Why not enjoy life?

If permission is what you need, then you can have it!

Just now I hopped into the shower and thoroughly enjoyed the overwhelming feeling of too-hot water on my skin. I was having a great time, but then I thought, “Ah man, I have to go fold so much laundry when I get out of the shower. That sucks.” But then I thought:

What’s to stop me from liking the laundry? Why not enjoy the touch of soft fabric in my hands? Why not have fun taking care of my things — making each fold perfect? Hell, why not laugh at myself for being so annoyed by something so insignificant? What would be so wrong with that?

I’m not sure if it’s possible, but it’s worth a shot, because enjoying things is much more fun than not enjoying them, isn’t it?

What keeps you from enjoying things? Is it just that it seems impossible? Well, I get that, because I used to think I was incapable of joy.

I could try to convince you by pointing out that some folks love the things we hate most, or that there is a past version of you that probably relished doing the very thing you’re currently dreading. But you can’t take my word for it, can you? Misery is an idea best debunked through experience.

So why not just give it a shot? Is there something else that stops you?

I wonder if perhaps you don’t think it would be prudent to be at ease. I wonder if perhaps you don’t think you have permission to have a fucking ball. I know I didn’t. I still need to remind myself of that permission daily — sometimes hourly.

We’ve got a lot of conditioning — a lot of deeply-furrowed paths in our brainstuffs — telling us that enjoyment is bad for survival, bad for success, bad for morality.

No pain, no gain. If it’s not hard, then you’re not trying. And if you’re not trying, then you’re lazy, worthless, a drain on society. The American Dream is all about the pursuit of happiness, and you’re not miserable enough today to deserve being happy tomorrow.

But what if this is all a crock of shit? What if there’s literally nothing else worth doing other than to enjoy life? I mean, we know this intellectually. We’ve been told that in many ways for millennia, most saliently recently by all these books and articles about people on their death beds regretting wasting so much time being unhappy.

So again, I ask, why don’t we get it — why don’t we really get it? What’s stopping you from really letting yourself enjoy your life right now? And by that I don’t mean that you should only do what you enjoy (or what you think you enjoy). Because it may be that the only thing you can remember enjoying is watching television, or eating cake, or taking drugs. Which is fine, I mean, those things can definitely be enjoyable. But if that was all you did…actually if that’s what you want to do, go for it.

What I’m saying is, life is— for most of us— about more than hedonistic pursuits, and yet — what if all of life can be enjoyed with the same scrumptious decadence as our guiltiest pleasures?

I’ll just come out and say it: you have permission to enjoy your life.

And not in a YOLO sort of way like, “Drink yourself to death, don’t pay your bills, jump out of a plane without doing your safety checks,” or whatever else causes the greatest temporary release of adrenaline, endorphins, oxytocin, or dopamine.

No, I’m saying, you have permission to let the laundry release happy brain chemicals, too.

You have permission to relish in the emotional waves of a breakup like you did when you were a teenager. You have permission to count the popcorn on your ceiling like you used to at sleepovers. You have permission to actually like doing your job. You have permission to fucking love fucking your partner that you’ve fucked hundreds of times before. You have permission to be floored by the sensory pleasure of taking a shower. You have permission to cry so long about your father’s death that all you have left are bittersweet memories, endorphins from crying, and an undeniable urge to take a nap. You have permission to enjoy how angry you get about having to file your taxes. You have permission to just feel your feet on the ground as you walk.

Everything will get done, I promise. You will survive — yes, even if you enjoy yourself. You will have what you need when you need it. You will work when you need to. You will sleep when you need to. You will die when it’s time.

Again, I can’t ask you to take my word for it. Nor do I want to. After all, it’s your life. You do you.

So, dear friend, what do you want out of this life? Do you want to enjoy it?

Yeah, me too.

Alright then, let’s go! I for one am gonna go fold some laundry. What are you gonna do?

anxiety causes tunnel vision

But the love is still there to enjoy when we’re ready

Often when I listen to music in the car — even my very favorite album — my mind starts to wander. A few songs later, I’ll notice I haven’t heard a single note. My consciousness is somewhere else.

When I wake up to my absence and tune back in, I can hear again. There’s a richness to the sound that lifts the hair on my skin. I’m hearing the song for the first time.

All I have to do is listen.

I used to be similarly absent from life: preoccupied by anxiety, afraid of not being okay. This took me away from the music of life, especially love. Anxiety tunneled my vision so tightly I couldn’t see how loved I was — how much love is everywhere in everyone. I felt uncomfortable with people I didn’t know very well, and sought approval from those I did. I drank to feel more at ease in social situations. I let insecurity run my relationships.

Now that I know I’m always okay no matter what (a broken record on that point, I know), things are so different it confuses me. I see so many smiling faces on the street I wonder if I’ve gotten skinnier (I haven’t). I have so much fun at parties I wonder if I’ve grown more interesting (I definitely haven’t). I‘m so at ease at airports and on subways I wonder if the world is a better place (it’s not).

No matter how much anticipatory anxiety I may feel before an event (old neural pathways take time to re-wire after all), when the present arrives I find that I’m yanked into it without even trying. I am filled with love for and from the humans who surround me. I am amazed at my ability to be touched by pleasure and by pain, to communicate honestly, to express gratitude, to remember to ask people about themselves, to notice new things about old friends, and to find perfection in beauty and in ugliness.

And the only thing that’s changed is that I’ve remembered that there’s always music.

