I haven’t posted in many months. Partly because 2013 was a difficult year for me, full of emotional rollercoasters and long trips into the darker areas of my mind. Partly because I couldn’t think of anything useful to post to my (few) readers.
I went into a dark corner sometime around spring, and decided around that time that it was the moment to do something I’d always wanted (well, at least for 10-15 years). So I searched the next trip to Tibet – and found the next best thing – a 2.5 week trip to India, to the teachings of the Dalai Lama.
I met Buddhist monks and Lamas, went to Buddhist pujas and attended His Holiness’s teachings. I circled Dalai Lama’s temple 3 times, chanted “Om Mani Padme Hum” and climbed the Himalayas to place little Tibetan flags on the mountain top. I bought a ton of books because I realized my knowledge about Buddhism was minimal in the face of what people there talked about.
But then, as I came back, I realized that while I was hoping for a small piece of enlightenment, it’s not something you buy in a market in India. It’s not something you click on or off while going into a temple. It’s something that grows inside, and that takes long to nurture. Maybe this year was the sprouting of this seed for me.
I am not the only one who’s had a difficult year. Many of the issues I was faced with are usual kicks life throws into anyone’s face. I’m sure you had your own.
Second, as one emerges from “the dip”, one comes out with a few insights. Here are mine.
1. Happiness is not external, but internal.
We all want different things. A car, a house, a relationship. A baby. The newest clothes from the catwalk. A raise, a promotion. Respect or recognition from other people.
We might be happier as we get them. For a short while.
Then, the search starts anew, for something else to crave. And we become unhappy yet again.
While I have this hole in my soul, waiting for something to fill it, it will never be filled.
2. Connections are meaningful.
As I listened to people talking about life and its meaning, in India, I started to make connections with my own internal journey. I found it easy to connect to people who had issues I perceived similar to my own. And while I opened up, I found connections and ideas that made more sense, like they were signaled to me with fluorescent lights. In a way, it was like I was searching for something, and along the way road posts appeared, signaling the next stop or an interesting turn to make.
3. Letting go is key. And not as easy as it sounds.
small scale control freak. I was joking the other day that one of my major achievements of 2013 was to be able to sleep while unwashed dishes stood in the sink for a night or two. So you can imagine, letting go is not my kind of thing.
However, in India they just go with the flow. When anything goes wrong, they raise their hands up and say “Gods will”. Sort of like “What’cha gonna do.”
As we were visiting a temple, the plan was to go paragliding over the mountains in the afternoon. However, a storm was approaching, and in the face of the rising wind we were told the paragliding was off.
So then, one (brilliant) member of our group suggested we go by train to our “home” town. It was a 60 km, 2 hour ride which turned out as probably our best experience there. Forget the smells and cramped wagon rooms, nothing compares to sitting on the train ledge, dangling your feet while the train moves with the amazing speed of 20 km/h.
Letting go and embracing the unknown might seem damn hard…but in some moments, it may be leading to a wonderful destination.
4. Work Life Balance helps. A lot.
As you may see, I draw, I paint, I make clothes. I deliver trainings and (sometimes) coach. I (rarely, as it seems) blog. All these in my free time.
Having some fulfilling activities apart of my job help me be whole.
And don’t get me wrong – I am fortunate enough to have a job that fits me very well, and I love my working environment. But I believe that, no matter how much you love what you do, you need to have other things that complete who you are.
We are multi-faceted beings – we need novelty and continuous learning. We’re motivated by achievement and building stories. What better way than to weave a more colourful web in your life?
5. The mind is a monkey.
Buddhists say that the pure state of mind is like clear water. It is only by negative thoughts, stress and destructive emotions that we stir the mud which lies underneath. And so it becomes cloudy and dirty. Of course we can’t be happy that way.
Some meditate. Others run. Others find activities which create flow and help them be in the present moment.
I sometimes sit in the middle of the storm in my mind, when all thoughts gather and rise in something that looks like a tangled ball of yarn full of knots.
Sometimes I’m able to discern that this ball of yarn is not me. It’s only my thoughts, and they will dissipate.
In those moments, although I may not magically arise full of clarity, at least I see some light. And that makes me feel better.
So, yes, happiness is a journey. I learned that we Westerners don’t know how to allow ourselves to be happy. We keep putting things in the way, and our world is built to encourage that.
I try to swim against this stream, and against my upbringing that says “If you are good (read: if you get XYZ), you will be happy.”
I try to tell myself that what I am now is enough.
Sometimes it works.