As a “recovering perfectionist,” I have to remind myself quite often that the goal is rarely flawless execution, but rather agility, authenticity and serenity in my life. Practice makes progress, indeed.
Top Ten Rules for Being Human
Rule One: You will receive a body.
Whether you love it or hate it, it’s yours for life, so accept it. What counts is what’s inside.
Rule Two: You will be presented with lessons.
Life is a constant learning experience, which every day provides opportunities for you to learn more. These lessons are specific to you, and learning them is the key to discovering and fulfilling the meaning and relevance of your own life.
Rule Three: There are no mistakes, only lessons.
Your development towards wisdom is a process of experimentation, trial and error, so it’s inevitable things will not always go to plan or turn out how you’d want. Compassion is the remedy for harsh judgment ― of ourselves and others. Forgiveness is not only divine – it’s also ‘the act of erasing an emotional debt’. Behaving ethically, with integrity and with humor ― especially the ability to laugh at yourself and your own mishaps ― are central to the perspective that “mistakes” are simply lessons we must learn.
So where have I been? Well, sometime last year, I wrote about my decision to put down my spiritual and self-help books and start LIVING the truths I’d found in their pages. Doing that looks different than I expected—much messier.
I am not a graceful ballerina, moving gently through life lessons with a pirouette and plié. More like a spastic buffalo ramming into everything around me at full force, knocking stuff over and having to decide what’s worth cleaning up, and what should just stay broken.
I’ve spent a lot of time this last year journaling, meditating and sleeping, as well as focusing on creativity and a select few friendships that are deeply loving. Day to day, I’ve turned my attention toward experiencing emotions, people and life just as they are. Just being with them, without judgment or analysis or attempts to change.
Life has given me much material for practice. A few highlights: changing jobs and finding myself in my dream position; going through a deep, four-month depression; meeting and falling head-over-heels for someone, then having the relationship fall apart for no discernible reason; bulging discs in my neck and a botched medical procedure that left me with migraine-level headaches for a month; and a fallout with a family member that left us not speaking from Thanksgiving until last week.
So. That’s a lot.
My decision to stay present with myself through all of this, no matter what, was probably more about throwing up my hands in surrender than any sort of high spiritual commitment, to be honest. In the past, I’ve attempted almost every method of “escape” under the sun and nothing has ever brought true, lasting peace. Why not something new?
Turns out this “something new” is absolute magic. There are days, particularly over the past two or three months, when I actually shock myself. For example, my lifelong, compulsive need to make resolutions to “get good” has disappeared. I have spent immeasurable psychic energy trying to force myself to be better / different / kinder / calmer / braver / worthier…with few results from the effort. I just ended up exhausted and frustrated.
I’ve come to learn that for me, change begins with accepting things exactly as they are right now and looking my fears straight in the eye. I quit trying to change, move closer to myself and poof! I CHANGE (though often in ways I didn’t even expect). Who knew?
Another fruit of this “something new” is that there’s more “padding” between me and everything sharp in the world. I am more open to whatever happens: Happy, sad, good, bad. I can relax because I am less afraid of somehow being undone or collapsing into an experience. There is confidence in my fundamental “OK-ness.”
Finally, the “something new” has revealed to me even more the utter ENORMITY of Spirit / the Universe / God / Higher Power / Whatever You Want to Call It. There’s nothing intellectual about this—it’s completely of my heart and shows itself in these astounding moments of compassion and love toward myself and others. It’s a hugeness inside of me that is not of me, connecting me to all beings in a gorgeous way.
I don’t really know what’s next in the grand scheme; I can only take a stab at doing the next right thing for me. Tonight, that’s spending time with friends, picking up my paintbrush for some creative work and going to bed with my sweet pup. And that is just perfect.
The latter notwithstanding, I love this little Maltipoo with fierce passion and I’ve come to learn some remarkable lessons through our friendship.
I became a dog owner quite by accident. It happened during Major Breakup 2010 and I learned a lesson: adopting a dog will not save your relationship (this is a lesser version of the “a baby will not save your relationship” lesson of which I’ve heard, but not tried myself).
We had adopted her one month before the breakup and she was a rescue dog from a puppy mill. She had just given birth to her last litter when we found her and she was a bit of an emotional mess: fearful, anxious, and shy. She shivered around people and cowered when I reached to pet her.
After the breakup, which was mutual but exquisitely painful, I ended up moving eight times over the next year. I lost my job. I lost 15 pounds from mind-bending anxiety. I dated a string of inappropriate men. I fell apart.
During that upheaval and hair-pulling, Phoebe was patient sidekick. Sometimes, we slept on couches. Other times, she stayed with me when I went comatose for days at a time. Frequently, she sat with me while I cried about the piles of shit everywhere in my life.
So there we were. Puppy Mill Phoebe and Breakup Leah, both raw and hurting, looking at each other with bewildered confusion, hoping this friendship would provide solace.
With time, her tan-and-brown coat grew out white. She quit cowering. She started her charming trait of hopping around like a bunny when she gets excited. She learned to trust.
And with time, I began to heal. I started eating again and got another job. I quit looking to the man-of-the-moment to “fix” me. I got a beautiful place to live.
The thing we learned together was to trust the process. Even during chaos—and especially when life hurts—I have to trust that the universe has my highest good in mind. I choose to settle into the chaos, let others love me, and love myself radically. I have to lean into it and know that I’m taken care of.
I watched my ten-pound Maltipoo do it and she grew in the sunshine of the spirit. I did it, and I wouldn’t trade that tumultuous time for any treasure. It was one of the most essential experiences of my life.
That little dog didn’t save my relationship, but she saved me. We saved each other.