Yesterday was a gorgeous, warm, fall day: the kind that we’re keenly aware are numbered at this time of year.
That’s what I love about October: Its vibrance seizes the senses and teaches us to be here now and really experience and savor it rather than just autopilot through it. And if we’re really aware, we realize that presence kindles inner peace and satisfaction and that it isn’t limited to beautiful, fall days when the foliage is at peak. Or beautiful days in general.
On my drive home from work, only a few minutes from home, the light of the sunset sky bathed the already colorful, autumn leaves in beautiful, golden light that illuminated the trees magnificently. There was one piece of land in particular that commanded my attention. It was a spectacular landscape with a house and a red barn surrounded by the blazing trees.
I pulled over at a spot that required a brief walk for the best view. Although my intention was to photograph the farmhouse, the angle of sunlight was changing quickly, and I realized I might not make it in time.
Then I noticed where I was, right next to a cornfield. When I got out of my car, I was drawn to the sunset colors over the cornfield and decided to skip the farmhouse landscape and photograph the cornfield, instead.
After composing some shots and savoring the moment, I continued on, filled with the radiance of the sunset and the satisfaction of witnessing its golden-pink glow. Listening to magical handpan music as I drove, it hit me: Happiness. I am happy. Satisfied. Peaceful. Content.
It occurred to me that for the first time in my life, I’m not chasing anything. Not a relationship, a career, spiritual growth, anyone’s attention, financial prosperity, a slimmer body, home ownership, or anything else. It’s not that I received everything I wanted or threw in the towel. Rather, I learned somewhere along the way that I didn’t need what I thought I needed and had been pursuing in order to be happy.
In other words, I realized I’m already good enough. My self-esteem doesn’t hinge on any conditions or outcomes. I can just be without needing to impress anyone else to feel good about myself. I don’t need others to act differently for me to be happy. I can carry contentment and boundless compassion within me like an inner sun and not be so needy in relation to the rest of the world. I can experience inner peace even when the outer world feels like it’s spinning out of control – without disconnecting from it.
It’s the best feeling ever, and I’m writing about it not to brag but to communicate that it’s possible. Happiness is possible. By that, I mean deep joy and satisfaction, not the fleeting, conditioned, circumstantial variety.
When I pulled into the driveway, I sat in my car for a while watching the sunset sky with tears of joy and gratitude dripping down my face. I realized that every single step was part of the journey that got me here. The photography that helps me to find beauty and experience gratitude every day and uplifted me during some very difficult times. The trauma of losing close loved ones and supporting others through mental health crises. Feeling invisible on social media. Challenging relationships. The list could go on and on. Yet, every step mattered and carried blessings. Every step brought me to this moment of feeling so full and whole and complete.
I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but I was born privileged, nonetheless. I’ve experienced so much that I never imagined “someone like me” would experience in life. Tough and humbling stuff but also tremendous beauty. Because of it all, my heart is so full of compassion, gratitude, and joy. It wasn’t always that way. I’ve worked hard to rewire my neural programming.
For the past few years, I’ve felt an unconditionally loving presence growing stronger in me. I don’t know where that presence comes from – whether it’s Divinity, loved ones who have crossed over, my teachers, or my own Self. (Is there a difference?) However, I no longer berate myself with judgments and expectations of accomplishing more than I already have in this life.
Experiencing this kind of inner peace doesn’t mean life will be smooth sailing from now on. There will be challenges and suffering. Life will still send inevitable curveballs. But there are peak moments when the light shines through so brightly and seems to swell up from the truest depths and fill us with luminosity and grace. We might realize we have grown through all the trauma and heartache and unconditional love and resources we’re blessed with and say thank you. For all of it. Even when the story is still unfolding, and we don’t know how it will all turn out.
Thank you. I trust that this, too, serves awakening.
Even after these peak moments have faded like sublime sunset colors, memories of them can cut through the gravity of our earthly dramas and remind us that we are so much more than the myopic desires and aversions of our ego consciousness. We can perceive challenges and curveballs as opportunities to develop inner resources we didn’t even know we were capable of. We can still have aspirations, but they are unclenched. More spacious. For example, I aspire to be a healing, loving, uplifting presence in this world. At the same time, I don’t need to accomplish anything in particular or help or change anyone else to feel I have worth. I have worth because I exist.
