“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.” – Denis Waitley, author
“… why her relationship with Layton was so unstable?”
Helen had been married to her husband, Layton, for many years, but only lived with him periodically. Helen had two children with Layton and it was shortly after the kids left home, she too moved out for the first time. When they married in 1984, Helen had been infatuated with finding a safe, Christian man, but later, infuriated with his self-righteous machoism.
On and off, she and Layton had been together for thirty-two years, but had actually only lived in the same house for about sixteen of them. Their children, Elena, age 18 and Elton, age 19, had watched this relationship dance their entire lives. They had tried, with their own limited skills and experience, to intervene. But, this had generated rather from both parents, so they soon learned to stay out of it and hope, of course, it wasn’t genetic.
At first they were embarrassed by their parents’ marriage antics. Some of their friends would ask awkward questions at times. They endured this. They soon realized they couldn’t fix it or even understand it. So, they backed off, and it became the proverbial ‘elephant in the living room’ no one talked about and pretended to ignore.
Helen told me she was on the verge of becoming a grandmother with Elena, pregnant and getting married in the next month. This first family wedding was causing turmoil for her, her kids and Layton. Elena wanted her wedding to be a traditional one with her Dad walking her down the aisle and her Mom doing the ‘Mother of the Bride’ routine. So, she had asked each parent separately to, what she called, ‘behave’ by keeping their own marriage arrangements to themselves.
This had become a trigger for Helen to wonder again, why her relationship with Layton was so unstable? And yet it had a stability to it even though they weren’t currently together, again! As she provided this history and context of her life to me, I posed my first question to her.
“…each with their own saviour…one in a bottle, the other in a building!”
“Helen, what were you expecting the day you married Layton?”
“I think I was expecting what I didn’t see at home.” she said with a disappointed edge to her voice,
“What was that?” I asked.
“Two miserably unhappy people, with a bunch of kids, both working their butts off to make ends meet, to get through the day, the week…the year!” she replied, with the anger and frustration clouding her response like a drop of black ink in a glass of clear water.
“So, you have no positive memories of your childhood?” I asked somewhat surprised by the darkness of her negativity.
“My father was a hard-working, drunk trying to figure out his past. My mother was a multi tasking, church-going zealot trying to figure out her future. They were both addicts, one to booze, the other to religion…each with their own saviour…one in a bottle, the other in a building!” Helen replied, her rage seething as it came to the surface.
“Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product. – Eleanor Roosevelt, leader
“…I’m lonely…I miss him…and miss him more as I get older…”
“Helen you sound angry, but I wonder if it’s really, hurt!” I offered.
She paused…then said in a more calm voice, “I think its betrayal…I feel so cheated!”
“Cheated in what way, Helen?” I asked.
“Cheated of happiness; cheated of the rewards we were promised; and cheated of the wholesome family life I expected if I worked as hard at it as I did!” she replied, the emotion rising again in her face.
Then she added, the tears showing for the first time, “And, damn it, Ken, I’m lonely…I miss him…and miss him more as I get older…as I see our children growing up…and, soon we will be grandparents…and sometimes I think, we are acting like two teenagers who need a kick in the butt…it’s like I’m even being cheated out of my future as well…unless I do something different…I guess that’s really why I’m here…I just don’t want to be cheated out of my future, too!”
“…Learn And Let It Go!’ She abbreviates to ‘LA-LIG.’”
“What do you think needs to happen for you to have the future you want?”
“I have a close friend, Genevieve, Ginny for short, who was our neighbour when Layton and I first got married. We’ve stayed close over the years. She has this saying she is forever dumping on me when I complain to her, ‘Learn And Let It Go!’ She abbreviates to ‘LA-LIG.’
“LA-LIG, eh? I’ve never heard that expression before.” I said.
“It just haunts me at times, jumping into my mind at the weirdest moments. Like the other night. I woke up from a deep sleep with ‘LA-LIG’ on my mind.”
“Well, it’s been true for me that learning is essential for our survival. I think that’s why we hear so much today about ‘lifelong learning.’ Perhaps you just never applied it to your marriage before and now you’re ready to do so?” I suggested.
“I think that’s the gist of why I’m here, Ken!”
“…I know what happy means!”
“Helen, what has been the biggest disappointment of your marriage from your perspective?” I asked.
She pondered my question for a bit before responding.
“I was a teenager in the 60’s, I watched a lot of television, I went to the movies…looking back maybe we were the first generation saturated by the media with images of Hollywood’s version of marriage, family and relationships. I remember watching, Father Knows Best, Leave It To Beaver and The Brady Bunch.”
“The media is a big influence on our life. Helen, what did you take away from those experiences?”
“I decided if I worked hard I should be able to create a happy marriage and family. It would take a lot of work and persistence, but it was achievable!” she replied.
“And what did ‘happy’ mean to you, Helen?”
“Happy means pleasure and no pain, happy means a family getting along most of the time, happy means a spouse who supports you, happy means being valued by your family for what you do, happy means feeling sure you’re in the right place in your life being a mother…I know what happy means!” she said her exasperation growing as she added another version of her understanding of happiness.
