Originally Published: March 31, 2013 by remingtoncooney |
At the time that I began studying philosophy, in the first year of IB (grade 11), I was re-emerging from a phase of grave disillusionment with my life. Although everything was peachy on the surface, deep down I was already questioning the validity of my existence and my purpose of being here on Earth. I felt like it had to be something special, but when I looked around, nothing seemed very special to me. As far as I could see, there was no “special recipe” that could enhance my life.
Despite the fact that I was living in cushy Singapore, surrounded by wonderful, talented friends and a strong loving family, there was still something really missing. But I didn’t like to talk about it too much because I felt very guilty about being so dissatisfied, even though my life was so abundant. Nevertheless, this void feeling led me on an investigation into the purpose of my own existence.
The entry point to this disillusionment phase occurred when I was about 15, when I had my first sense of an existential crisis. I didn’t know what the hell was going on at the time. All I knew was that I was suddenly feeling very anxious, and after a long period of holding onto this anxiety, I eventually became very depressed. The trigger? Probably just the transition from childhood to adolescence – the realization that the world is not always sunshine and rainbows; that we can’t always be happy with the fact that we exist; that, to some extent, life is burdensome. The difficult thing about an existential crisis is, although people can offer their support, no one can really answer the big questions such a crisis exposes.
In my case, I began asking my Mum these big questions: “what is the meaning of me being here?” “why do I feel sad even though everything around me is fine?” “how do I find happiness?” And although she could never answer these questions (she tried many a time), she was able to point me in a direction that gave me some serious relief – towards spiritual practice. At first she took me to a yogi, and he told me that my anxiety and depression was all in my head (which it was). But when suffering from anxiety or depression, you get caught in a cycle or downward spiral, and it’s difficult in the midst of it to clearly step back and realize that 99% of it is in your head. So rather than repeating this in words, the yogi showed me, via yoga poses and breath exercises. That night I did them before bed and something within me immediately shifted. I felt a sense of relief, which was the beginning of this step back and a (subconscious) realization that the mind creates suffering and this can be overcome.
Not long after I met this yogi, my Mum also began taking me to meditation classes. My first experience of meditation was one of extreme discomfort. I was unable to sit cross-legged for more than a minute before having to get up and shift, and in the process, disturbing the rest of the class. But this learning of breath control and the practice of stilling the mind also sparked a sense of peace in me. From then on, I didn’t look back; Pursuing such a path began to fill this void that I had come to experience in my early teens.
It wasn’t spirituality per se that was filling this void. In other words, walking a “spiritual” path does not bring us into a blissful state by default. Meditation does bring a sense of stillness and peace when practiced in a disciplined manner, but what it also does is make us confront that which we don’t really want to see. As my teacher says: spiritual practice allows us to see the whole “spectrum of emotion.” But what’s so special about spiritual practice is it allows us to see this spectrum of emotion clearly; that is, seeing our lives without delusion attached to our perception.
What spiritual practice was doing for me, was allowing me to come back to my life: which was right here, right now. It allowed me to see what was, rather than what wasn’t; because anxiety and depression cannot exist right here, right now; they can only survive in what isn’t (the past and the future).
As I practiced meditation more and more, I was able to see my life more and more clearly. I could see my anxiety with clear eyes, my depression with clear eyes; but most importantly, I was able to see the things in my life that really mattered, with clear eyes: my relationships with these wonderful friends and this loving family; my relationship with nature and mother earth; the abundance that encompassed my existence.
Although these things had been there all along, I couldn’t really see them because the suffering my mind was creating, was getting in the way. What was missing in my life was not spiritual practice. Rather, what was missing was the ability to see that which really existed. However, spiritual practice was a tool that helped me realize that my life was not beyond this moment. And it was this very moment, that held the “special recipe” to life that I so desperately sought.
Although in this post I have only spoken about myself, I feel this theme applies to everyone. Because in one way or another we all experience suffering. As the Buddha once said: “life is suffering”
In my case, it was anxiety. Upon reflection, I see how my anxiety became a tool to help me discover spiritual practice, which then acted as another tool to help me really fall in love with my life. In a similar way, you too should try and use both the positive and negative elements in your life, as tools to help you fall in love with your life.
To be continued…