I live in a city that is home to nearly 17 million people.
To put that in perspective, here’s something to consider – the entire population of the Netherlands is 17 million and the country is about one third the size of Bangladesh. The capital of Bangladesh is Dhaka and the city alone is home to nearly 17 million people.
Living in a city this crowded and this densely populated has its own pulse. We live on top of each other, in your face constantly. There’s hardly any public places to gather or chill out in, so whatever space is free is nearly over-run by literally hundreds of thousands of people trying to catch a breath. There is no space where you can be alone. None. Nada. Trust me I tried finding such places but I honestly do not think that they exist. Definitely not in the city and even out in the country side they are quite impossible to come by.
City living has it’s perks, it’s ups and downs and it really depends on how you look at things or the mental state that you are in. Most of the time, I find our traffic annoying, I hate the honking, the rush, the whole hectic mess, quite nerve wracking. I hate the fact that in the city I am so removed from nature that I see nothing and I miss the calmness of being out in nature, hiking or trekking or camping.
Here’s why mindset matters – I quit my job and have been mostly at home for a little over a month now. Once I quit and the feeling of freedom sank in, I resolved to use my time better to improve myself. My health, my well-being – both in the physical and mental state. So I started walking, in places I did not imagine myself walking through. Noticing things I have never seen before.
In the morning when I sit for my meditation, I used to keep my windows closed because no matter how early I start, the honks on the road would still be there and I hated it. It was chaos to me. Now when I sit in meditation, I notice more than the honking in the background, I notice the birds that are chirping, singing, or just going about their business. I don’t see them out my apartment window but I can hear them and I revel at the fact that I am noticing them.
I walk by a lake that I crossed on my way to work everyday. All I noticed before is how polluted it is. Now I notice a bit more, I see the birds that hunt there. I see varieties of water fowl that I thought were impossible to find in the city. I found fruit trees growing along the way that are just coming into bloom. I discovered vantage points where one can almost pretend to be the only soul around for at least a few hundred yards (not).
The truth is … none of this is new in this city. They have all been here while I have rushed and overworked & stressed myself to the bone. I had just stopped seeing them. I had stopped smelling the roses along my way. I had stopped marveling at the miracle that is me. I had stopped listening to my body telling me to slow down because I was too busy pushing myself to check off all the items on my to-do list.
It’s only when I took a break that I realized that I need to slow down and reassess the things that I have in my life and the things that I aspire to. Unfortunately while a job with the UN in China is an amazing opportunity, it is NOT something that I aspire to. My dreams, my aspirations lay elsewhere. As 2017 dawned, so did a new realization of the meaning of this saying:
I realized that over the past year I have become so mechanical that I have been living on auto-pilot. I do the things I am expected to do and I do them well because my type-A personality won’t accept shoddy results. But somewhere in between I had lost something – I could no longer answer the question “what would you regret not doing if you died tomorrow?” with a short and sweet “nothing”.
2016 was a wake-up call. I had nearly chronic health issues since summer and I was exhausted. I knew I was exhausted but I didn’t know how to slow down anymore. How to get off the rat race and live according to my own values. Then 3 people I know dropped dead – literally – from heart attacks. None of them were above the age of 45. When your peers drop dead and you go to funerals where their lives are examined, it changes the way you look at your own life.
I realized that I would regret not traveling more. I would regret not becoming a better version of myself every single day. I would regret running rough shod over my body until it literally landed me on bed repeatedly. I regret feeling like 80 most mornings when I wake up even though I just hit 38. I regret not listening to my intuitions or the signals that were being shot through my spine or nagged at the back of my head. I would regret choosing to stay in environments that were not good for me.
I also realized that we do not buy things with money. We buy our possessions with our time. Now hear me out here. The money that you spent on buying that latest phone or TV, how did you earn it? You traded time from your life, working at a job, that paid you money, in order to be able to afford the latest luxuries or consumer product, along with all the expenses that come from having that job (commute, clothes, lunches, coffees etc… you get the picture). So we trade our time, hoping that later in life, we will be able to afford to do the things that we really want to do. But what happens if you drop dead and there’s no more time? Would all those luxuries & possessions still be worth all that time from your life?
That perhaps is my guiding question for 2017. The cornerstone of questions on which I continue to explore my freedom to do anything I want, be anywhere I want, to become anything I want. Saying ‘no’ to UN was according to a lot of people, madness – all that tax-free salary, financial solvency, prestige, recognition, respect. To me though it looked like I was going to trade more time from my life to go from one bureaucracy to another, from one 9-5 job to another. And once I slowed down, I could no longer justify doing that to myself. As for respect, dude, if I did not have your respect before I had that UN job in the bag, I do not think your respect matters much to me.
My time on this earth, in this life, is limited. No body knows when their time will be up or how. But we ALL are capable of living incredible lives that we have the power to design according to our own individual aspirations. Remember all those dreams that we had as kids? When we wanted to be explorers or astronauts or pilots? Where did they go? When did we become so scripted that our dreams became fallacies lying on the wayside? Our time traded to own things we didn’t even like and that had to be upgraded every few years to stay hip, fashionable and in tune with trends.
So as an ode to 2016 and a hello to 2017… here’s my resolution for this year… to stay curious… to stay open to possibilities… to believe in miracles… to believe in the power of dreams. I am going to travel, I am going to write and I am going to use the skills that I have acquired over a career spanning 20 years to coach, mentor and render service to humanity. After the madness of 2016 (political & humanitarian disasters), I am going to work on restoring my faith in humanity, and hopefully influence others to look past the stereotypes and see more than what meets the eye. I don’t know how I am going to do them, there is no destination to this journey, but I do know that as I start, opportunities continue to present themselves and the universe aligns to deliver what I want.
Now….. what would you do if you were not afraid? if you were not limited by your beliefs or perceptions of what you think you can achieve? What would you do if there was no way that you could fail? Would you still be where you are? living the life you are in now? Or would you decide to change? What would you change?