In the spirit of New Year's resolutions, I've asked myself a question lately about the human relationship with emotional pain: at what point do we acknowledge the pain in our life and decide to end it?
Is it only when we've endured great agony that we see its perils and decide that we don't want to feel that way anymore? Is it only then that we change our perspective and start to choose happiness?
Or can we arrive at a commitment not to suffer simply by relating with life and its low-grade hardships as part of the whole? As not bad or good. Right or wrong. Just what is.
It saddens me to think that the latter is the exception and not the rule.
For me, it took 14 unpublished books, my father's death and a near divorce to finally see that happiness is a choice. And one I was hell-bent on making. But it meant that I had to let go of suffering once and for all. And suffering had become my "normal."
How is this possible -- this letting go?
I believe the answer lies in the present moment.
We hear the phrase: live in the moment. But what does this really mean in its practical application? How do we achieve the freedom of choosing to let go of the future and the past and commit to the present moment, when life throws us curveballs and even grenades? How do we not worry or rage or micromanage? Is this a practice reserved for yoga class or church or meditative walks in the park? I'd like to believe that this is instead an entire life commitment that stitches its way through carpools, meal time, laundry folding, deathbeds. All of it.
It doesn't have to be hard. It doesn't have to be a grandiose gesture that beckons the force of gods. No, it's just as simple as waking up and thinking, "What is there for me in this one solitary moment?" And for me, it begs the next question, which never fails me on the happiness radar: "What can I create?"
Some people say that they're not "creative." But conceivably you learned to walk, talk, position the couch in your living room. You are creative. You create each moment of your life. You create your sadness and your tears. Your business successes. The outfit you're wearing right now.
Each moment is connected to the next, yet each moment is also a blank page. Ripe for creation. As a writer, I sit down each morning with that blank page. It's my friend. I don't think about writer's block or bad reviews or cynics. I am safe in that moment, words flying through my fingers onto a computer screen. I'd like to propose that we are safe in the present moment. Our only real enemy, our mind.
We all have that voice that tells us we're wrong. Fools. Failures. But we don't have to listen to it. We can choose a different perspective and set ourselves up for success and even happiness. We don't have to wait until we go through crippling grief or years of failure in our jobs or our dreams. It's all how we spin it to ourselves and others. What if we arranged it in our head that life is just as it's meant to be? To stop being our own saboteurs?
Marianne Williamson is so wise when she says, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us."
I would add: There is no suffering in that light. Only freedom. That's my New Year's resolution this year. That freedom.
A version of this post also appears on my personal blog, "These Here Hills."