How you travel through life and relate to it matters. Most importantly, our perspective determines this relationship because it drives what we give time and energy to and what eventually grows out of that invested time and energy. What if we choose to stand apart from our perspective on life? Have you ever tried to define your life perspective? If you did, what then would you see? What questions might then become most important? Maybe a starting point is asking ourselves, how am I living my life and what does that say about my beliefs. Let’s unpack that further:
Lately, I have encountered people who are actually on a journey of surviving life and who even assume others are on the same journey. Some are even barely tolerating it and hanging back until … Until what? It “gets better” or “the dust settles” or “the world gets back to normal”? Their perspective is often that life is long and hard and now is no different. I hear them express that life is often deeply painful, so much so that they expect to relive their accumulated pain over and over. Life is to be endured and the pain never forgotten. When I asked a former partner if he knew any better stories after hearing him retell a painful and familiar one, I was told, “that’s the worst one I can think of”. I was stunned. I wondered why, when I’d said “a better” story, he understood me to be asking for an even more painful story. What was life about to this person? A continuum of pain. How does that perspective influence how they tend to relate to life? As something to be endured? I was stunned.
To me, life is about joy, beauty, wonder, presence and enjoyment: the world in a blade of grass, sunshine, a warm smile on a stranger’s face, the feel of a gust of fresh air, or the sound of running water or laughter. Yes, I’ve experienced pain, abuse, loss, tragedy, heartbreak but I’m working on becoming more alive rather than living merely to survive these things. To my partner, however, enjoying life seemed alien and, perhaps it is to others, as well. Learning that I hold a different perspective often stuns and surprises them, even to the point of confusion and frustration. It is not, perhaps, that they feel life shouldn’t be enjoyed but rather that the question of enjoyment is out of place, ridiculous even. Sort of an alternate universe: what’s enjoyment got to do with it? (Thanks, Tina Turner.) “I’ll enjoy something in a moment, when I’ve pulled through,” they seem to say. “Right now, I’m terribly busy worrying about the sky falling,” as they puzzle at my pointing out a meteor in the sky with wonder, not fear. What about the impact this perspective has on self and others? In my case, my partner could not tolerate the concept of life as anything other than painful - even beauty was, to him, a reflection of his pain. He went to great ends to find pain, create and recreate it, wallow in it, speak about how difficult his life had been, connect with and call out of others their pain and survival stories. In short, he kept this pain/survival perspective alive which kept him from becoming alive. No surprise, the chasm grew and we split up in the chaotic wake of his choices that grew from his dedicating his life to a perspective built upon pain and survival.
In typical coach-like fashion, I worked hard to view this time as a learning opportunity, to look for flowers in the Armageddon around me. Frankly, it tested my very life. I began looking around to see and hear other life perspectives, sobering ones, that bumped up against each other. Are there life perspectives out there I hadn’t considered? How could I keep contact with my life/joy perspective even as I crawled, grieved, despaired and wobbled along feeling gutted? I’ve been able to access life/joy strength before, I knew. How could I successfully tap into that pool again without denying grief which I know must be processed and cannot be skirted?
As I began recognizing I could access simple presence with the joys of life in the chaos that followed, I felt quieter inside. In the quiet, I wondered where did I get this sense of presence and an ability to touch enjoyment within a single moment. How is this possible for me even in the midst of figurative and literal death and destruction? Am I truly that unusual in my ability to find joy as a solace, a persistent option in every circumstance in life, always there, within reach and untouched by any pain I feel within the moment. Joy, for me, is not inside pain. It doesn’t accompany pain, but rather joy and beauty, warmth and wonder are everywhere whether I am in pain or not. Joy and beauty don’t shrink because I’m experiencing struggles or grief. However, they can expand if I notice them. At the very least, I am given a moment’s reprieve from difficult emotions in noticing and embracing the wonderment. I know this and feel I have known this since I was a child. Now, I consciously apply it. But where did this conscious application begin?
I can remember quite clearly how beautiful and sunny the day was when, at 19, I learned my mother had passed away after a long battle with cancer. I recall gazing out of the car window, marveling at and enjoying the quality of light that day, smiling slightly at how warm the sun felt on my face. My presence in that moment didn’t mean I loved my mother less, nor grieved any less for her passing than did my brother or father. Quite the opposite is true, in fact. I was struck by the sudden notion that she was beyond me now. I realized in that car that while this was true, she was also beyond all of life’s pain. I realized I could now carry her in my heart wherever I went and never needed to worry about her wellbeing. She was suddenly everywhere, just like the light of the sun or moon. How is this perspective even possible at 19 and even now at 52?
Achieving this perspective is possible and I am proof. It’s taken me roughly 20 years from that painful day in 1989 to consciously choose to apply a life/joy perspective in every interaction. But I strongly suspect you do not have to experience a huge loss to examine your life perspective. Here’s my challenge: consider which perspective you ought to foster in order to honour and grow your human experience and strengthen your innate human capacity for greatness in life? Surely, some perspectives are to be avoided or rooted out of one’s mind and life. What are those perspectives to you and how might you go about rewriting them? What perspective will you replace it with and how might you become conscious of choosing that perspective daily when it’s easy so it comes to you more easily when life is harder? What difference do you look forward to in doing so? Finally, what or whom can help you along the way? I urge you to become conscious of how you view life in order to choose wisely.
Kelly Johnson, PCC Executive Coach