Tag Archives: Happiness

“The highest form of wisdom is kindness” — The Talmud

“Our soul becomes dyed with the colour of its thoughts.” — Marcus Aurelius

I like reading the words of the wise.  I think most of us can agree that life can be a bit confusing at times. At other times, ‘confusing’ doesn’t begin to describe it.

It is almost certainly true that life doesn’t come with a training manual or a guide book.  We are simply born one day, and somewhere along the way we become self-aware and then we just sort of go about living, and trying not to die.  Days and weeks and years drift along, and we do what we can to occupy, distract or amuse ourselves, only vaguely aware for the most part, that sooner or later the ride must come to an end.

If at some point on our journey down the river of life, we are to feel a bit tired or lost, stopping and asking for directions is not really an option.  The river never stops, and even if it did, there is no map.  Different people find ‘maps,’ of a sort, in different places, whether science, philosophy or religion, but the near-universal disagreement on which map is ‘true’ really doesn’t lend any specific map a great deal of of credibility.

Still we are fortunate.  I imagine the experience of life must not be very different for a fish, or for a deer, or perhaps even for a bacteria.  They are born, have hungers and fears, and do what they can to occupy, distract and amuse themselves while trying to avoid death for as long as is feasible.  It would seem, though, that we have one up on them, in that the written languages of human beings provide us with something resembling context.  We may be unable to get off the river, or to look at a map, but we can share our insights, and can share in the insights of those who have come and gone before us.

While only the revelations (or lack thereof) that come with death can really define for us the meaning of a “good” or “full” life, there certainly seem to be many human beings who have, on the surface at least, approached such ideals.

Perhaps they excelled in their fields, exploring the limits of their potential.  Perhaps they broadened our understanding of life or the universe.  Perhaps they left a world behind that was better off than they world they were born into.  Perhaps they simply lived happily and at peace.  Many of them wrote, in their youth, their prime and their age, and I believe that their words – their thoughts, ideas, insights and imaginings, are among the greatest of human treasures.   It may amount to nothing more than the blind leading the blind, but many blind men and women have lived lives of misery and toil, while many have found achievement, happiness and serenity.  Though it’s impossible to know what the point of all this living is, it certainly seems likely that experiencing joy, love and completion for as many  of these few short hours of life is preferable to squandering them away in suffering and self-loathing.

Not unexpectedly, many of these so-called wise tend to agree on a lot of things, including an approach to living, and an attitude on life.  To be continued …

Well, each beautiful thing I come across tells me to stop moving and shake this riddle off.  Oh well.

And there was a time when all I wanted was my ice cream colder and a little cream soda.  Oh well, oh well.

And a wooden box and an alley full of rocks was all I had to care about.  Oh well, oh well, oh well.

Now my mind is filled with rubber tires and forest fires and whether I’m a liar and lots of other situations where I don’t know what to do at which time God screams to me “There’s nothing left for Me to tell you!”

“Nothing left for Me to tell you!”

“Nothing left!”

Oh well, oh well, oh well, oh well.

Oh well, oh well, oh well, oh well.

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“Don’t worry about a thing, ’cause every little thing is gonna be alright.” — Bob Marley

Have you ever noticed that our culture has something of a perverse pre-occupation with “catching-up” with this or that?

I know I do.  Over the past few months, I have often lamented the reality that this little ranting forum of mine had faded into oblivion.  I often told myself that I would re-engage, so to speak, and quite a few times opened up this “new-post” page which I am this very moment filling with gibberish.

I never made it though, until now I guess, and even now I have a fair way to travel before I click that little “publish” button and spring my gibberish on an unexpecting world.  One of the main reasons I never made it was this crazy idea I had of “getting caught up.”  That is, afterall, what these words you are reading are doing, aren’t they?  Getting caught up?  The thought of “getting-caught-up” can be daunting, don’t you think?

I live what must be the most transient existence of anyone I know, and still I find my life saturated with things to “keep-up-with.”  E-mails, Facebook messages, personal finances, professional development, relationships with friends and family strewn across the globe, educational progress, and on and on and on …

It’s all a bit silly though, isn’t it.  I mean, what am I trying to “catch-up” to?  Who am I trying to “keep-up” with?

