As a nine, my whole life is centered around love. I love people unconditionally and fully for who they are because I believe there’s beauty in all aspects of life, even if it can be hard to see. Unfortunately, I quickly learned that this is not how everyone thinks. I don’t like to overgeneralize, but I think there’s a point in all nines’ lives (perhaps even every person’s life) where they realize that most love is conditional, even if it’s just a subconscious realization like mine was, and that if they don’t act the right way, like the right things, or make any conflict then they risk losing the love they and acceptance they so desire. For me this happened at a very young age, being criticized by older kids for liking childish games and shows and coming to believe that being a innocent, silly kid was in itself a flaw. As you may expect, I made myself grow up very fast. Some people deal with this better than others, but I was definitely on the worse end of the spectrum. I feared that the real me was completely unlovable, so I became obsessed with controlling the information that people got about my inner workings, rarely ever allowing myself to be truly vulnerable or open. Even when I was it was a calculated vulnerability, only showing enough build connections with people but never revealing anything so concrete that I couldn’t alter it to be more appealing if the person didn’t react well. By the time I was in high school, when I heard something, the thought “how do I feel about this” never popped into my head. I just jumped directly to “how does this person want me to feel about this.” I built a wall in my mind between my “self” and this “ideal self” that I wanted everyone to see. This worked magnificently for most of my life. I got all the love I could want from my friends, who would often lavish praise on me for being this ideal person that I knew deep down I was not, but it was inherently unsustainable. As I grew older, my friends became more disparate, so the person I was with each of them started to become contradictory, and having shoved all of my true feelings and opinions deep into the back of my mind long ago, I had no way to resolve these conflicts within myself, no “self” to reference to see how I truly felt. And much as some people have already discussed, I could see other people’s motivations so clearly, that they often felt more real than my own. Maybe I do truly love Power Rangers (which I do), but if someone else thinks it’s stupid and I can clearly see the reasons why, often more clearly than I saw my own motivation, how could I know that they’re not right and I’m stupid for liking it so much? This kind of thinking permeated my whole life, especially in conflict. Because of this, I stopped wanting to even have conflict (not that I wasn’t already very avoidant) because I would always just come out of it doubting myself and seeing the other person’s perspective better than my own. A friend of mine articulated the effect this had on my very well. She said that whenever I befriended someone, that person slowly chipped away at all the parts of me that they didn’t like or agree with until there was nothing left of the dynamic, loving person I truly was. That’s why I often feel addicted to new relationships, because for a brief time I get to be more fully myself than with my oldest friends, and only once the honeymoon period of getting to know a new person faded would they start to see all the flaws that they wanted to chip away. What my friend didn’t realize is that like all of us, I have a relationship with myself just as real as my relationship with anyone else, and it’s not any more healthy. Because I was taught from such a young age that only certain things should be loved, even my unconditional love for myself quickly faded, and I came to hate all my anger, my selfishness, my desire, my ignorance, the list goes on and on. So while everyone else was chipping away at my superficial qualities, there was I, chipping away at the very core of my being until all that was left was a perfectly sculpted shell of a person, shaped to please everyone but myself. I became very depressed. I had lost all the vitality that makes life worth living. I didn’t want to make myself happy because it seemed hollow and meaningless. I didn’t even want to make other people happy, I was simply too afraid of being unlovable to stop. My entire life was ruled by obligation. I was obligated to be smart and successful to make my parents proud. I was obligated to be strong and always available to my lovers so that they would be happy. I was obligated to be a million different things to my friends so that they would think me a worthwhile person. It all added up to a beautifully sculpted and paradoxical person, but a person that I had no desire to be. All I really wanted to be was dead, to be free of the endless toil and obligation. It wasn’t as if I saw no beauty or joy in the world, but what good was it if there wasn’t really any “me” left to enjoy it? This desire grew stronger and stronger, but I always restrained it in the hope that something would change. I was still very young, I knew I still had much to learn about myself and the world, and maybe something would make it all worthwhile. It did, but it took that desire growing to a breaking point to make me see it. One day my girlfriend was driving me home from class. I had been arguing with a friend of mine, something I rarely do, but it was important to me because I was so sick of acquiescing that my view was just a matter of opinion, that they were probably right, that I should chip another piece of myself away so that I could be more agreeable. I was already in a bad mood, so I argued over trivial shit with my girlfriend too. I didn’t want to, I didn’t even really care if anyone agreed with me, I just wanted to be free of this endless cycle of compromise. I’d thought of killing myself many times, but it was always in the form of a “what if I do this?” kind of question. This time there was no question, just the thought as I saw an oncoming street sign, “jump out now, if your head hits the pole at this speed it will all be over.” I wanted to with everything that was left of myself, but something held me back. I hesitated, and the moment was gone. I sat in silence for a long time, and finally realized that if hiding myself from the world made want to kill myself, then what was the point of all the love I got from it? I broke down as soon as we got home. It was far from the first time, but it was the first time I held nothing back. I sat crying on my bed and told my girlfriend everything I was truly feeling, and of course she started crying too, and almost immediately, all my self pity and loathing and overwhelming desire to die vanished. I told her “but you know I’d never really do that right?” Which was obviously confusing because I almost had, but I knew, had always known it was the truth. She asked me why not, if life was really so miserable to me. And I gave her the answer that I’d always known was true but could never see, “because I love you. Because I love everyone. Because the one thought more unbearable than life, is making you cry. Because all this pain and struggle is worth it for every person in my life, and far beyond worth all of them together” (I wasn’t quite so poetic in the moment but you get the idea). And just like that, there was my whole purpose for being laid bare. I live because I love; I realized that I even love myself, even all the parts that had been chipped away, and that I loved everyone else just as completely. So why the fuck had I been so miserable for so long? Because my whole life I had been taught you should only love good things, or that you should only truly love one person, or that you shouldn’t say I love you too early, or too often, or too easily, or to too many people, and on and on. All these conditions that I’d let other people put on my unconditional love for life were suffocating, were constraining my very reason for being alive, all because I was afraid that if I loved too freely, that it would make my love cheap, and that no one would want it, and that no one would love me back. Anyway, if you made it this far, thank you for reading my entire essay. I don’t know if it will help anyone else find their passion for living, but it’s how I found mine. Someone else mentioned trying all the different types of meditation to find themselves, and I was much the same way. I tried mantras and self-deprivation and all kinds of things to quiet my desires and thoughts and see who I really was when I felt lost, until I heard a lecture from Allen Watts that showed me where I was going wrong. He said that everyone tries to meditate to improve themselves, but that’s not the point. The point, like most Zen practices, is that there is no point! If anything, it should just be fun to sit and allow yourself to be with no pressure to do this or improve that or become the other. I don’t think that would have made sense to me before I understood myself as well as I do now (which still isn’t perfectly), but now that I do, I try to meditate in everything that I do. It’s not trying to be enlightened or be in perfect harmony with the universe or at peace or perfectly quiet (although those are all noble goals), it’s being exactly what I am at every moment, and not wishing to be anything else. It’s loving all of my thoughts and desires and anger and selfishness and silliness as much as my intelligence and strength and calmness and so on, and accepting and loving all those qualities in the people and world around me as well. I certainly fall short of this ideal every day, but now when I do I don’t hate myself for failing, I love and forgive myself for being an imperfect being and allow myself to move on and live life.