dirt-road1I recently watched an excellent documentary on dirt – or soil, to be more precise – called Symphony of the Soil. The film offers a different way to think about agriculture, challenging the “rules” of the past 7,000 years and presenting a true paradigm shift. It was definitely worth the watch!

The film got me thinking about all the ways that humans have devised to dominate, engineer and take from the land. Farming is one example. The Industrial Revolution is another. In short, we’ve lived with this paradigm of dominating and taking for a very long time.

So it’s no wonder that many of us, if not most, came to believe that in order to get what we wanted out of life we had to “take it”. Follow the rules. Climb the ladder. But do we really feel happy and fulfilled as a result?

Study after study shows that happiness and fulfillment are not a result of unlimited wealth and health. Rather, they are the byproduct when our focus is elsewhere – on a broader empathetic attention on things we care about.

In Symphony of the Soil, they suggest that if life as we know it is to continue, we must stop behaving in the ways we’ve been conditioned to behave.

For example, farmers could choose to cultivate their crops in ways that are actually sustainable and healthy for the soil. One way to do this is to “give back” to the soil, in forms such as compost. Similarly, if we want to live truly happy lives, we must make a mental shift in order to go from a life of dominating and taking to one of giving back.

Our entire universe is a web of interconnectedness. It makes no sense for us to impose our desires on nature without taking nature into account. In embracing a cooperative role, rather than a ruling or dominating one, we will, as Flow author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi so beautifully states, “feel the relief of the exile who is finally returning home.”

So then…what if happiness is actually a dichotomy? What if it’s the delicate balance between reflection and focused attention, and the immersion in a chosen set of goals? And if, as suggested by Csikszentmihalyi, those goals are truly aligned with our purpose, then we can actually merge with the universal flow. It’s in this “sweet spot” that we find focus, as well as openness and the ability to be fully present.

Therefore, consider the idea that happiness and fulfillment are a result of experiencing life right now, of growing and learning and giving back. This is the vow of the bodhisattva.