Being less dependent on this shifting world and all its personalities, I wonder (with curiosity rather than a sense of obligation): What’s possible now that wasn’t before? What is possible when we set ourselves free from the prison of our own making?
© 2019 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, Reiki practitioner, and mindfulness meditation teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.
As I drove along I-88 to Light on the Hill retreat center last weekend, I felt a little nervous. It was the weekend our group would focus on the Inner Child, and that kind of work hasn’t been my favorite kind of spiritual work in the past. What would my inner children have to say to me? What kind of emotional state would I find them in?
I’d recently finished sorting through all the family photos my parents had accumulated during their lifetime: 23 boxes of them, to be precise. It was like going through a multigenerational life review. I saw pictures in which I stood apart from the rest of my family, as if I wanted nothing to do with them, and felt bad about how I acted during those adolescent and teen years. Even when I was older, I believed I was more enlightened than the rest of my family and sometimes wondered if I was switched at birth. If I didn’t have the “Meyer eyes,” I seriously would have considered that possibility! Where the heck did I come from, anyway? I didn’t see myself reflected in my family.
In the same boxes, I came across baby pictures of my parents and wondered why I had to push so hard against such sweet beings. I imagined how it might be if my four-year-old self could have played with their four-year-old selves and experience a kind of peer equality we couldn’t experience when we were mired (Meyered!) in the roles of Parent and Child.
Basically, my life is quite full and busy, and I didn’t want to put time into reparenting my inner children because it is a bit of a commitment. However, the weekend was profoundly beautiful, and I learned something really important.
In our first guided visualization, my 6-year-old self came out the door of my childhood home, and we had a conversation in the front yard that continued on the branches of the cedar tree I loved to hang out in. That tree was my secret place. It was like a room, dark and hidden from the rest of the world, and during the visualization, it all came back to me: the scent of the foliage, the texture and position of the branches, the way the light filtered in.
My inner 6-year-old was a happy girl and had lots to say. She was a little lonely, but happy. Most of all, she wanted me to lighten up, run around, and be imaginative. I asked her why she’s happy, and she said because she picked a flower and played “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” on her piano. She wanted me to play piano because it brought her such joy.
The next day, my 15-year-old self greeted me in another guided visualization. I was surprised at how pleasant and talkative she was but remembered that I saved my surly side for my parents! At 15, I had lots of rich piano opportunities in and outside of high school, including accompanying choral groups and vocalists and playing piano in jazz band. By then, piano had basically become my identity. However, I’d discovered boys and was putting more energy into being accessible and attractive to them than pursuing what I really loved, and my piano teacher could tell when I didn’t practice the assigned pieces between lessons. (But Bach inventions were so boring, complains the 15-year-old!)
At that age, my ego was all tangled up in piano, and there was more pressure and greater expectations around it, as well as competition and a stubborn root of perfectionism. Not to mention, my mom was living vicariously through my piano accomplishments, and I felt the pressure, so it was a facet of the complicated mother-daughter dynamic, as well. The delicate balance had tipped, and playing piano was more about outcomes, identity, and self-worth than being in the flow and immersed in joy.
When I got to college, the competition was too much for me, and I pursued new interests and identities. I gradually stopped playing piano. I’ve lived in some small spaces, including my current home, and what you make space for says a lot about what’s important to you. I’ve always made space for a full piano keyboard, even if it was played only rarely.
My 15-year-old self wanted to know why I stopped playing piano, why I threw out the baby with the bath water. She wanted me to play, and to do it on my own terms. Play from my heart, what I want to play, how I want to play it, not to please anyone but myself. Play the music that comes to me almost constantly, that I find myself humming and singing into the voice recorder app on my phone. Play without worrying about making mistakes or being seen and judged, without making it be about my identity or self-worth. Play for the joy of it, like I did when I was young because when I play in that spirit, it feels soooo good! It’s inherently gratifying.
On my way home from the retreat, I stopped in Ithaca at a state park I hadn’t been to in quite some time, to photograph waterfalls. As I walked back to my car, I understood the deeper message my inner children were offering me: When have I done something just for the joy of it, without trying to monetize it in some way or draw attention to it? To do something without concern for how anyone else would respond to it. Just do it for the pleasure of it, and leave it at that. Let it be a hobby. Basically, I realized the value of hobbies.
