A True and Lasting Happiness

delawareotherstock6It began quietly.

Day by day, week by week. Month by month, joy began to seep in. A true living, breathing, practical happiness became mine, just  when I least expected it.

Over time, I have begun to worry less, and I started to take life more lightly. Notably absent are a husband — or a wife — and my children. Though my beautiful son Luke does pop in occasionally with something hilarious, or perhaps a technical request about things like laundry, grammar, or college expenses.

Also absent are the big house, the driving business, the big, dazzling accomplishments and the schedule jam-packed with ‘critical’ tasks. Gone are the usual markers I always held up as ‘success’ – which is when I assumed I’d finally be happy.

So why this beautiful, tender, ethereal joy? Why now … and why me, God?

Is it because I have been meditating, dutifully, every morning for more than a year now? Or because of California’s predictably sunny weather? Or because of the easy sweet peace and humor I enjoy with my housemates Bobbie and Jeewon?

Or is it because I have come to know God in my heart and soul – as a living, breathing part of myself. So that my soul no longer feels like a refugee, just trudging through life.

I cannot completely explain it. But I can say I have done my work. The entire last year was a study in surrender, during which time I learned to tell the truth about my life, ask for help and get it.

But then this was what I decided when Teal died: the rest of my life would be dedicated to her memory. To living the life she could not, with power, grace, authenticity, and most of all, with love and service to others.

And so in this way Teal, who wanted with all her heart to be a healer, has healed her mother.

I notice I can now make peace where I once made messes. I feel a new, tender grace about things that once bothered me. For instance, I stopped thinking about my former partner as some pariah sent down to hurt me. My need to vilify her is gone and I now regard her with compassion and true empathy. As I do suddenly for anyone who has hurt me in my life.

This compassion-empathy bit is new. Bobbie and I talked this last night. “But haven’t you always felt compassion for others?” she asked.

“No,” I answered evenly. Which made both of us laugh.

My compassion was always furtive – darting in, hopefully unseen. Because if you caught me in that pants-around-my-ankles moment, I might be too exposed. Too vulnerable. Too weak.

The truth is I can be more compassionate with others because I have learned to be compassionate with myself — and not just through massages and ice cream sundaes. Now I comfort myself in the middle of the night, when worry collides with reason and my imagination runs wild. Then I slowly tether my galloping thoughts and soothe them back into their corrals.

I find myself setting healthy boundaries that I couldn’t set before, and saying ‘No’ with love and kindness. And mostly, I reassure myself now that God’s got my back and that I have nothing to fear. And so I can naturally relax.

Ironically, this renders me so much more powerful than before.

So I move through life with a new, delicate strength, just feeling my way along, one step at a time. And I see myself emerging as I edit these essays into a book for publication, and prepare to give talks for anyone who wants to listen.

This is the life I promised Teal when she was dying.

One of the last afternoons of her life, before she was taken off of life support, my friends Rick and Brian came to see Teal. And she gave Rick a telepathic message. “This is my stage,” he clearly heard her say.

And so it is.

Teal’s natural love and compassion for the world – her greatest natural gift – has become mine to share as well. But only through my complete surrender to a whole new way of being, informed by love and honesty.

This happiness feels so new, and hopeful, and beautiful. And it has that rightness we know at birth … that sense that somehow slips away over time. Yet, you are a child of God, as am I, and this peace is here for every one of us.

It’s free for the taking. All you have to be is brave — and decide, if only for one moment, that you deserve it. That, I know, was Teal’s wish for all of us.

A Moment of Perfect Joy

sunny windowYesterday I had a moment of perfect joy. I have a lot of them lately.

It seems all of this loss has had its arc of completion, taking me deeper and deeper into the bewilderment of truly letting go. And then delivering me to some new, exalted state of grace with even the simplest thing – sitting in bed doing nothing but contemplating fog in the air and listening to birdsong, for instance.

There is a critical ‘undoing’ in my life right now; the end of a lifelong habit of tasking my way to oblivion. Somehow I always believed if I did enough stuff, then I’d finally really be happy.

Just like some of us think we can eat, drink, shop, or romance our way to happiness. Yet, none of these compulsions move the ball one inch further. Rather, they run it the other way down the field.

When we drink, drug, shop, eat, smoke, romance, sex, debt, shop or do anything too much we disappear. We put our entire life on hold while we check out. And so we miss the really rich stuff: the texture of a moment, the course of our feelings, the flow of life.

Within even the simplest thing there is so much to be observed. And there is an inherent joy in that observation. A ‘being with’ that begs to happen, if only we will show up for it.

I had such a moment yesterday. I was driving home and Bob Dylan’s “Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat” came on my ipod shuffle. In that moment, I tuned into the perfection of all of it: the sun streaming in the car window, the Sunday morning feeling of more than enough time to do nothing. And Bob, rounding each bend of his classic blues with his nasal twang.

In that instant, I was filled with not only my own happiness but Teal’s as well. These days she calls herself TEFKAT (The Energy Formerly Known as Teal) and so she ripples through my body as a light, effervescent energy alive with angelic laughter.

I know it’s her because I laugh for no reason. My mind has turned off all comprehension and I just … laugh. A high-pitched, cascading peal of laughter that has no particular purpose other than the registration of joy spirals down through my body. I can feel it in every cell of my being.

So Bob sings, TEFKAT laughs, and I surrender.

Pulling over, I stop and feel for a while. Sun pours into my little car as birds fly above, and Bob sings on.

“You know it balances on your head
Just like a mattress balances
On a bottle of wine
Your brand new leopard-skin pillbox hat…”

What I love most is that I can actually pull over now and allow myself to stop. More and more I am recognizing how I have punished myself for years by packing every minute of my overcrowded schedule. I allowed no time for just breathing. Or for just being.

For years I avoided space and time because then I would be forced to feel my strange, bewildering sadness. And the slow drift I’d made away from myself. Course correction seemed impossible – where would I begin? But as life would have it, things just corrected themselves … and here I am. Happy.

Now I realize there is no ‘there’ to get to; no end goal and hearty handshake for a job well done. Indeed, there is only a string of endless moments, like luminescent pearls, waiting for us to dive deep and find them.

It is uncomfortable leaving room in my schedule for nothing. But I know now it is what I need and deserve. Life must proceed at its own pace, not mine. And no matter how much I get done at the end of a day, none of it will match the perfection of these God-sent moments of joy.

These are what I live for now, each in its own perfect timing. And when I find one, I thank God but I also thank myself for slowing down long enough to find perfection. And with it, an inestimable joy.