Several conversations this past week have centered around the notion of our better selves, how we see ourselves and whether or not we are interested in evolving to a better version of who we are. What I believe about that is probably for me the most important piece as it will determine how I choose to move forward, or not, depending on my values, my purpose and my continuing questions about a meaningful life. Those questions are not whether or not my life is meaningful, it is more about how I find and add meaning to my life and to others in my circle.
For those of us playing the game in the 4th quarter, even with time remaining, it is important to be careful, thoughtful, acutely aware of the bigger picture as well as the details. Being extremely conscious of each moment to see what is developing gives us a better chance of not making a dumb mistake. And, if we do make a mistake, the hope is we learn not to do the same thing again. When playing “the game”, the one who makes more mistakes often finds himself in an uncomfortable position.
Better is comparative, living there between good and best, and it’s not merely grammatical. Think how often we use the word “good” trying to capture a moment in time or to describe an overall condition. For many, life has not yet reached a stage that might be described as good because of the negative and destructive impact of poverty, disease or hunger.
The global extreme poverty rate fell to 9.2 percent in 2017, from 10.1 percent in 2015. That is equivalent to 689 million people living on less than $1.90 a day. At higher poverty lines, 24.1 percent of the world lived on less than $3.20 a day and 43.6 percent on less than $5.50 a day in 2017. And for the first time in 20 years, the poverty rate is expected to increase in 2020. We are privileged to have this luxury of contemplating how to become a better version of ourselves when so many others are concerned about survival.
One way to connect these two extremes is to see how we might contribute to helping remove the obstacles that prevent others from evolving into a better life situation. How might we contribute to help address those world-wide issues that include education, climate change and health care? Making life good or even better for others can also make us better. It was St. Francis who said, “It is in giving that we receive.” I have believed for a long time that our lives will be measured not by how much we have acquired but rather how much we have given.
Another way to evolve toward a better self is setting aside time to focus on that process exclusively without distractions. That laser like concentration and discipline has a few aspects that I have found to be most helpful. One of my practices for many years has been periodic personal retreats of several days in a place with dedicated spaces that provide an environment and experience conducive to contemplation and reflection. My primary preferences have been monasteries and on a few occasions, a special place in the mountains, on the ocean or in the desert.
Some years ago, reading one of Scott Peck’s books, “What Return Can I Make” I saw that he had taken a retreat somewhere but did not say where. I called him and asked where he had gone and he asked why I wanted to know, typical psychiatrist. I said I had been exploring some possibilities and what he described sounded like a place I might appreciate. It turned out to be an extension of a monastery in Colorado called “Nada” except that this was in Nova Scotia and was thus called “Nova Nada.” From nothing to new nothing.Is that like normal to new normal? Regardless, my time at Nova Nada was meaningful, productive and reinforced that practice of periodic retreats.
My schedules I set for myself on these occasions vary depending on where I seem to be at that time in my own evolution. I include times for reading, thinking, meditating, walking, writing and because it is individual and personal I do not include conversations with others. That component can be included if desired. A different kind of retreat packaged around a topic is designed for small groups rather than one person and those can be beneficial too. Choose your topic according to what you believe you need to move forward.
We can nurture our better selves by providing the opportunity when that self is open to the moment, exploring the avenues for improvement, considering conscious and intentional choosing, and valuing what we can develop further in our own growth as human beings. It all starts with self-awareness at the deepest levels and it continues as long as we have breath and time. One day we will run out of both. Until then, we make more of who we are and in doing that, we make ourselves and those around us better.