The Spiritual Path To Happiness: Cultivating A Sweet And Happy Heart
– By Haley Steinhardt –
The path to happiness is, as its name implies, a journey – a journey of the soul, of the whole self, of body, mind, and spirit. I had the opportunity to sit down with a woman who has made it her life’s work to not only follow her own path to happiness, but to support other people in doing the same. Sharon Roth Mitchell resides in East Asheville and is a local wisdom keeper and holder of Native American ceremonies. For nearly three decades, she has dedicated herself to this good work. Here are some of the heart-opening teachings she had to share.Life As a Gift
Sharon tells a story she says came to her through a study of Buddhism. As the story goes, there is a large turtle that lives deep beneath the sea. Once every 100 years, it comes to the surface to take a breath. Imagine now there is a circular life float bobbing along the vast surface of the ocean, and as the great turtle rises to the surface, she happens to rise within that ring. That perfect alignment, that unlikely chance, that serendipity, is analogous to the chance each of us has of being born into this body at this time to live this life.
“We have been given this gift of life,” Sharon said, “the great benefit and honor of having this human form. We have an amazing potential within us to touch and heal ourselves and others, and we have the opportunity to commit to using this potential for the good of all. We’re only here for a relatively short lifespan, so every day, every moment, is precious. When you step into embracing and seeing your life as a gift, then you can more easily understand that it is your responsibility to cultivate a sweet and happy heart.”
It’s what we all want, isn’t it – to carry a joy and openness within that permeates outward into our lives and our relationships? So, how can we be more rooted in that experience of happiness? Sharon says it begins with acknowledging our responsibility: “Responsibility is the ability to respond to any given situation; it’s also the ability to see day-to-day challenges and problems that are difficult to deal with as opportunities for change. Changes that are genuine and long lasting bring more joy to your life!”
In practical terms, Sharon told me it’s about accepting the responsibility to address things in a healthy, positive way as they come up. “When I put a positive framework around challenges that arise in my work or home life, for example,” she said, “it shifts my perspective to a more optimistic or hopeful outcome. Through examining, stretching, and finding possible alternative or new ways to deal with the situation, I ultimately grow personally. With a calm approach, clarity of mind, and an open heart, I can more easily move forward.”
Sounds simple, right? As most of us know all too well, however, negative thought patterns sometimes get the better of us. How can we shift out of those unhealthy ways of thinking and feeling?
“Eliminating negative behaviors and negative states of mind requires observation and awareness,” said Sharon. “As soon as you become aware of catching yourself on the hamster wheel of another negative thought pattern, that is your opportunity for change. Catch it! Stop! Replace that negative thought with a higher truth. It is ongoing to watch and shift your negative thoughts and behaviors towards yourself and others. It takes daily practice.”
Where are you at emotionally? Are you willing to create a life where drama, anger, depression, worry, and the like aren’t constantly pulling on your attention? Are you willing to practice awareness to honor your emotions and take action vs. being stuck in a destructive emotional pattern? These are important considerations that we all must explore as we look to cultivate a sweet and happy heart.
Perhaps one of the trickiest areas of our lives to navigate is that of old hurts. Sometimes it feels easier to try and forget about them rather than address them, but truly releasing old wounds is an important part of cultivating happiness in the present. Sharon offered some wisdom around how to begin that process.
“To release the past, the old hurts, and our own shortcomings,” she said, “it is necessary to have a forgiving heart. Forgiveness will help you to achieve greater serenity and peace of mind. It is an act of personal will to forgive.” (Wow. That hits home, doesn’t it? It is an act of personal will to forgive.)
“Until we release all of our previous mistakes, failures, deep-held pains, and guilt, we shall merely continue repeating and revisiting these things. Cleanse and let go of the emotional charge from these old circumstances using the power of forgiveness so you no longer carry these burdens. Sometimes it’s not easy,” she said.
“It takes patience with yourself, and practice, practice, practice! You receive great joy that is the result of living without judgment and blame. We forgive for ourselves, for our own well-being. Understanding is the seed of forgiveness. To have an understanding heart means that you can’t blame anybody for anything, including yourself. To have an understanding heart means you strive to live a life without blame and self-pity. To be this deeply honest with yourself takes persistence and a remembering of your sense of self-worth and dignity.”
