Freedom to serve and enjoy
Alright, I think I’m a little obsessed. I feel like I’ve been reading and/or thinking about Elizabeth Gilbert now nearly non-stop for some time.
After Big Magic, which I’ve already gushed about, I read Committed; a sort of follow-on memoir to Eat, Pray, Love that explores her fears about getting remarried after her new Brazilian beau is deported and won’t be allowed back in the country any other way.
Then, because I’d only ever seen the movie - totally unlike me! - I finally read Eat, Pray, Love. And as expected, this experience was much richer than watching the movie; especially, especially, her time in Indonesia. Even if you only read that section, it’s entirely worth the effort.
So much of it resonated with me in so many ways, but this passage more than any other seemed to grab hold of me and it will not let go:
“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness you must never become lax about maintaining it, you must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it. If you don’t, you will leak away your innate contentment.”
Can you think of a more empowering way to charge us with this task? It is a daunting challenge for sure, but it also gives me something like a little electric charge because it reminds me that I am not completely powerless in some grand, universal plan for my life.
It reminds me of my agency. It reminds me that no matter what came before, no matter where I am now, it’s up to me to give my effort. To keep giving my effort. And without it, I’ll sink instead of swim.
It reminds me too, that while certainly some need much less effort than others, there is no charmed life.
But I warn you, that even if you choose to “participate relentlessly” and then put in the “mighty effort” to maintain it there will be moments when you falter. Of course there will be because we are human and that’s life. That’s the deal we get.
There will be moments say, when you are sorely tempted to do the easy thing, to maybe sacrifice your own needs for another or to stay in a comfortable place - even if you’re not happy there - rather than taking a risk that might move you forward or change your situation.
I’ve found that because of these moments, contrary to what we might think, it is sometimes scary to insist upon your own happiness.
But we must, we must.
There will absolutely be moments too, when you feel selfish for this striving because it takes time for personal effort; time for you and just for you to the exclusion of others. Argue with yourself in these moments and don’t let the voice saying you’re selfish win out.
Because ultimately, we are doing more for everyone if we take this time. As Gilbert also says:
“…all the sorrow and trouble of this world is caused by unhappy people…[T]he search for contentment is, therefore, not merely a self-preserving, and self-benefiting act, but also a generous gift to the world. Clearing out all your misery gets you out of the way. You cease being an obstacle, not only to yourself, but to anyone else. Only then are you free to serve and enjoy other people.”
I cannot tell you what these words mean to me.
I hope they inspire you half as much.
Because guys, I want this for me; I want this for you! I want this for all of us because what an amazing world this would be if we were all simply more available to each other to help in our struggles.