“While numbing (or compensatory sensation seeking) may make life tolerable, the price you pay is that you lose awareness of what is going on inside your body and, with that, the sense of being fully, sensually alive.” – Bessel Van Der Kolk, The Body Keeps The Score
How do you distract yourself when times get hard? When the emotions get too unbearable or responsibility starts to make you its bitch? When you feel the weight of the world resting on your shoulders? Are you an exercise junkie who shudders at the thought of slowing down? Do you launch yourself into auto-pilot mode by watching more TV than some watch in a life-time? Or is your vice video games? Maybe alcohol has become the crutch that helps get you through another night. Maybe not. Maybe I should go fuck myself. How about drugs? Do they do it for you? Maybe it’s food that you find comfort in, or is drowning yourself in work more your speed? Maybe you slug down cups of coffee like you’re getting paid for it or maybe you sleep away the days to avoid reality. Maybe I should stop saying maybe. Shit, I don’t know, maybe.
Nobody’s immune to these feelings of discomfort. Nobody. And nobody slides by without taking on at least some form of responsibility. It’s exactly in these moments when life begins to seem a little more than we can handle, we look for our go-to distracter. Whether it’s numbing ourselves or running from our problems, we all have our vice which isn’t the problem. I believe that it is beneficial to watch TV after a long day to help decompress. Same goes for getting caught up in the world of video games. I think that we should choose to close out our day with a glass of wine from time to time. Why not? Nobody’s saying that exercising five days a week isn’t the way to go. But, all of our vices become a problem––as does everything in life when the balance starts to tilt to one side––when we go overboard with them or aren’t aware that we’re abusing them in the first place. If we’re not careful, these vices can slowly rob us of missing out on the finer things in life. They rob us of our chance to experience this life to the fullest.
I’m going to breakdown the two ways we distract ourselves; numbing or running and the pros and cons to both. Why this a problem. How we can take back control so ultimately our vices aren’t controlling us. And healthier means of distraction since distractions are ultimately inevitable.
The Good Old Days
Anytime that I’ve ever thought about the ways that we distract ourselves, I always find myself imagining what it must have been like during the good old days––the days before my time or yours. The days where, from sunrise, to sunset, life seemed like it actually had some substance to it. Where the days weren’t filled with checking how many likes you got on your selfie every hour on the hour. But were filled with a long days’ worth of work that had to be done. There was no putting it off until the next day. In return, this forced people to communicate with one another and kept them out of their heads leaving little time to replay unnecessary thoughts on a loop.
That’s where I believe a lot of our internal dilemma originates from. I think the over-all big contributor––or one of them––is feeling like you haven’t found your life’s purpose or that your life has no meaning. As long as the hunger is there to find it though, I feel that it’s inevitable, boiling down to only a matter of time. On the smaller scale, however, I can’t help but think that a lot of this stems from the modernization of life. Life has undoubtedly gotten easier if we want to start looking at all the ways technology and innovation has helped us lighten our loads. The major upside to this is that it frees up a generous amount of time for us to do as we please. The downside though; if not utilized properly, that generous amount of time can become a detriment that leaves us ruminating over trivial bullshit.
That’s when I feel like I notice my anxiety starting to take hold. It’s never when I have a busy day ahead of me, but when I’m bored and that generous time starts to go to waste. That wasted time now has me caught on a vicious feedback loop replaying the same exact thoughts that I already digested scenarios A-Z, but my mind feels that it’s absolutely imperative that I stress myself out even further by going over them just one more time. I’m going to go out on a limb here and speak for most people, but when we really start to look at the thoughts that stress us out the most, objectively, they’re usually all self-inflicted or complete nonsense. I guess that in the end (it doesn’t even matter), this can be chalked up to a lack of presence. That lack of presence stems from an inability to be content with not doing; an inability to accept the present moment exactly as is. Cue the perfect segue to our first means of distraction; running.
