“I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.” ~Joseph Campbell
I was sitting on my yoga mat with my legs stretched out in front of me. I bent forward into a fold, puffing and clenching my jaw as I extended my fingertips toward my toes. I was growing angrier by the second.
A slew of sour thoughts marched through my brain.
This is stupid. I thought yoga was supposed to be relaxing. I’m so out of shape. Other people have no trouble with this pose. This hurts. Why bother doing yoga at all? It doesn’t work.
My mat resistance was strong at this moment, but it was also indicative of a much larger problem. Doing the pose “right” wasn’t the issue here; it was my belief that unless I could bend a certain way, I wasn’t progressing in my yoga teacher training.
I wasn’t meeting my goal. I wasn’t being “productive.”
And surely, there was no greater sin than that.
A Collective Fungus
The idea that you aren’t worthy unless you are producing results has seeped like insidious black mold into every facet of our modern lives.
We are pressured to always be making goals, going somewhere, or achieving something. “Doing nothing” is scorned as lazy. Pursuing a hobby with no monetary value or social esteem is deemed a waste of time.
You only have a certain number of days on this planet. If you don’t spend them hustling, you’re of no use to anyone.
You’re writing a novel? Well, have you published it yet? How much money did you get for it?
Oh, you’ve taken up jogging? Why? Are you planning on running a marathon? What are your weight goals?
Don’t you want to leave a legacy behind? Don’t you want people to read off a list of impressive accomplishments at your funeral?
But the truth is that the most meaningful things that happen to us in life have no clear point.
You can’t cash in on the beauty of a sunset. There’s no “purpose” to stargazing. Listening to a song that transports you out of time and space doesn’t pay the bills.
Moments like these are born from joy and wonder, and they are what give our lives meaning. It’s time we gave ourselves permission to feel them.
1. Schedule time to do nothing.
Once I realized how much the burden of being productive was curdling my overall joy in life, I started setting aside time to simply “be.” For me, this involved sitting on my porch with a glass of wine in hand, trying to simply be present to what was going on around me.
No phone, no music, no screens.
What became very apparent, very quickly, was how restless I grew without any busywork. I felt guilty and slothful. What was the point of just sitting here, enjoying the scenery? I should be out there doing something.
But I did my best to ignore such feelings, and I continued to show up for these pockets of allotted rest. What I noticed was that gradually, the shame began to melt away. The more I gave myself permission to do nothing, the more I felt my spirit expand in the space I had created for it.
These boozy relaxation sessions on the porch were only one way to cultivate gratitude and stillness. I tried other things as well, like bringing a more presence-focused—and less goal-oriented—attitude to my yoga practice.
The “5-4-3-2-1” meditation was another helpful centering practice. It goes something like this:
Take a moment to look around and note five things you see. Then note four things you hear, three things you can touch, two things you smell, and one thing you can taste. You can mix and match what senses go with which number.
These moments of “being time” will look different for everyone. The point is to take a moment to note what is happening around you right here, right now.
Let go of the shame that is so often attached to being “unproductive.” Give yourself permission to do nothing, even if it’s just for a few minutes a day.
2. Abandon the idea that “self-love” means “selfish.”
Granting yourself the grace to “be” is an integral component of self-love—a complicated and guilt-provoking term for many of us because we have so often been told that “self-love” is the same thing as “selfishness.”
This misconception is yet another way our society has prioritized “hustling” over inner peace, and such an attitude often leads to the tragic dismissal of our own feelings and boundaries.
Labeling self-love as selfish doesn’t stem from a healthy consideration of those around you, but from a devaluing of your own humanity.
Self-love is the recognition that you have inherent value as a human being who takes up space on this beautiful green-and-blue marble.
In practice, it means doing things that reinforce this truth—in whatever way nourishes you emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
For me, it means eating greener and doing yoga. It means respecting my creative process by resting so I don’t burn out.
It means giving myself permission to let go of relationships that are ruled by guilt or fear. It means practicing embodiment through breathing exercises and checking in with my mental health.
These are my ways of practicing self-love. They don’t have to be yours. Pay attention to what makes you feel free and joyous. Then go do that.
Try to embrace that fact that you are worth prioritizing, every day, until this idea blossoms into your lived reality.
3. Give yourself permission to not have a “purpose.”
Have you ever been in a job interview and had the person sitting across from you ask, “So where do you see yourself in five years?’
Well, consider this your official letter of permission to have no clue what you’re doing in five years—or even one year. You don’t even have to know what you’re doing tomorrow.
The only “purpose” we have as human beings is to move toward and reflect love. There are a lot of different ways to do this, and everyone deserves the space to discover the path that is right for them.
Ultimately, life is about joy, not productivity or the subjective goalposts of success. Grant yourself the grace to exist in this world. Being alive is a miracle.
You are enough simply because you are.