Sometimes I wish the mother ship would land and take me home. I look in the sky. Where is the ship, with the beautiful aliens. The ones I belong with. Why did they leave me here on this pathetic planet. Did they really want me to grow old and die here?
In the past 15 years I was probably suicidal on at least three different occasions. How would I kill myself? Who knows. I googled it. It’s hard to actually find a technique that works. Try googling “I want to die”. You’ll just end up back on this blog. Which won’t tell you how to die. Because there is no good technique. Trust me.
But all of those moments had several things in common.
I couldn’t take the pain. I didn’t want to die. I wanted the pain to die. I had gone from a high to a low (being constantly at a low doesn’t do it. You have to go from a high to a low to experience the sense of loss) and when I thought the only way my kids would be happy is if they were able to cash in my life insurance policy. That’s how screwed up I was.
And, the irony is, it’s at exactly these moments that its hardest to have “faith”.
We all have moments when it seems like everything is going wrong. It’s unavoidable. A relationship turns sour. A job is lost. A business goes down in flames. You are robbed. You feel lonely. And so on. The list of possible calamities that are in store for us simply because we are human is awesome and overwhelming.
When I had my first kid I was very sad about this. I looked at this tiny baby and all I could think about was, “how will I protect her when she’s feeling alone”. “how will I protect her when she’s rejected”. “How will I protect her when the things she thinks she’s most in control of go horribly astray.”
There’s no answer. I can’t protect her.
No matter what you do right now, things might totally suck. Its that enormous leap between your lowest moments and the moments that you think will make you happy that faith is required.
When things are already at the best, that leap is tiny or non-existent. So you don’t need any faith at those moments. Or faith is too easy.
It’s precisely when things are at their worst that you need “faith” the most. I put it in quotes because we still haven’t defined it.
Here are some kinds of faith.
- Faith in God. In other words, a higher power that if you pay attention to in some way (prayer, gratitude, humility, ethical behavior, etc) then rewards are waiting for you.
- Faith in a creative power within you. Your subconscious. The idea being that you put in the work, you do whatever you can in the time you have, and then you say, “Ok, I’ve done it all. Now you have to do something.” In other words, you give up. To yourself, to God, to the universe, whatever.
- Faith in destiny. For instance, if you’ve always succeeded before doing a certain formula (for instance, for me, “the daily practice” I recommend) and things are down now, knowing that if I just apply that formula then once again things will go well.
- Other kinds of faith. Faith in Jesus, faith in Buddha, or the Tao, or Yoga, or a spiritual guide, or a higher power, all fit into the above faiths.
The benefits of all of these faiths is that they relieve stress. Hard work and anxiety suffers from the law of diminishing returns. Being anxious about something 20 hours a day probably won’t do much more for you than being anxious about it for 1 hour a day. Working for 10 straight hours probably won’t accomplish more than working for 3 super-productive hours.
One time I was seeing a therapist. He said, “what can I do to help you. What can relieve your stress.”
I said, “the only thing that will relieve my stress right now is if you immediately give me a million dollars.”
That, of course, didn’t happen. I had to develop other methods for relieving stress. In fact, I became an expert at having faith at the critical moments only because I had so many of them.
So here’s what you should try to do regardless of whatever faith you subscribe to. The key is to work hard but to also cultivate a feeling of surrender. You need to give the universe space to do its thing for you. There’s evidence that working hard for 90 minutes is about all we can do if we want to be at peak productivity. Then taking a break.
Faith is in the breaks.
When things are bad do this:
A) Work hard for 90 minute stretches. Avoid any distractions.
B) Take breaks
C) In the breaks do one or more of the following:
D) Exercise until you sweat. This has been shown to relieve stress and anxiety and act as an anti-depressant.
E) Write down ideas for how you can solve your issues. If you need to generate income, start brainstorming. You might have very bad ideas at first. But eventually the ideas will be good. It took me about a month of writing down ideas every day before I started coming up with decent ideas. Within six months of writing down ideas every day and following the other ideas in the daily practice my life was changed completely. In fact, my life now is completely different every six months.
