Don’t Wait to be Happy

Not too long ago, I found myself a complete and utter failure down in the depths of despair. Being abroad had done a number on my body and my soul. And, as I began looking for internships to apply to, I realized that my once flawless transcript had become something that I was less than proud to call mine. I found myself on a college campus with no idea who I was and beyond that, I was more or less utterly alone. To summarize, I was a self-pitying, depressed pile of poop.

Now because I was still on a positivity kick blah blahblah. Here’s what I told myself. In fact, this is what I wrote on tumblr:

I keep thinking that because i’m a failure today, i’m going to continue being a failure for the rest of my life. but then i remember how much has changed over the past year. How much i’ve changed. And i have a little sliver of hope, that maybe if i start changing things little by little in the right direction, in a year or two from now, i’ll be a completely different person. but this time it’ll be for the better. Who i am now isn’t who i’m going to be forever.

So basically, its okay to feel negatively about myself because one day, I’m not going to be this person anymore. And that’s the problem. Why wait for the future? I feel like we do so much of that. I will be happy when I get into college. I will be happy when I graduate and get a job. I will be happy when I lose 10 pounds. I will be happy when I get married and have children. I will be happy when I retire and have all the time in the world.

Looking back, I have rarely ever been satisfied or happy with where I was. Sometimes for a brief moment or two. Like the day I returned from Japan, proud of what I had accomplished and delighted to finally have a bed and my own room and functional legs. But this satisfaction never lasts. I am always left wanting more.

But I have discovered that there can be positivity in every moment, but sometimes it is harder to find than others. Take right now for instance. I wouldn’t say my life is particularly in order. And if asked, I could list infinite things that I are horrible right now. I feel more alone now than I’ve ever been before, but its also hard to say for certain. It’s easy to be negative, to pinpoint things that you wish could improve even if you believe that they will. But that doesn’t really do any good. Instead, I choose to breathe, take my stress in stride, be proud who I am. It doesn’t mean I can’t look to the future. It just means that I can also look to the now and be happy with where I am on my journey.

I’m writing this because I often see posts where people talk about how their lives are going fantastically now: they are married, expecting their first child, and have their dream job, when only five years ago, they were severely depressed and self-harming. And these posts are wonderful no doubt, they give people hope, hope to keep living because of the prospect of such a future. But it doesn’t address the depression that people are in now. The depression that sucks someone in because their life actually is in shambles, because they feel alone and abandoned and like a complete failure. And I wish someone had told me that none of these things make you a failure. That everybody experiences these feelings no matter how complete they look on the outside. And that you don’t have to wait for things on the outside to get better in order to be happy on the inside. Because these things do not make a person a failure, it makes them human, a little too human.

I know this isn’t really a complete thought because I’m still learning myself how to be happy with who I am right now. But its just a thought. Yes, things will get better. But that doesn’t mean that things right now are bad. You are not a failure. You are a success for living and for being brave enough to keep going.

Want

I’ve been thinking about desire a lot lately. Mostly because I have a whole freaking lot of it. I want my skin to get better. I want my own room. I want a real bed. I want to go home. I want to be happy. And these are only the big ones. Other moments are filled with other miniscule desires and cravings that for some reason my mind believes will make me satisfied, happy. I want chocolate. I want the bell to ring (during zazen). I want to not have to write this paper.

The problem is that I can want as many things as I want but (1) that doesn’t mean I’ll get them, and (2) if I do get them, I still won’t be happy. It’s similar to meditating for the purpose of achieving enlightenment. Here is an anecdote that I read last night in preparation for one of the papers that I didn’t want to write. It comes from the traditional biography of Chan Master Nanyue Huirang:

During the Kaiyuanera [713-742] there was a monk named Daoyi (that is, the great teacher Mazu) who resided at the Chuanfa Cloister and spent every day sitting in dhyāna (C.zuochan, J.zazen 坐禪). The master [Huairang] knew that he was a vessel of the dharma, so he went to him and asked,“What do you intend to accomplish by sitting in dhyāna?” Daoyi replied,“I intend to make myself into a buddha.” The master picked up a tile and rubbed it on a stone in front of the hermitage. Daoyi inquired,“Master, what are you doing?” The master said,“I am polishing it to make a mirror.” Daoyi said, “How could you sitting in dhyāna ever result in becoming a buddha?” Daoyi asked, “How is it done, then?” The master said, “It is like a man driving a cart that does not move: should he strike the cart to get it to go, or should he strike the ox?” Daoyi had no response. (Foulk 25)*

