Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

29 November

What Is Happiness, Anyway?-The Search For Meaning In Life

by Jon Katz

There are countless words and ideas about what happiness is and what it means – contentment, fun, meaning, pleasure, and cheerfulness.

But those words don’t tell me what it means.

Don’t look to the dictionary for help, either.

The Oxford Language dictionary defines happiness as “the state of being happy.” Not much help.

Thomas Aquinas, the philosopher-theologian of the 13th century, argued that happiness had to do with a union with God.

Absolute pleasure could only occur when death united us with God. He didn’t even mention earthly happiness in his writing.

A recent national survey found that Americans want a better economy, a more efficient political system, and enough money to buy a home, send their children to college, and retire safely and comfortably.

Nobody asked them if they sought happiness or meaning in life, and nobody volunteered those things.

That’s a shame, and to me, it speaks to the current spiritual and moral hole in the country. Everything seems to revolve around money and power, and security.

Many people are too frightened to figure out what they want and do it.

The pollsters don’t even bother to ask if a meaningful life is one of the people’s goals. It just doesn’t come up.

First, they brainwash us and then leave us brain-dead. Then they make sure to get all of our money.

The secret of life seems to be having enough money to buy cool things and retire on a yacht in Florida. (Do not, under any circumstances, be  Woke.)

Rooting out the dread “woke” is much more important to some people than being happy.

For centuries, the definition of happiness was doing something good, especially in an institutionally religious way.

We’ve moved beyond that, but I don’t hear anyone talking about goals for a happy or meaningful life.

Last week, I read Joan Chittister’s book Following The Path; she wrote about happiness and offered a definition that makes sense to me.

Happiness, we have come to understand,” she wrote, “is the driving force of life. It is the Holy Grail of human development. It gives to whatever we decide to do its dynamism. Happiness is the torch of life, the fire within, the very galvanism of our existence.

It’s true, think. That was a beautiful definition of happiness. First, I had to understand it comes from inside, not outside.

Neurologists who study the human brain have found it is configured for happiness. They found that we were born to be happy; it’s a life that can take that away from us.

To not be happy, the shrinks found,  is to be sad, pessimistic, aggrieved, angry, and depressed.

There is a lot of research about what it means not to be happy, but I can’t find any definition that does the trick.

In my life, a set point for happiness affects how I see the world.

I believe happiness is fluid; it has more to with attitude than with fate or Holy Charity. It’s an attitude as much as a material thing, a choice.

When I was unhappy, I decided to change. In one way, it was as simple as that and then as complex. Nothing worth doing is easy.

I did change. And I am happy now much of the time.

Happiness, for me, is not an absolute thing.

It doesn’t mean I am happy all or even most of the time. It just means I know what it’s like to be unhappy, and I prefer to be satisfied.

Happiness can be a choice, even when we are sick, hurting, or alone. There are external and internal things I can do to bring happiness and meaning into my life.

It was long and hard work, but it worked out for me.

I can face and deal with difficult situations. I can make changes. I can learn things. I can research and discover where I need to go to learn how to be happy and then take steps to get there.

I take responsibility for my state of mind, good or bad. I can understand the things I do that cause stress or frighten and deplete me, and I can make better choices for my life.

This does not make me a better person than any other. It just brings me close to my idea of happiness. It brings dynamism and the torch of life into my life.

It keeps my spirit alive and singing.

I don’t wait for God to make me unhappy or happy. It’s my job. Happiness is real. I’ve seen joy in dying and sick, in old and poor and abused people, in people in wheelchairs, and in people with cancer.

It’s not the possibility of happiness we doubt, ” writes Chittister, “it is how to find it that eludes us.”

I’ve been unhappy for much of my life and shouted for help finding happiness. The real challenge was understanding what was best for me, so I could look at my life and point it in the right direction.

I believe the best happiness for me is the one I create or co-create myself.

For me, life is purpose and meaning, not just money, or even mostly money. It lies in answering my call and understanding why I am here.

The corporate life model doesn’t make anyone happy that I know of, nor does our poisonous politics. Being angry and hateful does not bring happiness or meaning to life.

I  realized over time that cruel people are never happy and should be pitied.

If I never felt or answered a call to do something in life and never dared to do it, how could I be anything but unfulfilled and unhappy?

I chose to figure out what I wanted – this was hard – and then go after it. I am often distressed, unhappy and anxious. I am neither a saint nor a clown.

Life comes with suffering for the happy and the miserable.

There is no gold at the end of the rainbow, no perfect life for me. Happiness has come from trying and taking the leap.

Whatever happens to me, I am happy that I took the chance. In one sense, perhaps that is happiness.

29 November

I Met A Wonderful Artist Today. Here Name Is Jane, And She lives In The Memory Care Wing Of The Mansion. Her Work Should Be Seen.

by Jon Katz

I met a wonderful artist today in an unlikely place; she lives in the Memory Care unit of the Mansion. The staff has told me about her for some time, and she has been a faithful attendee of my Meditation Class there.

Today is the first time I saw her art and her interpretations of the art she was asked to create. It is unique, unlike any other works there.

Tomorrow afternoon,  I’m going to see Jane in the Memory Care Unit (along with Zinnia), and I’ll see more of her art.

(Elephant’s Eye, by Jane)

I asked Maria about these paintings; she said they have a lot of depth and subtle variation in color and texture. “They are very expressive,” she said. There is a lot of movement in her paintings,” she said.

She added that they are very confident. I see what she means. Jame’s work is very personal. Everyone else’s paintings look similar. Hers is unique, very different.

Jane was a nurse for many years and had two children. I’m not sure, but I believe she has never painted before.

