The Perfect Life or the Happy Life?

Sometimes, most of us wonder about the quality of our lives.  Are we satisfied with life?  Are we happy?  Is something missing?  Could life be better?

I suspect that when these questions are asked, like around birthdays or significant changes, we become aware of the ways that the lives we lead just aren’t perfect.  I get that.  My life isn’t perfect.

I’ve been with my life companion for fourteen years.  It’s not the relationship I imagined.  We are very different from each other.  Among other things, since he is from Hong Kong, his food of choice is sea food.  If he had his way, the day would start with fish ball soup and continue with fish or sea food as part of every meal.  Me?  I grew up in Western Pennsylvania in a time when the water ways were polluted.  I’m fine with ocean fish — but that’s about it.  But from my Slavic heritage, I consider sauerkraut to be the food of the gods.  For some reason beyond my comprehension, he thinks it’s nothing more than stinky stuff.

Then there’s work.  Yes, I appreciate much of my work with graduate students and watching them grow, excel, and master skills in research.  But the university is always changing policies and procedures. Just when I get one set of procedures down, it changes again.  And of course, I should be paid three or four times what I make!

There’s also my denomination.  UCC has wonderful vision statements and stands on social justice.  I’m proud of that.  But have you been to a church function lately?  How much fried chicken and jello salad can anyone eat?  Really?

Yes, I’m intentionally being trite with my examples.  But that’s to make a point.  We are always aware that things could be better in our relationships, our workplaces, and our communities.  After all, at times we’re each a bit like Goldilocks:  this one’s too hot; this one’s too cold; this one’s too soft; this one’s too hard.  To have a good life, to be happy and satisfied in life does not require that our situations in life are perfect.  Instead, a life characterized by happiness and satisfaction depend on out outlook on the lives we lead and our openness to enriching experiences in each moment.

This morning, I sipped a cup of coffee while sitting on my front porch. I watched the sun rise over the tree line.  The air was cool and birds were beginning their day.  A few squirrels scurried around. I breathed deeply as I took it in.  I recalled Emily’s words from the play, Our Town:  “O Earth, you’re too wonderful for anyone to realize you.”

My life is worth living, meaningful, and good not because it’s perfect.  No one’s life is perfect. Instead, life is worth living, meaningful, and good because we chose to focus on what nourishes us in deep ways.  Happiness is possible not because of the events and circumstances of life.  Events and circumstances easily change.  But happiness, well…happiness is about each of us.

We are more likely to be happy when we give up expectations that we’ll have perfect relationships, jobs that are always fulfilling, or communities where everyone is compatible with our likes and dislikes.  We are more likely to be happy when we are present to and appreciate life as it happens, not trying to make it the way we want it to be.  After all, the only change that we can make are changes with ourselves.

Yes, my life is good and I am happy:  even though my partner will never like sauerkraut, no university will pay me four times what I currently make, and jello salad will keep showing up at church events.  Even in the midst of day to day irritations, life is very good.  Yes, finding that goodness is really up to each of us.  Our lives are worthwhile because we make them so.

 

Photo source: pixabay.com  CCO license

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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Diversity:  Lessons from My Backyard

In spring, my parent’s yard was a bright array of color.  My mother had a bed with yellow and white daffodils.  My father planted multi-colored tulips under maple trees. There were two colors of lilacs filling the air with their sweet smell, both white and pink dogwood framing a small grove of pine, and two cherry trees with their soft white blossoms.  Yes, there were the dandelions as well, dotting the lawn with yellow specks.  So many colors and such rich variety!  It was something amazing!

As the flowers and blossoms budded, time came to prepare the vegetable garden for planting.  Divided into three sections, there was room for lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, corn, endive, rhubarb, turnips, kohlrabi, cucumbers, melons, strawberries and squash…all leading to a bountiful harvest.

The yard was shaded and the house protected by a wide variety of trees, including pine, maple, dogwood, and cherry.  There were also white spruce, chestnut, and a variety of ever-green shrubs and rhododendron.

As a child, I learned a very important lesson simply by playing in my parent’s yard:  the world is overflowing with wonderful diversity.  It’s so simple and so obvious that we often miss this truth.  A flower isn’t any one thing but naturally blooms in a variety of shapes, colors, and fragrances.  Fruits and vegetables:  there’s not just one nutritious choice but an incredible variety. And trees:  yes, the variety I grew up with but then the ones I grew to love in other places I lived like palm trees and cacti.  What makes a flower a flower, a vegetable a vegetable, or a tree a tree?  Given the array of different flowers, vegetables, and trees, essence is difficult to capture.

