Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Elusive contentment

Life is imperfect, stunning, complicated. The way we live it is up to us, and I believe we have choices to make about what "normal" means. Contrast this against the daily pressures of deadlines, billable hours and my own insecurity. Against the reality of an economy that requires income and functions on commerce.

I suspect that I want to change the rules that define life in our time.

I envision a connected life, based in personal relationships to people, food, land. Work that is tangible and meaningful—related to my survival and well being. The time to be thoughtful. The practice to be prepared. A heady dose of creativity and intellectual stimulation. I imagine a world that I want to live in. I know it is attainable, but I don't know how to get from here to there.

I want to reduce my frustration with the life I have.

And that frustration stems from a few things, some easier to control than others. Some of them require others to change their behavior (hard). This is about changing my own behavior (still hard, but easier.) And here is a problematic behavior of mine: I don't enjoy the trappings of the life I have, because I want to change them. As a result, I am ill-prepared to fully live this life. I don't have the right tools for the tasks at hand.

So here is my experiment: attention to gratitude, contentment and presence.

Living the life I have, with as much integrity as I can
  • Gratitude: I am thankful for the life I was born into. My family worked hard, and my sister and I had opportunities that gave us the foundation for success. Education, travel, parents and grandparents, enough independence to learn something on our own.
  • Contentment: The life I live now is hard in many ways, but it's a pretty great life. I'm not hungry. I have enough to share. I work for and with people whom I love and respect. I live near water, and I have room for a garden. I have our farm up north. I'm in love.
  • Presence: This is the life I have. I can shift it toward the life I want, and I should. But I also need to allow myself to live this one. Create the routine. Find the boundaries. Stick to them. From clothing, to exercise, to cooking, cleaning, reading and writing (those are as much hobbies as they are chores, don't laugh), I need to do more than survive. I need to be present in all aspects of my life: creative, emotional, intellectual, practical, and professional.

I think being present is the hardest one.

For a long time, the professional part of my life has had all the attention, mostly because it felt the most required for survival. I've been successful, but I've been aware of the cost. Perhaps I am only beginning to understand what it means. This is the hardest one, because it means wrestling my job into balance—time and attention. This is the hardest one, because it means learning the difference between service (paying wholehearted attention to the needs of others) and presence (not sure how to articulate that one yet, but I know it's different).

Wish me luck. If you have good advice, let me know.

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