“A person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thoughts, so he loses touch with reality and lives in a world of illusions.” – Alan Watts
If you’re like me, you’re a runner and no, I don’t mean an actual runner because fuck everything about running. I mean runner as in, when the going gets tough, we find ways to distract ourselves by keeping busy. Throughout the course of a day, runners can accomplish more things than humanly possible, which might not sound like the worst thing at a glance. But, when the keeping busy is only a cover-up for our inability to not deal with our shit, well, now we have a problem.
Anxiety is what fuels us runners, that’s our energy source. When we feel it throughout the course of the day, we dig our heels deeper, push harder, and do everything in our power to run away from that feeling. For how long though? How long before we get burnt-out? And if we don’t reach the burnout stage, then it’s only a matter of time before our body takes matters into its own hands and strike us down through sickness. Even worse, that unlooked at trauma that is the very fuel source of the runner archetype, can manifest into a more serious sickness along the lines of an auto-immune disorder, cognitive issues, unrelenting inflammation and pain, or muscular deformities among a host of other health issues.
The Fix: For people who numb themselves, the fix is going to be different. But, for us runners, the fix is getting still. “Oh god, here he goes.” Lol, buzz off, M8. For reals though, it makes sense that the yin to a runner’s yang would be getting still. With everything in life, balance is to be expected, always lurking in the shadows.
For about the last two months, I have let my meditation get away from me and like clockwork, it’s no surprise that my anxiety has been at an all-time high. It is my anchor that helps me see life more clearly. Fear not if meditation isn’t for you. Anything that slows you down will do just fine. Reading, nature walks (not runs,) yoga, tai chi, cleaning, and anything else that’s going to pump the brakes. It’s a simple fix that will make all the difference in your life. There is no problem with having a runner’s archetype, as long as we’re not allowing it to control us. Some of life’s greatest gifts can only be experienced through stillness.
If you’re not a runner, chances are you’re a numb-er. Yes, I just made up numb-er and yes, I’m going to be using it as an adjective. If you are a numb-er, the job description usually includes alcohol, drugs, over-eating, excessive hours of television, video games, and sleeping.
Instead of running, your preferred method of distraction is numbing yourself during the hard times. Inherently, nothing on that list should be deemed as bad. Not even drugs. As I write this, I’m noticing how much balance is turning out to be the moral of this blog so you know where I’m about to go . . .
There’s nothing wrong with a good beer or a nice glass of wine once in a while. How about drugs? Ain’t no thang if we want to smoke a little bit of the devil’s lettuce from time to time. Using TV to decompress after a long day of work? Who am I to tell you otherwise? But, and you knew this was coming, I mean, I just told you that it was. Any one of those means of distraction is now going to put you into auto-pilot and once we’re in auto-pilot, we’re not participating with the world anymore. Think about it, the lights are on, but nobody’s home. You could literally have a UFO abduct you, but if you’re numbed out against the world, it’s not going to even phase you. Alright, maybe it’s going to phase you a little bit. Might of went too far with that one, but you get what I mean.
The Fix: As I feel runners have more of an extrovert nature, but not always, a numb-er tends to have more of an introverted nature. Therefore, a numb-er needs to do. I don’t mean do as in running a marathon or becoming a newfound busy-body. I mean do as in, shedding their comfort zone. This is where I believe the down fall of the numb-er stem from. Pretty much all the ways that one is able to numb themselves to the world can be done from the comfort of home. So, just like running, it would make sense that the yang to a numb-er’s yin would be to do. Balance, baby.
“Our normal human tendencies are distraction and dissipation. We begin one task, then get seduced by some other option, and lose our focus. We drift away from what is difficult and we know to be true, to what is comfortable and socially condoned.” -Daniel Pinchbeck
Why Distract Ourselves?
