“Do anything fun this weekend?” This became my least favorite question in casual conversation. It wasmostly because I found I was unable to remember what I did beyond the previous day. Permanently branded into my mind was an iPhone calendar with a dot beneath each day. Which dot was Friday? Which was Saturday? What have I been doing? I knew that something had to be wrong when I found myself unable to recall how I was spending my time.
We live in the age of technology, and it has ushered in with it the ease of immediate information whenever we crave it. The human mind is a hungry creature, and often, it is difficult not to appease it even when we know it may be harmful. I, too, thought I was doing something good for myself. Each day I would skim several websites about events in New York City. This was my way of making sure I wasn’t wasting my time sitting around and letting life pass me by. It was a sweet little rush of dopamine to the head each time I made a new set of plans. It became a part of my identity. Why then, was I becoming stressed about being able to commit to them? I found myself dreading going out at night, hoping someone might cancel at the last minute. And it didn’t stop there, if I turned down a friend’s offer to spend time together I would try and squish them into another day where I was doing something else but could probably (not) see them as well. I’d sculpted my life into some twisted marathon race where my clock and calendar had become my ball and chain.
Amidst all the fantasy itineraries I was building for trips that were never going to happen, I began to realize the reason behind why I felt I needed to do all of this. I felt (I only use the past tense here for consistency, as I certainly still feel this way at times) that I needed to measure up. Despite my distaste for trying to fit in, it dawned on me that this was just another layer of some image I had tried to build of myself. I consider myself relatively removed from social media outlets like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat; yet even I felt that I was trying to contribute to the collage in a meaningful way. A life lived for others will be tiring with little payoff. We merely become a supporting role in the play that is someone else’s life. We put so much effort into the momentarily glances, a finger mashed up against a heart icon, we can win from others. And then it’s over. It is no wonder that we find ourselves feeling so empty inside at times. It has not been easy, but I have tried to incorporate some new habits into my life that are helping me be more present in my life as it is happening, not in photos from the past or plans in the future. I believe that what I discover along the way are the breadcrumbs that will ultimately lead me to a peaceful, fulfilling life.
Meditate - Try to give yourself 10 minutes of meditation a day. If you stick with it, you may begin to find yourself feeling lighter. Scientific studies have found that meditation’s benefits range from fighting depression to improving memory ( http://liveanddare.com/benefits-of-meditation/ ). If you are like me, you may need guided meditation to help you get started. If you can make it, the Three Jewels studio offers it for free (with a recommended donation) every weekday morning as well as quick power sessions around lunch time. Check it out here! If you can't make it to a studio, I’d recommend downloading the HeadSpace app. The first 10 sessions are free and helpful in explaining the fundamentals of meditation. Even if you don’t have the time to do a formal practice on your cushion each day, try to make it your business to focus your mind while you’re walking somewhere or taking the subway.
Unplugging: Close the laptop, shut off your phone. Do you ever look around at other people when you are alone? At least for me, the pale blue glow that comes from phone backlights can be seen almost universally across every face I pass. Learn how to disconnect yourself from the online world. Make memories first and share them later.
VEG OUT: A close friend recently asked me if I could recall the last time I spent a day doing nothing. “Cleaning the house doesn’t count as nothing, by the way”, she added. I realized I couldn’t remember a single day where I only stuffed Ben and Jerry’s into my mouth and watched Louis CK on Netflix. That very evening I did just that. Even if you can’t manage a full day, take a break and let the expectation that you should always be doing something fall away. Or try to. I justified my fattening night of dairy-induced bliss by convincing myself that I was working on improving my mental health for the evening. And it was true.
Get active: You don’t need a gym membership to take advantage of exercising. A lengthy stroll, a Youtube tutorial fitness video, or hopping on a bike are all affordable ways to get your heart pumping and your muscles working. Physical activity burns calories, but I think far more importantly it releases endorphins. It’s true that the laps I take in the park as I stalk small Pugs hanging out in the dog run isn’t going to earn me any runner’s high, but it’s an important routine I stick to. Cortisol, a hormone released when we are stressin’, can cause a lot of crappy issues such as inflammation in our bodies, a slower metabolism, and even cancer; getting a move on can directly combat all of these scary threats to our well being!
On my mission to become a better person, I forgot about the person I still was. The one sitting there who is always one step behind the idealized self, who is never quite good enough. Don’t forget to love yourself, it is easier than you may think.