Your Second Life Will Begin Once You’ve Realized That You Only Have One

By Raphaëlle Giordano
Sample Translation by Gretchen Schmid

1

Droplets of rain, heavier and heavier, were crashing onto my windshield. The wipers were squealing and I, with my hands clutching the wheel, was squealing just as loudly inside my head…Soon, the downpour was so heavy that I instinctually lifted my foot. All I needed was an accident! Had the elements decided to gang up against me? Knock, knock, Noah! What is this flood?

In order to avoid Friday night traffic, I had decided to take back streets, rather than subjecting myself to crowded major roads and the horrors of cars backed up like accordions. I tried in vain to see through the windows, which the weather gods were having a field day fogging up to the utmost, just to complicate things more. And as if that weren’t enough, my GPS decided, all of a sudden, right in the middle of an out-of-the-way heavily wooded area, that it wasn’t going to follow the same route as me any longer. A technological failure, with an immediate effect: I was driving straight, while it was spinning round in circles.

I have to say that in the place where I was driving, GPSes didn’t work. Or they didn’t work well.  It was the type of place left off of maps, where being there meant being nowhere. And yet… there was a little complex of businesses, the improbable grouping of LLCs (Limitedly Lucrative Companies), which were supposed to represent enough commercial potential to my boss to justify my going there. Perhaps there was also a less rational reason. Ever since he had allowed me to transition to a more flexible schedule, I had the disagreeable feeling that he was making me pay for it by giving me the missions that the others didn’t want. This explained why I now found myself shunted to the sidelines, roaming the streets of the major Parisian suburbs, occupied by this little task for small fry…

All right, Camille… stop ruminating and concentrate on your driving!

Suddenly, a loud explosion noise….a terrifying sound that sent my pulse up to 120 and made me lurch uncontrollably. My head banged against the windshield and I noted curiously that the story of your life flashing before your eyes in two seconds wasn’t a myth. After a few moments of wooziness, I recovered my senses and touched my forehead for injuries… no blood. Only a large bump. Quick checkup…no, no other injuries. More fear than harm done, luckily!

I stepped out of the car, covering myself as well as I could with my raincoat to check the damage to the car: a flat tire and a dented fender. Now that the initial terror had passed, fear had turned to anger. For goodness’ sake! Was it possible to have so much hassle, all in the same day? I seized upon my cell phone as a life raft, but of course, there was no service. I was hardly surprised, for I was resigned to my rotten luck.

Minutes ticked by. Nothing. No one. Alone, lost in this deserted undergrowth. Anguish began to mount, further drying my scratchy throat.

Don’t panic, just move! There are surely houses, around the corner…

So I left my protective abode to fight resolutely against the elements, decked out in a very flattering raincoat. All’s fair in love and war! And anyway, to be completely frank, given the circumstances, my level of glamoritude didn’t matter all that match to me…

After about ten minutes, which seemed like an eternity, I stumbled upon a piece of property. I pressed the bell as though it were 911.

A man responded to me with the distrustful voice of someone behind-the-gates, a voice reserved for intruders.

“Yes? Who are you looking for?”

I crossed my fingers: please, let these people be hospitable and friendly!

“Good evening, sir… I’m sorry to bother you, but I had a car accident in the woods behind you… my tire is flat and my cell phone has no service… I couldn’t call anyone…”

The metallic noise of the gate opening made me jump. Was it my looking like a distressed cocker spaniel that convinced this hermit to offer me sanctuary, or my story of shipwreck? It didn’t matter. I slipped inside the gate without finishing my story and found myself in front of a magnificent building, surrounded by a well-designed and maintained garden. A true nugget of gold!

2

The light on the front steps lit up and the door at the end of the path opened. A tall male silhouette advanced towards me, under an immense umbrella. Once he was close enough to me, I was able to take note of his long, pleasing face, with strong features. He was one of those men who ages well, a French Sean Connery. I noticed that he had two dimples, like commas, framing the corners of his mouth, which gave him an air of friendliness. An air that made you want to speak with him. He had probably reached his sixtieth birthday like someone playing hopscotch, light-footed and collected. His beautiful light grey eyes sparkled with a mischievous glimmer, like two marbles just polished by a little boy. His salt-and-pepper hair was surprisingly thick for his age, with only a slight recession at his hairline, which formed a curly bracket on his forehead. A very short beard, as well trimmed as the garden around him, completed his refined, well-groomed look.

He invited me to follow him inside. An ellipsis to my silent examination.

“Come in! You’re soaked to the bone!”

