Do you want to hear something really hopeful?
The dance of a life that loves to happen embraces and includes everything that happens in your life. So there is nothing to be afraid of.
This is why the mystic poets call us to open up, to come out, to embrace all of our life—as in this poem from Hafiz, titled, Beautiful Creature:
There is a beautiful creature living in a hole you have dug,
So at night I set fruit and grains and little pots of wine and milk
Beside your soft earthen mounds,
And often I sing to you, but still, my dear, you do not come out.
I have fallen in love with someone
Who is hiding inside you.
We should talk about this problem,
Otherwise I will never leave you alone!
Now, when we are hit with a big hurt or failure or setback, what is the tendency? Don’t we sometimes want to just hide under a blanket or in a cave or hunker down like a toad on mowing day? Don’t we tend to close down?
But here’s the thing: if you roamed back over the years and thought of the things that are most troubling to you or that hurt you the most, maybe your greatest failure, a relationship that failed, or the injustices resulting in resentments, plus all the good times…if you gather all of that together—you need it all.
You must make it all into a story. Your story.
My story doesn’t include only happiness. There have been big, nasty battles with fear, with loneliness, with failure. But in making it into a story and telling parts of our story, we learn to open up and we connect with the stories of others. And that is hopeful.
And the thing is, a human being needs problems! People with no problems, how dull that would be! How boring. Our problems make us interesting. (Someone says, well, if that’s true, I must be the most interesting person in the world!)
Sometimes, we may feel that our story is not interesting. Actually, every story is interesting, but the problem is, you may not be telling enough of the bad parts!
Because what we must not do with the dance of life, we must not say, “Well, my life would love to happen if this hadn’t happened to me or if that hadn’t happened to me or if I’d gotten a break here or there.”
The truth is: no matter what the experiences of your life are, it is the one and only story of your life! Unlike the life and story of every other human being that was ever here!
That’s why Hafiz keeps singing to us: “You don’t have to hide! You are beautiful, you are needed, your story is needed. Open up! Come out! Embrace, embrace, embrace your whole story. Open your arms and dance!”
From the time you stuck your head up in this world, the world went to work on you, making it hard to have a life that loves to happen.
Joseph Heller (of Catch 22 fame) wrote a novel called, Something Happened. In the opening of the book, the narrator says, “I get the willies.” And then, imagining that time between when he was born and the present, he says: “Something happened. And my sense of confidence and my embrace of life and my joyfulness, my ability to laugh, my ability to enjoy…something happened.”
I look at pictures of me as a child, so bright-eyed, and I don’t want to forget that child. But then I look in the mirror and think, Yeah, something happened all right. And not just to my hair and skin. A lot of things happened to me on the inside.
Now if you saw your own little picture and then you look in the mirror now—I don’t want this to be depressing—but you might ask, “What in the world happened to that little baby? What transpired? What has taken over? What has driven my life?”
I can look back and see certain decisions that I made and I know that some of those decisions didn’t go quite right. And I made some choices that turned out not to be the best choices. That’s life.
But whatever happened between the time you were born and where you are now—here’s what we know: that is the only life that you have. And is there anything that is worth giving up that life loving to happen? Is there anything that has happened to you that is worth the cost of a joyful life?
Look, things may have happened to you that were dreadful, that never should have happened. But is not your life greater than that?
How do we make that transition from a life that happens to us, to a life that loves to happen? Hafiz writes a poem about that, and starts by saying: be easy on yourself:
You don’t have to act crazy any more—
We all know you were good at that.
Now retire, my dear, from all that hard work you do
of bringing pain to your sweet eyes and heart.
You need to forgive yourself. But, he says, you also need a bigger, better mirror:
Look in a clear mountain mirror—
See the beautiful Ancient Warrior
And the Divine elements you always carry inside
That infused this universe with sacred Life so long ago.
As Max Ehrman wrote: “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.”
When you look at yourself, your mirror is too small if all you see is you. You need a mirror big enough to show you and everyone you love and the entire universe, with you taking your rightful, joyful place in that universe. You are needed!
You need a mirror that reminds you of the beautiful Ancient Warrior you still have inside, the Warrior who was there when you were learning to walk, when you made your way through school, when you fought your battles to become who you are.
That Warrior can still rise and say: “Though I’ve been battered by life, I am a human being. And for my own good, and for the good of my family, and for the good of the people I work with, and for the good of my neighbors, I will never give up on the dance of a life that loves to happen.”
