jane hirshfield

‘Ever Since Happiness Heard Your Name, It Has Been Running Through The Streets Trying To Find You’ – Hafez

From positive psychology, to human flourishing, freedom, success, happiness – natural orhappy-2 synthetic – there’s no room for negative nellies on today’s show, oh no! (Well maybe a few but only for reference). Thomas Jefferson gave us the universal right to pursue it; 40% of it is determined by what we do all day; scientists have an index for it; and the UN have dedicated a whole day to it – yes, 20th March is now International Happiness Day, where we recognise the relevance of HAPPINESS as a universal goal. Actually that index I was talking about is the Happiness index and it measures how successful we are at creating happy and healthy lives for our citizens based on the resources we put in. The happiest nation on the planet is not Denmark, despite what they tell you, it’s actually Costa Rica! Amazing place – in 1949 they abolished the army and invested in health and education; they have the highest literacy rate in Latin America; 99% of their electricity comes from renewable resources and they were the first government to commit to being carbon neutral by 2021! I like the way the Greeks view happiness, they see is as living your life in a full and deeply satisfying way. They have word for it – Eudaimonia, which means human flourishing – making happiness an activity rather than a state. So I put it to the poets and they came back with a few pointers. Rumi gives us the secret to happiness, Jane Hirshfield accepts that it comes and goes, Naomi Shihab Nye floats away with it when it does come and AE Stallings doesn’t do herself any favours by being afraid of it. Musically, Jimmy Durante, Hoagy Carmichael and Saint Motel will be keeping us in high spirits, so turn that frown upside down now as we take a balanced look at the highs and lows of happiness.

 
The psychologist Martin Seligman, asserts that humans seem happiest when they have each of these five things. Pleasure, I’m guessing hot-baths, nice food; engagement, like a task or hobby we can lose ourselves in; meaning in our lives; accomplishments or achievements and relationships, so strong social connections or someone to confide in. Now there are pro’s and con’s to married life, it can affect your personal freedom, having to make compromises, dealing with somebody else’s family as well as your own, but there’s no denying the paired life makes some things so much easier.  Sharing good-times, bearing half the weight of a problem, forming deep bonds and having someone to bear witness to your life, someone that can confirm that you have passed through here, also the word on the street is that couples who stay together live longer, healthier, happier lives in general. But it’s hard work. So what is the secret to a happy marriage. Well, we only have to skip back about 800 years through history for this gem of a poem from the popular Sufi mystic and poet Jalal Ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, he was a Persian scholar and we in the West have been enthralled by his wisdom since his works were first translated in the early part of the nineteenth century. On the show he tells us what the secret to a happy marriage is, and it only takes an hour a day.

Also on the show, American poet William Stanley Merwin.  He wrote a collection of poetry happy-1in 2016 called Garden Time. The title itself suggests patience and he looks back over his life reflecting on loss and love, memory and time. And in this poem the Laughing Child, Merwin recalls something his mother told him, that when he was a baby lying in his pram beneath the kitchen window, she noticed that the pram was shaking and when she looked inside she saw that he was laughing, giggling to himself and laughing. And this simple occurrence sustained his mother then and throughout her life, as she tried to come to terms with the stillbirth of Merwin’s brother Hanson. Even the shape of this lyric poem on the page, the lack of punctuation kind of makes it almost float like a memory and it’s so unrestrained in its expression. And Merwin is a happy guy, heading into his nineties now, with two Pulitzer prizes and numerous awards to his name. He was a happy child too, in an interview I read, he said that his sister remembered that as a child, he just delighted in everything. So maybe the scientists are right when they reason that 50% of our happiness is determined by our genes. The rest, 10% on life circumstances and 40% on our daily activities, if true, then what we spend our days doing really determines how happy we’re going to be.  We have an amount of control over it and this is good because we know then that by putting time into building relationships, practising kindness, giving thanks and paying attention to each moment can all contribute to us feeling better about ourselves and laying the ground-work for future happiness.

