Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Revisiting Contentment

I’ve continued to think a lot about contentment over the past week, after my revelation that I never seem to be content – or at least not for long. I can truly say that I found out what true contentment might be like as the week at Chautauqua wore on and I got more and more excited and less fearful about group music.

But after I came home that contentment gradually started to unravel as I realized that I had no one to play with most of the time, that I had to go to work and deal with contentious situations, that I didn’t have any real plans to do anything. By Friday, I hit rock bottom and came home from work in a bad mood, complaining about anything and everything.

What I came to realize is that I am happiest when I have plenty to do and plenty to look forward to. Long expanses of unstructured time scare me and I tend just to go to sleep early. What a ridiculous way to be! Did I learn this behavior or was I genetically wired to be this way?

I started this discussion today with Rebecca about contentment after she had advised me yesterday to just breathe as I accustomed myself to my current situation, in which I said:

“My coping mechanism when that (a sudden crash after a busy time) happens has always been to find things out there in the future to look forward to – I’m playing with Deborah on Thursday night, Deborah and Neal are coming over to dinner in a couple of weeks, I’m taking a bike ride with Rebecca in the fall? Having some fun things to look forward to is no different from your idea of going out with someone every Saturday night. It allows us to get through the intervening days, sometimes doing things that aren’t always fun. I don’t think that’s such a crazy approach to life. I don’t quite get what you suggested – get used to where you are and just breathe. I will always continue to breathe as I attempt to find a balance between the things I have to do and the things I want to do. Anytime I fall – figuratively or literally – it’s always about reestablishing balance. Any new high in life throws off one’s balance and makes it necessary to readjust. That’s what I think of myself doing right now, not just convincing myself to be content. In reality, you can only be content when you have had a lobotomy or when you are too senile to know that there are ebbs and flows in life and you just need to be getting ready to catch the next wave.” Whoa! Did I say this?

She questioned the last part where I stated that most normal human beings are simply not content. I replied that we can probably only find contentment in a utopian situation, like a week at Chautauqua, which if prolonged would amount to stagnation in eternal bliss, but which just isn’t reality. She replied that she would consider eternal bliss to be dynamic, not stagnant. She said, “To me, contentment is the ability to just be with whatever is happening.” My last retort was that I would totally welcome eternal bliss (dynamic or stagnant) if it were in fact a possibility. But last time I looked, I still live in a world which expects me to go to work and doesn’t provide the necessary opportunities to do what I really want to do a lot of the time. By the way, her response sound awfully Buddhist for someone who claims not to be a Buddhist!

One of my goals for the next year is to focus on this idea of contentment – to see if I can realistically achieve a certain level of contentment in my normal everyday life, without having to immerse myself in a world that isn’t like reality. Maybe my new mantra for meditation will be, “Breath in contentment. Breathe out discontentment.” That, of course, assumes that I will always know the difference...

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