Recently, I became aware that the motivation for nearly every external pursuit I have had in my life was in an attempt to receive approval or validation from others. Even the gifts I gave through my efforts with Sustainable Human were an attempt to feel needed and that I was making a difference in the world. The effect of acting in this way has left me not knowing what in this world truly brings me alive, almost like an alien to the world.
At the same time, I have also been feeling disillusionment with having to justify myself to the world by convincing people that they need the products and services that I have to offer. Maybe you need them, maybe you don’t. But if my ability to eat is tied to you needing them, then I need to become an expert in convincing you that you do need them. Am I not worthy enough to exist regardless if someone needs what I have to offer?
These are the feelings I have been attempting to reconcile as I try to engage in only those pursuits that make my soul come alive. Needless to say, it has left me with a general feeling of malaise and melancholy as I try to discover whatever that may be and try to get passed the egoic programming that tells me that if I don’t worry about money, I won’t survive.
Even an experience in a beautiful, natural environment could not lift my spirit from feeling this grief. My wife and I went to explore a new area in the rolling foothills of the Sierra Nevada where we discovered a natural bridge covering a cave with a river flowing through it. It was truly beautiful. My wife responded with such excitement, yet I was unable to experience it in the same way. I had so much sadness inside. Even this amazing new experience in nature wasn’t helping me to come alive.
My wife, Dawn, at the Natural Bridge near Columbia, CA
When we got home, my wife got into the bathtub. I sat next to her and talked to her about the feelings I have been having. I wanted her to know that there was nothing wrong with our relationship, that I was allowing myself to feel however I felt, even if is not cheerful. (I had always received praise for being happy/cheerful in life, so much so that I would often suppress any other emotions so that I could be liked by others.) She thanked me for being honest about what I was going through and told me that she supports my right to feel however I may feel. Still, I could tell that my melancholy mood was affecting her. I love my wife more than anything. She is a true life partner, someone who is teaching me what it means to love unconditionally.
Suddenly, I felt compelled to act. Something just came over me and I jumped into the bathtub with her with all my clothes on and embraced her in a passionate kiss. I felt alive again! It was as if time stood still and all that mattered was this single moment of connection, this single kiss and embrace.
But after about a minute, something in my brain alerted me to the fact that my iPhone was still in my pants, which were now submerged in bath water.
Are smartphones taking over our lives? (Sketch by Banksy)
I immediately jumped up and out of the tub and attended to the phone. Of course, I ruined my iPhone. And this instantly triggered a sense of loss – not of the moment I was experiencing with the love of my life but with an inanimate, albeit expensive, device. It triggered the feeling that I needed to replace it and that I would have to go out to earn money to do it, to sell myself again. All those feelings of disillusionment came back to my present moment. The magical moment in the bathtub abruptly came to a close.
When she came out of the tub, she was disappointed that I had chosen, albeit unconsciously, to attend to the phone. She told me that she would have attended to her phone initially too but she wished I had come back instead.
I burst into tears. I didn’t want to be a person who cared more about a cell phone than an intimate, one-of-a-kind experience of true love with my amazing wife, yet I felt the weight of all the conditioning from 20 years of school, 10 years of corporate existence, and two parents that told me that the worries and pressures of making money should be the driving force in my life. My wife, as she has done countless times before, forgave me. She felt the pain I was experiencing and she knew I was doing my best to work through all that conditioning.
I decided that I did not want to get a new phone, and my wife offered to share hers with me (since we are together 24/7 anyway). And that will work out just fine.
I began to think about all the times when I had a few moments “to kill” when I would take out my phone and check my e-mail or a Facebook thread and all the opportunities that the phone robbed me of being present in the world.
Of course it wasn’t the phone that was robbing me; it was my survival anxiety. It told me that every moment was a chance to be “productive”. If my wife got up to go to the bathroom at a restaurant, instead of feeling grateful for the meal I just ate, I would go leave a comment on Facebook thread that left me not feeling grateful. If I was in line at the supermarket, I would be on my phone again instead of offering my presence to the people in line around me. Many times, I would be walking down the street right past someone who might have needed my help, robbing me of a chance to be of service to another.
So, will I get another phone? Perhaps if life circumstances change, I will. But for now, I think I am going to enjoy being distracted less and being more aware of my surroundings and the life that is unfolding all around me. Perhaps that by engaging with each moment as it comes, I will find out what it is that actually makes me come alive.