Happiness is Horizontal

These days, I find myself dripping in happiness.  After months of working hard to train my mind to stop being afraid of living, there is now an abundance of joy in my life – more than enough to share without fear of running out.  I think I found happiness because I intentionally set out not to find happiness but purpose.  We ALL want to be happy, sure.  For many, the definition can include many things/pursuits/achievements that bring happiness to one’s life, which, as we all know, can be fleeting.

I tend to oversimplify but that’s the way I get to the core of challenges so here is what I am trying to say:  I found happiness accidentally by searching for purpose on purpose.  And the sweetest discovery is this:  happiness is the sum of the good thoughts, deeds and people you surround yourself with.  It is HORIZONTAL, not vertical, as our culture portrays.  Further, one is more likely to experience joy and happiness in moments of absolute stillness….absent struggle, thinking, working, climbing, scheming, toiling, or anything of the like.  Brilliant!

What has amazed me in this magnificent experience is that my purpose is revealed to me when I am re-energizing my soul, daydreaming, napping, walking, baking, or doing any number of things that are not centrally focused on intensely pursuing happiness.  It found ME, not the other way around!

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Here are 9 general beliefs/practices I have adopted that I believe are positively contributing to my experiencing a life of maximum purpose, satisfaction and happiness:

 

  1.  Ask God for an open heart To me, God/Inner Light/Higher Power is Central to anything growth-related.  Several years ago, my husband and I were struggling in every possible way – trying to dig ourselves out of a hole we thought would lead us to happiness.  I started intuitively praying many times a day, just asking God to give me an open heart so I would be willing and able to accept our fate.  It worked and it stuck.
  2. Stop resisting what “is” The meditation/mindfulness gurus all say that being “present in the now” is the key to living a more satisfying life and they are right.  But it takes lots of practice to train our non-stop thinking selves to just be calm and receive our surroundings without reacting or doing anything.  At the root of all heartache is the desire to change/resist/fight something outside of our control.  I think because, as human beings, (especially in the Western world), we have become so conditioned to “control” our external surroundings using our magnificent scientific abilities.  Don’t do this anymore!   You’ll be so much happier, I promise.
  3. Work to face fears/make things personal  I love love love this the most and have been practicing this the most lately.  Probably 25 years ago, I heard a very wise theologian speak about racism.  His reasoning to counter the mind and heart’s tendency to divide “us” and “them” was simple:  look into the eyes of the “other” and think of their Mother, who loves them so.  Everyone has a Momma!  It helps me to catch myself judging others when I personalize someone or something I might be inclined to disregard.  Make friends with people who are different than you, encourage your children to do the same.  It only brings joy, I assure you.  After working hard to seek situations where you can personalize the “other”, the Universe just starts making it part of who you are.  I started by volunteering at a food pantry.  I was terrified by the “others” at first.  Now they are my friends.
  4. Lolligag, daydream, rest If you have been reading any of the current buzz about personal and professional success these days, everyone is talking about a Sleep Revolution.  It seems we are finally learning that trying to squeeze more productivity out of an already empty person is futile.  We all need to re-charge.  We all need to learn and understand our personal energy limitations and “indulge” in that which renews us.  I am a daydreaming, napping, slow walking fool and much happier for it!
  5. Connect with an animal  My husband amusedly looks at me fussing over our adopted cocker spaniel and tells me, “I don’t know THIS woman!”.  I have gotten more joy from the simple experience of loving an animal in the past few years it is amazing.  Eckhardt Tolle wrote an entire book about the spiritual connection between human and animal in “Guardians of Being.”  The primary benefit of loving an animal, not surprisingly, is that the very act of petting and tending to one’s dog, for instance, causes one to simply be present.
  6. Embrace vulnerability Authors, bloggers and life coaches like Martha Beck, Glennon Doyle and Brene Brown are all talking about accepting our vulnerability and supporting one another’s courage in expressing that vulnerability.  It does lead to joy because it takes such courage to be open and honest.  And it lifts the weight of perfection from our shoulders – multi-tasking and perfection are mere facades of a happy life.  Why not embrace our imperfection, learn to laugh about it and accept it, and be joyous and happy?
  7. Replace “dread” with curiosity I dread most things, especially social occasions.  Let me tell you, what a miserable existence that is.  Learning to control my anxieties with deep breathing, accepting the now and enjoying being present are helping me to dread things less.  I may not necessarily look forward to a “command performance,” but at least I am practicing methods that help me get through social obligations without upsetting everyone around me.
  8. Learn from criticism Boy, could I resent a person who told me the truth in the past!  I am practicing the art of really listening to people. If the messenger offers sincere, loving advice intended to show you how you appear in the world, listen.  The lesson is far more important than your ego.
  9. Befriend your alter ego And speaking of egos, I hereby confess that I have happily enjoyed “alter egos” – my inner hero I want to express outwardly – for decades.  It started in my twenties when I moved away from home for the first time.  I wanted to be “JD” instead of “Joan,” because “JD” was a spunky, brave and light-hearted go-getter ready to take on the world.  In my forties, I was “Piper,” the super fun-loving Momma who could still enjoy a night of dancing.  Now, I am mellowing into “Pippa,” my 50’s alter-ego.  “Pippa” is a mature-ish woman who knows who she is, loves to love and comfort, and looks forward to the future instead of mourning the past.  In my 60’s, I will be “Poppy,” that still-cheeky woman with a secret or two and a sense of humor, but wise and gentle, as well.

