There Is No There: Advice from So Sad Today
Dear So Sad Today,
You know when you’re young, you always think “when I’m older my life will start.” I’m not really talking about having high expectations or big dreams, just ~life~ stuff: a first real boyfriend, a career kicking off, doing more & seeing more. I used to wonder, but not worry because I was young and it would all happen in the future.
So I waited for life to happen and now the future is here but life hasn’t come with it. I just assumed it would all happen. I’m in my 20s, I didn’t go to college but I found my own path. I know the solution is to get out there but it can be hard to find where “there” is. When I do stumble upon it, it’s like a brief glimpse of life and then it’s gone again.
So when does life start? Have I not thought it into existence hard enough? How do I start life when it feels like nothing ever happens?
one point forever (but hopefully not)
Dear one point forever (but hopefully not),
As I write this, I’m sitting in a cold, dirty Chick-fil-A. I just got a hair treatment that isn’t supposed to get wet and I ran in here to escape a downpour of rain (in Los Angeles of all places). The girls in the booth next to me are talking about the Kardashians using their first names only (“Kylaaayyy, Khloaaayyy”) and I’m trying to calculate the calories in a dish called Chick-n-Strips. I don’t think I am “there” yet either.
Or maybe I am there? The thing about arriving is that it’s elusive. As you said, we have experiences—brief glimpses of what we might call life (though it’s all life, really)—and then they are gone. I’m not sure who designed happiness like this, but the Buddha seems to know something about its fleeting nature.
When I was in my 20s, I believed in the possibility that I would one day really “arrive.” I thought that if I went to the right psychic or took the right amount of drugs or figured out my astrological chart or studied the right religion or published a book or fucked the right person or the right person fell in love with me, then it would all happen. The idea of arrival, for me, meant not only some summit I wanted to reach in the outside world, but also a permanent feeling of wholeness within myself that I was hoping to attain.
What I’ve come to learn is that truth is one and paths are many, and there is no psychic or astrological chart that knows any more than anyone else. There is no fuckable person (or people) who can fill all my desirous holes. There are not enough drugs to render me permanently high. There is nothing I can buy that will make me impervious to the feeling of lack. There is no amount of books that I could publish to make me feel like “enough.” After the book comes the fear of never publishing another book.
This knowledge that nothing outside of myself is enough—a knowing that I’ve accumulated gradually, through experience and many mistakes—does not mean I’m enlightened. With the exception of the drugs (off of which I am clean), I often still look to achievement, external validation, or the perfect purse to make me feel “there.” In other words, I forget what I know all the time.
But, I would say what’s nice about being in my 30s is that the search for a “there” is slightly less desperate now, a bit less frenetic. Or, when I’m desperately striving for something, whatever it is, I tend to see what I’m doing a bit more quickly now. If I’m straining to “make” something happen, if I feel like I have to get something or I will die, there’s a good chance it’s time to let go of that thing. The best way to describe my life is that I often wake up forgetting that I already have all I need. The rest of the day then becomes about remembering.
My daily meditation practice helps with this, because it gives me a template of “pause.” It reminds me that pause exists and that I don’t have to believe every thought, every want, every desire. But even meditation can become a misguided attempt to get to some kind of “there.” If my practice doesn’t feel serene, I can wonder what I’m doing wrong (the answer is nothing). Spiritual materialism isn’t just about the purchase of crystals and expensive candles. It can be found even in the desire for a practice to look or feel a certain way.
I think this is also true of the elusive state of “okayness” in general. I used to think that okayness was a place, some solid state I would reach and that within it there would be no fluctuations. I imagined myself untouchable, free, not subject to other people’s opinions or my own sensitivity. But I don’t think that’s really a human experience. If everything in nature is always changing, then why wouldn’t we?
It seems that the more I try to find some permanent state of okayness, to unify all my fragments into some kind of comprehensible (or even branded) whole, the less okay I feel. Even the pressure to “be okay with not being okay,” as is the popular expression, seems like a lot. Like, maybe it’s more about being okay with not being okay with not being okay?
so sad today
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