Welcome, 2010!

Welcome Baby New Year!  You, with the shining potentials tumbling like confetti from your hands.  You, with thick pages of days for us to color with our laughter and our dreams.

Welcome!  We greet you with our best hopes, our vibrant visions of all we can become as your days open before us.

We fling wide our arms, Baby New Year, to embrace your fresh beginnings.   The past is gone, a dream we leave behind.  It was getting-ready time for making the most of you.  And now you’re here!

Bring on your tomorrows, with all their possibilities and chances.  We’re singing our I Can song.  We’re chanting the great I Will.  We’re beating our love drums and unfurling our spirit banners across your brand new skies.

We bring you our minds, awake and aware.  We bring you our hands, ready to create and to build and to serve.  We bring you our talents and skills, our strengths and passions.  Our highest ideals have been waiting for your days.

We celebrate you, New Year!  In you we will learn to let go of fear.  In you we will forgive all that ever got in our way.  We’re ready to write new stories now, of triumph and of joy, to dig for our truths, to unbridle our love, to let loose of all that’s unworthy of the very best of ourselves.

You shower us with hope and promise.  And we offer you all that we have to give.  Welcome, 2010.  Welcome!

Happy Endings

Mere hours from now, 2009 will slip into the past, taking its place in memory.  As you tuck it away, take some time to reflect on the days of joy it brought you; wrap it in happiness as you bid it farewell.

How we remember things depends to a surprising extent on how they end.  So drink a cup of kindness as you put the passing year to rest; send it off with a blessing of gratitude and joy.

Take time to think back on the laughter and good times that you shared with family and friends, on the way you were warmed by good company.  Think of the celebrations the year held, the successes you achieved, the things you learned, the things you were able to teach others, the fun you had.  Feel how enriched you are because of all you have been through in the passing year.  Appreciate how you have grown in your understanding of life because of all the textures of emotion you experienced.

Let your mind drift through all the seasons of the passing year and recall the beauty each one freely offered.

Think of all the entertainment the world brought you with its rich array of arts and sports, the comedy and drama, the gracefulness and skill, the inspiration, the thrills, the beauty.  Think of the leisure hours that renewed and uplifted you.

Appreciate the strength and depth you gained by meeting adversity, and the courage you found to get through the challenging times of pain and loss.  Appreciate your resilience and your willingness to hope.

Remember with love those to whom you bid farewell this past year and think of all the beautiful times you shared that made them so dear.  Celebrate the new lives that have entered your world.

As the year slips away into memory, put a mark of happiness on all its golden hours, and may they be a springboard for even greater joys in the year ahead.

From the depths of my heart, I wish each of you a truly happy New Year.

The Happiness of Patience

Some close friends and I were talking today about our personal hopes and plans for the new year that’s about to dawn.  None of us intended to make any formal resolutions.  For the most part, each of us is happy with the paths we are on.  We’re already committed to growing in our awareness, deepening our spiritual consciousness, expanding our skills, developing our talents, moving toward increasingly vibrant health and well-being.

But then one friend confessed that she was feeling stuck and seemed to be going around in dull circles in her life.  Nothing seemed to have any special appeal for her right now.  Nothing was grabbing her interest or attention.  Her life was all questions and no answers.

“Ah!” Charles said, “You’re resting.  That’s what you’re wanting right now.  Enjoy it!”

That’s great advice.  When you find yourself at a standstill, embrace it.  Meet it with open arms, allowing it to be exactly what it is—a time of inner renewal.  When you can learn to enjoy life’s pauses, you’re all the more ready when the time for new creations appears.

Being at a standstill is like being in the midst of a psychic winter.  It feels as if everything has stopped growing.  The nights are long, and the days lack color.  It’s a time when everything seems turned inward.  You hunger for light and yearn for the days when you can run bare-legged beneath a warm and friendly sun.

