සතුටු : happy in Sri Lanka

When I was doing my phd, I once went to a workshop on happiness. (It was that kind of program). The leader was trying to push us toward a particular definition of happiness, dismissing my description of how I felt running along the ocean as “well-being, not happiness.” That made me, well, grumpy.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about “happiness” in the past decade or so. In my snakey, surface-skimmy encounters with meditation and mindfulness, the teacher who resonates most with me focuses on equanimity. That sense of balance and grace no matter what’s happening. 

I’ve posted about my dis-ease at this moment in time, my difficulty untangling my sense of actual despair and fear about the world from my day to day being. How hard it is to let go of news headlines, when Berlin and Zurich and an assassination, all crowd, Armageddon-like, into the same day Trump is affirmed as president.  And yesterday I found out extremely upsetting health news about a friend. Part of my community back home is deep in crisis caring mode, and my heart aches for the ill person, for her partner.

And, at the same time, I finally feel… happy. Not joyful, not un-worried, but I have equanimity. I found it midway through day 3 of my bike trip in Sri Lanka. It’s the bike, and moving my body at a pace that lets me see and feel what’s around me, and the whittling away of needs.

We toured ruins in Polonnaruwa today and while I loved the carvings in the remnants of the palace and temples, I was moved by the sense of the sacred in an unexpected way. 

I got still.
 I bought a little basket of lotus flowers and made an offering at centuries old Buddhas. I paused.
In the afternoon, as we rode through lushgreen rice paddies teeming with cattle egret, herons, lapwings, I got quiet. I saw women bathing in the river and felt silent at the curve between public and private, the vulnerability. We passed a shallow lake with the sun just right on it and I stopped, watched it, took a photo, breathed. 


Tonight’s hotel is about 15 grades below the last three. They were glorious — plush, beautiful pools, a bathroom right in the rainforest, screened in and open to the sounds of monkeys and birds. Beds to get lost in, good food.

And in a place like that, I’m still a little restless. Itchy at weak wifi. Asking politely for better coffee than Nescafé. Making requests and getting grumpy when they’re not met.

Tonight’s hotel… is modest. My room is actually mid-reno and there is bubble wrap around the toilet, outlets with exposed wires, no soap, plugs with weird prong holes that fit none of my adapters, certainly no wifi. A ratty towel for a bath mat. I had to ask for a blanket. Two men ceremoniously brought me one, telling me they don’t really  provide blankets. And now I realize that I am going to also have to ask for a sheet, because what’s on the bed seems to be a well-used mattress cover.

Basic doesn’t begin to describe it.


And I am 100% content. One of the guys on my trip who wants tv and to do work every night with wifi is going to be very grumpy. But I’m weirdly happy. Everything gets whittled down. My body is strong, I have so much privilege and love and such a full life, the world is full of people with stories and deep humanity. I am wary of the heavy mountain bike I’m riding but I did my first bunny-hops ever on it today, urged on by an irrepressible Aussie woman. There is pain everywhere and there is light and there is grace. And in this simple room, I have equanimity.

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