Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Pursuit of Happiness

Happy 2016!

I saw an ad for a course recently that promised “total happiness” as one of the course’s outcomes (along with “your best body and beyond” – and all in less than a month!). Isn't that how New Year's resolutions are made? Out of the pursuit of happiness?

I’ve realized in my years as a therapist that there is an underlying message in our culture in general – or perhaps it’s best to say in our society in general, because there really isn’t just one “American” culture – that if we’re doing this human thing right, we should be happy.  And apparently we should be happy all the time no matter what happens. I’m curious about how this came to be, but the main issue I have with this premise is that when people find themselves unhappy, there is often a presumption of failure. If I’m supposed to be happy (all the time) and I find that my life situation has caused sadness or despair or frustration or anger then it must mean that I’m failing at this thing called “being human.”

The reality is, that by virtue of landing in a human body (however you believe that happened), you were set up for a life experience that likely will include a wide range of emotions, of which happiness is only one. Even the most optimistic of souls (and I live with one of those souls) occasionally gets sad, disappointed, frustrated and even angry. Every human experiences physical and emotional pain. It’s part of the package. It’s not a sign of failure.

Now there is the definite possibility, especially if your life involved overwhelming trauma, that your human system might actually no longer remember how to recognize pleasure. If that’s the case then there is some work to be done. Pleasure is part of our birthright. It’s part of the package. For happiness to happen, in my opinion, the ability to experience that which pleases us is required. And through the wonders of neuroplasticity, human systems - even after years of deprivation - can learn to recognize pleasure.

So while happiness isn’t necessarily the goal, a complete lack of happiness is also an indication of a system that’s lost its ability to be resilient. (Not a failure, an indication of a need for more resiliency). Daniel Siegel describes “integration” as the healthiest human state. Peter Levine discusses being in a state of flow. Either way, we are able to have the capacity to experience the range of life’s experiences, to be present for life and make some choices about how we want to respond, rather than going into reactivity. (And really, even reactivity is part of the package!) When we are in an integrated state of flow we are able to allow life to happen. We can be with ourselves, and others, as we are - happy, sad, lonely, joyful, disappointed, angry. We don't have to get stuck in any one of these. Isn’t that a worthier pursuit than happiness?

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Re-emerging & Expanding

Monarch butterfly cococon (yes, it looks like a jade
 jewel with sparkles!)
If you've read my blog before, thanks for checking back - it's been a long time! If you're new, welcome! I hope you're inspired or that this sparks some thoughts that help add even just a little ease to this journey of  life. 

Having made the decision to resurrect this blog, I decided to go back and read previous blog posts to remind myself of what I wrote in the past. I found myself appreciating the wisdom I’ve gained over the years and grateful for the teachers who have helped me to learn those valuable lessons so that I could pass them on to others. Of course it is a continuing journey, and the more we learn, the more there is to discover!

When we are able to step back and notice the patterns and cycles of our lives, one of the things that  becomes most apparent is that humans change through cycles of expansion  and contraction (or what I like to call cocooning). After many years of cocooning, I feel as if I’m finally expanding again. And it feels good.

After reading over the entries in this blog, I shifted to read my old Wordpress blog. I realized I’ve been writing since September of 2008! And some pretty decent reflections if I may say so myself. The thing is that I’ve actually been scared of people reading what I wrote. So energetically, even though I was putting it out there, I was still doubting and hesitant about how it would be received. – still holding back. And apparently the time for
Cocoon just before the butterfly emerges.
holding back is over.

So instead of writing something new this time, I want to share some of my favorite posts. I’d love to hear comments and feedback, complements or constructive (!) criticism. Ultimately my hope is that the stuff I write will help the readers to be more compassionate toward themselves as humans. In the end I think we’re all trying to live the best lives we can. And sometimes it sure ain’t easy!

So, here are my favorites from my old blog 2008-2010. Next time I’ll post the favorites from this current blog.

Peace Begins with Me. If we want peace in the world, ultimately it means each human has to become more peaceful (since “the world” is made up of humans, right?) So what if we each committed to being just a little more peaceful? What kind of a change would that make??

Freshly emerged Monarch butterfly
(in my kitchen!)
What’s Your Net Effect? is about being conscious of how our internal state is as much a part of the effect we have on the world as our outer actions: “I have begun to wonder, if we do all the work we can toward making the world a better place, but do it from a place of anger, judgment and self-righteousness, what kind of change are we really affecting? Do we in effect cancel out any good we’ve done? Do we end up with a net effect of zero?

More Peaceful or Less Stressed? You Choose:  “…when we say “I want to be less stressed” we actually focus on the stress and indeed perpetuate the notion of our stressfulness. On the contrary when we say “I want to be more peaceful” the mind hears “peaceful” and there is a subtle quieting that takes place within the body without any additional effort.

Giving Up the Quest: Lessons In Being Present talks about realizing that this spiritual journey can become warped into a kind of consumerism - a wanting to be something other than who we are. Sometimes the best thing is to realize that we’re really ok as we are.


Enjoy! And let me know what you think….