“… that moment of ecstasy that didn’t have a cost.”
“Helen, that’s the media’s version of happy, not the real world version. That’s the one the script writers concocted from their own memories to sell the fantasy of television, movies, Hollywood and Disney World. It is meant to use fantasies to make money for the producers, not to tell you the truth about your life.”
“Are you saying I have a distorted idea of being happy?”
“Let’s find out, Helen! Tell me of any moment in your life when all you can remember is total pleasure and no pain!”
Helen looked at me for a few seconds, then stared off into her past, looking for that moment of pure pleasure, the needle in the haystack, the glint of gold in the tailings, that moment of ecstasy that didn’t have a cost.
Finally, hesitating a little, she said, “Elton’s birth is the clearest one I can see. I was so happy…we were both so happy. He was a healthy, beautiful baby! I was ecstatic!”
“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.” – Thomas Merton, author
“…were you each ignoring the pain part of the pleasure of being parents?”
“So, neither you or Layton were aware of the pain of being parents…the responsibilities involved, the accountability to your child and each other, the personal stress created for each of you at that second, the pressure on your marriage, the cost of providing for Elton, the disruption to your life and life style, and so on.”
“Well of course, Ken, we realized all that stuff, but we weren’t thinking about that stuff then.” she replied with indignation.
“So, Helen, were you each ignoring the pain part of the pleasure of being parents?”
She paused, looked at me again, “I guess we were, weren’t we? We were ignoring the pain part of parenting, weren’t we?”
“… been encouraged, bribed and manipulated into this distorted perception…”
“Because we ignore the pain part doesn’t mean it’s not there…it just means we are consciously, or unconsciously, ignoring it.”
“So, it’s like you’re saying pain is always present but we can ignore it. And, both Layton and I were ignoring the pain of Elton’s birth…even though it was there all the time. Is that what you mean?”
“Yes Helen! But not just at Elton’s birth. It is also at every other moment in your life! We have all been encouraged, bribed and manipulated into this distorted perception of life until we learn the truth.”
“Then, what is the truth?” she asked.
“Helen, that truth is demonstrated by one of nature’s most pervasive laws…the law of symmetry, the law of duality, the law of equilibrium or the law of balance…for every second of pleasure there is a corresponding equal second of pain, every time for everyone.”
“…that would mean there is equal pleasure in my current loneliness…”
“Ken, are you saying I have had unrealistic and unattainable expectations of my marriage, and my life in general?”
“What do you think, Helen?”
“If that’s true, that would mean there is equal pleasure in my current loneliness not being with Layton, right?” she asked playing with the duality idea.
“That’s correct! Where’s the pleasure in not being with Layton right now?”
Helen hesitated and then replied, “I have my independence, my own friends, I’m accountable to no one, I can live the way I want, I can keep my place tidy or not, dress the way I like, spend my money on anything I choose…I’m really free, aren’t I?”
“This is what really frees you to be who you are…”
“Sounds like you are Helen! So, are you willing to pay the price of going back into a more close relationship with Layton, if he was interested?” I asked her, wondering what she really wanted for her future.
“That’s a tough question, Ken! I will have to think about it because I would have to give up some of my freedom to feel less lonely, that’s the pain part, isn’t it?”
“I think now you understand the law, it will make many things clearer for you. But it won’t make you any happier or sadder, just more aware and maybe, perhaps, more grateful?”
“Why would I be more grateful for a law that ensures I only get equal parts of pain and pleasure in life?” she asked her curiosity piqued by the idea.
“Helen, as you prove to yourself the law applies not just to you but everyone and that it applies at all times and places, you begin appreciating the privilege of being part of this perfect, natural system and so appreciating your life as it is. This is what really frees you to be who you are, to do what you need to do so you can have the life you want.”
“…true love is expecting your partner to both support and challenge you, equally…”
“Ken, are you saying true gratefulness, appreciating the duality of my life, expecting that duality in my life…this is true happiness, and really, true love!”
“Helen, now you are getting ahead of me! Nice going! Yes, true love is expecting your partner to both support and challenge you, equally, so you can be motivated to optimize your life in the way you need to, so you can be Helen!”
“Cool…as my kids say sometimes! I want to learn more about this, Ken!”
“Growth itself contains the germ of happiness. – Pearl S. Buck, author
Until Next time…
So, now you know, there is no pleasure without a counterbalancing pain. Happiness is really being grateful for your life as it is, not as it should be according to someone else’s fantasy. Check to see if you are still expecting more pleasure than pain in your life so, you can update your perceptions and honour the life you have, as it is…the perfect one, for you!
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Our next seminar is entitled, “How to Bring balance to Life and Purpose to Work!” It will be on Saturday, October 22nd, 2016. Details are available at ww.kenpiercepsychologist.com
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Namaste, (I salute the grandly organized design of the universe, manifested in you!)
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