These times, this life: What really matters?
These are not easy times to live in. How do we live in this world without perpetuating the negative patterns in our society? How do we use our lives as best we can without burning out?
In August, I went on a solo retreat in the mountains of Montana, to listen for the things that matter. I’d like to share some of them with you.
It matters that you see yourself as a participant.
You are a light-worker, one of many. Your work is to bring light into people’s lives, minds, hearts. But this is slow and often invisible work. “Slow and invisible” screeches like metal on metal when you see so much pain in the world and everything in you wants to go fast and work big.
When you feel this way, remember that your work is to bring light only where you are, and often to yourself first. There is no “the world,” there is only you in this moment and the slice of life that belongs to you. Tend to your neighborhood, school, family, friends and own soul. When you are present and participate in your slice of life, you cannot help but bring it alive.
Oh, and did I mention that you are one of millions of people mindfully leaning in to be a light in this life? You can drop the story of self-importance. Every star in the sky shines sufficiently.
It matters that you welcome what is difficult.
I know there are a lot of things in your reality that sit like stones in your boots. You are far from home, you and our people are living in different worlds, the world is aching, hurting, angry, threatening. The natural world is thinning out by the minute.
Make a home inside yourself for these difficulties. Welcome them like you would welcome an old friend. Make a place where you can listen to them, speak them, write them. Allow the dissonance and aches to integrate themselves into you. Sit in open conversation with those who dislike or even hate you, or you them. Listen. Become good at listening so you can be enlarged by learning. Become good at openness and honesty, become good at calming fear and healing pain so you can bring that to the world.
It matters that you remember you belong.
Sitting at the river’s edge, absorbed by the rustling of cottonwood leaves, the bubbling water and the dotted shadows made by water strider’s feet, do you notice that you feel completely at home? Do you sense that you irrefutably belong to this world, this earth, this sun, these creatures who play on the surface of water?
When you forget that your life matters and that you, your voice, your work, and your joy belong here among all the other creatures, remember the river. Remember you are worthy because you are a living being. Your value is intrinsic.
It matters that you live YOUR life.
Does it make you smile to listen to the stories in your mind? There are so many horses pulling at your attention. The horse saddled with obligation to “make the world a better place” or “alleviate suffering.” The horse adorned with dreams of making a “significant contribution” to the world. The horse afraid of losing social standing, seeking approval and validation. The horse panicked by stories of a frightful future, reacting in pain. The horse tired of this, wanting only to roll in the dust. Which is you? Where is your world? What is your work?
What drives you matters. Is it your desire for life, or an unquestioned story? Life flows when you bring who you are to where you are and give what you’ve got. And that is what matters: that your life, voice and work flow from your deep being.
It matters that you live lightly.
Remember that you are a mammal. You don’t need much more than good food, water, companionship, some clothes and a place to rest. Don’t believe those who wish to diminish you if you don’t drive / wear / have / smell / know about / look like or are being invited to the reality they fabricate and sell for self-gain. Free yourself so that you can live generously, so that your life and resources can support, uplift and enable others.
It matters that you remember beauty and freedom.
Learn to love living inside your own skin, learn to live this beautiful being of you. Surround yourself with people who enlarge you with their questions, who follow their own frontiers and who do not shy away from the difficulties or the joys. It matters that you are seen and supported. It matters that you are replenished. It matters, dear horse, that you let yourself be wild, roll in warm dust, gallop into morning fields and explore hidden canyons. It matters that you make your own freedom in this world and stand up for those whose freedom is being taken away.
It matters that you risk.
A better world is built by breaking the taboos of the current world. As you engage in enacting a life that is life-sustaining and just, you will stub your toe, offend friends, feel stupid, regret your words, feel anger at others, and so on. Even though this may feel painful, it matters that you get good at experiencing failure and rejection. The difficult is the door to the desirable.
It matters that you keep going.
When you hike into the mountains, you can’t see the path, because there isn’t one. Finding your own way is not easy. You’ll encounter brambles and thistles, thick mud and fresh dung. Finding your way does not seem safe with rattlesnakes nearby or lose rocks underfoot. Finding your way feels senseless and confusing at times. But what do you expect when you make your path through life?
Keep walking, even when it is hard. Welcome fear, failure, discomfort and not-knowing as your companions. Don’t let them stop you and don’t lose heart. Keep walking. You are on your path. Keep feasting on the beauty and small joys around you and rest when you are tired. Keep stepping in the direction of your joy and longing, keep following the faint sound of the life-sustaining and just future calling you on and on and on.
What else matters to you?
Please share in the comment section below.
When Hannah is not frolicking in the mountains, she finds herself at work at Fit Associates, helping others to become and create the world they long for.
With such gratitude to Laurie and Denny for making this retreat real.
Photos taken by Hannah du Plessis in the Highwood mountains, August 2017.