After what has been a banner year for bad news and catastrophic events both personally and globally, I am feeling a sudden fresh breeze of potentiality rushing around the corner. Today is the day we say goodbye to 2013 and its time for another letting go – a change of tides. New Years this year for me feels like a fresh start.
Different cultures celebrate the calendar at different times. The Chinese New Year only begins at the end of January, hailing in what will be the Year of the Green Wood Horse. I am born a fire horse and they say you do best in the year that represents your own birth animal. Since wood helps fire to burn…I am going to ROCK 2014! This is MY year! And it’s about bloody time. But I am old enough to know that happiness is not a given – it takes work, commitment, dedication and a plan. And this is the work I am very willing to do this year – My only resolution is to rediscover JOY. Big happy awesome bountiful JOY. For someone like me – this is can be a tall order full of the necessity of “unlearning” and de-objectifying.
Let’s look at where we live…
North America is the wealthiest continent, most developed, most industrialized modernized and socialized. It also has the highest rate of mental illness. There is a direct correlation between the wealth of a nation and unhappy people. How is it that the more wealthy we are, the more unhappy we become and yet we still seem to prioritize chasing the almighty dollar in the hopes of finding the elusive happiness chip? We think the next pill, next drug next relationship, next job next paycheck will be our ticket. We medicate away our emotions and have no cultural system in place to teach each other how to deal with the regular changes, ups and downs and emotions of life. We certainly aren’t teaching these important skills to our kids as we seem to be still busy trying reinventing the ancient scholastic “industrial era” three R’s (reading, writing and ‘rithmetic), we are developing a generation of detached soulless children with an unerring sense of entitlement – but to what? We are rich materially beyond belief – and we are miserable. And we are teaching our kids to be just like us while we medicate them as well.
A recent poll by CNN suggests that more than 1/10 people are taking antidepressants in the United States. This means that the rate of depression has increase by nearly 400% since the 1980’s. And what are we doing about this? Not a thing. We are making money. The multibillion dollar a year pharmaceutical industry knows all about this. There is an unquestionable correlation between the focus we have on material acquisition, gaining security in an insecure ever-changing landscape and how mentally unhappy we are.
I was diagnosed with clinical depression many years ago suffering from “post partum” depression with my first child. A doctor began giving me these miraculous little pills that would “even me out” he said. Yup they even’d me out alright. I was SO even, that I didn’t play guitar, sing, paint draw or write for 13 years. This is a soulful death sentence for someone like me. It is a wonder I never turned to alcohol or drugs addictively. Instead, I became addicted to emotions. Using drugs or alcohol to manage emotions was actually beyond my reach when I would fall into depression, I could only stand still and be in pain. In time we become habituated to feeling miserable. It seems like a normal state of being – but this isn’t true. Over the years when another “symptom” of unhappiness would arise, my doctor would increase or change the medications. Eventually, nothing worked – in fact they began to create the symptoms they were trying to cure. This went on for nearly 20 years until I was left with only the device of trying to find a way out myself. I am so very lucky to have a supportive and informed tribe and family around me who understands the difference between “a bad day” and depression. Few people actually take the necessary steps to make changes to the way they make decisions and choices in their lives, so the continuing cycle of hopelessness continues – even on the meds.
One day I wondered if people in Africa got depression how did they handled it without access to these drugs. A little research showed me that depression is linked directly to the satisfaction and involvement you have in your own life. Apparently depression is not a concept much discussed in Africa. A sense of community, family involvement, and an active healthy spiritual life seem to be the balancing factors. Having lived in Africa when I was young, all I can recall are hardworking smiling people, who did everything with their families and villages. They worked ate and slept together. Children were part of everything that went on never pushed aside or made to be “seen and not heard”. Play in Africa is just as important as work, and generally, in all the parts fo the world I have travelled to, people don’t work to gain unnecessary material wealth for “security”. In most countries, people work for only enough to be able to come back to their families and communities and have a life together. The focus is much different from we have here. We have too much time to thin about our sad sorry selves here, where ni other countries people are geared towards thinking about the welfare of each other first.
In Costa Rica, I was lucky enough to spend time with native Costa Ricans (affectionately called Tico’s) who invited us into their homes. Aluminum shanty-shack like houses leaning all up against one another like a house of cards. Inside, there were several mattresses on the floor, neatly organized and all the beds made. The man of the house offered us a coke from a small fridge that ran off a generator by the side of the house. He explained that he lived there with his wife, children his mother and sisters ad his nephew. They were 11 in the one bedroom shack.
From my journal…
“Children are playing around an old rusty beached boat beside the house with a one of the local friendly street dogs and outside on the fish-cutters table, a woman is preparing a Grouper while expectant tourists wait for a sandwich fresh from the sea. The children play with a coconut, smiling and rolling it to one another laughing while the dog chases the “ball” and they evade him each time giggling and setting up the next move.
I see many things around me but I see no unhappiness here. Maybe what I see is different from how we live in Canada, perhaps what we would call “poor” – but these people seem so happy, even with all the uncertainty.
I am envious of the children’s freedom to laugh and play and run unfettered. A small boy comes to me and reaches for my hand and asks for some change so he can go get a Popsicle from the man selling them on the beach. I watch as he tears off down the lane calling after his friends to join him. He never considered keeping it all for himself. Amazing. Apparently 5 dollars American will buy the whole place Popsicles – I so enjoy watching the kids smiling faces. I feel very rich.”
I have travelled around the world and have seen poverty such as you could not imagine. But in truth, no one is poorer than us. We are poor of spirit, poor in community, poor in morals, poor in our connection to each other and most importantly we are bereft of this childlike JOY which seems to exist everywhere where money isn’t.
I have learned allot from books, and people, and school – but none of those things have taught me happiness.
Happiness – Joy – is our natural state of being must occur under all circumstances. The ONLY way to exist in joy is to be present in this moment and when all you can do is survive one day to the next – the present moment is much more alive. North American focus on materialism means we live in a constant state of fear about the future. This is not a life. We take ourselves waaaay too seriously.
2014 is the Year of the Horse – the year of Bountiful Joy!
I wish for each of you that one ay at a time, you find that place inside you where life feels magical and everything seems possible. PLAY MORE!! be silly and have fun – “we’re here for a good time…not a long time”!
I wish for you a year of unexpected treasures, hope, happiness and most of all – I wish for you that you experience all of the blessings your life already has for you in this moment.