In my previous post, “We Must Do Better”, I outlined a few things that I thought were important to focus on in regards to making positive, lasting changes. I suggested starting small, “from the bottom” and working upwards and outward. The end goal of that approach being that this kind of behavior would catch on and ripple upwards to the kinds of leaders we allowed to hold office, again from the bottom up, so that we would hopefully benefit from a positive, lasting change.

It may be a pipedream due to the corruptibility of humanity, but, a lot of positive changes that have happened nationally started out as supposed pipedreams, or a climb up an insurmountable obstacle, and yet it was done.

So, there’s hope.

In this post, I’m veering back out of the political waters to focus more on what the “starting small” thing looks like to me. Now, keep in mind this most important factor: I’m writing this as much for my own benefit and direction as I am for you, dear reader. I haven’t “arrived”, so I am not preaching from the mountain top, as it were.

I’m climbing, too. I’m working on this stuff, too. So, I’m going to attempt to write it as what “I” should do, instead of telling “you”. Take what you find is useful. If you consider these careful, you will notice that you can do these things because they are good regardless of political affiliation. These qualities and things I’m going to share are apolitical.

Hopefully it resonates with you.

So, to start with a little context from my prior post:

Demand a higher standard from ourselves. “Being the change”, as it were. Start small, get your life together. Take a look at your Shadow. Understand your own nature. Deal with the skeletons in your closet. Extend grace to yourself for it and grace to other people knowing they struggle with their own nature too. Understand each of us, yourself included, is quite literally a small random chance away from death. Balance your checkbook. Don’t be a jerk to the local barista making your coffee. Don’t lose your temper with the nervous WalMart employee who asks you to put on a mask – they are just doing their job. They don’t need you pontificating about your views on freedom. Be kind to the waitress who brought your food to you incorrectly. Look to making an impact with your immediate family and closest circle of friends – find a way to add value and make their lives better. Support your friends who have small businesses, and maybe look to support their friends who have small businesses too. We then continually expand this pattern of investing in our circles, neighborhoods and communities (promoting good relations in the neighborhood, service, lending a hand, helping a local cause or charity, etc), then our town, then our county, then our state and then our nation.

“We Must Do Better”

As I look at the quote above and chew on what I’ve tried to communicate to my children and friends, that paragraph can be broken into three circles: Self, House, Area. So, I’ll try to separate each from the above quote as well as add to them.

So, let us begin.

My Self

“One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself.”

Leonardo Da Vinci

This could be the most difficult of circles because it requires everything of me. From all that I have read, from all that I have experienced, it requires every nook and cranny of me to be brought into the Light of objective truth and brutal honesty and examined. Good and bad. Logical and Illogical. The Hellish as well as the Heavenly. Not to condemn or praise anything just yet, but to see it for what it is, and accept those things about myself.

I have to keep the Light on myself constantly so I do not deceive myself.

What do I mean by this? Let’s take a quick look at some of the boiled down points of that quote above changed into first person:

Demand a higher standard from myself. “Being the change”, as it were.
Start small, get my life together.

In order to have a higher standard for myself, I need to cultivate some sort of vision for what that higher standard looks like. This is what I expect of me, not anyone else. If there are things I see that I believe need to be changed then I need to define what that change is and looks like. Most importantly, I need to take the necessary steps to emulate that change before I can expect anyone else to even remotely come close to embracing that change. I have to start with myself. I cannot afford to deceive myself in thinking I am the “standard bearer”. I must get the Chaos in my own life put into Order, first. I must accept that where I am today, and yesterday and the day before that, as well as tomorrow and the next day, are the sum total of decisions I have made. I got me here. People may have “helped”, but I cannot play victim, I must accept that I got me here.

Take a look at your Shadow. Understand your own nature. Deal with the skeletons in your closet.

Ah, my Shadow. I’m no psychologist. But I understand that I have a Shadow. All the negative and repressed emotions, desires, weaknesses, instincts, shortcomings, passions that I have. All the wrong ways I’ve dealt with hurt, embarassment, heartbreak, betrayal, etc…. If I left these things and more suppressed and repressed, left to grow on their own in the darkness… I will lash out, somehow, some way.