There’s a picture of me playing piano when I was eight years old. I was smiling, and it was all about joy. Playing piano hadn’t become a means of impressing anyone or proving my worth. I just loved playing. I found that picture and placed it on my music stand, to keep me in touch with that spirit.
I’m learning many new skills now and pursuing new certifications. My plate is quite full. However, devoting even five minutes a day to playing piano for sheer JOY could be the most important thing I’ve done in quite some time – a means for healing and integrating my inner child because playing for the sake of joy and delight is so different from having the music all tangled up in ego and ultimately abandoned! Cutting yourself off from something you truly love can really weigh on you. It can be like abandoning an actual part of yourself.
What brings joy can begin to feed the ego instead of the True Self if you’re not careful. When the ego gets too big, it can crucify joy and turn what you love into a false identity that serves ego instead of a vehicle that expresses the True Self. That’s what happened to me. But when you stop blaming others or putting conditions or too much weight on the activity you once loved, you begin the empowering retrieval process.
There’s a room in my house that I’ve been working on for the past couple weeks. It used to be a bedroom but got converted into a storage room because the house lacks usable storage space and closets. It’s where I store my keyboard. I’ve somewhat facetiously referred to that room as the “graveyard of former passions” because it also houses my collection of children’s picture books from when I taught kindergarten. Those are the two things most visible in that room, and they have survived multiple rounds of clutter clearing. Everything else is hidden away on shelves behind a screen or in a dresser.
This week, I decided to come up with a new name for that room. Something along the lines of the “Inner Child Playground” or “Room for Joy”. I switched the images on the walls to display photography that fills me with delight, including pictures of daffodils and lilacs that I loved to pick when I was a child. I’ve made the keyboard more inviting and comfortable to sit at and have been playing every day since I got home from the retreat. It’s been so much fun that five minutes is rarely enough, and I’ve been giving it the time it deserves.
It feels like I’ve retrieved an abandoned and very important part of myself. The baby (or should I say inner child) has been removed from the bath water, and the good news is that it didn’t drown but is still very much alive. It has been a very happy week holding that child and appreciating its essence during our daily playdates as the cloudy bath water gurgles down the drain. At last!
© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.
It’s the first new moon of the new year as I sit down to write. What better time to kick off a series of mindful self-compassion blog posts! I’ve been wanting to do this for a while and waiting until the time felt right, and that time is NOW. It seems so many people are so anxious lately, and in times of stress, we need more than ever to give ourselves the gift of our own kindness and compassion!
I’ll admit right out of the gate that I’m a recovering perfectionist who has struggled with self-worth all my life. I made Self-Love my theme for 2017, not knowing exactly what to call it because the term carries selfish, narcissistic connotations, and that wasn’t at all what it meant to me. I realized I’ve spent the past 23 years caring for others in my roles of mother, partner/spouse, daughter, and early childhood educator. I’ve also struggled with personal boundaries, compared myself to those who seemed to have what I felt I was lacking, and (along with that) tended to put people on pedestals. Not exactly self-esteem boosters.
Finally, I realized something had to change! I’d become so good at caring for and seeing the good in others and not so good at doing the same for myself. Putting my own needs and desires on the back burner was holding me back in a big way. I needed to achieve a better balance between caring for myself and others. So that’s what I did for the past year, and it was truly transformational! I’m excited to share what I’ve learned.
I thought I’d begin with three simple rituals I do every morning that have made a big difference. Rather than rushing into the day and what needs to be done, taking a few mindful minutes to honor myself reminds me of my inherent worth and helps me to start the day in alignment with my true self.
Making the Bed
For years, I didn’t make my bed. Didn’t give it a second thought.
I’ve been going to Light on the Hill retreat center for individual retreats my entire adult life. At the end of the retreat, you’re expected to remove your bed sheets and make the bed with fresh sheets for the next retreatant. The instructions are to make the bed as if you’re preparing it for your beloved – with intention and a warm heart.
I so love that!
Last spring, after decluttering the entire house, I splurged and bought a nice, king-sized bed. Getting rid of lots of clutter created space for what I really want in my living environment. The process generated lots of clarity around who I was, who I am, who I am becoming, and what/who supports the vision I have for my life. Waking up every day feeling rested was the foundation upon which everything else…um, rested.
