13 things you can do right now to make a value shift
1. Create something with your hands.
When you use your hands to co-create in the world, you gain confidence, security, and joy. It is great to have conversations, read books, attend concerts and watch movies, but they can’t provide the same visceral sense of connection and learning as manifesting things with your hands. Try making your own clothing, preparing a meal, creating a garden, fixing a car, or building a shelter.
2. Make your energy as bright as you possibly can.
Be grateful. Spread joy, beauty, and laughter. In order to do this, you must also learn to take space when you are feeling tired, irritable, sad, or “off” (see #3).
3. Retreat to private space when feeling agitated, upset, or tired, recognizing that you are responsible for your own feelings and happiness. Even the most challenging situation becomes triggering because there is some wound, behavior pattern, or idea inside you that needs to be revisited. When strong emotions are coursing through you, that is the time to simply find a quiet place to breathe through your feelings and experience them fully. After the storm has settled a little, you can do the analytical work of asking how or why the situation brought so much up for you and you can invite trusted friends to reflect (or mirror) to you what they think is going on (as long as those friends are able to offer you reflection without their own triggers or wounds getting in the way – choose carefully in each situation). When everyone commits to this way of interacting, there is a much greater sense of emotional stability and harmony overall as well as a supportive environment for people to learn and grow (because people aren’t reacting at and blaming each other for their emotions).
It doesn’t serve to try to be joyful and grateful when really you are feeling otherwise. Emotions like anger, infatuation, frustration, fatigue, disappointment, or grief deserve to be honored and felt, but try to do so in a way which doesn’t influence the whole emotional environment for your friends and family. In our current culture, many of us become agitated and impatient when our schedules become too busy and we rush from place to place trying to arrive on time. In all these situations, the most helpful thing to do is often simply to sit or lie down and allow yourself to breathe through whatever you are feeling.
Remember the advice of Socrates in Dan Millman’s book The Way of the Peaceful Warrior: “The warrior acts, the fool reacts.” When you encounter an irritating situation, find an old source of rage or sorrow rising in you, or if you have been feeling rushed or overwhelmed, find a way to sit yourself down and breathe. Don’t try to stop your feelings by telling yourself you don’t or shouldn’t feel that way or that you don’t have time for it. Fighting emotions only creates blockage and tension deeper in your being that will surface later. Accept what you are feeling and give yourself space away from other people to feel it fully. Few situations are so urgent that you cannot take at least 2 minutes to step aside and take a deep breath. Breathe as deeply as you can and simply notice what you feel inside – is your stomach turning, your chest boiling, are your shoulders tense? Breathe into these spaces and try to relax into what you feel. As you do this, the feeling will eventually pass, and you will be able to examine what led to it and what you want to do. The action you choose to take won’t always be passive. If you feel angry, for example, you might decide after taking a minute that you do indeed want to throw a screaming fit and punch the ground. But there is a difference between choosing to do so in order to release your anger, and doing so uncontrollably in a fit of rage against someone you care about. The former is a choice, the latter a reaction.
4. Focus on interior beauty and esteem, not exterior.
Imagine that you made your own clothing and people stop you in the street to lavish compliments on you for your beauty and your skill. Their affection feels good, but it’s entirely based on valuing external aspects of you – a piece of clothing you wear. You can choose to accept the ego boost and get a jolt of energy. But if this becomes habit, very soon you find that you are making things, wearing things, or constantly mentioning your handiwork just to get a little praise and encouragement from other people. You now rely on sources outside of yourself – other people and the material things you make – to generate your sense of worth and self-assurance.
It is a mark of adolescence to rely on external validation to feel good about oneself – perfectly natural for children and teens developing their capabilities and self-worth, but only a small part of each human being’s full potential. Adults can learn to find validation and self-worth from within and from the rest of the universe – from Source – with the result being that they are content from within and have energy to support others rather than always needing energy from others.
You can also choose, instead of accepting the ego boost, to say, “Thank you for your kind words, I’m glad you appreciate crafts. But I am much more than my clothing/exterior.” When talking with friends, make a point to appreciate people’s inner qualities rather than praising them for external appearance or belongings.
It is true that we do build our sense of capability and self-assurance by engaging in the co-creative process of “making things”, for we feel stronger as we see that we can manifest what we imagine. The difference between this process and the example mentioned above is that the personal strength gained through co-creative process happens within us, as a result of deepening our understanding and connection with the rest of creation. In the example, we feel a jolt of energy from outside ourselves. If this is the way we learn to find strength, then we are empty (or angry and hurt) when other people don’t compliment us. It is therefore of great benefit to let go of our culturally-ingrained exterior orientation in favor of cultivating inner strength and validation.
