Waking up will only take a second. Actually even less: someone out there, remind me how the old sages measured the smallest increment of time... Whatever cosmically small description they gave to it, I remember that it's TINY. And as a perfect corollary, closing down to what is happens just as quickly.
I mention this because I was meeting with a meditation group last night, and we were talking about the act of closing down, of "checking out." This moment signals the end of happiness, at least as I define it in this blog. In my way of seeing things, happiness equals presence. And presence is defined as that quality of being available to each of us that meets just what is here, no more and no less. To be accurate, when I talk about closing down, it's not so much that presence ever really closes down, but it does get so fogged over or opaquely covered up that access to it appears gone for all human intents and purposes.
My example of checking out involved a common situation I seem to experience often in my kitchen. There I am, bustling around doing my typical busy doing mode, and also taking in the 8-year-old or the two 20+ year-olds or whatever else happens to be happening. And in the midst of this perfectly ordinarily clear type of moment, my husband innocently tosses off one of his charming, non-harm-intending digs at something. And then, for some uncontrollable reason there's a flicker of injury and an immediate reactive checking out from the reality of the Fletcher kitchen. I'm gone in a dark hole somewhere, not for very long, but long enough to miss my big opportunity.
Yep, that's the big opportunity for happiness in the world according to Fletcher. In hindsight, I will dearly wish that I could have stayed around and fully felt the little sling of that false arrow. That's what was present at that moment, the sting. And that sting presented itself as a chance to notice what strange, confused micro-fast assumption was being made that somehow translated into this hurt. When I am lucky enough to stay with presence and most particularly to stay out of judgment of reaction, and to see this all in action, the results are always well worth it. The simple seeing of the little drama shows itself as the fiction it is. The emotion that accompanies such seeing can range anywhere from awe to knowing chuckle to grateful humility to perfect equanimity. All good, very, very good. In fact, there's honest and true happiness in connecting fully and precisely with these assumptions and reactions running through me, regardless of what they consist of or whether the common person would label them as "happy" experiences.
Okay, yes, this is complicated to convey. Let's see if you can remember a time in your life when this seeming paradox was clearly showing you the perfection of a time commonly presumed to be negative. Think about being with someone who is very sick or very down. This would be a person you care about greatly and perhaps even grieve to see go through this experience. And there may be a moment of temptation toward interpretations of injustice or fault to be found. Somehow you feel injured. But then you shake your head... what were you thinking? and all personal concerns disappear, such is the severity of the situation. So there is likely a mix only of love, concern, compassion, and grief present with you. Tell me, is there unhappiness? When you take the situation into your heart, as a whole, without casting about to place blame, you are doing perfectly and able to be connected and really with this person. As long as there's no insane demand for a different moment than the very one you got, or for a better past that would have resulted in anything but this outcome, as long as you're willing to be right there in the midst of grief and concern, all is right with you. You are perfectly present and able to provide what is needed. And what is more, with this quality of love and presence coming from you, the other person is more likely to be receiving what is flowing from your eyes and mouth and heart, with no fog or cloud of self-referential confusion, and thus more likely to be experiencing this deep love themselves regardless of the conditions of the moment.
I have a friend who described spending time with her very good friend, who was dying over the course of a few short weeks last summer. My friend described what it was like in the bedroom where this woman had settled herself to spend these last days. This dying woman had pronounced that this place would be a no-BS zone. Only truth and clarity were allowed; no bemoaning, regretting, railing, obfuscating, brave-facing or tap-dancing around the truth were permitted. This was the dying woman's insight into a way to happiness for these precious days, and my friend told me later that she saw how true and powerful this was, and how much she herself longed to live this way as a regular thing. Happiness in the process of dying.
In these "big" moments, somehow this can be seen clearly, but then it's so easily forgotten or written off as an anomaly when we move back into regular life with all of its banality and repetition. Is it possible to stick with the truth of each moment, every big and little up and down, just as it is, and see from this the deep happiness that comes from living life directly and authentically? This is a question to live out the answer to, not mechanically or worse yet, masochistically, but curiously, with the intent to discover the answer rather than to take my word for anything. And be sure to notice, you don't have to turn this into a gruesome chore. This is no grand project, because it only takes a moment. After all, as you may have noticed, that's all there ever is.