The grass is always greener where you water it

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“Eeeeeeeeee!” “Eeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

It must be a door opening and closing, I thought. The sound was coming from downstairs in the bright blue house I was renting a room in for the night.

Then I realized the sound had been repeating for five minutes, at least, and that it was actually a dog whining.

Part of me was concerned — though the dog didn’t seem to be in too much pain. But another part of me was annoyed.

I was meditating, and this damn Airbnb host was distracting me from calming down after a day of travel by neglecting their damn dog. I wanted to focus on my breath and listen to the natural sounds of birds chirping and cars whooshing by through the window.

What happened next was a little lesson in how my mind works.

Someone opened the door downstairs and let the dog in. The whining stopped. My annoyance tapered off — but only for a few seconds!

The part of me that had been annoyed at the dog and my Airbnb host was now annoyed at the cars outside. They were too loud. The house was too close to the street. The neighborhood had too much traffic. I wanted to be in the woods somewhere focusing on my breath and listening to the natural sounds of nature naturing.

I’m a big fan of taking time around the end of the year to reflect and set intentions. This year, my motto is “The grass is greener where you water it.” It comes from a poster my partner bought before we moved in together. It appears to be attributed to Neil Barringham, a faith leader in Australia.

That means focusing on my two crafts: writing and being a therapist. Paying more attention to current clients than on getting attention on social media. Tending to existing friendships more than trying to acquire new ones. Noticing Baltimore’s open skies and big oak trees rather than fantasizing about those Southwest desert mountains I love.

I’ve spent so much time doing the opposite: ignoring the “weeds” right around me and coveting the grass elsewhere. Dying to escape my small southern Maryland hometown. Dreaming of playing stadium concerts with my high school pop punk band. Striving to launch new projects before finishing others. Fantasizing about writing a book one day. Avoiding commitment because maybe there’s something (or someone) better.

I don’t say this to beat myself up. It’s the “American Dream:” striving to improve so that one day with enough success, money, fame, etc., we will finally be happy. It’s capitalism’s M.O. There’s always some greener pasture in the distance. Some bigger mountain to climb. Some frontier to conquer. Some untapped resource to exploit. Some market to “disrupt.”

It’s not that capitalism made me crave some better environment for meditation. It’s that this weird, backwards, destructive economic system we’re all stuck in intensifies the part of me that thinks that way. That part of me is doing pushups all day long. It gets stronger every time I turn on the TV or scroll social media. There’s always some vacation or city or meal or event or creative project or meditation retreat or whatever that would make me feel better than I do right now.

This year, I’m going to try to turn against it a little bit and see what happens.

Hi, I’m Jeremy, a therapist for exhausted overachievers, stuck dreamers, and burned out activists. Subscribe to my weekly email newsletter to get posts like this straight to your inbox here.

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Photo by Neal Gillis.