What I know is that living close to friends and family, owning a beautiful home, having children or pets, earning an academic degree, being busy with a well-paying career, wearing top-notch clothing, owning the best gear, sporting a fit body or claiming someone as your life partner… does not equal health, well-being, fulfillment, a passion for life or true purpose. It does not equal happiness. I’m very much a believer that life is best lived from the inside out. Meaning; your greatest investment of time, money and energy is best spent on that which can never be taken away.
For everyone it’s a little different, so I can only speak for myself. The happiest times of my life were always the simplest. They were the times when I was most simple, totally present, gracefully aware, tenderly compassionate, extremely dedicated, playfully curious, vulnerably humble, completely open or bravely honest. These moments could have been with me alone or with anyone. What makes them/it special is the connection and the aliveness of the moment.
Here are a few examples that apply to happy/fulfilling experiences I had over the last week or so…
Over the winter I tried to preserve some of my summer garden. To my pleasant surprise, much of it survived! But what made me most happy, wasn’t that things were still green or still growing after a bitterly cold season — it was the feeling of my hands in the soil, digging and being part of the ongoing process. I loved feeling intimate with my garden plot, bending over, digging things up from winter, planting new seeds for spring and seeing the aliveness and magic in nature. It wasn’t having the garden that made me happy, but the feeling of being present to life — to the aliveness of myself and the aliveness of the soil, and actually connecting with it, fully.
My dog Pen-Pen is the sunshine of every morning. When I wake up, it’s like she hands me my smile. It’s as if she is the reason I am happy. But I know in my heart that she is my reminder to be happy, and grateful, and loving, and generous. It’s her aliveness that reminds me of my aliveness. But I wouldn’t be able to see this or appreciate it fully, if I was in a rush or lost in my thoughts (or daily to-do list.) The reason I experience this so much from/with her, is because I slow my/our moments down. I take the time to be fully present with her (which is also being fully present with myself.) I take time to simply be with her, which is taking time to simply be.
The same can go for my body. Whether it’s fit as a fiddle or in need of work, it’s so easy to take it for granted (like any other relationship.) But when I am good to it, and I see how amazing and alive it is — that’s when I experience health and happiness in my body. I feel my eyes magically open in the morning, or I feel the strength of my legs carry me for miles, or I see the deft capabilities of my fingers — it’s all a big wow! And what could be more amazing than my heart beating without me asking it to? Or my lungs breathing me, fulfilling my needs and taking care of me? How loving and marvelous is that? Why would I ever want to take that for granted or not be good to my body/self? Yet, it’s so easy to do.
So as you can see with those three examples, it’s not the body, the companion or the garden that makes me happy — it’s the presence, openness and attention I have when experiencing those things. The same can go for your home, friends, careers, finances — whatever you like! Those things are best lived from the inside out.
As many of you know, I’ve studied/taught/practiced meditation for a long time. I think meditation is very helpful for learning mindfulness, or what presence looks like as a structured practice. A designated time or place to meditate is great. But the real practice comes when you don’t bring a meditation practice into your life, but your life into a meditation practice. Instead of having an hour that you are fully committed to presence — I think a bigger, more fulfilling practice would be having a life where ongoing presence is the priority and goal.
I can definitely say that I want a fitter body, a better home, a bigger income, an exciting career, and even another dog! I do! Why wouldn’t I? All of those things sound fabulous! But more than that, I want full presence and deep appreciation for what I already have (whatever it may be.) I want to feel fully alive and full of glee, from the inside out. It’s the way I want to spend my time with all that I have and all that I love. To me, that’s a good life. It’s also a good daily practice. It’s something that can never be taken away and can forever grow within me.