The Unexamined Life

The Unexamined Life

Many people talk about life as being in balance or, more commonly,  “out of balance”, and yet, I’m curious, how many of those same people have defined what balance is, or means, to them?  Have you? Are you happy, fulfilled, “living your best life?” Would you consider yourself successful, or “living a life of purpose?”  These are very popular questions in an age where more people than ever before have food, shelter, time, and money; enough of each to consider the finer points and purpose of life. And, whether acknowledged or not, the answers to these questions are likely fueling your goals and resolutions for 2020.   So, before you dive into creating your goals, resolutions, and intentions for the new year, I hope you will consider the following things I’ve learned about happiness, fulfillment, success, life purpose, and balance (aka “these states of being”).

  • These states of being are all subjective.  They are based on personal desires, interests, expectations, habits, beliefs, and each individual’s unique way of experiencing the world.  You may think this is obvious, and yet it is easy to forget this very important point when reading and learning from experts who are charismatic, articulate, and learned.  Always “check it at the door” as I say to my clients and students. Check everything the experts tell you (and I tell you) with your own heart and gut. You’ll know when a particular piece of advice is right for you by how you feel when you begin to incorporate it into your life.  If it doesn’t increase your joy or contribute to your sense of purpose, it probably isn’t right for you.

 

  • “Everyone walks their own Camino.”  This is a phrase spoken over and over again while hiking the Camino de Santiago; a 400 plus mile hike that my husband and I walked from France through Spain to Santiago de Compostela.  Another way of putting this is, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” a well-known quote by Teddy Roosevelt. Your best life can’t and won’t look like anyone else’s best life. In fact, your best life today is different than your best life yesterday and tomorrow. 

 

  • These states of being are dependent on whatever is happening in your world at any given moment. Your ability to manage the things life throws at you will change based on factors you CAN CONTROL (nutrition, exercise, sleep, mindset, self-talk, how you treat others, and your choices) and things you CAN’T CONTROL (past, future, weather, change, other people’s minds, other people’s happiness, and traffic).  One of the keys to finding joy and fulfillment is to invest your energy and time on things you can influence; make the effort to control the things you CAN CONTROL and let go of the things you can’t.  

 

  • I’m a big fan of the Peter Drucker quote, “you can’t manage what you don’t measure.” If you have never defined what a fulfilled, happy, successful, and balanced life is to you, how do you know how to navigate and when to recalibrate?  Use tools like vision boarding and Wheel of Life to create personal understanding and support you in living your best life. 

 

  • Gratitude!  Really, appreciate it, all of it – even the yucky stuff!  This is the essence of life. 

Socrates or Plato (both are credited) said, “The unexamined life is not worth living?”  I disagree. I do believe, however, that the examined life 1) makes it possible to understand your unique self, 2) provides you with information you need to set fulfilling and purposeful goals, 3) allows for compassion when life gets tough, 4) offers structure in order to recalibrate and learn, and 5) encourages gratitude and a joyful approach to everything life offers you.    One morning when I encountered an acquaintance on the street, I said, “Isn’t this a beautiful day to be alive?” His answer still resonates with me, “every day I wake up is a beautiful day to be alive.”  Welcome to one more beautiful day friends!!!   Sending you love and a great big new years hug!   Annamarie

Ditch the Holiday Hustle

Ditch the Holiday Hustle

With the hustle and bustle that surround us this time of year, it can feel exhausting to try to cut through the noise and find a moment of calm for ourselves. I love this post by Lysianne Unruh that asks 5 simple questions meant to help you focus on what matters most during the holidays.
Click here to read Lysianne’s original post and put her wise words to use in the coming weeks.
Living Beyond the Blocks

Living Beyond the Blocks

The age-old question of– “If you could go back in time what would you do differently?” has been asked by so many people.  I’ve asked myself this question many times and others have asked me more times than I can remember. I have replied that, if given the chance, I would definitely change many things. But why did I say this?  Why would I want to go back and change anything? This response says to others and myself, “Boy, I really screwed that up” or “I’m so embarrassed that I keep making the same mistakes over and over” or “What the hell is wrong with me?” 

