“What is happiness? It’s the reflection of a sunbeam: you see it playing on the wall, sitting in your palm, but as soon as you clench your fist, it slips out of your hand and darts about your face and fingers.”—Nina Lugovskaya
I’m reminded often to live in the moment. My yoga practice helps—breathe into pain, learn non-reaction, study the art of being present. This calms me. I want to own this worldview more and more.
But I struggle with the conflict between what I want in my life to look like and what it does look like. What does one do when the “have-to” is disproportionate to the “want-to”? How much endurance is acceptable and when should one strive to change? The manifesto I posted earlier this week would have me quit the jobs I don’t love and fill my time with things I do love. Do it now, do it now, do it now. On the surface, it seems this is a healthy approach to life, but it doesn’t sit well with me. It feels like running away.
Here’s premise number one: none of things on my daily/weekly to-do list are things that I love, or even like. Here’s premise number two: no one forced me to do any of them. So I’m stuck looking at a life that is full of unpleasant responsibilities that I chose. Why did I choose them? Partly because bills are for paying, and partly because I see these things as the means to an end I do want.
Begging the question: are the responsibilities on my to-do list the sum of my life?
My to-do list cannot be that which defines me. This statement feels at once profound and simple. So much of my energy is spent doing things I don’t want to do for people I don’t want to do them for, that it would be easy to believe my life were out of my control. Here is the lesson I’m learning: even though my jobs do not inspire, fulfill, or excite me, I can be content. Notice I don’t say happy. I don’t believe the pursuit of happiness is a productive use of one’s time. I do believe in contentment. I do believe in embracing happiness as a condition when it occurs naturally. I do believe happiness exists. I do believe in being able to love what one does every day. I don’t believe we should pursue happiness with all our might, because I think that is precisely when it becomes the most elusive.
This is not to say I don’t resent my obligations. I do. Often. Loudly. This is a character flaw. I’m not pretending that I don’t complain. I do. Often. Loudly.
I’m not arguing that one should stay in a toxic work environment. On the contrary: that which is harmful to your health ought to be corrected and ought to be corrected quickly. Partly I’m writing this to sort out my thoughts on the subject. Is it wrong to stay? I don’t know. Is this an exercise in non-reaction or is it a harmful choice? Regardless of my decision about this, the lesson is still clear and still valuable: love what you can, even if you can’t love everything.
Isn’t this the whole reason I started blogging? Didn’t I want to collect the things I love in one place so I could sit on a pile of life-treasures like Smaug? This is supposed to serve as a reminder to me of all the small things in life that I love, like sweet mint tea, like backrubs, like Mumford and Sons, like lavender oil in my bath, like the awesome clawfoot bathtub in my apartment for taking lavender baths, like good wine, deep books, genuine smiles, and the beautiful people I know. So I don’t love my work. I still love my life.
“Memory is the only thing that binds you to earlier selves; for the rest, you become an entirely different being every decade or so, sloughing off the old persona, renewing and moving on. You are not who you were, he told her, nor who you will be.”—Charlotte Gray, Sebastian Faulks
“Most people use twenty verbs to describe everything from a run in their stocking to the explosion of an atomic bomb. You know the ones: Was, did, had, made, went, looked… One-size-fits-all looks like crap on anyone. Sew yourself a custom made suit. Pick a better verb. Challenge all those verbs to really lift some weight for you.”—Janet Fitch