Sunday, April 4, 2010

Cody and the Peacocks

A few years ago I had a cat, a really different sort of cat. More of a cat-dog, because he was totally fearless and very friendly at the same time. He would go for rides in the car with me, sit on my lap and look out the window, enjoying the ride. Strange and wonderful cat! His name was Cody.

I often took him to a friend's house in the country. I called this place God's Green Acre because it was in the middle of the sage brush desert in Oregon and yet they had planted and watered until it was a true oasis. They had all sorts of animals: goats, sheep, pigeons, horses, llamas, peacocks. Cody loved to go visit there, he would sniff noses with the baby goats and then reach his paw up under the fence and pat their faces. And they let him!

My friend and I were picking gooseberries one afternoon and Cody was nearby playing. Pretty soon we saw the peacocks moving in, slowly, checking him out. He hid under bushes, pretending to hide and then when the peacocks got close enough, he would jump out and they would leap straight up in the air about a foot and run away, pretending to be scared. Then the whole thing would start again. This went on for over an hour and all the peacocks on the place got into the game, Cody pretending to hide, they pretending to be afraid. I've never seen anything quite like it before or since.

I've often wondered how Cody could pull that off in a potentially dangerous world. He was a fine example of fearlessness and detachment while remaining open to experience.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Turning the Tide on Happiness

On a sunny morning in May of 1992, my life suddenly changed.

And when I say suddenly, I mean in an instant, with no warning. One minute I was sitting in my favorite chair drinking coffee all by myself, thinking my usual thoughts, and the next minute I exploded. I began jumping around the room, yelling, giving myself the biggest butt-kicking of my life. The episode only lasted for about 10 minutes but it altered the course of my life. If anyone had seen me, they would have thought I was nuts!

What caused the eruption? Thoughts. Just like molten lava deep inside a serene mountain, toxic negative thoughts had been boiling around in my mind for years. Those thoughts took a turn for the worse when, a few months earlier, I started thinking about leaving my family and fleeing my life.

You see, every morning I would get my son, aged 9, off to school and then sit in that chair and imagine going into my bedroom, packing up all my clothes, loading up my mini van and driving off down the street. In my mind I would sometimes leave a note or call someone to pick my son up from school. Sometimes I would imagine where I would go first, like to the bank. The only way I ever got myself out of the chair was to decide not to do it today, maybe tomorrow. And then the whole round would begin again the next day. I was stuck in a depression dew loop with no way out.

On that fateful morning in May, I suddenly realized that I wasn't going to do it. And I was furious! The yelling went something like this:

"You IDIOT! You're not going ANYWHERE because if you WERE, you would have GONE already! I've HAD it with you! STOP this foolishness, GET OVER IT!"

And on like that .... while waving my arms, shaking my fists and I think there was some stomping involved. Pretty sure there was. The best part came next. I ran into the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. I looked deranged, crazed, wild-eyed. I was horrified, to say the least. But I looked that crazy woman right in the eye, shook my finger in her face and told her to shape up. Told her I had had it with her and her whining and moaning. Told her she was going to get happy RIGHT NOW or I was going to know the reason why not.

The idea that I could actually be happy sent a jolt of panic through me, I could see it in my eyes. So I arranged a smile on my face and even though it gave me an even spookier look when combined with those wild eyes, I said out loud, "I'm a happy girl." I didn't die so I said it again. And then again. I repeated it over and over until it became a little song. "I'm a happy girl. A happy, happy girl. I'm a happy, happy, happy, happy girl!" Catchy tune, you should have heard it. Satisfied with my efforts, I jumped into the shower singing my little song and went on to the rest of my day.

In the days and weeks that followed, I would sing my happy girl song in my van or in the shower but only when I was alone. I didn't tell anyone about my episode because I really had no idea what I had done.

About three weeks later, I noticed that I felt pretty good. It was a shock of sorts, after feeling so bad for so long. It stopped me in my tracks while I did a mental body scan and decided that, yes, I felt pretty darn good! I wondered if my happy girl song was really working. Could it be true? Could a silly thing like that really help?

Emphatically, YES!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Habitual Happiness, Part 2

The world is running faster and faster, the pace has to keep up with our constant need to be stimulated. Movies, news and TV programing have gotten outrageously explosive, riveting us to the screens. So what's the solution? How does one go about unplugging from the programing of a lifetime and begin to create an authentic internal life?

I have a few beginning steps that have worked well for me and although they are not original, they are also not popular. However, those who have tried these ideas always have such great results, I must go ahead and list them here for your consideration:

1) Turn off the news. It's been 11 years since I've watched a news program or read a newspaper on purpose and I continue to be one of the happiest people I know. I trust that if something important happens, someone will come along and tell me or I will notice a headline or overhear a conversation. My news comes in manageable ways, I'm never inundated and yet I always find out what I need to know. In my experience, this is the first reliable step toward creating a happier life.

2) Write daily. This is the number one best way to begin accessing the contents of one's own mind. It takes dedication and a sincere desire to find out what's going on inside and a willingness to listen and go ahead and write it down. I started in 1994 by using the writing method called Morning Pages, described in The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron'. The Artist's Way is a wonderful creativity recovery method that molds itself to each person's unique personality, experience and style. While not easy, daily writing is by far the most effective tool I've ever seen to promote positive changes.

