The Sock

August 21st, 2008 by Steve Pavlina

After I was arrested for grand theft in my late teens, I was stuck sitting in the county jail for a few days. My cellmate was another teenager who was there for possession of marijuana. We were both rather depressed, scared, and uncertain about what fate would befall us. Jail can be a gloomy place at times. Nobody wants to be there. It’s hard to think about anything but the huge mistake that landed you there.

At some point on the second or third day, a guard came by to deliver us a change of clothes. We had to wear those orange pajama-type outfits, not our own street clothes. If I recall correctly, first we had to strip totally naked and hand in our old clothes. Then we received the new ones. They’re pretty strict about such things.

As my cellmate and I opened our fresh bundles of clothes and began getting dressed, he started laughing uproariously. I turned toward him to see what could possibly be so funny. He shot me a huge grin and held up one of the clean socks he was given. The sock was only about an inch long. It wasn’t a shrunken sock — it was just the first inch of a regular sock, only enough to cover the toes. This may be one of those “you had to be there moments,” but we looked at each other and busted up laughing. What was he supposed to do with a one-inch sock?

Even though being in jail can be a depressing experience, that small bit of silliness raised our energy tremendously. For at least the next hour, it helped us feel more lighthearted and not take the situation so seriously. Being in jail only enhanced the laughter because we had more tension to release.

This happened more than 17 years ago, and I still chuckle about it from time to time.

Where’s the sock?

Sometimes when I’m hit by a number of setbacks in a row, I get knocked down to a lower energy level. For me the most common negative states are frustration and overwhelm.

When I notice I’m getting sucked down, I’ll sometimes ask myself, “Where’s the sock?”

I remind myself that if I can find a way to laugh in jail, then surely I can feel at least that good about anything that might happen outside of jail. It’s just a matter of shifting my perspective.

Finding the sock may mean looking for the humor or irony in a bad situation. Other times it means noticing the silver lining behind the clouds.

Behind every sorrow is a deeper joy. Behind every setback is a greater opportunity. Behind every death is a reawakening to new life.

As I noted in my last post, seven days ago a good friend of mine passed away. Do I feel depressed about that? No, actually I feel happier than I did a week ago — not because I wanted him dead! — but because his passing gave me (and many others) more clarity about what’s most important.

In the past I’ve experienced blows that have made me question my current path and switch directions, sometimes abruptly. In this particular case, I didn’t feel any pressure to switch paths, but I do feel a deeper sense of commitment to the path I’m already on.

Lighten up

A problem many of us have is that we take life too seriously and become overly attached to the trappings of the physical universe. Then when those comforts are threatened — which is inevitable because everything physical is impermanent — we go all kittywompus and have a difficult time handling it.

To lighten up means to release your paranoid death-grip on your physical world trappings, such as your possessions, your relationships, your social status, and your income. All of that is temporary. It cannot possibly endure.

If you can accept — really and truly accept — that every component of your physical life is temporary and will eventually end, you can still enjoy your physical experiences without suffering so much when you lose them.

The less attached you are to your physical life, the more you’ll enjoy it.

If you get a chance, go outside and pick up a rock. Hold it in your hand. Realize that this is a unique and temporary experience. Here in the physical universe, you can pick up and hold rocks. You can feel their weight, texture, and hardness. This might seem like a very mundane experience at first, but realize that you won’t always be able to do this. Your ability to interact with the physical universe is temporary, and it will soon end. Against the backdrop of eternity, your time here is actually quite brief. Enjoy it while it lasts.

What a terrible waste it is to find yourself here in the physical universe — for such a short while — and not enjoy yourself.

If you aren’t enjoying your life, then let go of the parts you don’t enjoy. Simply put those pieces down. Go find other pieces you actually enjoy.

Find the sock

If you feel that your life is akin to a jail cell and it seems overwhelming to change so many things you feel are wrong, then start by looking for the sock. Where’s the humor in your situation? If this was someone else’s story that you were watching unfold, what would you find amusing about it? At the very least, find a way to laugh at how at just how pathetic your life is. Be like George Costanza.

Some of the recurring sock patterns I’ve seen are:

  1. Continuing to show up each day to a job you don’t even like. How pathetic is that? You volunteer to go sit in jail each day? Why? Because the pay is good? Because you like hanging out with prisoners? Because you look good in orange? How can you not laugh about this? If a friend said to you, “I just accepted a dare to go spend 90 days in jail; if I can do it, the guy who dared me says he’ll pay me a nice wad of cash,” would you not find that at least a little bit amusing… perhaps even crazy? Maybe you’ve been hanging out with the inmates so much you’re beginning to think like them.
  2. Wanting to get back together with an ex-partner who dumped you. You want to get back together with someone who doesn’t even want you? Talk about needy and clingy…. Why not just bribe the other person to get back with you? If you can’t laugh at yourself for doing this, you must really be asleep. The only thing worse is wanting to get back with an ex-partner that you originally dumped.
  3. Eating like crap and then complaining about how you look and/or feel. That’s like putting sugar in your car’s gas tank and then complaining that it has a hard time starting. Damned car! What’s wrong with this thing? You should be laughing with every bite.
  4. Putting your bills first. All your creditors are satisfied while you’re stressed and unhappy. Brilliant achievement! Have you had your bill collectors over for dinner to tell them you love them so much that you’ve made pleasing them your top priority? Do you want a Scooby Snack for that? Maybe if you put happiness a bit higher on the scoreboard, you’d find it easier to create enough value that you never have to worry about your bills.
  5. Doing the same thing every day and expecting dramatic change. Quite the optimist, aren’t you? You must be the one who gave my cellmate that one-inch sock. While we appreciated the laugh, you might want to note that a one-inch sock doesn’t quite serve the same function as a whole sock.

When you start laughing at the absolute ridiculousness of your life’s worst problems, this will raise your energy level for a while. You’ll actually feel lighter. This is a great time to make a few positive changes, even if they’re just little ones at first. Remember that the worse your situation is, the more it will help you to find the sock because you’ll have more tension to release.

It’s very hard to change while you’re holding lots of tension and stress inside. Look for the sock in order to break the tension, if only for a little while, and remind yourself what freedom feels like. Then imagine what your life could be like if freedom became your default state instead of a temporary interruption to a dreary existence.

You may not control all the circumstances of your life, but you can at least control your focus. You can choose to find the sock. And that’s really all the power you need to get moving toward greater freedom. Just keep looking for the sock.


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