There is only one very good life, and it’s the life you know you want and you make it yourself.
Horst P. Horst, 1979
“The life you know you want” is an ambitious statement. How do you know which life, among all possible lives, is one you want?
What if you want more than one?
Practice: Identify one property of your — and it’s essential that it be your — good life. Start small and be specific. Is it an activity? An accomplishment? The view from a window?
How about a sound or an aroma?
In the absence of organized religion, faith abounds, in the form of song and art and food and strong arms.
Structures house faith, but faith can outgrow structures and once-reliable structures can fail the people who loved them.
Where to turn then? Alexander lists song, art, food, and strong arms.
Practice: Come up with your own where-to-turn list and put it someplace you will find it the next time you get that itchy, ungrounded feeling that says you need an injection of faith. (For me, live music works better than a Vitamin B12 shot.)
Advanced practice: No matter what your mood at the moment, do one of the items on your faith list. Now. While you’re thinking about it.
Related practices: Need, Please, Alert Emptiness
… what does it mean that so many voices out there insist that your body, my body, everyone’s body is something to despise because it’s too fat, too ugly, too sexual, too old, or too brown?
You probably find your body wanting in some way: Too many influences insist that our bodies are defective for most of us to remain intact. Or embodied. But there are ways to move forward.
Practice: Focus on something you admire about another’s physicality — a toddler’s fearlessness, an Olympian’s extension, the graceful way someone powers a wheelchair — and find a personal equivalent. Something about your body that, with effort, you can appreciate.
(If trying to appreciate your body makes you squirm, go right ahead. Squirming is as physical a response as any other action.)
Related Practices: Please, The Only Spring
We should never speak badly of people that we have allowed to behave badly.
We cannot control other people’s behavior, but we can take charge of our own.
Practice: Identify something, anything, that you consider bad behavior. The size of the offense doesn’t matter, nor does whether anyone agrees with you.
Next identify what you do that permits the behavior you dislike. Remaining at the counter while a clerk chats on the phone comes to mind, but you no doubt have a list of your own.
Moving at whatever rate is right for you, change your behavior. Leave already, or ask for the manager, or shop elsewhere. Or. . .
Changing your own behavior is more demanding than bad-mouthing another’s. And far more effective.
Related Practices: Intensify to Identify, No Easy Jobs
Self-care means what it says on the tin.
The intention to care for oneself comes with a couple of problems. What’s nourishing keeps changing. Yesterday’s solutions don’t work, except when they do. Plus you have to be present for self-care to do its magic.
A woman once called me, exasperated, from her front porch. She had banished herself, she said, and didn’t plan to return to her house until she found her way back: inside her skin, in the present moment.
Practice: Notice what you think of her decision.
How closely does that assessment parallel how well (or poorly) you take care of yourself?
Related practices: Done, Authentic, Walking Companions
There are days when you need ferocious action, and there are days when you need a new detective story and a chocolate.
And, I would add, there are days to be grateful for the tiniest hint which is which. Need states are partly fact and partly fiction, which makes them hard to figure out.
Practice: Identify a small step that feels like it could clarify what you need. Write one blistering letter (you don’t have to mail it). Take one bite of chocolate (it needn’t contain sugar). Take action, but keep each step small. Repeat until you have done something that, in retrospect, turned out to be nourishing.
Related Practices: Self-Attack, Authentic, “As it turned out”
Time plays like an accordion in the ways it can stretch out and compress itself in a thousand melodic ways.
Practice: Identify a rate of speed you particularly enjoy. Then track which experiences allow you to spend more time moving at that rate.
You probably know some of them already; others may surprise you. (One gear up from a saunter is my current preference.)
Related Practices: The Compass and the Clock
I never wanted to read another war novel again, and I never did.
Bob Dylan, describing All Quiet on the Western Front
Optional soundtrack for this practice: “End of the Line” by The Traveling Wilburys
Practice: Identify something small or large that you feel done with. Naming it may be enough or you can escalate to telling someone.
If that goes well, enact done: Stop answering the phone when you-know-who calls. Stop doing damage control for your heedless spouse— be done with whatever it is you want to be done with. It’s allowed.
The problem is not us. The problem is the problem.
This is true enough, but hard to hold onto. When a problem resists solving, we are left with the need to do something — and attacking ourselves provides the illusion that we are. When you tell yourself “If I worked harder (or something similar), I wouldn’t have this problem,” you have resorted to self-attack.
Practice: Ask yourself to notice when your attention shifts from the problem and how frustrating it is, to feeling frustrated with yourself.
Related Practices: No Easy Jobs, Intensify to Identify