Friday, September 9, 2011

My happy place

Definition of "Happy Place" from online Dictionary: "A psychologically-induced trance-like state, where a person may regress from a stressful situation."

As a student of yoga for the past 12 years, my master teachers have often encouraged us to find our 'happy place'. Nearly every book I've read, and every instructor I've had, has described this internal location as more of a void than an actual dwelling. Because I'm far too visual a person to just go into nothingness (though that's the ultimate goal), I initially imagined an all white room with nothing but two simple chairs. It was more "the Matrix" than the void, but it worked for me. I was able to use this conceptualized, somewhat blank, visual mantra for a while. I could even feel a nurturing, conjured up sage talking me through the meditative technique.

I'd listen to my fellow yogis and yoginis with envy (another bit I'm supposed to detach from), as they described slipping out of themselves during meditation or Shavasana. They talked blissfully about shedding their selves and just leaving all ideas of Place for a while. It sounded liberating. It sounded delicious. It sounded impossible for me. 

Much as I tried to even let go of my quite white room, I found that I went the other direction. Instead of leaving it completely behind and just allowing my mind the freedom of nullity, I'd somehow, unconsciously, made that releasing impossible: I began to decorate.

My white room was too, well, white for me. So, I warmed it up with a deep red on the walls, some natural sunlight and a fireplace. I realized that no happy place could be could be complete with floor to ceiling bookshelves. I'm nothing else if not a reader so,  of course, I needed some comfortable furniture on which to curl up and read. As much as I love wood floors, rugs really do help make a space feel cozy. Honestly, they should be Persian rugs...after all, I'm going for fantasy, and frankly, the many-colored-designs really do create a focal point in a room. What about art? I need art! Art is beautiful! How can I live without art? Up on the walls art goes. And so on. While other yoginis are contemplating the sound of their own breathing, I'm debating window treatments and the merits of French doors over pocket doors. I've gone so far as to think about making a pergola with a fountain just outside on the patio. Though, in fairness, I'm somewhat stuck between mossy brick or sleek flagstone.

Obviously, I'm very far from mastering the concept of a happy place, at least how it pertains to yoga. I understand the letting go of attachments, enticements and temptations of this world. I just really love to decorate. And I love comfort and beauty. I've come to my own realization, or perhaps it's a justification, that my happy place can be my dream room. I feel safe there. I feel the ability to let go of "House & Garden" moments to just explore how I'm feeling "deep down true". I may not be one with the universe, but I am away from my cares, my worries, my fears and my indignities. Perhaps I do focus too long on the merits and shapes of topiary plants. But, perhaps that's just what I need right now. Maybe I need to think about throw pillows and cozy blankets to get me out of my pain filled head and my despair over our lives' complications at this moment. I beat myself up over my lack of ability to conjure up the empty void. Yet, I'm coming to the realization that what I may need now isn't a void, but a space that's filled with light, peace and comfort.

Professor Dumbledore once said to Harry Potter, "Numbing the pain for a while will only make it worse when you finally feel it." I had a yoga instructor tell me something very similar recently. However, when we're on complete overload, I do think we need a little numbness now and then.

Mine just happen to come with choices in upholstery.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Laughter through tears

"Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion." ~ Dolly Parton as Truvy, in "Steel Magnolias".

There's an absolutely wonderful short film by European filmmaker Christine Rabette entitled "Merci". In this exceptional 8 minute movie, not a word is spoken. Emotions, however, are conveyed with powerful imagery. The scene opens with an underground rail system and moves into a Metro car. The riders are nearly colorless...bland, beige, drab and downtrodden. Every face has a frown upon it. Every eye is downcast. It's a gloomy, depressing scene. The viewer feels the degradation, the monotony and the bleakness of the lives of the riders.

At the next Metro stop a smiling, robust, jolly man steps onto the train. Despite his grin, no one meets his gaze. He begins to chuckle, at first. Then guffaws. The train riders look aghast initially, or even disgusted. Yet, his laughter is infectious. Before long, the woman next to him is laughing along with him. The serious, stern riders further away begin to smile to themselves. Within an instant they, too, are giggling. A moment passes and the entire train is filled with optimistic, joyful mirth. As the Metro pulls into another stop, The Laughing Bodhisattva departs. But he leaves behind a much happier car.

For the past few weeks, I've felt quite a bit like the discouraged riders on that subway. One situation after another has left me depleted. Once again, I'm unwell. Although we don't have a diagnosis yet, I'm in nearly constant severe pain and am suffering from other ailments. It's been extremely difficult to get a doctor to return  my calls. In the hospital, it was nearly impossible to find anyone to even really listen to me. They were simply too busy to meet my gaze. In a sense, those health care professionals were riding on this same sad Metro car along with me. Additionally, my husband just lost his job. More than that, he lost his career, due to downsizing. He's a well educated, hard working man and has always been employed. This blow has also been extremely demoralizing...not to mention that it's terrifying in this economy. My heart has been so heavy, it's been close to breaking for good.

Yet, I had my own personal Bodhisattva appear, in canine form, this morning. My dog, Dakota, is a rescue. She's a beautiful Shiloh Shepherd. She came to us with many fears and has slowly been emerging from her personal troubled subway ride. As Dakota has gained in confidence, a mischievous sprite has taken form. I woke up to find her snuggling with me in bed. This isn't surprising. Dakota is very cuddly. What was unexpected, at any rate, was that my entire bed was covered in toilet paper. Not only was Dakota wrapped up like a mummy, but my other dog, Murphy (a Newfoundland-Golden Retriever mix) also was quietly bearing the binds of his wrappings. My lamps were covered. My robe, next to the bed, was covered. Somehow, my Kindle was completely wrapped up in its own package, as was the remote control to the television. There was toilet paper from headboard to the end of my bed, draping us all in a cocoon. It was as if I woke up in a canopy bed made of toilet paper. Miraculously, none of it was really broken. It was all looping, long, entire rolls. And, I'd slept through the entire construction. My crimson and gold bedding was lost in a sea of white. Seeing through the curtains of toilet paper, I saw two beautiful, mirthful eyes. Dakota had been waiting for me to wake up.

Although Dakota couldn't begin laughing herself, I knew that this was her gift to me. Her sprightly, goofy antics were the medicine I needed. I laughed. And laughed. And laughed. Dakota got up and rollicked around with the now destroyed toilet paper castle. She jumped. She whirled. She nearly pulled me out of bed with her merry shenanigans. I loved every second.

Are our problems solved? No. Do we have any answers to the fearful question we face? Also, no. But Dakota gave me a precious treat: the ability to look at the present moment with joy in my heart. When you think about it, isn't that what we all need?  Life isn't about the long term; it's about loving each day as if comes, finding the bright spots and steering your course towards them. It's also about laughter through tears. If we can't laugh during our times of trial, then we won't see the miracles that are right in front of us...even if those miracles are created by a dog with a penchant for toilet paper.