"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: happiness

posterity and the moment. . .

IM000281_2If you have had a chance to read my recent posts about being in the here and now, you will have gathered that according to Buddhist ideas, there is only happiness within, found in a present moment. In the past few days, I’ve gathered more books from the library about happiness-Buddhism-Asian thought and am struck by how often numbers play a role in scaling the sheer wall of enlightenment (although it’s not supposed to be linear, remember?)

One book by Thich Nhat Hanh, “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching” presents us with a dizzying number of things to understand and follow:

– “the twelve turnings of the wheel”

-“the noble eightfold path”

-“the three Dharma seals”

-“the three doors of liberation”

-“the three bodies of Buddha”

-“the three jewels”

-“the five aggregates”

-“”the five powers”

-“the six Paramits”

-“The seven factors of awakening”

“the twelve links of interdependent co-arising”

Honestly, I couldn’t read it after awhile.

Then I took out Deepak Chopra’s book from the library entitled “The Ultimate Happiness Prescription – 7 keys to joy and enlightenment.” At the end of each chapter, Chopra includes a reminder entitled: “To activate the (Sixth) key in everyday life, I promise myself to do the following.” This format and approach seemed like an ultra-linear approach to seeking happiness by following seven steps.

Finally, I took out what appeared to be the most readable book of all, a book of Zen koans called, “One Hand Clapping.” Laid out like colorfully illustrated Aesop’s Fables, I could glean some understanding of the oftentimes inchoate-seeming world of Asian philosophy.

So, there you go: from the myriad multiple-ness of innumerable tenets and a seven-step rather than a twelve-step (alcoholics anonymous) recipe or prescription for happiness, we land onto some koans that illustrate how to listen to one-hand clapping.

I am not making fun of Buddhism. I am just describing the observations that I’ve had trying to see the forest for the trees as I try to make my way out of the woods of so many numbered items having to do with happiness or enlightenment. It is mind-boggling.

Despite this, I have experienced something in the last few days by being ONLY present in the moment, not allowing myself to be seduced into thinking about the past NOR worrying about the future. What looked like a steep precipice of “what-ifs” turned out to be nothing at all, especially since everything having to do with the outcome was out of my hands. I could do nothing about it but to wait. And it was the quality of the waiting that had transformed into equanimity: I waited not in obsessive worry which is what I might have done before, but behaved in an accommodating and calm manner. It was transformative.

I’ve also been thinking about old age and posterity a lot. I don’t know what made me think of it but it occurred to me recently that people usually don’t get a chance to see their children in old age. It’s usually just the other way around: children get to see their parents grow old but we parents usually don’t get to see our kids in their seventies–not unless we live beyond our early nineties.

So, with the march of time, parents die usually when their children are middle-aged or approaching their sixties. Not often are parents still living when their children reach seventy and beyond. So, there’s usually not much chance to take care of our kids when they’ve gotten to be as old as we are now, the way that they take care of us now. See what I mean?

You may not think this to be a very interesting observation. But the truth of the matter is that as my daughter takes care of me by writing emails to me in the morning before she leaves for school to teach her classes, stays in touch with me when she is away on trips by sending me photos or by our mutual taking care of each other by sharing socks, down vests and jewelry that we both enjoy; I probably won’t be around when she’s reached my age. I hope that the younger generation of nieces will be as thoughtful and tender towards her as she is to me now.

In any case, how is this all related?

I’ve learned how to be in the moment, breaking old patterns of worry about the future and consciously avoiding a pointless waste of psychic energy worrying about things outside of my control. So all that reading had to do some good, right?

Second, I realized that what is most precious appears in very small things: daily emails, a shared photo or two, a pair of socks. These are moments of happiness, guys. That’s right. It’s that simple.



“happyness” . . .


I’ve been thinking about happiness lately.

Someone I’ve known for a long time whose personality was usually kind of prickly is newly very happy. She’s given up jobs that were stressful and is now able to devote all her time to doing only what she loves doing. She’s fortunate because she’s in good health, doesn’t have to worry about money and she’s made choices that have allowed her to have what she’s wanted for a long time after some false starts.

Someone else I know has recently just had a birthday and is grateful and so happy with her life: her partner, daughter, family and friends. The joy in their family is palpable while doing simple things like baking a cake together and having an indoor picnic of sandwiches to celebrate a birthday.

Josie cake 2So, what makes people happy? Being able to do what you want to do most of the time? Not worrying about money? Being with people who are sufficient in and among themselves in relationships that are joy-giving?

Speaking of joy-giving, my husband, G. and I are not doing such a great job of it here. My recovery from a bad ankle injury in February is on a plateau while I learn how to use my foot to drive and walk again with a crutch, going to rehab once a week. Our mobility or lack of it is compounded by G.’s back injury a few weeks ago which has failed to relieve itself after twice-weekly chiropractor appointments. Yesterday was the first time that he was able to have an actual adjustment to his back. There’s a little improvement which is heartening but there’s still a long way to go, it seems.

