11/01/2013 10:22 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Where Does the Sky Begin?

One of the few things that has stayed with me from my 8th grade geometry class is a poster that hung in the classroom explaining how the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. I cannot remember how triangles work or what radians are, but that poster has stayed plastered to the back of my brain for a while now.

A few nights ago, I had a long talk with someone about the direction her life is taking, as she is at a bit of a loss for what might be her next "right" step. I mostly listened, as she explained the different ideas she had, weighing the pros and cons of each path to a yet-to-be-determined destination. After staying silent for some time, a question popped into my mind. "What is it that brings you effortless joy?" I asked. "Figure that out, and then work backwards," I said.

I had never thought that way before. Saying it out loud to someone else felt like the recognition of something I have always known but have not always given credence to. My body warmed up and I could not help myself from smiling. In pointing someone else to the door, I found it myself.

Figuring out what brings me effortless joy is akin to figuring out where the sky starts and ends. It can be anything -- listening to music with a fire going or biting into a really fantastic sandwich or running ahead for no reason or making love or laughing until it hurts -- and I think the crux of this question is that it is life that brings us this joy. I cannot point to one thing and say, "It is that right there that brings me effortless joy!" any more than I can say, "Oh, the sky starts right over here." It is these series of breaths we take and the beautiful things that happen in between them that provide weight to our existence.

Sometimes I forget about this truth, as I think most of us do, and I go to place where I become unhappy. A month or two ago, I felt so stressed about something having to do with my job that I could not fall asleep. As I tossed and turned, that feeling of dread creeping around my stomach, I heard myself whisper, "You are not going to care about this when you are dying." I must have said it 100 times, unconsciously speaking louder and louder, as if to convince myself of the veracity of the words coming out of my mouth. Slowly, the dread went away, and I felt the air rush into my lungs as I breathed deeply and smiled. My bed was warm and the sheets were soft. I felt happy, and it was effortless.