The peaceful life thing was going ok until last Saturday.
I went on a tour of some beautiful downtown lofts and the obsessive, creative construction bug in me was unleashed. By the end of the tour, I felt totally dissatisfied with my life and went on to spend the entire day obsessing about how I wouldn’t feel complete until I had a building downtown that I could turn into some really cool residential spaces.
My head was spinning with thoughts like: who cares about peaceful! Sitting around stretching, writing, getting enough rest- that‘s so boring! Don’t you want fun and excitement?!? Don’t you want to create these awesome spaces so you can impress everyone with how cool and creative you are? Life is more exciting when you’re exhausted.
I feel so important when I can barely fit everything into a day.
I worked out the strategy in my head about how I could get financing- which family members and friends would be willing to invest in the project.
I was so focused on my plan that I barely heard a word Chris said at dinner.
I came home and started researching properties. I let Chris know that he would be living in one of the units I was building and that it would be our weekend hangout place (whether or not he wanted to live there was totally irrelevant).
I imagined how perfect it would be- during the week, I would have my home in Hoover with the birds and view of the trees. Stevie (my dog) would have his backyard to play in. And on the weekend, we would be the cool urbanites that we are, walking to bars and restaurants, sitting on our balcony and people watching.
I was so convinced that this would truly make me happy, and I wouldn’t rest until it happened.
I fell asleep dreaming about our new downtown life.
The next morning I woke up and grabbed one of the books from my nightstand. I have about 5 books by my bed that I affectionately refer to as my bibles (not to offend anyone)-because they ground me when I get so lost in my own head. I’ve read them all at least five or six times, and every time they remind me of what I’ve forgotten.
The one I grabbed this morning is called Appetites by Geneen Roth and the first paragraph I happened to read said this:
“As long as I keep rejecting what I have now in favor of a fantasy of what I think will make me happy, I will be frustrated and in pain. We can accept the way we are or reject it. Rejection takes many forms: shame, an intense focus on self-improvement; the belief that if we left ourselves alone, we would never work, we would never exercise…
Rejection can feel like determination, willpower, relentlessness to change. Fantasizing about a parallel life is a rejection of ourselves, our present lives. ”
Wow! It hit me like a ton of bricks- that’s exactly what I was doing. I was telling myself that my current life wasn’t good enough. Things aren’t ok- you don’t have enough, and YOU aren’t enough.
We get caught up in the if only syndrome- if only I were thin, if only I had a million dollars, if only my partner were more like this, if only I had a partner, husband, baby, THEN I would be happy. As Geneen writes in another one of her books, “We are waiting for the longing to be stilled. We are waiting to give the burden of ourselves away.”
I’m still scared of this moment. I’m still scared of calm and of being trapped in my own life. I don’t always buy into the idea that I can trust myself. But I don’t want to spend the rest of my life trying to escape from the burden that I see myself as.
After I read a few pages in my book, Chris and I watched CBS Sunday morning (my favorite show). They always have a sort of in memoriam for famous people that have passed away. I was reminded of how quickly life passes us by- our lives will be gone in a flash.
So I asked myself once again, how do you want to spend your life? In 50 years, what do you want to say you have done? And the answer to that question is never that I want to have lived a stressful life with lots of material success.
The answer is always that I want to have found peace and contentment. I want to have really shown up for the people that I love in my life. And I want to have helped other people believe that peace is possible.
As Pema Chodron said, it’s often not about right or wrong, but rather about asking ourselves, “given that death is certain, but the time of death is unknown, what choice do I want to make?”
So that’s not to say that we don’t have dreams or creative projects that we’re excited about. I would love to renovate a building downtown. I’m really excited about all the wonderful things that are happening in our city. And I want to be a part of it. I just want to hold onto myself in the process. Because if I’m doing it to prove something to myself or to the world, then it will never work. If I don’t already believe that I’m good enough, there is no success or achievement that could convince me otherwise. So thank you Geneen and CBS Sunday Morning for reminding me that I want these endeavors to be an expression of myself, rather than an obsession or a rejection of my current wonderful life.