"If you're comfortable, cool and clear-sighted, then the shade you're standing in most likely is being cast from someone else's shadow. If you're feeling uncomfortable, hot and uncertain, you're probably the one casting the shadow. Turn towards the source of your discomfort and stand on your own. Shine your own light.” - Scott Sonnon
What kind of person would you like to be? Honest, strong, generous, skilled, disciplined, dedicated, lighthearted… We often look outside ourselves for inspiration, and that can be very helpful. I have a usual roster of friends, writers, teachers, and thinkers to whom I turn for doses of insight. When I’m about to embark on a new venture, or when I feel a bit stuck in a rut of thought or energy, I will pull out a favorite book by someone wise and read a few pages each morning. All of this helps with perspective, gets my brain turning, and activates my soul. What sustains me, however, must come from within.
Always looking for inspiration outside can cause us to compare ourselves to others too much. We each have our own work, our own desire, and our own place in the cosmos. We simply cannot pattern ourselves off of another, certainly not after we have reached adulthood. The only person we are competing with is ourselves, and it is a competition to live the life we desire as the person we wish to be. Do we wish to be clearheaded and centered when faced with adversity? We can practice. Do we wish to be a person so dedicated we get up early before work to write short stories, exercise, or pray? We set the alarm and pay attention. We begin to model the very behavior we wish to emulate, and in so doing, we begin to model the life we wish to live.
For the long haul, I show up to the mat, the meditation bench, and the computer keyboard because that is the person I wish to be. I adjust my attitude and energy when I’m feeling fractious because I want to remember that my problems or irritations are those that stem from relative privilege. And that’s the person I wish to be. I want to model my best behavior whenever possible, as a reminder that this behavior is helpful to my long term goals, and other behaviors undermine my efforts. This isn’t Pollyanna talk, it actually makes good sense: If we are to become the people we wish to be, we have to act accordingly. This isn’t “fake it ’til you make it” either. Adopting this pattern says, rather, “I have the ability within myself right now to follow through on my stated intentions, to support my dreams, and to act with greater generosity and compassion.” We begin where we are, honestly assessing our strengths and weaknesses, and we choose to stop undermining ourselves. We choose to stop selling ourselves short.
Scott Sonnon, who’s quote leads off this piece of writing, came from a background of great adversity: poor, with learning disabilities, in poor physical health, relegated to the mental institutionalization that happened to misfit teens in the 1980s, unsupported by parents or teachers, beaten up by peers… He figured out who he wanted to be inside and has worked his whole life to get there. He’s a strong man, a healthy man, a spiritual man, a parent, a success. Having no immediate good role models, he became one for himself.
Times feel hard, but inside of us is an indomitable force. We have to choose to seek it out, to bolster it, bit by bit, and to follow its lead. What job we have doesn’t matter. Where we live is of little consequence. Some of us have it easier in social or economic terms, but all of us have the spark of desire inside. Once we free ourselves from needing our lives to look like anyone else’s, we can become our own role models. Therein lies power.
Look within. Then look up. You might be surprised by what you see.