You believe in self-awareness, compassion, joy, love. You understand the importance of self-care, you adore reading (insert any teacher or self-help author’s) books, and you love a great inspirational quote.
You can analyze yourself, even offer up observations to explain why you do what you do, but you keep doing the same thing – making the same choices, dealing with the same issues, going round and round the same wheel.
So the question is: are you practicing what you know, or are you just knowing what you know?
You read an inspiring book or article, feel like you “got” it, and then proceed to tell others all you have learned. Or you have a life altering experience, feel like you “got” it, and proceed to tell others why they should do what you do, or what you did or what you are going to do.
The bad news (or good news) is there is no “got” it. There are no absolutes and there are no perfect plans. There is only moment by moment living, and within these moments you make choices.
You notice your ego, you notice your need to be right, you notice your need to win – but instead of identifying with these “needs”, you step away and you choose differently.
You know it’s important to be generous, but do you practice generosity (with your time, patience, love)?
You know it’s helpful to meditate or do yoga, but do you take your meditation/yoga off the mat and practice balance in your everyday life?
You know it’s wise to love and forgive, but do you act loving toward your husband when he is late or your wife when she forgets something? Do you forgive your children or your parents for their mistakes or do you constantly remind them?
We cognitively know what feels good and what makes life inspiring, but too often we think it instead of practice it.
But to practice it, we have to be conscious of our choices – if you live on autopilot or move from thing to thing with no presence of being, it is difficult to be loving, generous or compassionate. Living on autopilot recycles the same story, the same defensiveness, the same challenges and the same outcomes.
And before you say, “I can’t, that’s too hard, I can’t be expected to be conscious all the time!” Let go of “all the time” and just try now.
Quit making a “plan” to be different and just know there is no right time or perfect way. Let go of your most recent not-so-great choice and choose differently here.
Just as important, let go of the need to tell everybody else how to do it. It’s great to support, share stories, ideas, suggestions, but then let go and trust that others will find their way.
They can’t and shouldn’t do it just like you, because they aren’t you. Only you are you, and only you know what is best for you. The way to teach others is to practice being you so others are inspired to be them.
Reread the quote on your fridge or your Facebook page and live it. Don’t look to others to live it, you live it. And when you don’t live it, forgive yourself and move forward. You have plenty more choices ahead.
And when you think you “got” it, remember that life is not an academic or thought-based experience, it’s a real-time experience. A great quote, story, or book can direct you to a path of greater contentment, but it’s the practice in the moment that actually changes the world.
Cathy Cassani Adams, LCSW, CPC, is the author of The Self-Aware Parent, the host of Zen Parenting Radio, a columnist for Chicago Parent Magazine, and a blogger for Chicago Now. She’s a self awareness teacher and yoga instructor in her community, and she teaches in the Sociology Department at Dominican University. Find Cathy on Facebook (The Self-Aware Parent or Zen Parenting Radio) and on Twitter (@selfawareparent or @zenparenting) and on her website www.cathycadams.com