Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: happiness

The things I’m grateful for today

I’ve come to believe that grateful appreciation is one of the keys to happiness.  And the nicest thing about grateful appreciation is that I can do it any time, no matter what.  It’s easy to make a list of the things that make me grateful today.

  • For Joe, who came into our room when he heard Dev wake up, just to take him into the living room so Ruth and I could get a few more minutes of sleep.
  • For Asha, who came in shortly after to wake us up by crawling all over us, just like kids in the movies do.
  • For Dev, who is determined to figure out how to stand up without support, no matter how many times he falls.
  • For Ruth, who shared my breakfast and my journey in the snow.  Who always shares my meals and journeys.

Those are just the obvious ones.  But when I’m mindful, every moment is full of things to appreciate.

  • The challenge of study and exams.
  • The dense snowfall, making  my walks downtown other-worldly.
  • The frigid wind that bites my face.
  • The way the dancing snow only sticks to the parts of the trees where two branches meet.
  • The sense of triumph when I finally arrive at Robarts Library.
  • The standing in line with other shivering, studying students aching for coffee.
  • The smell of the Reading Room.
  • The view from my cubicle.
  • The feel of the keyboard under my fingers.

This is where happiness is: mindfulness in each moment.  Recognizing that each moment is the best moment.  That Today is always the very best day.

The Life You Always Wanted


     You’ve screwed up. So have I, I guess. That’s the way it goes, sometimes. What are you going to do about it?

     Usually we re-live it. We put our minds there and run through the screw-up again and again. So instead of screwing up once, we screw up everyday. The same screw-up. It sucks.

     Keep it up and you’ll die full of regrets.

     Ever wondered what it would be like to know you were going to die? People talk about the choices they’d make if they found out they had a terminal illness. People say they’d call up old friends and right old wrongs and tell off enemies and live life the way they’d always dreamed of living it. I don’t really get that.

     Because I am dying. And so are you. We’ve all been diagnosed with a terminal illness – mortality. No one beats it. 100% casualty rate.

     You know what I’d change in my life if I found out I had terminal cancer? Not much. To be honest, I’m already living the way I want to.

     I have a family that gives me nothing but joy. I am slowly but surely working toward my creative dreams. I am just about the happiest person I know.

     Because I know I’m dying.

     So I don’t pay much attention to the mistakes I’ve made. I don’t re-live them. I don’t whine about not having enough time to follow my dreams. Because I don’e have time to whine. I’m dying. And there’s nothing like living like you were dying.

Sweat the Hard Stuff

        The hardest stuff is always the best.

        I’m tired right now. I gave a sermon on Sunday. It was inspired by a conversation four angry Baptists had that I overheard. I’m always wrecked two days after giving a sermon. Preaching is, honestly, one of the funnest things in the universe. Stressful, tense, but fun. But it drains every drop of emotional, mental and creative energy I have. Come Tuesday, I have an IQ of 60, lack the imagination to draw a circle and nearly weep when I see an ugly cat.

        So it’s hard to do the hard stuff in the week following a sermon.

        Which sucks, because the hard stuff is the best stuff.

        When you have to sweat a bit to create or consume something.

        When it’s tough, but you’re still good enough to pull it off.

        Reading a profound poem.

        Writing an emotional scene.

        Cooking a pot of palak paneer that makes your Pakistani wife go ‘Hai Allah!”

        Those are great.

        Those are hard.

        Especially after draining myself on a Sunday morning.

Thoughts on a Cup of Tea

     Stop.

     Just for a minute there.

     It’s not that you’re doing it wrong. I don’t really think there is a wrong way to do it. But maybe there is another way. A way that will be better for you.

     First, don’t pour the water while it’s boiling. Let it cool down a bit first. Just a minute. It’ll still be hot. And the taste will come out better.

     While you’re waiting, think about something lovely in the room you’re in. Smile at it.

     Now pour.

     Watch it for a bit. See the colour seep from the bag and stain the water. What did you use? Black? Green? Herbal? Try green. It’s good for you and, if you make it the way I do, it’s not even a little bitter and tastes like something divine.

     How long are you going to let it steep? Try steeping for three minutes or less. It won’t be as strong, but it won’t be bitter, either. That’s the best kind. It’s not strong, but it’s not afraid of being weak, either.

     Are you just going to drink it? Just like that?

     Try sitting on the floor. Cross your legs. Put your cup in front of you. Is your room quiet? Can it be made quiet? Can it be made still? Just for a minute. Take your cup in two hands. I know you can lift it with one, but two is better. If you only use one, you’ll be tempted to multitask. And multitasking does not lead to peace.

     Bring the cup to your mouth, but don’t drink yet. Don’t smell it, either. Rather, breathe it. Slowly. Breathe it again. Can you taste it already? Can you feel it’s warmth in your chest? Nice, isn’t it? Close your eyes and breathe it for a minute.

     Put it to your lips, and take a sip.

     Smile.

     That’s how to have a cup of tea.

