Recently I did some thinking and writing about the texture of the time that I have been an adult, the ebb and flow of happiness in the twenty-five years since I graduated high school. I started listing, what were all the months and years of greatest growth, expansion, opening, and generally good things; in other words, what activities, experiences, and factors seemed to correlate with my life coming more alive. What I came up with were:

  • Intensive personal growth practice – meditation, yoga, men’s circles, therapy group, twelve-steps group
  • Being at the heart of and connected with a community of people doing interesting, creative, emotionally intimate growth-y alive things
  • Being in relationship with (and, often, living with) one woman who I respected and was in love with
  • Living with great housemates, forming close relationship with them, having great conversations and general fun with them
  • Being successful and solid at work, career, and/or school, and having that success take me to the next level
  • Doing fun party things that I had never done before, having new adventures
  • Having fun and being more bold than I ever had before about dating (including, to be honest, initiating breakups where I was choosing the breakup)
  • Stopping addictions and not doing them any more, spending time in environments of renunciation (like monasteries) that create a sense of moral cleanliness in my life
  • Traveling places that I have never been before
  • Creativity, expressing myself (for me, this usually means musically), and sharing the fruits of my creativity with people

I also looked at what factors or events seem to happen right before and during my getting off track for a while or going into a dark space:

  • Extended time spent not doing much with myself, mired in stuck energy or addictions
  • Breakups with women I’ve been close with, specifically the time it drags out before it ends, especially if I was less choosing the breakup
  • Time spent living in the same house as people with mean, bad energy
  • Spending time getting angry and bitter about things that I can’t do that much about, like huge political issues
  • A few negative party experiences
  • Car crashes

I suppose that none of this is really so surprising, it’s about what I would expect.

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[“Siren Song”, by Lia Melia]

What I do find interesting is that all of the growth-creating factors involve sustained engagement, effort, and transformation over time, while some of the setback-creating factors have happened in a flash, or at least within one day. I suppose that what can also happen in an instant to move a life in a positive direction is that we can make a commitment or a public declaration to do something new and good, a commitment that we then stick with and follow through on. And I supposed at times being bold and asking for what we want – a collaboration, a job, a raise, a date – can improve our life in an instant.

I wonder if there is a way to live a life with just the first list of growth-y things, without any of the things from the second bummer list ever popping up. I like imagining it, but I somehow doubt it. I think that the Tao rising and falling, rising and falling, expanding and contracting, again and again, is just part of real-world existence here on Earth …

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