I was reading a book once and came across a line that said “find the life under your life situation.” Perplexed by the complete incoherence of the statement, I read it again. I stared at it. I thought about it. I analyzed it. I could not see a difference between my life and my life situation, other than, of course, four additional syllables. But I was unhappy and struggling with my crazy universe, and couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong.
A year later, I sit here and reflect on the moment when I realized that this statement was one of the most important things I’ve ever learned. I thought that my life was everything that happened to me, everything I did, every circumstance I encountered. My boyfriend, my grades, my family, my past, the pimple on my forehead, my weight gain, my weight loss, how many friends I had, the mistakes I had made, my Facebook profile picture, the internship I had, Mel’s turning away my fake ID, and what college I went to. When things went “well” in the realm of circumstance I was happy and felt worthy, and when things went “badly” I faced self-pity, low-self-esteem, and sadness. My happiness was just as ephemeral as my sadness, and my moods felt like the roller coaster at Six Flags—yes, nausea and embarrassing photos included.
Taking all these things to be my life, I found living extremely difficult. Basing my security on all these fluctuating externals made me feel like I was surviving from one moment to the next, waiting for things to go right. Waiting for that A. Waiting for that boy. Waiting for the compliment. Waiting for the job offer. And when I got the thing I thought I needed to be happy, to be okay, to feel secure, the joy came and left before I could even grasp it. I began to wonder: what kind of happiness actually sticks around? How could I find a way to let the discontent dissolve and to enjoy my life?
By realizing that all these things I thought were my life were actually my life situation, I began the unending adventure of discovering what is meant by the word “life” and how to extract it from the drain of the life situation.
My life consists of the things that really matter: my relationship with myself, my trust in the process, my ability to be grateful for the things that I have, my choice of what thoughts I put in my own head, what environment I create around myself, and the energy I bring out into the world. Although I may be powerless over the ebbs and flows of my life situation, I am not powerless over the quality of my life.
Feeling so uncomfortable with uncertainty and change, I was looking for one thing I could count on and take for granted. None of the things “out there” could ever give me that sense of stability and true satisfaction. Believe me, I tried, but somehow I had this void that all the straight A’s, relationships, and achievement could not fill. What “happens” in your life situation is the most unstable place you can be.
This is what I learned: You are not your problems. You are not your social life. You are not your job. You are not your partner. You are not your successes. You are not your failures. Instead you are the complex being who gets to wake up every morning and decide how to respond to the things the world throws at you. Your life is the graceful and honest way you approach your life situation. Unhappiness is not what happens to you, but your opinions about what is happening to you. Through the lens of your life situation, things could appear to be going horribly wrong. Through the lens of your life, things could be going right for the first time. The perfection of life lies so beyond what is happening or not happening, who said what or did what, and even what you did or didn’t do. The perfection of life is in your ability to be present with whatever the situation may be and have the clarity to see “this is just a situation—this is not me.”
Watch your thoughts. What do you judge as good or bad? Necessary or unnecessary? Make a choice to act as if everything is happening for your highest good, because guess what, it is. You may not see the entire path, but that is no reason not to take the first step. Don’t fight your life situation—that won’t serve you. Accept what is, and choose your perception. Choose to see endings as both inevitable and wonderful because they make room for new things to bloom. Choose to see heartbreak as a softening of your heart and a clearing out of old feelings that keep you from enjoying the wholeness of your life.
Choose to see making a mistake as a great moment of humility—and a chance to see that you are imperfect, which, in the realm of life, is perfect.
Fill yourself up with thoughts of self-love, thoughts of adequacy, thoughts that say “you know what … this is exactly where you’re supposed to be. I’m so proud of you. Keep going.” Rise above the daily happenings of the external world, and sit in the space that lies beneath. It is sustaining, joyous, and calm. And most importantly, it doesn’t change. You can always find your life, whatever your life situation may be.
And I must admit: the view from here is better than anything I could have ever imagined.