Envy

Comparison is the thief of joy
and my wealth has all slipped away
through the heavy sieve of envy

The swelling warmth of gratitude
has given way to the sweltering heat
of sharp, gnawing jealousy

My eyes keep straining toward empty places
between vast, unobserved abundance
fixated on the violent feeling of unfairness

Cinder blocks of bitter energy build walls
to block my view of countless blessings
souring my simple share of happiness

Unable to stop magnifying this self-induced, unnecessary suffering
while being simultaneously smothered by the shame
of being unsatisfied when I have so much
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Manifest

Early morning cracks us open
a plump, orange yolk perched upon
the rolling expanse of open acres
the symphony of dawn begins 
beneath a veil of cool, dissipating mist

The earth awakens and unfurls in an instant
with interwoven, simultaneous, upbeat bustling
as hundreds of intricate beings of all sizes emerge
to dutifully begin their humble daily tasks
unwittingly weaving the world together for one another

The swollen present swallows us completely
enveloped in the electric energy currents of pulsating life
rushing through creek beds and rustling vibrant leaves
a soothing, faithful hum that echoes inside and out
intoxicated by the sweet nectar of undulating harmony

Each moment overflowing with the simple joy of right now
lapping up the soft waters of where we belong
indistinguishable elements of the intricate, lush landscape
synchronizing ourselves to the cadence of all creation
every instant ripe with it's own inherent meaning 

Stop Searching

The healing hum that reverberates
through all the small, silent moments
can become buried beneath the louder
frequencies of frustration and forward motion

The panicked pace of ungrounded grasping
the breath that's stolen while being swept off your feet
it can feel like dying to slow down, to surrender momentum
in favor of savoring the soft rustling outside your window

Finding peace can be counterintuitive
stop flipping over rocks and just pause
to feel the cool stone against your skin
and hear the whispering stream gurgle past

It's hard to accept that happiness is here
when we've wasted so much time searching
learning to laugh at ourselves like when we've been
seeking the object that's been in our hand the whole time

It's the simple things that will save us
if we can sit with the fear that they
won't be enough in the end
they will

It’s Okay Not to Be Happy

As shocking as it may sound, I think one of the biggest detriments to my mental health over the years is the unspoken assumption society instills in us that we should be happy all of the time. Anytime I am experiencing anything other than happiness, positivity, and motivation, I am questioning myself. What’s wrong with me? Why aren’t I happy? This just makes me feel worse and worse. Not only am I not happy, but there must also be something wrong with me for not being happy.

When I stop and think about it from a historical and biological perspective, we probably were not designed to be happy all the time or even the majority of the time. Our minds and bodies are designed to keep us alive, not happy. I’d say it’s likely that most people throughout most of human history spent a good portion of their short lives tired, ill, in pain, and miserable. It’s normal to want to feel happy instead of sad, but there certainly isn’t anything wrong with you for not being able to maintain an uplifted, energized frame of mind 24/7.

It is such a relief when I take the time to remind myself that it’s alright to not be happy. Otherwise even neutral becomes upset by comparison. I start criticizing myself for not being grateful or enjoying the easy life I have. But there is nothing wrong with just allowing yourself to experience whatever it is you’re feeling without judgement. Despite what TV shows, movies, and social media lead us to believe, every moment of life is not filled with excitement and bliss. Sometimes you just exist, and that’s okay too.

Sweet Dreams

My higher self hides sweet droplets
of honey dew inside my head
glistening gifts given to ensure
a good night's sleep

The best self-care is kindled
deep within my dreams
a dependable dripping of sustenance 
I am so grateful to devour

Sleep ensures I am swaddled within
all the sensations the waking world lacks
a nightly reprieve from suffering
sharing space with you in my soul

A tender treat from my unconscious mind
to tide me over on this tiresome journey
far away from where I would like to be
sometimes it's enough to be happy as I sleep

My True Nature

I truly believe I can choose to be happy
my younger self was always so
there was innocence and joy in each breath
I loved everyone and the world at once
my heart was full of gratitude

But somewhere along the way
my soul got bogged down with disillusion
bitterness encroached upon my heart
like blight creeping through late fall crops
all of life turned sour for awhile

