“Only our own searching for happiness prevents us from seeing it… Although peace and happiness do not exist as an actual thing or place, they are always available, and accompany you every instant. Waiting to grasp the ungraspable, you exhaust yourself in vain. As soon as you open and relax this tight fist of grasping, infinite space is there—open, inviting and comfortable. Make use of this spaciousness, this freedom and natural ease. Don’t search any further. Don’t get lost in the tangled jungle looking for the great enlightened elephant who is already resting quietly at home in front of your own hearth.” ~ Gendun Rinpoche
If happiness did exist as a place, that place, for me, would be right here: Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.
It is my happy place and my chosen home. It is where I belong. I am familiar with the lake and have gazed upon it from many different vantage points over the past eight years. Its powerful magic magnet drew me here to live, as permanently as permanent can be, in the middle 2012. Life has unfolded and consciousness expanded in wonderful and unexpected ways ever since. Having my daughter Jade has been the greatest blessing. I’m grateful to witness her growing up here in this natural paradise, far from the hustle and bustle and polluted culture of city life.
In front of me, I see the striped hammock. I see the balcony extension, its clean yellow wooden planks so recently placed, so stark and new next to the older brown planks that have been here all along. I see the newly finished patio roof covered in morning dew and residual rain drops from a heavy downpour last night. I see the coffee trees down below, their green leaves verdant, their lime green berries silently growing plump. In November, they will turn red and be ready to harvest. I see two redheaded woodpeckers in one of the shade trees, trying to find a place to peck and make a hole for their new home, or maybe just looking for breakfast. I see a hummingbird pass by in a blur, buzzing like a bumblebee.
I hear my belly growl, though I’m not hungry. My gut is a bit funky, and that is the norm. Ten years ago, when I spent three weeks in Mexico studying Spanish, is when my digestion became less reliable, more spontaneous. I’m grateful that today there is no pain in my belly. Just butterflies. Maybe I am already anxiously anticipating our travels to the north, to my original homeland, Texas, which will occur just under a month from now.
There is the grandmother and grandfather lake, calm and steady. There are the three silent massive volcanoes, shrouded in light foggy cloud coverage, beaming their incredible staying power out upon us. There’s the woodpecker again, directly in front of where I sit on my meditation pillow and bolster. The bolster I brought with me from Austin in my suitcase is now faded by the sun and years but it’s still useful. It’s one of the few things I still have from the initial luggage. Maybe the only thing? I guess the black polka dot dress I had too, and maybe a few other garments. Not much has lasted. Things come and go. Disposable possessions.
I hear the first boat, its motor whirring, creating waves. More hummingbird wings flapping. One small hummingbird about the size of my thumb sits for a brief five-second repose on a thin branch, her Pinocchio nose jutting out in front of her. Actually, buzzingbird or chatteringbird would be a more apt name. They don’t really hum.
This morning meditation is happiness. This morning I see the enlightened elephant curled up at my feet. Wherever I go, there she is. The inner peace and happiness I feel beneath all the other emotions that visit each day are there thanks to years of devoted practice. I know, deep down, no matter what happens, peace and presence are available. Joy and sadness, pleasure and pain, attachment and aversion are inevitable. What is “evitable” is the grasping, the constant seeking of entertainment in its ubiquitous forms, with its insidious way of pulling us away from this specific moment of life, here and now.
Perhaps I have misconstrued the lake to be sacred. To be somehow more spiritual, pure and blissful than other geographic locations. It’s just because I have known more happiness here than anywhere else I’ve lived. Could I be this pleased residing anywhere else? Sure, if I let go of my belief that being here is where I’m radiant and joyous. Sure, if I remember that where I live is also where I visit. Where I visit will soon be San Antonio, Texas, seeing my dear grandma whose mind is gone, whose life is childlike, whose caretaker is waiting in anticipation of her death, though she is 94 years old and not showing any major signs of physical deterioration. Only mental. Where I will visit will soon be Round Rock, Texas, my childhood home, my parents’ residence with its lush, mosquito-filled backyard, its unlimited fast wifi, its big flatscreens projecting the local and national news, too many cartoons for my daughter, silly old comedies, documentaries on everything from the Beatles to the Nazis.
This lake is sacred to me. So is the cozy bedroom where I first learned yoga as a young teen in a suburb in the hill country of central Texas. So is this moment, regardless of location. This life is a gift; every breath, a miracle. May we all remember the enlightened elephant before us, within us, prodding us gently along on the path with her soft trunk.