Treading and treading and treading, but not actually moving. In this situation, however, there’s an illusion of forward advancement, of forward motion—a powerful illusion that makes the unreal not only feel real, but become real.
Legs begin to ache. Exhaustion hits, arriving like a tsunami and thereafter dwindling just temporarily—just barely enough so that you’re able to regain the ability to, again, start kicking the glass-like liquid within which you’re enveloped. Before a breath can be taken, before eyes can be wiped of the chlorine’s sting, a massive wave surges again. And again: survival mode, it is.
You’re in a pool and swimming in one direction. Notably, you’re now swimming, not treading. It will last while it lasts. Eventually, though, you’ll come to an “end.” You’ll hit a wall, and a wall will hit you. A choice will have to be made—the first option being to push off the concrete surface, overturning yourself, and to start swimming oppositely in the direction you just came.
- To see what you’ve seen.
- To ride the hamster wheel.
- To perpetuate the cycle.
The second being to…stop. To stop and get out. To either take the side ladder out or to pull yourself onto the lip of the pool, swinging your legs sideways and letting your bare feet connect with the pool deck’s slippery tiling.
- To bravely do what feels right.
- To choose to choose.
- To break the cycle.
In the ocean, there are no walls—none to hit or be hit with.
What does your daily life look like right now? Are you a student? Are your days spent bouncing between classrooms—the only break being seventeen minutes between 12:20 and 12:37pm featuring insipid small talk, smushed bread, and hearts too tired to be alive? Or are you working—your days spent racing the clock, downing shitty coffee after coffee in order to stay “alert,” and robotically running on resentment at your routine?
I’m getting at a cliché, (very) over-dramatized take on a “Do what you want to do, not what feel like you have to do!” message. That being said, I’m not claiming that school sucks, that office working is worthless, that so-called “conventional living” is wrong. Instead, I’m encouraging you to take a step back—to pause before reaching the pool’s wall—and to reflect upon how your life is being lived, how your time is being spent, and how your heart is being engaged.
Is your heart being engaged?
I don’t know if mine is.
We find comfort in knowing there’s an end to a beginning. We find comfort in knowing what’s to come—in a few hours, tomorrow, or for the next few months or even years. We find comfort in knowing that we…know and can know.
The setting of the sun, the ability to strip down and throw on pjs after a long day, the rolling of credits at the end of a film.
What is that “comfort” doing for us, though?
We’re bred to be planners. We’re told that having a plan is being prepared—and that preparation is the keystone to being successful in anything and everything. Whether it’s being prepared for a class
- a job interview
- a family get-together
- a date
What happens when this obsession with being prepared takes over though—an obsession with being ready for the destination before the journey has even begun? Detachedness. Hollow engagement. Sadness. Discontentedness. A stunted self—creatively, expressively, even cognitively and physically. We become so carefully crafted as creatures that authenticity—within ourselves and as radiated by ourselves—is lost.
That being said, there’s a lot to be said for unpreparedness. For taking risks. For going into a situation without a plan and without knowing what to expect (good or bad).
I notice this often in New York. I love to go out to eat with friends—the food scene is vibrant and the options are endless. So, where to start when trying to decide where to go? A friend? The guy that works at the bodega on the corner? Straight to the streets to wander? Most of us turn to our phones or laptops, opening up Yelp or TripAdvisor or some other compilation of “NYC’s Top 25 Restaurants!”
Menus are all online now. We can look up a restaurant before visiting. We can see photos of the interior space, of the dishes and drinks, of the lighting and décor. We can prepare for an experience—and actually (yet artificially) “experience” a venture like dining out before we even…experience the experience. Before we..
- taste the food
- absorb the ambiance
- laugh with friends
- chat awkwardly with the waiter
- get lost finding the bathroom
- knock over the pepper shaker
- struggle to split up the bill and figure out an appropriate tip (despite the elementary-level math involved)…
Evaluate. Do you feel like your current daily endeavors are not for now, but for later? If so, that’s not necessarily wrong—it’s just something to think about. Although scary, it’s as easy as asking one straightforward question:
How can I engage my heart today?
If it means changing something, change something. If it means embracing what is and living more mindfully, strive to be as present as possible (as often as possible), even through discomfort. Again, there’s a lot to be said for unpreparedness.
- For bravely doing what feels right.
- For choosing to choose.
- For breaking a futile cycle.
Take a risk. Try posting a photo on Instagram without checking what it will look like on your feed first (we all know about that album in your iPhone’s “Photo” app). Delete your Yelp app. Book a trip. Most importantly, engage your heart—engage in life. Halfheartedly doesn’t count.