“Th…thank you! It’s truly kind of you. Once again, I’m sorry to bother you…”

“Don’t be. It’s no problem. Here, sit down and I’ll go find a towel for you to dry off a little.”

At that moment, an elegant woman, whom I assumed to be his wife, came towards us. The gracefulness of her pretty face was momentarily altered by her frown upon seeing me in her foyer.

“Dear, is everything all right?”

“Yes, yes, everything’s all right. This woman had a car accident and she couldn’t get any service on her cell phone in the underbrush. She just needs to use our phone and to recover a little.”                                                 

“Ah, yes, of course…”

Seeing me frozen, she asked me kindly if I would like a cup of tea, which I accepted without any protest.

While she slipped away to the kitchen, her husband came down the stairs, a towel in his hand.

“Thank you, sir, it’s very kind.”

“Claude. My name is Claude.”

“Ah…mine is Camille.”

“Here you are, Camille. The telephone is over there, if you’d like.”

“Perfect. I won’t be long.”

“Take your time.”

I walked towards the telephone on top of a pretty, refined wooden table, which is underneath a piece of contemporary art displayed prominently. Clearly, these people had taste and a decent financial situation…what a relief, to have stumbled upon them (and not into the lair of an ogre-desperate-housewife-in-distress-eater!).

I took the receiver off the hook and dialed the help number of my insurance company. Since I wasn’t able to give them the precise location of my car, I suggested that the mechanic come find me at the house of my hosts, with their permission. They told me that they would be there within the hour. I breathed internally: things were looking up.

Next, I called my house. To give me privacy, Claude grabbed the poker and went to tend to the fire burning in the fireplace, at the other end of the room. After eight interminable rings, my husband picked up. From his voice, I guessed that he had been dozing off in front of the television. Despite everything, he didn’t seem surprised or worried to hear me. He was used to me coming home late. I explained the trials of the evening to him. He interjected my sentences with irritating sounds and clacks of his tongue and then asked me technical questions. How long would I be waiting for the mechanic to arrive? How much was it going to cost? I was already on edge, and his behavior made me want to scream into the receiver! He couldn’t show a little bit of empathy, for once? I hung up, furious, telling him that I would manage and that he shouldn’t wait for me before going to sleep.

My hands were trembling despite myself and I felt my eyes begin to well up with tears. I didn’t hear Claude approaching me, so quietly that his hand on my shoulder gave me a start.

“Is everything all right? You’re feeling okay?” he asked with a kindly voice, the voice that I would have liked to hear from my husband a few minutes earlier.

He stooped down so that our faces were on the same level and repeated:

“Are you all right?”

And then something in me broke: my lips started to tremble, and I couldn’t hold back the tears that were welling up under my eyelids… mascara dripping down my face, I let out all of the frustration that had been accumulating for hours, weeks, months, even…

3

In the beginning, he didn’t say anything. He just stayed there, immobile, his warm hand on my shoulder, a sign of empathy.

When my tears dried up, his wife, who in the meantime had placed a cup of steaming hot tea in front of me, brought me some tissues, then disappeared upstairs, sensing undoubtedly that her presence might interrupt a healthy confession.

“Ex…excuse me, this is ridiculous! I don’t know what’s happening to me! I’m strung out, and then on top of that, this horrible day, it’s really too much!”

Claude went to sit down on the armchair across from me and listened attentively. Something about him gave me confidence. He held my gaze deeply. Not a scrutinizing gaze, or an intrusive one. Just kind, wide like open arms.

My eyes fixated on his, I felt that I didn’t need to lie. That I could surrender, without a mask. My mental barriers started to break down, one after another. Too bad. Or so much the better?

I sketched out the outline of my mental troubles to him, explaining how these microfrustrations accumulated until my joie de vivre was gone, even though I had everything, a priori, to be fulfilled…

“You see, it’s not that I’m unhappy, but I’m not exactly happy either…and it’s horrible, the feeling that happiness has slipped between my fingers! Yet I don’t have any desire to go see a doctor; he would only tell me that I’m depressed and load me up with medication! No, it’s just a bit of gloominess…Nothing serious, but all the same…It’s as if my heart isn’t there anymore. I don’t know if this makes any sense!”

My words seemed to have moved him, to the point where I wondered if they didn’t remind him of something very personal. While we had only known each other for less than an hour, there was a surprisingly complicit feeling between us. Just a few moments before, we had been strangers, and now I was crossing several degrees of intimacy all at once with my confession, creating a type of early, delicate union between us.

