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Accounting for Happiness

June 13, 2010

A few days ago I found myself in the eye (or perhaps more accurately the “I”) of a collision of memories, impulses, habit patterns, and a generous dollop of Grace. It hurt like hell and I’m ever-grateful for the dollop. Although, like many of the other aha moments, this increased vision expanded my consciousness it certainly didn’t clean up the mess. What I mean is this: It seems that many of us are waiting for that moment, that event, that teacher, that idea to show up in our lives, tap our foreheads, and clear the path. Maybe. Maybe it does happen. But I’m no longer placing my bets on the waiting.

When I was younger I was completely enamored with a poem by Theodore Roethke called “The Waking.” Just like Miro paintings, which I would stare at for ages in a wordless, idea-less state, I didn’t really ‘understand’ the poem but something very deep inside of it connected to something very deep inside of me. And so, I copied it over and over in the front of every notebook, on the back of my textbooks which were covered with a protective layer of brown paper bag, and in letters to friends.

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

How does this relate to the aha moment? Let me explain. Overcome by a sense of deep restlessness (or a longing displaced by the myriad distractions in my mind…and so, saucha indeed relates to cleanliness and space in the physical and mental environments), I began to clean the house from top to bottom. As I was going from room to room, I watched my mind and the multitude of memories, feelings, notions that were arising. It felt as if an enormous wave was pulsing upward and overtaking me. Finally, something broke and I realized plainly: I am responsible for my own happiness. And then, immediately after: I am terrified to assume that responsibility.

Ugh. Now what?

“This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.” Indeed, the shaking does keep me steady as it becomes more readily apparent–in fact, undeniable–that the only viable option is to take my waking slow. To do so, I remind myself of Patanjali’s sutra (and one of my favorites): The practice of the perfect discipline is achieved in stages.

“What falls away is always. And is near”; all those moments one would like to forget may fall away from consciousness but they remain near and they guide us–for better or worse. To take the waking slow I must encounter them each and ask, as Swami Tyagananda has suggested, “What is it that you are trying to teach me?”

On the flip side, we can also consider that although we might drop the Divine from our consciousness and focused intention, It remains always. And it remains near. It’s everywhere and always, it’s the light that takes the tree. (Could it be that Roethke was talking about the spine?)

There are so many questions in my mind. What is the distinction between happiness and contentment, for example. Contentment, it seems, is held in balance and denotes a quiet and thorough acceptance of what is. Happiness…must it always be the result of positive feedback from the external environment? The aha moment laid a deep impression in my mind that happiness comes–authentic happiness–only after one makes a decision to be happy. The trick is this: The degree to which you are capable of cultivating and maintaining a quiet and thorough acceptance of what is, determines the magnitude of your happiness. For some of you that equanimity and contentment may be easily achieved. As for the rest of us, we must take inventory of each of those snags (what haunts us, what infuriates us, what inspires fear and so on) and recognize the lesson it brings and steadily endeavor to integrate it. For this, I continuously return to the Science of Yoga. Lesson two is carrying on with vigor, courage, and perseverance.

Do you make a distinction between happiness and contentment? Is the search for ‘something’ (even religion) to grant us happiness one of the most formidable obstacles on the spiritual path? I would love to hear from you, please share your ideas in the comment box. 😉

  1. Very well written and I completely agree with what you feel. There are a lot of aha moments where we feel “enlightened”, not in the general accepted sense of the word, but more from the perspective of something gives, the balloon bursts creating a loud sound.

    At the same time I do believe that we go through and are supposed to go through a lot of these moments in our practice till it finally starts a process of permanent dawn. I would equate these moments to happiness and longer permanence, where the mind is stilled from the past karmas and actions as the contentment or bliss.

    While I believe in the aspect of Grace, that the Universe aligns together in way so that these moments happen, I don’t think there is an exact moment for the “granting” of bliss or contentment. It comes from within and is realized over time as we become more attuned in our practice.

    • Dear Brij, Thank you so much for your thoughtful feedback. Your second paragraph really is powerfully succinct; “till it finally starts a permanent dawn” is something I will keep in mind while practicing through those plateaus. By the way, I checked out your blog and it’s amazing. Thanks too for the link. :-).


  2. Thank you for sharing that beautiful poem.
    As for the question at the end of your post, I do make a distinction between contentment and happiness.

    Contentment is about having, happiness is about giving

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the poem Ghani. It’s an interesting distinction you make make between contentment and happiness.

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