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Day 16: Learning to be joyless

October 30, 2023

I spent today with some of my favourite people, one of whom is a 2-year old named Ivy. 

She’s awesome. Truly, just one of those kids who could very likely end up ruling the world! 

Ivy is a fearless maverick and as much as I utterly adore her, her fearlessness terrifies me! Spending this afternoon with her reminded me of when my youngest was the same age, and had a similar maverick way about it.

Thinking about both kids I realised there are two things one needs in order to be joyfully maverick:

  1. Presence – you have to be in this moment, not thinking about the past or the future.
  2. Either a lack of knowledge or a lack of concern for the consequences.

I think these are potentially the two ingredients necessary for any sort of joyful living.

Of course, the catch is, most of us have had both of those things educated out of us – either by loving people who wanted to keep us safe or by actually having the consequences bite us in the butt. 

We learn that bad things can happen and that a better way to live is to avoid doing things that invite bad outcomes. 

The unfortunate trouble with life is that bad things can happen even when you do everything “right”. None of us gets a free pass. 

We have our hearts broken, lose people we love, face illnesses and injuries, get passed over for promotions, endure the humiliation of failure, and we don’t actually have to do anything “wrong” for any of these things to happen.

Gradually, most of us learn to buy into the illusion of control wherever we can find it. It makes us feel safer so we cling to it. Our homes, cars, relationships and jobs all run within the narrow band of whatever we can tolerate without feeling like we’re losing control – and when we DO feel we’re losing it, some combination of stress, anxiety, depression or burnout usually follow.

The Practical Implications

When I started writing this post, I thought I was going to be making the point that at some point in our lives, we learn the need for control but, thinking about Ivy – and my son when he was that age – I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Little kids also prefer having control and having things go their way. In fact, when things don’t go their way, they get VERY upset about it. 

So maybe the need for control isn’t necessarily something we learn. Maybe it’s something we crave right from when we’re little – and as adults, we get to harness more of our power to make things go the way we want.

Of course, the rub comes when we realise we still don’t control very much. We still want things we can’t have, we have things don’t want, we think things we can’t say, we get bossed about or mistreated by people, and a whole host of far worse things too, and there’s often not a blooming thing we can do about it.

It seems to me that the practical implication here is that I have to refer back to my list above and learn how to do the second thing on the list – have no concern for the consequences. 

“I don’t mind what happens. That is the essence of inner freedom. It is a timeless spiritual truth: release attachment to outcomes, deep inside yourself, you’ll feel good no matter what.”

–       Jiddu Krishnamurti

Knowing what I know about myself, I suspect I will still be working on this in old age – assuming I make it to old age.

I DO care about the consequences and I don’t yet know how not to care. Simply knowing that letting go of this need will bring inner peace isn’t enough for me to switch it off but at least I’m beginning to make sense of where the switches are. That’s something, I guess.

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