Unlearning to tread in the rivers and streams that drown us and instead swim in waters that lead us to our fullest potential.
The alarm sounds on my phone. It’s 4:55 AM. I rustle around bed a bit, hoping the alarm’s blaring will silence itself somehow. I pull the covers over my ears to muffle the sounds of morning. Gone are the days of leaping out of bed, charged with optimism and curiosity.
The alarm momentarily hushes before resuming its next cycle. I trace the outline of sunlight that grabs hold of the edges of my bedroom curtains.
Without realizing it, my head is already busy at work — processing, planning, and inevitably, worrying. Before my feet have a chance to hit the cool wooden floor planks, my mind has produced an assortment of past problems and future threats to sort through.
On this particular morning, I opt for a serving of guilt. I replay an interaction-turned-sour with my 12-year-old son the night before. And now here come the shoulds…
I should have let him speak his mind.
I should have asked more questions.
I should have been more patient.
I should be a better Dad.
I exhale a faint grunt and plod to the bathroom. Atop the bathroom sink, I reach for my phone and silence the alarm. It’s 5:02 AM. I’ve been awake for seven minutes during which I’ve consumed myself with regret, shame, and grief.
In a moment of desperation, I convince myself to analyze last night’s exchange once more. Maybe reliving it this time will bring some new insights and reprieve from the troubling thoughts and feelings. Unsurprisingly, they only strengthen — now internalized within my consciousness.
Next, to complete the mind-body connection, my limbic brain floods me, head to toe, with stress-inducing chemicals like adrenaline, norepinephrine, cortisol, and dopamine… the circuit completes. What started as a thought, has turned into a fully embodied experience. And as this same routine returns, day in and day out for years, my body becomes addicted to this fear-based state, subconsciously forcing my mind to remember, or otherwise invent, things to worry about.
Sound vaguely familiar?
This morning ritual is how so many of us indoctrinate our days. But it gets worse before it gets better.
From there, we turn outward to try and recover our quickly spoiling morning. We check our messages and inboxes. Once those queues empty, we head over to our favorite social media channels. We compare ourselves with the false world around us. We carefully review likes and comments from last night’s post. We like and comment on others’ — because that’s the right thing to do.
When social fails to refill our tanks and our sense of lost connection, we drop deeper. To match those plummeting emotions, we scour news media outlets for the doom and gloom we’re sure to find.
Then it’s off to Amazon to buy something, anything, for ourselves. We conclude: These new decorative, artificially-aged shelves for the living room will make me feel better.
And once all of those external actions betray us, we seek out friends, family, and coworkers — anyone willing to absorb our venting about a world that’s unfair and endlessly falling short of our expectations.
Finally, by the end of our day, we feel justified to disconnect by pouring ourselves a drink and binging Netflix until our eyes heavy and we withdraw to bed. But guess what’s waiting for us tomorrow?
Breaking the cycle
The more familiar that morning read to you, the harder it may have been to get through. I imagine a percentage of readers dropped off — too close to home, it reminded them that they aren’t yet ready to wake up. To become aware of how they’re living so that they can begin to end the cycle. They don’t realize they have that level of power over their lives, if they’re willing to do the work.
So they retreat to safety — back asleep within the matrix where they get to choose ignorance. They get to hide out in the false personas they created to fit in.
Because, after all:
“Our personality is not who we are but who we had to become.” — Dr Rangan Chatterjee
But when the inevitable suffering returns, they stand in their victimhood, numb themselves, and shove it down — out of sight.
That’s life, after all. Isn’t it? Except, some of us don’t believe that.
We suspect there’s much more to it. We’re here, looking for clues. We’ve been paying attention.
But as our awareness builds, we thrash harder between two existences that live in tension with each other. One moment we’re practicing unfamiliar habits that usher in new levels of joy and peace. The next, a wave of discomfort levels us. Our old, familiar patterns return. We recoil, reasoning to ourselves that we must have been losing our minds. In fact, we are…
We’re beginning to unlearn decades-old programs, which scares the ever-living shit out of us. Because if everything we assumed to be the normal path forward is now sweeping us in the opposite direction, the ground below becomes fractured.
We start colliding with deteriorating floors and walls of a reality that no longer feels like home. As the veil thins further, we catch glimpses of our true reflection — authentic, empowered, abundant. Our lifelong compulsions reveal and then recede, in waves that crash violently on the shore, only to give way to new, softer sand.
Over and over, we feel enlightened one second and back asleep the next. But with each succession, we’re a bit more suspicious, more curious, more aware. We sense what seems to ring true as our full potential, yet remain uncertain how to access it. How to embody it. How to sustain it when we invariably slip back into our habitual programs.
Just keep swimming
These rough waters are the same streams I’ve been swimming in the past seven years — stuck, alongside so many countless other souls.
We were never taught how to step out of the current pulling us downstream. No one gave us the tools to leave behind the lives we never asked for. And so it’s at this stage that the vast majority of us concede. We stop treading and let the tide take us.
It’s so much easier to say “yes” to what’s familiar:
To our family and friends, many of whom are also fast asleep.
To the promise of obtaining fulfillment, if not this mountain top then surely the next.
To a sense of eventual security, so long as we work hard and make lots of money.
I’m here to tell you that I see you — swimming, fighting, drifting. I’ve been there with you, flailing about in those waters. Except, this time around, we’re going to reach the river bank.
If I make it there before you, I’ll wait. I’ll cheer you on. I’ll remind you you’re not alone. That you’re not crazy to be paddling upstream — to waters where you glide in complete peace, toward the shores of your intended life. To the life you chose.
And if you happened to make it there first, throw me a line. It gets choppy in here.