So, you know all those self-help articles about how to slow down your life, to step off the overwhelming, too-much-information treadmill that is the basic existence of the modern world? Specifically, the ones that tell you to turn off your phone after a certain time each evening, or to drink a glass of water every morning as soon as you get up? Or to delete your Facebook account?
What do you think would happen if you actually did all of that stuff? Would you be relieved and relaxed? Or frantic that you’re too disconnected from everyone?
While I’ve always been an introvert, for years I was able to exist as one of those introverts who could actually go out and be sociable. I needed a lot of downtime to balance the energy expended running a concert production company, complete with musicians crashed on my floor; and during my time as a local food writer I had to impose a strict limit of no more than three food-related events per week, just so I could get some actual writing done. And I had no problem giving speeches, introducing bands, or barging into restaurant kitchens to interview chefs.
Then, a few years ago, that all changed. A series of injuries and illnesses — none deathly serious, but all debilitating enough that I had to slow down and rethink how and why I was doing a lot of things — meant that I no longer spent a lot of time with large groups of people. It also meant that I had much less patience with other human beings doing generally stupid stuff. And that I experienced no actual necessity to do the stuff (like check my phone constantly) that most people consider part of their daily lives.
I suddenly had the time (and need) to meditate. There was no reason to take my phone to the bedroom overnight so I started it leaving to charge on my desk. I no longer needed a huge wardrobe or to put on make-up more than once a week or so. This psychological paring down had a greater effect; where I once enjoyed window shopping, I suddenly felt it a waste of time, since I didn’t really need or want anything anyway.
I had, quite by accident, starting living a life that many people seeking spiritual enlightenment, or a sense of quiet, would be envious of. Call it pared down, zen, or just basic bitch, I was living a very quiet, and very inward existence.
The only problem was, that sense of spiritual fulfillment that is supposed to come with this much mindfulness wasn’t really there. The more I turned inward, the more inward I turned, if that makes sense.
Oh, there was a smugness. Definitely a sense of being ever so pleased with myself at the idea that I didn’t need all the trappings of a wild shopping trip or the ego-boost of social media likes. But in some ways I was kidding myself.
The more I turned away from the world, the more I felt disconnected from it. Should I write a blog post? Oh, nobody will care. Should I make plans with some friends for dinner? Oh, they’ll be too busy… This train of thought comes from a massive lack of self-esteem due to childhood trauma that I usually hide reasonably well. And of course, the disconnection was mostly on me — I was the one crawling into my shell and hiding away.
But have I truly found some sense of enlightenment (peace, calm, what ever you want to call it) in this withdrawal from society? I’m usually pretty happy as an introvert. I am more comfortable alone than with most other people (husband and dog excepted). I enjoy the more basic life that I now live. But if I’m doing all the things I’m supposed to do to be more at peace, why doesn’t it feel that way? Or am I actually deliriously happy and just don’t realize it? Is there more to this zen thing than meets the eye?