Hold the Wheel and Drive

hold the wheel

Life is the Dancer, you are the Dance.

– Eckhart Tolle

When I look back on 2011, I see both the most painful and the most illuminating year of my life. I can understand now that everything needed to happen the way it did for me to grow as a person, but I still hope never to relive anything like it.

The year began with me attempting to cope with the humiliation of my failed engagement. To make it worse it was a failed engagement that practically unfolded under the spotlight, stage right for all my friends, family, and coworkers to witness. Every day I had to face the people I respected and loved while trying not to show the pain in my eyes. But there was no chance of that. Sometimes I would even disguise my feelings so that I wouldn’t have to acknowledge them, being unreasonably jovial or enthusiastic about something meaningless in the still turbulent wake of recent events. But as much as I tried to believe I was ok, I was not.

Have you ever felt like you’re at such a low point in your life that a change must be made just to avoid spiraling downward to depths you’ll never recover from? It’s a scary place to be, and that’s where I found myself. As I tried to combat my rapid decline, I found myself in the grip of a myriad of emotions. Sadness, disregard, recklessness, and at times, contempt. I couldn’t live with life as it was and I knew something needed to change before it was too late. I truly believed that if a change wasn’t made, it may reach a point of no return and no recovery. My world was dark.

It wasn’t until one morning, as I edged closer to my threshold, that a familiar song came on in my headphones. Something clicked. I was ready to bring myself back to life. In that moment of clarity I realized that I was responsible for my reality, and only I would be able to change it. With the help of three invaluable resources I would change the way I lived, and more importantly the way I thought.

1. Art

I’m sure many of us can attest to the power that music can have on people. Watch a crowd at a Maroon 5 concert for four measures and you can see the passion and emotion that a simple note or lyric can liberate. Music helped me see beyond the narrow perspective I had been stuck with for months. It’s strange to iterate it now, but to some extent music removed my blinders so I could see the rest of the world. Some of my favorites were Incubus, Zero 7, Iron & Wine, and perhaps most importantly Mumford & Sons.

Everywhere I went I was immersed in my own soundtrack, letting the lyrics resonate in my every thought. The right music would show me that not only can many other people understand and identify with my emotion, but that there was still so much to celebrate in life. I’d lost someone dear to me- but I had loved. And as some strange feeling of rediscovery set in, I began to remember what I had forgotten in my sorrow- who I really was.

2. Inspiration

To help carry on in this new direction I began watching TED Talks over at TED.com. Some of the stories were so moving that it reminded me of how good my life really is. No bombs are going off in my neighborhoods, for one. All this time I was so self-absorbed that I’d forgotten to take those around me into consideration. The more I watched these videos the more inspired I was to pull myself out of my funk, but more importantly I regained awareness to the world around me. It’s like I’d been suffocating myself within my own little bubble, and it turns out one solution to correcting my misery was connection with other people.

One aspect of the talks that really stayed with me was the sheer number of people that gave talks about the wellbeing of other people – they weren’t even concerned for themselves. Seeing people selflessly contributing time and effort to help affect others in a positive and often drastic way reminded me of the good that’s in the world. For a long time my negativity moved me to lose faith in the world and I started to believe that the humanity was a product of calculating cost-benefit analysis rather than driven by pursuits of the heart. TED talks helped me remember the truth.

3. Awareness

The single most important tool that has been helping me rebound from a somewhat dismal year was the popular book, A New EarthI’d never read anything quite like the teachings of Eckhart Tolle, and it opened my eyes to realities which ultimately made me less critical of myself and my predicament. What I learned was that much of what was causing my discomfort was my heavy and active “pain body”. Essentially, I was letting my negative past experience seep into the present moment and cause me a great deal of emotional pain. I was holding on to my story, and because I did this I was justifying the terrible way I felt, which propelled and amplified those same feelings.

With this realization I understood that I needed to detach myself from my negative thinking patterns, which created space between the despondency and me. The book showed me that everything that I was feeling was normal and reiterated the reasons I’d come to this point. Then it helped me understand that once you are aware of your inner state, whether or not you take responsibility for it is a choice for you to make. I feel myself choosing to overcome it most days, but there are still times when it creeps in and I feel it. As time goes on it gets easier, but I can’t take for granted that it takes effort to stay out of those negative patterns. But as Eckhart says, “Awareness is the greatest agent for change.” And when you resist life, life resists you.

* * *

Life is too short to be miserable. And though I can say that with deep conviction, it’s still perplexing that we sometimes need more to reinvigorate ourselves. A bird’s eye view revealed to me that there were a few simple elements key to my recovery. Knowing that others had felt these feelings as deeply as I had helped me remember the humanity we all share. Music allowed me to see that. Seeing people giving talks devoted to the wellbeing of others reminded how important human emotion can be, and more importantly what it can accomplish. And once I realized that the pain I was feeling and the thoughts that overwhelmed me were products of an unobserved mind, clarity became an everlasting option.

