Sunday, February 28, 2010

Wishing Life Away

"I don't want to get to the end of my life and find that I have just lived..." -Diane Ackerman

Though I cherish silence and solitude, I also really enjoy deep and meaningful conversations with pensive people. Yesterday, I had lunch with a dear friend. He and I always speak of many things, including our kids, current love interests, and the joy of experiencing the seasons of our lives.

My workplace was the subject of a large part of our conversation. I shared that my supervisor is set to retire at the end of March and his position will probably remain vacant for the foreseeable future as a cost-saving measure during this difficult economy. We spoke of the opportunities and difficulties that are likely to develop for me in the intervening time, until the position is filled.

Compassionately, my friend expressed a hope for me that the time would go by very quickly. I responded immediately, almost without thinking, "No, I don't hope for it to go quickly; but, rather that every moment is meaningful and without any major catastrophes." He seemed a little taken aback for a moment, before consenting.

I'm sure my friend meant well and I feel bad for not just receiving his compassion, without the necessity of a response. Though it's important for me to own my response, and to think before I speak, I also think my consciousness reflexively rejected his suggestion, just as the body rejects poison with vomiting. Wishing for time to go quickly during difficulty is a common practice, but one that I've grown to reject vehemently.

Life is full of difficulty and if we wish every period of discomfort away--life will get away from us. Wishing time away is a form of slumber. We drift off into the past or dream of the future, and numb the present pain--not altogether unlike Rip Van Winkle, who escaped his nagging wife by sleeping for twenty years.

I often encounter people who are wishing their lives away. Do you see it too? A quick look at various Facebook statuses reveals people who "...cant wait for 5:00 PM," so they can leave work, or people who wish the weekend was closer. Wednesday is oft celebrated as "hump day," or the day halfway to the weekend. While in line at the grocery store, I notice the cashiers often commiserate the boredom of their work by exchanging the countdown to their parole at the end of their shifts. I'm even more dismayed by the people who are eager to leave work in order that they may watch some television show.

Despite being one of the richest nations in the world, we seem to be entirely unhappy as a people and so eager to escape. Yet, people living in squalid conditions in third world countries are often reported to be quite content and generally seem happy. Why is this? Although there are many likely factors, I think our Christian heritage plays a large part. We see ourselves as weary travelers treading through the muck of this fallen world, in the hopes of reaching some heavenly destination at the end of our journey.

From the little I know about Buddhism, the religion seems to discourage longing for some pie in the sky afterlife and rather emphasizes the potential of each moment. We Christians would do well to learn a few things from the Buddhists. Buddhism seems to encourage adherents to be fully present in their suffering and to examine the thought processes that contribute to the suffering and pain, to rise above these thoughts, and to experience the highest life has to offer--in the now. I like this approach.

As for me, I choose to recognize that every moment is built upon a field of infinite possibilities. Though the field may sometimes be cold or dark, I will not lay down and sleep, but rather will gaze upon the stars in sheer amazement. In many other instances, the field is a way-point for people to come in and out of our lives. We can meet them there--out beyond ideas of right and wrong--and share the joy being alive.

"Every man's life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived..." -Ernest Hemingway

Monday, February 15, 2010

Finding and Sharing Happiness

"The source of happiness is inside of you." -Randall Krause

One of my favorite things to say is, "We don't find happiness in relationships; rather, we share happiness in relationships," which is to say that we must have discovered the fountain of our own happiness before we bathe in the fountain of someone else.

Down through the ages so much has been written about finding happiness, and the consensus seems to be that enduring happiness cannot be found in the arms of another person. Why then, does the myth of finding happiness in a relationship persist? Maybe it's that we've all found moments of bliss in the arms of another; or, maybe there has been some confusion. Look at what one thinker has to say about the subject:

"There is only one happiness in life: to love and be loved." -George Sand

On the surface, this seems to suggest that happiness CAN be found in a relationship. We find the contrary on closer inspection. The first thing we must do for happiness is GIVE love to others. Most of the great spiritual traditions inform us that true love gives without any thought of return, and these same traditions also suggest that love will always return to the giver, in some form.

Viktor Frankl taught us that happiness and meaning in life cannot be pursued; it must ensue as the by-product of creating, experiencing, and choosing. In other words, as a by-product of LIVING an active life. What kind of activity? Denis Waitley said, "Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude." Neither men suggest we find happiness by seeking love, but rather living in a state wherein love is the fiber of our very being. Waitley seems to suggest all that we do and say must originate in love, which agrees with the Buddha: "One who values happiness for himself but creates anxiety for others is confused." We create happiness for others by loving them in a state of constant grace, seasoned with gratitude.

Personally, I've come to the conclusion that I must be well-established in my own happiness long before I am able to sustain an enduring relationship. This makes sense, right? Only when I'm happy can I share it with another person. I must possess something before it can be shared with another.

The other person in my life must be well-established in her own happiness too. I cannot be the source of happiness for her, nor can she for me. Anything else would be a co-dependency.

Now, this isn't to say that I can be satisfied in a relationship with just anyone. Some people are more compatible than others and I intend to spend the remainder of my days with someone who is compatible. This will make the sharing of our synergistic happiness easier.

So the take-home lesson is to find your own place of happiness independent of another person. If you're single, seek someone who is already quite happy, and compatible with you. If you're in a relationship, the best thing you can do is to gently nudge them down their own path of happiness and give love in great abundance.