So, my friends, I share the greatest discovery of my recent months with you today:  Happiness is Horizontal

You are much more likely to experience it in a state of relaxed acceptance of the present moment!  Enjoy and Namaste.

 

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Notes from the Mom Whose Kids Always “Had Her Number”

Today, I am home with my teenagers who have been throwing up.  This causes me to fondly reflect upon previous such “special family times,” one which especially stands out in my memory from Spring 2007, the day my kids had to stay home and take care of their parents because they were both throwing up!  My Isa, 7 years old at the time, divided her time that day between devotedly bringing her Dad and me our favorite popsicles then dancing outside in front of the house.  This beautiful memory has led me to reflect upon the entire history of our family and my approach to parenting.  I love being a Mom.  In fact, it is all I have ever wanted to be.  I used to ride my bicycle up and down my driveway as a little girl playing “carpool.”  What I wouldn’t give to have a recording of those imaginary conversations!

Since my daughter is just a year away from graduating from High School, her Senior year of “lasts” looms largely in my mind.  Anticipating each last.  Hoping I will savor and enjoy them to their maximum.  One of the images that I have discovered in my meditation practice this past year (as a recovering alcoholic with 10 months of sobriety) is a moving stream:  if I feel emotionally depleted, I imagine myself dipping a beautiful vessel into a cool, clear stream and nourishing myself with Nature’s goodness.  This type of imagery not only helps me sustain myself without relying on numbing substances, it is also a great way for me to re-frame the present moment.  Instead of dreading new beginnings or fearing endings, I think of life and love as a continuous stream, a continuum that has no beginning or end.  There for me to enjoy, participate in and freely use to sustain those around me (especially my teenagers).  I am going to try to continue thinking about my daughter’s Senior year as a beautiful transition that is part of the stream.

Yet, my thoughts did manage to navigate toward a gnawing, very human question:  if I had it to do over, would I change anything about the way I parented my young children?  I have only five “regrets,” (a word I try to use sparingly, since it is dangerously close to resentment, which a recovering alcoholic cannot afford).  Surprisingly, nothing on my “List of Five” has anything to do with taking away bad things – rather, it is more about wishing I had done MORE of the good things:

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  1.  I wish I had not been so anxious to put my children into all-day kindergarten.  After working with 6-year-olds these past four months, I know for sure how tired they are after a full day of school.  I was a stay-at-home Mom and could have easily managed having a busy 6-year-old at home with me all day.  But I decided to convince myself it would be “good for their social skills” to put the kids in all-day kindergarten.  Ten years later, with so many working families, there are probably few choices other than full-day kindergarten. I wish I had savored my 6-year-olds a bit more.  But what’s done is done.
  2. I wish I had insisted on learning a musical instrument.  We did our best as parents to expose our kids to live music of all sorts whenever possible.  Our kids love music.  But mastering a musical instrument is one of those life skills that is best undertaken in childhood, like learning another language.  It was hard enough for me to get my kids to sports practices and school, so learning a musical instrument did not make it into our “MUST accomplish” top tier of parenting goals.  I do regret this.
  3. Spirituality practice – we went to church here and there and my children were “dedicated” into a church family before we moved 200 miles away – but I wish I had done more to teach them that celebrating and worshiping God with others is a beautiful part of a healthy inner life.  My kids know that within them dwells a Source of love and goodness, and I believe they know how to tap into that and also live a life devoted to making the world better, not worse.  It was so important to me not to force an “ideology” upon them, I may neglected to help guide and nourish the part of spirituality that includes others.  My children are natural Seekers and very resourceful individuals, so I feel good about their ability to move in that direction later in life, if they choose.
  4. More family meals.  We average 1 sit-down family meal together per week.  Better than nothing!  I would get the job done more often now if my teenagers would participate – as I hear, many do!  (I know it is part of many families’ teenagers regular responsibilities to help prepare and serve meals, which is so nice – I haven’t tried that).  Like many moms in recovery, asking for help (or any kind of delegating), is not a natural part of my personality.  I am thankful to still have time with both children at home to approach family meals more like something the entire family should help create.
  5. MOST importantly, in the earlier days, I wish I had cared less about other Moms’ opinions!  I remember hearing the phrase, “She’s got your number!” way too often and feeling hurt or irritated (or rejected by the “elite moms” who were doing it all perfectly).  To this, I can only go back to a very lovely memory I have when, as a new Mom, I was holding my baby girl on one of her first airplane rides and the older woman sitting next to me very gently and kindly remarked, “Ah!  What a beautiful, content baby!  She has EVERYTHING she needs, Mom!”.  We need to do more to encourage and support one another as parents.  For me, that starts with being open and honest with one another.  Being willing to admit that we aren’t perfect parents and we aren’t raising perfect children.  As a Mom of teenagers, I do get more of this from my social interactions with other parents – much more so than in the early, competitive “toddler war” days.

So far, this journey of parenting two individuals with different temperaments, needs, likes, dislikes and aptitudes has been so beautiful.  Looking back, I would like to have been able to relax more and enjoy the small moments.  Looking forward, I am grateful to be living a healthy, clean and sober life, so the future with these incredible people God shared with me will be as vibrant as I feel.11218179_10206971262472700_5085219549381530292_n