I had the pleasure of spending last weekend with one of my teachers, Ana Forrest, at her annual conference – Wind Horse. As I left on Sunday to come home I encountered long lines at the airport, a ticket situation, even longer security lines, and a final run to my gate to make my flight home. Because of the ticket situation, the customer service agent from American upgraded my seat to one with more leg room and didn’t even tell me – this was very nice of her! After my run to catch the flight, I hopped aboard, found my seat, put my luggage away, and sat down. I was in the middle seat – not my normal. I usually try for an aisle seat because I don’t like to feel caged in. To my left was a woman reading her e-reader and to my right was a man sitting quietly looking out the window. Little did I know then how much this man next to me would have to teach me or who he was.
The flight took off, they served us our beverage, the movie played…When the movie ended, the man next to me asked if Chicago (our destination) was my home and I told him yes. We conversed a bit and it turned out he was flying through Chicago (and then London) to get home to Mumbai. That is a long journey from Seattle! He talked about going on a cruise from Seattle with his daughter and wife, he told me about his life in India and his other child. I told him about my partner, and my cat and dog. We talked about Chicago – he had been there to visit his daughter. We talked about weather patterns in our home towns. We even talked about the cultural differences of marriage between our generations and our countries! He asked why I had been in Seattle – and here is where the story gets interesting.
I told him, “I was in Seattle for work.” That is my standard answer when people I don’t know ask why I’m traveling. He nodded his head and said, “What is your line of work?” I said, “Well, I actually teach yoga.” And his face broke into a grin and he laughed.
It turns out the man sitting next to me, who is a doctor by occupation, was also well versed in the philosophical and physical traditions of yoga! We had the most lively discussion of the importance of the different limbs of yoga. He learned about my lineage of yoga, Forrest Yoga, and I learned about his passion for vipassana meditation. We talked about the Buddha’s life and teachings. We talked about the Bhagavad Gita and various other texts related to yoga. He was intrigued by the combination of Native American Medicine teachings and yogasana that Forrest Yoga uses for healing. We discussed macrocosms and microcosms in the physical and energetic realms as manifestations of the principles of yoga.
He then turned to me and said, “Do you know what happiness is? Do you know how to get it?” I replied that for me happiness was going after my passion – I could teach yoga all day long without getting tired, travel the world talking about yoga, do yoga everyday and not get exhausted because I’m so passionate about it – that I felt at my most happy when I was doing tasks and things I could be passionate about. He then told me about one of his teachers, and their formula for happiness. He said, like many others I have heard, that happiness is a practice – and not only a practice but also that it is a mathematical formula we have to practice. He told me the following formula for happiness from his teacher: happiness = number of desires achieved divided by number of desires total.
In the modern world, we get stuck in the desire to have too much: we want this new phone, that new computer, this new car, that quality in our partner, this element in our life, and on and on. As a result our bottom number (number of total desires) is HUGE. And because we have ever-growing desires, we can never achieve enough of them to have but a fractional amount of happiness. The key, he said, is to go after the big desires of our life – keep the number small and then actually do them. This way the top number of the formula (how many desires we achieve) gets bigger, and the bottom number goes to zero. All my math geeks just got it…when the bottom number goes towards zero, the result is nearing infinite happiness. 🙂
And then, soon after, the flight ended. We landed. We got off the plane. I gave this man my card, he hugged me, and we parted ways. It was a most incredible experience – and surely not an accident – nothing is. I don’t know if he would allow me to publish his name, and I don’t know the name of his teacher who taught him this happiness formula, or I would put both in here now. They deserve the credit for these ideas – I’m just a messenger!
What I do know is that during my weekend with my teacher at Wind Horse, I was profoundly touched by a feeling that I need to build a new community around me, because several parts of my own have been decimated over and over in the past decade. It’s time to re-create consciously who I am connected to and why. And my own personal prayer to my sacred ones at the end of my yoga weekend was to come across people on my path who were like-minded, who could remind me to trust and be held in a space of communion, and who would see me for my light and dark and still be there. This stranger, with whom I had a very deep 2 hours of conversation with, was an answer to my prayer. He was from a different city, culture, and occupation. He could see my challenges and my passions straight away. And he left me with a hug and a smile, and a feeling that we are all very much more connected as a world community than we might recognize in our daily lives. That we are all much more similar to one another than we might see at the surface level. You never know how what you ask for will come through. I never would have thought the seeds for new plans in my community would have started with a chance meeting on an airplane. And I have one less desire on the bottom of that happiness formula, and more of a sense of delight in my life upon my return.