I had been sleeping on hand-me-down beds for a long time, and it was high time to get a better bed. It was a reward I gave to myself after the epic decluttering journey during which I acknowledged how important a comfortable bed is to good sleep and overall well-being. I used some money I had inherited from my parents and felt it would please them to know I did something nice for myself. It made my back happy, too!
Now that I finally had a nice bed, I wanted to take care of it. I recently had gone on retreat and recalled the practice of making the bed for the next person and decided it would be a beautiful, loving gesture to do for myself. So now I make my bed with love and intention every morning, fluffing the pillows, arranging them just so, and brushing off any debris, to prepare it for another inviting and restful night’s sleep. Whenever I walk into the bedroom and see my bed, I appreciate the gesture and feel loved. It really makes me feel happy, uplifted, and grateful.
Making my bed is not an obligation or chore. It’s a joy. As I do it, I think of how great it feels to walk into the room when the bed looks tidy and beautiful. It’s a little thing that makes a big difference.
This next morning ritual might sound a little weird. There is a mirror outside my bedroom, and after making my bed, I greet myself in the mirror with a big smile and loving words.
Last year, I worked my way through Cheryl Richardson’s book, The Art of Extreme Self-Care. Each chapter in the book offers a strategy to practice for an entire month, and one month, it was mirror work. At first, it felt a little awkward and reminded me of the Stuart Smalley skits on Saturday Night Live. But I was committed to practicing the exercises in the book and gave it a try.
It ended up being the most powerful practice I experimented with from the book, especially because I’ve had body image issues all my life. When I looked in the mirror, I did so critically, noticing what I perceived as flaws. Flaws seen through a magnifying glass! Looking in the mirror was not a feel-good activity.
After greeting myself with loving words, I look in my eyes and state positive affirmations that I have posted around the mirror. It might sound corny, but these affirmations are deeply meaningful reminders I want to attune to every morning…and it works. I really look forward to this ritual! It’s like tuning an instrument, and the instrument is my mind.
Now, quite unbelievably, looking in the mirror is an opportunity for loving kindness and to affirm who I really am and what is most important to me. More often than not, when I look in the mirror throughout the day (not just when I do the “mirror work”), the loving voice intercepts the critical voice, which is rather miraculous! It’s as if I have trained myself to see who I really am rather than compare what I look like to how I think I should look.
I just don’t do the mirror work when anyone else is around…or if they are, I do it quietly!
Lemon Water Cleanse
Next, I go into the kitchen and drink a cup of warm water with the juice of half a lemon and a dash of cayenne. This is little reminder to be mindful of what I put in my body. Apparently, warm lemon water has health benefits, and it’s a simple gesture that only takes a couple minutes from start to finish. It feels like a healthy, cleansing way to start the day. It reminds me that my body is a temple, and I begin the day treating it as such. That is the intention behind this ritual.
Doing these three rituals affirms every morning that I matter and have positive worth. It makes me feel good about myself. All these activities are done with a sense of joy, not out of obligation. It feels good to walk into the bedroom when the bed is made up beautifully. It feels good to smile and say kind and loving words to myself while looking in the mirror. And it feels good to begin the day conscious of what I put in my body. Altogether, these three rituals only take about 10 minutes!
Vision Board Massage
If time permits – especially on mornings when I don’t have to get ready for work right away – another morning ritual is sitting on the side of my bed and looking at my vision board, which hangs on the wall next to my bed. Looking at my vision board reminds me of my Big Whys, what is most important to me, what I want to manifest in my life, and who I am when I am at my best. Every item on my vision board sparks joy and boosts my energy.
For an extra special bonus, I give my hands and feet a massage while spending time with my vision board. First, I roll my feet on a foot massager, which feels really great. I might even massage my feet with my hands, too. Then I massage my hands either with Chinese health balls, my own hands, or by rolling homemade lavender putty in my palms. The latter is currently my favorite. Think playdough for grownups! It feels so relaxing to roll the putty around in my hands, making balls and snakes, just like when I was a child (and a kindergarten teacher)! It seems to massage the pressure points in the hands, in a fun way.
Another bonus morning ritual is a half-hour of home yoga practice. My favorite resource is Yoga with Adriene on YouTube. Every year, she kicks off the new year with 30 days of yoga. This year, the series is called True. Last year, it was Revolution, and the year before that was Yoga Camp. When I finish one series, I go to one of the others, and there are plenty of videos to last the whole year – and they are free! Adriene’s message is all about self-love and finding what feels good.