 
be-positiveContrary to what you might think Cheraphobia is not a fear of the American singer and actress, but a fear of being happy. Aversion to happiness is more prevalent in non-western cultures, where the pursuit of happiness is seen almost as immoral, they believe that being happy will trigger a disaster or calamity. In the west we’re mostly interested in maximising our happiness but some people do have this irrational fear of being happy, often born out of a distorted perception of past experiences where they remember being really jubilant about something when almost immediately something negative or disappointing happened to spoil it. So with the threat of misfortune hanging over their heads they’d rather avoid happiness altogether. Now I don’t take to kindly to small spaces and we are all of us, afraid of something, heights, water, spiders, flying, flying spiders! In Fear Of Happiness, for American poet and translator AE Stallings it’s a glass-floored elevator, high-dive at the pool, ferris-wheels, the merest thought of airplanes. She takes the fear of heights as a starting point from which to analyse the risks involved in full immersion in life, that maybe what we really fear is fear itself, like she says it’s not the falling, but that the ledge invents the leap.  It’s a poem about failure avoidance, instability, in ourselves and our beliefs and that you don’t get the rewards without first taking the risks. It’s like the Sufi philosophy of being taught lessons through opposites – no pleasure without pain, no joy without sorrow and vice versa – or like Jane Hirshfield says, you were happy you were sad then happy again, so that we are turned from one feeling to another so that we have two wings to fly, not one!

One sure fire way to catapult yourself into instant happiness is to make someone else happy-3happy. Conversely one sure fire way to sadness is waiting for someone else to make you happy. That’ll be for another day. But like Naomi just told us, happiness can come floating in from anywhere, you’ve just got to open your eyes to it. It might be watching a robin pick crumbs from a wooden bench in your garden, or horses breathing in the cold dawn of a winter morning or your husbands eyebrows twitching across the table from you as you sip your coffee! Alberto Rios is a Mexican/American surrealist writer who grew up in the border town of Nogales, Arizona, in fact he became the states first poet laureate in 2013. The character in his poem Teodora Luna’s Two Kisses, uses his eyebrows in the most endearing way as he tries to cheer his wife. As I read I had an image of comedian Groucho Marx in my head. He would lift his eyebrows …. Across tables, through doorways, sometimes in photographs …. This was his passion, he says. The tone is so magical and engaging and it’s about selflessness, generosity and love, actually someone said that, I don’t remember who, that love is when the happiness of another is essential to your own. It’s about nurturing our relationships and putting others before ourselves. It’s an adorable poem and reminds me of something that wise old sage Winnie The Pooh once said Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon.  Listen here.

So that’s HAPPINESS for you. At the top of the show I was talking about happiness being an activity rather than a condition and in those terms it means that it’s possible to cultivate happiness by learning some happiness skills. With a bit of research I found of list of activities we can do everyday to help increase our happiness levels 🙂 The top five:

Savour – to linger longer in the pleasurable experiences of our lives

Thank – you know, what we take for granted, somebody else is praying for so be grateful for what we have

Aspire – be optimistic and create meaning or a sense of purpose in our lives

Give – when we give, especially of ourselves, we increase our own wellbeing

Empathise – care for others, be compassionate – like the Roman philosopher Seneca said Where-ever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.

Also on the show: It’s like this:You were happy by Jane Hirshfield, So Much Happiness by Naomi Shihab Nye along with music from Jimmy Durante, Nouvelle Vague, Joni Mitchell, Saint Motel and more.

A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a person need to be happy?
Einstein

 

 

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The Mountains Are Calling And I Must Go!

