Happiness is also the most misunderstood state of being. It is not outside experiences or getting what we want that creates true happiness. It is not about what job we do, or how much money we have. True happiness occurs when we are deep in feeling and connection. When we express emotion. When we put down our defenses, and open our heart.
We can feel happy while tears are falling, and we can feel happy sitting and looking out upon a field of wildflowers. We can feel happy playing a game of basketball or knitting a sweater. We can feel happy listening to music, dancing or cooking. Happiness is not the experience, but an inner state that is created by the opening of our heart.
Whatever opens your heart, do that. When life feels overwhelming, do that. When challenges arise, do that. Do what makes your heart smile. And you will see that a happy life is created by the moments where we felt most alive and connected, when we took a risk and opened our hearts.
It is not about how much time we have on this earth, but how often we have opened our hearts.
My husband says I think too much. Perhaps he is right. I remember sitting in forth grade, the teacher scribbling math equations upon the blackboard. I don’t remember the lesson, as I was not paying attention. I was too busy thinking about life. I was asking myself questions: Why are we here? What is the purpose of life? I was also thinking about how I was late that day because I stopped to pet the cutest dogs, and was not unhappy about being tardy, even if the teacher reprimanded me.
Most of us do not have a clue about life, let alone what it means to live a great one. Some of us do not care. Living each day, doing what we are asked, is what matters. We are each on our own journey, which is perfect.
But I care. I cared in 4th grade and I care now. When looking up quotes about examining our life, I came across this beauty.
“Plato says that the unexamined life is not worth living. But what if the examined life turns out to be a clunker as well?” ― Kurt Vonnegut
What does it mean to live your best life?
Does it mean spending your summers surrounded by 300 plus girls, running an overnight camp and ensuring they are all happy, safe and fulfilled? Becoming the CEO of a multi-million dollar company or opening that restaurant you have always wanted to do? Maybe living your best life involves traveling the world, obtaining odd jobs in various places, or choosing to stay at home, raising your children. Becoming a lawyer, doctor, landscaper or politician.
Living our best life is all of these, and none of these things. Whatever is in our path, we need to follow it. But this list, even if we added thousands more to it would be incomplete. For living our best life is not about what we do, but how we do it. Are we happy? Or are we in pain? Do we hop out of bed in the morning, ready to start our day or come home from the greatest job yet drink ourself into oblivion each night when we come home? Are we controlling, unhappy and abusive or open, compassionate and unconditionally loving?
Do we serve our customers with a smile or scowl?
Life is stressful, for almost all of us. We have bills to pay, a family to care for, relationships to navigate, rules to follow, teenagers to worry about, and then we have all the baggage we take with us from childhood. All of us, even those that come from the happiest and most loving of families have baggage.
The ones that travel light, with only a carry on, can sling it over their shoulder, go about their life, feeling satisfied and loving to most people. Their bag easily fits beneath the seat in front of them and they move about the cabin spreading their good cheer. Sure there are a few things in their backpacks. That awful teacher that embarrassed her in the 7th grade. That girlfriend that cheated on him in college. For the most part, life is good, and a person who travels light can manage the ups and downs in life, and are living a good life.
The ones that have a set of luggage, matching nonetheless, but heavy, bulky, with zippers threatening to break, will find it more difficult to travel, move effortlessly through life. They always have to pay for each bag, and need to put more thought into moving from place to place. Often frustrated, sometimes angry at the weight of all the stuff they are carrying around, they look around with envy at those with carry ons. Perhaps they should ask for help with all their bags, they are thinking, but everyone else is too busy, carrying their own bags, managing their own life. For the most part, life is difficult, and this person with additional baggage finds it hard to manage the ups and downs of life, and often do not feel like they are living a good life.
No matter what we are carrying around, in order to feel lighter, less weighed down, we must open our bags. We need to take out the pieces, ask ourself if we need all that we are blindly lugging around each and every day. All of us carry around items we no longer need, although mostly, we don’t remember what we even packed.
What do we do about our baggage?
