Three Thoughts

These past several weeks have been very interesting times for most of us around the world. We’ve learned new phrases like “flattening the curve” or “physical distancing” that have changed the way that we view the world and interact with each other. In many ways, we’re living in a completely new world now that the coronavirus has entered our lives.

As someone who lives alone, one of my biggest fears was how isolation could lead to loneliness. And to be fair, there’s definitely been a little bit of that. Not having someone physically by my side to hear out my anxieties and fears has been kind of difficult. At the same time, I’ve felt incredibly grateful for the friends and communities that I’ve been able to connect with virtually for keeping me feeling loved and appreciated. It goes to show how much we are social creatures after all and how important it is to tend to the relationships we have in our lives and not take them for granted.

Here are three thoughts from April that I’d like to share with you.

Community is about giving

Many of us belong to different communities in our lives. Whether that’s our group of friends from high school or our colleagues at our workplace or connections we’ve made our local gym/studio/class/etc. In many ways, the communities that we belong to give us a sense of our identity. For example, attending a local improv class gives us a sense that we can be open and funny with others, or going to a CrossFit gym means we care about our fitness and health. While both of those examples might be true, I don’t think it’s the whole story.

In the book, The Courage to be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga, a philosopher and a young man spend five nights discussion and debating the meaning of life. In the fourth night the conversation turns to community,

It is when one is able to feel “I am beneficial to the community” that one can have a true sense of one’s worth”…it is about having concern for others, building horizontal relationships, and taking the approach of encouragement. All these things connect to the deep life awareness of “I am of use to someone,” and in turn, to your courage to live.

The Courage to be Disliked (pg. 189)

The philosopher strikes an important point here in that it isn’t enough just to belong to a community but it matters if you’re contributing to making it stronger. Only when we decide to actively participate in a community do we feel a stronger tie to our identity and our ikigai.

One thing I’m thinking about more often these days is how I can strengthen the bonds to the communities that I belong to. How can I carve out more time for friends and family members? How can I reconnect with friends that I’ve lost touch with? How can I strengthen the existing communities I’m a part of by starting something, improving something, or providing feedback to? How can I expand my thinking from just my local community to something more global?

I don’t need to answer all these questions right now but they’re good ones to start pondering.

Practice more loving kindness

Yes, the concept of “loving kindness” may seem a warm and fuzzy, but I’ve recently come around to embracing this idea after listening to Tara Brach’s book, Radical Acceptance. Through a mixture of personal stories and Buddhist teachings, she shares ways that we can come to love ourselves as who we are wherever we might be in our journey.

As I’ve reflected on this topic, I’ve begun to realize how fundamental practicing loving kindness with ourselves can be. Without the ability to love ourselves, it becomes very hard to encourage, trust, and love others. If we can find ways to be more self accepting of both our virtues and flaws, we might be able to live a happier life.

One way to practice this is through a quick morning meditation. Take 5-10 minutes every morning and repeat a simple mantra, “May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be at peace.” If it helps, hold one or both of your hands over year heart to feel more connected with your body. Then expand your radius of loving kindness by thinking of someone else you wish happiness, health, and peace. Finally, you move onto wishing this to the world around you.

If you asked me even a year ago if this was something I was interested in, I probably would’ve said no. Not because I didn’t need to have a daily practice like this but because I don’t think I fully loved myself as much as I do now. If you feel discomfort doing a meditation like this or even contemplating doing it, there might be something there for you to explore.

For those interested in loving kindness meditation, Oak is a beautiful, simple, and free app that can help you get started.

Journaling to clarify your thinking

The final thought I have is around journaling. The benefits of journaling have been covered quite extensively and I’m sure many of you have tried journaling before. I’ve been an inconsistent journal for the past few years but have really enjoyed the process when I did get into a regular rhythm. When I did fall off the horse, it was typically because I felt daunted by either A) the blank page or B) (ironically) the limited space available with certain journal templates.

I’ve been trying a different approach this time borrowing some wisdom from Michael Bungay Stanier’s book, The Coaching Habit. In the book, Michael shares 7 key questions to help people be a bit more “coach-like” in their conversations with others. By sticking to questions as the “coach”, the idea is to help the other person uncover their real challenge and come up with their own solutions.

One of the biggest benefits I get from journaling is the space it creates for me to clarify my thinking, and that’s exactly what a great coach helps you do. Great coaches don’t tell you what to do – they create the space for you to figure out what you need to do and give you the confidence and courage to follow through. While journaling in itself might not replace a great coach, it can at least get you started with articulating your thoughts.

So here’s a simple template that I use every morning using a few of the questions from The Coaching Habit.

What’s on your mind?

This is the Kickstart Question. It’s an opportunity for me to share one or two things that are at the top of my mind.

And what else?

This is the AWEsome Question. (AWE standing for “and what else”). It’s about digging deeper into the one or two things that I started with.

And what else?

This is (you guessed it) a repeat of the AWEsome Question, because rarely does what I’m really excited/concerned about come out after the first AWE.

What was most useful here for you?

Finally, this is the Learning Question and an opportunity for me to reflect on one thing that I might take with me for the rest of the day based on the entry.

For the past 5 months I’ve been sitting every morning with these questions and it’s been a really useful experience. Never have I enjoyed journaling more than I do now because I know it’s an opportunity for me to clarify my thinking and be my own coach.

I hope these three thoughts have sparked some ideas for you as well. If you enjoyed the post, please leave a comment or share your own thoughts. I’d love to hear from you.

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