Are we really living our lives the way we want to? On the surface most of us will say yes, to a certain degree. We have more freedom in society than maybe 200 years ago, to express our opinions, to choose our careers, to decide where to live and so on. We even have the freedom to decide on our relationships, whether to stay married or single or part ways when things get ugly. But this freedom seems to be only on the surface level, just the cream skimming on top of the milk. This is not the whole truth and as our society becomes more civilised we are unanimously concentrating only on the positives, effectively shoving the negatives under the blanket of this false security of freedom.
Especially singles, single parents, divorced or separated individuals. The general consensus seems to be that because these individuals are not part of a society framed family dynamic, that maybe they have less to deal with, when it is exactly the opposite. I am not excluding married couples here, but needed to emphasise on the group before. The social media hype and conversations around empowerment through financial independence have us believing that it is possible to live our lives the way we want to.
Yes, we have the freedom to travel more, eat out more, shop whenever we want and we are earning more than any other generation. This is only part of the reality, the one chosen to be shared, what remains hidden is the complete view. It is much complicated and once we fall for the illusion of the partial truth, we give rise to more frustration. The complete reality is, we are struggling equally with responsibilities and sudden curveballs from life and no one is truly free to live their lives the way they want to. It is a misalignment of what we think we can have and what is possible. And this is causing great mental agony, a part of the blame for our stressors. We somehow end up believing we can have it all and when we clearly cannot, it pushes us to question everything around. This is not be say we should not aspire or work towards a dream life or that manifestation is not possible. This is to say that unless you look at and acknowledge what is not right you cannot elevate in life.
This may not resonate with everyone, but at least in my observation this is a common struggle with many in my age bracket. People from ages 30 to 60 are struggling with this the most and I see enough and more evidence daily. This age group deals with two major responsibilities aging parents and young children and unlike the generations before us the pressure seems much more. But why? Even our parents had children and aging parents, but they never seemed to have so much pressure or stress? Even our grandparents and their parents and so on, the circle of life is nothing new, then what has changed? Is it just economy or medical advancement or inflation or social media or too much information? Why is our generation fighting a battle silently and yet externally we seem to have it easy??? We see in the news young, healthy adults collapsing with heart attacks and dying on the spot and yet we choose to white wash our troubles. We tell our friends and each other to be strong and push through and that we have nothing to complain about. But why are we not acknowledging our challenges the way we should?
Let me elaborate, my observation is that we are torn between having the financial and social and even physical power to have it all and yet we are unable to have it all. A booming career with the right amount of work life balance, the right amount of finances, the right amount of support and relationships. I speak with so many of my friends, family and my clients on their challenges in taking care of sudden illness at home, either parents or children and most of their free time is spent in hospital visits, OPD waiting rooms or long-term assisted living situations. Aging parents who injure themselves with sudden falls or chronic conditions and develop a cycle of hospital admissions due to on-going complications. For those with children it may be seasonal flu, cold, or injuries or dealing with the psychological stress of parental divorce/separation. The amount of time, money, resources, energy and emotional drain on the family member supporting or earning is tremendous. There are people who have to care of ailing parents as well as in-laws simultaneously or deal with loss/death of an elder in the family, in the midst take care of their own health and work. It is even affecting the dating life of many, some people are unable to date or search for life partners as they are so busy being care givers. Giving attention to another person amidst this chaos feels like an added pressure and so some feel it makes sense to just be single. For those in committed marriages and relationships, at times the core reason for the connection somewhere gets lost in the battle between responsibilities, finding your true self and being a partner. There are few people who are successful at handling this and those I have observed have an amazing perspective. They somehow enjoy their responsibilities and do not look at them as burdens at all. Not that they do not struggle, but there seems to be a calm acceptance and deep gratitude of what has been given to them and the parts they need to play. A truly ideal state I would love to reach one day and I aspire for, internally and externally.
