Living Purposefully

I recently discovered Dax Shepherd’s podcast called Armchair Expert. The first two episodes I listened to were the episodes where he interviews his wife, Kristen Bell (KB). She’s clearly an evolved human. Meaning, she’s done self-work to get to a place where she isn’t reacting. Instead, she comes across as introspective and thoughtful.  She’s purposefully living, or so it appears. There’s a portion of the podcast where she and Dax are discussing their differences in responding to situations around them. KB states that, unlike her husband who wants to essentially flick off someone who cuts him off in traffic, she asks herself what might be happening to or going on for that person to cause him to be a jerk and cut her off. She postulates that perhaps his mother died the previous day, perhaps he is rushing to the hospital to not miss the birth of a child. Her point being, we never know what is going on in someone else's life so why not give them the benefit of the doubt. This seems so simple and rides the “let’s just all be kind to each other” kind-of wave. But this notion that something deeper or more complicated might be going on to cause someone to act in a-not-so-nice way really caused me to pause.

 I immediately started taking inventory and my mind quickly landed on my 5-year-old who has been really stretching my parental patience. When something “bad” happens or doesn’t go his way, he comes unglued. He has a big feeling which is quickly followed by a bigger, often unruly behavior…he lashes out, his words get mean, and the persistent side of him sets in. Looked at through the lens KB described, this little child of mine is really struggling with other things that are beneath the surface. I really hurt for him because I saw, for the first time very clearly, how hard it must be for him.  There is clearly more to the big, bad behaviors. This small person has big feelings that are hard. He doesn’t yet know how to give voice to them and or what do to with them. The feelings are overwhelming his little being. This idea has allowed me to see the bigger picture which in turn has allowed me to have compassion for my melting down 5-year-old and helped me keep my cool in the heat of the moment. I’m trying to LOVE the little guy through this with a capital "L".

This “what is really going on” notion that KB posed in the podcast started weaving its way through other parts of my life. In my head, whenever an unpleasant feeling arrived (annoyance at my husband, frustration at a work colleague, anger at the guy who cuts me off), I started asking myself “what is really going on” to make ME feel this way.  Recently, my husband was annoying me. I don’t even know if there was a reason or if he even did anything; but, deserved or not, I was irritable.  I found myself standing in the kitchen looking at this man and thinking “here is this man, who, like me, is trying to get through his day, and I am standing here feeling irritable and annoyed at him. What is going on for me that is making ME feel this way. Have compassion for the guy who is trying his best. Just love him.” This wave of looking a bit deeper and putting love and acceptance first is really penetrating my life. It’s almost as if I have put on a pair of tinted let-love-lead shades. There’s been a shift. It feels, well, right. It feels as if this is how life is meant to be lived.

Because things have a way of finding us just when we need them, around this same time, a dear friend emailed me a piece by Anne Lamott which she referred to as “Salve For The Soul”.  Anne writes, “we already have everything we need inside us, a connection to the love we carry within us, that is greater than us and has a life of its own….this love goes beyond our beliefs, rules and identities, and that the more we give our lives to love’s power, the wider this channel opens up inside us and around, till we find ourselves living in its wake.” This seemed the perfect summation of all that had been swirling around in my head.

You might be asking yourself what all this has to do with cancer? In my estimation, it has everything to do with cancer. When cancer hits, it can cause BIG-TIME disruption to normal, everyday life. But when things settle, when treatment is done, there is an opportunity to take inventory. There is an opportunity to ask yourself if you are living purposefully. There is an opportunity to ask yourself “What is going on for me, that is making me feel/act this way?” And, in turn, ask yourself “What is going on for that person, that might be causing him/her to act this way?” Can you then, extend more empathy or understanding toward that person who’s life is intersecting with yours. Not to sound too self-helpish but feeling this way, living this way, feels good. It feels like the right thing to do. Check out Dax Shepard’s podcast. Maybe it’ll hit you the way it hit me. Maybe it’ll take you down the live-more-purposefully trail which it did for me. Happy Listening!