Maria wants to come with me one afternoon and talk to Jane and see her work.

The aides say they have a wall full of her paintings and are all deeply moved by it. They feel strongly it should be seen. Everyone was asked to paint an elephant. Jane chose to paint an elephant’s eye. It looks sad to me.

Starting next week, Zinnia and I will visit the Memory Care Unit at least once weekly. Zinnia has a lot of friends there, and we are planning an Amazon Wish List to buy the residents a bird feeder and some desperately needed art supplies.

At Meditation, we talked about my idea of trading judgment for mercy. They liked the idea very much, and said no matter how far I got, and it would be better than not trying. I was touched by their willingness to help me and inspired by their response.

Jane watched me closely as I talked, and she nodded and smiled every time I suggested learning to be merciful rather than judgemental.

They all said they would like to try it with me, and I agreed. Perhaps we can do it together.

Jane’s interpretation of a cat at Halloween.

Jane’s Owl

Jane has been coming to the meditation class every week. She is sweet and shy, and gentle.

Memory Care is a magical place. The people there are awash in feeling but struggle for words and memories. It’s a difficult place for people to be. They know so much more than I expected.

They all love to paint, but Jane’s work has stood out from the beginning. I’m looking forward to the arts and supplies Wish List. It will do a great deal of good.

How l lucky I am to know someone like Jane and see her art.

29 November

From Your Fabrics And Stuffing, Bishop Giffons Art Students Prepare Christmas Gifts For Poor Children

by Jon Katz

Milan, an 11th-grade student in the art program at Bishop Gibbons High School, is ready to start distributing the gifts she and her classmates have been making from the fabrics and stuffing sent by the Army Of Good from all over the country.

Good is alive and well in the hearts and souls of these kids, who are working very hard to ensure that less fortunate children in a local Church daycare center have toys for Christmas.

Sue Silverstein’s art students are just getting started. Thanks to you, they have the fabric and the stuff to make many toys for many kids.

You’ve brought great joy to these students and the many children they are helping.

See what you did, and thanks. Please keep the stuffing and fabric coming: Sue Silverstein, 2600 Albany Street, Schenectady, New York, 12304.

29 November

Just Because I Can…Announcing The Winter Color And Light Project

by Jon Katz

I spend all summer taking colorful photos of the flowers in my flower bed. Now it’s November and the days are short, grey, and gloomy.

I only posted a tiny fraction of the pictures I took, and there is no reason for this color and light to be stored away and forgotten. We needed it then, and we need it even more now.

Zinnia and I are about to head to the Mansion this morning for my meditation class, but I dug out this early photograph of my beautiful Nasturtiums before we go.

I’m going to post a flower picture several times a week, all through the winter. No reason to hide the color and light.

This is the first day of what I call my Winter Color And Light Project.

I think these particular flowers were meant to light us up and lift our spirits.

You are invited to come along. My photos are free; you can use them any way you want. Some people paint them, print them out, and use them as screen savers.

None of my photos are bookmarked or copyrighted; they are gifts to my readers, many of whom have put up with me for years.

29 November

Meditation Dogs: How We Get The Dogs We Need

by Jon Katz

We used to ask very little of dogs other than to sound alarms, and they helped us gather food.

Now, we ask a lot of them; we want them to be emotional support systems, constant companions, sleep inside, go everywhere with us, and also be buffers from the loneliness and disconnection of American life.

They have evolved to be what we need them to be.

Dogs are among the savviest and most versatile creatures on the planet; their genius transforms them into what we need and want from them. That’s why they get to sleep in bed and squirrels don’t.

Over the years, they have changed in almost direct proportion to what we need in an ever-complex and distracting world.

They trick us into thinking they are just like us, and increasingly, it seems to be the truth. I have always gotten the dogs I needed, and only recently have I understood that this is no accident.

Recently, I’ve seen a great example of this with Bud and Zinnia when I meditate.

I take meditation seriously and try to do it every morning for at least 15 minutes and longer when I have the time.

I didn’t quite notice it until recently, but my dogs – all active and lively – have joined me in meditation and become a crucial part of it.

Over time, I have admired Bud, whose generosity of spirit and intuition have overcome the dreadful mistreatment he suffered in Arkansas. We have really bonded.

Fate is usually with Maria in her studio in the morning, and Zinnia and Bud are with me when I meditate. Fate is too restless to meditate, it’s hard for her to grasp. But she is always where Maria needs her to be.

Zinnia is always close to me; she is always calm and quiet when she is near me. It’s taken Bud longer, but he has emerged as a loving dog, easy to be with, spirited, and affectionate. Bud is a lot wiser than I first thought.

He just keeps growing and changing.

Bud has become a spirit dog; he has grown beyond his troubles and become the dog he was meant to be. He is a major presence in our lives.

When I sit down to meditate now, Bud hops up in my if there’s room and on the footstool next to me if there isn’t.

Zinnia lies down near my feet and closes her eyes when I do. Bud watches me for a few seconds, then lies down and also goes to sleep. They are both still until I’m done and start to stand up.

This is not natural for these dogs, who are often up and about, sniffing, chewing bones, and standing at the doors to get outside.

When I write, zinnia is always silent and invisible; Bud is usually out or near the wood stove fires when it’s cold.

But I realize now that both have grasped the idea of meditation and joined in. They support my spirit and quiet; they are careful not to interfere with it. Sometimes I get the idea they are mimicking me, modeling me, and doing the same thing.

I appreciate the support of these dogs when I meditate. Somehow their spirits interact with me and help me be still and at peace.

They have enriched my meditation and are now a part of it. They are the dogs that I need.

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