Living with heart (or why I don’t chase happiness)

Living with heart (or why I don’t chase happiness)

According to the tag on my Yogi Tea bag, “You will always live happy if you live with heart.” And it’s a nice (if vague) idea, but I have to disagree. Here’s the thing: while I prefer terms like “soulful” and “an examined life,” I suspect that they share DNA with living with heart. And none of those experiences is particularly happy. Horizon broadening, mind-expanding, life-changing and growth-inducing, yes. All of which can lead to a better quality of being, a greater capacity for love, understanding, and even heartfulness. But growth is hard and challenging and often real soulful living makes the heart ache more than smile.

That’s not a bad thing. Personally — and I realize this is not going to be a popular opinion — I think happiness (along with fun) is overrated. It’s a wonderful side effect, but should never be the goal. And yet there’s this kind of first world idea that we all deserve unlimited quantities of happiness (and fun) and anything that is not happy-making is to be avoided. That might be oversimplifying the situation, but I feel like our collective march toward 24/7 entertainment, gadgetry, consumerism, single-use, throw-away, increased stimulus, newer, faster, louder, shinier and more is a kind of kid-in-candy store approach to being.

Being a kid in a candy story is fun! And then you have a sugar crash and everything gets really ugly.

I’m not against social networking. I don’t crochet my own pants out of recycled earbud chords. But of all the apps I’ve installed on my phone, my favorite is the Insight Timer I use for the mini-meditation sessions I squeeze in between the obstacle course activities of my daily to-do lists. The app does nothing but count down from 10 or 15 minutes and sound a soft chime when time is up. That, and it tells me how many other people around the world were meditating with me, using the same timer. That’s pretty cool, to think that for 10 silent minutes I’m in community with 500 or so complete strangers who share my goal of stilling my chattering brain and carving out a little space among the clutter.

Meditating hasn’t made me happier (though I’m pretty sure that’s a major selling point of the current mindfulness trend). It has given me some tools to calm down, take account of my current situation and ditch a few to-do list items that maybe don’t really need to be done. It’s given me a little perspective and, more importantly, a kind of shelter in the storm of changes, excitement, discouragement and other swells.

Publishing a book hasn’t made me happier, either. That’s been a dream of mine for nearly 20 years and to finally realize it has been pretty incredible. It’s been a roller coaster ride — thrilling, rewarding, and a great sense of accomplishment. But it’s also come with an intense amount of work that I never could have predicted, and its own kind of hard knocks. Anyone who’s ever attempted to learn anything knows that success/defeat ratio. Very few people get good at anything without sucking first, and it takes a special kind of courage to persevere.

Perseverance is its own reward. Again, it’s not necessarily a happy thing. Summiting a peak is a triumph — often at the cost of scraped knuckles and utter exhaustion. Most marathoners, upon crossing the finish line, look more like they want to vomit, die or punch someone than do a happy dance. But no one ever ran a race to get happy. We run to get healthy, to prove it to ourselves that we can accomplish a goal, to compete, maybe to win, but mostly just to finish.

I understand why my tea tag doesn’t say, “You’ll probably finish more stuff if you live with heart.” Or, “You’ll learn more in life if you put yourself out there, risk defeat and care more about the process that what kind of selfie you can post on Facebook.” The bubbly quick-fix of “Happy” makes better marketing sense than the dogged determination of “Hang in there.”

But hanging in brings better results. Hanging in gets us all closer to the finish line, and — more importantly — it keeps us on the journey. Plus, sometimes (many times!) happiness happens along the way, like a good tail wind, like a cheering section, like a double rainbow out of a storm-dark sky.

Unfiltered soul: The music of Magenta Sunshine

Unfiltered soul: The music of Magenta Sunshine

Originally published at MountainX.com

“Half a Heart,” the lead track to the self titled debut EP from local indie-soul outfit Magenta Sunshine, might have a sad-sounding name, but it plays like a tropical beach party. Shakers, a swaying melody and the cheerful interjection of horns adds to the sandy, sunny, breezy vibe. “I need a woman who won’t filter my soul, who believes we can speak with the trees, has energy like swimming pools,” sings vocalist/guitarist David Einzig.

The band is the project of New Orleans transplant Einzig (also of Hopetoun) and L.A. transplants Lenny Pettinelli (Vibration of Versatility). Their collaboration is seamless, moving effortlessly between genres and moods and maintaining that same spacious, light-infused aesthetic. “Infinity,” slower but more dreamy that drowsy, gives the composition a front seat and treats Einzig’s vocal more like an additional instrument. Hints of ’60s psychedelia and crystalline new age electronica blend with earthy sounds — a flute, a flutter of bells — to magical effect.

“Flowing Home,” led by plucky strings and hand claps, leans toward upbeat folk. The drum comes in with plenty of kick and snap; it’s a song constructed for dancers, pairing fast beats with elongated stretches of melody. “Treat today as if it’s not gonna be here tomorrow,” Einzig sings as a flood of instruments swell in orchestrated waves. That full sound evokes a kind of sonic picnic — the bounty spread out in happy disarray — until the song dissolves into a simple and short-lived a cappella choir.

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Photo from Magenta Sunshine’s Facebook page

A few solemnly plucked notes introduce “Tapestry Eyes,” but it’s Einzig’s voice that quickly establishes this is a deeply soulful offering. “Speak like a scientist, something to say, heart like an angel, soul like a rebel,” he sings, almost unaccompanied, before the full melody comes in. And that, too, is another twist. A strong downbeat, hits of brass, the ringing voice of the keys: The song spirals and curls about itself, at times R&B, at times almost hip-hop. The journey is full of surprises but it’s a trip worth taking, and a stand-out on the EP. That Einzig possesses a silky falsetto is certainly not the least of this track’s assets.

The album wraps with “Louisiana Telepathy,” a pooling of influences and ideas stitched together my Middle Eastern-sounding strings. Like the rest of this collection, the track is organic and experimental, imbued with free spirit and an impetus toward self-expression over easily digestible pop. That impulse pays off, and the five songs — if they’re any indication of what’s to come from this relatively-new-to-Asheville band — portend great things.