Last night, my 10-year old daughter, out of the blue, uttered:
The word "life" triggers me.
I had no idea she knew what "triggers" means, and figured she heard it somewhere and was trying it on. Maybe she thought she was being funny. But because I treat her thoughts and words seriously, I proceed with some inquiry.
What do you mean by that? Tell me more.
She has tears in her eyes. Something big is happening in that fascinating and adorable head of hers, and I need to be cautious.
Life's just so . . . not permanent.
I can confidently say I didn't see that coming. What followed was the continuation of conversations we've been having here and there about little things like the meaning of life, what makes us happy, and what our values are.
Life is Short, etc . . .
My sister and only sibling died suddenly a handful of years ago. The Child and I talked about the absence of guarantees. We aren't guaranteed or entitled to a long, healthy life. Or even a short, healthy life. We can do everything that appears to be right, and then . . . poof. The fact that we have but one life, which is likely to be shorter than we'd like, is part of what makes life right now so precious. The impermanence of life is a gift.
Life is More Uncertain Now Than Ever--Or is it?
There's a lot of talk about there being more uncertainty now than ever before. I don't know about that, though. Life has always been full of uncertainty; 2020 has just amplified that quality for many people. From the pandemic to politics to the economy to racism, as Will Smith might say, Uncertainty isn't getting worse, it's getting filmed. In an age of social media and 24/7 news (both real and fake), it can be difficult (but not impossible) to craft your daily life to avoid being inundated with all of the talk of uncertainty, not to mention the non-stop vitriol that seems to have become de rigueur. Life has always been and will always be uncertain.
The Importance of Being Present
The research on happiness and well-being both point to the impact of mindfulness. Being present is a learned skill that positively affects our relationship with ourselves and others, and even our relationship to stress and to physical and emotional pain. Sure, life is short and uncertain, but that doesn't mean there aren't a bunch of (research-based) things you can do to make the most of that life.
We Become What We Practice
What would you say is most important to you? What are your core values? Write them down. I'll wait.
Now write a list of what you did, say, over the last three days. Your routines as well as the infrequent and one-off activities. Include how long you sleep and the quality of your sleep. Include what you eat and when. How much you exercise. How many conversations you had and who they were with and what kind of conversations they were (touch base, deep, work-related, asking for a favor, filing a complaint).
Your daily routines tell you what you value. After all, they are so important that they may have even risen to the level of habits. And the other activities? The phone calls, texts, or emails, and what their purposes were--they reveal your values and priorities as well. How you spend your days tells the world what is important to you.
Context is Everything
If you work 12 hours a day, that could mean that you're a workaholic, but it can also mean that you are the breadwinner for your family and you have chosen to send your children to private school and you like to go on expensive, luxurious vacations. There are a few values baked into that. It can also mean that you are the breadwinner whose entire paycheck goes to daily expenses and your kids go to public school. That sounds like different values. In other words, what you spend your time doing has a why behind it, and that why is important. The context for your choices is what reveals your actual values.
I'm Glad We Had This Talk
This was a conversation that could have gone in many directions. Inquiry with kids goes well when the kids lead the way. The same is true for grown-ups.
If having better conversations is important to you, believe it or not, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction is a wonderful practice for improving how you relate with others. The foundation of the curriculum is the cultivation of concentration, and we can all benefit from more of that. Plus there's plenty of guidance for the processing of difficult emotions and thoughts. There's a new class beginning August 18 (Tuesday evenings, 6-8:30pm, ET). Go here to sign up for the class or for an Intro to Mindfulness.