Happiness of the Heart

by Mary Cook, MA, Psychology 
Addictions Treatment Counselor
(Contributing Writer)

Photo Terrance ChangePhoto: Terence Chang


True happiness comes from the heart, not the mind.

Our mind typically judges, compares, and places conditions on happiness, pointing out what’s wrong or missing even in the best of circumstances. In the midst of a wondrous experience, for example, the mind may remind us that a certain person is not present to share the wonder, and thus happiness is diminished. Yet the mind tells us that when we receive abundant gratification of a desire, we’ll be happy. It might be success, sex, money, power, leisure time, a partner, alcohol, food, or other drugs.

When we’re chasing after happiness, we’re also running away from problems, trauma, shame, loss, and pain. And the mind tells us that these troubles will continue or reoccur at any moment.

So we’d better capture and control the objects of our happiness. Addictions and compulsions are practiced with the intent to distract us from pain and stress and artificially induce euphoria or relief. This keeps the false self dominant rather than the spiritual self. This separation from an active conscious relationship with our Higher Power means that no amount of anything we desire can lead to true happiness, for we have disconnected from the source of pure love, truth, and joy. Only unhappiness comes from this illusion of separation. Fear and attempts to control and possess what we desire, removes the very possibility of happiness.

Real happiness is not dependent upon anything. It is our true nature.

We can see it in young children before we teach them otherwise. They amuse and entertain themselves. They are sensitive and empathic. They love without fear, biases, and prejudices. They experience joy watching a caterpillar, looking at ribbons of light coming through the trees, playing with dad’s fingers, babbling to mom, and jumping up and down. Young children can experience more happiness from a box than the gift within it. A box after all, can be a hat, a boat, a drum, or a house.

Young children can remind us of what we have forgotten.

Happiness is right now, it’s free, it’s within us, it gives and shares, it’s outside of time, space, distance, and conditions. It’s creative, uplifting, and contagious. Having a sense of lightness, playfulness and humor about ourselves and life, contributes to heartfelt happiness and reconnects us to our true selves, others and life. It also gives us resilience, adaptability, hope, courage, and strength in times of trouble.

Happiness arises from relaxing and surrendering mental focus, and allowing our hearts to open and expand for no reason.

In this place we can remember that we were created whole and holy and that we are interconnected with all of life. Correct bowing places the heart higher than the head. Rather than our minds’ aspirations, it is humility and faith that leads us to our highest happiness. Feeling united with a healthy, loving Higher Power allows us to experience the power within our heart. A bedridden patient in pain can forget his suffering when a beloved child visits. All of a sudden we’re not sick when someone needs us. An arthritic man, unable to move, can lose all symptoms of disease when playing the piano because of his happiness in doing so. A petite, frail mother can lift heavy objects off her child to save her in an accident. Spontaneous acts of heroism, altruism, and love spring from the heart, whereas the mind would say this is impossible or problematic.

Allowing our attention to be in the present moment appreciating what exists right now, counting our blessings, being in loving service, enjoying nature, music, art, people, animals, and seeing beauty around us, is happiness.

We can have a daily practice of identifying and surrendering to our Higher Power our small minded selfishness, harmfulness, willfulness and defensiveness, and ask for divine will to work through us. We can hold compassionate space for suffering and painful emotions to be expressed and released. We can begin this process by feeling compassion for ourselves and loved ones. We can accept our ignorance and transgressions, and honor our desire for redemption and transformation. Then we can practice feeling compassion and acceptance for strangers and for those who are harmful in the world, believing that goodness exists in the soul despite human expression. In most situations as adults, safe boundaries, straightforward assertiveness, and healthy behaviors on our part suffice to protect us from those who might harm us. Forgiveness is an emotion of the heart that releases trapped toxic energies within us, creating greater space for serenity, freedom, and joy. This is a rejuvenating practice and additionally helpful in placing more positive energy into the world.

It is vital to demonstrate principles that reinforce our spiritual nature, and to strengthen our faith when we are feeling lost and confused.

