Cali, Valle del Cauca, Colombia.
Hello dear reader, there is a life lesson I wish to share with you. The lesson is: you are responsible. Yes, you. You are responsible for your happiness. You are responsible for your health and well-being. You are responsible for your weight, your physical fitness and your spiritual development. You are even responsible for the current state of the world (and more).
I learned this lesson today for the kazillionth time. Not that it keeps me from forgetting it, oh no. And since I keep forgetting it I thought I’d share it with you because I might not be the only one who forgets it over and over again.
After a period of pretty intense shamanic spiritual practice I gave myself some time off. As we speak I am in Cali where I will live in the house of four young expats who all went home for the holidays. For the first time in a long time I have a house to myself. There is a kitchen, a fridge, I have hot running water coming out of the shower and since yesterday it is also clean, thanks to the kind cleaning lady.
On the first day I found myself naked on the couch, scrolling through Facebook. It was about midday. I realized that I didn’t have the freedom to walk around naked since more than a year. Even the last house I lived in in Amsterdam, in the heart of the Red Light District, did not really allow for comfortable naked procrastination (unless you are a bigger exhibitionist than me). It felt liberating.
On the second day I had a few beers, also something that I did not do in a very long time. I pretty much stopped drinking alcohol during this trip. The last time I was tipsy (stupid word) was in February in Beirut. Now I was even drinking alone! Again: it felt liberating.
The shooting in Newton came and I didn’t write a post about it. I have things to say about it though. It didn’t feel too liberating to not write on purpose. I felt resistance. Too many people on too many websites came with their point of view. My Facebook wall was flooded with all kinds of semi-spiritual calls to action. I felt annoyed about the hypocrisy I perceived.
The following day I did nothing again. I didn’t write a post, didn’t finish my book keeping chores. I didn’t do some yoga because it is such a long time ago and I didn’t meditate because.. well, because I am on a spiritual break, right? I didn’t read something worthwhile either. Slowly but surely I start to feel dissatisfied with myself. It is a very cunning emotion or pattern because as it creeps up on you it wants to paralyze you even further. In my head I hear thoughts like “it is useless to go the gym because I didn’t go last week” and “I might as well eat junk food instead of food because I don’t exercise”. It feels like getting caught in emotional quick sand.
The next day, today, I had it. I had to get up early to meet the head master of the high school that wanted to see me. (For the first time in my life I was called to the head master’s office without being guilty or suspected of breaking any rules). The meeting went well, it was an inspiring encounter and I sold the first workshop in Colombia. I asked the taxi driver to drop me off at some coffee place on the way back and I Iet myself be available by dropping my bubble of introversion. It resulted in a fun conversation with a girl who just had her first English class. By trying to talk to each other we both have try to speak the language of the other.
In the taxi home I sat silently. I had shown the driver the address by showing him a picture in my phone. It is usually enough to get me there. Then I realized that I could also try to talk to him. “Hello”, “how are you”, “how is your day” and “it is hot”: nothing special. But it worked! And it was fun!
Back in the house I made a healthy lunch and afterwards created an indoor work-out circuit for myself. The apartment has a hallway, a flight of stairs with 10 steps, a chin bar from one of the guys and chairs. Plenty of possibility, I did not pass my Bootcamp Instructor Exam for no reason. After my work-out I meditated for 40 minutes, I took a shower and now I am writing. And I feel completely different.
I just turned 41 and have been traveling for almost a year now. I have been to places and situations where not many people have been before. All this would have never happened if I listened to the negative voices in my own head or similar voices coming out of the mouths of others (often disguised as ‘sane’, ‘sensible’ or ‘rational’). My work is not over because I jumped on a plane and left everything behind last January. I am responsible for the food that I put in my mouth and the effect of my choices on my system are immediate. Nobody can make my body exercise but me. Nobody can quiet my mind but me. Nobody can overcome my fear of speaking in a strange language but me. Nobody can stay true to my heart and my vision but me.
We reflect what we are on the inside by our words and actions on the outside. But we have to remind ourselves continuously. It is a fine line freeing oneself from obligations to apathy or going from drive to obsession. We can monitor and guide ourselves. We can start a new life every day and can benefit from the amazing impact of little changes. Just as long as we take our responsibility to acknowledge our perceived obstacles and overcome them. Trust me, it feels so much better.
We have a capacity to change, to unfold, to grown, to be magnificent even. We are responsible for the development of our potential. It is our duty. Just like it doesn’t make sense to drive an amazing machine like a Ferrari but never go beyond second gear it doesn’t make sense to not develop the potential that is given to you. Who wants to die without ever learning how to drive his body-mind vehicle properly? You would think nobody. The opposite is true, 98% of us never makes it beyond second gear. Do you want to part of that majority? Or would like to feel what is really possible? In that case you have to do the work, nobody else can do it for you. You have to learn to master the machine. You can take the lessons but you have to do the driving.
Hi Atalwin, I only half agree with what you write – but feel that there’s a danger in what you’re stating here so I did want to react. I can see where you’re coming from with the idea of “you are responsible. Yes, you. You are responsible for your happiness. You are responsible for your health and well-being…” Sure, that’s true to some extent. But it also has a Calvinist and New Age connotation in a negative sense of putting a crushing burden of responsibility on individuals. If I am diagnosed with breast cancer tomorrow or die in a car accident, it is NOT my fault or responsibility. I believe that as human beings, our lives are to a certain extent subject to the grace of god, the universe, society – you name it according to your view on life. A baby that does not receive physical contact and love dies. Human beings cannot be loving towards themselves and others, without having received love first. Everybody deserves love, happiness, health and well-being, even if we do not constantly assume our full responsibility for living a spiritually and mentally healthy and moral life. Nobody will manage that anyways, as we’re all human. I’m not a practicing Christian, but there is something ultimately reassuring and soothing in the unquestioning forgiveness granted to the “sinners” in the New Testament. As it’s a recognition of all of our human nature. And I think that here lies a constant but constructive tension: we do need to take strong responsibility for our lives and our actions. Living a good life will ultimately lead to liberation, but the ultimate responsibility for love, health and happiness as it manifests itself in this world is not with us.
I also don’t think that choosing a spiritual path per se makes anybody superior to the 98% of the population that you refer to…
Atalwin Pilon says
Dear Caro, thank you for your comment.
There is nothing Calvinist or New Agey about what I say, it is not the window I use to look at the world. I merely share my personal experience and insights. I prefer real and personal experiences over hypothetical situations (if I (…) breast cancer (…) car accident). When the mind tries to come up with arguments why something is ‘not true’ or ‘wrong’ to protect itself from entering unknown terrain I am suspicious. I have learned that looking into what I resist brings me answers. If I were you I would allow the idea of being absolutely responsible penetrate me for the sole reason that my mind tells me not to go there.
What I am saying is that we have a choice. If life presents itself in the form of breast cancer in my body I can take responsibility for it or not. I can accept and act accordingly or I can deny and act accordingly. And of course there all sorts of shades of grey in between. Personally I choose and (try to) practice radical acceptance and I recommend it. But you are free to stick to your own beliefs as long as they serve you.
I dont think a spiritual path makes a human being superior to another. But I do feel that realizing our potential and opening our heart is more fulfilling than submitting to the habits and routines of ego, society and expectations. The proof is in the eating of the pudding though.
Kathryn ehnebuske says
Great discussion. We are responsible, just not in control. The mind doesn’t like the deal but the heart is in it 100% no matter what. It isn’t always pretty or easy but love only shows up when it’s real.
Each of us is 100% responsible for our own happiness. Nothing more, nothing less.