Recently, I bought my daughter a small painted wooden sign for her new home that says, “Do something every day that makes you happy.” It got me thinking about how happiness is a learned state, a choice that one must consciously practice making in order to have the ability to summon at will.
Mostly, I believe that happiness stems from the art of noticing.
What makes me happy?
Lavendar and honey gelato by the pier in Whiterock. A fresh lemon and ricotta muffin and bold cup of coffee with thick cream, piping hot. A night of deep, uninterrupted sleep. A glorious stretch of time. Walks in nature; fresh light transforming the surface of leaves, soil, water, elegant patch of sky.
And Steveston Village.
When I need to escape the noise of the city, the endless details and concerns of work, thoughts, life, I find myself pointing the car toward this quaint fishing village where ocean meets river; fields of steady soil on one side, the shifting waters of the Fraser on the other.
I wind my way through the village, past heritage-themed restaurants and shops, along the pier where the boats are docked, masts rising like skeletons or bare trees.
Moving along the boardwalk, feet pressing against rivulets in thick slats of wood, birds swooping and gliding above me.
Shafts of sunlight spill against water and wood, fluttering along surfaces like musical notes, or wings. A swan glides by, the curve of its neck like a question mark, or comma. Boats with names like: Mythmaker, Moon Rush, Diana’s Delight.
My feet press against the path which twists along the water, the crunch of my weight on pebbles and dirt. I pass piles of crab traps stacked like toddler’s toys. Nets in blue, orange, yellow, green. Thick red boxes the colour of dried blood. Giant boats edged alongside each other. Men buzzing around them, readying for their next grand adventure at sea.
Everything is propped on stilts here – a fassad of solid – while below, the dark waters churn; mysterious alchemy of the sea. Grasses emerge from the roof of the shipyard. Seagull sounds slice through the pale grey sky.
I pass a field of caramel coloured grasses dotted with chattering snow geese.
A solitary bird rises, and the rest ascend like a heat wave, great flurry, cacophany of sound and wing.
I was walking along the boardwalk this summer, as I had done countless times before. I had been walking for a full 15 minutes and, trapped in an endless stream of worries and scattered thoughts, hadn’t noticed anything around me – not one delicate leaf, not one gentle swirl of water, dappled reflection of sun on wood. I was somewhere else, believing that what I was thinking about was more important than what was around me.
A flock of geese flew above me in a perfect V-shape. They sounded exactly like they were laughing at me: Yuk! Yuk! Yuk! At the same moment, two Buddhist monks passed by wearing shiny saffron robes, their bald heads gleaming in the sun. One was wearing aqua coloured sandals that poked from beneath his robe as he walked, and they were leaning toward each other, giggling like children. I felt as though they were laughing at me too; laughing because I was being so silly, being somewhere else, somewhere other than NOW.
I stopped, squatted down. There, along the path beside me was a patch of delicate pink flowers bending in the breeze. So simple and beautiful, seeking nothing. They were offering themselves up to be recognized, noticed, appreciated, used. Use us to remember who you really are, they were saying.
Use us to come back home.
I continued my walk and dormant objects that were previously unseen came alive through the simple act of noticing. Colours became vibrant, textures and details edged forward to reveal themselves to me.
I sat on a sun-soaked boulder where swirling river meets open sea. It was warm against my hand, flecks of silver humming throughout the stone. Fishing boats were plodding toward the river, willing themselves home.
I sat still on my stone, legs crossed, facing the sea. I became aware of the newness of each passing moment. The air, fresh on my skin, slightly different again and again. The shape of the wind pressing itself against my face and hair; shifting, transforming. It felt as though my very cells were adjusting themselves to match the frequency of the rock, ocean, air. My heart rate slowed to a steady rhythm, blending with the pulse of nature swirling all around me.
I was aware, suddenly, of a sacred exchange happening between my body and the body of nature; a dialogue, a pure and intelligent communication. Nature was offering up a code, the perfect algorithm. It was as though she was saying, Here. Follow me. I will help you. I will show you the way.
What if we thoroughly believed that there is an intelligent exchange happening at all times between nature and our bodies – our temporal selves? That they are constantly seeking each other, calling out like terrified children or lost lovers in the night. What if we understood the rhythms of nature to be our divine markers, teaching us, helping us, reminding us, leading us home?
What if all we need do to feel happy, to heal, to be fully alive, is stop and notice; pay homage to our natural surroundings, our bodies, ourselves?