How I Got Started In The Happiness Biz

Recently I was asked how I became  involved in the happiness field, and what motivates me to help others. Although my memory can be taxing at times, I had no difficulty digging deeply into the begginings of it all. Here is my answer: Like most people, especially Baby Boomers—moi grew up to the tune of a song I call “What About Me?” by the Inner Voices. I probably got involved in the happiness field when my mother’s water broke, or even before, to begin my journey into the floating dewdrop sphere of this oh so sweet yet dream-like world.  When my umbilicus was cut, it severed forever- or shouldn’t I say, more truthfully, severed temporarily— the oneness I no doubt experienced in the warm oceanly bliss of my mother’s amniotic fluid.  AndI entered squalling and squirming, a feeling I can still relate to— though I definitely feel less afflicted by such basic angst today.

School and teen years were no less trying, punctuated by exquisite fits of joy; internally, resources began to gather in me to cope better with them, albeit for the most part only semi-consciously. Sports and a band of good guys helped a lot to bond and put me together as I grew up and became more intact and cohesive, as well as to push and pummel me into man-shape—for men are not born but made, to parse a saying. My father was a mensch. My sixth grade teacher helped, too. My college roommate became my best lifelong friend and compadre, even though we didn’t see each other for over fifteen years while I was in The East. My first real teacher & mentor was a radical professor in college, who lit my lamp and also started me writing. I never looked back. The Muses began to commune with me, and vice versa. I went beyond thinking it’s all one, and learned it’s not what happens to you but what you make of it that makes all the difference, a lesson that has helped raise my happiness quotient and sense of autonomy all my adult life. Lovely, generous girls and goodhearted women also became my teachers; I was an avid learner. When my nineteen year old college freshman friend Alison Krause was shot and killed on her own campus, Kent State, in May 4, 1970 by the Ohio National Guard, I had a rough awakening. It led me to conclude that fighting for peace via radical politics was a contradiction in terms, and I wanted to become peace and be peaceful. I discovered Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King and the Dalai Lama. This realization led me to push past the Gestalt psychology workshops, creative writing and poetry classes, dream-journaling, consciousness expansion experiments and Zen meditation I’d started learning in college, morphing into increasingly serious Buddhist study and meditation practice. In mid-late 1971 I rebooted and began all this in earnest, including many ten day and longer silent intensive meditation retreats, India-ashram-living, various kinds of yoga practice, fasting, and living with my gurus in the Himalayas. These were halcyon days, guiding my path to the mindful life I now lead and strive to co-create with interested parties. I spent most of the Seventies and Eighties in The East, happy as a clam, seeking the inner peace and harmony, joyous love and fulfillment that the timeless wisdom traditions promised and occasionally seemed to actually produce. Happy, that is, except when challenged by a myriad of illnesses not uncommon to visiting aliens, and encountering first-hand birth and death in the raw while working in Tibetan refugee camps. I apprenticed for years and decades in India and Nepal under several living enlightened masters who seemed to exemplify and embody everything the mystics and sages throughout the ages spoke of and sang out. During the nine years I spent meditating in a cloistered Tibetan monastery retreat center, and undergoing lama training, I realized the secret reality that my guru’s great heart and radiant Buddha-mind and mine were one and the same. I found what I was searching for. In this close community I eventually came to understand that everyone wants and needs more or less the same things, suffers similarly at the hands of inner ignorance and similar afflictions— greed, hatred, fear, jealousy, pride and denial—and that at heart we are all united in such a way. I learned to love even those I didn’t like, and that the dichotomies of personality-based liking and disliking, on one hand, cannot hold a candle to big love on the other.  This has served me well in life. I saw God, and the god, the Buddha, in me and it was good. I found the holy same in others as well. In 1989 I was asked to teach and lead meditation retreats, first in Europe and then in America, along with my Tibetan Dzogchen teachers. I wanted more than anything to lift us all up together and be a healing and helping force for awakening discerning wisdom and warm, empathic, loving-kindness and compassion in this beautiful but benighted, turbulent and endangered world. I gave myself and my life to this altruistic purpose and Bodhisattva mission. Contentment is the ultimate form of wealth— being there while getting there, every single step of the way. When I recognize myself in others and others in myself, who could I harm, exploit, not empathize with and be moved to help? I know we can’t do this great and destined happiness project without each other.  My work for happiness, peace, harmony, and spiritual enlightenment reaches, I hope, all the way down to the authentic internal realization that everything we seek and need is available, is within. And that if and when we learn to look deeper and more incisively into the nature of things, including ourselves— turning the spotlight, the searchlight, inwards—each of us can definitely reach true satisfaction, fulfillment, meaning and purpose, bliss and delight through the life we are genuinely meant to live and enjoy. One winter in the early Seventies in Bodh Gaya, India, where the Buddha had sat beneath a tree and became enlightened, I heard the Dalai Lama himself say, “The purpose of life is to be happy.”