I’m 24 years old. I’m in the North Indian Himalayas. I’m sitting down for a private audience with one of Tibet’s most revered Buddhist teachers. After telling him how attached I am to my mother he looks at me straight in the eyes, smiles and gently says, “Well, you have to grow up now“. No seven words have ever hit me so hard.
This post is dedicated to all you people out there who are struggling with bitter sweet agony of growing up. I hope it gives you something to think about.
John Mayer and the train that can never stop
If you follow me on Twitter you will probably know that I am a fan of John Mayer. John is one of those rare artists that has an innate ability to put certain life situations into words. In fact, before I started listening to Mayer I would have argued that many of these emotions, desperate mental dramas and secret inner quandaries were unable to be described in ordinary language. They are simply too experiential to be categorized.
But John manages to. John reconnects me to those mental places with his lyrics. He does it time and time again. And although I am desperately trying to avoid these emotions (because they hurt), I find myself listening to Mayer again and again because it reminds me I am not unique. These emotions are, for the most part, universal to all humans. I have to thank John for that.
One John Mayer song that is not particularly critically acclaimed or even well liked amongst his fans is called Stop This Train. It is a song that, whenever I hear it, sends me back to that terrifying place of knowing that, really, we are alone growing up in this world. But, at the same time, it connects you with a feeling of hope because you aren’t the only one in that situation.
I ask everyone reading this post to watch an incredible solo performance of John singing this song here while taking a look at the lyrics here. Take five minutes out of your day to experience this song and everything it means to you because it gives this article a lot of context.
Crying, driving away in the dark
There comes a point in everyone’s life when they realize there is no turning back. In the song Mayer uses the metaphor of driving away from his parents house, crying, in the dark. We have all had that moment. It might have been when you moved out or when you realized that you could beat your dad at table tennis. For a lot of people it manifests as an extremely empty and hollow realization.
The interesting thing is that some people are more equipped for this moment than others. Some people shut down and start to compensate for this lost youth in negative ways. Others embrace it and look forward to the future. Some people do both. But this moment is pivotal because it is the start of your adulthood. How you deal with this moment has a lot to do with whether you ever really grow up at all – and a lot of people don’t.
How to move forward and grow up
I am not professing to have all the answers. I still struggle all the time with the idea that I am no longer at home with my mum eating her cooking and asking her for $10 to buy lunch with. I still struggle with the fact that she is going to die one day.
But since my conversation with that Buddhist Lama I have made some headway. I am stepping out on my own more and I am starting to enjoy it. Here are some tips on how to grow up well. Tips on how to drive away in the dark knowing that you are going to make it.
1. Accept it as soon as you can
Something you are going to need to do eventually is accept that there is no going back. You will have to accept this to grow up well. You can put it off or you can stand up tall and do it now. There is never any going back to the old days. The old days are like a dead person and you cannot revive a dead person no matter how much you long for them.
I encourage everyone who is struggling to grow up to accept fact that the past is gone and it is never coming back. Move forward. Its all you have.
2. Give up the memory reliving
If you are a healthy adult who has dealt with the growing up process well then there is nothing wrong with a little nostalgic reminiscing. But if you are buying sports cars, having affairs, trying to relive your youth or struggling with the depression of getting old then these memories can drive you mad. You need to give them up.
One of my worst traits is that I think to much. This inability to quiet my mind was one of the main reasons I was struggling to grow up. I would constantly play out the old days in my head, wishing, praying that I could go back to high school when things were simpler. But after I was gently told to “grow up” by my teacher I decided that it was time to leave these things behind and move on. And I have never been so happy.
The best way you can do this is by starting to become a little better at mediation. You don’t have to sit on a cushion and close your eyes but you do have to start becoming friends with your mind. Learn to watch your thoughts. Learn how they arise and subside without leaving any trace at all. When you do this they cease to control you.
3. Find out the cause
Often the pain associated with growing up can be linked to something else. Why are you feeling like this? Why are you missing the old days? If you can find another cause you might be able to get on top of those feelings.
For example, if you are really stressed because you think your wife is cheating on you then, undoubtedly, you are going to be longing for the old days where life was more simple. In this situation it isn’t the growing up that is causing the problem, it is some ancillary factor. Find out what is bringing these thoughts up and deal with it as soon as possible.
4. Don’t recreate
Trying to recreate the old days by going out with your mates all the time, skirting your responsibilities to your family, etc. is not going to solve the issue. A lot of people (men in particular) deal with the issue by not dealing with it. It is tempting here to grab you by your shirt collar and shake you while yelling, “Grow the F up man!” But of course that wouldn’t help.
We need to have a sense of honor in these situations by accepting the fact that we aren’t dealing with the problem very well. Trying to recreate the good ole days is not useful, nor will it make you feel better. As soon as you get in the cab to go home you will be back to that empty space. Recreating is living in the past and the past is a dead person. Remember?
5. Find good company
You are shaped in a big way by the people around you. If you are surrounded by 30 year old men who still wear their school jackets and go out drinking every night then you are going to go down with them. If, however, you hang out with people who are making progress, living and really trying to better themselves then you too will begin to move forward.
Finding good company is a massive part of growing up. It is a stark and bitter day when you realize that most of your buddies from high school are assholes and that you need new mates. You feel extremely alone. You have to find new people. But you will. And when you do you will be so much better off. Of course not everyone’s buddies from school are assholes. But a lot of the time they will hold you back because, as a group, you can just stay alive in the past.
6. Understand that things change
When the 16th Karmapa was on his death bed his students asked him to sum up his life’s experience and wisdom into one small teaching. After a brief pause he turned to them and simple said, “Things change”.
These two words are the quintessence of growing up. These two simple words summarize everything that you need to know about life. Things change and when you fail to grasp that truth you suffer. Nothing lasts and nothing stays the same. Embrace that chaos and find some peace by letting go.
So you have two options. You can fight to stop the train or you can go with it. As corny and cliche as it sounds, you really have to learn how to cope because there is no going back. Your youth is gone and all you have is now and, if you are lucky, the future. Have you grown up yet?
If you have any advice to give anyone or if you yourself have struggled with growing up please leave a comment and share your experience. It might really help someone.