Enough is Enough

I was recently talking to a friend of mine who expressed her fear that she wasn’t “doing enough.” As a twenty-something also navigating the pressures of career changes, familial expectations, and uncertainty over the future and my role in this big wide world, I knew the exact feeling she was talking about. Deep rooted anxiety over not accomplishing “enough,” having “enough,” and being “enough,” have plagued me since I was a child. As soon as I felt like I was finally on the right level, I’d let something (or someone) diminish my accomplishments. After years of this, I realized that no matter what I did,I would always feel this way if I judged success solely by actions. 

Living in the “grind” generation, most of us define our worth in terms of work. She’s successful because she runs her own company; he isn’t successful because he’s a waiter. He’s worthy because he’s an engineer; she isn’t worthy because she’s a sales associate. This hierarchy or worth doesn’t lead us upwards to happiness or satisfaction. More often than not, it takes us down a never-ending ladder of hopelessness, exacerbated by our constant judging of everyone else’s placement on the ladder in relation to our own. 

As I  talked my friend off the ladder with reassurance that she was already enough, I remembered being in her position not so long ago–and if I’m being honest with myself, I have a tendency to teeter on that ladder whenever my ego feels belittled, especially when I see someone else doing “better” than me. “I should be doing that,” I tell myself, turning off my intuition and turning on that stubborn little voice of fear and comparison. Eventually, a hike in the woods taught me how to silence those voices. 

Taking in the beauty of the trees–the moss that covered the trunks, the splintered bark blanketing the body, the sunlight glistening through the cracks of the limbs–I felt the contentment and simplicity of that tree. It wasn’t doing anything–it was just existing. And that existence looked so peaceful, so euphoric. As I continued my way up the mountain, I allowed myself to exist the same way that tree did, not thinking about my steps but just experiencing the journey. At the top, my spirit basked in the warmth of the sun and sang with the songs of the birds. It was one of the most profound feelings I had experienced, and the first time I realized that feeling is just as important as doing

It wasn’t the physical act of climbing the mountain that I remembered–I didn’t say, “Wow, those were some great steps I took!” It was the feeling behind those steps that stuck out. That isn’t to say that the physicality of the journey wasn’t important, because it was–but would I say it was more important than the sensation of the hike? Absolutely not. And the same goes for our everyday life–what’s the point of doing something if we’re not feeling anything? As Kerouac once said, “In the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Go climb that goddamn mountain.” 

It breaks my heart that my friend doesn’t think she’s enough–that she needs to do more in order to be valued, to be successful. But success isn’t just about what we’ve accomplished; life isn’t a to-do list. If the spiritual experience behind the action isn’t bringing awareness or love–do we need to do it? And how can we shift our focus from the physical results of action to the emotional ones?  

I Contain Multitudes

One of my favorite Whitman quotes from Song of Myself goes like this: 

Do I contradict myself? 

Very well then, I contradict myself, 

(I am large, I contain multitudes) 

When I first read this in high-school, I remember feeling a little flutter in my chest as if my heart was bouncing up and down and singing “Yes, yes yes!” You know that feeling when the sunrise hits the dew on the grass just the right way and what was once another lifeless lawn in a row of suburban monotony becomes a forest of sparkles? Or when the sky turns that creamsicle orange at sunset? That’s the feeling I had reading this poem. I couldn’t name it– and that made it all the more special. All I knew was I felt everything; I could feel my whole soul in between those parentheses.

Whitman’s bold declaration of contradicting himself is something few of us have the courage to do. Most of us hate being wrong; we hate having our inconsistencies pointed out; we hate contradictions because we hate opposition. Opposition is viewed as inherently “bad.” In order for something to be “good,” we think it should be consistent. It should be logical, linear, and coherent. Even though we live in this winding multiverse of space and time, our brains are so hardwired to think chronologically that we can’t fathom any disruption to this false sense of symmetry we’ve confined the universe to. 

If we acknowledge that the world around us is multidimensional then, we, as the inhabitants of this cosmic playground, are also multidimensional–so why try to contain ourselves to one way of being throughout our existence? If we contain multitudes, as Whitman says, then shouldn’t it make sense that our very being is filled with what we perceive as contradictions? We don’t question why winter turns to spring or why the moon wanes and waxes. We know there’s a reason for these transformations and that life as we know it wouldn’t exist without such. We also know that there is plenty we don’t know–why is the expansion of the universe accelerating? And why does it exist in the first place? Each new discovery leads us down an infinite rabbit hole of questions and each question forces us to reevaluate our previous answer. For us humans, life is nothing but a series of paradoxes and contradictions. The minute we think we have it figured out, we’re thrown a curveball; and since we’ve been programmed for linearity, we call it foul-play. We think we’ve struck out. 

What I love most about Whitman here is his acute self-realization. To study one’s self is daunting, precisely because it leads to these so-called contradictions. But getting caught in these mysterious webs of identity and existence can actually be freeing. To swing from rope to rope is much easier (and enjoyable)  than walking across the tightrope: we tip-toe anxiously from point A to point B struggling to maintain balance. Baby step after baby step, we stare down at our feet, scared to look up; we think falling is fatal because we don’t know what lies beneath us– and there’s nothing we resist more than the unknown.  So while our eyes are focused on what’s below, trying to make our movements precise and almost robotic, we miss the outstretched hand in front of us. We miss the comforting beauty that envelopes us like a warm embrace. We spend our whole lives scared to fall, scared to change, and never realize that there’s a net at the bottom waiting to catch us when we fall. 

We’re allowed to be contradictions. We’re allowed to change like the leaves and tide. Every moment in time is different and our failure to recognize this leaves us feeling stuck on that tightrope. If we are truly present, we can embrace that uniqueness of each moment, meaning we can exist as we should according to the here and now. If others don’t understand, simply say, “I contain multitudes.”

Amazon.com: I Exist as I am, That is Enough Walt Whitman Song of Myself  Poem (18 x 24, Parchment): Posters & Prints