Saturday, October 26, 2013

How to Fall in Love With Life

Did we earn this?
"I've earned this drink."
"I've earned this vacation."
"I've earned some down time."

Do fun and relaxation and joy have to be earned? Is life like a bank where you make forcing-myself-to-do-what-I-hate deposits in order to withdraw a-little-bit-of-fun interest?

I knew a woman who despised her job. That was pretty much all she talked about--how one day she couldn't wait to get the hell out of there. She had calculated the years, months, days and hours until she could retire.

She was obsessed with how screwed-up her job was and how much better other people had it. She was filled with a feeling of dread that she allayed with lots of food and booze. The job owned her even when she was at home.

Finally, well into her sixties, she reached that coveted retirement date. Literally days later, she was diagnosed with cancer. She spent the first years of her "earned downtime" undergoing medical treatments. Fortunately she had good insurance, and fortunately she's still alive.

When I hear anyone say, "I've earned a break," I often think of her. It was like she was swirling about in a hurricane of her own making. She had to grip tightly so as to not get blown away by her own winds.

And when she thought she'd done enough to earn calm seas, life had something else in store.

Like many people, I've been well-schooled in the notion that my personal value is derived through hard work and sacrifice. Anything that sniffs of fun or chillin' out is suspect. Sometimes I catch myself justifying my life, even to myself.

And now that I'm not living a traditional life of a "regular" job, a "regular" mortgage, and a "regular" schedule, a lot of people see me as lucky. They think I'm happy because life has treated me so well.

My little mind gremlin scurries in and says, I need to explain how I've made sacrifices to live the way I do. I need to explain that we're taking risks, that I don't have it all figured out--in other words, that life isn't easy, it's hard.

But at some fundamental level I know we are all worthy of ease. Of joy. Of love. Of living by the guidance of our internal light, no justifications necessary. We don't have to earn it. It's our birthright. It's our natural state.

And how we claim this birthright, I believe, is through gratitude. Through being right here, right now, touched with amazement that we are alive, at this moment.

I used to be like the I-hate-my-job woman. I was always imagining a better time around the corner. I bemoaned my maltreatment and could spin myself into a horrible funk about how everything was wrong. And I earned every beer I drank, damnit!

Over time I learned how to soften my attitude toward life. I got into the habit of appreciating what I liked rather than pushing against what I didn't. Sometimes it was the smallest thing: I like that I get free Post-its. I like the trees outside my office.

Sometimes I still fantasized about leaving the job. I caught myself and said, "Okay, quit. Or quit complaining."

It's not about quitting your job but quitting your resistance.

Eventually I began to enjoy my job more and more. It was amazing: There was so much more to appreciate than I'd imagined! And by the time I retired this year, I was saying not saying "good riddance" but "goodbye and thank you." Time to move on to the next thing.

It wasn't that everything was going my way and then I became happy.

First I fell in love with life. Then it got really good.