These thoughts and feelings have plagued me the majority of my life. It’s amazing how our mind comes up with a need to defend why we did or didn’t do something. When we feel compelled to justify something, maybe it’s a decision to stay in an unhealthy relationship, that very need to justify the decision is the body’s way of letting us know it time to release it from our life.  To start anew.  How free would it feel if we could just accept what we’ve “screwed up” in our past? Or not knowing how something will go or what our next step will be and saying, “I love that!”. In this instance, freedom comes from knowing we always have that choice. 

We have two voices that can tell us the next step…the first comes from the body.  Your body says to make a change and release what you’re holding onto, but the mind starts to freak out.  It goes to what we will be giving up or losing because it can’t see what we’ll be gaining. The mind can only see one step ahead and it wants to keep us safe.  So, the body says, “I want to explore Arizona to live.” “I really want to start my own business.” “I want to leave this relationship.” Whatever the inspired feeling is, it is a preview, but the feeling can’t tell you why you should go or what that journey will look like because you haven’t done it.  Learn to love and trust the space of the unknown. Instead, what if you were to say, “I want to explore Arizona to live and grow my business, and I have no clue what that looks like…and I love that!!” or “I can’t take the abuse in this marriage anymore. I really don’t know where I’m going to live or how I’m going to make it on my own…and I love that!!” There’s something in our body calling us to do this – it’s our first voice, our true voice.  But we’ve been conditioned to ignore this voice and listen to the voice in our head, which then causes us to lower ourselves to the mind’s understanding. Every time I listen to my mind I feel confused, disconnected, and overwhelmed. We are not designed to make decisions from our minds because that comes from a limited capacity. Our true potential and capacity lie within the body, and the body never lies.   

Being okay with where we really are creates a new story.  The real story. We have to see and know that we are enough or we’ll always be coming from a place that is lacking. In this place, we may believe we need to be fixed or try to fix everyone or everything around us.  In my life, I felt like I wasn’t enough. I felt guilty and embarrassed for the choices I had made. In my heart I can understand at a true level why I did, but what caused my pain was wanting those around me to understand why.  We are taught that happiness, love, and approval comes from outside ourselves, and so the journey of constantly chasing our tails in hopes of finding the perfect job, the perfect mate, the perfect blah-blah-blah becomes our false reality.  It’s really hard to have clarity when we’re always looking through a distorted lens. Living from a limited perspective creates hidden blockers. No wonder we’re always wishing we could go back in time for a do-over.   

Could you be telling a different story?  Are you carrying your past with you and making decisions from that past instead of from the here and now?  How have you viewed yourself, and are you afraid of what you’ll be losing? Making decisions that you think are in the here and now but are really based on how you view yourself will show up in how things are flowing in your life.  Do you feel alive and performing at your highest level or do feel overwhelmed and frustrated? If you’re feeling the latter that is an indication you’re living and making decisions from your head.  

Be open to being you and creating something new.  Loving the space of the unknown is where the magic happens, and that’s where the byproduct of you living in your highest self resides.  In remembering the body never lies you’ll listen and trust it. Living life beyond the blocks you will perform, excel, achieve, and actualize the life of your dreams.  So, would I ever go back in time and change anything?  Absolutely not, because now is all I have. To go back would be creating a false story attached to some illusionary expectations that were never real to begin with.  I’m right where I want to be and I’m right on time.  

Oh, one more thing…I’m totally free to screw anything and everything up, AND I LOVE THAT!! 

Open yourself to gratitude

Open yourself to gratitude

We all know that Gratitude is something that we “should” practice in order to live a happier life. But, why? What happens in the body and mind when we practice gratitude and the act of being grateful?

I’ve realized a lot of “being grateful” comes from being without. It might sound like a cliché question, but do you truly know what you have until it’s gone? Once you miss something and realize its importance in your life, you become grateful for it. That feeling of gratitude helps to ground you,  especially when you are always moving on with your busy life.

