A Different Kind of Life

I was going to wait until I was feeling better to write this, but here I am anyway… writing on one of those days when something feels profoundly wrong in the universe or in the world or maybe just in me. I should have written a few days ago when I emerged from the blissful beauty and solitude of the woods where the big oaks still grow and the flowing water trickles like a meditation foundation and roars like a symphony. It always seems so clear to me, after a few solid hours of trudging down muddy trails and plunging my face into icy forest streams, what I’m supposed to be doing in this life, the things I need to let go, the precious few I’m supposed to keep and hold close. It seems so simple out there to just breathe the animate air, close my eyes, and let the sunlit autumn leaves paint my eyelids with the answers to all of my questions. It seems so easy to be free.

But this week has been a week like so many others, when my mind has become clouded with habitual worries and anxieties and it won’t let me sleep at all. I can feel it pushing at the back of my eyeballs and tensing all of my muscles. My words feel too clumsy and too numerous, my perception of safety limited to the walls of my own house. The world outside seems way too loud and far too fast – over-stimulated, overmedicated, over-processed and overwhelmed. It is at times like these I always return to the same question:

If this is the world we’ve built for ourselves, why are we so often unhappy living in it?

I think part of the answer lies in the fact that progress has now become synonymous with commodification to the point that even personal growth and transformation seem to require a vast array of products in order to be fomented in our lives. Our brand preferences have become our identities and we’ve been thoroughly convinced that changing them somehow changes us, too. From fashion to pharmaceuticals, we’re not just being sold products anymore; we’re trying to buy our own redemption.

The problem is that with each new product we buy, we become increasingly comfortable with the notion that the cures for our unhappiness exist somewhere outside of ourselves and that, by obtaining them, we no longer have use for the much tougher internal processes of reckoning and discernment. As I’m sitting here trying to write this, I’m fighting nearly constant urges to check my email, scroll through Facebook posts, turn on the TV, see what there is to buy on Amazon… anything to distract me from feeling how I’m feeling right now. With everything at my fingertips, I could easily stay distracted and detached until the discomfort passes. In fact, I could easily stay distracted and detached for my entire life. We all could. And sadly, many of us will.

Which is why I chose to write today, dear friends, even though I feel like such a mess. Tonight I’m hiding in my house, but tomorrow I’m going to try again – not to go out and buy things but to do things to get me just a little bit closer to where I want to be. Tomorrow I’m going to try to live a little more openhearted and a little less distracted. I’m going to try to pay attention to all of the beauty and the pain around me and not bury my face in my iPhone. I’m going to try to hold a few precious things close and let the rest go. I’m not going to run back into the woods this time. I’m going to stay right here.

I’m going to keep trying to live a different kind of life.

Advertisements

8 thoughts on “A Different Kind of Life

  1. Thomas Corcoran

    Neil Gaiman said it best –
    “Remember, whatever discipline you’re in, whether you’re a musician or a photographer, a fine artist or a cartoonist, a writer, a dancer, a singer, a designer — whatever you do, you have one thing that’s unique: You have the ability to make art. And for me, and for so many of the people I’ve known, that’s been a lifesaver, the ultimate lifesaver. It gets you through good times, and it gets you through … the other ones. Sometimes life is hard. Things go wrong — in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art. I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Someone on the Internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, eventually time will take the sting away, and that doesn’t even matter. Do what only you can do best: Make good art. Make it on the bad days, make it on the good days, too.”

    I am sure there is a version of this for you.

    Reply
  2. Micah

    Reminds me of one of my favorite things of all time — David Foster Wallace’s 2005 Kenyon College commencement speech.

    “As I’m sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotised by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about “the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master”.”

    Reply
  3. Kim Hruba

    So appreciate that you’re willing to show us your (occasional) vulnerability underneath the strong superman/advocate cape you wear. You carry the world’s heavy burdens, Jeff, but you do a fine job, doing it. You’re an inspiration!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s