Toothpaste and Mud Puddles

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Have you ever had a moment of such incredible happiness that you found yourself wondering “what did I do to deserve this?”  I have.  And that one question my friends, is a clear cut example of what a twisted culture we live in. You see, happiness is not something that you deserve.  It is not something that you can earn or that you acquire either by earning enough brownie points with a qualified deity or by collecting the appropriate number of box tops.  Happiness is something we are.  In fact, it is our default state.

Don’t believe me?  Spend some time around small children some time.  I’m not talking about school aged kids who are already knee deep in learning how to envy those around them for the things that they don’t have or for getting the ‘good’ seat on the bus.  I mean small children; babies and toddlers.

The average toddler has a better grasp on happiness than most adults on this planet.  Of course they haven’t yet developed reasoning or social skills and have more energy than the average power plant on a high production day and sometimes still have to wear diapers, but if you spend any length of time around them you will notice that when it comes to happiness, they’ve got it nailed down.  Their whole being radiates with happiness because they are entirely focused on whatever it is that they are doing; watching a caterpillar balance on a twig, jumping into mud puddles, watching a kitten play, squeezing all of the toothpaste out of the tube.

We have forgotten how to do this.  We have forgotten how to be happy.  We have forgotten how to radiate happiness with every particle of our being.  We have forgotten the joy of watching all that toothpaste curl out onto the counter.

We go along, day after day, year after year focused on our education, on our work, on providing for our families and on juggling bills.  And while that, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, when we begin putting aside our own happiness in order to better focus on these “more important” things we lose the knowledge of what it means to be completely and blissfully happy.

Humans are social animals.  They want to fit in.  They want to belong.  For millennia like-minded individuals have created villages and towns and cities and religions. They have created clubs and teams and organizations so that they could come together and socialize; interact; share their experiences as humans.

In a world that is marked by suburban sprawl and almost wholly bereft of any sort of social or cultural opportunities that you used to find regularly wherever there were large groups of people. This is why the concept of social media is so very addictive; it allows individuals all over the world to “belong” and to interact with other individuals.

While the concepts of “belonging” and “fitting in” are natural and part of the nature of things, it comes at a price.  The price can be steep, for many times a group or religion or organization has strict rules and regulations, things that you have to or cannot do in order to belong.  And so, in order to be accepted we give up pieces of ourselves; our individuality; pieces of who and what we truly are in order to conform to the acceptable standards of the group or organization.  Many times we give up the things that made us happy in order to be accepted by others.  We then have to spend years – sometimes entire lifetimes attempting to understand why it is that we are so unhappy and attempting to find happiness again, albeit within the structures of our adopted social group, which of course means that many people have and will continue to die unhappy and unfulfilled.

So how can we be happy again?  How can we possibly regain that selfless joy, that innate wonder of the world around us; the supreme happiness of jumping in the mud puddles; the sheer bliss of watching that toothpaste curl out onto the bathroom counter?

The first order of business is to accept that happiness is not an “earned” condition.  You are happiness.1

The second order is to remember what it is that makes you happy and do it.  Have you always loved the color and texture of paintings?  Pick up some small canvases and paints at a craft shop and try your hand at putting images on paper.  Playing in the dirt?  Try digging up a small square of yard for a garden, or plant flowers or vegetables in a pot if you live in an apartment.  Playing in tidal pools?  Try setting up a small aquarium.  Rainbows?  Hang prisms in any window that gets direct sunlight.

Thirdly; don’t apologize for being yourself.  Don’t beat yourself up if others laugh at you for going out in the rain without an umbrella, for blowing bubbles on the bridge during rush hour, for dancing madly to your favorite song when it comes on the radio, or laying out on the hillside to see the shapes in the clouds.

And finally, if you find someone with whom you can be completely and totally yourself, who not only enjoys your myriad facets but is aware of their own and who is not afraid to be themselves, cherish them, they are a rare gift, and believe me, the happiness that you will take in seeing each other’s total authenticity will be so incandescent that whenever you are tempted to think “what did I do to deserve this” you will instead find yourself thinking “what on earth took me so long to realize the truth?”

Joy to the World and Pass the Eggnog!

 

I don’t know about you, but this time of the year can be stressful for anyone who celebrates the season.  In fact, there are days when I feel that Ebenezer Scrooge had it right before the spirits ever got a hold of him, particularly the part where he tells the gentlemen collecting for the poor that “I wish to be left alone!”

Just think of all of the things that you are ‘expected’ to do.  There is the holiday decorating and the baking, the gift buying and wrapping and party planning.  Then there are the concerts and end of school performances and recitals and drama productions and work parties and neighborhood celebrations, church celebrations and the addressing of about a million greeting cards and all of this in the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

With so much to do and so little time to do it in (not to mention even less time to actually kick back and relax) is it any wonder why so many people get so stressed out?

