Vector #2: Harmony

Over the last two weeks, I shared with you how my three life vectors came about, and explained my first vector, Choice.

In this week’s post, I want to share with you my second vector, Harmony, which grew out of my choice to not have children.

When I was little, I used to think that my life would follow the typical milestones – you are born, you grow up, you go to school, then to college; you meet your love, get a job, then get engaged, get married, have one child, then a second, and maybe add a dog in the mix. This is the expected path of life. If I had not stopped to think about my choices, I would still be married to my first husband, living in a house with a cute white picket fence probably with two kids. There is nothing wrong with this scenario, but it is not my scenario. It is not what I want. I love children, but only other people’s children.

What I love more than the idea of having my own children is independence, freedom, silence, solitude.

In the book The Leader who had no Title, its author Robin Sharma talks about the 10 human regrets. Number 8 is the one I have always feared the most – it’s my own personal version of hell:

“You reach your last day with the awareness that you ended up living the life that society trained you to want versus leading the life you truly wanted to have.” I have been working my whole adult life to live the life I truly want to have– and I have achieved it by making choices.

The choice I made was to not have children. Choosing is only the first step however. The second step is living that choice every day. This is what I call Harmony.

I am a Libra. In French, the word for Libra is “Balance.” We value harmony and balance. By harmony, I mean the alignment between my values, my emotions, and my actions. When my thinking, my feeling, and my doing are aligned, I feel whole and happy. When they are not, I am not.

Harmony comes from making a choice – and from self-awareness, self-honesty, and introspection. The harmony I seek is between values, emotions, and actions.

Let’s use my lack of desire to have children as an example: 

What I’m Thinking: I have given it much thought, and I do not want children.

How I’m Feeling: I do not feel guilty about my choice or bad because I am not following the social norm. 

What I’m Doing: I use birth control and don’t get pregnant. 

My thinking, feeling, and doing are all aligned. My life choices are in accordance with my values.  

Let’s imagine what would happen if the three were not:

What I’m Thinking: I have given it much thought, and I do not want children.

How I’m Feeling: I feel pressure from from society or from my husband to have children; I feel bad about not having children. 

What I’m Doing: I give in to the pressure and have kids. 

Or What else I could be Doing: I stick to my guns and don’t have children but feel bad about my actions. 

Emotions

In either of these scenarios, somehow the three pillars are not in alignment. While neither scenario is the stuff of horror movies, it is also not the stuff of the happiest life. 

In this triad of actions, values, and emotions, changing my feelings is always the hardest and most challenging for me. When it comes to my feelings, I often go back to the Buddhist proverb: “You are not your emotions.” 

The best explanation I have found of this precept is from the book Sapiens: A Brief History of HumanKind by Yuval Noah Harari. My favorite quote from it: 

“According to Buddhism… the real root of suffering is this never-ending and pointless pursuit of ephemeral feelings, which causes us to be in a constant state of tension, restlessness, and dissatisfaction. … People are liberated from suffering not when they experience this or that fleeting pleasure, but rather when they understand the impermanent nature of all their feelings, and stop craving them. … All kinds of feelings go on arising and passing – joy, anger, boredom, lust – but once you stop craving particular feelings, you can just accept them for what they are.”

Indeed, I think about my emotions as feelings that “I have” instead of feelings that “I am.” As happiness researcher Dr. Beth Cabrera says in her book Beyond Happy, “Emotions are what we feel, not who we are.”

Compare the English language to Spanish for example: in English, you are hungry. You are afraid. The verbiage of emotion expression defines you, the person, as the emotion. 

Instead, in Spanish, you have hunger. You have fear. These emotions are things that you possess, not things that define you. You have them for a while, and then you lose them. Yet you remain. 

So, in dealing with harmony, I have come to recognize that when my three pillars are not aligned, and my feelings require shifting, what I really need is time. If I can’t shift my feelings, I set them aside for a moment. I don’t ignore them – I know they are there, I recognize them, I accept them. But I also know that often, they are transient. They do not define me. And while I am not always strong enough to shift them, if my decisions on thinking and acting are right, my feelings eventually follow and fall into place. 

Silence

When my emotions aren’t in alignment with my values, one of the strategies I have implemented to help me process my feelings is silence. One of the most important ways in which I exercise choice in my life is through the words I use or don’t use. One of my mantras is “Choose silence.” When I was growing up, my Nana always told me, “If you have nothing nice to say, do not say anything.” Words can never be unsaid – just as toothpaste can’t be put back into the tube once it’s out. Again, the link between choice and control: choosing silence is a way for me to exercise control over my emotions.

When my emotions get the better of me, I say things I don’t mean, and words come out that are neither kind nor constructive.

When choosing silence, I remind myself that I can always come back to a feeling or conversation. Then I have more control over the timing, positioning, and languaging of my message. I have nothing to lose by choosing silence. But I have everything to lose by saying the wrong words, at the wrong time, in the wrong way. 

Silence is the space between the emotional stimulus of a conversation and our response. As Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl says, “In that space lies our power to choose our response.”

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