What are we/I here to do? In this whole, expansive, eternal existence; in this giant, unfathomable thing of reality, here I am, living out my daily grind, rhythm and drama. Some suggest that this is all an illusion, that we need to transcend our smallness (or selves); while others suggest that this is all we will ever have, today, the present, and so we should live it up. Who is right and how can I, a seed in this moment, grow fruitfully and purposefully in the fertile soil of other’s past? Taking advantage of the evolutionary technology of the written language and the world-wide-web, can I personally thrive and blossom in this nutrient dense dirt of other’s wisdom and live my brief life vicariously on the shoulders of countless others?
The truth is, in all my seeking (which I appreciate is limited to a short lifespan), I do not know who is right re: transcendence vs. immense, and I do not know what I want to do. However, I do know that I am excited by my ability to learn and by the capacity at which I can access knowledge and experience.
The idea of being both empty and full have most recently resonated under my radar of curiosity and I feel they have something to do with figuring out this living process/journey. Reflecting on these paradoxical concepts, I can see that in my life, there is an empty part of me that shows up, day and day again, uncertain of which direction I am going and how I’ll behave on the road to get there (where ever there might be), and at the same time, there is a full part of me that also shows up, a part of me that, in retrospect, appears to know what it is doing. I have been learning to listen to and invest with hope in this part of myself more and more as my days pass.
Faith is something I never thought I had and never thought I wanted to have. I have always been a very critical thinker, and remember as a child sitting in the pews at church feeling anger and disagreement swelling from some depth inside of me. And I have always thought faith was synonymous with religion, but this isn’t apparently so. Anyhow, due to the biological, technical advances (aka my prefrontal cortex) that I have been blessed with (as have all humans), the gifts and powers of hindsight have allowed me to take note of this deep, radiant, loving part of myself that shows up time and time again in my life. This part of my self is so wise, loving, compassionate and insightful that I have felt dumbfounded in the noticing that it lines up with the stumbling of a life I have been living. However, with hindsight (which they say is 20/20!), it feels like this part of me has been patiently navigating what-can-feel-like-a-chaotic-labyrinth-of-a life so beautifully. No, it hasn’t always taken the path of ease or least resistance, as this deep wisdom inherently knows of the need to iron out the wrinkles of my soul. It knows, so I have learnt, that the only way to get to love is through the pain of separation I have ignorantly choose to carry. It seems that this inner knowing has no fear of my shadows, even if I do, and so it guides me to face them, my fears and pain, in order to help me transform and transfigure myself into the golden light of love (which it also seems I/we have always been, but somehow we have forgotten). This leaves me to feel and think that although I feel empty and aimless in my smallness, I am simultaneously full and on-target in my largeness. For me, this means that I am both self and collective, clueless and all-knowing, menial and meaningful, shallow and deep; that there is not a tug-of-war between the seemingly opposing realities of power and grace, but instead a loving interplay between them.
So…how exactly do I fold these feelings and now acquired insights into my daily life!?! These ideas can feel poetic and grandiose, but I still need to get my kids out the door to school and feed them, and they still insist on sleeping in, taking 15min showers and stating they are full after eating only their meat and potatoes (that last one is a bit of a lie, my kids do generally eat their veggies with out protest…but it wasn’t always that way!). I think it has something to do with trusting the fullness enough to cool down my immobilizing anxieties, all the while feeling the emptiness enough to fire up my passions and stay the course (or as some say the hero’s journey). In yoga class I talk about this as walking the line between effort and ease. Not being so apathetic and trusting (easeful) that we do nothing to meet the call, and all the while not being so full of effort and enthusiasm that we in fact set fire to everything and burn down the very house we are trying to inhabit. I guess the analogue is stoking the flames enough to keep the house warm and supportive to life and love.
And maybe, I guess, instead of the focus being what we shouldn’t do, we could consider what we could do? I think this is where positive psychology holds a lot of good clues. Positive psychology suggests that we could focus on joy. There is something synergistic about focusing on joy, as it is naturally inspiring, it is an intrinsic motivator. What I love about the research of positive psychology is that they (as in the researchers) have measurably shown that it is not just joy that we truly thrive from, but that joy paired with meaningfulness is a supremely potent recipe for a lifetime of happiness. As Martin Seligman explains, you can experience joy and happiness in three ways: simply as positive emotion/experience (it feels good to have sex, it feels good to eat fat, sugar and salt, it feels good to win a basketball game), or in a flow state (utilizing your skills in an experience that is just hard enough to feel challenging while easy enough to feel joy, or otherwise described as self-efficacy), or in a joy-filled, meaningful life. The first two ways have a shadow side of course: they do not produce lasting joy and happiness. The “simply positive emotion” experience falls victim to the hedonic treadmill, the reality that us humans unfortunately get used to things we often experience (so eventually you get used to the sex, the cake and the feelings of winning), and unfortunately the flow states generally also habituate (as your skill continues to improve with experience the challenge gets easier rendering it no longer a flow state). The true champion is the meaningful life. And this, by the way, has been measurably proven. The joy-filled, meaningful life provides lasting happiness that we do not habituate to. Isn’t this incredibly inspiring, uplifting, awesome, amazingly good news!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This news is what lifts my spirits every day. We have been under this illusion that having as much bliss in our lifetime is what will make us happy. That having the clothes, the car, the career, the house, the cake, the sex, the travel…that this stuff and positive emoting experiences will make us happy. But it is not true. And since most of the above mentioned things not only leave us feeling infinitely insatiable, they also rob others (including our environment) of opportunities to even just survive (oh, sorry rainforest, were you trying to give us fresh oxygen and house billions of other species, sorry, we couple of million folks really needed to feel good reading our weekly new copy of the Times magazine (or so on and so forth)…sorry about that). This falsehood of a short-lived, insatiable way to be happy is a collective sickness, a catch 22, that we really need to wake up from.
Now, before we get too down on ourselves for making these horrible, painful mistakes, lets remember the learning curve are a normal part of evolution and development, both on individual, specie and global terms. Making mistakes is inherent to being alive, and is very human. Life grants us the grace of learning from our mistakes, in the hopes and trust that we will evolve and transform (or die out I guess, as has happen enumerable times in the course of history on Earth). And so here we are, all of us evolving, all of us learning, growing thankfully out of the loamy soils of past experiences and wisdom, living vicariously while moving into the future of becoming something new.
And so, time to hit the mat and then make dinner. Not too sure where you or I can and will go with all of this, and with everything else we are consuming in thought, heart, body and soul, but I know we will all get there, collectively, in one way or another.
Thanks for reading this, I enjoyed writing it.