Here is a question for you.  With all the expectations attached to the holiday season, is it possible to live authentically; to be exactly whom and what you are in spite of everything that you are expected to do?

The answer, of course, is yes.

No, this doesn’t mean that you have to become a Scrooge and lock yourself away behind walls of cynicism for the duration of the holiday season. What it does mean is that you take a good hard look at those responsibilities and activities that you have agreed to take part in and ask yourself whether or not they bring you joy.

If they DO bring you joy, then by all means keep them!  Yes, I know that baking four dozen cupcakes for your child’s end of school winter holiday party may not be a joyful experience in and of itself, but the look on their face when you walk into their classroom with the cupcakes may be worth every moment you spent in the kitchen.

On the other hand, if you find yourself dreading the very thought of attending one more Messiah sing along, then don’t go!  There is nothing that says that you have to say yes to every invitation issued during this time of the year.  There is nothing that says that you have to bake all of your sugar cookies from scratch.  There is nothing that says that you have to reciprocate every gift you receive with another of equal or greater value.

What it takes is weighing each agreement that you make; every invitation that you accept against how much joy it will bring into your life.

Does that sound selfish? Perhaps in a way it is.  After all, at this time of the year especially we are encouraged to think of others first; to put our own wants and needs aside in order to provide for the needs and wants of others.  But what never fails to astonish me is how anyone can expect that a person can keep giving and giving without every running out of energy.  It can’t be done.

In order to care for others we must first take care of ourselves, and one of the most effective ways to do this is to pay attention to our joy.  If everything that we do comes from our heart and brings us joy and happiness then each thing that we do for others – which we WANT to do for others – each thing we do for someone else that brings us joy will be magnified tenfold.

It won’t be how much we do, but the quiet intent; the joy inherent that will fill up our lives, and our hearts this holiday season and every day of the year to come.

 

 

How to Be Happy

“Happiness is not something that someone hands you, like a sweater or a scarf.  It’s not something that you find hanging on some random hook and which can be ripped off of you by ill-intentioned people or ripped when it catches on a thorn of meanness or misunderstanding.  Happiness is something that you ARE not something that is done to you.  It’s like drinking a glass of water.  Once that water is inside of you it can’t be taken away.  It becomes a part of your body finding its way into every cell and molecule.  Of course you do have to choose to drink the water in order to reap its benefits.”  ~ SSHenry

Are you happy?

No, seriously.  Are you happy?  Do you wake up in the morning with a smile on your face and hope in your heart?  Does your unfettered enthusiasm for life fallow you through the day and spill over onto those around you without you even trying?  Do you see the good in everything and hope for the best in every situation no matter how grim the circumstances may seem?

Yes, I know, I’ve just defined an optimist (or, as some people tend to call them, a Pollyanna).  You know the story of Pollyanna don’t you?  It is the story of a little girl who had every reason in the world to be unhappy.  She was an orphan.  She was sent to live with a cold and unfeeling aunt.  She didn’t fit in with anyone around her.  And yet, she always saw the good in everything to the point that she nearly drove everyone around her crazy with her relentless upbeat attitude.  People actually got upset with her because she was always so positive about everything.  This is probably because they have no idea what happiness actually is.

“Happiness isn’t optimism” a friend told me once when the topic came up in conversation.   But he was wrong.  Well.  Not totally wrong.  Unlike optimism which tends, at least in most people, to be a conscious choice (choosing to see the good in every situation), happiness is something that you are.  You don’t choose to see the best in every situation; you just see the best in every situation.  You don’t choose to be enthusiastic, you are enthusiastic.  You don’t choose to follow your joy, you are your joy.  This happiness radiates from every pore in your body because it is part and parcel of who and what you are.   Of course, before you can BE happy, you have to CHOOSE to be happy.

Confused yet?  It’s really not as difficult as it may seem.

You see, happiness is not something that someone hands you, like a sweater or a scarf.  It’s not something that you find hanging on some random hook and which can be ripped off of you by ill-intentioned people or ripped when it catches on a thorn of meanness or misunderstanding.  Happiness is something that you ARE not something that is done to you.  It’s like drinking a glass of water.  Once that water is inside of you it can’t be taken away.  It becomes a part of your body finding its way into every cell and molecule.  Of course you do have to choose to drink the water in order to reap its benefits  and there are always those who would rather let themselves become dehydrated rather than deal with the “sloshy” feeling that comes from a surfeit of joy and contentment, and this is where the concept of happiness being a choice comes in.

