“Everything you desire is within you. Love, happiness, peace and abundance are the treasures of your inner nature.” (Change Your Life, Change Your World, p. 13)
If I were to be honest with myself, what I think I want is not really what I want.
New car, big house, all the money in the world, freedom from having to earn a living. Nope. None of that.
When I get really quiet and look inward, what I know I want is this:
to walk in the woods or by the water
to hear the birds singing
to listen to the sounds of no sound
to feel the wind and hear it swirl around me
to notice waves swell and crash, swell and crash
The natural world calls to me. Stillness and silence, nature and all its glory. When I imagine walking along a leaf-strewn path, my heart slows its beat, my pulse softens. I am calm, I am at peace.
All the spiritual practices of the world teach us that perfection rests within, that abundance comes from security and knowledge and wisdom, not from material items. And certainly not from a desire to accumulate.
We forget that.
But the truth is, happiness is an inside job.
“Mommy just wants us to be happy,” Eliana said. The kids were talking about the differences in their parents, about what their parents want from them. “Mommy just wants us to be happy.”
And the thing of it is, I don’t know what happy looks like for each of them. Since they are whole separate individuals from me and from each other, happiness will manifest in vastly different ways for each of my children.
And if I know that at the end of each day, they feel serene and at peace with their lives, then I will consider myself a successful parent.
That’s not true for all parents. In fact, many parents want a specific outcome from their children, whether it’s a level of education or material wealth, or a level of religiosity in a particular tradition. Parents like these have a narrow definition of what happy means, and they apply it to their children without grace, seeing their children as an extension of themselves.
I honestly don’t feel that way.
I want my children to be who they were born to be.
I want them to smile because they can’t help smiling. I want them to wake up in the morning eager to meet their day and I want them to lie down at night with the satisfaction that they’ve done all they could do and enjoyed the journey.
And I want this for myself, too.
When I close my eyes and imagine the answer to my question, what brings me happiness, I see ocean waves crashing and miles of forested paths. I think of the week we spend every summer at the beach, where all a day needs is a trudge out over the dunes to settle into a folding chair facing the sea.
If what we truly need is so simple, why do we race toward the marathon of constructed living? Why do we take part in the competition and the neurosis and the worry and anxiety?
If that is true, and I do believe it is, then we have the answers and the power to change the course.
What’s stopping us?
Some of the best times of my life happened after I ended my first marriage. My children were small, and when they stayed with their father for an extended time, I took myself on retreat.
I wanted to see places I’d never seen and do things by myself just to see if I could stand my own company. I remember my first trip, to the Pacific Northwest. I asked the hipsters at the registration desk of my hotel for a recommended hike, and they sent me to Dog Mountain, on the border between Oregon and Washington.
I picked up fresh local strawberries on my way, a bottle of water, a hunk of cheese. I traversed the snaking trail up the forested mountain for hours, hearing the rush of a near river descend into falls, and when I reached the top, I sat down in a flower-filled meadow and stared out at the miles unfolding before me.
Below, the Columbia River wound its way through the terrain, and I imagined salmon swimming up through the waves to spawn. The wind blew around me and I snacked on my soft strawberries and listened to the wind whisper its secrets.
The descent is always easier than the climb, and I felt relief and exhilaration that I had achieved this feat in my own company.
That rest on the mountainside, though, that was my moment of poetry. It was when I could stop and feel the stillness, welcome it into my embrace, and know that everything is truly alright, even if we perceive imperfection.
Our lives unfold exactly as they should. We may think someone has it better, but no one sees their own story as resolved and inspiring. Rather, we fumble because we keep looking outward for the answers, when we’ve carried them in our grasp all along.