We cannot just drop its contents in the street, hoping someone will throw it out for us. And we cannot force someone to carry our bags, for that is like throwing our pain on someone else. Then without thinking, we are online, cursing at someone we don’t know, or worse, taking it out on someone we are meant to love. We may even hurt ourself, the weight of our baggage too much to carry. Our shoulders droop, our back hurts and our legs weaken.
We can do it ourself, unzip that first bag, no matter how much we dread looking inside, or better yet, ask for help from someone with a carry on. Asking another person, lugging their 5 pieces of matching luggage will not work, as they are too burdened.
Once we open our bags, and see what’s inside, there are many, many things we may have forgotten we packed. Slowly, we take out our first item, hold in our hands for a few minutes, or longer if necessary. Then we toss it. That was not too bad as our items on top feel easiest to let go of. Our next item may bring us to tears, and the ones buried deeply, we may not want to let go of at all.
Within out bags, we may find lost love, missed opportunities, failures, mistakes, disappointments and losses. Or we may find toxic people, coupled with abuse and trauma. We may feel doubt and fear as we go through our bags. Denial will arise as we tell ourself it is better to just zip this back up. We may even realize that we never even packed our bags. Someone else put their stuff in our bags! It takes courage and strength to go through our baggage, to reach for that lightness and greatness that is all of ours to live, feel and know. We will become uncomfortable, once we begin lightening our load. We may want to run back and stuff our bags, as it was heavy, but it was familiar. But we cannot. Once we unload our bags, we cannot put our things back inside. We simply won’t want to.
Knowing peacefulness, joy, gratitude; finding enlightenment, living a great life, feeling unconditionally loving to all, does not mean we do not have a carry on. We are human, and we all have something that we carry with us through life. It is far easier to rest a backpack nearby as we drink in the beauty of a sunset or a wildflower than a five piece set of matching luggage.
Don’t wait. Go through your bags now. Feel your pain. Air out your grief, shame, guilt and anger. You will feel lighter, freer, and able to travel light. You will be able to release your need for control, rigidity. Anxiety will lessen and depression, the spaces you may feel as you lighten your load will allow you the breaks you need to process. Your envy will become gratitude. And your inner knowing will blossom. You will lose weight and release that addiction. Spontaneity will emerge along with a balance of well thought out planning. You will laugh harder and longer. You will find love in another, walking side by side, supporting each other through the challenges and joys of your days, without being triggered by past wounds. You will forgive yourself for carrying so much luggage around in the first place.
You are now, living your best life. Where you will be going, you can never imagine. Just know, it will be beautiful whether it is raining or sunny. Whether you sit in first class or coach, you will feel grateful.
Although the gifted Kurt Vonnegut fears the clunker life, I believe the only “klunker life” is the unexamined life I believe we must continue moving forward, get on to our purpose and do that. For all of us to know why we are here, what we are meant to do and become, to live our best life, we must lose our baggage.
If you like Alternative Perspective, you will love my co-authored book, Living Beyond Fear, coming soon to Amazon, and fine book stores. These Sacred Letters, stories about life and death, will take you on a journey that is healing and inspiring.
This story begins with a women’s experience, which turns out, is also mine. We are all connected, more than we realize. As you read this post, see if you can also see yourself in her. If not, perhaps your story is still unwritten.
This woman, on the very first day of her corporate job, one where had been given a six-figure salary, the task of overseeing a large department and managing multi-million dollar budgets, found herself hiding in a bathroom stall, crying. It seems the life she had been leading, all she had been working towards – the degrees, the promotions, the awards – came crashing down upon her. In that moment, she had no way of knowing that everything in her life was about to change for the better.
It would be a cool story, had she walked out of that New York high-rise that afternoon, but life isn’t about being cool, and neither is this blog. Change often takes time, and it took many more moments in the bathroom stall for her to find her voice.
How we had met was many years later, when she had asked me to write her a speech on Women Finding Their Voice. In preparation for my writing her speech, she told me her story, and how she had left her corporate job in order to pursue her passion – photographing women who life had beaten down. Women who didn’t look or feel good about themselves. Some were overweight, or fighting their way out of an abusive marriage, others had cancer. Through email, I learned how she had ignited her passion for photography, while also finding a way to make a difference for others. What seemed like an end, that moment in the stall, was actually a beginning. Along with her tears that morning, came a soothing ache of relief, a gift, a door opening. The first step she would take in a series of steps in finding her voice.
