This past week has brought me some promising experiences, like actually feeling happy, which is a nice treat, as well as more questions. I think the main thing the mindfulness is doing is opening a little path through the thoughts to the emotions that lie beneath. I think I buffer myself a lot of the time with my brain. This prevents me from connecting deeply with myself or with anyone else. Cutting through the mire of thought gives me access to the happiness underneath, but it also opens me up to the pain, doubt, and fear that reside down there. The past two weeks, I’ve found my eyes tearing up with surprising frequency, although I’m not exactly crying and I’m not exactly sad. It’s more a feeling of fullness. That leaks out of my eyes. I think it’s a result of just feeling more than I have been.
This week I’ve had the chance to examine some superstitions I apparently hold around feeling happy. And I’ve had the opportunity to see what happens when I pull back from mindfulness: I start feeling overwhelmed and irritable and uncharitable again.
Saturday night we went to a barbecue at a friend’s house. Most of the people there were my husband’s coworkers and their families. My children comprised 50% of the children there. I was the only one wearing a skirt. And Birkenstocks. These things may have contributed to my feeling outside of the group, but I had the sense that my mindfulness was keeping me away from social connections, too. Well, not the mindfulness directly, but my kind of pulling-into-myself defense of that core of feeling I’m just starting to expose to the world via mindfulness. I also noticed that I have trouble thinking of things to say when I’m aware of my judgmental thoughts. (How full of judgment have my conversations been in the past? I shudder to think.) I’m hoping that as I grow more accustomed to mindfulness and to feeling more emotions I will gradually be able to connect with others better and more empathically. Baby steps.
I’ve basically abandoned a written emotions log. I just can’t seem to record my emotions. But I am pausing several times a day, becoming aware of my emotions, and reflecting on the needs behind those emotions. While I don’t have a record to analyze for patterns, I am at least doing the work of being more aware of my emotions and needs.
The breathing is going beautifully, though. I really enjoy it and it really seems to help ground me.
For Week 3, I want to explore a bit more what happiness is. In her book, The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin writes about defining happiness,
“I decided instead to follow the hallowed tradition set by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who defined obscenity by saying ‘I know it when I see it,’ and Louis Armstrong, who said, ‘If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know,’ and A.E. Housman, who wrote that he ‘could no more define poetry than a terrier can define a rat’ but that he ‘recognizes the object by the symptoms it evokes.'”
While I think this is probably a reasonable overall definition of happiness, I think I might be able to hone it a little more to define my own personal happiness. Specifically, what does it mean to be “happier”? Would I feel happy more often? Would my baseline emotional level be a couple notches up? Would I simply experience a deeper lever of happiness when I did feel happy? Am I still “happier” if the happiness I feel is still tinged with that underlying fear and superstition? Of course, that last question starts to get into the realm of “am I doing it right?” which is probably not terribly helpful.
I’m really intrigued by the idea, which I’ve seen attributed to both the Dalai Lama and Aristotle but which may well have been asserted by others, that happiness results from virtuous action. I don’t really know how to pin down a meaningful definition of virtue, so I don’t know how to analyze this assertion. It seems logical that happiness wouldn’t result from immoral or harmful actions. At least not lasting happiness. And then there’s the whole issue of the flexible definitions of “moral,” “ethical,” and “virtuous” that gives me a whole hatful of trouble. I would like to find a way to think through this without getting sucked into a semantic vortex. Or perhaps the trouble is that I’m trying to use my mind to understand something that exists in my heart. Did I mention a vortex? I’m clearly swirling about down here.
At any rate, I want to make sure that I keep a picture of my goal in mind as I go about honing and practicing my resolutions so I can be reasonably certain I’m following the path that I mean to. It’s very easy for me to seek refuge in my mind, where I feel safe and protected but alone, rather than exploring my emotions, where I worry there may be a Pandora’s box that, once opened, will unleash feelings and emotions over which I have no control. One thing of which I’m certain: growth and change don’t generally happen when I feel safe. Perhaps that can be one of my measures; if I’m feeling unsettled and maybe even rebellious, I’m probably on the right track. If I’m feeling safe, maybe I should consider shaking things up.