When did a Jimmy-sprinkled cupcake become the enemy? Why did we start calling an hour of play, exercise? When did we start expecting our friends to live up to our expectations? How did we decide that what’s going to happen tomorrow is way more important than what’s going on right now? Tell me, at what point does it happen – that shift in belief that life is something to be managed rather than lived? Sure, there are moments when we have to use self control and make choices that will produce a better result tomorrow, but what is it that has us acting court marshal over our entire lives?
I’ll tell you what it is – It’s our attachment to our self-image that has us turning the screws on everything we do. Our fear of losing control of our lives and the way other people perceive our actions and choices prevents us from living in the present moment – which, by the way, denies us access to the joy available only in the now.
Joy disappears when we don’t leave any room for it. Examples: We strip the joy out of eating for fear we’ll end up fat. We take the joy out of playtime and instead turn it into an opportunity to kick ourselves into shape, just so we can keep up with everyone else our age. We then hold others to our high standards so we don’t feel alone in our self judgment. We believe they should manage their self-image too! We spend an exorbitant amount of time trying to get our futures set up right because we’ve already sold out on our souls in this moment. We’ll have to make things better later, somewhere down the road. Right?
We all face that crucial moment when we get the important message that it’s time to grow up…but I can’t help but wonder, what we give up when we grow up?
All of my young adult years, people made sure I knew that, as adults, we need to be “responsible.” We needed to get serious. But what I see now is that most adults feel responsible mainly to their fears, and life has become a burden because our choices and actions were geared toward maintaining the self image we began creating when we were told to grow up. I remember at 18 trying to act “grown up.” I started smoking cigarettes to prove how grown up I was and kept it up into my thirties because I thought it defined me as an adult. It was one thing I could do out of defiance- no one could stop me. It was very adult-like, but it didn’t give me any joy or happiness – far from it. I finally gave it up when it held me back from other things I wanted, namely physical well-being.
I think the most important message should be for anyone, any age, is that growing up really means being responsible for your choices, not for how people perceive you. We should all be making choices that align us with a direct flow of joy as it applies to each of us. Yes, whatever we choose, we get to be responsible for, so why not be conscious of making choices that bring us joy so we can be free to pursue life rather than manage a package of life decisions we make to appease some social definition of “grown up” that doesn’t fit with our souls’ desire.
If we choose to exercise, let it be because we want to experience the joy of movement, not because we loathe our physique and are out to “fix” it. Let us approach food as a beautiful source of creative energy rather than something we have to abstain from because its “bad” for us. It’s not bad, it’s the excess and the empty, junky, neurotic love/hate relationship with food that gets us into trouble! What if we also let our friends and family off the hook? What if we decided to love them for choosing whatever makes them happy? What if we took today more seriously than tomorrow? What might we do differently?
Once we get a handle on how our choices really shape our lives and how we can indeed choose joy, we will invite it back into our lives. It’s not hard to be responsible for a happy life – in fact, the whole idea of responsibility might just turn into one of engagement and inspiration instead of dread!
By the time I figured out this simple idea, I’d already made a lot of choices out of fear – to protect my serious adult image. Knowing didn’t prevent me from remaining “responsible” for the choices I made, but I did begin to choose differently and shifted my life in a new direction. Changing how I thought about responsibility took relearning everything I thought I knew about myself. It didn’t happen overnight – it took a lot of time and I’m still discovering what living a life of joy means to me. And,… I still sometimes make choices out of fear, but not nearly as often because I don’t want to waste time being responsible for situations and experiences that I don’t want or like. What about you? What would you choose differently if you were on the path to joy?