On contentment

I’ve poured a lot of sadness into these pages over the years – particularly in the last 12 months.  I’ve shared my experiences of depression, anxiety, the break-up of my marriage and the dark times I went through prior to and following that.  It’s important for me, then, to share the light as well as the darkness.  And I feel a sense of lightness now, of contentment, of peace.  I’m almost scared to say it (why?!) but I feel happy.  (I keep wanting to edit that sentence.  I’m leaving it).

I was walking Bodhi yesterday in the park near my flat.  It was a truly glorious Autumnal day, one of the best ones – all light streaming through the branches, sunshine bouncing off the park benches and glinting in the puddles caused by overnight rainfall.  Watching Bodhi springing along in the leaves and snuffling in the grass gives me such pure joy.  I was worried when Tom and I separated that there would be an impact on him, but he accepts his newfound circumstances seemingly without question (okay – not that he can exactly form a question) and takes it all in his tiny doggy stride (leaving muddy paw prints behind, as is his wont).  As I walked with him, taking big greedy gulps of fresh air, I felt this strong feeling of being exactly where I needed to be.  No rush, no pressure, no expectation.  Just ambling along with slowness and purpose, soaking up the present moment; and experiencing the pure unbridled joy of a dog turning back to look at you from further down the path, and then bounding back towards you to show you are not forgotten.

It really is true that happiness only exists in the present moment.  I really believe that it is impossible to feel that real, all-encompassing, juicy sense of contentment from purely remembering something good or gazing at a photo you posted on instagram.  And for me, it’s a trap – no sooner have I been sucked in to building that image in my mind, than I find myself reminiscing about happy times that no longer exist or cannot happen again.  The present is all there is and all that really exists, and certainly the pathway to contentment for me.

I went to a meditation group last week where there was a seminar on negativity, and how it is effectively a ‘deluded state of mind’.  The purpose of the workshop was to teach us how to protect ourselves from negative thought patterns and attempt to stop our minds from becoming ‘unpeaceful and uncontrolled’.  The wonderful teacher (a Buddhist nun) explained that when we think about things that are outside of the present moment, they are ‘delusions’ as we always attach our own perceptions to memories, worries, anxieties, sadnesses, and so on, so they don’t represent reality.  By practising mindfulness and focussing on the present moment we can help us step out of this cycle.  The way to do this is to make the conscious decision to pay these negative thoughts no attention, and by purely observing the thoughts and then letting them go by, like a cloud in the sky.  Her advice was to treat negative and upsetting thoughts much like taking a hot pan from the oven, if it hurts, we should ‘put it down’.  It’s been important for me to try and observe and control my thoughts since moving in on my own, as I did initially find a lot of upsetting things creeping in over the first few days – the typical thoughts of “what am I doing with my life?” or considering myself a failure, as well as the reminders of happy memories that now feel sad and lost forever.  It probably sounds very silly, but as these thoughts crop up, I found myself starting to imagine and visualise a broom sweeping them away.  I now say to myself ‘no thank you’ and sweep them off in my mind and focus back on what I’m doing.  (Sometimes it takes a lot of sweeping, but I’m committed).

I have lived through a lot of different circumstances in the last year or two – being married and living in a lovely house with a husband I cared about, ending that marriage and living back with my parents at 33, starting a new relationship and moving to a new town, and now living on my own in a little flat in a city I lived in many years before.  No circumstance is inherently good or bad and no decision right or wrong (although there have been situations that have damaged my confidence and made it more difficult to find that sense of inner peace).  Much like the Buddhist nun would say, it is your thoughts that determine how you feel about a situation, not your reality – and I will add into that a little dash of ‘check your privilege’, as clearly I am in a much better position to create those feelings of joy than many others who do not have the same opportunities.  But I have learned to try and reframe things in the positive, to keep my ego in check, to be relentless about being grateful, kind and hopeful about the future.  I am so much better about letting things go and surrendering to the plan that the universe has for me and it’s such a good feeling.  Actually my story about the dog walk is a pretty good metaphor – I’m just ambling through life, staying present and taking time to appreciate the sunshine and the small pleasures.

Small pleasures are just the one too, the other glorious key to happiness in droves.  Dancing around the flat and trying to get Bodhi to join in.  Laughing great big belly laughs with good friends.  Hugging my parents.  Running long baths filled with bubbles and essential oils.  Making things (top secret Christmas things).  Burning incense.  Learning new things.  Writing in my journal.  Listening to my Calm app and meditating.  Cooking yummy foods and eating more veggies.  Listening to relaxing music.  Surrounding myself with crystals and candles.  Diffusing oils in my little aromatherapy diffuser (or the ‘puffer’ as I call it).  Going for walks.  Reading awesome spiritual books.  Listening to podcasts by inspiring women.  And trying to do as many as these things as often as possible, and create space to do so.
This year has been a journey, a journey full of learning and growing.  A journey that has felt at times like crawling along a gravel road, all bloody knees and split fingernails.  More days than I would care to count that have begun and ended with tears, and several days where I have been simply unable to get out of bed.  Life is HARD.  But amidst the metaphorical scuffed hands and bitten lips, the tiredness and the raw dirt, something is growing, and that something smells like lavender oil and burning candles, and tastes like camomile tea sipped under a blanket and it sounds like seagulls in the morning and it looks a lot like hope.  Like hope and like healing.  And new chapters, empty pages and brand new pens right out of the packet.  I am so grateful right now.  To continue hoping, continue healing, and continue taking it all in.