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On grounding & humbling
thinking we know what we want & being wrong - a prompt
When have you found unexpected joy?
I adore my husband. I love him endlessly and entirely—from how he cries at the end of movies to his brilliance to his ability to catch wasps that find their way into our home. I love his moodiness and artistic ego. I love his laugh. I love his genuine generosity. I love that he has a clear moral compass.
For twenty years (almost half of which we’ve been married now), I’ve adored him more with each passing day. But this wasn’t always the case.
When we first met, I wasn’t in the mood.
Not for relationships, not for men, and definitely not for love. I found his laugh annoying and his intelligence all the more so (Who does he think he is to beat me in Trivial Pursuit? I don’t care about his encyclopedic memory—show off!).
I was pretty sure romance was for suckers and love was a lie. I was healing from the horrible relationship (that I explored in the essay linked below).*
Moreover, even if I hadn’t sworn off relationships, I had a type, and Chris wasn’t it. I truly believed that I knew what would make me happy, and at the time that meant getting a black belt in Aikido and crushing the patriarchy. More than that, it meant being the tough and mysterious loner.
So I was wrong about what might bring me joy, but why does this matter now? And what does it have to do with grounding and creativity?
There’s a little glimpse of wisdom here that I’ve only recently unpacked. It’s a wisdom reflected in the philosophy of John Stuart Mill as well as Kant (in a more cynical way).
What we think we want and what we believe will make us happy should not be an aim of life. Happiness is not something to strive toward, it’s either here or not; our delusion that it’s something ahead of us (or something that comes after death) can only hurt us and those we interact with.
“Happiness is such an indeterminate concept that although every human being wishes to attain it, he can never say … what he really wishes and wills.” —Immanuel Kant
Meanwhile, we might be underestimating that guy/thing/annoyance right there beneath our noses. Could there be beauty right here, right now?
Easier to theorize than to identify, I realize. But if we look at what is happening with honesty and not expectation, that might be enough. We might find more than we can imagine.
This awareness is like gravity, bringing us down to earth. Dreams can sometimes make us lose our footing.
I have learned to seek my happiness by limiting my desires, rather than attempting to satisfy them. —John Stuart Mill
I believe this to be true for all pursuits—creative, romantic, and otherwise. We think we want XYZ (publication in the The New Yorker [an old-school goal by this time], or we want to be left alone or find love, to reach some career goal or salary, to afford a vacation) and, in reality, our perfect reality is what we have right now.
There’s something here that is nourishing us. And until we learn to recognize that, we won’t enjoy the publication/relationship/trip to Cancun.
I’ll keep today’s post short, but I wanted to offer a prompt around this idea of grounding and feeding what is.
So, again, have you ever found unexpected joy that was right in front of you the whole time?
Alternately, or to deepen this same prompt…
Where have you strived and scrambled to achieve, only to find disappointment with a seemingly positive result?
*The essay mentioned above is “Steady” at Winning Writers (grateful for the Honorable Mention in the Tom Howard Prize today). It’s an examination of a not-so-great relationship that I thought I wanted and the unexpected strength that had been there the whole time.
I’ll post a short practice on stillness and steadiness (without the email notice) soon.