There are times when motivation is a luxury that cannot be drummed up out of thin air, when one must push through life’s inescapable valleys on the fumes of sheer determination alone.
As an inspirational author whose aim is to help you live a life of Joy, I recognize that the meaning of Joy has to be much deeper than a simple feeling of happiness which hang glides on the whims of motivation. So I won’t (always) grandstand like some drill sergeant shouting mottos and maxims for self-mastery at you. I won’t act like some guru tossing sage quotes and pop culture cliches down from my mental temple, high in the vibrational clouds (at least not right now).
I acknowledge that there can be no light without darkness. In life we have to navigate the day as well as the night.
The kind of Joy that builds fortitude has to be based in one’s daily decision to be grateful for life, no matter what. It is cultivated when one is determined to be their best even when their own inner cheerleaders have collapsed from utter debility, when the “go-go-go” shouting of the cacophony of coaches sounds like a distant, unintelligible murmur.
Sometimes the only way out is through. (Ok, sorry! That quote just slipped out.)
The other day at work, I was inspecting a newly reconstructed bridge, and I found a large, tattered coin resting on one of the parapet walls. It was a sobriety medallion that was heavily scarred, possibly from being tossed around the site in the upheaval of construction, maybe slammed by a jackhammer or overrun and scraped across the ground by the bucket of a front end loader. However it got there, I couldn’t help but wonder why it had ultimately been abandoned. Maybe the person to whom it belonged had dropped it unknowingly or relapsed and left it behind in a moment of discouragement.
Embossed on one side of the coin is the well-known Serenity Prayer:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
On the flip side is Polonius’s famous quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet,
“To thine own self be true.”
At first, I found that second quote to be ironic. I never knew it was part of the foundation of recovery counseling. In fact, as someone who grew up with front row tickets to the crack epidemic, I had plenty of up close contact with loved ones who were either drug dealers or addicts. I could argue that intractable self-centeredness is the most prominent side effect of both afflictions (and possibly even a key cause). I thought, why on earth would someone encourage an addict to be more selfish?
But then the quote brought to mind the ancient Egyptian directive, “Know Thyself”, and I made the connection. Again, I was brought back to center, to the need for balance in all things. This quote on the coin doesn’t encourage one to only be concerned with their own interests. It’s a reminder that you have to stand firm on a foundation of self-awareness in order to master your challenges. The prayer for assistance from a higher power is, for many, essential, but one still has to do their inner work.
The extended version of the quote helps to clarify its meaning:
“This above all: To thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not be false to any man.”
Be true (honest with, accepting of, and loving toward) yourself, and you can offer the same courtesy to others.
You have to be willing to look in the mirror and accept your shortcomings in order to improve. You also have to acknowledge your inherent value as a human being and accept your innermost pain, desires, and dreams as valid.
That validity is a matter of fact that you will cling to when it becomes apparent that no one else can fully understand your circumstances, your yearnings, yours flaws and fears, your decisions and what drives you; when you are projected upon by strangers and loved ones alike, who are all barely making sense of their own journeys; when your sentiments are misinterpreted; when you’re all talked out and your attempts to explain have only resulted in more misunderstanding by even your most reliable confidants; when you’re trying to survive a global pandemic, and paying into a bottomless pit of never-ending therapy sessions is the last thing your budget (or your patience) will allow.
Stoicism is not a popular notion these days, but in the balance of effort and rest, it has its place. The Christians of 1 Corinthians 15:58 were admonished to:
“Stand firm…Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
In chapter 13 of the Bhagavad Gita, we find the concept of “sama-chittatvam”, which means equanimity of mind. It is the ability to remain calm with a balanced perspective no matter what circumstances arise.
Thinkers the world over have stated this same message in myriad ways. Though your methods for overcoming adversity may require cunning, flexibility, and copious amounts of radical self-care, in your resolve, you have to be as stubborn as iron.
And you don’t have to perform happiness, wholeness, inspiration, or success for anyone. Stop trying to explain yourself. Be still. You can literally go into Energy Save mode, conserving your attention for only the most essential and beneficial of functions.
Just get through this. Just get up. Just make it through another day without bringing anyone, including yourself, harm.
Try to remember that it is during these cataclysmic shifts of circumstances that new paradigms are born. If, in your lowest moment, the only thing you can pull together is a deep breath to get you through the next cosmic “labor pain”, breathe, and know that a new you is being born. It won’t always be this way.
You still have the power to decide if the new version of you will be worse or better than ever.