Written by Daina Schnese
I have found that I’m often alone in the present moment. While others twiddle their thumbs on their phones, I get lost in the beauty of the sun coming through the window. I don’t mind it, as I also spend a lot of time alone, in solitude… Because I want to understand myself enough to give the best version of myself to others.
The present may be lonely, if it’s company you seek... but it’s the most peaceful place to be. Because it’s REAL. It’s easy to get pulled into the nostalgia of the past or endless possibilities of the future. But the present is reality. It’s all that exists. And yet most of us can’t stand to live in it.
Everything else is a story we create in our minds... an illusion of what’s already been or what might be. Think about that for a second… Most of us live in a constant state of storytelling in our minds, never fully immersing ourselves in reality. We seek all the answers outside of ourselves. And let me tell you, I don’t know that our entertainment-based technology is really helping us…
We live in a world full of smartphones, smart TVs, social media, and access to anything and everything via the internet. By the looks of it, we seem to know it all. But, how smart are we really?
Of course, I don’t seek to answer that question in these pages. It would be far too hairy… I would offend far too many people… and what “smart” means is quite subjective anyhow. What I am getting at here is this: While technology may be advancing, we are finding out (namely in the fields of science and the psyche) that we really may know nothing about the world around us… not a thing at all.
While mathematics, science, and even physics continue exploring how the world around us works, they all fail to explain one simple thing… what the f*** is actually “real.”
“Science tells us with some precision that the universe is 26.8 percent dark matter, 68.3 percent dark energy, and only 4.9 percent ordinary matter, but must confess that it doesn’t really know what dark matter is and knows even less about dark energy. Science is increasingly pointing toward an infinite universe but has no ability to explain what that really means. Concepts such as time, space, and even causality are increasingly being demonstrated as meaningless.” - Beyond Biocentrism: Rethinking Time, Space, Consciousness, and the Illusion of Death by Robert Lanza, MD
Okay, I know what you’re thinking… Daina, you’re going down another rabbit hole. But let’s stop here because the simple point I am trying to make is that we don’t know as much as we think we know about the world around us. And yet, that’s where we focus all of our energy.
We get one life. One body. One mind. One go at it. Why not seek to understand ourselves, first? And that’s it. Understanding. Not seeking to KNOW. Remember... We know nothing. If you seek to understand yourself, you will find that you begin to understand others on a much deeper level, too.
It’s like the old adage, you cannot love someone until you love yourself. The same goes with seeking to understand… It’s hard to understand someone else if you don’t first understand yourself. It builds a level of empathy. Once you look at yourself with forgiving eyes, understanding why you’re you… you’re able to empathize with others’ actions and situations.
This requires spending time with ourselves. It’s one of the most beautiful things yoga has taught me. When I’m on my mat, I must bear witness to every struggle, every triumph, every moment I face. It reminds me that, at the end of the day, it’s just me vs. me. That’s it. I am my own worst enemy. I am my own biggest cheerleader. I am the answer to all of my questions. Because it’s me who must pick myself up when I stumble.
Yes, it’s important to surround ourselves with loving, kind people who support us. But they cannot help us if we don’t first help ourselves. And how can we help ourselves if we don’t know what we need?
I’m not telling you it’s easy to live in the present. But it’s simple. It’s peaceful. And most of all... it’s REAL. What we don’t realize is that oftentimes, the pain or sadness we are ignoring or avoiding is much less of a burden than we are making it to be. We clutch onto it, and bury it away like it’s some prized possession, and go on to wonder why we face the same destructive patterns in our lives. If we simply face ourselves, and seek to know our tendencies and aversions, we may just finally find peace.
Don’t you want to know why you continue to get fired from jobs? Don’t you want to know why you can’t look at your childhood without pain? Don’t you want to know why you keep meeting the same kind of guys or gals, only to have the relationship end yet again?
YOU have the answers to all of those questions... and all of your problems. You are the solution. You just need to remove distractions, and focus on getting to know yourself. The best way to start getting to know yourself is by first putting the phone down, starting to actively listen and view, and remove expectations of what should be.
“For God’s sake, please put your phone down”
… says the girl who’s walking down a street, frantically typing this thought into a note on her phone. Okay, I’ll admit… we could ALL work on this one.
But I’m not telling you to abandon your phone. A lot of us need our phones to communicate with loved ones, to stay focused and informed on work matters, and to make sure everyone sees how good we look on social media (wink).
What I’m telling you is, quite frankly, it’s wildly disrespectful and disengaging to be on your phone during a conversation with other people or another person.
There, I said it.
Our phones, or other distractions, are a huge roadblock in the way of introspection and wisdom. Knowledge and wisdom are two very different things… our phones can provide us knowledge through search engines, but they cannot provide us wisdom about ourselves or others.
“If you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room” - Confucius
Once we realize that reality doesn’t exist on our phones -- and that the more time we waste with distractions, the more disconnected we become from ourselves and the real world -- we can begin to look around at what’s actually happening.
We must learn how to humble ourselves. To remind ourselves that there’s still something to be learned from others, and that we’re never done growing. Actively listening to others isn’t just a kind and prudent thing to do, it also gives us a chance to come back to the present moment and to learn something about ourselves and others. Like Confucius said, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room.”
Everyone is a teacher. Listen and be here… now… because that’s all we have.
