Sunday, January 1, 2012


Let me begin my first post of the new year by declaring that this is happiness for me: a wet dog, bathed in the golden light of a late December sun, breaking through the surf and calling upon me to forget myself and return to the world of divine play.  This is where life takes place, she says, here in this moment, this tide, this light, this chance to fall in love with everything once again.  There is still an adventurous child in me—a small core that has not yet fallen prey to cynicism—and my wet dog understands this completely.

What is this thing we call "happiness," this elusive mental state that we wish for ourselves and one another on the first day of every year?  Most of us can say what happiness is not—and it's seldom what we imagined in our youth—but we still have great difficulty getting a fix on what it is.  We are in good company, of course, for the great poets and philosophers have always reminded us that happiness can never be easily defined.  It is unpredictable, elusive, fleeting in nature—and therein may lie its charm, for if one could find happiness and possess it at will, it would probably lose its essential quality of being happiness.  Perhaps Thoreau said it best:
Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.
While reading some new poetry anthologies during the past few days, I have come across three poems in which happiness has been discovered in unexpected places—which, as many of us have learned, is where it is usually found.  In So Much Happiness, Naomi Shihab Nye reminds us that "happiness floats," that it "doesn't need anything," and that virtually everything "could wake up filled with possibilities." In Orkney / This Life, Andrew Greig tells us that happiness can only be found in the present reality of this life.  "This is where I want to live," declares Greig, "close to where the heart gives out, ruined, perfected . . ."  Finally, in a poem titled Happiness, Raymond Carver recalls the unexpected pleasure of simply watching two paper delivery boys on their morning rounds, an experience that left him with a profound sense that happiness is a fleeting moment of such beauty that "death and ambition, even love," are irrelevant.

Read and enjoy!  There is no better gateway to the new year—or maybe even happiness—than poetry.

                                                    Naomi Shihab Nye

                      It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
                      With sadness there is something to rub against,
                      a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
                      When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to
                           pick up,
                      something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs
                           of change.

                      But happiness floats.
                      It doesn't need you to hold it down.
                      It doesn't need anything.
                      Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
                      and disappears when it wants to.
                      You are happy either way.
                      Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
                      and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
                      cannot make you unhappy.
                      Everything has a life of its own,
                      it too could wake up filled with possibilities
                      of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
                      and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
                      the soiled linens and scratched records . . .

                      Since there is no place large enough
                      to contain so much happiness,
                      you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
                      into everything you touch.  You are not responsible.
                      You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
                      for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
                      and in that way be known.

                                              ORKNEY / THIS LIFE
                                                      Andrew Greig

                             It is big sky and its changes,
                             the sea all round and the waters within.
                             It is the way sea and sky
                             work off each other constantly,
                             like people meeting in Alfred Street,
                             each face coming away with a hint
                             of the other's face pressed in it.
                             It is the way a week-long gale
                             ends and folk emerge to hear
                             a single bird cry way high up.

                             It is the way you lean to me
                             and the way I lean to you, as if
                             we are each other's prevailing;
                             how we connect along our shores,
                             the way we are tidal islands
                             joined for hours then inaccessible,
                             I'll go for that, and smile when I
                             pick sand off myself in the shower.
                             The way I am an island loch to you
                             when a clatter of white whoops and rises . . .

                             It is the way Scotland looks to the South,
                             the way we enter friends' houses
                             to leave what we came with, or flick
                             the kettle's switch and wait.
                             This is where I want to live,
                             close to where the heart gives out,
                             ruined, perfected, an empty arch against the sky
                             where birds fly through instead of prayers
                             while in Hoy Sound the ferry's engines thrum
                             this life this life this life.

                                                   Raymond Carver

                             So early it's still almost dark out.
                             I'm near the window with coffee, 
                             and the usual early morning stuff
                             that passes for thought.
                             When I see the boy and his friend
                             walking up the road
                             to deliver the newspaper.
                             They wear caps and sweaters,
                             and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
                             They are so happy
                              they aren't saying anything, these boys. 
                              I think if they could, they would take
                              each other's arm.
                              It's early in the morning, 
                              and they are doing this thing together.
                              They come on, slowly.
                              The sky is taking on light,
                              though the moon still hangs pale over the water.
                              Such beauty that for a minute
                              death and ambition, even love, 
                              doesn't enter into this.
                              Happiness.  It comes on
                              unexpectedly.  And goes beyond, really,
                              any early morning talk about it.

"Everything," says Naomi Shihab Nye, can "wake up filled with possibilities of coffee cake and ripe peaches, and love even the floor which needs to be swept . . . "  That would include both me and my wet dog, the Zen master, especially on this New Year's Day.  What a wonderful year it's going to be!

Happy New Year to Everyone!


  1. I like the simple approach. A positive vibe throughout. Happy New Year to you!

  2. Thanks for your comment, HERRINGBONE. May you feel those positive vibes through the new year!

  3. I like all three of these poets and poems, but this morning the Andrew Greig poem is particularly appealing, the thrum of the ferry's engines. I also find it interesting that I awoke this morning with a desire to sweep my kitchen floor. I think of a Rumi poem that contains that idea and a Bible passage as well. Sweeping out the old, of course, but also readying my life for the new.

