Posted: Saturday, June 30, 2012 7:00:53 PM
How often do we feel stressed, overwhelmed or completely lost in the stormy tempest of the world? We are constantly struggling to meet deadlines, scribble off the last item on our To-Do Lists, and manage coherent answers to all of our emails while still obtaining a relatively-reasonable amount of sleep. Our everyday lives are complicated, busy and fast-paced; we are so caught up in their hustle-and-bustle that we rarely ever slow down. When do we ever stop for a moment, breathe and fully experience our surroundings? When do we ever truly take a few minutes to enjoy the beauty of the world around us? Perhaps there is one place that you are able to do this; somewhere that is particularly special to you and somehow seems to be separate from all the chaos. Perhaps this place serves as your portal to a calmer peace of mind and a clearer spiritual state. For me, that haven is a particular swing set in a remote clearing in Central Park.
Tall, lush, green trees arch over the swing set. In the summertime, the sun shines through them, forming shaded, floral patterns on the soft dirt ground. In the wintertime, the thin, bare trees seem to intertwine with each other, like elegant dancers. The swing set consists of a single row of “grown-up swings”. Let us examine the irony of this term – swinging is typically seen as a childhood activity, yet we refer to this certain type of swing set as swings made for adults. It reminds us that even as we age, we continue to embrace our inner child, engage in childlike pastimes, and enjoy something that is simply fun. The second that I near the swing set, the tape of my mind rewinds back to all of my childhood memories. I have grown up at this swing set, having visiting it unashamedly at least once a week for the past seven years. Every time I tread the same earth near the swing set, I am reminded of a time when life was simpler and I had a better sense of what was truly important. The hours that I spend anywhere from simply sitting on the swing set to soaring through the air, in only the company of my iPod, allow me to explore the feeling of seclusion. I swear that I can feel the music coursing through my body and igniting every dead nerve cell with the flame of life; it travels from my earphones to my soul and resonates in my mind, where it feeds the fire of all of my thoughts. This swing set is the one place where I listen to and truly appreciate the wildlife that envelopes me. Deep into my swinging sessions, I reach a spiritual state where I focus on nothing but the world around me and living in the moment. I am deeply affected by a sense of the sublime – that one moment of total awe and self-surrender to the unmatched beauty, power and dangerous majesty of nature. Whenever the swing takes me as high as it can towards the sky, and I am suspended in the air at the highest possible point for that one moment, stress and worries cannot plague me. My mind becomes like the space around me – wide and open. This swing set acts as windshield wipers swiping the grime off of my clouded mind; the experience completely clears my head, and I can see the world with a new perspective and a fresh pair of eyes.
Every time I sit alone at the swing set, immersed in the wildlife and my own consciousness, I enter into a fierce session of exploring my own identity. I am simply too busy in my everyday life to sort through my feelings and ideas, but when I relax at the swing set in solitude and the comfort of nature, I confront them. I ask myself why I feel these emotions, and I expand on my every thought. I think about who I used to be, who I am and who I want to be. I examine how what has changed in my life and what has remained constant have affected me. I scrutinize the decisions I’ve made, thinking about what I have done right in my life and what I could have done better. I often finish this soul-searching session with defining how I will push my limits and expand my horizons. This self-questioning process allows me to decide how I will fix my mistakes and continue to challenge myself and cross my boundaries. I become motivated to internalize negative energy, change it into positive energy, and express it into the environment around me. My perpetual goal in life? To become a better person. This self-exploration has allowed me to become more comfortable with exploring my identity and coming to terms with myself. It has transformed my self-esteem and self-confidence; it has allowed me to overcome personal frustration and self-deprecation that have hindered my progress in dance, music, academics and athletics. Beginning to break through these mental blocks has made a more positive difference in my life than anything else I’ve ever experienced. Continuous self-examination has allowed me to begin to truly accept who I am. Our sense of self is crucial to how we interact with each other. If we can improve ourselves and fix our flaws, the effect will be reciprocal on others, and we will only help each other. If the world was filled with better and happier people, why would they lie, covet, cheat, hate, steal or kill? We have no choice but to generate positive social energy amongst ourselves – this alone will transform the world and the current condition of humanity.
Through my awe of the nature at the swing set and my elevated mindset, a true connection is established between my soul and my environment. I feel the essence of my entire being shift into the moment; I feel that I am actually living in the present instead of dwelling on the past or agonizing over the future. In order to feel more contact with the world around us and transcend all that is trivial and unimportant, we must strive for more simplicity. Humans are inherently misguided creatures. William Wordsworth laments in his poem “The World Is Too Much with Us” that “we lay waste our powers…we have given our hearts away” because we become too caught up in the chaos of life and lose awareness and spiritual sensitivity to our environments. The intended simplicity of life is overrun by needless complications because we allow it to be. If we truly examine what we consider necessities, we will find that what we should treasure the most is often what is least significant to us. We must sweep out all of the unnecessary hindrances in our lives and regain a sense of what is truly important and necessary. If we slow down and listens to the sounds of the world that speak to us through many voices, both figuratively and literally, we will be more sensitive to plants, animals and people. In order to do this, we must take a moment every now and then to stop everything we are doing, cut out the overwhelming noise, and revel in the peace that we have created. If we are genuinely tuned in to the world around us by focusing on simplicity, there will be less misunderstanding and conflict. We will think clearer and live more wholesome lives. This greater spiritual understanding and positive energy will allow us to change the world for the better.
As I contemplate the nature around me and my head is cleared of stress, anxiety and trivial details, it is flooded with torrents of philosophy, religion, science, technology, literature and global issues. I can assure you that during these times, most ideas that have ever been thought up by mankind have probably flown through my head. I enter into an intense examination of the classic question that has essentially defined humanity itself – “What is the meaning of life?” Because I am so young and essentially new to the world around me, of course I have not come anywhere close to a final answer to this profound, indefinitely-unanswered question. However, I believe that all creatures are thrown into the inexplicable, incomprehensible cycle of life for a reason that is different for each individual, and we are destined to wait, search, analyze and hurt through the entire process of trying to figure out what it is. The meaning of life is to search for the meaning of one’s own life, but at the same time, the main point of life is simply to live and find happiness. Therefore, humans must find a balance between spirituality and the materialistic pleasures of the world. If we focus only on physical and sensual pleasures such as sex or money, we will lose emotional ability to help others and better ourselves, and the mental ability to challenge authorities, transform institutions, and question the world we have been placed in. On the other hand, if we strive recklessly to “find the answers”, we can lose our health, happiness, and natural tendency to socially interact. We must use our personal environments, lifestyles and sense of identity to find a comfortable spiritual place between surviving reality and understanding it. Each person must find a spiritual mindset that they comfortable with and that provides them with a good construct with which to live their life. Perhaps this spiritual mindset is based on a philosophy such as existentialism or a religious belief system such as Christianity or Islam. If we find a personally-comfortable belief system and a balance between spirituality and worldly pleasures, we can set ourselves on a clearer path as we search amidst the turmoil of the world for the reason we are here.