Happiness (not) Gauranteed
***This post was originally published on February 6th, 2018 here***
“Honestly, I’ve been feeling a little.. depressed.”
The look of discomfort on my 20-something-year-old friend’s face said everything I had (out of habit) anticipated. The downcast of her eyes, the micro-shift in her seat, the immediate reach for her coffee allowing her a couple of seconds to respond. After a few moments of silence, I cleared my throat, “But it’s all good! It’s.. temporary.” She smiled, timidly, and looked at me with eyes of relief.
Ask anyone what life they think I lead, and I am sure they will tell you I am happy. ‘She does yoga, she meditates, she is Buddhist.. like actually Buddhist!’ They’d pull up my IG and scroll through posts where I urge followers to love themselves with confidence. They’d watch my recent story, most likely of me grooving to some sexy beats with a loved one or raving about some dharma-related book. They’d say, ‘She must have her shit together.’
That morning over coffee, my 20-something-year-old friend’s preconceived idea of me being the poster child of ‘sanity’ was shattered. She struggled to collect herself as the words resonated between us, ‘Girl, I’m unhappy.. just like you.’
The life-altering cab ride.
The clearest memory I trace back to, trying to pinpoint the birth of my intermittent depression, was from living in India four years ago. I relive the heart wrenching encounter I had with a family of beggars in New Delhi through the passenger seat of a taxi. I watched as a young woman, possibly my age, cried with one palm stretched out in front of her, shaking with desperation, as she clenched the hand of her 6 year old son.
Her son, his eyes forever glossed over from his tears, carried a newborn in his arms as if it were a rag doll, its fragile head bobbing lifelessly towards the ground. Separated by only a layer of glass, I sunk deep into the seat as my stomach twisted with a tender heart of hopelessness that would haunt me for years to come.
After four months of traveling through India, integrating myself back into the utopia of a nest that was my near perfect life, felt absolutely impossible. Experiencing the harsh realities of extreme poverty, hunger, and inequality injected my entire being with a potent, near lethal somber outlook on life.
Enter: the path.
The only thing that dragged me out of my shameful existence was sitting. I began to meditate for ten minutes a day and I watched as my mind spiralled at the speed of light into what seemed to be a bottomless pit of fear, doubt, and inadequacy. After a month, the constant chatter began to loosen up. My mind seemed to shift from a dark, indistinguishable rumble, to a somewhat more manageable stream of white noise.
With practicing more came a deeper interest of Buddhist philosophy. I began to contemplate the interconnectedness between me and the world around me. I gave consideration to the fact that I might die at any moment, how precious this human life truly was, and how (despite my ego’s hard headed efforts in believing the contrary) everything was subject to change.
Whether I liked it or not, my life was bound to endure impermanence.
All the trauma I held onto that I never allowed my self to process wasn’t as stagnant and sticky as I believed it to be. Instead, what I grasped onto was malleable and dynamic.. a shape-shifting energy that I could actually work with.
Workability, my saviour.
Meditation as a means to work with my mind was never a dazzling glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel. Buddhism, as enticing as its philosophical concepts may seem when cherry picked apart from the whole, was never a means to reach the tantalising, transcendental state of pure bliss that would (duh) solve all my problems.
This new found spiritual path was a serious slap in the face.. an honest dose of, ‘WAKE THE FUCK UP GIRL! Your bullshit is WORKABLE!!’ Reality would no longer be what I made it out to seem.
Devoting myself to the Buddhist path, I knew one thing: my happiness was not guaranteed. Once a flitting possibility swallowed whole by my experiences abroad, I realised happiness was something that would come and go.. and that was perfectly OK.
What the path did guarantee was a progression of change. Anything that came up could be let go, could be transformed, could be faced fearlessly without hesitation.
That morning, when my 20-something-year-old friend’s timid smile broke into a hug, I sat stunned, unprepared for the flood of understanding I felt from her warm embrace.