Many of us are stunned or even annoyed when someone famous takes their own life; (“They had it all! What were they thinking?”). We shouldn’t be. The reasons they are unhappy are the same reasons we are unhappy.
10. Unhealthy dependence on someone or something
9. Unresolved issues or troubled conscience
8. Conflicting beliefs
6. Disappointment and loss
5. Broken hearts
4. Pain and health issues
3. Not believing in our unalterable and inestimable value (in spite of our flaws)
2. Taking ourselves and our small stuff too seriously
1. Forgetting to be grateful everyday for everything
Money and fame do not take care of these challenges. Wealth and fame often make it more difficult to remember that life was never about us or things, but about truly discovering the marvels of life in ourselves and in each other.
None of us are really ordinary
We may have become ordinary
Because we lost hope somewhere along the way
Now we need something to awaken
The dormant greatness within us
Or someone to remind us who we really are
The greatest stories are always about
The most unlikely and ordinary beings
Doing the most extraordinary things
I’ll remind you if you will remind me
Because I wake up every morning with a sort of surprise that I am still here and that I have responsibility for yet one more day, I have developed an inner-world checklist to make it count:
- Do I remember that my plans are subject to change in an instant?
- Have I fortified myself for disruption by remembering that love matters most?
- Have I noticed my own breath and other marvels of the universe?
- Do I owe anyone an apology, forgiveness, or a thank-you? Do I have promises to keep?
- Who needs my help or encouragement?
- Do I understand that I am no more or no less valuable than any other living being?
Now, I am ready for the outer-world checklist, which will undoubtedly demand my highest level of competence.
The following poem is a good start…
Tripping over Joy
The spiritual path is a sublime chess game with god
The Beloved has just made such a Fantastic Move
That the saint is now continually tripping over joy and bursting out in laughter and saying, “I surrender!”
Whereas, my dear, I am afraid you still think you have a thousand serious moves.
I have found this brand of surrender to be my first step into sanity upon many occasions.
Of course, that is, after I spent ions painfully plotting with perspiration over the board.
How about you? Are those furrows on your brow?
Journalist John Leland spent one year with elderly people between the age of 85 and 96 and wrote about it in Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year among the Oldest Old.
Some lessons he passes on:
- anticipate losing things as you age
- don’t depend on the things that you might lose for your happiness
- learn from those who face the losses of aging well
- gratitude takes the bite out of loss
As I listen to myself and other aging humans complain about how they can’t do things as well as they use to, I think of those who never had mobility, agile minds, or healthy bodies to begin with.
I have decided to resist the attitude of entitlement and to be as courageous as those who have dealt with severe loss all of their lives.
I’ve seen enough of life (and HBO) to know that wealth, fame, unbelievable good looks, or an insane level of talent cannot free a person from anxiety. Sometimes the possession of those things just amplifies it!
Obviously, all of the “If-I-just-had-__________, -I’d-be-happy” talk is bull.
So, do we have to be dead to be at peace?
It is always such a struggle when life is asking for things we don’t want to yield.
So, when I quit worrying about losing my time, plans, money, freedom, health, youth, relationships, or possessions and just share them freely and easily, as if I were dead, I can experience amazing peace and freedom from anxiety without having to “off” myself.
Hasn’t life been asking me to do that all along?
That’s fearlessness. That’s courage.
It’s pretty easy to lie or pretend to be something we’re not when we think we will lose something we want. We have all done it and experienced the dis-ease this hiding causes:
- loss of self-respect
- loss of freedom to be ourselves
- loss of credibility with others
- energy drain
- fear of being discovered
- judgmental behaviors toward others (to camouflage our own shortcomings)
Secrets are the most commonly-used weapon of self-destruction and relationship obliteration.
Ironically, all the things that we thought we would lose by telling the truth we eventually lose by hiding.
Earlier in life, I had this terrible habit of freaking out as soon as I was pressed beyond my limits:
- A boss had the nerve to add an “extra” task to my already long list
- Circumstances did not go as I planned
- A family member or friend “spoiled things” by being human or noncompliant
My entitled behavior ignored my need for stretching and growth. I must have believed I had already arrived when I said, “I don’t need this right now!”
I had no idea life was working to reveal my untapped potential, new possibilities, a bigger life, and…a purpose beyond my wildest dreams.
There are good people in my life who will gently tell me I’m whining, and then ask me to woman-up. I am indebted to them for this. I often do not recognize my poor-little-ole-me behaviors on my own.
Replacing my deeply-ingrained whiner/complainer behaviors with solution-oriented/action behaviors has been a decade-long, serious undertaking for me. In earlier decades, family, teachers, friends, bosses, and co-workers tried and failed to get my attention. They were pushing a boulder uphill (that frequently rolled back over them).
Books and authors (including C.S. Lewis, Dickens, Dostoevsky, Frankl, Lincoln, Hugo, and countless others) relentlessly urged me out of pettiness and into noble living.
Nothing was wasted.
Finally, I anticipate my fears and my whimpering, have a battle plan, and surround myself with victors.
Courage, dear heart!
“What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?” –George Eliot
When I am most confused, this brings me back.
And even when I feel like I am letting people down, I remind myself that I am learning the art of giving in a manner that makes life easier for people.
Lots of mistakes. But, lots of progress too.