Thich Nhat Hanh started talking about the importance of who and what you surround yourself with. He said "If you live in a bad neighborhood...move to a different neighborhood." Excuse me? I looked around to see if anyone else looked confused or in disagreement. I had honestly expected him to say something much different, something more along the lines of "If you live in a bad neighborhood...clean up the neighborhood, plant some flowers, start a neighborhood watch." I'm so used to a social justice/improvement approach to life that I just sat there, dumbfounded. Was it right to abandon a bad neighborhood? Shouldn't we try to fix it? Stick it out, not give up on it? If we moved on, didn't it mean that we admitted we couldn't fix it? Didn't this mean we would fail somehow?
"If you live in a bad neighborhood, move to another neighborhood."
-Thich Nhat Hanh
I used to think that if I developed enough strength, optimism, and sheer will, I could be with people and in places that were full of negativity, stress, and judgment and not be affected at all. I felt so stubbornly loyal to this belief, even though it doesn't sound very kind to myself. It's like saying you want to eat healthier, and then testing your ability to stick to the new diet by stocking the pantry and fridge with all the foods you are trying to avoid--simply to see whether or not you have the power to resist. That sounds like a form of torture. Wouldn't the better option be to stock your kitchen with foods that would support your goal? We don't always have to try so hard to prove ourselves amidst the worst possible circumstances. We can help ourselves by trying our best to find the best environment we can from which to make our base camp and plan our personal climb up the mountain.
Sure, sometimes that's not possible to always give yourself the "ideal neighborhood", but I think it's worth making a goal out of it. My dream is to be able to support myself full time with creative things (I realize this is the dream). But I've spent many years in day jobs that are full of stress and tension and that left me feeling zero energy at the end of a day to work on any of my own projects. In light of these experiences, my realistic goal became to find a day job that gave me the financial means and mental space to pursue the things I loved; in essence, to "move to another neighborhood". I'm lucky to say that I have made the move to a better neighborhood in the day job department and don't feel guilty in the least for relocating to a place that helps me to stay sane and maintain the kind of energy I need to try to be my best. Right now that's the best I can do.
Do you have a former bad neighborhood? When did you realize that staying was costing you more than leaving and finding a new place to live?