The Muddied In-between

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July 15th, 2014, I walked down SE 37th Avenue toward Reed College campus.

The canvas of my black Vans, a pair far beyond their prime, ripped at the seams of the heels. That morning, I’d cut up a pair of Levi’s jeans that I’d bought on 14th Street in NYC back in 2008, and pulled them over my sticky legs. I never wear shorts, but, that day in Portland, it was too wicked to wear anything else. It was too hot to stay inside. And, I shoved my book, an old, red sheet, and a bottle of water into my canvas, “Catch 22” bag from Barnes & Noble and stepped out of my apartment, waiting to find some space to breathe. But, the air was too thick.

Like that day in July, my life had stagnated. Love and joy had left me. And, I walked down the sidewalk, shoes disintegrating, toward the only place I had left that, I felt, could still hold the entirety of me: The green lawn beside Reed’s gravel track, in the the shade of a tree whose trunk looked as weathered as I felt.

I cast my sheet out, hoping for the assistance of a breeze that never came. The leaves above me moved in slow, gentle waves. The sun glinted through the green canopy, and I lay on my stomach, my head turned to one side, watching the brave few walking their panting dogs toward the nature trail that ran along side the brook on the other side of the red, brick dormitory.

Happiness, in that strange summer, always found me beneath that tree. The sun, sparkling, between cracks in the branches, reflecting off my Ray-Bans. Beneath me, was an Earth that felt damp and alive. Above me, was a cloudless, unmoving sky. — When we are sure we are forsaken, there is always a place we can go to find ourselves again.

***          ***          ***

This month of March, is the final month in my Year of Happiness. And, it doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel right that a whole year has past since I first decided that, if I was determined, I could uncover anything — only by deciding to seek it. I continue to search for moments in my memory where I have been as sure, as aware, as I am now. Moments when I knew where to go to get what I needed. There are so few, but, in seeking them, I am able to measure how truly profound those few moments in my life have been.

I’m still not sure how to sum this year up. It has been unlike any other. And, I tell myself that this can be said of any year, but, I know that, somehow, this year has been different. I have sought myself, and others, in a different way. I have allowed myself, and those around me, room to move. And, as a result, I have discovered such truth and hurt and joy and Happiness that, now, as I try to describe it, words fail me. In making these discoveries, I find that, everything I’d been seeking was with me, inside me, all along. And, when I close my eyes and try to pinpoint the exact feeling that has connected me to this new freedom, I always find myself beneath my weathered tree.

***          ***          ***

I unlaced my Vans and pulled my feet out from inside them. I placed my heels on the grass, and let my toes press into the dirt. I let my head rest on the corner of my red sheet and I spread my arms wide. I let my chest, beaded with sweat, press into the ground, hard and uneven beneath me. And, even though I found myself more alone on that afternoon than I’d ever been — in that quiet, solitary moment, I felt that I was a part of everything. A perfect sky hung above me. A cool Earth surged beneath me. And, the umbrella of my tree’s leaves, floated somewhere in-between the the two.

I wrote a song about Oregon. And, in it, I sing, “The mountains hold your heart, but, they don’t own you. Tree tops touch the sky, but, they’re still rooted deep below you.” And, for me, this is what Happiness has become. The muddied in-between. The balance of what we can truly touch and what we can only see in the mind’s eye. There is no time, person, or place that can define us. What will define us, is the time that we allow ourselves to sit still and truly become part of everything.

Happiness is not joy. Happiness is everything. Joy is the recognition that you have been a part of any of it — all of it.

It’s all very ambiguous. Very hippied out.  And, that’s what I missed while I was busy being so methodical and regimented. I missed out on the beauty of all my missteps because I was fixated on creating something that I’ll never be able to create. Because, it has already been created for me, for us — not by us. The sky, the tree, the ground — they were already there — just as we are here.

This time last year, as I brainstormed my plan for writing my Year of Happiness, I imagined I’d be wrapping up all this time in some kind of bullet-pointed retrospective. Expository obscurity. A list of lessons and realizations. A set of instructions. Definitive proof that the the pursuit of Happiness can never be fruitless. But, as I stand, looking out over these last, four weeks before me — I know. — I’ll write no such list.

Photo: Selfie, July 15th, 2014

 

 

 

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Emotional Bypasses & Literary Kidney Stones

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If you start running in woo-woo circles, you’re going to choke on the word “Acceptance” so many times, it’s likely you’ll vomit.

