August 17, 2034
A Memoir (yet to be lived)
I’m seventy four and I’ve lived joyfully for fifteen years.
I remember vividly that morning exactly fifteen years ago, when my eyes opened to a grey New Hampshire sky. I woke up a little later than I would usually, after a surprisingly restful night. I lay in bed, happily thinking about — nothing. The crickets were loud and the noise a of semi on nearby 202 soared over their chirping like a wailing guitar. I lay there comfortably for a little while and then I got up, looking forward to my morning meditation on the porch.
This is when it occurred to me that something was “off.” There had been no resistance whatsoever to waking, no burden on my chest, no quarreling with myself about getting up or not, no not wanting to face the day. Now I noticed this profound sense of content flowing through me, a feeling of joy and well-being beyond words which hasn’t left me since. For a second something stirred in me, wanted to rebel — wait, where’s my burden, why is noting weighing on me, what is wrong, what am I kidding myself about? — but then those thoughts quickly melted away into a smile and a warm feeling in my stomach as in a delighted response to remembering a childhood friend. There was noting to worry about. Rain started falling gently on the dark, green leaves of the mature summer forest.
I went about my business that day, as I have done every day since, simply engaging with what called for my attention next — without resistance. Making tea, sitting silently in meditation, walking those few meditative steps on the porch with a lively sense of oneness with the earth. Then I sat down at the desk to begin my workday. Few thoughts interrupted work, though I’d occasionally stop and wonder what was happening? Where is the resistance? Why am I happy? Then I’d smile, sigh, enjoy a tingling in my feet, and continue to write.
As the day unfolded, I noticed other strange changes. That is, I noticed familiar things not happening that had been part of my everyday experience for much of my life. I didn’t feel overwhelmed, for example, by the tasks on my to-do list, or distracted by incoming emails. I just did what I did, and then the next thing. And when I got sleepy late in the morning, I didn’t second-guess myself but lay down on the floor for twenty minutes, profoundly enjoying the support of the floor and dozing off a for a while. Then I got up and resumed work, refreshed and with renewed focus.
When, by lunch time, I still hadn’t experienced a moment of resistance, loneliness, unhappiness with my fate, or fatigue, I called a friend and asked her, jokingly, if she thought something was wrong with me. “I’m so happy,” I told her, “will you come and pinch me so that I’ll wake up from this strange dream?” We laughed and then she said that my voice was different. She couldn’t say exactly how, it seemed to her like a lack of something that was usually in my voice.
“I’m no longer a victim,” I responded to my own surprise as she was trying to describe what she was – or wasn’t – hearing.
I was no longer a victim of life’s strange twists and turns — and I haven’t had that sense at all since. Maybe that’s at the heart of what changed that day. Things simply happen. Not that they are not sad, and sometimes difficult, or challenging. That didn’t change. But my response completely changed. The best way I can say it is that things were not happening “to me.” They were simply occurring and I responded — I still do, gratefully so every day, fifteen years later. And happily so, joyfully.
That was at first the most “disturbing” thing. How could I be suddenly happy in a world that hadn’t changed at all, in a world full of misery? But, see, that question did not have any traction anymore and quickly faded away due to a complete lack of doubt. Doubt was gone! I’ve been living with a profound sense of trust ever since. It’s not that I think everything is or will be “fine”. It’s actually rather a complete lack of thinking or evaluating situations in this way and expecting a particular outcome. It’s more a sense of trust in the moment, which is always unknown and mysterious. But not questioned. I do still prefer outcomes that are beneficial for people, for the environment, for the earth, outcomes that bring ease and healing. I sincerely hope for that and work toward that. But I do not dwell on or get weighed down by how things are going. I may be sad, deeply sad, for a while. But it’s a very different kind of sadness. It doesn’t linger. It’s more like a thunder storm which then is followed by renewed life and joy to be and to respond as best as I can — neither knowing nor doubting but listening and engaging.
Without guilt. Oh, yes, I almost forgot that feeling. Guilt used to reign my life. I barely remember it now. It’s hard to believe but for much of the first fifty-nine years of my life the very sense of happiness seemed to be an indication of wrongdoing, of disregard. To live was to be guilty, my sheer existence was proof of guilt. I always lived with an undercurrent of thinking that I shouldn’t really exist and I suspect that is, in part, why I became a Buddhist – I somehow hoped that I could meditate myself into non-being. And then, that day fifteen years ago, I suddenly didn’t need to apologize for being or for feeling good. This was very strange at first and it took some time to get used to the fact that it was okay to be happy. But even then, it was only moments of questioning followed by a wave of warmth and release through my chest, washing away any doubting my right to live a happy life.
I’m still surprised by my happiness at times. But only for moments. Then a smile emerges on my lips as I remember the man I was so many years ago who thought that life was against him, and I joyfully go back to engaging with this wondrous world.