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When Did We Lose Our Way?

And is it too late to turn back?

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and though they are reviewed for adherence to our guidelines, they are submitted in their final form to our open platform. Learn more or join us as a community member!
Image by Andy Blasquez
Image by Andy Blasquez

The precise moment we become lost is always prior to the moment when we realize that we’re actually lost. That’s the way it works. We think we know where we’re going, then, over time, we finally accept that we’re lost. 

It’s the same with regard to being right or being wrong. Although initially, it may sound counter-intuitive, being right or being wrong feels exactly the same…until we realize that we’re wrong. Only after that realization does the disappointment (or enthusiasm) set in.

So when did we lose our way? Well, maybe you haven’t, but many of us have. I mean, if you look at most of western civilization, we’re a mess. We’re frantically chasing our tails, or even worse, we’re chasing dreams that actually belong to someone else. We’ve been lead by the hand, or sometimes pulled like a bull with a ring in our nose, into life in the fast lane. 

We’re chasing promotions and vacations and hyper-fit bodies and German sport sedans. But, inside, we’ve let our passion and courage dissolve into apathy as we throw filters onto every Instagram post in hopes that it shows us in our best light. We franticly weave our tangled webs in spite of what really matters to us. ‘Cuz, when asked, we always fall back on what really matters; health, love, and happy times with family and friends.

It feels to me as though we’ve individually and collectively wandered off the path, but is it too late to turn back?

If you’re at all like me, you’re busy. You’re too busy. You’re insanely busy, and it’s not just your schedule! The sad truth is that even when our schedules are clear our minds are still cluttered. We have become overstimulated and overwhelmed. Our attention has been highjacked and our minds are littered with the chaos that we unwittingly invited into our lives.

But don’t fret, we’re a very adaptable species. We can handle it! In fact, we’re so adaptive that regardless of the avalanche of activities crowding every last bit of space from our calendars (and those of our kids), we press on! We just become more efficient. Our improved efficiencies soon create more space…to fill. So we fill it. 

If that’s not enough; when it’s no longer humanly possible to sustain the pace of our days filled with hyper-productivity and hyper-stimulation and a mind that is running rampant…in comes a knight in shining armor; more thinking, but we call it “Daydreaming.” That’s a serene sounding euphemism. Isn’t it?

We daydream about better days. We start thinking, 

“If I could only…,”

“Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could…,” 

“I can’t wait until I get to…” 

Our brains are so desperate for peace that they create temporary virtual worlds to live in, even if only for a moment. We dream of different times with different people in different places; anyplace other than here…and other than now. The ugliest part is that we must like it because we do it all the time. This tendency, with generations of practice, has brought us to now; a point in time when we no longer actually think.

Contemplate that for a moment, “We no longer actually think.” Thinking just happens, and it happens incessantly. I’m not talking about the thinking that actually serves us. I’m talking about the nonstop thinking that happens between the thinking that serves us. It’s the kind that steals you away from the moments of your day and keeps you from sleeping at night.

“Wait a minute. Don’t tell me that I don’t think! Of course, I think. I’m thinking right now!”

I concede…clearly we contemplate. We ponder, we’re creative, and in a crisis, we’re focused and attentive. Our thinking helps us to solve problems! In fact, we love solving problems. We love it so much that there’s a thriving, multi-billion dollar industry whose sole purpose is to create problems for us! Riddles, puzzles, games, trivia, and crosswords, keep our minds busy when they’re not already busy being productive for us.

I admit, there is something calming about painting or drawing, or building a model. But why is it calming? Why is struggling through a 1,500 piece puzzle of a field of sunflowers so relaxing? On the surface, isn’t it absurd? Don’t we have enough to do already?

Puzzles, riddles, and games are relaxing because they force us to focus! We’re phenomenal at that kind of thinking. It’s the times when we’re not focused that our minds completely meltdown and run away from us, and that…is no bueno.

We’ve lost our individual and collective abilities to simply “be.” Now, we only “do.” To quote a spoken word performance by Prince EA, “Not many human beings left anymore; a lot of human…doings.”

We thrive at doing. We have become masters of efficiency. But think about the for a moment. If you’re going counseling session, do you want your therapist to be efficient? I’d prefer that she is good, maybe even excellent. But we still tend to strive for efficiency!

We have calendars, alarms, and notifications telling us where to be and when. We have watches to tell us to get up and move so that we’re not too sedentary. We no longer watch what’s on TV. We watch what we want when we want because we’re too busy to watch our shows when they actually air. Then, with the expertise of a surgeon, and a death grip on our remote, we fast forward through the commercials, even skipping over the “boring parts” of our cherished reality tv shows. It’s almost like a race to the end. “I really just want to see who got voted off anyway.”

We buy take-out or fast-food, and then we pay someone else to go get it for us. To quote one of my favorite 80s bands, The Fixx, “I’m cooking with microwaves, to warm up food that’s not seen the soil.” Gone are the days when we set aside quiet time in the kitchen to create tasty iterations of what really satiates us. Where did the term “Soul Food” come from anyway? We have become too busy to go pick up the food that we were too busy to cook.

