Look for what you are instead of what you’re not
There are times when I can dwell on past decisions, wondering what would have happened if I spoke up, stepped up, or stepped out. Perhaps the entire trajectory of life would have changed, or maybe nothing would have changed, but the draw to look back and problem solve the past is a deep well that can steal the present from us if we fall in.
I fell down this well, and have been climbing out for the past few years. I began to move backward in life, questioning decisions I’ve made, standing in places of fear, and wondering if I showed courage or not. What I realized is that this doubting myself in the past had created a doubting of myself in the present. The what would’ve happened, what could’ve been different mindset was causing the present to slip away without appreciation and without me.
Uncle Rico and Acceptance
In the movie Napoleon Dynamite, Uncle Rico believed that his whole life would’ve been different had they put him in the high school football championship game: “How much you wanna make a bet I can throw a football over them mountains?… Yeah… Coach woulda put me in fourth quarter, we would’ve been state champions. No doubt. No doubt in my mind.” This narrative is part of his filter for life, could’ve been famous, but that kind of thinking takes him out of the life he is in.
“The past is frozen and no longer flows, and the present is all lit up with eternal rays.”— C.S. Lewis
This transition from regretful thinking is a two-phased process. First, I must learn to accept what is and what has already been done, and this acceptance must be accompanied by a resistance to assign “good” or “bad” labels to the past or the present. In other words, suspend judgment. In this acceptance, I have found liberation.
“Mindfulness is the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”— Jon Kabat-Zin
The liberation comes in the form of clarity and a burden lifted. Whereas I had been weighed down and slowed down, I now find a lightness and the ability to move about freely. To see life as it is, acknowledging that the past cannot be changed, opens doors that were previously closed. The past is past, and though it holds lessons and valuable memories, it’s time for Uncle Rico to move on.
A Blurred Reality
Not surprisingly, the habit of regretful thinking has lingering side effects. Our perception is our reality, therefore, the story we tell ourselves creates a filter through which we see the world. If we tell ourselves that we are not creative, we will not invest in creative ventures. If the narrative reads that we are alone, we will believe that we have been abandoned. If we believe that the past holds our better days, then the beauty of the present is stolen away along with hope for the future.
Life had begun to change for us and our friends; kids, jobs, homes, and everything else that goes along with the flow of life, yet I resisted the change. The resistance to the change caused me to cling to what was, and that clinging stole my ability to move freely and adapt. Adaptation and flexibility create the freedom to flow with life, recognizing, and seizing opportunities as they arise. In other words, Instead of seeing the substance that was making up the life around us, I began to focus on the empty spaces, believing the emptiness to be the reality.
Up From the Depths
There was a vicious battle raging within me. I leaned more towards self-loathing, guilt, and shame rather than confidence, peace, and ambition. There had to be a reason for the perceived emptiness in my life, and the most likely culprit had to be me. The problem with this way of thought is that it was counterintuitive to the way I perceive and treat anyone else in my life, so why would I choose to show my self such hatred when I wouldn’t dare inflict it on anyone else?
I had decided to take ownership of only the perceived failures and shortcomings of my life, seeing what I was not, unable to see all that I was. This perceived reality caused me to lose the ability to be truly happy for the good in my friends’ lives, and that was a sad reality. Relationship and community are the epitome of what life is about for me, for that is where the story is being written and where impact takes place. The very person I was becoming was the polar opposite of who I truly desired to be.
This realization was a turning point for me. Being a person of love is fundamental to my life, and I needed to recapture the essence of how to live in such a way.
Acknowledge the Good
I was challenged in a conversation to stop looking for failure, and instead, acknowledge every time I make a perceived good decision. This habit would begin a process of liberation from regret and would reclaim the ability to be unique. The path of acknowledging the good I bring to a day built confidence in myself and my decisions.
A positive side effect of this mindset change was a returning ability to take joy in my friend’s enjoyments of life. I began to leave the toxic habit of comparison, and instead began to regain the ability to be inspired; because I have found that comparison is the enemy of inspiration. This path is also opening doors for connection that I had previously not walked through because I spent a lot of time caught up in my mind, thinking in circles, looking for problems instead of solutions.
All of that being said, I can look back and see the good that I have brought to life amid the battle of apathy. Moving forward, I am choosing to see the stars instead of just the darkness behind them. Today, I hope that you see the good that you bring to the life we live, and may you embrace your role to pen the pages of the story we write.