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?”

The Dark Demon of Despair

“Have you ever dealt with the dark demon of despair? Have you ever invited him to walk with you as you wend your way through life? Has he ever held your hand as you balanced on the razor’s edge of sanity and seduced you with his promises of oblivion?” ~ SSHenry

Sometimes the demon of despair doesn’t need an invitation.  Sometimes he just appears out of the clear blue and swoops you up before you have a chance to protest.  One minute you are on top of the world.  The next minute you’ve been dragged down into a morass of pain so deep that you are sure that you will never find a way out.

And sometimes; sometimes it seems that the only way to be rid of the pain is to stop living.

Yes, I know despair is not the usual topic for this time of the year.  Usually we focus on love and romance and the promise of spring, but here is the thing; there are people all around you who are grappling with this demon even as we speak.  Who knows, you may be one of them yourself.  And it is times of the year like this; holidays dedicated to love and family and having a positive outlook on life that can be the hardest for these people because it emphasizes everything that they do not (or that they no longer) have.

The reasons why any one of us may give in to this demon are as many and as varied as there are people in the world.  Perhaps you’ve lost someone close to you to death.  Perhaps you love has left you for someone else.  Perhaps you’ve received bad news regarding your job or your finances or your health.  Perhaps you have simply become jaded by life and no longer see the purpose of it all. Does it really matter?  If there is one thing about the demon, it is that he is an equal opportunity employer and absolutely no respecter of persons.

And while we may not be able to predict when this demon comes to call or just how hard he’ll impact us when he does, we do have a choice of whether or not we will give in to the despair that is his dark inheritance.

Yes.  There are going to be days when it seems that we cannot take a single more moment; moments that are so painful that the thought of bearing one more instant is physically painful.  But there is one way to ensure that the despair will not consume you entirely and that is to find your anchor of joy.

Your anchor of joy is what keeps you tethered to the knowledge that this clinging fog of doubt and depression is not the way it always was, nor the way it always will be.  And while it may seem impossible to remember the good times when the darkness threatens to swallow you whole, if you can find just one moment of joy in each day and hold that close to your heart, it can be enough to keep you alive.

It doesn’t have to be anything big.  Perhaps it is the contented purr of a cat, the vivid colors of a spectacular sunset, the overwhelming awesomeness of your favorite piece music or the simple beauty in a budding flower.  It may even be something more mundane like the deep robust scent of your coffee, the way the sun slants through your bedroom window or the feel of clean sheets against your skin.

Whatever it is that brings you that moment of joy, however brief, hold it close.  Hold it tight.  As you slog through the rest of your day; as the cold darkness of despair threatens to engulf you, focus on that moment.  Relieve it in your mind as many times as you need to and know that there is hope.

And one morning you will wake up to find that the one moment has become two, and then three and, before you know it they will have multiplied and you will have banished that cold dark demon from your life and will be living in the sunlight once again.

So don’t give up.  And if you know someone close to you that is wrestling with this particular demon, don’t give up on them.  Help them to find their anchor of joy.  You cannot find it for them, but you can help them to recognize it for what it is and encourage them to hold it close to their hearts and hold tight to the knowledge that there are brighter days to come.

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.

 

 

Always In Joy

Do you remember when you were a teenager; when there was a guy (or girl) that you really liked and who you wanted to notice you. Do you remember how you reacted?  Do you remember what you did?  Do you remember finding out everything you could about them and then getting interested in it yourself?  Sometimes you’d give up your own interests in order to pursue theirs in the hopes that by insinuating yourself into their world; by showing an interest in their interests, they’d be more likely to notice you.

Maybe it even worked.  Maybe they did notice you.  Maybe you hooked up and had an awesome time of it.  Perhaps for a while you felt like true soul mates; perfect for each other in every way.  But chances are that somewhere along the line something went horribly wrong.  There came a point when you realized that it was all about them.  Everything was about them; all of it; everything that you did together; everything that you talk about; everything that you ‘share’ is really all about them.  Well, of course it is.  You created it that way.   And chances are that you started to feel shorted; slighted even.  You may have even attempted to start introducing your own interests into the relationship in the hopes to correct the imbalance.

Then of course there were probably misunderstandings and miscommunications due to the fact that the other person simply could not comprehend what was happening.  Weren’t the pair of you happy?  Didn’t you both enjoy the same things; enjoy talking about them and spending time together doing them?  Weren’t they the same as they had always been?  Why was it suddenly that what they were giving you was no longer enough?  Why have you suddenly become so demanding and dissatisfied?