The answer to both questions seems to be some imaginary present/future satisfied version of myself, which raises the perfectly reasonable questions of: a) how is it possible for person to catch up with themselves and b) how is it possible for person to ever reach the future?

It seems that as soon as I “catch-up” with one thing, I have fallen behind with something else.  What’s worse, if I do finally manage to “get-ahead” in a single aspect, the process of getting ahead almost inevitably creates an entirely new life-element which I must then worry about “keeping-up” with, on top of everything else.

Is it possible to “catch-up” with everything, and if it were, how long could one remain “caught-up” before somewhere, something, needed attention?  The whole thing seems a lot like a trap to me: a perpetual state of “being behind,” of “need-to-dos” and ultimately of incompletion.

I suppose one could compare it to caring for a home.  Lots of things require constant attention: the lawn needs to be mowed, the floors need to be swept, the dishes need to be done.  Some things require a bit less frequent care: dusting, cleaning the bathroom, emptying the fridge.  Some things a bit less still: cleaning the floors, pruning the trees.  Some things can be ignored, but for those few weekends of every year that are dedicated entirely to keeping all neglected things working and clean.

For the sake of argument, let’s say a person dedicated a month of their life to “catching up” with their home.  How long would they remain “caught-up”?  Would they ever, for a single instant, actually be “caught up”?  And if they did manage to get caught up, and stay caught up, with their home, what would happen to the many other elements of their life?

Of course, as one becomes ‘successful,’ that little old house won’t do anymore, so it’s time to get a nicer and bigger house, which inevitably will have more things to clean keep working.  With the newer house comes the newer car, which also requires a little more attention.  The better job takes up more time too.  Maybe there is a boat, or a cottage, or whatever.  And the growing family is definitely in need of constant care as well.  With this, we enter into an entirely different, but equally futile, form of “keeping-up,” – that is, with the imaginary others, with whose life-progress we are apparently to be compared.  (though it strikes me as I re-read this, that perhaps nobody is ever actually trying to keep up with others, but that the attempt is, in truth, an effort to “keep-up” with how they would like to be seen/thought of by “the Jones’.” – that is, keeping their public image up with what they would like their public image to be.)

So now we must not only keep up with everyone else, who are trying equally hard to keep up with us, but we must also keep up with an imaginary, ideal-future version of ourself.  Doesn’t this seem totally insane to anybody else?

It almost seems as though we have come to collectively define success as one’s capacity to juggle the most balls – that is, to be perpetually unsatisfied with as many things as possible at one time.  And that’s not even taking into account the moment after that, and the moment after that.

If I am trying to “catch-up” to the point in time and space at which I wish I could, in this moment in space and time, be located, would it not be infinitely simpler to just re-define the place I wish I could be as the place that I currently am located?  In other words: to simply choose to be satisfied right now.

Then I am already caught up.  And I don’t need to worry about all the things I need to catch-up with.

Then I can spend my time right now doing whatever I want to do, right now.

Considering I have only a finite handful of hours to live/enjoy on this earth, and they are disappearing rapidly and constantly, doesn’t spending my time doing what I want seem to be a much more practical way of living than striving eternally after some future that is impossible to reach now, and is becoming more impossible to reach the more I pursue it?

Of course, this is all crazy talk.  Our so-called civilized world has sorted itself out in such a way that, in order to be normal and sensible, a person must weigh themselves down with concerns, and run always to keep from falling behind.  To do otherwise would be partly lazy, partly pathetic, partly useless and entirely unproductive.  These are adjectives which our society does not place a high value upon.  Certainly such people are not ideal employees, desirable mates, or good people to loan money to.

Then again, if a human being were to look at two doors, one labelled “Successful and Productive” and the other labelled “Satisfied and Happy,” which door would be the more sensible choice for a human being to make?

Which choice would you make?

“Incomplete” or “Unproductive”

“Imaginary Future” or “Real Present”

?

For me personally, I can say that the process of simplifying my life continues to be rewarding in a very human way.  I can say that my increasing refusal to feel obligated to “keep-up” with many of my former pre-occupations has engendered a profound joy in the activities I do choose to take part in, no matter how mundane.  I can say that, being patient with time itself, and focusing my energy on only those things that fit most harmoniously with my humanity in any given moment, regardless of outside or perceived internal obligations, has revealed to me an entirely new, more genuine, more fulfilling and more powerful, side to myself and my potential.  Best of all, in exploring that potential – not professional potential, but human potential – I feel peaceful, and unhurried, and experience great joy in each small part of the whole, regardless of where it may lead.

