The curse of looking happy

Only if it's the "fruit" of contentment

Only if it’s the “fruit” of contentment.

You’ve heard it before, “Well, [insert appropriate subject pronoun here] look(s) happy”. And so they are pronounced as such.  We go about our way.  They often go home and cry.  We too easily forget that smiles are often a coaxed response of self, not Soul.  In that way, they don’t equate to happiness that exists; oftentimes, they equate to happiness one hopes we believe exists.

I write this because I have a contagious smile.  It has opened doors and closed them gracefully behind me and it has also led others to believe that I am boundlessly happy at all times.  I was recently told this: “You’re always happy, Dani.  That’s a wonderful thing!” As I sat there perplexed by her comment, I asked myself, what is wonderful about that?

If I have learned anything, it’s that we were gifted a spectrum of emotion for a reason.  Every emotion is valid and deserves to be felt deeply, even sadness.  But many are uncomfortable with that.  We’re fed images and stories of others who “laugh through pain” and “smile through tears” and somehow that abnormality becomes what’s expected.

A dear friend told me in conversations past that, “an apple tree can no more grunt out an orange than an orange tree can grunt out an apple.”  That’s not what’s inside them.  So that’s not what will be manifest outside them.  As humans, we are a bit more complex than fruit trees, which complicates the matter a bit, because we can be wading waist deep in despair and still grunt out the” fruit” of happiness:  a smile.

Honestly, I think this goes deeper, much deeper, than we realize.  And since I’m a heart and soul excavator, I’m unafraid to search those depths.  I believe there is a certain discomfort for others when our feelings are not in line with theirs, like we might upset the balance of their happiness if we anchor into our sadness.  Or, a greater discomfort, that our anchoring into that sadness, makes them more aware of their own.

Take this example: last week we hosted a visitor from Brazil.  During a long car ride, R had an emotionally-charged phone conversation with a manager of ours.  My chest began to tighten and I seriously thought of making a run for it when he came to a rolling stop.  You see, I don’t deal well with words spoken loudly or harshly (actually, let’s be honest, I don’t deal with conflict well. Period.), so my immediate reaction was to shut down and find the nearest exit.  L, our visitor, was distressed, as I turned inward and became notably quiet, to which she asked, “Dani, can we just make the time nice?  I’m only going to be here a few days…can you just be happy and normal again?”  I thought about that and about the self-sacrificing person I have been for most of my life and responded:

No, I can’t.  I’m upset right now and it’s okay to be upset.  I’m not going to pretend that I’m feeling something I’m not to make everyone else feel okay.  I need to feel what I’m feeling in this moment so I can move past it.

And that was that: feelings were felt, subsequently moved through, and richer days followed.  My world didn’t end because I was sad, but in that moment, perhaps she felt hers might.

A few days ago I had another conversation.  It went like this:

P: “So, how are you?  I thought I was going to have to gather a search party!”

Me: “Well…I’ve been pretty sad lately.  You know this time of year is hard for me.”

P: “It is?  Why?  I thought you loved Christmas!?!”

Me: “I do, but this time of year everyone is out with their children making memories and creating traditions and I miss mine.  I miss the ‘would be’ of them and it makes me sad.”

P: “Well, I think you just need to work yourself past that.”

Me: “I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with being sad.  I want to feel it and feel it deeply.  If I do that, I’ll be able to get past it.  For now.”

And the conversation continued.  You see, she didn’t want me to feel sad.  My sadness made her uncomfortable because there was nothing she could do about it.  But if I moved past it, often by walking around it rather than through it, she would have nothing to feel uncomfortable about.

A few months ago, a beautiful friend wrote me this:

Dani, it is curious that when I read your replies on my iPad, a red heart appears at the end. On my computer, I see a heart with the less than symbol and a 3. I believe your heart is greater than 3, through the heartache you have suffered and your choice not to allow pain to define you.

I had noticed the less than symbol and the 3 but I hadn’t made that connection until her words brought me the much needed heart treasures of perspective and Light.  I know my pain doesn’t define me, neither does my sadness, or anger, or frustration or jealousy.  And I would much rather my face be a canvas painted by the raw emotion of Heart, than the domesticated emotion of expectation.

There is purpose in pain and sacredness in sadness.  When we allow ourselves the gifts of emotion, we open ourselves up to a better understanding of Soul.  So, the next time you see a smile, don’t assume it’s the fruit of happiness. And, especially during this Season of outward celebration, remember the inward suffering of those who received that diagnosis, are struggling without that/those loved one(s), or are complexly lost in a found place.  Extend some grace to yourself and those around you.  And remember: the world won’t come to an end if you let yourself feel, but your world might if you don’t.

Unless you extend your heart, do away with expectations, and ask.

Unless you extend your heart, do away with expectations, and ask.

When you needed a neighbour, was I there?

There is a lot that happens around the world we cannot control. We cannot stop earthquakes, we cannot prevent droughts, and we cannot prevent all conflict, but when we know where the hungry, the homeless and the sick exist, then we can help.  – Jan Schakowsky

Below you will read bloomingspiders’ very first guest post. My friend, Lizzi, has started a campaign called Kick Cancer’s Ass and is writing in exchange for contributions to a very worthy cause (you can read all about it here). Either directly or indirectly, we have all been affected by Cancer, and I applaud Lizzi for using her platform and gifts to raise awareness and encourage donations. I will return in a couple of weeks, but until then…pull up some couch, wrap your hands around a warm mug of cider, and settle in (oh, and consider pledging your support,as well). Now, without further ado, I give you, Lizzi:

The Homeless bug me.