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, life is fucking hard. This is the very reason we distract ourselves. We distract ourselves so we don’t have to deal with uncomfortable emotions and responsibility; we also distract ourselves because the thought of reaching our full potential is sometimes more than we’re able to handle. That form of distraction takes shape in self-sabotage. When we really stop to think about it, it doesn’t take a rocket-scientist to figure out all the reasons why we distract ourselves. The answers are there in plain sight screaming in our faces day in and day out.
Emotions- Yeah, those things. Those nasty, uncomfortable, things that we like to call emotions. They are capable of allowing us to feel our highest highs and in the same breath, pull us right back down making sure we remember what hell feels like. This is part of the game of life, for better or for worse. There’s no use in trying to repress every emotion that leaves us on shaky ground. That’s no way to live your life because, guess what? They. Never. Stop. Coming.
In the end, this is ultimately going to boil down to a matter of perspective. We do this by working on shifting our perspective from, these emotions are “bad,” to, these emotions are just that; emotions. And like the emotions that we deem “good” that come and go like the passing of clouds on a beautiful day, negative emotions are no different. They will pass without our attachment to them. So, rather than trying to distract ourselves, we need to work on forming a new relationship. This allows us to better tolerate these raw sensations and emotions so that we’re not being constantly hijacked by them. We will never experience the authentic change that we seek if we’re not willing to look inward. Unfortunately, that type of change doesn’t come in a day, a week, or even a month(s). But, if we can be patient with ourselves, and the process that’s required, the change that we’re so desperately looking for to help save us when it seems like all hope is lost, is expected.
“Be not afraid of discomfort. If you can’t put yourself in a situation where you are uncomfortable then you will never grow. You will never change. You’ll never learn. And I think for me, the discomfort of drowning is what taught me to swim.” – Jason Reynolds
Responsibility- Right now, if I was to have you make a list of everything that you were deemed responsible for, you’d most like be sent into full fledge panic-mode. So, we’re not going to go there. But, we are going to break this down a little further.
Responsibility can feel like a burden most of time, so most of time we throw that shit to the side to be dealt with on a rainy day. Then, when that rainy day finally comes, we’re all like “fuck.” So, we push it off . . . again. Then, when again comes, we’re all like “fuckkkk.”
We do this because we’re human and part of being human is being lazy, which is fine and dandy. Some days we do need to sit there and binge watch the whole first season of Ozark as we’re inhaling a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. You know what’s not fine and dandy though? Binge watching Ozark, after Game of Thrones, after Breaking bad, after three hours of playing God of War (whoops). Some of you may beg to differ, but let’s look at it like this; watching three hours of TV everyday for eight years––which is more than common across the world––you’ll have spent a year of your life staring at a screen. A full god damn year! Insanity.
More than ever, we’re slowly taking our attention away from our reality and giving it to these screens. In exchange for what? A decreased attention span? A means of distraction from looking at our shit? A way to escape from our responsibilities? An increase in anxiety and depression? This is what these screens are doing. Our reality is no longer a day spent participating in the “real world.” Our days are now spent dealing with interruption, after interruption, leaving us moving through life in some weird skewed, reality where we’re never fully present.
TV and video games aside, we haven’t even addressed our biggest offender, our phones. The pull to check the latest social media up-date is potentially a bigger pull than the addictiveness of some of the drugs out there. True story. If I had to call myself out, this is where I drop the ball. I’ve started to notice that I’m not really participating with the world around me, but have been living it through my phone. I’m at that point where I deleted all social media from my phone (but will still go on 1-3 times a day depending how much I’m on my laptop so it’s not a total cleanse) and will continue for a month to see how it affects me. By the time this blog makes it into the matrix, I’ll most likely be close to that month and going to be writing a blog on that. So, shameless plug for one of my next blogs. While it may seem like it’s no major feat (it isn’t), I will say that the first week, I noticed withdrawal symptoms. They felt eerily similar to what I went through when I drastically cut my sugar and carbs intake going Keto. That intrinsically, should be a red flag.