It’s one of those things that, since I got sober, I hear all the time. And, don’t get me wrong. “Acceptance” is great and all. It’s a foundation for a lot of stuff.

So, it has that going for it.

But, the thing about “Acceptance” is, it can only get you so far.

It’s one of those passive actions. It’s very, um, “Think-ey.” And, right now, I’m feelin’ pretty “Do-ey.”

This week marks the start of the 8th month in my Year of Happiness. And, I’m not sure why, but, this month feels like the big leagues. And the reason I’m getting “Do-ey” over here is because, well, it feels like it’s time. Time to get out of my head.

If you are, or were, a 12-Stepper, you know that the 12-Steps of Recovery start off in a kinda “Think-ey” way. But, it’s a trap! That’s how they getcha. They ease you into it and then — BOOM. They hit you with Step 4, hard, like a cast iron skillet to the head.

Working Step 4 (a rigorously honest moral inventory), things get pretty action oriented. And, before you know what’s happening, the gates to hell are opened, and all the recovery newbies are thrown into the fire that the devil lit himself. — Because, if you are really going to recover, then you’re going to get burnt. Like, really, really burnt.

It’s become very apparent to me over the last 8 months, that Happiness, like sobriety, requires quite a bit of action. And, the thing is, when you devote yourself to your own Happiness for an entire year, the things that make you Unhappy become very relevant, and very obvious — very quickly. That awareness, that painful, slow-drip of Unhappiness, has been the Catch 22 of this entire project. The elephant in the room. Because, if there wasn’t some part of me that needed the Happiness in the first place, this entire project would be for naught.

So, I’ve had to ask myself, as I roll into the final 1/3 of my Year of Happiness: How am I going to face these Unhappy things for the sake of my Happiness?  And, honestly, even as I type this, it makes me wince a bit.

Having a blog and being honest (and pretty public) about your life can be unnerving sometimes. Especially when you know that a project, one that you, yourself, have designed, is going to bring you (and your audience) face to face with things that are uncomfortable for you. Owning up is hard. But, owning up publicly is harder.

For me, this project is about more than making myself visible or making you, my reader, a voyeur. It’s about storytelling and shared experiences. It’s about feeling less alone in a pretty lonely world. And, it’s about being unapologetic about your apologies. Whether you live in sobriety or not, we’re not that different. Because, you know — HUMANITY.

I’ve devoted this month to Owning Up. And, no, you’re not going to get a Danielle Steel novel, or the police report from my arrest, or some wild’n’crazy confession. However, you are going to get stories. Stories that hurt. Stories I haven’t written yet, but have been sitting in my veins waiting to bleed out for awhile. And, these stories are going to be truly difficult to write. These are the stories that have been stopping up my Happiness-arteries for years and years. And, I’m choosing to use my Year of Happiness as a kind of literary, emotional-bypass surgery.

There are always stories that are difficult to pass. Emotional kidney stones, if you will. And, this month, I’m doing a very “Do-ey” thing. — I’m going to Own Up to the things that still haunt my Happiness.

So, maybe you’re wondering, why the grand overture?

Well. Owning Up is a bitch. And, frankly, I have to build myself up. I’m sure that being vulnerable and visible in new ways is an artist’s work. And, I don’t know that I’m calling myself an artist here, but, I do know that I enjoy thinking about things in new ways. I enjoy seeing (and writing) people in the places they once were and in new light, where I sometimes find them. Being sober has illuminated so much of my own darkness. But, sobriety cannot do the work of telling the stories that brought me to it in the first place.

All that light, that’s just acceptance. And, acceptance lives in the “Think-ey” side of my brain. It’s time for doing. Action creates change. And, change is what this year has been about. My Year of Happiness isn’t some hook to get you to read this blog. — My Year of Happiness is an experiment. A thermometer. A gauge. A way to see if we really can get from Point A to Point B in one year if we set the intention to do so.

November’s posts are going to get away from the self-help narrative that is often my jam. This month’s posts are going to read like narratives. And, it’s all in the name of Owning Up. In the name of wading through shit in order to get out of the basement. In the name of “Acceptance.”

