I was first introduced to the work of Psychologist and Author, Gay Hendricks, over a decade ago when I was working as the General Manager of Delaware Speedway here in Ontario, Canada. A friend of mine who, of all things, was our beer rep at the time, let me know about a book he loved called “Conscious Golf” by someone named Gay Hendricks. He told me it had been the single most important book for him in increasing his productivity at work. Intrigued, I went out that night, purchased it and read through it immediately. It remains one of my favourite works on personal development.
Ever since then, I have been a fan of Hendricks’ work and I hope I get the chance to tell him some day how much of a positive impact his teachings have had on my life. As I look back, although it was “Conscious Golf” that began my initial interest, there remains one work in particular that I purchased a short time later and now hold in my heart with an exceptional amount of gratitude: “Conscious Living.”
Here’s a little bit about why it means so much to me.
I had owned “Conscious Living” for some time, but had only read about halfway through it. I remember it not connecting to me fully in those immediate moments the way “Conscious Golf” had at the time. So I put it back on the shelf until I felt urged to re-address it.
Then, on an evening in 2010, I was confronted with some news that brought my perception of my world crashing down around me. At that moment, I knew that my 11-year+ marriage was in serious jeopardy and that, at the very least, it could never be the same. I have not been as completely emotionally shattered, before or since, as I was in that moment.
In a swirl of hurt, confusion and sadness, I removed myself from where any of my family were present, and wound up in the laundry room of my basement. I remember feeling like I was going to burst apart, not knowing what to do, except that I did not want to hurt myself or anyone else. I remember crying a lot, and probably vocalizing more than that. I also have a memory of just grabbing whatever I could find on the shelf nearest me, and throwing it down on the ground and stepping on it in a desperate attempt to get my confused feelings out without doing any harm (I’m not proud of this behaviour and don’t condone it, by the way. I am just being honest about what happened).
I picked this object up and threw it down multiple times. I smacked it against the dryer and laundry tub. I did this over and over until I’d worn myself out. Finally, a slumped-over exhausted mess, I stood with my head down, tears in my eyes and a hole in my heart. And it was at that quiet moment when I looked down and realized that the object I’d been tossing around was Hendricks’ book, “Conscious Living.”
Despite the circumstances, I was horrified with myself and my behaviour. The book looked up at me, now battered and creased. I thought, “Of all the things to grab, why that book? What was it even doing in this room?” It seemed as if it had to be there for a reason. In my own way, I sensed the book looking up at me, my emotional tirade complete, and hearing it suggest, “Are you done now? Open me up and have a look.” I bent down and picked it up, walked into the next room, sat down and began to read.
The contents of the book changed my life.
Hendricks may never know this, but that book was a key part of getting me through months of trying to keep my marriage together before ultimately admitting defeat, and then dealing with separation, divorce and the business of re-engineering my life as I’d known it at the time. Because of what I learned from that book, I was able to navigate those stormy waters with empathy, compassion and accountability. Years later, I’ve often said to those closest to me that I learned more – about myself and others – through that process that I don’t think I could have learned any other way. I still feel that way.
Through “Conscious Living” I began to learn about how I was unconsciously committed to the circumstances I was already experiencing (that’s a tough thing to own, and something that took years for me to fully wrap my head around). I learned about personas, why it’s so important to learn to love yourself, and so much more.
That book is now full of highlights, bookmarks and notes. I carried it around with me everywhere for a about a year and would reference it almost every day. Through it all, there are a few passages from it that still flash through my mind on a regular basis. For example:
“We choose how gently we get our lesson by how open we are to learning. Life teaches us with a sledgehammer if we refuse to pay attention. It administers the same lesson with a feather tickle if we show a willingness to learn.”
That passage jolted me awake to the idea that I’d been bulldozing my way through life doing what I thought I was supposed to do, rather than truly listening to my heart and body and seeing the signs that were pointing me elsewhere. I now see people caught in this trap every single day. In fact, it seems that much of our North American society is snared in this paradigm, and we all just keep following along, comparing ourselves to others. I still work at that every day, and suspect I always will. I am a much happier and healthier person now. I wish that for everyone else, too.
“The act of blaming is an extreme form of being right, a habit that can be your most insidious hindrance in the quest for enlightenment. Many people, when given the opportunity to be happy and vibrant, settle instead for being right.”
That bit, and the chapters of the book surrounding it, was an enormous influence in me navigating through the rocky waters of divorce. I was astounded to realize how truly unhappy I actually was, and how much I pointed my finger when I didn’t even realize I was doing it. I stopped blaming and making excuses and started being more accountable. I became a lot more interested in getting it right rather than having to be right. The challenge that came after that was still having the ability to trust in myself without relying on the rigidity I’d employed previously. But that’s another story.
Another key passage from “Conscious Living:”
“If you don’t love yourself, you’ll always be looking for someone to do it for you. And you won’t ever find it, because people who don’t love themselves attract people who don’t love themselves.”
I read and highlighted that bit years ago, but didn’t start to truly understand and work on it until more recently. It’s more difficult than it sounds.
And though it seems that half the book his highlighted, here’s one last example, for now, of something Hendricks said that electro-shocked me into a new paradigm:
“It took me a long time to figure out something I now know deep in my cells: we create the very situation we complain about most.”
Yikes. That’s a hard one to accept. But I’ve come to believe it’s absolutely true. At the time, I couldn’t imagine how I’d had any hand in creating the situation of my family breaking apart. It seemed not only absurd, but offensive. Still, I allowed the notion to float through my consciousness. It started with a couple of simple questions, directed at myself: “I wonder what my end of this was?” And, “I wonder what I can learn from this?”
As soon as I invited answers to those queries, I began to experience a series of “Holy Cow” moments. I began to see myself through an entirely different viewpoint (think of Scrooge viewing himself with one of the ghosts in “A Christmas Carol”).
It took me a long time to find my legs after making these realizations. But I eventually did. And that gave me the foundation to start building myself back up again. I am better for it.
Perhaps you have your own example similar to what Hendricks’ “Conscious Living” has meant to me. If so, please do share. I have read and learned from many wonderful books since (including several by Hendricks) and I’m certain there will be many more along the way and would welcome your suggestions.
As I look back on my life so far, I can clearly see two versions of myself: the very determined guy who struggled and flailed and dug in deeper at the appearance of every obstacle, and the post-“Conscious Living” fellow who still pursues goals and dreams but feels much more fulfilled and content on a regular basis.
I like the second guy much better.
I was inspired by “Conscious Living.” I remain inspired by it.
Thank you, Gay Hendricks.