Suddenly, the cabin pressure drops. People around me are starting to panic. Can this be for real? Surely this only happens in the movies? The pilot makes a hasty announcement to everyone: “Ladies and gentlemen, I regret to inform you that there is an improperly sealed door in the aeroplane and we are losing air from the cabin. Please remain calm.”
My fear reaches fever pitch as he tells us there’s no way to fix the problem without returning to the airport we left just a few minutes before. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he quickly adds, “please remain in your seats. Oxygen masks are fitted above every seat and will automatically drop down when the cabin pressure drops too low. Please remember to fit your own before attending to your children.”
As the oxygen level drops, I start to feel shorter and shorter of breath. I’m sitting with my daughter and she’s wailing and I’m doing the best I can to comfort her, despite my pounding heart and racing mind. The on-board safety systems kick in at last and the oxygen masks drop from the ceiling. In those first few moments, the deepest instinct in my bones is to help my daughter as I see her struggling for breath. But I know that’s not the way – she can’t breathe if I’m not breathing.
I feel desperately light-headed. I can barely think straight. But I have just enough awareness left to remember that I can’t help her without helping myself. I grab the oxygen mask in front of me and a surge of energy and relief washes over me as I begin to breathe normally again.
Coming to my senses, I watch my hands move with uncanny speed, spurred on by my love and by my newfound energy until my daughter’s mask is in place and we are resting together again. Breathing. Shaken, but alive.
We all have a deep desire to help those we care about, but to be able to bring life to others we also need to know how to bring life to ourselves. Sometimes we can become so focused on what is going on for the people around us or in the world that we forget to take care of ourselves. Maybe it even feels a little selfish to be taking the time for ourselves to do the things we enjoy when there is so much that we could be doing for others, and there are so many things to be done. But if we don’t know how to fully allow ourselves to take the time to do what nourishes us and makes us happy, then our capacity to be there for others and to engage with the world in a deep way can become depleted.
Just like oxygen, happiness and joy are a kind of food that we need to replenish our hearts. If we are lacking this food ourselves, then we may not have the energy we need to sustain ourselves as we engage with the people and causes that we care about. In a culture overly focused on “doing” and productivity, it might seem selfishly indulgent to some of us to be fully and wholeheartedly allowing ourselves to just enjoy our lives. We don’t always see the connection between the happiness we feel when we are gardening at our allotment or curled up on the sofa sewing, and the calmness and balance that we are able to bring to a conflict at work or to the madness of the morning rush hour.
When we are able to nourish our own happiness, it is not just us as an individual who benefits, but all the people around us. We feel energised, less preoccupied with our problems, and more able to be present and responsive to whatever situation we encounter. Through the warmth and openness we feel in our heart, we are able to touch others’ hearts more easily. We are more open to learn from the inevitable challenges and the triumphs along the way, whoever or whatever it is we are trying to engage with. We are more open to inspiration, we have a clearer vision of the situation, and we have the openness and energy to find creative solutions.
Happiness is a crucial practice for ourselves and for the people around us. That’s why it’s one of the Four Keys to the Heart that we teach at our events and residential intensives as part of a heart-based way of life. Taking the time to practice happiness wholeheartedly, by dancing, by spending time with friends, by walking in the countryside, is a wonderful gift to ourselves. We can also set aside time for regular heart coherence practices, using biofeedback technology that monitors our heart rhythms if we like, to help us to strengthen our capacity to tap into a felt sense of happiness at any time.
Practicing happiness can fill our hearts and make us feel that we are breathing fresh air again. From this freshness and fullness, we are able to offer more to the people and causes that we care the most about. So when the situation feels too much, remember to take the time to come back to yourself to breathe, to enjoy, to replenish yourself with what brings you happiness. When you’re breathing, alive, and happy again, you’ll be in a better place to bring others to life, too