I woke up the other day feeling pretty chipper. I had this strong sense that life was about to make a dramatic uptick, that things were going to ‘work out’. But after a moment or two I started to wonder, nothing had changed in my circumstances so what had affected my mood so positively.
Then a thought floated into my head. What if there’s no such thing as happiness, just being OK with life and not being OK with life. This doesn’t have to be as bleak as it sounds either. It could actually be very empowering.
We’re always being told not to seek happiness in possessions or other people and to create it within ourselves, so perhaps this is part of that mystery.
What if, that’s what being happy is all about, just being OK with how things are?
Perhaps the notion that contentment lies in getting that thing, having that job or marrying that person, is a self-created prison. It’s almost like we’re unaware that we have the key on a chain around our neck and all we have to do is look down and see it.
Certainly, even when I’ve experienced difficult times in my life, in relationships and career, the main difference in terms of long term happiness is my attitude towards the circumstances I’m in rather than the circumstances themselves.
That’s not to say that bringing new things into our lives doesn’t bring happiness but often times, it’s pretty short-lived. The rush of new loves fades, the shiny new car dulls or the fantastic new job quickly becomes monotonous.
There’s an old joke about jobbing actors who are constantly seeking work, always living in uncertainty – one such thesp tells his wife, ‘darling I got the job, and the best thing is, we get Thursdays off’.
That’s not to say also, that we shouldn’t want to change things we feel we can. It’s not a paradox to be at peace with how things are but have a strong desire to change them. The problem arises when your happiness becomes dependent on that change.
Equally, unhappiness may well just be dissatisfaction with how things are, something you can change in a moment.
Earlier in the year, I did an amazing course about human consciousness. One of things I took from it, was the ability to ride out ‘negative’ emotions. Often when negativity surfaces i.e. anger, sadness, depression, shame etc, we try to counteract it. We seek ways to obliterate these unpleasant feelings. We push them back down, medicate, try to transfer the feelings to someone else or use blame of ourselves or others to somehow deflect the experience.
Whilst, in the moment, this can avert the unpleasant experience, the emotional energy is still inside us and will continue to well up whenever something comes along that triggers it.
But during the course, I learned that rather like a great wave, you can ride these emotions, let them be, and come out the other side. Rather than trying to flee something, you can push through to the other side and be OK, better even because you take some of the power away from the emotion as you overcome your fear of it.
There’s plenty of movie symbolism that supports this idea. My favourite is from the Truman Show. [spoiler alert] The main character, Truman Burbank, unknowingly, is trapped in a TV show. The makers have convinced him he has an abject fear of water which prevents him leaving the island he’s lived on all his life and though he tries and fails to leave several times, fear continually foils him. In the final scene he makes a last-ditched attempt to sail away and when the show producers batter his tiny boat with treacherous weather conditions, rather than fight, he throws up his hands in defeat to accept whatever may come. The producers know they cannot let him die so they calm the weathers and Truman sails off to his destiny in the real world.
This is what really allowing emotions in can feel like. It will feel tumultuous but eventually, you come out the other side.
The first time I did it, was a very odd experience. The format of the course was that at the beginning, all the participants spoke on camera about their lives. After a week on this residential course, learning about the natural of human consciousness and exploring our own lives in this context, we watched back the videos. As you can imagine, we were in a very different headspace at the end of the week than we were at the beginning.
When we first arrived, we had all crash-landed at this beautiful country home from the mania of our normal lives and through the lens of a week in relative tranquility, watching these tapes back showed us who we were in our own lives. It was a very unique and powerful experience.
The facilitator went through each participant one at time, playing back their tape then discussing it briefly with them. I knew the order we’d made them in so when we were two or so away from mine I could feel my heart racing. I started to get hot and my breathing got very shallow.
Of course I’m used to being in front of a camera but not in a context like this where you are more exposed, open, not presenting a heightened version of yourself for TV cameras.
As I sat there, rather than try and reassure myself, or allay my fears, I let myself experience the (strong) physical sensations that accompanied this emotional experience. It felt like I was wearing a huge plate of armour across my chest that was heavy and full. I realised, energetically that this was me protecting my heart, something I’d probably done since a child. Now an adult, of course it was big and strong and heavy. I learned something deeply profound about myself in that moment.
When I watched my video, it was nowhere near as chronically embarrassing as I thought it would be. It was just me, being me. Doing what I do but the fear of watching that had been huge.
In the weeks following the course, I used this technique often. Breathing through the energy as it surfaced, riding the wave and letting it pass naturally. We were told that the more we mastered this, the more we could lessen the potency of all these residual, energetic, emotional experiences that reside in our being.
Until the other day, I’d forgotten about this technique and defaulted back to my usual strategies but when I started using it again, it felt so much better.
There’s so much we don’t understand about the human condition but anything that takes us a step closer to inner peace is alright by me.