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Are You Willing to Risk Being Happy?

Winter is at last losing its grip on Wisconsin, the spring rains bring the almost forgotten sound of warning sirens hailing the promise of tornadoes. We attempt to find a balance between panicked scrambles to basement encampments and blasé storm-watcher adventures on the deck. Backyard skating rinks are becoming enormous water features, as the frozen earth refuses to absorb the sun's spring offering. Grass smiles a big thank-you, turning from brown to green between breakfast and dinner. One of my Teachers says, "Life is change, growth is optional." At this time of year I think perhaps it should be, "Growth is inevitable." Nothing can stop the desire of a snowdrop to feel the kiss of the sun.

There's something comforting about the way our inner lives reflect the turning seasons. Obvious, but still comforting. When frozen thoughts or patterns begin to defrost, the flow of melting emotions may start as a trickle, but as the stream gains momentum, a little melting can lead to a sudden gush as foundational beliefs shift and adjust. Occasionally an emotional tsunami or a spiritual tornado can occur. We can never completely predict the damage these powerful purifications will cause or imagine the depth of the gifts they eventually call into being. We should be careful not to assume that having consciousness about the turning of the wheel gives us guaranteed control over the process, any more than a meteorologist's understanding of tornadoes gives her control over the process of the weather. However, developing an early warning system can save lives and reduce trauma.

We can develop an early warning system by taking time to find and name the aspects of our inner and outer lives which reveal themselves to us as painfully frozen. All frozen and unavailable aspects of ourselves will cause suffering, but they are not all traumatic or negative behaviors. Many are frozen assets, talents or gifts we have suppressed or denied. These often hold the key to our happiness and ability to live our purpose. Although recovering asset- or shadow-aspects can cause flooding, discomfort and unpredictable results, it is important to be able to discern between the two. This means part of the early warning system is to develop an understanding of exactly what does or will make us happy, accompanied by developing a willingness to be happy.

We can never predict with certainty which bulbs will live through winter. As we emerge from an internal winter, this early warning system can ease the transition. Pay attention and deal with more than the next indicated thing.[1] Don't be tempted to turn this into an emotional glacial spelunking[2] expedition. We think we can reduce future pain in our lives by immersing ourselves in the unconscious and groping around in the dark. This is not a one-walk dog, the wheel keeps turning every year. I guarantee there will always be opportunities to keep growing, and spring will come again. We must be gentle with ourselves while we look for what is standing in the way of our happiness.

Even though most action taken by humans is unconsciously motivated by the pursuit of happiness, most of us have no conscious idea of how to achieve this goal. It is one of life's ironies. How often do we include happiness in our spell work? Do we give ourselves permission to be happy? Many of us have glaciers full of messages about our right to happiness mixed with messages about selfishness, impossibility, "reality checks" and resignation.[3]

These are erroneous messages given by people who fear our happiness because they believe, on some level, that happiness is finite and that if someone else finds happiness, there will be less for them. The instinct to protect the sources of happiness is a facet of the 'fight or flight' response: "If you take away my happiness I will die." Those who fear the happiness of others tend to believe their definition of happiness is the only way to achieve happiness, a mistake resulting from the glamour of uniformity. This misconception is particularly entrenched in the parent/child relationship and intimate adult relationships: We are uncomfortable if people we care about explore different possibilities for their own happiness.

cat with a Cheshire grinThis fear is the shadow of the desire for happiness. It dominates when we believe external conditions determine our happiness. In many ways, all political systems and governments are built upon this one stimulus. "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness" is set forth by the Declaration of Independence and is meant to be one of the foundations of the American way of life. These days happiness is confused with safety (meaning stability) and freedom from harm. This misconception feeds the tyranny of those with power by allowing them to establish oppressive systems in the name of controlling the uncontrollable. All dominant groups, men's institutional power over women, and the power of one race over another share the myth of repressing the life-force of a group to protect another group from the unpredictability of life. The truth is we are never safe; people different from us are not the cause of this. If safety is a requirement for happiness, then so must be the suspension of disbelief. If happiness is contingent on safety, we must deny the reality of life on earth, which is never safe and ultimately uncontrollable.