We experience an even higher level and depth of happiness when we’re able to identify what goodness and joy exists in difficult circumstances, what opportunities for growth, character development, unselfish demonstrations of love, spiritual evolution and unity with the God of our understanding are present in trials and tribulations.

Long ago I visited a poor village and asked the elder if he was happy with his life. He replied that yes, he was very happy. In some years, he explained, there is abundant food and no children die. And so we sing, dance and rejoice. In other years there is not enough to eat, and sickness and death visit us. In those years our love expands, we become closer and give our hearts to one another, for that is all we have. So, yes, we are very happy all the time. This village elder was abundantly rich with happiness of the heart, and this is a magnificent model for all of us.

 


Mary Cook  is the author of “Grace Lost and Found: From Addictions and Compulsions to Satisfaction and Serenity”  She has a Master’s degree in psychology and is a certified addictions treatment counselor in private practice in Los Angeles, California. She has 42 years of clinical and teaching experience.

Visit Mary Cook’s website for more articles or go to Amazon to purchase her book.

 

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A Canadian Christmas Eh!

Stephen A. Nelson in JasperOur guest blogger is Stephen A. Nelson, a freelance journalist who grew up in Toronto back when, as he says “they still had a Santa Claus at the Eaton’s and Simpson’s department stores, where magical window displays with expensive moving toys gave joy to many.”  Here Stephen shares a true, right from the  heart, childhood Christmas Story, and  adds some of his  own favourite media Christmas Stories.


The Many Faces of Father Christmas

A Real Christmas Story from the Kid Who Lived It!
Stephen A. Nelson

KettleDriveThe Salvation Army has been in the news this Christmas; especially since it was discovered that a Grinch – masquerading as Santa Claus – stole more than $2 million worth of donated toys that were meant to go to needy kids in the Toronto area. The stolen toys were  recovered and Mean Mr. Grinch has been arrested and charged with stealing Christmas. It’s sad and shocking, but at the same time a reminder that – while Scrooges and Grinches may be real – so is Someone Else.

My Christmas story takes place not in the 1940s, but in the 1960s, shortly after we’d arrived in Canada from England. The Beatles were more popular than Jesus and it was a very good time to be English in Canada. Especially if Canadians thought you sounded “just like The Beatles.”

We moved into a neighbourhood in West Toronto. Our family of six was living in a small two-bedroom flat above a restaurant on Dundas Street West now known as The Junction. We did not have much, in fact, we had very little. But we had the two most valuable things in the world: family and friends.

“Family” included my Uncle Terry, my mother’s beloved brother. The Nelson family had arrived in Canada on the unforgettable night of the Great Northeast Blackout in November of that year — that night everything from Niagara Falls to New York plunged into complete darkness. That was the night Uncle Terry had driven all night to get us from Montreal to our new home in Toronto.

“Family” also included the people at the Salvation Army in West Toronto. That was the great thing about the Sally Ann then. We had travelled to the other side of the world, but the Salvation Army still felt like home. It was more than a church, more than a charity. It was family.

Foremost among that Salvation Army family was a man we called Uncle Harry. He virtually had adopted my dad when my dad first arrived in Canada. And for as long as he lived, Uncle Harry was like a father and a big brother to my Dad. And until his dying day, Uncle Harry was a real uncle and a granddad to us kids.

When we arrived in Toronto, winter was already upon us. More snow than we had ever seen turned Toronto into a Winter Wonderland. And before we knew it, it was Christmas. It was a beautiful glorious Christmas, around which the entire year of being a kid revolved. Christmas, time for Christmas carols and Father Christmas — or as Canadians called him, “Santa Claus.”

I was a true believer in Father Christmas. So although there were many department-store Santas, I knew there was only one true Father Christmas. He was at the North Pole now, making his toys. But I had met him at the Salvation Army Christmas party and I knew he was real. I knew because he knew me and he knew me by name.

Father Christmas

But I was worried: Even though I’d seen Father Christmas, I hadn’t told him what I really wanted. And with all the excitement of moving to a new country, I hadn’t had time to write to him! “How will Father Christmas know where we are? How will he know what I want?” I wondered.

Mum, another true believer, assured me that Father Christmas would know and that he would find us.

