Do you remember the exact moment you thought self-exploration might be a good idea? I do.

It was 1997 when the nurse wheeled me through the doors of the psychiatric unit. Twenty years old with the brains and talent to accomplish whatever I wanted in life and there I was. My freedom was exchanged for a locked unit with safety windows and a roll of quarters for phone calls.

“Where’s my room? I’m tired.”

The nurse pointed to a door just left of their main station. “Give me just a minute, dear. As soon as I finish your paperwork I’ll give you something to help you sleep and you can go lay down.”

“I don’t want your psycho sleep drugs and I’m pretty sure I can walk 10 whole steps without trying to kill myself, so I think I’m good without a chaperone.”

She totally ignored me but situated herself so I was now in her line of sight while she finished the paperwork. That woman didn’t need to say a thing. I knew I was not to get up until she was ready. Why is my room the only one with a window in the door? Do I not have the right to privacy anymore either? What do they think I’m going to do in there? Hang myself with dental floss? Oh right…they took that too.

I looked down at my freshly bandaged wrist to avert my eyes from the woman yelling obscenities to her delusions in the window of the common room door. She had her left arm tightly cradled around an infant-sized babydoll while she spat and hissed at an invisible man in the glass. With an all-out, full body wind-up she buried her fist in what I imagined to be the man’s face. Sparkling glass pieces bounced and rolled around my feet while the nurses did a team take-down, restraining this woman to the floor.

“DON’T TAKE MY BABY! DON’T TAKE MY BABY!” she wailed as they struggled to keep her safe….from herself.

“What’s wrong with her?” I asked the man next to me- unable to break my stare from the pooling blood under her hand.

No response. I turned to him assuming he hadn’t heard me and there he sat with his expressionless face. An elderly, white-haired man who spent the length of his days in a wheelchair by the nurse’s station- waiting patiently for someone to notice him so he could slide his robe open just enough to let the world know he had a penis.

You have no idea what a gift freedom is until it’s taken away. You can’t even grasp how utterly wasteful you are as you wake up each day and snub the choice to make a fresh start. It’s just another ordinary day until suddenly it isn’t. Suddenly those days feel like pure fucking magic and you will do anything to get back there again.

I don’t make light of the emotional agony that led to my eating disorder and suicide attempt. I was so buried in the darkness of depression that I couldn’t see beyond the thickness of it. You would think that ten long days spent in a mixed bag of crazy, would have done it. Unfortunately, the euphoric freedom I felt when I left that place was short-lived.

Only in the context of lock-and-key was I actually free. It’s easy to sit on your ass and stare out of a barred window imagining all the great changes you will make moving forward. Even the hardest challenges seemed exciting, compared to being there.

Despite the new perspective, I had one more long and winding downward spiral, before I realized the difference between self-exploration and self-transformation.

Self-exploration to Self-transformation: Asking better questions

Something significant happens when you feel death starting to wrap its heavy arms around you. The buzzing energy of life- of second chances and unmet dreams start to narrow down into a speck of light that drifts further and further away. When you are in complete darkness, light is the only thing you want. It’s your only reference point- it’s your beacon of hope.

This is when I finally saw life as the gift it is. I wasn’t asking myself the worn out questions like “why did this or that happen to me”- I wasn’t thinking about past misfortunes or anger, or how much I weighed, or if I had the money to pay my next car payment. The endless daily questions that once seemed so important, didn’t even exist.

Instead, I wondered why I was even given a life in the first place. I imagined all the events that had to take place for the chance meeting of two specific people in a bowling alley cafe, which would eventually lead to marriage and the conception of me. I could have very well been a flower- a beetle- or nothing at all. It was becoming clear that to be given human life was a miracle. It was designed with a much bigger purpose.

What was my purpose? Had I even considered the infinite possibilities of what my life could be? Have I been grateful and loving? How will my life contribute to the world?

Imagine you were generous enough to buy your unemployed, ungrateful, couch-potato of a friend a brand new house? While you hand them the keys you say, “This is for you because I love you. For 40 years, I saved every dime I worked for so I could give this to you.”

That friend takes the house without a thank you and lives in it for 20 years. He doesn’t take care of it and it falls apart- he still complains about his hardships and when you visit him he asks if you can bring him some food. And you do. Over and over again, he abuses your undeserved generosity and love.

And now your friend is asking you to give him another new house.

Now if you’re anything like me, you find this story completely irritating and ridiculous. Most likely you would never choose this type of person as a friend in the first place. But this is exactly what my second chance felt like. I was given a miracle for doing absolutely nothing. All I had to do was show up for my own birth. When I realized I was about to lose it, suddenly I saw the value in it and I asked for another one.

I was given a second chance. The difference was, I wasn’t handed a new house in perfect condition. I was given more time so I could rebuild and re-create the first house that was now in shambles.

I was sitting in the ultimate poop-pile of mismatched pieces like a wanna-be carpenter without a single tool.

Is there a How-to guide with this thing??

Life without Instructions

I realized that most of us are saturated with dry facts and how-to guides when we learn about life. We are taught how to survive, how to be responsible, and polite. We learn a lot of what not to do and what is expected. But there is a large, untouched territory of teaching that is overlooked.

Where do we learn how to be psychologically resilient so we can optimize our life and feel the upper reaches of the human experience? Where do we learn the right habits of thinking, so we can supercharge our life and fill it with meaning and purpose?

How do we learn to understand the difference between what is out of our control and what we have absolute dominion over?

This is what I wanted to understand so I could re-create a life I was excited about. Survival is not that difficult, but I wanted to adopt this kind of champion ethos that I witnessed in a handful of uncommon people. The ones who had the ease and flow of an extraordinary life in spite of the same unpredictable world we all live in- the ones who had the very threads of happiness woven in their core.

The world just never shakes them- they love, they live, they feel the full experience, they always adapt and thrive. They are like Armored Guardians.

That is what I wanted. And that is exactly what I studied for the 19 years to follow.

Creating the Map

There are billions of us walking this earth searching for miracles, forgetting that we are one. –Tweet This

We think we have an inexhaustible amount of chances to pull it all together, so we dawdle away irresponsibly using life’s energy for meaningless goals. We spend far too much time and effort running away from things; like fear, pain, vulnerability and connection- instead of running towards the things we truly want.

Some of us have become so blindly unaware of ourselves that when asked what we do want, we don’t even know. We have adopted a kind of “learned helplessness”, rather than the skills of actualizing our potential.

The conditions of your health, your habits, your relationships, your job…they all point back to you. Inspiration and motivation will not be delivered to your door. You won’t wake up on Monday feeling full of life and energy because it was pumped into you while you slept. Your perfect love is not waiting for you to find them nor are they out there searching for you.

Happiness, personal power, and success are not out there as destination points- they are learned skills. We don’t invoke them by chanting daily positive affirmations or by creating vision boards with happy images. They don’t happen as a result of merely understanding past trauma and pain.

The happy, purposeful and empowered life is first learned, then earned.

As I am writing my book, The Guardian Ethos, the actionable steps explained under the acronym ARMOR are the lifeblood to an extraordinary life.

A wareness

R esponsibility

M aturity

O bligation

R elationship

Applying them will be the difference between the inspired reader and the changed life. I pray for more of the latter. My loyalty is to the truth as I understand it and my promise is to share the collaborative wisdom from those whose lives represent the earned ease of adopting this ARMOR of The Guardian Ethos.

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