Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, so lives the foundational doctrine bred into every American from birth. Every business leader and religious guru tell us this is the key to both worldly and spiritual success. But what if this is idea is only half-baked? What if it has a terrifying shadow side? What if the pursuit for unending happiness is the cause for so much of the suffering and destruction of the world?
Don't get me wrong. I want to be as happy as the next girl -- happier even. It feels better in every single way. When I'm happy, I love the flowers more, I love my friends more, I love my life more. I even love myself more. It's sort of like living in L.A - a perpetual blue sky, summer day where I get to run around carefree and bubbly. Who doesn't want that?
But when I'm not happy?! When I'm not happy, it starts to get a little dicey. I can feel the bloom start to fade a bit, and the panic sets in. I feel an underlying urgency to change this trajectory. I must find my way back to the golden land ASAP. If I don't, it's failure. And the annihilating shame of failure is NOT an option.
To head off the impending downturn and subsequent shame, many of us grasp at worldly things - a new lover, another drink, a new sweater, another "like" on Facebook, a new self-help book, another inspirational talk, a new snack, or another...well... almost anything to fill the scary space of "negative" emotion that is opening up. Or, for the more spiritually bent, we may try to breathe, meditate, yoga, journey or presence our way back to happiness. Each strategy is simply an effort to get to the light, a mask to what is calling us from the depths.
But what if the only way back, is not to avoid the descent but to actually go all the way through it? Maybe our task is not to turn away, but to look directly into the darkness? I mean, we think the seasons are a failure. I know that fall will not last forever or think that the sun is failing because it is night. Each season - fall, winter, spring and summer - has a rhythm and a beauty.
Other cultures seem to get it better than we do. In ancient indigenous European societies, the cycle of the year was both a spirituality and a psychology. The cold dark winter of the world, and the cold dark winter of our minds, were just as important as the vibrant summers. In fact, traveling through the inner seasons was considered an important part of becoming a contributing member of the community. For how does one know true compassion without walking the path of pain? How does one learn to care, without care-taking, unless they have found the gems that come from being in the ugly pit of darkness?
In these tribes, a young maiden (you might call her Persephone) is out with her mother in the flowering fields of summer. At some point, she suddenly knows! So much more exists within her than she can possibly access by staying in this summer of her youth. So, she takes a brave breath, grabs the hand of her wise old grandmother (Hecate) and together they venture into the unknown of the underworld. She discovers the volcano of her anger, the depth of her loneliness, the well of her grief. And she is changed by it. When she is ripened, she returns to meet her mother in the field of flowers - stronger, wiser, softer. And then months or years later, she knows...there is another layer of herself to unearth and she goes under again.
Every once in a while, she doesn't want to leave the field. She ignores her grandmother's beckoning. If the whisper grows into a scream, and she still refuses to answer, then her fierce soul (also known as Hades) will grab her against her personality's will, and she will suffer until she surrenders to the pull. After all, we must respect the cycles of life to remain in balance and in harmony.
Yet most of us don't head the call, because to turn away from the sunshine of summer would mean certain failure in this culture of bliss. We stay in a perpetual youth, and perhaps as a result, less and less helpful to our tribe and culture. When our soul finally grabs us, instead of letting ourselves be ripened, we medicate it. Either through a doctor's prescription or our own self-selected drug of choice.
But really, given the current state of our world, is anger, grief and loneliness all that irrational? I mean look around. Dying oceans. Child pornography. Never ending wars. Homelessness & hunger. Suburbs & isolation. Animal life sold as a commodity. Human life sold as a commodity. Every single thing sold as a commodity. And the media distracts us, telling us we are flawed and not enough but that some THING might make us better.
If you live in this world, and you are at times sad, angry, lonely, depressed and anxious, then maybe absolutely nothing is wrong with you? Maybe you are awake and feeling a universal life force as it moves in you? Maybe you are feeling the interconnectedness of all things? Sensing the pain that we have caused in others by continuously pursuing happiness in the form of comfort? Maybe in such a world, you are not suppose to be happy all of the time?
Don't get me wrong. It's still wonderful to enjoy the beauty of the world. To smell the flowers. Celebrate the sunrise and sunset. Feel the wind on your skin. Melt into consensual human touch. Feel the pulse of beauty in every living thing. After all, summer is important too! But let's not all move to the Sunshine State just yet. Let's not turn a blind eye to the other seasons. To the pain, the isolation, the injustices of the world and in our hearts. Because if we never feel them, we may never work to change them.
Maybe the path to happiness is really a path to wholeness...one where we allow all of the inner seasons a place of honor. A world where feeling our feelings, whether glad, sad, mad, fear and love, are all seen as a form of success. In this world, emotions are not shamed but seen as important clues that guide us. If we allow their cycles to ripen and mold us, perhaps we will then be better able to serve the outer world, community and culture. Maybe, we will turn from a world full of youthful acorns into a world full of mighty oaks.