Which is really to say: Happiness and Unhappiness are inextricably linked. Without one another, we couldn’t appreciate anything in our lives. And, I’m of the belief, this is by cosmic design. I’m also of the belief that we can get more Happiness by dealing with our Unhappiness than we can by just “Accepting” it.

I’ve learned that stories we don’t allow to come out, will continue to come up.

So, here’s to the “Do-ey” nature of regurgitation.

May it be the medicine that I (and, maybe even you) have long awaited.

Artwork: https://www.etsy.com/listing/86717763/vintage-book-art-print-anatomical-heart

I am looking, looking everywhere.

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The day of the family reunion — the heatwave hits.

I walk up the hill, out of my grandparents’ driveway. The sun bakes my shoulders and I can feel the sweat beading off the nape of my neck and gliding down my spine, where it eventually meets my bra-line. My black tank top feels heavy and damp. It’s only 11AM but, already, the day feels long. I’m walking across the street, to my parent’s house, to get my bathing suit. I’m surrounded by countryside that I thought might make me feel something that, so far — it hasn’t. Here, I can only feel the passage of time. I see it move under a canopy of green trees, their leaves fanning the air in the slow, Summer breeze. I see it flanked by stones that have been sinking into the ground since my childhood. I see it in the faces of my cousins who, now, wrangle their own children — it was not so long ago it was us who needed wrangling.

Seeing everything as it is, without pretense — that’s Visibility. Young, old. Broken, fixed. Happy, sad. We can exist in this space without judgement. Here, there isn’t any way to avoid being seen — family has an uncanny ability to find you. So, I prepare myself for the viewing. For the first time in a long time, I think that being seen might be easy. — If I can just allow myself to be comfortable in my own, constant state of flux as I weave between the rusted folding chairs and lean in to receive kisses on my cheeks.

Between handfuls of fancy nut mix, a host of relatives asked me, “What are you up to these days?” A question that still stabs me like a sharp, little knife, because, the answer remains — “I have no idea.” — My unending quest for purpose used to bring me shame. But, today, it doesn’t. 32 years in, and I am still at it. — I am looking, looking everywhere.

I kept repeating to my cousin, as we lay out in the blistering sun, “I feel so old this year.” And, I wondered why that was. What had aged me so much in this past year?

Later that night, as I lay alone in my bed, under the hum of the white, ceiling fan, I realized that I’ve finally conceded. — To myself. — I will always be figuring it out. I will always be looking.

In our youth, we are so sure that, at some point, things will become concrete. But, today, I know, at least for me, that will never be the case. — I am not done. Not now. Not ever.

I began in sobriety, struggling to be seen by others. And, now, in my Year of Happiness, I take the steps to begin seeing myself. — A joyful and heartbreaking endeavor. — One that has brought me immense relief.

In reunions past, I have struggled to Wow! my relatives, spouting off my non-accomplishments. Impressing upon them that I had achieved some state of completeness. But, truth be told, my joy is in the Seeking, never the completing.

There are many of us, Seekers, wandering about. We search for truth in the Universe — in ourselves. We read self-help books. We believe in miracles. We watch for signs. We press the people in our lives to help us create meaning. And, often, we are told there is none. — But, we never believe that to be true. Not even for a second.

As I age, I find myself less apologetic. I no longer resent those who ask me for some kind of explanation. Because, in becoming visible to myself, I find that I no longer require anyone else’s approval. Visibility allows me the confidence to stand in front of those that would have me explain myself, and be able to say, outright, that — I cannot.

From my grandparents’ dock, I stare out over the lake. The water is still, except for where my cousins and their children swim. Laughter echoes in the swaying trees, just as mine once did, so many years ago. I stand there alone, beside strewn sandals and striped towels, and my cousins beckon. “Come in! Come swimming!” They shout. “I forgot my suit is across the street!” I yell back. “Then, go get it! We’ll wait for you!”

And so, I do.

Through the years, I have often sought out one kind of love only to receive another. But, I am older now. Older than I’ve ever been. Old enough to know that love is love is love.

And, when love tells you it will wait for you — make haste — jump in the fucking water.

 

Trading Stories With The Devil

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I will always be a drunk.

Screaming out of cab windows, falling off ledges outside of bars, vomiting in bathroom sinks, waking up without any idea how I made it back to the couch in once piece — these little moments, are built into my DNA. And, I’ve finally stopped wishing them away.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to tell you, or anyone, how to find Willingness. But, at the very least, I thought I might be able to explain to you how it appeared to me.

