White Paint, Merton, Happiness Manifesto

This daily dose of silence is leading me to contemplate happiness. There is something so happy and so simple about sitting in a dark, empty church on a big, bright, beautiful day.

Today the darkness of the Corpus Christi Church at 121st just east of Broadway shocked me. To get into the church, I had to climb over paint cans and cords. At least half a dozen young Hispanic men were working hard painting stairwell landings, doing an awesome job making the walls smooth and white.

I climbed the stairs jumping over the paint cans and brushes, acting like I belonged there. I walked towards a closed door.

“Eglisia?” one guy asked me.

I nodded. He nodded too.

The door seemed locked. But the young man shook his head, then yanked the door hard. It opened.

This is a theme emerging in this blog — the doors of churches and how to get through them. Then there seems to be another theme emerging — that I am trespassing and not feeling that I belong.

Any way, as much as I could make out, blinded as I was by the darkness after the bright hallway, this church is really nice and opulent. Like the hallways, it is very white. And the ceiling is not vaulted. Its main attraction from my balcony seat was the chandeliers.

It smelled of fresh paint.

On Facebook Michael DeBorja, former colleague, suggested I visit this church and said that Thomas Merton worshiped at Corpus Christi.

In one of Merton’s books, the monk talked about God being like a little brother. You throw stones at him. You try to get him not to follow you to the playground. Yet there God is — Your little brother just standing by the slide, kind of shrugging. God’s not wounded by the rocks or the rejection, just curious why you don’t love him. Willing to stand beside you, follow you, no matter what.

I love that metaphor for God. I may not have it exactly right. But I love the idea of it. I think it’s from “Seven Storey Mountain.”

When I walked out of the church, I smiled at a stranger, a dark-eyed Middle Eastern-looking man. (At this moment in time, I feel for potentially Islamic-looking men in NYC with all this stupid mosque controversy swirling around. Of course we have the freedom of religion here! Yes, worship! Please!)

I thought of the Happiness Manifesto. One of its tenets? To smile at a stranger every day.

I had discovered the Happiness Manifesto five years ago when I first started on 43things.com (a website for posting your 43 life goals). http://www.43things.com/

I had tried to follow the Happiness Manifesto. It did make me happier. Now, I was trying to remember what the rules were . All I could remember was

Smile at a stranger every day.

Take care of a living thing.

When I got back to my desk after my quick church visit, I found Michael Norton’s blog. He explained the origins of the Happiness Manifesto. It was intended to promote happiness in the town of Slough, near London. “In order to increase Slough’s happiness, experts drew up a Happiness Manifesto.”

I love this because the word “happiness” sounds so light and airy and “manifesto” sounds so Marxist and dense. For two months, you’re supposed to follow these ten rules and note the difference it makes!
1. Get physical. Exercise for half an hour three times a week.
2. Count your blessings. At the end of each day, reflect on at least five things you’re grateful for.
3. Make time to talk. An hour of uninterrupted conversation with your partner or closest friend each week.
4. Plant something. Even if it’s a window box or pot plant. Then keep it alive!
5. Cut your TV viewing. By half. More if you can.
6. Smile or say hello to a stranger. At least once each day.
7. Phone a friend. Make contact with at least one friend or relation you have not been in contact for a while, and arrange to meet up.
8. Have a good laugh. At least once a day.
9. Give yourself a daily treat. Take time to really enjoy this.
10. Do a daily kindness. Do an extra good turn for someone each day.
I still try to do the manifesto. The last one, however, is not as easy as it looks.

And then, of course, these are my 7 Rules, which may be less action-able. But they, too, point to happiness.

  1. Pile on the people.
  2. Escape through literature.
  3. Hold on to your hoops of steel (priorities).
  4. Cultivate a secret garden.
  5. Expect the best/love what you get.
  6. Live every day as if it were your last.
  7. Embrace uncertainty.

And for now, I’ll add this eighth one:

8. Visit a church a day.

Looking down at my hands on the keyboard just now, I noticed that I have white paint on my index finger. Something is sticking to me visiting a church a day, even if it’s only paint.

The Happiness Project. I'm jealous

I know you’re supposed to feel happy when you read the Happiness Project a book by Gretchan Rubin. And in general, I do. But dangit, I also feel jealous. I’ve been working on my 7 Rules for, like, a couple of years. Also, I have been following the Happiness Manifesto for like seven years. So why am I jealous and not happy.

When I saw that movie, Julie and Julia, I felt jealous then too, because at the end of the movie Nora Ephron was calling Julie about making her blog into a movie. This particular blog I’m writing right now may not make a good movie.

Maybe I have too many blogs. About travel, about running, about my spiritual journey, and this one, about writing.

I will let it go. I will be happy. I want to blog more right now but I’m trying to pull the kids away from the computer, XBox, and TV to play some cards. Maybe that will make me happy.

For a writer, happiness seems so tied to getting published? Or at least getting paid.