“You think that the goal is to be over there, and we say the goal is the journey over there; the goal is the fun you have along the way on your way to over there.” ~Abraham
I have a clear memory of my mother looking at my bookshelves several years ago and commenting, “You’re always reading all these self-help books, and where has it gotten you?”
I responded with a quip about how I’ll always be working to align my personality with my soul, to which she scoffed and said, “When will you grow up and realize you have a great life, a great job, and great friends—and just enjoy it?!”
Of course, all I heard was “When are you going to grow up.” Her point, however, was a wise one: Just enjoy your life. She made a similar comment a couple of years later.
I had just been told the place I was living was going to be turned into an art studio for my landlady. Thankfully, she gave me two months notice to find a new place. But man, I loved my cinder block house on the river and was crushed by the news.
I called my mom in tears. I complained about how I’d never find someplace else so wonderful and how unhappy things were with my job. I talked about wanting to just sell everything I owned and take a walkabout.
Mom didn’t say a lot at the time. However, when I got up the next morning I had a long email from her. My favorite paragraph is this one:
Shannon, you should stop buying all that self-help crap and going off to retreats to find yourself. You are not perfect, never will be, and no one in the world is either. You make mistakes; we all do. Just live with it. You are a warm, intelligent woman—just live the best honest life you can.
All of my self-help books and years of spiritual study, and my mom nailed it in one simple paragraph. Granted, her delivery could use some work, but the essence of what she wrote was right on. Again.
I will, of course, continue to read personal development books and go on personal retreats. However, I no longer do those things because I think something was wrong with me. Now, I do them because I love myself.
However, I think the best message here is to just live the best honest life we can and let that be enough.
For the majority of my life, I’ve spent massive amounts of time beating up on myself. My inner critic is a loud and obnoxious voice that has seemed unstoppable. My biggest judgment of myself has been how I tend to “slumber” and “awaken” in my consciousness.
For example, when I was on a personal retreat in the mountains this summer, I was really feeling inspired, in the flow, and motivated to become a successful writer and speaker. I was excited about this new life I am creating and about feeling fully conscious again. I was sure I was going to maintain my awareness.
Then I came down off the mountain. Once back to the routine of my everyday life, I easily slipped back into distraction. I stopped meditating every day. I played computer games instead of writing. I vegged out to my favorite show on Netflix.
Once again, my inner critic rose up and I started to get really down on myself. It’s ironic that what inspired me to get out of my funk was my own voice recording from when I had been on retreat. Listening to it, I was reminded that slumbering and awakening are just a part of life.
I heard myself say, “When we do stumble, when we do fall, when we are capsized, we learn to have compassion and simply laugh at our humanness.”
I’ve realized it’s so easy for me to get caught up in this idea that I need to be perfect. If I only drink enough green smoothies, go to yoga class, and chant an hour each day, then I can be happy. However, the minute I skip some part of this self-imposed regimen, I beat myself up and feel like a total failure.
Life is about slumbering and awakening. It’s about falling off the wagon, the exercise routine, the diet, the spiritual practice. Anyone who appears to always be perfectly aligned is most likely not being fully authentic. We are human, and this is what being human means.
My dear mother, at age eighty-three, has got this message without having read or studied any of the numerous discourses on this subject. She just enjoys her life.
At the end of the day, what is most important is how we answer the question: Were we kind to one another? And, equally important, were we kind to ourselves?