Not to mention, in any given moment, there are signs from the universe being dispersed all around us. Hidden between overheard conversations and billboards lining the streets, there are signs from the universe everywhere. Have you been worrying about something lately? Do you have a decision you aren’t sure about? Start to pay attention to the world around you… and just listen.
“Whether you are conscious of it or not, you are always encircled by signs,” says Denise Linn, author of The Secret Language of Signs.
“Of course, your night hours are filled with signs that appear in your dreams; however, no less valid are the signs that encompass you in your waking life. Signs are powerful indicators that can give you understanding about yourself and insight about direction in life. They can also reflect what is occurring in your subconscious mind, beneath your conscious awareness.”
Ah-ha. There we go. Signs around us, be them in our dreams or a random conversation with a stranger, can give us a glimpse right smack dab back into our own selves. You just have to stay open… and be open to the chance that anything around you could be trying to tell you something.
For example, as I was in the process of writing this article, I had a friend from college reach out to me. We hadn’t spoken in years, and they wanted to catch up. As we got deeper into the conversation, talking about life and what it all means (I clearly do this a lot), they texted me a direct line from my rough draft. An exact line.
To me, that meant my article was on the right path. I’d been feeling unsure about this topic… Will people really care, I began to wonder? And after reading my friend’s text, I didn’t think twice about moving forward with it.
It’s a small example of how, if we’re living in the present moment and open to answers revealing themselves around us in the form of signs, we will feel more secure in ourselves, our decisions, and our intuition.
But, signs aren’t the end all be all towards knowing ourselves. We still have some work to do. We’ve already set our phones down, and are now allowing ourselves to be open to the messages whispered to us through the wind. Now, it’s time to finally let go of our tainted image of how things “should” be.
“You’ve been ‘should’ on your whole life”
The only times where I’ve been truly disappointed in my life were when I had expectations of other people and they didn’t live up to them. Expectations of others are toxic. Mind you, expectations are different from boundaries. Boundaries are healthy and necessary in relationships to ensure we don’t let someone walk all over us. Boundaries keep people from disrespecting us. Expectations are our own assumption of how someone should act.
Not to mention, we are already boxed in by other people’s expectations of us. From our parents to our friends to our coworkers to our significant others… Everyone has an image of how or what we “should” be.
It’s time to step out of that box. Oftentimes, we struggle to understand or know ourselves because we’ve allowed others’ expectations of us to MATTER. I’m not saying we shouldn’t listen to our parents’ advice, or take into consideration what our friends might think, or even to hear our partner out. What I am saying is that we are in control of who we are… what we get out of life… and how we get there.
I had a mentor who always used to tell me, “Daina… You’ve been ‘should’ on your whole life. What is it that YOU want?”
It’s okay to question some of our desires or goals. How many times have you heard the response, “Well that’s just how I was raised.” Do you really want to spend your entire life as someone else’s piece of clay, or do you want to be YOU?
Let’s dig even deeper. Are you staying at this job because it’s what you really want to do? Are you getting married because you are truly in love and willing to show up for someone? Are you having kids because you believe you’re ready to sacrifice a lot for those new lives? Or are you staying in your present situation because our society says we must find a secure job, make money, get married, and have kids, because “that’s just what you do”?
Look, you may want to do all of those things! And that’s great! But, have you ever questioned your own beliefs? Have you ever questioned why you want the things you want in life? Because you can be or achieve anything you want… and I don’t know about you, but I’d rather die trying to be who I want to be to my core… rather than spend my life under the weight of everyone else’s expectations of me.
So, it’s crucial to remove the “who I must be” facade. It’s just a story you’ve created based off of other people’s expectations. Now, along with escaping other people’s “should,” we must check our own “should.”
I see three big problems with expectations of others. For one, we often place them on people without telling them. That’s a lose-lose situation, and one that simply isn’t fair for the other person. Two, expectations limit us to ONE outcome out of an INFINITY of possible outcomes. We box ourselves and others into just one… small… outcome. Leave a little room for surprise, for growth, for change… Always stay open to the possibility that anything can happen. If you do that, anything will happen.
Lastly, expectations cause us to focus intently on another person’s actions instead of our own. We cannot spend our time focusing on others that intently. We have our own life to live… with our own issues and shortcomings to work through… and if we spend our precious time consumed with others’ actions or mistakes, we leave little room for introspection or growth. And, we just become another person sitting in a glass house, throwing stones.
We must let our need to control others’ actions go. We must begin to accept that we are the solution to our problems. We are the answer to our most pressing questions.
“Do you actually know yourself?”
Ancient Greeks and Romans believed that happiness, virtue, and a good life were all synonymous. And that they could only be found through introspection and the pursuit of wisdom.
During the same timeframe, across the world, Eastern philosophy was questioning our relation to the cosmos and what the “self” actually meant. Hinduism specifically argues that we have so many “distracting” layers hiding our core, inner being, that we miss entirely that we are actually of divine status.
In shamanic practices, even to this day, the first order of business for a shaman is to focus on themselves… their own issues, shortcomings, and demons, before they can begin to help others.
And so I ask you this… do you actually know yourself? Do you spend time studying yourself, learning who you are, so you can give the best version of yourself to the world? Or are you stuck?
Set aside your distractions. Be quiet and listen to the life that’s happening all around you. And remove all prior beliefs and expectations of what “should be.” I promise you… you’ll fall in love with yourself and find a sense of peace that no smartphone, no expectation, and no other person could ever give you.
It’s time to get to know yourself.