Despite the declared separation of church and state, the political system of the United States is based upon the Christian cosmology, which is not concerned with happiness in this world. Politicians and leaders will claim morally superior motivations, throw around words like "freedom," "democracy," and "protection," but these only serve to create a smokescreen for the truth. Hidden beneath this rhetoric is the desire for happiness, or the fear of unhappiness — which is the motivation for their policies. Successful politicians understand the power of making promises which tap into this desire among the general population.

"My point is that women live the lie from birth on, and then one day they realize that it's too late for them, they're too old to write a book or solve a difficult problem in math, they'll never learn to sing or play the piano, they showed such promise early on. So they run to the priest, their voices take on a hysterical edge, like the one mine has right now, and the priest tells them they have lived righteously and their reward will be in heaven, and he could certainly use someone in the kitchen for the potluck on Sunday night."
Haven Kimmel, Something Rising[4]

The desire for happiness in this life is discouraged by the three dominant religions in the West. Suffering in this life is fundamental to redemptive or apocalyptic doctrines. To justify the omnipotence and purity of a God above, not-Gods here on earth must be imperfect and in need of saving. If we have the ability to be authentically happy in this life, why would we need the promise of heaven after life?

Can you imagine authentic happiness being more important than your role as a good mother or daughter? Can you imagine being happy as a normal state of being? Can you imagine resting in happiness as the default emotional condition? The place you always return to, not fixed, but a permanent place of resolution? Can you imagine a world where your happiness can only enhance my happiness and vice versa? A world that understands happiness is not a limited production resource? There is always ebb and flow, but the well will never run dry. Unlike oil, happiness is always self-regenerating — happiness breeds happiness.

If you are enjoying life, everyone will enjoy you. I am talking now of genuine happiness, happiness coming from the heart, not the "I'm fine" happiness required of good girls and wives. It is a reality of the universe and magic that we are the recipients of what we send to others. We experience first in our own bodies what we send to others. The body sends the message, the personality is the messenger. This rule holds true for all situations, from happiness to enmity.

The world would be a sweeter place if we could let go of the need to control perceived sources of happiness: security, wealth, land, et cetera. If we could focus on the abundance of true happiness, we could not help but develop true reverence for the world around us. One person could not experience wellbeing while others were living under the tyranny of daily hunger and homelessness. Men could not justify the oppression of women. Tribal warfare and racial dominance would seem ridiculous. Social justice groups would celebrate "appreciation" of difference, rather than launching campaigns to teach basic tolerance.

True happiness requires the ability to live in direct contact with the One and simultaneously accept the infinite loneliness of living one's true path. You are the only one who can recognize or define what happiness is for you. Risking happiness is as difficult and dangerous as risking any other form of authentic self. In the world today, for a woman to live as the Goddess she was born to be is an act of revolution.

A word that means "love," "friendliness," or "lovingkindness."

So, how do we use this awareness in our magic and our daily practice? I have found an adaptation of the Buddhist metta practice very helpful with this. This practice fits easily into this revolutionary spellwork. It is a practice designed to enhance our capacity to wish for the welfare of all beings. For women, it is about tapping into the power of the Great Mother, which is blocked when we are being self-effacing or self-denying. It includes all manifestations of the Goddess, the light and the shadow.

I use my adaptation of the metta practice to build upon the early warning system. I make of it a ritual for the change of seasons and find it particularly appropriate for the transition from winter to spring.

Lovingkindness Spell
May I have happiness
and the causes of happiness.
May I be peaceful and happy of heart.
May I be healthy and strong of body.
May I live with joy and ease in this world.

May I be free from suffering
and the causes of suffering.
May I be free from inner and outer harm.
May I be free from poverty
and the causes of poverty.
May I be protected and safe.

May I care for myself with joy and ease.
May I know prosperity
and financial abundance.
May I be generous of heart and action.
May I know reverence and grace.

