Tag Archives: happiness

Day...?

I’m not sure where I am in this days of happiness journey. For the record, I keep another blog where I do post a bit more regularly about this.

Last weekend, a friend of mine drove with me up to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. It was a beautiful day, and I was once again blown away by the beauty of this state. Mountains, flowers, water, sunshine… There is really only one place I’ve been that’s better, and that’s only because Alaska and Washington are actually very similar in their beauty.

But I think what made this day really special to me was the fact that I’ve been to the Tulip Festival 3 of the last 4 years. Each time, I’ve come with different friends, and every time, it’s a unique experience. The flowers and the food are always the same, but I share different stories, different observations, and even different pictures, with each year. It’s one of the few traditions I’ve begun in my adult life, and I think it’s one I’ll keep.

Because, tradition isn’t just about doing the same thing repeatedly. I think it’s about having landmarks in your life where one element is the same, if only so you can more astutely realize just how much has changed.

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Day #2

This isn’t a great picture, but I didn’t have many options for what made me happy today. I have always found strength and intrigue in the wind. It actually makes me really happy to see and feel strong wind, and there were some great gusts today. I sat watching them for quite a while and reveled in the power of the earth. Sometimes remembering that I’m not that important in the grand scheme of the universe makes me very, very happy.

Oh, Happy Day: Day 1 of the 100 Days of Happiness Challenge

To give a little background: there is this great little movement on the internet (100happydays.com) that encourages us all to find little things to be happy about each day. The challenge is to post a picture of something that makes your life brighter every day. The challenge lasts 100 days, which is actually quite a long time, particularly for those of us who don’t have instagram and have to carry our cameras around… But I’m going to do my very best to keep this up. Because after all, happiness is a choice–sometimes a very hard choice, but a choice nonetheless. So here we go.

Day #1

Happiness has a lot to do with love, and it has a lot to do with hope. Nothing says love and hope more to me than my two beautiful little nephews. They are the best part of my life right now, even though they are so very far away from me physically. This is the perfect bright spot in my day.

#100daysofhappiness

Being For Others

There’s something a lot of people talk about doing, especially here in the monastery and in my Jesuit school, but also very frequently in the “real” world that might require a little more examination. The way my school put it, “we want to be men and women for others.” A lot of people say it another way: we want to make the world a better place; we want to live God’s word; we want to do service; we want to go out and do good.

I once referred to my experience at the monastery as one of the most selfish things I’ve done—not in a negative sense, but in a practical, “this is really going to mostly benefit me” sort of way. Being here, I temporarily forgot about that realization until tonight. In evening prayer, I found myself combing through my day and trying to think of ways that I had helped other people, little ways I had made the world a better place. To be perfectly honest, I couldn’t think of anything. Sure, I helped with dishes. I worked on projects to help promote the Monastic Immersion Program. And if I really wanted to stretch it: I smiled at people and said thank you.

But none of those really felt like they counted. I didn’t go out of my way to do them. They’re things that I kind of feel are obligations to living in a community, and most of them are technically assigned tasks. And did I really do anything to make the world better? Or did I just help the world continue on its normal track?

My days at the monastery often revolve around trying to find time to do things for me. I do my work quickly and plan time so I can pray, work out, have coffee, write, read, call friends, or send letters. I am constantly wondering when I’ll have time to sneak back to my room and write a few more sentences or do some more push-ups. No matter how I spin it, I can’t help feeling pretty sure that all of those things are not really helping anyone besides me.
What have I done for others besides loving and appreciating them as people—which may be a challenge sometimes, but I feel maybe ought to be the bare minimum?

And in thinking all of this, I began to look back at the last ten years (since I was 12 and slightly more aware of the world as an entity much bigger than me or my family) and ask the same kinds of questions. To my slight discomfort, overall, I don’t feel like I’ve done that much; I have consistently been pretty self-focused. I’ve focused on my own education, relationships, growth, work, and personal needs pretty exclusively, with volunteering thrown in every so often when I had some extra time.

I’m not ashamed of this. It’s not as though I think I’ve been a terrible person. It’s important for us to grow and learn in order to become the people who are informed and skilled enough to participate in positive change and to really be of service to others. It’s probably good that our early adulthood is driven by self-understanding and self-betterment. But, it does make me think.

