We’ll all be dead soon enough. Some of us have lived as though we are already there. Fear, complacency, inflexibility, a lack of willingness to see a need for change in our lives… all of these signal a half-life. I don’t know about you, but I’ve already been there, and don’t want to return. I want to engage with whatever life I’m blessed to have left, and for me, that means that I have a responsibility to foster and nurture those things that sustain life on all levels. Emotionally, physically, environmentally… all levels.
I have a dear friend who is suffering major depression and anxiety right now. We’ve helped each other through this at different times. I know that when I was in that ineffable place between malaise, paralyzing fear, and a general sense of ennui, I was really hungering for something I had experienced and lost, but was afraid to feel the depth of the loss or the promise of what could be rebuilt in that empty space. It mean leaving behind the things that represented the only security I had in life. I’d fought hard to get a “good job with benefits” that paid enough for a relatively decent lifestyle. When my life fell apart, it was the only thing I had left that I felt was worth hanging on to. I worked in a place where I saw people struggling every day, and my own prior experience of that same struggle kept me frozen with fear of losing what I had. Many people told me that I needed to leave the situation I was in, but I wasn’t willing to see it because of my fear. I didn’t leave until I was pushed out and left no choice in. I was ineffective at best by that point, and I don’t need to describe the worst. Watching my friend go through their own struggle is reminding me constantly of the tools I needed to grow and change. A few things stand out as being the hardest to put into practice, but the most rewarding tools.
The first is walking through our fear. Walking through our fears is a theme that we cling to in entertainment and inspiration. We gorge on adventure movies, real-life stories of inspiration, and items and ideas that makes us feel like a hero in our own fantasies. But most of us are complacent in passively engaging these ideals, thinking that we couldn’t possibly be as brave, courageous, ruthless, or daring as Indiana Jones or Anne Frank or the guy who ran into the burning building to save a baby. We compare our lives to others that we label as extraordinary, and minimize our own experience. We focus on our character defects instead of our strengths. We choose to believe the negative messages we’ve received from others, adopting their insecurities as our own. We betray our dreams for the sake of a sense of safety and security, and we sanction this in others to justify why we are choosing this for ourselves. It is a true sense of cowardice that we impose upon ourselves, yet is entirely false. The image we carry of a hero is an extraordinary person facing extraordinary circumstances… yet both are very ordinary. We don’t see it because we pacify our own ordinary struggles with a myriad of material distractions, when we aren’t being distracted by petty drama and political crises and the like. This doesn’t make us bad people for buying into such things… it is human nature to seek comfort, joy, and a sense of superiority over our insecurities. The challenge is to recognize that we are immensely powerful in our ability to create our circumstances, and that we need to shift our perception to rise to that challenge. Crisis offers us the opportunity on a grand scale, but every day life offers us regular opportunities to rise to the challenge. Courage isn’t denial of our fear, but the ability to face it and walk through it, even when we are shaking in our boots.
The second is that we betray our dreams by settling for pale copies of them. We live in virtual fantasy worlds to avoid our feelings of inadequacy and to ease our pain. We buy into social agreements that tell us that only certain people deserve certain things in life, thus minimizing our own value as human beings and worthiness. Merit is important in life, but it is not something that can be superimposed on a hierarchy of power. It is something that is earned internally, and I have found through my own struggles that most people who yield power have earned very little for themselves, while most ordinary people have earned tenfold the rewards that they will most likely never see, so they settle for what they can get and sometimes get lost in addictions or power plays to compensate.
The third is that we have a tendency to look at what is wrong in the world, and in ourselves, before looking at what is right. It is well understood by psychologists that it takes many times more positives to overcome one negative, because of the ways we are conditioned to perceive life. A large part of my own growth process has been grounded in honing in on what I truly want… peeling away the layers that obscure my own dreams, then taking the next step to make those dreams happen. Having experienced that half -life to the point of not wanting to live and losing the fear to die, I have found that the source of suffering lies in our fear to create what we really want because of the beliefs that we hold about the way things are supposed to be. That doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle; it only means that my suffering ends with my willingness to be proactive and recognize the beauty of human potential that lies in us all, including myself. In coming to understand that I am no better and no worse than any other person on this planet, because I know intimately and innately why pain drives the worst of human nature and compassion and empathy drive the best.
I would like to propose that we begin to focus less on the negatives in our lives and more on a holistic view of how they are part of the cycles that transform the ordinary into the extraordinary with a shift in perspective. Notice the beauty in your life, great and small. Recognize the people who have inspired you and honor their legacy by learning from them instead of comparing yourself to them. Face your fears no matter how much your voice or body trembles, and recognize and honor your achievement in facing them, no matter how small. Practice gratitude for the little things as well as the big by giving back to life not only what you’ve been given, but what you want from life. These things build the integrity that we feel lacking and fuel the sense of inadequacy that drives depression, anxiety and suffering. Be the grace that you want by allowing others the space to have their experience with kindness and empathy, so that you can create the experience that you want.