Three Things: Approaching Life at 24
These past three months I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which I’m choosing to live my life, the things I value, and the things I want. New York City is a terrific place for the ambitious and the hopeful, full of events, spaces, people, and the energy that arises from the fusing of all these things. At this point in my life I am young and foolish, optimistic and naive, but am coming face to face with the realities of adulthood: The mundane, the boring, manic joys and sweeping depressions — perhaps, most of all, realizing that life consists of all of these things. Though many of the people I encounter may perceive me to be a calm and collected soul, I can confidently say that I’m as crazy as the next person. Gratitude journaling every day and meditating every morning doesn’t suddenly cast away the contrasts of life, there are still dips of darkness amidst licks of light. I experience a lot of highs and lows, sometimes seemingly for no reason.
Sometimes it becomes difficult to differentiate this city from this life. Is it New York that makes me leap with joy and sigh in grief? I’m not entirely sure, though I do convince myself that it would be no different anywhere else. In the places I’ve lived before, within and without of the U.S., I felt all the things I do now. Joy, love, sorrow, stability, a lack of stability. All these things come and go. When I graduated college a dear friend of mine told me, on a frayed balcony above the ocean lined with bottles of alcohol and golden tassels, that he saw me one day sailing around the world. He was sure of it. Though I have no knowledge of how to sail and would more than likely capsize before reaching my first destination, the idea sparks into my head every now and then. Perhaps not around the notion of sailing but leaving, packing this New York life into a box and setting it aside to do anything else. Go back to California to be with my family. Work somewhere somehow for some time. Admittedly, this is a privileged thought to meditate on, one that would surely concern some of the people in my life -picking up and leaving with a plan that came second to a dream- though one that is not entirely out of character. New York was a leap of faith to begin with, choosing freelance over full-time was a huge gamble, and many of the experiential decisions I chose, to study in Sweden for a year or travel around Asia for three months, were in sacrifice to work. Though, looking back, choosing experience over credibility seems obviously right. Perhaps that’s always the case.
Nevertheless, the thought of leaving New York and living nomadically subsides quite easily. There is the sheer fact that paying for my own livelihood and the eventual goal of contributing to my family’s requires savings. There is the recognition that I am quite happy in this city to begin with. The abundance of change, growth, memory, and friendship I’ve discovered here often leaves me speechless. There is nothing urging me to leave aside from the hunger to experience more (is this what people call the “travel bug”?), plus the admiration I have for the people who choose to do something unexpected, at whatever point in life. Then there is the recognition that there is nothing relevant about my environment that constitutes how I feel at the core, though I may often think otherwise. Perhaps the frigid weather chills my California bones and the hustle of New York at times can sway my ability to stay present, but these things are minor and nonexclusive. If I were to move to Spain would I not sweat in the heat? Would I not worry about the future? Would I not be disappointed or pleased by the people around me? Though I believe life is obscurely beautiful and emotionally complex, I am starting to believe that the recipe for sustainable joy consists of internal, not external, ingredients. Things like place, people, and things surely give us joy and relieve our scattered minds, but at the very core of it these things will never fill us from the inside out.
Only we can do that.
This may sound absurdly obvious, but for me it’s taken a bit to fully realize that all the joy, warmth, compassion, and power that we seek exists in us, it’s always been there since we were kids running around, playing with pursed lips. It is a tough idea for me to swallow because I still fully believe that the life around us -people, animals, all living things- is the most beautiful part of the human experience. Knowing each other, loving each other, supporting each other, taking care of each other seems to be the most meaningful part of all of this, and naturally involves things (people, environment, animals) outside of us. To believe that sustainable joy exists within ourselves, withstanding all change, means that what I’ve been searching for these past 23 and some years doesn’t exist in the faces of my friends and family. It doesn’t exist somewhere else where people spend more time together, it doesn’t exist in anything external. It takes a bit for me to settle on the fact that working on ourselves — within ourselves — is one of the most important things we can do. My initial thought is “Why work on yourself so much? Is it not a selfish way to live or spend our time, meditating on life, working on ourselves… When we could be with others?”. But I find a sense of resolution when I choose to remain static in my belief that people are everything. They are the reason why I wish to establish sustainable joy, why I want to sit and meditate, think about life, know the love and warmth and equanimity inside me better. I want to be completely whole, loving, joyful, and boundless with energy and compassion with myselfso that I may always offer it to others. I want to know all of the love that exists within so I may harness it and spread it around at an enormous capacity, more so than before.
Yet, I still want to eat chocolate cookies and see my friends every day. I still want to build a media company in efforts of increasing our human connection. I’m human. Which brings me to a little dichotomy around the things I wish to cultivate in life. They aren’t exclusive, but in fact seem support each other.
The Material & Experiential - There are things I want, material and experiential, like a nice bike, more colorful clothes, a larger apartment to entertain friends and family… Property, a lifestyle that allows living in between the California and New York, enough money to sustain myself and give to friends and family, enough money to give to people with less, a family, a core group of friends wherever I am, a place to call home and a roof over my head, a dog.
Values - There are values I wish to uphold, like being a good brother, son, and grandson, being kind to strangers and open to new friends, sustaining youthful joy and optimism, exhibiting confidence and diligence… Not participating in anger or jealousy, creating opportunities for others, championing others and rejoicing in their success, respecting the environment.
Sustainable Joy - Then there is the ultimate thing I want: To be happy, just like everyone else. This happiness I wish to cultivate exists outside of the material and experiential, it’s non-reliant. I want sustainable joy so that I can share it with everyone else in the world, regardless of the situation or person. Regardless if I have a bike, a dog, a large house or not. I recently texted one of my friends “I just want to explode into the sun and shine light into other people’s lives”, which may sound extreme, but I’m not sure how else to describe it. What I want is sustainability, to know myself completely, wholly, and stably from within so that I may always offer myself to others. I would like to develop a peaceful mind that knows no limits, compassion that has no end, love without boundaries, so I may spread love and peace to everyone, in every place, above and beyond my being.
When I think about these three things I realize that there is a sense of hierarchy. The material and experiential things are at the very bottom, they aren’t needed in order to uphold our values or cultivate sustainable joy. We can uphold our values without the things we want. I can be a good friend without owning a nice bike, I can be a great son without buying my parents a home in Malibu (though I will still aim for that). The third, sustainable joy, can exist without either. Though upholding our values is an important aspect of living a wholesome life, it is inevitable that one day we will no longer be the people we once were. We’re changing with every moment. One day I won’t be a grandson or son, our parents and grandparents will pass. We may no longer be in the same environment, surrounded by the people we center our values around. But with sustainable joy we can find love within ourselves to adapt those values to whichever new situation we find ourselves in. All in all, it seems that #3 helps us achieve #2 and #1. With sustainable joy we might pursue life more fervently, stably, and competently, most likely enabling us to bring those material and experiential things we want into our lives while being less attached to them, helping us remain diligent to our core values.
Does any of this make sense? I hope so. Anyways, this is where I’m at right now. I’m excited and enthused to pursue sustainable joy, to keep working within myself so I can serve the world as my best self. Though I’m cringing at having written the phrase “best self”, it’s really what I mean. Imagine that love and joy were a song. These past 23 years I’ve been blessed to have heard that song, felt it, played it aloud on speakers with dear friends and family. At times it'd play at a lower volume, other times it'd ring far and wide, sometimes it'd be drowned out by other melodies, depending on the speaker or the people in the room. What I'd like to do now is learn the lyrics to love so I can shout them, speaker or no speaker, choir or no choir, far and wide, sing them, increasingly loud and always inviting, with and for the rest of the world, in which I’m simply a speck.