Updated: Oct 19, 2018
It’s been said life is a journey, and we don’t really arrive anywhere. That certainly is true, yet there is a place we can return to anytime we want. Discovering this place has transformed me and my experience of life on planet Earth.
Recently, I read an article about Richard Dreyfuss. He said he got sucked into drug abuse after he won his Oscar. It caused me to think about all the celebrities over the years who’ve suffered with drug or alcohol abuse. So many lives have been lost because of this - Judy Garland comes to mind. Dreyfuss said he enjoyed the ride to the top but once he got there, he was disappointed. Luckily, he was able to rise back up out of his unhappiness.
Like Dreyfuss, I’ve thought we arrive somewhere because of something we accomplish. My wise son recently said, “There is no there.” Yet, we humans sometimes fall into the false belief that life is about the destination; we want an ideal life, and we’re just waiting to stumble upon it.
Brene Brown is a best-selling author, who has one of the most-watched Ted Talks ever. She says she’ll probably need a therapist, at different times, the rest of her life. It’s a bit hard for me to comprehend a sociologist, with a PhD and three books on the best sellers list would need to see a therapist. It proves that within the human experience struggles exists no matter who we are, what we have, or what we’ve accomplished.
Chester Bennington, of Linkin Park, ended his life this past year. He talked about the space in his head being a bad neighborhood where he didn’t talk nice to himself. If he didn’t work on his stuff, his life got messy. Chester said, “People think if you’re successful, you get some card that says you’re going to be totally satisfied and happy the rest of your life. But it doesn’t happen like that.” Celebrities seem to have everything the rest of us think we want. But often it’s still not enough. Unfortunately, Chester’s life got so bad he couldn’t stand to live it any longer.
Usually, when I struggle - it’s because I’m focused on arriving somewhere. If the struggle goes on for too long, my thoughts become bound in my tiny reality and my world grows small. The space in my head turns into a bad neighborhood just like Chester talked about. Things seem boring and monotonous. My life becomes frustrating, irritating, and unpleasant. I get discouraged. And though I’m on a planet that has over seven billion people on it, a feeling of loneliness can creep in. All this happens because I’ve forgotten infinite possibilities exist within time and space, and they have nothing to do with accomplishing something or arriving somewhere; they have to do with living here and now.
Fortunately, every day brings me the opportunity to return to some basic truths about life. Life does have suffering. Luckily, time and space were here long before I was, and will exists long after I am gone. The universe is very big, and I live on planet Earth with the rest of mankind as we travel through space at hundreds of thousands of miles per hour. The truth is that no matter what I think, believe, or feel - infinite, invisible possibilities float around light as air, and they’re just as real. So, basically, life has problems and it also has solutions. I want to return to this place of awareness as often as I can. The only way I’m able to do that is by being still and quiet in the present moment.
A happy memory I have is kindergarten naptime. My teacher had a special wand she used to “wake” us up. Once Miss Brown tapped a student with the wand, they were free to get up and tap another child. I loved it when it was my turn to hold the wand. When naptime was over, it was time to get up from resting, and get back to the business of learning.
Just as our bodies need rest, so do our minds; all the major spiritual beliefs have a practice of meditation or prayer. The point of the practice is to take a break from the constant self-absorbed chatter in our brains and return to a bigger place. This is what has been referred to as the space between our thoughts - where life exists in all its grandeur, despite our view of it.
An amazing human being, who traveled on this planet, was Viktor Frankl. He was a psychologist who lived through Auschwitz and wrote the book Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” We have the amazing ability every single moment of every day to choose how we respond to things. Frankl says this is where our power is; this is the place of awareness and clarity.
For over twenty years I’ve been running on the beach each morning. Some times when I jog I’m present and enjoy all the beauty around me. Other times it’s as though I’m dragging all my problems along with me. I worry about my kids, money, my future, the state of the world, and the planet’s future. My mind is really good at churning these things around, until I’ve gotten myself all worked up into an emotional sweat. My mind can become as foggy as the beach around me, with no awareness or clarity in sight.
I like to hike, and the central coast is a great location to do that. Sometimes I go up to Big Sur, or I make my way to the top of Ontario Ridge. We now also have the Pismo Preserve. The view from these areas is incredible. I love seeing the vast ocean spread out before me and the land sprawling around for miles. When I’m up on these trails and I look at the world before me, life seems bigger - much bigger than my problems.
Every day, numerous times a day, I become still and quiet. When needed, I return to the top of the mountain in my mind. Up there, on the bluff, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, I watch my concerns float on the wind down to the shore. The waves lap up my worries and take them out to sea. That’s when I return to the place, that’s bigger than me, that’s full of possibilities. I have a little poem I say sometimes:
I let go, I let be
I am whole, I am free
Viktor Frankl was right, there is a space of power where we grow and are free. That quiet, still place, between stimulus and response is always there, it’s everywhere; we need only to return to it.
I can stir up my worried thoughts anytime I want to; they’re usually there, just beneath the surface. But I know, too, I can just let them be. When I take time to quiet my mind it’s not to escape, it’s to rest. When I enter the place where possibilities exist, I find compassion, kindness and acceptance. I see things much more clearly. I accept life with all its rough edges, and I accept myself with all my flaws. I’m also able to accept others for who they are beyond what they say or do. This place is like my own grown-up kindergarten nap blanket; I rest there for a bit, and when I’m ready, I’m free to get back to the adventure of living.