The 20 students, aged 11 to 82, dressed casually to beat the heat in shorts and summer dresses, jeans and T-shirts, sat in a U-shape around the teacher, who wore white linen and sat cross-legged in a rose-colored armchair in the front of the room.
The room was grand, with 15-foot-high ceilings, carved wood pocket doors on one end and french doors on the other, pier mirrors and elegant chandeliers.
Young and handsome, the Indian teacher with thick dark hair, caramel skin and black eyes led the devotees through meditations, exercises and instructions, all designed to help those gathered in the room to live happier, more peaceful lives, to feel more free. The energy in the room was high, spirits buoyant.
Nithya Shanti had traveled from Pune, India, and was teaching one of only two workshops offered in the U.S. this year. A former forest meditation monk, he teaches principles of how to live with more peace, happiness and joy.
The Joyshops could be called “Happy No Matter What” because the basic idea is that happiness is a choice, and that we get to decide the level of happiness we will have in our own lives.
Nithya Shanti is my teacher and friend, and this is the third time I’ve brought him to Troy to teach. I know that in my own life, the levels of happiness, peace and joy are always increasing, and I have an immense amount of gratitude to Nithya for all that he has taught me about how to choose happiness, and how to be free.
The Happiest Day of Your Life
The day had started with a mantra and affirmation. “Today is the happiest day of my life,” Nithya Shanti asked the gathered students to say aloud after our meditation time together. “Because I choose to make it the happiest day of my life.”
“Today is really the happiest day of my life,” he continued, and the students repeated it, some giggling. “It is truly a happy day.”
“Every day can be the happiest day of my life, when I choose to make it the happiest day of my life,” he continued.
“And so it is, and so it is, and so it is,” he said at last in a lilting Indian accent, the “it” and “is” becoming “it ’tis.” The students repeated along, and by now everyone was beaming.
Such a simple exercise, really, just to decide to make today a happy day, and yet it is one that is profound when creating a happy life.
Happiness Can Seem So Elusive!
We are taught, especially in Western society, that happiness is dependent upon outer circumstances and/or achievements. So, we will be happy once we land the job, get the promotion, find the beautiful spouse, marry her, have children, take a vacation, buy a bigger house, or whatever it is our current goal is at the moment.
Happiness is like a carrot leading us on. “I’ll be happy when, I’ll be happy when, I’ll be happy when (fill in the blanks).”
Nithya teaches that really the only time to choose happiness is NOW, and that the only true moment of our lives is now. The past is over, and the future is uncertain. The only time we can choose to live our lives fully, with great love, and to choose happiness actually is right now.
It can seem like a radical idea when we are also taught by society to look for what is wrong with our lives, what is “broken,” what needs to be fixed. Maybe once we finally lose those last 20 pounds, fix that relationships that feels wrong to us, drop the habits we don’t like, and finally master our days and lives, we’ll be happy.
Nithya’s teachings are more radical. What if we knew, he asked, that this would be the last day of our lives? Actually, none of us do ever really know what day will be the last day of our lives of in the lives of those we love.
“If you knew it would be the last day of your life,” he asks, “wouldn’t you choose to spend it in love, not in judgments?”
Learning to Befriend The Inner Critic
That includes judgments about ourselves. Most of us have some inner voices that like to tell us that we’re not good enough, not yet rich, thin, successful, pretty, or witty enough, that we aren’t quite “there yet” and there are others out there who are most assuredly better than us.
What if life isn’t a comparison game? What if we really are “perfect as we are” already, not broken, just here to learn and grow on the journey? What if we were given these bodies and minds, these challenges and learning experiences, these unique talents and gifts, all as part of our own journey and contributions on the path?
What if we could be grateful for our challenges, embrace our own “imperfections” as something that makes us unique, and let go of the idea that we are “broken” or that there is something terribly wrong with us or our lives?
What then? Maybe, just maybe, do you think we could be… *gasp*… happy?
