This morning I sat on deck reading a My New York: A Romance in Eight Parts by Peter Selgin. It is an essay on his up and down love affair with the New York City; his hopes, dreams and imaginings of his life in the city and the fluctuating reality of that life. He moves between optimism, dread, doubt, loss, hopefulness and bewildered resignation. In the end I was left with the feeling that he spent most of his life sadly befuddled by his own dissatisfaction.
It brought to mind a story I read years ago about an addict and his recovery. There was a moment in the book in which the author was watching his friend dose up and by the expression on his friend's face he knew that she had just experienced what he called the peak high; the high that she'd spend the rest of her life trying to replicate. It was a turning point for him because he realized then that he'd spent the past decade or so of his life chasing that same high. It was soon after that he started down the road to recovery.
I don't believe any of us are ever fully satisfied with life. I think we do experience moments of deep contentment but like everything else in life these moments are temporary. Beyond that, they are not only fleeting but also unique; each moment tied to its own special combination of circumstances that brought the feeling into existence. Of course the same can be said for any feeling whether it is joy or sadness, anger or a sense of peace, but while we feel relief when the moments of pain pass we are dismayed when the joyful ones fade away.
In the midst of sadness and pain we forget that it will eventually pass and we will spend years trying to chase one moment of joy; a moment that no matter how hard we try can never be replicated. It isn't that we can't feel joy again, but that we simply won't feel that particular joy in the same way. We spend a lot of time trying to 'feel good' and we do so much damage to ourselves and our world in the pursuit of that. We self-medicate with shopping, booze, food, drugs, adrenaline rushes and whatever else we can get out hands one that will help us avoid feeling bad. It is always the next self-help book, the next workshop, the next ecstatic experience that will be our cure all and when it isn't we think it must mean we are somehow flawed.
While on this Semester at Sea trip I spent a lot of time berating myself for my feelings of homesickness. I questioned how it was possible that I could be doing this amazing thing, feeling a sense of wonder and excitement, and yet also feel so deeply sad inside. Thankfully when I expressed these feelings someone spoke up and reminded me that it was okay to feel these things. That there was nothing wrong with me and that it was not only possible to be happy and unhappy at the same time, but that it was 100% okay to be in that place.
The card I drew today was The Moon: Peace in the Darkness. It is a card about becoming comfortable with the every changing nature of being human. Of recognizing that all things in life are in flux and learning to be more present in the moment, not because we seek to deny the future or the past, but because each moment is so fleeting. We need to accept that it is okay to feel not great at times and that in accepting those feelings, acknowledging them, letting ourselves feel them is a necessary step those feelings moving on. And we need to remember to not only cherish the more spectacular moments but to also acknowledge their fleeting nature and allow our happy moments to pass, just as we do our less happy ones. Otherwise we risk becoming like that addict, forever chasing an emotional high that can never be replicated.