“Constant pleasure isn’t pleasurable.” -Baal Shem Tov
Too often I hear people say: “If I could only go back to my childhood/college/high school, I could have done things differently. I would have made different choices. I would have appreciated all the possibilities I had. I wouldn’t have been in such a rush to grow up”. That’s a vicious cycle because ten years from now you’ll wish you had spent your time, energy, and thoughts in the present. Those in their thirties may idealize their teenage years, those in their fifties may fixate on their thirties, and so on and so forth. But the danger of focusing too much on the past or future instead of the present is that it allows us to not take responsibility for where we are in life today because we’re never living in this day.
It’s gratifying to look back upon the great things you have achieved or the adventures and experiences you have had. However, most of the time that we spend examining our pasts is not focused on the great things, but rather on the victim stories of something dreadful that was done to us or something we’ve done to somebody else. It’s usually a story of regret that we are burdened with. Very often the process of looking back creates negative feelings, especially if we have not grown or come to peace with our past experiences.
Erasing our past or wishing to do so would require erasing all the good things that happened as well. Luckily, the technology of forgetting our past does not exist. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (a movie about lovers who have their memories of each other erased) is a cautionary tale. If we don’t learn the lessons of our past, we are destined to repeat them in the future. We repeat them because we didn’t grow from them.
In the initial months after my son was diagnosed with Down Syndrome, I went through several different stages of grief, and ultimately acceptance. For a while, I felt really worried about life in general, about how anything can happen at any moment. I finally got to the place where I didn’t believe that it was a punishment. I didn’t believe that I deserved something bad. I saw him as a blessing and as a gift. Therefore, my reality followed that idea, that thought. If I had perceived it as a judgment or as something I deserved, or bought into the belief that “I’m bad and this is what happens to bad people”, I wouldn’t be where I am today. It was a very painful chapter in my life, but I would never seek to erase those memories (not that I could even if I wanted to!). Forgetting my experiences would mean losing all the profound blessings that came with them.
Every experience molds and shapes us. We can’t pick and choose and say, “I only want the happy things that happened in my life,” and erase all the other pain. Most people base their happiness on what happens, on situations and experiences — all things that are external and beyond our control. But what happens to us is the most unstable thing in the world, because it constantly changes. We look upon the present moment as either marred by something that has happened but we think shouldn’t have, or deficient because of something that has not happened but we think should have.
Our emotions arise spontaneously and in response to events; for the most part, our emotions are involuntary. For example, let’s say a person walks into a doctor’s office, and it’s a beautiful day outside, everything is going pretty much the way he wants, and he’s happy. The doctor comes in and says, “I have bad news. Your test results are back and you have a terminal illness.” So what happens? The patient is distraught, hysterical and crying. Imagine that the doctor calls back a few hours later and says, “Oops, I’m sorry, I made a mistake. You’re perfectly healthy.” The patient is understandably relieved and elated. It’s an involuntary reaction. Throughout that whole story, nothing had actually changed. The patient’s health status was the same from the beginning to the end, yet the patient’s happiness level fluctuated wildly. If only we could accept the present moment and see the perfection in it, no matter what is happening. The key to alleviate this cycle is to remember that although it may feel like it, no emotion lasts forever. Although, I’m not recommending that you tell that to somebody who’s having a panic attack in an elevator (that does feel like forever!).
The theme of happiness figures largely into the energy of the month of Pisces. It’s the Hebrew month of Adar, the twelfth and last month of the lunar calendar falling under the zodiac sign of Pisces, which is considered the month to stabilize the year ahead. Kabbalists teach that it is our job to draw down joy and happiness from the Supernal world, which offers an ever-flowing wellspring of joy, not only for the four weeks under Pisces, but the entire year.
The energy of Pisces is available to us to increase and expand our happiness, and if we spend our time in the present, we create happiness not only for ourselves, but for all those we love and cherish. Rav Brandwein explains that the moment we can know and live with the consciousness that true happiness is a gift from the Creator, and that that gift comes by way of changing ourselves, is the moment when we can maintain that level of joy in our lives no matter how difficult the situation. Every situation is, in fact, an opportunity to change, and therefore find everlasting joy and fulfillment.
THOUGHT INTO ACTION
This is the time to really take responsibility for our happiness and make the best out of what is to come – to plant our seeds and have a vision of what we want to manifest for this month and this year.