What Is Happiness Anyway?

 

If you were to ask the average person what they most wanted for themselves or their kids, I think many would say “happiness” topped their list. But I also think this is about as far as many people go with what one could argue needs to be a necessary examination of something so important to you.

For starters, do you even know what being happy means, what it costs or even how to get there? I don’t think we do. Which is why it’s so easy for us to be manipulated into believing all kinds of things when it comes to what happiness is and where it comes from.

“Good fortune, prosperity, a state of well-being and contentment” are what the dictionary has to say about happiness. Seems like something worth going for. These days though, this worthy state is fraught with all kinds of problems, misdirections and brainwashing.

In our heavily influenced and commercialized world we are being sold to by billion dollar companies what well-being and good fortune looks like. Guess what? Happiness looks exactly like having things. Their things in the shape and form of products and services. Or perhaps it’s all about having lots of followers or garnering lots of likes for curating your life on social media and exploiting yourself by posting it all to be used as a kind of fodder for your ever-hungry “friends.”

Then there are all the streaming and online services that make their images of other people look so enticing, while creating big feelings in you. These externally induced feelings are what you go on to equate with a kind of contentment and good fortune that compel you to sit and watch for hours on end as figures on a screen go on to have the life you want. Or maybe, being glued in front of a screen helps you forget the life you are living that you don’t want.

Either way, you call it happiness.

Of course we can’t forget about the drugs. All the wonderful drugs that will create a pseudo state of happiness that can be purchased in pot shops or through ask your doctor campaigns. And if that’s not your jam, your happiness can be bought by your next online purchase and delivered right to your door the next day. No effort on your part other than to push a button.

None of this is happiness and we deserve better. We deserve better than to believe our well-being can be bought and sold. We deserve better than to medicate ourselves into some false and illusory state that we now equate with contentment. But because so many of us are doing it, we don’t much question ourselves, and even if we do, we hide out under the cover of the herd.

As much as we may be going along for this ride, deep down, we know we are being lied to. More to the point, we know we are lying to ourselves. That’s why whatever we do in this modern day frantic pursuit of happiness always falls flat, always needs another fix, and always is at the hands and mercy of a thing that someone else is willing to sell us.

Happiness is an inside job. It doesn’t look like what Hollywood portrays and it definitely does not come in a pill. It is hard won. It is fleeting. It is honest. It is a choice. It is enduring in its simplicity and it is personal to you. What might it look like?

Personally, I take my cues here from a synonym for happiness. “Blessed.” What is it that makes you feel blessed? For me, it looks like watching the moon or your kid play t-ball. It looks like sitting down for a meal you prepared with those you love. It looks like being with a good friend for a walk in the woods. It looks like getting your chance to be here and learning and growing yourself into who you most want to be.

Beyond Wrong

 

I’m in the middle of teaching my Healer Within program and I am prepping for the class that focuses on what I refer to as “Learning the Language of Your Body.” In other words, coming to see the symptoms and sensations of the body as vital and necessary communication you want to be in touch with. Working with this material keeps drawing me back over and over again to one essential truth: In order to learn the language of your body, you must be willing to go beyond “wrong” when it comes to what your body is doing.

This is not easy to do. In fact, it’s exceedingly difficult given the intense conditioning by our current conventional medical system that insists, despite any evidence to the contrary from other health systems, that any imbalance in your body is a problem, an inconvenience, a misstep on the part of your biology that must be addressed with pills and procedures.

There’s more. For you to suspend the belief that there is something wrong with your body is also to tap into another deep-seated piece of conditioning we are all subject to: There is something wrong with you. Something wrong with you if you think differently than your tribe. Want differently than what the culture offers up in terms of its insane pace and inhumane approach to life and living. Feel differently about what you are told and sold when it comes to who you are and what you are capable of.

In other words, don’t stick out, don’t be too great, don’t rock the boat. Instead, do all that you can to never be wrong in the eyes of another.

Bottom line? To even consider to begin to unwind from the wrongness you unconsciously direct at yourself and your body each and every day is to knowingly make the choice to depart from any and all of the places you make yourself wrong. Whether those places exist in your own mind, or are reflected back to you from a consensual reality that is predicated on you fitting into it. Even if that means it needs to snuff out any chance of you questioning the current reality by undermining you with a big dose of, “You’re wrong to step out of line as we have drawn it.”  

