Survive and reproduce. A little bit of anxiety kept us on our toes so we could survive and reproduce as hunter-gatherers in savannahs and woodlands. We have brains designed for those priorities in that context. Yet here we are: not living in savannahs or woodlands, and not needing to focus on surviving and reproducing. The circuitry of anxiety and stress that was so helpful for our ancestors is often not functional for us. How do we rewire that circuitry?
The growing legions of spiritual advisors whose books fill bookstore shelves these days speak often of “mindfulness.” They mean paying attention to everything that’s going on in you and around you while it’s happening. Start by noticing what you like. Be more present to what you’re enjoying while you’re enjoying it.
“You can spend an evening with friends and only realize once you get home that you had a good time.” (Cristophe Andre)You can eat a pizza, not noticing what a great pizza it is.
Things you enjoy are the places to look first if you’re having a hard time finding your happiness. Try pausing to say to yourself, “This is a nice moment. I’m having a good time. Right now, I’m happy.” Happiness really is a warm puppy – when you bring awareness to the enjoyment.
The Mindfulness habit begins by being conscious of when you’re having fun – when you’re enjoying something. As like as not, it’ll be some little thing. The painter, Vincent Van Gogh describes getting up from bed at night after a snowstorm, and looking out at the landscape:
“Never, never has nature made such a moving and touching impression on me.”Moments of grace like that happen when we’re open to receive them.
Byron Katie suffered from depression and eating disorders – and then one day she had an experience she called waking up to reality. She wrote:
"I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found that suffering is optional. I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment."Elsewhere, she writes:
“Before I woke up to reality, I had a symbol for all my frustration: my children’s socks. Every morning they’d be on the floor, and every morning I’d think, ‘My children should pick up their socks.’ It was my religion. You could say my world was accelerating out of control – because in my mind, there were socks everywhere. And I’d be filled with rage and depression because I believed these socks didn’t belong on the floor, even though, morning after morning, that’s where they were. I believed it was my children’s job to pick them up, even though, morning after morning, they didn’t.”Live in reality, says Katie, instead of in our “should be’s.”
“After 10 years of deep depression and despair, I came to see that my suffering wasn’t a result of not having control; it was a result of arguing with reality. . . . Until you can love what is – everything, including the apparent violence and craziness – you’re separate from the world, and you’ll see it as dangerous and frightening.”Loving what is – total acceptance of reality exactly as it is – does not mean that we do not work for social justice. It does mean that we simply let go of our frustrations as we go about that work. The Bhagavad Gita teaches: You have the right to your work; you do not have the right to fruits of that work. In other words, what is yours to do, you offer up to the world. The world will then make of it what it will: that’s out of your hands.
So follow the best strategy you know for how to make the world better. At the same time, let go of any expectation that strategy will work, and love everything exactly as it is.
* * *
This is part 2 of 4 of "Happy"
Next: Part 3: Curse of the Frontal Lobe
Previous: Part 1: The 40 Percent
Photo by Meredith Garmon