“Discontent is the first necessity of progress.” – Thomas Edison
True contentment runs like a river feeding our everyday lives with constant inner peace.
Whether the weather for the day is a turbulent snow storm or a sunny Blue Bird day as we call them in Bend, the river of True Contentment continues to run so long as we feed it with conscious awareness and staying fully present much like a healthy snowpack which keeps the river flowing throughout the entire year.
To reach the river of True Contentment we have to create the map for ourselves, not find the map which already exists because it doesn’t. It doesn’t exist in a bookstore, a welcome vestibule at the beginning of your journey, no. And it is even more interesting to note, the map to true contentment is not an entire life-long journey. Rather, it is a map which materializes as we each navigate forward, choosing to learn and hone skills along the way, asking the scary questions our lives present and trust ourselves walk forward alone.
Undoubtedly, you will travel with people at times, meet people and moments along the way who will point you in the right direction, but your journey is your own and you are your best company should you choose to understand and get to know who you fully are.
In the striding forward, discontentment is often the North Star if you will. How so? What we don’t know is what we need to explore, to understand about ourselves, the world, the moment, and the knowledge we acquire will open the doors our life wants us to travel through to discover a life of true contentment.
“My flaws are my doorway to self-understanding and my way of understanding the flaws and fears of others.” —David Whyte
As I was listening to a recent audio episode by Marie Forleo, she shared Edison’s quote at the top of today’s post/episode, and such a simple statement clarified immediately a truth in my own life journey – so much of where and how I find myself in my life today is largely if not soley due to my discontent followed by my exploration to better understand, to improve, to change, or to make sense of something which presented itself as an obstacle to self-growth, inner peace and ultimately true contentment.
It is easier to see in hindsight what was happening for example when I started blogging in 2009 with no idea what blogging really was – I was searching because the current path (teaching alone) brought discontent. When I chose not to pursue a college athletic scholarship and instead move away from organized sports – I was searching because the current way of traveling (known largely, if not only as being an athlete) brought discontent. The list goes on.
However, the key to acquiring the gift of true contentment is a choice you make. A choice to be courageous.
“What is the courageous conversation I am not having? Out of the conversation will come as much action as I want, but the action will be simpler, clearer, more central to what I want than a stressed reaction that exhausts me for the real encounters I desire.” —David Whyte
Such a choice to be courageous means stepping outside of your comfort zone. Stepping away from the mind-numbing busy mentality that blinded you and exhausted you from having the ability to truly understand or see what is missing, what you are longing for.
Clarity can only be fully acquired when we calm our mind, calm our days, calm our lives. The progression as Andy Puddicombe shares begins with Calm —-(moving next to . . . ) Clarity —-(moving next to . . . ) Contentment —– which then enables us to be readily Compassionate to both ourselves as well as others and the entire world as we move through and with it and them each day. But it is in this order we must travel. We cannot wish to be content if we do not fully know the life that is ours to live. A life that is waiting for us to be courageous enough to step forward with Commitment as Marie Forleo teaches. Commitment reveals itself through the consistent actions we take, not the thoughts we have or the promises we make.
But let’s get back to courage for a moment. Consider this quote from David Whyte from his book The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship (2009) . . .
“Everything in the world is constantly coming to our door with clues as to how we belong. We only have to follow those clues and we will find our way home . . . in our search for the self, life will provide all the opportunity in good time to temper and make wise our original fire.” —David Whyte
In other words, wherever you find yourself, whether it is a wanted or unwanted situation, whether it makes sense immediately or takes time to explore to understand the deeper meaning, our lives are leading us and welcoming us, asking us to pay attention. One more quote from David Whyte . . .
The key to our true contentment, our calling, our purpose, whatever you want to call it “is always right under our noses. It is so much under our noses, in fact, that in the end we are always told we are the key, we each of us, as a foundational dynamic of life, have to find all the ways to fit in the lock. We are the ones who turn in the door and open it. We have to look for the key by looking at the way we are made to open the great conversations of life. What am I naturally drawn to? How am I made for the world? What is my essential nature?”
Now you might be saying – I cannot see it. I cannot see what is supposedly right under my nose. I have so much discontent in my life that it aches and feels immobilizing. First, take a deep breath.
