Happiness e-book – Preview

I recently decided to write a book about happiness, which is definitely not all too uncommon these days. I am planning to offer it for free as an e-book, but I found myself having to start from scratch. Here’s the introduction:

Originally, I started out writing this book without ever having any intent of mentioning Jesus. Just a few days before I decided to completely revise this e-book, I had ordered some books and the first one to get shipped out is titled ‘In The Footsteps Of Jesus’. I took it as a sign. And it got me thinking, “How can one speak about happiness and ultimately not credit Jesus as the source?”.

Too many people automatically think of religion and all the discrimination and ugliness that has come forth from it when they hear that name. I myself am not religious and so I can understand where opponents of religion come from, but I ultimately let go of my objections.

As I thought more and more about it, I found one side of me fighting for not mentioning the name Jesus and instead going for descriptions like, “You can reach the source of endless happiness within your heart at all times.” It seems a decent enough advice, but then you ultimately end up asking what the source of that happiness is. If it really was you, then would you be able to reach out to it as if it’s something outside of you? Could it really be that there is a hidden part of you that emanates bliss without you being aware of it until you search for it? If it can be there without you being aware of it, whether that’s during great or awful moments, isn’t it something outside of you? And if so, what is that source?

If I were to say something like “the Universe”, then it seems something very vague and too open to many interpretations. If I wouldn’t name the source, then someone could accidentally reach out to something spiritually harmful. One could reach a void and mistake the absence of feelings as bliss or connect with a negative feeling they mistake for true happiness, which is really not all too unlikely if one is going through trying times.

Now imagine if I use the term ‘God’, then that would immediately spark a much clearer idea of what kind of source we’re dealing with, but then you’d end up with all kinds of different interpretations, both good and bad.

I could go for a figure comparable to Jesus, like Buddha for example, but I feel like Buddha can be associated with the concept of bliss coming forth from the absence of suffering with too much emphasis of putting an end to suffering to reach happiness, distracting from the act of reaching out to the source of happiness. That doesn’t mean that Buddhist concepts are bad to use as guidance towards true happiness, but I’m not sure if they would guide every individual to that true source of happiness.

So then why as a non-religious person did I decide upon Jesus being the source of happiness? It all has to do with how He is perceived. If you were to follow a biblical description, you might say Jesus is the same entity as God, but I personally prefer to make a distinction between the two. He lived among us as a craftsman (with the Greek term τέκτων meaning both wood-worker and stone-worker, His profession is up for debate) and He was familiar with human hardship. Jesus, as a living man, is more associated with love and with wanting to share His love, whereas the term ‘God’ is often interpreted as an entity unfamiliar with human hardship and harsher in judgment towards humans.

What really helped me decide to mention Jesus as the source of happiness is Bruce Marchiano’s portrayal of Jesus in the movie ‘The Encounter’. He manages to portray Jesus as someone who loves unconditionally and truly suffers when others suffer. That’s the kind of source of happiness I am trying to refer to. And it’s the interpretation of Jesus that I would like to use in this book.

©2016 Didier Strijdonk

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Homeless – A Short Story

I grew up being told that I was special and that I could be anything I wanted to be. I ended up being what no-one expected me to be: homeless. It’s a horrible thing from what I’ve heard. That’s what I thought in the beginning too. Few people want to help you out and many ignore you. You can ask for money for hours and it’s my experience that the vast majority either doesn’t want to give away their money or they think that you’re not really homeless. In either case, you don’t get much. But you’ll get a dollar here and there; enough to get around. Or well, enough to stay alive.

What nobody ever tells you is that you’ll have all the time in the world to take a good look at all the beauty that nature offers so generously.  I used to focus on what people did and the things that annoyed me. I was blind. Being homeless didn’t necessarily open my eyes, but it did give me the time and lack of distraction that I needed. I never gazed at the sky. I mean, I remember spending countless hours watching at the sky during my childhood, but somehow the magic disappeared… or so I thought. The magic is still there, but my mind was always too busy to recognize it. Things were expected of me, there were always things to do and I was never living a satisfactory life. The truth is, I never allowed for anything to make me happy. I focused on the emptiness I felt. I was foolish to believe that I would achieve happiness focusing on all that was wrong with my life. There’s always going to be a negative aspect if that’s what you’re looking for; even if you do that subconsciously.
I see hundreds of people passing by on a daily basis and it’s hard to ignore the fear, sadness, stress and frustration they express. And I can’t help but wonder, “Why does it have to be like this?” The truth is, it doesn’t have to. Whether they realize it or not, people choose to focus on the negative things. Of course, that’s just how they were raised and because of the things they went through. So no, I don’t blame them. And I really can’t, because I know how tough it is out there. Yet, despite all of their hardships, some people still offer me a genuine smile. You can just feel that something deep within them acknowledges you fully. It’s a beautiful feeling. And the thing is, many of those smiles come from complete strangers; people that haven’t even seen me once. That never fails to amaze me.

