“The day you stop racing is the day you win the race.” ~Bob Marley
Let me take you back to the beginning of my day, how I used to do it.
Flicking through my Facebook newsfeed, clicking on profiles, scrolling through comments, monitoring social interactions, checking how many likes my last post or profile picture got. Then I’m going to my therapist, to talk about how worthless my own life is, how inadequate I feel.
I’m not saving the world, pursuing my passion, making friends, or traveling. Neither am I getting married or engaged nor having children—and I do not have a clue what the heck I even think about all of these prospects, whether I even want them.
I can barely look at myself in the mirror. I hate my life and my own weakness for not taking control of this pathetic situation.
The smiling faces on my social media page grin down at me like clown masks in some perturbed haunted house in a nightmare. I ask myself, why am I taking their happiness so personally?
We can’t seem to escape comparison. We seem to be enmeshed in it, entangled in it, trapped and suffocated by it. We can’t seem to understand who we are or where we are in life without looking around us to compare our position.
Somewhere inside us we believe that if we can gain all the information that we can through comparing ourselves to those ‘better than us,’ maybe we will find the key to that elusive happiness, which comes only from the confidence that we are good enough.
If we keep on social media stalking those who are living the lives of our dreams, maybe we will pick up on that thing that makes them so different from us—so much ‘better.’
I believe we aren’t after their lives so much as what we perceive is their ease. As much as the freedom they ooze, or the contentment they display, we want their happiness. We forget that most people only display the highlight reels of their lives on the Internet.
In fact, I used to tell myself that we create ourselves, and I tried to make myself a collage of all the people that I admired—Beyoncé included.
I told myself, that I didn’t have any preferences. I treated myself as a blank canvas, and by that I mean I slowly rubbed out anything that came from within, without reason or logic, and replaced it with everything I was attracted to externally, like a magpie.
The noise I was letting in from outside was torturing. And deafening.
When the toxic concoction of low self-esteem, ambition, insecurity, and unfavorable self-comparison escalates, you may get depressed, as I did.
My former way of life (in combination with a complex range of other factors) made me ill. While everyone is different, I realized, for me, the key to recovering my mental health was to supplement professional help and therapy with a radical simplifying of my life.
Today, I wake up in the morning and open my eyes, taking a good look around at where I am, noticing a kitten asleep at my feet. I talk with my sister who I share a room with; we both get dressed for work, joking and teasing the other on our rushed fashion choices.
I look out of my open attic window and smell the fresh crisp air, watching the stillness of the tree-lined street against a backdrop of rolling green hills, before the storm of traffic and rush hour.
I get changed and choose my clothes. I pick out a book for my short commute to a digital marketing agency where I work as copywriter. I walk to work lightly, observing my surroundings and feeling life flow through me, a dull vibration at every step.
I sit on a seat on the public bus as children get on with their parents, gossiping and teasing amongst each other. My mind is still, and I feel strangely alone—but alone in my own company. I am with myself.
I am whole. How curious. What changed? Very little, externally. I unplugged from the noise around me and started to mind my own business.
It happened one day, quietly, and I found it made my thoughts less erratic, my mind less split and divided. I didn’t force myself to come off social media; I knew I was way too stubborn and addicted to do that. So I turned my attention, gently, not in distraction, to the present moment instead.
I peeked out of the quicksand that is an obsession with comparison and self-deprecation, and asked myself out of curiosity, what’s going on in my own life?
I looked around and thought: this is it. Your dreams haven’t come true yet, and your past is filled with soreness. But there is no escape from that which you consider to be a hellhole, this is your life.
And you are living it.
Then a curious thing happened. I allowed any pain to pass through me like water in my hands. I processed the beauty in the same way, and I felt a part of life. Like life itself, in fact.
I realized that I wasn’t in a hellhole at all. Relentless clinging to my thoughts, obsessions, and desperate escapes from life—resistance—had made it so. And all I had to do to be free was let go.
Don’t worry, minding your own business doesn’t mean ignoring everyone else’s existence. But it does mean you get to control how you give and what you give, so that it is conscious, not masochistic martyrdom.
Rather than thinking, I should travel abroad and save all those poor unfortunate souls less privileged than I (which is escapist, and also patronizing, and also doesn’t tackle the issue at the root), I began to help my mother, my siblings, my friends and began to write and share work on poverty and mental illness, as these were my most immediate experiences.
Everyone has a different path, of course, and this is only one route, which brought me peace.
I decided to pay attention to my existence, seeing as it was the only thing I had, after all.
And, I started to really see the things around me, like the dust on the corners of my floorboards, and the hundreds of books I’d bought and piled up in desperation for some kind of knowledge that might bring me certainty or security, thinking I should maybe arrange them in alphabetical order.
I would barely acknowledge these tiny details of living when I was caught up in the whirlwind of my mind—and now they grounded me in a stillness that calmed me.
I was able to let myself live and feel worthy of the miracle of existence, with all its highs and lows. Above all, I felt a gorgeous freedom, liberating, vast and expansive, allowing me to have fun with curiosity, gratitude, and peace.
I told myself I would enjoy the days I had, as I passed through this world, just like everyone else was also passing through. By freeing myself every day, and indeed every moment, from the limits of comparison, competition, chasing, and clinging, I began to mind my own business.
We can all experience this freedom. We just have to choose to see life through our own eyes, by being present in the only moment that matters: this one.
Free, happy woman image via Shutterstock
About Maira Butt
Maira Butt is a freelance writer. She is an LSE Law graduate and is currently completing her MEd in Psychology of Education at the University of Manchester in the UK. She blogs at thegatesofparadise.wordpress.com and you can follow her on Twitter @mairaibutt.