They say that you become that which you surround yourself with. It sounds so unforgiving and absolute and almost mythical that it couldn’t be true.
But it is true.
Everything matters. Even taking my children to the zoo translates into their increased appreciation for animals. And after a few days of showing the red and yellow autumn leaves to my toddler, she wants to play in them and take them home. My husband was a dedicated meat-eater when we met, and after three years of me cooking mostly vegetarian meals, he eats a lot less meat, even in restaurants: he can’t stomach it the way he used to. These examples represent tiny details of my daily life that I don’t usually think twice about, but have an impact nonetheless.
At Stroller Strides (exercise classes for moms with babies in tow), I notice that the preschoolers and even some toddlers are interested in stretching or running alongside their mama. It’s never too early to set a good example and instill healthy habits.
If I have a coffee date, I find my friend popping into my head for the rest of the day, or perhaps for several days. The deeper we connected that day, the better I feel. If we gossiped or said a catty thing of two, I am left feeling uneasy.
Conversations do not disappear. They hang around for a while, multiplying and dividing.
Everything we perceive; words, pictures, emotions; they don’t go in one ear and out the other. They’re absorbed by the brain, where they swirl and stagnate, leading to more words, pictures and emotions. When something disturbs us, we turn it over and over in our thoughts, trying to make sense of this pain. When something inspires us, we find more beauty in the mundane, we experience more creativity with every breath. Even our sleeping selves are not spared, our subconscious interpreting our waking experiences in our dreams.
This is why I don’t watch violent movies and I don’t want my (step)son to play with guns. This is why I focus on fruits and vegetables at the market rather than sweets and refined carbs. This is why I don’t like to gossip and why I meditate to purify my thoughts. This is why I strive to vanquish feelings of contempt and jealousy, because ill-feelings beget ill-feelings.
But we don’t have complete control over our surroundings, do we? We have co-workers and really old friends and the parents of our children’s friends and even family members we can’t disown. We can’t play God, we can’t have the ultimate control, but we do have control over our words.
You can say no.
You can say no to lunch with that co-worker, you can say no to that woman’s bridal shower and bachelorette party, you can claim you’re late for something and escape conversation from just about anyone. You can, and you should, say NO. Even if it’s NO to your mother, if your mother brings you down. If there’s a boy at the playground who bullies your child, don’t suck it up, go to another playground. If the bully is in your kid’s class at school, encourage him to keep his distance. Teach your children to say no, to walk away when someone makes them feel yucky.
Arranging your surroundings is an art, not a science. Saying no is a skill, and it takes practice. Identifying what enlightens you takes mindfulness, and understanding what pains you takes courage. From the moment you wake in the morning to the clothes you put on your body to the food you put in your body to the music you allow in your ears to the people you choose to converse with, remain alert.
What are you surrounding yourself with today?