The Shadow is irritated each time I have to put on a false self: the corporate mask or the mask I wear around certain people. I can feel the Shadow clawing and wanting to come out. This is not me! I hear myself say.

Though the Shadow work isn’t “complete”, per se, I have brought some of it to the Light of my mind. I do not understand all of me, yet, but I do understand some. I cannot say to anyone with a straight face that I am the master over my Self completely. And I, admittedly, doubt anyone who does. I am working for peace within myself. As the poem I wrote reveals, I know enough to know that I can go farther by understanding and embracing the Shadow, not fighting it, but pulling it all into the light.

Extend grace to yourself for it and grace to other people knowing they struggle with their own nature too.

And this is where Grace must come in. I am not very graceful with myself. And I wonder why, a lot. I work daily to extend grace to myself. Weirdly enough, I’m more graceful with perfect strangers than I am with myself. At least, I’d like to think so. But then I notice myself lashing out hyper-critically of people in my mind, or yelling at a perfect stranger while I’m driving because we almost hit each other. And I have to reel myself back in, remind myself that they are human, too. As Dickens puts it, “to think of people… as if they really were fellow-travellers to the grave”, that they too are flawed and dealing with their own Shadow and struggles – whether they know it or not. I think somehow, the two are connected and yet separate. I can be lacking grace immensely for myself and yet extend it to someone else. Yet, like I said, while lacking grace for myself, I can lash out. Is this latter piece done because I do not extend as much grace to myself as I need?

Understand each of us, yourself included, is quite literally a small random chance away from death.

Memento Mori, Tom. Memento Mori. I’ve written more than enough about this, yet I am still not completely at peace with my mortality. I’m on the tracks and in the distance, in the fog, somewhere out there I know it is coming for me. Just like everyone else. My shared mortality with humanity is another reason I strive to extend grace.

Balance your checkbook.

Basic things that I am mindful to do. These help me be aware of myself, but how? Balancing my checkbook helps me be aware of spending habits that actually give me clues to my character traits I am still working on. Am I spending too much on coffee? Am I buying junk or junk food? I’ve spent more on junk food lately, why is that? Am I being smart with what I am earning or am I pissing it away?

Don’t be a jerk to the local barista making your coffee.
Don’t lose your temper with the nervous WalMart employee who asks you to put on a mask – they are just doing their job. They don’t need you pontificating about your views on freedom.
Be kind to the waitress who brought your food to you incorrectly.

These things demand grace and patience from me. Having worked in customer facing roles, including many restaurants, I have an easier time empathizing with other customer facing people and the grace and patience comes easier. This was actually more of a rant to the things I see weekly or daily with people. But still, if I am not careful, I know I could fall into pride and be the kind of person I do not wish to be. Customer facing roles can be some of the most thankless jobs, and I feel compelled to make those I interact with smile and relieved, even for a moment.

It all starts here, with me

The last two overlap into the spheres of “my house” and “my area”, but, they definitely require something of me as I deal with my Self, first. It looks like this may be a two or three part series, given the length of just this piece, though comparatively speaking it is shorter than the previous post by a bit.

There is definitely more in the Sphere of myself that I am working on and getting in order. Obviously, the above wasn’t a complete list. Things like mental and physical discipline or creating routines for journaling and meditation to sift through my vision of what the higher standard looks like for me, Shadow work, etc. How I act at work, how I interact with my children, how I treat my friends. These too, deserve space in the journey of mastery over myself.

And so much more.

Which, hopefully you can see now, is why I consider this the hardest part. It starts with me. And while one can make changes in other areas, things will find a way of being sabotaged or falling short when one doesn’t deal with themselves.

No, we shouldn’t get stuck in navel gazing and let the process of self examination consume us; making us impotent to make changes in other areas. Nor should we hide behind religious beliefs or dogmatic constructs that would numb us from the reality of who we are and make us feel we are safe “just the way we are” and then try to impose change on others. This is folly, too.

In other words, be the best human you can be, and never settle in thinking you’ve arrived.

You can never outrun yourself. You have to live with you.

And you have to die with you.