All I have to do is listen.

but I’m still so anxious

I thought I was supposed to be past this…

When I began uncovering my innate well-being a couple years ago, the anxiety that had gripped so tightly for so many years seemed to vanish all on its own. I started to see my former anxiety as little more than a helpful habit — a strategy I’d innocently developed out of a misunderstanding that worry, tension, and effort were necessary to survival. Since the habit didn’t look very helpful anymore, I found myself worrying less. In fact, I found myself worrying so much less, that I believed the anxiety was gone forever.

“This is what it is to live life after anxiety,” I thought, “and it’s wonderful.”

It was a better high than any I’d experienced on drugs, and it lasted so long I didn’t think it was a high at all.

But then recently the anxiety started to creep back in, the cortisol and adrenaline dripping slowly at first into my veins. It’s been coursing through me in increasingly bigger waves, now consuming what feels like most of my body, most of the time.

In many ways, I feel like I did before. In some moments, that terrifies me, and I think things like:

“I thought I was past this,” and, “I knew that whole innate mental health thing was too good to be true.”

In one such low spot just this morning, I thought, “But some people really do seem to get past it, and I can tell they’re telling the truth. Well, that’s the proof, then. I really am different, just like I feared. I really am broken.”

And then it hit me. So what if I do turn out to be different? So what if I’m more anxious than average? So what if this anxiety continues to come in waves for the rest of my life?

In that moment, I realized that these things may indeed be true, and that nonetheless, I am still not broken. I never have been, and I never will be.

Yes, I feel the sensation of anxiety like I did before. But it’s different now. Now, it feels more like an experience, and less like my essence.

Now, I never fully forget that I’m whole, well, and wise underneath it all. I never fully forget that I’m made of stars, and that new stars will one day be made of me. Or that I am living in a thought-created dream of reality, a reality which is at once boundless and singular. That I am at once boundless and singular.

And yet, here I am — this little speck of universe, this bit of formlessness taking form — and I am grateful. Because this is the human experience I get to have. I get to have anxiety from time to time — a lot of the time sometimes.

I wonder what it might look like for me to more fully feel the perfection of that.

pain v. suffering

What a toothache taught me about enlightenment

This week I had to get emergency root canal treatment. My endodontist was entirely booked up, but when he heard I was experiencing a 10 out of 10 on the pain scale, he opened his office after hours to squeeze me in. And boy, am I grateful.

No matter how deeply I see the role of thought in my experience of reality, I continue to be human. I continue to live in the world of form. I continue to occupy a physical body. I continue to experience physical pain.

Continue reading “pain v. suffering”

Hey B #7: How to make friends

When you struggle with social anxiety

Hey B,

I’ve always struggled with friendships. I have a few long-term friends — close friends — but when I’m in company (trying to make new friends or acquaintances) I just don’t seem to be able to connect. This is also true with some family members I don’t connect with.

I live abroad and it’s a transient life with people coming and going so it’s important to keep making friends but I don’t seem to know how. Others all seem to have people they hang out with, but getting to this stage, I find really difficult. Even just chatting at times to people is a struggle.

Help!

Sincerely,
Anxious Social Misfit 🙁


Dear Misfit,

What’s the difference between you and a person who makes friends easily: someone who knows exactly what to say, makes people laugh with ease, and attracts others like a magnet?

Reading your letter, I can imagine your answer might be something like, “Well, I’m just not like that. I’ve always struggled. It’s just how I’m wired. I’m just a socially anxious person.”

Continue reading “Hey B #7: How to make friends”

how to snap out of it

When willpower isn’t enough

I woke up sad yesterday. I didn’t see a reason, but I don’t much look for reasons these days. I know that feelings come from thoughts in the moment. It’s nice not to go down any panicky, “What life changes do I need to make to make myself happier?” rabbit holes.

And yet, I continued to spiral. Feeling sad and fighting the sadness made me tired. The kind of tired I used to be almost every day.

I climbed back into bed, too disconnected even to cry.

While lying there, I tried to remind myself of what I know, which is that I am whole, wise, well, and entirely okay, even underneath these feelings. But there was a voice in my head — a voice that will always sound familiar no how much time we spend apart — that said, “Are you, though? What if this is the truth, and that’s the illusion?”

I tried every rational argument I could think of. I used every mantra I’ve ever found useful.

And then I got tired of trying. I didn’t want to fight anymore. “I give up,” I thought, “wouldn’t it be nice if I didn’t have to try to convince myself of anything?”

I curled up and got cozy, feeling comforted by the soft bedding holding me, the rain tapping the window, and most of all by the knowledge that I would never leave this bed again.

And then — out of nowhere — a small voice that sounded like my own but also like it was more than just my own said, “Wouldn’t it also be comforting if we allowed ourselves to heal? Remember how exquisite it feels to heal?”

And I started to cry. I remembered who I am. I started to heal.

Ok, I get that I’m obsessing

But how do I make it stop?

When I first realized that my anxiety was coming not from the circumstances of my life but from my own insecure thinking, my mind seemed to slow down quite a bit all by itself. A lot of the thinking I’d previously seen as useful suddenly looked like noisy clutter.

This shift sounds subtle, but the impact was huge.

Imagine: what if even 30 percent of your own insecure thoughts suddenly vanished? What if that mental space was filled instead with fresh ideas and feelings of joy? Now, what about 75 percent?

Continue reading “Ok, I get that I’m obsessing”