November 2013: Everyday Life is Your Best Teacher

by Brad on October 30, 2013

“Seek not the masters; seek what the masters sought.” – Basho, 17th century Japanese poet

We humans are creatures of habit. We’re biologically wired that way, so that we can cement recurring phenomena into our unconscious minds, thereby freeing our conscious minds to explore new territory, the frontiers of possibility. At today’s speed of life, however, we often live purely from recurring habits, one day dawning the same as the last. If we do stop to truly think, all we have time for is wondering why things aren’t any different. If we want to experience a new frontier, we have to go to the frontier, and that’s a direction opposite from habit. Many forces conspire to hold us right where we are; we even have a name for the result of their conspiracy – our comfort zone. Although our words say we want more inspiration, peace, freedom, satisfaction, etc., our behavior says we’d rather guard the edges of our comfort zones than step into the new, the unknown, the uncertain.

IMAG0767There’s a trend these days toward more mindful, purposeful living, with no shortage of books, workshops, (and even newsletters) aimed at helping you do that. Most have great ideas, and often practices, to seed the garden of personal growth. Yet not a one of them can change you unless you’re a willing, committed participant, a co-creator of a different tomorrow. As I’ve noted before, you can’t become a skier by reading books on skiing; you need to go down the mountain. You can’t get to the Olympics by reading every book on skiing; only committed practice leads to mastery. Experts say they eventually become one with the mountain. Novices rarely grasp what that even means.

The point here is that to live a life you love means knowing what you love; that means knowing who you are. And you can’t find who you are in someone else’s words. You find who you are in the often-dark recesses of your own thinking. That, however, means looking there, becoming a skilled observer of your unique inner truth. Every ordinary event or thought, in every ordinary day, is a ready-made teacher, an opportunity to practice noticing, in that moment.  Fortunately, your thinking is a goldmine; you have thousands of thoughts to look at each day. All point to … you

So here’s the challenge. What happens in each of your moments? Sure, you’re “doing” stuff. But what happens while you’re “doing?” What is your relationship with each moment? What do you feel? What do you think? What choices are you making? It’s about finding something new in what you already know. This process of discovery leads you to awareness of your thinking, and therefore, who you are. Noticing is not difficult. The difficulty arises from the fact that we’ve been taught to be mindless – to not notice. With educational systems, science, institutions and media that focus on predictability and certainty, we’ve lost the perspective to see the subtle differences that everyday life really is. Experts (at anything) are experts because they’ve mastered the art of noticing the subtle. Who you truly are is found not in the events and the doing but in the subtle nuances of how you see, think and feel. You can find them.

Exercise: A window into your life as your best teacher: I recently asked a friend what she does when “the stuff of life” pushes her off center, with anger, resentment, anxiety, hurt or stress. I loved her response; perhaps you might make her exercise your exercise this month. “I sit down and write about it. First, I write what I’m feeling – ‘I’m angry at him,’ or ‘I’m resentful toward her,’ or ‘I feel hurt, or anxious.’ Second, I write about what happened, the events that gave rise to my feelings. ‘She did abc, and xyz happened.’ Third, I step back and take a deep breath. I ask myself who I was being in all this; what was my part in it all. Invariably, and often without even reading what I’ve written, I see that my feeling came from a thought I’d held inside me, the thought that things should somehow be different from the way they really are. Commonly, I don’t “like” what I find out about myself, so it would be easier if I kept blaming others. But I soon realize there is no blame, just learning. By then I’m able to let go, maybe laugh, and perhaps even thank the other person (ok, quietly to myself) for reminding me of the work I’m doing to understand my thoughts and myself. It’s in the writing that I allow the moment to teach me. I come to see myself far more objectively than I could otherwise do. Writing shows me not just events, but the meaning I’d attached to those events through my thinking.”  To me, this is the essence of being both a participant and creator of your life, noticing yourself as you live your life, and allowing its feedback to teach and guide you.


A River Runs Through It  [Life lessons offered by nature]

One of my regular “habits” is to walk a few miles in the woods most days. Although the “woods” here on Cape Cod fall short of woods I’ve always known and loved, I’ve found a place or two here that I’ve come to enjoy. Yesterday, however, I went to a different place, a trail along a rather pristine section of river, an area known to have been sacred Native American land, hence, perhaps, its preserved status. I loved the trail. Winding through varied topography and tree cover, it roughly followed the river’s course toward the ocean. As I walked, I noticed the newness of things. But I also noticed that I was noticing. That may sound strange, but on trails with which I had become accustomed, I had developed the ‘habit’ of unconsciously thinking I knew the place, so I’d stopped noticing so much. In new territory, however, the habit had been broken. I noticed. And I noticed myself in a new way, too.

One of the reasons I walk in the woods regularly is to be alone with my thoughts. It’s become both meditative time and creative time (assuming one can be both meditative and creative at the same time). Both, however, depend on my awareness, my willingness and attention to observing not just the facts and events of the walk (the trees, slopes, turns in the trail, etc.) but also the context of the walk (my thoughts, interpretation, beliefs, attitude, mood, etc.). By having chosen a new location, I became more aware of the context. Framed using language from this month’s article, by going to a new “frontier,” I’d opened myself to greater awareness, and had created a ‘today’ that was different from yesterday.

The point is that the difference was not just being in a new physical place. It was about being in a new consciousness, too. A great reminder that, even in the same physical place each day, we are still free to choose a new consciousness; it just takes noticing. 


Openings to New Possibility

Available for you:

  • The Road Not Taken Community, a no-cost subscription that offers you connection, interaction, challenge, and learning. See articles, newsletters and blogs; you’ll find “new stuff” here regularly. I welcome comments and conversation; this kind of dialogue is an example of how we may all learn together.
  • “In Nature’s Image,” a series of blog posts here. A new post every few days, each a simple suggestion for adding meaning to your life, accompanied by one of my images from nature. If you’d like them delivered to you by email, you may use the green icon (“receive blog via RSS feed”) on any page of my website or right here. If we are connected on Facebook, you’ll also find each post there.
  • My e-book, A Field Guide to Life: How to Live With Authenticity and Freedom, offering a path beyond the limiting belief that you can’t live an extraordinary life. Reclaim the power of your deepest longing. You can purchase the ebook, or read it at no cost as a series of blog articles posted on my website.
  • The Road Not Taken newsletters (11 years, 132 issues of Purposeful Wanderings) available here as a pdf file.  
  • Photo images from my travels available here on fun products – note cards, coffee mugs – great gift ideas.

An invitation to possibility: If you have the courage and determination to step apart from the crowd and challenge conventional thinking so you can live instead with authenticity and freedom, contact me for a conversation that can shift your thinking forever. I will help you reach a level of clarity and perspective – about yourself, others, your life, your work and the world – that allows you to live your truth, every day. Trade the way it is for the way it could be.

Book of the month a simple, blank journal.  Consistent with this month’s article, you might write, rather than read, your own story – the story of how your everyday life teaches you about yourself. Perhaps using the exercise above as a guide, you might take a few moments each day and write about experiences of the day, noting how you felt, what happened, and what you learned about yourself from your response to what happened. In addition to embracing “life as teacher,” this has a powerful side-effect of releasing the “blame game” in your life and opening you to the power of personal responsibility.  … And if you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find a selection of journals available at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons – 508-539-6985.


Download November 2013 pdf

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

dan joly October 31, 2013 at 7:41 pm

I notice noticing. Will practice more. Thanks for shareing your noticing!


Deb November 4, 2013 at 10:39 pm

Thanks for the words of wisdom. I am going to find the courage to write more — and to seek out new trails, both literally and figuratively — to help me notice more.


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