There have been a number of events that have ‘revived’ my contemplation about my time on this earth – continued military and other conflicts around the world, random and planned attacks on individuals and groups that I witness only from reading the front page of the papers, as well as news stories of hit and runs, illnesses and epidemics, weather casualties…
I have been very lucky to have long-lived parents, healthy friends, and live in relatively (compared to much of the world, very) safe conditions that add to the chances of my enjoying a number of years in my future.
But is it so assured? Does the mind have anything to do with our ability to live long and prosper? Are there ways we can work with the subconscious mind to enhance not only the quantity but the quality of our time – and is any of that important to us today?
The trouble is, you think you have time. The Buddha
Do not try to live forever. (You will not succeed)
Mark Twain is quoted for this little piece of advice, and while many of us know this, we sometimes fail to keep it ‘in mind’. This is not to say that we focus on our assured demise or that we brood about the fact that we will, more than likely, not have all our questions answered, or time for all the experiences or relationships or chocolate (fill in your own significant item here) that we feel we may want in our life.
Instead, like a limited edition print, a ‘final tour’ concert, or a perfect spring day, its brevity could force us to prize it and enjoy it while it is still available to us.
Most of us, over time or at certain points in our lives, fail to acknowledge the preciousness and impermanence of life and instead, focus on the possible drudgery of day-to-day existence. And when we look at it that way, the life-term ‘sentence’ seems as though it will go on forever.
However, as you may remember one of the important rules of the subconscious mind – where our attention goes our energy flows. Knowing that may remind us to shift our attention in a more positive direction.
If time is a limited resource, just as money, support, and other assets are, how we spend it is key. Here are a few suggestions that are meant to support you in looking at your daily struggle/exploration (your choice):
1. What DO you want?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the mind has trouble translating our messages from what we don’t want to what we actually do want. Because the mind works in pictures, our statements of what we are aiming to avoid or remove from our life pop up in full-colour images – and the subconscious works on that to guide and direct us (even if it’s not what we desire at all!) Imagine walking backwards – it’s not easy. Even if we manage to do things to have us head in the direction we need, negative statements within our mind can have us facing the wrong direction for the path we want to follow.
The viral concept of “Will ‘spent a lot of time at the office’ be on your gravestone?” merely suggests that sometimes we place relationships and opportunities in the ‘later’ pile while we aim to create the so-called perfect environment for them. However, there is no certainty that we’ll even live to fulfill those dreams and wishes if postponed. Including others, dreams, goals and wishes (from volunteering, to travel, to reconnecting, to trying something new) that may not be on the ‘stuff I’ve GOT to do’ list, even in small quantities, allows you to keep your priorities alive and may create a shift that clears a space for more important (not immediate) items to get on the list. [And remember to actually make the list – studies indicate that goals tend to be achieved at a greater rate when they are written down]
3. Find more moments of…
Once you’ve started including priorities in your life, start to look for situations where you’ve experienced them. What gives you more joy, relaxation, sense of achievement, physical wellbeing…? How can you include these moments in your life more regularly or more intensely. Remember, even if you’ve not managed to have a (fill in the blank with what you want) experience during the day, your imagination can make it real within your mind and you can have the opportunity to re-experience the desired state when you need/want it. Close your eyes, focus on the experience, hone in on the feeling – enjoy.
4. Look into looking after yourself.
While there will be more tips later in this article, review your actions, thoughts and feelings that support you – are there more that do than don’t? While science makes advances to extend our life expectancy, there’s a certain amount of self-responsibility that makes caring for yourself a priority. (If it wasn’t on the list, maybe add ‘self-care’ to it as well.)
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” Eleanor Roosevelt
Your 100 lb/ 45 kg backpack through life
I’ve already spoken about the challenges of walking backwards, so let’s add a heavy load to that experiment as well. Items that we carry from the past that don’t contribute to our experience or understanding of ourselves and others can become ‘dead weight’. If you’ve ever seen the face of someone tormented by a current or past trauma, you may notice the physical effect it has on many.
I’m not saying we’re not strong enough to carry extra weight – the evidence is that we’re still here, reading this – but it begs the question – do we really want to carry it anymore?
We’re not talking about the wonderful experiences and great relationships in our lives – they have a tendency to lift us up rather than weigh us down. We’re talking about the hurts, the regrets, the unforgiven mistakes, perfectionism and unattainable expectations that deny our ability to walk upright and fulfilled in our life right now. As my Dad reminded me, there’s no room for baggage in a hearse.
Here are a few suggestions to consider that may help your release some of the load that you’ve been carrying for a while:
1. Heavy Labels.
Self and other created labels about ourselves and our behavior can load us down over time. While those that inspire us to change may strengthen us, the crushing weight of others can undermine our health and wellbeing. Look for areas where you demand ‘perfection’ of yourself or others and look into whether or not those plans are taking away from or adding to your quality of life. Absolutes (always, never), ‘if only’ and ‘when… then’ statements tend to bring attention to expectations that may not be supportive or helpful in the real, living world.
2. We know the answers NOW…
Many regrets, anger and guilt occur because, with hindsight, we see what we should have done or how things could have been. But we had no certain knowledge before it happened. It was all possibilities. Many people say “I should have known” – why?
