Spring has sprung at last! We sun-starved northern Europeans are coming out in droves. You seriously see people just standing on the sidewalkes, faces turned towards the sun, worshipping our hot, bright star. What would be considered mildly deranged behaviour at any other time of year is completely acceptable now.
I was thinking how odd it is, that the Sun – something so constant and so simple – is experienced like a revelation again and again, every year of our lives. Just stepping outside on the first sunny day of the year makes me feel instantly happy. Nothing in my life has changed of course. Intellectually I’m still fully aware of the worries that I wallowed in just yesterday. But today I just don’t FEEL them anymore. I feel nature’s warmth and light and amazingly, in this moment that is all it takes to be happy.
Which leads me to two questions:
1. Is it OK to just be happy? Just like that? For no intellectually or emotionally “profound” reason?
I recently had a conversation pertaining to this with a fellow member of an NGO I volunteer with: We have educated ourselves about so much that is troubling about this world, and we’re volunteering our time and energy to engage with all this negativity – albeit to make a tiny contribution to ameliorating it. But heck, do we sometimes envy ignorant people who don’t watch the news, who don’t inform them selves about other’s suffering, who know so little and apparently care even less.
Like my superior at work the other day: He obviously isn’t ignorant, he’s just disinterested. Talking about my wish to move out of his project – which essentially helps companies use their relatively limited CSR efforts to promote themselves – and into a project that deals with the potentially life-threatening conflicts that are resulting from the scramble for scarce resources in developing countries – he said “I’m just NOT AT ALL interested in that”. Wow.
But the other extreme are those of us who are so caught up in their own or others’ suffering that (subconsciously) they rarely permit themselves to be happy, secretely asking themselves whether that wouldn’t be naive or even irresponsable.
Happiness is full of strife.
2. Or is “simple” happiness actually absolutely NECESSARY?
Philosophies such as Buddhism would affirm that, holding that happiness is fundamentally simple, though certainly not easy to achieve. At it’s core it is precisely about choosing to focus on what is enjoyable right here, right now – no matter how small or ordinary it may be. Happiness certainly can take on many shapes and can exist simultaneously with worries and woes. Life is often about the melancholy, the bitter-sweet. And it’s good to embrace that.
But I think it’s very important to also allow ourselves to experience the “fun in the sun” kind of simple, child-like, pure happiness. Without intellectualising, without critiquing. As grown-ups most of us have forgotten how to just “be”. One of my yoga teachers likes to remind her students:
Retain an element of playfulness in everything you do.
Which brings me back to my topic of creativity/inspiration. Is it happiness that gives access to inspiration, or an experience of inspiration which brings about happiness? Obviously it works both ways. Having ANY source of joy will give you the strength you need to seek out inspiration and to change your and others’ lives for the better. But engaging in a worth-while cause or interesting activity will also make you happy.
The question is: Which is more difficult to access? Joy or inspiration?
I recently read an apt quote that was quite thought-provoking for me*:
You don’t need to wait for something ‘meaningful’ to come into your life so that you can finally enjoy what you’re doing. There is more meaning in joy itself than you will ever need.
The same author goes on to say that a confluence of inspiration and enthusiasm in what you do brings about “creative empowerment”, makes you experience yourself and your tasks as in alignment with your true nature, in connection with a greater Whole.
So I’m vowing to start with what is accessibly to me right here and now. I’m going to have fun in the sun. I’m going to say “It’s OK to be happy” and hope that that will thaw the grounds of my being so that inspiration can take root and creativity can grow.
*It’s by Eckhardt Tolle. This was the first book I’ve read by him, without being aware of what a following he has. He’s not saying anything new, IMO, but I like the concepts that he has developed to provide a fresh, more personal access to Buddhist teachings.