And that of course made things worse didn’t it?  Because how do you tell someone that your entire relationship was based on your desire to get them into your life in whatever way possible?  How do you explain that you were never entirely open with them; that when you met it wasn’t on equal terms because you didn’t want them to get scared off or to lose interest?  How do you explain that what you really wanted, more than anything – what you still want – was and is to have a relationship of equals; where both of you were interested in what made the other person tick, even if you didn’t necessarily share all of the same interests?

I know, I know, it seemed like the natural thing to do at the time.  After all, how could you possibly have known that you were selling yourself short in order to get their attention and bring them into your life?  It’s a very easy trap to slip into.  In fact, it’s so easy that chances are, if you stop and take a good hard look at your life right now and at the people in it, you will find that one or more of the relationships that you are currently in are based on the exact same principles as those high school relationships.

It doesn’t matter which side of the equation that you are on; whether you are one of those people who gave up their own interests in order to capture the attention of another person, or whether you were the one who was enamored by the person who seemed to fit your life so perfectly in every way.  Be honest with yourself – is this truly a relationship of equals?  Is it?  Because if it is not, a relationship of equals you need to brace yourself; you see, there will come a time when one or both of you will realize that the relationship is lopsided and will want to correct that imbalance.

Better to take the time now to find out what makes the other person tick; to make sure that you are giving – and receiving – equally then to wait for things to fall apart.  Hopefully you will find that openness and honesty with your partner are enough to clear things up and to recreate your relationship as a partnership of equals; individuals who are truly interested in each other and in where your personal and spiritual journeys are taking you.  If not, well, it is never too late to become the person that you were always meant to be; to take the steps you need to put yourself firmly on your own path to authenticity.

If your significant other chooses to join you, or at least support you in becoming that authentic self, fine and good, you have nothing to worry about and the journey will be a joyful one because you will have the support and company of the one with which you share your life; a choice that true soul mates (or soul mates destined to work together for long periods of time) will do.

If they are not interested in joining or supporting you, do not allow their incredulity or anger with the changes in you to halt your own development.  Do not force them.  Do not feel that you have to hold onto them.  If it makes them too uncomfortable, they will leave (physically or emotionally).  This is not a reflection on you, and it is not your fault if the relationship disintegrates.  It is their decision whether or not they wish to include the person you are becoming;  your authentic self;  in their own view of reality.

Who knows, your authentic self, your path, may not be the one that is right for them and they may feel that to join you or even support you is undermining their own integrity.  Do not fight this if it happens, and do not allow it to influence your own becoming.  If another person’s path leads them in a way that does not bring you joy you do not have to follow out of loyalty for the joy and purpose that you once shared.

Move forward in joy.  Always in joy, and always in the direction that makes your heart smile.

Soul On Fire

“What is your passion? What is it that consumes you and fills you with wonder? What is it which, while you are doing it sets your soul on fire? Do you know?  Good.  So what are you waiting for?” ~ SSHenry

Have you noticed that there are some things that set your soul on fire?  I’m not talking about the warm fuzzy feelings you get when you do something well or the low smolder of contentment when someone tells you how much they appreciate what you do or what a good job you’ve done. I’m not even talking about that glow that comes from connecting with someone or doing something that you find truly fascinating.

What I’m talking about are the full-on forest fires of passion.

The kind of intense heat that sears you from the inside out and fills your heart up with such wonder and awe and joy that you feel as if there is no possible way to contain it, only instead of spontaneously combusting the fires that fuel this passion sharpen your focus and bring out the very best of who and what you are.

Musicians will know exactly what I am talking about; the way that the music grabs you and pulls you in and fills your head and you know that you are playing the best you ever have but you couldn’t explain why or how – it just happens. You become the music.  You are the music.  There is no way to separate yourself from the rhythm; from the notes; from the melody that works its way into every particle of your being.

Artists too understand this passion, and writers; the way that you get caught up in the colors or shapes or words and how it is almost as if you are channeling something outside of yourself.  You are no longer in control of the brush; of the keyboard; it comes to life through your fingers. You look up from your canvass or computer screen to find that hours have gone by without your having the least awareness of it. For a brief time you become your work and when you emerge and look at what it is that you have done you can see your very soul worked into very brush stroke and woven into every word.

I’m not just talking about the zone; the moment described by many athletes where everything falls into place and their performance become effortless.  I’m talking about soul fire; about something which, while you are doing it, energizes you in a way that is impossible to understand unless you have experienced it.