Maybe it’s my natural idealism that allows me to believe that everything happens for a reason, but it’s the reality that everything that happens, happens. Let you happen, too.

Photo by emdot

20 thoughts on “Hold the Wheel and Drive”

  1. What a fantastic article. I feel much the same way, in that I see the difficutlies I’ve experienced over the last few years as being incredibly beneficial to me. I wouldn’t want to live through them again, but I’m glad I lived through them once.

    1. Sean,
      glad you sprouted!

      Your decision not to get married was good – I made an opposite mistake, and feeling uncomfortable breaking the wedding ruining other people’s plans (how immature), cost me 8 wasted years!

      A very powerful title of your blog!

      Yes, everything has a purpose – for us to learn from!

  2. Hi Sean

    Great post. We all go through those moments of dispair not knowing what the future holds. I love the book and audio of the Power of Now as it really talks about how humanity chooses its own emotional direction and dis-empowerment by not allowing to live in the present.

    Eckhart Tolle really hits the nail on the head with his concept of how living in the now removes all fears of life. I found his audio extremely helpful because you hear his voice really empowers the meaning behind his teachings. I advise anyone to get the audio version of the Power of Now.

    Being a musician and a person who has undertaken a big self development journey I have realised the power music has on people. Music can bring change within an instant and allows groups of people to be aligned with the energy and feeling the music presents. I think that music is still underestimated with its true power to allow individuals to tap into their creativity, become inspired and work together.

  3. Excellent post ~ 2011 was the worst and best year of my life,too. I barely made it through separation from my “soulmate”, but I also created a new life by building on my passions and strengths. During this process I naturally developed an evolved and liberating mindset about what matters and who is worth my time, energy, c ompassion, and infinite love. Music, artistic expression, learning, sharing, and envisioning have changed my world forever; becoming open to all people and possibilities has imbued it with magic and renewed trust.

  4. Sean,
    Well written, great read! Again, it was as if you were writing my thoughts! All three points are currently mine as well, and have been for quite some time. Thanks Sean! Know, that what you have shared, has resonated with a complete stranger up north! Keep sharing, you are not alone my friend. You are definitely in the company of many!
    Love ya man :)

  5. Sean,

    I love your title – Hold your wheel and drive. For I did that in 2009 – after discovering my husband of 8 years was having an affair with a friend of mine – I left – I took the wheel of my Maserati and drove cross country to California from Florida. Was to stay there 2 months and ended up staying 5 months – I had a view of the San Francisco Bay, the skyline, Alcatraz, Tiburon and Angel Island everyday when I lifted my head from my bed. It was hard, didn’t know a soul but faced my fears and created my website for women – MakeGirlfriends.com – I felt the pain for in order to go through the pain you must feel the pain.

    I made wonderful girlfriend relationships and did not date or allow men into my life – I totally healed and started loving myself for a change – I too had forgotten who I was and now after 3 years last month – I finally was able to write a “I forgive you” letter to my friend that my husband at the time had an affair with. Needless to say, I am divorced now.

    I’ve had the adventure of my life – after California, I moved to Asheville, NC – Chicago, Charleston and now living on the beach – Maybe I was the Eat, Pray, Love of the U.S. Stayed places 4-6 months for a few years. I have learned to really enjoy life and to truly LOVE – love people for WHO they are and not what you want them to become.

    Thank you for your post – transparent and lovely – touched my heart today!

    In gratitude,

  6. I feel you Sean. Life’s events are not always pleasant but they always show up exactly the way they need to in order to get to where we need to be. The pain of what others think of us is indeed painful until we learn to let it go.

    Many professional speakers had to experience “pain” in order to be able to express themselves fully while no longer worrying about the opinion of others.

  7. Thank you for your responses! I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to share this article publicly or not, and after seeing everybody’s responses I’m so glad I did. Clearly we’re truly never alone, and it always feels good to remember that. Thanks for your support and the opportunity to learn from your experiences as well!

  8. Awesome post. Thanks for sharing the lessons you learned (and the tools that helped you) in your dark time.

    I’ve been there. I could REALLY relate when you described the breakup of your engagement. I’ve been through that experience specifically, so could relate. Went through the breakup of another relationship several years later that was actually more devastating and I went into a very dark space.

    I love A New Earth too. The reminder to stay in the present was a powerful tip for helping through the dark shadow of night.

    Thanks for sharing so authentically and transparently. Wishing you the best in 2012.

  9. Sean thank you for sharing your pain and your happiness with us. I too came across Eckhart Tolle when I was experiencing painful situations in my own life and it helped me tremendously. I also went through the whole 10 week webcast with Eckhart and Oprah and the experience has transformed my life.

