19 April 2016
It seems that, in transforming our responsiveness, this is not only what allows us to be surprised by the world but to also be that surprise to the world. ~Colten Steele
You’ve probably realized that I love words. I’ve used a lot of them in the last 50 weeks to explore this notion of creating satisfaction.
I’m convinced that language is not only a portal of communication, it is also a threshold into comprehension. Language is the tool in which we find and make meaning. Linguists believe that it wasn’t until after lapis lazuli pigments were developed that the word ‘blue’ was coined. Until ‘blue’ had a name, it appears that people literally did not recognize that color in their environment, in their sky. In a very real way, vocabulary and language expand our experience of the world. And, so, they expand us.
In addition to being a word geek, I love wide open space. The word ‘satisfaction’ is defined in my dictionary as ‘the fulfillment of one’s wishes, expectations, or needs, or the pleasure derived from this’. Maybe part of why I’ve been intrigued by satisfaction is because there is so much territory between wishes, expectations and needs. Which makes satisfaction complex and layered, full of footpaths and vista points. Its expansiveness feels like a place I can rely upon to encompass a full spectrum of life.
I entered into this year of wondering about life satisfaction with the hope that I’d uncover some bedrock upon which I could stand at the end of a tough day, upon which I could, ultimately, rest at the end of my life. I don’t speak of death here in a morbid way at all. The prospect of death, mine and especially that of those I love, does frighten me. But, the other side of that coin is that death also offers motivation for a sharp focus on how I live my days and for bringing myself as fully as I can to creating moments of significance and meaning.
Happiness is not something I can always get my hands on or wrap my heart around. Nor do I aspire to this. There’s much in the world to grieve. A whole continuum of emotions compose this amazing human experience. Joy is not something I can turn the knob to and stay tuned to all the time. Satisfaction, on the other hand, seems both more accessible and durable.
This year of probing and parsing has convinced me that satisfaction’s complexity and nuances make it a quality I can practice and attend to in any moment or emotional state. There is always some relevant aspect at hand in the satisfaction toolkit — a way to help ease a difficult situation, a perspective that enriches understanding, an opening to lean into. Or, perhaps, simply beginning again with a gentle breath.
‘Satisfaction’ may not have quite the upbeat appeal of ‘joy’. My early elementary school report cards had three little boxes for the teacher to check — unsatisfactory, satisfactory or good. Which implies ‘satisfactory’ is somewhere around a ‘C’ grade equivalent; perhaps barely a passing mark, hardly sufficient.
But this year I’ve found satisfaction is not that limited. It’s all about recognizing enough. It’s completely compatible with ‘joy’. It’s a companion to turn to in hard times. And it’s equally at home with bliss and exuberance.
For most of my life, I’ve been busy raising the bar, accomplishing one thing only to promptly lift my sights up to the next objective. I still like this strategy for a lot of endeavors, but high expectations can be counterproductive. Despite my long-term bias against this, I’m learning that leaving expectations behind can have surprising and exceptional results. Several years ago, I joined a writing group led by Jena Schwartz. Every day for two weeks she sent us a writing prompt. The assignment was to write, to keep our fingers moving for ten minutes, and then, without editing, to post our essays to the group. Jena assured us the crappiest stuff ever printed was welcome and made it safe to post without apology or groveling. I’ve been in a number of her groups now and have repeatedly been jaw-dropingly stunned by the honesty, courage and beauty that has come forth in this environment.
When I shoot for satisfaction, it’s not a prelude to humdrum mediocrity at all. Nope. Instead, it’s actually one of those portals into a larger landscape, an expanded opportunity to engage with the intricacy and surprise of life. A place where something ‘imperfect’ is part of a greater whole, where heartache and delight are equally natural, where every moment contains a host of possibilities.