How do you define a “good life?”
Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”
~ Toni Morrison, Beloved
You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”
~ Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon
“Class,” our fifth grade teacher said, “it is time for our long, Friday recess. If your name is on the board, you will stay inside and write sentences. 100 sentences, plus 100 more if there is a check mark by your name.”
I was elated, thinking I had escaped the wrath of my best friend.
My friend’s name had been on the board for several days, and I had been sweating her temper tantrum when Friday recess came. So, when no one was looking, I had snuck up to the chalkboard and had written my name on the list.
Problem solved. She can’t be mad at me now, right? I had to stay inside, too.
As I took my seat behind her desk, I began to joyfully write my sentences.
‘You’re staying inside?” she asked, turned halfway in her desk.
“Yep. Name’s on the board.”
She turned back to the board. “YOU ONLY HAVE TO WRITE 100 SENTENCES!!!!!”
“I HAVE A CHECK MARK NEXT TO MY NAME!!!!!”
I gripped the edges of the wooden desk and lowered my head. I hadn’t won, after all. In fact, I had only managed to miss playing outside, while somehow still incurring the anger of my friend.
I wouldn’t understand for years just how corrosive our relationship was, and in particular, my shape-shifting, hoop-jumping attempts to manage her emotions and treatment of me.
Around the time I turned 15, I woke up to how often I was out of integrity with my true self. And once I saw it in myself, I started seeing it in everyone, most all of the time.
I also noticed that there was a direct correlation to one’s happiness and well being with how comfortable… truly comfortable… one was in his or her own skin, while doing and saying things that were not necessarily considered popular.
I watched the mavericks with awe and envy.
You may be thinking right now that you most always live in integrity, and this notion of being disembodied from your true self is of no concern or relevance to you. I’m going to gentle challenge your thinking:
1) When you see or hear something that you believe to be unjust, immoral, or unkind, do you always state your beliefs and/or take action?
2) When a friend or loved one asks your opinion on something, do you consistently tell the truth?
3) When you are invited/asked to do something that you do not want to do, do you easily say No, or do you fabricate an excuse?
4) Is the work you are doing right now fulfilling, stretching you in exciting ways, and offering you opportunities to learn, grow, and have an impact?
5) Are you in any relationships that drain you or make you unhappy?
We are steeped in cultures of subtle controls that influence our thinking and behavior all the time. Many of these norms and ideals are so ingrained in us, we are oblivious to them.
So how do we wake up?
How you feel is your compass to changing your life. It is your first and best clue to begin unravelling where you are entangled, consciously or not.
Our minds will tell us stories all day long, but our bodies will always tell us the truth.
Here is an easy exercise. Go back to the 5 questions above, and select the one that made the most noticeable reaction in your body. It could have been a feeling of butterflies in your stomach, a tightening in your chest, a tension in your shoulders, or all of the above.
Take out your journal and write the question down. Then, write down the following: If I could do the thing I really want to do, or say the thing I really want to say, here’s what I’d do and/or say….
Set a timer for 15 minutes and write without censoring yourself or stopping. Just write whatever comes to mind. When the timer goes off, have a look at what you’ve written. Is there one thing that you can do or say today that will take you closer to the ideal on the paper in front of you?
The most rebellious act we can perform is to live a good life in accordance with our true selves. We are bombarded from birth with messages, constraints, expectations, norms, and prisons that are not of our own making.
To be a creative rebel means to become yourself… your true self… and to express yourself fully to the world. And in so doing, we experience the greatest freedom and joy of our lives. This is how I define a good life.