“We have a strange anxiety in us; that if we don’t interfere then it won’t happen. Now that’s the root of an enormous amount of trouble.”—Alan Watts
We all need to belong. We also need to be self-reliant. When the two seem irreconcilable we try to think logically, but life’s not logical. You can figure out why you feel lonely but it won’t make you feel better.
What helps is looking at the gap between how you think you should be and how you actually are.
The feeling that you don’t fit in, that you aren’t the way you should be or that you haven’t reached your full potential are just ways of interfering in your own life. Sounds strange I know, but nobody’s got it all figured out, and that’s just the way it is.
Still, it’s hard to accept. We compare ourselves with others, judge ourselves by impossible standards of perfection or try to live up to ideal codes of conduct.
As if life’s not difficult enough.
When we accept that life doesn’t need fixing, new possibilities open up. It’s tricky to gaze into something inconceivable, but whether we’re being charmed by a moonlit summer night or challenged by the demons in our dark places, it puts us in touch with reality in ways that words and ideas just don’t. That’s why Blaise Pascal said that, “miseries come from being unable to sit alone in a quiet room.” It’s why people pray or meditate and why philosophers say that we sometimes need “to just be.”
All generations think they’re living in a unique time, but there’s nothing new about the sense that life is outpacing us and that we need to run faster. That’s life as a hamster wheel. It’s so hard to just stop that we need people of like mind to do it with. It’s easier to pray or meditate in groups, but it’s no guarantee you’re actually learning to let go. Often, the group becomes yet another source of busyness.
To make occasional silence a regular habit, we have to look into our evasions. There’s no sense as to why we keep trying to go with the ups and avoid the downs; we know it doesn’t work. The thing is to gaze into those habits without judgements and rationalizations, and uncover their roots. Those who refuse to confront insoluble mysteries because, “there’s no point,” are missing the point of self-knowledge.
Another form of evasion is holding on to beliefs like a life-raft. The purpose of life is to swim, not to cling. Preachers and gurus who deliver convenient answers are doing you no favours.
You can breathe with others even if they don’t see as you see. That doesn’t mean trying to like them, for true friendship is yet another mystery. Loneliness and isolation come from the thought that everyone else belongs and you don’t. Look into their eyes and you’ll see they’re just as afraid as you and me. Then you’ll belong.
And then you’ll find the courage to be.
12 thoughts on “Fixing Up Life”
The phrase, “The purpose of life is to swim, not to cling” really resonates with me. I’ve explored this in the website Let go and jump In.
I have a question… Today I’m reading ‘Anne Frank’s story’ by Carol Ann Lee.
I really like to read a line like ‘life doesn’t need fixing’. But I’m also wondering, comparing those words to the description of the horrors of Bergen-Belsen. I can’t help but wonder how the people who lived through these horrors – or died experiencing them, would have felt about that line.
Any thought you have about this, I’d like to hear. I guess my question is: how can one ‘accept that life doesn’t need fixing’ in terrible circumstances?
Hi Jessie: like any other handy sayings, this one has its limits. If in life we have the opportunity to right a wrong, cure a sickness or make a sad person happy, we have to do it. The problem is, when things go wrong, that we often think something HAS to be done and blunder ahead whether it actually helps or not. For example, the American intervention in Iraq. Life under Saddam was horrible, but is it better now?
Indeed. Sometimes I think (& we know how dangerous/unhelpful that can be at times ;-)) that my main aspiration in my personal practice is to help me find the kind of wisdom needed to discern wise action versus wise non-action/doing. Am reading Mark Epstein’s latest book and am finding it helpful as well.
Keep up your good work my eponymous and as of now still never met in person friend!
Yeah. We really have to get together, Stephen. We’re only 25 miles apart.
I stopped trying to “fix” my life a long time ago. I also gave up on trying to avoid mistakes and or not make them. It has lead to a greater degree of contentment and actual ability to do things and enjoy the learning process. In this mode I am able to work very effectively, get a lot of work done and stay forcused for long periods of time.
Although I do not “fix” my life, I do attempt to work towards honing my skills, learning more and mastering differing things. It is helping me overcome my loneliness and is forcing me to break free of old habits and develop new ones.
The key I would say to a lot of my own success in these areas was learning to put my feelings aside. Not suppress them, not resist them, nor be enveloped by them. Putting my feelings aside I became humble and found a place of contentment. I also became much more objective and learned to move with grace.
