“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.”
Growing up I used to sit around in my little backyard in my little town dreaming of faraway places. I didn’t get to travel a whole lot growing up, and can remember just looking up at the sky with a kind of intense longing, wondering when something was gonna happen to me. I remember my mom’s favorite movie growing up was called “Windy City”. The movie was about a writer from Chicago who was struggling with getting older and creating something as an artist that was meaningful to people. He used to walk along the shores of Lake Michigan trying to figure this all out, and my mom would remark quite often how she wanted to walk these same shores as he did.
Cut to years later and this portrait of a life from a movie that my mother loved so much is my own. I too walk those same shores of Lake Michigan wondering if I’ve created anything of value, and if people will remember me when I’m gone. How did I end up here? How did I step into my mother’s dream like this? Interesting questions to me and I can’t help but wonder how much all of this has to do with synchronicity.
Alright so my life is not exactly like the writer in the movie. He was a mailman and I am a therapist. I’ve hedged my bets a little by finding a profession that pays the bills and brings me a lot of personal fulfillment. And yet, a big part of me is still that little boy looking up at the sky wondering when something is going to happen.
This is strange. If I had described my life’s adventures to myself when I was younger I think I would have been thrilled. I wanted to travel. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be a comedian, bartender, actor, etc., etc. and for the most part I have accomplished all of these things. So why this feeling? Are we born with the brass ring just ever so slightly outside of our grasp? It sure feels like that sometimes, and it’s something I’ve reflected on a lot as I prepare for an extended adventure in Costa Rica.
I think the trap I fall in, the trap we all fall in, is becoming attached to the idea of destination. We think to ourselves, when we just have enough for the big house, or when we just get the kids through college, or when I finally write that best-seller, then things will be different. Be better.
But it’s just not true.
How many of us get to that finish line only to realize we are still the same person with the same thoughts, feelings, and doubts? I remember reading how Katie Couric lived in constant fear of being bankrupt, despite being a millionaire many times over. Think of the seemingly “glamorous” life of Owen Wilson, who became so depressed last year that he attempted suicide. The Hindus have a word for the illusion of outward appearances they call ‘Maya.’ I think almost all of us have tried at one time or another to convince ourselves that some accomplishment or possession was the key to being happy. Part of it is embedded in the very structure of our society. We compete, we compare, we judge, and hold our lives up to the microscope and examine how well they stack up to the person next door.
This is a mistake that may take a lifetime to overcome, because truly and simply, happiness is not a place to go.
It’s a way of living, really living, as if each present moment had some potential lesson. Something of value that we could grasp if we could just cue the focus out of the past and away from the future. Such a simple idea really that is so hard to master. Our minds don’t like it. They’re busy worrying and preparing for all the things that may potentially go wrong. Part of this is baggage from our evolutionary heritage. Worry used to be a necessity for survival, and it’s a part of our legacy that has been difficult to shake.
But the good news is it can be done. With practice, determination, focus, and by simply letting go, we can get there. This seems like a paradox. How do you focus and let go at the same time? It’s a feeling that’s difficult to describe, but you know it when you feel it. A great deal of it can be done through breathing, mediation, yoga, and other mind-body techniques, but for me it has been thinking about synchronicity that has helped me begin to throw this switch a lot more often.
An example of this presented itself to me this weekend at a street fest where I was listening to music and hanging out with a bunch of friends. Ever have one person in a group that you just don’t seem to mesh with? Well this weekend I met up with one of these guys and it was terribly uncomfortable. I always felt like I was on eggshells around this guy, and it always dampened the mood a little when I saw him.
So rather than sulk about it I decided to try and figure it out. I knew this energy between us meant something. Jung said “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” This idea snapped into my head at that moment and I knew that regardless of how this conversation went, I would have a better understanding of why this was happening.
So we talked over a beer in a rowdy Irish bar. He explained to me that he found me a bit intimidating,. That he knew I had published all these books and so forth and he wasn’t sure we would have anything to talk about.
The idea of me being intimidating is so far from the construction I have of myself that I could scarcely believe what he was saying. I guess I just don’t see myself as that important, but somehow I was giving off an entirely different impression. I thought back to time we had spent together. He had watched me more than once rip the microphone out of a singer’s hand and belt out a song. Yea, that could definitely give off a vibe of self-importance. What else? Did I brag? Monopolize the conversation? Drop names? What impostor energy was I putting out into the universe?
So we talked a little further and he talked about how he was riddled with self-doubt about his career as an artist, despite the fact that he was really a brilliant musician. I was taken aback. This guy was insecure? He projected such confidence on stage, but inside he worried all the time. Somehow we both had badly misread each other, and a strange alchemy occurred which created a whole lot of awkwardness.
So in one conversation it occurred to us that we were so much alike that we actually disliked each other. This is a strange feeling because I like a lot of things about myself, but somehow the part that bubbled to the service when I was around this guy was a part I didn’t like quite as much. We eventually parted company after laughing and talking and having a couple more beers, both understanding ourselves a lot better from this one simple conversation.
How often does this happen in life? I am convinced we have a tuning system that intuitively sniffs out these uncomfortable parts of ourselves in each other. Most of us avoid people that make us feel like this, but I am convinced there is a far greater opportunity for self-discovery if we can brave a moment of uncomfortableness to figure it out. Like strange magic potions we all mix together in mysterious ways, and in some situations these formulas are obvious, while in others they take much longer to reveal themselves.
So today I resolved to say yes to everything that comes my way on my upcoming trip to Central America. I am as excited about this as I ever have been for anything in my entire life. I feel like I’m on the cusp of a very big change in my life, but what that change is, I’m still not entirely clear about. I do know that I will enjoy the ride, which is pretty easy to do in paradise, but a little harder to do in the midst of our day to day lives. Yet I’m convinced there are treasures to be found in every human experience if we are perceptive enough, or perhaps unblocked enough to recognize them. This interaction this weekend was a seemingly small thing, but represented for me a continuing switch in the way I look at the world. I want to be humble to the power of these seemingly ‘little” things, as I am beginning to understand that perhaps there really are no accidents.
13 years ago