5. Reduce your need for money and resources, with joy. Many people are familiar with the ‘reduce/re-use’ mentality – the point here is to actually enjoy doing it and to appreciate the process of it rather than feeling like you’re sacrificing what you want or martyring yourself in order to save the planet. Take pride in inexpensive things and non-monetary aspects of yourself.
Enjoy learning how to patch your jeans when they rip, for example, which saves you the time and money required to buy a brand new pair – more than that, you learn valuable sewing skills and maybe make friends with someone else who likes to sew. Take pride in your self-sufficiency and ability to extend the life of the things you use. Wear your patched clothing with a smile. Share resources or tools with people you want to get to know better, enjoying the opportunity to develop your relationship-building skills. Keep your old car running as long as you can and enjoy fixing it, showing how valuable it is to not discard anything if it can live on with a little care.
Making “re-use” your mantra is partly to make a point of not purchasing poorly made articles or tools for the convenience of it. It takes almost the same amount of oil to make a quality product as an inferior one. Support craftsmanship. It is unrealistic to completely abandon all the material aspects of our lives which stem from oil, but if we all use just a little bit less a little less quickly, the impact is greater than if just a few of us abandon fossil fuels entirely. At our current rate of use, the oil will be gone quickly, but with a little effort we can make it last a few hundred years. This is not to say that abandoning industrial technology is the answer to our problems. As mentioned earlier, Rome fell without combustion engines or electricity, and we can live in the same stressful and competitive cultural conditions with or without fossil fuels. It can, however, serve our well-being and our relationships to reduce our reliance upon them and to slow down the pace of our lives. And if we can slow down the rate of resource depletion, that will buy us time to shift our way of life toward a culture that is more emotionally healthy and therefore sustainable.
A caution here: it doesn’t serve you to become uptight about trying to reduce your ecological footprint and resource expenditure. There is no sense in hurrying up to slow down. If, for example, you intend to avoid using cars, remember that you probably won’t be able to go to as many events or appointments in one day and let go of some of those commitments rather than stressing out about how to do it all without a car. Remember, it is your overall well-being which is most important. If occasionally you use some gas or money to go to the mountains for a camping trip because you really need the fresh air and space, it may be worthwhile to expend some resources to nourish yourself in that way rather than remain at home sulking and feeling that your life doesn’t make sense. Reducing your use of resources/money doesn’t have to mean compromising your self-care, health, or relationships. Align your expenditure of money and resources with what really matters: your well-being and your relationships. This means using some hot water regularly to bathe or do laundry, or using some money or gas to go visit a friend who you think has a lot to offer you. Directing resources toward your own nourishment is very important, and includes spending time and/or money on healthy food, doctor or chiropractor appointments, and the occasional camping trip to reset your outlook.
Another aspect of reducing the need for money in our lives is to pursue hobbies which don’t cost money. Many people dedicate a lot of time and energy to activities like kite-boarding, downhill cycling, or collecting (antiques, sports cards, train sets, etc) – pursuits which require a high capital investment. Gardening, writing, or neighborhood baseball, in contrast, require relatively little if any money and can be practiced at home without having to drive far.
6. Account for your life energy expenditure when you spend money.
One way to decide whether a given activity or object is worth spending money on is to put a life energy value on the money. Is the $100 pair of pants worth the 8-10 hours of your life energy it took to earn that money? Or might you rather “spend” those 8-10 hours hiking in the woods or enjoying life with a friend or lover, while wearing a clean and comfortably patched set of jeans?
7. Forgive anyone you’ve ever felt wronged by.
It does not serve to hold onto old disputes. Bottled up feelings generate dis-ease and bitterness. But how do you forgive someone toward whom you harbor resentment? Sometimes it is important to speak up about feelings and let someone know when you have felt hurt by their behavior. It can be scary to speak with that person about your feelings, but it can also be very healing for both parties and can help both to move on. Whether you speak to that person or not, however, it is essential that you put yourself in their shoes and try to recognize the true reasons behind their actions as if they were your own. This is a practice of compassion and love. Think of that person and draw forth all your memories and feelings about the interactions you’ve had with them. In each memory, imagine you are that person and try to sense what their needs and motivations might be. Accept where they are at and allow them to be on their own journey. It is possible to do this without compromising your own needs. For example, if someone said something mean to you, you can imagine that perhaps they were feeling tired or upset about something else and reacted at you instead of taking space to rest. You still may want to request that they treat you differently, but you can do so from a place of compassion. Another aspect of this process is to forgive oneself. If you see that someone else was really just tired and grumpy when they spoke rudely, then you feel silly that you took it so personally. You take responsibility for your half of the interactions. In order to move on, you must then accept yourself where you are at and forgive yourself for your reaction.
