05/08/2012 11:19 am ET Updated Jul 08, 2012

What Matters: Taking Back Your Life

Lately I've been talking with a lot of people who feel out of control. I don't mean they feel out of control just regarding the economy and politics. Many of us feel that way, and with good reason. I mean their very own day-to-day lives seem out of their control. And not just a part of their life, but all of it: their children, their relationships, their money, their job, their emotions, their eating habits, their body, and most of all, their time. They say things like "I don't have time to..." (fill in the blank) -- eat properly, see my friends or family, take a walk in the woods, make love, read, dance, exercise, meditate. It's as if they were living a life someone else designed, arranged, and handed them off the rack, like a cheap suit. As if they weren't in charge.

Recently I met someone who did something radical about it. I bumped into him in this little hotel in Spain. We walked along the main pedestrian street to the tourist office, as he told me his story. He was recently divorced from a woman with whom he had been living for years "like brother and sister." He had finished raising his son and had helped him get started in business. He had everything he was supposed to have: money, big house, responsible job, even a fancy lawnmower, like his neighbors. But something was missing.

He figured it out watching his best friend from the age of 6 die of cancer at 45. His friend regretted that he had never traveled, and now it was too late. It was a dream they had shared. So 10 days after the funeral, this guy locked up his fancy house in the suburbs, left his grown son, his high-paying but deadening job with the assistant he trained, and took a plane to Paris, where he got on a motorcycle. Never having been to Europe before, this high-school dropout is driving across the continent to Moscow, where he'll board the Orient Express to Bangkok, motorcycle and all, and continue around the world. He has no exact plan, just a direction and a quest. He was as open as any human being I have met in a long time.

We talked of souls and meaning, love and God. I congratulated him on his new-found freedom, and gave him some travel tips. "I don't know what you'll do when this is over," I mused, offering an anchovy in vinegar, which he ate with gusto. "Maybe you'll go back home, or maybe you'll sell everything and start a new life. Maybe you'll just keep traveling. It doesn't matter. What you can be sure of is that you will never be the same." His eyes shone with wonder. We drank the local wine and wandered through the Jewish section of Cordoba, visiting the Sephardic Museum and the great mosque-turned-cathedral during the Spanish Inquisition, then a Flamenco performance filled with passion that took our breath away. The next day I threw him a map out my window and wished him good travels, as he boarded his bike, which took him west to Seville, while I continued southeast to Granada.

Leaving everything is a dramatic move. It was what he needed to do, and was able to do. But you don't necessarily have to do the same to take back your life. You can take it back the same way people give it up: one choice at a time. You begin by being intentional and owning the choices you are already making every day, moment by moment, instead of blaming them on circumstance, or on your lack of time. Say "I am eating fast food because I choose to eat it; I choose convenience and speed over health and satisfaction." We are sorting and choosing all the time. The cumulative choices we make give us our lives. Everything counts.

We make choices we call practical without questioning what it is we wish to practice. We give away our "one wild and precious life," as Mary Oliver called it, for comfort, but do not ask what it is we feel we should be comforted for. We sell our souls for convenience and call it survival. But we fail to note the irony: The one thing we can be certain of in this life is that, in the end, we will not survive.

So what profits a man who gains the world and loses his soul? The man I met in Spain gave up his familiar world to save his soul... and in return, he gained his life back. Isn't saving your life worth a little comfort and convenience? Who knows? You might just gain the world -- and your passion -- in the process.

That's what matters.

For more by W. Hunter Roberts, click here.

For more on mindfulness, click here.

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