This can feel like an enormous task and even quite scary to take on. Why? Because we use making ourselves wrong to dim our light in order to belong. And we use something being wrong with our bodies as an escape hatch to avoid getting to know our bodies more fully, while learning how to claim full responsibility for them.

However. It can be simplified and made doable by asking one penetrating question:

If I wasn’t making myself/my body wrong right now, what would I know?

 

What The World Is Really Here To Give You

 

“The world is not here to make you happy. It’s here to make you conscious.” I heard these words spoken last week by Eckhart Tolle, renowned teacher of Presence. It came at exactly the right moment for me as the words broke through the haze of being lost in a deep well of grief.

I am no stranger to grief and sorrow. They have been traveling companions of mine for my whole life. Grief over the ways of the world. Sorrow over missed and lost connections in personal relationships. Sadness over how we treat ourselves and others.

At times, I have felt broken and victimized by how grief-stricken I have been over the ways our children’s innocence is being violated via the screens. I have been filled with sorrow over how we allow our lives to be gobbled up by distractions. And I have been heart-broken over how often the wrong things are in charge; despite the obvious destruction they bring.

This and more is what I have been revisiting of late, being “stuck in a grief loop,” as one of my practitioners so aptly put it.

But when I heard Eckhart’s words, something in me snapped to attention. Something in me knew immediately the Truth of those words. And all at once, I could see that the lifelong suffering around the grief and sorrow I have always felt has been not just because of how devastatingly sad all these things are, but because I have been expecting the world to take this sadness away from me by being other than it is.

Now, I know that our minds might go immediately to Well, what sane person wouldn’t want the madness of the world to end? What sane person wouldn’t want more respect for life? 

This is not to negate that healthy yearning. But it is to point out that when we refuse to acknowledge how things are, not how we want them to be, we suffer; fighting in vain like a fish on a line.

To see that there is something greater at play than even your most heartfelt and noble expectations of the world is to step into an entirely new game. It is to open to your spiritual nature and the real reason you are here. Which is to grow in consciousness. Which is to walk the path of remembering who you really are, and why you are here.

When I look at my life through this lens, I can say with certainty that this is so. For each time the world has not made me happy, and I have chosen to let it grow me, I have changed. And always for the better. Every unfairness and disappointment that the world has ever delivered to me, a blessing.

I guess it’s time for me to step out of the grief loop I’ve been in.

A New Year

 

As we stand on the threshold of a New Year, contemplating what it is we would like to change within ourselves, there is no better time than right now to really feel into the deep connection between what resides in each of us, and what it is we are watching play out in the world.

This can be hard to see because none of us wants to imagine the darker sides of the world existing within us. And, because it is far easier to blame the world for its current state than to figure out how to change yourself to contribute to the world you would like to see.

This week, I’m going to do something I’ve never done: Share an entry from my journal. I do this in the spirit of my experience serving as an example of what is possible when one woman dedicates herself to looking closely at how she engages with others when the going gets rough.

I am aware that as I shed my fears around others and how they might respond to me, as I get more skilled in seeing what I see, as I get less willing to carry what is not mine, as I become less interested in doing penance for another’s dysfunction…I am able to be in a place of naturally and organically arising clarity and compassion for the one who stands before me.

More tolerant. More accepting. More appropriately boundaried. Less reactive. Less desperate to have them be something I need them to be. Separated from the morass of dysfunction between us, I am able to claim a piece of Earth to bear witness to them. Their struggles. Their magnificence. 

And in that moment, there is no separation between us. No difficulty we cannot resolve. No need to blame, shame, manage or control. No need to take on what is not mine. Instead, a naturally arising organic compassion that knows beyond the labels. That offers from a place beyond good/bad; right/wrong; what he said/she said.

A holy place beyond what you need to do and who you need to be to confirm my worldview and for me to feel safe. This is where I aspire to live. This is where I yearn to be with another.

For what I know to be true is this: The only way for me to find my way into this state of being is through the committed effort on my part to learn how to be with myself in such a way that I run down every single personal response to another and claim it as my responsibility to figure out why I feel the way I do. Why I think what I think and react how I react.

A lot of work. Yes. A lifetime of work. But the rewards are great. And vast. They touch the generations to come and reach into the past to heal the wounds of our ancestors. They lay the foundation of Life here on Earth, with others, based on what we all yearn for. Peace and love between us.

