Let us metaphorize your life as a trip. Everyone who is born gets a trip. Where you start your life is the city you were born in, where you are now is where you currently live, and where you’re going is to the end of your life, which is whatever town you ultimately arrive at. Some of these lives are long—the towns are very far apart. With some lives, you barely leave town and you’re at the end of the road. Children’s hospitals are filled with these short-trippers, and seniors homes are filled with the long-trippers. But everyone gets a trip.
Now of course like the cities and towns of this world, there are all kinds of people on this Earth. And you intersect with all of them just like the routes to these various cities intersect. There’s even some people travelling from very near you to the same place that you’re ultimately going. These people are your friends because their perspective is similar to yours. There’s also people coming from where you’re going and toward where you started. But wait a second. Let’s think about that. Say those towns are where I live: in Edmonton and Calgary, the latter of which is 300km south of me. At 1084 meters above sea level, my cousin in Calgary would start with height. That altititude is like being born into a fortunate, healthy family. Not that Edmonton would be hugely disadvantaged, but at 671 meters my journey in life would mean I would have to climb 413 meters uphill and my cousin in Calgary will walk 413 meters downhill. Of course our journey is not a straight one, and we may go up and down thousands of times as we head toward our final destination, but in the end our lives will total out differently and his will have had more downhill sections. It will have been easier.
The unevenness of the terrain represents the unfairness of life. The world is not flat. Some of us are born in rich countries with good education systems and maybe we get great parents too. We can also get one powerful negative influence and we’ll blow our advantages. Some of us get terrible parents and suffer under poverty and strife, but having to survive through all of that is what gives people the strength to turn into a superstar. And the opposites are obviously both true too. But bottom line, people do not have equal shots at pleasure and leisure and relaxation and happiness. But since that’s a given, you’re far better to learn to appreciate what you do have rather than agonize over what someone else got. Because how much you have isn’t the issue. It’s how much you appreciate.
It’s hard to tell when you’re young what altitude you actually started at. Because you’ll compare yourself to those international lives like movie stars or musicians. But remember, to be world famous means that part of their celebrity journey will be by plane. But what goes up must come down, so those are round trips back to altitudes that are ultimately pretty close together. Being lauded on stage feels fantastic when you do it, but not doing it makes being alone a lot worse than it otherwise would be. So they might be at great heights while they are on stage, but then they crash back down to real life to the point where a flight from New York to Sydney isn’t a rise of 36,000 feet, it’s a trip from 25 meters to 200 meters, so in the end it’s more uphill than downhill.
So what’s the point? The point is that the people going uphill will use more energy than the people going downhill. While energy and happiness are connected they are not the same. Because someone can use half as much energy walking downhill as someone going uphill, but if they’re using their thinking to think heavy thoughts, then they are burning even more energy that way than they would by walking uphill with a better attitude.
Do you see? Every life goes up and down. But you don’t stand on your road and vainly complain to your society or some non-existent chess-playing God, begging for a better route—you learn to enjoy the act of walking. Those are the moment to moment steps of your life. You want to slow your trip down to those individual steps. Rather than worry about the end of the road or even where you’re going in general, just focus on the step you’re taking. That’s what it is to live in the moment. And remember: don’t call it a good step if it’s downhill and a bad one if it’s uphill. Your journey is your journey and this is how you get there so there’s no reason in judging it when you have to live it either way.
Sure, acknowledge that you occasionally get winded on the hills. But also remember that whether you’re descending a hill or climbing out of a valley you are not prevented from seeing wildlife, or smelling flowers, or feeling the breeze, or seeing some mountains or cloud formations in the distance. Your route does not dictate the mood of your journey. Never lose sight of that fact. Even uphill, it’s still possible to focus on gratitude. But if I’m not mindful my thinking will turn to complaining, which is like having one foot in the ditch, which just makes my trip more difficult and painful. It’s like bringing up painful thoughts of the past. Why add that effort to today’s walk?
You’ll go the distance either way. Why make it worse with bitchy, negative, judgmental, gossipy, vengeful or hateful thinking? That’s like putting vinegar in your water bottle. Blech. There’s no reason to do that when your bottle will hold fresh water just as well. And it is always you that decides what it’s filled it with.
Don’t ruin your own journey by comparing it to others. Yeah, some people will have it easier. But you know what? If you’re reading this blog then you probably live in a 1st World country, and if that’s the case then we can pretty much guarantee that your home town is at a much higher elevation than probably 98% of the towns on this Earth. And if you can’t be grateful for that kind of good fortune then you’re really working hard to be miserable.
Here’s hoping you choose yourself a much more pleasant journey. It’ll be better for you and anyone walking alongside you. Now go have a great day, uphill or downhill. 😉
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.