When are you not ok?
Does it happen most when you’re by yourself? When you’re bored? When other people won’t listen or do what you want them to do?
For me, it was all of the above.
In my twenties, I was literally scared to be alone because I knew I would binge and purge and I was desperate to break the cycle. That’s when I started drinking in a, shall we say, enthusiastic manner. I’d go round the office at about 3pm asking my friends who would like to go for a drink after work. As we were all in our twenties with few responsibilities, it was usually easy to recruit at least one drinking buddy.
It took more than two decades for me to learn how to be in my own company without any sort of distraction and feel ok. I’ve literally had to learn skills to help me do this – and even now, there are days when I struggle.
As Blaise Pascal puts it, “The source of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
These days, most of us can mask this inability with our modern, seemingly harmless, addictions – our phones. Now, we don’t have to do “unhealthy” things to get away from ourselves. In my case, I can even use it to “improve” myself as I attend courses online, listen to audio books or podcasts, and watch educational videos.
But I’ve learned that even these “beneficial” practices have the capacity to keep me stuck and diminish my ability to “be ok”.
What does this have to do with joy?
So far, there’s only one way I’ve found to be “ok”.
Stillness – the ability to access stillness within myself and feel soothed by it.
Cravings, annoyance, boredom, anger, embarrassment, humiliation, guilt, fear, desire, nervousness, anxiety…these are marked by a busyness in the mind – a jumpiness that comes from the incessant storytelling and commentary that accompanies them.
Even depression, which for me is often characterised by a sort of “nothingness” is not the same as stillness because there’s nothing soothing about it. Rather it is like being tortured with quiet. Definitely not soothing.
The more I cultivate the skills of soothing stillness, the more OK I am with everything else, and the more OK I am with everything else, the more joyful I feel about the opportunities available to me, even when they’re accompanied by challenge.
At this stage in my journey, I only really feel this way when I sit quietly and meditate or write. In the throes of everyday living, my mind still jumps, narrates and claws at me from behind my eyes when difficult situations and feelings arise.
But now I know to sit. If I can find a space to sit, I can find my way back, and from there it’s not too difficult to take the remaining steps to gratitude.
I don’t think there’s any greater gift we can give ourselves – or the world – than the gift of learning to be ok.
Imagine how much easier it would be to live joyfully if we all knew how to soothe ourselves with stillness and then put into the world only that which we intended to contribute.