that I had my husband do everything for me from taking off my shoes and socks to picking me up and piling me into bed – but my attitude and emotional landscape was still strong and rock-steady in the practice, all the way through. I did not succumb to grumpiness or frustration or woe or feelings of being stressed out or overwhelmed. And to me, that’s the magic of the practice. It can allow us to experience life in a whole other way than we’re accustomed to – a way where nothing and no one is an obstacle in our path of generating contentment, ease and joy, where everything becomes a tool and a chance for us to build and strengthen a happy life.