Monday, August 15, 2011

A Grownup's Guide to Inner Peace

Lately I've been reflecting a lot on my own life choices, as well as the life choices of some of my friends and family. The old saying "the grass is always greener" is true---to a point. While I have single friends and family who have zero responsibilities and the freedom to gallivant all over the country and world at a moment's notice doing all sorts of crazy, glamorous things (and sometimes, I have to admit, I find myself envious of them even though I lead a very full life myself), I honestly would not trade places with them. Why?

Because in most cases, these are people who are older than me (sometimes MUCH older) but still don't have their "real" lives together yet. As in, no stable relationships (and/or multiple broken ones/divorces), blah-blah careers, no family or dependents, sometimes even no real financial stability. They spend their time jumping from one glamorous "adventure" to the next, jam-packing their schedules with every thrill-seeking activity they can possibly think of, without ever once stopping to notice what they're really doing is hiding from themselves. I can certainly understand the need to stay busy, since keeping busy is something that I do to address my tendency to get depressed if I don't. But there's a very big difference between finding productive things to do and running around like a chicken with your head cut off.

One thing I've learned as a Buddhist is to place a lot of value in keeping still. We all lead crazy lives, but at some point, we all have to slow down, sit down, and listen to ourselves, or we'll lose touch of who and what we really are. Not only that, a big part of being truly happy is serving something (and someone) other than yourself. Part of what it means to be a grownup is to consider yourself part of something larger than just your own needs and wants---whether that's a long-term relationship, a family, or even just your community. That can be hard to do when all you're doing is chasing the next thrill.

I can understand the appeal of the thrill-seeking life, since I spent the better part of my 20s pursuing it myself. But I also spent the better part of my 20s as a miserable emotional wreck who was full of anger and self-loathing. It wasn't until I slowed down and spent some serious time doing nothing but the basics of existence that I really figured myself out. All those years I spent travelling (I still travel, I just do it for the right reasons), jumping from one project/interest to the next, bed-hopping with umpteen-million boyfriends and casual one-night-stands did nothing for my self-esteem or for my character. Sure, they've given me some good stories to tell at cocktail parties, but that didn't make me me.

People often justify their crazy, impermanent, never-stop-to-smell-the-roses lives as "ways to find themselves." But that's not it at all. Really, what they're doing is running away from themselves. I know, because I've done it. All it got me was a major crash-and-burn in which every aspect of my life----personal, financial, spiritual, emotional----literally fell apart around me, and I was left with nothing.

How did I right my ship when that happened? (It happened about 10 years ago). I just stopped. I totally rebuilt my life from the ground up, and I did it by chucking all extraneous activities (other than work, exercise, and sleep) in favor of meditation. Seriously, I did that for almost an entire year. It worked. Within a year of doing that, I found myself married, with a good job, owning a home, and with a career that was going places.

Do yourself a favor. This week, get out your crazy-busy schedule, look it over, and then DELETE everything on it for at least one day. Or even a half-day if that's all you can do. Go out and sit on your porch or in the park or in a field and do nothing but just think, and breathe, and meditate (or pray, if that's your thing). Really take a hard look at yourself and your life, but don't attach any feeling or judgment to what you find. You might find yourself a little freaked out by what pops into your head while you do this. Be prepared to get upset, angry, maybe even cry a little. But it's worth it in the long run. When you're forced to look hard at yourself, you learn two things. One, that your own life really isn't all that important in the big context of the world, and two, that it's the people around you that really matter most. That doesn't mean you have to start sacrificing your own happiness, though. What you'll often find is, if you're where you should be, your happiness will just be there regardless of what you're doing or who you're with.

Easier said than done, I know. But you can start by inquiring within. And it sometimes it takes a major slowdown in order to speed yourself up for good.


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