“Maybe the hardest thing I’ve ever done…was to walk away from you…leaving behind the life that we’d begun, I split myself in two…” ––Jackson Browne
There are many ways to be unhappy. A lost love. An anxious mind. The list goes on forever it seems.
Those of us born with anxious minds are additionally inventive in finding ways to make ourselves unhappy. Even happiness can make us unhappy. And success? Forget about it. We find ways to be guilty. Imagine something bad is going to ruin it. Or never give ourselves credit for getting there.
It’s hard for those who don’t suffer such questionable motives to appreciate how and why the minds of the anxious go where they go. But we go on making ourselves unhappy.
Some of us learn to identify the sources and patterns of unhappiness. And so it should be. After all, there are hundreds of thousands of words recorded in journals that we kept through so many anxious years. Fears and trepidations. Anxious ruminations. The records of our unhappiness.
The ruminative mind needs release from that cycle. That’s why running and riding and swimming are so good for people who wrestle with anxiety or depression. Happiness can be restored quite quickly, quite often, by running off the source of our stress or worry, real or imagined.
That seeming ‘quick cure’ can make the condition of anxiety seem false or vapid to those whose minds aren’t wired that way. But everyone has something that vexes them. Fear of success. Fear of an opposing ideology. Fear of not having a gun on you at all times. Fear that someone something said about you is real, or true. Let it go.
The mind is easily distracted as well the vexing nature of current events. Both the anxious conservative and the anxious liberal seem to have so much to worry about these days. Yesterday on Facebook there was a meme about the fact that Trump has lifted bans on catching too many sea turtles. The world waits for our worries. It loves them.
It’s all there
Last night in yoga class it was easy to be distracted as well. The new studio is next to the aerobics room. The soundproofing hasn’t been installed yet. It was cool in there too. But the blankets were still blankets. The foam blocks were still foam blocks. The bolster and the straps. They all still worked the same. And for five minutes I lay there on the mat not letting anything distract me. Throughout the practice, there were plenty of opportunities to let things bug me. My feet stank. My left knee did not like a particular kneeling position. So I didn’t do it. I made a choice to be me, whatever form that took.
Aching for happiness
And this morning’s run through Nelson Lake Marsh forest preserve brought birds singing one after another. Yellowthroat. Willow flycatcher. Indigo bunting. Bobolink.
Then I emerged from the grassy trails onto a familiar road and picked up the pace. I’d taken my shirt off on a muggy morning and the air felt cool and nice. Rather than think of my legs as aching, I thought of them as ‘aching for happiness. And so, instead of thinking of that ache as a negative, I identified with how strong my legs really are. They’ve carried me a long way, and many miles. So the last half mile turned into a sprint.
Standards of engagement
The challenges of creating or finding happiness bump against wall of desire. All the obligations and wants. The standards of engagement. Our own expectations. Our dissatisfaction with the present. Our goddamn disappointment with the prospect for the future. What the fuck is that even about?
I’m no Type A personality but there are times when I’m a B+ with a minus behind the ranking. The inner dialogue can go like this:
“How’s the progress on your book? When are you going to do some more painting? You haven’t been out birding yet this month. Only one swim this week? What’s wrong with you?
So you see, it can take work to let yourself be happy. It can take discipline not to beat yourself up every moment of the day. Part of that comes from releasing the clawing forces of inner dialogue that too easily become a habit. This is the rumination that makes the days rush by. It kills the present and buries consideration.
When you’re never satisfied with how you’re doing, you cannot possibly be happy. It’s good to bo back and ask questions to learn from past experience. During all those years racing hard and achieving the fastest times in my life, did I let myself appreciate them? And the answer is: In many ways, I did.
The real problems came when I ceased imagining that the way of life, a freedom and intensity about the belief and the challenge, were possible to sustain. The truth is tantalizing: the soul is liberated by living through imagination.
So do it. Let yourself be happy. Imagine a better way. Be that person. Steal time to work on that book. Train your own way. Set your own schedule. Dream your own dreams. But also, share in the joy of other achievements. Revel in the wins and the losses.
You’ll be happier for it.