“The search for “self-realisation” is the lie we’ve been falling for our whole lives – the idea that there is some state better than the current state.”Life Without A Centre (book), Jeff Foster
We go about our lives constantly looking for ways to escape it. For some people, this is in the very literal sense. But here I’m referring to the general tendency of escapism as a means to ‘check out’ from life. Or as Jeff Foster so eloquently expressed, our constant seeking for a ‘higher’ or ‘transcendental’ experience outsides of ourselves prevents us from embodying the present moment.
To put it bluntly, our lives are painfully ordinary and mundane. From doing the house chores or going to work at 9am every day, it’s repetitive and often dull and unexciting. As humans with material and bodily needs, we spend approximately five years of our lives eating, one third of our entire lives sleeping, and eleven years staring at a screen (and this was measured in 2017 so it’s probably gone up since then).
I think it’s natural and important to be working towards something bigger than yourself, or to have an occasion/event to look forward to in the future. But planning our lives into a series of milestones we have to reach based on societal values can breed disappointment: after the initial spike of satisfaction wears off, we settle back into our regular baseline experience of reality. And then we’re already asking ourselves “so… what’s next?”
The future is seductive with potential and promises of fulfilment. So we bank our happiness on it, on the possibility that one day we will feel this elated sense of contentment. And it disassociates us from the present moment. We chase elusive highs through various means because this moment is not enough; we want disco balls and shooting stars and to live in a constant state of ecstatic joy. But it’s not sustainable, or realistic.
In my short 23 years, I’ve already tried a lot of ways to escape the mundanity of life. It started with the partying, the binge drinking, and drug taking. It was a relentless search for that first feeling of being high or tipsy; I wanted to permanently reside in this altered, enhanced version of reality. And then I would come down, and the world was suddenly very very gray. It was so banal that I could physically feel it in my chest, this sinking feeling that I have to return to the tediousness of ordinary living—I still had to pay the bills, complete my university assignments, and show up to my monotonous retail job.
Travel was the next thing I looked for as a way out. I would idealise the hell out of it, placing it on a pedestal as the solution to what would make me happy—I genuinely believed the Instagram highlight reels of digital nomads promoting this aestheticised version of reality (a lot of them were likely selling their lifestyles under shady MLM schemes, such as the Breakaway Movement).
When I finally did get to experience my dream of living abroad for a year, the novelty wore off much quicker than I anticipated. I was still me, with all my baggage and anxieties, just now in a different country on the other side of the world. I still had to go to class several times a week and study for exams. I still had days when I didn’t leave my apartment. It fundamentally shifted my perspective on travel, which now no longer holds the same idealized glow. There is still more traveling I would like to do in the future, but I no longer perceive it as a remedy to escaping my own unhappiness, or as a quick fix to boredom.
My most recent method of escapism was my addiction to spirituality. The self-development space and the spiritual industry lured me in with promises of living in a constant state of transcendence and potentially one day reaching ‘enlightenment’ (whatever the hell that means). Jeff Foster, in the opening quote of this post, specifically addresses this—he had been through this incessant spiritual quest himself, knowing intimately the yearning to experience something more.
The most profound revelation from his book which struck me was just a three-word sentence: this is it. Our lives are happening right now, in the most seemingly ordinary moments. The hum of the fan, the wind rattling the tress, the sound of the kettle boiling. It’s not really that exciting. You may even see it as boring. Or maybe you don’t notice it all, because you’re too busy caught up in the promises of the future.
But this is literally all there is. This moment, now, now and now. I’m grateful for all the conversations I had with my mother growing up, discussing how the fact we exist at all is a lucky fluke of chance. The probability of inhabiting a planet with the right environmental conditions for life, in the billions of galaxies which exist in the universe, is microscopic. And yet, we’re here. We’re breathing. We’re co-existing. We’re experiencing through our five senses.
Embracing the painfulness of ordinary, everyday living for me has been such a relief. The grass is never greener than where I am standing right now. The small moments are what add up to the big moments. The big moments are good too, but I can’t expect them to stay too long. It’s all transient, changing at a moment’s notice. So I may as well stay present for it; coffee in the morning sun is as transcendental as it gets.