How do we stress proof our life? By paying attention to the spirit within. That which animates our thoughts, feelings, and actions brings us joy as long as it is fully-expressed and life-affirming. Put that under a bushel, hide or constrain it in day to day living, and our spirit lacks passion. Twist it with negative, life-denying energy and our spirit lacks integrity. Both alternatives are stressful. If you are not fully expressing your values, and if your contribution is not building up yourself and others, then this Provision may motivate you to make some changes. Read on to find out how.
We’re almost to the end of our series on stress. It would not be complete, however, without paying attention to the spirit. We have already focused on stress proofing our bodies, minds, feelings, routines, relationships, and environments. So what’s left, you might ask? Try values.
The English word “spirit” comes from the Latin word spiritus, meaning “breath”. As such, it translates the Greek word pneuma and the Hebrew word ruah. In all three cases, spirit makes clear the connection between life and death. When breath leaves the body, the body is dead. When breath animates the body, the body is vibrant or at least has the potential to become vibrant. The ties between spirit and vitality come through in the following dictionary entries for spirit:
- the vital principle or animating force within living beings
- an attitude or principle that inspires, animates, or pervades thought, feeling, or action
- the soul or heart as the seat of feelings or sentiments, or as prompting to action
- excellent disposition or attitude in terms of vigor, courage, firmness of intent
- the dominant tendency or character of anything
- the essence or active principle of a substance
- the divine influence as an agency working in the human heart
Now I don’t know about you, but when I read those definitions of “spirit” the word “values” connects with every single one. What we value most fills us with energy, guides our thoughts, animates our feelings, prompts us to action, quickens our resolve, defines our identity, distils our essence, and influences our heart. Our values cannot be separated from who we are, how we feel, and what we do. They represent our way of being in the world, determine our contribution, and constitute our worth. Our core “values” and our life-giving “spirit” are one.
That’s why our sense of well being gets so stressed out and disrupted when our values are compromised or unable to be expressed. If there was ever a time to protect our boundaries and / or to redesign our environments, that time is when our life-giving spirit • our core values • is getting squashed. There’s no way to happily endure such trouble.
The process begins, then, by getting clear as to just what our values are. Many people either don’t know or have only a fuzzy idea as to their true priorities. That, alone, is stressful. It leads to a sense of disorientation and a lack of passion. If we don’t know what’s important to us, then we don’t know how to live. We become what Tibetan Buddhists describe as “hungry ghosts,” since we futilely attempt to find fulfillment outside ourselves in the physical world. We lack inspiration.
But the physical world cannot fill the spirit of a hungry ghost. Nothing can. When we don’t know our values we don’t know what we’re looking for; and when we don’t know what we’re looking for we don’t know when to stop looking. So we flail around, hoping that sooner or later we will figure out what we want to do when we grow up. But we never figure it out and we never grow up and we never fill the void in our soul.
That’s a recipe for big-time stress. It may keep coaches in business, as we assist people to sort things out for themselves, but that is not what we hope for in our clients and not what we seek to model in our own lives. We seek to know and to live our values; we seek to be filled with spirit.
One way to sort that out is by looking at what Lance Secretan calls “Terrathreats”. These are the big-time bad things that we worry about most when it comes to planet earth (terra firma). There’s no shortage to pick from: violence, poverty, climate change, oppression, illiteracy, disease, and nuclear weapons come immediately to mind. So do the so-called “seven deadly sins”: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. However we describe them, the things we worry about most are connected to our values and the vibrancy of our spirit.
We heard about that kind of passion on the farm tour at the annual picnic of our CSA. Our CSA farmers, Charlie and Miriam, are highly educated people who once had professional office jobs. But some twenty years ago they began to make a transition back to the land. Why? Because the work connects deeply with their values. “You’ve got to love this work,” Charlie points out, “to stay with it over time. It’s not enough to enjoy it. You’ve got to love it. You’ve got to be passionate about it. You’ve got to believe in it. The work has to feed your soul.”
Another way to sort out our values is to look at The Wheel of Needs. That’s because true needs, unlike strategies, are themselves values. The ones that make us smile, that fill us with yearning and hope, are the ones that shape and animate our spirit. Like primary colors, they combine and blend to create all of life. Here are the 5 pairs of 10 needs identified on the wheel:
- Subsistence • Transcendence
- Safety • Challenge
- Work • Rest
- Community • Autonomy
- Honesty • Empathy
Which needs are most alive for you? Where does your energy lie? How does your spirit dance when you work and when you rest? When you play it safe and when you challenge your limits? When you connect with others and when you march to your own drummer? When you share from the heart and when you seek to understand the hearts of others? Once your answers to those questions are clear, you’re ready for the second part of stress-proofing your spirit: expressing your values in life and work. Farms are not the only way to express our values and feed our spirits.
