Grasping the Art of Living

“Happiness is what happens when you learn to surf on the waves that come at you instead of being submerged by them.” ~ Oli Anderson

2017 has been an instrumental year for me personally. A year laced with so many significant ‘aha’ moments delivered gift wrapped with a bow tie from the universe. Some of those moments have come accompanied with the warm feeling of what I would imagine a lotto winner would feel, while others have felt like the bone-chill cold of an Orthodox priest’s administration of holy water in the early and cold hours of any morning. 

But none other than five key principles to the Art of Living have left an indelible print on my psyche and enabled me to relish each moment that 2017 introduced. Knowledge of these key principles has been one thing and we’ve all been exposed to them in various forms, yet the attempt to at worst practice one or two of these five principles has enriched my personal attempt to grasp the Art of Living.

Principle I: Opposite values are complementary

In essence, this principle invites us to accept that life will always have ups and downs. So long as we bring to awareness that the opposing ups and downs are not a contradiction but rather complement each other. In practicality, this has enabled me to let go of seeing situations in binary form as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ that happen, but rather explore the complementarity in each situation. “The sun is perfect and you woke this morning. You have enough language in your mouth to be understood. You have a name, and someone wants to call it. Five fingers on your hand and someone wants to hold it. If we just start there, every beautiful thing that has and will ever exist is possible. If we start there, everything, for a moment, is right in the world.” ~ Warsan Shire 

Principe II: Accept people and situations as they are

We can only be responsible for our personal response to people and situations rather than attempt to control each outcome. As a results oriented person, I’ve often experienced frustration when a particular situation or person did not deliver the expected outcome according to timelines established. Yet the energy expended in frustrating or tying to straighten a bent arrow or bend a straight arrow has often taken away from seeing what else each situation or person could introduce that was not there before. “You only have so much emotional energy each day. Don’t spend it on things that don’t matter or on people who don’t value you or your time. Be discerning.” ~ Di Riseborough 

Principle III: Do not be a football of other’s opinions

With my new start-up in its second year, this perhaps has been the most interesting of all five principles as it required building resilience to withstand the avalanche of both well-meaning and ill meaning opinions about my business and personal life. It also required working to strengthen the capacity to sift through and find what is most important, while tuning out the unnecessary external noise. By no means the easiest, smiling through it all and proceeding straight ahead with one’s eye on the pie is the necessary choice. “You can’t change how people treat you or what they say about you. All you can do is change how you react to it.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Principe IV: Do not put intention in others mistakes

I’ve wrestled with this one all year round because it required me to not take offence at people’s oversight when the easiest thing was to point fingers. Yet I’ve had to reconcile it with the many mistakes I have made and expected others to understand there was no ill intention behind it. “My view of human nature is that all of us are just holding it together in various ways – and that’s okay, and we just need to go easy with one another, knowing that we’re all these incredibly fragile beings.” ~ Anonymous 

Principe V: Present moment is inevitable

So much has happened in the past. So much more yet to come in the future. Yet the struggle has never been about the past or future, but sitting right here in the present and seeing it for what it is. This moment is not inescapable, desirous as we may be, to jump a page or chapter. Instances in which I’ve wanted to rush a situation, an idea, an initiative have often taken away from seeing clearly in that moment and allowing the hidden qualities of the present moment to surface. Each morning we are born again; what we do today is what matters most. ~ Buddha

May we all practice fully the Art of Living in 2018. As we welcome the new year ahead, I leave you with a poem I penned earlier this yea

Glorious Being 

To close your eyes

Lay down to the sound of crickets

Wrapped in the moon’s gaze


To wake the next morning

Eyes coated with yellow gold

Is an act of grace

A miracle in its own right

We forget

We are mere mortals

But to whom grace has been granted

How glorious to leave this world

With a smile each night

And to enter it again the next day

Heart laden with gratitude

~ Billene Seyoum (Sep. 2017) 


Billene Seyoum is the Managing Director of Earuyan Solutions (www.earuyan.com) and also blogs at www.africanfeminism.com.