Turning off Autopilot

While waiting in line for a macadamia nut gelato earlier, I saw a sign that urged me not to be afraid to do nothing but sit and think while at the beach. It sounds good, but the thing is this: sitting and thinking can yield some unpleasant insights into ourselves.

Without insight into ourselves though, pleasant or otherwise, how can we grow? How can we hope to move beyond those things that, like the turtle I saw today, surface into view only extremely briefly and rarely?

Most of how we operate is subconscious, deeply submerged, habitual, which is of course the antithesis to conscious living. Being conscious to the present may not always be fully pleasant, but it is surely truer and less destructive than living reflexively and unaware of the lengths we go to in order to manage our fears.

Busy-ness is one of my escapes from reality and fear, I’ve come to see clearly again. Being productive, getting things done. And being anything but busy this week, reality looms large. How I see myself, both good and bad, what I’m profoundly thankful for and what I’m bitter about, what I’m confident with and what I’m terrified of—it has all come into sharp focus.

Social and laughter-filled vacations are therapeutic, of course. But I think a retreat from all that distracts and numbs and enables our escapes from reality is revealing and empowering in ways that the usual ones can’t be. The unexamined life is, as Socrates said, not worth living.

Someone, I don’t know who, has said “to change your life: start immediately, do it flamboyantly,” and while that isn’t always desirable (impulses can after all be regrettable), there is something in those words, having spent more than a few decades on autopilot, that resonates with me.

There is often much we’d like to change about our lives and ourselves (at least there is for me), but though we may think what needs changing is this or that external situation, what really needs changing—what it is that gets in our way of contentment—is usually much deeper and trickier to arrive at, and completely out of reach on our chatty, busy, and numbing autopilot.

The deeper, much stickier, and less pleasant truth I’m arriving at is that, besides missing him desperately, I’m hardly conscious of a self apart from my husband anymore. I mean I know in theory, but I don’t know in the ways that count, in the ways that make us resilient enough to bend with the wind.

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