"Say Something Happy?"
I have a friend who has been following my sporadic blogging. "Could you write about something happy?" he asked me recently.
I held back the temptation to respond, "It depends on how you define, happy." But then I thought, "Maybe I should write about death? (I mean Gary Larson can make any topic funny. I'm just not so sure I can : - )
The Matrix just had it's twentieth anniversary. In the movie, life is a sort of death and death is a sort of life. The unsuspecting hero, Neo, is given a choice: to find answers to the questions in his heart by swallowing the red pill or remain contently blind to the truth in life by swallowing the blue pill. To me, living an illusion of happiness is a sort of death to truth and therefore death to what is actually life and genuine happiness. Let me explain.
We are actually swallowing the blue pill daily when we spend billions of dollars out of fear, trying to postpone what we believe to be death, when perhaps the diversions keep us from being fully alive. We "shop 'til we drop," never miss happy hour, plan weekends and vacations that will distract us from our mundane realities while spending today thinking and planning for tomorrow's escape into paradise. And we want the certainty of those tomorrows. We build Wendy's and McDonald's because we want to know that the hamburger and fries we eat while vacationing in Utah will taste the same as the ones we get in Texas.
Is the expense of escaping ignorance worth waking up if it means seeing that truth can be ugly and painful, leaving us covered in scars? Truth might even feel like death at first.
I carry some pretty nasty scars. Most of us do. One of mine was surgically stitched across my right knee after I was blindsided by a car while walking; the other scar was seared through my spirit when I was blindsided by my beliefs and the people I believed in. But as I look back, would I have preferred to remain in the blissful illusion that these persons were incapable of hurting or failing? The truth was painful. But without its brutally painful birthing process, I would still be living in that former state of ignorant bliss. A blind religious utopia. I opted for the red pill. I will again and again.
Death and birth are merely two sides of the same coin. From the perspective of the baby, euphoric oneness with his source of well-being and comfort abruptly end as he's forced through his mother's parted legs, sometimes covered by the very feces of this one who nurtured him. But there, waiting on the other side of those bent knees, standing over a puddle of blood and mucus--the chaos of every birthing process--are the welcoming smiles and tears of everyone who has been waiting for this new life to burst forth!
Death and birth are simply winter and spring by different names. It is spring as I write this. The baby birds outside my bedroom window chirp with incessant hunger while the cottonwoods, willows and aspen are beginning to bud. We love spring's anticipation of new life. But the beauty of spring is always born out of the death of winter.
Even knowing this, we fear death for death is chaos; we can't control it as hard as we try. But it is simply the same chaos present at birth from the perspective of the other side of the knees, where smiles and excitement of new life await.
Gautama Buddha's father wanted to prevent him from all suffering and death, but it was in recognizing impermanence and suffering that the Buddha awakened to meaning. Suffering and happiness are partners--we cannot know one without knowing the other. "To imagine God could create a world without suffering is to imagine God could create a world with fronts and no backs, with ups and no downs, with ins and no outs...to have anything is to have everything."* The Christian Bible is not alone in describing creation (like spring), born out of chaos (like winter and death). Jesus stated that to live we have to die, to be birthed somehow in another way, to become like a child.** Neo knew that to experience true happiness he had choose the red pill, which appeared to plunge him into chaos until he recognized life from the other side of the knees.
The same choice is ours each day: to choose the McDonald's Happy Meal of a franchised life with its predictably plastic toy surprises, or to risk uncertainty, suffering and even death held in the paradox of knowing true happiness.
Once we've chosen the red pill, somehow we can never go back to ignorant bliss, even when we try. But then, I have yet to find a baby who asked to crawl back inside the womb from which he came.
Practice: We often scroll through social media in search of a quick fix: inspirational sayings or a great cat meme. But these are nothing more than the plastic toy in the happy meal which has as little nutritional value as the blue pill of ignorant bliss.
Instead, try setting aside 10 minutes--or more if you can--to sit or walk with a quiet heart, opening your mind to the possibility that the source of meaning is both with you, and within you.
If you are practicing yoga, allow the mind to be freed into the flow of movement, feeling your connection to earth and energy of the Kosmos.
If there is a God of love, then try very simply to remain open to that possibility--even if the idea feels absurd. Truth can be no other than truth. Truth will come whenever we call, if we are willing to embrace it in all its messiness.
If you are experiencing relational or physical pain, consider that this pain may be the source of new joy and long lasting happiness awaiting birth. Take this time without expectation but with a sense of anticipation. This is not scrolling through the internet for a quick feel good, but reaching into the Universe, knowing the journey has begun in the simple step of being open.
Find someone to encourage. Volunteering is not always about organizations, but can be a simple investment of time and energy into the life of another. We begin to know love as we give love. What could bring greater happiness?
*Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent (Skylight Illuminations:2013), 263.
**Luke 9:23-24; John 3:3; Matthew 18:3.