Turns out it’s happening after all.
A couple of weeks ago, I saw Craig Turley (ex West Coast Eagles player) on Compass, talking openly about his own spiritual journey. He’s been through some really rough patches, and continues to struggle, but has come out the other side with a rather interesting and beautiful spirituality. At the end, the interviewer asked him, “Are you happy?” It’s a perennial question: the subtext being (at least for most of us), “Does this spirituality really work?” His answer was fascinating, and while I don’t remember his exact words, it was along the lines of, “I don’t seek happiness. Happiness is a fleeting thing; fulfillment is what I’m after. Sure, I’m happy sometimes, I experience joy, but those times don’t last and it’s not realistic to expect them to. I seek fulfillment.”
It coincided with an article in the Age talking about how the idea that life is about maximising happiness is a relatively new cultural phenomenon, perhaps only a hundred or two hundred years old. Yet this is the overwhelmingly predominant view in our society; not just that we should seek happiness, but that we have a right to it. We are entitled to be happy, and that’s all we should seek to do or to be.
Interestingly (as an aside), I read today (again in the Age) that there is a direct correlation between how fearful people are, and how much television they watch. The more television someone watches, the more likely they are to own a gun, have security on their house, and assume that they will be victims of violent crime. Happiness, it seems, is not to be found with television (but you already knew that ).
So we had a bit of a tough week this week, one that culminated with the confronting question, “Why have I been expecting this to be easy?” What kind of screwed up view of the world made me think that we’d achieve our goals quickly and easily, without pain or suffering, without despair and discouragement at times?
I mean, this feeds into everything I’ve learnt (in my head) recently about Christianity – that it’s not about the absence of suffering, finding the easy road – indeed, it’s very often about your proximity to suffering that makes for a healthy, fulfilled, well-adjusted Christ follower.
Part of that was helped by Leunig’s prayer (from my previous post). When you’re broken, down and out, defeated – that’s when you relinquish control and gain perspective. If only we (I) could cultivate such humility more often, that perspective would remain.
When I ask myself “Why do I assume that life will be easy?” the answer is basically because I believe, deep down, that I am entitled to be free from pain and suffering. And that’s a fool’s quest – at its best, it’s delusional; at worst, complete arrogance.
So I started running again yesterday. I’ve been wanting to be fitter physically for a while (read: less overweight) but frankly, I’ve been a little scared of what I do to myself when I go after physical fitness. One of my personality traits (which, as with everything, is both a strength and a weakness) is that I find it difficult to do things by halves – it’s either all or nothing. So I tend to exercise until my legs want to drop off. Thus, I have developed an aversion to exercise – or at least the kind that means I end up hurting. I’ve tried going the other way and starting slowly, but have found that I end up doing very little at all – certainly not enough to have an effect.
I’ve realised that it’s not the tendency to exercise hard that’s the problem – it’s my attitude to the pain it causes. So that’s what I’ve altered. And while I must say it doesn’t make the pain any easier to bear (running 7kms on legs that haven’t run more than 10 metres in the last 5 years was never going to be easy) it does make persevering worthwhile. And hopefully in the process I learn more about what it is to deal with pain and suffering in a constructive way.