Happiness…if…

3 10 2007

By Derek Beres

I have the fortune of riding subways many times during the day. While that might sound unappealing to some, it offers me the opportunity to read quite a bit, and stumble into those midday experiences that rush hour commuters miss. I enjoy these moments greatly.

Since the trains and subway platforms are emptier than usual, I’m an easy target for salesmen and women of many persuasions: cell phones, new restaurants, bibles and simple handouts. Some days I just want to read and get to my destination, while on others I feel more playful. yesterday I was feeling playful.

I was approached by two teenage boys dressed in the full garb of Orthodox Judaism. I’ve been approached by others before, so I expected the question: “Excuse me, are you Jewish?”

“Sometimes.”

They fell silent, staring intensely at my tattoos. Tthe taller one spoke next. “What do you mean, sometimes?”

“Sometimes I am, others times it doesn’t work.”

The shorter one pulled a newsletter from his bag and handed it to me. He told me it was for when I was feeling Jewish. Having been raised of no religious persuasion whatsoever, I find them all beneficial at times, but have no problem being critical of any of them when need be. What the boy said next surprised me: “Essentially, what this holiday is about is being happy. If you are just happy, that’s enough.”

I told him I was always happy, which is true. Even when I’m not, I am. Call me optimistic about life. Even in the saddest, most desparate situations, I always choose the experience of living a full, rich and varied life rather than anything else. That isn’t necessarily “natural.” It’s a discipline, and takes work. It is a certain psychology that I’ve practiced for years. It works for me, and keeps me happy.

I smiled at the boy as he walked away, but was left to wonder: Why did he have to preface the idea of being happy with my being of a certain faith? Would not telling me that it was a day to celebrate happiness be enough and, in fact, be closer to the reality of happiness? The term religion, like the term yoga (which is my “real” practice), come from the same root idea: to bind. If your religion is bringing you together with things (or, as they used to like to say, yoking), it’s working. But if it’s being used to divide things – read: it is a day about being happy, but only if… – then it’s time to either look for another religion, or change your psychology regarding the one that you have. When it can act as an agent for binding regardless of the “only if,” then the practice matches the idea. then happiness can come.

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