Door Number Twenty-Three: Sit Back and Enjoy the Ride

hobbit-feature

“Different roads sometimes lead to the same castle.” ~Jon Snow

Life is a complex machine. Kind of like the Cylons, but less preachy. We start out with little freedom and even less responsibility. As we grow older, we gain more independence, but our obligations rise as well. We work hard in school to get into a good college, and then work our way through college to get a good job. Replacing the authority of our parents and teachers with the responsibilities of work and social obligations. We continue to strive for the financial freedoms and professional success only to find ourselves at the end of the road wondering where the time has gone. Which is why we must not forget to take time to step back and enjoy the ride.

You would think such an idea runs counter to everything that defines a good, productive life. If we take such a passive stance towards life, we’re likely to end up falling into the mythical 47 percent some political leaders would lead us to believe are the source of America’s problems. However, there is a large gap between refusing to do work in order to survive and being consumed by one’s responsibilities. Even the President of the United States takes time to enjoy the life he has, and he’s arguably one of the busiest people in the world. I’m not suggesting abandoning all the necessary task of life, but rather gaining a better perspective on what’s important.

As I’ve pointed out we tend to spend a great deal of time working towards something. Whether it be high-paying career or world-changing invention, we are all striving towards a goal (if you’re not, that is a discussion for another time). However, its important we recognize the destination is only a part of the equation. Life doesn’t happen in some far off future where we accomplish that which we seek. Rather it occurs every second of every day. We risk missing a significant part of our existence if we don’t find a way to enjoy the quest.

So how do we do manage to find this balance? If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that our plans tend to overshadow all of our actions. It’s why so many people get burned out of the political process. Lofty ideals tend to fizzle out when tested against the slow march towards change. The same rings true for our personal lives. We start with grand dreams, that fall to the way side as we get older and begin to lose focus. So how do we continue our momentum in life, but also savor each moment? I wish there was a simple solution. I wish it was as easy as channeling “the force” to take out our personal “Death Stars.” Alas, the reality is it takes continued evaluation of our values and priorities. Making sure we not only believe in what were working towards, but also enjoy the every day steps it takes to get there.

As with every journey to discover one’s doors to happiness, finding the balance required to enjoy the ride is not without its challenges. We must have a clear idea of what our goals are. We must also recognize the time traveled in reaching any endpoint should be savored if we are to get the most out of our lives. In addition, we must not get discouraged when things don’t go as planned. We should embrace the unexpected. Because, in the end its the lessons we learn along the way that truly define our success.

Door Number Fourteen: Taking Time to Travel

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” ~ Lao Tzu

As we travel through life it is easy to stay content where we live. Between the financial demands of everyday life and the time constraints placed on us by our careers, family, and other responsibilities its sometimes hard to fathom fitting in a journey away from home. In addition,  the sense of security one gains from being somewhere familiar is hard to argue with. However, much like Bilbo Baggins, in order to live a truly fulfilling life it is imperative one makes time to voyage there and back again every once in a while.  Which is why there are a number of reasons taking time to travel is yet another door that must be opened on the quest to find one’s fifty doors.

Travel broadens perspective. The danger of staying in one place for any extended period of time is it becomes increasingly less likely we will be forced to confront ideas and viewpoints we are uncomfortable with. It is not they won’t present themselves, but when we are in a place of familiarity, we have many inherent safeguards that allow us to filter them out. Whether it be visiting another city 300 miles away or a country 3,000 miles away, when we expose ourselves to new outlooks in place we have never been, we are able to lower our defense enough to open our eyes to a larger world. Just like Luke Skywalker, if we ever want to learn the ways of our personal force it is necessary we leave behind our personal Tatooine from time-to-time.

Travel expands a sense of community. The greatest detriment to a productive society is fear of one another. When we huddle into like-minded communities afraid to engage with those different from us, we create a culture of distrust not conducive to an open and free society. By leaving behind our local support networks and social circles for lands unknown we allow ourselves to interact with those much different from us in their backyards. More often than not, this causes us to realize no matter where we come from, fundamentally we share a great deal in common. This alleviates our initial anxiety allowing us to see ourselves as part of the larger society that comprises our world.

Travel disrupts complacency. The older we get the faster time seems to move. In light of this, it becomes easy to fall into a comfortable routine. This state of being can cause us to become rigid and lose the creativity needed to pioneer innovative solutions to life’s problems. By traveling we pull ourselves out of the monotonous machine of our existence and force our minds into a state of refreshed vigor. While in many cases this may only be a temporary respite from the daily grind, it has the potential to refresh our mind enabling us to escape the downward spiral into contentment disguised stagnation. Only then are we truly awake.

The door of travel must be opened regularly throughout our lives to not only broaden our perspective and expand our sense of community, but to disrupt the day-to-day complacency plaguing us as we grow older. There are many factors in our life that may make this difficult. Be it financial or time constraints, we must find a way to overcome these challenges in order to see the corners of our world yet undiscovered. As with any good investment, the short-term costs of making this a priority are far outweighed by the long-term benefits. After all, as the venerable Saint Augustine once said, “The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”

Door Number Seven: Spiritual Satisfaction

“We are not physical beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a physical experience.” ~Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

The concept of spirituality is layered with levels of complexity far beyond the average person’s understanding. For some it is ascribed to a specific religious dogma, including everything from Christianity to Buddhism. While for others it is achieving a level of inner peace achieved through a combination of meditation and philosophical study. Even for those who adhere to a life of non-spiritually, and choose to rely on the principles of scientific, rational thought as their governing force this guiding force too could be conceived as a form of spirituality. How we open this door is unimportant, as long as we make the effort to do so.

