Thinking about happiness

Happiness is in many ways such an ephemeral feeling. There’s a wonderful poem by Mary Oliver called Happiness which I’ve found deeply moving. In it she describes watching a she-bear looking for honey ‘the secret bin of sweetness’ that bears can find in trees. The she-bear presents as a ‘black block of gloom’ as she shuffles through the woods. And then she finds the honey. In the second stanza Mary Oliver writes how the bear perhaps drunk on the honey and perhaps a bit sleepy begins to sway from side to side … I’m going to quote this part:

I saw her let go of the branches,

I saw her lift her honeyed muzzle

into the leaves, and her thick arms

as though she would fly –

an enormous bee

all sweetness and wings –

down into the meadows, the perfection

of honeysuckle and roses and clover –

to float and sleep in the sheer nets

swaying from flower to flower

day after shining day .

I think it’s the last two lines that I find so powerful. I actually came across this poem for the first time when on retreat for a few days. I wasn’t having a good time. Some old feelings, began to re- emerge and I suppose looking back I felt a bit like the black block of gloom, weighed down. Reading that the bear could feel herself as a bee and dancing between the flowers in the sunshine reminded me that depression does lift, situations do change and difficulties do not remain for ever – nothing stays the same and so happiness is always possible. Transformation can take place and then the world looks different – what a relief!