Alcohol seems like the perfect antidote for the modern world. It’s non-stop for most of us during the working week. We guzzle coffee and energy drinks just to keep up the pace. Our phones chime every few minutes with an update from twitter, facebook or Instagram, followed by a call from a cranky partner. The stress levels rise as the days tick by. For many people, the easiest way to switch off from all of this is to knock back a few beers or swill a generous glass of vino.
I was trapped in the cycle above for years. Working and trying to get ahead during the week, then hitting the liquor on the weekends to forget about it all. I realized I was unhappy at a certain point, but I had been doing the same thing for so long that I just couldn’t see a way out.
Then I got sick. I was struck down by a bad case of the flu. This would have been the time to take a step back and rest. But that wasn’t something I knew how to do either. So I kept going to work, kept going to the gym, and kept boozing on the weekends. I ended up in hospital attached to a drip, then had to deal with a nasty case of post viral fatigue.
I decided to take some time off to travel, fully expecting to be back in the workplace before too long. But a funny thing happened when I was away. While surfing through South America I couldn’t help noticing how happy and relaxed the local people were. I noticed exactly the same thing in South East Asia. When I eventually returned home for a short contract at work, the difference between our respective societies couldn’t have been more obvious. In the big city, catching the train to work on a Monday morning was like going to a funeral for a young child. Just about everyone was miserable.
I spent the next few years wandering the world looking for answers. I sought out shaman, yogi’s and various spiritual figures. I fasted, drank plant medicine, and chanted while sitting in circle. I did sound healing with Tibetan singing bowls while on yoga and meditation retreats. And at the end of it all, I did find a level of peace and happiness.
Unfortunately, that was the easy part. Achieving inner tranquility and contentment isn’t actually that difficult while living in an Ashram among the rice paddies in Bali. Maintaining inner tranquility and contentment while working 50 hours a week back in a big dirty metropolis is far more difficult. But, importantly, I have managed to make some progress there as well.
Here is what I have learned so far:
Happiness is mostly in the mind – But only with a quiet mind, will you ever be able to realize this. The fast pace of modern life makes it incredibly difficult to step back from your thoughts and realize just how many of them are making you miserable. Meditation provides a solution for this. Unfortunately, meditation also seems to have an image problem. Just to be clear, you don’t have to wear mala beads and a flowing orange robe to experience the substantial benefits it can provide. If it helps, think of it as a gym session for the mind. Because, in essence, that’s all it really is.
Tommy Carrol details the art of meditation.
We were never meant to live in cities – This is an incredibly important point for men in particular. For hundreds of thousands of years we were hunters, gatherers and warriors. We were at home in the mountains, on the plains, and in the oceans. Then, about a hundred years ago we decided to live in small concrete boxes surrounded by pavement, busy roads and car parks. This has caused all manner of problems. If you need any proof of this, in the western world, males die by suicide, three to four times more often than females do. Regularly reconnecting with the natural environment is essential. It is where we belong.
We don’t need much to be happy – As mentioned above, some of the happiest people I have ever met were in the developing world. They owned very little, but as long as they had enough to eat, and were surrounded by friends and family, they were smiling. When I worked this out, I took all of my worldly possessions, sold what I could, and gave the rest away. Then I spent the next few years living out of a backpack with a few surfboards in tow. These were some of the happiest times in my life too. When you next walk into your house or apartment, take a look around. If you are anything like me, you have probably spent hours working in a job that you don’t really like, to buy a bunch of stuff you don’t really need. Maintaining a simple living space also provides flexibility. If you get an amazing opportunity or a relationship isn’t working out, you can pick up and move at a moment’s notice. Embrace a minimal approach to living, then embrace freedom.
You are probably going to have to drink less – Coming to this understanding was pretty difficult for me. But now I look back and wish I had made this change much sooner. I had no idea how much alcohol was affecting my life until I stopped drinking for a few months. My thoughts were clearer, I was sleeping better, I lost weight, my relationship improved, and I started really kicking goals at work. Most importantly, it allowed me to step back from the cycle of work and booze, and decide what I really wanted in life. Don’t get me wrong, getting on the beers with a few good friends is loads of fun. For me, it was just about removing the unnecessary drinking and finding a better balance. The best part is when you have been on this path for long enough, you will realize that you are actually much happier without alcohol.
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