A laughing heart


Sent to me by Obi, a friend and Companion of the Silent Eye:

Let me Sue, tell you a traditional story on happiness from my people the Igbo of South east Nigeria as an example of how happiness can make one unable to do anything effectively.

A young man after the traditional marriage formalities took home his wife, with happiness, just as the young wife was happy too. The next morning as he was leaving for his farm for work, he left the young wife in the house and then brought out food for her to cook, so he could come home to a meal for the first time now in his own house and not his father’s.

When he returned, he heard a distant voice singing a traditional happiness tune, and he was thrilled by and happy at the melodious voice of his wife. She, meanwhile, was transported by emotions of joy and, singing away in total bliss, did not even notice the entry of her young husband as he came. However, the food for their first meal together was still raw and uncooked. Confused, disappointed, even angry, he called on the wife for an explanation, asking what was wrong and why he could not have his meal.

The young wife found herself in a state of total confusion and panic, with no viable explanation. It was a very serious crime, even as a first offender and you could also guess, dear friend, the magnitude of such a faux pas in a traditional setting of old folklore.

In a state of absolute terror, she went down on her knees, clutching the husband’s knees and pleading with eyes full of tears and in surrender. She could barely mutter the words that seemed to come out in solemn soft jerks as if they were not intended to form a sentence,

“My most beloved husband, brave descendant of a proud lineage, father of my children even if yet unborn, brave man who spares the erring woman, let me endure your wrath, for be reminded that the uncompassionate brave man, will end up living alone in his house stead.” She stopped for breath, then continued, her voice still trembling. “Laughter in my mouth would not allow me blow the fire into a flame so as to cook the food. My day since you left has been nothing else but joy and happiness.”

You sure can imagine dear friend, how impossible it is to blow a fire into a flame, if you are laughing, even so from happiness.

The young man, after some seconds, raised his wife to her feet, looked into her tear-soaked eyes which were even made pale by fear, and after a few seconds, a smile slowly came over his face.

He laughed out loud, sighed and then said, calling her by the most lovely names, “Truth I must confess, woman of my heart, Obi Diya, ,I was able to do practically nothing in the farm today due to shared happiness too.”

They both burst out laughing, then went to the cooking place and together prepared a lovely meal, which legend still talks of till today— but known only to  a few due to the contact with the West . They had the meal and, from then ever did things together in the house or in the farm.

I think you can also imagine my friend, how impossible it is for a happy laughing heart and mouth to blow a fire into a flame.”

Place and time

heather 2015 derbyshire, higger tor, beeley circle, edensor, bak 045
I looked around and was silenced mid-sentence. Fingers halted in empty air over the keyboard, I was doing a fair impression of a goldfish. It was not what I expected to see. But it just goes to show how much our inner world can influence the outer and how complex the chain of events can be that lead from ‘cannot’ to ‘can’.

There is much written these days about the power of positive thinking; some from a scientific and psychological perspective, some bordering on the lunatic fringe… and just about every possible shade in between from the sleekly professional, to views as fluffy as an angora rabbit. What most of us will come across hangs somewhere in the middle and takes a common sense approach to how we can make our daily life a better place to be.

We recognise negative thought as a limiting behaviour… our thoughts narrow our focus and refuse to move from their problem at hand. We react to specific situations and fail to see the other possibilities around us, creating a downward and inward spiral that effectively blocks us from finding a solution to the problem; either that, or we are so engrossed in taking immediate action that we are blind to all else.

Positive thinking has many well documented benefits for health and wellbeing. In one test, two groups were set up in order to control the experiment where the main group were asked to write about an intensely positive experience every day for just three days. Three months later their health and emotions were measurably better than the control group. It isn’t just writing that helps; anything that lifts the mood is a step in creating that positive mindset. Doing something you love, being with people with whom you are happy, creating art, music or craftwork, maybe riding a bike… or simply playing, allowing yourself to take time out just for fun.