Living is a full-time job and our ability to step outside ourselves to find the most ‘rational’ answer for our current dilemma is not enhanced by continuing to beat ourselves up for past mistakes. There was a television series called “Being Erica” where a woman who went back to change all her life regrets (that she was convinced had led her to her present, unsuccessful, life) discovered that these ‘take-backs’ brought about other dire consequences that sometimes made matters worse. We don’t have the ability to know for sure what our life would have been like if we took another path, just as we didn’t know for sure where our initial choices would lead us. Isn’t that pardonable?
3. Stop carrying others’ loads.
Sometimes we may also find ourselves lifting weight for others – family, friends, different aspects of humanity… We may do it to lighten their heavy burden, or support them or protect them; however, our undermining our own life may not really support others in the end. Remember that our ability to send a life preserver into the ‘shark infested’ waters of others’ lives may be much more supportive than jumping in without protection for even ourselves. It might mean that we review our expectations, conditions and ideas to reveal whether or not they are ours or are borrowed from others. If these legacy or inherited concepts are loading us and stopping us from moving forward in our lives, it may be time to put them down.
4. What does it mean to let go?
There is no time limit for grief (or any other emotion). And feelings are guiding forces that can direct us and steer us. So letting go isn’t abandoning or excusing – it tends to be a release of the emotional stronghold events of the past may have over us now. And there may be losses that come even as we may pick up many benefits from the choice to leave something behind. “What would I lose for releasing myself from ___?” “What would it mean if I didn’t feel ___ anymore?” Who would I be if I stopped doing/feeling ___?” These can give a good indicator of what may be stopping or blocking the dropping of emotional weight. Add “What would I gain from releasing myself from __?” and the other questions to see the upside of dropping the overload.
“Yes,” said the Doctor, as he undid the piece of string. “I don’t believe in a lot of baggage. It’s such a nuisance. Life’s too short to fuss with it. And it isn’t really necessary, you know – Where DID I put those sausages?” Voyages of Dr. Dolittle (Hugh Loftling)
Life + Quality = Life + Quantity?
With many different contributors, life expectancy has increased from the beginning to the end of the 20th century. However, with medical advancements there are a number of people who are living longer, yet the quality of their lives may not be improved. So the question is – do you want a better or a longer life? And do you have to choose?
Many people feel that ‘time flies when you’re having fun’ and so we not only have actual time (and quality) but perceived time (and quality). When I look up from my writing and hours have passed but I’ve been completely engaged and ‘in flow’, not only was I actively hypnotized doing something I love, but my perceived quality of life went up (of only for the morning).
There are a few considerations that may support you in finding a balance or focus on how you’d like to move through your life:
1. Some stress, less fragile?
Our bodies, like our minds, are relatively robust (even if we don’t think so). While certain individuals may not fall into this category, many of us can take a certain amount of ‘rough handling’. For example, broken bones need the stress of weight to activate the rebuilding process to fortify and heal – yet overexertion or excessive strain will prevent the bone from being fixed and strong. Or our immune system – if we are cut off from any and all mild ‘dirt and bugs’, then our exposure to something ‘bad’ with a system that hasn’t had practice and development can lead to a much more serious result. Mistakes force us to learn and find different options. Some mental, physical and emotional bumps and bruises may create a more resilient or expansive life.
2. Reduced stress, pinch of salt.
I’ve often been told to reduce my salt intake. However, as the vast majority of my food is ‘whole’ (fresh from the garden or market), there isn’t any salt in it to start with. So I can handle adding it to my food (for taste and for my general health). But even with the adding of something that’s seen as negative (in high quantities), I’m starting with a good base. When our bodies and mind have inputs that are whole and healthy – good relationships, meaningful work, new experiences, good food and movement – then the body’s ability to not only survive but thrive increases. If there are aspects of life that you think might add to both the quality and quantity of it, what would they be? What would you be willing to do for it? And if you need help, who might be able to support you? (hypnosis is often a good choice)
3. Are you noticing your life?
Joshua Foer, science reporter, as part of a story started a practice of memory enhancement – the experiment ended up in his winning the 2006 USA Memory Championship. Yet during his TED talk, his message ended up being about being present, mindful and aware enough to create the meaningful memories that make up your life (and not losing ourselves and our time by not paying attention to the important things going on around us). While we might be caught up in doing the ‘right’ thing for a longer life, the real question is – are we too caught up to actually experience our lives as they happen?
“Oh, yes. I’d do it all again; the spirit is willing yet; I feel the same desire to do the work but the flesh is weak. It’s too bad that our bodies wear out while our interests are just as strong as ever.” Susan B. Anthony
So what do I take away from all this? That our time in this life is as limited as our ability to be engaged and involved in it. That our care and love for ourself and others allows us to leave the heavy burdens of the past behind, and with the lighter load of lessons and learnings, we can take a path that is better suited for our indefinite time we have left. That we can dynamically and gracefully walk the line between comfort and challenge that makes it a life worth living. Here’s to great years ahead. Jennifer
“Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it. You can exercise daily and eat healthily and live a long life, while experiencing a short one. If you spend your life in a cubicle passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next – and disappear.” Joshua Foer