It must have been in my early 20’s that I wondered, for the first time, whether there was more to life than I was experiencing. For reasons long forgotten, I found myself one night at a meeting of followers of a branch of Japanese Buddhism, chanting “nam myoho renge kyo”, wishing for my dreams to come true. Or that is what I came away with. Plus the knowledge that Tina Turner was also an adept. This form of Buddhism was predicated on reaching your material goals first, leaving you free to move on to higher spiritual pursuits. My love affair with this group didn’t last long, mainly because of the pressure of bringing new adherents on a constant basis. And then I moved to London anyway, where I became more concerned with making ends meet, furthering my career of choice and just having a modicum of fun. Spiritual matters and the pursuit of meaning of life had to be shelved for over a decade.
It wasn’t until I relocated to Los Angeles, severely alone, with everything I knew left behind, that the question “What am I doing here?” became to encompass more than just my geographical circumstances. The quest every human being embarks on once their basic needs are met, had started in earnest. For some it’s just as simple as following the religious teachings they began to study as children. As to me, I always had trouble believing in an all sentient God that looked down on us and sent us terrible misfortunes on a global scale. But I always envied such blind and unquestioning faith – if there is a God, it’s his fault he made me so argumentative to question his own existence.
Whether there is a God, an afterlife, a parallel universe or spirits hanging around are all questions I stopped bothered asking as there will be no definitive answer. What I am more concerned with is how to live this one and only life I was lucky enough to get: with integrity, passion, fulfillment, compassion, love and ethic principles I could abide by.
Like most people, knowledge of self is where it all starts. I believe that getting to know ourselves intimately is sometimes harder than getting to know others. In my case, learning to embrace my darker side, the one I am not proud of, has been the most challenging process. Along the way, there has been Jungian therapy (twice), study of yoga and basic Buddhist principles, meditation and a lot of ink on blank pages. What I am left with, on the verge of turning 50, is a much better understanding of who I am and how I work, more forgiveness for my shortcomings and a realization that happiness is conquered one day at a time and not bestowed. Not by others, not by wealth or circumstances. It’s a fundamental choice.
When I look back, I know I have been given so much. I was born in a developed country, free of mortal infant diseases, in a family of means. Like everybody, I had my share of sorrows, heartaches, battles to fight, people lost, fears to conquer. But, by and large, I ploughed on with enthusiasm. I really couldn’t have asked for more.
With all the books piled up I still have to read, I do hope for another 50 years ahead of me. But, were it all be taken away from me tomorrow, I can honestly say I gave as good as I got. And what I got was plentiful.
If you are wondering what sent me spiralling on this tangent, I blame two recent posts: 100 Words by Emma, an exercise I encourage you to do (I couldn’t get to the end) and Gingergirl’s Let go and be happy and its 15 things to get rid of to achieve a better life.