And yet, if you listen with your inner senses, you can tell that miracles are happening beneath the snow-draped fields.  The bulbs and seeds are alive with magic and silently preparing to birth wonders.  Within the trees, looking so barren and lifeless now, cells are performing secret alchemies that will burst into blossom and leaves.

Yet the soil knows no restlessness, and the trees are masters of waiting.  They are masters of patience, and in their wisdom they say.  “Enjoy the beauty of the moment, of this day.”

They know the secret expressed by the 19th Century poet Bulwer-Lytton:  “Patience is not passive; on the contrary, it is active.  It is concentrated strength.”  It’s the strength of regeneration, of inner construction, of preparation for the next outward swing of the creative force.

Patience waits with power and dignity, with poise and self-possession.  It understands the down strokes of life’s rhythms, its in-breaths.  Patience sinks into them with persevering calm and steadiness, humming a contented little song, for it knows the purpose of its waiting.  It goes about its tasks with an even temper, resting on the outer quiet of the phase.  It busies itself with observations as it waits, and indulges in diversions and play.  It likes the holiness of the moment’s hidden magic and feels the intensifying joy of hope and anticipation, asking, “What will this bring?  What will this bring?”  as the process flows toward birth and completion.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves,” said Rainer Maria Rilke.  “Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is to live everything.  Live the questions.”

Follow the Path with Heart: A Happiness Tale

Perplexed about how to choose a direction, the apprentice took his confusion to the shaman.  The old man’s leathery face took on a gentle smile as he replied to his student,  “Follow the path with heart.”

The young man pondered the wise elder’s advice.  Then, he cupped each choice before him invisibly in his hands, one at a time, holding it to his heart and listening to hear what his heart had to say.

He discovered each alternative had a different feel to it.  This first one was cool and light.  He set it aside and picked up the next.  It was heavy and dull, and he set it aside.  The third was pleasantly warm and seemed to have a magnetic quality to it, as if it were drawing him toward it.  He noted the feeling and set that choice down so he could weigh the final one.

As he cupped this last alternative in his hands and held it to his heart, suddenly he was enveloped in a radiant glow and he felt as if inaudible music was enveloping him.  This, he knew, was the song of his heart and as he heard it, all his confusion disappeared.

He set out on the path his heart directed him to take with great gladness, and at first the way was smooth and easy.  But as the days passed, the terrain grew rocky and the path narrow and steep.  The young man had to choose his steps with great care.   He began to grow light-headed and disoriented, and feared he would lose his balance.  Trembling slightly, he kept on, every step more difficult than the last.  He had to use all his knowledge and skill to find each next foothold.

One evening, the sky turned red and a fierce dust storm pummeled him.  He crouched shaking behind a boulder, exhausted from his long, arduous climb.  “What have I come to?” he asked himself.  “How can I go on?”

He remembered the pouch of water tucked beneath his tunic, and as he reached for it, he suddenly felt the beating of his heart.  “Follow the path with heart,” he thought to himself, hearing his teacher’s voice in his mind.  But now the words no longer spoke to the question of “which” but to the question of “how,” and as he heard them, he felt his courage rise within him.  And comforted by it, he fell asleep.

When he awoke, a new day had spread itself over the horizon, fresh and clear.  As he stepped from behind the boulder that had given him refuge, he saw he was at the crest of the mountain he had climbed, and a bubbling spring was cascading down a path that led to a village, shining in the morning light, below him.

He ended up settling in the village, where he learned music and healing arts, and all the people loved him and children loved to play outside his door.

One day, when he had been there many, many seasons and was an old man with a leathery face, a perplexed youngster he had been tutoring came to him, asking how he could know the best direction for his life.  The old man’s face gently smiled as he looked into the young man’s eyes.  “Follow the path with heart,” the old man said.  “Follow the path with heart.”