    I love the blue doors against that faded white of the Provencal farmhouse you've included in the post. I've always been drawn to it on your sidebar, too. It's nice to see an enlarged version.

    I wish for you A New Year with Happiness floating all around.

  4. Your dog photo makes me very happy!
    The zen of the dog who finds such joy in the everyday.
    Wishing you a very happy , peaceful and healthy new year!

  5. Thanks for your lovely comments, TERESA. Glad you liked the poems, and good luck on your sweeping. You're right—sweeping the floor is an excellent metaphor for readying one's life for the new year. Thanks also for the nice comments about my photo of the Provencal farmhouse. It's one of my favorites.

  6. Thanks for your wonderful comments, ELIZABETH. My dog, Derry, makes many people very happy, and that is a daily joy for me. When I refer to her as my Zen master, I am not simply making a joke—she is a great teacher of how one should live mindfully in the present moment.

    May you also have a peaceful and joyous new year, Elizabeth.

  7. Wonderful poems, all keepers.

    I think that dogs do smile (I know my own do), and they teach us what a moment means.

    Wishing you the very best in this new year.

  8. These are tremendous poems. Yes, what a wonderful year it is going to be, George! I feel it, too. Divine play, divine joy, playing with abandon. Rilke said: Art is childhood. When else, but enveloped in childhood, can our imaginations run free? (Derry knows.)

    I agree that poetry is a superb gateway to the New Year. Ironically, it is difficult to write good poems about happiness, and while being happy! Or so it seemed to me and many others in my poetry circles for a long time. But since then I have come to realize that it is happiness itself that writes the poems, even in times of sadness. It is happiness that climbs up and claws out, sometimes through litter and annoyance and great inconvenience. Happiness finds a way through.

    Yes, this is where I want to live: this life. I thank you for your part in it, for this very post that echoes much of my own feeling today.

  9. And a very happy new year to you too George. You are absolutely right about happiness. I put content high on my list of things to be - that always seems to me to be the gateway to happiness.
    And when I think of other places in the world, we have no right to expect happiness - and if it does come then we should grasp it with both hands while we can.

  10. A good strong wind, rain and colder temps are blowing in here today...seems appropriate to Nature celebrating the New Year.

    Wishing you great experiences in 2012!

  11. Thanks for your lovely comments, MAUREEN. There's no doubt about it—dogs do smile, and more importantly, they keep us smiling! A very Happy New Year to you and your family.

  12. Thanks, RUTH, and I'm delighted that you like the poems. It's always a special delight to find a well-written poem about happiness, and I can well see how such poems could be perplexing and challenging for most poets, especially happy poets. I find great happiness, however, in many of your poems, even when they are not aimed directly at happiness. Things always fall apart when happiness becomes a target. If happiness is to be discovered, it will always be the by-product of something else that has commanded our attention. As Thoreau says, turn your attention elsewhere, and the butterfly of happiness will sit softly on your shoulder.

    Yes, let us choose to live here in this life—this life! To pick up on your wonderful posting today on "Sparks and Mirrors," whether it is your life, my life, or someone else's life, we are all part of a symphony in which every life interacts magically with all other lives, and, therefore, each life is critical to the welfare of the whole family of man.

    Happy New Year, Ruth. Let the music play on—yours, mine, everyone's!

  13. What a wonderful photo of your Zen Master - she looks so happy and full of life. Happiness is indeed one of those things that comes often when you aren't expecting it and those moments are worth storing in your memory to help in the times when life isn't going too smoothly. I hope that 2012 will be filled with many moments of happiness for you.

  14. Thanks for your lovely comments, PAT, and Happy New Year to you. Like you, I often think of how blessed I am in comparison to more than half the world's population. To be content with what one has been given, and to feel gratitude daily for one's blessings—that, for me, keeps happiness within close reach.

  15. Thank you so much, WANDA, for your kind comments. Stay warm and step into the New Year with my very best wishes. We are blessed to have what we have, and twice-blessed to have each other.

  16. I thank you, ROWAN, and more importantly, the Zen Master extends her thanks. She is indeed happy and full of life, all of which insures that my wife and I are happy as well. Thanks for the good wishes for 2012. Come rain or come shine, we are going to make this a good year! May you and your family, including Bilbo Baggins, prosper as well.

  17. Your enthusiasm for life and the happiness it can bring is infectious George. Feeling a little weary from all the holiday celebrations, this post is exactly what I need today. This post, this gift, this exchange, this blog, this now, this yes to life. Amazing how my yes to life always feels a little more solid after visiting you here.

    Thank you.

    May this year be filled with meaning and many moments of joy, George.

  18. Thank you so much, BONNIE, for your very kind and supportive comments. I am sincerely delighted that you found words in this posting that lifted your spirits.

