Maybe being happy requires doing happy (and a lot of time and trouble)

As I sit down to write today, I notice that, the same as last week, my body is tense and my mind is disturbed. As I read that sentencce and take time to notice what’s happening, I can see that I woke up with a rather disturbed mind, and that every little aggravating thing landed as if on a sensitive spot. Now I’m so tense and aggravated I can feel it as a pinch in my back (the place where everything always lands) and tension in my jaw. I take a breath and acknowledge all that. I pause and take in my environment.

The practice of pausing to take in my environment is very helpful. I see things I can appreciate, and I can feel their effect on me. The room I’m in is my office, but it’s a kind of sacred space and taking time to savour thaat I’m here, and to savour the aspects of this space that please me, I feel some good feelings, some slightly warm expansion in my body and mind. I savour that. Ahhh yes, a little bit of space iinside. I also hear the music I’ve chosen to play. It’s no longer background, so as I focus on it, I feel its effect on me. I close my eyes and listen. As I take it in, it evokes pleasant memories in my mind and body. I savour those feelings.

The power of music to affect my mood has been forefront in my experiencing this week. It is part of my asana (yoga posture) practice and of course as I’ve mentioned already, it’s part of my drive to work every morning. But music is only one part of my morning routine, and that makes me aware of just how much effort it takes in the morning to set myself up to have even a chance of having a half-decent day. My routine has become extensive and takes two-and-a-half hours (only about 30 minutes of that involves showering, hair, clothes and makeup). Part of what takes the time is taking time: purposely taking time to be with myself and with what I’m taking in (not only material food but also the energetic and spiritual nourishment I “feed” myself).

As I contemplate this, I have a feeling of astonishment about how much time and concerted, conscious effort (morning, evening and throughout the day, on the spot) it takes for me to be and stay happy – or more accurately, to create the conditions under which I have a snowball’s chance in hell of feeling even a little bit of happiness. Then there is also sustaining that effort. Things like music, asana, exercise etc. are less than effective if they are applied only occasionally. In the moment they might feel good but part of their value for me is that they refer me to previous times when I have felt their benefits and as those cognitive memories come, so do the feeling-memories. This means that already I’m feeling their effects as my body remembers and in remembering, experiences those effects in the now, even as I’ve barely begun my practice in the moment.

Another aspect of the work is that, in addition to sustained effort daily, if/when I need more nourishment because I’m thrown off-kilter in the moment, they have to be applied in that very moment. I have to focus on them (not on what’s bothering me) and I have to do them for a sustained period, say 20-30 minutes, before they take effect. Unlike ibuprofen for a headache, I can’t just take 30 seconds to ingest them, then go back to whatever I was doing, forget about the reason I took them, and expect to feel better. In fact for me, when I take ibuprofen for a headache, it won’t “work” to relieve my headache unless I also do some acupressure moves on my head and neck and apply some pain-relieving balm to my neck. Furthermore, if I haven’t done my self-care routine of massaging shiatsu points for preventing headaches, even all that is not as effective as it could be in giving me the relief I want. What’s more, the headache won’t stay away if I don’t check in with it and keep applying these in-the-moment measures.

Another example of this phenomenon is how music worked to support me one morning week. One morning, it took every ounce of self-discipline I had not to flip my lid and just rip into my husband before I went to work, but to just carry on. All through my morning routine, I held in my mind that I was going to bring this anger to kirtan. I chose a long piece of music that started slowly and built into enthusiasm. I didn’t even feel like singing along at first. But as the song built, I sang a word here, a word there, a phrase here, a verse there, and eventually found myself not only singing along but also feeling the building energy of the music combine with my own agitation. I started to yell the words, and yell and yell and yell them. By the time the song was over, about 20 minutes later, I was relaxed. The tension had drained out of me. (Note to self: energetic singing is very aerobic and has some of the same benefits.)

As I checked in with myself after the song ended, I could feel that what had bothered me was still bubbling inside me and would need more attention. But the attention it wanted wasn’t tension relief by ripping my partner up one side and down the other. I was connected with the more of the situation, the whole of it. I was connected with the part of me that needed something, and the more of me, the larger me, that could provide what’s needed. Part of the work was done, a big part, the self-care part, and more was needed, including checking in with myself during the day to make sure the bubbling inside didn’t boil over, as well as having a conversation with my husband.

I don’t know where I get the will to do all this so-called self-care. It used to be a real pain in the ass. I never used to bother. I would just put my head down and carry on. I would put off eating when i was hungry, taking something for a headache, etc., etc., telling myself it wasn’t worth the trouble, or it wouldn’t work. I didn’t think there was anything I could do to shift the situation.

What do know is that now, there are times when I enjoy applying these measures of caring for myself, especially when I don’t rush through them, or do them accompanied by a voice that says, “Oh, this is just such a pain in the ass. I don’t want to be feeling this way. I resent feeling crappy and I resent having to do something about it.” When I first started being loving to myself, 10-ish years ago, it was just a cold, noble pursuit: “I’m doing self-care because it’s what I’m supposed to do.” Insert eye roll here. “I’m doing something good for myself.” Yeah, right. It didn’t feel good at all, except marginally.

As I write this now and look back over my self-care journey, I think, “Maybe being happy has to start with doing happy.” I see that, after long practice, I have trained myself to appreciate self care. I have trained myself to notice what it actually feels like to do it (as opposed to listening exclusively to my thoughts about it). All this training seems too have developed sufficient mental and physical memories to

Maybe it's do happy?

