“In the afterlife you relive all your experiences, but this time with the events reshuffled into a new order: all the moments that share a quality are grouped together. You spend 2 months driving the street in front of your house, seven months having sex. You sleep for thirty years without opening your eyes. For five months straight you flip through magazines while sitting on a toilet.
You take all your pain at once, all twenty-seven intense hours of it. Bones break, cars crash, skin is cut, babies are born. Once you make it through, it’s agony-free for the rest of your afterlife”.
I didn’t come up with this. David Eagleman did, in his book titled “Sum: 40 Tales From the Afterlives”.
His words got me thinking, not about the afterlife, but about REAL life. What if we were to extract all the things that are scattered throughout our lives (events, people, emotions, habits, jobs, relationships, etc..), reshuffle them all into similar clusters, and go on living them, one clump at a time, sequentially, for the rest of our days?
Better yet, what if we got to live TWICE?
In the first life, we would experience everything in segments clumped together by category. In the second life, we would re-live all the components of life #1, except that now they’re scattered randomly. In other words, “normal” life as we know it.
Would having a crack at the first life change the way we approached our vices, our pleasures, or our habits in our second lives? Would we be more likely to shorten time spent on things that harm us, and lengthen time spend on things that are good for us?
Would our notion of ENOUGH be different?
If we had to live all our crappy relationships one after another and go through decades of heartaches, fights and bad sex, if we pigged out on JUST junk food and watched our bodies morph into unhealthy blobs for MONTHS, only to then have to exercise every second for YEARS just to get back to “normal”, what then?
In our second lives, would we be more likely to put the brakes on our bad habits earlier?
How much faster would we have had ENOUGH of our bad choices and how much faster would we be able to drop them? Alternately, would we recognize and appreciate all the amazing, simple things that we overlook in our lives sooner if they were all experienced together?
If we lived all our good moments back to back, would we be more content, thankful and aware of all that we DO have?
Would this feeling of HAVING ENOUGH stop us from constantly striving for MORE?
Most of us go through life reaching and grasping for the next thing on our to-do/to get/ to accomplish lists. We’re so used to asking “what’s next”, that we forget (or don’t know how) to enjoy simple moments, celebrate our achievements, and put the brakes on for long enough to relish what we too often overlook while gazing at the horizon.
And because we’re pummeling ahead at full speed trying to get this or that, we’re too preoccupied to recognize when we’ve simply had ENOUGH of a bad thing.
We endure that horrible relationship for longer than we should because we WANT it to work, we stay in jobs or careers that make us miserable because we HOPE that we’ll like them better someday, and we keep binge-eating twinkies because that’s our habitual way of dealing with the crap in our lives.
So how do we know when it’s time to call it a day and walk away from something we’ve clearly had ENOUGH OF?
Usually our bodies will figure it out and try to give us warnings way before our brains do, but the brain is stubborn and refuses to listen. We just keep on going, doing the same things but expecting different results.
Here’s some advice: if you’re experiencing negative emotions or physical reactions to something, or just general malaise for a prolonged period of time, it’s time to re-assess and probably let go of whatever is causing them. If you’ve tried repeatedly to “fix” something or someone and failed, it’s probably time to walk away.
I know our notions of “task completion” often keep us in “stuff” well past the point where we’ve had enough, but trust me when I say that sometimes it’s better to leave things unfinished and just throw in the towel.
I learned this, the really hard way, a few years ago.
I had left an amazing job after accepting an offer that I considered to be even better. I had been at this new “dream-job” for almost two years, but I was miserable. I loved the work, I loved my colleagues, I was creatively challenged and I worked on amazing projects. I was surrounded by beautiful things, and as a perk I also got to play with very expensive shoes. What’s not to love?
Without getting into details, I’ll just say that my professional values and expectations did not align with those of my boss. All the positive aspects of that job were overshadowed by this conflict; I can honestly say I tried everything in my power to address and change the situation, but ultimately it was impossible. He wasn’t going anywhere, and he wasn’t changing.
Instead of leaving when my first alarm bells began going off a few weeks after starting my employment with him, I kept pummeling on for two years. My stubbornness prevailed. I was excelling at my job (no thanks to said boss), but at a steep personal price.
I was frustrated, angry, stressed and emotionally depleted for months. Each time I should have simply walked away and saved my sanity I stayed and fought harder. I was stubborn.
My body tried, at first gently, and then more aggressively to make me back off. I was getting sick often, was constantly tired and woke up daily with knots in my stomach. The anger and bitterness I was carrying around, coupled with fatigue and workaholism, spilled over into my personal life and started affecting my relationships. But, I would not accept that this was a situation that I COULD NOT change, so I refused to “give up”.
It’s mid-afternoon in December, and there’s a record-setting blizzard outside.
I’m not properly dressed since I haven’t checked the weather forecast this morning in my rush to get to work. I’m standing at the bus stop outside of my work’s corporate headquarters. During the entire hour that I’ve been shivering, not one car, taxi, bus or human have passed by.
The building is in the middle of nowhere, and all trace of life seems to have vanished in the white flurry that surrounds me. I’m freezing, I can’t feel my hands, and I’m starting to worry.
The possibility that I could get hypothermia is getting more likely with each passing minute, but it’s somehow more appealing than going back inside the building to call a taxi.
The front door is only steps away, and behind it is a receptionist with access to all kinds of taxis and drivers, but I can’t bring myself to go back in there.
