Happiness

The Suitor

We lie back to back. Curtains
lift and fall,
like the chest of someone sleeping.
Wind moves the leaves of the box elder;
they show their light undersides,
turning all at once
like a school of fish.
Suddenly I understand that I am happy.
For months this feeling
has been coming closer, stopping
for short visits, like a timid suitor.

Jane Kenyon

Image courtesy of DawnEllyn

A colleague shared this beautiful Jane Kenyon poem with me. It got me thinking about the nature of happiness and what often seems like our never ending quest for it.

I remember for years, wondering when I would be happy. I was waiting for happiness to arrive, and it always seemed to be contingent on something else – the right relationship, finishing my masters degree, earning a certain amount of money, losing 10/20/30 pounds.

When any of the things I thought would yield happiness came, there would be a brief sense of accomplishment and excitement, quickly followed by a feeling of disappointment as I realized that I still wasn’t happy. I always attributed it to the fact that I’d been mistaken. I guess the degree wasn’t the thing that would bring me happiness, it must the relationship. And so I would recommence my wait for happiness to arrive on my doorstep.

After a while I started to feel as if it was never coming and in fact, I started to worry that I wouldn’t even know how to recognize if and when it did come.

Recently, its dawned on me that I was over complicating the issue. I guess I’d developed some very strange notions about what happiness feels and looks like. I’d become fixated on the idea that it would be exciting and impossible to miss. I didn’t think it would come in “like a timid” suitor, more like a flashy, arrogant overconfident suitor, ready to sweep me of my feet in dramatic fashion. I was waiting for the Hollywood blockbuster movie version of happiness with all its special effects and excitement.

In reality there is a big difference between happiness and excitement, even though many of us confuse the two.

I’m finding for myself, that all of my notions about happiness have been so inaccurate its no wonder I haven’t been able to find it. Happiness doesn’t enter with fanfare and fireworks. It’s like a tiny butterfly, that floats in towards you and finally lands gently and almost imperceptibly on you.  You have to be paying attention to see it. Above all, you have to still enough to allow it to land.

Most of us, myself included can’t sit still long enough for happiness to land on us. We’re moving targets. Constantly fidgeting, twitching and jumping around far too much to allow it to land.

The irony is that we’re often so busy looking for excitement that we miss the happiness under our nose.

Last summer I spent 8 days by myself, living in a yurt in the middle of the Catskills Mountains. It was the first time I’d ever gone anywhere remote by myself.

I was excited about the trip and couldn’t wait to have all that alone time. I was particularly looking forward to having to DO nothing. Instead I could just BE.

I arrived late one warm summer afternoon. As I unloaded my car, the sky started to darken and a gentle rain started to fall. By the time I got all my stuff in the yurt a full blown mountain storm was in effect. It was amazing to watch, especially given the 5 foot skylight in the yurt. I made myself a cup of tea and sat down to watch the rain.

After about 10 minutes I thought “Now what? “. Sheer panic set in. I felt like I should do something – but what? I didn’t have a TV to turn on. No movies to watch. No radio. No cell phone reception. I had my laptop, but knew that turning it on was not what I needed to do. I sensed that I was coming up against something that I needed to understand and move beyond. My inability to be still.

I was practically itching I was feeling so antsy. My panic escalated as I wondered what on earth I would do in the woods for the next 8 days. By myself. What had I been thinking? Maybe I could get my money back and head back to civilization the next day. I started reading, which distracted me until I fell asleep.

The next morning I felt calmer. That day, I slept, I journaled and I wandered cautiously into the woods for a few minutes. Before I knew it a whole day had passed, and I hadn’t actually done anything.

In the days to follow it became easier to do nothing. To just be.

One day I remember walking into the woods. I came across a fallen log, and decided to sit for a while. A while turned into an hour. Maybe longer. I just sat.

I was perfectly content sitting on that log in the middle of the woods, listening to the rustle of the breeze in the trees, watching the sun dance on the leaves. Suddenly I too understood that in that moment I was happy.

I’d like to tell you that since that day, these moments have become daily and lengthy occurrences, but I’d be lying. After all, I had to leave the woods and come back to my life, with all its numerous demands on my time, energy and attention.  The great thing is that the door was opened that day, and happiness would gradually begin to visit more and more often.

And yes, since then there have been moments. I notice them more often, however brief they may be. Having recently moved to a new house on 3 acres of woods I noticed another moment like this this past weekend. Walking in the woods with a friend, and being perfectly content to be there, needing nothing else. In that moment I was happy.

Maybe you’re like me and have been wondering when happiness is going to show up for you. Maybe it has and you just haven’t noticed. Yes, finding time to be still is a challenge for many of us given our busy lives, but it is possible to take a moment, however brief, to pause and be still.

It could be as brief as 30 seconds. When you walk out of your door in morning, pause before you get in your car and look up at the sky. Make a promise to yourself that you’ll have at least one moment of stillness everyday. Believe me it can and will make a difference.

Give happiness a chance to land on you.

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