I’ve been doing yoga long enough to really feel the difference it makes in my body and mind. It makes me more aware of the energy in my body and where I’m holding tension. I’ll often become aware of my feet when I’m standing in line somewhere, and it’s a pleasant experience that takes me out of the thinking mind, reconnects me to my body, and deepens my breathing and relaxation response. Once, I was waiting in line at the bank, and the customers in front of me had business that took a long time. I became aware of my feet, then aware of the energy in my body, and it was like doing a body scan meditation! When it was my turn, the teller said he couldn’t believe how patient I was.
There are lots of benefits of yoga, and that’s just one of them. It seems to get the energy flowing more smoothly through my body. I tend to live in my head, and yoga really helps me to more fully embody the experience of having a body. It takes my attention away from my thoughts and emotions and is a portal to deeper presence and relaxation.
So those are my morning rituals! I love creating rituals. The possibilities are endless. It’s all about the mindfulness and positive energy they generate – which is why I do them every day. Occasionally, something will come up, and I won’t have time to do all of them, but I resist the temptation to use that as an opportunity to feel bad. I tell myself it’s not the end of the world. Mornings like that happen, and tomorrow is a new day! It’s more fun to wake up and get out of bed when I have something to look forward to, and these morning rituals are a positive, uplifting way to start the day.
© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.
I’m sitting with my laptop with tears streaming down my face…because I get it. I understand C.P. Cavafy’s amazing poem, “Ithaka,” on a new level now. It’s been one of my favorite poems since I heard it during a Cornell University commencement address in Ithaca, New York in my twenties. I printed out the poem and displayed it on the refrigerator, or framed on a wall, for years back when I was trying to figure out what to do with my life.
You can read the full poem here: http://www.cavafy.com/poems/content.asp?cat=1&id=74 . Please do!
Yesterday, I was walking along the riverside and was drawn to the way the sunlight illuminated fallen leaves, making them look like glowing embers.
I picked up an oak leaf and had an idea. I held it to the sun and was delighted to the core by the photographic effect I achieved. It was a simple effect but a very satisfying one that began spontaneously when a sense of awe was ignited by a creative spark.
All of a sudden, I realized I was holding a tiny magic wand in my hand. And that’s when the delight giggled in!
I continued on my walk looking at the world around me through a lens of appreciation and joy. I was completely in my element, exhausted from a long week at work but invigorated by being immersed in what I love.
As I admired some fall foliage on the trail, a line from the “Ithaka” poem sailed into my mind: “not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.”* At this point in my life, I am not looking to anything or anyone to make me happy. I’ve been there, done that. I’ve been married twice and have raised two children who are now teenagers – one of whom has graduated from high school and is living on her own. I worked really hard to decide on a career direction once my youngest started school, and jumped through all the hoops (which were numerous and expensive) to earn the credentials needed for my chosen career path. After what felt like a mythic Quest, I landed a teaching job at my preferred grade level. And I was happy – immensely happy – for two or three years.
But the thing is, you really can’t look to a life situation to make you happy. Not a relationship. Not a job. Not material possessions. Not anything else. Because everything in this world changes, and happiness and fulfillment are ultimately an inside job – a way of relating to the world, a manner of traveling. Toward the end of the poem, Cavafy explained:
“Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.”
*Source: C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992.
Relationships and career may awaken something extraordinary in you and set you on your path, but they are not the destination. Rather than thinking, “I will be happy when…” (I get married, buy a house, have a baby, land my dream job, retire, etc.), it’s about tuning your mind to the channel of love and joy and engaging with that “rare excitement” that lights you up.
At this point in my life, I understand the last lines of the “Ithaka” poem in a new way:
“And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.”*
Yes, I think I finally understand what these Ithakas mean. Don’t build your house on the shifting sands of the world. Build it in your heart, and carry it with you always. Let it lead you to new harbors when the time is right.
In my experience, a worthwhile life is one spent doing what you love – that which fills you with joy and meaning. And that might change. Whatever my job or career is, I feel that my true work is to love, to inspire, to be inspired, to create, to listen, to have a grateful heart. Those things have become more important than any particular life situation. As I become older and hopefully wiser, I find myself gravitating toward these things. The details don’t matter so much. I just want to keep alive the creative spark – the “rare excitement” – and live an inspired life.