I was so certain that I’d learned some unknowable truth, pointed and poignant lessons from the tattered scraps of myself that, I thought, I’d left behind. But, like the countless other surprises I’ve encountered since embarking on my Year of Happiness, this week, I find myself standing knee deep in something new and unfamiliar. A feeling that felt impossible. A lesson where I’ve managed to learn everything, and nothing at all. — Willingness isn’t just harnessing the gumption to change, it’s possessing the kind of maturity that allows you to embrace the parts of you that will never change.

When I try moving away from my alcoholism, I talk in a new voice, one that gives me distance from the pain and naivety of some version of my former self. Every time I do this, I get interrupted. I am reminded I cannot get away from things I once was, and these conversations with myself are not unlike having conversations with the Devil. After all, the Devil has collected all my drunken stories, and when I find myself in a joyful moment, he’ll dangle them, like apples, in front of me. — Ripe, with stems still attached. — He coils his tail, watches, and waits. And, I’ll do my best to avoid his bait — each story a precious, juicy, drunken memory — but they call out to me, until I write them, until I drop them here. — Cores and seeds strewn across his fiery floor.

The Devil shows up when I try to write myself into the future. — He shows up before I tell you that Willingness is the key to changing everything. — “It’sssssssssnot.” He hisses. — His apples may turn your stomach, but, they always leave you full with some kind of truth.

Each story he’s traded me, contains the same reminder. — Whatever I am today, I remain, the product of my unchanging past. — My stories will never change, no matter how desperately I once wanted to rewrite them.

All the things I was — I am.

Willingness is the ability to see ourselves. — Grace enough to accept that we are helplessly flawed, and a strange, new power to love what we have become, in spite of ourselves. Willingness is a catalyst, but, it is also an agreement. — We can trade our drinks for the Devil’s wisdom. He’ll keep our stories. And, when we think we have learned everything, the Devil will open to a page and read. The places and characters, still, all the same. The hurt will still cut, a sharp blade in my side. And, each outcome remains unchanged, a gem in his collection:

He is gone forever and I call out sick for a week to drink gin, from the bottle, in bed. The Christmas tree has fallen, and I sleep in spilled whiskey beside it, pine needles pressed into my cheek. Jason and I dance to bagpipes, full volume, at 3AM and the neighbor calls the landlord. I can see that the cop who fingerprints me pities me and I cry when he takes the laces from my shoes. Tony turns the key and kills the engine, pulls me from behind the wheel, and carries me into the apartment, again. I leave the drugs in an empty pack of cigarettes on the picnic table outside the bar, by accident, and they are still there the next morning. — All this, and still, I am beautiful.

In 12-Step, the 6th Step is: We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. — God, if he exists at all, is questionable. I am guided by the Universe, I think — really, who can say? But, whatever it is that fucks us all over and makes this great world spin, I hope it will never remove my defects. They are what set me apart. — Instead, leave me Willingness.

Willingness to love every poor scrap of myself, what is and what was. Willingness to believe that, beyond this moment, I can only become more — never less.

Trade stories with the Devil. Dance in the flames where you once crawled.

For, Willingness was never our freedom to be without — it was the celebration of everything we hid within.

 

Artwork: “The Devil” by @lisanthropie, from her Tarot interpretation series. (https://www.instagram.com/lisanthropie/?hl=en)

 

Burn, Baby. Burn.

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Martyrs are crazy, man.

I remember reading about Joan of Arc for the first time when I was a kid and thinking: This chic is fucking nuts.

Yet, I turned each page, unable to tear my eyes away from her gruesome end. Her expression, stoic, as her face disappeared into a haze of smoke and flames. I couldn’t fathom a world where someone would burn for her Beliefs. But, the older I get, the more I learn — people do this everyday. And, usually, it’s not for God’s sake.

The truth is, like it or not, we’re all a little bit martyr-y. I’ve been picking this theory apart, because — it bugs me. I don’t like the idea of people killing themselves, literally or figuratively, in the name of something else — especially expecting praise.

Since my Year of Happiness began, I’ve devoted a lot of time to discovering how my Happiness has been thwarted by my own martyr-like Beliefs and actions.