I live my life. I feel my feelings, I have experienced great joy and I have cried deeply. I have had great losses many times and some amazing successes. I have had horrible things happen to me and still I have found a space to simply sit and be with these things. Over time, simply sitting with these things has lead me to a quietude wherein I found a great beauty. A beauty of peace, contentment and tranquility. A space I can go to again and again. A space I regularly make time for again and again.
thank you Stephen for helping us expose ourselves to doubt. In doing so you are helping us move towards a better sense of self.
And thank you Jeffrey, for putting this so eloquently.
You make me proud for having inspired comments like this on my website.
Thanks Stephen for this post. I think this is your best since I’ve been reading. Why? Because it’s short, sweet and to the point.
“Sounds strange I know, but nobody’s got it all figured out, and that’s just the way it is.”
I always thought there was some sadhu living in a cave in the mountains with minimal possessions who meditated 23 hours a day, survived on a few grains of rice and was completely enlightened. I guess my imagination got the best of me with that one.
your quote from Blaise Pascal is a good one “miseries come from being unable to sit alone in a quiet room.”
This is definitely true for me. A little quiet time goes a long way.
“Another form of evasion is holding on to beliefs like a life-raft. The purpose of life is to swim, not to cling.”
Yep, sometimes I feel like a salmon swimming upriver but never quite making it. Actually, MOST of the time I feel this way. What should I do? Keep swimming!
“…for true friendship is yet another mystery. Loneliness and isolation come from the thought that everyone else belongs and you don’t. Look into their eyes and you’ll see they’re just as afraid as you and me. Then you’ll belong.”
I’ll have to think about this one some more, because what I see is that most people are lemmings and if I look in their eyes, I see the false courage of people immersed in the herd mentality.
Bertrand Russell said, “In the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt”
I let this quote go to my head, since I am full of doubt therefore I must be intelligent. Putting my ego aside for a moment, I would rework this quote to “In the modern world the lost are cocksure while the seekers are full of doubt”
Thanks Neal. I tried to be that sadhu: what disappointment!
But what a revelation, for disappointment is the seed of insight. And I’d rephrase Bertrand Russell yet again to say, “the lost pretend to be cocksure.” We humans are gifted with intelligence; our species’ problem is not that we don’t know; it’s that we don’t want to know. Look deeper into the eyes of others: knowledge is always there, they’re just not willing to focus.
Denial is how the expectant avoid disappointment.
Cogeto ergo sum
Ok Monsieur Descartes, yet the question remains…
Who the hell am I.
Every moment adds and substracts something from the SELF.
The self can simply be a PROPENSITY, and purpose is what our imaginary conscious mind seeks? Not necessarily true (the tooth fairy) or good (killing my neighbor’s Koala bear) or healthy (having a cigarette after a combination deep fried pizza waged down with kool Aid).
Never regret a life NOT lived, for the one we are living is ONE among millions that could have been…. That is a LOT of regrets.
During one of your sessions a couple weeks ago you said that sometimes we hold on to our opinions as if our life depended on it. The idea of opinions as life rafts we cling to is along this same line and it is comforting to see so many others who have related deeply to this perspective you have shared. The more experiences I have, the more I feel that idea that holding onto a strong, single, or unchanging opinion makes you somehow a better or more driven individual, is fallacy. I have come to realize through some recent events that we do not necessarily have just one purpose to fulfill, and if we don’t have that we have somehow failed. Even the word purpose implies that there is one single thing to shoot for, one purpose, and to not be on that single path is somehow giving up. I am in the process of coming to terms with the idea that life is not split neatly into the dichotomous choice of “reaching for the stars” or “giving up” but life is lived in that complicated area in between. No matter how much we think we want to be at one of those poles, and that if we do we will somehow be in some supremely content state, it is just not attainable. Like a mirage in the desert, the closer we think we get to either end, the more we realize that “it” was never there to begin with, as it was a creation in our own mind. Thank you for sharing your insights as you have a great way of exposing our dysfunctional, yet frequently automatic, thoughts.
Congratulations Tara! You’ve shaken off a pervasive and stubborn misconception. Don’t be surprised if it needs shaking off again. The illusion of stable purpose and fixed character is glorified by consumer culture; it can be pretty persuasive.