“Tomorrow, is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one.” This is just one of the many quotes that have been shared around social media in this first week of the New Year. It made be think about what a good year of life might be.
Hugh Mackay, author of “The Good Life”, writes about a good life, in which he means a life of wholeness, where we are open to the full range of human emotion, not just happiness and fulfillment but “sadness, disappointment, frustration, and failure; all of those things which make us who we are.” He argues that the current social pursuit of happiness is actually a dangerous idea, as “happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much.” Indeed, in Buddhism, suffering is considered necessary for learning.
My beginning to the year has included getting back to daily exercise by taking my dog, Rosie, for a run. But it has been hard going! I try wake at a reasonable hour; not too early and not to late in the summer weather for a reasonably comfortable running experience.
Today, when I awoke I looked out the window. The sun was already bright and shining. Not much shade lined the streets. Hmm… did I really need to go this morning? I didn’t want to have to run with Rosie. We had been out late the night before, so going back to bed and pretending I could sleep some more seemed like a much more comfortable option. I did not fancy the suffering a run would create today. I would be hot, and after a late night with champagne, my body would probably ache.
But then I remembered how good it can feel, even after a tough run, knowing you had succeeded despite it seeming like a hurdle too big to overcome. And I thought of Rosie, how happy she would be, and how much she needed it. So up I got, pulled on my running shoes and off we went.
Rosie and I have been running most mornings now for nearly 5 years, apart from a few blocks of time when I have been sick and getting back into the routine has taken more than it should. Running has been a wonderful time for mindfulness, and I’ve done a lot of thinking, and a lot of learning as a result.
Today as I ran, I thought about the idea of living a life of “wholeness” as Hugh Mackay would suggest. My struggle to get going this morning, my initial desire to avoid the suffering I knew would ensue, became a metaphor for his theory. Yes, we do try to avoid the suffering that life sometimes brings us; sadness, anger, frustration, and anxiety are emotions that often fill us with fear and dread. They are far from pleasant, and if we listen to the world around us, we could easily assume they are not good for us at all. Happiness and feeling grateful for the good things in life are what we should be striving for…yes?
If I had avoided the suffering that I did inevitably experience this morning on my run, I would have possibly had a nice time lazing in bed, but would never have experienced the joy in turning that last corner knowing Rosie and I would be home soon, the pride in knowing I had achieved something I didn’t want to do, the thrill of jumping into the water of the pool to cool down my hot body and soothe my aching muscles, and the feelings of love and connection between me and my beautiful dog. I reckon she knows that some mornings I find it really hard, so she gleefully tries to pull me up the first hill by grabbing the lead in her mouth and grinning at me to follow her. We don’t need to experience suffering on our own.
If we allow ourselves to experience the negative things in life, to embrace them as part of our human existence, as a necessary part of living an enriched life, then we are living a life of wholeness. We are living as a whole being. And sometimes, just sometimes, through the suffering comes not just an experience of happiness or gratitude, but a richness of experience that we could not have imagined.
So, may we not be afraid of the unknown paths, including paths of suffering, and may 2016 bring wholeness to our lives.