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.

Fear

Yesterday, I found out that a girl in my son’s preschool class was diagnosed and hospitalized over the weekend with acute leukemia. As I sent my well-wishing thoughts their way, knowing the deaths and illnesses this family had recently endured, I couldn’t help but think how unfair life can sometimes be.

As this thought rattled around in my brain, flittering in and out of mind as I went about my normal daily routine of work, chores and childcare, I was wholly unprepared for a lunchtime work date. As we politely conversed in a sterile corporate cafeteria, making polite and formal exchanges typical of virtual strangers, our conversation unwittingly slipped into the personal as my former client mentioned that she’s a breast cancer survivor. In return, I told her the latest news from my three year old son’s classroom.

As we talked, she shared her experience of living with cancer. Although I would normally have found this type of conversation sobering, leaving me with a feeling of how hard life can occasionally be, a couple of minutes into her story I realized that I was laughing. And, more to the point, that she was encouraging it.

The more she described her journey and the more I laughed, the more I realized that although she’s had a radical double mastectomy, major surgery, early and permanent menopause, and undergone four years of breast reconstruction, she doesn’t define herself by the loss she’s endured and the threat of relapse. Instead, she’s like a tightrope walker who balances with ease on a heightened thread of silver, simultaneously fearless and mindful of the ever-present danger. While continually and fully engaging in the dance of life, she allows for expansion and pushing of boundaries while delighting in the minute shifts rooted in balance and serenity that are intricately interwoven in each action resulting in forward motion taking place with joy, grace, and desire.

As I went back to my cubicle to finish my day’s work, I couldn’t help but reflect on how much I could learn from this woman’s attitude. Although outwardly successful, I sometimes play small. And, the more successful I become, as measured by a healthy bank account and thriving career, the more I’m aware of how fear is often the final arbiter when making decisions: fear of not making enough money, fear of not having enough in the future, fear of not being able to take care of my son, fear of being rejected or not loved enough with the final outcome my decision not to engage in the course of action that I’m contemplating or seize the opportunity that lies before me.

Thinking back on my past, I’m struck by the fact that my most fulfilling moments are those in which I immersed myself in the moment, fully embracing life while exploring the potential of the unknown, clear in the fact that the present doesn’t impact on the past or immutably pave the road to the future. Essentially, it was when I stepped through the invisible barriers of my fear, risking it all by laying my preconceived desires aside and opening myself up to being vulnerable, confident in the fact that any possible outcome would only add to my participation in the dance of life that I had the most intense experiences resulting in intangible but long-lasting rewards of laughter, joy, pleasure, growth, self-awareness, self-confidence, and love.

As a parent, it’s my hope that by honouring my commitment to playing large on the field of life while simultaneously acknowledging my fears and placing them on the passenger’s seat in my quest for richness, fulfillment, love and pleasure that I’ll instil in my son the same desire to make the most of his life’s journey, enabling him to face his fears head on and take the risks that are a part of life but integral to growing as a human being, exploring his own dimensions, and ultimately finding peace and harmony within himself.