FOUR QUALITIES OF A [REDEFINED] SUCCESSFUL LIFE
Summer is the perfect time to pull out our favorite reading as well as to explore books we haven't yet read. Often this is done on vacation as we escape into daring adventures, steamy romances or juicy mysteries with lots of plot twists and turns.
This month at Unity of Castro Valley, we are going to take highlights from four different books that are on my summer reading list. And while these books aren't adventure, romance or mystery novels, we will definitely have some adventures in our exploration, we will connect with deep love and we just may experience a twist or turn along the way.
Today, our book is Thrive, written by media mogul Arianna Huffington, and from it we will look at "Four Qualities of a [Redefined] Successful Life."
In the book, Huffington talks about what it means to be successful from society's perspective (money, fame, power) and how none of those things in and of themselves will ever lead to a life that thrives. She then lays out, and discusses in depth supported by a lot of scientific research, four specific qualities that help us redefine success in a way that supports a life that thrives.
I love this quote from the Introduction: "The difference between what . . . success looks like and what truly makes us thrive isn't always clear as we're living our lives. But it becomes much more obvious in the rearview mirror. Have you noticed that when we die, our eulogies celebrate our lives very differently from the way society defines success?"a
In eulogies, we almost never hear things like:
"The crowning achievement of his life was when he made senior vice president." OR
"She increased market share for her company multiple times during her tenure." OR
"She never stopped working. She ate lunch at her desk. Every day." OR
"While he didn't have many real friends, he had 600 Facebook friends and dealt with every email in his in-box every night."
No, eulogies are about other stuff. They are about how we lived our lives, how we connected, how we shared of ourselves and our gifts, how much we meant to our friends and family, small kindnesses, lifelong passions and the things that made us laugh.
Being people who are awake and spiritually conscious, you probably already know this, right? But just in case we need reminding, let's look at the qualities Huffington uses in her book to redefine success. They are . . . actually, let's just let them unfold.
South African poet Iain Thomas once wrote: ". . . every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, 'This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!' And each day, it's up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, 'No. This is what's important."b
And what is important? Really important? Your own well being! That is the first quality of the redefined successful life.
Many of you may remember an illustration we've used before which came from the great book First Things First by Stephen Covey
There was an expert on time management who was speaking to a group of business students and as he stood in front of the group of high-powered overachievers he said, "Okay, time for a quiz."
Then he pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed Mason jar and set it on a table in front of him. He produced about a half dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar.
When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, "Is this jar full?"
Everyone in the class said, "Yes." Then he said, "Really?" He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks.
He smiled and asked the group once more, "Is the jar full?"
By this time the class was onto him. "Probably not," one of them answered. "Good!" he replied.
And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, "Is this jar full?"
"No!" the class shouted. Once again he said, "Good!"
Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked up at the class and asked, "What is the point of this illustration?"
One eager beaver raised his hand and said, "The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!"
"No," the speaker replied, "that's NOT the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don't put the big rocks in first, you'll never get them in at all because the smaller ones, the less important ones, will take their space."c
The question for us this morning is do we make our own well- being a priority?
And, of course, I believe that our well-being is totally and completely linked to our connection with Source. Our conscious connection with God. Are we making that a priority? Are we engaged in the activities that nourish our souls as well as our minds and our bodies?
Charles Fillmore, in Talks on Truth wrote: "To know how to establish this relation between Father and Son is the object of every man, for only through its establishment can come happiness."d
Is our spiritual well being a big rock we put into the jar first?
I have a belief, and I may be wrong about it, but I have a belief that being in this space every week on Sunday morning is something that is very nourishing to the soul. The energy of this room and who's in it, the music, the prayers, the care, the love, the message.
I have always believed that being in service each week is a big rock. And, I believed and practiced this belief LONG before I became a minister!
This is a place where lives are changed. People come here not thriving and learn how to thrive! But you need to have a consistent dose of what we are offering. You can't just dip your toe into it once and a while. It won't work that way!
It's just like for our physical survival, we have to continue to eat. We can't just eat one meal and say, "Well, I've got my nourishment, I'm good to go for another month."
Nor can we take a breath once ever couple of weeks and think that will sustain us!
