Thursday, November 5, 2009

striking a balance between ambition and contentment

The past month or so has been insanely busy. Between getting married, going on a honeymoon, and dealing with jetlag (I know, woe is me, my life is so very difficult), things have been sort of out of whack for a good long time now. My life has been full of blessings lately but I haven’t really had a chance to process them and be thankful for everything that has come my way these past few weeks.

So first things first: We travelled to the south of France for our honeymoon and I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the world. Really, the world is an amazingly stunning creation. Be it the big bang or god’s hand, or a combination of both working together, the few corners of the world I’ve been blessed to visit have all struck with their beauty. Seeing all these places only reconfirms my commitment to be a better environmental steward. There may be other beautiful worlds out there but it would be a shame for us to let apathy and luxury lead to the demise of the one we have. Seriously.

On top of being reminded by how gorgeous our planet is, travelling constantly reconfirms that sense that the way we live as North Americans is seriously flawed. Our joie de vie is always linked to money and work and not sitting back and just enjoying life. I know we have to work, but the need for more is seriously undermining our ability to just appreciate what we have. Of course, I write this as my husband (holy crap, I have a husband now) and I are talking about selling our condo and buying a house. More space seems to be the answer but I have to admit to feeling somewhat ill at ease with the idea. Yes, I want a garden and my own craft room. I want places to store things (linens and so forth) but I find myself wondering if a bigger space is really going to be the answer. The move is one that my partner craves slightly more than I do at this point, mostly because of my reservations about a consumerist lifestyle. I am hesitant about the timing, locations we’re looking at, and the financial savvy of making such a move. Besides, while the excitement of decorating an unknown space is appealing, it means that life is put on hold for just a little bit longer and we live in limbo until we make the transition. But then again, if we know that it’s only a matter of time, isn’t it better to just get on with it now? Is staying in the condo really the answer to reducing my consumerism or just avoidance of the larger issue that I’m struggling with? Will trying to stay in a smaller space and learn appreciation for what we have really solve my concerns about living a life that makes sense in the face of our current environmental realities.

With each trip I make, I feel like my dis-ease with North American life grows by leaps and bounds, and the biggest qualms I have in regards to this dis-ease, is our big box supermarket, mass consumption lifestyle. I’m not particularly comfortable with our proscribed need to buy a house in the ‘burbs, raise some kids, build a career and so on and so forth. Don’t get me wrong, as already mentioned, I do want a kid (emphasis on the singular) and my career is important to me, but white picket life makes me cringe a little bit. I find trying to find a balance between the need to stay put and build those things and my desire to life a nomadic life very hard to negotiate at times. Obviously I just got married and I’m agreeing to a semblance of stability in my life but I’d like to do so on terms that defy the ordinary to some extent. So one of the issues that I’m currently pondering/meditating on, is how to find a balance between the lifestyle I’ve been raised to live (and in some ways very much do want: I mean, I want a kid who has a yard to play in, a small home that is decorated, comfy and full of love, and I want a life that is relatively stable) and my apprehension about some of the details and foibles that come with it (I want to travel and see the world, I want to live a life that isn’t stereotypically suburban, I want art and culture to be part of my everyday). Ironically, in becoming more stable in my life, I’ve come closer to those goals than I ever have before. I mean, since Paul ventured into my world, I’ve travelled to more places than ever and have started to explore my more artsy, crafty side (Yes, my husband makes my life better, it’s true and I’m announcing that publicly just for him!)

proof that Paul makes my life better!
top row: Antibes, France; Cathedral Grove, BC; Taj Mahal, India (not directly related to Paul, but part of the Paul era); Boston, USA. bottom row: Nice, France; Varadero, Cuba; Mont Tremblant, QC; Brooklyn Bridge, NYC

In the end and back to my point, we don’t want a big house. Ideally our goals are fairly realistic. But in the search for bigger and better, when is enough, enough? I think it’s important to have goals to strive for, but when does our ambition move beyond the materialistic towards a path that is ultimately more fulfilling? I've seen kids in India, and students from around the world with far less than me, who are ultimately far happier than the average North American. So what gives? Because I'm not buying that poverty brings happiness. I know that money doesn't buy it either, but obviously the key isn't in quantity, or even necessarily always quality of life, but rather lies in our attitudes and expectations of life. We've been raised with the proverbial silver spoon (to varying degrees of course) and yet on average, we're far unhappier than the rest of the world. Again, the only answer that seems to make sense is that we expect too much, too soon, and when we get it, we quickly move on to the next thing. So, back to the question at hand, if we get that bigger house, what will come next? And will we be able to balance our materialistic goals with our "spiritual" more life fulfilling ambitions. The problem really isn't whether we buy a house or not, not really, but what we do with our lives once we've achieved the major milestones we've set for ourselves and how we negotiate the journey that follows. I suppose my fears lie therein. What will we do once we have it all? Will we cling to the need to find more, have more, be more, or will we transcend the need to consume and learn contentment?

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