That they exist at all in Western society is ridiculous; and testament to any number of corruptions and imperfections and levels of greed and selfishness in The System. But equally, I suppose, there are groups and institutions in place to try to support them, and if (for whatever reason) these Homeless are unable or unwilling to access them and stay off the streets, then they’re going to remain an unsightly and unwelcome part of our society.

They’re going to be there in shop doorways with their mean-looking dogs and their grubby sleeping bags and their grimy unwashedness, asking for hand-outs or spare change.

And that bugs me.

It bugs me because each time I encounter a person like this, I get slammed headlong into a wall of my own judgement.

‘The Homeless’ – that sweeping category which brings to mind all the stereotypes I just mentioned, and depersonalises each member of that group to the point where we as a society (in large part) and I as an individual can walk past a person in the street, can hear them calling out their need to me, and can just be irritated that they’ve highlighted the disparity between our wealth statuses, and that I’m being silently damned by my lack of response.

It sucks.

There are things which I tell myself are good (enough) reasons to keep walking:

“I’m in a hurry today”

“I don’t have any ‘spare’ change”

“I am a lone woman – it might not be safe”

“What if they just spend it on drugs or alcohol?”

“What if they’re just scamming?”

“Other people have clearly given them something – they’ll be okay”

My reasons suck, and they leave me very convicted that I’m not yet evolved enough as a person to rest easy with my own conscience. There is work to be done in me, if I will engage in doing it, and I think I need to. I often say (or write) things like ‘together we’re stronger’ or ‘we all belong to each other’, and I profess to believe those things. I do believe them. I just need to stop acting like I don’t.

Because homelessness doesn’t stop someone being a person, and that’s the bit I sometimes often neglect to remember. I bring my judgey attitude instead and imagine all the awful things and use them as an excuse, if I don’t just let myself off the hook entirely with a ‘higher priority than stopping to help’ reason.

It’s not my place to judge, and it’s certainly not ‘letting myself off the hook’ to avoid acts of compassion. Yes, it’s important to remain safe, and I wouldn’t (as a lone woman) stop for someone if there was no-one else around, because that’s common sense – but the instances I’m talking about are in broad daylight in busy streets. I keep walking, and it does me no credit.

I recently saw a video which made me really angry. We were in church, and the vicar showed it to us as an example of how (as a society) we value status and appearance above people. In it, an actor dressed as a homeless man collapsed to the pavement, coughing, in the middle of a busy street. He then lay there, not moving. No-one rushed to help him. No-one even stopped to ask if he was okay. They just kept walking by, their eyes sliding over him and away again as they carried on with their days. The subtitles showed a time-stamp which moved onwards and onwards as people looked at him (if they bothered to notice him at all) and walked away.

Then the same man, this time dressed in a suit, as a businessman, was shown collapsing in the same manner, on the same street (on a different day, or at a different time) and people immediately started going over, and others stopped to check that he was receiving help before walking on.

I was angry at the attitude of people who would so readily allow their negative preconceptions to prevent them from reaching out to another human being in need. I was angry because their assumption that a homeless person lying flat on the floor calling for help was just ‘doing what homeless people do’, whereas a businessman clearly had no place lying on the floor. I was angry that the stereotypes we hold are so strong that they blind us to the plight of another human being – a precious soul with likes and dislikes and interests and family and pet-peeves and big problems and little niggles and a past and a future – and they allow us to completely, utterly ignore them when they need help.

I was angry at ‘Homelessness’.

And I was angry at myself, because I know, deep down, that I probably wouldn’t have stopped either.

Don’t get me wrong – I try to do my bit. I give to a local food bank; I sometimes buy food for a homeless person in preference to giving them cash; I buy the homeless magazine which gets published in England. But I still judge. I still look at a person in need and make a call on whether or not they’re deserving of my money or my time or my intervention, based on their appearance.

That’s not the ‘together we’re stronger’ I want to display – one with provisos and conditions.

That’s not the ‘we all belong to each other’ I want to buy into – one with exclusions and expectations.

That’s not the ‘love for your fellow human’ that I want to demonstrate.

When you are sick or hungry or lost or alone or imprisoned or hurting or just struggling, and you need a neighbour, I want to be able to say “Yes – I will be there.”

And it shouldn’t matter to me who ‘you’ are.

Lizzi

Lizzi is a Deep Thinker, Truth-Teller and seeker of Good Things. She’s also silly, irreverent and tries to write as beautifully as possible.

She’s living the life of Silver Linings and *twinklysparklygoodness* because two miscarriages and a subsequent diagnosis of spousal infertility will rather upset anyone’s applecart. She borrows other people’s children in the meantime.

At the moment, she’s trying to help kick cancer’s ass by ‘selling’ her writing in exchange for donations to your favourite cancer charity. Give her a hand, if you will, and get in touch if you want her to write for you.

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