If you want to have a thriving, successful life, make your spiritual well being a big rock that goes in first. Make coming to church a priority even when you don't feel like it! That is when you will reap the greatest rewards, I can pretty much guarantee that!
I offer you a challenge. Come to church every Sunday this month and notice, just notice, how you grow!
And here's the other side of that -- your being here makes a difference to everyone else. Your energy, your spirit, your heart make a difference to the experience we have here every week! You, my friends, each and every one of you matters. Your presence matters.
Turn to someone and say: "Your presence here today matters."
Say to yourself: "My presence here today matters. . . to myself and others."
The second quality of a redefined successful life is Wisdom.
Not knowledge, but wisdom. Huffington suggests, first and foremost, that wisdom is about recognizing what we're really seeking in life: connection and love.
Connection, love, acceptance for who we are exactly as we are - it is very, very wise indeed to know that those are the really important things in life.
Wisdom is also about realizing something we talk about a lot - a lot - here! Wisdom is this. To know:
* That God is good, all the time, 24/7, even when it doesn't look like it.
* That the Universe is conspiring for our good all the time, 24/7, even when it doesn't look like it.
* That we are loved beyond measure and upheld and cared for by the Infinite all the time, 24/7, even when it doesn't look or feel like it.
* And that everything, everything that occurs in our lives happens for us, for our growth and expansion, for our joy and happiness, all the time, 24/7, even when it doesn't look and feel like it.
That's some pretty deep personal wisdom, isn't it? Huffington puts it this way: "When we reexamine what we really want, we realize that everything that happens in our lives - every misfortune, every slight, every loss and also every joy, every surprise, every happy accident - is a teacher and life is a giant classroom. That's the foundation of wisdom that spiritual teachers, poets and philosophers throughout history have given expression to - from the Bible's 'Not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without God knowing it' to Rilke's 'Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses, who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage.'"e
Or this by Marcus Aurelius: "True understanding is to see the events of life in this way: 'You are here for my benefit, though rumor paints you otherwise.' And everything is turned to one's advantage when he greets a situation like this: 'You are the very thing I was looking for.' Truly whatever arises in life is the right material to bring about our growth and the growth of those around us. This, in a word, is art - and this art called 'life' is a practice suitable to both men and gods. Everything contains some special purpose and a hidden blessing; what then could be strange or arduous when all of life is here to greet us like an old and faithful friend?"f
Which takes us to the third quality of a life that thrives . . .
I love this quote from St. Augustine: "Men go forth to wonder at the heights of mountains, the extent of oceans and the course of the stars, and omit to wonder at themselves."g
There are four definitions of "wonder" in my on-line dictionary:
* First, a cause of astonishment or admiration
* Second: the quality of exciting amazed admiration
* Third: rapt attention or astonishment at something awesomely mysterious
I agree with St. Augustine that we rarely embrace those three definitions of wonder regarding ourselves; but we often, very often embrace the fourth - which is "a feeling of doubt or uncertainty" -- and then we pile on other things like say unforgiveness, judgment, self criticism!
It's time to change that around! It's time to begin to wonder with astonishment and admiration and rapt attention at the magnificent expression of the Divine that we are!
What if, right here, right now, in this room, we chose to do that by forgiving ourselves for any judgments we are holding against ourselves. What if we decided here and now to release one statement of self criticism that we engage in regularly? For those of you who are up for it, we will do just that in a few moments, but first to our fourth and final quality of a (redefined) successful life.
