Column #13 Motherland magazine

What is true contentment?

I am all too aware of the irony. The subject this week is contentment. Except I’m writing with the gnaw of discontent in the pit of my stomach. This discontent is mostly because today I feel that I’m behind on time. It’s ironic, because my current thoughts are about how to be content despite whatever is happening around me.

So here I am, feeling far from content, even though about five hours ago (before I started to run late), I felt content. Does that mean contentment is a feeling? If so, then what I’m experiencing shouldn’t be a surprise. If contentment is a feeling, then I should expect it to ebb and flow, shift with the tides, adjust according to psychological weather fronts, waxing and waning moons, minor personal adjustments and situational comedies or tragedies beyond my control.

If contentment is a feeling.

I’m wondering if that’s a reductive view of being content.

I’m thinking that expecting contentment to be a temporary state as a result of something external, comes from a mode of thinking that has striving at its core. Striving to make things better, to be better, to do more, to do more well… regretting the times it didn’t work… I think that striving, while driving me forward, also hooked a claw into my soul with a note saying ‘let go of me and you’ll fail’. There’s a weird security in striving. As if it’s the only way to get things done. A little bit like the strange comfort in feeling that stress is a sign I am doing all I can in some given field.

Maybe we think like this because contentment is seen as a plateau. A final adios to ambition. Discontent, on the other hand, is the grit in the oyster that makes a pearl. I think this pretty much sums up my unconscious ideas. But how does that translate into real life living? Not a pretty sight. How can I enjoy where I am if I’m always being goaded to create content, while simultaneously relying on outer circumstances to determine how high or low the level is?

Look at the word: content. You can read it in two ways. First: what I am filled with. Second: the feeling of being at peace. I’m always looking for the second, but I think I have to get the first sorted out before that.

First: if I have a foundational level of content – what fills me – how does that change things? That is something that exists no matter what, and can’t be diminished. What fills me is the sum of all my parts, despite the world outside of me. If I am happy with that, then contentment could be a permanent state of being, because a being is what I am.

This is how I’m imagining it: if my essential being is the river bed, then external circumstances plus my own drive to change them, are the river. That means that one source of content in my life can ebb and flow, while another stays completely whole and complete.  It isn’t about not wanting to change things about myself  – that can still happen, as an organic process (with some processes being more conscious than others). A river-bed isn’t in stasis. It’s alive. It changes, grows, flourishes in some areas, dies in others, and can be consciously redirected if necessary – but is still, essentially, itself.

So how to be essentially content despite – not because of – extraneous circumstances? I think it only comes by separating achievements and actions and happenings from the river-bed over which they flow.

Truth is, I was stressed before writing this because my predicted schedule was off by a couple of hours, and events around me weren’t going how I’d imagined. If I was actually practicing what I’m preaching, I wouldn’t let the off-kilter-ness of the day spin me off into outer space along with it, because I wouldn’t be resting my own being on the success or not of my plans. My achievements or failures wouldn’t be elevated to the grand narrative of my life.  They’d just be the story of a day.

written for Motherland magazine on 24th December 2014

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