I am never happier than when I am engaged in the creative process, and I set my sails each day to follow the winds of creativity. If it’s not in one place – and a place can be either physical/geographical or mental/emotional – I will find it in another and spend my time there. In that place, I feel truly alive and know exactly what to do.
In that place, I realize that life is short and that if you wait for all the lights to turn green before starting out, you’ll never leave the house. It’s one thing to have a map and know where you want to go, but it’s another to actually get in the car or on the bike – or even in the moving van – and get started. For example, my husband and I joined an online international rock balancing community a while ago. Every day, we are inspired by photos posted by group members. A couple weeks ago, Jack decided to start posting his own pictures on the group’s page. Why wait? And then someone liked his work and invited him to join another artists group. That is how it happens. You show up and share your talents, and then people are drawn to your energy and perhaps inspired by your courage, and they help you along the way. We help one another.
That is how the magic seems to happen. If you’re looking to an “Ithaka” to make you financially rich, there’s more involved, but if you’re looking to be happy and to live a fulfilled life, you’ve got to follow that spark and spend more time doing what you love.
© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
I bought my new At-a-Glance weekly/monthly planner yesterday. (As a teacher and parent, my year runs July to June rather than January to December.)
It’s turquoise – my favorite color. And it felt so good to file the old one! As I transferred birthdays and such into the new planner, I noticed the notes I’d jotted down about all the “events” that arose during the past year. Although I’ve kept a running tally in my head of the major events, there were some that had slipped my mind. And – wow. It totally explains why I ended up feeling as I do: Questioning virtually every aspect of my life situation and wanting to reinvent myself. I guess the bottom line is that some years are like that – and my nature photography was the saving grace that pulled me through and helped me to find beauty and inspiration to rise above the waves rather than be sucked under. When a year like that comes along, you’ve got to cull whatever grace, blessings, and wisdom you can from it and keep going.
“There are no tough times, hard knocks, or challenges that aren’t laden with emeralds, rubies, and diamonds for those who see them through.” -Mike Dooley
The past year helped me to get my priorities straight. I am ready for deep transformation and for living a more authentic, congruent life. Life is short, and I simply don’t have the energy for anything else.
I’ve been thinking about happiness a lot this week. And that’s usually not a great sign because if you’re thinking about being happy, you’re probably not doing it. Too much thinking can be a real handicap on the spiritual path. It can be an addiction, a distraction.
It seems I’ve come to a fork in the road. One way points to Authenticity and Adventure and the other to Fear (which runs perilously close to the dense forest of Hopelessness).
I know which road I want to take. But I think I am programmed to take the other through nearly half a century of conditioning – most of it well intentioned. Realizing this is really frustrating – and at times, downright painful. Because the former route is the way of Life, and the latter is the way of Death. Is there anything more regrettable than an unlived life – remaining closed in a bud rather than blooming and sharing your gift with the world as fully as possibly?
My hair is a perfect metaphor for the ambivalence I’m struggling with. Although most of my hair is dark auburn, the roots are mostly silver. And I’m okay with that. I’m tired of putting poison on my head, and the last time I did it, it didn’t feel like “me.” I’m considering letting my hair go natural rather than mask who I really am. The way I see it, silver strands of wisdom are growing out of my head, and I’ve earned every single one of them.
So yes, I am ready. Ready for deep, voluntary transformation. For rewiring my neural circuitry. Not just talking about it or learning how to do it, but really doing it.
I have been obsessing for the past year over a situation in my life that I would like to change. With everything that has occurred in the past year, it’s difficult to sort out whether the situation is really as bad as it seems or if managing all the major events during the past year has been so overwhelming that I simply couldn’t cope with it as resourcefully as I might have been able to other years. I want to avoid making the mistake of throwing out the baby with the bath water.
One of the problems is that I can’t think of a compelling alternative to the present situation. That is because I have accumulated enough life experience to know that happiness does not depend on situations or conditions external to ourselves (i.e. “If I get/achieve this, I’ll be happy.”) I have had the good fortune of manifesting various situations and relationships my heart desired and have learned that enduring happiness doesn’t come from those things/people. The interplay of all the external conditions in our lives is constantly shifting and changing like the image in a kaleidoscope. Although I haven’t had a great deal of material success so far in this lifetime, I realize from knowing and reading autobiographies about people who have everything money can buy, that material success is not the Holy Grail of happiness. Happiness is an inner quality, an attunement and sense of well being – and when it is activated in you, the situations in your life are irrelevant.
