happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens

I’m facing a big challenge at the moment. It’s something that’s been building up for a while: finding out what life is like – and what I’m like – when there is no “something next”. When nothing is about to happen.

mg 0305 28 03 2012 niell 6 happiness that doesn't depend on what happens
photo by Aquabumps

Boy. What would that feel like? I’m always onto something next. Surely I’d be a shell of a human if I had no more happenings to forward onto?

I find life almost inconceivable without this relentless scheduling voice in my head, steering me on to the next thing, slotting in activities all day, timing how long it will get from here to there and what phone calls I can return while I’m transit. I rang my brother the other day. I was riding up a hill carrying groceries on the handlebars. “Geez Sarah, do you ever uni-task?” he asked. He’s 21 and he shakes his head at me.

When I was a little girl living in the country I would jump with excitement when the phone rang and physically ached to hear the sound of a car rumbling up our long driveway. I would climb a tree and wait and listen. For something to happen.  Someone’s coming! Something’s about to happen! I don’t think this anxious, incomplete anticipation has ever left my bones.

My biggest impediment to reaching something  resembling a meditative state each day when I sit in lotus is the constant diarising and scheduling more things to happen. I revert to this as soon as there’s an empty moment.

I thrive in disasters, because something is happening.  I always know what’s around the next corner…because I’ve anticipated it, planned it, scheduled it’s very possibility. Arghhh….it never stops.

I schedule, therefore I am. It’s my default cognitive position.

It’s got me places, this over-eager embracing of possibility and activity. Lots of things have happened in my life. Great jobs. Awesome opportunities. Excitement.

But it’s now starting to drive me mental. This, I know, is because it no longer serves me.

Whenever something no longer serves me, it all starts to become a noise that gets louder and brighter in my head, more irritating, until I just have to do something about it. I have a bunch of pink elephants in a room sitting opposite me. Staring at me. And demanding I act.

It’s time to act.

It’s beginning with curiosity. I am so so so curious to see what life can look/feel/be like when I have no expectation of what will happen next. When my being isn’t constantly on to the next thing, metaphorically looking over someone’s shoulder at the party onto the next conversation.

I’m not sure if this resonates. It it does…

You can read here about how to bring life in closer to the core, instead of flinging out into the ever-expanding universe.

You might also like writer Pico Iyer‘s take on the subject that he shared in the New York Times recently. He was picking up on the way technology drags us away from ourselves. And how we’re all increasingly seeking some stillness because we know that’s where happiness lies. The monk David Steindl-Rast describes it as “that kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.”

Yes! A happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens!!

Back to Iver. He makes the point that we have to get to this point not just to be happy, but to function best with technology and busy-ness:

“The central paradox of the machines that have made our lives so much brighter, quicker, longer and healthier is that they cannot teach us how to make the best use of them; the information revolution came without an instruction manual. All the data in the world cannot teach us how to sift through data; images don’t show us how to process images.

The only way to do justice to our onscreen lives is by summoning exactly the emotional and moral clarity that can’t be found on any screen.

In my own case, I turn to eccentric and often extreme measures. I try not to go online till my day’s writing is finished, and I moved from Manhattan to rural Japan in part so I could more easily survive for long stretches entirely on foot, and every trip to the movies would be an event.

Nothing makes me feel better — calmer, clearer and happier — than being in one place….

…absorbed in a book, a conversation, a piece of music. It’s actually something deeper than mere happiness: it’s joy.

For more than 20 years, therefore, I’ve been going several times a year — often for no longer than three days — to a Benedictine hermitage. I don’t attend services when I’m there, and I’ve never meditated, there or anywhere; I just take walks and read and lose myself in the stillness, recalling that it’s only by stepping briefly away from my wife and bosses and friends that I’ll have anything useful to bring to them.

Said Blaise Pascal:

“Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.”

He also remarked that all of man’s problems come from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone. And to let nothing happen.

To this end, I think I’m going to go for a wander soon. No plans. No sense of what will happen next. This is not the same as searching for nothingness. And I don’t think it will be found alone in a room (only in the ability to sit in a room alone).

It’s about letting nothing happen. Something might happen. But it’s about it not mattering, one way or the other. Instead of being the kid in the tree with the ear cocked, it’s about being the kid mucking about in the dam doing their own thing and then being genuinely happy when a car appears over the ridge.

Are you addicted to stuff happening? Do you get what I mean by the constantly scheduling voice in the head?


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