Telling ourselves that we deserve care and attention and that we need to feel good can be hard sometimes. This is especially true in a culture that teaches us that work and struggle are the only way to a successful life.
But while this is true to an extent, we have to really internalize the idea that nothing is valuable unless it is full of struggle. That somehow everything worth gaining must have an element of pain attached to it. That’s not true and this is a mentality we have adopted from our history of oppression in the Caribbean. Wellness for me, is about breaking that image and dispelling the myth that you somehow have to feel like a martyr to enjoy your success.
Trust me, I believe in hard work. I think integrity and discipline have more direct impact on one’s future than raw talent. You’re only as good as the last thing you did completely. However, sometimes when we reach bench mark in your life and you follow all the rules of work and struggle, it can be hard to simply sit in that joy without looking back at what went wrong or looking ahead at what comes next.
It has been a serious challenge for me to break the practice of always looking for something that’s missing, mainly because I suffer from such bad anxiety that my brain is wired to tell my mind that worry is its default state. But we can practice other ways of seeing our work and our success that really help calm us mentally and give us more opportunities to improve on our health and wellness.
The thing about wellness is that it should be constant and become part of our routine. This should be reflected in the way we eat, the things we consume – both materially and intellectually, the way we think and react to stress in our lives. Teaching ourselves to be more conscious to take in the best of the world is not the same as what some of the “think positive” crew or “pray it away” crew may believe. True wellness is not about denial or deflection. It is acknowledging that some of us do have hard times, do have work to hard or even sometimes encounter things that are too much for us to handle.
True wellness is about acknowledging those challenges and consciously choosing to find or place light in the situations that often make us feel dark and worried inside. It means that you will not necessarily be Perky Pearl every day, but you will be able to find a place of calm and peace within you even when the chaos of emotional vampires attempt to swarm you. We have to work at it, but if we do it right and regularly, it feels like the opposite of what we’ve learned work to be.
So how do we practice and achieve this level of wellness in our lives? How do we sit in the good of our lives without being distracted by the worry? It means taking a checklist; our Genesis Test, I call it. Look at the things we have done over a period of time, accounting for the good we have contributed, saying they are good and living for a second or more in the comfort of our achievement. It means living in gratitude that we are here and we can do. And what does my livable gratitude look like? It looks like this column, my opportunity to reflect daily on the journey I’m on and how I may serve others with my talent. It also looks like my acceptance that I don’t always have to be afraid of gratitude directed at me.
I had an opportunity to be honoured at a recent women’s event and I was so happy to be selected and in the company of friends to share this experience. However, my anxious thoughts quickly dominated once I accepted because being the subject of any kind of personal focus is hard for me. I’m always worried about whether people will see and feel the awkwardness radiating. So I had to mentally coach myself out of this place and focus on the gratitude of acknowledgement, first of all, that people saw my work and thought it valuable.
I focused on the gratitude that this was an event that sought greatness about me from others and really didn’t ask me to lift a finger to be great (because I work hard and I am tired!). I was grateful that people were consistent, fair but kind and true in their perceptions of me; that who I think I am and who they think I am are so squarely aligned. I was grateful in that moment of recognition to be raised by people who made it so easy to present my true self to the world consistently and have it accepted and celebrated, especially because in my younger life I worried so much about being accepted for being different. I felt at peace this was a space of gratitude that didn’t require any obligation. That people could say thank you and they wouldn’t owe me any thing. Often we have this myth that our sense of gratitude to the people who have shown us kindness must be matched in us by explicit displays of obligation. We must “do” something for them in return or “pay them back.”
If nothing else, your gratitude should be reflected in how you live, in your practice of feeling good, being good to others and being at peace with yourself. Gratitude shouldn’t look like duty and obligation. It is about occupying a space in the world where you acknowledge that all these good things have contributed to your making, that they are good for you and that you are here and you are enough. So if you want to achieve a state of wellness – whether you’re out to eat, at your very stressful job, traveling around the world or dealing with the unexpected trials of personal life, you have to remember that you can always return to that sense of peace and wellness within you. Gratitude is a livable place.
(A version of this article was published in the Chronicle newspaper on May 5, 2017.)