We exist in relation to everything else

The mainstream view of an enjoyable life is often steeped in achievements and materialism.

It’s portrayed by the glossy images of fabulous and famous people, beautiful homes, travel to exotic places and dinners in expensive restaurants.

Wealth and status are often seen as the gateways to an enjoyable life. Yet happiness experts have discovered that most times, the simpler your life is, the happier you are. Studies show that contentment arises from uncomplicated family values, spiritual connection and altruism.

Many people have realised that true happiness and enjoyment of life arises when we are connected to ourselves and others, and leading meaningful lives. This happens mostly when we serve others and focus less on ourselves.

Many studies on altruism show it is key to inner happiness. We’ve all heard spiritual teachers talk about “being in the present”, “letting go” or “not sweating the small stuff”, but how do we actually put all this into practice in the real world of enormous pressure and the constant stream of crazy demands made on us?

Well-loved Buddhist nun and international teacher, Pema Chodron, explains something she heard the songwriter, Leonard Cohen, say about the self, which relates profoundly to inner contentment.

He meditated all those years ago at Mount Baldy Zen Centre in California, often for 12 hours at a time.

In an interview, he said his storyline just wore itself out. He got so bored with his dramatic life and made the comment: “The less there was of me, the happier I got.”

This is actually an important point, because the less there is of “me, myself and I” and the dramatic storylines we cling to in our heads, the more we become interested in and curious about other people.

Who you live with and who you rub up against and who you share this world with is a very important part of enjoying your life.

That’s the answer to how to enjoy our lives. It’s to show up and have a sense of curiosity about whatever might appear that day, including it all in your sense of appreciation of this precious human birth, which is so fragile and short.

It can be called a sort of delight, but it’s more an open-hearted curiosity including allowing ourselves to be surprised by life, by both welcomed and un-welcomed surprises.

Some people say, “I know what’s going to show up today-the same old thing.” But it’s never really the same old thing. Even in the movie Groundhog Day, every day was a different experience for Phil, until finally he learned that caring about people was the answer.

We only exist in relation to everything else or everyone else. This can be likened to the African view of Ubuntu.

Our very nature is dependent on relationships. If your relationships aren’t happy ones, your life can be a living hell. So it’s vital to invest time in close and meaningful connections.

Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said: “Hell is other people,” but this is the other view of that. When people irritate you, when they get your goat, when they slander you, whatever it might be, you still have a relationship with them. It’s interesting that of all the billions of people on the earth, they’re the particular ones who came into your world. There’s respect for whatever happens, and this is only really possible if you’re not rejecting whole parts of your experience and not rejecting what I call, “the good, the bad and the ugly” of ourselves, others and also life itself.

Too often we get caught up in wanting things to be perfect, neat, tidy, perpetually happy and unchanging. Yet, this is not life. Everything is in flux, change and flow. Nothing stays the same. The only real and reliable constant in this life is change.

True happiness comes from being utterly comfortable with change. With being able to be content no matter the external circumstances. Your contentment is an inner glow or radiance independent of the outside world. So much of enjoying life is radical acceptance. The ability to accept and “be with” whatever is happening in your world. Too often we fight, discount, rage against and desperately try to alter or change things we have no control over.

This causes tremendous struggle and is in itself a kind of self-engendered “madness”. Acceptance doesn’t mean you like what’s happening to you, but it does show a level of peace, out of which can arise wisdom, hope, clarity and solutions.

There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer.

When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass.

She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth, life and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get unhappy and depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.

Too often life is viewed as a struggle – to make a living or accomplish things, or “get somewhere”.

And so we miss the intense beauty and ecstasy of this gift of life: the bejewelled night sky, a dolphin swimming in the ocean at sunset, a child’s laughter, or the supreme majesty of nature itself. Life in all its pain, glory and chaotic brilliance, is a wonderful thing if you learn to be present and go where it wants to take you.

I leave you with a a much cherished quote from Pema Chodron: “We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

Carin-Lee Masters is a clinical psychologist. Write to her at helpmecarin@inl.co.za Send a WhatsApp message or SMS to 082 264 7774.