Have you ever stopped caring about something that used to mean the world to you? It happened to me in the spring, maybe in the early summer, and it was the weirdest thing: I stopped wanting to reflect. I know! My daily bread and butter, the very way that I approach the world, rejected! Whatever kind of seeker’s quest I had been on for the past, oh, seven years or so, I gave up, for no other reason than I was sick of myself. What had once seemed like a rich topic of investigation suddenly seemed like the most boring material on earth. Who cares why I do things the way I do or how I can do them better, what I want or what the future holds? Certainly not me!
I like to think that it began at first because I was so happy. I was so happy, in fact, and for such a long stretch, that I stopped fearing it would slip through my fingers. I stopped reflecting why it was so. So I gave up yoga (too much tuning in!), tarot (whatever!), Buddhist podcasts and all my stacks of books about a considered, conscious life (boooooring!). Turns out, I thought at the time, when you stop thinking about how to get more contentment and joy, it just appears! Maybe the secret to feeling good was to stop thinking about yourself so goddamn much?
It was freeing at first. I surfed the surface of my days, not getting mired in my own thoughts. I fell into fully-engrossing novels about Irish detectives and secret gardens. I watched more TV. I was shocked at how placid the surface of my own life had become. And I liked staying right there, right on that surface, like the smooth skin of a ripe nectarine.
And then I started to notice that I was no fun at all to hang out with. Over dinner with a friend in the Village, I shot her with questions as if it were an interview, not wanting to ever get around to me. When we did, finally, I talked about myself briefly, as if I were a mildly irritating person from the past I didn’t know especially well before moving on to more interesting topics, mostly other people.
Because one thing I noticed in my “I’m bored with myself” period, is that I talked a lot about other people. I gossiped. I bought tabloids every week with a Kardashian’s face on the cover. I considered motivations and baggage of both celebrities and people I actually knew with the same tireless, laser focus. On a windy day at the beach, I read the entire sycophantic Vogue cover story about Marion Cotillard (and I love Marion Cotillard, but ugh), and then I remembered why I stopped reading Vogue.
I hadn’t known it was possible, but I was even more bored. And then I was blue. Where was the meaning and the sparkle that I cared so much about? I texted one of my writer friends. “What do you do when you’re sick of your own voice?” I asked. She wrote back immediately: “I suck it up!”
My original supposition was wrong. It turns out, for me anyway, that if you’re not looking for daily joys, they are surprisingly easy to miss. It’s easy to overlook everyday kindnesses and all the delights that an ordinary day can sprout in your path. They are often small, tiny things, like the first crocuses. They don’t draw attention to themselves or shout for your acknowledgment. But they are quietly there and it turns out, much too easy to pass by without notice.
I got lucky. It took a birth to plunge me deep back into life’s meanings. In the hours before my niece’s arrival, I sat with my sister in her hospital room. It was quiet and calm in there, filled with afternoon light, and we talked. A few hours later, after I had gone into town, sat in front of my computer, eaten a couple fish tacos and sipped a beer, my family and I went back to the hospital. We sat in the waiting room. And then, still more hours later, we walked back into my sister’s room. Only this time, where it had just been she and her husband, there was now a third person, a new person. I saw this little face, strongly holding her head up to look at the world around her. In the time it had taken me to eat dinner and write a few sentences on the internet, my sister had become a mother. It split me open with the kind of sobs you don’t even see coming. I remember mostly reaching to cover my face with both of my hands, so surprised by an emotion so visceral it felt like too much to openly bare. There was now a new life. It was as simple and mundane as it was a miracle.
Her name is Violet.
It’s hard not to reflect once something like that happens. My niece brought life into stark relief: what mattered was in the foreground, bright, heartfelt, and top of mind. Everything else diminished into a darkened background.
I went back to yoga, my mind and muscles a little slack from the pause. It seemed I could hear the whole world in our chants. It was the sweetest sound.