I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to prepare to live instead of living one’s life. A number of bloggers have touched on this topic recently. It might be that we put off something that we want to do because we think we can do it when we are done with something else. Or it might be that we’re afraid to take a leap or follow a dream or an intuition or a passion. It could be a number of things, really, that keep us from being content and peaceful and alive in the moment.
Some time around my birthday, I realized I was actually living my life again. I thought about the moment when I stopped living my life. It happened some time after college, I think. Maybe that’s what my quarter life crisis was. It wasn’t so much that I had a crisis so much as I just ceased to exist. I was nowhere to be found. My family, my friends, my enemies, my lovers, my exes, my coworkers… my past… sometimes even my present… they were in there, but I wasn’t. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I wasn’t so much alive for myself as I was alive for others. Then I spent probably five years preparing to live my life. I have written about my choice to go back to school and how my first year of grad school changed my life. It did. But it was all leading up to something else. I was waiting for the next thing and just called it preparation. Spending those last few months with my grandmother also changed my life. It changed me in more ways than I could ever express. It’s almost like losing her set a fire in me.
I continued to trudge along, doing what I was supposed to do. School, work, school, work. On and on it went. On and on I went. I knew that all of this was worth it because there was a light at the end of the tunnel. That light was a job I loved, stability, happiness, flexibility, a dog, and no student loan debt. Somewhere in all the preparations I was making for my future, I forgot to be alive. It isn’t that I haven’t been happy or that I wasn’t fulfilled. I am incredibly fortunate and have lived a great life. I love where I am and who I am and I am happy with the path I chose. It isn’t always easy to be in grad school full time, but whose life is always easy?
Things have felt more natural, less stressful, and downright peaceful for a little over a month now. I’m incredibly busy, but it just feels… different. I feel different. (And it isn’t just because of that one thing going on right now, which some of you know about.)
The moment I started taking care of myself again was the moment I started feeling alive. I can’t pinpoint the moment exactly. Maybe it was a series of moments leading up to the day I was accepted in the PhD program or the day I signed the lease on my new apartment. And those moments led to other moments that led to a series of breakdowns in November and December.
Maybe it happened the moment I defended my Master’s thesis. In that moment, I realized I could do just about anything when I work hard enough. I also realized it came with a price and it was time to choose. Either I could keep pushing myself to the brink of exhaustion just so I can prepare for this future life while I lost myself. Or I could slow down, breathe, and find my way again. I think when I finished my thesis, I let go of the need to prepare. I made a conscious decision to no longer put pressure on myself to be everything to everyone. A load was lifted and I started living. I chose to eat healthier, to work out with a trainer, and to start online dating. I started living for myself. Maybe that is why I feel so calm.
We can smile, breathe, walk, and eat our meals in a way that allows us to be in touch with the abundance of happiness that is available. We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive. Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.
~Thich Nhat Hanh~