Bumper Cars

If you peeked at my YouTube video suggestions, you’d be confused. I don’t know what led Google to think I’d enjoy videos of chiropractors cracking their patients backs, necks, and hips — but they clearly know more about my interests than I do. I’ve discovered three things from watching these videos: First, there’s something oddly addicting in witnessing the realignment of a skeletal system. Second, there’s a high correlation between the decibel level of the crack and the number of views

And third: my body and mind could use a realignment. 

Before the COVID pandemic, my “normal” life was dependent on activity. Wake up and sleepily hustle to the gym. Bounce from client meeting to meeting. Drinks and dinner with a friend. A quick weekend getaway. Filling my time with movement, productivity, and entertainment was a nonstop pursuit.

As long as my life was filled with activity, I was happy. That activity has faded away, and so has my happiness. 

The gym is closed. My friends can’t leave their homes. Trips are out of the question. 

As I reread those observations, I feel embarrassed because my concerns seem pretty insignificant. With all the serious problems going on in the world, my life should feel great. My family is healthy, I have a job, and I don’t worry about my next meal. Relatively, my life should be full of happiness. But the reality is that I’m still struggling to consistently find it.

I believe the culprit to be a disconnect between my body and mind. 

For my entire life, I’ve trained to ruthlessly hunt for activity — and I became pretty damn good at it. This training has shaped my mind’s reward system into a bumper car, constantly racing in search of something to crash into. This approach served me well for many years because there was always something I could aim the bumper car towards and smash on the accelerator.

But now the game has changed. My mind is still racing around, but my body is at home. Put a bumper car inside a 2 bedroom apartment and things are bound to break.

I’ve been contemplating a quote from Ryan Holiday, where he suggests, “there are two types of time in our lives: dead time, when people are passive and waiting, and alive time, when people are learning and acting and utilizing every second. Every moment of failure, every moment or situation that we did not deliberately choose or control, presents this choice: Alive time. Dead time. Which will it be?”

I like Ryan’s definition and distinction between dead time and alive time. Before the pandemic, I sought out activity because it fit my flawed definition of “alive time”. As long as I was doing something, it felt like I was making the most of life. But now that activity is limited, everything just feels like dead time. When I reflect on these difficult months, my happiness was stripped away not because of objective suffering, but because of my faulty definitions. A misalignment.

Just because life is different doesn’t mean the time is wasted or that I’m any less alive. In fact, I’d argue that most of my pre-pandemic, full-of-action-time, actually fit Ryan’s definition of dead time. I was busy, but I wasn’t always learning or consciously utilizing every moment. 

Like those addictive YouTube videos, I think a realignment is in order. And like an old John Wayne movie, I need to let the bumper cars out of their corral to ride off into the sunset. The world has changed but I can still find ways to make it Alive Time by enjoying what’s at hand and utilizing every second to the fullest. 

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