Recently, while sitting in the waiting room of my doctor’s office, I read an article in the November, 2014 Reader’s Digest titled “The Dalai Lama’s Ski Trip” by Douglas Preston. In April of 1991, the Dalai Lama visited Santa Fe, New Mexico as part of his tour of the United States, and Mr. Preston was assigned the job of the Dalai Lama’s press secretary. Throughout the visit, he was with the Dalai Lama every day from 6 a.m. until late in the evening.
At a luncheon toward the end of the visit, some of the guests mentioned that Santa Fe had a ski area. The Dalai Lama was extremely interested, asking all sorts of questions about skiing. Having never actually seeing people ski, he requested a trip to the mountains to see “the amazing sport that they had heard so much about.”
Once there, it wasn’t enough for the Dalai Lama to look at the slopes from the bottom of the mountain. He asked if they could go up the mountain. And so up they went on a ski lift, the Dalai Lama dressed only in his usual robes. He greeted the whole experience with the great enthusiasm and cheerfulness with which he greeted every other aspect of his visit. At one point he walked in front of a lift that had just released four teenaged girls skiing straight at the Dalai Lama and his monks. Girls, Dalai Lama, and monks went down in a spectacular heap.
Mr. Preston’s group rushed over, worried that the Dalai Lama was injured, as he was sprawled on the snow and making an “alarming sound.” It soon became evident that he was not injured at all, nor were any of the others, and the “alarming sound” was the Dalai Lama laughing himself silly.
His comment: “At ski area, you keep eye open always!”
I cannot fault his logic.
Later, at the lodge for cookies and hot chocolate (very important thought from me: YUM), a waitress asked the Dalai Lama a serious question: “What is the meaning of life?”
The Dalai Lama answered, “The meaning of life is happiness.” He then continued, “Hard question is not ‘What is meaning of life?’ That is easy question to answer! No, hard question is what make happiness. Money? Big house? Accomplishment? Friends? Or…” and here he paused. “Compassion and good heart?”
How I wish I could have met this great man and had a conversation with him – just for an hour! (Preferably over hot chocolate and cookies…)
It is this last bit that I want to write about today: happiness. I want to write about how I learned to experience happiness, and to make peace with a most unhappy situation in my life.
Twenty years ago I contracted a chronic, debilitating illness. One after another I lost the ability to do so many things in my life. First to go was my ability to keep my house clean. By the time I got home from work I was so exhausted that all I could do was fall into bed, often too tired to even eat. During one particularly severe point in my illness, I lost thirty pounds in one month. My daily exercise routine also had to go. In addition to my fulltime job, I also worked a part time job in the literary business, which I LOVED LOVED LOVED (and LOVED)! That had to go, too. My husband and I used to go out a lot. That also had to go. Next were the family holiday parties. If one of these parties fell on a “good” day, I would go. But more often than not they fell on bad days and I would be unable to go.
I held on to my fulltime job as long as I could, and I had a wonderful supervisor who understood all those days I had to call in sick. I had worked for her for ten years, with an exemplary attendance record right up until I got sick. Day by day she saw the changes in me, and she knew that when I called in sick I was legitimately sick. For two years I averaged one day a week that I would call in sick. Most supervisors would have fired me early in that first year. Mine didn’t. She even did a lot of my work herself. I will forever be grateful to her for her understanding, kindness, and compassion.
Then came the third year of my illness. That year I missed over one hundred days of work. Still my supervisor stood by me, but her supervisor didn’t give her a choice. She was told to let me go. With tears in her eyes she told me I had to go on disability, telling me how sorry she was that she had to do this. She hugged me tight at the end of this meeting, and she kept in touch with me for years. She sent me Christmas cards and birthday cards, writing heartfelt notes in these cards. She gave me birthday gifts and Christmas gifts. Again, I will forever be grateful to her, and think of her with tremendous fondness. She is a truly wonderful person and I am so very lucky that she was such an integral part of my life for so many years.
I was also fortunate to have worked for a place with a long-term disability policy. Even so, these early years of my illness were very dark days for me. I kept losing aspects of my life, one by one, and I couldn’t help but think, “What’s next?” For those first few years, I obsessed over what I had lost and what I could no longer do.
Things began to change when I discovered an online support group for people with chronic illnesses. I made friends who got it. They understood what I was going through. And I learned an invaluable lesson (one of many) from some very wise people there.
I learned to stop focusing on what I can’t do, and focus instead on what I can do. It didn’t happen overnight, but little by little my mindset did improve.
And back to what I have taken from the Dalai Lama’s message. I make it a deliberate point to try to find happiness each day – whatever that day may bring. No, it doesn’t always work, I’m not quite that perfect (however close…).
Here are just a few of the ways I find happiness:
I can write stories, poems, and songs – and find happiness doing it.
I can play guitar, clarinet, keyboards – and find happiness doing it.
I can read books – and find happiness doing it.
Even on days when I’m bedridden, I can watch movies or TV shows (lots of great Sci-fi shows on TV these days) – and find happiness doing it.
And I can listen to music – and find happiness doing it.
I can talk to my mom every day – and find happiness doing it.
I can talk to my brother – and find happiness doing it.
I can look at pictures of my perfect-most-adorable-in-the-world-great-niece-whom-I-absolutely-love-to-pieces – and find happiness doing it.
I can visit that great niece and her mom and dad (my also-perfect niece and her husband) – and find happiness doing it.
I can talk to my friends on the internet – and find happiness doing it.
I can write my silly little articles that Leandro so kindly publishes in CoN – and find happiness doing it.
I can go outside on a perfect fall day, feel the breeze and see the beauty of the tree leaves changing color – and find happiness doing it.
I can drive my car, crank the stereo to ludicrous levels, and sing (badly) at the top of my lungs – and find happiness doing it.
My arms and legs function, my eyes and ears work – I find happiness in that.
Some days, however, are just terrible horrible no good very bad days, and I can’t find one stinkin’ rotten snot-flicking thing to be happy about. But even then, I’ve conditioned myself to believe that tomorrow will be better. And it usually is. And if it isn’t, well then there’s always the next day.
Most of all, I find happiness in the people I love, and I try to share that happiness with them – with “compassion and good heart” in the words of the Dalai Lama.