Honestly, we’re pretty cranky. With each other and with a world that I thought we’d be able to avoid for awhile at least: not being able to carry things up and down three flights of stairs (like groceries and doing laundry.) Having to phone and ask people for help to do things that we would normally be able to do ourselves.

One of the things I’d like to do this summer is to cull out things and give them away (things stacked in closets and books to the library):  a BIG clean-out instead of the timid forays that I’ve managed to carry out so far. But it requires getting some empty boxes from the liquor store to pack books in; having a strong person carry them back downstairs and load them into the car on a Wednesday when I can drive them to the library on a donation day or to Goodwill on other days.

I guess the other thing is my acute awareness of how much verbal complaining can taint my perception of the quality of how we spend our day. In an ideal world, there would be so much compassion for someone’s suffering that it wouldn’t bother me as much as it does. But it’s an imperfect world. Looking around me, I can’t think of a real reason why I shouldn’t be feeling more happy than I do right now. After all, I have a good book to read, there’s fresh food in the fridge for dinner and maybe I will start sorting things out in advance of getting some help to cart things away.

This weekend, I’m looking forward to driving up to the ocean town we visited for my granddaughter’s high school graduation last week and having lunch with an old acquaintance. I’ve already looked at the menu and might order a lobster mac and cheese and share a beet salad. For dinner, we might try out a local Portuguese restaurant called the Azorean that specializes in dishes made with calamari and octopus!

The other thing I have in my mind is to ask myself what it is that might make me feel happy again. Somehow, there must be a way to insulate myself from things that annoy me so much and to neutralize my irritation with our situation. I think that part of what’s bothering me is the undeniable fear that our joint helplessness is a sign of age and that things will get progressively worse rather than better. Writing this post has been helpful in excavating that anxiety from the darker recesses of my mind and bringing it forth to the light of my consciousness.

After all, I could also decide that perhaps it’s not all that bad if we consider this phase as being temporarily handicapped, rather than a permanent condition. As usual, everything depends upon what attitude we take about things. I’ll have to do some work on mine, that’s for sure!




“joie de vivre!” . . .

DSC_0497Recently, I’ve been amusing myself by keeping up with the engagement news of Amal Alamuddin and George Clooney. Notice I put her name first. Whether or not the public is fascinated by the fact that he seems gaga in love and wants to marry her is one thing. I, on the other hand, am entranced by how attractive and together she looks in the photos of her dressed up to go back to work in London. Reportedly, she had her hair and nails done at the John Frieda salon there. Clooney, reportedly, is joining her in London to look for a place to live “so that she can continue her international law career.”

That’s nice, but with the strong human rights interest they share politically, the sky’s the limit on what they might do together: a new Brad-Angelina humanitarian dynamic duo. In my mind, he’s perhaps as lucky if not luckier than she is that they are together, the bling ring, not withstanding. And it sounds like they will be getting married sooner rather than later. Fun to stay tuned.

So, why am I writing about this celebrity fluff? Because I think their example is not only one of charm because they are both so good looking, but because they also both look like they’re in love with each other in a comfortable, familiar way that many invisible couples also share.

Maybe some would react with envy but not me. Instead, I feel a sense of “joie de vivre” (joy in living) from the depiction of their lives. That is, there’s no reason we shouldn’t “go for it” too in the context of our own lives. And there’s no reason we should hold back on how much fun and love we can experience in our lives as much as they seem to be doing in theirs. For me, whatever passive resistance I may have had in the past about waiting or not doing something because of (fill in the blanks,) there’s no valid reason to keep holding back if we decide to open up ourselves to new possibilities.

We’ve been talking about taking a driving trip to Nova Scotia for over a year and seeing the rugged coast of the Bay of Fundy. Even with my laid-up leg and slow recuperation not being able to drive yet, there’s no real reason not to start planning a trip. It also feels like it would be a good idea for me to make the trek on my crutches down and up the stairs (3 floors) more often, in order for me to be outdoors more and to see the dogwood blossoms up close and personal with my own eyes rather than through photos that G. took yesterday.

So, it isn’t just celebrities who can be joyful about being in love or finding “the one,” the rest of us have our own capacity for being happy too. Whether it’s buying some frozen fruit popsicles (pineapple? coconut?)to eat while watching the finale of “The Good Wife” on TV tonight, or finally hanging some hooks into the door of a kitchen cabinet for potholders and strainers so they are easier to reach, especially from a wheelchair, G. and I can make improvements and look forward to many other things in our own lives. It just takes figuring out what they are and then going for it.

It’s a quiet Sunday morning and the sheets are laundered, hanging out on the clothesline on a beautiful sunny day. What more could I ask for?