I asked myself what the major themes of the past year were as I woke up this morning. And, it was the sort of morning when about ten different theme ideas came to mind. But, I love a synthesis with three ideas instead of ten. There’s something about bringing things down to three ideas. As a friend nicely put it – it isn’t that there are only three things, it is just that there have got to be the three most important things.
After bringing it down to three ideas, I asked myself if I could bring it down to the one idea. And, it turns out that that is possible too. Everything I have learned comes down to one central idea – love is the single uniting life principle. And, to live life well is to live it with extraordinary love.
I have referenced psychologist Scott Peck’s excellent definition of love here a few times over the past months – “Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”
To love, then, requires us to use our will to extend ourselves to grow and to enable the growth of others. It begins with learning to love ourselves. To love ourselves, we have to sign up for a journey toward continuous growth of the mind and spirit. In doing so, we expand our capacity to love others. But, to truly love others, we must be able to help them on their own journeys.
All of this brings us back an idea related to the central idea – doing things with extraordinary love is hard work.
It is hard because it requires us to commit to growth. Growth requires this constant cycle of self reflection, self awareness, self evaluation, and self improvement. This can be a tiring prospect because you are always aware of the fact that this is a journey of work that never really ends. One of the pit stops on my journey right now is to be less reactive – I thought I’d become better about this but realized recently that I still react way too quickly, too often. This is something I need to monitor over the coming months. Once I get past that, there will be the next thing, and the next thing.
If that isn’t tiring enough, love, the verb, requires us to pay attention. This means committing to depth and intensity when we spend our time in activities of our choice and it means actively saying no to the many distractions that would happily have us fragment our attention. Depth is hard and I certainly struggle with it every day.
Finally, to be able to mindfully grow and focus deeply, we need to learn to think strategically about our choices and understand the trade offs that enable us to do less, but better.
All of this is hard work. Committing to love means committing to this hard work every day, regardless of the weather or good mood.
This commitment is what I’ve been made aware of in the last year. It is a commitment I have, thus, consciously made – to do the small things in my life with extraordinary love. I fall short of it nearly every single day – I stumble one way or another by either saying something stupid, reacting quickly instead of taking a deep breath and responding or doing something I shouldn’t have done.
But, in doing that, I have also learnt that learning to love means falling regularly and learning from those experiences. It means being intensely focused on choosing the part of learning no matter what the situation entails. It means giving it your best shot and making peace with the fact that you only control processes, not outcomes… and that it matters less what the end result is simply because our lives are lived en route.
And, I’ve realized that if we can bring ourselves to keep perspective along the way and do things that are consistent with our values, we give ourselves that incredible gift – the gift of a life well lived.