“But we don’t have a chimney in our flat! How will Father Christmas get into our house on Christmas Eve?”

Mum assured me that Father Christmas had a magic chimney he could use to get into houses that had no chimney.

Well if Mum says so, it’s got to be true.

But I was still worried.

I was like Ralphie from the  character who played in A Christmas Story.  A movie favorite of mine that centres around a young, nine-year-old, blue-eyed, blond-haired boy name Ralph “Ralphie” Parker (Peter Billingsley). The first time I saw the film, I immediately turned to my friend, pointed at the kid on the screen with big glasses and said, “That’s me!”

But Ralphie is an Everyman, and the film is the tale of his quest to realize his heart’s desire and secure his holy grail of Christmas presents — a Daisy, Red Ryder, Carbine-Action , 200-shot Range Model BB Rifle.  He was trying to relay the message to the world that there was one thing I wanted more than anything else in the world. This was my heart’s desire. This was my holy grail.

a-christmas-story-movie-01

It wasn’t a Red Ryder BB Gun. No, in 1965 it was a Johnny Seven O.M.A. (One Man Army) — a toy gun that was seven guns in one.

In these cyber-days of Halo, WarCraft and Assassin, such toy weapons are either politically incorrect or passé.  Forbidden or forgotten.  But in 1965, the Johnny Seven was “the bomb.”

It was a Red Ryder BB Rifle on steroids.  Ralphie’s Red Ryder was a steel-blue beauty that fired BBs and had “a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time.” It was everything cowboy hero Red Ryder would need to fend off the evil Black Bart, rustlers, and other Bad Guys.  But a Johnny Seven One Man Army was a plastic mini-arsenal that fired an anti-tank rocket; shot an armour-piercing shell; launched an anti-bunker missile; shot 10 bullets as a rifle; made a rat-a-tat-tat sound as a Tommy gun; and had a pistol that detached and worked as a cap gun with a very loud  “bang!”  In short, it was everything that G. I. Joe would ever need to fight the Viet Cong.  And since it was three-feet long, it was literally the yardstick against which all other boys’ toys were measured. It was the talking Malibu Barbie of boys’ toys. It was the perfect present.

JohnnySeven7inOneLike Ralphie, I knew exactly what I wanted. And like Ralphie, I was worried that I wasn’t going to get it. After all, if Father Christmas couldn’t find me, how could he give one to me? And if Father Christmas couldn’t deliver, who could?

On Christmas Eve, there were no signs of any Christmas presents in our small flat. I don’t even remember seeing a Christmas tree.

Still, milk and cookies were placed out in a dish with care, in hopes that Father Christmas soon would be there. There were no visions of sugar plums dancing in my head. I was dreaming of a Johnny Seven. I went to bed hoping and praying that Father Christmas would indeed find us. But I feared he would not.

On Christmas morning, I woke up to find a sign of hope. A red Christmas stocking had been hung up with care, a sign Father Christmas had really been there.

When out from the living room there was such a clatter, I sprang down hallway and said “What’s the matter?”

I turned into the living room and beheld a sight more wonderful than anything I had ever seen before or since. Where there had been darkness before, there was now the most wondrous light. Where there had been emptiness, there was now a cornucopia of Christmas presence. An Aladdin’s cave of magical things that I had never seen before in my life, including something called a “toboggan.” I had no idea what it was for, but I thought it was amazing.

In a room full of children’s treasures, I almost missed the Holy Grail itself. But there it was, in the middle of the living room floor, set like a jewel in the crown: my Johnny Seven. It was perfect.

I promptly fired off all seven guns in rapid order and managed to do it without shooting anybody’s eye out!

I was overwhelmed with joy at getting my Johnny Seven. But I was even more happy that Father Christmas had found us and he had delivered. For years to come, this was proof to me that Father Christmas was real. And later, when my non-believing school friends said, “There’s no such thing as Santa; it’s just your parents,” I knew they were wrong.

Over the years in Canada, we would spend many Christmases at my Uncle Terry’s and we would learn many things about Father Christmas. We learned that, here in Canada, Father Christmas went by many other names: Saint Nicholas, Saint Nick, Sinter Klaas, Santa Claus, Santa, Kris Kringle, or even Père Noël.

