Worth the Climb: A Happiness Tale

caterpillar and wildflower budsThe path had been difficult and fraught with danger.  But he was an explorer; he expected nothing less.  His only goal, after all, was to experience himself as he discovered this new world.

Not everything was hard, of course.  The pleasures and beauties far outweighed the challenges.  And the food here was magnificent.

No, the difficulties were just another variety of experience, and as he mastered each one, he learned its secrets and built his skills.  All in all, it had been an excellent journey.

Now the hours of light were shrinking with every passing day.  The urge to spin a cocoon was growing strong.  It would be the final and grandest phase of his adventure and he hungered for it mightily.

But over the course of his caterpillar life, he had developed a special fondness for the bud of a certain flower, and he wanted one last taste of it before he moved on.  He had to search awhile to find the plant where the buds grew.  They were way at the top, and it would be a long climb, taking every last ounce of his caterpillar strength.

The day was windy and he had to grip the stem with all his might as he inched his way slowly to the top.  Rains came and pelted him and it was all he could do to hang on.  But he kept the vision of the nectar-filled buds before him as he fought his way forward.  He could feel the texture of their curled little wrappers and taste the honey of the sweet little petals nestled inside.

At last they were within reach, and with his very last bit of energy, the valiant little caterpillar climbed to the topmost one and rested his head on its roundness, breathing in its beautiful scent.  And there he slept for awhile, bathed in the bud’s fragrance, the satisfaction of victory coursing through his dreams.

Autumn Delights

Bee on white wild astersThe little bees are so busy now, darting from aster to aster, gathering the last little sticky bits of pollen before the season’s close.

In the orchards, the gathering of the apples has begun, and pumpkins and bundles of corn stalks are everywhere.

Autumn is picking up the beat, getting us all moving again after summer’s leisure.  “It’s time!” she sings, hurling down her colored leaves.  “Pay attention.  Get it done.”

The nights are cool; the mornings bathed in mists and fog.  Any day now, we’ll see the first frost.

There’s a purposefulness about things, a shouldering of the load.  We’re sharp now, getting ready to pull on our boots, roll up our sleeves and dispatch the tasks before us.

Before it’s over, the grain will be in the bins, the hay rolled, the apples pressed into cider, the grapes gathered from the vines.  We’ll roast potatoes, freshly dug from the field, and tastes the season’s first rich autumn pies behind our steamy kitchen windows.

But right now, there’s work to be done.  We feel useful again, and necessary.  The industriousness that autumn brings is one of its chief delights.

Adventures at the Water School: A Happiness Tale

Raindrops on Yellow FlowersEvery millennium, when it opened its door for admissions, the Water School found tens of billions of applicants waiting at its gates.

Of course all the schools of the renowned College of Elementals were popular, but the training at the Water School was known across the universe for its fun.

Before graduation, the trainees got to practice grouping themselves as mists and rivers, as towering clouds, rainbows and whirlpools, as oceans and as rain. They learned how to stand still enough to become ice and snowflakes, and how to dance so fast they lost their boundaries completely and only their thoughts remained until they collected themselves again.

They loved to frolic on the Earth and called its oceans Mother.  They called the heavens Father Sky and were thrilled to rise to his heights.  When they were with Father, they got to fill the whole atmosphere, bending sunlight into the colors of sunset and dawn.  They got to make art as clouds, and to ride down as raindrops from way, way up high.

That was the coolest thing, the falling raindrop ride.  The trees and flowers and animals would look up from earth as they tumbled closer and closer and sing to each other, “Here come the sky-kids!  Here come the sky-kids!”  It was grand.

You never knew where you would land when you were a raindrop or what kind of adventure you would have once you did.  You’d slide down petals and rocks and leaves, slither down stalks or skin or fur, or end up on a tongue.  You might get to join the elementals playing snow-on-the-mountain, or hit a desert and burst right back into the sky.  But sooner or later, you’d find yourself home in your mother’s vast arms, rocking and rocking until Father’s voice would call again, inviting you to come outside and play.

It was a very thorough course of training.  And even though they got to be in the College for ten thousand years, the little elementals never tired of their classes.  When they graduated, they were proud, and glad, and they vowed to send their kids to the Water School someday to study with Mother Ocean and Father Sky.  And you know what?  Many of them did just that.  Wouldn’t you?

