No matter how wonderful and blessed our life is, not long after the obligatory listing of what we are thankful for during this festive time, we fall back into the yawning pit of “there is something missing in my life.” If only I had more time, I could write that novel that’s cooking in my head. If only I had more money, I could get that new Miata. If only I could lose 5, 10, 20 or 50 pounds, I would feel good about myself. If only I had a relationship I would be happy. If only I wasn’t in a relationship I would be happy, and so on.
We count our blessings, but behind our backs, we cross our fingers and hold on to a big smelly bag of “what sucks with me and my life.” Do we really need to lose 20 pounds, or do we need to see ourselves differently? Do we really need more time, or just to make better choices with the time we already have? Do we really need more ‘things’ before we can be content?
Guiding lights are hidden in the stories we tell, in our folk and fairy tales. There are hundreds of stories about the granting of wishes. Often these stories end up badly, with the person realizing that he/she was better off before the “gifts” like Jacobs, ‘Monkey Paw’ where the woman wishes for her dead son back. Or the tale of the ‘Fisherman’s Wife’, wherein a fisherman nets a magic fish. The fish offers to grant him wealth and riches if he will throw him back into the ocean. Out of kindness, the fisherman throws the fish back without wishing for anything. His wife, on the other hand, demands more and more from the fish until her greed destroys her.
Another well-known fairy tale features a good and kind sister helping an old woman at the well, who then blesses her with a gift. Every time she speaks, pearls and jewels fall from her mouth. Her greedy sister seeks out the witch hoping for the same gift but her callous treatment of the old woman earns her a different gift; the witch causes spiders and toads to drop from her mouth. These moral tales illustrate the importance of contentment, and appreciating what one has. They also point to selfless motivation being the key to the quality of what we receive in life.
G.K. Chesterton said, “If you happen to read fairy tales, you will observe that one idea runs from one end of them to the other–the idea that peace and happiness can only exist on some condition. This idea, which is the core of ethics, is the core of the nursery-tales.”
In real life as well as fairy tales, the condition that Chesterton refers to, the condition required for peace, joy and contentment has nothing to do with outer circumstances. Chesteron goes on to say “There is the great lesson of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ that a thing must be loved before it is lovable,” and that applies to us first of all. That is the condition that makes everything else fall into place. From that place comes a warm, loving, gentle regard for ourselves. From that regard flows an appreciation of our life as it is, and a river of compassion for others.
We must engage in some inner alchemy as the first step on the way to loving ourselves. Sifting through and bringing to light our unconscious motivations, our deeply ingrained responses, old unconscious ruts and negative patterns is terrifying, exciting and liberating. For me, writing has always been a way to explore my subconscious. Stories, whether we are reading them or writing them are maps that help us along the way.
So my wish for all of you this Thanksgiving is that you are truly filled with contentment, joy and peace as a result of accepting your life, your self and your creations as they are, imperfect, mundane and sweet in their perfect humanness.