Like choosing to drink the water, if you choose happiness it becomes a part of you; diffusing through every system and cell in your body making everything run smoother and more efficiently.   It’s true!  The happier you are; the more enthusiastic and positive you are about what is happening in your life and the more content and productive you will be.

No, this does not mean that you ignore the bad things that happen around you or the mean and hurtful things that are said or done to you or even how much pressure is being put on you to accomplish certain things within a certain timeframe.  It simply means that once you have drunk from this fountain of happiness; once you have chosen to make it a part of you, you understand that there is nothing outside of yourself that can take it away from you.

No matter what is happening.  No matter what is being said.  No matter what is being done; you are happy.  This happiness may not always express itself in unbridled enthusiasm or excitement; it may at times simply be a core of peace and contentment that burns steady and bright inside of your heart keeping you warm even in the coldest of times.  But it is there, and it can make all the difference.

The Empty Shell

“You can’t ask a butterfly to scrunch herself back into her chrysalis or to go back to being a caterpillar just because you’d gotten used to her like that.  What’s worse is when you try to get her to go back because you fear the freedom given to her by her wings.”  ~SSHenry

There are some experiences; some moments in time; that change your life forever.  Perhaps for you it was a major life event such as the birth of a child, the death of a loved one or a close call that shook you right down to the foundations of your soul.  Or maybe it wasn’t a large event at all.  Maybe it was something much more subtle such as a kind word spoken when it was most needed; the touch of a lover’s hand or a breeze that not only ruffled your hair but stirred up something deep down inside you that simply could not be contained.

I’ve had many life-changing moments.  All of us have.  Sometimes it seems as if these moments come so thick and fast that they threaten to overwhelm you.  At other times you feel as if your entire life is on “pause” and all of the moments having stepped out for a drink or something.   At some points in your life it is as if the moments of realization and wonder and change are so few and far between that you’ve pretty much forgotten what they are like before the next one begins to play itself out and have to remind yourself what exactly it is that you are dealing with each time you encounter it.

My most recent (and not surprisingly most profound) life-changing moment to date came the moment that I walked into my house after a two month absence and realized that there was no way that I could go back to being the person I had been when I walked out that door eight weeks earlier.

The details as to why I ended up gone for two months (illness in the family) or what happened while I was gone are not important.  Yes, I had some interesting experiences while I was off on my own for two months dealing with unexpected issues and meeting people I might not otherwise have encountered. But what really matters is that for two solid months I was detached from the life that I had been living up until that moment.

For two months I was separated from all of the small niggling everyday details that we label “reality” and which demand our attention and catch us up in layers upon layers of drama and expectation; layers that we gladly pull around us like a cloak and call “life.”

For two months I was free of those layers.  Getting rid of them was not pleasant. They got stripped away from me rudely leaving me rather raw and feeling as if I had been flayed alive and then washed down in salt water and I felt as if was being completely inundated with issues and problems and responsibilities that I really didn’t want to deal with at that moment in time.

But the point is that for two months I was not just a wife.  Nor was I just a mother or a daughter taking care of her own mother.  For two solid months – I was me.

Just me.

I was not free of obligations or responsibilities (caring for a sick family member brings with it its own responsibilities and expectations).  But for two months I was free of the obligations and responsibilities and expectations in which I had wrapped myself up for the last 22 years; those responsibilities and expectations that come from being a wife and mother and homemaker extraordinaire.

For two solid months was completely and totally myself.

It dawned on me as I was driving home, to wonder just how I would ever be able to go back to living my old life.  But when I pulled into the driveway and saw my house for the first time in eight weeks; when I walked through the door and took one look around me, I knew that it was patently impossible.

I can’t go back to the way things were; ever.  The person who lived that life is gone.

I could feel the shell of her; that old me; waiting for me around every corner.  “Come on” she whispered, holding out the old life as if it were a soft but comfortable pair of sweat pants. “Don’t you want to slip back into this?  This is where you are comfortable.  This is where you belong.  Life doesn’t get any better than this.”

“Oh yes it does sweetheart” I whispered back “you have NO idea!”

You see, the old life has a lot going for it.  There are many things that I would like to keep and incorporate into my new reality, but not if it means having to go back to being the person that I was.  The person I have become cannot possibly fit into that old skin. Not without giving up who and what I have become.

It would be like asking a butterfly to scrunch back into her chrysalis.  Or better yet, to turn back time and become a caterpillar again.  It’s not going to happen.  I could pretend, but I’m tired of pretending.

I am simply going to be myself.

My whole self.

