A friend forwarded listings from an online service that connects media reporters with potential sources. One of the requests was for a Happiness Expert. "I am looking for 1 to 2 line quotes that make you happy," it said, "and WHY they make you happy. This should be fun! If there are any happiness experts out there, I would love to connect!"
Oh my Buddha! Immediately I sent my favorite quote for cheering people up, the best of Trungpa Rinpoche: "The universe is raining down blessings and you fools have your umbrellas up!" Just to gild the lotus, I devilishly added a second: "Sometimes not getting what you want is the happily ever after ending."
"Of course they're looking for some neuroscientist or psychologist," my friend said. "Somebody with credentials that makes them an expert."
Of course. Credentials! Degrees! Titles! I know lots of people like that and most of them are a mess. I know up close and personal three MD psychiatrists and they are not only totally nuts; they are miserably unhappy people whose personal lives are not inspiring. But they are experts who get paid huge sums of cash for guidance and prescriptions. My expertise comes not from reading books and writing papers, but from real experience.
This is of course where our corporate culture and Buddhism really clash over who's the true turkey. Corporatists want credentials. The Buddha and all the gurus who've followed have been quite clear that credentials are just another form of vanity. Personal experience is the only authentic basis for the expertise. Someone whose read up but not been there and done that is like, well, like someone sitting home reading Fodor and Fielding and Frommer, then advertising as a topnotch travel guide.
So I didn't count as a happiness expert when I went to lunch two days later with a newer friend, a buxom blonde I admire for staring down adversity. With help from no one, she's built a well respected business and created a devoted family. So I was surprised when, after she forked up the last piece of Romaine in her grilled chicken Caesar, her tone got quiet and serious and she asked if she could ask me something. "Tell me why you got into Buddhism and how it helped you."
Like everybody else, she just wanted to be happier. Winter was heading in bringing the darkness and sometimes depressing thoughts about missing her late husband and not trying to move on. Like everybody else, she was being told by her therapist--who passes for an expert--to go back on Zoloft. That would solve the problem. Zoloft: swallow and smile.
"I don't want meds," she said. "Not any more. I want to be clear headed and understand what I'm doing. If they helped I wouldn't still have the same problem. I know that. I think you know something...something about finding that inner place where you can just be at peace. How did you get there?"
I chomped on the last fry from my mussels/frites platter and recited my two favorite quotes. She brightened. I recommended two books. She wrote them down. I explained meditation in the simplest terms I know: Gom, the Tibetan word for it, means "to familiarize" because Buddhism is all about becoming familiar with your own mind. How does it work? How does it work on you? How do you work with it? There are no crib notes, cheat sheets or meds; just your own experience of discovery. When at last you get it figured out, you get it, how others mess themselves up because you've been there, done that. Effort becomes expertise.
We sat at that restaurant table for 2 hours and 45 minutes. She left with a big smile and my permission to call at any hour. Still no email from the reporter looking for a happiness expert. As i like to say: "The world is raining down blessings and you fools have your umbrellas up."
~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"
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