From Dark to Grey

     It was a dark and stormy, bright sunny day. Or week. Or something like that. Anyway, it was rough. Ruth was leaving earlier than we had planned. I wasn’t sleeping well. Things were piling on. So I slowly walking into a dark place. Ever been there? Not fun.
     Then she left. Got darker. Hadn’t written a thing in days. Maybe a week, even.
     But it’s getting brighter today.
     I took the bus down to Danforth. Walked for hours, carrying my leather case with my notebook and computer. Wonderful day for walking. Too cool to stand still. Once I got into a good rhythm my body warmed itself up. I passed a church that was having a hamburger cookout. They invited me in. It was nice. I declined, mostly because I didn’t want to create an awkward situation because they had nothing a vegetarian could eat. But I hugged the guy and thanked him for his invitation. It made him smile. That made me smile.
     I kept going. Crossed the road. Started walking the other way. Came across a vegetarian restaurant I hadn’t seen before called Teatree Cafe. Had a grilled brie sandwich with honey baked apples on oatmeal bread and a potato oatmeal soup. Children played and laughed behind me, talking about their Sunday School class. It was good. My body thanked me for the sandwich. I started feeling strong and I smiled again.
     I left and kept walking. Found my way to the Tsaa Tea Shop. I forget what kind of tea I ordered. Something that had to do with eyebrows (seriously). I sat in my place and opened my computer. Found the section I was supposed to be working on. Drank a cup of tea while staring at it.
     My throat was wet and my insides were comfortable. But my mind and heart still wanted to throw the computer away and join a circus. I poured myself another cup of tea.
     I was feeling more positive. The other customers started to fade and I reached down to my characters to see if they were still alive. They were, it turned out. I poured myself another cup of tea.
     I dared to put my fingers to the keyboard. They moved. Slowly at first. Awkwardly. With horrid spelling. But that wasn’t a problem. I’m a worse speller than my mother-in-law. And she doesn’t even speak English. I poured myself another cup of tea.
     I was rolling, suddenly. It started to work. It started to make sense. It was fun and real again. I poured myself another cup of tea.
     I stopped typing. Looked at the wordcount. Smiled to myself and closed the computer. I finished the tea and stared out into the street.
     I left with a grin. I’m all alone, still. But not really. I have love in my life. The love of an orchestra. And a guy was giving out free samples of Stella Artois on the way back. And I know how to make killer tea.
     On the bus going home, I read this line from Lotung, the Tang poet, concerning drinking tea:

The first cup moistens my lips and throat,
The second cup breaks my loneliness,
The third cup searches my barren entrail
but to find therein some five thousand
volumes of odd ideographs.
The fourth cup raises a slight perspiration,—
All the wrong of life passes away through my
pores.
At the fifth cup I am purified;
The sixth cup calls me to the realms of
immortals.
The seventh cup—ah, but I
could take no more! I only feel
the breath of cool wind that rises
in my sleeves.
Where is Horaisan?
Let me ride on this sweet breeze
And waft away thither.

     All in all, it’s been a good day.

A Good Day

I knew the coffee would be bad, so I ordered a tea instead.

There was no Tim Horton’s nearby, as strange as that may sound. There was only a Coffee Time. I had to hurry. I had just got off of my normal night shift and I had thirty minutes until the planning meeting began. It would go on into the afternoon, and when it was done I’d have to race home, sleep fast, and be back at work for the next night shift. I was not looking forward to it.

I ordered a tea and a muffin. Dragging my feet I carried them to a table in the corner and sat. Immediately my body tried to fall asleep. I shook my head and looked around for something interesting to take my mind off my fatigue. Right beside me there was a sign with the words written on the bottom: “It’s going to be a good day.”

It pissed me off.

I started an internal argument with the sign. “What makes you think,” I said, “that this will be a good day? What do you know about my day? I have just come off a night shift, you silly sign. And I have a meeting in a few minutes and another night shift after that! Does that sound like a good day? On top of that, you don’t know about all the things I’m trying to start that seem to be failing before they get off the ground. You don’t know about the stresses my family is facing or how we are dealing with them. You don’t know about my internal struggles with all the nasty spiritual, mental and emotional forces I am dealing with. You don’t know, you silly, stupid sign! You just don’t know!” I took a bite from my muffin. “And this muffin tastes horrible, too! Why? Because on top of all the stresses that this country gives me, I cannot even find a decent coffee shop from which to get some decent comfort food. So what, you stupid, silly sign, makes you think it’s going to be a good day?”

And then I looked down at my tea, and stopped. There, on the lid, written in that white chalky pencil, was a smiley-face.

Affection. The lady who made my tea took a second and drew a smiley-face on the lid. And the serious and smiling truth hit me: Love and affection exist. Indeed, I have plenty of both in my life. Therefore it is going to be a good day.

Despite a crappy work situation.
Despite a handful of dim-looking prospects.
Despite a fatigue so great I fell asleep during the meeting.
Despite a muffin so insipid I couldn’t finish it.
Despite all these things, I have love. I have affection. Both stream to and from me and to and from my friends, family, neighbours and strangers.

Despite not seeing fully. Despite not knowing fully. Despite not living fully I have these three things that remain: Faith, Hope, Love. Love’s the best. It’s going to be a good day.