Meanwhile, what do the rest of us do? Is there anything that can help us handle this better? There are things we can do. I am sharing below the main code to unravel them all. Radical Acceptance, Sri Aurobindo writes in his book Essays on the Gita " unless we have the honesty and courage to look existence straight in the face, we shall never arrive at any effective solution of its discords and oppositions." It means taking stock of your life, every aspect of it including personal, financial, work relationships and health and then sorting them into the very good, good, bad and ugly. The key is to be able to look at all these parts of yourself as facts minus the judgement or self pity, otherwise you will have no grounds to work on. Look at your life the way it is without sugar coating, acknowledge things that are really working well, then move to the may-need-improvement and then look at the ugly parts.
I need not tell you what to do next, still here goes:
With the very good and good parts be grateful for what you have been given and if things are good because of your consistent efforts, pat yourself on the back and continue doing them. If there are support systems, friends, people who really care about you without any expectations acknowledge and keep them close.
With the bad parts, see how you can make changes or think of workarounds and ways to manage them better, seek help, delegate or rearrange priorities. But action is essential here, whether external action like going to the gym for your health or internal action like observing and correcting your own thoughts and behaviours. If you are being too tolerant towards someone, get angry for the right reasons and hold them accountable without the fear, if you are being too harsh towards someone and dismissing them, stop and make amends right now. But action is required, on a consistent and slow basis for long term change.
With the ugly parts, split them into two, ones that are painful but need to be changed and the ones that are painful but cannot be changed.
The ones that can be changed Must be changed immediately, for example if a workplace has become extremely toxic, leave. If a relationship is hanging in limbo for a long time, time to open your eyes and walk out with dignity. Be honest with yourself, if there is an action you can take and you have not taken it yet, then it is going to be your fault when the situation rots. When you look at a situation minus the cloud of emotions, you can see clearly what needs to be done, the challenge is to follow through. If you find the clarity then seek a confidant who can help you follow through but do not shove it under the carpet. Things rarely get fixed when ignored and you not only harm yourself but those who truly love you in this non-action.
Now, coming to the crux of the things that you cannot change. The two common examples I have seen with people are responsibilities towards loved ones (especially aging parents, young children, pets or physically ill dependents) and personal health issues. The idea is to get raw and write things you absolutely hate to do and wish you did not have to do in life, do not judge yourself, be raw and real. I doubt any of us really know what our ideal life should look like, but whatever that version is in your head, how is the last part stopping you and affecting you. If someone is pushing your buttons, if someone is making you feel heavy or doubt your self-esteem, if someone or some situation is suffocating you, be real with it. You are not going to share this with anyone, but first you should be able to say things loudly without judging yourself. If you are dealing with a disability, or chronic pain or a condition that does not have an immediate or radical cure, stop searching for one and first accept the condition of your body as it is. Praying and hoping too hard for a cure while having to live the reality of pain is hell in itself. Once you accept your condition and are able to talk about it as a matter-of-fact situation, then and only then can you hope to find any cure.
Write this all down, you can do this exercise in solitude, on vacation or on a long flight, places you are relaxed but don't have much to do or will not be disturbed. Once you look at it all but especially look at the last part, take a deep breath and just exhale and relax. Repeat out aloud "I accept it all, I accept it all, I accept it all". And truly accept these parts, because you cannot change them, you cannot change your parents and children and you cannot run away from responsibilities overnight. And even when things get really hard you will have to see them through. Believe me, acceptance will give you a lot more than just a sense of relief. You can destroy the paper later on and that can also give you a sense of catharsis. What should you expect to feel after this? All I can say is less resentful, less frustrated and more confident along with less self-pity. You still love yourself and are proud of what you are already doing and yet have no illusions about a perfect life. Accepting this life today as perfect and bringing in hope of a better tomorrow. Remember the foundation of growth towards your dream life is radical acceptance of the now, without judgement and self-pity.
I find the prayer of serenity really relevant for this - "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." It is a simple prayer, but not a weak one. Hoping you are able to benefit from this and start 2023 with renewed inner strength and unwavering faith.