But this feeling is not limited to athletics or the creative arts however.  It is just simpler to describe since artists physically channel this feeling into something tangible that can be appreciated by those around them.

In truth anyone who is in alignment with their authentic self and with who and what they really are – even if just for a moment – will feel this.  They don’t feel it just because they have worked hard and have acquired the skills needed to do the work but because this is who they are.

In spite of what you might think – you’ve felt this.  Even if you don’t have a creative bone in your body; even if you wouldn’t know how to hold a guitar if your life depended on it, you’ve felt it.  You’ve felt it in the sheer exhilaration you get when you are doing something you absolutely love; in the glory of a sunset or the feel of silk against your skin or when you lose yourself in the arms and heart and mind of someone close to you.

So think about it.  What is it that captures your heart and mind so completely that you forget who you are or what you are supposed to be doing?  What is it that sets your soul on fire?

Now, find a way to include in your daily routine; to work your joy into the life you have created for yourself and watch as your existence ignites into a wildfire of joy and passion beyond your wildest dreams.

Take My Breath Away

Sometimes the wonder and beauty of life can be so overpowering that it takes your breath away.  In those moments; in those pauses between heartbeats when the world holds its breath in ecstasy; the joy of being alive wells up from that quite place in the core of your innermost self and floods your body, mind and soul with wonder and, for an instant that contains an eternity, you have no choice but to believe in magic.”  ~ SSHenry

Sometimes the beauty of existence really is too much to take in at once.  Sometimes it is so beautiful that it makes your heart hurt.  Of course there are other times when you feel as if your heart is being ripped out of your chest and the pain of it is enough to make you want to die.

But even the pain doesn’t discourage most people from sampling all that life has to offer.  In fact, most people treat life as if it were an all-you-can-eat buffet.  They skim down the line taking samples and tastes of those things that interest them.  Sometimes they go back for seconds of something, but more often than not they try a small variety of things and call it a meal, and most tend to focus on those foods that they are comfortable with; foods that they have had before and enjoyed or that are filling or that at least didn’t disagree with them.

Interestingly enough there are seemingly only a limited people who choose to experience all of what life has to offer. Have you ever noticed that?  Look around you some time. How many people do you see that truly throw themselves into their lives with sheer unadulterated abandon and enjoyment?  How many people do you see that take advantage of everything life has to offer them; who jump at the opportunity to go to new places, meet new people and have new experiences?

Not many.  Most people manage to find a comfort zone; an area where they feel safe and protected; where they feel as if everything is as it should be, and there they stay.  They may include occasional forrays into areas that trigger awe or wonder, but for the most part they walk a fine line; an admirable and successful balancing act.

And yet there are thousands, maybe millions of people who each devote an entire lifetime to understanding just one little aspect of the wonder and awe of creation.  They become enamored by and immerse themselves in one small piece of the puzzle and focus on it to the exclusion of everything else.  It’s like going to the buffet and only ever eating macaroni and cheese or spaghetti even though there are dozens of dishes available to choose from.

Don’t get me wrong.  It is important that we have those who can understand each of these interlocking pieces of creation.  The knowledge and expertise of those who study just one area or who devote their time and efforts to adding to one particular field are to be commended.  Their knowledge and expertise is priceless in the grand scheme of things, but I have to wonder how they do it.  Their ability to focus on their one particular area to the exclusion of all others never ceases to amaze me.

Try as I might, I simply can’t focus on one aspect; one piece, one part of the picture; I never could.  It’s not that I get distracted and can’t, but there is so much out there; so many beautiful and wonderful things vying for my attention; so many things begging to be understood and experienced that it seems a waste to focus on only one aspect to the exclusion of all others.

And so it is that I find myself sampling everything. Yeah, I’m one of those buffet eaters who will go down the line taking a sample of everything just because it’s there, especially if it is a dish that I have never tried before.

I actually had someone tell me once that they didn’t know how I did it.  They couldn’t understand how I could have so many home improvement, gardening and organizational projects going all at once while simultaneously running my own business and keeping up with all of my other interests like playing the piano, writing, singing, learning guitar, painting, photography and reading nearly 200 books a year (yes, I do read that many, I’ve counted them).  They told me that they couldn’t imagine doing all of that, that it would give them a headache to even imagine doing it.

I don’t remember now exactly what I said to them.  I hope it was something nice, or at least polite.  What I do remember is being astounded when they said that they felt uncomfortable doing more than one or two extracurricular things at a time.  That they read at most a dozen books in a year and most of those were fiction.

