by: Eman Alawadh
‘Do you remember who you were, before the world told you who you should be?’ – Danielle LaPorte
Do you remember what brought you joy? Do you remember the things you wanted to do with your life before the world, before society, suggested you should want something else?
It’s hard sometimes to look back and remember when you changed or what instigated the change in you. Life nowadays is fast-paced. Everyone is rushing off to get somewhere, convinced that that somewhere is where their happiness will be found.
If you’ve seen ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, you will remember the scene when Elizabeth Gilbert stays up in the middle of the night, crying, not knowing why she no longer wanted her life the way it was, even though she had been an active partner in building that life with her husband. She felt she’d been swept away with everything and that she should want it even though it brought her no happiness.
I relate to her character a lot because I too once found myself up at the dead of night with everyone asleep, oblivious to my tears and desperation. At first I wasn’t sure why I felt that way. Something must be wrong with me, I thought. Otherwise why would I be so miserable with all the blessings around me? I had a great job in one of the best industries in the country. I had a loving husband and two beautiful children after a journey through infertility. I had my own business. So why was I so unhappy?
I remember sitting on the bathroom floor choking on my tears, hoping no-one would hear me. Like Liz, I felt helpless and asked God why I felt so hollow. And, like Liz, there was no magical answer, just silence and a realization that this was silly, I should go back to bed. But when I stood up to wash my face, I stopped. I took a long look in the mirror and asked myself, ‘What do you want?’ And I found that I was lost. I no longer remembered what it felt like to want something badly. I forgot that I had the right to my own desires. I had been so swept up in my roles as mother, wife, daughter, sibling and employee, that I forgot what it was to strip away all those roles and simply be me.
The roles that we have should never define us. They are a part of us. We should not let them bury who we are underneath and let ourselves disappear.
So I decided I needed to step away. Not to abandon my roles – they were all still very important to me – but to step back and take care of myself; to run away from my roles towards finding and recreating who I am.
What I did was simple, but changed me irreversibly. I took a short trip to London completely on my own. It wasn’t my destination that brought on the change in me, but the fact that I had decided to be present in every moment of it.
I had come across an incredible book right before my trip – ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle – and I have never been the same since. Eckhart teaches you to stop and ask yourself, ‘What is my problem right now? What’s wrong with this exact moment?’ and to shift your thinking. If you feel unpleasant at any moment you have three choices. You can remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it. As he goes on to explain, anything else is insanity. He also goes on to teach you to enjoy every moment no matter what situation you are in. Because this moment, your now, will never come back again.
I had been to London countless times before, but I had never seen it the way I had this time. I was present. I noticed the little details one usually overlooks when rushing to get somewhere. I made pleasant conversations with complete strangers and met two people I am still in touch with. I can’t describe the unexpected pleasure it brought me.
I was walking down the street one afternoon. It was raining and busy and I smelt something heavenly. I wasn’t sure what it was but I followed the smell until I found a tiny hidden booth making fresh waffles. I asked the baker for his recommendation, and, with a scoop of chocolate (because, why not?) I stood there on the corner of the block, eating the sinful waffle in the rain. I felt like the happiest, goofiest, fat kid on earth and it felt so good.
I decided, since I was getting wet anyway, I might as well feel the rain. Passersby probably thought I was crazy but I was just high on this carefree feeling! There’s something magical about standing in the rain if you let yourself get lost in it.
There’s a pleasure I cannot find the words to describe. You have to experience it yourself, sitting in a small cafe in the middle of nowhere watching people.
I realized that for a long time I had been pressuring myself to achieve so many things that I had forgotten to enjoy the journey. After all, that’s what life is, a journey. We get so busy with planning and imagining our destinations, convincing ourselves that is what will bring us happiness. Whether it’s when we make a certain amount of money, reach a certain body weight, have the house of our dreams, or find the right person to share our lives with, we get so busy trying to reach that destination we often forget we have a right to be happy every step of the way.
I knew that for sure at that point, because I already had so many of the things I had worked for in my life and, as humbled as I was for the blessings, I was unable to feel true joy and fulfillment because, until then, I had not realized that happiness is something within you. It’s not something you bring to yourself from the outside.
Too often we take ourselves for granted and don’t even notice how harsh we are on ourselves. Unless we learn to treat ourselves right, we won’t have a healthy precedent to set for anyone else around us. I have only now come to realize the value of this idea. And you can never love anyone else right unless you first learn to take care of yourself. As you often hear before a flight, ‘Help yourself before seeking to help others.’
Overall, I would recommend that everyone try it. If you can’t arrange to travel alone, take a day off wherever you are and disconnect yourself. Discover a part of your town you’ve never wandered into. Talk to someone you usually wouldn’t interact with. Do one small thing every day that pulls you out of your comfort zone. You will be delighted with what you find.