Saturday, August 17, 2013

Happiness: A Pendulum, A Tightwire

There is a balance to being happy. On the one hand is a forced cheerfulness, a putting on of happy that I've tried before. It isn't satisfying. On the other hand is a kind of dull misery in which most everything is turned to problem, regret, a reason to wonder why forces are arrayed against us. I've tried that as well and it is a sharp kind of misery.

Maybe happiness has less to do with balance than with vision and awareness. There is a way of seeing the world, understanding it, being inside it that allows for and carves out space for happiness without "me" at the center.

Lately I have described my job of teaching school by focusing on me, how I don't like the administration, how I don't feel appreciated, how I have been labeled an ineffective teacher, and how I feel trapped. These things are true, but they also constitute a particularly skewed way of seeing the world. They are all focused on thinking of myself.

Some of that is to be expected. It is after all my job and people are asking me for what I think about it. However, there is more to think about than simply my troubles and worries.

This next part is where I struggle and is the reason I'm writing. I don't understand how to move from this self-centeredness so I'm writing into it, writing about myself, hoping to generate a new kind of understanding.

So how am I supposed to think of something other than myself when someone has asked me how I feel about my life?

I can think about myself but the idea is to do more than just wade into my misery, it's to see a larger picture. Misery, it seems to me, is the narrowest view of the world. On the pendulum swing, misery occupies the slightest measures of the arc of emotion, the two end points. Compared with the moments hanging at the end points, the sweep through the rest of the arc is almost infinitely longer.

Finding the sweep of that arc, living in that space is what I am trying to write today. It's a theory I can understand, but the practice often eludes me.

I know it begins with quiet. That is, the way to talk about myself without being bound by myself is to wait. A breath or two and the pendulum swings back down the arc. Chew the question and feel it before trying to transfer that feeling to thought and then into words.

A balance, a vision, an awareness. These things take time, they take the breath and a bit of silence.

There's an image that comes to my mind. Philippe Petit crossing a steel cable between the World Trade Center towers. There is no video of the event, only still photos, but I see the movie nonetheless. He places one foot on the wire and there is a moment when he must decide to transfer his weight from the relative safety of the building's edge to the imagined instability of a poorly rigged wire.

He makes that move.

And then there is a second moment, this one longer, when he takes a few steps, finding an understanding of the wire. Usually he examines the wire in sections, slowly, but this time he knows the wire within a few steps and though he is walking 110 stories above the streets, he bursts into a smile and dances.

That shift of weight and the shift into happiness are what I'm trying to talk about here. Sure, the wire is a matter of balance, but it is more about awareness and vision, of knowing how to be in the arc of a moment from within and without. That's happiness. That's what I'm after. And it's most of the reason I continue to write on.