My Happy Place.

October 29, 2020

My Happy Place.

May 29, 2023

“A psychologically-induced, trance-like state, where a person may regress from a stressful situation.” Born less than five miles from Disneyland, I’m preternaturally drawn to happy places. During my troubled teen years, the Magic Kingdom’s Main Street Electrical Parade was my first taste of “collective effervescence,” the sublime experience of feeling less separated and more connected to others while witnessing awe and wonder.

I came to believe happiness was “out there,” not “in here.”

And so, like many Americans, I pursued happiness, not realizing that some dictionaries define “pursuit” as “to chase with hostility.” The GPS for “my happy place” was wired to ambition, accomplishment, and spectacle. Throw me on the hedonic treadmill and I’ll turn up the pace, not recognizing that happiness was always just beyond my grasp. I couldn’t own happiness, but it seemed to own me.

Along the way, I threw parties. Lots of them. It suited my career. It suited my masquerade, the Halloween-born boutique hotelier who loved creating “joie de vivre.” My epic birthday celebrations, every five years from 30 to 55, were in my happy places I wanted to share with friends: Anahola Bay in Kauai, Ubud in Bali, Mandalay Bay in Vegas, Marrakech in Morocco, Black Rock City at Burning Man, and Todos Santos in Baja California Sur, Mexico. My 60th was supposed to be at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur.

Yet, inside me, I felt a cavernous spaciousness. It scared me when I was younger. Raw and unadorned, it reminded me of my loneliness as a child. Ironically, it was at Esalen in my twenties that I started to cobble-together a meditation practice. It was the place I felt safe enough to play peek-a-boo with my past. It was the first time I felt a happy place inside.

Being the intrepid traveler, during my darkest years (2008-9), I was drawn to Bhutan, the country wedged between China and India that popularized the concept of a Gross National Happiness index. Intellectually intrigued by how we could measure the intangibles in life, I started to grok something Einstein once wrote on a blackboard: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

Here I sit writing this at 4:30 am, my happy time. The time I take dictation. The time when my writer wakes up before my editor. I’ve come to realize that happiness is a solid and joy is a liquid (thank you, J.D. Salinger). It is that juicy liquid, bubbling up from inside of me, that I’m tempted to bottle. To sell. To share. To savor. But, I just sit with it. And marvel at how quenched for thirst I’ve been.

Pico Iyer wrote, “Travel is not about leaving our home, but leaving our habits.” Maybe that’s been one of the core challenges (and opportunities) of sheltering in place in 2020. We’re surrounded by our habits in our habitat. Lucky me. I’m stuck in my happy place where I had my 55th birthday party. Where I now live most of the year. Where I have spied on the divine over the past few months, newly discovering natural beauty just steps from my home and our MEA campus.

If you have time to watch this momentary video, you’ll see me and our dog Jamie in my newest happy place. Something between a puddle and a pond. A place I do daily pilgrimage. Preferably at low tide when nature is my teacher and the crabs, eels, sea turtles, and migrating whales (that just showed up this week for the first time of the season) are my fellow students.

Who knew sheltering in place (SIP) would allow me to “sip” from the chalice of joy right in my own sandy backyard? My birthday wish for you is to find your happy place close to home.

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