No matter what their circumstances, human beings have a remarkable ability to flourish or suffer. After 25 years of study, teaching, and coaching based on enduring wisdom and modern research related to wellbeing, I have found that certain themes just keep coming up. Here are some of my favorites.
Each of us has access to powerful internal resources. Human beings have repeatedly demonstrated an incredible capacity to be kind, creative, courageous, resilient, and even joyful in the face of all kinds of challenge. The skill of accessing these internal resources is the foundation of unconditional wellbeing.
Unconditional wellbeing is a practice. Although we cannot control the situations that show up in life, we do have a choice about what we practice. The more we practice accessing our internal resources, the more naturally we turn situations and challenges that used to overwhelm us into opportunities to express our values, to strengthen physical and psychological health, and to contribute positively to the world around us.
Awareness, compassion, and purpose are fundamental to wellbeing. Bringing our attention to what is going on around us and within us is always the starting point. Our emotions and thoughts provide us with a tremendous amount of information. We can practice using this information when it is helpful and letting go when it is not. Compassion -- for self and others -- is crucial for responding effectively to challenge and setback. Recognizing the humanity within you and around you allows you to be more flexible and connected. Purpose is the final ingredient -- the ability to identify and act on what is most important in the face of daily distractions. Because human attention naturally wanders and gets drawn to what feels urgent, it can make an enormous difference to practice awareness, compassion, and purpose consistently.
This practice changes the brain. A fundamental truth of being human is that you are going to get more of whatever you are practicing right now. Your brain treats everything you do as practice - constantly rewiring itself to be more efficient at the behavior you engage in repeatedly. Practicing awareness, compassion, and purpose activates specific areas of the brain and builds pathways to, from, and within these areas. Your brain creates the reality you experience. As you shape your brain with this practice, your brain increasingly presents a world that contains more possibilities, opportunities, and meaningful connections.
Awareness is the practice of using attention skillfully. To practice awareness, openyour posture, relax your breath, and allow your face to soften toward a gentle smile. Next, notice your surroundings -- what you can see, hear, smell, feel. Now, notice what is going on within you - what are the sensations you feel in your body and what are the thoughts that are passing through your mind? This can be a bit overwhelming when you first notice how much is going on. With practice, you can step back and accept all this busyness without getting lost in it. You can work with the fact that you are only human, and so is everyone else. You can accept that discomfort is part of being human, and you can accept responsibility for your choices, words, and actions without blaming others or finding fault with yourself.
Compassion is the practice of engaging your heart skillfully. To practice compassion, begin with empathy. What is the person you care for experiencing? What is she feeling and thinking? How about the stranger on the street or in the coffee shop next to you? How about the person who you are in conflict with? What does he regret, fear, or dream about when he puts his head on the pillow at night? The next step is kindness.What small act of service could you do for a friend or a stranger? How could you increase the wellbeing of the world today in your own wonderfully human way? Finally, we can practice compassion with genuine expressions of gratitude. We can take time everyday to acknowledge the miraculous gifts of existence, friendship, service, food, shelter, care, or even a simple smile. Feeling and saying thanks is a powerful practice that can positively impact just about anything.
Purpose is the practice of focusing your energy skillfully. To practice purpose we first connect with what is most important. What do you value most? What is the quality of experience you seek? What are the kinds of relationships that you really want? What are your highest goals? How do you want to contribute to the wellbeing of the world? Working from this foundation, we can create opportunities. What are your options? If you were willing to fail, what would you try? Finally, we commit to some specific plan of action. What is the next, smallest action you could take that would get things started?
Always we begin again. Once you have taken some action, the universe will give you some feedback in the form of new circumstances. Maybe your action worked, maybe it did not, or maybe you cannot tell. No matter what shows up next, you can practice awareness, compassion, and purpose. You are never done. You never get there because there is nowhere to get. Life is not a problem to be solved, it is an experience to be lived. You just keep practicing and life just keeps showing up.