Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Answer Is Inside

"I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it." - Morpheus, The Matrix

A typical Lunar New Year custom is cleaning the house from top to bottom, both to literally get your house in order, and metaphorically to symbolize a "clean start" to the New Year. This year, how about doing a Spring Festival cleaning of all the unexamined thoughts and buried feelings that have relentlessly accumulated over the last year?

Let's start with a simple question: When was the last time you really stopped to think? I'm not talking about taking a break from obsessing over work, or relationships, or the latest news and gossip. I'm talking about stopping everything and pondering the mind itself. I mean stillness.

Let me give you a hint - if you're not sure, then you probably haven't done it in a really long time.

2012 was an interesting year for me. It was the first year since fourteen that I didn't have a paying job at any point for the entire year. I also moved across the world yet again, for the third time in less than two years. I said goodbye to friends, made new friends, started some projects, killed some projects, and spent a heck of a lot of time trying to explain to people "what the hell I'm doing". The fact that what I'm doing doesn't conform to any clean template causes severe cognitive dissonance in many people. But to be completely honest, I also spent a lot of the year just thinking.

I wanted to figure out how my mind works. Why I do the things I do. Why I avoid doing the things I feel like I'm supposed to do. Why I think I'm supposed to do certain things in the first place.

So I dug. I read. I observed. I was looking for a truth, but when you don't know exactly what you're looking for, it's hard to know if you're on the right path.

The thing I admire the most about Einstein was his ability to distill an extremely complicated idea into something that a kid could intuitively understand. The theory of relativity sprung from a paradox he had long pondered about racing a beam of light. He was a master at simplifying, and in the same vein, I wanted a simple answer for what makes me me.

One night in late fall, I was thinking about all this, and it hit me. A simple answer that explained nearly all the things about my life I wasn't happy about, and conversely, why moments of real happiness made me happy. A Theory of Everything for Darren, if you may. And once I saw it, I couldn't un-see it. As such, I can say that 2012 was likely a turning point in my life, not because of anything I did or achieved, but because of a simple thought that was the result of months of searching inside.

Too often nowadays we do whatever we can to distract ourselves from really stopping and thinking. Everyone has their escapes. Some people make sure they are constantly in motion, because in the rare moments of pause, an unpleasant thought might accidentally bubble up. Some people pour themselves so completely into their work as to lose sight of who they are outside it. Some people spend their time blaming the world for perceived wrongs. Some people simply turn to substances. Yet in all these cases, the commonality is an escape from stillness. The modern world is designed in such a way that stillness can be effectively avoided from the moment your eyes open in the morning till the moment you drift off to sleep at night. But unfortunately, just as debts accumulate over time and become harder and harder to manage, so do thoughts that have not adequately been dealt with.

I'm going to tell you a secret. The reason we avoid stillness is because it's scary. We all have thoughts and feelings that we're not proud of, and thoughts and feelings that scare the heck out of us. These feelings make us human. But they're nothing to be afraid of. The reason they're there is because they need attending to. They are signposts on the road to a better life. Dealing with them requires courage, but it also might just end up being life-changing.

So this year, why not resolve to stop everything and look deep inside? You might just find the answer you've been searching for all along.


  1. What was the revelation that you had?

  2. I realized that every single thing in my life that I wasn't happy with ultimately arose from one base emotion: fear. Fear of many different things, mostly unconscious, but the core emotion was always fear. And dealing directly with that fear leads to a better life on all dimensions.

  3. Think of what you fear most, and do that.