Jonathan Swift penned, “May you live every day of your life.”
It stops me in my tracks every single time I read it. Am I? Am I living today in a meaningful way? Is what I’m doing right now important, fulfilling, or fun? It’s such a simple sentence, but it packs a punch.
On the surface, step one is to consider what we are doing and what we might want to change in our lives—usually on the physical level of optimizing our experience of life as it relates to our job, home, automobile, or the way we interact with the people in our lives. We can also take from this the power of living in the now, being fully present in every moment of our lives. That’s a wonderful tool and can up your happiness quotient almost immediately.
But for me, the real power of this quote takes me beyond mindfulness, beyond the physical shifts we can make. Tangential to or perhaps, deeper than being present and living in the now, is how you think and feel about your life.
Rosh Hashanah, which is New Year in the kabbalistic calendar, is coming up soon. We are in the month of Virgo, which precedes it and thus, is an auspicious and necessary window of time for introspection and reevaluation before we embark on our next year. It’s also my birthday month, a time when I inherently review the year behind and cement my vision and aspirations for the year ahead. All of this starts with self-assessment, and I invite you to do it right along with me.
How do you feel most of the time? (bored, inspired, sad, tired, hopeful, energized, focused, content, anxious, worried, frustrated) What is your predominant emotion most days?
What are the thoughts that drive your predominant emotion?
What is your internal narrative most of the day? (I have to do this thing next vs. I get to do this thing next. I am stressed about that vs. I am excited about that. They expect me to vs. I want to.)
Do you feel that everything is a chore, or do you feel purposeful, contentment, or even excitement about completing your daily routines?
We spend so much time thinking about how we think and feel about big decisions or important relationships, but really a life is made up of many repetitive habits and routines, and we would be remiss if we didn’t examine their meanings, narratives, and how they affect our enjoyment of each day. I was taken aback by research published by the National Science Foundation that highlights just how repetitive and negative our thoughts can be. According to the NSF, the average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 80% are negative and 95% are exactly the same repetitive thoughts as the day before. It’s not hard to see how permanently changing even just a few of our thoughts could radically impact our experience of life.
What narratives do you assign to everything from spending the day at the beach to doing chores around the house? What are your thoughts and feelings around brushing your teeth, setting your alarm, waking up, cooking dinner, eating breakfast, driving to an appointment, answering the phone, writing text messages, receiving texts, dressing, doing laundry, looking in the mirror. Go deep and be thorough.
How you see the ways you spend your days is what makes them fully lived, or not. The difference between living a fulfilled life or living an unfulfilled existence comes down to not what you do but how you think about what you do. Rav Ashlag writes about this concept in the book, And You Shall Choose Life. He makes very clear that the only difference between somebody who is tremendously fulfilled and somebody who feels unfulfilled is the ability to see.
When we really understand something, we say, “Oh, I see.” But, we don’t see something differently; we understand it differently. To see with our eyes is a metaphor for clear comprehension, understanding, realization, discernment, recognition, and identification. There are so many illusions in this world. To open up your eyes doesn’t just mean look around, analyze, and be thoughtful but also to see beyond the illusions, beyond your inherent biases, beyond the narratives that others have created and we so often take as facts. Think of it as seeing with wholly different eyes.
In my late teens and early twenties, I had a debilitating eating disorder coupled with body dysmorphia. I was in tremendous pain, locked in a battle with myself, and under the illusion that I was obese. When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see the reality, which was a skeletal, sickly-looking young woman. I would go into the bathroom and conduct a pinch-test, grabbing bits of skin between my thumb and index finger to ensure I had no fat deposits. Sometimes I did this more than once a day and, if I’m honest, I did this anytime I passed by a mirror in private. It was a thorough investigation I performed, making sure there were no signs of fat or cellulite. I examined my body intensely, and yet I still could not see what harm I was doing. Fortunately, I saw before it was too late.
I was in the midst of my morning pinch-test investigation when I caught sight of my reflection in the mirror. My real reflection. A skeletal, unrecognizable stranger stared back at me. I was horrified. I looked for the person I knew myself to be and couldn’t find her. I broke into a sweat and started to panic. I was shocked by what I had done to myself. It was the first time I could see the devastation I had caused. The skeletal woman in the mirror had been created by no one else but me. I call this moment my gift of sight.
I had been standing on a high ledge, my toes dangling off the edge, for five straight years. As I saw myself in the mirror that day, my healthy fear saved me. It kicked in. And I stepped back. If I hadn’t finally seen clearly that day, I probably wouldn’t even be here, to be honest. Illusions are powerful, and I spent years living in one.
We all have moments in our lives where we are fooled, where we can’t see the truth, but what I do know is that I can’t take it seriously; I can’t believe it or buy into it.
May you live every day of your life.
I want you to think about where you’re at in your life. If you had a new set of eyes, a clean slate unbiased by belief systems, painful memories, and the like, how would that change the way you feel about your life and the things you do?
What is the illusion that you think has a hold over you? It may have the title of a disease, eating disorder, labels like silly, clumsy, flaky, weak, or a limit you’ve imposed on yourself, something you’ve decided is impossible. Look at where you’re at and know that you can see, fully and clearly, without distortion or illusion. Then tomorrow or maybe even two hours from now or a week from now, when you feel that illusion creeping back into your thoughts, you’ll be able to say ‘STOP – I know better, even if in this moment I cannot see it clearly.’
With our newfound sight, we begin to think in new ways about everything that we see and do and experience. Those new thoughts evoke new emotions and may increase your fulfillment and enjoyment of life immediately, but for some, the gift of sight will not be pleasant at first. To live every day of your life to its fullest with fulfillment and joy, you have to see. See the truth from the illusion, the story from the facts, the good, the bad, the ugly, the inspirational, the awe-inspiring, the blessings, and the challenges. See it all, just as it is. Really, honestly, clearly see.