Whatever happened to ‘happy ever after’? You waited so long for everything to work out right. You’ve tried hard to be a kind child, a fair friend, a loyal lover. It doesn’t seem fair that you’re still searching for the answers. Sometimes you just don’t feel that you can carry on.
Of course, you know quite well that life isn’t fair. And that today’s answers won’t provide a permanent solution. That each day will only come once is what makes life so sweet. Change is an intrinsic feature of Samsara, the great Wheel of Life. ‘Everything will be all right’ is not the same as saying ‘Everything will stay the same’.
You just have to do the best you can, and have faith in the future. Never look back to say those pointless words, “What if…?” You must have confidence in your younger self: trust that you made the best possible decision at the time. You can never know how the road not taken would have turned out. Have confidence that everything will be all right in the end (‘and if it isn’t alright, it’s not yet the end’). Sometimes your way will be clear and bright. At others, you may feel that you’re wandering in circles through a dark wood. The important thing is to keep moving. It is only in retrospect that we can see the patterns in our story. Life has to be lived forwards, but read backwards.
It is more important to be able to commit, than to make the ‘right’ choice. Because you are mortal, you will ultimately lose everything you possess. All that you have and know and value will inevitably pass away. Material goods and memories, talents and achievements, skills and gifts: all these will vanish… unless you give them away. When we pass things on to people – to your partner and children, friends and neighbours, strangers that you meet once on a train – you ensure that they endure. Only in sharing can we keep the things we love. This is like the Native American custom of potlatch: the host would distribute gifts – blankets, jewellery, wood carvings – to gain power and prestige. Potlatch festivals maintained the social hierarchy, but they were also a way of redistributing material goods. Only by sharing their wealth were rich men able to benefit from their good fortune.
The old song says that love is only something if we give it away. Loss can paradoxically be good for us. Stephen Joseph, professor of psychology at Nottingham University, suggests that trauma really may make us stronger. After people recover from the initial suffering and stress, they often achieve what he calls ‘post-traumatic growth’. Surviving a threatening situation can leave you feeling calmer, wiser and more compassionate. Events such as terrorist bombings or natural disasters are beyond our control: our response to them is not. Suffering can be a precipitant for spiritual development. The key to this personal growth lies in a new approach to trauma, which encourages people to take responsibility for their own recovery. A medical model which labels people as ‘patients’ actually perpetuates damage and dependency. “The traditional therapist is like a mechanic. Something’s wrong with the car and the therapist is the expert who’s going to work out it’s a leaky radiator and fix it… Maybe the therapist should be more like a gardener who’s nurturing growth, acknowledging our capacity for transformation.”
Happiness lies not in doing what you like, but in learning to like what you have to do. You can’t always change the world, but you can decide how you’ll respond to it. Buddhists practice ‘walking meditation’ which involves noticing everything around you in a non-judgmental way. By truly accepting your situation, you promote a feeling of congruence between your circumstances and your inner self. The Ancient Greeks had a concept which they called eudaimonia. This is often translated as ‘happiness’. A more accurate definition involves behaviour which is congruent with your daimon, or spirit. Eudaimonia is a state in which you are being true to yourself. Whatever you have to do, behave with personal integrity. When you are acting in accordance with your inner being, you experience a state of ‘living in the moment’ which the psychologist Csikszentmihalyi calls ‘flow’.
Ultimately you must create your own happiness. This is not easy to accept, even when you know it is true. How you respond to the world – to the people around you, and the things that life throws at you – is no-one’s responsibility but your own. When life hurls you a fast ball, pitch it right back. Don’t wait for inspiration to descend from above. Pick a direction, then try to stay on track. If you are facing the right way, all you have to do is keep on walking. Treat people according to their potential, and help them to become that thing: we create the others around us in our own image. This applies most obviously to children, but it is true for everyone you know. Above all, take responsibility for composing your own personal story.
Your life script is the greatest work of creation you will ever undertake. It is both an adventure and a duty: you owe it to yourself to make the most of your time incarnate. Make a bucket list – what you want to do before you kick it – and start crossing things off. Some people will start this work earlier than others, but they will not finish any sooner. It is never too late to be what you might have been. Live each day with awareness and appreciation, because life is too short not to have fun. Being conscious of this does not mean that every moment will be blissfully serene. Hopefully it does mean that ultimately you will feel satisfied with what you have achieved in this life.
Follow Jane on Twitter @janebaileybain.
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