May I know peace.
May it be so.
May it be so.

Seasonal Lovingkindness Practice
1. Start at the new moon. Do this ritual in the evening, outside or inside, whichever circumstances and weather allow.
2. Do whatever you do to purify and set a sacred space for yourself. Remember, you are going to do this for a month, so simple is good.
3. I like to light a candle for the light of truth and some incense to carry the spell. Again, do what feels right for you.
4. Breathe in for four beats, saying silently, "Toward the Goddess." Breathe out for four beats, saying, "Toward the Goddess." Repeat this seven times.
5. While you breathe, bring to consciousness the Great Mother, the joy of creation, the power of the life force She invokes. This may come as an image or you may feel Her in your body. Don't worry if neither of these things happens; some of us just "know" when Her energy is present. It may help to think about a time you were awed by the depth of your feeling as a parent with a child, or with a pet, or as a gardener, or watching the moonrise in the desert for the first time.
6. Using the power of the unconditional love you have invoked, speak the spell (in the box at the right) with forceful tenderness.
7. Repeat steps 4-6 four more times, replacing "I" with:
a) The name of a benefactor - someone who has helped you
b) The name of dear friend or loved one
c) The name of aneutral person
d) The name of a difficult person or someone who has caused you harm.
8. Do this ritual each night through the full moon. If it is too intimidating to do the whole prayer every night, you can break it down — do a verse a night or even a line a night. The important thing is to do the whole ritual at the Full Moon and end with:

May all mother sentient beings boundless as the sky have happiness and the causes of happiness.
May all aspects of the Goddess have peace and be the cause of peace.
May Her happiness and peace live through me.

Bound in truth by the power of three
For highest good in align with She,
May it be so and may She be happy

Notes: It's important to be specific with this, naming individual people rather than generic groups like "all men" or "all women". The goal is to achieve equal potency of power and love for all five named persons. This is an adaptation from the original sutra and other bits that work for me. Feel free to add to it or drop anything that you do not experience as true.

Goddess women have spent a lot of time and energy focusing on the injustice and unvoiced tragedy of the world in which we live. It is crucial we do not lose site of the power of naming and honoring women's grief. It has been vital for women around the world to demand social change and to continue to do so in all areas of injustice. happy child at playAt the same time, I am calling Goddess women to step forward from their anger into reverence and happiness. I challenge us to focus on creation not destruction, for there comes a point where violent revolution (physical or spiritual) ends up hurting the weakest in a society, while those with power buy their way out of discomfort.

It is time for us to imagine the possibility for change in the world, a change that comes from lovingkindness rather than destruction. Can you imagine the impact if, with every new moon, Goddess circles and solitary witches called forth reverence and happiness in their lives and the lives of those around them? This would be magic in alignment with the creative forces of spring rather than a forced process of winter's defrost. This could allow the iceberg to defrost but perhaps reduce the risk of tsunami or other tragedy. Then we might have time to discern the frozen assets from the shadow aspects and build a world capable of sustaining and supporting the happiness of all. If we are willing to risk happiness, perhaps we can start imagining a world where the personal, the political, and the planetary seasons remember to dance in harmony and celebrate peace.


  1. There are many great practices and therapeutic tools which encourage and allow digging for suspected problems. Under the right circumstances, and with support, they can offer great deep healing. However, this type of work requires more than simple awareness of self in the cycle of the seasons and is beyond the scope of the piece. These are some links that could give you more insight in to these possibilities
  2. spe·lunk·er n. One who explores caves chiefly as a hobby; a caver. [From obsolete spelunk, cave, from Middle English, from Old French spelunque, from Latin splunca, from Greek splunx.]
  3. You can find this idea of happiness as the motivational force in human behavior in the teachings of the Buddha and other eastern teachers. It can challenge some people and offers great opportunity for meditation and reflection.
  4. Kimmel, Haven. Something Rising: Light and Swift. Free Press (January 6, 2004)

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