For years, I was involved in a bad relationship. It’s not that the man I was involved with was a bad person or ill intentioned. In fact, he had a lot of great qualities. Nevertheless, being with him felt off, a slight but constant irritant that eventually became an abrasion as if sandpaper were rubbing against my soul.

Once we parted ways, I realized that not only had I become the worst version of myself, but I had started to protect myself against his fear and negativity by putting up walls that eventually turned into fortresses against which nothing could permeate. For a long time, nothing touched me – not pain, not pleasure. It was as if I existed in an emotional wasteland where reactions beyond a narrow range were frozen in ice – I could see the emotions in others, and even identify them by name but could no longer feel them myself.

As I emerged from my turtle’s shell, it was as if I were watching the icy barrier around the world slowly thaw and the innate beauty of my surroundings come back to life as they shimmered with vibrant colors, textures, and emotions. And while I often found myself tearful or veclempt for no obvious reason other than something mundane touching my heart or a feeling of general gratitude overwhelming me, one day I woke up to the sure knowledge that I was happy. The world was once again a sparkling and welcoming place in which I could dance.

Reflecting on the notion of happiness, I realized that happiness is not about always having a smile on your face, being positive, or even laughing with joy. Instead, happiness is a more encompassing state defined by being fully present in each moment, open and vulnerable to whatever arises without judgment, withdrawal or self-condemnation. Ultimately, happiness is the acceptance of what is and the freedom to feel any and all emotion that arises while holding the intention to feel good high in your heart. For it is in the fullest experience of emotions coupled with complete acceptance of what is that the richness of the universe presents itself, the miracle of life can be felt, and you can take the next step on your journey with grace and ease.

As a parent, what I hope to pass on to my son is the knowledge that while no one can make him happy, surrounding himself on an ongoing basis with those who have a negative perspective or who operate from a place of fear can whitewash the color from his life and lower his own vibrations. By nurturing the seeds from which happiness can thrive I hope to help him develop a nature that is positive in orientation and open to the richness and complexity that a full life provides so that when encountering adversity or negativity, instead of buckling inwards, he can hold true to his innate self, retain his vulnerability, and remember to surrender to and rely on his own happy nature.

Being your own true self

Like most kids, when I was young I was just me. And, quite frequently, between the time that I awoke and the time that I went to bed, my own true self went through quite a few metamorphoses.

Sometimes I was an introvert, reading and dreaming for hours on end, content to be in a world full of endless unimaginable possibilities.

Other times I was extroverted, charming the adults around me, entertaining them with my wild costumes depicting my imaginings of who I was or desired to be in that particular moment, orchestrating performances that my friends and I would put on at preset times, or planning wild adventures and escapades that my friends and I could carry out in the safety of our neighborhood. And it was in these moments that I was able to lose myself and be as outrageous and fully myself as I could imagine.

As I grew older, went to school and entered conventional social relationships, the imperative to conform and fit in started to enter into the equation. Overwhelmingly, the message that I received was make yourself smaller, be inconspicuous, fit in.

Over time, this message sank in. In spite of my many teenage antics, by the time I was in my mid-twenties I was more ‘normal’, operating successfully within well-established social boundaries. By the time I hit thirty, I was an outward success: I had a successful consulting practice, was married, a homeowner, gave frequent dinner parties for my many friends and family, and was well on my way towards building a family of my own. And I was completely miserable.

Slowly, it dawned on me that throughout all of my endeavors to fit in and create the perfect life I had lost my own self. One by one, out of a desire to make others around me feel more comfortable, I had shut the doors to the rooms that allowed me to have a rich inner life and opened the possibility of being more than I already was.

When my marriage ended and I had to step outside of the known boundaries that I had carefully created for myself, I suddenly found the keys to some of my inner rooms that I had forgotten existed. As I opened the doors and explored their landscape as if visiting an exotic land for the first time, trying on various treasures that I came across, I realized that fitting in is not all its cracked up to be.

And, to my surprise, I found that being true to my self had its own rewards. Suddenly, I hit my stride. People appreciated me for me, not only silently accepting me for who I was but demanding that I allow my full talents and personality to emerge. In effect, encouraging me to be the person that they knew I could be.

As a parent, I find myself constantly struggling to avoid shaping my son into the image of who I think he should be. The overwhelming message that I want my son to absorb is that, as long as he is not harming another, he can be whoever he wants and that dreams don’t merely belong to the realm of fantasy. And so, I try to stand back, remove the obstacles that lie in his path to clear the way so that he can become the full version of who he is meant to be. By encouraging him to play large, meet the challenges of his own desires, and explore the rooms to his own inner mansion, I hope to one day be pleasantly surprised when he becomes something more than even I could have dared to imagine.