Today was one of those perfectly sunny mornings where I got up and started to paint right away.
They are the best days to me: the ones where I literally just get out of bed and jump into doing the thing I absolutely love. I remember how long it has taken me to simply be okay being an artist, to fully embrace being creative; how long it has taken me to listen to my heart.
How broken I was, without even realizing it, before that.
Definitely not broken as in completely destroyed or totally unhappy, not at all. For years of life before I decided to really and commit to and pursue what I loved, I was fine. Okay. Usually even very happy and joyful. I had, and had shared, some of the most wonderful, coolest, interesting experiences of my life that I feel very grateful for: travel, love, serving the poor, living abroad; healing my body, learning yoga, re-finding myself like all twenty-somethings do.
Learning what it means not to settle. Being okay alone, and being able to give lots of love when with others. Growing.
These are all great things, but I never knew what it was like to be so simply and completely content just being alive; to have the actual source of joy be life itself. This was always a fanciful idea to me, one that everybody loves the idea of, but many don't know the reality of making, the cost of.
Naturally: you don't know the cost of something until you have to pay it.
I thought that all these things that I had done were the source: traveling, loving, serving, healing, yoga, friendships, relationships, etc.; I thought that happiness came from doing or having them, from the aliveness or connectedness of them; I thought happiness was the result of practicing them.
But I have learned that if that's the case, then that means that happiness can leave when their practice stops. The source of joy has to be beyond a practice, a doing. It must be less conditional, more inner, than that: we cannot always be traveling or loving or painting or practicing something- and even if we could, we tend not to realize: that's stimulating, not necessarily satisfying. If our joy drops off when the stimulation ends, we're looking for joy in the wrong place. (It's not at all that we can't or shouldn't get many, many other great things from these experiences, but ultimate joy and everlasting inner peace is not one of them.)
I think I've learned that doing all these feeling-inducing things in life is not the cause of true happiness, it is merely the price we pay for it. These things are not happiness themselves, they are merely the cost. The reward must be something else entirely.
Experience- life- is the thing we go through- but the reward actually lies beyond it. Of course there are the things we do- but the reality of their effectiveness in making us whole depends on how able we are to see that they merely point us to something else, something bigger, something deeper within.
They are not only joyous moments, but teachers of longsuffering: having patience, in spite of trouble, while we get to some more ultimate destination. They have taught me what it means to live a life like I am going somewhere.
Somewhere beyond the temporary, non-eternal, time-constrained and wordly things from which many people spend their whole lives trying to derive happiness. Longsuffering teaches us that true, deep happiness has to be a familiarity with a greater beyond.
I always listen to music when I paint, and I stopped to write this after hearing one of my favorite songs, 'I Have Made Mistakes.' The lyrics say very well everything I thought to say above, but they reminded me of what I just wrote: that the journey of life seems to point us somewhere more ultimate if we listen. And that 'somewhere more ultimate' is worth it, a worthy thing to fight for. The first verse goes:
I have made mistakes, I continue to make them // the promises I've made, I continue to break them // and all the doubts I've faced, I continue to face them // but nothing is a waste if you learn from it. // And the sun, it does not cause us to grow // it is the rain that will strengthen your soul // and it will make you whole.
It's so very true that life never becomes what it's sort of marketed to you as: you becoming a whole and complete and blameless, mistake-less person. You certainly can be redeemed, and made clean- you can start over- but you'll continue to fail (yourself and other people), and as long as you realize that your journey in life is to become more like the image of a loving Creator beyond you (nothing else), you still have room for eternal growth and success.
If I weren't, at this point, working for that alone, I'm not sure what else would be worth working for. I'm not sure there's anything else I think is actually worth becoming of mimicking, except Love. I'm not sure I can find meaning outside of seeking God. All experiences- painting, passion; travel, nature, love- must point me there, beyond these things themselves, or they feel a little empty, and a little selfish, having to do too much with my self.
We have lived in fear, and our fear has betrayed us // but we will overcome the apathy that has made us // because we are not alone in the dark with our demons // and we have made mistakes // but we've learned from them
And it's so very true that we mostly do live in fear, or apathy: I hear many people say that they find 'not wanting commitment' or 'not following through' to be their biggest problems in life, in many areas- and I think that's because it's everyone's. It's mine and it's yours- until we find a bigger reason than just us (or another person, or a job, or an accomplishment, or anything else temporary and of this world) to live for.
Once we find that purpose, we won't, of course, be perfect, but we'll be effective; we'll generate results, we won't be scared of failure; we'll understand how life moves- and how we're designed to move with it. We'll create: love, friendships, ourselves, our crafts, our truest lives.
We tend to settle on our apathy because it's part of our natural selves, and it's made worse when we lose sight of meaning or purpose in life, which happens when we only live for our own happiness. We're not designed to live for our own happiness, and when we do, ironically, what happens is, eventually, it totally alludes us. Our half-heartedness and inability to commit to something eternally available will break our hearts even more than death.
We don't think of it like this, but it's selfish to continue to live like nothing is at stake, like life is meaningless or can be reduced to something along the spectrum of 'I live to do what makes me happy' to 'life is merely the physical movement of particles in space.' Life on this spectrum reduces us- and that reduces compassion, love, empathy, and true happiness.
There is a cost for the ultimate happiness and joy that we seek in life. It is travel, love, heartbreak; it is loss and gain, earning and losing; it is the investment of time into loving people; it is the investment of time into our favorite endeavors; it is suffering when it's time to suffer and being in joy when life brings us joy; it is moments of pain and moments of healing. It is all these things that point us to something beyond them.
And the catch for happiness is learning to see it like this: these are not the things worth having, but worth paying, giving away.
Don't just settle. Trade up.
(Worth hearing: I Have Made Mistakes- The Oh Hellos)