Friday, February 19, 2016

Get Your Ticket for The Happiness Express

Got you, didn't I? Who among us doesn't want that ticket? Who doesn't want to ride the ride?

Happiness is an elusive, much sought after tease. We race after it using self-help books as road maps. We listen to speakers extrapolate guidelines and flow-charts to finding joy. We talk to therapists, spiritual leaders, ministers and priests as well as friends and loved ones about uncovering what makes us truly happy. We do crazy things to find that much longed for Blissful State.

With so many people looking for it, you would think it would be easier to find. So why then does it seem to be so difficult to pin down? Under what rock does it hide? And -- here's the kicker -- should you find that Zen, Happy Place, what kind of deal with the devil do you have to make to stay there in Wonderland?

I've heard it said that Happiness is a Decision, not an Occurrence. That you choose it. That no matter what comes at you, you can decide whether to allow it to thwart your joy or strengthen your spirit. I learn that in my Yoga practice. No matter what Pose I'm faced with -- or how difficult/easy it might be, I can determine how to respond and manage the challenges it presents. I can determine my response. And I can take that off the mat every time I leave the Shelter for the World.

That said, I've also read that there's More to life than Being Happy. That it's the very pursuit of happiness that will actually thwart happiness at every turn. We should instead look for Meaning, which doesn't necessary make us happy -- or unhappy for that matter -- or stress-free and easy but does potentially increase our overall sense of well-being and enhance our self-esteem which is good too. Investing in something bigger than our own personal agenda gives us a chance to use our highest strengths and talents in a servant focused way. But ... that potentially produces depression, anxiety and worry.

Taking care of others allows us to transcend ourselves and reach beyond the present moment to affect change and serve something more significant. Sometimes it involves self-sacrifice or denying self. As Dickens wrote in A Tale of Two Cities and Spock later quoted in Star Trek's Wrath of Kahn: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few ... or the one."

Seeking Happiness can be considered a shallow endeavor, encouraging us to choose things that make us feel good, satisfy a need or desire or bring us closer to what we truly want in our lives. We want less stress and more peace. We seek a calm ride instead of one riddled with bumps and challenges. We want our lives to Matter, sure. But we want Joy along the way too.

Is that too much to ask?

That's selfish, I guess. After all Money doesn't buy you Happiness. It may get you that outfit you want or that book you want or that house you want or the cool car or the pretty lingerie or the Pandora bead or the trip to that warm, sunny location which will make you Happy for a time but won't necessarily buy a continued Happy Happy Joy Joy.  Happiness just isn't like that. Neither is a Meaningful existence.

When we seek the Happy State, we selectively avoid elements that might rock the boat and thereby enhance our resiliency and make us better human beings. We resist, avoid, dislike and even resent those things that require us to make sacrifices and keep us from that longed for Blissful State on the couch of life. We steer clear of projects or people or things that might challenge us or cause stress. But when we seek a more Meaningful existence, we serve others and find Joy there -- perhaps relinquishing our personal Happiness for a Higher Purpose, a Greater Good or to Serve Another.

It's a vicious cycle, truly. I want Meaning. I want Happy. I find Meaning. I find Happy. Yeah! Did it, right?

Nope. Here's how I figure it works. Happy is just one aspect of your Train. It's always with you. You just have to embrace it and recognize it might look different than you expected.

While you ride, you encounter special moments of necessary respite or growth or gifts you need to support your journey at a series of Train Stations. These can offer moments of peace and rest or especially dynamic joyful times. You drive through them during your Journey, disembark for a bit. You even make longer stops at times and relish the many Blissful Benefits of that specific station. Then you climb back on the Train and continue your journey in an effort to find Meaning, making delicious memories and experiencing amazing adventures all while you grow and make your life count. Your ride gives you a chance to meet and touch the lives of others ... to do what you love to do ... to laugh and cry ... and encounter Wonderland on and off the train as you travel along.

Happiness isn't truly elusive. It's with us all the time. When bad things happen to me and I'm "unhappy," there are moments I still laugh. There are moments after a cry that I smile. There are moments of Joy in all Sadness and Struggle.

Happiness. We seek it. We find it. We settle for a bit and bask in its warm, golden glow. Then we get up and keep moving, taking that Glow with us. It empowers us to touch the lives of others as we are called to do along the way, doing the things we love to do and making the most of the other stuff too. And we shine all the brighter for the tunnels we go through on the journey.

We have a ticket on the Happiness Express, but it calls us to complete the work we are meant to do and become what we are meant to be. Whatever that is. Wherever that is. .

Only then do we stop our Pursuit ...
                                                                                      -- Jenni

Saturday, February 6, 2016

What's Next?

