Some of our circumstances in life occur suddenly and quite visibly. Others are those that we slowly slip into, without really realizing it. Then one day some unexpected thing jolts us out of our torpor and we suddenly wonder why we’re dating this person, or working at this job, or still in this city.
The sudden sense of urgency is a signal that our mind has woken up to a new reality. What is often challenging for us is that our new reality involves us realizing how much of our own life doesn’t even appear to suit us. This is a sign that we have discovered something about who we are.
The feelings that can go with these internal awakenings are often things like a repulsion for ourselves. We question our intelligence as to how we managed to even get to where we are. There is often a period of recrimination where we feel badly about the choices and regret the ‘mistakes’ we’ve made.
Following that shock, during our unfolding reaction, we tend to push things and others away. That’s a helpful reaction because we need the space, but eventually we realize that if we’re throwing away our new life, we now need a new life to live. And that can feel much scarier than pushing away a life we don’t like.
This is often a period where we tend to blame the life we had rather than realizing that it too was and is a worthwhile part of our journey, although we may not be able to recognize that value at this time.
Despite our judgment of our life experiences, our false results –our divorces, bad career choices, illnesses– are all just as much a part of our existence as the good times. The events themselves are neutral. They can feel terrible, but they can also be made into more positive things at different times in our lives.
A divorce is a chance at a better relationship and more happiness. Leaving a bad job can make us both a better employee and provide increased self-respect. And illnesses teach patience, grace and gratitude better than any other thing. It might feel at times like losing, but it’s still a form of winning in the long run.
As we begin to wake up we must remember our context. We are dissatisfied. Suddenly realizing that our situation is worse than we thought can lead us to start looking for all that is wrong. And any time in life we’re doing that we’ll be able to find as many things as we look for, and if we keep looking we’ll keep finding more. That can make things look much worse than they really are.
The real question for us often is, are things entirely bad the way they are, or does our awakening and our scrutiny only make it appear so? We can want to move, or change jobs or end a relationship, but we can’t assume that our dissatisfaction is rooted in the outside world. It is more likely within us, which is why sorting that out is wise before taking action in our external lives.
Reality happens within us. Sometimes that does prompt legitimate external changes, but we don’t need those to find peace. Nelson Mandela found it in a brutal prison. Yet he carried it with him into a Presidency. This is a liberating idea. It means no matter what, we are okay.
When we first wake up a bit, the reason that we see a strong appeal in new cities, new jobs and new relationships is that all of those things naturally deliver many reasons to not think our habitual thoughts. The problem is, over the long term they will not change how we see the world. Mandela’s soul wasn’t saved by the Presidency, it was saved by himself while he was still in jail.
Wherever we go, there we are. New situations will soon turn into the old situations if we do not first ensure that we have a good grip on our responsibilities within reality. The external world around us is shockingly flexible, we prove this by loving someone or something one day and then hating it later. It’s less the thing that changed and more that we have. There’s a real power in that if we use it wisely.
Dissatisfaction is a good basis from which to take action in our lives. That is a feeling worth paying attention to. But experiencing that feeling that is not, in and of itself, a failure on anyone’s part. It is only a signal, notifying us of the start of a necessary part of any journey through life.
Like it is for the butterfly, with greater perspective we often will come to see that our greatest gains were actually being made when we have felt we were struggling the most.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.