Thursday, November 6, 2008

Ooops~ A Rant on the Hazards of the Happiness Masquerade

Yesterday I read this quote, taken from an interview with Paula Reeves a Jungian Analyst:

"Following your souls journey does not grantee happiness.  The souls journey moves toward meaning.  Each time we uncover a piece of our unclaimed shadow we step into another initiation that leads us to an ever more meaningful relationship with the self. There is profound value in recognizing our own shadow, that is our own unlived, unquestioned, and rejected life.  The shadow is not a terrible, terrifying and reprehensible bit of our self that must be kept secret no matter the cost.  It is the repository for all the fragmented and unclaimed aspects of each life waiting to emerge into consciousness, allowing us to be authentic and whole."

I read this quote on a recent bus journey to my work at the Healing Center, early in the morning, on a rainy day, surrounded by fifty other people, stuffed into a cramped space, making their way to work with coffee in to-go cups.  It felt wintry and the first bit of November had soaked everyone with icy rain, hands were cold, clothes were wet and clinging to skin, the windows were all fogged up, and there was no fresh air to breath.  Most people were beginning their work weeks, and I think I can safely say that not too many of them were feeling positively thrilled about this.  

The thing that struck me as odd though was the great efforts people appeared to be going to, to force smiles onto their tired early morning faces.  The sheer amount of will it seemed to take for people to muster polite and enthusiastic conversation with co-workers and classmates, despite their contemplative tired expressions.  And I thought what a lot of bother we go to, to exude a false sense of happiness, and for what purpose does this serve?

As the day progressed I found I began to notice this phenom everywhere I went, this was not something only destined to occur on city buses, in the early mornings.  The lady at the grocery store was doing it too, the clients coming into the Healing Center were also dedicated to tight smiles and tuneful "how are you's!"

It wasn't that I felt the whole world should embrace a tendency to be depressed, or that I even thought people were depressed.  Mostly I just found that people in general are often more inward and contemplative then they are willing to reveal to the world.  Some people were sad, yes of course they were, and some might have been seriously depressed. But either way, most people are not naturally upbeat and entirely joyful with complete and utter zestful enthusiasm all day long, every day, and this is FAIR ENOUGH!
That we so often feel the need to display a sense of happiness when we're not actually feeling this way can be somewhat haunting.  We live in a culture with a strong moral sense of honesty, and yet, we can hardly manage the basics here, and as far as I can tell, this is a problem.  If we can't be honest about what we are feeling, what can we be honest about?  How we feel is the foundation for our experience of living, it's how we are perceiving and relating to the world.

Anyway, as I began to think about why this "need to be all smiles" was occurring I came up with many theories. The following is one, I have since cast out, but it made me giggle and so I thought I'd share with you.

At first I thought that this strange human way was perhaps a "New Age West Coast idea gone terribly wrong.  That this whole trend focused on "creating and manifesting your own reality through BEING the change you wanted to see in your life," had been taken to some kind of distorted and ugly extreme. That our spiritual desires for sweetness and light had skewed our perspectives in a big ol'way. Somehow I don't think that we can live a human life in a state of constant joy and I don't think that this is necessarily the aim.  The desire for a life free of suffering is like a world with no rain, or no night.  Sunshine and constant daylight would kill the living things on this planet very quickly, a constant state of joy is a kind of fire that would burn out eventually, not to mention create a lopsided experience don't you think?  Don't get me wrong I have great respect for the souls journey, but over the years I am more inclined toward the wholeness of my experience, including the dark depths, including the bits that bring me to my knees, including the rage and the tears.  

Later I realized that we live in a world where honest expression of how we are feeling is taboo. And the reasons for this are many.  You know what they are, they're cultural, they're social, we learn them at home and at school, from young ages, and we carry these ideas into our adulthood etc etc...( nothing new here) I don't need to list them.  

And so, the purpose of my rant today is to remind us all that there is something wonderful to be found in the quiet moments, something deeply healing in the sadness, something unbelievably peaceful in the resting, something beautiful in the ugliness, something new in the oldness, something meaningful in the rage, something real in the honesty, something worthwhile in the tears, something hilarious in the humanness, something glorious in embracing the shadow and re-claiming wholeness, something really wonderful about having the ability to feel and live and breath and BE!  

This post is dedicated to the Women in my dance classes.  I thank you for your company and the courage with which you explore the shadowy depths.  

Paintings by: Joseph Lederer and Charles Bragg


ArtSparker said...

To some extent I see the happyface differently than you. As someone who when younger made being a depressive person a badge of distinction & an excuse not to show up in some ways, it's taken me many years to get to to the point at which I say hello with a cheerful air to total strangers for no other reason than shared humanity. Certainly we all need some sort of balance which for me is knowing what the right time is to be out amid the flow of humanity and which times are right to be alone. By the way, I think you might like the film "Snowcake" very much.

Nao Sims said...

To Artsparker~ Yes, yes, I am indeed in agreement with you! Tis such a fine balance. I am all for the heartfelt wishes of wellness.

Being the overly romantic sentimental person that I am, I have had to caution myself in the other direction, as my need to be happy and nice, sweet and good, has kept me from showing up. ha ha.

Such different paths we all walk. Thanks for this great comment! I will check out this film.

herhimnbryn said...

I know.

I still do a double take when the man or woman at the check out says, 'How are you?'. Am I being too 'english' and reserved?! Everyone seems to reply, 'well, thankyou and how are you?' When Iwonder if they are having an ordinary/awful day! Maybe one day I will say how I am really feeling;)

Oh, and re A's suggestion...I have seen Snowcake and it is the most moving and ultimately joyous film.