Tying happiness to our outer state of circumstances is not only pretty typical, it’s pretty hard to not do. We look at our careers, our relationships, or in my case, the weather outside, and think, if only I could change jobs, get that raise, move to where the winter low isn’t -60 F. But the truth is, we take ourselves with us wherever we go, and our happiness is tied to us, not where we live, how much money we make, the house we live in, or even who we love or who loves us. We make our own happiness or unhappiness.
I began to bump up against this truth as a teenager. I was unhappy. A lot. I realized later that I was suffering from depression, something I would wrestle with for the rest of my life, but at the time all I wanted was to change schools.
At first, the switch would be exciting. But once the new became normal, everything went back to being unsatisfactory. So, I would make another change.
As I was planning one of those next moves, I described my plan to a classmate. A graduate student I had a crush on, someone I was trying to impress with my wise and bold new adventure. I was getting out, damn it! Away from this stale old-fashioned place, and forging ahead to somewhere more sophisticated. He smiled sadly, and said, “I hope you find what you’re looking for.” I got into my car stunned and angry. I raged all the way home because he hadn’t understood, he didn’t get it! But he did. He got it, and me, exactly. I was lost and searching and looking outside myself to find what I could only find inside.
As an adult, I was able to continue my pattern of running away because my husband’s job involved moving. A lot. I’ve lived in 10 different houses in the last 24 years. I find myself getting antsy every couple years. I’m ready for things to change. I’m still convinced that moving will fill the void. Whatever it is that stresses me, whatever it is that I’m ready to shed, it will be good once I make the next move.
But I know this not true. If it were, I wouldn’t still get that itch, that feeling that it’s time to move on. The next move is just the next move, nothing more. It’s a new adventure where I get to figure out what I feel, who I am, and what that looks like in the new place. As long as I’m still there, then all my insecurities, my fears, my joys, they come with me.
It has taken me a long time to come to grips with this truth. It would be so much easier to just move. To change the outside circumstances and not look deeply at what it really is that I’m ready to run from.
In a recent blog post (Worry & Other Mind States), Jack Kornfield quotes Lama Yeshe, “To become your own psychologist, you don’t have to learn some big philosophy. All you have to do is examine your own mind every day.”
Self-reflection can be a painful process, but for me, it’s also been like being reborn (birth is a painful process after all!). It’s also a continuous process, so maybe it’s more like reincarnation. Over and over and over again until all is seen and understood. Kornfield explains that as we look at our own minds, “[we] may find resentment, fear, anger, worry, doubt, envy, or agitation. We can notice how often [these mental states] arise and how attached we are to their point of view. We can also notice the healthy states in our most free and open-hearted periods. We can notice how love, generosity, flexibility, ease, and simplicity are natural to us. These states are important to notice. They give us trust in our original goodness, our own Buddha nature.”
I’m not a Buddhist, but I find a lot of sense in Buddhist thought. It has helped me more than any other philosophy to sift through what it outside and what is inside. What I can run away from and what I must face.
I’m feeling that itch again. Probably because it’s still winter in North Dakota (in my southern world March equals spring, but not here! It’s currently in the single digits and snowing outside). So it’s time to go inside and look at those mental states yet again. It’s time recommit to finding happiness in myself. Now. Here.