Life is not lost by dying; life is lost minute by minute, day by dragging day, in all the thousand small uncaring ways. Stephen Vincent BenetEveryday I witness people whose lives are dying, minute by dragging minute. I see them lying on the sidewalk alongside our building, sitting on the curb by the parked cars, hiding out under the overpass to the south of our compound. They are dying, and yet, they want to live. That's the conundrum.
They are lying on the sidewalk inside our compound because it's safer there. They sit on the curb of our parking lot because there's less risk of getting beat up, or hit on by the countless drug dealers who cruise the area looking for victims. They want to live. They just don't know how to do it.
Last night over dinner, C.C. and I were talking about a program he's running at his company to teach First Nations participants how to build environmental structures. He was surprised that their life skills were so poor. "We teach them the craft, we pay them well for their contributions, and then, they get paid and all hell breaks loose."
I suggested he think about the environment from which these young adults came. They grew up on a reserve. Their parents were part of the residential school system. They had their culture, their faith, language, history, customs ripped away. They were abused and then tossed back upon the sea of humanity with the admonition, "Go forth and live productive lives... according to our values, our systems, our laws." And then they sank.
"Your students haven't had a work ethic instilled in them. They haven't had a sense of pride in their past, nor an understanding of the possibilities for a better future. They don't know how to meet what you expect of them because, they expect so little of themselves and don't understand your expectations."
At the shelter, we operate a wood-working program. Clients enter, many of whom have never had a sense of accomplishment, nor held a job with any success, in their lives. As the manager of the program says, "My first priority is to teach them how to turn up. Learning the craft is the easy part. Learning to count on yourself, be dependable and accountable, that's the tough stuff."
In my life, I have had to teach myself how to turn up for me. I've had to re-wire faulty wiring that had me doing things that undermined my sense of worth, my integrity, my value. What I was doing was based on lessons learned in the past. What I do today is based on how I've learned the lessons and applied my learning to living the life of my dreams. A life based on my values, principles and beliefs.
To live a life of value, I've had to define my values. What's important to me? What are my ethics? My principles. My beliefs?
Often, unlearning a faulty belief has been predicated upon learning from a mishap. Life is a continuous journey of knowledge. Of risking the known to explore the unknown. In learning from my past, I create value today that supports me, uplifts me and inspires me to do better tomorrow.
Looking at life as an opportunity to always 'get better, do better, be better' began with the realization that I wasn't very healthy in some of my beliefs. Like Harry in The Mast of Change, I held some faulty beliefs that limited me in my ability to step beyond my comfort zones, step beyond my fears and soar into the heights of my dreams.
I don't know what I don't know. I don't know all the faulty beliefs I hold about myself until I encounter them. When I say, "I can't," it is an opportunity to push through my fear, to test the boundaries of my abilities, to explore the limitations of my expectations of myself.
I know very few people who had a 'perfect childhood'. A life where they have no issues today in adulthood. A life where some trial or tribulation hasn't stopped them from achieving a dream.
For the students in C.C.'s course, their lives to date have held little promise of success. For those who huddle on the sidewalks of our cities, what success they've had in life has led them to being homeless. In the horror of living on the fringes of society, with an addiction or mental illness, or with nothing to their name but the stories they tell, their past success becomes an albatross, a reminder that they weren't worth what they had and they're only worth what they've got today.
To claim our right to live the lives of our dreams, we must let go of the belief the past is all we deserve. We must give up the story that casts us in stone, living our history as our future.
To claim our right to be great, we must do the hard things that chip away the bedrock of our past and set us free to soar into the wonders of our dreams.
To be great, we must care enough about ourselves to believe in our greatness.
The question is: Do you care enough about yourself to set yourself free of the past? Do you believe in yourself enough to soar through your fear of flying?