Finding Fulfillment In A World That Wants To Sell It To You

Over the last few months I’ve been struggling with a finger injury. Initially, it kept me from even being able to do Downward Dog. Thankfully I’m back on my mat, but where it still frustrates me is in rock climbing. 

If you don’t already know, I’m an avid climber, and have been since the early 90’s, a good 4 years before I began practicing yoga. It’s how my husband, Aaron, and I met. It’s what we do every weekend. And it’s also one of the places I gather a large sense of accomplishment and personal fulfillment.

Paisley climbing in Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park

Paisley climbing in Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park

As my finger heals, my climbing’s been kept to pretty easy things. Big hand holds, routes that aren’t too overhanging and that are well below my limit. Aaron, however, trains like a machine and seems to have no apparent limits anywhere in sight.

Too much time comparing myself to him, to my past, to other people and what I think I’m supposed to be doing and my fulfillment dropped to zero, while my sense of lack shot through the roof. It’s natural for our minds to do a little comparing, it’s how we recognize uniqueness and understand how different components work together to form a whole.

But, when we don’t know how to be happy with who we are, we begin to compare ourselves to others in order to see how they’re better or that we’re worse. When we attempt to be something other than who we are, we will forever be unfulfilled. It’s a set up to live from a place of lack and emptiness.

Being human is such a complex and overwhelming experience. The dichotomy is that we’re both unique and different, while simultaneously being absolutely the same. What we have in common is that every one of us wants to be loved, feel safe and have food in our belly.

When we identify with our uniqueness, but forget our commonality it creates separation, emptiness, loneliness and difficulty feeling fulfilled. Media and society play on this. We’re inundated daily with 4,000 advertisements! If we believe them, the message is:

  • buy this and you’ll be happier
  • take this pill and you’ll feel better
  • drink or eat this and you’ll look better
  • wear this and people will like you more
  • drive this and you’ll be way cooler

True fulfillment, however, comes from accepting and loving who we are, not from buying more stuff. We all know this. Yet we’re encouraged to fill the inevitable pit of emptiness by buying more and by competing, comparing and keeping up with our neighbors.

This model teaches that our satisfaction is found outside ourselves. We mistakenly view others as having what we don’t, being happier than we are or better than we are. It’s one of the reasons we’re obsessed with Hollywood and are, as a nation, massively in debt.

We experience discomfort, and instead of simply acknowledging our feelings as the sadness, hurt or anger that they are, it’s modeled for us that there’s something wrong with us for having them. Our culture and many other people, often in our own family, tell us we need to fix them. But, discomfort is normal. We need to learn to be ok with it, and that it doesn’t mean we’re doing anything wrong or that we are any less of a person.

This is the root of the Yama (ethical behavior) of non-jealousy, or Ashteya. When we’re jealous and covet what someone else has or does, it’s because we’re unhappy with ourselves. Jealousy happens when we forget the gifts we naturally possess, those unique characteristics that make us who we are. Jealousy also happens when we don’t push to our edge and get a sense of fulfillment from doing something that was really difficult for us.

It’s very easy to fall into the trap of identifying with something external. In my case, it was comparing how hard I climb to how hard I’ve climbed in the past (uninjured) and how hard my husband is climbing now. At the same time the very transformations we undergo by accomplishing something we didn’t think we could, give us a boost of confidence and show us what we’re really made of.

Finding the balance between pushing our own boundaries enough to boost our confidence and not being angry with ourselves if we’re unhappy with the results, is one of the keys to feeling happy and fulfilled. It’s also important to be happy with our uniqueness while embracing, not forgetting, our mutual humanity.

You see the double edged sword? See how easy it is to get wrapped up in the drama and lost in the complexity of this human experience? Here are a few techniques to help us keep perspective and feel happy and fulfilled even when we’re surrounded by frowners and are being too hard on ourselves.

1. Look For the Good

Look around and see what’s good in your life. Be grateful you have a roof over your head and food in your fridge. You have the free time and a computer on which to read this. Keep a gratitude journal. Say thank you regularly and mean it. Think about the friends who love you unconditionally. Remember the times you had a great sense of accomplishment. Acknowledge the tools you gained from challenges and how you’ve made the best of difficult situations.

Watch this inspirational video on 3 amazing rock climbers, making the best of life and fulfilling their dreams, despite what others would see as hardship and overwhelming difficulty.

2. Limit Your Exposure

Are you reading fashion magazines that tell you everything you need to know to get “better” – sex, hair, a flatter stomach, etc? Do you watch a lot of TV or listen to a lot of radio. If so, the advertisements might be creeping into your subconscious more than you think. Limit your exposure, if possible. And when you do tune in, be aware of the messages you’re being sent and whether or not you believe them.

3. Let Go Of The Past

The more we hold onto the past, the more difficult it will be to find fulfillment in the present. Reliving the glory days or holding a grudge doesn’t help us do anything but escape whatever discomfort we’re feeling now. No matter what we do, we can’t change the past. But we can move through the pain and frustration and make peace with it. Honor what you’ve been through, then build on it, instead of staying stuck.

4. You Are Not Alone

All of us are bound by the same human experience; we’re destined to endure trauma, stress and difficult circumstances, like death, divorce and joblessness. And we’ll also have experiences of deep joy, celebration and laughter, like when we make love, graduate from school or share a meal with friends. We are not alone in our desire for fulfillment, nor our struggle to make it so. 

5. Acknowledge Your Uniqueness

There is one and only one of you. No one else has been through what you’ve been through and no one else has done what you’ve done. Your scars are marks of beauty. They make you who you are. Your skills and gifts are special to you, embrace them and let them shine.