Hold the Wheel and Drive

When I look back on 2011, I see both the most painful and the most illuminating year of my life. I can understand now that everything needed to happen the way it did for me to grow as a person, but I still hope never to relive anything like it.

The year began with me attempting to cope with the humiliation of my failed engagement. To make it worse it was a failed engagement that practically unfolded under the spotlight, stage right for all my friends, family, and coworkers to witness. Every day I had to face the people I respected and loved while trying not to show the pain in my eyes. But there was no chance of that. Sometimes I would even disguise my feelings so that I wouldn’t have to acknowledge them, being unreasonably jovial or enthusiastic about something meaningless in the still turbulent wake of recent events. But as much as I tried to believe I was ok, I was not.

Have you ever felt like you’re at such a low point in your life that a change must be made just to avoid spiraling downward to depths you’ll never recover from? It’s a scary place to be, and that’s where I found myself. As I tried to combat my rapid decline, I found myself in the grip of a myriad of emotions. Sadness, disregard, recklessness, and at times, contempt. I couldn’t live with life as it was and I knew something needed to change before it was too late. I truly believed that if a change wasn’t made, it may reach a point of no return and no recovery. My world was dark.

It wasn’t until one morning, as I edged closer to my threshold, that a familiar song came on in my headphones. Something clicked. I was ready to bring myself back to life. In that moment of clarity I realized that I was responsible for my reality, and only I would be able to change it. With the help of three invaluable resources I would change the way I lived, and more importantly the way I thought.

1. Art

I’m sure many of us can attest to the power that music can have on people. Watch a crowd at a Maroon 5 concert for four measures and you can see the passion and emotion that a simple note or lyric can liberate. Music helped me see beyond the narrow perspective I had been stuck with for months. It’s strange to iterate it now, but to some extent music removed my blinders so I could see the rest of the world. Some of my favorites were Incubus, Zero 7, Iron & Wine, and perhaps most importantly Mumford & Sons.

Everywhere I went I was immersed in my own soundtrack, letting the lyrics resonate in my every thought. The right music would show me that not only can many other people understand and identify with my emotion, but that there was still so much to celebrate in life. I’d lost someone dear to me- but I had loved. And as some strange feeling of rediscovery set in, I began to remember what I had forgotten in my sorrow- who I really was.

2. Inspiration

To help carry on in this new direction I began watching TED Talks over at TED.com. Some of the stories were so moving that it reminded me of how good my life really is. No bombs are going off in my neighborhoods, for one. All this time I was so self-absorbed that I’d forgotten to take those around me into consideration. The more I watched these videos the more inspired I was to pull myself out of my funk, but more importantly I regained awareness to the world around me. It’s like I’d been suffocating myself within my own little bubble, and it turns out one solution to correcting my misery was connection with other people.

One aspect of the talks that really stayed with me was the sheer number of people that gave talks about the wellbeing of other people – they weren’t even concerned for themselves. Seeing people selflessly contributing time and effort to help affect others in a positive and often drastic way reminded me of the good that’s in the world. For a long time my negativity moved me to lose faith in the world and I started to believe that the humanity was a product of calculating cost-benefit analysis rather than driven by pursuits of the heart. TED talks helped me remember the truth.

3. Awareness

The single most important tool that has been helping me rebound from a somewhat dismal year was the popular book, A New Earth. I’d never read anything quite like the teachings of Eckhart Tolle, and it opened my eyes to realities which ultimately made me less critical of myself and my predicament. What I learned was that much of what was causing my discomfort was my heavy and active “pain body”. Essentially, I was letting my negative past experience seep into the present moment and cause me a great deal of emotional pain. I was holding on to my story, and because I did this I was justifying the terrible way I felt, which propelled and amplified those same feelings.

With this realization I understood that I needed to detach myself from my negative thinking patterns, which created space between the despondency and me. The book showed me that everything that I was feeling was normal and reiterated the reasons I’d come to this point. Then it helped me understand that once you are aware of your inner state, whether or not you take responsibility for it is a choice for you to make. I feel myself choosing to overcome it most days, but there are still times when it creeps in and I feel it. As time goes on it gets easier, but I can’t take for granted that it takes effort to stay out of those negative patterns. But as Eckhart says, “Awareness is the greatest agent for change.” And when you resist life, life resists you.

* * *

Life is too short to be miserable. And though I can say that with deep conviction, it’s still perplexing that we sometimes need more to reinvigorate ourselves. A bird’s eye view revealed to me that there were a few simple elements key to my recovery. Knowing that others had felt these feelings as deeply as I had helped me remember the humanity we all share. Music allowed me to see that. Seeing people giving talks devoted to the wellbeing of others reminded how important human emotion can be, and more importantly what it can accomplish. And once I realized that the pain I was feeling and the thoughts that overwhelmed me were products of an unobserved mind, clarity became an everlasting option.

Maybe it’s my natural idealism that allows me to believe that everything happens for a reason, but it’s reality that everything that happens, happens. Let you happen, too.

“Life is the Dancer, you are the Dance.” – Eckhart Tolle

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