One’s spiritual journey is paramount to understanding what motivates us. At its core, pursuing this philosophical base is at the center of everything we do. Without it, we are merely going through motions dictated to us by a parade of outside forces. Whether it be society, peer influences, or media representations of happiness there are a number of things that seek to guide our lives. When we discover our personal spirituality, we are able to identify what is most important and base our actions around it. This realization enables us stay focused on the goals and tasks vital to our personal satisfaction.

Having a solid spiritual base enables us to handle the uncontrollable events that arise from the natural chaos of the world. The best laid plans can be thrown in to turmoil without a moments notice. Tragedies like terminal illness and the sudden death of a loved one sneak up on us like some sort of ninja assassin. This can leave us with a feeling of despair and a sense that the only justice in an unjust world is chance.  All Dark Knight references aside, the key to overcoming this darkness is having a sense there is something larger than mere survival guiding our life. That even though we may not be able to control everything that happens to us, as long as we persevere and adhere to our own personal code it is possible to carry on.

Striving towards some type of spirituality is central to becoming the best versions of ourselves. Most forms of philosophical and spiritual guidance are heavily focused on creating a moral code of guiding principles. This process forces us to examine our individual strengths and weaknesses at a level possibly never experienced otherwise. It causes us to question our initial reactions. To truly think about why we act the way we do. Look beneath the superficiality of our existence to the deeper concepts that govern our life. Many times it enables us to reach beyond our perceived mental and emotional limitations to become a more well-rounded person capable of interacting with the world around us in a way never before possible.

Spiritual understanding is a key element to living a full life. Whether it serve as a way to better understand our motivations, a method for dealing with the uncertainty surrounding us, or a means to self-improvement, it is door that will lead to greater fulfillment. I am sure there are many who will read this and scoff at the notion that spirituality is necessary to satisfaction.  However, by rethinking our notions of what defines our spirituality and how it can be bolstered through our personal experiences, one might find such a journey well worth the effort. And of course there is always the chance that spiritual understanding could lead to one becoming a Jedi. A lofty goal we all should aspire to.

Door Number Three: A Worthy Waste of Time

“If our condition were truly happy, we would not seek diversion from it in order to make ourselves happy.”~ Blaise Pascal

There is more to life than work and maintaining a healthy social life. Everyone engages in a number of activities that don’t seem to accomplish anything. Call them hobbies, interests, or time wasters, once fact remains. We all need something in our life that we engage in for no other reason than for the joy of it. Whether it be running marathons, or saving the world from the threat of a Dragon invasion, these activities are just as important as any of the other doors we must open in our lives. However, considering we only have a finite amount of time available its important we develop a way to prioritize these escapes from the daily grind. Fortunately, there are number of factors to consider when determining what hobbies are most important.

Does this fulfill other needs in our life as well?  This may seem counter intuitive, as we do this to fulfill a specific requirement in our lives. Upon closer examination, it makes sense to consider how the things we do for fun fit into our life’s other needs. Take the marathon running example. This satisfies both a need to engage in an activity that brings personal enjoyment and improves one’s physical health. Now, if faced with deciding between that and another activity one finds a similar level of enjoyment from (e.g. playing video games) the latter can be eliminated based upon its inability to accomplish any secondary goal. Though, for some not passing out from exhaustion may be a compelling case for going with the video game option.  The key is identifying how each activity fits into our larger happiness.

Does this activity incorporate others in my life? There is something to be said for inclusivity. Sure, sometimes we need our personal space, and having others encroach upon the sanctity of the time we set aside for our diversions is the last thing we want. However, if there is a way to combine our social lives with these pursuits in an enjoyable way that frees up more of our time, but also avoids the perils of indecisive planning that often plagues social groups. Like dancing? Hit the club with friends. Like to sit in a dark room playing World of Warcraft? Convince your friends to join the dark side and join you in the digital abyss. The point is to identify those hobbies you can incorporate your friends into and take the steps needed to do so.

Do you truly enjoy this activity?  Seems like common sense that one should enjoy the more frivolous activities. Yet, many of us engage in a number of past times that really do not bring us any excitement. As we get older we all change. Our interests evolve. Maybe there was a time when playing hours and hours of Dance Dance Revolution was the most exciting activity in the world, but just because we enjoyed it once does not mean we should continue to dedicate precious time to it. (Well unless we a training to become DDR champion of the world, but that’s a post for another time).  It is important to remember that we need a certain element of fun in our lives and our hobbies should reflect that.

The key to opening our third door is determining what is worth “wasting” time on and dedicating to it. The more elements in our life they incorporate the easier it will be. While, having others involved will free up more time and improve the qualities of one’s social life as well. In the end, it comes down to doing what we enjoy and identifying when something is no longer worth the time. After all, choosing our own adventure is what makes life worth living.