I figured out how to be happy. Here, now, at fifty-seven years old. It is good I thought of this so early in my life so now I can be happy all the time instead of just when it works out.
It is this: Don’t expect anything from anyone. Or, better said, stop paying attention.
I’ve heard this throughout life in various semantic forms. Do what’s good for you; happiness must come from within; create your own happiness; build your own rainbows, blah blah, yada yada, ewww. But the triteness is true. When we stop expecting things of other people, even when it is logical in some sort of familiar way to do so, we move gracefully without being disappointed by false expectations.
This is sort of what St Bernard meant when he said we must learn to make excuses for other people.
Or maybe I just like having no one left to blame but myself if something doesn’t work out.
I love every season. I like the icy winds on my face when I am near Lake Erie or when I lived in New England. Nature is so absolutely objective; she just lays it out there on the line and says, “Today, you’re going to freeze your ass off,” but means nothing by it. It is absolute honesty. It does not differentiate between those who love the cold and those who don’t. The same was true in the Sonora Desert; it wasn’t unusual to hike in 110-degree heat, but it was what it was. Once in a while it will whisper, “then go inside if I’m too hot for you.”
That’s what draws me to nature; it keeps me in the moment, I experience again what humans have experienced since the dawn of us. But these days surrounded by processed landscapes and prepackaged cities, people tend to pass judgement on everything from lip gloss to the definition of genocide; they categorize and change their minds; their moods can be unpredictable and hard to trust.
This isn’t the case in nature. Nature just might be the only place of absolute fairness. It doesn’t bully. It doesn’t ridicule or praise. It simply doesn’t care; which is all that is necessary for one to be oneself.
It’s why I walk. Cinder block hallways and poster-laden classrooms offer nothing. When I am in the woods or near water, the criticism is all internal and ironically it is only at that point it is mostly positive. I am proud of myself when out there, first for being out there, for shedding the residue of concrete expectations. And what I find when the sun is sliding along the water or the leaves linger just a few moments more before letting go for good, is that I expect more out of myself than I do when I am closed in. In the hallways and meeting rooms and online spaces saturating the air with invisible communication cables, I do what is necessary, sometimes what I think is more than necessary, but always I am tethered by others exceedingly low expectations. But when I’m out on my own meandering I tear down the low-bar mentality and realize what I am capable of.
And it occurred to me recently that since I do my best in those situations, I should spend more time in those situations.
I used to imagine myself looking back at myself from a few years ahead. I’d pretend I was doing an interview on television, or perhaps having a talk about some accomplishment, and that visualization became some sort of bizarre, slightly-psychotic point in time I could shoot for. All I had to do then was fill in the empty space between where I was at and that future moment. You know, it actually worked more than a few times.
Maybe when I’m inside and around others I just don’t have the time or space to push the reaches of my mind and see what’s in there to fill in that empty space. Or maybe I’m too easily distracted. Nature is like a familiar movie; I already know it well and can look up at my favorite scenes, or glance around at moments I never noticed before, but it is comfortable enough for me to multitask.
The view from my wilderness is almost always internal, clothed in the spectacular colors and soft breezes of nature. When I walk along a deserted road I take full responsibility for every thought and action and reaction. When I stroll down the oceanfront or along the river I can find the right words, discover the correct image. I remember what I think about when out there. It stays with me, whereas the conversations in corridors often go in one ear and…well, no, they don’t actually go in at all.
It isn’t only that nature doesn’t pass judgement on my decisions or actions that relaxes me and allows some sort of organic process to work at its best; it is that I can clear my head of those who do.
The truth is fifty-seven isn’t young, and I need to be myself again. We all do; and maybe we all have that place away from (or in the middle of, who knows) distractions where politics and business and the infestation of life can’t touch us. If that is where we truly live, why don’t we live more?