Then there are the moments when people hesitantly hand me a dollar or two. Some are really generous too. I always thank them, but I don’t think they comprehend how much it means to me. They don’t know where their money is going. I could be scamming them or trying to rob them for all they know. However, they choose to give me the benefit of the doubt. They choose to put their faith in not only me, but the world. They want to believe that everybody’s good deep down inside. It’s a beautiful thing. Naturally, you can’t trust everyone, but they don’t allow that fact to ruin their hope and trust. I do believe that everybody’s good deep down inside. No matter how deep inside you have to dig, there’s good within you. And more importantly, there’s happiness within your deepest core too. Really, it doesn’t matter how depressed or angry you are; if you seek deep enough within yourself, you will find bliss.

I know that to be a fact. I was diagnosed with cancer six years ago. Evidently, I’m still around, but I lost everything else; even my family. I was lost emotionally. I had built up so much anger, fear and confusion, that I had a pretty serious meltdown… so no, I don’t blame them. I regret what happened, although I never got a chance to say sorry. Everything happened so fast and before I realized it, I was out on the streets with nobody to turn to. If I wasn’t already broken to the core, then becoming homeless surely did the trick. At that point, you don’t even care how much worse things can get. The fear and anger seemed to fade and I was left with an empty heart. I didn’t care for anything anymore. Why should I? I didn’t even feel anything anymore. I didn’t even care when someone tried to help me. There was this man that came every day with water bottles and homemade meals to insist that I would eat and drink. I didn’t want to, but I wanted to be left alone, so I’d eat and drink as quick as I could. It was a lousy reason, but it saved my life… he saved my life. I didn’t realize until later, but something within me recognized the beauty within him. I simply woke up one morning with the revelation that beauty is everywhere and in everyone. I don’t think I was ever truly alive before.

It’s ironic how things turned out. I was miserable when I was self-sustaining and I’m as happy as I’ll ever be now that I’m homeless. I just wish I could make you feel my bliss… your bliss if only you look deep enough.

Copyright ©2015 Didier Strijdonk

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The Sound of Dementia – A Short Story

“Can’t you help me?”, Liam’s wife asked looking up at him. Tears rolled down his cheek. He wanted to help her, but he knew there was nothing he could do. It was her moment of clarity; one of her few ones. She was suffering from dementia. He lovingly rubbed his wife on the back. “I love you, Maria”, he said. It was the best and the only response he could give. “Will you dance with me?”, he asked her, hoping it would sooth her pain and knowing he needed it just as much as she did. “Yeah”, she said without much emotion. He picked up the stereo remote from the table in front of her and turned on a song he hoped she would remember. “Let me help you get up”, Liam said as he put his hand on her lower back and gently gave her a little push, using his other hand to hold hers. “Will you take this dance?”, he asked to make sure she still wanted to dance. “I’d love to”, she said as her eyes lit up while hearing the song play, ♪When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.♫
Dean Martin was playing. It was cheesy, but that’s the song he played when he proposed to her. He had requested the day off, so that he could decorate the dining table and bake a pizza from scratch. When she came back from work, the lights were off and candles lit the way to the dining table. Liam had been waiting for her, peeking through the curtains, so he could serve the pizza as hot as possible. “Liam, honey, where are you?”, she asked. “Right here in the living room, dear.” He was cutting the pizza hastily. When she came around the corner, he had just finished cutting it and he offered her a seat, “Here, let me get that seat for you.” He pulled back her seat and started the music. “Would you like a slice?”, he asked walking back to the table. “Yes, please!”, she responded, “It smells so good! Did you make this?” The timing could not have been any more perfect. Liam sang along as Dean Martin seemed to respond to her question, ♪That’s amore!♫  Maria gave him the most loving smile. It was love indeed. Liam had gotten the recipe from a local pizzeria, along with their blessings. It was different baking it at home, he was told, but it would still come out great. He had practiced the recipe at a friend’s house until he had mastered it. “Business” is what he had said he was doing there. His friend would have covered for him if necessary, but his then girlfriend never questioned Liam. “Perfect!”, Liam’s friend said when he tasted the eleventh pizza. Maria’s was the twelfth. Maria had started eating and her face expressed great pleasure. Liam took a bite as well, hoping she wasn’t on to him yet and that he could surprise her with the engagement ring, but he had to hurry, because the next line was coming up. He silently took the velvet ring box out his pocket and presented it just in time for the next line, ♪Bells will ring, ting-a-ling-a-ling. Ting-a-ling-a-ling and you’ll sing, “Vita bella”.♫ “Will you marry me?”, he asked. She waited for the “pasta fazool” cue that was coming up. He laughed when he realized what she was doing. ♪That’s amore!♫, Maria sang along with the song. “Of course I will!”, she said and got up to give him a firm hug and a kiss. Liam put the ring on her finger. “It’s beautiful”, she said. It wasn’t the most expensive one he could find, but he wanted to be careful with money and she clearly accepted it wholly. “What about my pizza?”, he joked and held up a slice up to her mouth. ♪That’s amore!♫, she sang and took a bite. They shared a few bites before he got up and asked, “Will you take this dance?” “I’d love to!”, she responded, answered by Dean Martin singing, ♪Lucky fella♫.

