So we made it. Through the holiday kerfuffle. Now that the meals are done, the pounds are gained, the visits returned from and we’ve begun to recover from the whirlwind that is the holidays. New Years resolutions are on the mind – losing weight, exercising, eating better, diets, etc. But what if all those resolutions were just mind candy – goals invented by corporate america to keep us unhappy, purchasing and seeking outside of ourselves what might actually already be inside of us today, this moment, right now? What if we chose just to be happy instead and see what comes out of it?
I am hesitant to write about this because it took me so long to figure out. I worry that if I talk about it, it will evaporate like good luck in a casino. I will talk about it though, because I think a modern, capitalistic idea of happiness is misleading and causes so much suffering. The concept is new in my mind, so I hope hashing it out here will bring more clarity.
I remember, vividly, what I thought about happiness for the past 35+ years. That it was out there, somewhere – in a new place, a new set of friends, a degree, a title, a raise, a job, a husband, a role in life. Surely, the seeking would end somewhere and I would find “it” and be able to exhale, let go of anxiety and just be “happy.” Even in my yoga practice – contentment and enlightenment was just around the next bend – the next teacher, the next technique, the next training.
Then I began to meditate. Sporadically at first, then I really committed to the practice when I started practicing mantra (the repetition of a meaningful phrase). (Many thanks to Cat Matlock and Kaoverri Weber.) Slowly, as I began to allow my mind to clear while I sat every day and focused on the mantra, I realized that I was desiring less and less to find things outside of myself to create feelings or a state of calm, contentment and dare I say it, happiness. It started to be something I discovered, cultivated and chose to create within myself.
Now, I can write that thought out in just a few choice short words, and it seems – maybe – easy. Simple. Even cliche. But the shortness belies the epic struggles of battling illusions that I’ve had to face to get here.
What amazes me is this:
I always return to something deep within my core when I’m at my lowest low. Even now, I’ve got a lot of things I could be unhappy about. And they are not trivial things. I’ve seen and experienced some horrible traumas in my life. Why now, in some of the greatest challenges of my life, am I choosing the right to be happy?
It occurred to me one day- as I was taking the trash out no less- that I had spent my life looking for happiness – outside of myself. Just one more thing was going to do it – if my boyfriend proposed, if I had a baby, if I got that new iPhone or paid off that debt. But at that moment I stopped and I just asked myself “What am I waiting for? What if,” I thought, “it doesn’t matter what is happening in my life? What if I could just choose to be happy, no matter what?”
The idea seemed crazy enough to work. Throwing decades of searching out the window, I’ve started to try it. No matter how bad I feel physically, I choose to be happy. When I feel bad emotionally, I continually redirect my brain to choose happiness and contentment. Sound like snake oil? It isn’t. It’s just the power of the prefrontal cortex in the brain doing its work to inhibit reactions, thought patterns and habits that I’ve decided I do not want.
Now you may be wanting to call bullshit at this point – and I don’t blame you. Just a short time ago, I would have been in your ranks. Additionally, it’s not compassionate to those struggling with mental health to suggest you can “just get over it.” The problem with saying we can choose happiness is that most of us just don’t understand HOW to do it and WHY we don’t do it. It’s simple, yet it takes focus, drive and work – the very things that can get zapped away by PTSD, depression, anxiety and other mind states.
The answer lies in your brain and how it’s conditioned to help you survive. We will be addressing some of these ideas and techniques in my workshop, Yoga for Trauma, March 22, from 1:30-4:30 p.m. at West Asheville Yoga, 602 Haywood Rd. Asheville NC.