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Clamoring toward happiness

"Halleluiah" by Mary Oliver

Everyone should be born into this world happy

and loving everything.

But in truth it rarely works that way.

For myself, I have spent my life clamoring toward it.

Halleluiah, anyway I’m not where I started!

And have you too been trudging like that, sometimes

almost forgetting how wondrous the world is

and how miraculously kind some people can be?

And have you too decided that probably nothing important

is ever easy?

Not, say, for the first sixty years.

Halleluiah, I’m sixty now, and even a little more,

and some days I feel I have wings.

Poetry and yoga are natural companions. What do they share in common? Both require paying attention and drawing from your own experience. A deeper truth, often ambiguous, can be teased out.

From the start, possibly 5,000 years ago in India, yoga has always been much more than just the physical exercise. It is also a meditative practice seeking the inner self. Cultivating an awareness of the distinction between the false self– the ego - and the true self - that which makes you, you – is the lifelong practice. Poetry is a beautiful vehicle for this same exploration. It’s short, ambiguous, open to interpretation.

In this world of relentless news, much of which is disturbing, it is easy to overlook that people can be “miraculously kind” and forget “how wondrous the world is.” Poetry and yoga offer refuge, maybe even solace that life will go on beyond the discord and uncertainty. And I’m not talking about numbing ourselves or withdrawing from purposeful action but I do recognize that sustaining ourselves is necessary for social engagement.

Poet Mary Oliver invites us to rejoice in life as it is with all its fits and starts. Clamoring toward happiness is noisy, grasping, effortful. With age (I am now 60) comes a mature recognition that as much as we’d like everyone to be happy and loving, life experience teaches us that much is beyond our control.

Oliver reminds us that trudging through life braced for adversity can make us miss the wonder and the kindness. Neuroscience supports the idea that the brain is constantly seeking threats in our environment. And the news cycle is fast, furious and alarming keeping the brain charged and reactive. Mindfulness, that is, paying attention to spiraling thoughts and feelings, can temper that reactivity. I choose to notice and celebrate the goodness, generosity and abiding love in life. I saw it in its full glory this summer as my daughter Eleanor wed Dean surrounded by family and their friends. I felt I had wings. Hallelujah.


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