The Happiness of Self-Discipline

Oh sure, just what you wanted to hear, right smack-dab in the middle of the biggest party time of the year!  Here you are, stuffed full of cookies and fruitcake, (okay, maybe not fruitcake) and laying in the goods for the big New Year’s Eve bash, and you’re supposed to think about self-discipline?  Good one, hey?

Well, I only want you to think about it long enough to give the boys in the back room something to chew on.  (That’s what I call that clever part of you that delivers new ideas and solutions to you.  It’s a specialized division of your subconscious, if you will.)

Here’s the deal.  Come January 1 (And it’s coming fast!), you’re going to have this notion that you’re going to adopt some so-called resolutions and make a new, improved you of yourself.   You know, the one that’s finally going to be buff, and organized, and get the garage cleaned out and stuff.

That’s cool.  If that’s what really spins your wheels.  But if it’s only what you think you should do, forget it.  I happen to be something of an expert on goal-setting, and the one thing you absolutely have to know about choosing a goal is that it MUST be personally meaningful to you.  In other words, you have to really care about it and know why you want it.   If you’ve got that, you’ve got all you need to get there.

Now chances are, unless you have really been thinking about it, you only have some vague thoughts about what you would really like to achieve in the coming year.   If you know, great.  If you don’t, why not let your resolution be something along the lines of taking a couple weeks to figure it out and then get into gear.

Either way, once you have a fairly clear idea of what aspect of your life you want to develop, make a commitment to it.   That’s where self-discipline comes in.  It means you give yourself to your new direction whole-heartedly, that you’ll pick yourself up and start again when you backslide, that you’ll keep on keeping on no matter what, that you’ll learn and apply and practice everything it requires of you.

That’s where the happiness enters.  When you wake every morning knowing that your day has purpose, that you have a fresh opportunity to move in the direction you have chosen, your life has meaning.   And there’s nothing like a meaningful life to make you the happiest kid on the block.  I guarantee it.

Lasting Happiness

Life’s moments flow past so quickly, some sparkling with bright pleasures, some dark with pain.  Each, as it passes, adds to the sum that determines the quality of our lives, leaving behind its lessons, showing us how to reach for greater goodness, deeper loving, and more joy.

We learn to meet hurt with forgiveness and to wrap our hearts around each other’s sorrows and pains.  We learn to sing songs of gratitude and praise, and to celebrate the simple things.  We learn that what matters are the moments we spend awake to life’s beauty, the times we embraced and were embraced by kindness and love.

We learn that pleasures are fleeting, that each desire met gives way to another, and that joy is more in the journey than in arriving at an end, although each pinnacle reached is cause for satisfaction and food for savoring when we pause to look back on where we’ve been.

We discover that while we know much and are always learning more, there is no end to the mystery in whose midst we live, and so we learn humility and awe.  We find that truth and goodness provide solid ground on which to stand, and we adopt a willingness to let go of anything that keeps us from walking in their paths.

We learn that laughter, as well as silence, is golden and so we open ourselves freely to those things that bring us delight.

We learn to say “I’m sorry” and to make amends when we have caused injury.  And we find that being forgiven is a priceless grace.

Along the way, we absorb the lessons of the seasons and learn the constancy of change.  And so we seek to be pliant, flexible, resilient and flowing, giving to each season its due.

As our friendships expand to include those whose opinions and beliefs differ from our own, we learn tolerance and gain skill at examining our own dearly held assumptions, and so we move nearer to discovering that the heart has wisdom that the intellect may never know.

We give ourselves to adventure and comfort ourselves with the familiar.  We probe and play, and we retire and review.  We learn the beauty of balance and harmony and our lives become a kind of song.

And so the moments flow by, each one giving its gift.  And lasting happiness lies in accepting each one as it comes, and opening ourselves to its treasure.

The Happiness of Giving Our Best

When a friend of mine voiced the season’s most frequently spoken complaint—that the holidays were altogether too commercialized—I got to thinking about how compelling the whole gift-giving ritual is, how everybody gets swept up in it, even when it goes against the grain of their personal beliefs about how things should be.

