Happiness: Finding the Way

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted in a while. I made a public commitment to post monthly, and a private commitment to post twice a month. I succeeded for three months, then I fell off my schedule.

Labyrinth Heart

v_rybakov/123RF Stock Photo

I could say that life got in the way. That’s believable for a busy clinician. The truth is, I simply lost my way. I didn’t have a depression, it was more of a dis-ease. I felt out of balance, and not just my regular lack of work-life balance.

There are famous stories of people losing their way. Dante, for instance, at the very beginning of The Divine Comedy, Inferno Canto I. “In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself, in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost.” Yes, that’s how I felt.

There are stories of people not losing their way. Theseus was able to navigate the Minotaur’s labyrinth with the help of Ariadne’s thread. The intrepid Hansel found his way home with a trail of stones, lost it again when the birds ate his trail of breadcrumbs.

There is spiritual guidance for not going astray.

If the superior man (or woman) undertakes something and tries to lead,

He goes astray;

But if he follows, he finds guidance.

(From the I Ching, hexagram #2, The Receptive)

And this:

Very little grows on jagged rock.

Be ground. Be crumbled,

so wildflowers will come up where you are.

You have been stony for too many years.

Try something different.

Surrender.

(from Rumi)

These scriptures combined with some personal insight led me to some new ways to be balanced and happy. Direct revelation came in the form of a guided visualization, a journey that I took into the four chambers of my heart. Each chamber had a message for me about my relationship with one of the four “elements”.

My relationship with water, my capacity to flow and fill whatever vessel I find myself in, is quite healthy. Earth, representing my capacity to be grounded and belong, is also in good shape. My fire, the force of rapid transformation, is feeble right now, candle strength instead of a strong hearth blaze, because I’m not giving it the right fuel, or enough air.

The chamber for air was so full of rock that I could barely squeeze my way in. Air represents my capacity for vision and storytelling. No wonder I was having trouble getting thoughts down on paper. The solution for balance? Write more! Write every day, make it a priority.

The other lesson I learned is that, instead of letting my ego decide which way I should go, I need to let the unique medicine I have for the world be pulled out of me. It’s quite a different way of looking at things than the approach I’ve learned in physician leadership trainings. Circumstances have brought me to the practice I’m in now, and I’m happy!

I found confirmation of this approach in a book called The Happiness Track by Emma Seppala, Ph.D. She’s the science director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University. The basic message of her book is that success doesn’t lead to happiness, it’s the other way around.

As usual, I find the best way to express some of these subtle and less-than-logical lessons is through poetry. Here is an excerpt from a poem by David Wagoner, called “Lost

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost…
…Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

And here’s a poem I wrote.

Surrender

The clinic door clicks behind me–
yes, it’s still unlocked.
The smell of fresh water
breathes me to the open window–

where I let down my handmade rope–
made of bandages knotted together,
& lower myself to the bank
where the reeds grow in the mud.

A reed raft and a reed flute–
both useful in their hollowness.
I sink my toes in the silt,
wade into the black water.

Craft and current carry me.
The less I struggle,
the more the river takes me
where I want to go.

Question: Have you ever felt this form of dis-ease where nothing is really wrong, but something is just not right? What did you do about it? What did you learn? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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9 thoughts on “Happiness: Finding the Way

  1. I’m glad you are back writing. I have enjoyed reading your posts as they are uplifting and insightful. Thanks for sharing them!

  2. I am pleased to see you writing again! Your poem touches me to the core right now as i search for a new purpose, or perhaps an old place of being centered.

    • Thanks, Donna. I’m happy to be writing again, too. Hope you find your way to feeling centered.

  3. I’m feeling dis-ease too, and not sure how to combat it. Your thoughtful words help. I think I need the ocean and uninterrupted thoughts.