Today in Yoga, my instructor (and friend) Suzanne called to attention a very common human habit ... looking beyond the now for what is next.

Throughout our lives, we do this. We are impatient creatures. We want a glimpse around the corner into our future. We want to know if Something Is Coming and what that Something might be!

What's next dangles before us like a carrot ... luring us on with its potential to be better or more exciting or just a release from the boredom, mundane day to day, stress or perhaps sadness we are experiencing in this current moment. But as we look around the corner, we neglect the opportunity to make the most of and learn from what is currently before us -- be it good or bad, challenging or smooth sailing.

This happens more often when situations are challenging. We want to get past the difficult or uncomfortable moments into the fun and happy. Into the easy.

In Yoga class today, Suzanne brought this up when we moved into our first Chair pose. Well, I bruised my tailbone last week ice skating and have been a bit stiff since, so I wasn't at all sure how my body would react. Once settled in, I felt a strong desire to get to the next pose. And though I could blame my initial concern on my injury, my longing to move had nothing to do with a bruised tailbone and Everything to due with the difficulty of the pose. It was hard. My muscles were shaking. I wanted to move desperately.

Of course, Suzanne knew that. Heck no one is ever "comfortable" in Chair pose. But she encouraged us to stay there ... to focus on that moment and maintain our calm and focus ... to breathe through whatever discomfort we might be experiencing. To find strength in the shaking and in ourselves.

Last night, I participated in a CycleBar challenge that raised money for a Scholarship Fund. Good cause and amazing, healthy activity too. We rode for 45 minutes, increasing speed, using weights and adjusting the bike's tension based on the directive of the instructor. Music played. Videos flashed. The instructor encouraged and challenged us constantly during the ride.

There were many times in that 45 minutes that I wanted to stop. That I wanted to know that after a certain amount of time we would do something else -- something easier. But, I didn't have the instruction manual. I didn't know what was next. All I could do was draw on my own inner strength and keep pedaling. Keep breathing.

So when Suzanne brought up this idea in yoga today, it hit me. This is a philosophy that extends outside of yoga -- or the CycleBar -- into daily life. When faced with difficult times or struggles or dissatisfaction with wherever we are, our instinct urges us to get out of that moment. To seek what is next. We want out of the pain or sadness. We want excitement or a new challenge. We hurt so we want the next pose or the next project, job, opportunity, relationship, play etc etc. We just want what's next.

And, what do we do with instinctual urge?  Sadly, it's not always good.

When the "now" struggle begins to take its toll, we tend to seek a quick fix. Instead of breathing and staying calm, we self-medicate with pills and alcohol in an effort to cope with anxiety, stress, or emotional pain. We bolt away from relationships and isolate ourselves. We escape into television programs to lose ourselves. We regret and practice self-judgement. We shop and buy "stuff" to make us happy. We overeat. We run away and lack conviction to confront and deal with our inner dialogue and struggles. We look ahead instead of settling into where we are and allowing whatever transformation has begun to complete the process.

We want what's next. What's next is inevitably better than what we are in now ... or we think it will be.

In Slow Flow yoga, there are many common poses. However, the order differs with every class and every instructor. When we begin, I don't know what's next. And, after side one is over, I do my best to forget and allow myself to be guided to whatever is next. I let go. And it feels so good and so affirming when I make it through challenging poses. When I truly let go and flow.

I shake. I even fall sometimes. And there is a temptation to crave what's next. But I keep breathing. And that's really all that matters because when I can do that, I can keep my calm even when I don't know what is coming my way. I hope one day I can truly bring this technique outside of class.

Me, I am a planner. I like control. It's soothing to know what's next. Organizing and lists are daily tools. But when I look back over my life so far, what I expected and what happened next, well, they weren't necessarily what I had on the list. But, the good, the bad and the ugly have made me the woman I am today. I'm honestly not sure I would have wanted to know all this in advance. It might have impeded my adventure.

What's Next? I don't know. Life has a way of throwing curve balls and putting a wrench into the most idyllic of plans. When it happens that way, it IS still a Grand Adventure despite bumps in the ice that cause you to take a tumble or two. Sometimes what you find when you slip on the ice is strength to get back up and keep moving. Sometimes you laugh at yourself and find new joy. Sometimes you meet a fellow adventurer who becomes a life-changing presence in your life, whether around for a few years or a lifetime friend. But, if you knew you were going to get hurt, might you have avoided the ice altogether? And thus, might you have missed out on something truly amazing?

What's Next? I don't know. On the mountains and in the ravines, there is always change, You never stay in the same place. In yoga, Chair Pose is temporary as are the difficulties, challenges, and even joyful moments we experience every single day of our lives.

My advice is to listen to Suzanne. Just keep breathing and stay present ...
                                                                                                     -- Jenni