Meditation, one of the techniques used in the Silent Eye‘s course, has also been shown to have a rapid effect on stress levels, health and on the brain itself.

One recent study looked at how and why a positive mindset could bring specific and long term effects. The findings showed that, amongst other measurable benefits, positivity enhances creative thought, by widening the focus so that all manner of possibilities can be admitted into the moment.

But possibilities are not concrete realities… and to translate the one into the other there is another ingredient, that is required and one not so simple to create… belief in ourselves. We are very good at hiding the cracks in the way we value ourselves. Buried deep, there is often something akin to the impostor syndrome, where we simply don’t think we really deserve the happiness, health, love, success…or any number of other states our surface mind strives to achieve. It is a belief which may have grown though out our lives, with small incidents and large adding strength to its presence.

Many are aware that they are not as confident as they may seem to others, but this elusive lack of belief is hard to pin down and often goes unnoticed. While it lurks in the shadows, we are entirely capable of sabotaging our efforts without even knowing it. We may also choose not to make an attempt for fear of not succeeding as we feel we should… a fear rooted not in any real assessment of our capabilities, but in an invisible and insidious belief that we are bound to fail.

Conversely, when we do believe in ourselves we are capable of achieving great things. That belief too tends to be something that has built up slowly over a period of time and with the confirmation of innumerable small successes. It is something we can encourage, by acknowledging those things we have achieved… from the small to the large… from evicting a spider from the bathtub to getting that promotion or publishing a book. We build a portfolio of associations that make us feel confident and bolster our belief in ourselves and what we can do… and who we are.

And sometimes everything just comes together. Time, place and mindset combine to produce the perfect moment for big things to happen. Take this weekend, for example. My son was out on his trike and chose to turn up at my door after a very long ride. Ani, who sees him rarely, had been ‘singing’ for several minutes and doing the ‘postman dance’, a very specific circular prancing that alerts me when we are going to have visitors or ‘intruders’ (like postmen…). I parked the trike and helped him inside. As we reached the door to the living room, with the dog bounding around him joyously, he said he felt he ought to be able to just walk across the room. I too, against all logic, felt that it ‘should’ so.

I helped him to the sofa, with the ecstatic dog bringing him balls faster than he could throw them. She has a habit of dropping them too far away when she is excited. I needed to look something up on the computer…and turned round to see my son walking across the living room to the table. This was where the goldfish impression came in…because, of course, my son can’t walk unaided…except on May Day… and, apparently, here…

When my mouth had finally closed and settled into an inane grin, we talked about what had happened. He had ‘just thought he could’; the room had that effect… a place that had been the scene of many moments of progress and triumph, large and small, when he came back home after the brain injury and our days were entirely focussed on his recovery. We had adopted a consciously optimistic stance, even while we acknowledged the more dire and official prognosis. We chose, here in this place, to believe he would recover and the association of place is positive… I could understand why he had felt that way. Then too, he had just arrived under his own steam, on a trike that was allowing him freedom to explore without someone pushing a wheelchair; something that cannot help boosting his self-belief. If ever there was a time and place to try, this was it. And he succeeded, placing yet another link in the chain of belief that will allow him to walk unaided again.

I think we underestimate the power of place and time. It is easy to recognise the effects of being somewhere that makes you feel good… a heather strewn dawn on the moors will do it for me, every time. Asking ‘why’ may throw some light on the associations we have with a location; it doesn’t matter to me which moor, for example… they all take me back to childhood, happiness and being with people I have loved. To be in such a place, with such associations, is always uplifting and opens the doors of possibility. Such a place is the ‘right’ place to find belief and embrace our hopes and dreams, opening ourselves to whatever possibilities the universe might offer. And the right time… whenever that feeling surfaces that you can be who you were always meant to be…is now.

