Feeling aimless and lost is something I know I’m not alone in. It’s not a small task to figure out what you were put here to do. For a very long time now I have felt confused and frustrated, searching desperately for something to ‘stick’. Over the years I seem to have developed a habit of getting super excited about one life changing idea or another – something that’s going to improve everything, change the world, even if it’s just my own, make me happy, and important, and of value….and then…I give up.
During the summer a nagging voice at the back of my mind escalated to an ear-splittting scream that despite having a great job, awesome friends, a loving family, the best boyfriend, and living in a lush house with wicked housemates, I’m not successful, important or valuable. For years prior to this, my primary technique for attempting to achieve a feeling of being ‘good enough’ has been to create an overly complicated list of ‘shoulds’, aims and goals for myself. Trying to prioritise and organise this painfully long checklist, a colourful concoction of traditional (buy a house, travel the world) and unconventional (become a yoga teacher, create a comic) benchmarks, has been hectic and exhausting, especially as I’ve been looking sideways and feeling like everybody else has a much simpler and more eloquent answer to “What does success mean to you?”. The thought that I might fail has kept me up at night and made my chest feel like it’s constantly on fire. A big part of me has felt like I don’t really have it in me to ever achieve any of that stuff, even the basic stuff like getting 8 hours of sleep a night or remembering to pick up my bag before leaving a restaurant, and so even though I have the ability to come up with creative ideas and occasionally even make them work I’m still left with the feeling of being stuck, and unable to change…
One big excuse I have been giving myself for not achieving the things I want is “not having enough money”. To be honest I think I’d say it’s near impossible for most people in our society to not have finances popping into mind when ‘success’ is mentioned. We all rely on money to survive, it’s vital ingredient in our capitalist, profit-driven culture. Even Ayurveda talks about financial health as being a component of complete healing. Money is certainly an enabler and financial freedom is not a bad thing. But GREED is. The kind of greed that sometimes comes over me when I masochistically compare myself to all the successful people around me. I start wishing and scheming up ways to earn more, so I can ‘solve my problems’ and do all the things on my list…the worst thing is that this accelerates my anxiety and feelings of worthlessness and even guilt – I mean, for goodness sake, It’s not like I’m sleeping rough or having to escape my country because of war!!
The Dalai Lama, speaking at the O2 arena in London a month ago, hit the nail on the head when he said that the problem that can arise when wanting money is that when you get it you might realise it’s not enough. You need more, and then you need more again. If you need money, the hunger is never satisfied. Well, Buddhists say that about quite a lot of things actually…desire, grasping, needing things, apparently it doesn’t lead to lasting satisfaction.
Listening to him talk with passion, clarity and wisdom (giggling knowingly, the way he does) about developing understanding, respect and love for all people and aspects of life made me realise with sudden, immutable urgency that I hadn’t been very compassionate or kind to myself recently…at all! In fact, I’d been really fucking mean to myself! And not just recently…for a very long time.
And then I realised something else: I’d been relying on external events to be the litmus test for my feeling of personal success. I’d been going about it all wrong!! The thing is, If you don’t feel completely fulfilled and happy just being you as you are right now, if you don’t love yourself in other words, then it won’t matter how much you have or gain or achieve – it won’t be enough for you to FEEL successful . So…my final answer to my therapist’s question about what ‘success’ meant to me was:
“To feel that who I am and what I have right now is ENOUGH…just to be content, happy and at peace in each moment, no matter what is going on around me.”
OK great…so that’s a nice conclusion, right? But there’s one thing…where the duck do I start?
I have decided to give meditation a go. Seems like a small step, but after dragging a very obedient Alex along to a meditation class at Wilderness Festival three months ago, and feeling really great (I did, at least…Al was fast asleep throughout) I vowed to start and then never bothered to follow it up with the usual excuse of ‘I don’t have enough time’. But now I’ve downloaded an app called Headspace, which supposedly makes it all very simple. 10 minutes is all it takes, according to the app, so tomorrow morning a pillow on the floor at the end of my bed is dutifully waiting to be occupied by my meditating bottom.
Talking IS good. I’ve already acknowledged it as one of the first steps to healing. Voclaising your hectic, random, confused inner dialogue to an empathetic and non-judgemental listener can be incredibly powerful and a wonderful catalyst for positive change. Sharing your experience with friends is a great way to create trust and break stigma about mental health. But If you can sit with yourself in complete silence, and just let things be…if you can be aware of your pain, without having to fix it, numb it or run away….well, I’ve heard that can do wonders too. Maybe 10 minutes a day is enough to give myself a break from thinking that never-ending list of goals and will help me recognise that even if I don’t achieve all of those things I’m not failing because I what I am right now is still ENOUGH.