And so, it is no small thing to wonder about yourself. To dedicate time every day to ask yourself the question, “How’s it going for me?” To pause long enough to hear and feel deeply into a real answer, and then to set yourself to the task of pulling on that thread long enough to get to the end of how it is you are feeling. And why. 

It won’t happen overnight. Nor will it be easy. But in the end, when you come to know how you tick, you are more generous with how others tick. Along the way, those ticking time bombs between us, get defused.

The Hidden Gift of Betrayal

 

You don’t need me to point out that things have gotten more intense in the world as the years roll on. Or that life here has gotten more confusing, fear-based and confrontative. And now, through the “advancing” capabilities of the technologies, we can add dishonesty and betrayal to the growing list of what undermines a fundamental and necessary sense of trust in Life itself; leaving us not knowing who or what to believe anymore.

Is the social media post a real representation of someone’s life, or has it been heavily curated? Is the news you’re watching accurate, or is there the heavy hand of corporate money driving the flow of information? Is the customer representative you are speaking to a real human, or a robot?

While many of us would say, yeah, yeah, it’s awful, but that’s the way it is now. Or maybe, we hate it or are outraged or anxious because of it, but we don’t think there is anything we can do about it.  And while this and more may be true, I find it misses the point of what is actually available to us at this moment in time. For though we live in a day like no other when it comes to the levels of false appearances and widespread deceit making its way into our day to day living, there is actually another way to see this.

That being, seeing all of the curation, the dishonesty, the confusion, the outright lies and the betrayals as one of the greatest blessings you will ever receive. I know it sounds ludicrous on the surface, but give me a moment.

When any of us has the good and great fortune (not misfortune) of being betrayed by a system we felt protected by, the pain we feel is one of the greatest wounds we will ever experience for it shreds our beliefs about the world, ourselves and what it is we can count on. When the rug gets pulled out from under us in this way, whether with one big pull or through a series of little pulls, the faith we have in Life itself can get blown right out of us.

And in its wake, it can leave an inner devastation so great that it seems like we can never come back from the betrayal; even as we scramble to make sense of something there is no making sense of. To be led astray, intentionally or not, by those people and institutions we put our deepest trust in can feel like the highest form of treachery and deceit. Can feel like a tear so great, there is no repair.

But, and this is a big but, if you can see betrayal as something to learn from, it becomes a gift. That gift being the chance for your feet to be placed, knowingly or not, on the road to greater self-trust. A chance to turn your faith back into yourself and to Where Else it has always truly belonged. This gift then becomes something you can share with a world deeply confused about what to believe in, as well as whose hands that belief is meant to reside in.

Then, in times of universal deceit where telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act as George Orwell once wrote, you are in the needed position of holding something others cannot yet hold for themselves. A perspective that sees the rampant universality of not knowing what to believe in as the directest route to an abiding self-trust, whose truest power can only be forged in the fires of betrayal.

What If Nothing Was Wrong?

 

I sit looking out the window at the dawn of a new day wondering, “What if nothing was wrong? What if what I’m feeling isn’t a problem?” This wondering drops in after a night of troubled sleep filled with apprehension, doubt and second guessing.

Is this even possible? Or desirable. To choose to live without needing to make something or someone, wrong. Would this be a sane approach to life? Or incredibly naive? Would it leave me unprepared or ill-suited for the world? Vulnerable to being caught off guard and open to something horrible happening?

When something feels wrong to us that’s all we can see. That and the compulsion to make it stop. Make it go away. Assign blame. Be clutched with fear. Fight it. Demonize it. And then of course, create the teams of “right” and “wrong.” But what if nothing was wrong, what then? What would we see? What would we know?

What would become possible?

This is an incredibly courageous step to take, trained as we all are in who the good and bad guys are. Conditioned as we are to default to believing we know what is right and wrong. And while yes, we need a code of honor to live by when it comes to our words and deeds, it is far more complex than the black and white nature of choosing for and against based on party lines, political affiliations, religious beliefs and more.

We can favor a clear sky over a cloudy one. And yet, the presence of the clouds is what makes for the most sublime sunrise because of how the clouds help to create a multidimensional light show on the eastern horizon. There are traditions that liken the beliefs and thoughts we hold to be like clouds passing through an expansive open field of greater awareness. That part of us that knows beyond “the taking of sides.”