“‘We have as much of a need for reasons to live as we do for something to live on,’ said l’Abbé Pierre. So you don’t need to say that it’s not important. It’s extremely important, to the contrary! The afflictions of the soul shouldn’t be taken lightly. Listening to you speak, I believe I even know what you suffer from…”

“Oh, really?” I asked him, sniffling.

“Yes…”

He hesitated for a moment before proceeding, as though he was trying to figure out if I was going to be receptive or not to his revelations. He must have decided that I would, because he continued, with a confident tone of voice:

“You probably suffer from a form of acute routinitis.”

“What?”

“Acute routinitis. It’s an ailment of the soul that’s affecting more and more people in the world, especially in the West. The symptoms are almost always the same: loss of motivation, chronic moroseness, a loss of focus and meaning, difficulty feeling happy despite plenty of material wealth, disenchantment, weariness…”

“But… how do you know all of that?”

“I’m a routinologist.”

“Routino-what?”

It couldn’t be real!

He seemed used to this type of reaction, because it didn’t faze him from his stolid and well-meaning detachment.

He explained to me then, in a few sentences, what a routinologist was, this new vocation still unknown in France but already well spread throughout other parts of the world. How researchers and scientists had come to realize that more and more people were affected by this syndrome. How, without actually being depressed, you could feel despite everything a sensation of emptiness in the soul, the unpleasant feeling that you had everything in order to be happy but not the key to benefiting from it.

I listened to him with wide eyes, drinking in the words that explained my feelings so well, which encouraged him to continue:

“You know, routinity seems to be a benign affliction at first, but it can really cause damage: epidemics of gloom, tsunamis of soullessness, tornadoes of catastrophic black moods. Soon, smiles everywhere will be going extinct! Don’t laugh, it’s true! Without even speaking of the domino effect! The more the phenomenon spreads, the more it affects a population…Routinitis that isn’t controlled can lower the happiness level of an entire country!”

Beyond his bombastic tone, I sensed that he was embellishing in order to make me smile.

“You’re not exaggerating a little, there?”

“Very little! You couldn’t imagine the number of happiness illiterates! Without even mentioning emotional illiterates! A real plague…Don’t you think that there’s nothing worse than the impression of passing right by your life without having had the courage to model it after your desires, or having stayed faithful to your truest values, to the child that you were, to your dreams?

“Mmm, mmm…surely…”

“Unfortunately, developing the ability to be happy isn’t something that we learn at school. However, there are techniques that exist. You can have lots of money and be unhappy, or else have very little and know how to make the best of it…the potential to be happy has to be worked on, trained, day after day. You have to reevaluate your value system, to rethink the way you look at life and its events.”

He stood up and went to look for a jar filled with candies on the big table, then came back to offer me one to go with my tea. He nibbled distractedly at a few as he picked up where he left off in the conversation which seemed so close to his heart. While I listened to him tell me about the importance of returning to yourself, to love yourself more in order to find your path and your happiness, to radiate, I wondered if he had been able to live this way himself…

His whole being was fired up, trying to get me to share his conviction. He paused suddenly, and scrutinized me with his kind gaze which seemed to read me as easily as a blind person can read Braille.

“You know, Camille, the majority of things that happen to you in life depend on what happens up here,” he continues, tapping his skull. “In your head. The power of the mind will never cease to surprise us! You wouldn’t imagine the extent to which your thoughts influence your reality… it’s a little bit similar to the phenomenon that Plato describes in his Myth of the Cave: tied up in a cave, the people have a false perception of reality, because they can only see shadows that are projected on the wall in front of them, and not the real things.”

I contemplated in silence the humor of this situation. I hadn’t been expecting to find a philosopher in his cozy salon, an hour after my car accident!

“You’re making a parallel between the myth of Plato and the way that our minds function? Whoa…”

He smiled at my reaction.

“But of course! I see a parallel between the myth and our thoughts, which place a filter between reality and ourselves and leave reality to the mercy of beliefs, a priori and judgments…and what is it that creates all of that? Your mind! Only your mind! I call that “the thought factory”. A real tool! The good news is that you have the power to change your thoughts. Being happy or being down isn’t separate from your own will…you can work on your mind so that it will stop whipping you around. You just need to have a little bit of consistency, perseverance, and follow the method…”

I was stunned. I wavered back and forth between thinking that he was crazy and wanting to applaud his incredible speech with all my might. I didn’t do either one, and contented myself with nodding my head in agreement.

He must have felt that he had disclosed quite enough information for the time being.

“Excuse me, am I irritating you with all my theories?”

“Not at all, not at all! I think they’re very interesting. I’m just a little tired, it’s hard to pay attention…”

“Completely normal. Another time, if you like, I would be delighted to speak with you again about my method…It has really succeeded in helping others to find meaning in their lives and to get their lives back again.”

