Radiohead, morning, and the Pacific Coast: tools in the quest for mental clarity

19 Feb

Last Friday, I left my job at the Treasury Department. Next Monday, I start my new job, at The World Bank. In between, I’ve come to California, to celebrate a dear friend’s bachelor party and to clear my head before beginning a new professional adventure.

It’s difficult to unplug. Work life in the modern age demands constant connectedness. You turn off, and you fall behind.

I’m used to being on call. Even without a job, accepting that there are no work obligations to which I must immediately attend has proven challenging. And there remain personal stresses – financial, relational, familial – from which one does not detach by leaving a job or taking a vacation.

But in the stillness of morning, as a cool breeze streams in off the Pacific, I find solace at a coffee shop in Santa Barbara, a relief magnified by the Radiohead pouring into my head from the speakers at Caje. It, along with a steaming cup of Guatemalan java, fills me up. I feel at ease.

I adore the freedom of detachment. It engenders a delicious brand of mental clarity. My mind seems to take note of, and interest in, more and different things than when saddled by the persistent stresses of work-life.

(Of course, I am grateful to have a job lined-up. Many are struggling to find employment. It’s a privilege to have income, and to derive it from work in which one believes and about which one feels excited.)

It strikes me as crucial to have these brief interludes of freedom, periods during which one can let the mind wander. But, as I reflect on the new chapter that awaits me back in DC, and ways in which I can live this one better than the last, a new, bigger puzzle emerges. To wit, finding a way to inject clarity, creativeness, and appreciation into my everyday mental state.

How to do this? How to make non-fleeting the periods during which we feel capable of producing our best work, of being warmer toward, and more appreciate of, those closest to us? How, more broadly, to live with less anxiety?

I don’t have answers to these questions. But, the fact that stress can follow one to the paradise of coastal California signals to me that stress isn’t a product of one’s environment, but rather of one’s mentality. And, if stress is a product of one’s mentality, then finding ways to more effectively manage the stress-inducing elements of one’s mentality can help one achieve more persistent spells of mental clarity.

A tactic that strikes me as promising is identifying one’s core, underlying mission in life, and using that as the “big picture North Star” to guide one’s activity. Recognizing that life will inevitably throw unexpected hurdles in one’s way and thereby alter the plans that one has made can prove a key source of stress, as I and many of my friends know. But, having that North Star to which to return can help one absorb the punches of the unexpected, and keep driving toward the ultimate mission.

In other words, keeping sight of the big picture can help induce mental clarity.

I have found my North Star. As I spend the next few days driving up and down the coast of Central California, I’ll be searching for ways to keep it more at the forefront of my mind when I return to Washington. Fortunately, at least for the remainder of this week, the beauty of the 1, the stillness of morning, and the charms of good music will serve as my tools in this quest for mental clarity.





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