Help, I’m Jaded!
As a 90s/00s kid, the pinnacle of my young existence was either going to Borders or Sam Goodie to buy a new CD. I remember buying such classics as Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Californication, Pink Floyd’s Animals, and Limp Bizkit’s Significant Other (hey, my taste was still developing…) and throwing them in my boom box the second I got home. I would rarely do anything else but simply lie on the floor and listen. No computer games in the background. No reading. No instant messaging or texting friends. I would fully immerse myself in the music and simply listen to the album front to back without so much as moving a muscle.
Though mindfulness had yet to take over the cultural conversation at the time, this act of deep listening was unintentionally a form of meditation. Simply acquiring a new piece of music, and having the time and space to absorb it, was the greatest gift I could imagine. Those songs and albums from that era are forever etched in my brain — I wish I could expunge some of those lyrics and have room in my memory to remember where I left my sunglasses or keys — and these “mindful” listening sessions brought me such hope and peace. I felt empowered by the music, as if my whole life was energized by immersing myself in the art.
I can’t remember the last time I bought an album and drank it in as my sole focus. I listen to curated Spotify playlists in the car, or background music at a party or restaurant, but I haven’t sought the simple joy of my youth in quite some time. My adult brain — revved up on smartphones, advertisements, chores, and anxiety — often greedily gobbles up four or five inputs at once. While reading, I have the TV on in the background, while checking Instagram, while waiting for the oven to preheat…I keep cramming endless content and distraction into my mind in hopes of quieting it or reaching some bliss that never comes.
I’ve been reflecting on this tendency, and a transparent but worthy idea has come forth: through experience, expectation, and ungratefulness we lose the ability to enjoy life. Slowly but surely, we become jaded. We get used to the freedoms and opportunities that arise as adults, and we take them for granted.
I remember gasping in shock when I learned that my middle school English teacher went to see movies on weeknights! My pubescent brain almost exploded. I loved going to the movies, but was never allowed at the theater on a school night. How awesome would it be to go to a movie whenever I wanted?, I remember thinking. I can’t wait to be an adult and do that!
Last week, after a long day of zooms and conference calls, I sat on my couch doom-scrolling through my phone and feeling lonely and sorry for myself (my wife was out to a work dinner so I was left to my own devices). No food seemed appetizing on Postmates, and no activity seemed enticing. Middle-school-me would have killed for a night with no obligations, responsibilites, or structure. I would have gone to the movies, eaten ten boxes of Red Vines, and hit In-N-Out for a double-double on the way home. Not the healthiest night, but I would have been grinning ear-to-ear. Yet here I was, at the ripe age of 34, sitting on my couch feeling dulled by life and lethargic.
Reflecting on my younger self, I popped out of my daze, and pulled out the record player that had been collecting dust in a cabinet. I put on U2’s Joshua Tree, and simply lay on the floor (except when having to flip the record) and listened. Though I meditate almost everyday, I hit a new level of bliss as I simply did one thing with full attention. I’ve heard Joshua Tree roughly 100 times, but it felt new and layered and warm.
As adults we get robbed of our joy by so many things. We are expected to pay the bills, while earning a promotion, while running errands, while comforting our grieving friend, while doing everything else under the sun to prop up our lives. Because our responsibilities and fears pile up, we go blind to the nearly infinite possibilities we have at any moment in time. Combining our obligations and distractions…it’s no wonder the fuzzy edges of life get dull and rusty over time. I used to go hunting for tadpoles in a pond for hours. Or cut pages out of Sports Illustrated and make collages on my ceiling. I used to lose myself in an activity without even trying. I want to access that purity and joy again. The more we remember to occasionally do just one thing and do it with our whole being, the more our current (and middle school) selves will thank us with glee.