Maria, now 76, swayed along to the music together with Liam. He hadn’t seen her so alive in years. Her eyes were glistening; something he’d love to see again. For once, she wasn’t forgetting things. She was even singing along every “That’s amore” she heard. When the music stopped, she asked him, “Where’s the pizza?” He hadn’t anticipated that, but he answered with, “Let’s go to our local pizzeria. They’re the ones I’ve got the recipe from”. “Yours is better”, she answered with a smile. It was almost as if music had cured her for a bit. He asked at the restaurant if they could play their song and they would. “It’s our pleasure”, the fourth owner said. Every day since, Liam made pizza and played the song until her very last day. Even during her funeral service it sounded, ♪That’s amore!♫ Although many were surprised, most smiled upon hearing this music. Liam was crying throughout most of the song, but he had to agree when Dean Martin sang, ♪Lucky fella♫.

Copyright ©2015 Didier Strijdonk

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Chalalán – A short story

Another year, another 1400 square miles of deforestation. It looked like things weren’t going to change in the Bolivian Amazon and it was taking a toll on Ernesto.  He was fighting a constant battle with his consciousness, knowing he was chopping down trees illegally and he could be thrown in jail any time now. Besides that, his employer could get away with not paying him. He’d be just as guilty in court as his employer. He feared his wife leaving him and his kids never wanting to see him again if anything happened. The exact same thing he was doing to provide for his family could also tear them apart just as rapidly as the trees were falling down. His life would be just as empty as the fields they left behind. Imagine seeing 25 trees disappear day after day. Imagine the chainsaws roaring in fury, fighting a tree’s fruitless resistance, while you know that instead of hearing cheers in celebration of success, even the chainsaws will mourn in silence. The agony was relentless, but somehow his coworkers seemed to have grown indifferent. It all seemed so eerily similar to people being lined up for execution. He himself could be sentenced for ‘war crimes’ if a tattletale would find out. He was even carrying a gun with him. “Just in case”, his employer had advised him. He didn’t think he’d ever be able to pull the trigger, but the hormones in his body begged to differ. The rustling of leaves around him had turned him paranoid. “Come out!”, he shouted when he heard more rustling. His coworkers all checked the direction of Ernesto’s gun. All had stopped working, but were still holding their chainsaws. They had no way of telling whether there was real danger or if this was false alarm. The silence revealed nothing. “Come out, I said!”, he cried out even louder. His only response came in the form of more rustling. He feared someone had caught them and would report them to the police. His family would leave him. After all those years of love and hard work, he would not allow that to happen. He fired his gun without hesitation. Everybody looked at him in fear, surprised that he was capable of this atrocity. Ernesto just stood there. He was clearly in shock, one of his coworkers realized. He took it upon himself to examine the horror that Ernesto had inflicted on some creature.  When he moved the leaves to reveal the scene, he shuddered in disgust. “You coward!”, he screamed, “Don’t just stand there! Be a man and come look at what you have done!” Ernesto still couldn’t believe what he had done, but he agreed he had to face his actions. He slowly forced his feet -heavy with sorrow and disbelief- forward, but his coworker urged him to hurry up. “Ernesto!”, he screamed again, pointing at the gun wound. There it lay on the ground, a sloth; a rare animal in this area. “It could’ve been a kid, Ernesto! Do you realize what you’ve done?!” He looked at the blood that was running from the animal’s chest. The sight of it made him sick. How could he? Ernesto dropped his gun, oblivious to the fact that it would later serve as evidence against him in court. It could’ve been a kid. “It just as well might have been”, he later told an inmate, “I lost my kids.” “Have you lost your soul too?”, he asked. In the absence of a response, he continued, “I lost everything, except for my soul. It’s the only thing I have left to live for.”

Somewhere else in Bolivia, in Madidi National Park, the indigenous Quecha-Tacana people were running an eco-tourism business called Chalalán in an effort to counter illegal logging. Their cabins were a perfect attraction for tourists with their hardwood flooring, roofs made from woven açaí palm leaves and walls made from copa palm that was covered with matting. All organic waste was added to a compost heap and fossil fuels were used as little as possible. The water was purified and the lighting in the shared areas and bedrooms were powered by solar energy. This is the kind of place Ernesto dreamed of. It’s the kind of dream that others turned into a reality. It’s the kind of dream tourists loved to experience.

Copyright ©2015 Didier Strijdonk

Note:
Chalalán does indeed exist and the amount of deforestation in this story is based on truth. If you want to know more about Chalalán, go to:http://www.chalalan.com/index_en.php

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