Choose to be stubbornly happy

This blog is called “Chasing Santosha” because I’ve always been fascinated with happiness. What is it? How do we attain it? How do we keep it? Is it tangible? Is it real?

Yoga teaches us that happiness resides inside us at all times, and what happens to us on the surface is mere circumstance in which we can choose our reaction. A lover can’t guarantee our contentment. They can challenge us to be vulnerable, test our patience, and create chemical bubbles of lust and giddiness to burst from our pelvic floor like the froth of shaken champagne, but they cannot make us happy. I’ve quested for lasting happiness in this wanton wilderness many times before, tried to net that butterfly until its wings were tattered and it was within a flutter of its life, only to realize that even if I’d caught it and pinned it to my wall I wouldn’t feel any better then when I was butterflyless. I can’t say much for those who’ve chased santosha to the bottom of a glass or to the peaks of mountains, as I’m not much of a drinker or adventurer, and I’ve never been wealthy enough to report that money can’t buy you happiness (although I have a sinking suspicion that it can’t). But what I have pieced together in my lifetime between moments of mediocrity, the popping of champagne bottles, and the deafening crackle of hormonal fizz is that happiness is a choice.

Now. I’m not saying that we need to be happy all the time, hold hands and dance around in circles and such, and that people who have mood disorders are merely making poor choices. I’m familiar with the lethargy of depression and am well-acquainted with anxiety. What I’m saying is that while these things happen TO us, they are not US. The evidence for this intangible phenomenon of santosha is found in the hearty laugh of a beggar on the street, or in the spirit of a terminally ill patient who loves deeper and truer after diagnosis, or in how a mother allows music to move her heavy limbs in defiance of death after she loses her child. Because I truly believe, when you peel away all the layers, what we are in essence is pure bliss. To chase santosha is to come back to who you are. It’s a journey home.

The world is a big, scary, turbulent, sublimely beautiful place. Bad things will happen to you. Great things will happen to you. And it is our duty and our right to surrender to our heart of hearts — not to chase, but to BE santosha, or as Jack Gilbert writes, “we must have the stubborness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.”

A Brief For The Defense

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come. ~Jack Gilbert

Namaste, and choose happy.

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