The time "disconnected" has given me lots of insights though, and I hope to share. It's a new year, free from the experiences of last year (inshallah! Haha. XOXO). But those experiences, just like all of life's trials, leave impressions. Some of my coworkers had to work over the holidays, are still working at a breakneck pace....all while I had the opportunity to power down and recharge and renew. And it made me consider...most of the actions I focus on on this blog are about outward eco actions, external sustainability. It's time I take a beat to focus inward on the importance of being personally sustainable.
Below the jump are my top 5 activities to be personally sustainable this 2015. I believe our greatest source of power comes from and is renewed from within, so here's hoping you find these strategies helpful in your own life. To start us off inspired-like, here's a Buddhist parable that goes something like: "One day as the Buddha was sitting under a tree, a young, trim soldier walked by, looked at the Buddha, noticed his weight and his fat, and said: “You look like a pig!” The Buddha looked up calmly at the soldier and said: “And you look like God!” Taken aback by the comment, the soldier asked the Buddha: “Why do you say that I look like God?” The Buddha replied: “Well, we don’t really see what’s outside of ourselves, we see what’s inside of us and project it out. I sit under this tree all day and I think about God, so that when I look out, that’s what I see. And you, you must be thinking about other things!”
image courtesy of URL
1. Practice Gratitude. Ok, so I really can't pretend to corner this one since there's an entire Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley of which gratitude is a core theme (Go Bears!). But here's the skinny version. People who practice gratitude have enormous personal benefits, including increased happiness, stronger relationships, better sleep, reduced blood pressure, stronger immune systems, and personal resiliency. So being grateful actually helps you out a lot (it's borderline selfish! Ok not really...but you see my point...) Why does it have these benefits? Because gratitude causes us to affirm the goodness in the world, the gifts and benefits we've received. And by practicing gratitude, we recognize that these sources of goodness are outside ourselves, and acknowledge others who helped us. It's makes us more kind, forgiving, and altruistic people. And to solve the world's crises, we could use a lot more people like that. On that note, I would like to thank you for reading! (my very dear, 3 readers :)
2. Connect Spiritually. This one is intensely personal - everyone has their place of spiritual connection. Close friends of mine count being out just past the wave break or being atop Mt. Tam as their spiritual place. For me, well, I'm a conventional one...it's an actual church...the Catholic Church (post about the new Pope and eco encyclical coming soon! But I digress.) Point is, it doesn't matter exactly where or how you tap into your spiritual self. It doesn't matter what enables you to listen to that voice at the core of your being. What matters is that you take time to do it. Take time to quiet the world and cultivate being open to your inner voice. The following is a quote by Thomas Merton, an American Catholic writer, mystic and Trappist monk. I believe he is speaking a higher truth that transcends religion on this one...about the purity and power at the core of every human being.
“At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will....It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely."
3. Passion Planning! Every project management course will teach you to set goals and break them up into smaller tasks. Personal sustainability, personal growth and development....it's the same story. But this year, I'm very excited to have a new tool to help....the Passion Planner! "An all-in-one weekly appointment calendar, journal, goal-setting guide, to-do list, and gratitude log integrated into one calendar". Realistically, we all know the pressures of our jobs, our personal lives, our friendships, our relationships, our extracurriculars....keeping up with them is many more times a full-time job. So who has time to do reflection? Well, like all of those things, it's all very possible when you take small steps and do it in doses. This tool helps do exactly that. I am happy to say I am the proud owner of a Passion Planner 2015 Classic. But even if you can't order one, you can print and use a free template of the weekly sheet. Get reflective and Passion Planning!
4. Smile Often. Smiling is a powerful thing, and not just because it makes us more pleasant and trustworthy to others. It's a powerful thing for our internal selves as well. Studies show that people who smile more live an average 7 years longer, have a higher pain threshold, are more successful, have stronger immune systems and reduced blood pressure. Given that children smile 400 times per day (many times more than adults), and that smiling is contagious, it's no wonder spending time with babies & toddlers is profoundly enjoyable (for most!). What has really always baked my noodle is that we think smiling of an outward expression of inner happiness...but the process works in reverse. The act of smiling - of making our facial muscles form a smile - has the same benefits. Facial feedback hypothesis is well proven. So get to it! Turn that frown upside down, even if you have to force it with a pencil in your mouth. Nat King Cole was really onto something... "if you smile through your fear and sorrow, smile and maybe tomorrow, you'll see the sun come shining through."
5. Establish and Maintain Personal Boundaries. These last two years for me has been a practice in establishing personal boundaries - sometimes for the first time - with the people closest to me. It has been one of the most impactful exercises for my personal well-being. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, "no one can make you feel inferior without your consent." Well, the true extension of her quote is to apply it to every emotion (not just inferiority)...and recognize that we often don't view the "consent" we give others to impose their feelings on us as a choice. It always is a choice. People can freely express their opinions, can feel however they would like about me, and I can choose to agree or disagree with those opinions. I don't let others feelings bother me, and certainly have stopped trying to change them. I now recognize that what they think of me is more often a reflection of their own experiences. Like the Buddha, I am perceived as a projection of something within them. Establishing boundaries, like anything, gets easier with practice. I've found that this exercise has proven helpful with people who disagree with me, argue with me...for example, with neocons who take a Facebook post about climate change and how I dislike arguing about the topic as an invitation to argue with me about it (oh the irony!). The examples are endless, and in today's world, you will drain yourself if you don't establish these boundaries for yourself. Conserve your personal energy for more important things.
I have a quote posted on my work desk computer from C.S. Lewis that seems apt to wrap up: "And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad."
Get hatched my good people. Be extraordinary!