“What drives it, really?”  I wondered.  Oh sure, for some it’s a mindless response to the relentless advertising campaigns.  For others it’s an unquestioned tradition.  For others still, a bowing to social pressure.

But even when we don’t question why we feel compelled to give gifts this time of year—to shop or make things or to give of our time–we do put thought into what we will give.  And even though times are tough and wallets thin, we want to give the best that we can—something that will please or help or be useful, something that will say, “I care,”  and give joy.

Even if we only write a card or note, or make a phone call or visit, or do a kindness, what drives us, the irresistible force that’s behind it, seems to me to be an almost universal upwelling of love.  And that, I think, is the miracle of it all.  And that’s the power behind its contagion.

Love just grabs your heart and carries you along on its unstoppable tide.  It makes you want to give the very best you have to offer, because nothing less will satisfy love’s sweet command; nothing less will do.  And that’s where the joy comes from, and the peace.  It comes from saying yes to love and giving it away the very best way you can.

In Celebration of Friendship

When my good buddy, Bob, went to the Emergency Department three days ago and they admitted him to the hospital for observation and to run some tests, I was concerned.  At 73, Bob’s as tough and hardy as they come and he does more in your average day than most men half his age.  But over the course of the last week, he’s had some symptoms that could signal a small stroke.

The doctors ran their tests and put him on a blood thinner.  And then today, to the sky-high joy of everybody who knows him, they gave Bob the “all clear,” and turned him loose.  He’s in darned good shape for his age, they say, and needs to do nothing more than take a daily aspirin.

Tonight my phone rang.  “You need anything from the store?” Bob asked.  I told him that I didn’t need a thing, but that I was sure grateful for the firewood he brought me over the weekend because my furnace wouldn’t light and with the outdoor temperature in the single digits, the fire in my woodstove was welcome indeed.  “I’ll be there in two minutes,” Bob said and hung up.

Sure enough, two minutes later, he showed up with a couple wrenches in hand.  And within half an hour, my furnace was pumping out heat.  But even better than the warmth his skilled tinkering brought to my house was the warmth that seeing him brought to my heart.

Friends matter.  Every last one of them is a unique and irreplaceable gift.

They bring us laughter and encouragement; comfort and support.  No matter how dark the road, or how heavy a burden we may be carrying, our friends bright us light and lighten our loads.

They come to us with listening ears, helping hands, rolled up sleeves and honest advice.  They see us for who we are, appreciating the good and overlooking the bad, and love us anyway, in all our moods, through all our trials and celebrations.   And for all they give us, they ask nothing but our company in return, and a simple “Thanks!”

They teach us the real meaning of unconditional love—both the giving and the receiving of it.  And there is no higher lesson.

Melting into Happiness

I got a happiness reminder from the snow on this first full day of winter.  It was another hundred-mile-an-hour day at work and when I walked from the office, I was carrying a lot of tension from the day’s unrelenting demands.

But as I rounded the corner to the parking lot, a little patch of melting snow on the rail fence that lines the clinic’s grounds caught my eye.  Yesterday it covered the rails completely, making smooth, rounded shapes of their usual angles.  But as it surrendered itself to the relative warmth, after the weekend’s storm, the snow was quickly melting away.

“That’s what letting go is like,” I thought to myself.  “It’s like melting.”

Like snow in the sun’s warmth, like a candy cane on your tongue, or ice cream on a summer day, it’s just a simple surrender.  Who needs the brittleness of tension knotting up their necks, their backs, their shoulders!  Let the warmth in; let it dissolve.

Dunk yourself in the warmth of kindnesses given and received, of the beauty of the day and of the rolling seasons.  Slow things down.  Feel the warmth of a smile.  Feel the satisfaction of work well done.   Let happiness churn up some warm joy and bubble the tension away.

Melt into the moment, with all its wonder and peace.  Melt into the simple gladness of being.