This is a fairly long post. Those with ADD, you have been warned.
After quitting my PhD and returning home, I had a new quest: finding and doing what I love. And after almost two years, I’m well on my way to achieving that goal.
This is synonymous to doing what you want, but only after a point. Let me explain.
We are funny creatures, driven by fears, insecurities, inhibitions, repressions. Often we’ll contradict ourselves, subliminally sabotage our chances at success, make our own lives difficult just so we can complain about how difficult our life is, allow one disagreeable aspect of our life to influence others without even knowing that it’s happening, get stuck in ruts and find nifty logical arguments to justify them, live in a metaphysical reality containing ghosts from the past and phantoms from the future. It is almost as though we conspire against our own happiness because we are used to being miserable. This especially holds true in Pakistan, where it is difficult not to be psychologically bogged down by the many flavors of crap flung in ones direction on a daily basis. After a while you get used to the crap. Then you start to rationalize it, justify it, accept it. Then you forget what it’s like not to have ever-present crap. Then you give the crap control over your life without realizing it.
Which is why the first step to doing what you love is to find out who you are.
Beyond the crap, beyond the contradictions and justifications and mental meanderings and depressive physio-chemical reactions to external stimuli is a sentient consciousness. In the purest sense of the word, that is you. Somewhere between childhood and crap # 9,427, that being was lost. Its voice was no longer heard amongst the rabble of white noise of your insecurities. The first step is reconnecting with that being.
How? By silencing your mind.
The human brain is a malfunctioning defense mechanism, a relic from the caveman days, designed primarily for our protection against the innumerable forces that threatened our existence back then. We no longer have most of those threats, but the anti-threat system is still very active. We continue to find threats and problems where there aren’t any, and amplify and extrapolate the threats and problems that do exist. Again, this is easy to do in Pakistan, where basic individual safety is not guaranteed and problems abound. But this defense system, filled with its neuroses and problems, is not you.
The human brain also provides emotional reactions to external stimuli. This is a complex, barely understood process which ties back into personal history, physio-chemical makeup, and the nature of the stimulus. The short form is a sad incident will make you sad, a happy one happy. Since most of what happens here is shit, further propagated by sensationalist news channels and pathetic TV shows, most of the emotional reactions you have will similarly be negative. Still, these emotions are not you.
You are deeper within, past the noise and the feelings and the chatter. Pure you is born of a silence and a stillness, the same silence and stillness which you can observe when you look up at the sky on quiet nights. Beyond the ramblings of your brain is a being, the same being who your mother gave birth to, the same being who will one day die. That being, that awareness, is your true self. Reconnecting with that being is simply silencing your mind enough that you can hear it again.
The best way I have found to silence the mind is meditation. I meditate daily, and it’s the greatest habit I’ve developed.
Some people find the same peace through prayer, which is essentially a form of meditation, and that is fine too. So long as you don’t develop the self-righteous pomp that often goes along with ‘finding Allah brother, and let me tell you how awesome it is’. That mentality doesn’t last, and I’ve seen it fail many times. You don’t ‘find’ Allah; you connect with Him, and it takes continuous, perpetual hard work to continue to stay connected. You won’t have time to brag.
The process is meant to be humbling, and that is what is beautiful about it.
You will know you are there when you stop caring about trivialities. When you keep returning back to your silent inner core. When nothing external bothers you much anymore.
Your view of reality will change. You will start to live in the moment.
You will start separating the anxieties from fact, the insecurities from reason, the perpetual sadness from true injustices, and you will act accordingly. You will start to feel rather than think. Your supremely wise subconscious will send you signals through physical sensations, and you will use those as guidance as you navigate through life. This is what it means to ‘have a gut feeling’.
You will return to the human you were before drowning in all the crap.
This is not an easy process. It takes years and many relapses into previous modes of thought. But it is well worth it.
The next step is simply doing the things that make you happy. And not doing the things which don’t.
Bear in mind that step 2 doesn’t work without step 1. Otherwise you’ll be letting your goofy brain decide ‘the things that make you happy’ rather than your true self, and most of us have faulty brains.
Once you discover Your voice, you have only to listen to it to start doing what you love.
You will naturally gravitate towards the things that give you joy, peace, fulfillment. You will move away from the things which do not bring you the peace that you are now accustomed to.
Your world view will move from silent sacrifices and deep rooted insecurities to peace, happiness, love, and gratitude.
Of course there are obligations which must be fulfilled whether you like them or not. But after silencing the mind even those will be performed efficiently, effortlessly, unemotionally. And you can go back to focusing on what you love. Once you start looking for happiness and calm you will find it’s been all around you all along, even in the things you thought you hated.
I write technical articles online. Not because I enjoy them, but because they are easy and pay well. And through mindlessness I bust them out in record speed so I can go back to what I love doing. And knowing that I’m making money while laying in bed makes the lazy part of me giggle like Muttley.
And as for doing what I love: I now make money off my artwork, which was a childhood dream I had suppressed for a long time. Often my more corporate friends or esteemed elders will question this, bringing forth everything from the lack of money to lack of respectability this profession provides. I can only smile and nod, and continue doing whatever the fuck I want anyway, to paraphrase Iron-man.
And the best thing about silencing your mind is the subsequent culling of the ego. Yet another relic from older days. In the stillness you realize that you ain’t shit. That everything is connected, and you are but a small part of an unimaginable whole.
Taking anything seriously – most of all yourself – then seems like the silliest way to live this brief life.
You start to live the life you want, and make manifest your unique gift to the world.
And really, that is all that we are here for.