Acclaimed Bengali poet, artist, writer and Nobel Prize recipient Rabindranath Tagore wrote: "I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy."h
In the forward of his book, Alcoholism, Holmes wrote: "It is generally accepted that some form of useful service to humanity . . . is one of the best possible ways of seeking permanent happiness."i
And I absolutely love this from Thrive. Huffington writes, like a New Thought preacher: ". . . every place is full of openings to make a real difference in the life of another human being. There are millions of small missed opportunities at home or in offices, on the subway on the street where we live, in the grocery store. When we flex our giving muscles every day, the process begins to transform our own lives. Because however successful we are, when we go out in the world to 'get things,' . . . we are operating from a perceived deficit, focused on what we don't have and are trying to obtain. . . But when we give however little or much we have, we are tapping into our sense of abundance and overflow. . . It may be somewhat counterintuitive, but it is gravity that enables us to stand tall - that which seems to pull us down to earth and limit us actually enables us to expand upward. In the same way, it is when we give that we feel most abundant. Giving sends a message to the universe that we have all we need. We become virtuous by the practice of virtue, responsible by the practice of responsibility, generous by the practice of generosity, compassionate by the practice of compassion. And we become abundant by giving to others."j
I would like to share the story of Huffington's sister performing Joan of Arc's monolog on a bus in New York. She writes:
"After auditioning for a six-hour play adaptation of many Greek tragedies combined, and not getting a part - not even in the chorus - disappointed and distraught I got on the bus to go to my singing lesson on the Upper West Side when I started to notice the faces of the other passengers. Each one of them looked burdened, their worries the only thing showing in their expressions. As I looked at everyone around me, I was filled with compassion, and the understanding that their disappointments were probably much bigger than mine. If only I could bring some joy onto this bus, I thought. And then I realized that I could. I could act right here! I could entertain these people for a brief moment. I could do a song and dance right here and now!
And with that thought, I broke down the barriers. I reached out to the woman next to me, struck a conversation, and asked her if she liked the theater. We started talking about our favorite plays and characters, and I told her that I had just performed the part of Saint Joan for an audition. She knew the play, and we had an unexpectedly wonderful conversation. In my enthusiasm, I said to her, "Would you like me to do Joan's monologue for you?"
"I would love that," she replied.
The first words of the monologue are: "You promised me my life, but you lied. You think that life is nothing but not being stone dead." As I-said the words, the woman's face started to change. I could see that she was being touched; I was being touched as well; sharing my talent for a moment, on a New York bus.
By the time I finished, the woman on the bus had tears in her eyes. As she got off at her stop, she thanked me. I felt elated. I felt a release, as if a door had opened that I didn't even know was there. Here I was thinking that I had this wonderful gift that was not being recognized by the world. And then it dawned on me how many conditions I had put on my gift. That moment of sharing without an agenda of getting a part wasn't about the outcome but about the joy of touching others and giving unconditionally what was mine to give. And that brought with it a tremendous sense of fulfillment."k
This is what Seva - sacred service - is all about! What more needs to be said!?
So there we have the four qualities of a truly successful life that are discussed in depth in Arianna Huffington's book Thrive:
* Well Being - particularly your spiritual well being
* Wisdom - the deepest wisdom is knowing that connection and love are what we are all looking for and realizing that all of life is unfolding for our highest good
* Wonder - at all of life, including who we are!
* Giving - from a sense of overflow and abundance
Close your eyes and be centered.
Listen to your breathing - normal, comfortable.
Release the tensions within you.
Just let them escape on the outgoing breath.
And with that breathe, forgive yourself for any and all wrong-doings.
And any self-critical statements you have uttered
Just let them go.
Feel your support, and give yourself a message of appreciation.
You are a manifestation of life-force - growing, struggling, sorting, adding.
You can taste everything, but accept only what fits.
Come in touch with yourself as a miracle.
There is no one exactly like you on the face of the earth.
Give yourself permission to invent that which you need,
but which you do not have.
Depend on your resources.
Also, give yourself permission to risk something new.
This can be called learning or rowing or rejoicing.
It can be called manifesting joyfully your life-force in your present physical form.
Be as aware as you can, of being with these people at this moment,
Just being with them.
Be aware of whatever
move through your head relative to these people.
Be aware of what's relative to the whole way we look at families.
And relative to the phenomenon of what it means to be fully human.
Be in touch with this, because this is the resource of your learning.l
Now as we come back to this place and time
We say Thank You God
aThrive, Arianna Huffington p. 15
cFirst Things First, Stephen Covey
dCharles Fillmore, Talks on Truth, p. 92
eThrive, Arianna Huffington p. 118
iAlcoholism, Ernest Holmes
jThrive, Arianna Huffington p. 282
kThrive, Arianna Huffington p. 248
lVirginia Satir Meditations & Inspirations