Last Saturday, I left my home in a bit of a hurry. I had so many errands to run and I’d allotted myself far too little time to do them. Packing all the items I needed to return and exchange into my trusty, fire engine red Jeep Wrangler, I climbed inside to discover that my heart was beating way too fast. Deciding that it would be wise for me to take one moment more to breathe deeply in and out – just once – before starting my Jeep, I chose to do so. And then I discovered that I needed more than one breath. I am not sure how many breaths I took, or how long I spent breathing behind the driving wheel of my Jeep that was parked still in my garage, but however long it was, it was what I needed to slow my heart rate.
Smiling, I pulled out of the garage and proceeded to tend to my errands. Going through the map of my route in my mind, I decided that I needed to choose to let go of the idea that I would accomplish what I had set out to do that afternoon. I would let go of the expectation that I would accomplish what I had originally felt I needed to accomplish that afternoon. As a result of that choice, more peace came flooding into my Jeep. I chose not to worry about when I would get everything done. I chose to focus on just what I could accomplish in that moment and the moments that I was confident were coming next.
As I turned left to get out of my condo complex, I heard honking coming from the street that I would soon be turning left onto. It was the kind of honking that gave you a very clear idea that folks were irritated with other people’s driving. I know this kind of honking well, as I frequently engaged in it before I began to realize that the reason I was honking at another typically had nothing to do with their driving. Rather, I was warning them that I was not paying attention to my driving let alone to how they were driving so I would, in essence, be asking my car to yell at their car to get out of my way. I had come to realize that the reason I was honking at others was not because of how they drove, it was often because they were either getting in my way or causing me to have to pay attention more to how I drove and how everyone else around me drove.
Taking yet another left to get to the shopping center, I saw what seemingly appeared to be the third driver in a row flip someone off, but this time, the driver took the time to roll down the window of her huge SUV, raised her entire left arm in the air so that her hand reached above the roof of her 4-wheel drive and waved the middle finger at the car that she had narrowly missed rear-ending and who was now on her right. The sight of it all made me laugh.
I was laughing because I realized that had I not stopped to breathe before leaving my home, I could have just as easily been the woman taking extra time and energy to wave my middle finger out in the air for everyone to see. Instead, I was sending blessings of peace and love to both car drivers and their passengers.
What made the difference? Conscious choice in the moment made the difference. And conscious choice in the preceding moment made the different. In case you’re wondering if I used to got agitated by long lines at the mall or people forcefully bumping into me while I had my hands full, the answer is “Yes, I did.” I was irritated until I realized my role in that which was irritating me – I was in just as big of a hurry still trying to accomplish too much in too short of a time frame – and how my irritation level was harming me. I had lost my peace and I could feel gastric acid increasing in my abdomen. When I discovered all this, I chose to choose a different thought, which resulted in a different feeling. I made these choices because I love myself.
This kind of choice-making has been an intentional process of my unlearning some things and learning other things. I have been intentionally engaged in this process for eight years and I still have a lot to unlearn and to learn. I am grateful for all the opportunities that life provides for me to practice.
There is no quick formula for coming to love yourself. As Deepak Chopra, M.D. reminds us, if you want to instantly fix something in your life, you can usually take a pill for it. For example, if you want to be happier, take the drugs that increase serotonin levels in your brain. If you want to feel the effects of less stress on your blood pressure, take an angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor. The list can go on and on and on, however, to date, we don’t have a pill that you can pop into your mouth that causes you to take responsibility for your role in all that causes you stress and then to choose differently. We don’t have a pill that you can take that causes you to love and care for yourself. We don’t have a pill that will make you more aware of how you feel and your role in the creation of those feelings. So, the solution apparently is one that involves our selves committing to our self. And we do this, one moment at a time with one choice at a time.
Building from the article from last week where we discussed object-referral and self-referral, and where we introduced the process of questioning who you are and who you are in relationship to all that is around you, we now explore in more depth the process of conscious choice-making. Before introducing you to this process, remember that a big part of discovering your love for yourself is setting the intention to be love and then allocating daily time to go within and begin to quiet your mind so that you can discover who you are – you may not be who your thoughts tell you who you are – and who you are becoming.
Once you begin to practice these aspects of self-love and self-care in a daily manner, you begin to raise the level of awareness of how you feel in situations that you find yourself in each day. As you raise the level of awareness about how you feel, you also raise your level of awareness that you have a choice in each and every moment. As you recognize that you have a choice – even choosing not to feel that you have a choice is a choice – you begin to feel more empowered for all that is within you and around you that you are experiencing. And as you feel more empowered about all that is within you and around you, you can recognize your role in what you are experiencing. And as you recognize your role in what you are experiencing, you feel more empowered to choose how you feel regardless of what is going on around you.
Isn’t that exciting?
It all looks something like that which is represented in the diagram below. As you examine the cycle of conscious choice making, you can see that in every choice we make and own, we further define who we are or who we are becoming. I find this process so incredibly empowering.
In owning my moment-to-moment choices and in owning my role in how I feel about something (self-referral), I realize that I and I alone am responsible for my own well-being, my own self-love, my own joy and peace. This is such a huge discovery for me because with all that is going on in the world and subsequently in my day-to-day life, if I choose to let that which is around me (object-referral) determine whether I love myself or determine when I am happy or at peace, I would most likely be miserable in almost every moment of every day. There are indeed plenty of moments that I feel miserable. And when I feel miserable, this process helps me own those feelings as well. Owning my role in my choosing to feel misery is equally empowering for I know I have within my own locus of control the ability to choose to come out of my misery.
How fun is that?
I want to emphasize that I have not perfected this practice. It is exactly that – a practice of making choices more consciously, more aware of who I am and how I feel. When I don’t practice this, I don’t feel happy and at peace. And when I am running at full-speed in crisis mode, it takes me a lot longer to return to a level of awareness where I can even discover that I have been making choices unconsciously. My intention it to practice this in every moment of every day and when I don’t, my intention is to forgive myself, love myself, and choose again in the next moment. My intention is to be love and this process aids me in that journey.
Marilee J. Bresciani, Ph.D., is a professor of higher education and the Founder of Rushing to Yoga Foundation. Her now more than 24 years of professional work has been committed to changing the way that America talks about quality of higher education. In order to keep from going crazy about trying to get the American public to care about what students are actually learning and how they are developing, rather than other indicators that have nothing to do with that, she has engaged in yoga, meditation, and self-referral. Marilee’s mantra is “I teach what I need to learn.”