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Happiness is the Road We Walk

We sometimes conceptualize happiness as a place we will arrive - someday.   A place we are headed like a point on a map on summer vacation.   Yet we all know in our heart of hearts that life does not work that way.

When I think of what happiness is,  I think of one my earliest memories - the kitchen in the old farmhouse where I lived until I was 5.  I think of a special light, of a sweet fragrance and of my mom’s bright smile.  I think of the gift my mother gave to me the morning she shared with me her love of lilacs.   And I think about how that experience helped me begin to understand that happiness is about connecting with the flow of life – about entering into a world beyond our ordinary experience of time and space.  

We left out the front door and headed into the woods along the road.  In one hand mom carried a basket with some scissors inside.  As we made our way toward the stream that flowed passed the moss-covered rocks and skunk cabbage, mom said, “There they are!”  I could hear the excitement in her voice.  The  lilac bushes stood high above the stream on a little hill that rose up toward the road above.  I was surprised at how tall the bushes were.  We both looked up in awe at the large beautiful blooms high at the top – exuberant splashes of purple against the canvas of blue sky and treetops.

Back at home mom filled a glass vase with water placed the lilacs inside it on the old wooden kitchen table.  She stood back, raised her hands and with a big smile, she said “Now that will brighten the kitchen for a while”!   I was sitting near the old iron stove.  From the far side of the kitchen the sun shone through the window.  The rays illuminated the vase, the table and mother standing next to them.  Everything in the kitchen was bathed in light and the sweetness of the lilacs filled the whole room.  That moment in the kitchen, when I was not more than 5 years old, would forever imprinted upon my soul. The story of my mother and the lilacs was what I call a “soul moment” in my life.  Soul moments can be any experiences that are meaningful and memorable to us in a positive way.  This moment with my mother left a lasting impression on me because it was an experience shared between just mom and me.  It brought me in touch with nature in a direct and organic way.  And it occurred on a stunningly beautiful May morning that somehow I can still see today even though I was only 5  when it happened. Perhaps most importantly,  it became important to me because my mother shared with me something deeply meaningful to her.

Our fondest childhood memories are likely to be centered around special times we have spent with family.  We remember those times because they have touched our soul in some way.  Those are the feelings that form the fabric of who we are and that sustain us in the face of negative experiences later in life.  Often, we can remember minute details of those occasions, such as the color of the sunset, the weather that day, the time of year, the precise location, the fragrance in the air, etc.  These experiences make an indelible imprint upon us.  It is these soul-nourishing experiences that we want our children to have too, because we know how important they were for us. How might we improve the quality of time we spend with our children and allow more soul moments to happen for them?  The answer to that question depends on choices that we as caregivers make.  A certain amount of time spent with our children will inevitably be focused on necessary life tasks such as meals, homework, bedtime, chores etc. Another chunk of time goes to soccer, karate, piano lessons, ballet or whatever extra-curricular activities our children may participate in.  That leaves precious little time in a busy week for finding quality “other” time.  Yet with intentional focus,  we can seek opportunities for soul moments with our children.  And sometimes they can occur even in the midst of the most mundane everyday activities.

To create the “psychic space” for soul moments to occur, the first step is to be committed ourselves to the experience.  The phrase “Just Do It!” comes to mind.  Making a pledge to ourselves that this is important can be a huge step in the direction we want to go.  The second step is to turn off - and tune out - the computer, cell phone and television, and leave behind the to do list and the homework.  Our tools, toys and tasks often keep us occupied at a surface level; letting them go is needed to become more reflective and to allow deeper and more inward experiences to emerge. There are myriad activities that lend themselves to deeper connection:  Walking in the woods, sitting by a stream, building a model airplane, working in the garden, cooking a meal, listening to a great piece of music, having family reading time - all provide potential opportunities for our children to get connected not only with us but with their own inner world; the world of their thoughts, feelings and dreams.  Seeking out and experiencing soul moments with our children is rewarding for all of us.  It results in a feeling of connection with our children,  which in turn gives them a sense of security and a feeling of centeredness.

Ultimately these inner experiences lay the foundation for our children's sense of identity and character.  They learn to value the intangible “little things” in life – the insights, thrills of discovery, and simple and organic delights which playing on the computer or buying some new stuff at the shopping mall likely will not provide.  For soul moments are experiences that are not dependent on outside things.  They take us out of our normal time and space.  And they occur when we are fully present to the activity we are engaged in.

Happiness is the road we walk with our children.  They are our fellow travelers.  If we closely observe what makes them truly happy (as opposed to simply occupied ) and if we strive to give them what they need (as opposed to what they might say they want), we can learn valuable lessons about life and important clues about how to spend our precious time with them.   For our children as for us, soul moments are experiences that foster connection – with ourselves, with each other and with the life itself.  The more time we spend building sand castles with our children, the more their lives will have a sturdy emotional and spiritual footing.

Practice One Making a Tradition Choose something you love passionately and invite your child to join you in that activity.  Make it a special occasion; something not scrunched between other activities or commitments.  It could be anything – gardening, cross country skiing, fishing, birding, kayaking, dancing, writing, painting – anything that is meaningful to you that provided, and provides, soul moments in your life.   The goal is not necessarily to make your child love the activity as much as you do.  Rather,  it is for your child to experience your passion; to see and feel you engaged in something you really love and to share that experience with you.  Perhaps doing this activity together will become a tradition – something you repeat over time and you will look forward to.  Or maybe it won’t, but your child will have seen you in a new way, out of the day to day mode and engaged with life at a deeper level.  And that in itself will be a life lesson.

Practice Two -  Observing Your Child   Take a journal with you and observe your child doing one of his / her favorite activities.  The activity does not matter.  Your child could be building blocks in the living room, chasing butterflies in the back yard, playing in the sandbox,  doing a music lesson or playing in a baseball game.  Be still and quiet.  Write down your thoughts – or sketch what you see.  Be in the moment.  Maria Montessori based her entire methodology of teaching on the observation of children.  She often described how her observations “revealed the hidden secrets of the child’s development.” Mindfully watching our children can help us gain new insights about them, and can often lead us to realizations about ourselves.


My mother opened a doorway for me into something she loved and the experience of the connection we felt would never fade.   In this way,  I learned that one moment in time, like a stone dropped in a still pool, can have ripples that extend through a lifetime.  Ever since that time, whenever I pass lilacs I try to stop and get close to them.  When I breathe their fragrance,  I am filled with joy and I go back to that day when mom and I first picked them.  Regardless of how busy or stressed I am, I pause and I am filled with a wonderful memory and a little burst of sweetness.  It is a reminder to me that just below the surface of everyday life there are ripples still flowing from experiences in the past.