Self-Exploration, The Greatest Adventure of a Lifetime

 
A little self exploration each day is a good thing. Photo by  Giulia Bertelli  on  Unsplash

A little self exploration each day is a good thing. Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash

I remember eating lunch with a family friend once as a kid—this friend happened to be a nun. She ate her meal of cheap potato chips and canned onion soup with extraordinary relish. My mother and I took note that there was something about the way she nibbled on those chips and spooned the soup carefully to her mouth which made it seem as if she was eating the most delicious meal ever. I internalized the observation at the time, and as I grew into adulthood, I’ve thought on that memory often and how I wanted to live my life as if it is just that worthy of savoring.

Fast forward to being much older. Of course, intellectually I still know it’s important to slow down and be more conscious of the life I’m living right now. However, I get lost in the trivial stuff and the pursuit of the goal over the next horizon that will make it all more. And foolishly, as I reflect on the past, I later worry (yes, I know it is crazy) that I missed out on experiences by not appreciating them enough.

Case in point would be travel. I’ve been fortunate to venture to many of the places on my dream list. Although vacation is great, when I arrive, I’m often aware that I’m a tourist, a visitor peeking into life elsewhere. And no matter where I go I take my baggage with me, so instead of total immersion there is a little voice making comparisons that others would be “making it a better trip” than I am.

We are each a work in progress, but lately I’ve felt more of the weight of the old thinking which holds me back from reveling into the chips and onion soup of life. Maybe it is because I’m older and there’s more space for reflection, but I’m eager to try changing behaviors to make the journey of self-exploration THE adventure of a lifetime it should be. If you want more joy in your journey, here are a couple of the things I’ve learned this past week’s experiments.

WHAT I LEARNED FROM HELLO STRANGER!

Recently I started reading the book Connectivity Canon by Ginger Johnson in which she makes the case that authentic connections are an enriching and essential part of being human. She then offers ideas on how to cultivate more of these connections in life.

I have a tendency to be somewhat insular when I go out in public. I’m not a person who launches into conversations with strangers—I don’t chat with the woman at the checkout or talk with someone in line while waiting to get into the movies. I move around with purpose and act as if I live in a bubble during much of my day-to-day errand running.

The first exercise Ginger suggests to combat this is to make a point of talking to a stranger or two by way of saying “hello” and offering some positive comment. The idea seemed small and manageable, so I gave it a whirl. The first few efforts took place at my nearby grocery store and felt odd but rewarding.

First I said “hello” to a few other patrons on my way into the store, and they in turn said “hello” back. I asked the checkout clerk how she was doing, and she made a few comments about starting her shift. I even said “hi” to the guy I frequently talk to at the service counter, but whom I’ve never connected with beyond the transaction of the moment, by saying “hello” to him by name.

What I quickly realized from this first experiment was that making a point to speak to others shifted my perspective. Instead of feeling separate and invisible I felt part of the whole of humanity. The fact that the interactions often yielded positive responses was the gravy in the experiment. To be sure, it took effort to exert energy, but the reward was to feel a positive vibe and thinking in terms of giving to others.

In the article “Want To Feel Happier Today? Try Talking To A Stranger,” by Paul Nicolaus over at NPR, he interviewed  behavior scientist Nicholas Epley who said that, “The mood boost of talking to strangers may seem fleeting, but the research on well-being, suggests that a happy life is made up of a high frequency of positive events, and even small positive experiences make a difference.”

THE EXERCISE OF KEEPING A JOURNAL

I strived toward regular journaling this past week, also, doing a mix of bullet journaling and free-flow writing. I didn’t judge or hold myself to more than the simple act of a “brain dump” which, as Frances Hickmott over at The Writing Cooperative suggests, is enough to get the brain working first thing in the morning and a way to declutter thoughts.

As always, I do find it gratifying to look at lists from the day before and see how many things I could mark as completed while carrying over items to the next day. The Bullet journal structure has helped me better track my lists and reference them from one day to the next. I also like the idea of keeping a monthly list of goals versus a daily list of tasks.

I didn’t make it a habit to find the quiet time for writing first thing in the morning as much as I fit it into my day wherever it made sense. David is home during the summer and I’m watching my grandchildren all day, so things get hectic quickly. I still make my way to the kitchen for coffee and click on the news, which I KNOW does NOTHING to make me feel peaceful, and yet I come back to that time and time again.

Permitting room for silence and reflection in the morning is something I’d like to incorporate along with regular exercise, too. I’ll need to find the trigger that makes these activities more appealing. I’m not sure why I don’t carve out quiet time, because when I do start the day with it I feel better. I’ll try not to label myself as “lacking” and simply search for the door to open. Onward to that for next week!

We are each in a relationship with ourselves, and so it is of value to make that relationship a good one. The journey of self-exploration is the most important and exciting part of being human and a process that never ends until we do. As psychologist Dan Gilbert explains in his Ted Talk, “The Psychology of Your Future Self,” Human beings are works in progress who are under the mistaken belief they are finished.”

Are you with me? What are you doing to make your relationship with you better?

Alexandra and Sherry, 2016

Alexandra and Sherry, 2016

Sherry is the founder of Storied Gifts a personal publishing service of family and company histories. She and her team help clients curate and craft their stories into books. When not writing or interviewing, Sherry spends loads of time with her grandchildren and lives in Des Moines, Iowa.

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