When I was in Winnipeg last December (a trip that should not be taken in winter, but will be again, by me, this winter), I bought a calendar for 2013 by a local artist, a "Happiness Calendar." Each month there has been a new quote, and fabulous colorful artwork that accompanies it. I've been able to gauge my receptivity to life by my reactions to these quotes more often than not. I sit with each quote for the month, then attach them to my fridge in the hopes that these concrete reminders will stay with me. The quote that has stood out for me most is:
"Happiness is a form of courage." --George Holbrook Jackson
I've read this quote a hundred times over...some days believing it, and on others thinking that it was a ridiculously simplistic viewpoint. I've spent the last couple of months teasing out how this is both a hugely complex concept, and a fabulously (not ridiculous at all) simple idea. And, tonight, during a conversation after dinner, my lovely friend, as we were discussing our current feelings of satisfaction with our lives said it well: "When you're happy, you're not always looking for the 'next best thing' and you can be present."** And the inverse is true: when you're present, you're not always looking for the next best thing, and you can be happy.
I know I've tossed these ideas around for some time now, but there are moments when we think things through, and there are others when we feel them to our core. I'm beginning to recognize that growing up is growing into these realizations: not just parroting some teaching we've received, but actually living it.
This process requires a lot of wisdom (something that in itself is a fluid process) and lived experience. Maybe there are some people who are just born into this perspective? I'm not sure, but I do know I wasn't one of them. I have been wise at different points throughout my life, but I've also been obtuse, immature, and reactionary. I wish I could say there was some natural trajectory I've moved through, but I have to admit that these characteristics have been recurrent and have spiraled through me throughout my life. I have been courageous, and I've backed down, away from my self.
Pema Chodron on Growing Up: "When we apply the instruction to be soft and nonjudgmental to whatever we see at this very moment, the very embarrassing reflection in the mirror becomes our friend. We soften further and lighten up more, because we know it's the only way we can continue to work with others and be of any benefit in the world. This is the beginning of growing up." (From Comfortable with Uncertainty, pp. 125-126).
What I believe? I believe that growing older, growing wiser, means: we breathe before we react; we see what is instead of what could be; we love ourselves as we are; we find joy; we know that everything we believe about wisdom will probably continue to be revised and built on. The difference is, when we're courageous, we're okay with this knowledge.
"Do not fear mistakes...There are none." --Miles Davis (A timely message sent from yet another beautiful friend.)**
**Surrounding yourself with wise and beautiful friends is also a sign of wisdom and courage.