Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Happiness Amidst Loss

"True happiness comes in moments when you feel right there, completely present." ~Pema Chödrön.

All of us will suffer loss in our lifetime, whether from death, divorce, or distance of a loved one. The loss of someone we love, by whatever cause, is difficult to bear. In fact, we've all observed people who haven’t borne their loss very well and never completely recovered. It is a sad thing to see.

People come in and out of our lives; it is part of the human condition: pleasure and pain; love and hate; life and death. These are all common dualities in this physical world and to a degree--these dualities are foreign to our very spiritual nature, which comes from a world of oneness. The question is… how do we cope with losses associated with this physical world from a spiritual perspective? How do we deal with the pain in a spiritual manner?

First, we must accept that there is no constructive escape. Any measure of escape will just delay or destroy the healing process. In attempting to escape our pain, we stop growing. When we’re not growing, we’re perishing—a slow, painful death. Thus, many find destructive ways to numb their senses: excess sleep, television, internet or other media, alcohol, drugs, and shallow relationships.

This is all very relevant for me, as I went through a loss recently. A cherished romantic relationship ended in October of 2008. I went through the usual phases of grief: shock, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, and depression. I’m moving into acceptance, though I have occasional relapses into one phase or another.

In moving into acceptance, one thing that I have learned is the value of mindfulness, which is being fully present with your current circumstances. As Pema Chödrön has said, "True happiness comes in moments when you feel right there, completely present." I have also come to learn that happiness is not something we find in a relationship, but rather is something we share in a relationship.

Although it’s almost cliché, I have learned that happiness is not some destination off in the distance, but rather the daily journey. The journey is now and not some far off place, time, or person. The journey is today, even in this very moment. And if I am constantly trying to escape this moment, there is no happiness. To live fully in each moment, to engage life completely, to smell the scents around you, to hear the richness of the sounds of the universe in motion, to feel the textures beneath your hands and feet: this is where we find happiness.

I love the person with whom I was in a relationship. I love her as intensely today as I did when we were together; but, we’re not together any longer and there is distance between us. In fact, we don’t have much contact. She’s not in my present, and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it—except continue to love her from a distance, not with hope of reconciliation--but, rather with compassion for both of us. I can accept our separation as permanent, and yet—I can love her anyway.

I don’t need to escape from my love for her; nor do I need to escape the pain of separation. I can be present with all of my emotions, and be compassionate towards my own self in the process. I can be present with my current circumstances as a single person and be completely happy with this journey that I am on. Life is a wonderful journey that so many lose far too early. I am grateful for the time I have here on this earth and resolve to fully engage this world I am in. Won’t you join me?

"The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware." --Henry Miller

Sunday, January 24, 2010


If I could define enlightenment briefly I would say it is the quiet acceptance of what is. -Wayne Dyer

If there is any one thing that I have learned with age, it is that most frustration is borne of dwelling on things over which we have little or no control. We feel as if we're banging our head against the wall and nothing is changing. Why does this occur?

We tend to have expectations of other people, yet we usually have no control over them. When I find myself frustrated, my first question to myself is, "What were my expectations here?" Expectations are what we think "should be." My next question is, "How can I release my expectations?" For if I have no control over the situation, it does me no good to dwell on the outcome.

Wayne Dyer defined enlightenment as the acceptance of "what is." The opposite of "what is" is "what should be," which is a judgment of sorts. I have decided that the current situation is unacceptable and that I have a better way, which is ego trying to have some control.

I hear "should be" often from my kids, my co-workers, and from people in the street:

"Our employer should pay us more money."

"The government should provide free health care."

"My parents should give me what I want."

"'They' should do something about this!" (Who are "They?")

"Should be" is just another way of saying, "I deserve" something. In fact, if I deserve it, I demand it. And if I don't have my demands met, I will throw a tantrum. Frustration.

In a more perfect world, all of our wants would be fulfilled and there would be no lack; however, as long as we're in this physical world, that will never be fully realized.