A personal example of gratitude in my life is our first pregnancy. After 15 weeks of being pregnant, my husband and I found out we miscarried. I remember gratitude was not even a word in my vocabulary. I went to the extreme of not being grateful for a thing: focusing on only the negative. This, not surprisingly, made my life more negative than before. I was envious of all the women I saw just being happy. What I realized was that my focus was only on myself. Our miscarriage did not just happen to me, it happened to our family. The situation affected everyone. When I took a step back and became grateful for my life, and everything I have- my relationships with my husband, family, and friends- it helped to strengthen all of my positive emotions. My body and mind became more open to all that I have in my life to be grateful for. 

Something I learned after this was that both positivity and negativity feed off each other. In every situation, you choose the energy you put into the world. For example, once I started not being consumed with the negativity in my life, the storm blew away. After the storm, we were blessed with our rainbow baby, a boy we named Asher. Keeping in mind for every negative there is a positive, you just have to open your mind and be grateful for what you have. Don’t wait until you are without those precious things to recognize their importance to you. 

 Here are 3 ways to be more grateful and have gratitude in your everyday life:

  • Start with being present. 
  • Make the time to be grateful – This might sound like the easiest, but when and how much time do you actually take to do this? 
  • Be social about your joy and sharing those moments!
Grateful for the Gift

Grateful for the Gift

As I write this, the late evening sunlight is shining through purple-gray clouds.  It is the golden hour – that time before dark when everything is bathed in a soft yellow light.  Autumn in Ohio is in full bloom – bright oranges and reds and yellows, and I can hear the sound of the wind blowing through trees.

For me, it is easy to be grateful in the fall.  I love the cool air and crisp colors. I love cooking soups and stews and baking treats laced with cinnamon.  I am a pastor, and when I step outside and see the canvas that for me is God’s creation, I thank God. 

The first prayer my husband and I taught our sons was “Thank you, God.”  When my boys were toddlers this was our prayer before meals – and still is.  I will always remember their first prayers: “Thank you God for Daddy. Thank you, God, for the backhoe loader.  Thank you, God, for grapes.” We thank God before meals and at the end of the day after we read our books and sing our songs and before I pray a blessing over each boy, we say thank you to God for the day.

I try to teach my children to live gratefully, but I’m not always good at saying thank you myself.  While I was packing for my family’s move from Crestline to Mansfield last year I stumbled upon a box containing a few thank you notes I wrote after my wedding – 11 years ago. Somehow this stack had never been mailed, and I felt the guilt of the thing I should have done but never did. You know those thoughtful people who are always sending cards– thank yous and birthdays and thinking of you notes?  I am not one of them.  

I want to get better at thanking the people in my life.  I want them to know I am thankful for them. I want to be more grateful.  I have read about the research saying people who practice gratitude are happier.  So I try to be thankful but it’s easy to forget. My spiritual director advised me to begin each day with a list of things I’m grateful for.  Sometimes I remember, but most days the alarm clock goes off, and I immediately begin thinking of all that I need to do. Maybe my checklist could become a prayer of thanksgiving as I look ahead to the opportunities I will be given each and every day.

Practicing gratitude has helped me get through the most difficult seasons of my life.  When I’m frustrated with my job, I think of the things I have because of it: clothing and food and a home.  When I reach out to friends or colleagues, I feel grateful for the support they provide. When I face conflict I practice thanking God for the person with whom I’m in conflict.  This helps me to see them as a human being – a person with unique strengths and weaknesses; a person who I believe is, like every person in the world, created in the image of God.  Being grateful simply makes life better.

For me, gratitude is about saying thank you – and it’s also about seeing life as a gift.  My grateful response is to offer myself in service to the one who I believe is the giver, and also to the people around me: my family, my colleagues, my parishioners, and the people I encounter wherever I go.  

How does your perspective change when you begin to think of life as a gift?  How does that sense of giftedness color the people and the world around you?

When I forget that my life is a gift, I am called back by the simplest things: a sunrise, a yoga class, the sound of my children’s giggles.  So as autumn turns to winter and the colors change to brown and gray, I will remember the life that’s waiting beneath the frost. And I will keep saying thank you.

