A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation with one of my patients about the ‘meaningless’ of life. It raised some interesting questions for me, given that I am someone who tries to find meaning, in most things that I do.
1. What, actually, is the point when where we are all heading is floating into the wind or buried 6 feet under?
2. What, actually, is the point when our future is melting away in front of our very eyes?
3. What, actually, is the point, when no matter how much we shout, cry and protest; the rich and powerful guys trump us regardless?
So we set a CBT homework task, that my patient would seek out joy for the next 7 days, to see if life was, actually, worth living and I thought I would join her.
You see, though I am a fairly upbeat person, particularly when I am with, or helping, others, I have always been drawn to the darkness when I am alone. I spend my spare time delving into the psychological, to television shows that depict extreme addictions, vulnerability and the stark reality of some of the worst parts of what it means to be human.
To give you the gist, my most recent evening pastime was watching a portrait series about the human beings living in Skid Row in LA, and if you want to see what abuse and neglect do to little children when they grow up, here is your answer. It is a deeply sad and raw depiction of a life of addiction, prostitution and self-neglect.
It doesn’t make me feel particularly good, and I often find it difficult to sleep after I have watched something containing a window into other people’s trauma, but I have always told myself that I would rather be informed and disturbed, than ignorant and blissfully unaware.
But as part of the experiment I decided to see if I could shift my own perspective towards seeing the good, and also give myself a break from carrying the worlds horrors in my minds’ eye. Just for a few days.
So here is what happened:
I had a lovely week and I felt happier within myself.
I meditated every morning before work and I felt less stressed.
I still felt jumpy, but I recovered more quickly, with less overall anxiety.
I felt more confident and I more engaged with those around me and I read stories about joy and love and people planting fields of flowers for blind lovers, just to bring others joy so they could smell them and these stories made me smile.
I found I had more time for learning and reading and was able to re-focus my attention, for the most part, on things that inspired me and this has helped the next part of my life’s journey become more transparent, as I felt filled with more hope and less fear.
But it wasn’t to last. I had tried to only engage with positive news stories throughout the week but there was a deeply sad, and highly publicised, suicide and to be honest, it felt important to pay heartfelt attention to this.
Going down the rabbit hole of intensity is part of what makes me, me but this experiment has provided me with valuable lessons in our capacity to choose and seek joy within our every daily lives. Learning to shift our attention is a valuable skill, we can all benefit from, and with practice, the world can become a more beautiful and less soul cripplingly scary place. It is important to notice the kindness of strangers, the kindness of people you know, the kindness within yourself. The fact that what hurts now, eventually becomes your armour for the next part of your journey.
But I guess this week has also taught me that it is actually very important to engage with all realities and complexities of the human experience. By doing so, we are able to develop empathy for others, across seas, backgrounds and diversities and can begin to develop insight that cannot be gained by distraction or re-focused attention alone. Within the despair, we can find the capacity to create change and allow the injustice of what hurts us deeply to propel us into the next chapter of our consciousness both individually and collectively.
Someone once asked me if I felt the world was a beautiful place or a place filled with horror. I guess, the point is, it is everything. Bad things can, and will happen to you and I across our lifetimes and I guess the point, actually, is that perhaps part of the purpose of it all is to find balance in within every thing that we do. We can choose to spend our entire lives cocooned in the terror of fearfulness or we can choose to bring our awareness to a whole range of experiences, outcomes, lessons and possibilities and decide how we wish to choose to respond in any given moment.
Seek the truth. Feel the depths of the pain but also allow yourself respite from bathing in the ocean of despair if you are drowning within it.
Seek joy, but don’t hide away from reality because you are afraid of what lies behind the sunbeams.