Nana, you did something so beautiful by raising my mom the way you did. You may not realize it, but it freed me.
You instilled values so deep, my mom chose the hard way instead of the easy way forward. As a result, I no longer feel I must do what is culturally expected of me. I feel free to explore what I am here to do. Maybe you didn’t realize this is what would happen, but for your part, I am infinitely thankful.
I’m also thankful you taught my mom cleanliness and care for her style and appearance that she passed on to me.
You taught her manners and the value of education, which she taught me.
You taught her to caringly cook for everyone.
You introduced her to nutrition and supplements. And she did this for me.
You showed us the simple joy in coffee and in saunas.
You taught us to love holidays, celebrations and traditions.
I’ve been thinking about contentment. It’s especially important to me around the holidays when the focus is on consumption. I believe in reaching for big goals and dreaming about owning things like a tesla. However, in all my striving, I want to have a deep contentment for what I have and where I am.
Become a millionaire not for the million dollars, but for what it will make of you to achieve it.
Jim Rohn says, “Become a millionaire not for the million dollars, but for what it will make of you to achieve it.” And I love this quote, because it reminds me why we strive for better belongings and a stronger body. If we become aware of why we need goals, we can have what we really want, contentment and joy, right now. With all goals, the process of continuously learning is what matters, not what you end up with when you achieve the goal. When you understand this, you let your expectations for any specific outcome go. You instead focus on being present to what you need to do at this moment to become your best self and to serve others.
Contentment is a continued practice. It’s like in yoga (unless of course you’re an expert monk and your mind remains focused for extended periods of time at will), when your thought train wanders away to another village. You first have to slow down to notice that you’ve wandered and then you have to gently nudge yourself back to contentment.
To nudge myself back to contentment, I use some different techniques. One thing that helps me is to remember the nights I slept at a campsite or in my car with my mom and younger sister. Many of those days, we would eat one meal per day during Arby’s dollar menu deal time. We thought Arby’s was the most delicious food on earth. We spent a lot of time exhausted and crabby due to sleep deprivation and hunger, but we also still had so much joy. My mom and sister and I never laughed harder or spent more time together. One night, we were trying to find a spot to park and sleep where we wouldn’t upset anyone in the neighborhood (Basically, you need something not under street lights or directly in front of a home). I was so tired, I kept falling asleep in the process of finding a spot. I would pop up when my mom and sister would ask me, “How is this spot?” and all I could say is, “What? Where are we?” We could not stop laughing at how hilarious I sounded when we were driving around streets we all knew so well. Simply remembering how difficult that time period was and how we made it through, makes me more content with what I have.
Another technique I use when I feel worried is asking myself the following questions:
Is worrying about this serving me? If the worry motivates me to make a change, then the worry is serving me. I recognize it as a call to action. The worry dissipates when I take action.
If there is not a thing I can change, I ask myself, can I do something greater with my mind and my time? And the answer in this circumstance is always, yes. Sometimes all it takes is recognition of an unnecessary thought for it to disappear.
Another question I ask myself when I face worry or difficulty is: what is this teaching me? What am I learning because of this pain? Sometimes, I don’t get an answer to this right away, but I smile to myself, because I remember that every pain has made me better. I remember I am lucky to continue to face things that challenge me.
Can I more fully understand what it means to be hungry now? Yes. Can I feel a deeper empathy for those who are homeless and suffering? Yes.
If you look, there is always something to learn and an opportunity for growth and that gives me great contentment.
Many people experience stress from expectations of what the holidays should be like. I remember one of my favorite Thanksgivings was when I spent the day alone. I ate a pumpkin pie. I worked out and read and wrote and spent time outside. Letting go of what many people think the holiday should be allowed me to have a wonderful day, even if it wasn’t traditional. As a baby of divorce, I learned this perspective the hard way. Many of my holidays were not nearly so pleasant. The worst Thanksgiving I remember was when my mom was taken to jail the day before Thanksgiving (for a crime she did not commit that is not punishable with jail, even if she had been guilty). On that Thanksgiving, I visited my little sister at the emergency foster care center she was taken to and then some family friends drove me from the Canadian border to North Carolina. I tried to eat Subway from a gas station. I don’t think I’ve ever cried more than I did on that specific day. Now, most anything that happens on a holiday feels quite lovely to me. And I’m hoping you all can recognize how beautiful your holidays are, even if you’re in the midst of some chaos or feeling like you’re alone or suffering.