  10. Thanks for the wise words, Sean. I understand because I’ve been there … in that dark spot … but for different reasons. I too, sought growth and read Eckhart Tolle. Sounds like you’re on a better road now. Keep up the good work. Thanks for the neat new link of inspirational speeches too. :-)

  11. Life can be a bummer at times Sean. Being inspired to have a great Life regardless and being aware of your potential will steer you in the right direction. Good luck.
    be good to yourself

  12. Sean,

    Thank you for having the courage to share your story with us. Just being able to write and open yourself up like this, is such a HUGE step in the healing and learning process, so feel proud of that.

    As I read this I was reminded of some of my own painful experiences, and while I have NO desire (or need for that matter) to relive them, I do see how each was a piece of a larger puzzle that has helped to shape the person I am today.

    So thanks for helping us to navigate through our own moments & keep on living your life!


  13. Your post really resonated with me. I connect to life in a lot of ways through music because the artists are able to say what I’m feeling but unable to express and when it is put to music, it becomes even more powerful. Then there is the fact that I know that I am not the only one to feel that way which is incredibly reassuring and that there are ways to move out of it which is reassuring as well. I also came across Eckhart Tolle at a needed point in my life. If you haven’t come across it, I recommend the book Untethered Soul by Michael Singer. It is in the same vein and I really like it.

  14. Sean
    I too am glad you shared your experience and process publicly! I can identify with your experience of a unexpected failed relationship, with being in the darkness, and with the process or tools that allowed you to persevere. I’m at the stage of currently working through the process-staying the present moment. >>”I feel myself choosing to overcome it most days, but there are still times when it creeps in and I feel it. As time goes on it gets easier, but I can’t take for granted that it takes effort to stay out of those negative patterns.<< I truly believe that everything happens for a reason, I just been working on my awareness of the desire to actually TRUST the universe knows what's best, being at ease with anything that life presents. Time will take care of the rest. It's not easy and I look forward to the day I can look back and truly know why we are faced with adversity.

  15. Hi Sean

    What a great article – it REALLY resonated with me. I recognised the same kind of feelings from when I went through a divorce I didn’t want a few years back.

    I hope that if those who are going through similar things read it and take action on the wisdom you’ve shared as they’ll definitely come out of the other side of the experience not damaged but STRONGER.

    Your point about Art was especially poignant. Personally, I got back into writing & playing music again after years of doing nothing, and found it to be incredibly cathartic. I made the choice to do something creative rather than destructive, and things have developed so much so that in the 7 years since my ex-wife left I’m now a full-time professional musician! I’ve played and spoken in prisons and young offenders institutes and share my thoughts on overcoming pain and building a better life.

    As David commented above I’d not want to live through the horrendous time I had again BUT I’d not change the fruit of making the best choices, directing my focus on purpose and BELIEVING that life really was worth living. Because it really is.

    If you’d like to see me perform a song I wrote at the time (I was selling our home and getting ready for a totally new life) then please follow this link: http://tinyurl.com/6s2fv7j – its one that people often say has been a help to them within this context so it’d be great to share it in support of your article in the hope it encourages even more.

    Many thanks
    ~ Mark

  16. Great post! I can so sympathize with you, especially your first sentence. 2011 was a hard year for me too, but I am so much stronger now than I have ever been before.
    I needed to almost die in order to wake up and make a radical change.
    Sometimes we cannot prevent awful things to happen, but we can change the way we deal with it. I am glad you have been able to get better and gain a new perspective!

  17. “Have you ever felt like you’re at such a low point in your life that a change must be made just to avoid spiraling downward to depths you’ll never recover from? It’s a scary place to be” Been there! And like you, with no escape, having to deal with it in public and with kids. It was the proverbial blessing in disguise because it forced me to make desperately needed changes in my life. Deep transfomative changes. I’ve never looked back. Or rather, I only look back in gratitude for where I am now.

    Thank you for an honest and touching post.

  18. good on you for holding the wheel and drive. i had a different experience (depression / suicide) but knows how it feels to be rock bottom. but as they say, once u are rock bottom and can’t go any further, can only go up :)
    hope 2012 will be a better year for you!
    Noch Noch

  19. What an absolutely amazing article, it is so well put! You are so strong and wise to realize these things. I have been diagnosed with Bipolar, panic disorder, and depression just to name a few and I know what you mean when you say that there is still so much to celebrate in life. I have to remember to try to always look on the bright side and continue to celebrate instead of getting wrapped up into my labels. Otherwise, if I don’t I become a suicidal wreck and a nonfunctional member of society. I also agree with you on the whole music thing and have found many studies linking listening to your favorite jams and raising your serotonin. I love me some Beethoven ;)
    I just started my own blog and would love for you to check it out it’s http://www.withoutalabel.me

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