“If we find our true self we find God, and if we find God, we find our most authentic self.” David Benner The Gift of Being Yourself pg. 15
As I watched my son approaching the car he looked cold and tired. It had been a frigid, wet weekend out in the woods with his scout troop. As I helped him pack his sleeping bag and other camping gear in the car I asked him “How are you?”
“Cold and tired’ he said with a bit of frustration.
“Tough campout huh.” I replied.
“Yeah, I forgot wool socks, my sleeping bag was not warm enough and I didn’t understand how to build a good shelter even though I watched others build one and practiced in the meetings over the last month. I didn’t want to ask the older boys for help and be ‘that kid.’”
This specific campout had been about wilderness survival in a real situation. It was adventure within a somewhat controlled environment. Curious about what he learned from his experience I asked, “what did you learn son?”
“To practice what I have never done before, ask for help when I need it, and bring the proper equipment” he replied.
As I reflect on my son’s adventure an excited/anxious feeling begins to well up in my gut. His concrete example of learning from his mistakes reminds me of my own experience of getting to know myself. I am proud of him, he has faced a challenge and chosen to learn from it. Life is full of learning experiences, some are pleasant others are not. How I respond to them makes a significant difference as to whether I experience my life events as adventures or dreadful experiences.
A key strategy that can help your experiences be like an adventure instead of dreadful is self-awareness or mindfulness. Mindfulness is a process of being aware of your experience in the moment without judgment. Your experience is made up of body sensations, emotions, thoughts, perceptions from your five senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch), and images. Let me give you an example of how mindfulness works.
It’s another full day and I can feel the stress in my shoulders as I join others on the drive to work. I feel late already. I have been up early and had a full day of activity before getting out the door. It seems I am sandwiched between the demands at home and my next destination. I can sense my focus narrowing as the stress inside me has been building and my ability to see life from the perspective of others decreases. As I top the next hill I see two trucks blocking the flow of traffic and I feel irritation. My shoulders tighten more, and ugly thoughts begin to cross my mind. These ugly thoughts get my attention and I become more consciously aware of the tension in my shoulders and my irritation. “This is not the kind of man I want to be!” I think.
The jolt of awareness that accompanies the ugly thoughts is where the personal adventure begins. I am faced with a choice. I can either pick up my machete and cut a path through the weeds of my heart by being curious (which leads to self-awareness) about my responses to this experience or put up defenses against the potential pain of what I may find. Cutting a path through the weeds leads to learning more about myself. Defenses reinforce old painful patterns.
Diving into the weeds of the heart takes great courage like Abraham deciding to follow God out of his homeland. Sometimes it’s a mess and you won’t like what you will find. My son did not enjoy learning what he did not know. He came home cold and tired remember. His learning led to changes in his preparation for the next campout. Therefore, his choice to learn led to success, confidence, and freedom. I have found that my most painful experiences have been gifts. They have led me into an adventure of discovery as I have cut back weeds and expanded into uncharted territory in my heart (2 Chronicles 4:10). The first step is a choice to become aware and be willing to be honest with yourself about what you find.