The Man in the Arena: What I have learned… so far.

Well, it has been just over two years since life events drove me to start a complete metamorphosis. When I think back to the beginning of this journey I remember there being a whole lot of fear, a whole lot of uncertainty, but also a whole lot of possibility. So much has changed in two years, more than I could think was possible, and I have faced challenges and obstacles; however, I have also been given opportunities and have found that as I endeavoured to better myself, to make positive changes and just try to always “do good”, good has been returned to me.

So, this post will not be about hiking, although much of what I will say here was discovered during many self-reflective moments found within the serenity of the forest and mountains during solo hikes where I was my only company; This post will be about what I have learned and applied in the last two years. Maybe this post is more for me to self-reflect, and I cannot say that, for you, it will have the same effect, but I can say that because of these simple guiding principles my life is heading in an amazing direction. I also need to preface all of this by saying that not every day is perfect. I still get sad, I still get worried, I still have fear, I still make mistakes and most of all I still have a lot to learn, but failure and stumbles are to be expected. As one of my favourite quotes states…

s-l1600

 

The first thing I have to say is that the biggest change in my life came to me through a lot of hard work, mentally and emotionally, in therapy. I had to admit that my anxiety is a mental illness that could be treated, I also discovered that I had PTSD (no, I am not a soldier). I underwent a therapy called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) that involves using eye movements to “trick” your brain; therapists can essentially reprogram or replace the memory of a traumatic event with more positive or neutral emotions. I was very skeptical of this, but I trusted my therapist and was willing to try.  My experience was life changing and along with regular visits to a psychologist, regular exercise, meditation, and what I will call “outdoor therapy” I was able to get a grasp of my anxiety. Don’t get me wrong, some days are harder than others, and I have explained to friends that for a while it was quite strange to be missing that piece of me. It took some getting used to; however, it has led to the second major life change.

The Four Agreements

I had rediscovered my joy of reading, and since meditation was suggested to me during therapy, I began to read books about meditation which naturally involved a lot about Buddhism and spirituality.  During one of my trips to the used bookstore I stumbled across a book called “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz. Was it serendipitous? I don’t know, but it did come at a time when I was looking for some basic guiding principles and this book provided four simple ones.

  1. Be impeccable with your word – Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
  2. Don’t take anything Personally – Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
  3. Don’t make assumptions – Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama.
  4. Always do your best – Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgement, self-abuse, and regret

Now you might be thinking, “There is no way you can do that all of the time.”  You would be right. I have slipped up and caught myself many times breaking these agreements; however, the more you recognize it the easier it becomes. These agreements; however, become very important when it comes to one of the most important things I have learned. You have to be okay being alone.

Now I should say that, to me, there is a difference between being alone, and being lonely. By alone, I mean that you have a realization that you don’t need anyone. When you get to this point you will not have to stretch the truth to gain favour, or make choices based on trying to please anyone else, or look for reinforcement that you did your best. All of that needs to come from within you. For me this has been difficult, I have always been filled with self-doubt, worried about what others may think to the point that the worry became habitual. I have discovered that there is a very fine balance between doing things for people to like you and people liking you for what you do, naturally. This inevitably blends into one of the most important lessons I have learned… correction I am learning…

Love. 

When I began dating again I focused on the four agreements. I promised that, right from the beginning of a relationship, I would be 100% honest. If my partner did not like what they heard about my past, who I was, who I had become, or who I was working towards being, then that relationship was not meant to be. Now, 100% honesty is more difficult than you think, but there is extreme power in complete vulnerability. I figured if my partner could see me for who I am, not bullshit “masks of masculinity” (thanks Lewis Howes), and choose to be there, without tricks or manipulations, then it was something real. See, my anxiety had always been based on controlling variables. If you could control the variables then you could control the outcomes. Rationally, I think, everyone knows that this is impossible; however, the anxious mind does not act “rationally”.

I have discovered, it only took me 40 years, that real “love” is a complete lack of control. It is giving your partner the freedom to be themselves, and make their choices based on all of the information. Keeping things from your partner, not telling them the truth of how you are feeling, over fear of them leaving, is a form of control. If your partner can come and go freely, if they have all of the information, if they know the “real” you, and they come home because they want to come home… that is love. Sounds simple, but it isn’t. This process obviously takes a lot of understanding, trust and intimacy that, because of my past, is hard to submit to; however, I have a partner who knows my backstory, who knows my vulnerability and respects the honesty enough to not “take advantage” of my truths. We have had some hard, uncomfortable conversations, but we both know that we come out stronger, knowing how to support each other better.

So What Now?

As the quote above explains, I continue to be “The Man in the Arena” and spend myself in the “worthy cause” of continuing to fight for a better me. I still have to work everyday. Some days are easy and others you feel like you are carrying mountains instead of climbing them; however, each step takes me further on the journey to being a better father, a better partner, and a better version of me.

And now the only masks I wear are the ones I put on for fun…

 

Happy Hiking – in this case both real and metaphorical 😉

The Walking Dad

 

 

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