To me the idea that there can only be one or two interests outside of your work and family (and those interests usually related somehow to the work that you do) was as baffling as my seemingly mish mash of a life was to them.

Now this in no way means that either of us is “right” in our approaches.  I mean, without those dedicated to one particular aspect of creation there wouldn’t be nearly as many things for me to learn; not nearly as many fascinating books to read.  As I said before, I admire their ability to focus; the dedication and commitment that they show to their work and the passion they bring to their area of expertise.

It also doesn’t mean that those who are only comfortable with one or two extra activities or those who aren’t big fans of reading don’t have a lot to contribute to our world.  In fact, chances are that they’ve got more to contribute than I ever will.  The house they built, the car they put together with their own two hands, the awesome food they cook that makes me drool when I smell it; I can’t hope to compete with that.

But man oh man; what I can do is to stop worrying about what other people think about the life I life.  So they may not be ready to live the way I do – to experiences that I do. In fact, chances are that they have found their comfort zone regardless of whether they are focusing on one particular field or whether they have struck their own kind of balance between those activities and interests that appeal to them.  This too is not “wrong,” it is simply how they choose to live their lives. But it is not how I choose to live mine.

I can’t.

I take one look at the buffet life has put in front of me and I have to try it all, or as much as I can get my hands on (and there are always those few people who seem to be hogging certain sections of the buffet, aren’t there?).  I’m not saying that I pig out.  I am not addicted to any one thing (such as food or sex or shopping, extreme sports or other addictive activities)  I simply have to sample everything, even if it is only a taste.

Hell, sometimes I don’t even eat it; I simply put it on my plate so that I can admire it for its sheer aesthetic beauty because you see, I never know what is going to trigger that breathtaking moment of awe and wonder; that sudden sweep of sensation that floods you with wonder and makes the magic of life come alive and there is something; something that drives me to experience that moment over and over again and in as many ways as is humanly possible.

Come to think of it, maybe I’m not as different from those who dedicate their entire life to one area of research as I originally thought.

 

Soaring Into the Storm

God I love a thunderstorm.

No, let me correct that – I love the build up to a thunderstorm; the roiling black clouds that build up on the horizon, the increasing pressure in the air, the heady scent of ozone and the wind as it starts gusting through my yard making the roses toss their heads; shaking off random petals and the trees to turn their leaves inside out as if they were opening up invisible umbrellas.

I’m in luck then, because ‘tis the season’ in my part of the country; the season when it seems that we have a thunderstorm nearly every day, and that is just fine by me!  In fact, its times like this when I find myself heading out of doors where I can kick off my shoes and feel the answering energy coming up through the ground; an energy that is reflected in the bolts of lightning that light up the underside of those dark clouds on the horizon.

Today I was already out of doors; clipping dead heads off of the wild climbing roses that cover the side of my house when I noticed the light beginning to grow dim and the temperature begin to drop as the wind picked up and began whipping my hair into my face.  As if on cue with the first gust of wind from nearly directly overhead I heard the cry of a hawk and immediately looked up, trying to zero in on its location.

Almost directly overhead; flying just beneath the building storm clouds (just where the storm clouds overlapped with the still clear sky) were a number of hawks – at least half a dozen of them.  They were riding the clashing air currents in the most beautiful balletic movements; not one flapping of a wing, simply soaring; wings outstretched; from current to current; rising in the thermal updrafts before plunging and gliding and catching the next updraft. It literally took my breath away.

I stood there, pruning shears in hand, and found myself crying at the beauty of it; for the absolute freedom of the hawks and their unadulterated joy in riding the currents; crying for those of us who are continually flapping our wings – focused on our goals; determined to get somewhere – sometimes anywhere other than where we are – and in so doing fail to take advantage of the opportunities that we are being presented with right here and now; failing to appreciate beauty and mystery that surround us in every moment no matter where we find ourselves.

So many of us find ourselves confronted with an approaching storm; with imminent change; with situations that fall outside of our comfort zone and so, scared to death, we fight it; flapping our wings wildly against the insistent currents of change and updrafts of opportunity; determined that we are going to get to where we have decided to go instead of allowing the universe to move us in the direction that is best for our spiritual growth and evolution.

If only we would stop fighting; stop flapping; and simply let ourselves soar; riding the currents of change with pure, unadulterated joy; trusting that the storm front is there for a reason and that it will take us to where we need to go.