“The world is not so difficult…”
Gridlock in life is unavoidable. And we all say we could do with less of it…which would be kinda nice and definitely easier. And we all hate the pain, the fear, the uncertainty, the momentary sense of helplessness. But as it happens, and as I still hate to admit, gridlock serves a very useful purpose. And you know what I mean: that mirror comes up smack in front of us, and our own reflection calmly glances back and asks: “So what is it that truly matters to you?”.
It turns out it’s not the investment portfolio, the house, the car, the pool, the job benefits, the vacation, the wardrobe, or the diplomas. It’s not even the worries, challenges, frustrations, what happens next week, next year, the greater purpose or master plan. What matters are the love, the trust, and the presence of those we love, and those closest to us…now and always. What matters most is having a chance to continue sharing, creating, trying, smiling, loving, touching, arguing, forgiving, loving some more. What matters most is being able to be a part of, and be near those who love us when we are least lovable, who support us when we get ourselves into the biggest mess, who risk our anger and silence so that we might snap out of a spell, who always believe in us through our successes and our failures.
When we answer THE question in life, one that is so brutally and wonderfully honest, we also realize who we are: not singularities floating about in our own little worlds (although we have that personal space too), but individuals in a context that is essential to both our individuality and to our well being. We need to “differentiate” and be self-aware, we need to be strong, self-reliant and well, grown-up. We also need to learn, be challenged, keep growing…for that is happiness. And to do all this, we require love and support, and also a context, structure… something to differentiate from and at the same time, next to and within.
One of the more delightful and rewarding ironies in life is that the more self-aware we are, the healthier and stronger our sense of identity, personal goals and purpose become, the more we realize how necessarily connected we need to be. Personal happiness is no longer personal in the sense that it belongs to us like some expensive art piece in our private collection. Instead, it is we who belong to happiness. Our “private collection” is now open for others to enjoy….it becomes interactive and alive. Instead of a wall of masterpieces with an audience of one, our experience of life expands and becomes a shared space. We are finally and beautifully free, because by giving and sharing we no longer fear loss or restriction, but are able to recognize the tremendous gain.
In moments of great challenge, stress and doubt take over, and we have a tendency to try and enforce our independence by building walls and setting boundaries. Because from this perspective, any structure we might follow, any accommodation of another, any change in our own set of rules all feel like compromises leading to restriction. If and when we give, we feel or else fear that we will lose something of ourselves and become less. And so we make a habit of being dependent on policing our independence…which leads to our ultimate imprisonment.
One of my favorite stories ever is the story of the three little wolves and the big bad pig. You see, the pig was cranky. The poor little wolves were quite afraid of him, they wanted to protect themselves and have their own, safe space in which to live. So they built a house of bricks. But the pig tore it down with a sledgehammer. Then the little wolves built a house of concrete. This one too the pig tore down with a pneumatic drill. Desperate, the little wolves went all out and built the strongest, safest imaginable house, using steel, armor plates, and the works. Surely enough, the big bad pig found some dynamite and blew it to bits.
The little wolves were at a loss for what to do. No house would be strong enough and safe enough. And so they thought they needed to try something different. The perfect solution presented itself when they came across a flamingo pushing a wheelbarrow of flowers. The little wolves decided to build a house made of flowers! They saw that it was fragile, but it was beautiful and different than what they had attempted before….which hadn’t kept them safe anyway.
The pig predictably approached so as to destroy the house. But as he came close enough to huff, puff and blow it all down, he smelled the flowers. And then he no longer tried to huff and puff, but just breathed in the wonderful fragrance. As the story says, “his heart grew tender” and he wanted to become a good pig, to make friends. So, the three wolves and the big good pig became friends, drank tea, and ate fruit together. And of course lived happily ever after.
As Eric Weiner writes, happiness is indeed a conjunction, connective tissue. When that mirror comes up in our lives, when we get stuck for a moment and are not sure what to do, where to go, and what to make of everything, we face the question of what matters most. And our overactive, anxious and stressed minds suddenly go all quiet, so as to let our hearts speak. As we all know, the heart always sees the truth and speaks the truth.
Yes, the heart tells us what truly matters most when all else is taken away. It also tells us that true independence is the ability to allow interdependence; that true freedom (and true safety) are about living life in a house of flowers, not locked up behind walls of brick or concrete or steel; that when we give and share, nothing can be stolen or taken from us; that when we know who we are, belonging to a context further helps us polish and enhance our individuality, while at the same time allowing us to truly come alive and be connected.