Letting Go Of The Idea That Anything Else Is Required
What if we just decided, in this moment, to love ourselves and our lives, as they are, knowing that everything in life is constantly evolving, including us, and that we can always continue to improve and grow. What if we let go of the idea that anything is wrong right now, knowing that life presents challenges to all of us for our growth, and just decided to love ourselves exactly as we are?
Nithya teaches that “Everything is perfect, and it can also be joyfully improved.” This was one of the most life-saving, amazing teachings for me, a recovering perfectionist, when I first started working with Nithya last year.
What if I really am exactly where I am meant to be on my path, and simply need to keep moving forward with love from here? What if all the moments of my life have aligned to bring me precisely where I need to be?
This breath-takingly simple idea helped drop me into a state of great peace, and freed me to live with a lot more joy, when I first started working with Nithya.
I’d spent, oh pretty much my whole life up until that point, tortured by the idea that there was something “great” I was supposed to be doing with my life to save the planet and humanity. I could never quite figure out what that “great” thing was, I just know that I’d better use my talents and gifts properly, and told myself I’d better not screw it up!
What if I somehow missed my destiny? What if I “got it wrong”?
This line of thought had caused me a lot of suffering and anxiety over the years, as I bounced from one possible career track to another, going from marketing and public relations to community development to government and strategic planning. I had fun and learned a lot along the way, but I was always uneasy about whether I was “getting it right.”
Right Here, Right Now
Deep down in my heart I always wanted to be a writer, ever since I was a little girl. I’d also loved my years as a professional dancer, and loved teaching. And I’d discovered along the way, as I become more happy and free with help from my teachers, that I wanted to do something to help others to feel more happy and free.
That much felt right. Yet for a long time I was still scared to give myself permission to do what I most wanted to do and to simply “follow my bliss.”
What if there was something else I “should” be doing?
Nithya helped me to remember that life is now, that happiness is a choice, and that all of life is an experiment. I don’t think I can possibly “get it wrong” if I am just living with love for myself and others in each moment.
I believe now that life will continue to beautifully unfold, and surprise me, as I follow my joy where it leads me.
I want everyone to know this kind of freedom and peace in their hearts.
Staying In Our Happy Place
Of course, I have my dips along the way, my low moments and sadness, as I wrote about just last week. Nithya’s teachings, and having him here in Troy right now is reminding me powerfully again that happiness IS a choice, and that I can choose it again and again, day after day, and choose to love myself just as I am.
Here are a few tips from this wonderful week with Nithya about how to find happiness in your heart and life, right now:
1) CHOOSE to make today the happiest day of your life! When you wake up in the morning, say aloud, “Today is the happiest day of my life because I choose to make it the happiest day of my life!” Say this aloud with your kids if you like! The intentions we set for our lives are powerful, and when we choose to feel happy, we’re much more likely to experience a happy day.
2) Keep a gratitude journal. Every morning or evening, write down five or ten things for which you are truly grateful. Bonus points if you can find a way to feel grateful for your challenges, and to feel grateful in advance for the blessings that are yet to come (knowing they are on their way!)
3) When a negative thought arises, say “Cancel!” You can just say it in your mind, and remind yourself that you can choose another thought. This is one of Nithya’s simplest and yet most effective teachings for reminding ourselves that our outlook, attitude and perspective on the world is always our choice.
4) Be grateful, dream big and never ever give up! Nithya shared the message of an extraordinary inspirational speaker and teacher, Nick Vujicic, who has no arms and no legs, and yet travels the world, sharing his story with others and living an amazing, full and happy life. Nick’s lesson for all is to be grateful for what we do have, rather than focusing on what we don’t have; to dream big; and then to follow those dreams where they lead us, and never give up!
May today and every day be the happiest day of your life!
Lisa is a freelance writer, consultant and life coach. She has her BA in English and Creative Writing from Princeton and her MPA from Harvard. Lisa recently finished the first draft of her book manuscript, Burning Down the House. She is also a lindy hopper, belly dancer and globe-trotter. Her post day is Tuesday.