After your goal is reached, the one that you were positively certain would bring you happiness, then what? For nearly 10 years, the American people, and, in particular, politicians, have sworn themselves to victory over terrorism with the take-down of Osama bin Laden. On the personal level, during this same period, untold numbers of individuals have set and met goals for themselves, achievements that they believed would bring certainty, liberation and ease into their lives, they who know what it is to strive to improve their conditions. Despite challenges to the economy, people have juggled, returned to school, obtained education and training, received degrees, found partners for life, had babies, established homes.
And yet so often, the aftermath of all that striving for certainty fails to bring about that state of inner peace and ease so desperately desired. What happens here? What is it that really brings happiness, joy, peace that sustains, regardless of whether we are up or down on life's roller coaster? The harder we cling to what we thought would bring happiness, the more we tend toward disappointment.
Just the other day, one such woman, Jayzee, 38 years old, uttered words that illustrate this point:
OK, so I knew things were not going to get better anytime soon after September 11. Most of us sensed it, I think. All you needed to do was pay attention to all the changes through Homeland Security, to name one. I decided not to let it get to me, not to climb into the "fear vat." I kept working, went to school at night, met my future husband. We got married, had twins. That was what I always wanted: a degree, career, marriage, a home, babies. That was supposed to be bliss. After the economy toileted, I lost my job, found another. But the amount I made was canceled out by the cost of childcare and insurance. We decided to take stock, lower our expenses by moving. No sooner had I unpacked the boxes when I realized this was not the answer to the stress, either. We were under so much pressure, from uncertainty, that everything we were doing seemed to be an attempt to bar the door from the wolf getting inside.
Jayzee's "wolf" is known by the name "fear of uncertainty." How about you? The mistake we make is believing that our salvation lies outside ourselves. We have this way of believing that if we can just change our world from the outside, it will settle the unquiet on the inside. The problem with that thinking is that it puts us in a holding cell. Imprisoned by the notion that salvation is an outside job, we cling harder and harder to our identities, achievements and collections, which only end up separating us from what restores a sense of peace, reconnection and happiness.
Ram Dass said it long ago: striving in the outer removes us from flow. The remedy for that sense of disappointment that can follow an accomplishment lies in cultivating a relationship with who you are that runs deeper than your résumé, who you know or who you have been. The remedy comes with an increasing awakening to who you are beyond attachments, and resistance to surrendering to them when the time comes. It comes when we let anxiety go, let it wash through us like a wave and rejoin the flow of being in the moment. Happiness is not about a mechanism to "get there" but the discovery of who you are where you are, from surrendering and embracing what is without the immediate need to change it. Sounds un-American, I know. There is a world even beyond happiness.
What we are seeking is relief from our racing mind, with all its fears, self-doubts and mistrust, mostly of who we really are beneath our striving and clinging to false ideas of who and how we must be to be loved, to be free. Consider the mother and father whose child suffers, and they take on the suffering as if it were their personal failure; the grown son and daughter who are stressed over feelings of impotence in dealing with their parents' aging and decline; the unemployed spouse who insists that there are no jobs out there, while his or her partner carries the load on their own back, feeling overwhelmed by the hopelessness that populates the atmosphere at home. Each of these and more are very real examples of how our mind can get off track, leaving us winded in the aftermath of arriving at what promised the certainty of happiness, only to be unraveled by the unexpected.
Now and then come moments of relief, when we are transported from this prison cell, free again to roam the landscape of simply being in the flow, the connectedness of all things. In these brief moments we are alive once more, awakening to a sense of belonging to the universe, where all is well. Recall your own? I asked Jayzee to reflect upon hers; she recalled that "this splashing around with the neighborhood kids makes me happy. We were just hanging out. There was no place to 'get to.' We just were there with each other, playing, laughing, teasing , being kids. I remember the simplicity of it. There were no goals. There was this kind of natural trust in the world, where all was already all right."
The Prescription: Saving Questions That Need Asking
After prescribing the exercise of revisiting this memory for 30 to 60 seconds whenever she feels anxious, and tracking her results on paper over the next 28 days, I asked Jayzee two questions I would ask you the next time you notice happiness flying out the window.
Question 1: How do you rob yourself from such a gorgeous memory?
Consider your answer. With courageous honesty, Jayzee replied, "I tell myself the story that these moments were only in the past; that I can't be a responsible adult and expect to feel like that."
"Who made that up?" I asked.
"That part of me that wants to always be in control, get it right; the part that is terrified of letting go and trusting that life can come again without any particular goal. My parents were very big on goals. They said nothing important ever happens without them. They failed to mention, however, what happens when you meet them and you can't figure out why you aren't happy for long."
Question 2: What does your highest self want you to notice and appreciate right now, through taking enough deep breaths until an answer arises from within you?
After she did so, here's what came: "I did not notice before just now how the sunlight is sparkling on the wall up there by the vaulted ceiling. The way the shape shimmers, reminds me of a white dove hovering over us. I don't know why, but I feel better, like somehow allowing the me that needs to feel so important dissolve into the breathing allows me to lay down what keeps me racing to 'Nowheresville.' Right now, one part of me isn't fighting the other. Right now, it's like being open, where there's nothing to adjust, no stand I need. Uncertainty is OK."
A few weeks back, a Huffington Post reader by the name of BeautyAmerican put it so well:
[We're] all striving for the same thing. Peace, enlightenment, soul-filled lives. The older I get, the less I 'know' for sure, and that is quite all right with me. You are most likely familiar with ... Jung's ... quotes:
"There is nothing I am quite sure about. I have no definite convictions -- not about anything, really. I know only that I was born and exist, and it seems to me that I have been carried along. I exist on the foundation of something I do not know. In spite of all uncertainties, I feel a solidarity underlying all existence and a continuity in my mode of being."
I am not a student of Jung, or anything other than life. I see what works and what doesn't...
The older we get, when traveling the path to live authentically, the need for striving diminishes as wisdom enters the walk back home.
Your turn: What works to help you let go of the need for certainty? What helps and hinders your endeavor to de-stress? I'm listening and learning from you, my teachers.
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