Seasons of the Soul: The Zen of Happiness

  Seasons of the Soul: The Zen of Happiness By Brian Luke Seaward, Ph.D. Judging by the number of books released in the past few years with the  word happiness or joy in the title, one might suspect that Americans are  in desperate pursuit for the elusive emotion of bliss; a never-ending string  of spiritual highs. TIME Magazine recently ran a cover story on the pursuit  of happiness, examining everything from genetic endowment (starting  with early immigrants looking for a better life) to dopamine and serotonin  levels found in the brain. Happiness may be the new buzzword, but there is no agreement in psychological circles about its origin or constitution.  Is happiness an emotion or the expectation that precedes a positive  emotion? Are people born happy or can they learn to be happy? Is happiness  an absolute aspect or is there a continuum of pleasure? Are optimists  happier than pessimists? Would you be as happy if you couldn’t share your  experience on social media? Is happiness an expression of the ego wanting  satisfaction or simply the soul experiencing gratitude? Can money really  buy happiness? Can you be happy with nothing? Is true happiness better  than that reached by means of repeated addictive behaviors? What is the  relationship between joy and sadness? These questions are more than an  investigation into our emotions. They constitute a principle aspect of spiritual  wellbeing as well. For many people the term human spirituality conjures up images of warm,  fuzzy puppies, stunning sunsets, and orgasmic experiences of varying  degrees – what is commonly known as the Disneyworld Effect. In today’s  jargon we can add the words happiness and bliss to this paradigm. Yet there  is more to human spirituality than happiness. Metaphorically speaking, there  must be a time to empty one’s cup so that it can be refilled. In the immortal  words of beloved poet Kahil Gibran, “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked”. It is this emptying process that elicits an entirely different set of emotions  (e.g., anger, fear, grief), many of which seem to derail the quest for  happiness. Sadness and grief, however, are also included in the collective  spiritual experience. In the words of Jungian Analyst, Jean Shinoda Bolen,  “We are not humans on a spiritual path, rather we are spirits on a human  path”, meaning that all experiences – the good, the bad and the ugly – are  part of the human condition. Ask some people going through a significant  loss or painful experience and they may tell you that stress is not part of  the human spirituality equation. Wisdom-keepers, sages, and mystics would  strongly disagree: Not only are stress and human spirituality partners in the  dance of life, but all things being equal, the collection of emotional highs and  lows follow a spiritual rhythm.  Seasons of the Soul: A Lesson from Nature Before the Internet and the Worldwide Web, before NPR and CNN, even  before books, people accrued the foundation of personal knowledge through  the observations and lessons taught through nature: the change of seasons,  the tides, and the arc of the sun across the sky throughout the course of  each year. Living so close to the Earth and being completely dependent upon  Mother Nature for food, sustenance, and security, one paid close attention  to the ways of the natural world, so one could not only survive but live  in harmony with it. Becoming aware of and following these natural cycles  wasn’t just a good idea, it was essential to one’s health and wellbeing. This  ageless planetary wisdom spans the history of humanity from the ancient  Celtic spirituality and Lau Tzu’s classic book, the Tao de Ching, to our  contemporary understanding of circadian variation in the human body clock.  It also underscores the cornerstone of human spirituality. One of the great insights gained from the observations of the natural world  is the recurring patterns of cycles: the ebb and flow of the ocean tides, the  two-day cycle of the moon, the change of seasons, the migration of birds and  animals, and of course the diurnal cycle of daylight and darkness. Indigenous  elders the world over remind us that we are a part of nature, and it is a part  of us. This inherent wisdom of cycles and rhythms is becoming forgotten in the  rapid, hectic, high-tech lifestyles of the 21st with technology (what some are now calling screen addictions) has created  an ever-growing abyss between us and the natural world, to the detriment  of our physical and spiritual health. One of the casualties of this withered  relationship is the loss of perspective of these natural cycles and how  they are so integrated into our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual  wellbeing.  century. Our current love affair  Over the millennia, the wisdom-keepers and sages have reminded us that  just as there are cycles in the physical world that parallel the Earth’s natural  cycles, so too is there a parallel between the Earth’s seasons and the seasons  of the soul. The following is a brief overview. The Centering Process (Autumn): A time to go within and focus on the  Self. It is a time of soul-searching and self-reflection where one quiets the  mind to calm the soul. It is a time to unplug from the external world and turn  inward…taking time to be still. The Centering Process is a time to “Enter the  Heart.” The Emptying Process (Winter): This is a time to release, let go, and  detach from thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions, which at one time  may have served us, but now only hold us back. Only when room has been  made by this cleansing process may new insights and wisdom be revealed. The Grounding Process (Spring): A time to seek and process the answers  to life’s problems and challenges that come to us. The grounding process is  the “vision” of the vision quest. Remember, Nature abhors a vacuum. The  grounding process is time to access our intuition and perhaps even attain a  glimmer of enlightenment in preparation for the next stage (season) of our  life journey.  The Connecting Process (Summer): A season when we come back  “home” to our community and share what we have learned on the leg of our  most recent experience and the wisdom gained from the grounding process.  The Connecting Process is based on the premise of love — nurturing our  connections with friends, family, acquaintances (even strangers). As such,  the Connecting Process is a time of celebration.  Among nearly all languages and cultures, the words spirit, wind, and breath are used synonymously; a means to represent a flow of energy. For spirit  to stay healthy it must move or flow. When the flow of spirit is halted, it  becomes toxic. For this reason we are reminded not to remain too long in  any one season but to move gracefully through each, for there are many  revolutions in this spiritual cycle of the seasons. The Emptying Process Revisited Of these four seasons of the soul, it is the emptying process that is most  feared and, hence, often avoided; mostly due to our perceived pain of  separation or disconnection. The emptying process goes by several names,  most notably, the Dark Night of the Soul and the Winter of Discontent, both  of which are the antithesis of happiness. Described by many people as the abyss or the void, most people make a  habit of avoiding it. Still others teeter on the edge, frozen with fear. The  end result is a case of spiritual constipation or toxicity to the soul. For spirit  to be vibrant, it must keep moving. Ultimately, the emptying process is  neither an abyss nor a void; it is the womb of creation. Simply stated, the  emptying process is a cleansing that creates a silence in the stillness that  the soul needs for rejuvenation. Once cleansed, we may move forward  gracefully on our journey. Ironically, rather than emptying, in the nature  of human addictions, the common response is to fill the void with material  possessions or behaviors that act as a quick fix to appease, if not seek that  eternal moment of happiness. Can there be happiness in the emptiness? As  one crosses the threshold from winter to spring, the realization of cleansing  and releasing the old thoughts, attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs that at one  time may have served us is more than blissful – it’s liberating. References Kluger, J., The Happiness of Pursuit. TIME. July 8, 2013. Seaward, B.L., Stand Like Mountain, Flow Like Water: Reflections on Stress  and Human Spirituality. HCI. Deerfield Beach, FL. 2007. Weiner, E., The Geography of Bliss. 12 Books, New York 2008
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