Wednesday, March 23, 2011


What is needed is a renewed humility. We are not the masters of the sources of happiness; they ever elude the appointments we make with them, springing up when we least expect them and fleeing when we would hold them close. The excessive ambition to expunge all that is weak or broken in body or mind, to control moods and states of soul, sadness, chagrin, moments of emptiness—all this runs up against our finitude, against the inertia of the human species, which we cannot manipulate like some raw material. We have the power to avoid or to heal certain evils, yes, but we cannot order happiness as if it were a meal in a restaurant.

The Western cult of happiness is indeed a strange adventure, something like a collective intoxication. In the guise of emancipation, it transforms a high ideal into its opposite. Condemned to joy, we must be happy or lose all standing in society. It is not a question of knowing whether we are more or less happy than our ancestors; our conception of the thing itself has changed, and we are probably the first society in history to make people unhappy for not being happy.

The thought I had reading this was: no wonder self-esteem is so elusive, all wrapped up as it is in images of perpetual good moods and positive outlooks. but our low moods and involuntary, out-of control parts swirl and swim under the surface and confuse the source of the pervasive sense of insecurity that hang limp in the air, charging the air between us when we meet, crawling under our skin.

But the low moods aren't the cause of that heart-shivering unsteadiness. Having turned myself around over and over to face what I am conditioned to avoid and ignore, I've learned in my bones that my strength and confidence comes from having learned to turn toward all the undesireables. What knocks me off my balance is the moment I believe in the unacceptability of anything other than the status quo.

It's like trying to keep waves still so you can stand on a surf board. To have any chance at sturdiness as a wave swells under you you have to *move* with it, learn to turn your entire body into an instinct for the ocean.

I would rather be free than happy. Free to dance with the morning rainbows, swirling and giddy. Free to feel despair later, when what I expected of myself turned out to be just out of reach for this one day. And then free to dance again. I can't reduce my sense of myself to one side of the equation or the other. I am whole and at peace with who I am *and* I crave what is more in me. I am intensely serious about everything that happens around me - but I am also completely taken over by the tint of ecstasy in the bright edges of a perfect stranger's eye when they glimpse at me and see my own ecstasy and we both know for a stolen moment that all is well right now whether we ever figure out the crazy mess or not.

The sadness or anger or limpness that inhabits you is not a failure. You're not broken for being confused or overwhelmed or getting sick or feeling pain. Freedom can't be compelled or controlled by making lifestyle choices - it doesn't come to you in stuff you can buy or in the exact right 7-step workshop or in only using positive words and never complaining. All that does is cut you off from what makes you vivid and true.

I hope for the liberation of both for you. I am the queen of both - Whatever paradox you straddle and feel compelled to pick a side and declare your un-yielding loyalty to on the fumes of insubstantial promises of perpetual happiness. It's a trick, you'll end up brittle or tossed around by everything unwanted that comes anywhere near you, bewildered and wondering where your flow went without you. Don't do it. Be sovereign and do both, have both. Don't choose between your two extremes, your multiple options. Don't strangle the sweet rhythm of the vast ocean that is you. Float on it and dive into it, find yourself stranded in the empty middle of it waiting for a breeze to fill in your soul-sail, ride it to shore.


Anonymous said...

I always liked a good surfing metaphor. :) I think the main issue people have with their conception of happiness being a fixed destination is that they want to get there and homestead the place. They're not comfortable with either the idea of an unending quest or the idea that happiness is emphemeral.

Unleashed said...

Oooh Shanna,

Ephemeral. A delicious word. And a true one. The very fact that happiness - any emotional state, really, is ephemeral is what makes them compelling to me. Nothing about a static state of happiness appeals to me. Ok - except for the 'fallacy of control' it intends to convince me of :). But the movement and flow of emotional energy is what feeling alive feels like to me. Surfing metaphors aside, being able to move with the fluctuations is what pleasure and strength and empowerment feel like to me when they are embodied. When I fixate I can't even really cope let alone thrive and create and be exquisite.

I know it can be scary and uncomfortable to flow more freely at first - but I think the idea that flowing means you're not doing it right- by accepting that happiness is ephemeral you're giving up control - but clinging really just creates powerlessness- it's just a socially acceptable form of powerlessness...

I've never really managed to be socially acceptable anyway so I don't have much to loose ;)

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