It’s been 18 months.
At the end of 2013 my little Tribe and I packed up our little wooden house on the not so little hill, sold our ageing Defender to a shrewd lawyer and our beautiful inherited antique furniture to Colonial Antiques, bought six plane tickets with the proceeds and found our way to Jiamusi in Siberian China.
A bit more than a year before our departure, we realized that something will change in our life.
We didn’t know what, but we knew change was on the horizon.
We sensed it, like you can smell the rain in the Kalahari, as it is on its way.
It wasn’t the first time, we’d smelled the rain before and felt it on our soul.
I’d been working for a non-profit for more than half a decade.
It wasn’t the first time.
My career, if you could call it that, had been in non-profits and non-profits are just that, not profitable, so you go into it, with a lot of passion and hope, aware that you won’t be making exceptional profits, hoping you would contribute something to life and society, and sometimes the non-profit isn’t even breaking even, so you walk away with loads of experience, but somewhat poorer financially than you went into it.
I’d been interested in happiness, writing and speaking about it on every opportunity afforded me.
Not because I wasn’t happy, or was seeking happiness, but because I was immensely and increasingly happy, since I could remember, and wondered why, for so many others, happiness seemed so illusive.
As a young child, immersed in ignorance, as a young adult, inspired by aspiration and most recently, progressively framed by love and peace as faith seeped deeper into my being, enabling me to live a happy life, despite loss & gain, always caught by loss again, happiness existed in my being.
I was curious to understand why I’d been happy for most of my life, except for that brief moment in 2006 when my world seemed to implode and rejection desired to devour my heart, from which I emerged happier than before, aware that the depth of our sorrow contributes to the breadth of our happiness.
Curious, why so many with seemingly so much more, weren’t.
Then two forward thinking Academics noticed my writing and offered me the opportunity to study again, perhaps sensing that happiness is indeed an Ancient topic well neglected in modern literature, only recently revived, in Psychology and Spirituality, but perhaps untied from its deep Ancient Roots and the thinking which has gone before.
I had the privilege of studying when I was young, and publishing in an Academic Journal, but life and hope and aspirations consumed my time and it had been 15 years since I expended any real energy on extensive learning.
There was the post-graduate Certificate I gained from Rhodes University, which taught me a bit of Broadcast Management, but to be offered the opportunity to read towards a real PhD, on a topic which made your being come alive, was a prospect to be embraced.
The rain we smelled started falling.
The scholarship, however, wouldn’t cover the cost of clothing and feeeding a family of six, nor would the 16-hour days I’d been working at the non-profit, allow any time for legitimate learning or pondering.
It seemed an impossible fortuity.
Something which would have been wonderful, but would have to be set aside as the glistening golden chains of regular life and responsibility bound us.
Impossible, however, only exists, when we are unwilling to let go and unwilling to consider metamorphosis, and so we let go and found the chance to teach, while studying, in the deep Far East.
A world apart.
18 months later, I am inordinately grateful.
I’ve only touched the surface of what had been written, by Ancient Philosophers, excited that there are deep wells from which to drink, over time and encouraged by the old African Philosopher, Augustine of Hippo Rego, that we should allow ourselves time to digest, but somehow I’ve learnt much already.
Sustained as I patiently consume and consider.
Energy does flow where attention goes.
The gift of the past 18 months, not only reading forgotten wisdom, but reading it in an environment to which I am un-accustomed, a listener and observer, learning about happiness in every moment and every interaction.
Soon we will depart from Jiamusi, heading to Liangxiang, a little University Town, with fewer than 100 000 residents, not too far from Beijing.
And as we pack our bags and say our goodbyes, I contemplate and take stock.
I’ve realized my own happiness is a gift.
A gift received from when I was born, as I lived under the grace and kindness of our Origin.
They, awakening in me an awareness of their presence and a comprehension (rudimentary, but non the less) of Their Being.
Gradually, like the tide, coming in, pushing water over rocks and river-banks, until all that is parched is covered by its cool.
I’ve realized, loss is gain and gain is loss.
Neither one better than the other.
Both vital to our happiness.
I’ve realized, although we verbalize it, and endeavor after it, in different ways, we have this desire to be happy in common, as a species, a kind, a race.
And mostly we are dissapointed, because we seek it in Spirituality or Materialism, but seldom in the Origin of Spirit and Matter.
Denying ourselves the gift we have already received, from Them Who brought us into Being.
And perhaps the unwrapping of what has already been given exists in ridding ourselves, or being ridden of, the conviction that we have want.
Seeing, that we have no want, for They are and we are with Them.
Also, as we embrace the metamorphosis, receiving the time to live slower, to walk slower, eat slower, love slower, happiness is afforded the conditions it needs to flourish.
The past 18 months gave us the opposite of what we had.
Instead of 16 hour working days, I had 4 or 5 classes to teach.
Instead of getting into the car and rushing through traffic to just be on time for an appointment, we had slow walks, talking along the way, listening, smelling, consuming our environment.
Instead of no breakfast and a hurried late dinner, we had slow meals, with long conversations and simple food.
Wealth isn’t always wealth, for with it, often it seems, comes the poverty of our being.
Instead of short sleepless nights, interupted by anxiety of unpaid salaries or knocking suppliers, we had the regular deep rest of uninterrupted long nights, waking up revitalized.
We were happy before we came to China.
I was happy as an oblivious little boy and as an arrogant post-teenager, when Zuko and I fell in love, I was happy as a student and as a Minister and a Media-guy trying to bring about change with no resources and excitable people.
We were happy then, despite the loss.
And we are happy now, despite the loss.
For loss is always gain and loss will thankfully be ever present.
Don’t be misled.
The happy life is not a life poor of loss.
Selling all your movable assets and moving 13000 kilometres away from everything you’ve ever known is loss.
Being in a world in which you understand nothing and are never understood is loss.
Being the distrusted foreigner is loss.
Not being able to reach out to your Mom when she is afflicted by a stroke, or being able to console a friend when his wife and daughter dies, all of it is loss.
But loss is gain and gain is loss and it is good, for our happiness isn’t born of circumstnaces, but concieved by the Origin of our circumstances from Whom we receive in such a way that it is complete.
Not some of us.
All of us.
And not because of our devotion or delighting in Them.
Because of Their Being.
For They let it rain on everyone and They too bring famine to everyone, indiscriminately, as old confessions would say, for we all are from Them and They do not abandon what has been brought into being from Their own Being.
There is no reward or punishment, as religions would like you to believe.
There is They from Whom we come, Their grace and kindness, Their indestructible consistency and desire to live at One.
And so we find ourselves between Worlds, finishing up in Jiamusi, looking forward to settling (for a while) in Liangxiang, but always between Worlds, as we live a life which is complete, while it is still being completed, understanding it, as understanding will still dawn in our being.
Gypseys, vagrants even, in a world filled with death and injustice, seemingly out-of-control, yet perfectly loved by They Who are Love.
And so we encourage you to be on your own journey, from World to World, good travelers who never arrive at their destination.
Looking inwards, instead of at the illusions of success and acceptance.
Listening to Their ever present Voice, not the voices of destruction planted in your being over time, the Voice of Them from Whom you come, always Whispering, calling us out, to be, as They are.
Not seperate or superior.
Redeemed and Regenerated, as we are being redeemed and regenerated.
Becoming the gift, as we receive it, for we are all created in Their image, not just some and we are all being called, all of us also answering at once, even if it be fumblingly in our muted blindness.
Happiness ours, along this Way.
Which cannot be lost.