Friday, July 27, 2007

What's that mean, anyway?

. . .

If you've been to my blog before, you may have noticed a little icon called 'Sitemeter' on the left side. Sitemeter allows me to learn a few things about my blogging, such as where the reader may have found my blog, and sometimes what area of the country they're from, etc.

A surprising number of hits are from people who are searching on the phrase "ripeness is all". I wrote a little about my choice of this name for my blog in my very first post, to explain where the phrase comes from (Shakespeare's King Lear), and why I chose it for the title of my blog. I thought I'd write a little more tonight.

Uttered by Edgar in the play, the phrase follows the words "Men must endure their going forth, even as their coming hither". In other words, since death is inevitable, it is best to be prepared. (I'm not going to bring up the proverbial bus; I just ate.)

In the spring of 1988, my son, then seven, entered a psychiatric facility; my ex-husband and I had just separated; my daughter wouldn't speak to me unless forced to, as she blamed me for the divorce and was very angry with me about other things as well; I was living alone, though we had joint custody, since my son was institutionalized and my daughter refused to stay at my apartment; I was having severe anxiety and panic attacks; I had no job and no money. I had gone through numerous depressions with no support and little treatment. I had a lot of time on my hands, and I spent a lot of it bitterly lamenting the misery much of my life had been so far.

For whatever reason, a sort of theory of happiness formed itself in my head. The first thing I realized I'd lost was a basic level of contentment. Contentment, I felt, came from knowing what your 'job' in life was, and being able and allowed to do it. For most people, that job has little to do with their career, although it can. The true job of someone who becomes an M.D., for example, might be as a healer.

My job, at that point in my life, was to be a mother. My children were only 7 and 10. It seemed the harder I tried, however, the worse things got, and my own mental and physical health were rapidly deteriorating. In part, my job was taken from me, and in part, I chose to back away from it simply to survive.

The second level is what we normally mean when we use the term happiness--the feeling itself. Many in our culture assume that happiness comes from having and doing the things we want--owning things, taking trips, taking part in activities not all can afford, such as golf or skiing. In reality, as I learned during this time of great unhappiness, true happiness comes from seizing the moment--one bright red falling leaf through your tears; a child's sudden discovery of a new ability or a part of nature. The key here is that one can focus on the good in the moment, or the bad in the moment. It isn't always easy to focus on the good when the bad seems so overwhelming. But it's a habit of mind that can be practiced and developed.

The third aspect of happiness that I recognized at the time was joy. Joy comes from connection. I had put all my eggs in one basket--my nuclear family (my best friend, my mother, had died several years before)--and had no one else to connect with. I rediscovered connection, and joy, when I joined my first ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) support group.

As things improved in my life, I stopped obsessing about what I had lost, and began to rebuild my life. Then alcohol took over, and I lost it all again.

When I finally got sober, and the spiritual foundation of my life began to improve, I realized there was another level to aspire to. This level I called ripeness. As an apple becomes juicy, red, and sweet as it matures, so we can become more fully human, or 'self-actualized', as Abraham Maslow put it--as we age, if we put the time and effort into it.

I suppose some people might aspire to 'ripening' themselves to get to heaven. That's not my reason, and I don't even think I can tell you what my reason is. I do feel, though, that my responsibility as a human being is twofold: first, to become the best person I can be, and second, to help others in the process. As I said in my first post, way back in December 2005, it's a bittersweet truth that we can be at our most ripe, our most fully human, as we approach death; likewise, the meditation upon death, and the joyful embracing of it, enriches our lives as nothing else can. This is what I am engaged in now.

. . .


Angel said...

Dear May, What you say so true and eloquently put brings but a tear from my right eye rolling down my cheek. You speak of the fullness in a journey complete. Knowledge of purpose. Achievement of true understanding and peace. I have been blessed to know you even for a short while. You have touched my soul. You remain in my thoughts and prayers Blessed Be Angel

May Terry said...

Thank you and brightest blessings to you, Angel!