When Buddhist teachers talk about sitting with intense emotions, they're generally speaking about ones we'd characterize as negative: loneliness, anger, sadness, grief, insecurity. I've never heard a teacher talk about sitting with happiness.
But maybe they should. After all, no matter what we do to avoid our negative emotions, we're very familiar with them. We know how anger feels in our body, its colors and textures, the voices in our head. We know that's different from sadness, which is heavier and has a color and texture all its own.
But we tend to lump positive emotions all together under one heading: happiness.
"All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
Like Tolstoy's happy families, we see happiness as singular -- and not very interesting. But maybe that's because we haven't looked at it. When happiness happens, we're so ... well, happy ... that we're afraid to look too closely or grasp too tightly or like the bluebird, the traditional bringer of happiness, it will fly away.Here's an idea: The next time you notice that you're not working with a so-called negative emotion, see what's there instead. Is it contentment -- an all's-right-with-the-world feeling? Delight, which for me has gentle bubbling quality, like a low water fountain? Giddy joy -- a 6-year-old spinning just to see her skirt fly out from her body? Bouncy exuberance? How does it express itself: a shy smile, tapping feet, eyes lit up?
“People often use the phrase ‘misery loves company’, and whenever we hear that we reply, ‘happy loves company, too.’ And so it is — that ‘happy’ continues to spread, not just for our family but for the many people Matiwos has touched. We hope you will be watching and smiling along with the Rumleys on Sunday.” Jody Rumley of Hebron, Conn., whose son Matiwos -- adopted from an Ethiopian orphanage in January 2012 -- won his age division in the NFL's Punt, Pass, and Kick competition and will stand at the 50-yard line for the coin toss in Sunday's AFC Championship game.
Matiwos Rumley kicks the ball
What do you do with your happiness?
Naomi Shihab Nye
It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.
But happiness floats.
It doesn't need you to hold it down.
It doesn't need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records….. Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.
Poem: "So Much Happiness," by Naomi Shihab Nye from Words under the Words (The Eighth Mountain Press).