Throughout my life, I’ve heard religious people talk about a natural order of things.  The order of nature or natural law is significant for them when they address human beings and human sexuality.  They reason that who we are as people, how we express ourselves in our bodies, and how we show love is supposed to fit into neatly defined categories.  They claim that it is only natural that God created male and female, that the only purpose of sex is procreation, and that gender must be expressed in one set of culturally based norms.  I read these statements, pronouncements, and dogma and wonder:  did these people every look around their own backyard?  Did they never encounter the actual wonder of nature?  What they claim as “natural” doesn’t look anything like what I’ve experienced in nature.  I didn’t even leave my childhood home to figure this out!  (Further, not meaning to be offensive, but have any of these people actually had sex?  No one who has ever had good sex would ever think it’s just about procreation!  In potent sexual encounters, there’s joy, pleasure, union, and beauty.  It is full of grace and love!  Good sex is life-giving and only occasionally procreative. How did they miss it?)

What is natural?  How was Earth created?  What is most evident about the natural order?  It’s both evident and obvious that our planet — and the cosmos — was formed and created with diversity as a foundational element.  Everything we encounter and experience in the natural world comes in multiple forms and great variety.  That’s part of the wonder and amazement of our shared life on Earth.

In the end, any category people have tried to create, even when attempting to articulate something they believe is moral, regarding human sexuality, gender, race, or other human abilities, is simply not natural.  It is against nature.  To understand this, all they ever needed to do was pay attention to what was in their own backyard.

 

Image: CC0 License pixels.com

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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Spirituality and Aging: Lessons in Letting Go

It happened to me again.  I was in the market shopping.  The aisle was a bit tight with two other people trying to pass at the same time.  I turned quickly to get out of the way and out of nowhere a sharp pain grabbed my hip.  I stumbled, almost falling, but caught myself on one of the shopping carts.

You may have had a similar the experience.  It happens sometimes, usually without warning.  Arthritis seems to grab at a joint in my hips or knees.  There’s a sharp pain and it’s as though for a moment I lose control of my body.  I know it’s not uncommon.  I often hear people my age talking about their bodies just not doing what they want it to any longer.  That’s exactly what happens to me.

One of the unsettling things about aging is the loss of control.  As I begin to experience these little interruptions that catch me off guard, like a sharp hip pain that causes me to stumble, I pay more attention to those who experience far greater losses in mobility.  If I allow my mind to wonder, I recall the crippling effects of arthritis evident in my mother and the years my father was bed-ridden with Parkinson’s.  I try not to think too much about those things because it leads me to wonder:  how long before I am next?

Yet, when I’m reminded of the increasing limitations in my own body, my experience of loss of control, I try to keep focused on this loss as a natural process.  I hope to ease into it.  I also remind myself that this physical process parallels the process of spiritual growth and maturity.

When one becomes more attuned to the spiritual dimension of life, experiences of self-fulfillment, peace, and wholeness are common.  In these early stages, spirituality is often equated with personal well being.  But that’s just the starting point for nurturing the spiritual dimension of life.  (And yes, it is an essential place to start.)  With maturity comes the growth is letting go of self, self-fulfillment, and self-satisfaction to allow for the experience union and communion with that which we experience as greater than ourselves:  the universe, the Divine Mystery, the heart of transcendence.  This maturity requires us to let go of control over self and, in a sense, to allow self to melt away in moments of communion with something more than we can easily describe.

The process may sound odd and mysterious or perhaps even absurd.  Yet, we experience this process each evening when we sleep.  In order to fall asleep, we must let go of all control over our activities and responsibilities, allow our minds to clear and our bodies to relax, and in doing so, we let go of awareness to sleep and to rest.  This pattern is part of the natural cycle.

The pattern of maturity that leads us to let go and not have control is a basic pattern in life.  That pattern is found in the rhythm of sleeping and waking, of growing in spirituality so that we release egoic preoccupation to experience communion with the Holy One, and in the physical changes we experience in aging.  Just as we cannot prevent the sun from rising and setting or the seasons from changing summer to autumn, so too this cycle of losing control is part of what it is to be human.  It’s something to simply embrace as a unique dimension of what it is to be alive.

While it may seem trite to some, perhaps the simple wisdom in Twelve Step programs says it best:  when we want to hold onto the illusion of control, we just need to, “let go and let God.”  The control we think we have over life is nothing more than a passing illusion.

I’d honestly prefer not to have arthritis.  The stiffness and occasional pain is frustrating.  I don’t like how it slows me down.  But slowing down….that’s at the heart of living a life of balance rooted in the spiritual dimension.  Keeping this in mind, perhaps the aches and pains of growing older can be a way to refocus on our need to let go and be open to the deeper Mystery which sustains all life.

 

Photo credit:  CCO License Source: pixabay.com

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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