I’m gonna lay some Belief smack-down on y’all: We’re all selfish, narcissistic, idealistic, and self-serving. — Some of the time. — It’s called Being Human. And, I’m here to tell you that you’re supposed to fuck up and, occasionally, be an asshole. If you’ve been conditioned by your parents, family, coworkers, significant others, children, or friends to believe otherwise, you’ve got some serious martyr-issues to deal with yourself.

People who tell you that they do everything from a selfless place — are liars. Even the most selfless people get pleasure and happiness from the good acts they perform. Martyrdom, by definition, is self-serving. That is to say, to a martyr, to serve God is to serve one’s self. And, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Serving other people is THE BEST thing we can do. But, the thing about martyrdom is — to do it right — you can’t expect anything in return. That’s the rub. And, the part where most people fuck up. Unless, of course, you’re Joan of Arc.

But, I’m not here to talk-up theologian mumbo-jumbo. I’m here to tell you that your Belief and commitment to your own Happiness, doesn’t come with a list of prerequisite actions. You’re not selfish or idealistic to a fault if your priority in life is Happiness — Your Happiness.

I think that was the crux of my problem. I always felt that I owed someone — that there was a price to pay for feeling happy. — I had to have a certain job, look a certain way, talk a certain way, act a certain way. And, because I never lived up to my own impossible standards, I unknowingly held a fundamental Belief that I didn’t deserve better. And, that Belief was all-encompassing.

This week, I tackled a lot of the Beliefs I grew up with. Some from home, some from school, some that I’d created, myself, in adulthood. None were very positive. But, more importantly — none of them were true.

As we grow into adults, our little-kid Beliefs grow too. We never revisit the flawed system into which we’ve built ourselves. And, we forget that we wrote all these Beliefs during a time in our lives when we didn’t have the capacity to comprehend the doctrine to which we pledged our faith.

We’re never taught as kids that — Belief is flexible. — It is.

So often, we find ourselves feeling inadequate, powerless, and alone. But, if we leverage our Beliefs, we’ll find that this is never the case. We are, in every moment we live — Worthy, capable, and supported, each of us, integral parts of this incredible celestial ensemble. If your life is a testament to the things you value, shouldn’t the first thing on your list be Yourself? Your Happiness?

This is your gift to the world. — You. — Your unique being and all the gifts you already posses.

Happiness, I’m discovering, grows from a very small place within us. It has an uncanny ability to permeate into all areas of our being — if we let it. But, first, we must hold a Belief, even if it is just a small one, that we are worthy of the Happiness we desire.

I was a dumpy kid. I didn’t have a lot of friends, and, the ones I did have were dumpy too. We supported each other. But, we never believed that we belonged — not at the cool table, or at the pretty-girl-clique parties, or to get picked for school sports teams. And, maybe, that was true back then. But, I think, it’s more likely that we let a little bit of chub and big crew of mean girls get us down.

We were always good enough. But, we never believed it. And, for me, finding Happiness now, is about revisiting those things I internalized long ago. Eradicating ridiculous, outdated Beliefs that were never true. Finding my Happiness, largely, has been slowly silencing the voices that have been lying to me for as long as I can remember.

My advice? If you really want to be happy, don’t be a martyr for the sake of the self-deprecating voice you created to explain the unfairness of your youth. That voice is ridiculous and has no bearing on the person you’ve become. That voice only silences the one you’ve been given by the Universe. The one that serves you and everyone around you.

Martyring yourself for accolades doesn’t make anyone happy, especially you. More importantly, it doesn’t change the past. Real change takes place when our Beliefs reflect the people we have become, today.

Belief is flexible.

And, with few tweaks, I think you’ll be surprised how fast Happiness will light you up.

No inferno necessary.

 

The Proof And The Pudding

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I’m a believer. — It doesn’t take much.

There are days I’m a step up from gullible. But really, for the most part, it’s just that I have a enormous amount of faith. In people and in humanity. I live by my gut. And, some people will tell you this is my flaw — my hubris — but I believe that Belief is one of my greatest strengths.

So begins the second month in my Year of Happiness. And, you guessed it — our theme for the next four weeks is: Belief.

It may appear that I’ve taken things out of sequential order. Shouldn’t Belief come before Surrender, you ask? It’s a fair question. Believing in something before you Surrender yourself to it seems, well, logical. But, when it comes to Happiness, your logic is worthless. Your gut, however, — priceless.

