Way of life
This is in no way intended to be general advice or universal truth, it’s what worked for me in life so far. These are the result of a long distillation process, introspection, life experiences, therapy and meditation. It will definitely change in the future, like myself. It is written in that form as a message from present me to future me.
Listen to nature • Know your feelings • Trust your body • Set boundaries • Take accountability • Practice gratitude • Learn your privilege • Tend to your insecurities • Be honest with yourself • Commitments not tasks
Cultivate a relationship with nature
Nature is always there somewhere, even in the most brutalist city corners and we’re part of it. Taking time to notice and appreciate nature thought me a lot about life and myself and brought me a lot of joy and pleasure. Taking walks in the woods, tracing the paths left by termites on a dead log, playing with our cat, basking in the sun.
“Take your time as the mighty oak tree does, growing tall and strong and glorious in its own due course, fully confident that its great work is immune to the harrying of time. It grows its mighty bows where there is enough light, it puts forth leaves as it pleases and it’s acorns falls to the forest floor when they’re just heavy enough.“
- Steven Zapata
Learn to listen, name and express feelings
Especially as someone who was raised as a boy and who had very little guidance and examples of the wide range of human emotions, this one was a cornerstone of living a better life. Getting in touch with my feelings, noticing them without judgement and developing the language to talk about them and express them to others opened up doors that allowed me to connect more deeply with myself and the people close to me, develop more nuanced empathy and understanding towards others and myself and get to know what I really wanted for myself.
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I change.”
― Carl Rogers
Trust your body and learn to take care of it
While getting to know my emotional needs, I was also faced with how much stress and emotions were linked to the body, creating tension, pain and changing my posture and breathing. I learned that it doesn’t really work to force your body to relax, it has it’s own natural ways to do so and getting to know these and integrate them in everyday life seems to bring the more long-lasting change. What helped me in that process is yoga and meditation, starting with guided ones and then growing my own practice from what felt better.
“Listen to me, your body is not a temple. Temples can be destroyed and desecrated. Your body is a forest—thick canopies of maple trees and sweet scented wildflowers sprouting in the underwood. You will grow back, over and over, no matter how badly you are devastated.”
― Beau Taplin
Get confortable with setting and respecting boundaries
A boundary, soft or hard is never intended to harm, punish, or deprive someone else of something. It is an act of self-honesty and comes from knowing my own limits and respecting them. The more forward and clear I’m becoming with my boundaries and my availability - in terms of time, energy, or capacity - the easier it becomes to be present and to help and give to others without building resentment or overwhelming myself. The more I learn about my own limits the easier it becomes to recognize and respect the ones of others and also be considerate and check in with other about their boundaries in case they don’t express them upfront. Not everyone feels equally safe to express those.
Take accountability for your actions and feelings
I can, I have and I will cause harm or hurt other people. I need to keep this in mind as I navigate through life in order to be able to see it, to take accountability and learn from it when it happens. Depending in the people whom I have hurt for that only makes it worse so I am committed to integrate self-accountability to my mindfulness practice and explore the way my words and actions can affect others in un-intended ways. From there, if I realize I have hurt someone I will face the fear and the guilt and look into why I did it and how it hurt the person. Without understanding the why and naming clearly the harm perpetrated it’s almost impossible to take accountability without centering myself or avoiding parts of it and in the end healing the unconscious need which prompted the hurtful action.
“Accountability is about making a commitment to the people in our lives to work through destructive behaviors, toward healthier, more egalitarian relationships. Accountability is about the willingness to receive input from and be responsive to the people around us, prioritizing their needs, safety, and emotional health in our actions.” ― Crimethinc
Grow a practice of gratitude
An always present source of happiness comes from noticing and appreciating what’s already there. By training my mind to appreciate the moments I experience, the people I love, the things I have, and the things I create and noting it down every night it progressively made it easier to walk through every day noticing and appreciating the smallest things and feeling grateful for them. It also allowed me to accept parts of myself that were harder to reconcile with and notice my own growth in the things I do but as importantly in the things I don’t do anymore.
Develop an awareness of privilege and power dynamics
We live in an unfair society, and we’re born with different kinds of privilege - gender, age, race, class, etc - and those create power imbalances that affect most of our interactions with other people. Learning to identify those and name them is useful to counter-balance societal inequalities. The more I develop awareness of those the more I can avoid perpetuating abusive and hurtful patterns that I inherited the people and culture around which I grew. I can also more easily step aside and leave room for more marginalized voices who are often silenced by people and institutions in power.
Realize that insecurities comes from ignorance of self
Sometimes I react strongly when people point out things in myself that I’m either not aware of or haven’t accepted yet. This defensiveness is a sign of unexplored parts in myself. I learned that the more I look inside and tend to these hidden parts and heal the guilt or shame that is often attached to them the more these insecurities take a more background role and have less and less unconscious control over how I interact with others, how I perceive myself and what I’m capable of.
“It’s harder to be yourself than it is to be anybody else”
- Andrew Jackson Jihad
Challenge assumptions and false narratives about yourself
In the process of tending to my insecurities I had to question parts of my own constructed identify that were conflicting with my true values, feelings and commitments. This is scary and letting go of them can feel like losing myself, but the more I challenge those versions of me that aren’t compatible with who I really am the more I realize that I don’t need a large set of descriptors and immutable traits to have a strong sense of identity. The more I let go of the ones that don’t serve me anymore the more it creates space to grow.
Focus on commitments, dreams and goals instead of tasks
I have a natural tendency to rationalize, organize and do, which serves me in a lot of ways but can also become a trap. Creating expectations for myself to accomplish a detailed series of tasks in a day to take care of my mind and body is overwhelming and easy to procrastinate away from. It can also feel like work or chores really quickly. Instead I found that writing down and memorizing simple commitments is a lot lighter on the mind, leaves less room for self-disappointment and criticism and allow me to come up with ways that are more healthy to apply these commitments.