Searching for a Way of Being

AT DUSK, I LOOK OUTSIDE THE WINDOW and notice the pink clouds floating by in the darkening sky. It’s been a challenging day, one of those when the big questions feel more daunting than inspiring.

What am I really doing this for, any of it? How am I connecting with not just the work, but the way I’m living my life? I head outside to ruminate on the thoughts in my head, the ones that won’t seem to unravel.

As I walk the usual route of my neighborhood I come across a dirt path I haven’t seen before even though I pass it nearly every day — my awareness shifts.

I feel like wandering the uncharted terrain and being alone in the cold night air. I pass prickly cacti that take on the red shade of the setting sun. I reach the top of the hill and look out into the expansive landscape of marshland and serene waterways that lead to the ocean.

I breathe in deep, close my eyes, and feel my rapid heartbeat slow. I open my eyes; just be. The ocean appears slate gray; the horizon is indistinguishable from the evening sky.

All that’s within my gaze seems to exist in harmony — an agreement of opposite forces that work together to create one congruent whole.

Harmony is feeling grounded in our body, when what we do aligns with a way of being we genuinely connect with. I need moments like this. Observing nature helps me to simplify my thoughts and focus on what matters.

All we have to do is be, yet there’s a pressure to do more. 

It’s easy to compare ourselves to others because the world we’re exposed to isn’t just our friends or the people we meet. We’re so interconnected with one another that it’s easy to get lost in the noise.

This exposure with those beyond our immediate sphere can be beneficial, yet we often fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to everybody we see on our news feed.

Renowned psychologist Jordan Peterson writes in his book 12 Rules for Life:

Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.

It’s okay to have days when we feel disarray. If we aren’t questioning, we aren’t growing. The days when we don’t necessarily see change or feel inspired but continue to give our best are the days that make us who we are.

Our lives are a culmination of the days when we’re faithful to our way of being, even when we don’t see a reason.

I think the feeling of disharmony comes from chasing the shared illusion of success when we don’t know why we should. The 13th-century poet, Rumi, says:

When I run after what I think I want,
My days are a furnace of distress and anxiety;
If I sit in my own place of patience,
What I need flows to me, and without any pain.
From this I understand that what I want also wants me,
Is looking for me and attracting me.
There is a great secret in this for anyone who can grasp it.
- Rumi

Eight hundred years separate us, yet being a human in search of meaning remains a perennial theme. Our days are spent chasing what we think we want. When we aren’t chasing those things, namely progress, we feel like we’ll fall behind.

But we’re allowed to sit in our own patience. To truly understand why we’re doing anything at all, we must. What is progress, anyways? It can be checking off the items on a to-do list.

It may be a never-ending need to feel like we’re expanding, moving forward in the world, keeping up. But what if progress means slowing down and deducting instead of adding?

What if progress means going in instead of up? To go in is to seek peace in our soul, a feeling of harmony and stillness.

I study the contrast of the dark green pine needles on the tree before me, set against the distant gray water and the beautiful, dim sky. Life is an attempt to bring these two worlds together, that of the near and that of the far.

Maybe that’s harmony, a reconciliation of the opposite powers of our soul, the Chinese forces of yin and yang that are at work everywhere we look in the natural world. This blending of the near and far is feeling gratitude for what is.

Near is waking up and being in our body. It’s the thoughts that cascade from our heads to our toes; the action we can take right now to cleanse our minds of thoughts that don’t do us any good.

Near is a conscious mindset shift; it’s closing our eyes and breathing deeply through anything. It’s listening to the birds chirping and coming back to center.

Near is the person in the glass mirror. It’s the decisions we’ve made that have shaped our character, the good and the bad that build upon each other and have led us to this point. Near is the petal of a flower or a blade of grass to get lost in for an entire afternoon.

Near is the cells that make me, me and those that make you, you. 

Near is the laugh of a friend that makes everything okay. It’s the pain of yesterday and the times when we overthink. Near is getting up again no matter how many times we fall. Near is a feeling of control, but maybe that’s an illusion. Nearing is being in the moment, the only thing that’s real.

Far is the distant horizon beyond the sweet-smelling pine. It’s the color of the sea at dusk. Far is the unexplainable, and because of that, far is chaos. Far is the search for meaning; it’s why we wake up and strive to get better. It’s not what’s in the mirror, but the vision that we see.

It’s the dream that forms from seeking the best out of ourselves when nobody is watching or notices the work. Far is the abstract, unfathomable power of the universe. It’s the human spirit that creates the collective, something bigger than the individual, a field of verdant green grass made of individual blades.

Far is the beautiful chaos that drives us to get better because we know what’s possible. But only we know. Far is the big questions that matter, the ones that motivate our everyday actions.

According to Peterson, there’s a third constituent besides chaos and order:

It's the process that mediates the two, identical to what modern people call consciousness.

Consciousness is standing on the edge of the cliff looking at the expansive landscape and feeling something real; I’m conscious as I feel my breath enter and leave my body.

Life becomes harmonious when we can embrace the inevitable chaos with a full and open heart while honoring the order we’ve established. Peterson argues this is the middle way, consciousness.

But perhaps instead of consciousness the middle way is love, that which brings us to the moment we’re in. I strive to fill my days with love, the link between order and chaos.

We eternally occupy known territory, surrounded by the unknown.

Peterson says.

Chaos and order make up the eternal, transcendent environment of the living. To straddle that fundamental duality is to be balanced, to have one foot firmly planted in order and security, and the other in chaos, possibility, growth and adventure.

When we do what we love, we welcome meaningful chaos into our lives. We face adversity and rise to the challenge because what we’re doing is more significant than us. It’s worth it. Order is what we’re comfortable with. It’s what we know and perhaps what needs to change.

We need both order and chaos in our lives because, as Peterson says, to walk the line of both is to be balanced. But maybe balance isn’t the right word.

When I think of balance, I think of work-life balance, two energies on opposite ends of the scale, not blending into one, but in constant tension for total control. I don’t want balance; I’m seeking harmony, the middle way where chaos and order are beautifully intertwined.

This following sentiment by Jay Shetty, author of Think Like a Monk, speaks to me because it breaks away from the typical work-life balance concept. He says:

When I decided to trade my 9–5 for a 24–7, it was because I wanted to do something that was meaningful every day. I wanted to do something that was purposeful and fulfilling from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep. I wrote down the various options that I had in life at the time and I wrote a word above them that I thought the result from that experience would give me. One path said love. I knew if I did that I would love every moment even if that moment was challenging and sometimes really difficult to deal with. And that's why I'm here today, because I chose the path that has the word love above it.

Feeling love for the world is being conscious enough to see the moment as the gift that it is. There will always be that looming feeling of chaos in our lives.

Embracing chaos is healthy; it means we care enough to want to grow. Order is the steps we’ve taken to foster the virtues we believe in, and we must be proud of that. It’s who we currently are.

When love is the reason we get up every day and give our best, we cannot fail. On the difficult days when we’re barraged with the big questions of who are we becoming? And what we must do every day to get there? Turn to love. It’s bigger than any individual, yet can provide each of us with purpose. I believe that’s a harmonious existence.

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