So when the clouds of “wrong” pass over your mind, see them for what they are; a fleeting opportunity to decide what you most want to see and create in the world. Recognizing that the clouds offer the very contrast necessary to help us decide whether we will see the beauty emerging at the dawn of a new day, or…

Every day, we get to choose how to perceive what it is that life offers us. Right and wrong are easy. Child’s play actually. But to contemplate beyond wrong is the realm of participating in a new dream for our world. One that says, I will challenge my ideas of right and wrong in the service of something far Greater.

So just for today, what if nothing was wrong with the weather, or the traffic, or what someone else does? What if for just one breath you could wonder, “If I wasn’t making this wrong, what would I see?”

Pick Your Hard

 

I fast once a month. It’s hard. Even though I’ve been doing it for years, I start dreading my fast day the night before; fretting about how I’m going to be able to pass through the discomfort. And where I’m typically not hungry until around 11am, on a fasting day, I wake up hungry. Then, I stumble through what I need to get done as best as I can given how I’m feeling. Even though I know what to expect, it never seems to get easier.

This week, I heard someone say that whether you choose to take care of yourself or not, both are hard. So pick your hard. This flies in the face of the world we inhabit where we are constantly being steered towards doing what’s easy, what’s fast and what’s convenient. More to the point, we’ve been educated to believe that nothing has to be hard. We’re all supposed to feel good all the time. We’re all supposed to be winners.

Everyone gets a medal. Everyone finds a four leaf clover at Disney World. Everyone’s everything gets a pass these days because we don’t want anyone to feel excluded.

But here’s the thing, experiences in life that are difficult and that we find a way to meet and be strengthened by, give us something to be proud of. Give us a sense of who we are and what we are capable of. Give us an inner strength and grit to cleave to our values and what matters most in a world at a loss for both.

And that’s why I fast. Because it strengthens my resolve and my determination to remember and honor the preciousness of food. Because it serves as a counterbalance to all the excesses we are constantly being force-fed to indulge in. Because it reminds me of what I will do to keep myself in health.

It’s hard to have a long overdue conversation, and it’s hard to carry what is unresolved.

It’s hard to make changes in your life, and it’s hard to not feel good. 

It’s hard to take the time to discover what your offer to the world is, and it’s hard to work at a job you hate.

It’s hard to admit to the limitations of what you can and cannot influence, and it’s hard to try and control what you cannot control.

It’s hard to learn about who you are and what makes you tick, and it’s hard to live believing the wrong things about yourself. 

Pick your hard.

 

 

Meaning & Purpose

 

I’m reading a book where the author has just finished describing a study where more than half of us feel the work we do has no meaning. No purpose. That many of us believe what we do has no real use. With this comes all kinds of things from depression to disease to a sense of despair and worthlessness. And with all of this comes greater levels of unhappiness, addiction and vulnerability to looking for meaning in all the wrong places. To being prey for ways of coming together with others that offer purpose through harm. Like the KKK and other hate groups, getting into dangerous social media challenges, or being part of social trends based on peer pressure and the narrative du jour.

Right down the road we have a neighbor who when we first moved out here knocked on our door and asked if it would be okay to pick up the apples on the side of the road by our home. He went on to tell us that the tree the apples came from, a Baldwin, was an heirloom and likely over 100 years old. He waxed poetic about this being the best tasting and cooking apple there was.

At the time, I had no appreciation for any of this. Not only was I in over my head due to the big move we had just made, it didn’t feel natural to me to consider eating food off the land I was living on. I indulged him in the moment, and forgot about it all pretty quickly after he left.

Cut to twenty years later when that same tree died, leaving me grief-stricken over the loss. Over the years, I had come to anticipate and cherish its bloom that only came every other year. It was the apple of my children’s childhood, and a precious offering we shared with others.

For many years my neighbor tried grafting so he could propagate offspring from this ancient tree. It never took. Then I didn’t hear from him for a handful of years until the day I got a letter in the mail. He wrote that he had found other Baldwins and had successfully grafted them onto root stock, and was wondering if my husband and I would be willing to plant some of these tress on our land.

Besides our answer being a resounding yes, when he came up to bring the trees, it almost felt like we were adopting a baby from him. Not only did he have very clear conditions and instructions for the trees, he was very concerned about where they would go to insure they had a chance to survive the modernization of our world. At one point in the conversation, he told my husband he believed this was his purpose in life: To protect and continue the survival of this great tree.