Recognizing that we will not have all of the desires of our ego is a step toward enlightenment. We can let go of our desires and judgments and work on acceptance. As the Rolling Stones said,

You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you might find
You get what you need

Acceptance does not mean we're giving up; to the contrary, we can define those areas over which we do have control (our attitude and behavior) and focus our energies there. Acceptance is surrender without giving up. We surrender to a more loving way. We accept the world is already as it should be, and we change how we see and respond to the world.

The wonderful thing is that as more people arrive at acceptance and work on changing how they see and respond to the world, the world changes. This is why Gandhi instructed us to be the change we want to see in the world.

When we live in "should be," we delay happiness until our demands are met. In acceptance, all is already as it should be. Acceptance is a wonderful place to dwell, and we find happiness there.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Can Simplicity and Clutter Co-Exist?

"Out of clutter find simplicity." Albert Einstein

I noticed quite a few people at a local Car Wash this morning while on my way to a favorite bagel shop, and pondered the car-washing compulsion. It's clear that I don't have any such compulsion, as my 2000 Ford Ranger pickup truck hasn't been washed in years. I often joke that I'm doing my part to help the environment.

Not only is my truck unclean on the exterior, the extended cab is cluttered with all sorts of things: various items of clothes ("just in case"), books on tape (I'm listening to Deepak Chopra currently), a yoga mat, and various remnants of meals past. There may even be a board game under all of the clothes (Apples to Apples). Spare change spills from several locations in the console... and whatever you do--don't open the glove box.

My truck is not all that unlike my house. Frankly, my house rather cluttered; however, I should offer this caveat: the house is 448 square feet. For those of you not familiar with square footage, it has 4 rooms: bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and living room. The average American living room is larger than my house.

Might I mention that I live in the little house with my 16 year old daughter? My landlord describes the house as perfect for one person...or two people who REALLY love each other. You may not be surprised to learn that we're very close. I don't think it's for any reason other than we can't hide from each other. If we argue, we HAVE to face each other. There's no escape.

My daughter occupies the bedroom, so I sleep in the living room. I've set up folding partitions and cordoned off a corner as a makeshift bedroom. It's surprisingly cosy. We have a recliner and an overstuffed chair for furniture in the remainder of the living room space, and a bazillion books pour out of various corners.

You may be wondering who builds a 448 square foot house. The Assessor's database claims the house was built in 1777. According to my landlord, it was originally a one-room schoolhouse--ala Little House on the Prairie. Apparently a family of eight lived there during the Great Depression, and they were probably happy just to have a roof over their heads. Sometime later, the one-room house was subdivided into the current four rooms.

So, my tiny little house is cluttered by necessity; but, frankly--we don't have much stuff by any standard. We do not own a TV (by choice). There are no video games. (I did relent and allow my my daughter to get a stereo for her room). We have 2 chairs and two beds--and that is the extent of our furniture. There's a gas stove and mini-fridge in the kitchen. Otherwise, there are no appliances.

I often describe my place as my little cabin in the woods. We're surrounded by open fields and wooded areas, as well as quite a variety of wildlife. There's no Walden Pond, but we do have a stream nearby, which I can hear quite clearly when we've had some decent rain fail. Henry David Thoreau--I think I understand you. Simplicity and seclusion is tonic for the soul.

Speaking of the soul, Wayne Dyer taught me (via CD) that we came from One-ness and currently exist in a world of two-ness. It's a paradox: a spirit living in a physical world. Thus, we need to find balance as long as we live in this physical world. Much in the same manner, my life is a paradox. I live in simplicity, yet my abode is quite cluttered. I require balance.

From time to time, my daughter and I go through our stuff and downsize. We recycle clothes that we haven't worn in a while; we give away books; and, we make more room for our simple life. This is true of all of our lives, isn't it? We live in a relatively simple world, yet we clutter it with all sorts of things that encroach on our very sanity.

Yes, I think simplicity and clutter can co-exist; in fact, they must. And, if they must, we need to find balance.