Who knew a turning point in my life would happen at a Chinese dim sum restaurant in suburban Maryland?
It was a Sunday, and I’d just gone hiking with my best friends. We were passing around potstickers and stuffed eggplant.
“You’re on Bernie Sanders’s Facebook,” a friend said to me, looking at her phone. “Jeremy’s in a video on Bernie’s Facebook!”
“Holy shit,” someone said from across the table. “Are you serious?” “Whoa!” “That’s awesome!”
I explained that I‘d had a connection in Bernie’s Senate office, and that they’d interviewed me about the immorality of private, for-profit prisons — a topic I’d studied for the nonprofit I worked with.
After peppering me with a few questions, everyone went back to their dim sum. The conversation moved on to where we should hike next and then to the pros and cons of living in the suburbs.
Part of me had hoped my friends would shower me with attention. That they’d moved on so quickly hurt. I felt alone even though I was surrounded by people I loved. I ordered another beer and stuffed an egg tart in my mouth.
The lesson was that I’m never going to get what I really want if I’m being led by the rock star part of myself.
My inner rock star wants to be worshipped. It thinks that if I’m in the spotlight, I’ll feel wanted and loved and never feel lonely.
Sure, it’s fueled many of my accomplishments. Starting a band at 15. Touring the country with said band at 19. Launching a weekly meditation class that lasted over two years. Being published in the Washington Post.
But it also keeps me from what I really, deeply, ultimately want — which is connection.
Singing in front of hundreds of people left me wanting to sing in front of thousands. Being published in the Washington Post left me wanting to be published in the New York Times. (Imagining my name in the Times really gets my inner rock star going.)
I remember feeling that same hollowness back in 2005 on the first night of tour with my band. It was a Monday at a dive bar in Johnson City, Tennessee. There was one old drunk watching us play over sips of his PBR. The whole town seemed asleep by 8:00 p.m. “This is it?” I thought, kicking a beer can around the parking lot. “Where are all the fans and groupies and journalists?”
Even if there had been fans and groupies and journalists, it probably wouldn’t have been enough for my inner rock star.
That’s the lesson I learned with the Bernie video. This rock star part of me believes a story about what it takes for me to feel connected. It thinks that I need to be famous. And it’s wrong.
The truth is that connection, love, belonging, they come and go. We can’t force other people to give them to us. We can’t force life to give them to us.
Somewhere along the way — likely when we were really young — we lost trust in life’s ebbs and flows. We forgot that connection would eventually come back. We forgot that connection — love — is right here, right now in the present moment. Every present moment.
Maybe you were hurt really bad by someone you loved, and you lost trust. Maybe you were scared and lonely, and those you loved were just too busy.
However you were hurt, you developed parts of yourself — like my rock star — that believe you have to be a certain way to get the love and sense of belonging you so badly want.
That’s why we do things like overwork, pick fights, people-please, numb out. A part of us thinks it will help, even though deep down inside we know it won’t.
A friend shared an Instagram post yesterday that captures this lesson. It said: “Every dead body on Mt. Everest was once a highly motivated person, so… maybe calm down.”
I teared up thinking about how lonely I’d felt surrounded by my friends and vowed to never choose attention from strangers on social media over them ever again.
Hi, I’m Jeremy, a writer, meditation teacher, and host of the Meditation for the 99% podcast. Subscribe to my weekly email on how to be more mindful at your job, in your relationships, and when it comes to politics here.
Photo by b1st wang.