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Sitting In The Dark

How we find ourselves in undesirable places

I’ve recently found myself fascinated with the way life unfolds, the things we are willing to accept, and why we feel the way we feel about life.

Some things in life happen gradually and some things seem to materialize out of nowhere. Some things are the result of a series of decisions and events that occur over long periods of time, and some things are much more sudden. Although this dichotomy can be frustrating and somewhat mysterious, it also makes certain things easier to accept.

And in most cases, the things that happen more gradually are easier to accept than the things that occur suddenly. This is such a pervasive reaction that I’ve found it applies to nearly every facet of our lives. Even if the outcome born of gradual occurrences and the outcome born of more sudden occurrences are both equally unnerving, we’re far more likely to accept the outcome of gradual occurrences because we were slowly being conditioned to it over time.

As a watered down example:

Most days I sit in my living room and write. And most days, there is enough natural light coming in from the windows that I don’t need to turn on the overhead lighting we have in our living room. Sometimes, when it gets to be around 4:00pm I’ll find myself hopelessly engrossed in something that I’m writing. Whether I’m editing a longer piece or working on a short blog post, I can find myself in the mindset where nothing outside of the words on my computer screen and my keyboard occupy my attention.

Invariably, 4 o’clock bleeds into 5 o’clock and the sun starts to go down. And slowly, my living room gets darker. A part of me notices this waning light in the far reaches of my periphery while I’m focused on my words and my keyboard, but the amount of light in my living room is entirely unimportant to me in this moment.

Before long, as I’ve continued to pound away at my keyboard and tweak every sentence until it’s just right, I find myself sitting in the dark. The sun is completely down, the streetlights outside have turned on, and the only light in my living room is the dull white glow that’s emanating from my computer screen. And at this point, even though it’s abundantly clear that I’m sitting in the dark, I’m far too occupied by what I’m doing to really acknowledge that I’m sitting in the dark.

And as I’m working away in the dark, one of my roommates will arrive home from work and ask in a slightly bewildered tone, “You want me to turn the lights on?” To which I’ll reply distractedly, “Sure yeah, that’s great. Thank you.”

It’s only once the lights are turned on when it really sinks in that I have been sitting in the dark for a long time. That I have been in a situation I otherwise wouldn’t have tolerated if I happened to walk into my living room and it was completely dark. Of course, walking into a dark room and not turning on the lights is different than sitting in a room that was once light as it slowly became dark. At the same time, the end result is the same; I’m sitting in a dark room. But the way in which I got there and how I feel about each situation is entirely different.

This example is not unlike many things that happen in our lives. There are things that occur slowly over long periods of time that seep into our subconscious even though we probably wouldn’t tolerate these things if they were presented to us all at once. And in these instances where things take shape over long periods of time, we can be unwittingly making our beds only to be shocked or upset when we realize where we have ended up.

And that’s the funny thing about how our lives sometimes play out. Whether it’s sitting in the dark, or continuing to feel stuck in a job or situation that isn’t healthy, or continuing a toxic relationship with someone, or rejecting a chance to change for the better, there are many instances where it’s difficult for us to realize that something isn’t right because these situations have taken shape gradually over many years and we’ve become conditioned to them.

Ultimately, our lives are little more than a series of choices and decisions. In a lot of cases, life isn’t one big decision that suddenly changes everything.

A good percentage of the time, it’s a lot of little things that add up over the years to create our reality. And with this in mind, it would seem easy to recognize the value of these small decisions we make and these little occurrences that add up over time to ultimately form the foundation of our lives. But I’ve found that we can become so conditioned to these little things that we ignore them as they affect our lives in ways we might not realize in the moment. Due to this conditioning, the act of being mindful about the bigger picture can prove to be challenging.

As I’ve learned first hand, it’s not difficult to be entirely oblivious to the fact that I’m suddenly sitting in a dark room. I keep telling myself to pay more attention to the subtle changes in light as the sun is setting. To be aware of the fact that I can no longer see many of the details about the room I’m sitting in. That taking five seconds away from what I’m working on to stand up and turn on the lights isn’t going to break my concentration. And yet, more often than not, I still find myself sitting in the dark.