“I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?” ~ Mary Oliver
Full disclosure: there nothing complicated about what you’ll read below, no previously unheard of secret formula.
But just because something is simple doesn’t mean that we naturally generate the will or ability to do it. If we did, there would be a whole lot more balance, happiness and goodwill in the world.
Yet, all these things do exist in abundance, and it is our absolute birthright to be able to tap into these positive qualities of living. There are no miracles necessary, no magic-fix-all set of instructions to shoot us way up into the stratosphere of joy.
Happiness, harmony, balance—these are not end-games to which we jump, only to rest there until the end of (our) time. Of course not.
We are human. By our very nature, we come into this world with a body, and that body will eventually deteriorate, sicken, age and die. Often, our minds and our bodies will be at odds. Our body will want to run when our mind wants to quiver and cry. Our mind will want to soar when our body is unable to move.
This is not something to regret or bemoan. There is so much beauty in being unfalteringly, unwaveringly human.
Being human allows us to cry when we feel we’ve reached our limits, but also to laugh at the potential absurdity of the situation. Crying will leave us in one place, laughing in another, and both are temporary and both are infinitely possible, and repeatable.
To this extent, the choice is ours. Being human, right now, is not the choice, so there is little sense in feeling stuck or trapped by the very parameters of our existence.
How we are to be human is very much within our power. We seek happiness and barrel right back into feeling stuck or depressed, not seeing how we are clawing against the walls of something (that elixir of happiness) that is actually not trying to hide from you at all.
It’s existed all along, embedded into every single moment we choose to accept the situation we find ourselves in. And this is incredibly difficult to do, especially without a whole lot of effort, training and mindfulness, but it’s also incredibly simple.
Sometimes we just need to be reminded.
It’s often the littlest things that can propel us down this road of acceptance. If we can’t grasp the meaning of something as gaping and wide as happiness, let’s bring ourselves back to the things capable of invoking that giddy, joyful feeling, things that can remind us that we are right here, already in happiness’s arms.
Let’s do these:
Sing our favourite song: For real. Like, out loud. Belt it and feel something of eternity coursing through your veins. I usually choose Somewhere Over the Rainbow or Ain’t No Sunshine or In My Place, which aren’t the happiest songs, but their emotional resonance get me there every time.
Meditate: This is a no-brainer, and people cite this in every single “feel better” to do list. But there’s a reason for this. Meditation isn’t a hobby or an accessory. If we’re diligent about it, it can sincerely help us reduce stress, calm our minds and learn to accept everything that is happening in the present moment. To start, just sit and be aware of the breath going in, going out.
Standing forward Bend: Ahhh. Literally and metaphorically let it all hang out. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, and slowly bend forward from the hip. Only go as far as your body allows (you can use cushions to rest your hands on), and just hang, trying with each out-breath to release more, holding no tension whatsoever in your upper body. Take long, deep breaths, and let your tensions escape, as your strong, tree-like legs support and ground you.
Shut down the computer, phone and other such playthings: Do this for five minutes or an hour or a day, and cut off many potential sources of stress, and watch how the world doesn’t fall apart without our connection to every cyber-molecule of it. Look out the window, go outside, read a book, do nothing. Hang out alone. We are great companions, just the way we are, once we get to know ourselves.
Journal: This might not be second nature for everyone, or maybe it’s a daily activity. It’s a truly wonderful way to check in with the self and become more attuned to feelings on physical, mental and spiritual levels. Take the time to nurture and foster this connection with self, and discover how much this enables a journey out of the head and into the world of instinct, intuition and beautiful human connection.
Do something for someone else: Give. Donate. Hug someone. Call a friend in need. There a countless options, and you likely know keep inside exactly what and how to do it. Make the world a bigger place by sharing its amazing bounty.
Write a letter: Pen and paper! You may be old enough to remember when writing people letters or having penpals was an ordinary part of life. Even when it was ordinary, it was awesome, and it always felt so good to write and receive letters. Now that it’s extraordinary, imagine how good it will feel to take the time to pour your heart out to someone, and to also receive a piece of their heart in the mail.
Scan the body: Feeling bad? The mind and body are cohorts, and you might be surprised to find that there is a physical element to your mental discomfort. Maybe it’s your posture, or that you slept funny on your neck last night, or that your limbs are stiff in this not-quite-warm weather. Do simple things like stretching to limber up, and watch your energy channels open and clear your mind/psyche.
Take a walk: Walking is truly a salve for the soul, living meditation. We often forget the healing powers of being literally grounded, connected to the earth. Cars take us away from this, and even bike-riding doesn’t quite compare to feeling the earth under you. If it’s possible, get off the roads and onto trails and grass. Take off your shoes. Feel how alive everything is, and how much you’re a part of it.
Laugh: This will do it every time. Whole strains of yoga and meditation are dedicated to this form of release, which de-stresses on all levels, and is the best soul-medicine around. A stress-free life is a happier and arguably longer one, and laughing and stress literally don’t know how to share a space together. Laugh often. Laugh alone, with friends and loved ones, and slide into a happy-place that is always at your fingertips.