What happens now? How can I truly be a woman for others now that I’m temporarily done with formal education? Most of the lives I’ve thus far imagined for myself don’t really seem quite up to that standard.

In our culture, we are trained to think that survival is really hard. Getting a good salary is really hard, finishing your projects on time is really hard, living a healthy lifestyle is really hard—we just don’t have the time to work for the good of others because we barely have time to take care of ourselves. How many times have I complained that I don’t have time to eat, or read for fun, or relax? (Quick note: I’m speaking specifically from an upper middle-class, white perspective, and I fully acknowledge that for many other people in our country, even simple survival can be incredibly more complicated and difficult than it has been for me.)

If we don’t think we’re taking care of ourselves, we feel fully justified in not doing things for others. Put your own oxygen mask on before assisting others. I don’t think that mentality is wrong. After all, it is true that we can’t really love others without loving ourselves; if we’re sinking, we probably won’t help someone else stay afloat. But I think we are too caught up in how hard it is to take care of ourselves; the oxygen mask bands need to fit perfectly around our head, and the oxygen has to be flowing at just the right level, and we have to make sure the color matches our outfit before we can even consider helping the person next to us. In real world terms, it ends up being about accomplishing a certain weight loss goal, getting above a certain income level, having a house, actually managing to take up yoga, meeting the right person, making peace with our parents… How many things do you want to make better in your life that you’d prioritize over spending a few hours a week volunteering?

I sincerely don’t want to call others’ lives into question. I don’t think anyone is less honorable for living life primarily for themselves and their happiness. I personally believe that the more happy people there are, the better the world will be. So by all means, please practice yoga and learn to love your mother and take that extra business class that will earn you a promotion. But for me, I think I may need a little more. They say that the call of a monk is to ‘seek God above all else.’ If you think of God as peace and love in the world, then I want to be a monk. I have a body that works, skills to rely on, and a whole network of people who would be willing to help me if I needed it. With all that, I’d say my struggle to survive isn’t too hard to start spending a bit more time on something greater than my own needs. And if I have the time and the resources, I don’t think I’d feel right not living for others.

 Of course, figuring out just what that might look like for me is an entirely separate issue and definitely another blog post.

A Non-Religious, Semi-Agnostic Walks Into a Monastery…

…and decides to stay for 9 months.

If that sounds a little odd to you, you’re not alone. My decision to enter the Monastic Immersion Program at St. Gertrude’s in Cottonwood, Idaho seemed a little out of the blue for a lot of my family and friends. To be honest, it even surprised me. But here I am, about to begin a yearlong program with two other women, working, praying, living, and studying as the sisters who live here do.

The assumption a lot of people make is that I must be thinking of converting to Catholicism or considering becoming a sister, but neither of those things is true. Although I am not affiliated with any church, I am, for the most part, comfortable with what I believe. Entering this experience, I have resolved to be open to the possibility of an epiphany or a sudden altered paradigm, but I also do not expect or even hope for it. So, what am I hoping for?

I’m hoping that being here will teach me about living out the values that underlie the Catholic religious practices. I hope to experience another way of life—one dedicated to faith, community, compassion, and simplicity. I am hoping to find a way to carry the peace that I feel here with me into the rest of my life and the rest of the world.

I have always been an introvert—a fact that I’m sure makes this yearlong stay much more possible. I am fascinated and compelled by simplicity, a life unburdened by unnecessary things and unhelpful negative emotions and thoughts. I love Seattle, and it will always be a home to me, but any city over stimulates me. I have lived at my current pace, chasing after cheetahs, for a long time, and I am ready to slow down and have the time to think everything through. It’s time to breathe and imagine a life where I feel at peace, maybe even in the midst of chaos.

Of course, it’s incredibly hard giving up all that I loved about my life: late night Thai and pizza delivery, the clothes I love but will never wear in a monastery, the friends who drink wine, watch scary movies, and laugh with me, the smell of Starbucks on a wet fall day. But on the other hand, it is so freeing to be in a place where I realize I don’t need any of those things to feel complete and happy (except the friends, but letters are a relatively good substitute). No pressure, no money, no TV, no crazy boy drama.

So this blog is to keep everyone who is interested in my journey here updated, intrigued, and maybe even inspired, if I’m lucky, to lead a more thoughtful, fulfilled life. And my hope is to prove that you don’t have to be in a monastery—or religious—to do it.