 

Looking at the Big Picture

Looking at the Big Picture

In the year-plus since our journey to Austin, I’ve been asked numerous times about the experience.  The questions drive at both the experience itself, as well as the post-Austin endeavor to write the Mansfield Rising plan and the post plan experience related to implementation.  Looking back, I easily point to three main takeaways I’ve had from this experience that have stayed with me and will continue to impact the work I do in downtown development.

Keep the big picture mindset in focus.

In my day to day work at DMI, we balance long term plans with short term needs on a regular basis. We are always thinking long term about goal projects, midterm about milestone marks and short term tasks to get there.  However, the reality is that with a small staff and budget, short term is where we live day to day. Events, marketing, and new business projects have immediate needs that can’t wait. As a result, the short term problems demand more of my attention than is ideal.  

In Austin, with those short term demands miles away, I was able to learn a great deal from big-picture thinkers who work and live globally all the time!  SXSW is packed full of big-picture people who are working globally on intelligent solutions to complex problems. Networking with people with that global mindset was one of the most impactful opportunities.  When we talk about complex issues like housing, equity, and diversity, Austin gave me a great opportunity to see the bigger picture and discuss projects and problems from a global point of view. Rahm Emanuel said, “if you can’t solve a problem, make it bigger.”  This resonated with me. While problems can live in the short term, real opportunity exists in a bigger picture perspective. In the real world here in Mansfield, there is always trash that needs to be picked up, but balancing that with creating solutions for the bigger picture has changed my mindset and reminded me not to miss out on opportunities to find global solutions to local needs. 

Creating and maintaining relationships drive progress.

The team that went to Austin had one thing in common, our love for our community and desire to make it better.  We are a mixed bag of community members with scattered experiences, goals, and perspectives. Many of us had worked together over the years on a variety of projects, but we hadn’t worked together this close and on such a broad spectrum of projects.  It seems like a side note to the actual plan and implementation, but a critical part of the work we did was to build trust and common experiences to cultivate a stronger sense of community within our team. Learning and exploring concepts and ideas together helps us understand the depth of the projects we’re working on, and writing and vetting them through the planning process allows us to listen to each other and understand the variety of perspectives that make the ideas stronger. As we move forward with the project, our collective buy-in helps us accomplish goals that might not have ordinarily had as much broad-based support.  This relationship-building among community members is a critical part of our community revitalization story as we move forward. We don’t all agree; we won’t ever all agree, but what is most important is listening and building better projects because of the diversity of perspectives that we bring to the table. 

It’s going to take as long as it takes; you might as well enjoy it.  

The pace of community development can be excruciatingly slow.  The project development process can often feel like a rush compared to the time-stands-still process of full implementation.  I get it, we all want these ideas that seem the easiest and most logical to happen right away. I do too. When dealing with community and economic development, though, that just isn’t always the case.  There are so many factors involved, not to mention personalities, that time can feel like it’s standing still, meanwhile, we are just wanting it to be completed! I feel that way all the time, especially with complex problems with little to no funding, but money doesn’t solve the problems, either. 

When I was in Austin, I was able to meet people from all over the world who were looking at the same exact issues we are looking at in Mansfield.  These aren’t Mansfield problems or Ohio problems or rust belt problems — these are community problems, and that’s ok. In fact, looking at our community from that global standpoint, our problems, while unique, weren’t as trying as they seem to be close up.  In one of my favorite sessions, we learned about how a community used interpretive dance to sell an important funding issue to their city council. I could feel my blood pressure spike just thinking about it. Who has time to learn an interpretive dance?! I mean, it sounds insane, but it worked! In the rush to get things accomplished, drawing the quickest and shortest line between the two points seems the most efficient, but in reality, when dealing with people, it just doesn’t always work that way.  Sometimes looking at an opportunity and finding your way through it with other humans while tossing in some joy and celebration can have the most impact.  

I don’t know if these are the top three things I was supposed to learn during the SXSW process, but they are for sure the most impactful to me in my daily life and at Downtown Mansfield, Inc.  SO… Who is up for some interpretive dance at City Council?! 

 

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