In discussing ways to minimize the inevitable stress and anxiety prevalent in our culture, the Dalai Lama in his latest book, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World* points out that too much expectation and too much ambition are often part of the root cause.
This flies in the face of many traditional American beliefs and work ethics. Phrases like, “do whatever it takes to make it to the top” or “make it happen #everydamnday” can set us up for a lot of expectation and are certainly ambitious.
Let’s start with expectations, shall we? In 12 step recovery groups we consider expectations a reservation for a resentment. Certainly resentments are stressful and cause a lot of anxiety. It is difficult to feel joy, lightness, and freedom when reliving something that upset you.
Releasing expectations can be as simple as making “live and let live” your mantra. Or in other words, let other people BE. Love them and keep the focus on you. Another helpful tool in releasing expectations is looking for the positive in everything (and I do mean everything). Yes, have a temper tantrum, proliferate some creative swear words and maybe even vent to a friend but after you move that energy, start looking for the lesson because with the lesson comes the blessing. I’ve been able to find this blessing time and time again with my headaches. Now, this doesn’t mean that you just stay with the headaches…. Oh no no no!! (double exclamation point!!) But, often releasing whatever is plaguing you happens as you see, listen and finally integrate the lesson it offers.
And ambition, well that is just being a good American, right? We are in the land of plenty and better take advantage of all that. You know, bootstraps, American dream and all.
Ambition has its place but I’m wondering out loud to you right now if it is not very similar to a lot of other All-American things… often too super-sized to be healthy. There are all kinds of things to be ambitious about. Changing your income level. Changing your body shape or size. Changing your spiritual fitness. All these things can be awesome healthy goals, BUT if they are not tempered with any balance, I agree with the Dalai Lama. We ARE in for more stress and anxiety than necessary. Ultimately we want to be happy and we set our sights on certain ambitions because we believe that indeed they will lead to happiness. Our culture is certainly very slanted to make us believe that. Work hard so you can buy this car, have this body, do these things then happiness is yours for the taking.
So what is really worth pursuing? The third author of this amazing book on Joy, Douglas Carlton Abrams posed this question.
Big long pause here to consider that… because that is the million dollar question. What IS really worth pursuing?
I don’t know what that will be for you, but I have spent some time considering what that means to me. One of my friends asked me this week, what do I really want? I had a small list starting with complete healing of my headaches. She replied that she just wants to be happy. She’s right, it can be just that simple as I just want to be happy. But the kicker… YOU NEED TO KNOW WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY.
Metaphysical teachers compare this to arriving at the airport and asking for a ticket. The helpful airline person asks, “Where too?” When you reply, “Just someplace nice.” If the airline person, being from Alaska, considers spending some quality time ice camping to be heaven, you might be in trouble if clearly you were expecting a warm beach.
“What is worth pursuing?” I love this question. My unexamined actions, thoughts and feelings were not getting me where I wanted to go. The pursuit of things that I actually thought were going to make me happy (after all the advertising looked so lovely) has only lead to burnout, frustration and a whole lot of headaches.
THIS WEEK: What is worth pursuing? Are you actions really leading you to where you want to be? I’m encouraging you to make a list of what really matters to you at this point. Make sure that you are not manifesting you don’t want… anxiety and stress. And more of what you do want… happiness, freedom and an underlying sense of joy.
Here’s my current list:
1. Anything that will support the healing of my head. There will be no stone is left unturned, and indeed I have gotten way out there with energy practices. Anyone who has been ill or injured for extended periods of time will confirm that there is NOTHING more important than your health as it touches everything.
2. Any mindful practice that returns me to the present moment. I can easily get caught looking for the next best thing and then working hard to get it. Learning to instead appreciate the experience I am in RIGHT NOW is the ticket to an easier life. Talking about being present is all the rage right now and there’s a good reason for it. Most of us are so busy with the pursuit of it all that we don’t enjoy what we’ve manifested in the here and now.
3. Letting “getting more done” GO. The entire first part of my life was about getting more done. The second part has been studying energy and how to get more of it so I can get more done. Now, I’m realizing that getting more done isn’t making me happy, it’s just making my head hurt. I’m missing out on joy when I’m so caught up in getting more done.
4. Manifesting more LOVE. LOVE for my people, love for my life, love for my dogs, love for my gym, love for my writing, love for my work, love for my play, love for my learning and the hardest one… love for resting. Love, love, love everything. More love of everything is worth pursuing. Noticing and actively letting go of things that get in the way of that love is the journey.
Make your list… send it to me if you want… love and blessings… thanks for reading. A