I will often find myself in quiet reflection. After nearly a half-century of life, I have considerable experience to draw upon – far too much to digest in a single moment, but the web of interrelated memories that, on their surface, have little to do with one another still coexist in the same head and they often link in unforeseen ways. For the past several years these moments of silent contemplation have produced overwhelming feelings of gratitude not only for the fortunate turn my life has taken, but also for those who have played a role along the way. While many have had direct involvement and others have touched my life indirectly, the bottom line is that nothing I have made of my life today was a result of some singular effort on my part nor did it take place without any effort either; it was not luck. Life is a team sport.
I am often asked to share what my life used to be like, what happened and what it’s like today. My “story,” as it is often referred, is unique in the particulars but not nearly so much in its substance. It is familiar to those who have been where I’ve been and done what I’ve done – all the good, the bad and the ugly. Not physically necessarily, but substantially. I was trapped in a downward spiral that nearly killed me and all things considered, death was not looking so bad. I was not suicidal, but I was not at all thrilled with life either. Although I was constantly seeking for gratification externally, it is also true that I found the source of my suffering there, too. I know now that the vast majority of my pain was self-inflicted, but to admit that then would mean accepting something my ego would not allow me to do. It was the world against me - and I hate to lose.
But I was losing. The reality is that the world had nothing to do with it. I was fighting myself and it was a fight to the death. The only way to come out alive was to quit fighting. It took a long time to come to the realization that everything wrong in my world was a result of how I perceived it – it was not the world itself. There are numerous books and other guides to enlightenment and many tell of the power of positive thinking. I sought the magic formula for a long time before I realized that there is no secret formula… no quick fixes, no shortcuts. I was convinced that if I only had enough money I would be able to find happiness and I did not see how any psycho-babble positive thinking crap was going to change my lack of resources. A friend recently shared that he felt like a passenger in his own mind, and this is a friend who, like me, has experienced great darkness in his life. His particulars are different, but that substance he shared with me is something I can relate to only too well. I was indeed a passenger in my own mind.
In the coming weeks and months I will be passing some significant milestones and, later next year, I will come to the crest of another mountain – one that was far too much to climb not that long ago. Those looking at my external life might say that it’s easy for me to find gratitude - look at the car, the house and the motorcycle. What they fail to realize is that my gratitude for life itself preceded all those things – and those were things that I had (and later lost) in those darkest days when no amount of anything was ever enough. Looking past the external, those tempted to say it’s easy for me to find gratitude because of the intangible things I have would be correct – it is easy to be grateful with the relationships I now enjoy, the integrity I now possess and the value my life holds. Those are things that not only eluded me, they are things I never placed any value on - they seemed so unimportant… a nuisance, even.
It’s hard to know whether a positive outlook has created the reality or if the reality has created the positive outlook. It is likely a bi-directional effect where the two aspects play off one another in a beautifully synergistic melody. It didn’t happen overnight; in fact, it kind of snuck up on me. One day (now every day) I realized that I had not been unhappy for any sustained period in a very long time. I have not raised my voice in anger in a very long time. Those numerous little things that used to drive me insane no longer get a first thought, let alone a second. I have friends I can count on and (probably more importantly) that can count on me. It turns out that the world is not such a bad place after all, one just need to live with it rather than against it.