I laugh when I hear that the fish in the water is thirsty.
You don’t grasp the fact that what is most alive of all
is inside your own house.
That’s from Kabir. Like water to fish, so is joy to human beings. It’s all around us, but we take it for granted. We look for life out there, but it’s right in front of us. We think we’ll find happiness someday, but not today. We are funny critters indeed!
The dance of a life that loves to happen is really about coming to realize that our purpose in life is joy. It’s the purpose of relationships, work, solitude. Joy is our greatest asset for dealing with life’s failures, losses and boredom.
If that seems strange, it may be because we’ve drifted so far from our purpose. Research shows that a child laughs some three hundred times a day. Adults? Only about fifteen times a day. What happened to us? What would it take to reverse this trend?
Here’s an idea: The Dance of Day Enhancing. Henry Thoreau wrote:
“It is the highest of arts to affect the quality of a day.”
As we noted before, the dance of a life that loves to happen starts with learning how to have a day that loves to happen. The things that keep our lives from loving to happen—stresses, failures, disappointments—all come at us a day at a time.
But the dance of a life that loves to happen is about going beyond merely surviving the day; it is about practicing the highest of the arts—enhancing the quality of the day, no matter what the day brings. It’s about setting a joyful trend for the day.
Two things can help us with this.
First, we need inner resources. We need to get our inner life and our outer life talking to each other! (We’ll talk about strategies for doing this in coming weeks.)
Second, we need ways to dance with failures. This is personal to me; I’ve had some painful failures in my life, and that’s why I hold onto this line from Nobel Prize winning poet, Rabindranath Tagore, who is a kind of modern mystic poet:
“My world that flourishes carries my worlds that have failed.”
The surprising paradox is that only by embracing our “worlds that have failed” are we able to begin to find our “world that flourishes”. (More on this in coming weeks, too.)
So stay tuned. And share this with others if you are so disposed.
When George Burns was near 100, he said, “Some say life begins at 40. That’s ridiculous. Life begins every morning when you wake up!”
There’s wisdom to that, isn’t there? That no matter what our age, no matter what has happened, the Dance of a Life That Loves to Happen can begin every morning.
In my quest for life, I’m not dealing with 60 or 80 or 100 years at once. Because my life only comes in one-day increments. All of life is in one day.
And if a human being could just get one day right, and then repeat that the rest of your life…but how do we get one day right? And what keeps us from getting it right?
Kabir reflects on those difficulties in his poem, Stay With Me A While:
I lived with her night and day—the Nag.
I don’t mean my wife or mother-in-law, they are both angels.
I am talking about that voice in me that would not let me hold
each moment as I did my son when he was born.
I think we know about those voices—the voices of busyness, of preoccupation, of fear and worry and distraction. The “to do” list that will do you in. The voices that keep us running, running, running over our moments and running over our days until we run out of days.
James Thurber wrote:
“All people should try to understand before they die
What they are running from and to and why.”
What if I could just stop running? What if I could relax and make my home in today? What if my only job, really, is to arise and live today, dance with today?
Each day is a blank canvas and I can use the colors within me to paint on that canvas. But once that day is over, it’s over. Nothing can be added to that canvas or taken away.
So what would it be like to live today as if it is my whole life?
Could I get to the end of today knowing that today I paused and listened to the wisdom inside me? That I thought about what mattered most today? That I didn’t forget to live?
Could I get to the end of today knowing that today I loved genuinely and freely? That, remembering how brief life is, I followed James Taylor’s advice: “Shower the people you love with love, show them the way that you feel; things are going to be much better if you only will”?
Could I get to the end of today knowing that today I savored the flavors of life, that I enjoyed and created joy and danced with joy? And that even when I couldn’t quite summons the joy, I was patient, knowing the sun of joy would rise again?
Could I get to the end of today knowing that today, no matter what happened, I summoned the courage to face whatever I had to face? That I looked trouble in the eye until trouble blinked?
Could I get to the end of today knowing that today I actually saw the people in my life, that I was moved with compassion at some person’s battle, moved to do something to encourage, to lift up?
I think sometimes we forget how much is possible in just a day. And sometimes it feels like it doesn’t matter much.
But I believe it does matter. I believe you matter—right where you are, right now.
And I believe the way we live today is the way we are living our life.