You’ve heard it before: Seeing is Believing. It’s the hallmark slogan for the skeptical and faithless. For many, proof is required if they’re going to give an inch. People want to be sure when they invest their time, money, and yes, even their Happiness in something. They want a guarantee for the return on their investments. They want their dividends paid.

The thing is, when it comes to Happiness, there isn’t a formula. We can’t trade one stock for another and expect to finish out the day trading up twenty points. And, this is the reason we have to Surrender to Happiness before we believe in it. We have to turn ourselves over to Happiness long enough to buy into it. We take a risk. And, in doing so, we begin to see Happiness show up in our lives. We gain momentum. And, with that tiny bit of proof, we leverage enough confidence to believe in the possibility of our own Happiness.

Belief is more than knowing Happiness exists. Even if we are at the bottom of our barrel, we know that there is something more out there. We are designed to desire Happiness. It’s human nature. It’s achievement, I believe, is our purpose here on Earth. And Belief, when I talk about it in terms of Happiness, is intuiting and understanding that you are worthy of it.

In my career, I have played the part of the customer service guru. I know how to make you feel happy. I’ve worked with students, lawyers, chefs, corporate/celebrity clients, and upscale diners  — and it’s always been my job to identify what will make these people happy and get it to them quickly, and with a sparkling smile. Up until recent years, I believed that bringing other people joy was the thing that brought me the most joy. I was satisfied being a people-pleaser. — Or so I thought.

When I got sober, I realized that people-pleasing is its own drug. It gets you high, but, it’s euphoric buzz is short lived and it will bottom you out, fast. — Try falling helplessly in love with a heroin addict. You’ll learn very quickly, wanting to help and actually helping are two very different beasts.

After a long, hard fallout following my people-pleasing years, I discovered that if you don’t believe in yourself and you don’t make your own Happiness a priority, — you’ll never serve anyone else to the best of your ability.

Belief in your own Happiness, above all else, is essential. And, like Surrender, it’s a hard sell. We fight hard against the inclination to put ourselves before others, because we want to help. We want to make positive changes in the world. We want to create a place that others can believe in. And, that requires a lot of hard work. But, when you find the Belief within yourself to find your own joy and Happiness, you actually make it easier on yourself when it comes time to help others.

I’ve found, in just this short time living for my own Happiness, I have been able to connect and influence people around me in positive ways, effortlessly. When you are happy and connected to your own Belief in yourself, locked in to your unique way of being and seeing the world — people feel that energy, and they respond to it. It sounds woo-woo. And, maybe it is. I don’t have proof. There is no irrefutable data I can present to you — only my experience and observations.

This month, we’ll dive into our Beliefs around Happiness. Because, what we believe influences how we feel and act, exponentially. Happiness is a Belief. It’s a choice. A choice we make with little or no evidence to assure us. And, much like religion, Happiness requires us to trust something we will not always see standing in front of us.

Happiness asks that we be devoted. Reverent. And, the faith and Belief we have, in ourselves, our worth, and our right to Happiness — is the return on our investment. It pays our dividends. The proof isn’t in the pudding. — It is the pudding.

This week, I am starting small. I’m identifying the core Beliefs that have kept me removed from my own Happiness. And, I’ll have to take these results back to the drawing board. Because, if your Beliefs do not lead you to Happiness — you’re doing it wrong.

That’s my gut feeling. — And, it’s proof enough for me.

 

The Great, Woo-Woo Crusade

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“The Year of Happiness.”

I know. Just reading it makes me want to barf a little bit, too. But, this is how it starts? Right?

As someone who has been perpetually on the dark side of things, the mere mention of Happiness is like being dragged out from a dark cellar into the light of a blazing sun and being screamed at in Chinese. Which is to say — I have no idea what’s happening.

But, it’s happening.

I’ve mentioned that I’m a self-help junkie. Books. Movies. Workbooks. Day planners. Online lectures and seminars. You name it — I’m into it. I’m not ashamed. Not to toot my own horn here, but, seriously, I’m post-doctorate-level-well-read in this genre. From the critically acclaimed to the absolute-worst-ever dreck, my self-helping skill spans oceans and continents. And yes, sometimes, I watch Oprah.

I’ve had many people poo-poo my love of the woo-woo. I’ve been slighted, both on social media and by “real life” peeps. I don’t care. Honestly, I’ve learned heaps about myself, and others, by burying myself in this kind of material. I’ve implemented changes in my own life, and, I’ve seen results.

