Happiness

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.

The danger of being a shadow of yourself

When I split up with my husband and entered the dating scene, a friend told me that it was a minefield – if I didn’t watch where I stepped, I could get blown up. As predicted, I soon entered a rebound relationship: it quickly heated up with promise of the future and crashed and burned soon thereafter.

In dissecting the spiral of events, one thing became crystal clear. The man I had been dating was terrified of being alone, to the extent that the four days between our commute were too much for him to handle.

As I thought about it, a memory of my aunt came to mind. Years ago, she recounted to me about how she once asked her pre-school aged daughter who her best friend was. When her daughter answered ‘me’, my aunt said that she knew that she had done her job. As depicted by a note my cousin left her years later that currently hangs in a frame on her corridor wall, stating ‘Mom, I went outside to play with myself’, her daughter was perfectly happy having a party of one.

As a parent, this entire dating episode taught me a valuable lesson. In order for my son to have fulfilling and enriching relationships, he needs to have one with himself: if he doesn’t find himself good company, no one else will either. And, he will always make the coward’s decision of grasping on to the person closest to him to act as buffer against himself and a reflective mirror from which he can draw an image.

In noting this, I think of Dr. Seuss’ book Oh the Places You’ll Go. I remember the passage that talks about the different places you’ll go in life – some joyful, some exciting, some just waiting, some unpleasant, and some unhappy, but all part of the journey of life that leads to learning, self-discovery, and the magical unfolding of life’s surprise twists and turns.

With this thought, I realize that I need to teach my son to not only believe in himself but to enjoy the time he spends with himself and his own self-discovery as a complete relationship. This means helping him to develop the courage to face the unpleasant in himself head on and stay with himself through the painful and lonely times while being able to give of himself and remain true to his inner worth.

By imbuing him with a trust that the future will take care of itself and a firm belief that he doesn’t have to settle for less than he deserves or make choices from a place of fear, I have confidence that he will be able to stand tall, do the right, not necessarily the easiest thing, in most situations, develop himself and all his talents, push himself to be his own best version, and, ultimately, lie outside the danger zone of becoming a shadow of himself.

Growing up

Sometimes it’s nice to be an adult, but often it’s hard. As an adult, there’s no one to set the boundaries, tell you what the right choice is, or warn you of the consequences of the actions you’ve yet to take. And with bills to pay, clients to answer to, a household to run, and people who depend on you to take care of, the responsibilities seem endless.

Thinking about it, I remember a conversation that I had with a close friend of mine back when we were nineteen. At the time, I mentioned to her that although I felt quite competent and responsible, able to meet life’s challenges head on, I still didn’t quite feel like a woman. Instead, I felt as if I was womaning, in the midst of or almost reaching the end of a process for which I couldn’t yet see the finish line.

As we talked, I realized that I was torn between wanting to stay within the safe confines of childhood and the illusion of protection that it afforded me and the desire to reach out and climb onto the riskier path of adulthood in which more was at stake but the rewards unpredictable and immeasurable.

Watching my son as he plays innocently with his train tracks, gathering his stuffed animals around as if an audience for the great race that will soon take place, I realize something. As a parent, my job is to believe in childhood, prolonging its illusions and sanitized wrapping while gradually preparing my son for the demands that he will face as an adult.

When I think about how I can accomplish this goal that, at first glance, seems to operate at cross-purposes, it suddenly dawns on me that the answer is there. Although no small challenge, I need to create the conditions that will allow my son to revel in and explore the simple joys of childhood, embodied in the cheerfulness of dandelions not yet stained by the label of undesired weed, the ability to go nudies in public without anyone batting an eyelash, the common occurrence of becoming hard and fast friends with someone as a result of making a simple request, and the ability to enjoy the pure and unadulterated beauty in this world.

For it is clear to me that by allowing him to enjoy each moment without unduly imposing on him the burdens of adult concerns all the while helping him to climb to his next level of ability, as if providing him an invisible scaffold on which he can climb the stairwells of life, he will be able to successfully move through life’s various twists and turns without getting stuck for too long in any single passageway. And more than anything, for myself as a parent, my greatest challenge is to remember that parenting doesn’t have a time stamp on it: no matter the size of my son’s outer form and his appearance at having arrived at his final destination, at various points in his life he will need guidance, support, and unsolicited input to help redirect him towards the goals and destination that he ultimately sets out for himself.