Saturday, April 25, 2009

Startled into Pleasure

The Saturday that you raise the storm windows and let a breeze move your curtains for the first time in six months, you realize that you sometimes just forget to be happy.

It can feel so easy to be happy sometimes, you wonder if you simply lose the knack at other times.

In my case this year, there can often be an agenda that seems very, very important – something about which I need to get clear, or an area in my life in which I need to make progress, or some way of seeing myself that I need to name and – if possible – repair. I can burrow in and stay focused or anxious or angry for a while.

And then I stumble across something I forgot that I enjoy.

Last week it happened twice.

It was early Sunday morning, and I did not need to leave for church for another two hours. On a whim I went to a campus near where I live. I had the landscaped walkways to myself. The air was kind, and the pace at which I walked brought on the meditative mood of a morning on retreat. It felt as though I had somehow managed to get this quiet world all to myself, and I wondered why I had not made such a walk a more regular part of my Sunday mornings long ago. The moment suited me – that was evident. Part of the happiness came from that awareness that I had returned to a kind of activity that makes me feel content.

A second moment of being startled into pleasure came in a library on that campus. With time on my hands, I had headed one day into the library, found the section with the literature titles, and parked myself in a red leather chair along the paneled wall. It was going to be just a comfortable chair in which to bide the time until I was expected elsewhere. I let my eyes travel the stacks. Although the 700-page biography of Emily Dickinson that I soon had in hand was unfamiliar, I began reading an introduction that simply would not let me go. Conveyed within the author’s style was a scholar’s voice that I found I wanted to hear, to follow, to savor for its intelligence and nuance and grace. Reading in that chair, surrounded by all those other volumes, I felt a little bit the scholar going about a scholar’s day. I recognized a John who has been happy in that setting before.

It can be easy to forget to be happy. And it can be easy to be reminded.

In the middle of the afternoon yesterday, I was on a moving train. I was returning home from a workshop near New York City. At a point earlier in the day, I had been among people invited to close their eyes and withdraw in imagination to a place where they had experienced happiness in the past. A goal of the exercise was to awaken people to the lively and lasting power of the positive emotions associated with those places and experiences. For sheer joy, the tenderness of the memory I relived brought me to tears. Familiar with the exercise from earlier workshops, I recall wondering then why I kept delaying making such practices a more habitual behavior in my life. Why was it still so easy some days to let others’ decisions determine the quality of the happiness I got to pursue and expect?

The Saturday that you raise the storm windows and let a breeze move your curtains for the first time in six months, you realize that sometimes you just forget to be happy.

Photo uploaded on Flickr by **Mary**


Ur-spo said...

most people don't realize they are happy until after the state of happiness is past. However if you were to go back in time to thathappy time, and ask " are you happy?" they would look at your with amazement. What do you mean? I am busy doing things, etc.

Donald said...

Lucky those people who occasionally get happiness served them with amazement and profound satisfaction!

The memories of those times can be emboldening and restorative...