One hour earlier, I had entered my nearly deserted place of work between the holidays to pick up some projects I needed to advance over the winter break. As I walked through the beautiful, huge building the echoes of my footsteps and the sheer smell of my daily environment made my heart start pounding uncontrollably in my chest and my breath stop. The enormous glass walls were closing in on me and my sweat alternating between what felt like boiling water and ice cubes being poured down my jacket and over my head.
I somehow managed to turn around and get out of the building as fast as I could, on buckling legs. The second I burst out the front doors, my breath returned to me and I felt instantly better. But now I was dangerously close to freezing, yet hypothermia seemed like a good alternative to going back in to call a cab after what I had experienced inside.
Without realizing it, I had gone through a work-related panic attack.
One would think that that is about as clear a sign that you’ve had enough of something as you could get, right? Wrong.
Unfortunately, even though my body was sounding some pretty serious alarms, my mind somehow STILL didn’t want to acknowledge it had had enough.
Long story short, after a few more weeks of me ignoring my body’s alarm bells and becoming increasingly worse for wear, it became physically impossible for me to stay in the building more than a few hours. One morning my vertigo got so bad I just walked out of the workplace, found myself hyperventilating in my doctor’s office and was yanked out of work by a medical note that ended up saving and transforming my life.
I’d always been an ambitious and competitive person. The script I adhered to my whole life was: aim high, work hard, get there, look for the next challenge. Repeat. I got off on my achievements, and attaining personal, academic and professional goals somehow defined me. I don’t think I ever stopped for more than a celebratory night to really, reaaaalllly let myself be proud of and enjoy the successes I had worked so hard for.
I put more pressure and was harder on myself than anyone else was. I had been operating on fast-forward for so long that it had become my normal pace. I was also incapable of appreciating my accomplishments and the amazing things in my life, because I somehow didn’t feel they were “enough”.
I was a perfectionist, yet ironically my constant search for perfection made me miserable. Safe to say that my “enough” meter was clearly fucked.
After the doctor ordered me to stay out of work, I slept. A lot. My body and spirit started to recover, yet every time I received an email or phone call from work the physical anxiety would return. That’s how I knew I couldn’t go back. After a couple of weeks, I got bored of wallowing and I signed up to a yoga studio.
I re-started my yoga practice (which I’d let fall to the wayside, along many other things, in my manic focus on my career) with a vengeance. It felt so amazing to just move, breathe, and be in the moment for that one hour each day.
I soon started getting a semblance of clarity back , and asked myself some hard questions. I took time to re-assess my own values, and to reflect on what had happened, and why. My workplace wanted, and tried to get me to come back. I couldn’t. At the time, I blamed the whole thing on my boss. It was easier that way. In retrospect, it was a combination of his stuff and my own, but ultimately it was my inability to accept “enough” and walk away that got me where I was. I didn’t know that then.
Shortly after, I accepted a new job after a thorough evaluation of the people I would be working with and the values of the company. I love my career, but it has never since, nor will ever, take priority over my health and well-being again.
Ironically, that experience also led me to really delve deep into yoga. Over the years, it’s been a journey of growth, self inquiry, discovery and a growing awareness. What my yoga practice is constantly teaching me is to slow down. Eventually, over time, it’s allowed me to be more appreciative of what is in front of me instead of always looking over the horizon.
I still stress out occasionally, I still have goals and I still need to be challenged, but I will never let my autopilot take over again in search of a constant MORE.
I learned a valuable lesson. I learned to recognize when I’ve had enough.
This is my my general rule of thumb when it comes to the “enough” meter:
I’ve also learned, when my mind starts racing towards my next ambition, to be more grateful and to foster the notion that in this moment, I have ENOUGH. Because of this, I am a more attentive friend, a more loving girlfriend, a better listener, and a happier person.
What I go through on my yoga mat (frustration, ego, letting go, awareness, effort, appreciation…) constantly changes, as does life. Every day I’m tested and challenged, both off and on the mat. But I’m more aware. I am learning my patterns. I’ve learned to breathe and take a step back without getting all tangled up in the webs of my mind’s own constructions. Okay, sometimes I still do, but at least I can recognize when I’m doing it.
I still have bad habits and vices, and I’m working on them, one at a time. Just not all at once;)
So NOW what? Yes, I’ve finished a yoga teacher training. Yes, I’m a yoga teacher. No, I have no idea what the PLAN is. I don’t have one. Everyone keeps asking me, constantly: WHEN are you teaching? WHERE are you teaching? What’s NEXT?
And the answer is: I DON’T know. No idea, no concrete plans, nada. If this would have been three years ago, I would be stressing out right now because I haven’t opened up my own studio three weeks after finishing teacher training. Instead, I’m taking my Indian yoga bender as an experience of the heart, and remaining grateful that I already have a career that I love. Pressure’s off.
I’m going into 2015 happy, proud, and full of gratitude for what I was able to do in 2014.
This year, instead of setting specific New Year’s resolutions (such as “I’m going to stop being a social smoker, lose 5 pounds, read more, travel more, get promoted, be a flying yogi, etc…), I’m going to focus on fine-tuning my “enough” meter.
This means living a life where you have a sense of being, doing, and having enough. On the flip side, this also means walking away from choices, habits, people or circumstances that no longer serve you, grow you or make you happy.
Because enough’s enough. Namaste.