Congratulate yourself for your awareness. Your journey toward reaching true contentment has already begun. You have already put one foot in front of the other. Celebrate this commencement of curiosity because that it was it is. Your curiosity becomes your guide. Essentially, you are your own guide which means you will never be abandoned. You will always have yourself, and yourself wants to explore further the life it has the opportunity to live and the gifts it uniquely has to offer the world.
~Explore more about the benefits of self-awareness here in episode #143.
Let’s take a look at more wisdom from David Whyte. This time about not knowing . . .
“Not knowing what to do, we start to pay real attention. Just as people lost in the wilderness, on a cliff face or in a blizzard pay attention with a kind of acuity that they would not have if they thought they knew where they were. Why? Because for those who are really lost, their life depends on paying real attention. If you think you know where you are, you stop looking.”
I think it is important to differentiate between searching & learning and constant self-improvement. We provide no more peace to ourselves if we are constantly living in the future, imagining ourselves as better and never appreciating where we are.
The hamster wheel of self-improvement ironically takes us away from ourselves by taking us nowhere because it doesn’t require that we find peace within. I am guilty of stepping on this wheel as well, so I speak from my own experience of constantly not allowing myself to find peace in who I am today, savoring the moment and enjoying my everydays.
I am grateful that I am no longer on that hamster wheel, and TSLL blog over the past ten years since its inception holds at its core the truth that it is our everydays, when viewing and observing and savoring the goodness and beauty that is all around us, we elevate our days and thereby deepen our contentment. The deepening occurs because we are present.
If you are a long-time reader/listener of the blog/podcast, you know being present, elevating our everydays does not mean we can’t grow. In fact, it is because we are more present in our daily lives that we know growth is possible. Both ideas can share the same space but it must be intentional and consciously done.
The fault of the hamster wheel approach, of endlessly pulling off the shelves the next self-improvement book is that we are unconsciously not acknowledging the good that already exists. When we actively and regularly in our everyday lives live in acknowledgement that goodness already exists within us and the world, that is when calm can find us. This takes us back to the progression shared earlier. We must first find calm before we can gain clarity, and it is with these two arrivals that contentment, true contentment, can be experienced.
However if you are still not convinced in this paradox that discontent is the path to true contentment, consider this simple, yet true axiom, “If you fight for your limitations you get to keep them …”. Yes, from a movie (The Internship), and from the character played by Vince Vaughn, but think about it for a moment: What we focus on receives our energy. If we focus all of our determined thought (which is energy, which is finite), we narrow our focus to proving ourselves right, unconsciously or consciously. We cannot expend energy we do not have, so why not focus on the life you want, rather than the life you feel stuck in?
The truth is, you’re not stuck. I don’t want to ignore that the world is full of strife, loss, pain, injustice, inequality, because we know that it is, but a wound, a pain, discontent reveals itself seeking to be healed, not ignored. Not accepted as how it has to be.
The journey to and experiencing fully each day true contentment asks each of us to be open-minded, fully present and willing to trust our curiosity. One more time to David Whyte . . .
“Being smitten by a path, a direction, an intuited possibility, no matter the territory it crosses, we can feel in youth at any threshold, as if life has found us at last. Beginning a courtship with a work, like beginning a courtship with a love, demands a fierce attention to understand what it is we belong to in the world. But to start the difficult path to what we want, we also have to be serious about what we want.”
Pursuing our curiosity is a practice is faith. Not necessarily faith in the religious sense (although whether you believe in a particular religion, the universe, or whatever you might call the higher, wiser power in your life, each can certainly play a helpful role), but an understanding that tomorrow is unknown, and the outcome of your pursuit toward true contentment is not something you can predict, and especially not in detail. However, it is the trusting in your curiosity that will bring you the peace you seek, the calm you need to acquire the clarity and lead you to true contentment. Because rather than needing a certain outcome to find true contentment, what we each need is fulfillment, a feeling of contributing positively to the larger world in a way only we can, and when we find this truth, our everydays are flooded in the best sense with true contentment.
Let me leave you with this final thought . . .
—The Queen’s Gambit, Netflix (limited series, 7 episodes)
~based on the novel published in 1983 by Walter Tevis, The Queen’s Gambit
Starring Anya Taylor-Joy
~The Simple Sophisticate, episode #295
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