“Life is a preparation for the future; and the best preparation for the future is to live as if there were none.”
If you’ve read my last couple of columns, you know that I am setting out to illuminate all of the confusion that I sometimes come across in my spirituality search. Last week, I wrote about how to find your own path, and the week before, I wrote about meditation for beginners.
I intended this week to write about mindfulness, a very important and powerful subject. As I was researching it, however, I came across a number of things that seemed like contradictions in spiritual teachings and it started to bother me.
Enthusiastic and optimistic sayings, along with pretty pictures have become the norm on Facebook and other social media sites lately. You don’t have to look far to find thousands of websites touting spirituality principals, quoting Eckhart Tolle, or selling e-books about how to find abundance. There is a ton of advice out there, and a lot of it contradicts. The general consensus seems to be that you should love yourself, be proud of who you are, recognize your inherent value, and be grateful for what you have. I like that. On the other hand, there are a lot of spiritual leaders out there who want you to embrace change, create wealth for yourself, and reach for bigger goals.
One teacher says that the entire universe responds to your vibrations and all you have to do is put your intent out there and you’ll receive whatever you want. Another counsels hard work and discipline to reach your lofty goals. Still another says to pray big…. ask for what you want and make it big enough to count.
How do you reconcile these teachings? How do you draw the line between being grateful for what you have and working for what you want? Where is the line between loving yourself the way you are and reaching to be the best you can be? How do you live in the moment without sacrificing your dreams?
It’s all about balance. Balance is perhaps the most important aspect to any spiritual path, or indeed, any life at all. It’s cherishing the present, yet preparing for the future. Does the fact that you thank your spirits or God or The Creator or the universe or fate or evolution for what you have at this moment mean that you will never work for anything else? No. We are human beings and spiritual beings and we are constantly striving for something, whether it is a better job, or a more evolved consciousness, or an understanding, or a college degree.
It’s embracing mindfulness in enjoying that cup of tea as you’re drinking it, yet acknowledging that when you are finished drinking it, you are going to go for a run. Living in the moment doesn’t mean that you are flipping your middle finger at the present. Living in the moment simply means that right now, at this present time, you are stopping whatever you are doing and enjoying exactly where you are, who you are, and what you are doing. Now.
Balance means loving yourself in all of your divine beauty, but still working toward creating a healthier version of you. Loving yourself is perhaps the most important thing that you can do to create a better world. It is nearly impossible to become a loving person without loving yourself. It took me about forty years to truly understand that concept, and another couple of years to embrace it. I still challenge myself with it sometimes, but I think I have finally gotten it down. I am the most important person in my world. My opinion of myself truly does matter more than anyone else. I must love myself and cherish myself as I am or I will not have the power or the energy to truly love everyone else. Yet along with that self-love comes the obligation to treat myself as gently and respectfully as I tend to treat others.
Often, people in a love relationship find themselves being the ultimate caretaker. They will make an effort to give their children healthy meals and vitamins. They’ll bring gifts to their friends. They’ll change their own actions to elevate a parent’s mood. Many lovers are empaths and can sense their partners needs, thus allowing them to give their love space when it is needed, and cuddling and care when it is needed. People who love deeply take ultimate care of their loved ones.
If you can take care of a husband, wife, child, partner, friend, sibling, or parent, shouldn’t you give that same care to yourself? It doesn’t mean you love your partner any less if you are trying to help them be healthier and happier. In the same way, it doesn’t mean you love yourself any less if you are trying to help yourself do the same. In fact, it means you love yourself enough to want you to know that you are valued.
I have found that when I am feeling confident and happy, I tend to spend way more time doing things that are good for my health. When I’m happy, I eat better, healthier foods. I exercise more. I talk long walks and spend time at the beach or in the woods. When I am feeling confident, I go to new events and get pedicures or save my money for a massage. When I’m feeling down, I tend to hide in my room, surfacing only to drag myself to the things that are obligatory.
Of course, that begs the question of whether it is the healthy behaviors that are making me happy or the happiness that is making me engage in healthy behaviors. I think it is a little bit from column A, and a little bit from column B. Either way, the important thing is that you absolutely can appreciate yourself the way you are, yet still work to be happier, healthier, better.
The same holds true for everything else. Live in the moment, yet. Appreciate what you have, yes. But realize that gratitude and living in the now means loving your soul enough to want it to be the best it can be. Am I grateful for the roof over my head and the chance to write my novels and the wonderful friends who care for me and bolster me when I need it? Yes! Does that mean that I should just sit in limbo where I am and just spend all of my days doing the same thing over and over because why change when I am already appreciative? No. Being grateful for what I have right now opens me up to receiving new gifts. I am grateful for what I have and I feel rich and blessed in friends and family. Still, there are goals to reach and dreams to dream and being happy with my life doesn’t mean I can’t keep working toward making it better
There is one last contradiction and this is kind of a doozy. Some spiritual guides tell you to set your intention and leave it to the universe to give you what you want. Some say to picture it as if you already have it and the positive energy will make it happen. I believe this to be true…. within reason. Yes, I believe in the power of positive thinking and I do believe that you can alter your energy to bring good into your life. But I most definitely do not believe that you can do this without working for what you want. A good example would be the person who lies in bed every night visualizing great wealth. This person follows the law of attraction rule to live as if you are already wealthy and it will come to you. So the person spends a lot of money to dress well and goes into debt getting a fancy car and a few years later, what does this person have? A lot of memories of nightly fantasies of wealth and a debt load big enough to choke Donald Trump.
There is a difference between the power of positive thinking and just being a lazy bum who spends all of his/her time wishing for things to be different. I set my intentions on a regular basis. I want to be able to make a good living on my writing. I want to find true love with someone who loves me as I am. I want to keep moving forward spiritually. I want to travel more. I want to be open and flexible enough to accept that sometimes, my dreams may change and move me in a different direction than what I had originally planned. So, I set my intentions and I visualize these things happening and then, I do the crucial next step in getting them… I work for them. A couple of months ago, I set the intention that I was going to work more actively on my own spirituality. To that end, I found a retreat that was calling to me. I didn’t know how to afford it, so I contacted the owner and asked for a sliding scale. I was given a work exchange opportunity. I found a meditation group. I’ve met a couple of like-minded people in the local area. Things are out there and they are waiting to be discovered, but they are not just going to throw themselves at you and say, “Please take advantage of this opportunity!” You have to be willing to look for them, you have to be willing to work for them, and you have to be to take a chance on them when they do appear.
In the end, regardless of the teacher, regardless of the advice, it all comes down to balance. And that balance can only come from one place…. You. You are the creator of your own life, you are the one who makes the decision whether or not something is worth the work. You get to decide if you want to learn to meditate or join a spirituality group or take a zumba class or take up jogging or join a church or go back to college. You are the one who can sit around wishing for a better life or you can take one step, one small step, no matter what it is, to change your life for the better. Think about it. What do you want to change in your life? Set your intention. Open yourself up to the universe. Now go out there and work for it.