Now I struggle with these separate shades of self
I know deep down that pure love and light remain
still it feels like a denial to turn toward it
and away from who I've known myself to be
as I've grown into the person I am today

This anger and violence I've harbored for so long
grip me so much tighter than childhood pleasures
to let it go feels like a refusal to acknowledge my own pain
to surrender to a delusion that it never existed
to favor a false sense of all pervading peace

My precious passion has turned to poison
through years of focusing on the wrong things
an all-mighty wave of indignation rises up to consume
the small voice inside that pleads for the path
towards gentle gratitude and humble happiness

Can I really learn to reconcile these two opposing forces?
Can the soft thread of unconditional love truly overcome
the violent force of white knuckled hatred?
I'm afraid of who I will become if I am unable
to turn from my current path, led by self-righteous ego

Still there is a quiet hope that stirs within
that there is still time to reclaim my one life
and use my precious gifts to create light
instead of adding to the choking darkness
that tempts me and ties my hands

When I succumb to the swirling torment
that tells me happiness is not my nature
I will strive to remember my soul's complexity
and call out for the small child that once embodied
the brave wisdom of a wide open heart 

You Deserve It

Holding back the happiness
has become a form of self-defense
a suit of armor inlaid with spikes
stripping the soul of all color

A perversion of pleasure
believed to be undeserved
the conviction that hardships
will hurt worse with contrast

Let your heart lift with the certainty
that there are no prerequisites for celebration
the spirit is free to sing at its leisure
relinquish the reigns of self-affliction

Wrap your heart in layers of joy
so when the rain comes, as it must
you will have a safe harbor of happiness
to sustain you from within

Don't ever feel you must deny yourself
life's most simple, innocent delights
don't leave your soul to starve
without its natural nourishment

I promise you've already earned
your small share of sunshine
don't waste your life wondering
if you are worthy

You've won the lottery of merely living
each automatic breath is a reminder
that you deserve to be here
and thoroughly enjoy it whenever you can 

When Gratitude Stops Working

It has been over six years since I started practicing daily gratitude. I have journals upon journals filled with lists of things I’m grateful for. After all of this, after so much time spent training my brain to find gratitude, how can it be that I still feel like a terminally ungrateful person?

The main issue I have with a lot of mindfulness practices is the way my clever brain figures out ways to get around them after awhile. It’s ironic that most of the “mindfulness” I have incorporated into my everyday life isn’t done very mindfully at all anymore. Whether it be meditation, journaling, or mindful eating my brain seems more adept at learning to avoid the conscious effort rather than learning to be more present like I had intended.

Finding Novelty

If you can relate to this issue, you’re probably already asking, “How can we solve this problem?” While I don’t yet have a definitive answer, one thing I’ve noticed is that of all the self-care tasks I do every day, the one that never seems to get stale is my yoga practice. The only difference between yoga and my other practices is that the yoga flows I do are ever changing and evolving. I don’t practice the same poses in the same order everyday. If I did, I’m sure that would just as easily become a mindless habit like the rest. So the only advice I can give to you and to myself is: Keep changing it up.

This isn’t the perfect solution, I know. It is frustrating to constantly have to be reimagining ways to keep yourself mindful. It would be so much nicer if we could just do a few short little identical practices everyday and reap all the benefits of a more compassionate, mindful, spiritual life. I guess the old saying that nothing worth doing is easy still rings true.

I’ve found that novelty is essential to keep me mindful, even if it is aggravating to have to always search for it. Luckily, sometimes that little tweak for my practice finds me on it’s own like it did yesterday. I stumbled upon a Podcast that referenced The Book of Delights by Ross Gay. In his book, he talks about savoring little things throughout our day that “delight” us. For some reason, just this small, almost insignificant shift in perception has made a huge difference for me. It’s amazing how powerful the slightest change of framing can completely shift our perspective on something.

Replacing Gratitude with Delight

Despite sticking with my gratitude practice for so many years, I noticed almost immediately that it was not providing the mental benefits I had hoped. Sometimes it even seemed to backfire. There are a lot of days where I struggle to think of things to be grateful for. This makes me feel awful, because I know I have such an amazing life. I know I should be able to come up with dozens of things to be grateful for every day. The guilt spiral begins and I end up harming my mental health instead of helping it.