So, the idea to devote the year to  “Choosing Happiness” didn’t just appear out of the ether. I figured out, long ago, there’s got to be something to this deliberate Happiness thing. But, until now, I didn’t see any way to implement it. Pure, unadulterated Happiness never made it into my self-help arsenal.

If I were so motivated, I could sink my whole life into analyzing my clinical depression. I could unpack the roots and effects of my alcoholism. I could self-help my way through a few more decades with all the crap I’ve stowed on deck. But, there’s an inherent dishonesty in avoiding it. — Happiness. — I kinda know that’s where the answers I’ve been seeking live. Yet, I’ve never really committed myself to getting there. I haven’t really made an effort to sell myself on the concept. And, if Happiness really is the Holy Grail of all this self-help questing, then — I guess it’s time for a Crusade.

That’s right. When I say I’m committing to a Year Of Happiness, I fucking mean it you guys.

That said, I realize, especially for a person like me, this endeavor is going to take organization and planning. Strategery. That’s where this blog steps in. This is the place where I’m going to splay Happiness out in my very own, Dexter-style kill-room and take it apart piece by piece. I’m going to figure out how everything works, and then, by God — I’m going to make it work for me.

Each of the next 12 months will examine a theme — not unlike the 12 Steps. (Apropos, I know.) And, each week, I plan on unpacking said themes and examining how they play into the Happy Factor.

More than anything else, I plan on using this space to eradicate all my well-rehearsed excuses.

*               *               *

Before I sobered up, I was convinced Happiness and sobriety were synonymous. I figured if I could just stop using, I’d finally arrive at Happiness. But, with 3 1/2+ years of sobriety — I know that isn’t true. However, I am sure both require the same caliber of commitment.

In that vein, April’s theme is Surrender. Is it cheesy? Maybe. But, it’s one of the most difficult and complex things you can do in your life. We surrender to people, places, concepts, laws, governments, feelings, faith, and ourselves — every single day. But, surrendering with intention is extremely difficult.

Surrender means starting where you are — details be damned.

And, surrendering to Happiness? For many of us, that means forfeiting all the baggage we’ve been lugging around. That’s hard. Surrendering to sobriety meant giving up an addiction — a torrid love affair. So too is the trade off (up) for Happiness. We get the good door prizes for our sacrifice.

This week, surrender feels like a lot of effort. Quieting the gloomy voice that’s constantly speaking to me is difficult — and, at times, it’s impossible. But, that’s what The Year of Happiness is all about. Being willing. Surrendering old stories and giving voice to new ones.

It’s crusade time. You in?

 

Photo courtesy of Ebay: http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/GRAIL-CAT-spoof-funny-T-Shirt-Mens-6-sizes-8-colours-crusade-kitty-joke-/151276415654

 

 

In Stitches

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My world seems so small.

Maybe it’s because there isn’t much happening. But, when I sit down and try to examine why that is, I keep returning to the same thing — in reality — a lot of things are happening.

I’m not a big-picture person. I have trouble backing up. I always find myself too close to the situation. I look at the fragments. And, that’s why, much of the time, I’m disappointed with myself. Disappointed with how things are going. I look at all the little failures and don’t manage to see how they play into everything else. I overlook how all those little missteps have led me to wonderful places that I wouldn’t have otherwise arrived.

Have you ever crocheted a blanket? If you look at one little crochet stitch — it isn’t much. But, after several thousand stitches, you end up with an afghan. Sure, it takes awhile. Yeah, you’ll likely end up pulling out three rows because you’ll notice that you fucked up with your counting a little too late. And, yes, by the time that blanket is done — you’ll be sick as fuck of looking at that same color. But, — you have something. Something big. Something tangible. Something to show for all your time and labor.

I run into problems when it comes to appreciating life’s afghans. I live in the process. The reward, for me, is in the making. Taking the little steps. And, once it’s all said and done, well — it’s all said and done.

Most of the time, I feel like I’ve got nothing to show for myself — no blanket. No payoff.

It feels like the work ahead of me couldn’t be in these little steps. These single stitches. I think that’s why the future feels so daunting. The work I’ve always assigned myself has been in stepping back and seeing the whole, big thing. Making grand decisions for some grand life. And, that’s got me in stitches. I don’t feel equipped. There’s no blanket. And, I want to know — when’s it all going to come together?

