Here's something I wrote for 8th grade honors English. I got a B. That teacher clearly had it out for me.
~A Poem for Walden~
When in the forest one realizes
The world is different.
Water covers the great part of the land
And that land goes far beyond where we live.
Humans go through life hurriedly,
Not looking at their surroundings, not looking up.
But there are forests and lakes
And streams and fields.
We resemble ants in many ways.
Like most humans, ants fight each other.
They kill and battle their own.
Ants and humans have too much in common.
Through the seasons of the year
We should notice all the changes.
Life is too short to just hurry by.
We must notice our surroundings more.
Every winter life is frozen,
Animals hibernate, so do the waters.
Trees seem to die and ice covers the ground.
Life appears dead to those who are looking.
Spring changes the life that fell across the land.
It is a time of hope and a new beginning.
Fog and rain melts the ice. Flowers, animals, and leaves return.
Life renews to those who are looking.
Life in the woods goes on this way,
It all stays the same day by day, season by season.
We must change our lives so we will see.
We must leave the beaten path,
To see the new beginning.
There's a big bright beautiful world out there.
Why would you want to stand still?
There's billions of souls to connect to.
Why wouldn't you introduce yourself to the unfamiliar?
There's an endless number of cultures to sample.
Why would you always do the same basic thing?
There's mountains of photos to expose you to new sights.
Why wouldn't you try to see them with your own eyes?
There's an infinite amount of unshared ideas.
Why would you ever think you know it all?
There's hundreds of colors in the simplest of objects.
Why wouldn't you dare to imagine an entirely new spectrum?
Keep searching. Keep meeting. Keep seeing. Keep learning. Keep expanding.
How many times do you have a bunch of important projects to work on, but instead of actually working on them you go bum around on Facebook?
How many times have you promised yourself you'd go to bed early but you stay up, reading yet another mindless article, or an even more mindless comment thread?
How did that make you feel?
I'm guilty of falling into a distraction trap on the regular. I don't even know why I do it sometimes. It's a habit, a bad habit, where if I have a free moment, even if it's mere seconds, I pull out my phone... tap on that Instagram icon, or Facebook, or Twitter, or Messenger, or edit a few photos, or check my activity progress on Human, or look at the Weather report, or open Pages see how many views my Facebook sites are getting, or Weebly to see if anyone is actually reading this blog (they are!). The list goes on and on.
Some months back I turned off notifications for most of these apps. That helps, to a degree. Now I'm not getting beeped and buzzed at just because of a like or a message. But the apps are still there, taunting me. Knowing they exist, knowing there might be new information, creates a mental distraction in it's own right.
We have so many options to distract ourselves from all the regular tasks of life, but by wasting our time with distractions we make those tasks much more difficult. You'll still have to finish those projects and go through your to-do list, now you just have less time to do them. The temporary relief you get from the distraction is grossly offset by all the stress it creates in the future.
Was the distraction worth it? Did those 45 minutes on Facebook make you feel any better? Did hearting a few pictures on Instagram help you get your real work done?
The answer of course is always NO.
Remember that. Next time you move that mouse over to open Facebook, remember it. The next time you're tempted to start tapping at apps, remember it.
The first step toward breaking any bad habit is to acknowledge that it is bad. Every time you remember it, you're a step closer to forgetting it.
Published elsewhere on Medium.com/jasonjourneyman
There's something about going without that makes you appreciate life more.
Recently, I was holed up, stuck at home for 12 days in intense pain after a tonsillectomy. Because of it, I was forcibly deprived of numerous things: food, water, exercise, and social activities, to name a few. I was definitely, well, going without.
Before the surgery, not entirely realizing what I was getting into, but I had some expectations. It kind of felt like I was preparing for a little vacation—a week or so off work, no social pressures. "This is going to be fun!" I thought. I was however a little bit worried about FOMO as well. I don't always do so well when I'm stuck at home with a cold on a Saturday night—I want to be out having fun with everyone else, obviously.
Pretty much everything I expected about this experience turned out to be wrong though. It was certainly not a vacation... I was a dazed from medications and suffering from pain, not relaxing in any sense. I didn't have an ounce of FOMO either... going out and seeing friends sounded like torture. I didn't necessarily want to be stuck at home, but there was also no other place I'd rather be.
My expectations were way off base, but that left room for the unexpected, and the biggest thing I didn't plan on was how appreciative I would feel when it was all over.
The physical pain brought me to a place of sadness and despair that I had never really felt before. But it's always darkest before the dawn. Feeling so incredibly low meant that the next time I was up it would feel that much higher.
The happiness and appreciation I felt after returning to my normal schedule was unparalleled. I didn't let the little things bother me, I was just happy to be, happy to see my friends, happy for the ability to eat a sandwich. I stopped feeling FOMO. I had, after all, just spent a few weeks stuck in the house "missing out" on things, and guess what, the world didn't end. I become more confident in my decisions. The forced independence created by having to take care of my sick self, bled into every other independent decision I made.
This new perspective of gratefulness I'm feeling is something I want to keep with me, to practice, to reuse again and again in the future. I want to remember this experience for the next time I think life sucks. So here I am, writing it down, building an appreciation memorial.
