In 2015, I was completely overwhelmed and on my heels. I regretted my marriage and that I didn’t pursue a creative career. I felt uncomfortable at work. I avoided problems by drinking too much alcohol and filling life with projects. I was ashamed of what I modelled to my three beloved daughters: a distracted father who numbed out and parents who shared no intimacy.
In my early 40s, I believed I would die by age 64 like my dad did. It seemed the substance abuse and lonely, anxious disappointment would kill me. I felt the days slipping by and withdrew from life.
"I need to practice equanimity"
One day, I woke up with a new thought: “I need to practice equanimity.” I was desperate and intrigued by this odd word. How did it come to mind?
While snarfing down breakfast that morning, I googled “equanimity articles.” I found a free, self-guided, mindfulness-based stress reduction course. I completed all eight weeks…and was surprised I did. I had studied world religions and dabbled in meditation, but liked reading about it more than doing it. The course provided a just right on-ramp that integrated mindfulness into my life.
A cascade of changes
Over the coming years, my growing mindfulness practice helped me see the vast, painful gap that had grown between my inner and external life. The momentum of this awakening led to a cascade of changes: divorce, losing my job, starting a new relationship, and significant improvements in my mental and physical health. I got a great therapist, quit substance abuse and transformed my body.
If I had made a plan for all those changes, I wouldn’t have had the courage to implement it. What I did make were serious mistakes. I hurt my ex-wife more than I thought I would ever hurt another person. I created uncertainty for my daughters, fell into financial insecurity and entered a career identity crisis.
But I also felt tremendous relief. I could feel truth and integrity reasserting themselves. I learned to resource myself and seek help from loving supporters. I no longer felt destined to die in 20 years with an unclear conscience. I put my energy into healing, studying meditation and mindfulness, and addressing my self-limiting habits like avoiding conflict and seeking external approval.
Along the way, two powerful, lifelong callings returned: being a creative and being a guide to the inner life. I'm now trying to weave these together as a mindfulness-based coach and consultant. I believe we all have an innate capacity for calm, clarity, courage, and curiosity in any moment. I call these “transformative traits" because they not only relieve stress, but can improve performance and outcomes in critical situations.
Putting the transformative traits to use
My recovery is deeply personal but also reflects unhealthy patterns that are common in our families, workplaces and communities. Without conscious correction, these challenges will continue to cause harm and be passed on to the next generation. Here are some ways I think we can shift the trajectory and put the transformative traits to good use.
As individuals, we can tap these traits to respond skillfully in high-stakes moments, such as in the middle of arguments, urgent decision points, and when we’re triggered. They can also support us when discerning major choices, or when feeling uncertain or stuck. They can help us identify our deep needs, see new options for meeting them and source our own sense of approval, control and security.
In groups, the transformative traits can help us overcome fear-based calculation when strategizing and planning. They allow for the candid, supportive conversations needed to heal workplace wounds. They create a connective flow where ideas, talent and resources can be put to their highest use, not bogged down by gossip, politics and territorialism.
As a country, I believe the transformative traits can also help break the cycle of political standoff and stagnation that threatens our democracy. We can use them to recreate a civic life based on connection instead of blame.
You can do this
We are not taught to live from our transformative traits. In fact, we usually learn the opposite: self-protection, suppression of our dreams and finding safety in external sources. Miraculously, the transformative traits are in us all the same. We all have the capacity to live with a connected, agile and open heart. We just have to learn to access it.
Living from that awareness allows us to operate in flow, manifest untapped potential, and create space for our most cherished longings. It allows us to be the loving and effective partner, parent and coworker we wish we could be. It can help us truly transform broken systems and institutions.
I feel called to help people do this brave inner-and-outer work. I believe it must be done in order to live our best lives, do our best work, fix our broken world and give future generations a chance.
Here’s a invitation: I would love to help you find this path and apply it to your life and work. As a partner, I offer a creative, strategic and understanding heart-mind to work alongside. Please check out my services as I’ve currently imagined them. Or feel free to suggest other ideas for how we might work together. Or just contact me to make a connection and see where the conversation goes.
I’d like to close with a favorite quote: “Life’s a thump-ripe melon, so sweet and such a mess” (Greg Brown). May we look with compassion at all the sweet messes we’re in and help one another find a path forward.