Last weekend as I started gearing up for re-entry into normal life here in the US, I tried to think about and focus on not repeating past mistakes. One of the good habits I have adopted, since starting to work on myself and my own happiness is that I analyse a lot my own actions and reactions in specific situations, trying to see patterns and identify the triggers to (negative) behaviours. This helps me detect the signs early and take counter measures to avoid slipping down into that dark and passive state. Avoid sinking back into listlessness. Coming back I was terrified that I would crash and burn again, so I focused all my energy on preparing and managing the transition this time. Being prepared and proactively work to prevent another disaster.
At least twice before when coming back from a longer, or particularly inspiring stay in Europe over the last year, I have plummeted very fast into sadness, loneliness and hopelessness and made some terrible choices that could have ended up really badly for me. I have eluded to these occasions before but haven’t gone into detail on them. And I won’t this time either, as I am a firm believer that hashing over the past is nothing but a source of negative energy and a waste of effort – learning from mistakes and moving on is what matters! And that’s what I try to do now, every day, as I actively work on not letting negativity take over, or drag me down (mine or other people’s). Instead I focus on letting go of the past and all the negative elements in my life, while filling my time with positives and monitor my triggers.
“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, or not to anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.” ~Buddha
It may sound exhausting to always strive to be self-aware, constantly looking for issues and drive for self-improvement but it isn’t. In fact, it is a lot less exhausting than all that negative energy and bitterness that I used to carry around, wrapped around myself like a wet, old woolly blanket… Although it is not the ultimate state, it is one hell of an improvement! And I am certain that one day I will also be able to “stop worrying about the future”…
Last week, working from Dubai, was incredibly inspiring and energizing! I had 12-hrs a day of scheduled meetings, with literally zero breaks – not even a lunch break – followed by a few side meetings, dinners/social events and then another 4-5 hrs of work in the hotel room. I went to bed every night at 3.00 am, slept for only about 4 hrs but still I jumped out of bed in the morning (every day!) for a 4-mi run around Dubai Marina. I should have been exhausted. I shouldn’t have been able to drag my sorry butt out of bed for a run at 7.00 am every day – especially considering the +90F/30C degree heat and humidity, right?! But I did. And I felt great. All day, totally alert and engaged.
So how come when the alarm blares back in Seattle, I am incapable of getting out of bed and putting those shoes on? Why do I feel so unmotivated and uninspired here, so often? For sure, the lack of sunshine and light is probably part of it. But I got up at Mum’s last weekend and went for a long run in the rain, on the windy, wet west coast, where it was pretty much the same weather as here albeit a little bit lighter. So light alone is not it.
Is it perhaps that I am simply unhappy living here? Probably that is a bigger part but what exactly is it that makes me so unhappy, I keep wondering? Why can I not seem to just be happy when there are so many things I enjoy doing here? The hiking, biking, skiing and running… Things I never had/could have in Stockholm or (hardly) anywhere else in Europe. How can doing the exact same job even, on the other side of the planet, be so different and feel so inspiring?
I have been drilling into this now over the past few weeks, trying to figure out why I just can’t seem to find happiness here, in an attempt to unlock the secret and create my own. (And yes, I could just say “screw it – I’m leaving” and pack up and go somewhere else but that would be taking the easy way and slapping a Band-Aid on the problem, instead of healing. I have done that for 25 years already, so I figured I should try the other way for once and work through it instead!)
I think there are three main reasons:
- I feel like I don’t have a choice. I feel trapped here because I don’t have the courage to leave. I am not strong enough (yet).
- People. The passive aggressiveness and negativity of many people around me, drag me down and it is hard to shield oneself against that.
- The negative life experiences. The memories of my depression and near-disastrous events are still present and everything here reminds me of those.
I can’t do much about #3, except “leave” but I have already decided that I need to stop running away, so that one is not an option. I made that decision three months ago: to stay and fight for my life. To fight for my own happiness and mental health. And I am determined to do that, now that I finally have found the courage to admit and deal with my problems. Giving up is not an option!
How about #1 – Feeling trapped – what can I do about that? I can chose to be here. Ajahn Brahm tells a story about a fellow monk who did some work in a prison nearby their monastery, spending time with prisoners talking about life and sharing what it is like to live in a monastery. The prisoners were shocked and felt sorry for the young monk, when they heard of all the “hardships” the monks live through: getting up at 4.00 am every morning, only eating a cup of rice for breakfast and having nothing more after their 11.00 am lunch. All the manual and hard labour they do. All the hours spent meditating – not being allowed to watch TV or play cards. And how they sleep on the floor. One prisoner felt so sorry for the monk he offered him to come stay with them in the prison instead. So how is it that all the prisoners want, is to get out of their prison? And how come the monks are so happy, and people are queuing up to come stay with them, in the monastery? What is the difference between the two, when they are in many ways so similar? The difference is that the monks want to be in the monastery. They have chosen to be there. And so have I.
So I need to remind myself of that every day: I choose to be here!
And I try to live in the present, not worrying so much about the future… This part is harder than letting go of the past but I keep working on it. And that’s the best I can do!
So that leaves #2. The people around me. And all the toxic negativity that oozes from so many people that I have to deal with every day. Well, the first thing to do is to make sure that I am not/don’t become one of them again! And then try to remind myself of how to best deal with them. Because although you can cut some people and relationships from your life, most of them you are stuck with and the only thing you can do, is to learn how to manage their negativity and provide that shield for yourself. Here is one blog post on that note, that I found useful and a good reminder: How to deal with negative people. I recognize and can relate to each and everyone of those attributes. From others. From myself and who I used to be. And who I tend to become again, whenever I allow myself to lose my focus and stop actively working on not letting depression grab a hold of me!
Happiness is a choice – not a reward – and so is staying positive!
Last weekend as I started my mental re-entry preparation process, I read another blog post that I thought was great: When You Want Something, All the Universe Conspires in Helping You to Achieve It – Paulo Coelho. I have seen it first-handedly since I started my personal and spiritual journey four months ago. I have been so much happier, more energized than I have felt in years. So full of life. And I have been laughing and smiling a lot more! And seen so many examples of people interactions that have been much easier, better and more successful when I have been so much calmer, more balanced and a genuinely much happier person. When you address an issue, or a difficult person, with a positive attitude and a smile you almost defuse the situation and disarm the person, before you even start taking. But not only that but it feels so much better and you are so much more constructive/productive/effective. Because just like negative energy is contagious, so is the positive energy. Only much more so. It is intoxicating. It is the best high you can be on, being high on life!
So on my Sunday morning run along the coastline in Landskrona, enjoying the light rain on my face, the cold wind in my hair and being able to run both long and fast, I caught myself smiling and calling out a chirpy “good morning” to everyone I met along the way. I must have greeted at least 20 people on my 6.5 mi loop. And out of those 20, only a couple of people ignored me or looked away awkwardly. A good 14-15 looked genuinely happy and returned my greeting with big smiles and the last 3-4 looked more surprised than anything but hesitantly responded nonetheless. At first it was more of a smile and a nod from my end too but the farther and faster I ran, the more people who smiled and greeted me back, the better and stronger I felt. The faster I ran. The higher I held my head. The bigger my smile and louder my “good mornings” got.
And so the positive spiral, kept spiraling. And it spirals a lot faster than the negative one. Having proven this to myself, in such a simple and easy way, was all I needed. I am hooked on being positive and I will do anything I can to stay this way. I want to maintain that rush and that feeling. Feed it and feed from it. Stay grounded and centered and be able to enjoy my life to the fullest, while dealing with whatever life throws my way.
And I do firmly believe that with that attitude, the universe will smile back at me… 🙂