Checking the Pulse: Perspective and a Peptalk
We humans are a special bunch. We’ve got big ol’ brains stuffed into our big ol’ heads that are capable of doing big ol’ things. As I was driving through the Catskill Mountains this past weekend, I was in constant admiration of the impressive roadways and bridges we built onto the sides of mountains and across serious stretches of water. As new and innovative technologies and breakthroughs emerge at a rapid pace each year, there is seemingly nothing we can’t dream up and eventually create. To try to comprehend all of the changes that have occurred even during my short lifetime is mind-boggling, much less what we might expect to see in the next 30 years. Yet somewhere amongst the same neurons we use to innovate, we also have the capacity to experience a wide variety of emotions. Sometimes they are so intense they run deep to our core and other times they are as fleeting as a sneeze. Nevertheless, they are the filters through which we perceive the world and so they are hugely impactful to our qualities of life.
In my time living in NYC, anytime you mention to someone that you are going out of town for the weekend, you get an almost reflexive response of “ah, good to get out of the city.” It is such a common response because it is absolutely true. It is good to get out of the city. This place can be such a well-lit circus that it is very easy to get caught up in the current and lose track of time, meals and missed calls. It seems that every year moves a bit faster than the last, but this year has flown by especially fast for me. Maybe it was the higher concentration of oxygen in the mountain air, or perhaps it was finally quiet enough for me to hear my own thoughts, but as soon as the city appeared like a distant star in my rented rear-view mirror, I was hit with a wave of a pesky little thing called perspective. As the skyscrapers were getting replaced by mountains and the street lamps replaced by stars you can actually see in the night sky, it was becoming clear that I hadn’t checked in with myself in a while. I had been so consumed with my day-to-day routine and schedule that I had failed to take a moment to stop and really listen to the many voices that make up our inner monologues. As it turns out, they had a lot to say.
We live in a world where damn near everything is “on demand.” You can get virtually anything with a few clicks while sitting on your couch. I used to beg my mom to take me 20 minutes “into town” just so that I could spend an hour pacing around a record store to find the perfect CD. And even then I wouldn’t know if I’d actually like it (the fancier store where you could sample music with greasy, over-sized headphones was father away and reserved for special occasions). Now I can listen to the majority of the CD before I buy it and I don’t have to move an inch to do it. And that development is “so ten years ago,” anyway. My point is this: it is easier than ever to be a pathological escapist. If one wanted, you could stay sedated and distracted for your entire life – right up until the moment when reality turns your daydream into the long, black sleep. It almost sounds kind of nice. Maybe that’s why so many of us do it.
As someone who spends way too much time in my “happy place,” I understand all too well how easy it is to binge-watch things on Netflix or drown your sorrows and angst in bottles of booze or piles of food. Stress eating has become steady fixture in my toolkit of coping mechanisms. The truth is, though, that while consuming food, substances or cheap entertainment is a satisfying distraction from the woes of the day, all it really amounts to is emotional procrastination. Much to our disappointment, the reality of the situation is whatever we don’t deal with today will still be waiting for us tomorrow. To make matters worse, emotional baggage has a way of accumulating in our psyche. It doesn’t simply go away. Some of us get better at coping with it, but it never really disappears in the way that we might hope. The more that we choose to avoid eye contact in the face of unpleasant feelings and situations, the more our baggage begins to grab hold and build walls around our minds, or more specifically, our perspective.
As I noted earlier, our emotions are the filters through which we perceive our lives and the world around us. Having perspective, or a lack thereof, plays a big part in deciding which pair of emotional sunglasses we choose to wear on any given day or moment. Without it, our inner thoughts can sound a lot more like the radio dial is stuck in between stations in the middle of Montana rather than listening to the buttery voice of Morgan Freeman reading a Dr. Seuss book. Although it can be intensely uncomfortable to do so, if we have underlying issues that we are avoiding dealing with, they will start to bleed over into all areas of our lives. Without realizing it, we can make some pretty toxic environments for ourselves. As the baggage piles up higher and higher, it soon becomes the only thing you can see. Can you imagine walking around with a pair of yesterday’s underwear over your head? There could be the scent of fresh flowers in the air or the savory wafts of your neighbor’s barbecue, but if you’ve got your nose stuck in last night’s burrito farts, you’re going to miss all of it. Sure, there are plenty of more tasteful analogies I could have made, but what would have been the fun in that? Flatulence aside, there is no denying that bad things happen to us all the time. We can do ourselves a big favor, though, and limit our misery to the times when you hit a streak of tough luck and not get bogged down in unproductive thought patterns that keep us frustrated and pessimistic.
By having spent this past weekend out in the peaceful countryside of the Catskill Mountain range, I was able to shake up my routine enough to pull the blinders that I had been wearing for the last month off. When I sat down and checked in with myself, it was undeniable that I was feeling off-balance and had run myself a little bit ragged. My recent busy schedule had forced me to look the other way when my mind and body were telling me that I needed to rest and regroup. As soon as I took my foot off of the pedal in the mountains, I had no choice but to deal with the issues I was repressing. It was pretty uncomfortable. The first few days of this week were difficult for me but now having forced myself to process them, I am back to feeling myself again. My advice to you is this: if your outlook lately has been fairly negative or you are feeling nagging issues that you apt to avoid, try to give yourself a break and plan a quiet night or two to address what’s been eating you up. Like any kind of cleaning, sometimes things will get a little messier before they fall into place, but the sooner you “address the mess,” the sooner your life will become sweeter. When you get your perspective back, you’ll understand again that even the worst times are temporary and that there is plenty to be grateful for. Find the good in your life and celebrate it. I have a feeling you’re farther along than you think.