Glory Dancing: A Happiness Tale

Everything was so dark, and twisted, and confused.  All she knew was that she mustn’t give up.

Some enormous force was pulling her forward, and she ached to surrender to it, to break free.  But she was bound so tightly it took all her might to move even the tiniest fraction of an inch.  Her struggle was terrible and intense, like wrestling in a nightmare with some invisible foe.  But, the force kept calling her, urging her on.

As time went on, she began to notice fluctuations of heat and cold as she labored against the coils that imprisoned her. And somehow she knew she was making progress.

Instead of tiring, she found her strength increasing and she began to sense waves of faint color and light, to taste a mild sweetness, to feel hints of soft air gliding around her and strains of musical sounds.

Then one day, with one last push, suddenly she was free!  She flung her petals wide and drops of autumn rain washed and cooled her as she floated in the liquid morning air.  From deep within her, joy burst forth, echoing the call that had driven her forward through her long, dark struggle.  And she felt her joy merge with its song and soar in glory, dancing.

Loving It, Whatever It Is

Red Vine, Green Trees, Blue SkyWe see such a narrow band of things, a little slice of rays from a giant spectrum of light.  It’s hard to know what’s real and true.  All we’ve got, when it comes right down to it, are our made-up assumptions.

I mean, you talk with the quantum physics guys for awhile, and you end up not knowing whether anything is even really there.  Not even time and space.

Maybe we’re all just one big, multi-layered dream that some giant in another dimension is dreaming.  Who knows?  (And what happens if he wakes up?)

Maybe we, together, are the giant who is dreaming us.  Maybe we’re the dreamer and the dream.

All we have to go on is what happens in our hearts and heads, and whatever it is that we ourselves come to believe in and imagine.  Somehow, it seems, that affects the way the whole of it works out for us, individually and together.

The world that I inhabit was beautiful today, and my heart was glad and loving it, whatever it is.  That’s the piece that I’ll add to the ever changing puzzle.  You?

Get Your Glad On

Goldenrod in SunshineGlad is a light that your heart shines when you remember your life is okay.  It’s the sun coming back after the rain, or rolling over the earth’s edge at the start of a brand new day.

It’s as warm and golden as butter melting on French toast, and the taste of it makes you smile and want to tap your toes.

Glad’s not content, though, just to sit there humming.  Oh, it might sneak up on you like a whisper.  But glad’s just itching to shout.  An upturned mouth corner is fine for starters, but you can put money on glad’s pushing it into a full-fledged grin before it’s through with you.

Glad, see, is brimming with exuberance.  It’s got some jovial to it, and a touch of mirth.  And all it wants is to push right through you out into the world, to spread itself around, get the whole place singing hosannas and stomping its feet.

It’s a tough job, given all the gloom it’s gotta shine through.  I say give it a hand.  Get your glad on and, hey, take it to the streets.

The Library of Lives: A Happiness Tale

Fallen LeavesWhen he died, he told me, one of the places he saw before they sent him back was what he called the Library of Lives.

It was a vast and magnificent place, he said, that seemed to be made of crystal and light.

After you spend the hours of your days, he explained, they fall from you like colored leaves dropped from September trees to the ground.  And caretaker angels gather them together to make living pages that go into the book of your life.

They could only show him his own, he said, because you had to get permission to look at anyone else’s life.  He was disappointed about that because his own life had been so, well, ordinary.  He would have preferred to browse through the books of heroes and adventurers, of those who had lived with daring or made great contributions of some kind to the world. But no exceptions were granted to the rule.

So he sat down with the book of his own life, and what he saw when he opened its pages amazed him.  Each page captured every moment of a day, every emotion, every thought, every deed—even the ones that you had taken for granted or that passed without your notice.  And as you viewed each page, it came alive and you could feel exactly what it felt like to be living it.  But somehow you saw it through a lens of great gratitude, and humor, and joy.

Your darkest days were poignant and you bathed yourself in compassion and forgiveness as you viewed them.  The moments you thought were humdrum glowed as if they were miniature portraits of your own unique slice of space-time.  And oh, how the hours of light and laughter sang!

