What have you always believed about yourself that life is showing you might not be true?
I love this question. More precisely, I love these moments when we are able to see that something we’ve always believed about ourselves might not be true.
Those moments can be rare. Most of the time, what we believe about ourselves colors what we see in our life experience. If we believe we’re incompetent with numbers, that’s what we see play out in our life experience. If we believe we’re mediocre parents, that’s what we see evidence for. If we believe we “never get angry,” we see evidence for that. It’s the very nature of belief: it causes us to notice certain truths in the landscape of reality, and to be utterly blind to others.
So it’s very unusual that we truly see something in life that conflicts with our beliefs. It’s a kind of unique moment of confrontation with reality and of growth.
When it happens, it happens for one of two reasons. Sometimes, life confronts us with something that conflicts with our beliefs so clearly that we get hit over the head with the new truth. When that dramatic move from life (you thought you were x, but life is clearly giving you evidence you are y!) coincides with some meager measure of openness in us, we can see a new truth about ourselves.
But more often, and in fact in every moment, the truths about ourselves that life offers us are quieter, more subtle. To see those, we need to be looking at life, to have found a sliver of non-defensiveness in ourselves through which we’re able to see what life is really showing us. And we must be present enough to see what is happening in front of us right now – rather than seeing our old stories play out again and again as we project them onto the complex canvas of life.
How can we live awake like this, so that our lives are less and less a deadened re-run of old beliefs (re-runs are so boring) and more an alive unfolding in which we keep learning, growing, and staying fluid – fluid as life itself?
This is the same question as: how can I accelerate my growth? It is the same question as: how can my life get more interesting? How can it become a great adventure?
I think it begins with caring about that, with caring about being open to and present to life. We have to decide that we want to live in that way.
Then we do what it takes, which is moving slow enough — moving slow even in the midst of a busy day (it’s possible, it’s an inner move) — to pay attention to what is happening before us. Moving slow enough to reflect on what is happening. We move slow enough to notice what we are feeling and to follow the discomfort or exhileration or panic or sense of messiness that comes up when we are confronted with a truth about ourselves, positive or negative, that conflicts with what we believe.
And we have to nourish our hearts enough – with comfort and love from others and self-love – so that our hearts have room to be open to truths that may feel challenging and vulnerable when we first look at them. We have to have the emotional reserves to look.
When we do that, life becomes our teacher. Gentle, graceful, ever unfolding, complex. That infinitely pixelated canvas of life illuminates and no moment remains mundane.