Maybe it’s do happy?

which my organism refers when I start a particular self-care practice, so that I can sense the good, happy feelings sooner, and more fully. This is a good news bad news situation. On the one hand, who is going to start something knowing it will take 10 years of practice before it pays off? On the other hand, I didn’t know that, I still put the time in, and now, finally, here I am, experiencing the benefits. Doing happy, sometimes I also feel happy. Perhaps that’s what gives me the gumption to go through such an extensive routine now. Regardless, it’s a nice place to be.

What are your thoughts about how to be or do happy? What are your routines for supporting yourself? What are your challenges with all this? Please let me know in the comments below.

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Even when things are sucking, I can be OK.

One of the entries this week in the daily meditations book I read says, in part, “Love is available to me at all times.” Because I liked the whole entry so much, I had typed it up as a kind of poster for myself. As I came into my office this morning to write a blog post, I saw it, and thought, “I just don’t want to hear it.” A part of me (that feels like all of me in this moment) says, “I don’t want to hear all that love and light and fluffy bunny shit. It makes me roll my eyes. It makes me tense. It makes me feel like *grrrrr*… aggravated.” I can sense that kind of growly feeling in the middle of my torso.

I’m reading this back over and as I do that, a deep breath in and out comes. Then another. My insides remind me it has been a difficult few days. I’m noticing a kind of heavy dread in me as I remember how the past few days have felt, inside me. It’s been pretty distressing.

I’m taking a moment to pause with that. It’s difficult to get any space because as soon as I pause, I’m in contact with a part of me that really doesn’t like this experience of distressing and is really freaked out about wanting some space. It’s saying things like, “I have to get away! I have to quit everything: my job, my relationship, everything! I have to get some peace and quiet!! I need a vacation!!!!” It’s kind of upsetting to hear this wish for a vacation because it’s a familiar and recurring wish and who can take an actual vacation once a month or more? Sheesh… I feel a little bit of despair in the face of a sense of never being able to carry out this kind of strategy.

I’m noticing how I don’t have any sense of space between me and that part. I’m taking a moment to acknowledge just how difficult this is for me, for these parts and for all of me. How squished and cramped and tight it all is.

*I’m breathing all that in…
the difficulty…
the distress…
the aversion…
the wish for relief…*

Ahh yes, the wish for relief. As I sense that, I can feel a bit of what that would be like. I feel a teeny little bit of something… it’s almost like anticipation, as if vacation were a week or two away and I’m dreaming about it and enjoying the feelings of what will be when I get to my vacation time. And then some tears come. There’s a kind of warmth with them, and a sinking-down-ish feeling in my body. Not relaxation exactly, but a whiff of a kind of pleasant heaviness that is a relief and a contrast to what I was feeling before. My awareness is drawn to my environment now: a quiet, sunlight room; some of the kind of music that is really calming to me playing softly in the background; bird sounds outside the window; a sense of having some open, un-structured time to myself.

As I notice this, a knowing kind of lands in me about just how pivotal it is to my wellbeing and peace of mind to have this kind of time.; time that I experience in just this way; time that affects me as this sense of spacious, calm, quiet, reflective time is affecting me now. Even though I came into my office with a specific goal in mind, I absolutely love the ritual of writing for my blog. I have set my intention that the subject of my posts be inspired, that they come out of my lived experience more-or-less in the moment, and that I write as experientially as possible. I do the writing, the actual act of writing, for myself, and then post it because I am hoping that being seen doing the kind of inner work I support others in doing will be a contribution of some sort.

I’m pausing now to read this all over and check in with myself. Again, the importance of this time and spaciousness seems to stick out. My insides remind me of my week again, how distressing and packed it was, how I only have one day of rest. Ahhhh! That’s the thing that’s bugging me: only one day off. I’m taking time to take that in. Yes. A knowing comes inside that I’ve not stuck to my promises to myself about time boundaries, that I have allowed work to creep into one of my two days off this week and I can see I’ve done that in the next couple weeks, too. A sigh comes. A kind of stillness is here now, too…

Then comes a sense of thankfulness to be noticing this now. Not six months from now, not six weeks from now, but now. I get a sense that this is good, to notice this. Something inside me says, “I can do something about this!” Usually I’m so far into overbooking myself and not taking enough down time, that I “have to” put my head down and plough on through another three months before I can get back to the kind of significant, regular rest-time that I need in order to feel OK. Now I have a sense of hope. Again I hear the words, “I can do something about this.”

Now I notice I’m smiling. I can see that some part of me is still cranky about what happened just before

I can be OK.

I can be OK.

I sat down to write but that cranky doesn’t feel like all of me. Thank God! That makes me smile too. Soooo nice to get some space. Now it can be beside me, it can be its cranky self, and I can be OK. I’m not really feeling the love, so to speak, but even as I write that I notice that I have sort of been with myself in a loving kind of way, and that’s not a bad thing. At the same time, some part of me still says, “Don’t read me that inspirational bullshit. I don’t want to hear it.” Now I can smile at that, and say, “Yes. You don’t want to be reminded of how it’s not for you right now. You want some acknowledgement of how things are for you right now, in this moment.” The part says, “Yeah, they kinda suck.” I say back, “Yeah, they kinda suck.” A sigh comes. I get a sense of “…and that’s OK. I’m OK.” Yes. Even when things are sucking for that one part of me, all of me can be OK.

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