Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Pathway to Happiness: Develop Your Own 12 Easy Practices


The Pathway to Happiness: Develop Your Own 12 Easy Practices

According to research (http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2010/04/10/5-reliable-findings-from-happiness-research/) and a lot of yogis, happiness isn’t something  you can win in the lottery. That includes the lottery at the convenient store and the big lottery of life. Nope, for the most part it is not a game of chance or something lucky that some people get and others don’t.

Happiness is a journey of purpose, intention, and a daily practice.



In a beautiful piece written by Hillari Dowdle titled, “The Path to Happiness,” (http://www.yogajournal.com/wisdom/2565) she describes the Yoga Sutras as a kind of a map—a map with signposts guiding you through asana (yoga postures), meditation, as well as specific attitudes and behaviors. These signposts help you navigate your own path to happiness and contentment.  

Essentially, you can transform your life with the practices laid out in the Yoga Sutras.  You have to seek out and practice happiness- you need to cultivate it.

This blog entry describes Zuri’s efforts to find happiness (see About the Yoga Bag page on this blog to learn more about Zuri). Following Zuri’s story (Through Zuri's Eyes), you will find The Process—the whole thing is explained, citations are provided (the 12 practices are there).

Through Zuri’s Eyes

Zuri is 13 years old. She is young and the future is right there, right in front of her, and anything is possible. Zuri is a collector of all things happy. She keeps a big tattered box in her closet filled with artifacts, trinkets, books, The Yoga Bag, all sorts of things that she associates with happiness.

Zuri figured it out a long time ago that happiness is not something lucky. It is not something that falls from the sky. It doesn’t come from winning $50 at church bingo or the drug store lottery. She has seen this sort of fleeting happiness before. She has seen it in her mom. Fleeting happiness comes with real highs and real lows.

Once, her mom won the big church bingo, the big $5,000 one. Her mom was high as a kite, through the roof, and over the top happy. They had the best groceries --ever-- for a week: cold cuts, apples, and the expensive lunch box, individually packaged bags of goldfish crackers (only the kids whose parents had good jobs had these). After the groceries were stowed in the cupboard, their mom was gone. She went to the casino in Niagara Falls with her last $1,000. They didn’t see her for 3 days. She came back with no money, said she was sick, and laid in bed for 2 more days. Zuri had to feed Rashan, get him to school, and Eric took off until the next Sunday.

Zuri wasn’t looking for money. Nope, happiness wasn’t there.

Zuri believes that she can accumulate little pieces of happiness. In her things-that-make-her-happy box she has all sorts of happiness things. She collects these trinkets, these drops of happiness like a magical  piggy bank of mystical, copper pennies. Each penny drops in, clunk, getting her closer the critical account balance that will signal that she has enough, that she will be happy, a real steady never-going-away, smile-when-you-wake-up-- happy.

Zuri believes in the possibility of happiness like some kids believe in magic, ghosts, or the Long Island Medium. Like that. That is how Zuri believes in happiness.

A long time ago when her mom was at a conference (her mom was sober then too), she bought Zuri this awesome book, “Amelia to Zora: Twenty-six Women Who Changed the World” by Cynthia Chin-Lee and Illustrated by Megan Hasley and Sean Addy (To buy see http://www.amazon.com/Amelia-Zora-Cynthia-Chin-Lee/dp/1570915237/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1380654591&sr=8-1&keywords=amelia+to+zora).   

Zuri read about the pilot Amelia Earhart (1897-1937). She read about Dolores Huerta (1930-) who co-founded the United Farm Workers (UFA). She read about Cecelia Payne-Gaposchikin (1900-1980) an astronomer and first woman professor at Harvard University. She read how Delores started stargazing with her mother as a little girl. And best, best of all, she learned about Zora, Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960).

Of course Zuri has a soft spot for all people whose names start with Z. Zora Neale Hurston (learn more about Zora here-- http://zoranealehurston.com/) was a writer and an anthropologist who wrote on race and folklore and celebrated African American heritage. Zora had real roots in places like Zuri’s places. Somehow Zora got through it and wrote books, got web pages dedicated to her, and received honors.

As cited in Chin-Lee’s book, Zuri read Zora’s words- “I know that nothing is destructible: things merely change forms…..Why fear? The stuff of my being is matter, ever moving but never lost.”

Zuri loves to hold strong, successful women in her mind as guideposts, as role models, as promises that things can be better. Like Zora, Zuri hopes that she can do anything she sets her mind to. Even though Amelia to Zora is a kid’s picture book, Zuri loves to flip through the pages seeing the photos and reading through the stories of strong woman after strong woman. These images and stories give her peace, give her hope, and are one of her favorite parts of her happiness collection.

As Zuri thinks about how she is making her way, she realizes that she has collected a lot of little happiness things in her big box. Today she notices that she is also doing something else. You see there are lots habits that she is cultivating that give her peace, help her feel love, and steady her happiness.

Flipping through the pages of inspirational women is one of her practices. Another is digging through The Yoga Bag reading notes, finding yoga poses to practice, and wondering about the mysteries in the bag. There is more. She has also come to love the breath work. When she gets stressed or sad, she lays on her bed with one hand on her heart and one on her belly (like she read about in The Yoga Bag). She feels her heart beat in synchrony with her breath. She has come to realize that focusing on her slow, deep breath helps her to feel a sense of peace, a sense of peace that floods through her body. She has been steadily building all of these practices and is becoming aware of their positive impact. They seem to make her happy

She wants more ways to feel happiness and contentment. Digging through the yoga bag she finds my notes on the Yamas. She reads about ahimsa (non-harming), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (moderating the senses), and aparigraha (non-possessiveness). She loves this! It matches what she has seen and what she knows from her life. It reads like truth. 

1.     Ahimsa- non-harming- She reads that this means being kind, forgiving and accepting of yourself and others. This is how she and Emily (her best friend) made up. This was her practice.

2.     Satya (truth)- ahhhh, this is Zuri’s dream to have complete truth in her life. With her mom’s drinking and her brother’s struggles, it seems as if there are always lies, misrepresentations, and cover ups. Zuri longs for truth. She loves this one.

3.     Asteya (non-stealing). If Eric (her brother) would follow this, Zuri would not have to worry about him all of the time. She worries about Eric and his friends breaking into cars, getting in trouble, and thinking it is fun or daring. Sadly, it is how she got The Yoga Bag, Eric’s stealing. Eric already lost Thomas to the stealing, law breaking crowd. She longs for Asteya too.

4.     Brahmacharya (moderation of the senses). There is really no need for her to even think about this one. It is automatic love for Zuri. My notes explain that this leads to freedom from dependencies and cravings. She imagines what her life would be like if there was no such thing as alcohol or drugs or any of that. She imagines a life free of these dependencies. She imagines her mom quitting drinking. I see her eyes start to fill with tears as she imagines. Thinking about this is sad in some ways. Maybe her mom will never quit. Maybe her mom will quit. Maybe….. lots of maybes.

5.     Aparigraha (non-possessiveness). This is Zuri’s struggle. She wants what everyone else seems to have. She feels like what she has is nowhere near enough. She wishes that Mrs. Klein and Miss Ely were her moms. She wishes that Emily’s parents were her parents. Sometimes after playing with Emily, she cries herself to sleep. Ugh, she wants. She wants and wants and wants. My notes say that possessiveness is “anxiously holding and grasping for more.” Zuri sees herself in those words. She knows this will be her practice. She thinks that if she could get this one down— happiness—would be much more present in her life.

Zuri is glad to be reading the yoga sutras. She feels more strongly than ever that there is a way to real, steady happiness. Curled up on her bed and drawing lotus flowers in her journal, a little smile on her face, she believes, even more, in happiness.



The Process

In the Yoga Sutras, Pantanjali reviews the five yamas that can help you transform negative energy into an abiding sense of peace (See Yoga International- Yoga Philosophy Basics: The 5 Yamas-- http://yogainternational.com/article/view/yoga-philosophy-basics-the-5-yamas).

Happiness researchers agree. True lasting happiness is something you cultivate with a variety of practices (see  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tag/happiness-research).

Like in the Buddhist conceptualization of the lotus flower (http://buddhists.org/buddhist-symbols/the-meaning-of-the-lotus-flower-in-buddhism/), no matter our beginning we can grow to cultivate happiness.

I don’t think Zuri is too far off with her beat-up old card board box full of things that make her happy and I know she is right on track with her happiness practices.

Consider integrating a few happiness practices into your life:

1.     Gratitude Journaling- write down three things you were grateful for each day.
2.     Collect role models- keep captions, quotes, and photos, of people who are up to great things. Keep them in a scrapbook of inspiration. Find people who have moved through challenges that you have struggled with, read their memoirs.
3.     Self-care- eat well, hydrate, exercise, and rest each day, every day (you’d be surprised how powerful this one is).
4.     Don’t drink so much (see the yamas)- alcohol is a central nervous system depressant (you’d be surprised with this one too).
5.     Schedule pleasant events- have something you are looking forward to always. If you don’t right now.... Schedule something (coffee with a friend, a movie, a hike).
6.     Tell someone you love that you love him or her and why you love him or her. Do it now. 
7.     Forgive and let go (see the yamas). If you are holding anger, you are only holding yourself back from happiness. Process it and let it go.
8.     Laugh. Do laughter yoga, tell jokes, put your head on your friend's belly and fake laugh until you are really laughing, try to do handstand on your front lawn. Fall on purpose. Laugh.
9.     Watch the movie Elf, even when it’s not holiday time (or any movie like that, that makes you remember what is important.
10. Be in your honesty (see the yamas). Telling the truth feels good.
11. Let go what of what you need to let go (see yamas- non-possessiveness). In the clenched fist, the sand is lost.
12. Pray. Pray to your God, your spiritual deity, and/or meditate (find your mala beads and do it). Cultivating your spirituality will make you happier.

Yep. Happiness is like self-love. Either you practice it or you don’t.

I say, practice happiness.

Namaste,

Catherine
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