Sleeping with a mosquito

Image by Alvesgaspar
Image by Alvesgaspar

I have never made a secret of the fact I have an intense dislike for mosquitoes. Mainly, I have to admit, because they seem to like me. I react badly to having uninvited guests for dinner when I am the only thing on the menu. My ears may have lost the capacity to hear bats in the darkness, but even with them stuffed full of duvet I can still hear the incessant whine of a mosquito on the hunt for supper. There is an absolute and focussed awareness about these moments it is impossible to sleep through.

Of course, I have asked myself none too politely, what purpose the little buggers can possibly serve, feeling (usually as I itch and swell) that they must have been placed on this world for the sole purpose of being annoying. Yet I know they are more than that. They are themselves a huge food resource for other species, pollinators of countless plants and hold the balance of power in many ecosystems. For our own species, as well as others, they are a vector for disease and parasites and thus an effective means of population control. Not a particularly pleasant curriculum vitae, but an impressive one. They are such tiny creatures, so fragile and ephemeral, yet their cumulative effect on the world is incalculable.

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito ”~ the Dalai Lama.

You can see the potential in this subject already, can’t you? From the ecological point of view of energy conservation, recycling etc. Or the socio-political implications… But I’ll leave that for others better qualified. We all know what we ought to be doing and there is enough information out there without me adding my mite.

Though that word brings to mind another story about how much small things count. The parable of the widow’s mite tells of a woman who gave two small copper coins while others gave vast sums. The small coins represented all she had, giving her gift more value than the larger gifts of others who offered just a tiny percentage of what they owned. You can’t really tell the value of what is given freely without knowing the story behind it.

Little things matter. Being hobbit sized, no doubt my sons would argue that is a predictable statement coming from me.

But seriously, just think about it for a moment. What makes your day? Most of the time it is little things. We don’t win the lottery, get a wonderful new job or the car of our dreams every day. But there is the potential for a seemingly mundane morning to bring almost unreasonable amounts of joy. It might be opening your eyes to a lover’s touch, a dog waiting motionless except for the end of a furiously wagging tail, a smile, a shaft of sunlight, a word or the first flower of spring…. We find happiness waiting in the smallest of things if we are open to it. Every moment may bring such a gift of joy.

I don’t think it is ever possible to ‘make’ someone happy. Happiness is a state of being we find within; our own response to life. What we can do, though, is create conditions in which others may find their own moment of joy. And usually, these are made up of the small things. The little acts of kindness, of fun and shared laughter or the small gesture that shows you have actually thought, have been aware enough to notice and care. Oddly, the more you give in this way, it seems, the greater your own access to happiness becomes. It can be as simple as a smile to a stranger in the street. Yes, in these disconnected days you may get looked at as if you are strange yourself, but does that matter? You are the one who is smiling already. And there is comfort in that.

Then again, sometimes comfort is what we chiefly need and here too it can be the smallest things that make all the difference. Just a word or a hug. Sometimes even a thought.

When there are areas of our lives that really hurt we can feel isolated. Perhaps we feel we cannot share or burden others with our words or worries. Or we’ll share the surface story, hiding the deeper and true cause of the pain. Help can be a difficult thing to ask for, and it is sometimes just as difficult to accept when it is offered. But a small gesture that shows you are aware, that you care enough to see beyond the smile to the person and the pain it may hide, that can make all the difference.

We are constantly surrounded by people, emotions, noise and images. Between bustling streets and a multimedia assault of information it is no surprise that we retreat into our own little worlds in a kind of self-defence. It takes the unusual to attract our attention and switch on our awareness. Like the buzzing of a mosquito in a silent room, we suddenly focus and are awake on every level. The quiet gift of your attention may be all it takes to make a difference to that heightened awareness in someone who is hurting, just as an unexpected smile can start a day with joy. Like the widow’s mite, we cannot know how much these things mean both to the giver and the gifted. But I think there is a magic in that awareness that blesses both and is its own gift.

Originally published 2013