The Endless Pursuit of Preoccupation

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I’ve spent years fruitlessly searching for something more, often by engaging in tumultuous relationships, reckless endeavors, and high intensity jobs.  These spaces were fraught with tension, intrigue, drama, and suspense and would hold my attention for a time.

Looking back, one of my unhealthy preoccupations was my gross investment in loved ones who were “drowning”, often in abusive relationships and/or struggling with addiction.  Their struggle was severe, often involving episodes of incarceration, potential homelessness, and hospitalization.  I would throw my entire being into “saving another” and would rage and wound after being rejected after multiple attempts of confrontation.  I became more invested in their healing process than they were.   I wanted them well and “awake”, able and willing to connect, and eventually I realized my preoccupation was limiting my own growth and healing.  I learned that my quest to connect, over time, trapped me in a cycle of disillusionment and disconnection.  In my effort to reach people, I had cut myself off and my world closed in on me as I became more obsessed to reach those who had value to me. Depression and despair set in and I grew bitter, alone, and often suicidal.  My value was placed on a select few that I felt had abandoned me, if not, even abandoned themselves.

In this space: I sat, I slept, and I sulked.  Those struggling continued to struggle.  Those sleeping continued to sleep.  And, I, lamented and grieved.

It was during this painful time in my life, that I became aware of two conflicting spaces, one of endless preoccupation, and one of stillness.  I was familiar with preoccupation, busying my mind with anything but the deafening silence of solitude. Preoccupation lead me into places of intensity: tumultuous relationships, gambling, and chaos.  I refer to chaos as the endless opportunities in my life that existed to engage in gossip and drama regarding other people’s pain.  It was an addiction in and of itself, often latching on, attempting to bring about change in a complex and chaotic situation where those struggling were not entirely invested in healing.  I wore their pain like a corset and went on a mission to rattle them to the point of waking.  To this day, it has failed and left me rejected and devalued, struggling to pick up the pieces while the bombs keep dropping in the background.  There seemed to be no safe shelter from it.  I had to walk away from those that had already left me, complacent with the dissolve of our relationship and the perpetual destruction in their lives.  After years of exhaustion and loneliness, I knew it was time to visit the other side, stillness.  I wondered what I could gain from being still, no longer running endlessly, could I even stop and what would happen if I did?  This place of stillness is still somewhat foreign to me.

And so, this brings me to where I am at presently in my life. Exploring the space of stillness, checking in, recognizing the urge to move, but not doing so.  Often if I felt an urge, I acted on it in some way.  So, sitting here, still, is a new practice for me. Some may call it meditation or mindfulness and those are two ways to “tune in” instead of turning to mindless preoccupation where intent is often muted,  undiscovered.

In this space, I am learning that I have often ran from the pain of rejection and loneliness in my life.  Oddly enough, I would run right back into a situation where I didn’t have the opportunity to connect.  In fact, gambling and hopeless relationships served to further alienate me from myself and others.  It limited my ability to connect.  When I gambled, I was detached, sitting in front of a machine, with absolutely no opportunity for true connection.  I look around now and notice the level of disconnection that occurs when people are in pain. To be fair, some amount of preoccupation is needed as it would be impossible to be “on” and “connected” all the time.  And preoccupation can be achieved in healthy ways where people are connecting.  I am primarily concerned with the amount of unhealthy preoccupation that I have participated in to dull the pain in my life.

Sitting still has made me aware of why I am running so much in my life.  A few weeks ago, I was taking a bath.  I love a hot bath and it is a great place to “be still”.  I asked myself why is it I don’t feel loved?  Why am I jealous sometimes of others and long to feel special?  Why am I chasing after people and situations that never give back, where I am neglected and rejected?  Why?  Now, in the past, I would become immediately preoccupied.  I did not want to sit with my pain.  But, from this simple exchange, came a voice, an answer.  I was missing my “father”.  I never knew my biological father and I wasn’t close to my step-dad.  Growing up, I was jealous and sad of the other girls I saw who would run up, jumping into their Dad’s lap.  I was fortunate to have some time with my Grandfather who did bestow fatherly love on me, but my grandparents lived in another state and that love I experienced was limited to the times we were physically together.  So, all of these feelings of sadness & jealousy that I figured were character flaws actually came from a real place.  This opened up the door for compassion.  How could I be mad at a little girl who longed to be held by her father?  This helped to create softness in place of the “armor” I had created in self loathing and fear.  Had I not sat in the stillness and asked, I may have missed this discovery, this puzzle piece of my landscape.

We have a choice every day to “wake up” or remain sleeping.  If you find that you are endlessly running and are exhausted from endeavors that don’t provide any return, but drain you, it may be time to consider the stillness.  What greater endeavor than to connect to yourself and enrich your life while developing compassion towards yourself and others.  This has been a gift.  And I have a lot more “sitting” to do as I’m used to the endless pursuit of preoccupation.