Last but not least, we’re also responsible for the upkeep of ourselves. It’s crucial that we do this. Not only for the chance to be content and at peace with ourselves, but for the chance to be content and at peace with the ones who are closest to us. This is why we do the dirty internal work. When we don’t, we’re like a leaky battery that’s caked up with nasty residue. Only, that nasty residue is our bullshit that we continue to ignore. If it’s currently hard to have a positive few of yourself making it seem foolish to even bother with the internal work, focus on doing it to be more of a joy to the ones around you. Should we be able to start there, the perspective of ourselves begins to shift like the falling of the next domino in line.
Potential- Let us end with a quote to ponder. You may have heard it before:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson
The first time that I had heard a piece of the quote that’s above was from an inspirational video on YouTube a few years back. Came to love the video so much, that I downloaded it to my phone as an audio file before I left for the PCT. I was planning ahead for the harder days when morale was low. Turned out to be one of the better things that I did because on the trail, to this day, I still listen to it and it still gets me jazzed up the same way as when I heard it for the first time.
Coming back to the quote; I had no idea what the quote meant. It made zero sense to me when I would hear it on the PCT. Why would our deepest fear be that we are powerful beyond measure? Why would that scare us? But, somewhere over these past couple of years and I’m not exactly sure when, it started to click for me. Our deepest fear being that we are powerful beyond measure scares the living shit out of us because if we accept that, then that means we would now have to accept full responsibility for ourselves. Great, another thing to add to the list.
When we come to the true understanding of who we are or start to walk down our intended path of purpose––I may not believe that there’s a purpose to life, but I do believe that everyone has their own purpose and plays their own part––fear consumes us. Why is this? Because of two reasons, the first being “what if I fail and don’t live up to my full potential?” If we have that thought, most likely we “go back to sleep” acting like we never came to that realization in the first place or we find ways to self-sabotage ourselves. It was too much to accept at the time so better to ignore it. The second reason entails the responsibility that comes with the job description, should we choose to accept. We start to realize that if we accept that responsibility we now have to accept that every time we fuck off we get further and further away from that purpose. Think about the Kendrick Lamar’s, or the Leonardo Dicaprio’s, or the Adele’s out there. What do you ever hear about them on social media? Don’t worry, I’ll wait. (Cricket cricket.) You hear absolutely fooking nothin’ because it doesn’t concern them. They’re too busy devoting their life to their craft. They’ve stepped up to the plate.
Not to say that this is the intended path for everyone because it’s most certainly not. I am also not saying that you have to fall off the face of the earth to be at the top of the food pyramid in whatever you do. You can still hustle your ass off while living a meaningful life. But, should we get to that point where the paths split and we have to decide what road to take, we need to be ready to accept the responsibility that comes along for the ride if we expect to go anywhere.
“The choice that Boyd puts in front of us comes down to purpose. What is your purpose? What are you here to do? Because purpose helps you answer the question “To be or to do?” quite easy. If what matters is you—your reputation, your inclusion, your personal ease of life—your path is clear: Tell people what they want to hear. Seek attention over the quiet but important work. Say yes to promotions and generally follow the track that talented people take in the industry or field you’ve chosen. Pay your dues, check the boxes, put in your time, and leave things essentially as they are. Chase your fame, your salary, your title, and enjoy them as they come.
If your purpose is something larger than you—to accomplish something, to prove something to yourself—then suddenly everything becomes both easier and more difficult. Easier in the sense that you know now what it is you need to do and what is important to you. The other “choices” wash away, as they aren’t really choices at all. They’re distractions. It’s about the doing, not the recognition. Easier in the sense that you don’t need to compromise. Harder because each opportunity—no matter how gratifying or rewarding—must be evaluated along strict guidelines: Does this help me do what I have set out to do? Does this allow me to do what I need to do? Am I being selfish or selfless?” – Ryan Holiday, Ego Is The Enemy
Edited by: Patrica Hendriks