Clarity often occurs when I stop looking for answers. If you are an over-thinker such as myself then you can probably understand the challenge in finding such “a-ha” moments when your brain seems to be cluttered with a constant stream of thoughts. What I will say is clarity was never found on my couch as I tried to distract my battling thoughts with static from the television. Clarity is not found by pushing the mind to stop thinking through temporary interruptions or by dwelling on an issue by forming lists with pros and cons or by drowning the thoughts out with the help of alcohol, as most of you know any anxiety you had before comes back ten-fold during a hang-over.
I struggle, as I’m sure most do, with navigating through some of lives toughest obstacles. What’s my purpose? What’s really important to me? What do I want to do for the rest of my life? Or why can’t I meet somebody already? These are all questions that bring me uneasiness due to the permanence these questions confront. In perhaps one of my biggest epiphanies the answer came to me as it usually does when I found myself in the simplest of moments just taking in what life had to offer. My mind naturally rests on the answers I had been searching for in all the clutter. Clarity. If you just stood still, breathed and allowed your mind to just relax it is surprising how clear things become.
There are places you can go to bring your head back from chaotic frenzy, where you can breathe and find clarity. And sometimes you don’t even have to go very far, lucidity doesn’t come from seeking it out. It comes when you decide to just ride the wave that is life. Go with the flow, know that you will hit rough patches, but just as things seem like they are doomed forever as you approach a rock and a hard place you’ll reach gentler waters. All you have to do is stay afloat. Here are the places that I stumbled upon, that taught me a little something about life and brought me some clarity in this crazy beautiful world:
A small little town just 20 minutes outside of the city of San Jose, in Costa Rica. There wasn’t much happening in this little place. It consisted of two bars, plenty of beans and rice and the nicest host family I could have asked for. I struggled with my choppy Spanish as I tried to communicate with my host mom and dad, but it was around the breakfast table where they generously opened their home to me that I was taught what would become an important aspect of life to me.
My host dad sat down and spoke about life in Costa Rica in comparison to the US. He said the US sounded nice and everything, but wasn’t an ideal place he would want to live. He said Americans always want more, more, more and he didn’t understand why we worked ourselves silly to accumulate more things. He said while he did not have a lot, he had everything he needed to be happy. So he only worked as hard as he needed to in order to maintain a lifestyle that brought comfort and happiness to his family which included hammocks and cake for breakfast.
Not too shabby if you had asked me. Maybe this isn’t everyone’s ideal and trust me, it’s easy to get caught up in this idea of “needing” more, more and more, but what was clear to me here is that making a life was always going to be more important to me than getting caught up in making more money to have more things. I come back to this whenever I struggle with thoughts of needing more money.
Meanwhile a few years later in what seemed like a different planet from anything I had experienced I traveled to Beijing, China. This was a busy and extremely crowded city with a lot going on. It was easy to get lost in the crowded subways that everyone sardine-ed in to on their daily commute, but having to plan out my every move down to how I was going to order my food or get to my destination by using charades to communicate somehow cleared my head of all the overthinking. I was too busy focusing on the here and now that any excess faded away. I didn’t have time for it. To me. China has always felt, to me, as peace within the chaos. It taught me to focus on the present, everything else already happened or is non-existent. Whenever I get caught up in petty things or what my friend could have meant by that passing comment at dinner, I pick a task – any task – and bam, I’m back in the present.
The ocean. If ever I was going absolutely mental with life’s hurdles and felt defeated the ocean had a way of putting things in perspective for me. It always reminded me how little my problems and I were in comparison to the immensity and power that was the ocean. Something about watching waves crashing onto the shore as it pulled pieces of earth out into the deep blue sea far beyond what my eyes could see reminded me to just surrender to life. It’s bigger than you, one must not try to fight it. Instead just let things come and go as they are meant to. I jump in the ocean whenever I can just so I can feel the world in motion around me. If ever standing still was too hard, it reminded me that things were in fact in motion even if I couldn’t see it.
My yoga mat. Maybe by now yoga sounds like a cliche way to open up the heart and mind as it trends across the world, but listening to your body and slowing your breathing brings all the clarity in the world. It taught me to be in tune with myself. If I was irritable or upset instead of taking it out on someone I asked myself why. I asked myself what it was that I was holding in and not expressing. And once I could acknowledge the cause of my offset mood I let it go with one big breath.
In others. I used to make quick weekend trips to help build homes for families in need in Tijuana, Mexico. It was an eye-opening experience to say the least. While I was struggling with dating and waking up in the morning to go to work these families were struggling to keep dry under a makeshift roof during the winter and keep warm with pieces of clothing they had collected. That cleared any thoughts of self-pity and slapped some humble in to me. The important thing I learned from these visits is that we are all suffering in some way. Life is not a competition to see who deserves more because they suffer more. Instead the answer was clear: we can all afford some kindness so give it, and give it often.
Whenever you find your mind racing and you feel like you are going absolutely mad with questions you can’t seem to find answers to, get up and do something. Try something new, go somewhere, anywhere and engage with people. You will learn things, you will find answers. Maybe not the answers you want, but the ones you need. Get out of your head and in to the world, things are clearer out there.