“Life is elsewhere, or it’s nowhere”
— Milan Kundera, Life is Elsewhere
Painful epigraph, I know. I’ve been there.
Have you ever looked through one of those optical illusions books? My favorite illusion is the Scintillating Grid (a more accessible version of the much earlier Hermann Grid). The black circles are impossible to look straight at, although in your peripheral vision, you can see that they occupy spaces elsewhere on the grid. In fact, if you try to chase them with your eyes, they run faster and faster from your gaze. Sometimes it seems like you’re seeing 10 or 20 all at once, but in the margins. And if you really stare steadily in one spot, they seem to fade almost completely from view.
Point being? We tend to perceive our lives in the same way.
This is the greatest illusion of all — that our lives are never in front of us, but always just out of reach, and can only be glimpsed in some distant place, usually in the past or the future.
The quote I drew from Kundera’s Life is Elsewhere so beautifully illustrates this thought. If you keep waiting for the perfect job to work at, the perfect man or woman to date, the perfect body to flaunt, or the perfect place to reside before you begin your life, you will never begin. Let’s work with the last example since it literally deals with location.
If you believe that a location is the answer to your issue of being unfulfilled in life, I promise you, when you get there, you’ll find that same issue caught the red eye and is waiting, bags unpacked, in your new home. And then the thoughts become: “I was misled… Maybe if I lived in a different part of the city… You know, come to think of it, I made a mistake; a more suitable place for me to be is [enter elsewhere here]…”
I have moved more times that I can remember — both in my childhood and as an adult. In fact, I’m setting a record here, having been in one place for four years straight. When I was in high school, I used to think my life would begin when I got to college in Santa Cruz. When I moved back to Lake County after college, I believed life would unfold in Ohio (lonnnnnng story… I chased a dream there, only to find it missing upon my arrival).
After I was back in Lake County for a couple years, I knew life would begin as soon as I found the right job in San Francisco. I found myself last year, having moved to Berkeley, Kelseyville, and Lakeport since leaving San Francisco, thinking about how my life would start anew once I move back to the city.
It is only in the past seven months — count ‘em, it won’t take long! — that I had to put the brakes on this line of thinking for good.
Don’t get me wrong. Change is crucial to our evolution, and oftentimes, these sweeping changes greatly enhance our lives. The issue is in relying on the change to kickstart you living your life.
You will not find life outside of yourself. I repeat: You will NOT find life outside of yourself.
So why would Kundera present this heart-wrenching idea? You guessed it. He was being facetious. His point is that if we put all of the responsibility of becoming fulfilled on another circumstance, person, or place, we will be rendered powerless regarding our own fulfillment. And if life is outside of ourselves and it is not where we expected it to be, then where is it? Until we look within, it will seem as if life is nowhere to be found.
I used to thrive on “elsewhere.” And by thrive I mean writhe. I was born a writer. I have been doing it since I physically could. Then when all of my childhood conditioning about self-worth, money, and success had sat long enough to form a solid pectin, the action of writing for life became scared-frozen somewhere in the middle of it all, and I was left only with the dream.
And so I writhed while waiting to be done with college, then to be done with that one job and then the other job, and then to save up money, and then to read the right books, and then to move to another state, and then to live in the city of amazing artists, and then to do yoga and to teach yoga to cultivate courage in myself, and then to work from home, and then to spend a full month in Bali and then ——— ENOUGH!
This past year has been a tremendous journey for me. By slicing and sifting through a lot of wasteful conditioning, I have learned that life is always right here — wherever I was, wherever I am.
The reason why we cannot see life straight ahead on the Scintillating Grid is because we are already in it.
We have to stop looking elsewhere for our lives and start participating in them this very moment and not a moment later.
Do you sometimes find yourself waiting on an event, person, or specific change before you move into action? What are you holding yourself back from being, doing, or achieving? What would happen if you just went for it right now?
If something here sparked something in you, please like or share this post. Or, better yet, indulge me with your own thoughts in the comments section below.