Have you checked your happiness quotient lately? How happy are you—really?
I've been thinking about happiness a lot lately, mostly because I just launched a new course about it at DailyOm.com.
We struggled with the title to make it appealing to people. We came up with all kinds of new-fangled ways to talk about happiness that would catch someone's eye, but, in the end, we landed on something so simple:
"Learn How to Be Happy" ...
which smartly says, Yes, we really do learn how to be happy.
Or maybe, more accurately, we learn how to create sensations and experiences of happiness — rather than others bound up in sadness or despair or anger. In time, when we do this long enough, we end up with a "Happiness Habit."
Here's a little crash course in happiness. Part 1 is today. Part 2 is in a few days. Consider this.
(And after you do, please go here and check out the course/material because it's really good stuff that works! Blatant self-promotion here.)
As you know, I am BIG on practices. "Practices" should have been my middle name: Jan "Practices" Lundy.
My life revolves around daily practices for calm, clarity, love and HAPPINESS.
I know for a fact that if I don't point myself toward happiness, I WILL end up somewhere else. My mind is as spastic and elastic as the next person.
So, do me a favor, and point yourself in the direction of happiness today as best you can. It feels a lot better than the alternative.
And if you need some help, go here.
My heart is filled with gratitude these days. And to log-in all this gratitude, making it a forever memory, I am recoding them in the pages of an engagement calendar.
I like this format—simple and clear. A small space, 1 1/2 inches wide by 7 inches long, one for each day, to list 5 things I am grateful for. I'm currently using the "Inner Reflections" engagement book, produced by the Self-Realization Fellowship featuring the thoughts of Paramahansa Yogananda.
Every other page features a beautiful photograph, one of which is above. Oh, so inspiring, especially if you are lover of nature like me.
My "gratitudes" range from simple things like hearing the trill of a cardinal, taking day trip with my husband and stopping for a sandwich along the way, to having a clear enough mind to think and write.
I began the practice just over a week ago and am delighting in how light-hearted I feel. Recording gratitudes is not new to me. I have done this often throughout the years when I am feeling a bit snarky or whiny; when I forget my many blessings when life gets difficult.
Gratitude itself is a virtue of the spirit and has an exceptionally high "vibration." It naturally elevates one's mood, making a shift in perspective that may be much needed. It faithfully works for me.
Sometimes we make a very big deal out of the spiritual life. We feel that we must have extraordinary, other-worldly experiences to "be spiritual" or to demonstrate our spiritual prowess. While I have been blessed to have had many of those over the years, in time, their luster fades. What lasts are the simple, modest, daily practices—like gratitude—that keep us in touch with our true self, what is most important in life, and with the Sacred as we understand it.
It's amazing how a simple "Thank you" can shift your day and how a string of them, heartfully and consistently offered, can shape your life.
If you're interested in a very special gratitude practice you can do with your family, you might enjoy my article, "The Gratitude Bowl." With spring (Easter and Passover) celebrations near, this could be a lovely addition to your meal. Enjoy and may you be doubly blessed!
"Being Free: Transforming Daily Struggles into Feminine Wisdom" premiers today!
Each month, I'll be offering a free, 30-minute audio teaching on one uniquely feminine issue that keeps us stuck and disconnected from our true self.
"I Don't Have Time for Myself" is the topic for the March program. The podcast is downloadable, an mp3). Please join me! Listen now.
I'd love to hear your thoughts about this month's message. You can leave them below.
In 1994, I took my first "Year for Me" because I wanted inner peace so badly I could feel it, taste it. I longed for it daily. It took a long time to get there, but with passion and perseverance I did become more peace-filled. Though I do wander off the peace trail once in a while. Who doesn't?
This current "Year for Me" carries a number of different longings along with it. It's not as simple as inner peace. It's more complex and multi-layered than that. It feels richer, deeper, like the creation of a beautiful tapestry.
It feels as if I'm weaving all the pieces of my life together.
As a child, I used to love making potholders. Perhaps you know the kind. We used a square metal "loom" with prongs. Varied colors, fabric loops. In and out, over and under you'd go.
