Updated: Mar 13, 2019
What does it mean to be your best? This is definitely a subjective matter that only each individual can answer for themself. I know I can imagine infinite different ways that I could be “my best”. I could be thriving in every way with everything going perfect in my life. Or I could have an objectively horrible life—poverty, declining health, troubling relationships, whatever—but with a heart filled with joy, equanimity, self-love, endless compassion, and satisfaction regardless.
An important question to ask, when you contemplate what being your best could look like is: Does it depend on changing internal or external things? There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to change external things. The external and internal are inextricably linked. But what accompanies your desire for external changes? Is there some fear you have? Is there a negative self-belief such as needing that external thing in order to be worthy? Is it because it’s too painful to focus on your internal issues?
It’s easy to fall into a pattern of saying, “If only this thing outside of myself changed, then I could be happy.” I’ve struggled with that. It’s easy to blame your lack of contentment on things outside of yourself instead of trying to find peace within. It’s easy to be angry at other people and society for not making the changes you want them to and to focus on that instead of focusing on how we are and what we can change on our own. Yet it can be just as easy to shift our focus. Even if it’s hard at first, it gets easier to look at our own thoughts, feelings, and actions over time, so long as we put that into practice. Not doing so robs us of our power and allows us to pretend we’re free from responsibility.
There’s a great quote from Harriet Lerner in her book, the Dance of Anger, that I thinks speaks to this: “Even if we are convinced that the other person in ninety-seven percent to blame, we are still in control of changing our own three percent.” Take responsibility for every factor you have the ability to control. There may be times when an individual has little to no control over their external reality, but you still can have the power to control your internal reality. One of my favorite poems illustrates this point:
The Prison Cell
By Mahmoud Darwish (Translated by Ben Bennani)
It is possible...
It is possible at least sometimes...
It is possible especially now
To ride a horse
Inside a prison cell
And run away...
It is possible for prison walls
For the cell to become a distant land
What did you do with the walls?
I gave them back to the rocks.
And what did you do with the ceiling?
I turned it into a saddle.
And your chain?
I turned it into a pencil.
The prison guard got angry.
He put an end to the dialogue.
He said he didn't care for poetry,
And bolted the door of my cell.
He came back to see me
In the morning.
He shouted at me:
Where did all this water come from?
I brought it from the Nile.
And the trees?
From the orchards of Damascus.
And the music?
From my heartbeat.
The prison guard got mad.
He put an end to my dialogue.
He said he didn't like my poetry,
And bolted the door of my cell.
But he returned in the evening:
Where did this moon come from?
From the nights of Baghdad.
And the wine?
From the vineyards of Algiers.
And this freedom?
From the chain you tied me with last night.
The prison guard grew so sad...
He begged me to give him back
Now I don’t mean to minimize injustice or victim-blame, but there is far too much suffering propagated because we don’t fully try to own and use our power to shape our internal world. And I would argue that it’s easier to make the external changes once we can control our inner reality. (And I think many of us can imagine someone with a “perfect life” who’s absolutely miserable in spite of it.)
To be clear, this not a fake it till you make it thing. It’s not about bullying your thoughts and feelings—it’s about working with them, learning from your suffering and transmuting it. To get to the root of our suffering and transmute it is deep work. Not that it’s overly serious work; it’s deep in that it happens on so many levels. The roots of suffering can be from things that happened recently, during childhood, birth or in utero, or they can be transpersonal, from our past lives or the collective. Suffering is pervasive, and that very pervasiveness is why this is deep work and we can’t pretend it away.
So what do you do?
I believe the trick is to love fearlessly whilst cultivating and embodying compassion without limit. Easier said than done, I know, but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. We just aren’t used to it yet.
What is the role of healing in this process?
Allowing yourself to heal IS an act of self-love and compassion. Further more, with healing we transmute and we can transcend our karma. We can free ourselves from internal blocks like limiting beliefs that get in the way of our natural abilities to truly love and embody compassion in the face of suffering. Once we start reopening to these and other abilities within ourselves, we become better able to change both our internal and external realities for the better. We choose to be one of many possible versions of our best self.
How to Be your Best:
Keep yourself open to possibilities. Know that there are infinite ways in which you can be your best.
Realize how much you are focusing on internal vs. external changes.
Take responsibility for every factor you have the ability to control.
Heal yourself. This enables you to regain or develop the ability to make completely conscious choices.
Know that being your best is something you can be at any moment. It’s a conscious choice that you get to make in the NOW.