F) Send three emails to people you are grateful for. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t spoken to them in ten years
G) Go to your inbox, find an email from 2007, reply to it. That works wonders at reestablishing contact with people.
H) Go swimming. Just get up and go swimming somewhere. Exercise and keeping yourself from drowning will distract you.
I) Go to a museum. During the financial crisis of 2008 I was really feeling bad. I was long stocks, I was going through a divorce, things were at their worst for me. I spent lunchtime without my computer or phone. I would go to a museum and hang out in the bookstore/café and read books about artists. This had my brain going in a completely different direction than the anxieties of staring at the market.
J) Draw. Similar to above. .Sometimes in 2009 when I was going through a deal that wasn’t working out, Claudia and I would take out water colors and paint. It was fun and again had my brain going in a different direction.
K) Pretend. In 2008, I described another situation where I reached out of myself and made contact with people by pretending to be a psychic. I don’t recommend this. But sometimes pretending to be something you aren’t can bring up to the surface a part of yourself you didn’t know existed. That person might be a fun person to get to know. You don’t know everything about yourself. Give other parts a chance to come out and play.
L) Meditate. I don’t always recommend this. It’s really hard to meditate when things are at their worst. Meditation involves 30 minutesof sitting still and watching your thoughts. But your thoughts could be too overwhelming. Instead of doing 30 minutes every day how about trying 60 seconds here and there throughout the day. Try “The Power of Negative Thinking” to train your mind.
M) Reread, “I Surrender”. Surrendering is the key. Is there a higher power? Who knows? But I do know that you can’t control everything. There’s a saying, “infinite patience produces immediate results”. Slipping into patience mode, even when your neck is right there on the guilliotine, can provide you with some respite despite the axe that is bearing down on you.
N) Help someone else. For instance, if someone else needs work, introduce him to someone who can hire him. If someone needs some information, find the info and give it to him. This sort of activity compounds in value. Until you’ve helped so many people that there is a world of people waiting to help you when you are down. Trust me, having that net waiting for you when you jump out of the burning building will be a lifesaver. I’ve used that net many times. I’m surprised there’s not a hole in it at this point accept for the fact that I keep strengthening it by helping people every day.
O) Be a superhero. This goes along with the above. But do it anonymously. Help someone where you completely expect nothing back, like a superhero does – strong, anonymous, and with mysterious powers. I don’t know why it works, but the returns on this are ten to one.
P) Think of your heroes. It’s amazing when you read the biographies of the greats. They all had their trials they had to survive. I regularly post about people I admire and what they’ve been through and how they’ve survived it. Here are a few: Louis Armstrong. Dorothea Lange. Buddha. Bukowski. And so on.
Q) Watch something funny. Watching a movie like “Superbad” won’t necessarily bring you faith but will snap you out of the thoughts that are clogging your head. Laughter has a cleansing effect and is also known to cure many toxic illnesses, mental and physical (and emotional and spiritual).
R) Finally, doing some form, even miniscule, of what I call “The Daily Practice”, has always helped me to restore my faith, my life, my money, my happiness (or at least, my contentment). If that post I link is too harsh I provide many modifications and ideas of how to moderate the practice in my book, “I Was Blind But Now I See”.
S) Promise. I said “finally” above but I have two more things. You can spend fifteen minutes promising yourself over and over again, “I will put one foot in front of the other”. Tell yourself who needs you to do that (children, friends, family, etc). Promise it again. And again. And then call someone else and promise them. Build your support group with these promises.
T) Most important: When you have money, love, contentment, this is not when you have succeeded. These are the results. The trumpets are not blowing now. You’re sleeping and you don’t care. MOST IMPORTANT: the trumpets are blowing when you are at your lows and you take that next step forward. That is success. That is love of life. That is creativity and spirit and God.
When you are at the lowest, you are closest to God, to your faith, to a higher power, to an inner you. To whatever you want to call it. Nobody cares what you call it. This is your moment to shine, to show how much you’ve learned, to show how much you are able to succeed. There are no other moments as powerful. Please don’t waste them.