A Shared Life of Wrestling, Growth, and Discovery

On Being Happy

The following post was for my April 12, 2017, Writing Group. The common subject was “Happiness

On Being Happy

July 4, 1776: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

April 10, 2017: From Sounds True — “Your experiences matter. And how experiences change your brain profoundly affects your happiness. The good news is that you can literally rewire your brain to get your emotions back into balance. And it’s easier than you might think.  Want to learn how? In his new 53-minute masterclass, Rick Hanson shares three keys to amplifying peacefulness, contentment, and loving connection in your life.

So there we have the 240-year bookends to happiness in our beloved United States! And I am glad to see that now, today, we can achieve happiness in 53 minutes. Great.  So I have to ask, “Am I happy?”  Or do I really need Rick Hanson’s 53-minute lesson on realizing happiness? Well this topic has received a lot of my attention over the past six weeks. I’ve taken several approaches and written them out. I enjoyed this process in and of itself. The process was meaningful and brought some clarity for me. But in the end I discarded the drafts and in what follows I start over afresh.

First, I realize that yes, I am and always have been a happy person. It is great to realize this! It makes me happy to realize that I am and always have been a happy person! I hadn’t known that!

So I next ask, “What is the source of my happiness?” I notice that I am happiest when I am “Engaging the Transcendent,”  and that this “engaging of the transcendent” comes in various forms.

I engage the transcendent in nature – delighting in the beauty and elegance of flowers and other of nature’s “tinier delights” – each one unique and so different in form and structure. In my thirties photographing wildflowers filled my pallet of happiness. I would get lost in the woods at the Nature Center, camera in hand, delighting in and being inspired by the flowers of each season.

I engage the transcendent in music. I realize that music has inspired me throughout my life – delighting in the classics by Mozart, Handel, Beethoven, or Mahler.  Music, especially witnessing performers so taken over by and lost in their craft, their energy radiating their obvious enthrallment, fills me with profound joy. Tears well up as I join in the applause or as I simply take in the music while driving along in my car. I marvel at composers and performers alike. Yes, this is a taste of engaging the transcendent – the Mystery of where music comes from and the further Mystery of how it affects me and others.

I engage the transcendent in exploring big ideas. Such exploring easily takes me beyond myself as I get caught up in books, either on Audible or in print, that take me where I have not yet been. Science, philosophy, cosmology, spirituality, psychology, biography – any of these topics can take over my energy system and fill me with delight, joy, and happiness. Just owning books can delight me, surrounding me with a rich (some would say “expensive”) library of wisdom that takes me beyond myself.

Just yesterday I “just had to own a book” referenced in another book. The title alone made it a “must have” book: An Interpretation of Religion: Human Responses to the Transcendent by John Hick. The table of contents sealed the deal – it  overwhelmed me with excitement – the early sections in Part 1 cover: “The Soteriological Character of Post-Axial Religion,” “Salvation/Liberation as Human Transformation,” and “The Cosmic Optimism of Post-Axial Religion.” I have no idea what these topics are about, yet I am drawn to them like bees to honey (note: I of course can quickly assure the reader that this “bees to honey” is not to be confused with Obsessive/Compulsive behavior disorder).

On the Audible side I have been attracted to works by Jung, Cynthia Bourgeault, and many other great thinkers, philosophers, scientists, theologians, and historians. Listening to these authors makes my 90-minute exercise routine fly by or captures me on long drives. Yes, more sources of daily happiness.

I engage the transcendent in my work with Pathwork. My attachment to Pathwork as my spiritual path is a source of great joy and delight as I take in the material sentence by sentence, pondering the ideas and letting them explode in my heart. My heart is drawn to the love transmitted in these lectures, and my mind to their elegant and cohesive metaphysics.

I engage the transcendent in working on my website. Though used by very few if any – creating and continuously expanding my website – writing blogs, sharing resources, and providing links to my various Pathwork creations –  helps me order what is most meaningful to me. This creating and ordering brings me joy.

I engage the transcendent in my relationship with Pat – our hours upon hours of exploring and deepening our “reverent relating” inspire me. For five years we have been working with Sage and Anthony, and for over a decade we have spent countless hours discussing our heart’s and mind’s unfolding to love. This has not been easy, but the growth we experience fires our energy for life and is a profound transcendent source of inspiration. And I add several other relationships to this list of joys in my life – each one unique and special.

I engage the transcendent in serving causes greater than myself. And however serving causes “greater than myself” shows up, be that serving God, love, or life itself, the serving fills me with delight. People experience me as very generous, and though this generosity is transparent to me, I can see that being generous is how I am experienced by some, and I accept that it is somehow true – and beyond me.

I realize that there are many other areas where I engage the transcendent. AND I realize that each of us experiences such engagement with the transcendent in a unique way. But now it’s time to end this piece. As I said in the beginning, there are literally pages of material I am discarding from earlier drafts of this writing. But the above is where I ended up. And I am happy with the result.

Epilog

With our topic of happiness, I find it ironic, and something I did not recall until the third draft of this piece, that one of the nicknames pinned to me in my work with the Pathwork lectures is “The Happy Monk.”  And I realize just how true this tag is!  I am, indeed, a happy Pathwork monk!

I also remembered in earlier drafts of this piece that when Julie Murray sent me to Pathwork over 16 years ago she sent me with these words, a quote from Raymond Carver: “And so did you get what you wanted from this life? I did. And what was that? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.” So yes, an underlying source of my happiness is my day-by-day continuous growth helping me to deepen my experience of “feeling myself beloved on the earth.”

Pat and I are working out our funeral arrangements. She plans to be cremated and sprinkled. I plan to be buried – alone – appropriately alone, since “alone” reflects the truth of who I am and have been in this life. In March Pat and I selected and I paid $745 for a cemetery lot for me in the Milford Greenlawn Cemetery. Specifically: Lot Number G-2 (75) in Section 25. The plot is simple, treeless, and near the maintenance building.

Perhaps the small tombstone will read: Gary Robert Vollbracht; born 10/15/1942, died _____, and above my name the words, “…to FEEL myself beloved on the earth,” and on the back of the stone, “The Happy ‘Monk.’”  And yes, I would be happy with this epitaph.

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Gary Vollbracht