Last Sunday, I set out to expand my horizons, which is how I ended up at a space exploration show. Somewhere between the stuffy scientist explaining how far we’ve come and the vivid images of what space looks like, I realized something pretty deep: It’s amazing the distances we’ll travel to find answers instead of sitting with ourselves and discovering what’s simmering within.
We create distractions and look for tangible evidence to bolster us because it’s immediate feedback in the short term. But achieving true, authentic happiness requires that we explore our edges and seek answers from inside ourselves.
THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN AN EXTERIOR AND INTERIOR FOCUS
Pretty deep stuff for a lazy Sunday morning, I know — especially since I rarely deviate from watching sports, Animal Planet, “Family Guy” or “Impractical Jokers.” This idea isn’t a knock on science, we still need to explore and advance, but it’s about not neglecting the opportunity to look within. So let’s run with this thought: the idea that we search outside ourselves to find peace that is already within us. An exterior focus emphasizes gossip, seeking self-approval from others, overeating, rampant spending habits — it runs the gamut of short-term, tangible things. An interior focus emphasizes meditation, self-reflection, prayer, volunteer work — in other words, things that are less tangible but equally real and arguably deeper. When we heal ourselves, we help others around us.
If I channeled Sigmund Freud, I might say something smart like: Exterior focus seems like a self-defense mechanism. We are so terrified and tormented by our deepest fears, desires and past afflictions that we end up distracting ourselves before we ever face what’s inside. In reality, our mind and our sense of purpose are the only things we can really control. We can’t control what happens with our bodies or our possessions — yet we live in a society that puts the focus on those tangible things that don’t preserve our inner beings. An interior focus shifts our perspective from, “What can I gain from this situation?” to “What can I give to this situation?” Remember, just like when we find our edge on the yoga mat, we need to look for what we can take off our shoulders, not what we can add to them.
Here’s the trick: less can still be more. The process of strengthening yourself is through meditation. Sit alone in a quiet room or out in nature, close your eyes and listen to the sound of your breath. Remember, everyone’s path is different. For some, meditation may take years to feel comfortable, yet others may find it useful the first time they try it. But don’t be discouraged. We are all on our own path.
HOW TO GIVE TO A SITUATION
Let me put my psychologist’s hat back on as we sink our teeth into the meat of this idea of how you can give to a situation. Deep down, it’s about how you make others feel. Can you give that coworker who is struggling some positive feedback? Can you put your smartphone down and smile or acknowledge people when you’re standing in line or walking down the sidewalk? Simply put, can you make someone feel like they are an important human being? The cliché is true: People don’t remember the shoes you wore, the nice purse you had or the expensive watch on your wrist. They remember how you made them feel.
How you make others feel can be one of the biggest imprints you leave behind on this earth.
To help others, you must help yourself first. It’s like the oxygen mask on a plane, put yours on, then help your child or someone else next. Remember: You cannot quench the thirst of another if the cup you are trying to pour from is empty.
REMEMBER WHO YOU’VE ALWAYS BEEN
The Buddha said, “what you resist will persist.” If we ignore our problems or ourselves in exchange for time with our phones or working or seeking the approval of others, we are letting our suffering persist.
My best friend told me the other day, “at 28 years old, I finally sat down with myself. I finally gave myself a chance to get to know me.” Let me ask you: How many years has it been since you got to know you? Somewhere along your path, you felt or saw something that helped shape the person you are today. Choosing to go inward is choosing to remember who you’ve always been. It’s choosing to peel back layer after layer of distraction to find the source of your suffering so you can begin to turn it into the source of your happiness.