Two years ago on this day, I left behind my well-known, secure job in the corporate world, and today I decided to write another “looking back” post, sharing my thoughts on what I’ve learned since then.
What I’ve accomplished
First, I’ll share a map of many of the places I visited during my time in Europe. I think it’s cool to look back and see the area I covered, with the physical travel symbolizing the spiritual movement. I used my phone’s GPS to bookmark my coordinates at various points during my trip, and, well, it’s taken me two years to figure out how to group all these locations onto one map. So, here it is:
(You can zoom in and look at satellite views, like most other maps on Google.)
In terms of accomplishments, one thing I’ve been saying since undertaking a mindfulness-based life is that there is little external evidence for everything that has happened in my life: no, I didn’t work on a project to launch a new software package for my employer; no, I haven’t upgraded my education to a master’s degree; no, I haven’t prepared a five-year action plan for my career. But, I’ve spent a big portion of time looking inward, and letting my inner pain come out. In doing so, I’ve let go of old anger, despair and sadness to make room for loving and kind thoughts.
A different pace of life
One thing that is quite different from my old life is the pace. I remember feeling like I was often holding my breath at the office, always at-the-ready to shift my focus at a moment’s notice for the next request made of me, while my creativity wasn’t able to bloom to its full potential. I remember being confined to the indoors while the sun shone out my window, beckoning me to run through the grass barefoot.
Today, my life is so much calmer. I take the time to breathe, literally! Some of my creativity is coming out in the kitchen, where I have fun throwing ingredients into a mixing bowl to see how things turn out. I spend time getting to know staff at my grocery store, enjoying hearing details about their vacation to Iceland. I also take time to eat, almost communing with my food.
As a side note, I recommend observing yourself when you eat. It’s astonishing how often we read, walk, talk, vacuum, drive, type, watch TV and even scoop the next forkful of food while we are chewing. Next time, try chewing while doing absolutely nothing else until the food in your mouth is liquid. It changes your experience with food.
I have no need for products or foods that save me five minutes in the kitchen or while I’m on-the-go, because, well, what’s the rush? Let me tell you, letting go of some of these products was an emotional process for me. Now, though, I feel a deeper connection with the food Mother Nature produces to nourish me, and that makes the journey worthwhile for me.
So, you might be sitting there thinking “well, that’s fine for you to be talking about gumdrops and rainbows, but let’s face reality here.” Well, this brings me to my next topic.
This is normal?
I recently had a conversation with a friend where I mentioned how I’d like our planet’s economy to evolve, creating a positive space for each inhabitant. I said that it would be great when each person has a job / employer that aligned with his or her values and desires. I found it fascinating to hear his reaction, how this paradigm seemed so foreign to him that this kind of world was impossible. “There’s a reason work is work,” he said.
So, here’s the thing: we have all, collectively as a human species, agreed to this way of doing things. We’ve all agreed that doing tasks that drain us every day is normal. My leader once told me that she felt some anxiety on Sunday evenings dreading returning to the office on Monday. A common comment you hear in workspaces is “can’t wait until Friday” in anticipation of being away from the workspace for the weekend. We seem to think that these are just normal ways of feeling.
Somewhere down the line, someone said “I’ll give you these pieces of paper and these metal disks for you to complete these tasks you wouldn’t normally want to do otherwise,” and we’ve been stuck in a cycle without knowing how to get out. We’ve come to settle agreeing that life should be a dull grey existence.
Deep down in your heart, do you really think that a so-so existence is all life can be?
This great little video simply and beautifully demonstrates what I mean by our society getting stuck:
Can you imagine how different our world would be if we all turned to our employers and said we wanted tasks that filled our soul instead of our wallet?
If you’re getting angry while reading these ideas, I invite you to take a step back, breathe and ponder what’s making you upset. Are you “stuck” in a situation you’re not enjoying and mad at me for talking about my calmer life?
If, instead, you’re sad while reading this, good! To me, that means we’ve tapped on a sore spot that you are becoming aware of that may be ready to crack open.
Finally, if you’re reading this and think I’m just a crackpot, I ask you to finish reading before moving on.
So, how do we get out?
If you’re looking to break from the cycle that our society is in and don’t know what to do, I can’t provide the answer that is good for you. There are so many things in our world that can be improved upon, you probably feel overwhelmed. However, things can change when you take one step at a time and use your built-in compass, your heart. It’s scary when you take steps that are counter-culture (I know, I’ve been there, and sometimes still go there), but when your heart holds up a road sign saying…
…isn’t it worth taking the path less travelled?
In my case, I needed to make a big change from my old pattern. Maybe that’ll be what you feel you need to do too, but it seems like a huge jump. Start small and do what speaks to you: turn off all stimuli (TVs, phones) and go sit by a tree to just observe nature; make a pizza from scratch; setup an afternoon of board games (the non-video kind) with your kids or grandkids; stop to talk to the cashier at the grocery store.
But, my biggest recommendation is to sit and breathe, making this meditation practice an integral part of your day. Because this feeling of peace you’ll cultivate will be something you’ll carry with you throughout your life, and is much more precious than any other “stuff” we come across in life.