Taken together, the old man told me, the hours of each day seemed like a beautiful work of art.  Each one had so much depth, so much meaning, so much harmony to it.

He only got to look at a few pages, he said, and then he was called to return to his life and had to let the book go.  But as he slid back into his body, he knew that this moment would be a leaf on the page he was living now, and that for all his tomorrows, life would never seem ordinary again.

A Moment of Balance

Leaf-strewn Creek“Happiness is not a matter of intensity, but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.” ~ Thomas Merton

The trees shine up from the creek’s surface, their castaway leaves laughing on the ground and floating merrily on the water.  Beneath my feet, they crunch as I walk.  The earth, in the afternoon’s heat, smells of autumn, and crickets sing.

Today is the Autumnal Equinox, when day and night stand in balance.  Here in the woods, it feels holy, as if the earth, poised on the cusp of the new season, is pausing at the end of its long summer sigh before it gathers everything in.

There’s a stillness about things, almost a watchfulness.  I can feel the last of summer settling away.  And in the far distance, I imagine I hear the high whistle of winter winds as they ready themselves for their part in the dance.

All things contain each other.  In every grain, the whole tells its dynamic, ever-evolving story.  The up merges with the down; the inside blends with the out.  And in this moment, this precious instant when the earth balances between seasons, I feel the harmony and order of it all, and it tastes of unending happiness.

This Side of the Grass

Waving GrassI was still about six feet from the narrow part of the sidewalk that goes between the railing and the fence, when an elderly man stepped onto the walkway ahead of me, moving with a slow and careful gait.

I was within two minutes of being late to clock in, and ordinarily I would have felt frustration at being delayed.  But it was such a gorgeous morning—clear and sparkling—that I didn’t even care.

The old gentleman had only gone about two feet when, hearing me behind him, he stopped and turned toward me, his lined face beaming with a smile.

“Don’t let me slow you down, little lady,” he said, his eyes twinkling.  And he stepped aside, gesturing with a sweep of his arm for me to walk past.

“How kind of you!” I said.  “Thanks!  Beautiful morning, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” he said, his face brightening even more.  “Yes, it is.  I woke up on this side of the grass.”

“This side of the grass!” I repeated, laughing.  “That’s wonderful!”

“It kind of made my day, too,” he said.  “You have yourself a fine one, ma’am.”

With an exchange like that to begin it, how could I have had anything else!

Grace in the Hardest Places: A Happiness Tale

red leaf on bricksWhen they were advertising for the place, they never said it would be easy, or cheap, or fair.  Thrills?  Extremes?  Oh yes; you could expect plenty of those.  And experiences to test the metal of the hardiest.

It was all an experiment, you see.  Nothing quite like it had ever been tried before.

The body suit you’d wear was fashioned completely from the elements of the place.  And while it was remarkably serviceable, it was far from perfect.  It was subject to damage for one thing.  And because the place was located in the time stream, it deteriorated as well.  So the length of your stay would depend entirely on how well your body suit held up.

The body suit’s processing apparatus had a lot of potential; but it could receive external data only from five senses that were limited in the range of vibrations they could perceive.  That was one of the major challenges.

But the bigger one was that your memories would disappear the moment you slipped into the body suit.  Your only connection to your actual identity was lodged in its heart, but so far, returning adventurers reported that its signals were eclipsed by those coming from outside the suit and difficult to access and interpret.  You had to get special training once you were there from those who had learned to listen.

All those factors created, it seemed from the evidence to date, one heck of an emotional stew for the adventurers.  They told of experiencing amazing things like anger, and frustration, hopelessness, fear and despair.  And yet, to the last, they all said it was a small price to pay for the beauty they had seen, the kindness and camaraderie they had experienced, the thrill of overcoming obstacles, of stumbling into hope and discovering faith.

“You could forget entirely who you are and be caught up in the complex problems of the challenge,” one of them recently reported, “when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, you’d get a whisper of truth, a whiff of goodness, or some sliver of beauty would appear.

“It was the most incredible thing,” he said.  “Regardless of how much pain or suffering you thought you were experiencing, when you needed it the most, you would look out and discover grace in the hardest places.”