Duality is in the air. This year, Pisces (Adar in Hebrew) appears twice on the calendar, doubling our opportunity to access the uplifting, healing Light that resides in the supernal, or celestial, sphere. This is our time to pull that positive Piscean energy down into the earthly plane to help elevate the world and bring deep, lasting happiness to ourselves and to others.
As a dual sign (with two fish swimming in opposite directions), Pisces inherently embodies the Kabbalistic idea of “holding opposites.” One fish may be moodily combing the murky depths of the water; the other may be jumping out of the pond for joy. This illustrates a fundamental concept both in philosophy and in many religious studies–that everything in the world has a balancing, or opposing, side. Front and back… darkness and light… up and down… above and below. As psychologist and spiritual teacher Dr. David Sanders explains, we cannot embrace “Wholeness” without also embracing the notions of “separateness, brokenness, and all other paradoxes and opposites.” No idea, object, or situation exists without another side or perspective.
This idea of opposites applies to our understanding of happiness, too. In the face of adversity, challenges, and suffering in the world, sometimes it seems difficult to access that joy. We may even feel guilty in trying. Yet happiness is so important to the world’s healing, French philosopher André Gide called it “a moral obligation.” Why? Because much of the strife in the world was born and perpetuated in the human heart. A heart without happiness is like a body without immunity–it is susceptible to the disease of negativity, which can manifest in many destructive ways. This is why it’s important not only to seek joy ourselves, but also to pass it along to everyone we can.
Many people have gone through major hardships while never losing their sense of inner happiness. In this week’s Monday Memo, I recounted my own struggles after our younger son was born with Down Syndrome. While the days and weeks following his birth were fraught with worry and sadness, they never eclipsed the joy we felt at having this beautiful soul enter our lives or the great opportunity we were given in being able to raise him. It wasn’t one or the other–pain or happiness–it was both.
Likewise, the documentary Mission: Joy (2021) illuminated the playful, exuberant relationship between two spiritual leaders and survivors: the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. One is a Buddhist monk; the other was an Anglican bishop. Both experienced great hardship in their earlier lives, yet both managed to keep their sense of humor and joy intact. In the film, they shared, they joked, and they spent lots of time poking fun at one another. “You’re mischievous!” Bishop Tutu teased, and both broke into laughter. When asked how they kept their sense of joy, Archbishop Tutu described true happiness as being a gift to others, rather than merely a pursuit for oneself (also a key precept in Kabbalah).
This kind of happiness goes beyond the moment, since every state is temporary. Of course, I might feel happy that I won this or that award, that I finished my latest book, or that my gourmet dinner turned out well. These are examples of MY OWN happiness, which is only half the equation in creating the lasting kind. As the Dalai Lama explains, the key to true, deep joy is not in the transitory acquisition of things, accolades, or power. We cannot understand joy without knowing and connecting to the plight of others. And we cannot attain our own greatest happiness without actively contributing to the happiness (or well-being) of others in whatever ways we can. Therefore, the path to a deeper, longer-lasting joy starts with this question: “How can I help spread compassion and love?”
In Kabbalistic terms, this might be rephrased as “How can I help reveal and share the Light?”And, since happiness is always an inside pursuit, the process must begin within ourselves. Wherever we go, we can strive to be a positive beacon that uplifts others. The Book of Ethics says that, while we are not “obligated to complete the work….neither are [we] free to desist from it” (Pirke Avot 20:21). None of us can save the entire world alone. But we can be of help where we are and to whomever is most in need. In this way, we can begin to find happiness that lasts.
And science proves this. In a study led by Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky at the University of California Riverside, subjects took part in what the team called “Happiness Interventions.” The research found that those who performed acts of kindness for themselves felt happier, but the feeling was short-lived. However, those who performed kind acts for others were happy and stayed that way anywhere from two to four weeks beyond the time of the kind act! On a cellular level, kind acts also produced positive changes in the RNA gene expression in subjects’ blood samples, suggesting healthier and more robust immune profiles. Happiness through giving, then, is also dually beneficial: it helps both the recipient and the giver!
Here are a few questions for you to begin to unlock that more lasting sort of happiness:
● How can I grow my own happiness today?
● What is most needed at this moment? (for myself, my family, my community, and/or the world)
● How can I help?
By seeking and finding ways to nurture and spread our own Light, we help create a chain reaction in the world. Pisces teaches us that life is always a balancing of opposites, that we can care and feel for others and still cultivate joy and happiness. The fact is, for every tragedy that occurs, there are millions of people jumping in to lift those in need. There is always Divine Light to be discovered and shared, and it is up to us to connect and direct it.
So this month, commit to bringing levity and joy to others. Make someone’s day brighter. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, donate to a cause, or simply offer an encouraging word to someone who can use one. There are more ways to help in this world than there are people to find them! To think and act with a grateful, joyful heart invites that Pisces light into your own world, which in turn spills into our world.
And this is how we bring peace and happiness to all the shadowed places–one laugh, one smile, and one kindness at a time.
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