It wasn’t until I was 34 years old that I realized I had a choice. It took over three decades of my life to understand this concept. I couldn’t believe that I went all those years without knowing. It was on an evening walk, on the downtown Hub Trail on Friday night, that I began to think about this more in depth. In 2004, I learned something so profound that the majority of the people on this planet will never know. It has absolutely changed my life and I have spent the last 15 years trying to share this with others.
Until I was 34 years old, I didn’t know that our brains were naturally inclined to think negatively and it takes work and training to become otherwise. Apparently it is evolution’s way of protecting us from losing our lives by starvation, being attacked by other humans or being hunted by animals in the wild. Our brains were created according to the survival of the fittest mentality. People had to rely on the land and hunting and gathering to stay alive. Brains were naturally designed to seek out threats, be suspicious and cautious, plan for the worst and always anticipate something horrible happening.
This is all fine and good when our ancestors didn’t have grocery stores and homes with walls and roofs, to keep them fed, safe and protected, but survival in our current North American society is generally not as dramatic. Although there are some exceptions to this theory (since there are still North American communities without safe drinking water or decent housing and gangs, drugs and poverty) the inclination of our brain to have danger at the forefront actually does us more harm than good.
Although we have more money, resources, material comforts and luxury items, the ability to be mobile and reach all corners of the globe, communication that connects us everywhere and a world of unlimited opportunities, as North Americans, we also have some of the highest rates of depression in the world.
According to Wikipedia, the United States ranks number 1 in the world for depression, with Canada as number 21, out of 192 countries. Humans, apparently, have anywhere between 12,000 and 60,000 thoughts in a day, of which 80% of those thoughts are negative. No wonder we are depressed.
This is completely fascinating to me. I am convinced that much of our depression is a disconnect between how our brain originally equipped us to think and what our actual reality is, in developed countries of the world. Our brain is currently going through an evolution from survival of the fittest mentality to an enlightenment mentality. I learned of enlightenment in 2004. I didn’t know about this, until then, and I have been trying to make sense of it since.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary states that one of the definitions of enlightenment is: “a final blessed state marked by the absence of desire or suffering”. I am not sure about you, but I would love to have everything I have ever wanted and avoid all pain. In reality, this is what we have been striving for, as a society. With all of our addictions, toys, gadgets, travel, purchases, homes, vehicles, status symbols, education, income striving, etc. many of us have been doing everything in our power to experience as much pleasure as possible and obtain as many of our heart’s desires, along the way.
Most of us are beyond the moment-by-moment struggle to stay physically alive and have moved toward creating a life that is fulfilled, pleasant, happy, joyful, peaceful, accomplished and successful. It is the absence of the necessity to stay alive, that we have engaged in activities and habits that are all about our comfort, pleasure and joy. In our mind, pain is to be avoided at all costs, although impossible. Our brain no longer needs such a heightened state of negativity and we are experiencing the growing pains associated with our brain’s adaptation.
We have hobbies, interests, recreational activities, free time, relaxation, downtime, rest, vacations and more. Our living-off-the-land ancestors likely could not comprehend such things. If they didn’t work, they would starve, die of disease, freeze to death or get eaten by predators. It is a different world now. Generations are also in conflict with each other as a variation of that survival mode was a necessity to many, in the older generations who are still living.
Unfortunately, our brain is still programmed towards survival and thus, negativity. Our brain has not caught up with our present day living conditions and experiences inner conflict when we are attempting to engage in luxuries of our current world. Our brain wants us to find fault, danger, enemies and reasons to stay vigilant. Negativity then, is in our DNA. Positivity, on the other hand, needs to be learned and our brain trained to our new existence.
In 2004, I began this process of recognizing how negative my mind really was. I saw how awful my mind could make me feel, following severe depression. I saw how my mind was in constant tug-of-war with itself and my desire to feel healthy and well was in direct conflict with my brain’s natural tendency for being overworked, without downtime, and sacrificing myself, at all costs.
Life balance and wellness seemed impossible because I associated rest and relaxation with being lazy. I beat myself up when I needed to stop my life chaos, because it was considered weak to admit that I was over scheduled. I hated myself for saying no, when I was taught and encouraged to do it all and be educated, accomplished and hardworking. I was miserable because what I had been driving myself rationally toward, in terms of success, was not truly authentic to what I really wanted for my life and what would actually make me feel happy.
Mid-life crisis is a fairly new term, within the last half a century and was not a common phrase to our ancestors. There was none of that because our ancestors were too busy growing, hunting and fishing for food and dodging Sabre-toothed tigers, to stay alive. We are at a point in our evolution where we have so little in common with our ancestors. We have shifted, but our brain has yet to catch up.
The number one way that I have learned to train my brain, to my new reality, is to seek out, find and be grateful for the good things around me. When I am inclined to feeling anxious or depressed during some kind of adversity, I go outside and take photos of anything beautiful, interesting, fun or pleasant. When I am struggling to see the bright side, I walk wherever I can get fresh air and take photos that make me feel happy. When I want to grow, learn and become the best version of myself, I find things, people, sights, situations, activities and circumstances to engage in, be around and immerse myself in, in order to shift my brain from negativity, or challenging thoughts to positivity, or pleasurable thoughts.
For 15 years I have been exercising my brain to be better, different, healthier and more enlightened. I choose joy, peace, pleasure, happiness, calm, travel, adventure, exploration, nature, water, love and enjoyable moments in order to experience the world in a way that most people will never experience.
Only a very small percentage of the several billion people on this planet will understand this concept before they die. Most will continue to struggle, feel pain and suffer, the majority of their lives, because they don’t understand that they do have a choice to do things differently. Taking on this new perspective doesn’t mean that life’s problems go away; however, it does give us a golden key to get through the difficult times easier, quicker and with a more positive attitude.
Downtown Hub Trail Walk Photos:
I have been on a mission since 2004, but I really didn’t know what I was so frantically trying to share, until now. I am sharing the key to enjoying our time on this earth in a more enlightened way. Every day I work to have a healthier perspective because I hate how it feels to be depressed. I hate the darkness, the pain, the anxiety, the cloud that weighs heavy on my shoulders. Even though I am still a student in this journey and I still experience plenty of my share of pain, problems and adversity, going out into the world and choosing to notice the joy, beauty, pleasure and blessings all around me, that live intertwined with all of the pain, is a remarkable tool.
My photos of that downtown hub trail walk do not include the dog crap, the garbage, the items in disrepair, the rust, the mess, the unfinished projects, the ugly power lines, the cars that littered the horizon as I attempted to take sunset photos, the ugly views, the pollution that pumps into our air on a daily basis from smoke stacks or how cold it was on that walk.
I chose to look for and find the things that were good on that walk. I choose, on a daily basis, to seek out the things that I have to be grateful for and do my darnedest to minimize the time, effort and focus on all things (and people) that are annoying. Although not always successful at this, I am a constant work in progress.
I hope that following this long weekend to rejuvenate and replenish, that you will join me in training our brains to acknowledge, look for, seek out, appreciate, be grateful for and find the good that exists all around us, each and every day. The brains of future generations will also benefit.
Noticing joy has profoundly changed my experience of life and I hope that it will for you, as well. Let’s not be in the minority any more. Let’s spread the word. Before my life fell apart, I didn’t know that I even had a choice.
“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” ~ Zig Ziglar