He stood up and walked towards a pretty little cherry wood desk. He took out a card, which he held out to me.

“Come see me some time,” he said with a smile.

I read:

Claude Dupontel
Routinologist
15 rue de la Boétie
75008 Paris
06 78 47 50 18

 I took the card without knowing what to think of it. Out of politeness, I told him that I would think about it. He didn’t insist, seeming unaffected by my response. Being a saleswoman myself, I didn’t understand: wouldn’t someone with a job like his be looking to sign on a new client in any way possible? His lack of commercial aggressiveness seemed to indicate a rare self-confidence. I had the sense that if I refused this opportunity, the only person who would stand to lose something would be me.

But for the time being, I was still under the influence of the evening’s emotions, that stupid accident, that stupid storm, like the beginning of a bad horror film…And now, a routinologist! I was hallucinating…In five minutes, the cameras would come out and someone would shout: “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera!”

The bell rang. At the door was neither a camera nor a reporter, just the mechanic who had just arrived.

“Would you like me to accompany you?” Claude asked me politely.

“No, really, thank you…it will be fine. You have already been so kind. I don’t know how to thank you…”

“No problem at all. It’s normal to help in situations like this! Send us a text when you’re back safely at home.”

“Of course. Goodbye, and thank you again!”

I went out to the driveway with the mechanic to show him the way to the site of the accident. I took a last look through the window and saw the couple tenderly holding hands, waving goodbye from the porch. They gave off such a sense of love and complicity!

It was with this image of peaceful happiness in my mind that I let myself be carried away into the night, bumping around in this vehicle that was bringing me back to the reality of my problems…

Excerpts from A Short Index of Routinology (page 209)

Positive Anchors

This is a technique that will allow you to put yourself in a good “resourceful state,” meaning in conditions that are physically and emotionally favorable. How? By reactivating the same feelings that you have during a moment of joy.

To do this, create your anchor. In a calm place, visualize the happy moment that you want to remember, try to feel intensely the emotional state that you want to be able to find again, and associate it with a stimulus: a word, an image, or a gesture. With practice, you’ll be able to reactivate your desired emotional anchor state by reproducing or evoking the associating gesture, word, or image.

Imaginary Camera

To make your “imaginary camera” able to modify the filter on your reality, you have to seek out Beauty. Focus your attention on pretty, pleasant, joyful things, in the street, on public transportation, everywhere you go. By doing this, you’ll create a catalog of positive images in your mind: extremely beneficial for reprogramming your brain to think positive!

The Art of Modeling

With the technique of modeling, you find fictional characters that possess a quality or an aspect of life that you admire. Like Camille, you can draw up a list of their traits (“I’d like to have the wisdom of Gandhi, the grace of Audrey Hepburn, etc.), make a patchwork of their photos and post it in a place where you’ll see it often, or even imagine that you’re this or that person and act accordingly to gain confidence in yourself. Take the best from your mentors – attitudes, good  habits, philosophy – and construct your own role model!

Notebook of Commitments

This notebook will serve to record the goals that you’ve fixed for yourself and the commitments that you’ve vowed to take on, in order to hold you accountable for your resolutions. And for each one, you’ll mark whether you’ve achieved it or not. Remember that the most important thing isn’t to know what you need to do, but to actually do it.

Change Your Interior Dialogue

To achieve this, here’s one technique that’s proven to work: every morning, repeat positive affirmations about yourself in front of the mirror. Even if you don’t totally believe them, your brain will hear them and save them! You’ll improve your wellbeing and begin to restore a healthy self-image.

Code Red

A Code Red is a little sign that you can share with your spouse (or with your child) in order to warn him or her that there’s danger of an argument. It’s a type of warning. The gesture acts like a flashing light, like in a car, that should put the other person on guard. An escalation of aggressiveness can therefore be avoided. 

Cut Your Ties (to the Past)

Your “ties” to the past are events that have affected you, and which you don’t realize continue to influence your present. Certain circumstances in your life today still reopen those old wounds, and cause you to feel an emotional charge that’s out of proportion with the triggering event. In order to feel better every day, you must identify these ties and cut them, first by recognizing them, and then by taking action. For example, to work on suppressed anger from long ago, or unreleased grievances, you can liberate your words and feelings through writing, or with the help of a therapist.

Moments of Gratitude

Every day, say thank you for everything that’s gone well, from the most insignificant to the greatest of happinesses (from the sense of wellbeing brought by a mug of coffee upon waking to the incommensurable joy of a personal accomplishment).