I’ve always felt that getting older meant that we had to let go of these small things. I thought we had to follow our little patterns — precisely — so that each row leads seamlessly to the next. And, we have to be very careful — because ripping out rows wastes precious time. But, the truth is, it’s in ripping out the rows that we learn to make the best blankets. Growth is in the repetition. Fuck-ups will happen. I try to remember — It wouldn’t be a genuine, handmade gift without a few little errors hidden somewhere in the chevron.

We eventually find ourselves in our different places — in our different ways. We must remember to occasionally step back, we must look at our work. But, we must also remember to do the work that’s right in front of us. The single stitch becomes the blanket.

It’s all about these little pieces.

I know. — I crochet.

 

 

Doing Things Badly

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This week, my people, has been tough.

A dry, dusty, depression wasteland.

But, rather than abandon you, my faithful, with nothing — I leave you with a morsel from one the zaniest and the most human of my favorite writers — Anne Lamott.

Her book, Grace, Eventually  started me down the road that led me to Baba Ram Dass, and shortly thereafter — to my own sobriety. She is a writer who had little trouble wiggling her way into my heart, and, I hope that this week you’ll devote the five minutes you might have spent reading my words to watching this short piece, and perhaps, you’ll allow her to wiggle her way into yours.

 

Artwork: Nicholas Roerich, “Issa and Giant’s Head”

 

 

 

 

 

 

La Revolution

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Question: What is the difference between a teacher and a guru?

Answer: A teacher points the way. The guru is the Way. In the course of your awakening you will have thousands of teachers. Throughout all of this teaching, the guru waits, beckoning from beyond.

Be Here Now, Cook Book For A Sacred Life; Ram Dass, Pg. 6

I think we’re all waiting for the payoff.

The big reveal. — The moment of release. The summation of all this pain and toil. An unveiling of some blessed reason for the world’s continued suffering, and, what is certain to be, its ultimate demise.

We seek the guru because we tell ourselves it can’t be this. This place. This time. This cast of characters. This. It just can’t be. In our denial and disbelief, we gloss over the thing we know to be absolutely true. We beg answers of the teachers before us — but to truly know — we must go within. It’s clear to me now more than ever — relief is not around us. It is inside us. — Good lives within. — We must find it there and draw it out. A spiritual revolution.

I read the work of Baba Ram Dass daily. I love him. I’d love for him to be my guru. But the truth is, in my seeking him, I become more lost. What’s even more hilarious? — He taught me that lesson. Teachers are funny like that. They shine light where you’d rather not see, so, you go to another teacher, then another, then another. Soon you’ve seen too much, but really, you haven’t seen anything at all. I like to think you know what I mean, because I like to believe that we all are seekers.

I’m still in this funk, so, I’m stuck. I sit patiently and wait for instruction. From anyone, really. A customer. A coworker. A song. Sun glinting off the choppy waves of the water in the bay. — All messages from the Guru.

Recently, a few important people have drifted, unexpectedly, from my life. Teachers. — The best teachers. — And, watching them go has reminded me that there are new lessons I’m meant to learn. It’s not by my design. But, I must remind myself that if I allow myself to be stuck here, then I will continue to be just that. — Stuck here. Any design requires movement. Patience. Love. — Revolution.

Before my eyes, big cities have become incredibly small.

I turn off the television to avoid making myself sick. I embrace and abandon my own sense of place. I wait for healing. I look for apartments in Southern Vermont. I stare at a picture of a covered bridge surrounded by falling leaves, and, in another photo, the same bridge covered in snow. Different seasons. Each lonely and quiet. Isolated and still. It looks like a place my guru might wait for me. I feel myself moving closer to something. — We are all moving closer to something.

But life isn’t about moving. It’s about being. The most sacred lesson, more than any other lesson I’ve learned from my Baba, is the lesson of being. Not thinking, or seeking, or seeing, or knowing. It’s not a tangible trip. It’s not something you can destroy or embrace or free or trap. It’s not something you can kill. No amount of violence, inside or outside of us, can unsettle it.

It’s something we know because we are. All of us. Each one of us.

And, that’s the grist for the mill, Baba would say. — Becoming ourselves is the trip.

 

This moment, is a moment for the guru. — This moment, is the guru.

Vive La France. Vive La Revolution.