8. Value old stories/music/art.
Music, dance, and story are potent tools for shaping beliefs, values, and cultural practices. Our ancestors guarded their cultural teachings as their most sacred “possession” and created songs, dances, and stories to pass the teachings on. To guarantee that the creative cultural tools were passed down intact, they repeated them many times over and shared them in ceremonies and rites of passage wherein people’s heightened physical and emotional sensitivity made them more likely to remember and revere the teachings. Even one word or note changed through the generations could alter the meaning of the cultural messages instilled through song and story, turning a useful tool into something damaging to the social fabric.
In our current culture, a lot of resources are spent generating new stories and music to market and sell. If it’s not new, it won’t sell. This amounts to a huge expenditure of resources to produce higher-tech, newer versions of familiar old storylines and plots year after year. One thing we can do as we attempt to shift our beliefs is to change how we view story and song. Instead of promoting the thrill of whatever is most current, value that which rings true and cultivates the cultural messages we want to support. This is not to say that newness is wrong or that we should cease producing new music or film. New creations are exciting. But we can value more in our music and story: its ability to resonate with our experience, enrich our lives, and encourage us to live harmoniously.
9. Do something unproductive/Value doing nothing.
It is very important to have “down” time, especially in a culture which so emphasizes production and constant growth. Make time to do nothing – sit somewhere or lay in bed or stand around for a while. Unstructured time allows us to process our experiences. Like a seed resting in the soil, we need periods of incubation and introspection to balance periods of active growth and activity.
10. Surround yourself with people who share similar values and who challenge you to be a better person.
Of course, also allow others their beliefs. More on this in the next chapter.
11. Pay attention to how you walk and talk.
Do as author Dan Millman suggests and ask yourself these questions each moment: “Are you breathing? Are you relaxing? Are you moving gracefully?” Cultivate your awareness of each movement and each word you say. Moving with beauty and ease, practicing erect and relaxed posture, and treading lightly are not only beneficial to you but also allow others permission to do the same. It is easy to tell yourself that poor posture is just the way our quirky bodies work, or a natural result of our aging, but this is a myth that you can dispel by challenging yourself to set a good example with your habits of movement.
How you speak is also incredibly important; more important in some respects than what you actually say. Speaking slowly and consciously promotes emotional stability in yourself and others. There is certainly a time for passion, song, and spontaneity, but more as a seasoning for the grounded everyday concise and patient speech.
12. Make time for celestial events. Slow down and remember how small we really are.
It is so easy in this product-oriented culture to want to rush around trying to get things done. The fastest way to lose your center and grounding is to hurry. The sense of agitated urgency which comes with rushing makes for irritable, angry, reactionary people and tense, toxic situations.
A useful tool for remembering how petty our daily concerns are is to make time for celestial events like solstice, equinox, eclipses, and comets. Stopping to wonder at the stars is a visceral experience of the continuity of all things and a reminder that nothing we do as individuals is really so important (unless taken collectively – that is the paradox). As the cycles of moon and stars turn, relish opportunities to slow down, breathe, and remember to be grateful to live on this incredible spaceship spinning 1000 miles an hour as it twirls around the sun and the solar system rockets along in the milky way. The earth has been spinning around the sun for billions of years and is likely to continue on indefinitely, so take time to nurture yourself and keep a harmonious rhythm as the stars do. Eat well, stretch, relax, and breathe. The universe is magnificent and vast and we are here to enjoy the ride.
13. Play cooperative games.
Cooperative games encourage people to develop communication and problem-solving skills, teamwork, and a sense of kinship and shared joy in each other’s company. Instead of Keep-Away where two people play catch while a third tries to intercept them, try team juggling where two or more people throw two or more objects back and forth between them. When playing tag, try Blob Tag where whoever gets tagged joins hands with the person who is “It” until everyone is part of one big blob. In Musical Chairs, play so that everyone has to fit on all the remaining seats each round instead of the usual elimination style where one person is out each round. For a full list of cooperative games, see www.thebridgers.org.