The Magic of Pretending

happy halloweenA cold wind whistles through the trees, hurtling the last of the leaves to the ground.  Overhead, a waxing moon casts eerie shadows and dances a macabre dance between the scuttling clouds. Ghosts prowl the streets, black cats slink across your path, and beneath the streetlights, the undead howl:  “Trick or Treat!”  It’s Halloween.

Put on a costume and express your hidden desires.  Be beautiful, be powerful, be frightening, be bold.  Celebrate your grandest dreams, or dive into your dark side.  Let your imagination run free.

There’s power in pretending, a magic to transform.  Take a lesson from Halloween’s make-believe and step into the world of your best dreams.  Create an alternate persona.  Weave it of those highest traits you wish you dared express.  Give it a secret name.  And in the morning, put it on.  Pretend.  Pull its attitude over you like a shirt.  See the glint of its eyes gaze back from your mirror.  Walk the way it would walk.  Talk as it would talk.  How would it answer the phone?  Greet a stranger?  Enter a room?

Imagine that it’s wrapped in stardust, that everyone you encounter as you wear it sees it as the real you.  “You look great today!  Did you get a haircut?  Lose weight?”  they ask, unable to pinpoint the change, but sensing in your aura something brighter, better, truer.

Wear it every day for a week, polishing its act a little more every day.  Go ahead.  Pretend.  Just for the fun of it.  See what this “acting-as-if” is all about.  See if it doesn’t do the trick and toss a treat or two your way.

The Happiness of Perspective

perspectiveAs the sun sank behind the western hills this evening, painting the great sweeps of clouds a pale gold, the moon rose in the east, nearly full.  I watched it float above the trees, soaring higher by the second.

No matter what direction I looked, the sky was breathtaking in its beauty and I spun around in the field trying to drink it all it at once.

Now that the nights have grown long, I’m up before the sunrise, and I watch it set as I drive home from work.    I love the perspective that seeing the sunrise and sunset adds to my day.  They remind me that I’m living in the midst of a grand mystery.

“Hey!” the sky says, “I’m not wallpaper.  I’m not just the backdrop of a movie set.  I’m space.  And I go on and on and on.”  And I remember that I’m living on a little speck of a planet that’s sailing through the Milky Way and dancing ‘round a star.  How amazing is that!  And yet, as tiny as that may make me seem, I’m somehow possessed of a mind that knows that’s where I am.  I’m part of a society that’s capable of teaching me what the Milky Way is, and that’s sent a camera out into its depths to beam back photographs of its wonders.

It’s good to remember that now and then.  It saves you from your self-importance and puts you in touch with your true nobility.   Even though you can’t answer the big questions—how it all began, why we’re here—at least you can ask them.  And you can sense that you’re a part of an immensity that smacks of consciousness and intelligent design.

The Happiness of Consideration

Considerate IIJoseph was walking down the street, absorbed in an imaginary argument he was having with his partner.  It was an extension of a clash that had happened that morning between the two of them, and Joseph was nursing his anger by carrying on the argument in his head.

At the bus stop, a few paces ahead of him, an elderly woman was trying to juggle a large sack of groceries so she could retrieve bus tokens from her purse.

Just as Joseph reached the bus stop, the old woman’s bag slid from her arms, sending bananas and cakes and canned goods to the pavement.   Her little cry of dismay woke Joseph from his dream, and seeing what was happening, he stopped to scoop the woman’s groceries back into her bag and to assure her that no damage had been done.   He could see that she felt flustered and embarrassed, and so he stood with her for a little while, holding her groceries while she found her bus tokens, listening to her story, carrying her bag up the steps of the bus for her when it arrived.

When he stepped back onto the pavement, Joseph was wearing a soft smile.  He remembered the morning’s argument, but somehow it didn’t seem to matter so much any more.  It was a little thing, really, and he could see his partner’s point, as well as his own.  They would work it out.

As Joseph discovered, when you are considerate of somebody else’s feelings or circumstances and offer to lift their load, you reap as many benefits as you bestow.  College students who were given the assignment to perform and record an act of kindness every day scored higher on positivity ratings at the end of the two-week trial than a control group who simply kept a journal.  Acts of kindness and consideration not only give you an immediate burst of good feeling, the psychologists conducting the study found, they also produce a lingering sense of calm and centeredness.

So do yourself a favor.  Go out there and be considerate today.  It’s one of those happiness practices that’s genuinely a win-win deal.

The Healing of Fond Farewells

fond farewellsIn this season where earth’s colors bid us farewell and are tucked away for winter’s long night, death has been a visitor at my door.  It came to claim my coworker’s father, my dear friend’s beloved dog, and a car full of young people.

