I was all, “Look at me doing the advanced class!” last week at the Y, jogging vigorously in the pool and plunging Styrofoam dumbbells into the water, making figure eights. I was feeling the burn in my calves and the burn in my biceps and the…slippage. As in, the bottoms of my bathing suit were slowly creeping down my bum. I dropped the dumbbells and probably looked like I’d peed in the pool. I tried nonchalantly to pull up my bottoms, but my instructor noticed the barbells floating around me and mouthed, “Wardrobe malfunction?” My face turned a million shades of red, and the class, reading her lips, broke out in laughter.
Apparently the bathing suit string is essential. Who knew?
It had come out in the wash (the string) and I threw it in a drawer, like I do with hoodie strings that come out. Everyone knows what a pain in the butt it is to thread those things back through. But what doesn’t seem essential at the time has a way of making its lack of use known (sometimes with embarrassing consequences).
There’s been much talk since the government shut-down about what and who is “essential.” It’s gotten me thinking – especially since my bathing suit debacle – about what essentials I’ve “laid off,” essentials I need to…keep employed. And I’ve decided that the essential department I need to reopen in the government of Lynn is the Department of Happiness.
There are a lot of things that are essential in my life: eating right, exercising, relationships, love, “Call The Midwife,” “Downton Abbey,” the Pirates. But when I sort through the food and the gym and Netflix stuff, what is most essential to me is to be happy. And how I mean “happy” is that I don’t expect to have a smile on my face 24/7. What I want is to be happy with what is. What is now. This moment. This body. To notice what’s right in front of me and appreciate it for what it is. To read something I don’t agree with and not get all pissed off, or if I do, to read the words more objectively and reflect, not react.
Happiness isn’t all laughter and balloons and candles on a cake, nor is it limited to a perfect sunset or a first kiss. It’s seeing the rain outside and knowing you have to go out in it and that your hair will get all goofed up and yet…you can take in the disappointment that it might create. It’s that moment just before you drift off to sleep and the one you love kisses your shoulder, perhaps the first time the two of you have touched all day because of busyness or disagreements in between sleeps.
Choosing to be happy is a new concept for me, as is learning to be vulnerable. In a recent talk, Tara Brach asked listeners to reflect on these questions: “Do you experience happiness much? And when you’re feeling happiness or well-being, are you aware of it? Is it something you’re mindful of? And do you have a sense of what gives rise to happiness when it happens? What is it between you and really being happy, being contented? Can you feel the life that’s right here in your body and sense nothing is wrong? Nothing is missing?”
The core teaching of the Buddha is that what we want most is to change the source of suffering, that we want what is to be different, whether it’s ourselves, our circumstances, our health, our parents, our lover, traffic, the price of gas. We think forward and forget now. We plan and we want. And there’s a place for those things! Goodness, without want and desire, we’d never get anywhere! But it’s where we place those things in our lives that matter. It’s in how we think about what we want to be different and how we crave things to be different.
2013 is the Chinese Year of the Snake. Until recently, it was mine as well. I’ve slithered through a lot of issues this year, circled a lot of decisions, and hissed at the changes and decisions I’ve had to make. I was happy only when happy presented itself. Now, instead of gracing me with its presence and throwing out crumbs of joy, happiness is a verb. It’s something I do, not something I wait for.
Happiness is as essential as the string that holds up my drawers in a pool. And, at times, as complicated and aggravating as threading that dang string through my drawers when it falls out. But still…
I choose presence. I choose awareness. I choose happy.