I will start again.  Here.  Now.  As myself.  If that is not enough, or more likely if that is too much, then so be it.  I have wings now baby. There’s no reason for me to go back to crawling when I can fly.

Living in the Moment

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.  ~Buddha

When I first heard the phrase “living in the moment” I found myself laughing sadly and shaking my head at the gullible fools who would buy into something so inane.  Live in the moment?  What fool would settle for living in the moment?  Man oh man, talk about boring!

I didn’t want to live in the moment.  What I wanted was to live my dreams, to achieve my goals; to make something of myself so that when I died the world would remember me!  Forget about this living in the moment stuff. Obviously it was a cop out by those who hadn’t done anything with their lives; people who perhaps had once dreamed big but who had failed to follow through and were now regretting it; something to fall back on in order to make themselves feel better.

I knew better.  I knew that if you wanted to be anything in life; if you wanted to make something of yourself, you had to remain in control; not only of yourself but of everyone and everything around you.  Leaving anything up to chance was just plain foolishness.

If you wanted to get anywhere in life you needed to focus on your goals and break your projects down into small steps that you could accomplish and then, when all of the steps were completed, presto, your goal would be achieved.  Well, that was the plan.  And hey, it worked for businesses, why not for me?

There was just one problem. The goals that I had set for myself were not in alignment with my soul purpose.  Hell, I didn’t even know what my soul purpose was.  I had created a nice neat fiction for my life; a belief that when I attained a specific level of financial security or professional achievement that I would, at last, be happy. Well, that was the plan anyway.

And so it was that even when I had achieved each goal there was always something missing.  It was like baking a cake.  I’d followed the steps – added all of the ingredients in the proper order – and had a perfect cake sitting in front of me, but even though it looked perfect, it didn’t taste quite right.  What had I done wrong?

Over time, however, I have discovered something; I found out what was missing, and it was far simpler than I could have imagined and all the more difficult because of that to implement.  What I was missing was living (dare I say it?) in the moment; enjoying what I had already achieved without the expectation of what came next; of what I could do better next time around.

For all of my lists and my schedules; for all of my hopes and dreams and plans; for all of my visualization and projection; without being able to step aside and get out of my own way I ended up with a picture perfect cake that had little if any flavor.

This isn’t to say that we can’t dream.

This isn’t to say that visualization will not bring you your heart’s desire.

All this means is that we need to take the time – right now – to enjoy the moment that we spent all of our yesterday’s dreaming of and visualizing.  It is the enjoyment of the moment that we have created that brings us the flavor of our days. And it is here, in the quiet of appreciation and the letting go of expectation where we will find that happiness has been waiting patiently for us all along.

 

 

Living In The Moment

To take each day as it comes

To live each moment as it arrives

To hope for nothing

To fear nothing

To expect nothing

Makes each moment a priceless gift;

A gift from the universe

Straight to your heart

A gift to be treasured and adored

A gift to be enjoyed, experienced

And then released.

~SSHenry

 

The Hive Has You!

Forget the Matrix.  It is the Hive that has you!

Ah, the idealization of bees. What a simple life they live; born with a purpose etched into their very fabric of being, a bee never questions its lot in life (well, not unless it’s a Disney bee, but that’s a whole different breed).  It simple does what it does, devoting its life to the hive and never questioning what it is that it was meant to do.

But when it comes right down to it, it is hard to be a bee. For one it’s a short life.  The lifespan of the average honey bee is only 28-35 days.  That’s it.  That is the lifespan of a worker honey bee. From the time the adult bee emerges from its larval cocoon a bee has roughly a month to live, and what does it do with its life?  It collects nectar which is turned into honey or pollen which is then turned into bee pollen or royal jelly.  The honey is collected to see the hive through the winter; the bee pollen and royal jelly is to feed the young bees that will soon be taking over the jobs of the current crop of workers.

From an individual perspective the bee doesn’t do much with its life at all. But from the hive’s perspective, the life of each individual bee is incredibly important with each bee’s role as a worker vitally important to maintain the life of the hive, and there is nothing that is seemingly more of an anathema to today’s humans than the thought that they might be living the life of a bee; working for the greater good of some larger group purpose and without the benefit of developing an individual identity or having a life to show for all of the hard work that they do.

There have been science fiction movies made about hive mentalities; horror stories where a person is absorbed into a larger consciousness and looses their independence and individuality, becoming a mindless automaton with no thought in their head except to conform to the expectations of their society.

There is just one problem.  We are already there, and most people don’t see it as a horror story at all.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, we have the illusion of freedom and independence and individuality; lots of choices of things to buy and entertainments to pursue and even of religions to follow; but just try doing something outside of the accepted parameters and see just how far you get before you are removed from the hive, or at least banished to the fringes where you don’t have the opportunity to take part in the active life of the community.