I didn’t know the four people, all in their early 20’s, who died in the crash.  But the accident happened just down the road and it awakened memories of a crash that happened at this time of year, twenty years ago, that took the life of my own son.

The sense of sorrow I felt over the loss of these people, and of my friend’s dog, was an empathic sorrow, the sorrow of sympathy.  I know so well how the death of a loved one leaves a permanent vacancy in the world, an emptiness that no one can fill.

At first, pain tries to fill it.  But the emptiness is bigger than pain, and it remains even after the pain finally subsides.  It doesn’t ever go away, but instead, it finds its own quiet place in your heart to call its own where it holds a space for that being you so loved.  And in time, you make peace with it and it takes on a special kind of beauty.

When you sit with it, from some dimension beyond your knowing it sends you golden memories.  It echoes with the voice, the touch, the spirit and laughter of your loved one.  You see the sparkling eyes again, and feel the quality of the love you shared and sense, somehow, that the love lives on, that mere death cannot dissolve it.

And from within this knowing, you wrap your loved one in gratitude and appreciation for all the bright seasons that you shared.  “Farewell,” your spirit whispers.  “Farewell,” your loved one’s spirit whispers to you in return.  And you dance in the emptiness that you hold for your beloved, and your heart learns again how to sing.

Resting in Happiness

RestAfter her wild riot of color, autumn settled down for a breather.  She toned her golds down to ochre, her crimsons to rust, and she began to turn her thoughts inward, stilling herself for the final leg of her performance.

Beneath the deep blue of a clear October sky, she stretched herself out across the landscape and let herself savor the satisfaction of all she had accomplished over the past few weeks.

She loved the cycle of the seasons and the part in them that she got to play, pushing her strengths and talents to their limits, taking them to new levels, just for the sheer joy of it.

It was no easy task, turning summer into winter.  She took pride in the skill she brought to it, in the way she orchestrated it all with such finesse.   What an honor it was, after all, to be called on for this assignment.

She still had the final act to perform, stilling the world as the nights grew to full length, ushering in the frost and snow, making sure all the seeds and creatures were properly sheltered and that the festival spirits were prepared for their turn on the stage.

But today, she could enjoy an intermission of rest, an interlude of stillness, where she could reflect on the richness of it all.  It’s good to do that now and then when you’re performing the great part that life has assigned you, the one that you alone were born to play.  Grab a few late October moments to follow autumn’s lead.  Take stock of all you have accomplished, and rest in the happiness of it for awhile.

The Happiness of Golden Moments

golden moments“Every now and then,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye, “a moment comes along that makes all the rest of them worth it.”   He was talking about the golden moments, the ones where you are so perfectly contented that you feel as if you’re made of warm honey.

It’s that contentment that’s the key.  It’s made of a special kind of satisfaction, where you simply let go of wanting things to be more, or different, or better than they already are.

I’m not talking about resignation, about surrendering your hopes and dreams.  Oh, no.  They’re part of the golden moment.  It enfolds them and paints your desires with a glow.

The contentment of the golden moment comes with sinking into everything that the moment holds and wrapping it in a whisper of yes that flows up from your very soul.    It’s a kind of deep acceptance of the perfection of the present, the whole of it—even those aspects we would normally reject.   It’s a sensing that everything is exactly where it needs to be and moving as it ought, and that it all has purpose and meaning even when it is beyond our understanding.

The happiness of golden moments is gladness for simply being alive.  It’s beyond reason, beyond emotion, beyond mere comfort.  It’s a moment of total ease, so big and broad that it embraces all possibility.  It contains you, and you contain it, and all the definitions that would keep you from your joy simply dissolve in its radiance and wonder.

They come unbidden, these golden moments.  They linger briefly and then they’re gone.  But they are always flowing down the stream, and now and then we catch one, when we’re lucky.  When we’re open.  When we’re willing.  And when we do, we see why the fellow had a twinkle in his eye from tasting one.

Happiness in Motion

jump for joyA hundred years ago, when I was a little kid, one of the thrills of autumn was jumping into the great piles of leaves that my dad and all the other neighborhood men raked from their yards.  Maybe kids still do that today.  I hope so.  There’s nothing like it.

You think the leaves will be cloud-like, given the way they billowed all summer high up on the trees.  But when you leap, it’s as if you dived into a huge bowl of cornflakes.  It’s like October’s version of an April Fool’s joke.  And you fall for it every year for a couple of years when you’re of the right age, and come out laughing, with leaf crumbs stuck in your hair and ears, every time.

