What Are You Looking For?

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It seems to me that (you lived your life like a candle in the wind…wait, where did that come from?)…anyway, stream of consciousness, it seems to me that we’re all looking for something in life.  Perhaps we end up accumulating things–cars, houses, clothes–or we count our “successes”–careers, exotic vacations, retirement plans, but it all boils down to your life is but one moment after another, one breath followed by the next, until it isn’t.

The thing is, we don’t like that.  Are we seriously so inconsequential on Earth that it would continue to exist without our presence?  Now, that’s a very cynical outlook, and I’m not typically that cynical, but the bottom line is that although people who love us would miss us dearly and every action that we make can cause innumerable chain reactions, each person must accept the inevitable impermanence of their own existence and its miniscule bearing on the universe as a whole.  This acceptance stinks worse than a vegetarian dog’s gas.

Rather than accept this fate, we cast about (as my Northern English husband is fond of saying) looking for ways to fill the void and answer the almighty question of what our Purpose (with a capital P) is.  So far, I’ve figured out that I should: graduate from college (not enough), go to grad school (not enough), get a doctorate (not enough), accumulate more certificates and licenses than any sane person should (clue: not…), get married, buy a home, have children, change careers (more than once…anthropologist, teacher, principal, writer, musician, conductor, yoga instructor…might even entertain outdoor wildlife expert and/or non-profit community roots project organizer), and, well, you get the idea.  Every new experience is destined to be THE ONE that will fulfill my hope and dream of making me feel complete.  Unfortunately, what I find is that I will stick with something long enough to somewhat master the skills and knowledge needed to function well enough or obtain some degree of proficiency.  I am comforted by the day-to-day routine; we humans crave ritual!  My life is nice, luxurious by most of the world’s standards.  Then, I realize that I’m bored and what I’m doing won’t fulfill my ultimate Purpose, and try to reconfigure a new direction to sample.

I have decided that a “gap year” is in order.  A sabbatical, if you will.  There is a reason why the Sabbath was observed and has continued to be commonplace within churches and institutions of education–one will eventually go crazy otherwise.  We can disguise it in any way–data collection, field experience, holy fast–but what it means is we need to sort ourselves out and think.  What a concept!  My biggest obstacle is ridiculous–pride.  A sabbatical would mean not working, well, at least not having a 9-to-5 job.  I’m sure I will find work that is meaningful (and likely desperately needed in our family).  However, having grown up in a family of coal mining men and women who did pretty much everything else, as well as sitting on a stack of college degrees, makes me feel very antsy at the notion of not bringing home a weekly paycheck.

On the flip side, on this Ides of March, I am sitting outside writing under an amazing moon with a breeze blowing the palm trees (yes, I’m so sorry to my family in the Midwest right now) looking at the constellations while I write, and I’m thinking, “This world is so incredible and huge. How can I possibly continue to get up and have the same routine every day? I must visit Tanzania, through hike the Appalachian Trail, and twirl prayer wheels!”

I realize that this struggle is central to Buddhism and yogic philosophy and is pretty much core to most religions, but somehow, I’ve still not figured it out.  I’m also incredibly aware that one might interpret this as a crisis plaguing those in their mid-life years, but I assure you that 27 is far too young for that.  (That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it until my younger sister’s “age” leapfrogs over mine.)

What Is Important?

It occurs to me that I care far too much about what others think of me.  I recently spent a week on a wilderness spring break, not necessarily roughing it as I’ve done when backpacking, but definitely away from people, technology, Internet and cell phone coverage, and cozy amenities, like hot water for a shower.  I wasn’t using the orange shovel, but you get the idea.  I realized that while I was gone, my best moments were sitting under the stars in silence, explaining to my son why backpacking with his father for the first time was one of my fondest memories, encouraging my daughter to never say, “I can’t,” and having her dad respond with, “Your mom never says, ‘I can’t,'” beaching and anchoring a giant houseboat as a team with my husband, and thinking I was beautiful despite, or perhaps because of, the lack of mirrors, make-up, hair products, and social media.

When I’m in my usual routine, I worry myself with whether I’m measuring up–working enough, mothering enough, producing enough, looking good enough, etc.  For what?  For whom?  In nature, all you have to concern yourself with is food, clothing, shelter, and, perhaps if there’s time and energy, some entertainment.  This absolute need to take care of yourself and those with you drives your focus and makes anything else not only peripheral, but entirely irrelevant.

But what do I do when necessity isn’t driving every decision?  I obsess over details that are utterly ridiculous–son missed practicing spelling words last night, car has tree sap on the hood that needs cleaned, daughter likes playing with pretend makeup, I’m having a bad hair day, dog needs a bath, kids had too many chips this weekend, garage is in desperate need of organizing, and on and on and on.  WHO CARES?!?!

While the title of this post might indicate the importance of love, family, friends, and other top-tiered concepts in Maslow’s hierarchy, I’m talking about the foundation of that hierarchy.  It’s incredibly important for us as humans, if we are so fortunate to not be in need of basic human needs, to make ourselves in need every once in awhile.  Go camping.  Don’t use hot water.  Only cook with whole foods over a fire.  Get someplace by your own means–walk, run, swim, bike, or paddle (unless you can flap).  You get the idea.  Then, reflect on your attention.  I guarantee that it has changed.

While I am passionate by nature and tend to wax and wane depending upon the circumstance, I can tell you that every time I return to nature, I suddenly realize my insignificance in the world and my desperate need to simply take it all in and stop wasting my time on minutiae, like whether I missed a meeting or was turned down by an audition.

You owe it to yourself to get out of your everyday routine and experience life.  It is amazing.Image