Then again, I’m an unemployed and homeless, formerly “successful” 27-year old, living primarily  on the couches, and generosity, of family and friends.

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“Contentment is natural wealth, luxury is artificial poverty” — Socrates

Last night around 1:00am, I found myself loitering in front of some place called the Tattoo – Rock Parlour on Queen West.

Don’t ask.

I was distracting myself, as I often do, by making premature, and often grossly inaccurate judgments of the many people who wandered through my frame of vision.

Lots of people will tell you that they don’t judge.  Well I do.  I also judge people who say they don’t judge.  I judge them as being “untruthful,” perhaps most of all to themselves.

We judge in others those things we ourselves feel most guilty of.

At least I don’t pretend I don’t judge though.  Judgment is how we know that the present environment is safe, or sexual, or whether we can expect to eat or go to sleep.  Judging people, that is, drawing conclusions based on incomplete information, is unconsciously happening pretty much constantly.  Sorry.

The “Tattoo” in Tattoo Rock Parlour, is a little Tattoo shop, with a wide, well-lit window, flashing directly to face the lined-up semi-drunks, and the buzzing street beyond.  In the window is a woman wrapped in white, but for a black bra, and the bodily-scars of past visits to the artists’ chair.  I saw her, from across the street, and I wondered, “what would compel a person to display themselves as such?”

Not that there’s anything wrong with it.  Really, it’s beautiful.  But not everyone would voluntarily sit, lit in display on such a stage.  So what kind person does such a thing?   And so I judged.  Etc. Etc.

I met a woman, standing on the street.  I had met her before, so to speak.  “Can you spare some change?”  That was her sales pitch, repeated…  I had heard it many times.  The insanity of urban life made us neighbors, and our chance paths crossed often.  She bounced from pedestrian to pedestrian, like a ball in a secret game of soccer that nobody told her she was playing.  I guess she wasn’t playing.

Bouncing from one to another, I saw that soon her path would bring her to me.  She is older, perhaps in her 50’s.  Her fading hair hangs limply around a face that could use some color.  Her gait is stunted, as old shoes drag on the sidewalk, and dirty clothes hang on limp shoulders.  “Help me.”  That’s the judgment I made.

I see her first and catch her eyes: “I’m sorry, I can’t spare any change.” I say with a smile.  She looks at me, perplexed at first.  She who exists in the neglected and ignored corners of our well swept society is suddenly seen.  I continue to smile, and looking at her, see quickly that she understands a great deal more than meets the eye.  Her face breaks into a smile befitting the warmth of a grandmother, and she shrugs her shoulders slightly, with a squint, as if to say “great secret, huh?,” before meandering on.

Like I said, I see her often, preying on the fish in the stream as they flow through a bottleneck at a busy street-corner.  I also sometimes see her in front of the community housing in which she lives.   Leaning back in a comfortable chair, under a tree that seems about ready for puberty, she smokes a cigarette with a cup of coffee in her hand.  It’s late afternoon, and the rays of the eventually setting sun fall fully on her face.  Though I steal only a glance in passing, it seems almost as though the light reflected is greater, or perhaps grander than it was when it struck her skin.

It is the unmistakable glow of contentment, hiding here in the unlikeliest corner.  She is judged, this woman.  So it goes, in a life where pride is surrendered.  They look at her saying “help me,” and many, I’m sure, read little more than “less valuable than me.”  I know that I have encountered many who lived by mercy and kindness in my life and have frequently looked down upon them as I stepped by.

Yet, in her quiet moments, she knows contentment.  Contentment, the elusive prey sought by all.  I believe it eludes most of us.  We have happy moments, sure, but in the silence, we are rarely content.  There is always something to need or want, or that soon needs to be done.  Or perhaps it is something past that didn’t go right, or a wish for how it might have.  If past and future lie silent, the tricks in the shadows plant seeds of worry, and their vines creep slowly, unnoticed until that have already tied us in knots.

No, contentment is tricky to find, and trickier to hold onto.  There it was though, glowing outwards from her soul.

Perhaps she holds the greatest secret of all.  If she did, would you listen?

Peace and love

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