Inevitably we falter. Inevitably the slow cycle of boredom and suffering begins to hurt us. Many of us choose busyness, filling our lives with activities and screens because the slowness and mundanity of regular life is too much for us. So movement ensues. We work not for our own survival but to fill but the empty spaces between after our basic needs are met. As much as it is a cliche to say life is short, life is also somehow incredibly long. Our lives are like movies except the editor kept in all the mundane parts like brushing one’s teeth or binge-watching a show.
Kids and work are ways to fill these empty spaces. So do our partners and friends. So do media and art. Tv shows, movies, music, video games, and great food or wine are all wonderful. But is that enough? It depends. Some people amazingly don’t seem to have mental health problems despite the mental health crisis happening in the United States. I often wonder how they do it or if there is something missing from this picture? I am often very joyful and content. I am lucky to have a loving partner, a job I love, hobbies I enjoy like writing, good friends, and enough money to afford a nice meal or vacation here and there. I also live in Manhattan, which I love.
But also I am a wet sponge of sensitivity and emotion. I absorb all around me, especially when people are hurting, and this means I am often melancholic or even depressed. All I can see is suffering, and the world is too much with us. I have moments of deep sadness that make me wonder would have chosen to be born if it was my choice?
Sometimes I think, no I wouldn’t have. But on the other end of that, I desperately love life and find such joy in so much. It is a strange paradox. I love life and want to live but also find it painful and hard. It is the biggest reason I have not had kids yet at 42. I find the decision of bringing someone into this world so immense. And climate change only gets worse, I have found it hard to pull the trigger.
So this is what I am left with, contradictory, paradoxical emotions all living with me at every moment. In this space, it is easy to try and numb one’s self with alcohol, weed, pills, or screens. Who wants to feel this intensely? I definitely have my moments when I don’t want to. There is use in dissociating from our emotions. In that way, distractions get a bad rap. If we felt the whole weight of existence at every moment, it would be too much. Most of us could not get out of bed in the morning. So we need distractions. We need something to fill time.
But the other way to face life is with deep acceptance of suffering. This is just the way it is. Nothing is going to change that. I will feel pain, but I can meet it with deep mindful compassion. And this changes everything. I am not in denial of that suffering. I try and not to expect things to be different. With this awareness of life and suffering, we can live just a bit differently. As the cliche goes, we can “stop and smell the roses.” Science seems to prove doing so will make you happier. Romantic poets like Wordsworth also understood this. Tintern Abbey for example is a beautiful reflection on this. The transcendent is here for us to taste. Most of us are just too much in our busy lives to look around and enjoy it.