3) Read books. By following my nose I've stumbled upon some great books and learned about amazing things that I didn't even know I was interested in. Used bookstores are wonderful for browsing and so is the library. I avoid magazines with all the stimulating ads and color meant to tempt or influence me. By reading books, I've become the director of what goes into my mind and that is a powerful feeling.

So there you have it, the three best ways I know of to begin creating the habit of happiness. Welcome to my world! In future posts, I'll be elaborating on each of these methods and several others, my happy bag of tricks is fun to share!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Habitual Happiness, Part 1

Happiness is a practice and it can develop into a habit. Habitual happiness!

After watching Patch Adams (again), it's clear that excessive habitual happiness can be edgy and can make others a tad uncomfortable.

There's an unspoken social code hanging in the air and it's a moving target. As children we learn early on how to navigate the code by watching and reading the adults around us. Our parents are the primary code managers, they are the first to show us how to act in private and in public, what is acceptable and what is not, who to defer to, who to follow, who is important to please, who can be disregarded, and most of this social code training is done subtly and most often without awareness, using body language and facial expressions.

Children are born joyful! They have a marvelous capacity to burst forth with enthusiasm, laughter, friendliness, silliness, and constant movement. Watch a child waiting in line at the grocery store --- they are all over the place! While the parent guards the cart, the child or children explore the millions of details surrounding them. They are open to details.

As adults, we've learned to tune out the details. Of the thousands of sensory opportunities available in each moment, we notice or process just a few. Children can run circles around us processing details and they do.

And that's were social code training comes in. The core messages in social code training are: Fit in --- Don't make waves --- Don't stand out --- Don't make anyone uncomfortable. With this training we learn to stand still, sit down, and be quiet, all at the expense of joy. We learn to hand our power over to social conditions and then we quickly learn to let external conditions become our gauge for how we feel inside. The natural outcome of social code training for many of us is repression of emotions and habitually looking to external events and situations to define our internal states.

Television, computers and video games have grown in popularity for this reason. They give us constant external feedback which hooks us emotionally, thus reinforcing the habit of handing our emotional power over to a source outside ourselves. The challenge becomes creating enough external stimulation to compensate for all those repressed authentic emotions and thoughts. Let there be a lull and boredom sets in quickly. Oh, can't have that! What shall we do? Who will talk to us? Who will entertain us? Who will make us laugh-think-feel? What activity will provide enough stimulation and forced focus to keep us fully engaged with external stimuli because it's a sure bet that, at this point, we are practically incapable of actually hearing our own thoughts or feeling what's going on in our own bodies!

The world is running faster and faster, the pace has to keep up with our constant need to be stimulated. Movies, news and TV programing have gotten outrageously explosive, riveting us to the screens. So what's the solution? How does one go about unplugging from the programing of a lifetime and begin to create an authentic internal life?

In Part 2, we'll explore some ideas about how to go about reprogramming ourselves. Please, you're invited to add your comments here so that they can be included in the discussion!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Listen to Laughs!

Since the research has shown that listening to the sounds of laughter causes the body to respond as if you laughed, it's a good idea to surround yourself with laughter as much as possible on a daily basis to counteract stress and depression.

The physical benefits of laughter include opening of the blood vessels, reduced blood pressure, increased oxygenation of the brain and internal organs, all of this leading to greater relaxation and feelings of well-being.

Here's a Laugh-a-Long video to get you started. I created it this week using some favorite photos and the laughter sound track from the Practice Happiness! CD

Get your year off to a good start by increasing your laughter and listening to laughter as often as possible!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

How My Dad Got Funny

It happened one day in November of 2003, just after I had returned home from the hospital after having my appendix removed. It was an unplanned surgery, as you can imagine, and my parents had driven the 125 miles from their house to mine to help me for a few days.

The appendix attack was perfectly timed to interfere with a major move to another city the following week. I hadn't even started packing but I had saved my boxes from the last move and Mom and Dad had to get them out and pack them. It took them four days and all I could do was encourage and direct. And laugh!

Somehow, starting with his grousing about my coffee maker the first morning, Dad became the funniest man on earth. I had to hang onto the counter and my tummy so I wouldn't hurt myself laughing! Almost everything he said and did for the next four days was hysterically funny. I was a laughter casualty, roaring, slapping my legs, dropping to the floor and asking, "How did it happen? When did you get so funny? And how did I manage to not notice this my whole life?!"

The transformation in my dour, practical, dry dad was amazing. Turns out he totally enjoyed being thought of as Funny Guy after a lifetime of Serious Guy. We all knew that my laughter attacks had everything to do with recovery from anesthesia and nothing to do with actual humor and yet we all had so much fun with it!

Funny Guy stayed with us for several years after that and we loved him and laughed at him and, in the end, he gave us all something to remember and talk about during that last painful year before he died.

This story goes to show that we all have a terrifically funny person inside us and sometimes all we need is for someone else to come along and release them. It's never too late to stop and laugh and it almost never requires anesthesia.