The Art and Yoga of Happiness

This morning, I took my coffee down to the river after my meditation. It is still cold, but at least the biting wind of yesterday was absent.

I came down to the river yesterday morning as well, as I did nearly every day in January, three years ago. Yesterday, the river raged as it flowed downstream with great power and strength, skirting the frozen river banks. It seemed very much alive to me. But today, it was nearly perfectly still and I could see the trees on the Maryland side reflected on its surface which was calm and without any discernible motion, like a plate of glass.

I walked along the frozen river bank, treading carefully, breaking some ice here and there, and maneuvering myself to the area with rock piles, where I sat once, surveying the river, listening to its lessons, until it invited me in. I left that day, and bought a kayak, and the next afternoon, I launched into the river for the first time in my life.

I thought about the fragility of life, and the art and yoga of happiness, because I am preparing to teach a short course on this topic.

What I have learned is that happiness is a choice and an attitude. We cultivate it - and work towards it. Yes, genetics plays some part in the process, but we are truly wired for joy, and we have the ability to impact how we experience and embody it. Those who have an asana or meditation practice, know that it can contribute to a greater sense of well being...

As I looked out onto the broad expanse of the river, I could not help but think of a friend who took her life, and another who is bravely battling cancer. Every day I read her blog, and draw great strength from it. What enables one to go on - and another not to? I think of one who saw no other choice than to end her life - and another who is fighting for hers, with everything that it takes.

I thought to myself, as I looked at the river, that both of them are showing me how to live. But not just on the surface. They are showing me how to live more deeply and passionately, like my newly acquired Hanuman, so emblematic of devotion, ripping his heart open.

I came home after my chilly encounter with the river, and read my friend's blog. It is her husband who so faithfully documents her struggles and triumphs on a daily basis. Just a few days ago, my friend was quoted as saying, that in spite of everything, she still feels so much joy in her life. And today, despite setbacks and insurmountable pain - she still expresses a strong desire to live. For this dear friend, her illness is her yoga - and it manages to disclose a path to happiness, for herself, and her readers as well.

There are many simple things that can lead to greater happiness, such as the cultivation of gratitude. Think of how different the world could become, if each and everyone of us, committed to be grateful for just one thing, every day during this coming year. We would begin to truly experience and embody, the art and yoga of happiness, and it would enable us to recognize, that despite everything, life is a gift to be lived and embraced fully.

I end with this insightful poem by Mary Oliver:

Mysteries, Yes

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds
will never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
"Look!" and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.

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