“Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.” – Lao Tzu
Nothing is permanent, said Gautama the Buddha, more than 25 centuries ago. The same, of course, is true of my understanding of this truth, hence the need to continually renew it every day.
So many of our clients begin with the statement: “I just want to be the person I was before all this happened”. And we begin the careful work of reframing the disappointment inherent in that statement to the curiosity, perhaps even excitement, of adapting to change.
Every moment of joy is tinged with the same disappointment, the same pain because, inevitably, joy must end. Can we ever really reconcile ourselves to the fact that joy is fleeting? I think not; at least not permanently. Yet we all wish that this were not so. So much of the work we do as therapists is about coming to terms with change: loss, ending, and ultimately our own mortality. (Van Gogh's sunflowers painting sing of the vibrancy of life and, but at the same time, of decay, as some of the flowerheads have already begun to wilt.) And throughout history religion, philosophy and art, have tried to help us to adjust to living with the knowledge that we will one day be no more.
Contentment, though, is something that we can perhaps both learn and learn to teach. The arc it evokes is much longer in time and therefore permits us to engage with change more easily. I’m learning to enjoy this attempt at engagement but frankly, I find it really hard. I’m impatient for answers; with my eyes firmly fixed on the destination, I repeatedly lose the joyous moments of the journey.
One of the recurring themes in my supervision is how the same ‘learning’ recurs; something arises that I think I have learned but then a few years later, it re-emerges in a slightly different way and I think to myself – ‘I thought I’d learned that!’. It’s impossible for me to shed any more light on this observation other than to say that change has inevitably taken place, in me and therefore in my understanding of whatever it is that we were grappling with in supervision at that moment. So, you see, I haven’t travelled that far.
I’m going to end this toe-dip into joy and contentment with a mini autobiography. It was set as a challenge about 20 years ago, when I attended a writing course – to write an autobiography in 100 words. It kind of hammers home the dilemma I’ve been trying to explore.
When I was 14, I had a passion for gardening. My parents worried for me. But I never tired of the miracle that made trees from seed. I was so happy, I knew no pain.
By 28, I learned how to please myself and my girlfriends. Happiness was sex.
At 42, I cook well. But contentment is now only as long as my gut.
The Chinese say if you want to be happy for a day, cook a meal and eat it; for a year, get hitched; but for a lifetime, cultivate a garden. I am regressing by the day.
Find out more about Omar on www.therapysattaur.net