My Morning Sadness

By Anemone • April 11, 2016

I woke up feeling sad today. Depleted. Sad about human pain and suffering. Sad about my human weaknesses that stare me in the face. Sad that I feel disappointment about it. Sad that I let my life unroll in a hypnotic pattern, unable to resist the magnetic pull of little things that rush to fill the bulk of everyday life, suffocating any trace of creative energy that struggles to spring to the surface. And it remains buried deep down beneath layers of negativity and fear of failure and despair which my unconscious self tries to numb through repetitive patterns of activity.

For a large part of my life, the bulk of time was taken over by the daily routine of going to work and keeping the household, raising a family, dealing with daily challenges. Looking back I recognise the same pattern repeating itself. Acting out that which “life” had, in a way, forced upon my path without me having ever been given the choice of conscious selection, being overwhelmed by the same trance-like pattern of living. The mind was kept busy playing out its roles: the spouse role, the mother role, the bank employee role. The weekend and holidays were the oasis of the daily routine then. There was something to look forward to, creating the illusion that satisfaction and bliss could have been achieved if it wasn’t for the obligations and problems and hard work attached to these roles. The joy of motherhood was inexcusably blemished by the overwhelming stress and fear and responsibilities that accompanied it.

Several decades elapse in this manner, in the blink of an eye, and I find myself retired at last, feeling relief that the time had finally come to relieve myself from the drawbacks of roles that deprived me of the enjoyment of peace and satisfaction in life. The employee role was voluntarily abandoned and so was the spouse role, a few years before retirement. The mother role was still there but with fewer responsibilities as the children turned into adults, a role which is and will always be closely connected to my heart, a mixed blessing, as all parents know. I would finally have enough time to enjoy pleasurable activities such as being in nature, sitting down to relax and enjoy my tea by the beach when the weather was fine instead of being confined inside the gloomy four walls of the office. I could at last have enough time and energy to read more books or allow my writing talents to unfold.

Well, two and a half years after retirement, I now wonder why my life hasn’t become the “dream life” I had anticipated. Why have I not been released from my presumably involuntary confinements? I realize now that the so-called involuntary confinements were substituted by new ones. Firstly, it was logically expected that all the time-consuming big tasks of a household that couldn’t be attended to due to pressing priorities which constantly consumed any available time, had to be taken care of now. All the paperwork, difficult bureaucratic issues, files, cupboards, every complex household chore, were finally being attended to with greater precision and perfection. My organisation skills and perfectionism emerged and became stronger as the days passed. Most of the time-consuming pending tasks were completed, but new, less important ones, seemed to arise continuously, such as keeping space free of irritating traces of disorder, or assisting family members by taking some responsibilities off their shoulders; I had more time to spend.

For forty years I had been awakened daily by an alarm clock, so it was one pre-retirement tool I happily discarded. It felt so good lying in bed after eight in the morning, especially when there was thunder and rain outside! Normal bedtime hours were no longer strictly obeyed. My working day was shortened. My energy levels started falling lower and lower as time passed. The desire to deal with difficult chores diminished before I laid hands on the stack of a lifetime of family photos that awaited my retirement to be neatly arranged in chronological order and subject. Did I go walking in the park on lovely mornings, or have my tea relaxing by the beach? Did I start reading more often books or write? Did I travel or spend weekends on the mountains ? Sadly, no, at least not as much as I expected.

Most of my free time is now spent being inside the house by myself, gradually disengaging from old acquaintances or ex-colleagues with whom I realised I don’t have anything in common any more. I am becoming aware of an undefined uneasiness simmering inside me. I find myself very often, engaging in mechanical acts like tuning in to the TV or electronic gadget screens, or desperately resorting to the seductive pleasures of the palette, stuffing the stomach with substances that it would be better off without. Is it an unconscious attempt to keep the mind away from challenging questions like “What have I really achieved so far?” or “Is my life over now?” or “Am I leaving this world without leaving my mark?” “Has my life been in vain?” “Have I reached my full potential? There must be something important I could do to feel accomplished.” Is this underlying fear something new, is it a retirement issue?

Retirement is a critical stage in a person’s life. Apart from abandoning a role which for many has become part of one’s identity, one also has to confront the concept and fear of old age, which is closely connected to retirement. My two grandfathers had two different ways of living after retirement. One of them seemed perfectly content and at peace with himself, doing nothing all day, sitting out on the porch, contemplating, watching people and cars passing by, greeting everybody, known and unknown, with a smile. My other grandfather, on the contrary, could not sit still all day. He had to have something to occupy himself, otherwise he felt restless and uneasy. I remember him being always on top of a ladder, either pruning the garden vineyard, or fixing something.

Is the simmering uneasiness and discontent then just a retirement issue, or is there a deeper cause which is common to many people but passes unnoticed? There’s the philosophy teacher’s theory of our life being like a pickle jar. We have the choice of filling it with golf balls but there would still be enough room for some pebbles and also some sand to fill the empty spaces between; the golf balls representing important things in our life like family, children, health, friends, and passions and that if everything else was lost and only these remained our life would still be full; the pebbles representing other things that matter such as our job, house or car and the sand everything else, the small stuff like cleaning the house or shopping. The theory goes that if we spend our time and energy on the small stuff there would be no space left for the really important things, the things that matter most. Is contentment and peace and a sense of fulfilment then a matter of wisely organising how to spend our time and energy? Can they be achieved through careful planning and wise reasoning?

A wise structure and planning of daily activities and priorities is probably advisable from a practical point of view. However, there will always be both positive and negative aspects to everything we do in this world and contentment and joy derived through any worldly role or activity or achievement is usually short-lived. Perhaps the strive for happiness is a mind illusion because it’s not something out there, something to be attained, but it is rather a state to be realised and the only way to experience this is by letting go of thought, by transcending thought. A realisation that nothing “out there” needs to be added to us, a realisation that we are already complete, that true joy and peace is not something out there, but inside us. Freedom from thought and time creates space and peace. In this state, creative energy is allowed to freely flow which, in turn, gives us a sense of completeness and contentment, without it being a means to an end, without expecting to get anything back in whatever we do. The wonder of a life of balance, its victory over time and thought. All fears and disappointments and stress and the simmering sense of lack then evaporate. And my morning sadness, too.

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