Hey, you. I have an idea. In 2016, let’s tell ourselves better stories.
Let’s not tell ourselves the story about how we can’t, or won’t, or don’t deserve, or aren’t ready. Those stories are so obviously tired, and quite boring.
You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically, to say “no” to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger “yes” burning inside. - Stephen Covey
Last week I wrote about a yoga retreat I attended last fall and one of the big lessons I took away from that weekend: the necessity of starting where you are.
The second big thing I took away from that weekend was the concept of “non-negotiables.”
The teacher, Seane Corn, talked about how in her life there are a handful of things that are absolutely non-negotiable. They are not things that are nice to do, when there’s enough time, money, space. They are not things she does now and then or when in an emergency state. They are daily doings. Every day (more or less) practices. They are the core things that sustain her, allow her to stay sane, centered, and most importantly, to do her life work and serve others.
And if they go by the wayside, shit starts to fall apart, quick.
For Seane, they are: asana practice (the physical practice of yoga), meditation, prayer, good nutrition, sleep and therapy.
Many of us might look at that list and think, Well, that would be nice. If I could do yoga every day, cook perfectly nutritious meals and the extra hour or two each week to go to therapy my life would be… someone else’s life.
What about those of us with kids, really demanding jobs, rough travel schedules, ill health, or a spouse or a kid with ill health, mental illness, financial issues, no time? What if our “non-negotiables” are showing up to work, feeding our kids, taking care of our sick parent and paying the bills? In other words, what about the rest of us?
The thing is this: the circumstances of your life don’t exempt you from being a human being with physical, mental, spiritual and emotional needs. Ever. No human on earth is an exception.
But we forget this. We are so caught up in doing our lives that we forget who we are, all the time. The non-negotiables are all about remembering who we really are, daily, so that we can help others do the same. It’s really that simple. Could there be anything more important than that?
“Remembering who we are” can sound squishy and privileged, but it’s the exact opposite. Remembering who we are is the underlying mission of all good self-help, spiritual and religious texts since the beginning of time.
It is the real purpose of yoga (not to have a nicer ass or be really bendy) and talk therapy and meditation and creative expression and relationships.
Remembering who we are is really about remembering who we are not. We are not the big job, the alcoholism, the failed marriage, the sexual abuse, the cancer, the mother, father, the various roles we play as parent, child, wife, friend. We are all those things but they are not who we are. Who we really are is timeless and perfect and whole already. Who we are is “the diamond in the shit,” as my friend and teacher Zoe Wild puts it.
We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
(Side rant: The thing I loved most about Seane’s workshop is how not woo-woo it was. While in the past decade we seem to be churning out yoga teachers by the hundred-thousands and it’s all very pop culture to be carrying a yoga mat around and practicing “mindfulness,” Seane was doing her thing long before all that. She’s a New Jersey girl with a foul mouth, a fierceness and urgency in her delivery, and a passion for social justice. Her shtick is that this work – the business of twisting our bodies, balancing chakras and deepening our awareness – that some of us get to do on the mat is an utter gift and it’s our responsibility, our duty in fact, to carry that work into the world. To raise the collective vibration. Not so we can all ohm and hold hands and hug while we sip coconut milk lattes, but so that we can save the earth and each other in a very real way. Hunger. Child prostitution. Poverty. Violence. Addiction. These are the things she tackles.)
Hearing this concept allowed me to solidify my own non-negotiables, and more importantly, gave me permission to have them. I’ve also taken notice of the myths we have about a concept like this in observing myself and talking to others about it.
For the record, my non-negotiables are: prayer, recovery (meetings), physical activity (I must sweat), alone time, creative time (usually writing) and sleep. The recovery process has laid a good foundation for this type of thinking because I’ve learned without staying sober, everything – like, every single thing – will fall apart. The starkness of that has forced me to prioritize, but I’ve also learned that being “sober” isn’t just the absence of booze. It starts there, but also includes emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being, which is where the other non-negotiables come in.
Before I got sober I would have told you “me time” was one of my non-negotiables, and my version of “me time” was going out and drinking and shutting the world out (or being at home and drinking and shutting the world out). But real non-negotiables don’t have downsides, which I cover below.
Which brings me to my last point.
That’s it, lovelies. Consider your non-negotiables. Write them down. Commit to them. Take them so seriously. You are amazing. I love you.
If you missed part one of this, where I talk about the necessity of starting where you are, it’s here.
Yesterday I was tired. It was Monday.
It snowed (again).
It had daylight savings jet lag.
Alma was cranky.
I didn’t get to run.
I had a bunch of excuses not to post. I spent 10x more time thinking about my excuses than it would’ve taken to just do it. I love my excuses. The thing is this, does it matter to anyone else that I didn’t post for a day during my 40 days, even though I said I would? (No.) Did I really let anyone down? (No.) Were there any long-term consequences to not doing it? (Probably not.) But is making excuses and letting myself off the hook something I do too often and want to practice doing a lot less? (Yup.)
So, while all my reasons for not posting were pretty good, none of them were the real reason(s). The real reason is that I can be super lazy, even with things that matter. And all those little instances where I let myself off the hook - they add up, just like our days. Every time I break my own word to myself, I trust myself a little less to be able to follow-through. Sometimes this is harmless, but sometimes it’s actually dangerous. Over time, this kind of habit can lead to thoughts like, I am not a writer, which can add up to a lifetime of not writing, which can make for a a soul-sized regret.
I don’t want any soul-sized regrets.
Serendipitously, I came across a brilliant post that James Altucher wrote today about this very subject. He says, "We love our excuses. They are just as much our babies as our ideas are." He then goes on to break down almost all of the best excuses we make, from “I don’t have enough money/time/resources” to “It’s too crazy.” I recommend reading the whole bit.
I know I’ll continue to make excuses, but as Altucher points out, it’s about tuning into our real reasons and calling ourselves out.
"Remember to always tune your inner ear so you can listen for (and separate from each other) both the GOOD reason and the REAL reason when anyone (including yourself) gives you an excuse.
Most people don’t tune that inner ear. They believe the excuses because it’s easy. Because it gives them permission not to do something they love.”