    I, too, am a bit weary from all of the holiday visits and celebrations. Solitude and reflection are often the first casualties during these periods, and that usually spells trouble for a person of my temperament. We are safe now, however, and we can return to the quiet places in which our spirits are nourished and our hearts made wiser (hopefully). Deep in my heart, I feel that all is well and all will be well, even if we don't quite understand it from day to day.

    Be well, my friend, and have a very Happy New Year. Don't accept anything less!

  19. A fine and appropriate post to start the year. As my tardiness to comment indicates, between the necessities and allegiance to the holiday itself, and making the rounds, time to reflect and ponder have seemed in short supply.

    I've long thought happiness was generally misunderstood—far more a moment than a place. Happiness is always fleeting and often unexpected, and generally a reaction to the external. To me, it is not a synonym for joy. I see happiness as a mood, while joy more a state of being, a force within…and I think it's possible to be sad (another mood, the antonym of happy) while keeping your joy. If I had to choose, I'd pick joy—though it's a relief that no such choice must be made; I can steer by the stars amid joy and delight in happiness wherever and whenever it occurs.

    One thing I do know is that anything and everything good in this life is found when you live in the here and now. Life is to be lived face to face in the moment, with nothing in between, neither memory nor hope, past or future; it isn't lived by dreaming, but by doing.

    Poetry always helps…

    May the new year bless you with much happiness and a full measure of joy, and may the adventurous child in you regularly know the pleasure of divine play.

  20. Thanks, GRIZZ, for your thoughtful and insightful comments. I couldn't agree with you more—happiness is generally misunderstood, and it usually appears when and where it is least expected. I also agree that joy is quite different than happiness. For me, joy is less fleeting that happiness. It's foundational, a conviction of grace and gratitude that can withstand shifts in fortune. One can feel joy during the midst of turmoil—something akin to the quiet floor of an ocean whose surface has become a tempest.

    Thanks for your good wishes for the coming year. Rest assured that I will respond to the call of divine play. To be honest, my dog won't have it any other way!

  21. Hello George, I see you've been posting while I've been "sleeping." I love the idea of happiness flowing out of you into everything you touch - like a stream of magical (healing) feeling. I wish you many good things in 2012, George, and I hope you'll photograph and share all of them with us! Happy New Year to you, your Zen Master, and your Family!

  22. Thanks, BARB. From your own postings, I know that you are familiar with the happiness of which I speak—the "magical (healing) feeling" that can emerge unexpectedly from simple things and simple pleasures. Thanks for your good wishes, and rest assured that Zen master and I will be sharing our experiences in 2012. Happy New Year!

  23. All I know about happiness is that it comes and goes when it will, where it will. If I try to grasp it, even just become aware of it, tell myself how happy this particular moment is, it's gone, it's soiled, it's laughing at my puny efforts to contain it.

    Perhaps your beautiful dog (and mine) are 'happy' because they never question it, are never 'aware' of it, they just are.

    The poems quoted here are wonderful, do you think the poets are 'happy' during the process of writing? Writing is work, happy work for sure, but concentrated work, each word chosen with care. The dog doesn't even think about where to put its feet.

    If I ask for anything from a new year it is to learn to just be, in the moment, unquestioning, undemanding, accepting, fully alive.

    Happy New Year to you, George, whatever that means to you, may it come true.

  24. Thanks for your very thoughtful comments, FRIKO. They add so much to this post.

    I agree with you. Happiness comes and departs according to its own schedule, and we can never contain it. And, yes, our dogs are perhaps happier than we are because they are content to be in the moment without trying desperately to possess what is beyond possession.

    Yes, I think poets can be happy during the process of writing. Personally, I believe that none of us would choose to engage in creativity if it did not reward us a some deep level, even when the process is hard and the possibility of failure is our sidekick.

    Thanks for the good wishes. My best to you as well in the new year. I think your prescription for yourself—being "in the moment, unquestioning,undemanding, accepting, fully alive"—would work very well for any of us. As we all know, however, everything is in the implementation, but I plan to give it my best shot.

  25. Raymond Carver: eloquence and simplicity. Very nice.


  26. Thanks for your comments, PEARL. Nice to have you drop by, and I hope you will make a return visit. Happy New Year!

  27. What a joy to find your interesting blog and beautiful New year's Day post.I look forward to following in 2012.

    Happy New Year!

  28. Hi, FOREST DREAM WEAVER! Thanks for your kind comments, and thanks for dropping by. Hope you will make a return visit, and I plan to check out your own blog later today. Happy New Year to you as well!

  29. Hello, I came over from Theresa E. blog and what a lovely first post to read from you...that photo is amazing! Looking forward to reading your past and future posts

  30. Thanks for dropping by, AFCG. I'm delighted that you liked the site and photos, and I hope you will visit again soon. Happy new year!

  31. Great article and love your dog. Your blog has been recommended by Barb, so I have added you to me blogrol.


  32. Thanks for your lovely comments, FILIP! Glad you love this article and especially my dog, Derry. Please drop by again. You are most welcome to become part of the conversation that takes place on this site. Happy new year to you!