Are you a Bystander or Participant in Your Life?
Some people observe life. Some live life as an object and let life act upon them. Others participate. If you want to live fully, be a participant in your life.
Observing is a great skill! It helps you to take in data so that you know what’s going on around you so you can act effectively.
However, if you never get in the game, you’re not living. You’re watching life happen around you. Everything is vicarious. This can keep you safe because you never get your feelings hurt, and you get to sit back and talk about what could have, should have, would have.
This is not a substitute for experience. Life is meant to be experienced. A life without experience is no life at all. You might as well watch a movie.
Lots of children are treated as objects. So they grow up viewing themselves as objects. Clues that this is happening are:
- blaming. When we give power to others over our actions, it could be because we feel we have no agency.
- speaking of events as things that happen to them. If people and things are acting upon me, again, I have no agency. I’m a thing that can be manipulated, moved, and adjusted according to other people’s whims and changing circumstances.
- gaining status by association. If I feel important because I am with you, a high status company, have a high status title, or have name brand things, I have no value of my own. It’s borrowed.
- I save others or care for others so that they will approve of me. I am the object that they project their love and approval upon. Without this, I don’t exist.
- I encourage dependency so that someone will need me. They are propping me up. I allow them to use me to keep me relevant.
Acting as an object gives you more involvement in life than an observer. However, how you move through life depends upon someone else’s behavior. Actions are mainly reactive and manipulative to get the response that you want.
When you participate in your life, life is dynamic. You never know from moment to moment what will happen because there is an interplay between your thoughts, feelings, and actions and those of the people and environment around you. Every moment is new.
Nothing happens “to” you. It all happens “for” you. Sometimes it happens through your intention and as a result of your behaviors. And sometimes it’s all a gift.
For example, the other day I was crabby. Traffic was heavy. I had a lot to do. People who had the power to help me were wasting my time through inefficiency. I was late for a lunch meeting, and I had a negative attitude.
I knew I had a negative attitude and wasn’t trying to take it out on anyone else. The person who was helping me was falsely cheerful. I thought she was uncomfortable with my crabbiness, and she was trying to make herself feel better by diffusing my impatience. This made me feel manipulated, which resulted in less patience that I didn’t take out on her, but we both felt nonetheless.
Is that a gift? Absolutely. I participated in that by noticing all those dynamics as they were happening. I felt my impatience and irritation and said to myself. “When I am calm, I will look at what is triggering this so that I can see it more clearly and be more self aware and not take it on next time.” Gift! (BTW, it wasn’t a trigger, it was a vulnerability. I was hungry and tired. Good info!)
Life’s a mirror. It shows you what’s inside. (As within, so without).
Of course, the gift doesn’t have to always be feedback that shows us our flaws. I am outside most winter mornings before the sun rises. It’s often glorious. The sky is alight with the most magnificent stars, and I often pause to look up and share my wonder. That’s participating too. I’m participating in the beauty that is life. It puts me in touch with the world outside of me as well as the wonder inside. So “we” (the sky and I) share in this moment together.
Life is not always comfortable or happy, but it can always be an adventure if we participate. If you think about the memories that molded you and made you feel most like your true self, they were probably moments that were really hard, right?
One of mine was climbing to the top of really high mountain in high altitude, so we couldn’t breathe. It started out hot, then got windy, rainy, and finally freezing cold. My pack was way too heavy and was absolutely back breaking. By the time we finished, I felt lucky to have survived. And it made me feel stronger, more alive!
So don’t avoid the struggle. Don’t push away pleasure. Everything that happens creates life. It’s why you’re here. Engage. Participate. Don’t throw your life away by sitting on the sidelines. It’s far too precious.
Participation keeps life real. When we are controlling, manipulating, avoiding, ignoring, keeping things at a distance, and not getting involved, we are moving things into Shadow. We are creating the traps that will snap at us later and lull us to sleep. There are so many ways to sleepwalk through life.
If you think, “I’m not skilled enough to do this well,” that’s what experience teaches you. Just pay attention and tweak as you go. Elders aren’t born. They are made though life experience. So live.