happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens

Posted on May 3rd, 2012

I’m facing a big challenge at the moment. It’s something that’s been building up for a while: finding out what life is like – and what I’m like – when there is no “something next”. When nothing is about to happen.

photo by Aquabumps

Boy. What would that feel like? I’m always onto something next. Surely I’d be a shell of a human if I had no more happenings to forward onto?

I find life almost inconceivable without this relentless scheduling voice in my head, steering me on to the next thing, slotting in activities all day, timing how long it will get from here to there and what phone calls I can return while I’m transit. I rang my brother the other day. I was riding up a hill carrying groceries on the handlebars. “Geez Sarah, do you ever uni-task?” he asked. He’s 21 and he shakes his head at me.

When I was a little girl living in the country I would jump with excitement when the phone rang and physically ached to hear the sound of a car rumbling up our long driveway. I would climb a tree and wait and listen. For something to happen.  Someone’s coming! Something’s about to happen! I don’t think this anxious, incomplete anticipation has ever left my bones.

My biggest impediment to reaching something  resembling a meditative state each day when I sit in lotus is the constant diarising and scheduling more things to happen. I revert to this as soon as there’s an empty moment.

I thrive in disasters, because something is happening.  I always know what’s around the next corner…because I’ve anticipated it, planned it, scheduled it’s very possibility. Arghhh….it never stops.

I schedule, therefore I am. It’s my default cognitive position.

It’s got me places, this over-eager embracing of possibility and activity. Lots of things have happened in my life. Great jobs. Awesome opportunities. Excitement.

But it’s now starting to drive me mental. This, I know, is because it no longer serves me.

Whenever something no longer serves me, it all starts to become a noise that gets louder and brighter in my head, more irritating, until I just have to do something about it. I have a bunch of pink elephants in a room sitting opposite me. Staring at me. And demanding I act.

It’s time to act. Read more

are you all dress rehearsal, no play?

Posted on March 15th, 2012

It’s hit me just recently: this is the rest of my life. This awareness has arisen because I’ve had to face a few realities lately.

Image by Ben Javens

I’ve led my life thinking it would look a certain way: high school, uni, work, husband, house (that I’d build with a view into bushland), things to own, kids with interesting names, package holidays to Bali (OK, now I’m just being dumb…you get the point). I just assumed, and over the years the milestones guided me, they were my motivation, as they are for many of us.

When I got to one milestone, I used it to prepare for the next. Everything was a run-up to the next thing. I didn’t have to think too much about whether it’s what I wanted. Many of us don’t. It’s so easy not to. The path is nicely worn. Of course you get married by thirty. Of course you’ll factor in kids at some point.

Life can trip along fairly easy like this, while ever you’re nailing the milestones. You can live a whole life this way, blindly ticking them off, never thinking about where it all leads. Until, perhaps, you miss a few milestones.

But I’ve been having accept of late that some (many) of these milestones won’t (can’t) be ticked off by me. It’s not all due to unforeseen circumstances. If I’m honest, I’ve chosen this path I’m on. Over and over. Without realising. Slowly I’ve been steering myself off to the left.

Either way, it begs…when the milestones are gone, what are you left with?

Illness or a setback or a wakeup call or crazy sets of life circumstances land people at this point. Life is stripped back. You’re unceremoniously pushed from the conveyor-belt.

And then what?

I’ll tell you what: you’re left with a

frighteningly boundless freedom to choose what the rest of your life will look like.

No milestones, no rules, no norms, no sitcoms to use as barometers of what’s “normal”. Just your self.

Mother friggen scary. And lonely. But mother friggen fresh, too. Read more

a *fresh* technique for working out your life values

Posted on November 6th, 2011

This week in Sunday Life I find my sweet spot

Photo by klaus pichler

It always surprises me when I come back as a “glass half full” type in aptitude tests because there are few people more down on positive thinking than me. I blame it on vision boards. Seriously, those silly craft projects geared at manifesting husbands and mansions really sullied the whole movement.

But there’s also this, and it’s something the psychology fraternity is coming around to: shape-shifting our thoughts – turning frowns upside down and all that jazz – takes too much energy. And seems pointless, in the wash of it all.

Recently in this magazine New York writer Sara Eckel wrote about her time in the single wilderness bombarded with those messages about sunnier-fying your outlook to attract the bloke. Eventually she found her bloke. Not because she shape-shifted, but because she simply met the right bloke, the one who loved her for her sometimes cloudy outlook.

Sure, it’s no fun dragging around a ball and chain. But nor is trying to turn said ball into a bunch of bouncy pink balloons.

What about simply mustering strength, picking up the damn ball and continuing forward, carrying it close to your chest?  Yes! Continuing forward!

Crudely, this is the gist of the “new wave”of behavioural therapy. Called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), it goes beyond the positive psychology model and gets us to accept (rather than challenge) our emotions via mindfulness exercises, and to commit to life by identifying and following our values. Dozens of controlled studies show ACT to be more effective than other form of therapy for everything from eating disorders to schizophrenia. Read more