I was struck by a story in The Washington Post this past week about a 21-year-old Quaker man who is suing the Selective Service System (SSS) of the U.S. government to recognize his right to register for the draft as a conscientious objector. Although the United States has an all-volunteer army, the SSS still collects information from men ages 18-25 in case Congress reinstates conscription into the armed forces. The SSS does not, however, provide a way for men to register as conscientious objectors (they view that as a draft board function).
Regardless of how you view this man’s position on war and his participation in war, one thing is certain: he views the lawsuit as an expression of his values. And he anchors those values in a spiritual tradition known for its pacifism since the 17th century. That’s the way values work. They provoke action and influence destiny. They may not always risk an encounter with the law (in this case, the man could face civil or criminal penalties for failing to fill out his Selective Service forms) but they do always represent a close encounter with our best selves.
That’s what it means to stress proof our spirit: be true to that which gives life. Notice that I did not say, “be true to ourselves.” That rather trite expression is open to great misinterpretation. In the name of being true to themselves, all manner of evil has been done by people throughout the ages. If our values are life-denying, then being true to ourselves will also be life-denying. But that is not the way to stress proof our spirit. If stress proofing means anything at all, it means to be life-giving. At their best, values, like spirit, build people up rather than tear people down.
Earlier in the week I posted a Tweet (@LifeTrekBob) to get some feedback on what people do to stress proof their spirits. I received two replies. One person mentioned mindfulness and the other mentioned meditation. Why do you think those practices stress proof our spirits? Because they connect us with our values • those life-giving grounds of being that call us forth and keep us going from day to day and age to age.
It takes work to stay connected to our values. There is much in life to distract and trouble us. Why bother to be life-affirming, life-giving, and life-building when so much of life is life-denying, life-draining, and life-destroying? Mindfulness and meditation help to answer that question. They remind us of our true nature and calling. They keep us connected to the source of life itself so that we can keep contributing to the flow of life eternal.
Whatever your contribution may be, pursue it with passion and joy. Those are the hallmarks of a living spirit. Those are the values of a living being. And those are the ways of life.
Coaching Inquiries: What fills you with passion and joy? What makes your heart sing? How can you more fully connect with and contribute to life? What patterns would help you to be more mindful and focused? Who could you talk with to animate your engagement with life?
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..
Thanks for another great Provision. Your suggestions on how to respond to toxic environments affirmed that I was correct in moving up my retirement date!! Have a blessed week.
Thanks for the great work you are doing. While I appreciate your profound point re: toxic environments, your example of your computers and your apparent embrace of planned obsolescence and its horrible impact on the environment is a troubling shadow side I’d appreciate your exploring in the future • along with the class implications.
I just wanted to quickly bring up a couple points I’d like you to address about your environments article.
1. I know we spend too much time messing around with half broken things – computers, dishwashers, etc. But just dropping them and buying new is so wasteful. Couldn’t you suggest calling a repair person in a timely manner? They can fix computers and all of the ridiculous technology we need to get our real work done. If the professional can’t fix it, then it’s broken and you need a new one.
2. Dropping people who aren’t supporting us can be such a slippery slope. Shouldn’t we be finding out how to support ourselves? The people around us will always be working in their own time frames and with their own agendas, aren’t we working to recognize those and respect them – and at the same time Teaching the people around us to recognize what they need to respect about us? Yes, there are toxic environments, and people definitely need coaching about removing themselves from those and in a timely manner, but your Provision is about doing that quickly. I feel that acting too quickly is the problem with many relationships.
Thanks for listening! I love your weekly thoughts and look forward to reading more.
You probably have seen this before. I thought of you when reading it:
“A lecturer when explaining stress management to an audience, Raised a glass of water and asked; ‘How heavy is this glass of water?’ Answers called out ranged from 20g to 500g.
The lecturer replied, ‘The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long you try to hold it. If I hold it for a minute, that’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my right arm. If I hold it for a day, you’ll have to call an ambulance. In each case, it’s the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.’
He continued, ‘And that’s the way it is with stress management. If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, As the burden becomes increasingly heavy, We won’t be able to carry on.’ So whatever burdens you’re carrying now, Let them down for a moment if you can and don’t pick them up again until after you’ve rested a while.”
I really like your environments Provision. I printed off egg white protein to order some.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
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