Connect Deeply with Self and Others
Sharon teaches that all life is sacred, and being able to embrace true happiness in our lives entails acknowledging the divine spark within all beings. “Remembering the turtle story and the sacredness of this gift of life,” she said. “It is important to know your own heart, your inner worth, to claim your Divine Self, that spark of life within each and every living thing. We each are human beings within the human community, within the natural world. In our hearts, we want to form genuine deep bonds with family and friends.
“We want to courageously expand our concept of intimacy to include those who surround us on a daily basis, to show respect to the infinite variations, to the diversity. Each living thing has a sacred space, their energy, their radiance, and their presence. Show respect to yourself and others by getting to know their hearts. Approach with compassion, empathy – by taking another person’s perspective. Understand and appreciate their background. Practice the art of listening. Speak soft words that are your truth.”
As we open to honoring ourselves and approaching others with respect, we also begin to explore the concept of “right action.” As Sharon teaches it, the path to right action begins with motivation, determination, and enthusiasm. “Sincere motivation with right action brings doing your best every day,” she said. “Sincere motivation with right intentions affects the good of all. Right action within a mindful life creates a path that is open and flows easily.”
Many of us can relate to that feeling of being “in the flow” of things, when life seems to rise up to meet us, and things unfold with ease and grace. This flow, Sharon said, happens when right action combines with awareness. “Both the mundane and the spiritual are necessary for manifesting what we are seeking. When you pay attention during right action, divine timing is present. You can feel this natural rhythm by connecting to nature, to the seasons, to the stars, and to your own heartbeat. This is honoring and respecting yourself and all life.”
Spend Time In Nature
Sharon told a story about sitting with a native elder when she first started out on this spiritual path many years ago. “He said that you could learn everything you need to know spiritually by connecting with and paying very close attention to nature.
“Listen. Listen to the hawk flying overhead, to the woodpecker drumming its own beat. Feel the spring breeze upon your skin. Revel in getting your hands in the earth, your body in her waters. Feel the nurturance and the connection. It brings focusing energies into our days. Connecting with nature in a mindful way will bring you happiness.
“It is time for people to wake up, both to the joy and the responsibility of taking care of our earth. There is a reservoir of vitalizing energy centered around this powerful and universal spirituality based on reverence for our Earth Mother. We can open ourselves to a shared awareness of the sacredness and interdependence of all life. It’s time for the masses of people to walk their talk and wake up to the wisdom of Mother Earth’s knowledge so that our planet may thrive.”
Live a Life of Gratitude
To bring all these pieces together, Sharon told me, we must put them all in the basket of gratitude. “Living a life of gratitude,” she said, “is a powerful, co-creative practice that feeds on itself and grows beauty and honey in the heart. Upon awakening, give thanks for another day of living! Feel the blessings of a new day bringing new opportunities and understandings. Upon sitting in front of a meal, express your gratitude for the food blessing your body with what it needs. When you lay your head down to sleep, give thanks to all the special moments you are grateful for from your day.
“Once you get into this routine, you might experience that there’s more and more that you’re thankful for. You’re feeding your happiness by allowing and paying attention to the goodness in life versus complaining and feeding the drama. If you take one thing from this interview, I encourage that a daily practice of living a life of gratitude be the one. If it is sincerely practiced from the start of your day to the end of your day, you will truly experience what it feels like to be on the path to happiness.”
Rev. Sharon Roth Mitchell is an ordained non-denominational minister and an elder in the local Women’s Vision Quest community of Asheville. You can find out more about her or contact her through her website.
Eight Tips for Spiritual Happiness
1. Honor the gift that is your life.
2. Take responsibility for cultivating a sweet and happy heart.
3. Approach challenges as opportunities for growth.
4. Practice observing and redirecting negative thought patterns.
5. Practice forgiveness of self and others.
6. Practice the art of listening.
7. Spend time cultivating your awareness out in nature.
8. Live a life of gratitude.
Haley Steinhardt is a freelance writer, editor, and owner of local business Soul Tree Publications, based out of Asheville, NC. Find her online at www.SoulTreePublications.com.