We grown-ups don’t do much jumping, except maybe at sporting events when our home team scores, or if we’re the wise owners of trampolines.   We don’t often skip down the sidewalks, or walk on curbs to see if we can keep our balance, or take a turn on the swings or teeter-totters in the parks.  Few of us go rolling down big grassy hills just for the joy of it or splashing through mud-puddles either.  And that’s just a damned shame.

Putting your body in motion, heedless of how silly it might appear, is such a great way to generate happiness.  Oh, we adults have our versions of the childhood games.  We jog and dance and play our sports.  And that’s a wonderful thing.  If you’re not spending some of your day in motion, you’re missing out on a big helping of life’s joy.  Happiness likes to move.  It likes to take giant steps and go twirling.  It likes clapping hands and stomping feet.

I think we need an International Day of Inhibition when we can all be kids again and let happiness loose in play.  But until we get one, at least take advantage of the grown-up versions.  Have some fun.  Jump for joy—in whatever way you dare.

The Happiness Path of Gratitude

“Happiness,” says Denis Waitley, “is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude.”

gratitude 2Nobody, of course, is happy every minute.  We’re people, after all, subject to the whole range of emotions.  We tumble into pits of misery and boredom; we get sucked into anger and frustration and doubt.

But it’s the darkness that makes the light so beautiful.  It’s sorrow that makes us long for happiness and that pushes us forward in its pursuit.

Once we find it, though, it’s exactly what Waitley describes.  It’s the singing of the spirit bathed in grace, in gratitude and love.

It’s the awareness of our connection to the essence of being, the existential joy that undergirds and permeates all that is.

And just as grace and love and gratitude bubble up from the depths of happiness, they also serve as pathways to its shores.   In the grace of kindnesses freely given, joy arises. Love, in any of its colors, links us to happiness at its very core.  But it’s gratitude that offers us the simplest return to happiness when we have temporarily lost our way.

Begin naming the things for which you are thankful, the things that you appreciate in your life, and the healing of gratitude will begin to dissolve whatever barrier stands between you and your joy.  Gratitude turns your attention away from the empty places and illuminates the abundance in your life.  It guides you from a focus on what you think you have lost to an awareness of what you have left and what you have left unclaimed.  It redirects your sight away from the seeming obstacles that block your path and shows you new possibilities.

And the magic of it, the power of it, lies in the fact that once you begin to name the things for which you are grateful – the possessions, the abilities, the strengths, the relationships, the talents, the potentials, the pleasures – the more things you see to name.

The Happiness of Dreams Set Free

FlyAll through the summer, the milkweed dreamed her dreams.  At first, they were just inklings, the faintest whispers of what might be.  But they intrigued the milkweed and she found her attention drifting to them again and again.

She had much work to do.  It was summer, after all.  She had leaves to produce, height to attain, insects to battle.

But late at night, when the world had calmed and the moon drifted up above the eastern hills, she would think about her dreams, adding little details to them, watching them evolve.

Sometimes, when lightening streaked through the sky and the hard, pelting rains came, she had her moments of doubt.  She would tremble in the wind, and question whether these tender possibilities could withstand the world’s storms.  But when the skies cleared and the dawn painted the morning, she remembered that all living things go through their trials, and she would feed her dreams extra measures of courage and resiliency to give them added strength.

In July the drought hit.  Day after day, the sun sucked the juices from her leaves.  Even her deepest roots were hard pressed to pull moisture from the soil.  She grew parched and weary.  It was all she could do to go on.  She wanted to weep, but she dared not waste her few precious resources on self-pity.  Instead, she took solace in her dreams.  And even though she had no idea how she could realize them, their beauty gave her comfort and the determination to press on and to hope.

August brought relief, its skies laden with soft clouds full of afternoon showers.  The milkweed’s strength returned.  She spent more time with her dreams now, especially in the cool hours of morning.  She listened to the singing of the birds and instilled her dreams with their music.  She watched the flowers of the field blossom and gave their best colors to her dreams.

And so the weeks went, and finally, it was late October and she knew that if her dreams were to fulfill their destinies, she had to find the daring to send them into the world.  She had nurtured and shaped them as best she could.  Now it was time to set them free, to let them fly and be real and take on lives of their own.

She waited until the sun was just about to burst over the horizon.  Then, as the first rays of golden light touched her, she opened the door and watched as one by one, the dreams danced into the morning.  “Fly!” she whispered, wishing them well.  “Fly!”

And that night, she slept with a heart filled with joy.  For her dreams had at last become real.