This man is an exemplar of what it means to live with meaning and purpose. His actions were never based on what he was going to get out of all his efforts. His only drive being to answer a deep call from within. He is a wonderful living demonstration of how unique the expression of meaning and purpose can be in a person’s life. And my relationship to him and what I gained points to the unknowable and uncontrivable ripple effects our actions have on others when we find what we truly care about and live it all the way through.

None of this looks like, or “measures up to,” the criteria of our modern world where we have come to believe that for your life to have meaning and purpose, it must be about you and what you get. That you must have a million followers, that your efforts must be splashy, and that you must be ridiculously paid for what you offer to the world.

(The book I referenced is called The Psychology of Totalitarianism by Mattias Desmet)

The Way Of The Visionary

 

I am getting close to finishing an Energy Medicine training with The Four Winds Society, and while there has been so much I have learned, there have been a couple of teachings that have really stood out for me. One of which I would like to share here with you. That being, the power behind cultivating an orientation to Life that understands that we dream our world into being with what we think about, the quality of our emotions, and what it is that we repeat over and over again in our lives through what we say and do.

From the perspective of this tradition, dreaming the world into being is the way of the Visionary: The one who understands that the world is always showing us, always a reflection of, the quality and integrity of our internal states. Always mirroring to us the condition of our love and of our deepest intentions. As you can see, this has got nothing to do with what is “out there,” and everything to do with what is “in here.”

This is the opposite of the prevailing cultural attitudes and mandates that would say we have to go out there to make the changes we believe are necessary. The current paradigm would say we have to manage and control the behavior of others for us to feel safe. That we have to interfere with the ways of the natural world and other sovereign nations to make them come in line with our needs and ideologies. We can see this in the technologies being created to block the sun to avert climate disaster, the ways that we now believe we have a right to know other people’s health and medical choices so that we feel safe, along with all the ways that we interfere with other countries under the auspices of humanitarian involvement masking our less than agenda-free interests.

And while we would say that we must go outside of ourselves to fix, correct and change what we do not want, are afraid of, are not in line with our politics or are challenged by, is this the wisest course of action? Is it actually true that if we don’t do something “out there” that it will all fall into disarray? Or is this a mere projection out onto the world keeping us from dealing with what really needs to be dealt with? In other words, us, and the state of our own being.

With our focus on what needs to change “out there,” do we even know whether or not our actions are good and necessary ones? How could we even know the answer to this question if we are out of touch with our own inner workings around why we want what we want, or are afraid of what we are afraid of?

To have vision when it comes to what the world needs and would benefit from, is to first and foremost know yourself. What it is that makes you tick. What it is that you fear and fall victim to, and then project out onto the world at large. Basically, why it is that you do what you do, and want what you want. Why it is that you must have the world be a certain way.

If this make sense to you, try this: The next time you find yourself demanding that others, or the world at large, be a certain way, ask yourself, “Why do I need this to be so?” Repeat this question to yourself three times, giving yourself lots of space between each asking to feel into the answer. Let this question work on you in a deep way and watch how your first answer may be very different then your last one.

The world is in great need of visionaries at this time. Those of us clear enough and brave enough to recognize that everything we want in the world begins with a close and committed intimacy with our own thoughts, emotions, actions and beliefs. A dedicated and devoted practice to changing the one thing in life you actually have dominion over. Yourself.

Retreat

 

I am heading out for retreat on the day I am writing this, and it has got me thinking about a quote from Joseph Campbell. Years ago his words gave me permission to retreat; well before I could articulate what I was doing and why. The quote goes like this:

“This is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”

This is why I go away, and this is why I maintain a daily practice. Exactly because of what he wrote. The experience is not something you can read about, watch on Netflix or hear about from another. It is not always easy. It is not always popular. You run the risk of being labelled selfish or indulgent.

Most of all, you run the risk of discovering aspects of yourself that you may not want to know about. Qualities, thoughts and emotions that you have kept hidden from the world. Interestingly enough, at first it will seem like there are only dark things you keep hidden, but if you stick with it long enough, you come to see how you also hide your light, your gifts, your superpowers.

True retreat is not about distracting or indulging yourself. It is about one thing, and one thing only: Being with yourself through it all. Discovering the Truth of who and what you are. From this place, you are in a position to truly live. From this place, you are in a position to truly contribute.

Anything less is just a continuation of the same old, same old conditioning that has created the endless loop of suffering and misery we all struggle with. So why not take the chance of going off by yourself to see what there is to be discovered?