I started this blog to share with the world how I am attempting to regain a sense of peace, equanimity (evenness of mind under pressure), and happiness after a series of crushing disappointments I experienced in my own life. I feel like sharing my own story and also hearing about other stories that may or may not be similar to mine.
I think where you start is “dropping your life story”, your ego that is attached to that life story, dropping all of Society’s “compare and contrast” games, then reassessing your life by NOT comparing yourself with others but rather focusing on who you really are (That is where I started). Too many times, we think we ARE our thoughts about our pasts. We cling onto them and replay those negative thoughts day after day, and doing so takes a tremendous toll of suffering… and leaves notable scarring.
Starting from that realization, I believe we need to deliberately change or at least make a serious attempt to refocus our thoughts (thoughts are things and have energy) into positive ones and then make physical changes in our lives from our relationships, our home, our clothes, and our jobs, and our possessions, to slowly climb the tree of equanimity, peace, bliss, happiness, and enlightenment. I think shedding all the things that Society holds us and impresses upon us must be identified and erased (like cherishing material possessions and chasing eternal youth).
I used to think life was ONE LONG EMERGENCY. I still believe life can seriously give hardship. I still “feel” just as I always did. If I was in a war refuge camp with you eating soup made of tree bark and we had hungry crying children around us…that IS a problem. I don’t think just anything and everything painful can be “wiped away” so easily after a 30 minute meditation, or a weekend retreat in nature, or some book on quotes that does magical things, but I think we can institute choices that can make our lives easier.
Life can be a difficult battlefield of problems, but I think we have some control over the degree of suffering we subject ourselves to. Once you realize that, you can really learn to live simply and calmly and rediscover the magic you first probably saw in your youth.
I grew up in Fairfax, Virginia and went to a top tier high school, being so ambitious and wanting fame and fortune like the next kid. I received good grades and then I went off to the University of Chicago where I majored in Psychology and Economics. After a brief but successful “Wall Street” career, I realized that I was not happy and left thinking that a career in the medical field would satisfy me.
Then, I did some post Bac work at Northwestern and UIC, and then ended up at UIC Medical School…and then to hospital work. The problem was I was not happy there either! The structure, the repetition, and lack of being able to be free and spontaneously creative really knocked me down. Having to be subject to constant subjective evaluations sucked my soul dry. As I sought another chapter in my life, then came the financial collapse of 2008-9 which destroyed the “nest egg” and seven figure savings that I had worked so hard to build after college–which I so “identified with”.
I was so depressed at the loss of career and the loss of money that I fell into a deep self pity and a deep seated depression. For weeks on end, I could not even get out of bed. I went to many doctors who could not really help me. I took so much anti-depressant medication and also self medicated with alcohol to dull my mind. One day though, I went to the public library in Niles, IL, and picked up some books on “Self-Help”. I figured what do I have to lose? I was already so depressed I could barely get through a day.
I picked up books by Wayne Dyer (Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life), Deepak Chopra, Louis Hay, Ram Dass, Osho, and Eckhart Tolle (A New Earth), The Dalai Lama, and revisited my faith in Catholicism. I devoured so many books to unearth just why I was suffering so much. I learned so much about myself and realized that my deep suffering was directly proportional to my attachments onto this world, and the suffering was actually a gift for me to discover myself.
Simply put, the words in all those books saved my life. I was taking so many drugs, I was suicidal, and my physical health was in serious jeopardy. I realized that I could not live with myself any longer, and I needed to be free. I realized…that it was my own thoughts that were making me so depressed, as was my own “life story” that I replayed over and over to myself and anyone who would listen to me.
I realized that my mind was busy creating negative thoughts on “autopilot”. Thoughts are “things” and expand. I understood that you do not “normally” choose your thoughts. Just like the digestion of a meal, the mind automatically creates all kinds of thoughts whether you like it or not. Just like you do not “choose” to breathe with your lungs or “choose” to make urine from your kidneys, you “normally” do not “choose” your own thoughts. They just happen, just like digestion. And if you had a bad experience, your mind recreates the negative thoughts without your conscious consent but you are forced to relive them endless times per day. If you let this happen automatically, you are creating a serious headache in your own mind. You may catch a glimpse of it within a nightmare you have had in the past week, but it is there.
It is only through conscious intervention that you can make your mind change course from automatically recycling negative thoughts. This is just like your breathing. You breathe automatically, but you CAN choose to influence your breathing, you can hold your breath if you are going to dive deep in the water, or you can consciously “slow down” your breath if you are relaxing in meditation and prayer.
Once I realized I did in fact have “some” ability to control my own thoughts, I consciously redirected the thoughts to positive uplifting notions. I noted that I had built such a large ego over the years that the collapse of it dragged me down in a catastrophic fashion. A big ego is different from self esteem. Both were destroyed, but I learned to regain self esteem through positive affirmations and knowing that the negative thoughts are not reality. I believe having a positive self esteem is important, a big ego…not so much.
I was choosing definitively to live in the past via my repetitive thoughts. I was also choosing to live in an uncertain future that I painted with dreadful possibilities. However, if I chose to live in the “now”, the present moment, I really did not have any reason to be depressed at all. I discovered I really only live in the “now”…he past and future are fictions and no more than thoughts I created. It is akin to a motorboat on the water on a lake. The “wake” that the boat produces is the past, my vision of the future is the lake waters I see in front of me, but I really only exist ON the boat in the present moment. I was living my life only on the “wake” created many meters before. Soon, my self-pity slowly subsided as I learned to accept “what is” and reduce my grasping for anything and everything that is valued by Society. I also stopped feeling that God, or the Universe, “owed” me and was supposed to make me happy.
I concurred that it was my own “expectations” not realized that were causing such waves of discontent. Once I dropped my self imposed sad “life story”, my yesterdays, I came to my senses that there was no need to feel upset at all. That realization hit me like “a ton of bricks” and quickly lifted me out of the well, like a rope thrown down the dark walls of the deep well. I would like to share that it was only that single moment of enlightenment, a “satori” event that forever changed my life, but that was not so. It was a gradual climb out of the abyss (over about a year).
I realized that my mind was like a superhighway of blazing thoughts that went through my mind over and over based on the recent past. When my “life story” was going great, I believed in those thoughts, and my ego grew such that I became arrogant and sometimes unkind. Then when my “life story” changed for the worse, I similarly believed in those new negative thoughts with the same passion (which hurt me so deeply throughout my waking hours…and sleeping hours).
I noted to myself that this was why I craved so many “tranquilizers” and medicines that would halt my thoughts. I realized that I was drowning in my negative thoughts and that I was CHOOSING to believe in them. But I learned through intentional focusing on positive affirmations, meditation and prayer, I did not need any more drugs to “halt” my mind from stabbing me to death.
Through the filter of society’s measure I had evaluated my own life, unable to fully realize that it was all a fiction that my mind had created. I was completely unable to live in the present before this profound awakening. I’d like to spend the rest of my life living in the present, not fantasizing to be some famous or rich or influential person…which is what Society puts on a pedestal for all of us to aspire to. I also endeavor to unlearn all that Society planted into me, notions like “only the young are beautiful”, “you have to be #1”, and so on.
I’d like to hear other people’s stories of how they achieved a greater sense of happiness in this life. I’d like to devote my life to helping others see greater truths, and turn away from much of what Society holds dear…like rampant materialism.