A New To-Do List
What if your “To-Do” List looked something like this?
1. Give/Receive 5 hugs
2. Smile at a stranger
3. Tell a friend thank you for simply being a positive presence in your life
4. Share one home-cooked meal with a close friend or family member
5. Eat 4-5 servings of vegetables
6. Write down three things in a gratitude journal
7. Spend 5 minutes in silent reflection
8. Read two pages of a spiritual text
While our Standard “To-Do” lists will certainly include practical objectives like buy groceries, wake up at 8 o’clock to finish a term paper, send the confirmation email/memo for the meeting at the end of the week, take out the recycling and trash- why can’t our lists also include a few things from the alternative list above?
Understandably, we cannot just add things to the Standard “To-Do” List and hope to feel completely nourished without the singe of burnout at the end of the day, so what on the Standard “To-Do” could you possible replace? remove? modify?- making space for something, perhaps, a little more nourishing? What if the 8 things on your list were non-negotiable, like drinking water, putting on your clothes for the day, sleeping? What if you had a calendar on your fridge where you could check off such things at the end of the day, reflecting on how you felt as you completed things on your Nourishing “To-Do” List.
We understand that this is a somewhat artificial construct/simulated exercise, but allowing yourself to see “sharing your love with others through the gift of five hugs” on the same level as “drinking and eating to live” can be a profound experience, one that may change how you choose to spend your time, how you connect with others, and, ultimately, how many things you actually get done.
How do you relate?
In continuing our thoughtful explorations into how we interact and connect with the world around us, we ask another thoughtful question: How do you relate? We, as human beings, are relational by nature, seeking to connect with much of our environment. From relating to a friend or a close family member who provides us with that safe space to be our genuine selves, to connecting with the sunset as it casts its beauty across the open water, we are not restricted in our capacity to connect by any definition of what is considered “alive.” We yearn to appreciate and understand our world, whether it comes in the form of people or animals, trees or books, art or music, theater or smiles, everything is accessible to our willingness to connect.
Just as our relational nature can provide us with the opportunity to experience a joyful life, it can also lead us into an unfortunate state of suffering. From drowning under an overwhelming burden of work to feeling acute sadness following an unexpected tragedy, there is no guarantee that our relational nature will bring only happiness to our hearts.
It can be tempting during these times of great sorrow, challenge, or tremendous frustration to turn away from your relational nature, choosing a path of insulation and isolation to weather the difficult circumstances. And while it is important for us to attend to our needs in these trying times, it can become all too easy to slowly fall away from the things that bring us the most joy. Subtle and insidious, this process can be difficult to spot, often occurring in secret despite the most conscious vigilance.
While it may be the perceptive guidance of a close friend that finally leads you to see your fall from your distorted relational being, it is you and only you who can discover the people, activities, scenes and pursuits that bring you the most joy.
We started this discussion asking “How do you relate?,” with the ultimate desire to reach perhaps a more intriguing question “How do you create?” - create the space so that you can genuinely relate, giving and receiving by your nature innate, knowing the present moment to be the one and only gate, for peace to be free and love to tempt fate.
When was the last time you created suffering for another?
Yes, when was the last time you created suffering for another?
Not the most joyful thing to think about for sure, but a concept and idea that certainly deserves a place in our conscious awareness.
Come up with your answer, yet?
No worries, it's a challenging question.
And I wouldn't expect you to actually have the answer, for in all reality, you are probably completely unaware of the last time your words, actions or energy actually made another suffer.
Kind of hard to recall something when you weren't consciously aware of it in the first place, although even this statement is beginning to lose truth as researchers further explore the realms of latent infantile memories.
Tangent aside, while you may be entirely unaware of the last time you inadvertently hurt someone, you are likely equally as unware of that last time you filled someone with joy, hope or love.
And you thought that statement was supposed to make me feel better?
Yes, just give me a couple seconds to explain.
Smile at a passing stranger lately?
Donate T-shirts to a church clothing drive?
Say thank you to the individual bagging your groceries?
You may never and will likely never know how such words or actions impacted these individuals, but you don't have to, you just to need to know that you planted seeds of possible joy with the most meaningful of positive intentions.
You don't have to know the outcome!
For in truth, we cannot control or dictate someone's response to our presence, our words or our actions.
We just can't.
We can however, take ownership and responsibility for our own actions and words.
Take responsibility for our energy, our intention, and our response to conflict.
As I have come to see it, we really only have occasional and variable control over one thing: creating and maintaining conditions most likely to promote our flourishing and relieve our suffering.
Occasional and variable control over the conditions
MOST LIKELY to promote flourishing and relieve suffering
Ever buy someone a book only to discover they read it 2 years prior?
Ever invite a friend to a party only for your friend to meet another individual at the event with whom there was a recent significant conflict?
Ever offer to help cook Thanksgiving dinner for your overstretched mother only to be met by the words:
“Of course not, that is my job you shouldn't worry about anything, just stay out of the kitchen.”
We cannot control the outcomes of our actions or someone's reaction to our words, so stop trying.
It's just not worth it.
Instead, we can pour ourselves into a mindful process of awareness, intention, clarification and reflection, all with the genuine desire to create joy, relieve suffering AND remain unattached to the eventual outcome.
1. Cultivate awareness of another's needs, emotions and current perceived stresses.
Do the same for yourself
Identify any incongruences or unmet needs that could cloud your judgement or distort your intention
2. Set your intention and make it clear, but not challenging to the other party(ies) involved.
If directly communicating use non/violent and open language to further appreciate and understand another's intention.
Use phrases like:
Help me to understand...
Is there anything important you would like me to know?
Is there anything else you would like to say or for me to know?
3. Ask for clarification
Invite the other individual to share their thoughts, worries and current needs
Use phrases like:
I want to make sure I understand what you are feeling and needing right now.
I want to make sure I fully understand what you just told me.
Offer and allow them to explain even when you feel you do not need any more clarification.
4. Reflect back on your actions, your interactions, and your word choices over the past day.
Was there a moment that felt off?
Where you were feeling hurt, lonely, angry or tired and subsequently acted/spoke solely from this place?
Were there any conversations that just didn't go quite right?
We can ask all of these questions without fear of self-loathing or negative rumination, knowing that it is through these questions that we can grow a greater awareness of the present moment and the needs of others.
The Distilled Process
We can strive to use non violent language, to appreciate and better understand others, to openly give within our capacity and to acknowledge when we are carrying negative energy or acutely creating tension.
If you can do all of these things each and every day, no matter how minute, you can be satisfied knowing you are doing everything within your control to create and nurture a space intended to bring joy and not suffering.
Creating space with the best chance of instilling joy and relieving suffering.
So I guess that question: “When was the last time you created suffering for another?” can be replaced by a much more practical, relevant and answerable question:
Am I holding a space with the greatest likelihood for instilling joy and relieving suffering?
And that my friends, is actually a question we can ask and hope to answer.