As we progress up the scale of maturity and aging, if we experience a lot of pain and discomfort and depression then we might lose the will to live. This is truly a very sad state of being, and perhaps you’re in it. If so, I’m very sorry that we did not meet earlier, that we could not share ideas, and that we cannot influence each other and make sure that we are there as support for one another in this journey.
Certainly as the cone seems to be getting narrower and narrower when we get older, a lot of the choices that we made earlier in life bear down on us if they were decisions that were not skillful. Perhaps you set up your life for your success to be measured by the amount of money you had, how much activity you could stir up, or the number of accomplishments you’d achieve.
If those things did not quite measure up to your expectations then you might feel a sense of disappointment. I’m aware of how those things can be very troubling. Virtually everyone goes through such regrets and disappointments over time. I’ve experienced those regrets and disappointments myself. But I’m aware that every day of my life I must renew my sense of wonder.
I have a variety of techniques that I use to keep the point of all of this in focus. I don’t take it for granted from one day to the next that I’m going to live. I’m not programmed to just selfishly survive for fear of dying. The thing that motivates me is that I’m continually learning. I’m taking an interest in the expansion of my mind. It’s fascinating and exciting to me, but even this is not enough. I have a deep interest in making sure that my children have the tools they need to make their journeys. And beyond that I have a deep interest in making sure that I can positively affect the lives of strangers that I’ve never met.
I realize that I can’t force feed anyone anything that I know about happiness, peace of mind, health and wellness, or anything else. I am a novice at teaching. I've only been here for a portion of one lifetime. I haven’t developed a curriculum for how a person should live his or her life. I'm just figuring out mine. But I want to make sure that when I talk to someone that I can find a way to help them just a little bit the way that so many of the great people in my life have helped me: The people who have helped me have been fabulous role models in terms of how they improved their health and how they treated other people.
To improve the quality of my own life, I have to constantly take inventory and check in with myself to make sure that I’m changing, evolving, and doing the things I need to do to keep myself happy. Sometimes doing such necessary things is difficult, but other times I can get to a good place without a lot of effort. And sometimes I just notice myself not putting in enough effort. Yet a little effort can go a long way under favorable circumstances.
If you’re depressed right now and can’t seem to lift yourself up, maybe you’re trying to take too big of an effort. At the same time, have some respect for the efforts that you are taking. You’re reading this: That may seem to be a small effort, but it’s really quite big. Can you make a list of tiny little things that you could do to make yourself feel better? How about putting this down, putting on your jacket (if it’s winter), and going for a walk? Maybe invite your spouse on that walk. If you don’t have a spouse, invite your neighbor, and if you don’t have a neighbor, bring your pet.
That’s a beautiful way to be of service to a creature; inviting it on one of your walks, cleaning up after it, and praising it for a job well done. There are thousands of things that you can do every day of your life to build up your inspiration and your self-esteem. You have a very limited time to be here in this world and marvel at all the things that you can accomplish.
I think it would be a great thing for you to make a commitment to yourself to listen to beautiful music every day. Put on your favorite opera or your favorite punk rock. Go to YouTube or Google and find something that you haven’t listened to for 30 years. I discover new versions of my favorite old songs all the time, and those songs bring me such pleasure at this stage of my life because I can hear them in a new way. Sometimes it brings a tear to my eye just thinking about the incredible gift and talent of creating music that can move people and make them feel happy.
I used to get angry sometimes when I would see people performing music I didn’t like. I would judge them harshly and consider their music to be stupid or corny. Today I look at them and admire them for doing something. They can write and perform music and make people dance, make them think of a sad breakup, and maybe even strip them of those feelings to help them heal just a little bit more.
Take a deep breath. And if the only thing that you can find around you that’s natural is the sky, then look up at the sky, stare at it, and think about how vast the cosmos is. Maybe you can derive pleasure by listening to great lectures and learning. What interests you? If you feel deep inside that you have no interest in anything, then find new interests.
You more than likely know the reason why you’re feeling so bad. Maybe some terrible things happened to you at different points in your life. You’re in a tremendous amount of pain and you can’t seem to get rid of the grief.
Sadness, anger, and resentment may run so deep and be so much a part of your life that you lose track of where to even begin to get rid of some of it. But take interest. Buy books, read books, watch things on the Internet, write about things. Take a trip of some kind. Get your car and go for a drive. Go to the hobby store and buy some paint and a canvas. If you’re a terrible artist, paint something lousy and then laugh at it.