Due to unforeseen circumstance, she never did make it to that speech, but perhaps life had orchestrated our meeting just for me – and for you. To open my eyes to the path I was indeed walking in my own life, my own journey in finding my voice. Through her story, I had come to realize that finding my passion in writing, something that would lift me every day, while hoping to make a difference for someone else, began with many of my own moments in a bathroom stall.
The steps she had taken that led her out of that bathroom stall, were ones I too had taken. Today, I share them with you. For sometimes we need to take the road less travelled, and other times, simply trace another’s footsteps in the sand.
As you read through these steps, please keep in mind that in finding our voice, our steps are fluid, as we can often skip or repeat steps along the way, moving forward and backward like a childhood game of hopscotch. Inevitably, whether we walk gracefully or clumsily stumble through these five steps, when we follow our hearts, we will find our voice.
The following five steps are simple, but not necessarily easy:
Seek out your feelings. Our emotions always tell us the truth – sometimes whispering, often shouting at us. These are our bathroom stall moments. Take time to think about about your work, or your life. Does thinking about your day create feelings of joy or dread? When we begin to take notice of how we feel, we start to see the truth, to hear what is in our heart. When we follow our hearts, we find ourselves not at the end, but at the beginning of our story.
Release Others’ Expectations. As we peel back the layers of our longings that linger beneath our skin, we often find a voice that is not our own. For many of us, our accomplishments have been driven by others’ expectations of us. Our stories of our higher education, financial success, the success of our children, can stem from a hidden need for approval. Releasing expectations is about not only releasing personal expectations about what we should do, but about what we think the world expects of us. It begins with the question, who am I doing this for and ends with what am I doing for myself? It continues with separating the voices of those we have known, from our own voice. We can meet every definition of the word success, except the one that matter to us. Success goes far beyond degrees, responsibilities and money.
Find your passion. Unearthing your passion is not easy, but when you find it, it will feel like magic! Someday, you will be at the end of this wonderful life, and what will you find? Did you live your life for you? Did you follow your heart? Close your eyes, and think of something you love to do, that you would do for free. Start there. What makes you happy? As you take your last breath on this earth, what do you want to leave behind, and be proud of? This is the key to finding your passion. You will know you have stumbled upon it, by the excitement you feel, the joyful and peaceful feelings that emerge.
Become courageous. This can be the most challenging step. Yet, when we reach deep within ourselves, finding the courage and taking a leap of faith with our passion, we are often rewarded. Give yourself a time limit, but don’t adhere to it. Set a goal but be willing to change it. Just begin doing what you love, and the rest will fall into place. Courage takes sacrifice, determination and pushing through adversity. As your courage grows, your passion grows, and this wonderful cycle continues.
Share your Voice. Once you follow the other four steps, you will need to share your voice with the world. As you walk beyond the threshold of this fear, the life you have always wanted will begin to naturally unfold in front of your eyes. Resist the temptation to run back and hide. While many believe they have a fear of failure, it is often a fear of success. When everything you have been waiting for, that life you only imagined living, begins to take shape in front of your eyes, breath, say thank you. Remind yourself, you are worth it.
The first time I opened up to my voice, when Elephant Journal agreed to publish my article, I felt both disbelief and pride, joy and fear. Within twenty-four hours I had almost 50,000 views. My article had touched a chord about special needs children, and it was because it came from my truth, my voice. Not every article finds that success, but I have come to realize, the ones that I create from honesty and vulnerability, intimacy and truth, find their way more often into others’ hearts and Facebook pages.
I urge you to go out and find your voice. To listen to the gentle whispers of your heart, and follow it. To uncover and release any expectations that are not your own. To uncover your passion, reach for that courage and unleash your voice onto the world.
We can wake up each morning, and go through our days, never finding our voice, knowing the sun will continue to rise and fall. Or we can step out of our comfort zone, follow our hears and leave our mark on this world.
Please excuse all grammatical errors and typos. My editor is permanently on vacation.