Today is natureall about the natural world around us, from caterpillars to columnar tree shapes, bird-bills to blizzards and snapping turtles to tornadoes; Nature’s got it all going on, it’s wondrous, it is us and it’s a recurring theme in poetry. ‘First follow nature’ Alexander Pope remarked in his Essay on Criticism; ’Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself?’ asks Henry Thoreau in his part-personal book Walden about simple living.
Poets and writers are akin to spies when it comes to observing Nature, and have always drawn on her beauty, landscapes and seasons, through metaphor – to better understand ourselves and our behaviour, or to convey deep metaphysical messages and stark ecological ones, or simply to celebrate life’s 3 and a half billion years of existence!
To help us, Gary Snyder gets ecological with his observations by Frazier Creek Falls,  a meditation really on the natural world, similar to the Japanese Haiku tradition, which reduces the world to a kernel of acute observation. And as I read this, I found it to be one of those poems that demand absolute stillness, in keeping with the geology and pyramidal pines of the scene he’s describing. He creates a stunning picture of what he sees from the falls and explores the idea that we are linked to everything around us, man and nature are one ‘we are it, it sings through us’ he says. We are interconnected. And if we took the time to really consider this concept, then we could reach a more ecologically sound understanding of what it means to grow and develop as a species. If we stopped trying to control nature and began instead to work with her, life would be far less complicated.  A Zen Buddhist, who lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, skins his own bullfrogs and spends nights reading the constellations, Gary Snyder is a poet entrenched in the nature!

Jane Hirshfield’s Zen Buddhist training taught her two things: silence and the desire to call forward a complete attention. – Inhabiting her own experience I guess. Recalling Mary Oliver’s attention to detail and Gary Snyder’s meditations, Hirshfield finds a deeper understanding of herself in her interactions with nature. Her poem, Three Foxes By the Edge Of A Field At Twilight, reflects on how much in nature is hidden from us and what in turn we keep hidden from each other. The foxes are visible until she tries to approach, then the woods suddenly take them back. She continues walking with an acquaintance from whom she holds back some of herself. Perhaps the foxes represent the thoughts she can‘t verbalise, the ones that return to the heart, revealing something to herself and to us: that in our desire to be closer to nature we come to realise that we are closer to ourselves than we know. That old Lao Tzu proverb comes to mind ‘he who knows, does not speak. He who speaks does not know.’  The poem is from her Selected Poetry volume Each Happiness Ringed By Lions.

‘Are you bowed down in heart?’ Asks James Weldon Johnson in his poem Deep In The Quiet Wood, ‘Do you but hear the clashing discords and the din of life? Then come away, come to the peaceful wood, here bathe your soul in silence.’ Those lines are beautiful aren’t they? And they jumped out at me, reminding me of places I often go to escape, the traffic, bustling streets and … disruptive neighbours. My favourite place to recharge, is at the grounds of Ashford Castle in the village of Cong, Co. Mayo.  It’s a wonderful amenity with tranquil woods of varieties of broad-leaf, evergreen and native trees, it’s on the shores of Lough Corrib with it’s meditative crystal clear waters and there’s a school of falconry there also so if you’re lucky enough to arrive during a hawk-walk, you’ll be captivated by these amazing creatures soaring and diving, their bells jingling through the trees. American poet Wendell Berry also espouses the view that we can find solace in nature, that the spirit of the natural world can restore the human spirit. ’When despair grows in me‘, he says ’I come into the peace of wild things’ , there is somewhere we can go to relieve the anxieties of our lives, but you know sometimes even reading this poem I find myself transported and automatically relaxed. From the 1968 collection Openings, we’ll read The Peace Of Wild Things.

There’s a lot to be gained through communing with the natural world, and I suppose we shouldn’t have to try we are a part of it, we are stardust after all. This world is the house we live in, packed full of creatures and plants and natural wonders and our over-exploitation of it is unfortunate, every habitat we destroy today results in the loss of a species tomorrow – we all know this – primates, tropical orchids, numerous species of birds and fish are all at risk. But more worryingly, because they thrive on human activity, things like cockroaches and rats are the only species unaffected! So think on China & America!  All we can do is look after our own patch, make a home for nature isn’t that the tag-line?

Also on today’s show, I read Lingering Happiness by Mary Oliver, Putting In The Seed by Robert Frost and Summer Farm by Scottish poet Norman MacCaig.  Music from Ludovico Einaudi, Nils Frahm, Message To Bears, Yaruma and much more!