It was a very simple process—though I never could figure out how to get the potholder off the loom once the weaving was done. My mother would have to employ her trusty crochet hook and do it for me. I always left the finishing up to her.
Now the process feels different. It's my life-loom I'm using and I'm the one who has to expertly bring all the pieces together, and finish it.
So many pieces ...
Childhood fun and sweet memories
The body aging
All the loves
The parts you'd wish you could forget but can't
Each of these brilliant-hued or dulled threads woven together creates a majestic tapestry of one's life. Each thread is precious, serving as a sturdy platform for the next to rest upon, without which there would be holes, gaps, where grace could fall through and be lost to us forever.
"Everything belongs," as Fr. Richard Rohr would say, so we bring everything of every hue to the weaving— the light and the dark, the joys and the sorrows. Without each tender moment and memory, the tapestry would be incomplete, pale, inauthentic.
But it takes time to do this kind of weaving. And it certainly takes longer than "A Year for Me." But at least we can begin to dedicate ourselves to this holy process, one of integration, a return to wholeness.
My sense is that in the weaving, this is the most valiant part: taking our seat at the loom and actually beginning. Being brave and steadfast enough to gather our materials together—the scatterings of our human self—and ever so gently guiding them into their proper place.
We take our seat, we select a thread, we breathe, we draw it deftly toward us and weave it through—over, under, over, under—allowing it to touch our very heart. We wait on grace to come through.
This time around, I'm delighted to be weaving a complete tapestry and not simply a potholder. Though a potholder is useful, a tapestry is soul-affirming.
I like to imagine that my tapestry can become a shawl, one I can place around my shoulders for comfort and warmth. It will remind me of how life has embraced me ...
... and of how, I, who have done the weaving, have embraced life as well.
Haunted by Hunger
In the past week, a beautiful white-tail deer mama and her three young ones began creeping closer to our house. We rarely saw them all winter but now that spring is on the fringes, it appears that the deer are hungry. Their food supply has run out and though the fawns seem healthy and fat, mama looks lean.
I watch them as they nuzzle the snow for early, tender stalks of green; taste the tips of thin branches hoping to savor a tender bud. Their search seems fruitless which explains why they stand so still, staring into the windows of our house, hoping for a handout.
I see how mama is ever watchful that nothing will harm her young ones.
I watch how she encourages them to eat the carrots we toss out while she hangs back.
I see the longing in her eyes, the longing for nourishment that could ease her own hunger but how mothering takes precedence. It is vital that her babies survive. Her vigilance, her unselfish food-leaving, ensures that they do. She minimizes her own needs so her dear ones will thrive.
And as I watch her eyes, haunted with hunger, I watch how my own mother-centric emotions rise and fall with hers.
Would I be as dedicated and courageous if I were placed in this situation? I believe I would.
Though I have often negated myself and my own needs for the betterment of others only to discover that, in time, this was not the best course of action.
It is a wise woman who knows when to give and when to hang on or to carefully apportion her time and energy.
It is a wise woman who knows how to say 'No' at just the right times, and 'Yes' at others.
It is a wise woman who knows, through deep listening, that what she is about to do will not serve her well. She has had enough of self-abasement and realizes that by giving so many pieces of herself away she does not benefit others—or herself.
It is not as easy as it seems to listen and know. It takes watchfulness, faithfulness, steadiness of mind and heart to know what to do when ...
The presence of mama deer today invites me to such watchfulness. To deeper listening. To trusting the voice of my soul that says yea or nay.
I do not wish to look through eyes that speak to the world of soul hunger. Nor should you.
If "shoulds" can be good, this, indeed, is a "good should."
Let us love ourselves enough to listen deeply ... to hear and know what our tender self, like a young fawn, needs to thrive.
(Photo Credit: http://www.nenature.com/)
"Can you give birth and still let go? Can you nourish others and continue to take care of yourself?
Can you show others the way without losing your own? Can you provide safety yet dare to risk the unknown?
Can you calm the fears of children while embracing your own?