Sadly though, through all of our recently adopted abilities to multitask and execute our schedules, we still, somehow, can’t find a way to get to sleep on time. Once we’re finally in bed, we’re so wound up from the pace of our day and so plagued by the anxiety and anticipation of the following day that we can’t get to sleep cuz, “I just can’t stop thinking!”

Then, in a fog, we hear, “DING!” We’re up before the sun with a cup of coffee that’s big enough to keep the Tabernacle Choir awake for a week. We eat our breakfast in the car right after we finish our makeup or finish fixing our neck-tie. And all of this somehow comes together betwixt and between a flurry of tweets, posts, and text messages. 

Then, with just seconds left on the game clock, we find a way to justify the chaos of our lives by either claiming that it makes us happy…or more naively with the belief that it might make us happy at some time in the future.

Ironically, sadly, when the dust settles and we clear away the debris, we see that we do all of this with the only the humblest of goals in mind: Peace and joy. 

So, is it too late to turn back?

Absolutely not! There are tools and strategies, both new and old, designed to calm our obsessing minds; to encourage us to be mind-ful; to be present. Meditation, yoga, even rigorous exercise can wipe away the mental noise, leaving enough space for the peace to seep in. And like a Trojan horse, peace bring in joy.

This calm, this “quiet” can be a horrifying prospect for some. But when used effectively the space it provides can save our sanity, our relationships…and even our lives! So, yes, it’s actually possible to create healthy habits that nurture our minds so that they think for us rather than using us so they can think. 

BUT WE DON’T!

Why don’t we use these thousand-plus-year-old techniques to calm and clear our minds? Why have we resorted to mind-numbing medications and other equally dangerous vices to slow down and quiet our minds?

I wonder.

If we spend a few moments each day actually wondering, thinking on our own, using our minds as they were intended, we just might be able to break the cycle.

The conscious act of purposefully wondering, when the process is unencumbered by fear leads us to creativity and hope and joy.

To find that moment, that peacefulness, that joy that really might be our end goal…it takes a journey. It doesn’t take a time-share in Puerta Vallarta or a gem clad watch to impress your friends. It just takes the willingness to stop in the middle of your path and wonder.

Joy isn’t going to come and find us. It hasn’t knocked on your door, has it? We actually need to get up, get moving, and find it. We’re willing to put ourselves through hell to make ends meet, but to find peace…are we willing to try something else?

It’s gonna take exploration. It’s gonna take action and risk. We might have to face our fears. We might lose our way. We might walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and we might fail. But we’ll be alive!

“I wonder what’s around the next corner!”

“I wonder what she’s going to say!”

“I wonder why I feel so down!”

“I wonder if I could ever…”

And that’s how it starts. Notice that those “wonder” statements above aren’t actually even questions. They are statements! They describe your action. That is the action that will bring life to your journey or a journey into your life.

Wondering, that youthful, conscious curiosity, leads to exploration, both internal-exploration, and external.

And, when it’s not stifled by fear, exploration leads to discovery.

Discovery then leads to truths.

Truths, when faced with bravery and vulnerability, lead to acceptance.

The acceptance of what is, the acceptance of ‘“the now” is enlightenment.

And finally, enlightenment is the most direct path to joy. In fact, it is joy.

Of course, there are a number of important emotional and physical pieces to the puzzle, but acceptance of the truth is right there at the top. In the words of Viktor Frankl from his 1946 book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” So hold onto that thought as you start your journey. We have that freedom. It is an inalienable right.

If you’re doing it right, your journey will bring struggles. Pain brings progress. But through those struggles, you don’t need to wear a grimace. They can just as easily bring a smile. Laugh at yourself. Be with your emotions.

We are often slowed, or even stopped, by our fears. “I wonder what it would be like to…”, “I wonder if I could…” “But if I quit my job…” and so on. Of course, I don’t advocate carelessness, but maybe fearlessness. Push yourself for yourself. Get out of your comfort zone. Perhaps nothing sums it up better than this simple quote by author and poet Suzy Kassem ~“Fear kills more dreams than failure ever will.”

Joy.

It’s such a little word, but it contains so much emotion. It’s something that I’m afraid we don’t often feel anymore. But I’m sure you’ve felt it. At least I hope you have. I bet you can think back to a time when you felt safe. You felt warm, loved, and excited. You had an almost overwhelming enthusiasm about the very moment you were in, and you smiled. It almost felt like the sun was shining…but it was shining from you, rather than on you. Yeah. Remember that time when you smiled and you just couldn’t help it? That is joy!

If you don’t remember what joy feels like, it’s time to go find it again. Let yourself wonder. Make yourself wonder, without fear. Wonder is the first creation. It’s the first step. Wonder is creating what you want in your mind; that life that brings you joy. Don’t worry about the second creation; the physical creation. It will come on its own if you just let yourself dream.

In the end, it’s never, ever too late to turn back; to set down your phones and put down the remote. I promise that your life won’t be better because you know who’s dating whom on the Bachelorette. Set off on that adventure; that exploration. Choose your path. ​Exercise your God-given human freedom, then chase your joy.

Wonder.
Explore.
Discover.
Accept.
Smile.

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