I spent the weekend with some of the most successful men I know. That is if you measure success by a person’s ability:
- to be an effective communicator through expressing openly, honestly, and authentically,
- to be emotionally mature, accountable, and to take personal responsibility,
- to be committed to supporting the betterment, growth and development of others,
- to be generous,
- to recognize the importance of family and relationships, and
- to not go against personal values in order to fit in, even if it places one’s life at risk.
It just so happens that these men live at Valley State Prison.
I have been four times to Valley State Prison as a volunteer for the Freedom to Choose Foundation. Their mission is “to provide an experiential educational process through which people are both taught and inspired to make better choices resulting in positive changes in behavior reflecting enhanced self-esteem.” My role as a volunteer is to be of service and support the educational process. Each time I attend I am surprised by how much I learn from the participants.
As I reflected on what an extraordinary experience this weekend was, I wondered about what real success means to me? So much of what I have been conditioned to believe is that my success is measured by how much I have achieved, how much money I have made, my level of career notoriety, how well adjusted my children are, how well I get along with my husband, what car I drive, how well I have prepared for retirement, how much fun I can have, and how good my health is. When I look at what is behind all of these outside measures of success, I see the fundamental focus is on avoiding suffering and finding as many islands of pleasure possible amidst the hard work of avoiding pain.
This is diametrically opposed to what I experienced this weekend. Rather than having to work hard to avoid suffering, I simply slowed down and came into one accord with the volunteer intentions. I connected with the participants human to human and heart to heart. In the simplicity of this, I was able to experience the exquisiteness of the present moment more fully. My surroundings and circumstances became irrelevant to me. I felt fully alive and filled with gratitude. There was no focus on time or needing to be anywhere else.
For me, this feels like authentic success. It is the opposite of striving. It is the antithesis of needing anything to be different than it is. One of the slogans the volunteers use at the prison is, “Love it all.” This is a reminder that I experience my real success when I am in the moment, present, and open to what is. When I access this state of mind, I know in a profound way that all is well. This is the foundation from which I can experience life and allow it to unfold around me.
In our society it is easy to get confused and think the feeling of well being that we all want to experience comes from outside of ourselves — when circumstances look a certain way. Spending time with the brothers in blue made it abundantly clear to me that they often experience greater levels of inner freedom and well being in prison than I do on the outside. The speed with which I can live my life striving to do more, get more, live more, achieve more, all because of the misunderstanding that somehow this will help me be more, speeds up my mind, and feeds the illusion that I can be more than I already am. Instead, however, it takes me further and further away from the infinite depth of loving inside of me.
I don’t need to go to prison to experience my well being, open heartedness and peace of mind. I can access it at anytime when I am not caught up in the insecurity of my ego trying to convince me that I need to prove my worth. I always have the option of not buying into my limiting beliefs that tell me to keeping pushing myself so much so that I miss being able to experience the present moment. Instead, I can show up to my life in a relaxed state. When I am in this state of mind, I can really be of service to my Self, my family, my clients, my community, and it is then that the possibilities truly reveal themselves to me.
I am grateful for the reminder this weekend that when I slow down and let my mind settle, I naturally drop into the loving of my heart. Thank you Freedom to Choose Foundation, volunteers, and the brothers in blue for cracking my heart open more, and waking me up more fully to my common sense so I can get off the merry-go-round of my driven perfectionism and feel the wellbeing of the natural state of my Authentic Self. That is what I call effortless success.
May this post help you to slow down long enough to realize that where you are trying to get to is a mirage, and that you already have the real oasis within you.