Everything you touch changes. You change everything you touch. The process is creation."
From The Tao of Women—"Birthing" —by Pamela K. Metz and Jacqueline L. Tobin. 1995, Humanics Limited.
It's a great question, isn't it? What does the soul love?
If we knew the answer, wouldn't we give our soul what it loved all of the time? Of course, if we were aware and in touch with our soul's urgings we wouldn't hesitate.
What I know about soul conversation is this. When the ego gets really loud we can't hear the voice of our soul.
I find myself in this murky place often on a Monday morning. Especially this Monday after spending four days at a silent retreat in northern Michigan. I was not attending the retreat, but "working" it as a spiritual director. I met with six people each day. I sat and listened, received their sacred tale, and got my small self out of the way as much as possible so I could clearly hear the movement of the Spirit in their lives. And to help them hear it too.
It was a remarkable weekend. Because the Spirit was so very present in the silence, we could easily hear and honor our soul's voices. For me, this began with a ritual of intention: lighting a candle in the chapel to welcome in and dedicate myself to this soulful process of deep listening. And to listen deeply one must, of course, be fully present, so that was one of my prayerful intentions too: to really be HERE, in heart and thought.
Lighting a candle is one of my daily rituals. To me, it is a representation of Spirit. Churches, synagogues and temples throughout the world continuously keep candles lit for this very purpose. I light a candle before I begin my daily work, at dinner time, before any important occasion, and more.
This light reminds me of my soul connection too. A flickering flame invites me to remember that I am a soul being in my essence. Yes, fully human, but also a wondrous expression of the One, with boundless potential and an eternal life path. We are made of both Spirit and stardust ...
So as return home from retreat, from four blissful days in, what is my soul calling for? It calls for self-expression. Though that lovely message was difficult to hear this morning because the voice of the ego was loud. "There is so much work to do!" "Now, you are way behind." My ego likes to speak in the language of productivity. Do more! is generally the gist.
The ego also loves to mute the message of the soul with word/emotions that dim the flame within us. It sends us messages of morning sadness, boredom, or dissatisfaction with our lives. It takes a mighty intention, passion, perseverance so say "No, thank you, not this morning!" and do what you need to do to set the soul free and to flourish.
A simple ritual such as lighting a candle in the morning can help me make the shift from sad to glad. It opens up a space for the soul to be heard. Then, with clarity and wisdom, we can proceed through our day attuned to the soul's urgings and desires for us.
This morning when I asked the question, 'What does my soul love and what would it love for me to do in this very moment?' the answer came with ease: let your creativity flow.
With a deeper pause and some relaxing breaths, I asked for clarity about this and the answer came, 'Just write.'
On retreat, I'd honored a deep soul longing--to write freely (no expectations, no deadlines) whenever my heart desired. I'd packed a beautiful new journal and my favorite writing pens. Whenever my soul invited me to sit and write (again, easy to hear and do when you are in a monastery immersed in silence, even during meals!), I did. It was a wonderful experience, hour upon hour, to honor what my soul loved—full expression through the power of words placed upon a page.
What you're reading here is an expression of my soul's calling this morning— to write some more, instead of heading down the thorny path of ego. I did not write to create something, though it ended up in this blog post, but to hear my self speak, my true self, the voice of my soul as it comes to me through words and images. Words that help me remember who I really am.
The same can be true for any of us. It simply takes a well-grounded intention and a deep desire to do what your soul urges.
I wonder, what does your soul love and what does it whisper to you to do, to be, in this very moment? If we honor this eternal voice within us it always takes us where we need to go.
Even if it's simply to sit on the couch to put pen to paper. No saving the world today, just saving a precious self by realigning her with soul.
is a touchpoint. a resting place, a "remembering" of who we really are and how we can best live—kindly and compassionately with ourselves and others.
Janice Lynne Lundy, DMin
is an educator, interspiritual director/guide and retreat leader who has been pointing people back toward the Sacred for more than twenty years. She is the author of several spiritual growth books, including Your Truest Self, My Deepest Me and Portable Peace., and is the co-founder and co-director of the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute.