I have got to wrap my mind around this thing called happiness. The Tibetans say that every human being wants first to be happy. I find this oddly strange. For doesn’t that desire arise simply in comparison to the option of suffering?
It’s not that I don’t feel like I’m happy, but it has never taken up residence in the forefront of my consciousness until recently. Before that, service to others lorded large, crowding most anything else out of the frame. It emerged with motherhood and ripened in my practice as a medical intuitive. But even prior to those times when I was young and care-free, was I happy? Was I, in fact, ever happy?
Casting back after I left the house of my parents and was on my own, I discovered a serious girl, save when she cut loose by partying. Somehow substances provided an excuse to lighten up, but I always felt horrible the next morning. As if I had trespassed onto some forbidden ground. A territory others could freely tread, but not me. You think I would have learned, but I suspect few of us do until we’ve had a few years and heartaches under our belts. Happiness was, after all, just a word.
Why now is my attention thus riveted? We run a guest house, among other endeavors. Last night I was speaking with a return guest who has lodged with us a few times in the past. Someone for whom we have quite naturally acquired fondness. If she’s fifty, I’d be surprised. We were talking about the stress we’ve all been under since the economic collapse, and she casually mentioned that she’s pulled all her money out of her retirement accounts, taken six months off work (as my mind reels with images of her as a derelict older woman living on a pittance somewhere) – and, oh. By the way. She’s dying. Of congestive heart failure. You could have heard my jaw hitting the floor. No recourse but a transplant at this point, and she’s decided not to go with that. Personally, I’m in accord. The heart is, after all, a place of our own feelings, not somebody else’s. And ever since Christian Barnard transplanted a baboon heart into a human being back in the ‘sixties, the whole idea of having another’s ticker beating in my chest has made my skin crawl.
Suddenly and profoundly, certain themes snapped into focus, while others that once held sway blurred into the background. Insignificant.
I believe myself to be optimistic, conveniently declassifying disruptive ripples of pessimism into cynicism. Again, distinctions are rapidly dissolving as never before. And I realize I need to be happy. I want to be happy. Perhaps the Dalai Lama is right, though I wasn’t aware of the significance of inner sunshine on my horizon until now. And isn’t now all we actually possess, moment to moment? We can’t hold onto the past, cannot accurately predict the future. All we can capture in our two vulnerable human hands lies in this very moment.
I think of Carly Simon singing in that large clear voice of hers, Suffering was the only thing made me feel I was alive. Thought that’s just how much it costs to survive in this world … Was that me? Is that really what I believed, up until recently? And now, at fifty-eight years of age, can I allow myself to feel something cleaner and more precious; less tongue-in-cheek – and still deem it authentic? And if not now – when time seems more fleeting and far less certain than in the bold days of my youth – When?
I think, Today I shall begin. Yes, I think I will. For there is no other time but the present shimmering squarely in my sights. There is, in fact, no other time at all.