As I get older, I have noticed more and more how much most of us humans try to measure happiness with some result of success. The definition of success varies between each person. Some people view a romantic relationship as a success, others look to a power position at their job. Some calculate the number of digits in their bank account, and some calculate the “likes” or “followers.” Some look at the material items they have…even if it’s not quantity, it’s the best version or brand you can get. Some look at what they have in place to protect or keep their family safe. Some look at the amount of true friends they have in the world with whom they can trust and tell anything to. Some look at how good they are at winning the race of age and some look at beating the average in health. Some look at how often they show up for their God or spiritual belief. Some look for that deeper feeling of spiritual connection. And some look at how free they are to do or experience anything they want. My point is: there is always a presence of something to quantify. A thing of substance you can see, feel, touch, document.
But what if the true measure of happiness is that which is not there at all? What if I told you our dependence on quantifiable things is an illusion we base our existence on, and we trick ourselves into thinking that, without these things, we’d be unsatisfied with our lives? You’d probably think, “Okay, this chick has gone out to lunch on another planet and she’s read way too many existential books.” I’d be laughing right along with you, except the truth is… I haven’t read any books. I base this idea on an ever-evolving experience. In fact, the more I go through what I lovingly call, “the dark night of my soul” – where everything familiar and habitual has been turned upside down – I realize more and more that my attachment to ideas and things that I quantify as “success” is actually… bullshit.
To be more specific, two years ago, my quantification of success in life would have looked like this: I’d be living in a house with a front and back yard, sharing it with my loving husband and one or two kids. I’d have a family that is open and communicates, is spiritually connected to nature and a spirit that unifies us all. I’d have a blossoming business that brings in ample money to live comfortably and provide for my family, one that makes an impact on the world everyday. I’d be able to travel where I want and meet amazing people, and live freely without inhibitors and censorship. I’d be at peace with my age and I’d be kicking ass in my health. It doesn’t sound too out of the ordinary for what one should want in life, right? It may even sound realistically attainable and fulfilling. I’d even say I was quite possibly on the path of having all of that, in a convoluted way. But as life would have it, everything except my loving relationship with my husband and most friends got completely turned around and I didn’t know where I was or what direction I was facing – let alone what direction to go to. Most all things I counted on – that I could see, touch, feel, and know – dissolved or transformed, and I realized none of it was guaranteed. So at first I became angry, depressed, and hopeless. I gained weight and recoiled into an antisocial hole where I was left with my thoughts and my Netflix.
When all the things you know are gone and you are left alone with your thoughts, eventually you have to…think. After I got tired of being angry and depressed and avoidant, I was forced to think of the lack of these things, or another way to look at it, the beauty of them not being there, and the clean slate that I started to see. I’m not going to say I had nothing, because I have plenty. I am richer than a huge percentage of the population of our planet. But that’s the thing. I have seen people in the flesh who have way less than I do and appear to be perfectly happy. So in my thinking… I wondered… if I closed my eyes and focused just on my being, would I be happy?
I’m not crazy. I know that the presence of things makes us physically comfortable. Things we need to sustain life like shelter, food, and of course companionship, connection and love with others. My focus in life is to inspire people to discover their magic and passion so that they can change the world with it. So to have dreams and things to work toward and look forward to is the very drive that ignites us beyond survival. It’s what separates us from other known species. But I have found that the attachment to the way things “should look” as the optimum example of success sets us up for disappointment more than anything else. Sometimes, the grief of the loss can last a long time. But as these things get stripped away, there is an opportunity to see an open space. The “negative” space between the things that are or were there. To some, it looks like emptiness where things belong. But it can also look like the beauty of possibility. The absence of something is also a space for something else to be created. It’s freeing, in a way. It is also scary when you are used to that space being filled.
I was striving so hard to have these things to define my happiness and, subconsciously, my identity. But it is the space between us, the open space of existential discovery that is the “nothing” where our truest self lies. I recently saw a very poignant interview with Jim Carrey, and I related so viscerally to his concepts when he said:
We are constantly trying to add things to ourselves so that we can finally define ourselves. So that everybody will GET us and say “Ok, this is what you are.” But if and when you actually get there, you will find it is so EMPTY that you’ll realize that that’s actually not what it’s about. It’s about not just going with the flow, but not taking it personally.
The media, television, movies, social media, and our cultural upbringings condition us to think this way. It’s not easy to return to the happiness of nothing. But we were there once. When our souls first entered our bodies, before we could speak or develop concepts, the only thing that was important was being held, being loved, being fed, sleeping, and being cared for. As we grew, we observed the way life is “supposed to be,” our Ids formed, and our goals in life were formed for us. Which, by the way – none of these goals are “bad.” It’s more about understanding that we associate happiness with them as opposed to being satisfied and in awe of just existing. That these things are happenstance. That without the conditioning, we could be happy, and even fulfilled with the understanding that the journey is magic. The things come and go and being unattached to them keeps us connected to the bigger picture.
Imagine… all the stress in your life you could release if you simply detached from the way it looks. Imagine having goals, but also being open to whatever option turns out and is presented to you. Imagine being at peace with a return to the space of nothing. Freedom is not being financially secure, but knowing nothing is secure and breathing deep into knowing it will all work out no matter what it looks like. Just taking care of each other is really all that’s needed. Being that – rather than waiting for it to happen to you – is key.
Listen, I am just a spirit on a journey who happened to have an experience of nothing… even if only a glimpse. I choose to share the relief of it all as I have begun to accept it and have started to see things differently in this space of openness, in the space of nothing. And since I want you to live as freely as you can, I just invite you to try it on. Or perhaps in better terms: let it go.