This article is dedicated to my mother, who is 91 years today. Happy birthday Mum!
Last week, two good friends of mine from Houston stayed with me in ABQ for a week. Nancy and Dan had never met before coming to ABQ, so I was a little unsure how they would get along. All three of us were single, and each of us had broken up from a romantic relationship in the past six weeks. How weird is that! So we sang together the old Hank Williams song:
“There’s a tear in my beer coz I’m crying for you dear.
You are on my lonely mind.
I’ve cried and I’ve cried but my tears I cannot hide.
You are on my lonely mind”.
We toured and hiked the area around Albuquerque (ABQ), from Santa Fe to Taos to Durango. Oh how we talked! And we laughed, and we cried. We discussed love at Rancho de Chimayo, eating enchiladas as we sat outside next to the foothills of the Truchas Peaks. We discussed happiness at Starbucks in the main street of Durango, where the magnificent old steam train departs for Silverton. We discussed the purpose of our lives with a tour guide in Taos Pueblo. Half Native-American and half Hispanic, this young woman of 30 was a champion at steeplechase in college, and is now doing her master’s degree in Social Science. She is already dedicated to assisting the Native-American population. What a different view of the world she has!
During our talks, Nancy and Dan and I clarified the difference between romantic love (which is temporary: six months to two years) and real love (an unselfish love which is defined by psychiatrist and best-selling author Scott Peck as the will to nurture the spiritual growth of another). In defining this real love, in the book The Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck appears to be honoring the elements of love laid down by St Paul of the Bible about 2,000 years ago (see quote below).
We also decided that happiness is hard to hold on to. Oral Roberts, travelling evangelist in the 1950s and 1960s and founder of Oral Roberts University, once said that the biggest problem he found in his travels across America was loneliness. As singles, we realized that loneliness is perhaps the greatest challenge of living alone. However, if it can be dealt with (there is a bag of tricks for overcoming loneliness), we will become more content which is a better goal than happiness.
Sadly, Americans are an unhappy lot:**
• Since 2004, those who identify themselves as optimists has dropped from 80% to 50%.
• More than 20% will suffer from a mood disorder at some point in their lifetime, and more than 30% from an anxiety disorder (these are both serious health conditions).
• 11% of us will have been diagnosed with depression by the time we are 18 years old.
• 25% of women and 5% of men are taking anti-depressants.
The famous health guru Dr Weil has written a very good book called Spontaneous Happiness. To list a few of the notable statements in his book:
• He prefers emotional well-being as a goal rather than happiness.
• Emotional well-being must come from within, because reaching external goals often disappoints.
• Emotional well-being starts with health, which Dr Weil defines as a reserve of energy that allows for fulfilling engagement with life. The essential qualities of health are resilience and energy.
• While our emotions fluctuate from day to day, our emotional sea level should be not happiness but contentment, and the calm acceptance that is the goal of many kinds of spiritual practice.
• Happiness arises spontaneously from sources within us. Seeking it outside ourselves is counter-productive.
• It is possible to increase emotional resilience and shift one’s sea level in the direction of greater positivity.
Abraham Lincoln once said: “People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
St Paul of the Bible discussed contentment 2000 years ago (see quote below), and it appears Dr Weil is following in his footsteps. St Paul urged Christians to be content in whatever state of life they are (miserable failure or glorious success). This spiritual principle is bolted onto alignment with God. If we are secure in our relationship with God (think Abba….Father according to St Paul) and have grasped that this Father-God is pulling for us despite the injustices that exist in the world, this has to carry us a long way toward contentment. Note that this contentment is an inward spiritual contentment, which allows us freedom and force to help others to hope, and to address the injustices of the world (for example, a little money sent to World Vision can drill wells for kids in Africa to drink fresh rather than contaminated water).
Just outside Taos, under sparkling sunshine, Nancy and Dan and I looked down from the Gorge Bridge into the mighty canyon that is called the Box…..the Rio Grande Gorge. The Gorge is so much bigger and deeper and older than me that it helped to restore my perspective. While contemplating this, I found four nuggets of thought that seemed to summarize for me the wonderful week with my traveling friends. If we have broken a relationship recently, or if we are married…..happily or unhappily……we can:
• pursue a personal relationship with God, who can be closer than a good father,
• switch from a goal of happiness to emotional contentment,
• pull out the bag of tricks to defeat loneliness,
• practice unselfish love — to nurture the well-being of others (like the dedicated young tour guide in Taos Pueblo).
The Gray Nomad.
Probing the practice of Christian believers……
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians, chapter 13).
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through God who gives me strength.” (Philippians, chapter 4).
“For the Spirit which you have now received is not a spirit of slavery to put you once more in bondage to fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption – the Spirit producing sonship – in the bliss of which we cry, Abba! Father! The Spirit himself thus testifies with our own spirit, assuring us that we are children of God.” (Romans, chapter 8).
** Time Magazine, July8-15, 2013
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