Happiness is an inside job.
William Arthur Ward
American writer 1921-1994
The other day a friend of mine kept asking me what time it was. Peter would say "Blenderhead, do you have the time?" And then he’d make a big show of shooting his cuff and looking at his watch. After the third time I had to ask what in the world he was doing. He looked at me, quite annoyed, and said "My watch! I'm showing you my new watch! You're supposed to look at it and tell me it's amazing" "Oh" I said. "Ok. Let me see it." He took it off and handed it to me. I have to say it did have an impressive heft to it and apparently it has all sorts of tricks. It can tell time at 20,000 leagues under the sea and on the surface of the moon. Some staggeringly complicated interior mechanism is made with "conflict-free" diamonds. It can tell you the temperature on Mars and I'm sure, if need be, it could produce a mean cup of coffee. It has infinite bells and whistles and according to my friend it cost “an absolute fortune." So I admired the watch as I was obviously meant to do. "It's beautiful" I said. "Worth the price I'm sure." And then I said "It must make you happy." The silence that followed could have been cut with a knife. As Peter secured the strap and the many security clasps that this watch employs, he said softly "It did make me happy. The expectation of getting it was nice and then also the first day it was on my wrist was fun. But now it's just one more thing to feel guilty about having bought. One more thing I need to worry about.
That broke my heart. But the honesty was so refreshing. And it's true for me as well. I can try to get joy out of external items. We live in a materialistic world that equates stuff and money with happiness. This job, house, diet, move, partner, outfit, gadget, car, facelift, app, watch…is going to fix me, cure me, still my internal angst. And it will! It does! For a minute. Trust me, I know the joy of buying something that I absolutely don't need and getting that rush (enter fancy shoes stage right). And you know what happens? I start off in love with those fancy shoes. But shoes get scuffed, damaged, chewed on by dogs. And then what? The rush is gone. Just like Peter's watch. The anticipation of the purchase and the purchase itself quiets my internal malaise for a few minutes. Opening the box and wearing the shoes for the first time is a thrill, a nice distraction. Until I wear them a few times and in my mind they start to look old and worn. Finally they become just another pair of shoes. Do I want to continue wearing those fabulous, well-made and durable shoes until they wear out? No! God no! What's the point of that? I want another pair. A newer pair. A fresher pair. A different pair. A pair that lets me focus on anything other than my chronic internal uneasiness. My irritability and anxiety and discontentedness. And through all my struggles with addictions of all sorts I'm sadly realizing that shoes ain't gonna fix this honey. This is an internal malady, a spiritual lacking, and as such nothing, absolutely nothing external will fix it. A spiritual malady requires a spiritual solution.
As one of my Gurus Russell Brand says "We are all addicted on some level. People drink because it feels good. People buy too much of everything because it feels good. People drive their cars too fast, eat too much, gamble, have affairs, watch pornography because they want to feel good. People do stuff for feelings. That has somehow become abstracted from the idea of the spirt and placed in the realm of the material, where it clearly cannot belong, and can never be resolved.”
He goes on to say “I wasn't taking heroin because it tastes nice, it was a way of dealing with the fact that I couldn't connect, couldn't find a union. Access to a connection will always be the solution."
And lastly: "It doesn’t feel very easy for me to be alive. It doesn’t matter what compliments you throw at me, it works for a second, some sort of inner narcotic - ping! - but what sticks to me is not that, it's the "you're worthless, you're a fraud, you're just no good." I have to swim hard to keep above the water. There's a racing inner narrative that often leads me to feeling awkward, uncomfortable, not good enough."
So this internal dis-ease. What's to be done? I've tried many external fixes. As has Russell. In fact he has surpassed me in his quest for inner stillness through materilaistic means. He has tried food, drugs, alcohol, fame, money, prestige, sex and pornography all to no avail. If those didn't work for him, Russell freaking Brand, then what are we, mere mortals, to do? Peter and his investment grade watch included.
The first stop for me was the realization that this is an inside job requiring an internal solution. But it's complicated in there. The most "fabulous" watch in the world costs half a million dollars and has "36 complications (whatever that means), 25 of them visible, 1483 components and a 1000 year calendar" which personally I find obnoxiously optimistic. So that's a complicated piece of equipment. But compared to what goes on inside of us, in our hearts and minds, it's nothing. Listening to that racing inner narrative that Mr. Brand speaks about and trying to figure out where it's coming from and how to understand it better is no easy task.
A friend of mine joined A.A. at the same time I did and we wanted to have T-shirts made up with the sign that you often see in restaurants: "Under new management." That's how I live now. Under new management. But man, that internal solution takes a pretty rigorous management program. It takes one to two hours...a day! Nevertheless that is considerably less time than I would have wasted if I had stayed active in addiction. So I practice yoga, attend meetings, pray. I do a million different little things, all in the hope that I can connect with something greater than me. Something that can bring me peace of mind. God, a higher power, the spirit of the universe? Whatever you want to call it, I know it can only be found internally. I know that I'm not going to get what I'm seeking through anything that can be seen with my eyes or held in my hands.
I’m still drawn to extravagant shoes but now I’m seeing them for what they are. What they can give me and what they cannot. I'm slowly discovering what is it that I need in order to feel peaceful and happy. Putting down the drugs and alcohol was the first step of figuring this out, but there is always more work to be done.
So I am under new management, seeking connection, and when I find it, when I can connect with life and people without drugs and alcohol it's amazing. If I remember correctly Jesus did not say "the kingdom of heaven is at the shopping mall." He said, "the kingdom of heaven is within you." And that is where I'm going to look. External comforts still have a place in my life; I will probably always like a nice bed sheet and fancy footwear. But it's level of importance in my life has been downgraded. Internal peace or those fab new python heels? I'll have the internal peace thank you. .
But can I also get the shoes on the side please?