I'm not suggesting you put yourself through a tortuously painful surgery to gain a new perspective. You actually don't need to, because at some point in life we all encounter physical or emotional pain. It takes you to a dark place and it ain't fun.
But if you choose, you can use the pain to your benefit, use it as a lesson, use it to inspire.
Each up and down in life is an opportunity. With practice, with experience, with mindfulness to understand and process how you feel, you learn how to smooth out the ride.
When you're feeling down, take a moment to remember that it will get better. You know it'll get better because you've been there before. Remember? Write it all down, how you're feeling, all the things that are shitty AND all the things for which you're grateful.
When you're on the other side, when life is good and you're happy, it's also OK to remember that you will feel pain again. That's OK because that's real. Write it all down, all the good things you're feeling, build your own appreciation memorial.
Both the ups and downs of life teach us how to survive. They are a yin and yang—they create balance.
So just be yourself, feel your feels, write it all down, learn from it, and remember to appreciate life, every stupid second of it.
This article is cross-posted with Elephant Journal:
We've all heard the whole “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional” idiom thrown around.
I hear it a lot in yoga, often referring to the emotional pain that comes in life, or perhaps the few seconds of “pain” you feel when you get into a triangle pose after a week away from your practice. Suffering in either situation being a choice. That phrase, as I used to know it, sounds so quaint to me now.
Last week I had a tonsillectomy, and for those who've never had one let me tell you, it was one of the worst experiences of my life. I had a terrible recovery, but as with any dark cloud in life there is also a silver lining. The pain/suffering idiom became lodged in my mind, and it was the first time I truly, actually, honestly understood it.
The suffering was real, and not in some esoteric yoga way, but in the real-life, excruciating pain way. It was a powerfully important lesson. Pain in all its forms just exists, there’s nothing we can do about it. But how we handle that pain is a choice. We can wallow it until it’s physically and emotionally out of control. Or we can change our perspective on it, see it as a means to an end, and ultimately be in charge of our own happiness.
I’m definitely not the first, nor the last person to go through this. I talked to many friends about it beforehand, and those who had their tonsils removed as a child said something like, “It’s not so bad, I just remember eating a lot of ice cream!” Contrast that with those who has the surgery as an adult, who said, unequivocally, “It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life!”
So I was warned. I knew what I was getting into. Or at least, I “knew” what I was getting into. I came to learn over the week-plus of recovery that it’s one thing to imagine what the “worst pain in your life” might feel like, and it’s quite another thing to actually feel it. The value of experience cannot be underestimated.
In those seven or so days I endured more pain than I could’ve ever imagined, the worst being night four, which seemed illogical (shouldn’t you be on the mend at that point?) but was true. Terribly true.
That night the level of constant, throbbing, overwhelming pain—and in the throat which is so central to our everyday life—quite literally broke me. Forget swallowing food or water, it hurt just to breathe. My ears were cauldrons of fire. My jaw had just finished a round in the boxing ring. Speaking one word sent razor blades down my throat.
No mindfulness exercise or act of positive thinking was enough. I was bulldozed by regret, “why did I agree to have this surgery?!” Flattened by anger, “you are such an idiot!” Conquered by suffering, “you are so weak!”
At the peak of my suffering I briefly considered taking every pill I’d been prescribed, because it just wasn’t worth it anymore. Life was no longer a viable option. Thankfully, that idea was quickly dismissed by the quiet voice of rational thought I could still hear through the white noise of pain and narcotics.
That emotional breakdown was a low point in my life. But sometimes it’s at our lowest that we finally learn to look up.
At a very basic level, my emotions that night made the physical pain worse. Like so many other things, crying uses your throat. So that was my first realization: by wallowing in my pain I was making the pain stronger. Getting upset by it was actually counterintuitive, because it perpetuated the problem.
The same lesson goes for many other parts of life: nerves before public speaking is counterintuitive, because that anxiety can actually cause you to make the verbal mistake you’re so nervous about. Anger at someone when they’ve talked smack is counterintuitive, because that anger causes you to be an asshole which actually encourages a negative persona.
At a much broader level, letting myself get dragged down by the pain caused me to lose all hope. This was my most important realization: by wallowing in the pain I was letting the pain win. I had no choice in the matter—the pain existed no matter how many deep breaths I took or vicodins I popped. But the suffering I felt, that was entirely up to me. Instead of suffering I could be mindful about the pain, view it as part of the healing process, a means to a much more positive end, as evidence of my throat repairing itself.
Wallowing in any pain—physical, emotional or yogi—and letting that pain drag me down, that is entirely up to me.
I had a choice: continue to suffer or make up my mind to be happy.
I chose to be happy.
The next morning was day five, and I woke up in the same excruciating pain. But I also woke up with a smile, because I knew that in a day or so I would feel relief, in a week I would feel back to normal, and in a month my sleep apnea and constant colds would (hopefully) go away. I woke up with a smile, because I knew it was all downhill cruising from there. I woke up with a smile, because I saw the light at the end of the tunnel.
I woke up with a smile, because I knew that I no longer had to suffer, and turns out that was really all I needed to know.