In this case, “striking the ox” is to sit with the understanding that there is no such thing as awakening rather than to sit with the desire of gaining awakening. Now this isn’t a perfect analogy and I don’t claim to be an enlightened philosopher, but I have recently been coming to the realization that achieving my desires will not produce happiness… so why not let go of desire? To be quite honest, its something that has kept me from living in the present because of all the potential I invest in the future. I don’t mean letting go of dreams and ambitions, because goals are something that keep us going and give our lives purpose. I mean letting go of those silly little superficial wants that we have no control over.

By no means is this an easy task. I was actually thinking about my experience at Toshoji and one of the things that made it so difficult was the fact that the entire time we had no control. It was very much about doing things that you didn’t want to do at times that you didn’t want to do them. But in a way, it made things easier because it became so clear to me that I had no control and I had to just let things be.

Anyways, this morning at zazen, I sat and meditated. I didn’t sit with the hope that the bell would ring soon and I didn’t sit thinking about what I wanted for breakfast. Sure there were moments when my mind would begin to wander here and there, but this morning I sat with the focus of being in the moment. It was probably one of the best zazens I’ve had on this trip besides my time at Toshoji. I think from now on, I’m going to focus on letting go of the things I can’t control, accepting that I can’t control them, and instead choosing to focus on the moment.

*Foulk, T. Griffith. Standard Observances of the Soto Zen School. Tokyo: Sotoshu Shumucho, 2010.

Surprises

I’ve been off antidepressants for nearly a month now. And its been kind of a wild ride. I first went on about a year ago after my anxiety debilitated me to the point that I constantly thought I was having a heart attack and I couldn’t sleep every night for fear that I was going to die in my sleep. Despite a chest x-ray and an EKG, I visited the doctor’s office or the health center at least once a week with a different ailment in my head. I finally succumbed to medication, and it really made a difference.

Of course there were the side effects. I was numb, emotionless, I couldn’t concentrate. When I wasn’t in class or even if I was, I was asleep. But I stopped constantly believing I was on the edge of death, and honestly, it was worth it. My anxiety vanished.

The only problem was that I simply didn’t care anymore. I didn’t care about my grades which I had previously lived for, I didn’t care about what I did with my body. And I became really impulsive. This continued until I nearly failed all of my midterms, and I saw that something had to change. At this point, I lowered my dosage slightly and more or less coasted to where I am now, not in a particularly successful way, but at least I made it.

I finally decided I needed to stop. I was sick of wasting my life sleeping all the time and honestly, I hated being dependent on medication and I was willing to do whatever it took to stop. I was worried that I would spiral into a depression, that my anxiety would again debilitate me, but I wanted to have control again.

So here’s what happened: I spent a few weeks more depressed than I have ever been. I considered cutting again and I spent more time crying than not. My anxiety came back too, slowly but surely, and I had one of my worst panic attacks ever. But I started caring again. I found myself truly smiling and being genuinely happy for the first time in months. My foggy thoughts disappeared and I was able to think clearly and logically. And lately, I’ve found myself experiencing really deep emotions, the gut wrenching tearing up in a good way kind. And caring. Really and truly caring. My anxiety continues and every day I still have moments when I’m certain that I’m about to have a heart attack or my eardrum’s about to burst (which is a whole nother issue), but its no longer constant, and I’ve been able to talk myself through the situation.

It’s taken a really long time to get here, but I’m finally starting to feel like me again. Not just a shell walking through life, but a person that really and truly cares. I’ll always be a work in progress and I know that with all that’s going on in my life I may still face some very large obstacles in my near future. But here, right now, in this moment, I’m satisfied. And that’s what matters.

This is my experience and it is in no way universal, but have hope. Sometimes, its all you can count on.