Years later, I found out that, in our home, Father Christmas had two other names: Sometimes we called him “Dad”: other times we called him “Uncle Terry.”

But at our other home, the Salvation Army, we learned that the most important person at Christmas was not Father Christmas, but that other person who also comes at Christmas and who is also known by many names.

And at the Salvation Army, we learned that the real Father Christmas had yet another name. There we called him “Uncle Harry.”

Welcome Christmas, while we stand
heart to heart and hand in hand…
Christmas Day will always be
Just as long as we have we

My Favourite Media Christmas Stories
Stephen A. Nelson

Everybody has a favourite TV holiday special at this time of the year.

For me, there are two classic Christmas programs that are especially powerful, even after more than 40 years of repeated viewing.

Merry ChristmasThe first and still the best is A Charlie Brown Christmas, featuring the Peanuts gangand the coolest of all Christmas soundtracks by Vince Guaraldi. A very close second is How the Grinch Stole Christmas starring Boris (The Grinch) Karloff and the coolest of all Christmas songs, You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch .

And when it comes to Christmas movies on TV, you still can’t beat the 1951 black-and-white classic A Christmas Carolstarring Alistair (Scrooge) Sim and three very spooky Christmas spirits. Mind you, Jim Carrey. The Muppets, and even Doctor Who have all done a great job of bringing this story to life.

What these all have in common is the theme of redemption. That and the radical, almost heretical message expressed by the Grinch: the idea that “Maybe Christmas… doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!

So maybe it’s odd that my other holiday favourite is the 1983 movie A Christmas Story. Odd because, at first glance, the movie seems to say that Christmas does come from a store — and that happiness is a new gun.

A Christmas Story starring Darren (Kolchalk: The Night Stalker) McGavin is a classic based on the book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd. A sleeper hit when it was first released, the film has become a perennial favourite on TV. One American cable station shows it all day on Christmas Day.

The film, narrated by the author himself, takes place in a mythical mid-western US town. But a lot of it was shot in Toronto. In fact, in a part of Toronto that looks a lot like the Toronto I grew up in. It even has the classic red-and-yellow TTC streetcars that Mike Filey loves.

It also has all the elements of my first Christmas in Canada: the Salvation Army band playing Christmas carols in the frosty air; the Santa Claus parades, the department store Santas. And most magical of all, the Christmas windows displays at stores like downtown Toronto’s Eaton’s and Simpson’s, where half-frozen kids press their noses up against the frosty glass to get a closer look of at the electronic panoramas of mechanized magic.

Perhaps that’s why this film stays with me, because it feels like my city and my childhood. I feel I could have easily run into the characters in this film. In fact, I think I did.

But more than that, I think it stays with me because — in many ways — A Christmas Story is my story: “except for the name and a few other changes, when you talk about me, the story’s the same one.”

A Christmas Story

Ralphie, for most of the film,  is scheming to get his mitts on one of these beautiful, steel-blue pieces of pre-adolescent weaponry- a Daisy, Red Ryder, Carbine-Action , 200-shot Range Model BB Rifle… For him, it is not only the Holy Grail; in his hands it will become Excalibur.

So our hero does everything he can to persuade every adult he knows — his teacher, his parents, even Santa — that a firearm is the perfect present. The response is always discouraging and always the same: “You’ll shoot your eye out!” And once even Santa Claus rains on his parade, Ralphie knows the game is over and he’ll probably end up with a football (“not a very good present”) for Christmas.

Needless to say, our hero is more than a little discouraged come Christmas Eve. By Christmas morning, when all the presents have already been opened, he has despaired of ever achieving the Holy Grail.

But wait! Somehow Santa delivers a last-minute Christmas miracle and Ralphie gets his BB gun — his faith in Santa and in Christmas is fully restored. That night he goes to sleep with his holy grail in his hands and all is right with the world. It is a very merry Christmas.

