I learned about something recently that has given me so much delight, and so much challenge, that I just had to share the prospect of it with you. I’ve been blessed this year to be part of an elder’s group and awareness of the viability of real happiness first came to me there. I feel such gratitude toward those who I am traveling with right now, because they (the elders) helped me to see something I had long ago forgotten could exist for me. Here is how it happened, and what it has constellated for me.
One evening, during a meeting of the elder’s circle, as we were going around saying our names, and describing something we liked about becoming older, I was struck by the impression that I was surrounded by a lot of people who had become themselves. This impression intrigued me. Later, we broke into small groups, where the impression grew into a full-blown, mind-altering, realization. Growing older had meant, for some of us, that we had arrived, despite still having further to go, at a time and place in our lives, where there were no roles, rules, or expectations, other than our own. We were free, and many of us had become idiosyncratically and uniquely our selves.
A rush of happiness came cascading in. I was surrounded by people who had become them selves. I was one of them; free to be authentic, different, uncertain, sensitive, foolish, erotic, crazy, and just plain me. At that moment I liked what getting old had done for me. Of course, I learned later that much of what distinguishes an elder from a merely old person had to do with how one responded to the hardships and losses of a long life. Freedom, and true elderhood, seemed to rest on choices that people made at the most difficult times in their lives. And miraculously, it seemed as if the best choices, the most effective decisions, had all been toward becoming truer to one’s self. In the midst of this group of self-possessed elders I discovered that happiness, my happiness, lay with cleaving to my own being.
That wasn’t all the joy I was to discover that night. I was delighted and surprised by what came next. I hadn’t even gotten used to the idea that my life-long struggle, to be me, had actually resulted in my becoming someone, myself, when it became clear that just being myself made a difference. One of the remarkable things that distinguished this group of people is that they want to give something back. There has been much talk in this group, perhaps spurred on by radicalism, of an elder insurgency. The urge to provide some kind of alternative, met with the realization that becoming our selves was a radical, even subversive, thing, and an unbelievable joyous surprise was born. Merely being true to one’s self changed the world!
During that meeting, without ever intending it, I was brought to the realization that happiness existed, and could be a regular feature of my life. All I had to do, to be generally happy, was be my self. If I merely held onto my self in my relationships, if I stayed true to what emerged in me, as me, then I would be free. Happiness and freedom became synonymous.
In the weeks that have followed that realization, I have been reflecting upon happiness, and the limited role I have let it play in my life. I have discovered that I keep myself from being as happy as I could be, by letting my anxiety take me out of the moment. I have always been good at anticipating things, I liked to think I had the skill of a chess champion, looking ahead several moves. Instead, what I have realized, is best captured in the words of a friend of mine, who once wrote in a letter, that “anticipatory anxiety” was “the constipation” that “kept all the good shit from happening;” how true, and how unfortunate, for me.
With the experience in the elder’s circle, and with this writing, I realize that I have made happiness highly conditional. My happiness has always been a product of my circumstances, instead of myself. By holding on to my anxious response to each and every coming moment, I have trapped myself in a non-existent and totally fabricated future, which would determine my well-being. I kept looking forward because happiness existed out there, instead of in here, where I am.
I realize that circumstances don’t have to determine my happiness. I don’t have to attend to the future. That is a choice; it is a reflection of where I want to place my attention. I could be happy as a day-to-day attitude. I could choose to focus my attention on my marvelous ability to respond creatively to each moment. I have been granted the gift of not being a machine, with a pre-determined range of choices, I get to meet each moment naked. This freedom scares me. It seems like too much. I could easily fall or fail. I do all the time! But, I know that this is the way to learn to fly. And, I am happy discovering that this too is part of the potential that has been granted to me by Life.
It turns out that I can be happy. I am alive, and I have been prepared for just this much choicefulness. I may be disabled, brain-damaged and egotistical, but I still get to have enough choice about how I relate to things that I can be happy. And, you know the strangest, and best, part of it all, is that I just have to be me, to be happy.
Knowing I can fly isn’t the same as flying, but it is enough to render me happier. Knowing that flying, that being my self, is a service to the world, that makes me feel something else………. a grateful awe.