The most important part of gratitude is actually feeling it. As someone who struggles to stay grounded in my body and emotions, “grateful” is a rather vague sensation for me. There are lots of other emotions that compile this more complex feeling. It’s hard for me to just drop into a sense of gratitude on demand. However, “delight” feels a bit more tangible most days. Just the word alone makes the corners of my mouth twitch into a soft smile. Delight. Now that I can feel.

Not only am I more easily able to feel delight in my body, it also somehow feels a bit more lighthearted than gratitude. There is something very daunting and serious about being grateful. Not to mention the reverse, being ungrateful, is tied to a lot of shame. Delight, on the other hand, brings up a sense of buoyancy and silliness for some reason. Imagining being delighted makes me want to giggle and wiggle my toes in a way being grateful does not. There is a joyous, uplifting, lightness about the idea of feeling delighted. It also seems easier to pick small things in a practice about delight versus a practice about gratitude. Saying I am grateful for the way a stinkbug stopped and looked at me when I tapped the counter next to it feels strange, but to say the same scenario delighted me fits perfectly.

Putting It Into Practice

Today, instead of a gratitude list, try listing some things that delighted you. I’ll go first. Here are just a few things that brought a sense of delight into my life this morning:

  1. Hitting that snooze button on my alarm and snuggling back into my warm blankets with my dog for those few precious moments before getting up.
  2. Enjoying that first hot, black coffee.
  3. Feeling my house get warmer as I waited for the furnace to get going.
  4. Listening to music and singing as I drove to work.
  5. The smell of the perfectly ripe, beautiful, big apple I brought for breakfast.

Regardless of what kind of list you write, it’s helpful to be as detailed as possible. Add lots of physical descriptions, trying to incorporate as many senses into it as possible. I have to admit, I couldn’t help but smile as I wrote down my morning’s delights just now.

My favorite part about learning about this new way to practice bringing mindful moments of pleasure into your life was the idea of sharing it with others. Yesterday I asked a few other people to tell me something that delighted them about their day. It brought me just as much joy and happiness to hear about their experiences and imagine them savoring those small delights.

I hope at least some of you find this helpful. I would love to hear about any other ways you’ve found to keep a spark of novelty in your daily practices. Please, please, please leave a comment and let me know what delights you’ve had so far today!

Simple Things

I've never admired those
who have more than me
my lip curls with contempt
at the American obsession
with wealth and power and fame

I don't want to watch documentaries
about the painfully overprivileged few
and how they rationalize their "success"
I'll stick to reading Charles Dickens
and doting on David Copperfield

Nothing is more inspiring than
learning to celebrate what you have
especially when it may not seem like much
my sentimental heart aspires toward
Beth March in Little Women

Even in imagination wanting nothing
but the pleasant company of loving family
and just enough to keep from struggling too much
just enough money to eat and enjoy one another
the softest pleasures that dollar bills can never buy

Excessive good fortune can be a distraction
my old soul has always seen through the illusion
that big business and the finer things are prerequisites
to a fully satisfying and worthwhile existence
I have no desire for sparkling falsity

I know the diamond of my happiness cannot be obtained
it is within me, buried behind solid, black rock
my tedious task, to lovingly uncover it's brilliance bit by bit
to teach my longing heart that we've always had enough
to settle into the glistening pools of gratitude already open to me

Within all the small pleasures that I take for granted
are housed the beauty and boundless joy of life
I have no interest in material fortune and wealth
what I am seeking is much more complicated,
ambiguous, and tricky to obtain

Mansions, cars, and golden rings hold no value to me
I'm not impressed by yachts and private islands
instead, I bow before the gentle, simple, silent things
my spirit has always been a flightless bird that cannot help
but sing when its feathers are ruffled by the strong breeze

Imitating Happiness

Imitation is an art form
I can never quite master
studying the smiling faces
of beings filled with laughter

How easy it seems for some
to fill themselves up with whatever
is available in that very moment
the carefree craft of cultivating pleasure

Ashamed of all the effort needed
to experience moments of gratitude
I want spontaneous heart opening
materializing all that matters to you

An actor well-versed in playing the victim
awkward and unsure in any other role
celebration starts to seem phony
it's so tiring trying to feel full