Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Secret of Happiness

During a period in my life in which I felt hopelessly trapped in stasis (it was about the time I started writing The Red Coat), someone suggested I try writing a gratitude list at bedtime.  You know, recounting at the end of the day all the things in your life that you are thankful for.

Counting your blessings is supposed to help pull you out of a rut by getting you to focus on what's going right instead of all the things that are going wrong.  It's the "secret" behind that book The Secret.  Namely: whatever you focus on you get more of.  Focus on your problems and you just get more of them.  Focus on the good things and they grow. 

My problem was, I felt so awful, I could not think of one good thing to say about my life!  

Moreover, I didn't quite hold to the idea of a gratitude list.  There seemed to be fear built in.  For example, the thought, "I'm grateful for my job," had a tiny little voice attached to it that warned, "You could lose it tomorrow!"  Or the thought, "Thank heavens for my health!" brought to consciousness some little pain in the body.  It was as if courting a good thing provoked its opposite.

So late one night when I was feeling stuck and worried (and doesn't stuck and worried always visit late at night!) I wondered what I could focus on that would create movement in my life.  What would make the energy go up, instead of down?

And that's when I lit on it: I'd make a list of all the things that day that brought me joy!

At first, joy was hard to find and my list was pretty short: there was that kind word from a colleague at the office, or the smile that a stranger gave away for free.  Some days all I could come up with was how happy my bird had been to see me.  Remarkably, as I began to keep track of joy, it began to show up in spades.  Writing it down at night magically brought more of it the next day.  I found that I could even go looking for it, or create it in others.  That is when I began to look forward to my day, when I began to see that joy was everywhere and all around me, in every living thing, and all I had to do was notice it.

For my picture, I chose Scuffy who always brings me joy.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

I'm Your Self

It's difficult to watch younger women tormenting themselves over love.  I try to help if there's an invitation, otherwise I don't have the patience to listen to their complaining for very long: the truth is, it's just too plain painful because I was once that woman.

I can't tell you how many times I had to put my life's work on hold while I went through a crisis over a man.  The drama is well documented in my journals.  I can go back through them now and see the pattern: I'd be making progress on my writing and then I'd fall in love and Frank or George or Ringo or whoever it was would suddenly announce that there was something about me focusing on him the way I did that made him nervous -- and he would start to pull away.  With the love taken away, I'd fall into a depression.  Every time.

At some point, as I began to mature, I realized that I couldn't go on like that.  I'd have to figure out how to love myself.

But how do you love when you don't know how?

Well there were a few tricks that worked, and one of them was this: 

One night, I was driving in the car, all alone, tears streaming down my face, I can't even remember why, and some insipid love song came on the radio and I thought, "How stupid is that!" and then suddenly it occurred to me:
"Wouldn't it be funny if said those things to myself!"  
What if I sang to my own self: "I wanna hold your hand" or "I saw her standing there" or "I need you"?  and just the thought made me laugh out loud.  For a long time after that, every time I heard a sappy love song I would sing it to me and laugh.  And so, little by little, as I learned to laugh and I practiced loving me, I began to feel better.

It's great fun!  Go on and try it!

Try this one, by Leonard Cohen, except that every time he says, "I'm your man" you say, "I'm your Self":

If you want a lover
I'll do anything you ask me to
And if you want another kind of love
I'll wear a mask for you
If you want a partner
Take my hand
Or if you want to strike me down in anger
Here I stand
I'm your man

If you want a boxer
I will step into the ring for you
And if you want a doctor
I'll examine every inch of you
If you want a driver
Climb inside
Or if you want to take me for a ride
You know you can
I'm your man

Ah, the moon's too bright
The chain's too tight
The beast won't go to sleep
I've been running through these promises to you
That I made and I could not keep
Ah but a man never got a woman back
Not by begging on his knees
Or I'd crawl to you baby
And I'd fall at your feet
And I'd howl at your beauty
Like a dog in heat
And I'd claw at your heart
And I'd tear at your sheet
I'd say please, please
I'm your man

And if you've got to sleep
A moment on the road
I will steer for you
And if you want to work the street alone
I'll disappear for you
If you want a father for your child
Or only want to walk with me a while
Across the sand
I'm your man

If you want a lover
I'll do anything you ask me to
And if you want another kind of love
I'll wear a mask for you

For my picture, I chose the photo we snapped one day of the Crapi Apartments across the street.  Sometimes you just have to look around yourself and laugh.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What's In A Button?

What’s in a button?

A button is an ordinary object, one you use every day and probably don't even notice. They are common. You’re probably wearing one right now and don’t even know it.  An ordinary object that you use all the time and don’t stop to think about.

And yet, from the first soft baby clothes that grandma sewed for you to the dressing gown of your twilight years, the button will be at hand to secure you, adorn you and tell the story of who you are and where you came from.  

Buttons are ancient.

The earliest known buttons were made in Egypt around 2000 B.C.  Crusaders brought them to Europe from the Middle East. In days of old, they were distinguishing points of bespoke tailoring, commissioned by kings and worn by great ladies to flaunt their positions and wealth.  But now buttons are hardly noticed, a result of ready-to-wear factory-style manufacturing.  A product of our times.  When was the last time you chose a garment for the buttons?  Or chose the buttons for a garment? They are entirely overlooked.

A button is round, simple, functional.  The more you look at one, the more beautiful it becomes.

The button is a perfect mandala, actually.  Like a mandala, it is round with a square inside and four gates.  Like a mandala, a button could be used, if one thought to look at it that way, as a portal.

In certain spiritual traditions, the Mandala is used to focus the attention of the seeker in order to establish a sacred space and help her to enter a meditative state in which to experience transcendent powers at work in the universe.

Sigmund Freud’s pupil Carl Jung painted mandalas as a “self-experiment” in order to come to terms with the contents of his unconscious mind.  The work sprang from his need, he said, to define the ways in which his outlook differed from that of his teacher.  He did not think of his paintings as art, only as a means to clarify certain material that had swamped him.  After completing his six-year experiment, Jung transcribed his experiences in a journal he called “The Red Book,” a richly illustrated folio bound in red leather.  

What Jung realized was that the fantastic figures he had encountered in his meditations could not be traced to any personal or biographical event.  Instead, he concluded, they were mythic, originating in an impersonal psychic realm that he called the "collective unconscious.” This discovery of an autonomous psychic realm populated by universal, inherited “shapes” of the human mind – or archetypes -- would form the basis of Jung’s psychology of the unconscious, the material for his lifetime’s work.

The button is just a metaphor.  It is a way of being in the world.  A way of approaching one's life, one's work.  Pay more attention to your clothes – but not in the way that others have decided for you.

For my picture, I snapped a picture of my mom’s green button (compare it to a Tibetan mandala painted in the 17th century).  Her collection of buttons was passed down to me, canisters of vibrant reds, greens, purples, blues, a whole bin of pearly whites.  A tin of blacks.  A tray of metal ones for uniforms.  It is an inheritance I am just beginning to understand and appreciate.