In which Epicurus makes an appearance

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“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you have now was once among the things you only hoped for.”  Epicurus

For a while now, I’ve been feeling somewhat dissatisfied with my life.  Although I have a wonderful partner who is my best friend, fantastic friends and family, a lovely home, employment (not to be underestimated at the moment), lots of exciting plans and events happening, I’ve had this niggling at the back of my mind, a feeling of “is this it?” 

Since getting back from holiday, it’s got worse.  Whilst travelling we visited a friend in Barcelona who’s just moved there.  She uprooted herself from the UK to start afresh in Spain, and is having the best time with new friends, new experiences and a new way of living.  I was extremely envious of her reinvention and the way she is making a different life for herself.

Another good friend of ours has just moved to Vancouver, to be with his Canadian girlfriend, and his emails are full of details of his great new life with bears and Jif crunchy peanut butter and people who say “eh” a lot.

The year I spent in Canada was one of the best in my life so far.  Despite my initial fears and worries about moving there, I ended up spending ten months in a great city and experiencing so many new and exciting things.  I now want to repeat this, and this time to be able to get excited about it – I was in such a state before I left for Canada that I was unable to really look forward to moving there.   The only snag is that this time there are two of us to consider, and one of us is not really up for it.

I can understand S’ reluctance – it’s an uncertain time, it’s not the best time to be moving 3000 miles away with no safety zone of a job or a place to live.  I can see that he doesn’t want to give up everything we have here for an uncertain future.  But the more I think about what amazing experiences we’re missing out on because of this fear, the more frustrated I get.

Until I heard the quote above at a wedding last week, that is.  For the past few months, all I could think of is how we can change our life, what we could make different, and all these plans have revolved around moving to Canada.  Every decision I have made has been coloured by the thought that in a few months, we might be in Canada… I shouldn’t start dental treatment, because we might be in Canada… we ought to fix the garden, because next year we might be in Canada…  This constant thinking about the future and what might happen was beginning to drive me slowly insane.

When I listened to this quote, I suddenly realised what an idiot I’ve been.  Yes, change is good, and yes, it’s important to have dreams and plans and aspirations and sheer pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, but it’s also vital not to forget that life is carrying on regardless, and that amazing things are happening right now.  If I just think about what I’ve done in the last few weeks since getting back from holiday: gone to an open-air screening of an opera, attended an amazing street carnival and eaten rice and peas, met up with friends for an afternoon of gossip and fun, laughed helplessly with S over the best spelling mistake ever committed to paper, marvelled at the courgette that has, suddenly and miraculously, appeared on my plant… my life is so full and so rich that I’m being ungrateful in not appreciating what I have. 

It’s the old grass-is-always-greener syndrome; I sit here and think how much better my life would be if it was in Canada… but if I did get that, it would swiftly become everyday and humdrum and now, and I would start hankering for the next new thing.

The quote really brought it home to me that I’ve been taking a lot of things for granted.  When I was at university I was so worried about how everything was going to turn out, what I would end up doing for a career, what kind of life I would build for myself.  I despaired of meeting someone that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.  If someone had shown the 21 year old what the 27 year old me has, it’s a cliche, but I wouldn’t have believed it.  I’ve achieved so much and had so much fun along the way, with so much more to come.   The place I’m at now is where my younger self  only dreamed about being. 

In fact (even though this is rather embarrassing to admit), when I was going through a period of existentialist angst at 21, and believing that I would never meet anyone and was destined to become a spinster owning lots of cats and some fetching felt slippers, I wrote a “letter to the universe”, outlining what I wanted to happen, in the belief that writing it down would crystallise my desires and send a clear message out to the Fates to shape my destiny to match them.  In line with some advice from a book about attracting positive energy, I even cleansed my room with a saucepan (loud noises to drive away bad spirits), some joss sticks from the local Indian shop, salt and a few candles. 

I found that letter recently (which, I recall, had to be folded up into a triangle shape and placed under a crystal).  Spookily, everything I desired then has come to pass.   It really is that what I have now “was once among the things only hoped for”.

I need to realise that whilst things do have to change, and that we need to grow and develop as people and experience as much as we can cram in, it’s important not to ignore what’s happening right now.  I often look at other people’s lives, either friends’ or other bloggers’, and think that my life is dull and mundane and pedestrian in comparison.  Yet if these same people were to examine my life in the same way that I regard theirs, I am sure that they would find much to celebrate. 

So I am making a vow that I am going to live in the moment much more; I am going to try and appreciate every little great thing that happens to me and look forward to things I have planned.  I am going to stop thinking that “if only I moved to Canada my life would be perfect” because whilst it’s important to have plans (and I haven’t yet given up entirely on Operation Vancouver – maybe it’s time to get the crystal out again and write another letter), you have to enjoy what you have.  After all, I have got much of what I once yearned for.  Once it’s gone, you realise that it was, in fact, after all, rather perfect.  And sitting in our little garden, sipping wine with the man who makes me happier than anyone else ever has done, is a pretty good thing to be doing.

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One response »

  1. Thanks for sharing that story! I love the mix of ancient philosophy and everyday real-life experience. More greek wisdom in the streets, and life would be a warmer and richer place.
    R.

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