Happiness – delusion or reality?

I don’t cook.

I say that as a shopping bag full of fresh spinach appears in my kitchen. It’s accompanied by vibrant carrots scrubbed clean, and sweet potatoes.

My refrigerator is a college-dorm-sized square box and it’s full. No veggie storage capacity there. I have one option: cook.

An outrageous amount of spinach boils down to three cups. When spooned into a plastic bag it flattens and becomes stack-able. So do carrots and potatoes. Once chopped, steamed, and bagged, there’s just enough space to shove them into the wee freezer compartment of the teeny fridge.

I’ve made a royal mess. Most non-cooks do. When the pots and pans are clean and piled precariously on the dish drainer, it occurs to me I’ve overtaxed that kitchen accessory far beyond it’s capacity to function well. On normal days it more than adequately accommodates my coffee glass and French press.

As I study the teetering pyramid of pots my mind goes philosophical. The haphazard jumble in front of me prompts thoughts of unrelated other things: global warming, over-population, urban sprawl, water pollution, and people who talk too much, think too much, do too much.

Like my little drainer, the earth is being called upon to do what it wasn’t designed to do. People are too. The planet manages it for a while and so do we. But there comes the moment when critical mass is achieved, which, as defined by the Urban Dictionary, is the point when something reaches the threshold of it’s limits. If one more pot is added to the mountain of cookware chances are it will topple.

I used to operate at that level of near-insanity. It seemed normal because everyone around me was doing the same. My blood pressure approached hypertension. My heart fibrillated. Every morning my jaw ached from grinding my teeth. Back then nobody ever told me I glowed with happiness.

I didn’t crack and fall apart but my marriages did. Five times. It wasn’t until I turned sixty-two, took early retirement, and moved to Bali that I saw the off-kilter, out-of-balance craziness I’d deemed normal.

It took months in this relaxed, slow-moving paradise to slow down and allow my nervous system to re-calibrate. But the biggest surprise was discovering what real happiness felt like. I’d been a glass full person, never depressed, always sussing out the positive aspects of whatever setbacks came my way. For sixty-two years I told myself I was happy. Had I known then how painfully far I was from that reality, how deluded and detached — let’s just say it’s a good thing I didn’t!

When my ridiculously small drain rack is doing the job it’s intended to do, it has bandwidth to spare. It can take a stressful event in stride (like my cooking frenzy) and maintain its dignity and calm.

Humans are the same. We need to jump off the hamster wheel, come to a full and complete HALT and take a look at what we’re doing to ourselves and at what price. The abuse is unsustainable. Our earth is at critical mass. So was I. Are you?

Clever Squirrel’s 8 Steps to Stop Repeating Destructive Patterns

Smart people sometimes do not-so-clever things. We know who we are. After all, we’re bright, right? We’ve already figured out that we’ve hit the repeat button a few too many times with less than satisfying results. Maybe we’re in the wrong job, and then we’re in another wrong job, relationship, town, group. Maybe we have toxic friends. Whatever it is, it saps our energy and keeps us from living healthy, fulfilling lives.

I did all of those listed above over and over again for many years. It took the perspective of time, distance, self-reflection, and therapy to recognize the tendencies, and even more time, distance, self-reflection and therapy to change. But here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Awareness – First we have to see, and admit to, the problem
  2. Desire –  Then we must passionately want change
  3. Help – We must seek out sources of support, self-help books, therapists
  4. Trigger – And uncover the deeper issues that prompt the behavior
  5. Courage –  Then we need to be brave enough to revise our responses
  6. Practice –  And commit to making different choices
  7. Forgive – We must show kindness to ourselves when we slip backward
  8. Transform – The goal is to become a whole, happy person

Easy, no. Possible, yes.

There’s a catch. Most of the patterns that run our lives are written in the subconscious. That’s why, in the case of relationships for instance, what appears on the surface to be a radical new choice becomes the same problem with a different face. Have you been there? Doesn’t it feel like betrayal? Have you ever said: And I thought this time I had it right!

Some things we can change. Others are embedded in our DNA so indelibly that nothing short of complete abstinence will suffice. It’s recognizing those addictions that is the most challenging, and I’m not talking about alcohol or drugs. We can be addicted to shopping, to overwork, to google, gaming, gambling, to love.

After therapy I was convinced I could recognize the devil in the bushes and avoid making the same mistakes. Wrong. I stumbled right back into misery. But that was the wake-up call I needed. For stubborn issues, or lets call them what they are, addictions, number six on the list becomes: Abstain.

Hard truth. But accepting the truth, no matter how hard, and making those adjustments to my behavior gave me freedom. For me it was love. I believe in love. I’ve always believed in love. But time and again my programming attracted mates with patterns that were mutually destructive.

After five marriages and five divorces, I am committed to a single life. I don’t trust myself to ‘get it right’ and I don’t want to put me, or anyone else through that heartache again. But the decision has allowed me freedoms I wouldn’t have experienced as a partnered woman. It has forced me to self-actualize, something we were really into in the 60’s and 70’s when Maslow’s, Hierarchy of Needs, was all the rage. Self-actualization was at the pinnacle of the pyramid. When all other needs were met, a person was poised to achieve her full potential.

I haven’t given up on love, but I’ve redirected it. My life oozes with loving, healthy connections, none of which are romantic. (Romance is a bit of an illusion anyway, isn’t it? Smoke and mirrors? Hormones? Chemicals? It feels so good until it doesn’t.) Instead of pouring all that energy into someone else, I’ve gotten to know who I am, what I want, and what I need to thrive, and I give myself that.

indexThere’s an Indonesian proverb that I’ve claimed as my own. Sepandai-pandai tupai melompat kadang-kadang jatuh juga. It means: The clever jumping squirrel also sometimes falls down. Or paraphrased further: Everyone makes mistakes. And we do. But the really clever squirrel figures out how not to make the same ones over and over again.


%d bloggers like this: