If you are or have been a parent of young kids, you probably know how it is when you’re little darling wants to watch a favourite movie or programme over and over again. You might be familiar with that feeling of catching yourself humming the theme tune while sitting in a work meeting as you ask yourself when it was that you really started to lose it. You’re not alone. I had such an experience when my son was about six or seven. He couldn’t get enough of the Wizard of Oz. I do in fact quite like the movie. I love the bit when it changes from black and white to glorious technicolour and when Dorothy lands in Oz and gets some fab sparkly shoes. It’s every girl’s dream. (I don’t know if it’s every girl’s dream to meet a tin man and a lion but given the range of people you meet on Tinder these days, it is infinitely possible.)
The plot of the Wizard of Oz is charming. For those of you who don’t remember it, here’s a reminder. In a pre-climate change world, Dorothy has the misfortune to be sucked up by a typhoon whilst seeking refuge in her house from the inclement weather. She ends up being deposited by said typhoon in the land of Oz, which in a world pre-diversity was a land populated by very small people called Munchkins. Oz is served by a primitive infrastructure in the form of a yellow brick road which leads to the Wizard of Oz’s castle. In a society pre Google, the great Wizard apparently has all the answers and all the power, so Dorothy sets out to find him so that she can find her way home. On the way she meets a tin man and a lion. The tin man wants a brain as he is a bit daft and the lion wants a heart as he is a bit of a scaredy cat. To cut to the chase, the trio go on a bit of an adventure, which involves witches, flying monkeys and opiates, following which they meet the wizard and realise that he is just a normal man operating some machinery whilst pretending to be large and green and having a loud, echoey, supernatural-sounding voice (which comes from a loudspeaker). In experiencing the disappointment of discovering that the person in power is not all he is cracked up to be, they come to the realisation that they already possess the qualities that they were looking for and thought that the wizard would bestow upon them. The lion finds his bravery by battling witches and monkeys and the tinman finds he can work things out. Dorothy goes home. Notably it was all a dream and of course, they all live happily ever after.
Many people in capitalist society have what I like to call ‘Wizard of Oz Syndrome’. It is what keeps our consumerist sphere spinning. It is the invisible drug that ignites the desire to search for the ‘next best thing’. It is the desire to live the best, have the best, be the best – to live a life that is ‘worthwhile’. It is ultimately the search for wholeness and happiness, not on our terms but in the socially conditioned way that we have come to expect it. It is the search outside of ourselves for what is always available to us from within. It is what motivates us to keep pushing, keep striving and keep going for what we think we want. For most people the search is typically for wealth, a nice partner, happy children, a great body and a fulfilling career.
I had been reaching for this dream for many years. Sometimes I had the great figure or the great partner. Sometimes I had money. Sometimes I had nothing. Even if I had one thing, I always wanted more. It felt like I was always striving for something that I did not have. It left me with a feeling of lack or emptiness which I kept feeling the need to fill with the acquisition of material things or achievement of goals. It never left me satisfied within myself. This was because by looking for happiness outside, I was running away from myself. The dream kept me going but the dream was exhausting.
One day, the dream left me. In fact it left me in the way that a balloon leaves a child. For many years, I had held onto it so tightly as it floated above me, just out of reach, until in one moment it floated away completely. I can’t remember precisely how or why that moment came. But it definitely came with a letting go.
As the balloon became a dot in the distance, I realised that there was nothing of substance in it – just air. Similarly, I realised that there was nothing of substance in my desires for what society said would make me happy – just my own sweet illusion of a future conditional perfect life: the notion that ‘life would be perfect if I had X, Y or Z.’ For me, the surrender came in a letting go of those idealised expectations.
There was no tangible promise of future happiness which nestled inside the dream of the big house, amazing partner or career successes. The big house could be repossessed. The amazing partner could walk away. The career successes were temporary and transient by their very nature. Investing in my happiness through external things was only ever going to be a risky venture. There might be safe bets in the choices I made but nothing was guaranteed. I wouldn’t be ‘rewarded’ with happiness if I bagged that man or achieved that job. Life would throw up the same challenges that it always did, however the dream came about. I would have arguments with the ‘perfect’ man and there would be ‘challenges’ in the perfect job. There was no happy ever after in my erstwhile dreams.
In letting go of the balloon, I hadn’t sold out or given up. I hadn’t thrown in the towel. I hadn’t gone mad (even though that might have been the perception in society’s eyes). I wasn’t enslaved by some sort of cynical realism. I just came to a decision that the dream house, the dream man, the dream job and the dream figure were only distant spectres eager to keep my present feelings of happiness at bay. In choosing to surrender more fully to the unfolding of life, I became grateful for the small experiences in the now – the way the Autumn leaves made a collage of colours on the floor; the smile of a stranger; gratitude for a friendly text; the hypnotic gushing of the water in the river after a heavy downpour. I realised that the quality of life depended on the quality of my experience and that this was defined by how I related to myself. I became grateful for myself and prized myself more for who I really was rather than for what I had acquired or what I had achieved. I no longer needed external proof that I was lovable or that my life was of value. I alone had the power to ascribe to it the value it deserved.
And with that I became complete.
In surrendering what I had previously strived for, happiness appeared naturally as a deep enduring feeling of calm contentment which was always available. It was there when the s**t was hitting the fan at home or at work, when money was tight, when the promotion was nowhere to be seen and when the lover left me. It was there as a presence, nestling in a deep loving space in the core of my being.
I was my own happy ever after.