Holy Grail

stephen nelsonStephen A. Nelson has  a master’s degree in Theological Studies from Lutheran Theological Seminary at the University of Saskatchewan. In his spare time, he plays old rock ‘n’ roll at the local jam nights, sings in church, and enjoys his Jasper mountain paradise.  Write Stephen Nelson at  http://ca.linkedin.com/in/stephenanelson  or stephena.nelson@gmail.com or
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Courage is Being Courageous

by Vanessa Virgilio
From the Voice of a Teen

This Blog is by Vanessa Virgilio, whom I met while waiting for my car in for a tune-up at an auto mechanic shop in the Junction in the west part of the City of Toronto. Vanessa is working part-time at the shop as a data-input clerk, to help her dad. While I was waiting, I had a brief, but engrossing chat with this 16-year-old, who says she dreams night and day of becoming a published writer. Her expression of wanting to write is overwhelmingly contagious. She tells me, “it’s the people who dare to be different that stand out the most, and shine like the moon in the dead of night.” What ‘creative vibe’ and wisdom came to me from the voice of a teen. I invited Vanessa here, to write about ‘Courage.’ She shares her insight, and does it in a heartful rage. Catherine DeAngelis

Courage

Bert Lahr, Cowardly Lion in Wizard of Oz

Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion
in the Wizard of Oz

Courage, in its general definition, comes from the old French root word ‘Cour’ or ‘Coeur,’ meaning ‘heart.’ It can mean many things to many individuals, and holds different meanings at different times in our lives. Courage takes different forms, such as “to be  courageous” or “to have courage.”

Take the Courage Within, and Apply It Consciously 

Bravery, heart, boldness, dauntlessness, bravura, daring, spirit, nerve, guts, chutzpah, nerve, spunk, or ‘intrepidity’ – a characteristic expected among fighting soldiers. There are a multitude of words to describe courage, but ‘those’ are just words. You can have courage, or you can be courageous. Everyone has courage, but ‘to be courageous,’ is a different story.

Courageousness lies within the risks we take, and the reasons behind why we took them. To be courageous is to take a chance, to take that theoretical step out onto the precarious edge, and fall out of our comfort zone. We may test the butterflies in our stomach, or the rush of adrenaline in our veins. We pluck up the courage to ask out the person we like to go out with, or audition for that school play. We can own up to something we’ve done wrong, apologize, accept responsibility, or face punishment. These are examples of taking the courage inside of us, and applying it consciously.

Courage is Hanging On When You Think You Can’t Any Longer

“To have courage;”‘ we tend to use this term differently. It is that subconscious courage that helped us through our first day of kindergarten, our first piano recital, or our first day of ninth grade. That tiny piece of hidden courage, is what gets us through the rough spots. Every day comes with a new challenge; every challenge is dealt with a piece of courage.

We can associate courage, to being without ‘cowardice’ (the trait of lacking courage).  We can liken this meaning to the Cowardly Lion, from the 1939 American musical fantasy film, “Wizard of Oz.”   Dorothy, played by Judy Garland, and the endearing actor, Bert Lahr, well-known as the Cowardly Lion (and the farmer “Zeke”).  He has a loud roar, but afraid of everything. He wants to be brave, and heard the “Wizard” of Oz can give him the courage he has missed.  Although he nearly succumbs to one of the Witch’s traps because of the courage he didn’t know he had, to his amazement he learned he always had it within him.

Read a free download of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written by L Frank Baum, published in 1901 adapted for the movie.
Braveheart is another story brought to life by Mel Gibson, in a Hollywood betrayal of William Wallace, who lived from 1272 to 1305.  Wallace was a Scottish knight and landowner, who led the Scottish resistance against the English – to win freedom for his people and land.  If you watch the movie or read the story, you’ll learn that Wallace was a man of great faith and great courage.  He wore it on his sleeve.

Courage is within us, whether we know it or not. It is the light that shines, and never goes out.

Vanessa Virgilio is a writer, who lives in Toronto.  She says that she finds solace in her writing. “My mind is a magical place, so many things are thought, so much creativity and imagination. That same mind sees the small details in everything, and frets if they’re not perfect. There’s a lot of emotion to be found inside my head, I’m not sure what one would think if they stepped inside and took a look around.”

 

 

 

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