Wanna get happy? Just do this one thing.
Noooooooooooo. Of course not.
Happiness—or a consistent state of contentment—is very much something we can enjoy striving for. I believe that it is an achievable state, but there are absolutely no direct routes there. And if anyone tells you there are, I’d suggest carving yourself a beautiful, elaborate path in the opposite direction from their advice.
There’s something really lovely and fragile about knowing we can’t have instant happiness, that we get to wade into the many rides that our emotions take us on daily (even hourly), so that we can experience the fullness and richness of life.
But there are some things we can do to encourage ourselves down the long and winding road toward happiness, and it’s often the little things, done with mindfulness and persistence, that accumulate and train or minds (and brains) to think happy.
You know the drill: train the body to like running, and at first it will laugh and maybe spit at you—but eventually it will cave to your iron will, and a runner you (and your body) will be!
Why should the brain and mind be any different?
Awhile back, I wrote an article, 5 Things To Do Before Breakfast for a Happy Day. I’d like to follow that up with a companion piece about quick and simple things you can do right before bed to cultivate contentment in your life. I hope you enjoy!
Okay, you’re snuggled into bed, comfortable and warm and cozy. Check. Now …
1. Say thank you and review the day.
First things first: gratitude. Take a moment to say thank you – for the day you had, for the privilege and honour of having lived another glorious day, and for your own efforts at making a go of this crazy, powerful thing called life.
On to the review: don’t labour over this unnecessarily and absolutely don’t be full of regret for things left undone. Try to assume a slightly detached point of view, as though you were going over a friend’s activities, and try to observe, without judgement, one or two things you are proud of doing that day, and one or two things you might have done differently.
This will help you foster an ongoing awareness of your goals and behaviours, and this will help guide you toward your ideals.
As a last part of this review, you can make a mental note to yourself that for the next 24 hours (until your next nightly check in), you will aim, through your words and actions, to do and be exactly as you would like, using as a measure your highest aspirations for yourself.
2. Create a sankalpa and recite it to yourself.
“Sankalpa” is a Sanskrit word, and is something close to an intention or resolution. It’s actually more of an idea for something we are very determined about, with the goal of making positive changes in our lives.
It is suggested that you decide on only one sankalpa, and that it be quite short and phrased in a positive and not negative way. It should also be phrased to indicate that success has already been achieved. So we should try to get at the root of our deepest desires and goals, rather than focus on more superficial ones.
Examples of sankalpa might be, “I am strong and healthy” or “My life is exactly as I desire it to be” or, if this has been an issue, “I am free from addiction.”
In achieving a firm resolve about the positive direction we want our life to take, we train our brains and minds to become more flexible for accommodating these changes in our lives. In this way, it helps to bridge the mind and body, and get them working in sync for the better.
3. Set an intention to remember your dreams.
I love this one. As we know, our minds are very powerful and trainable tools. We meditate to gain control of our minds, tame our thoughts and live in active harmony with the world around us. We can effectively guide the mind to work to our benefit, and one way to do this is to have access to our dream world.
Some people remember their dreams easily and naturally. I am not one of those people. There are several ways to cultivate this ability, and one easy and effective way is to actually think about it before bed. As you’re lying in the dark, you can bring to your attention the desire to remember your dreams, and even tell yourself, “I am falling asleep now, and dreams will come. I will be aware of these dreams, and remember them when I wake up.”
When you start remembering your dreams in the morning, you will have a feeling of accomplishment—you have guided your mind into working for you!
You can then work with your dreams in any number of ways.
4. Breathe and scan your body.
All this reviewing and intention-setting may have inadvertently made your mind over-active, and now is a good time to prepare body and mind for relaxation and sleep.
It’s simple! Take a few long, deep breaths, letting go of the thoughts and actions of the day. Then, at your own pace, bring your attention from the toes all the way up the legs and torso, front and back, followed by the hand, arms, shoulders, neck and head.
As you’re doing this, try not to judge any sensations you’re experiencing, or condemn yourself for having thoughts or distractions. And if you fall asleep, that’s okay! You have become rested, and that’s great! Just go along with the scan for as long as you can, and this objective, gentle attention will have a dramatically calming effect.
5. Give the world and yourself some love.
If you are still awake now, notice if any source of pain came up during your body scan or even your memories of the day, and gently place your hands on that area, if you are able, and let the love flow. Do what you would do for your own child, or lover, if they were in pain. Touch, hold, fold in warm embrace.
You can also use your breath to fill this part of you with calm and peace. And if the pain was more psychological or emotional, place your hands on your heart, or chest area (or somewhere else, if your instinct guides you there), and do the same.
Remember that the love you give yourself is also love that extends out to the whole world, and by nurturing yourself, your surroundings become filled with light. In treating yourself with kindness, you are actually showing how grateful you are to be part of the magical unfolding of life.
There’s nothing better than going to bed in an atmosphere of gratitude and love!
*This article was published in elephant journal, here.