But even the thought of a society that has relegated us all to the status of worker bees; locked into our lives and expected to work tirelessly as productive members of society until we drop and are replaced with others; even that is not the true horror. The true horror is that we’ve chosen this. No, we haven’t just chosen it.  We’ve created it.  We wanted it.

We wanted it so badly that we willingly established rules and regulations and political procedures to keep it in place; we’ve created an education system that encourages young people to give up their individuality and creativity in exchange for economically productive jobs that they detest but that will pay the bills.  We’ve encouraged a society where productivity and usefulness is measured by one’s paycheck and one’s purchasing power.

It would be different if, instead of a hive mentality, we had chosen instead to establish a system of community; a society where each individual is accepted and valued for their uniqueness and their contribution to the richness and diversity of the whole.  In that sort of a society working for the good of the whole is not something to be feared; it is not something that will strip you of your energy and your individuality and leave you lying all alone in the mud when your economic usefulness to the society is at an end.  Instead it will encourage and promote individuality and creativity as the building blocks of a truly productive society; one that values all of its members for what they bring to the table, regardless of how large or small of a role they play.

Then again, just because we’ve lived in the hive does not mean that we have to die there.  Maybe it’s time for the bees to leave the square boxes of hives and designated Queens that have been provided for them by societal expectations and to establish the kind of thriving bee community that would make Disney proud.

The Lesson of the Red Rain Boots

“Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby”

~ Langston Hughes

When my daughters were small, I remember a day when I had taken them out for lunch.  While we were inside eating it started to rain.  This wasn’t just a pleasant summer afternoon rain shower, but a full-on wash-the-skies-clean kind of torrential rain; the kind that leaves everything soggy for hours afterwards; even the air.

It was still raining (though not quite so hard) by the time we left the restaurant and both of my girls were squealing in delight at the sheer number of puddles in the parking lot.  Some of the puddles, I noticed, were as large as small ponds, and probably just as deep.

Pausing to open my umbrella after a warning to both of the girls about keeping their feet dry, I let go of my youngest daughter’s hand for an instant, and a moment later she was knee deep in a puddle, giggling madly and splashing like a duck.  With a cry of warning I snatched her out; wrung out her dress as you would a washcloth and, after admonishing both of them (again) to stay out of the puddles because we had a long ride in the car ahead of us, we slowly made our way to the car; navigating around puddles and trying for the dry spots. Or rather I was trying for the dry spots.  Both of my daughters were angling for the puddles and my shoulders were starting to get sore from pulling them back.

We were about halfway across the parking lot when I noticed a brightly colored figure headed in our direction.  It was a woman; an old woman.  With her pure white nimbus of hair and a face lined in a thousand wrinkles, she looked like one of those dried apple head dolls that the pioneers used to make.  But it wasn’t her age that caught my attention, nor was it her attire (she was dressed in a bright yellow rain slicker, red rain boots, a purple rain hat).  What caught my attention was that she was making a point not to avoid the puddles, but to jump in them.

I stood there – stunned; unable to tear my eyes away, though I could see from the corner of my eye that both of my girls were watching her with absolute awe and rapture.

Finally, when her puddle jumping brought her to within a few feet of where I stood, she realized that there was someone in front of her and paused in her puddle jumping long enough to look up and meet my eye.  The stunned expression on my face must have amused her, because she grinned from ear to ear and then threw her head back and laughed like a loon.

“Aw sweetie,” she said to me finally – a grin still in her voice – it’s not as bad as all that.  Really, I’ve been waiting all my life to do this!  You’ll see.  One day you’ll jump in the puddles too.”  And then, with another grin for me and a wave for the girls, she had passed us, and life went back to normal. Well, almost normal.  I didn’t have the heart to keep the girls out of the puddles after that, and it was a long and soggy trip home.

But even now, years later I can’t get that woman and her bright red rain boots out of my mind, for how far do most of us go to avoid what we perceive as the negative things in our lives?

Honestly, I know that dealing with negative people and negative situations is unpleasant – and something most of us will avoid like the plague if given the chance, but how do we know that those puddles of negativity haven’t been put in our way for a reason? How do we know that we aren’t supposed to go through them instead of around them?

Who knows, those puddles might not even have been put in our way for our own experience.  Maybe, just maybe, someone on the other side of the parking lot is watching us; someone who has been avoiding negative situations of their own because they don’t have the courage to face them.

And maybe, just maybe, when they see you splashing through those problems in your red rain boots and laughing like a loon, they’ll find the courage to do something that they’ve never thought possible.