Very recently I moved to live in rural France, leaving a happy life in Wiltshire where I was surrounded by loving friends and neighbours, to follow a dream and set up home in the middle of nowhere with my horses and dogs. Why? Well that will be the topic of another piece, but suffice to say I lost many nights’ sleep before I moved worrying about all sorts of things. At the top of the list was ‘Will I be happy?’ ….and ‘Will I be AS happy as I am now?’
Now the transition is made and I have realised that I was asking myself the wrong question. Because happiness is not something which can be predicted or guaranteed. A certain set of circumstances does not implicate it one way or another, although they can help significantly in creating the possibility of well-being.
Seeking happiness has become a trademark of our time. The self-help industry is booming and the evangelistic arsenal of ‘How to be Happy’ techniques grows week by week: from daily mantras to de-cluttering and from diets to dressing.
It seems that many of us are increasingly lost. Or stuck. Or sometimes lost and stuck. In an age where the slide of a finger across the face of our smartphone will tell us exactly where we are and how to get to where we need to be, this seems ironic. If only there was an app which could show us the way back to ourselves.
Presented expertly via the media we love so well: reality TV, bloggers, social media we are seduced by a whole range of spiritual fix-its. But jumping onto the next ‘It couldn’t be easier’ bandwagon as it passes will only get you so far. The shiny image which has been promoted as your panacea may offer helpful principles, however happiness is not about creating perfection, as defined by someone else, it is about making space inside yourself for joy.
And finding this space doesn’t involve ‘doing’ a lot. Actually, it is about doing nothing. Giving yourself an opportunity to ‘be’. That is when you can begin rebuilding your sense of connection (with yourself, nature, others…). And it is when you feel reconnected that you begin to notice joy as it passes.
For joy is not something to be contained, wrapped up, stored in reserve and kept for later. It comes and goes in the moment like the breeze flowing off the wings of a bird. Joy has to be free. When hunted it hides, and when captured it dies. But if you hold a joyful place in your heart, it will visit you often.
This is not easy, but it is simple. To make the space you must learn to be still – inside and outside – and this involves facing the things which you might prefer to avoid. When your life is full to bursting and your mind occupied with the minutiae of daily life and the anxieties which you create around it, you can escape that which you find difficult. Becoming peaceful takes courage, honesty and self-compassion and a willingness to blow the cobwebs from your inner spaces.
One late evening last week I stood with my herd or horses. Above me a colossal halo of soft light surrounded the shining moon. It stretched across the limpid silver sky, illuminating the rolling countryside around me. I had never seen anything like it. An owl hooted. The horses murmured. Otherwise all was peaceful and still. When I became too cold I went indoors, uplifted and curious by the astral display I had experienced. I learned that what I had seen is called a lunar halo. It is created a little like a rainbow is by the sun and rain, when the light from the moon is refracted through ice crystals in the earth’s atmosphere. So, the existence and nature of each halo is dependent on the relative position of the recipient. They are completely unique to the onlooker, they are transitory and specific at that moment to that pair of eyes. They can even reflect the colours of the rainbow. I was blessed with another halo shining over the valley, two nights later, this time much smaller but reflecting subtle pink and green.
This, I realised, is the nature of joy. It is a moment by moment experience, which, like the lunar halo, manifests to those who are present and available to receive it. One moment it is there and the next it is gone. It can’t be photographed, copied or predicted, and it is only yours to feast upon for as long as the miracle lasts. But it will surely manifest in a different form for you again sometime later.
So, instead of keeping myself awake at night asking ‘Will this decision make me happy, as happy as I am now?’ a more useful question would have been ‘How will I maintain my capacity to experience joy when presented with a new, different set of circumstances and challenges.’
If you, too, are progressing change in your life, pay attention to what you need to do to nurture that peaceful place in your heart where joy can land. Step out from the planning, research, exploration, agonising, and be ready to see your own lunar halo.
A poem by William Blake 1757 – 1827
He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise