Today I jumped headfirst into the depths of nostalgia. I swam through history and waded through old memory with a familiar, thoughtful grace. I touched down upon a floor filled with recognizable relics, and grazed gently against the pieces of my past.

This sea of recollection filled me with the sense that it had all happened “just yesterday,” though a discernible distance had wedged itself into my mind, distinguishing past memory from present moment. I stumbled upon written exchanges with friends and sensed the unmistakable enthusiasm that had defined my youth. I discussed love and life with confidence and passion, unconcerned with the fact that I was a novice on such matters. As a young person, there was no expectation that I be wise. My naiveté protected me from having to explain myself.

It felt good to talk often of big ideas and future plans, for they were the very things that kept me tethered to my dreams. Without such thoughts, I would be grounded in reality, forced to look only at that which my eyes could see. Society ascribes a particular pessimism to the notion of the “real world.” The real world is referenced casually, like a bad habit. It’s something that we are forced to endure, despite its tendency to be both exhausting and cruel.

The real world, as commonly understood, is viewed as an inevitable misfortune. Through our own collective acceptance, we have designated such a world to represent the things which we most loathe. We say that this world is defined by 40+ hour work weeks, taxes, health insurance, mortgages, child care expenses, deadlines and checking accounts. “Back to the real world” is a common expression, indicating a return to the things we least enjoy.

I wonder if it is possible to shift this mindset, and reconstruct our notion of what it means to really live. If we expanded upon our understanding of real life, could we begin to feel greater fulfillment from our everyday? My inclination is to say yes. If we stopped pretending that real life is something to be feared and dreaded, we could begin to enjoy more of its simple pleasures.

According to Buddhist philosophy, suffering is inextricably linked with the human experience. No matter how hard you try, you cannot separate suffering from real life. I share this mantra, but I also believe that it would be foolish to mistake the anguish we willingly subject ourselves to-due to our own misconceptions of reality-as being representative of the type of suffering the Buddhists refer to. Certain hardships in life exist outside of our own control; I can accept this. For many other of life’s challenges, though, there is space for ownership and self-command. There exists an opportunity to intervene before it’s too late. To pour a different mold before our entire life path is set out to dry.

Seizing upon such opportunities is important, particularly for those of us who find ourselves wanting more from the life we live. Should we choose to reorient our lives towards greater meaning, reward will likely follow. Contentment and acceptance will step out from the shadows, for unbeknownst to us, they were there the whole time.

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