Do you have the courage to do something unconventional?
“Do you have the courage to do something unconventional in order to find happiness?”
I was relaxing on the sofa, relishing an old classic on a cold winter’s eve. These words sent an electric jolt through me. I sat up. The question, spoken by Mr. Rochester to Jane Eyre, was directed at me.
I imagined Charlotte Bronte’s voice (ironically deflected through that of a man), asking herself this question. Charlotte Bronte, tragic heroine of her own life story: survived the girlhood curses of boarding school and tuberculosis only to die in childbirth. But through Jane Eyre, her magnum opus, Charlotte’s spirit soared free of the conventional life of a woman of her era. Did she find happiness in the courageous act of publishing, or was she happy, anticipating the birth of the only child to be born into that unfortunate family?
I was not asking to be challenged, that movie night on the sofa; I was actually looking for something warm and fuzzy to shield me from grim reality. But Charlotte’s question haunted me.
Do I have the courage to find happiness now, in my time?
Now, in a time when every line of convention is blurred, what is the unconventional thing I would do? I already knew the answer. It took the asking to find courage to consider. I would. I mean, I do. I would do it. I would do what I have already considered, many times. In fact, I have my list; I have a blueprint already in my hands. I was just waiting for the passion in Charlotte’s (alias Rochester’s) voice, “I double-dog-dare ya!”
I would quit my job and go back to Costa Rica and live on the beach.
I would write books and publish poetry in New Yorker magazine. I would do all of the creative hobbies that have been placed on indefinite hold while I struggle on and on as a wage slave.
Now, I know that happiness is not to be found in marriage and family, for society these days does everything it can to promote the fallacy of a happy home. I know now that happiness is not the exclusive property of romantic love, although love is something I don’t want to live without. I know now that happiness is not necessarily found in a career, or in having material wealth; otherwise why are so many successful people still looking for happiness?
But by now I think I do know where happiness is to be found. And I want to have the courage to go and find it before I die.
Happiness is not something you can find, the way you would find a can that’s labeled “sunshine” in some cheesy souvenir shop. It is tritely ethereal, fleeting and shy, like Tinkerbell. It is captured briefly in a moment, as the eye catches a glimpse of Venus in the sea foam while watching the surf at sunrise on a deserted beach. The secret is in catching it, not in keeping it; in being fully present enough to even recognize happiness as it approaches.
To me, happiness is the sensation of being fully alive enough to be creative. It’s being authentic. It’s taking risks. Living simply and living in the present tense unburden me from worries and restraints and free me to create what the heart and spirit bring to mind. Happiness is being free of presumptions that keep me in my place: “You can’t do that,” or “You must do things this way,” or “You must have this.” Happiness is freedom from fear of insecurity. It is “freedom from” and “freedom to.”
Actually, I think now that happiness is not about doing or having anything. Doing and having are what get in the way of it. Happiness is a state of being in which hands, heart and spirit are fully integrated. In old-fashion workman’s terms, it’s being in tune, being true, being plumb, being sound. If my spirit can express itself through my work, that is happiness.
And that is what I would do. All that’s lacking now is the courage to do the unconventional thing. The unconventional thing I would do is to have the courage to resign from my career, sell my stuff and reunite my spirit, heart and hands as a team to accomplish something good in this life. I don’t want to live the remainder of my life as a lonely coward, afraid of possibility, then die a conventional pauper. Charlotte Bronte may have died a pauper, but her unconventional legacy lives on, asking anyone who is paying attention:
“Do you have the courage to do something unconventional...?”