“Whoever is happy will make others happy too. He who has courage and faith will never perish in misery.” – Anne Frank
My whole body is vibrating.
Just now, I lit my 100th stick of “Happy Heart” incense and repeated the words I’ve said each morning since August 28th – “My intention today is to grow toward joy.” Today the intention felt larger, more expansive than a practiced Sankalpa or resolution. Today, that statement felt like a responsibility.
Instead of re-hashing my entire journey from August forward, I invite you to check out my “The Happy Heart Project: 100 Days Toward Joy” and other blogs I wrote along the way. It’s been quite a trip, and at times a stumble. Over time, The Project became more than a simple morning ritual. It motivated more effort than I’ve ever made in my decades of spiritual practice.
I don’t do any of this for myself. By “any of this” I mean the 100-day rituals, the blogging, the yoga, the recovery work, the healing practices. Well, OK, yes. First I do it for myself – so I can transform, strengthen. But only so I can share experiences with, pass-on resources to, show up for and be of service to others.
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“It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. For when harboring such feelings we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit.” – Anonymous
Resentment is ongoing anger or bitterness due to insult or injury. The etymological root of the word simplifies the meaning even more: a repeated feeling. Any feeling. So a resentment could be full of anger or fear, pride or longing. The fact is, if we are re-feeling something related to a past experience, clearly, we are unable to live in the present. Our past pains or even successes haunt us. We are shut off.
I consider myself a happy person. Someone who leans toward the light. Generally, I am able to accept life’s ups and downs while maintaining a hopeful and positive attitude.
This summer, after a mugging in June I had a series of PTSD responses that magnified negative stories, limited beliefs and destructive patterns cultivated from what seemed like a lifetime of unresolved trauma. I was harboring major resentments – against past aggressors, against myself, against the world. By August, I’d become hopeless. It was a dark, dark time.
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“It is through practicing and living through a series of agreeable and disagreeable situations that we attain full awakening.” – Suzuki Roshi, author and Zen Master
Over the past 100 days, one of my foundational beliefs was constantly validated: Moving toward joy does not mean escaping pain, avoiding discomfort nor skirting around darkness. It means greeting that pain, discomfort and darkness with an informed reality instead of habitual despair. It means digging deep to reach that informed reality, to trudge toward the answers, to sit in the messiness, to look straight at the fears and patterns. It means surrendering to help and change instead of resigning to the same old despair, depression and rage.
In life there is ease, there is tranquility and there is light…and at times, there is not. In that very acceptance, I can cultivate happiness. I can experience joy. And with strong, committed and consistent effort, the habitual despair can be completely undone.
As Roshi says, it takes “practicing” and “living.”
Burning a stick of incense each morning was a tiny and symbolic gesture. Although the repeated intention that accompanied that act truly set the wheel in motion, reinforcing a Sankalpa involves much more than words.
Over the past 100 days, there were layers and layers of practices and life. There was the changing of seasons; there was an Ayurvedic diet for Pitta Pacification; there were increased actions in my recovery program and the huge exhale when reaching nine years clean and sober; there was daily 5:30am Sadhana of prayer, Pranayama and meditation; there were willing visits to medical professionals who specialize in PTSD and related conditions; there was the swallowing of unusual vitamins and supplements; there were specific songs that I listened to and sang until sobbing from liberation; there was soulful abandon during concerts by spiritual songwriters and chanters; there were awkward moments with trusted friends, reunions with old pals and exciting connections with new soul mates; there was immersion in the Occupy movement’s writings and videos in order to challenge my own fears of conflict and solidly reinforce my purpose of peace; there were the Jewish High Holy Days, with their sorrow, atonement, forgiveness and love; there were transformational workshops, retreats and classes with Seane Corn, Max Strom, Amy Barnes, Corrine Champigny and many others; there was the glowing Hindu holiday of Diwali, with its stories of the triumph of light over darkness.
What a trip. And it was 100% worth it. Because now, not only have I ceased fighting everything and everyone, I have also come to profoundly accept, appreciate and stop apologizing for my humanness.
“May we live like the lotus, at home in the muddy water.” – Rachel Meyer, yoga teacher
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“May all the sky be pervaded by great bliss.
“If suffering, I bear the suffering of all beings.
“May the ocean of samsara’s suffering dry up.”
My soundtrack for this 100th moment is the traditional Buddhist Offering Chant, quoted above, and sung tenderly by Lama Gyurme in the video below. As I write, the Happy Heart sends its wafts of rose, rosewood, geranium, cubeb, oakmoss, lavender and patchouli smoke throughout my space.
To me – no matter how much I live and practice through all conditions – it would seem miraculous to reach a bliss like Nirvana or Samadhi or Enlightenment, where I would completely transcend my own suffering, cease carrying and contributing to the suffering of all, and ultimately, experience the end of Samsara – the earthly cycle of birth, decay, death.
What I can grasp, however, is Buddhist nun Pema Chodron’s simple take on attaining a “higher” state: “Enlightenment is a very grand word for fundamental happiness. Your life becomes a path of awakening or a path of becoming enlightened.”
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“What is important is not to have a goal but to see if our daily existence has a meaning in itself.” – J. Krishnamurti, philosopher and author
Note that my daily statement was, “My intention today is to grow toward joy,” not, “I want to be happy forever.” The Project reinforced that life is truly One Day At A Time. Gradual. Forgiving and honest. If today I don’t feel joy, I can try again tomorrow.
There is no goal, only intention, reinforced frequently, through a process of openness, willingness, action and growth.
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“The spiritual life is not a theory. We have to live it.” – Anonymous
Simply said. The Happy Heart Project does not end here, at the 100-day mark.
Great gratitude to the numerous teachers who appeared along the way, in so many shapes and forms. Yoga students, yoga teachers, friends, family, strangers, co-workers, ankle-biters, outright attackers. Road trips, songs, trees, Asana, injuries, deities.
All mirrors, all messengers.
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May all beings find the courage and faith to grow through misery and toward joy. Thank you for sharing the journey. OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.
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THE HAPPY HEART PROJECT. Under the new moon of Sunday, August 28, 2011 I launched “The Happy Heart Project: 100 Days Toward Joy” – an effort to document my daily journey away from an annoyingly encroaching emotional darkness and toward the hopeful light of happiness. For 100 days from 8/28 through 12/5, I woke up, burned a stick of Happy Heart incense and set an intention to grow toward joy. Nearly each day I posted a “Happy Heart Project” status (and sometimes an accompanying song for that day’s mood) on Urban Yoga Den on Facebook, then saw what happened during the day. Even though the 100 DAYS are over, it’s not too late to choose one simple heartfelt ritual for your morning, intend to practice it daily, “Like” Urban Yoga Den on Facebook, and let us know how you’re doing from time to time!