“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.”
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
Sometimes I wonder why we wish so often for a different life, as if our own life is in some way leaves us unfulfilled. Why do we seek greener pastures? Why do we see our dreams departing for distant shores? I’d like to offer a reasoning that has been resonating with me over the past few days.
I was a miserly child. Every penny saved in a piggy bank painted with four leaf clovers hidden in a special place between two suitcases under my bed. Every dollar folded carefully and placed in an envelope I kept in my dresser drawer. I couldn’t bring myself to ask for anything in stores, thinking it all too expensive to be reasonable. Other children asked for toys and candy and basically anything pleasurable they could lay their hands upon, my older brother included. But not me. When my mom quit her job, I recycled all of my school supplies and resisted her attempts to buy me new clothes and shoes for the coming year. There were things I was saving for, for sure, I just didn’t tangibly know what they were. If asked, I probably would have told you college or some other bogus answer. The reality of the situation was that I thought money was more important than enjoying new things. Over the years, my spendthrift attitude has diminished and I’ve become a frequent shopper. I buy the things I want, within reason, and save very little of my money towards future goals. It was slow at first; a candy bar here, a tee-shirt there. But in high school I met my savings match: Drugs. I won’t get into the details, but I needed painkillers like an infant needs their mother. They were my respite from the start of the symptoms of my disorder, a problem I was afraid to bring to bear for fear that the whole world would reject me and I would be disowned by my parents. Anyway, thousands of dollars in savings and tip money from waitressing and lunch allowances went down the hatch as I swallowed pill after pill. A girl I was in school with was a hockey player and was more often on the bench with injuries than she was on the ice. When she offered up her extra pills as a solution to my anxieties, I resisted at first. But there they were. I could almost hear them calling my name. Thus, I started down that long and winding road of addiction. The beginning of the end.
Why am I telling you this, you ask. Because it drives home a point I’m trying to make. The grass was always greener on the other side. Either I spent so little that I found little joy in life, or I drowned myself in an expensive habit to take away the pain I felt. I lived life at the extremes. Did I ever find a way to meet in the middle and enjoy things responsibly? No. I still haven’t learned to watch my wallet and certainly have no desire to be as much as a tightwad as I was in my youth. What I need now, what I’ve always needed in life, is balance. The balance we all seek comes in many forms, not just a monetary budget. Perhaps the best way to find a balance emotionally and mentally is to take a retreat from your life as it is and look at it from a different perspective.
Sometimes, when I look in the mirror in the morning, I see a fat disgusting woman who has let life get the best of her. I don’t see my inner beauty staring back at me, or my incredible strength. I just see a waste of life. But there are other days when I feel like I look a bit nicer, my hair falls the right way, and I’ve got fewer dark marks on my cheeks. I see a beautiful woman. The challenge lies in taking from these two polar extremes and crafting a vision of myself that meets in the middle. When you look in the mirror what do you see? A charming, sharp, attractive man or woman with presence and a sense of purpose? No, I know you probably don’t (for those of you who do, congratulations are in order…). What if we eliminated the judgement altogether and were objective about ourselves? Then, we might be satisfied with what we saw because we called it neither “good” or “bad”, but simply observed what we saw objectively. Then our goals of living a moderate life would be achieved. We might weigh more (or less) than others, be of clearer complexion, have a little bit of crow’s feet around the eye, but we can say in this moment, “I’m satisfied right now.” We don’t have to look in the mirror or just at ourselves spiritually/mentally/emotionally and see a quest failed or a victory won. We can just see ourselves for what we are and make observations without judgement. That is a victory in and of itself.
Moderation, balance, harmony, or whatever you’d like to call it has worked for a lot of people. I couldn’t name any of them you might know if I tried, but they’re out there all the same. We must be patient with ourselves in order to live a balanced life. The grass may look greener elsewhere and the cup might seem half empty, but there is a field of green and a cup on your side of the fence. That’s all they are. Take your mental health, for instance. I’ve gotten rather down on myself about relapses in the past, about opportunities lost because I was too stubborn to change, and things I needed to do that didn’t happen, but I’ve found a way to put my emotional life together in a way that hasn’t yet translated to the rest of my life. I’ve done it by telling myself that things happen and they are what they are. When I hear a voice in my head, I observe the witty retort it sends my way, and I let it go out of my mind. When I remember my accident almost eight years ago, I can find peace in knowing that I will never know what really happened that day and that any memories I have of the incident are irrelevant now. That day is gone. Yes, I will live with the consequences of that day for the rest of my life, but there’s nothing to do but adapt now. I have to live my life in acceptance of what was, wasn’t and could’ve been: moderation in emotion. I try to keep calm, but not completely sedate or unaware of my surroundings, primed for facing new challenges without living with a sense of constant urgency. I have to be centered or grounded in this moment because this moment is all that I have right now. My emotions are not extreme in one direction on the scale or the other. I have achieved a balance that brings me a quiet satisfaction unlike any other. Or at least I do on a day when I’ve got more focus and can pay attention to the way I’m thinking about things. This takes practice, as I’m sure you would know.
So there are a lot of things I don’t know, and as my professor once said, a multitude of things I don’t know I don’t know, but there are some certainties in my life. I have a loving husband and family that will support me regardless of my struggles. My excitement about things needs to be balanced with my anger or resentment and I will seek a place where I’ve come to grips with both. We all need a little calm sometimes. Take this moment to see yourself objectively and without judgement. Do you accept who you are right now? If the answer is yes, then you’re on your way. If it’s not, then like me, you have more work to do on yourself. You’ll find the peace you need in life when you’re ready too. Now all I need to learn is how to apply this to my wallet, right?
Thanks for listening.