I truly believe that, unless there are biochemical issues at play, happiness is a choice. If you’re not happy with a current situation, you have the choice to change it or to change your attitude toward it. You can make excuses for why you cannot do either, but the bottom line is that your happiness is at stake.
The buck stops here. I can no longer blame people or situations for my unhappiness or depend on them for my happiness. I simply can’t accept that anymore. The change from discontent to happiness must come from within. Period.
So I wonder which is better: To stay where I am and hope the situation becomes more palatable to my soul or to remove myself from the situation and hopefully find something more nourishing? Some people need to have the next step lined up in order to make a change, whereas others are more comfortable taking a leap of faith. As much as I’d like to be in the latter category, might there be some value – a certain depth – in remaining? Or is it a cop-out? I guess that depends on personality and intention; it is not black and white.
Perhaps there is another alternative: To stop thinking so much about it and simply be present. Show up each moment as authentic, mindful presence. Even if the outward situation seems artificial or restrictive, perhaps bringing my authentic self to it can somehow transform it into something better? Or perhaps it is at least worth a try? The gift of presence.
I have a role model for this. Back in the fall, I wrote about Lorenzo, who directed traffic through a local construction project. He spent the entire day – for weeks – spreading joy and kindness to everyone who drove by. It was incredible. I always felt that somebody needed to write or make a film about him because what he does is that inspired. And it turns out his story is going to be included in a forthcoming book about happiness! The author – who I follow on Facebook – put out a call for stories of people whose happiness is infectious and who inspire others to be happy. I thought immediately of Lorenzo and filled out the form to nominate him. He was contacted right away, and after his phone interviews got in touch with me via Facebook to thank me for nominating him. What happened next was pretty awesome. I let my Facebook community know that his story will be included in the book, and people started writing about how happy he made them when he directed traffic in our town, and sharing stories of what he said and did that made a difference in their day. What he did for each of us was both radical and simple at the same time: He noticed us. And he was kind. When we were driving in our cars. What more impersonal situation is there than that? And yet he found a way to be so present that he connected with everyone who drove by and made us feel seen and noticed. He made us feel that we mattered. Even in our cars as we were in between wherever we came from and wherever we were headed to. It certainly took me by surprise the first time I drove by him! Standing on the road all day directing traffic, he was able to be a channel of joy and blessings. He transformed what otherwise could be a boring, hot, repetitive job into a true vocation in the most spiritual sense. He was a point in which the Light came through – a beacon for us all. We were drawn to his energy and light, which he kindled within us, as well. I’d love to know how many lives were positively affected by this one man simply showing up for life and letting his light shine. Surely, ripples were set in motion!
If Lorenzo was able to do this standing in traffic, so can we. Each and every one of us. No excuses!
Why not just be happy now, DESPITE IT ALL? Believing that I will be happy if this or that were to change robs me of personal power. It places my happiness in the hands of others or fate, rendering me powerless. Really, it’s just an excuse. A commonplace and ordinary excuse. I’d rather live an exceptional life, like Lorenzo. Sometimes the best way to begin is by helping others, being kind to others, being of service.
Another way of putting it: Would you rather be happy when your clothes fit better or be happy now? Again, what’s at stake is your happiness! Our world is in desperate need of people who exemplify happiness and can model it to others. We Westerners are so good at beating ourselves up.
I’ve heard a story about a couple visiting a town and thinking about moving there. An old man was sitting in the middle of town, and the couple asked him what the people are like in the town. He asked, “What are they like where you live?” and they answered that they’re horrible – unfriendly and dishonest. He replied, “It’s the same here.” Then another couple visited the town, and they, too, were thinking about moving there. They approached the man with the same question, and again he asked what the people are like where they live. The couple said they’re wonderful – so helpful and kind. And the old man replied, “It’s the same here.”
The point is, happiness is an inside job. It doesn’t depend on external factors. You can move, change jobs, change relationships, or change any other life situation, thinking that doing so will make you happy. And maybe it will for a brief time. But enduring happiness is a quality that can only be cultivated in your own mind and heart, no matter what circumstances show up in your life.
Why not start there?
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