I felt this way once, but it was almost completely bleached out of me.
While I was pursuing a virtually non-existent acting career in Los Angeles in the late 1980s, I made a living typing letters and answering phones in the Special Events Department of The Universal Amphitheater, a concert venue in the very same parking lot as Universal Studios Hollywood and only a stone’s throw from my humble apartment.
At the amphitheater, my employee badge was, in essence, an all access backstage pass. It got me anywhere I wanted to go. This is another way of saying I spent most of my nights watching free concerts by the likes of Don Henley, Edie Brickell and New Bohemians, and Fine Young Cannibals (it was 1989, after all). I also worked a corporate convention by a relatively new computer company called Apple, had a front row seat at an unforgettable Joe Cocker concert, and took the very first call that ultimately booked David Letterman’s 8th Anniversary Special.
Throughout my tenure, however, there was one cardinal (though unspoken) rule: You were not allowed to make a big deal out of any of it. You had to appear unaffected, aloof, disinterested. You had to act as if the whole shooting gallery was so blase you’d rather be examining your belly button lint. The prevailing wisdom said that if you wanted to fit in, you would act like you couldn’t care less that all of this awesomesauce stuff was happening.
This was not easy for me. I'd spent my entire life dreaming of the bright lights and big city and now these amazing things were happening and I couldn't express how I was feeling about them.
During the 1989 MTV Video Music awards alone, for example, I remember:
--Walking by my office desk, which was only three yards from the dressing rooms, watching a band arrive, and as they entered the dressing rooms, thinking, “Holy Crap! That’s Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers!” But I said nothing.
--Seeing a singer rush off stage after her number and stand near me in the wings, panting and out-of-breath. Her name? Madonna. But I said nothing.
--Turning around in the narrow hallways near the dressing rooms and being forced to go back from where I’d come from because Cher’s headdress and her entourage filled the hallway so completely that I couldn’t get edge by. But I said nothing.
Other times I remember:
--Sitting in the green room backstage and looking over to see Dyan Cannon, an actress I grew up watching, give me a wink from where was sitting opposite me on an overstuffed couch. But I said nothing.
--Answering my phone one afternoon and saying, “Yeah he’s right here,” and handing the receiver to jazz saxophone legend David Sanborn, who had just entered the Special Events office. But I said nothing.
--Navigating the after concert crowd backstage until the sea of people cleared and I saw, leaning up against the far wall with one leg coolly crossed at the ankle, an actor adjusting his trademark black sunglasses (even though this was night), confirming once and for all that there is NO ONE cooler than Jack Nicholson. But I said nothing.
I wanted to just bust a gut with the joy of having these amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, but I had to act like it was nothing, like it didn't matter, like it was as exciting as rearranging my sock drawer.
The expectation during all of this by those around me was that I would act as if this stuff happened all the time. And I guess in that world, it did. But for me, it was far from normal. For this young boy from a small town in San Diego, it was heady stuff and my experiences left me wide-eyed and breathless. At least inside. Not acknowledging these amazing events, loudly and often, ran totally counter to my impulse. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. I wanted to text all my friends (which was weird because texting was about twenty years away).
But as a Zen Teacher I’ve learned that acknowledging amazing and wonderful experiences is exactly what we SHOULD do.
All the time. Every time.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the joy we feel in life SHOULD be celebrated and recognized and shouted about.
The things in our lives that move us should be loud and dramatic. We should be consumed by radical and vocal gratitude, joy, wonder and awe.
Something beautiful happen to you? Let someone know.
In fact, let the whole world know.
--See a beautiful sunrise? Take a picture and send it to someone.
--Hear a beautiful song? Share it on social media.
--See a beautiful mountain? Why not shout, “OMG! Look at that beautiful mountain!" and then point it out to a stranger.
--Someone do something nice for you? Give ‘em a big hug and a kiss. If you know them, I mean. Hugging and kissing the grocery store cashier, for example, might result in you answering tough questions at the local precinct, but I think you get my drift.
There is so much in life that can celebrated, so many wonders to behold, so many joys to be counted.
Why not celebrate them loudly, drench yourself in their wonders, intoxicate yourself with their joys?
That’s what life is for. That’s what joy is for.
To lose yourself in exultation.
Sure, you could try, as I did, to be as cool as Jack Nicholson.
When it comes to being happy. . .
Why not go big or go home? TZT
* H/T to Kool and the Gang.