Well, I know 2010 has already been super interesting for many of us. Literally right after my last entry, I became horribly sick and stayed that way for most of the month of January. It should come as no surprise, really. I spent the month before that working 14-18 hour days for my law firm, and had been horribly stressed out in an unproductive and unhealthy way. The symptoms of my illness became pronounced, not accidentally I’m sure, the very same morning as my first jury trial as a defense attorney. My first jury trial since starting my own law firm. My first jury trial in a year and a half. My first since leaving the District Attorney’s Office.
It took about two weeks, six doctors, twenty-something vials of blood being taken and various days of thinking I was dying of organ failure to figure out what was wrong. The details of what was wrong don’t matter. What does, like everything in life, is my reaction/response to the situation. The same friend who loaned me “Journey Into Power” had also loaned me “The Art of Happiness” by his Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama & Dr. Howard Cutler (a wonderful read – highly recommend for all!). The Dalai Lama, referencing a book called “The Gift of Pain”, discusses pain’s importance in our lives. Pain is our body’s signal to the mind that something is wrong and needs adjustment. This information comes from Dr. Paul Brand, who has spent decades treating, studying and researching leprosy. Obviously his work deals with physical pain. But it begs the question, isn’t emotional/spiritual pain there for the same reason? Something is wrong and needs adjusting.
Never before in my life have I come across so many people looking for change as I have since 2008. It seems almost everyone that crosses my path has had a mental awakening of some sorts where they’re standing up and saying “I’m not happy”, or “I’m not fulfilled”. The Dalai Lama has said “I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness”. In “The Art of Happiness”, Dr. Howard Cutler wrote:
“As a psychiatrist, however, I had been burdened by notions such as Freud’s belief that “one feels inclined to say that the intention that man should be ‘happy’ is not included in the plan of ‘Creation’.” This type of training had led many in my profession to the grim conclusion that the most one could hope for was “the transformation of hysteric misery into common unhappiness.” … I could rarely recall having heard the word “happiness” even mentioned as a therapeutic objective. Of course, there was plenty of talk about relieving the patient’s symptoms of depression or anxiety, of resolving internal conflicts or relationship problems, but never with the expressly stated goal of becoming happy”.
I think this reflects a basic understanding that in the United States, at least, for generations, our values have gone askew of what human beings have understood for thousands of years. We’ve become paralyzed by our fear of not having enough. We’ve become paralyzed by our fear of losing our job, losing our relationship, losing our health. Anything that causes “suffering”. God forbid we suffer. Have you ever noticed how someone that has an amazing life can have any one of the above-mentioned things happen, and all of the sudden their whole life totally sucks. They’ll mope around for days, weeks, months, years. They’ll blame how everything else that subsequently went wrong in their life went wrong BECAUSE of that one thing (the truth of the matter, of course, is that subsequent things went wrong because of their REACTION to that one thing). This paralysis by fear of suffering has flung us into a society that spends its days and nights focused, not on happiness, but on power, money, obligation, respect and getting ahead. The stress and anguish of these life goals, however, results in illness and disease, medication and addiction.
Buddhists, and many others, would say that the problem of happiness, or rather a lack thereof, isn’t one of external situation, but rather one of the mind. “Without inner peace, outer peace is impossible” – G.K. Gyatso. The theory is that the pain and suffering in one’s life is caused by negativity of the mind, delusions, or incorrect thinking. Basically, something only exists because you perceive it to. The whole “it’s not the spoon that bends, it’s only yourself” thing.
So. What to do? I’m by far and away no expert, but I can tell you what I’m doing. The same thing I’ve been doing. Continuing to work on myself. Since I was little I felt that my purpose in life has been to help people. Most of my life, however, I’ve had absolutely no idea how to do that. What I didn’t realize until a couple of years ago, though, was that the only real way to do so is by first helping myself. We have this tendency as a society to think that is selfish. I was even told once by a boyfriend that my taking daily breaks from work to go to yoga showed that I was lazy and unmotivated. The truth of the matter, though, is that taking care of yourself physically and spiritually is the absolute best way to provide for yourself, your career (or whatever matters to you) and your loved ones. You can’t give to others that which you don’t already have yourself. Besides that, I firmly believe the best way to help those around you is by being the change you want to see. It’s that simple. By working on yourself, you WILL positively affect those you love. All you have to do is turn inward. You really are the only person you truly need to worry about.
While happiness comes only from the mind, that doesn’t mean that external situations should be ignored, or shouldn’t be corrected if they no longer suit our purposes. We all make decisions in life based on the best information that we have at that time. However, if we’re living our lives, then we will grow and invariably the best information we have will change. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations of our own creating that we can’t figure out how to continue to function in, while keeping in line with our new found information and insight. For instance, an Amazon search for “unhappy lawyer” yields four pages of search results. Lawyers spend the better part of a decade getting into their careers, and then an alleged 50% of them are no longer practicing 5 years after becoming licensed. I know, because I talk to them, en masse, so many feel trapped. A prisoner of their own life. Of their own making.
In his book, “Journey into Power”, Baron Baptiste pointed out that: “If, however, you are not aligned with your work – if it doesn’t reflect your authentic self – suddenly everything feels like a task. Everything is too hard, too much effort, too draining. True success seems miles away”. I think this is important to note, because of how much time, and association with our identity, we give to our work. For most of us, it comprises the majority of our waking hours. I think this is why I’ve seen so many people “jumping ship” in the past couple of years. We know there’s something better out there. We’re trying to figure out what and where. We’re ready to live our dreams.
The truth, of course, is that most of us still need to be able to provide ourselves with food and shelter while figuring it all out. I think frequently that the best course of action is inaction. If you don’t know what the right decision is to a problem, then don’t make one. At least not until absolutely necessary. I’ve found that by sitting back, doing the best job I can in my current circumstance and paying attention to the signs in front of me, the best scenario will invariably present itself. Every time.
In summation: So. In these tumultuous and troubling times for individuals, country, and the world, let’s not lose sight of the one thing we can control – ourselves. Let’s be responsible for taking hold of our own dreams. Our own minds. Our own happiness. Let’s change the world. Starting with ourselves.
“When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky” – Buddha
Love and peace,