You can encourage yourself in some small way. Tell yourself that things will get better. There's always hope. There’s always a possibility of happiness around every corner as long as you keep walking and turning those corners.
Never give up on your life. Even if you can’t feel it, you are an incredibly important part of the web of life and creation. You are not a random spec that has no meaning and no purpose. When you experience things and you learn, you can be adding to the great collective. That objective may seem so far off and you may feel disconnected from it, but try to make yourself think of yourself as important in this way. It’s never too late to change behavior patterns, even if you’re 99.
I plan to be 99 years old and say to myself early one morning, “It’s time to start over. I’ll break the cycle of laziness that I developed when I was 97. Today I’ll do something different. I’m 99 years old, shriveled, and totally gray. But today’s a marvelous day, and I’m going to make plans for the next 40 years of my life.”
That’s how I’m going to get through. And that’s what I encourage you to do. Even if you don’t believe this, force yourself to say it over and over again for a number of years until you buy it hook, line, and sinker. You could just keep saying these things to yourself the same way that you said all the negative things to yourself: You bought them hook, line, and sinker, even though most of the words were untrue. But you can do the same thing with positive messages. Say whatever you need to say in order to inspire yourself to get up and live another day. Say whatever you need to say to yourself to get yourself rolling along on a path to improvement.
That’s all you need to do.
Maybe you’re a person who’s never experienced love in your life. Maybe you’re experiencing too much sadness. Maybe you’re experiencing sadness that belongs to others. But you can have a wonderful opportunity to change and improve. Take interest in yourself; get an aerial viewpoint of your perspective. And say to yourself, “There’s a thing in my personality that I want to change. I'm going to go out to do it. And if I die right in the middle of doing something I don’t complete, then my life will have been full.”
If all you have the energy to do is to sit and watch the sunrise or the sunset, that is absolutely magnificent. It's a beautiful moment in life unfolding. Embrace it. Or do something similar. It doesn’t have to be something that releases adrenaline, and it doesn’t have to be a big event. And you don’t have to be invited to the Oscars to be of value to society.
If that’s not your thing, you have to do something else. Make a list of the things that you have to be absolutely grateful for. Stare at that list and read it to yourself every day. If you take life for granted, change your way. Change your way for you—not for me, not because of something I say. I’m not judging you, and I can’t punish you in any way. No one should judge you but you.
Sit quietly under the sun with your eyes closed (if you leave them open you’ll damage your retinas). Feel the warmth of the sun on your face. Feel the orange light filling your body and filling your head space. As light turns from orange to white, memorize the joy of life. Tell yourself that life is precious. Just keep saying these things to yourself, over and over again, and the thoughts and positivity will sink in.
I participated in these exercises myself, and the positivity started to sink in over time. I got older and became more able to listen. I started feeling a little bit happier. The more I listened, the more I could act upon what was being said to me from deep within.
One morning I woke up before I opened my eyes. I asked myself why the ancient monks have the right to be enlightened and I don’t. I had to declare myself awake and enlighten myself. And then I closed out the world's judgment.
I didn’t have to tell anybody that I was conscious and awake. I just had to tell myself that I was enlightened. And then after a month or so of doing that I started to feel enlightened. I started to feel more conscious. It wasn’t sudden; it was bit by bit for me.
Some days I would wake up with a problem and my enlightenment would seem as if it were “covered.” It was like I drew down the shade and couldn’t let the light in. Some days I would have it for a few moments and then it would dissipate. But I never gave up hope, because I felt it and I touched it. I felt the bliss of living. I felt the Nirvana of the oneness of all things.
And then I said to myself, “Even if it’s not true, even if I’m a fabricator, I’ll cut my fingernails and toenails and keep myself groomed and I’ll keep telling myself this is true. It’s a better reality, and I like it. I like it much better than the reality in which I’m suffering. I like it much better than the reality in which I am a bit of an asshole.
“I like this reality better than the reality where I struggle and worry and have anxiety. I feel relaxed now, and I always get disrupted. I’m living in a city, I’m married, I have children, and I have bills to pay. I have to eat, I have to go to the bathroom, I have to exercise, and sometimes I hurt my back. I still have things I want to accomplish. Of course I can’t stay awake 18 hours straight. Not yet anyway—it’ll take a lot more practice.
“In the meantime, look at all this that I’m still creating. Look at what I’m doing with my life being partially awake, sometimes being totally awake, and sometimes being totally asleep and unconscious.”
Life is great. Make up your mind to let life be great for you. It's your time!