After food, shelter and clothing; true lasting joy and peace can ONLY come from within. No toy, car, phone, pet, room, house, grade, job, college, friend, significant other, anything… can ever bring true happiness. It sounds so cliché, but it’s true and sages have been saying it for thousands of years.
Advertisement and modern society tells us something different. A few gifts can help to bring this inner joy. This is my own concoction of gifts that can help bring forth that inner joy. The secret is that you have to be willing to give these gifts to both yourself and others.
Acceptance of what is.
When I was 15 I found a Yin Yang charm on the beach. I didn’t know what it was, but I liked it. I strung it along some fishing line with black beads I somehow had, and held it together with a safety pin as a clip. I wore it for years around my neck, like a thin choker that was popular in the early 90s. A few years later one evening at my church’s youth group, I sat across a boy who was in my circle of friends but I had never talked to very much. We both sat backwards on some chairs off to the side while our friends chatted and danced. At some point during the conversation he reached over to my neck and touched the Yin Yang. He asked me if I knew what the symbol meant. I didn’t. He explained. I loved it even more. We dated all through my senior year.
It is my favorite symbol because it says it all with a simple circle. The world is made up of opposites, and they always circle back to one another at their extreme. We can only understand an expression through the existence of its opposite (hot/cold, dark/light, happy/sad, health/disease, love/hate, summer/winter, life/death etc). These things all exist naturally, are a part of the universe we live in; they ALL belong, and we should expect them to show up. That means there is nothing wrong with disappointment, sadness, anger, something not working, or any “negative” expression or feeling. It should come as no more of a surprise as joy, love, things going as planned, or “positive” feelings. There is no fighting this natural, universal law, and expecting anything different only causes disappointment.
How does that translate into real life? When we aren’t happy it doesn’t mean there is something wrong with us. When someone is grumpy or annoyed (even if it’s with you), it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with them or you. Pretending a negative feeling isn’t so, or trying to change an outcome or a mood is unnatural; not to mention completely exhausting.
Acceptance of what is doesn’t mean accepting nonsense in your life OR that it’s ok to make the same mistakes over and over. Accept, learn, & grow. That means changing what you have control over, letting go of what you can’t and having the wisdom to know the difference. Someone coined that long ago.
- Let go
Let go of contempt and forgive.
Oh… so much easier than it sounds. Regret and lack of forgiveness can seriously block true inner happiness. Like a dam blocks the flow of water. This is true whether or not you are holding onto contempt for yourself or others.
Regret can be about anything that would represent ‘woulda’, ‘shoulda’, ‘coulda’. Lack of forgiveness for yourself is often about regret. Consider being compassionate with yourself and recognizing that you are human, but learn from the experience. Accept how it went and move on. If you don’t forgive yourself, you will often make the same mistakes over and over.
Lack of forgiveness towards others is often about being angry because another individual did not act in a way you wished them to. Consider accepting that it is about them, not you. and let it go. Holding onto contempt only stops you from being happy and wishing you could change a person you cannot.
Both forms of not forgiving will block you from being happy. Forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give yourself. It’s absolutely NOT about making the same mistakes over and over, or allowing certain behaviors in your life. Forgiveness is about acceptance of what is and not fighting against things you cannot change. Accept yourself, others, and the world for what it is. You don’t even have to let another person know you forgave them to feel the benefits of letting go. Whatever you might be holding on to with anger, regret, or contempt: give yourself the gift of letting it go. It’s freeing.
Not everyone is ready to forgive. If you can’t, at least wish that you could want to. And if you can’t even do that, at least wish that you were the type of person who could wish they could want to. But be honest and reflective of where you are: ready to forgive, wishing you were ready, or wishing you could wish you were ready to forgive. The sooner you are honest with your private self (you can’t really lie to your most private self), the sooner you will move on, come closer to forgiveness and the sooner you will set yourself free. But only you can do that.
Give gratitude. We are human and as simple as it is, it’s hard! There are thousands of quotes, articles, podcasts, movies, songs, apps etc that talk about how gratitude can change your life. And I can attest to it. Living in gratitude makes life miraculous and SOOOOoooooooo….. worth living.
Look around. Stop living in lack. I listened to a Podcast on the way home from work on Tuesday about Oneness. To sort of, kind of, steal the lines from the person giving the Podcast, she talked about how we live and focus on lack constantly. From the moment we open our eyes in the morning we live in lack. Before another thought enters our mind; more often than not we think we didn’t sleep enough, weren’t enough yesterday (didn’t exercise enough, ate the wrong things, drank too much, didn’t do enough), and that we don’t have enough time in the morning to get ready to start the day. This is before we even get out of bed! This is the story we tell ourselves throughout the day. We focus on all that isn’t rather than ALL that is. Giving gratitude and being grateful for what is doesn’t come naturally.
Most of us are healthy and have several functioning relationships in our lives. We have food, shelter and way too much clothing… in fact we feel confused about choices on what to eat and what to wear when we are lucky enough to have those choices to actually make! But we focus on what doesn’t fit, the people who have slighted us and who we don’t have a relationship with, the poor food choices we made, the fact that there is traffic, a bill we didn’t expect to come… and then we beat ourselves up then for not being thankful.
On how hard this is –
We are human. We are animals. In a totally unrelated, yet totally related story… I’m in a 300-hour yoga teacher training and there is a student who comes to many of the classes at my studio where I teach and train. He is in his 70’s, legally blind, and a retired psychologist. He is awesome. He will often stay behind after community classes that are open to the public and share some of his insights about yoga and the way the mind works. I’m going to share one of his stories. I will call him “Harry”.
Harry was involved in a study with chickens all not too long ago. Basically, they taught the chickens how to find a pellet in a maze. Before you read further, try to take a wild guess about how long it took the chickens to find the pellet in the maze. Flabbergasted? It’s normal! From the folks I’ve told this story to, they’ve all guessed between 2 and 50 times. I believe the answer was somewhere around 9.
Then Harry’s study changed something in the maze that required the chickens to adapt to a new pattern. The pellet came out in a slightly different way and the chickens had to learn that doing the same thing over and over didn’t work. How many times do you think it took them to determine the new pattern? Flabbergasted again? Again… it’s normal. Most of the people I’ve talked to and told this story to after learning it was 9 times guessed anywhere between 9 and 40. For all those folks I’ve told them it’s much, much higher and it would blow their mind moved their guess to between 50 and 500.
The actual answer is over 42,000 times. It’s mind-boggling. I would hate to be the person who counted that study! Harry told us about that study, and I share this study with you because it’s freeing to know that it’s very difficult to change patterns and the way our neurons fire and give us direction. There is nothing wrong with us if we can’t change a habit in a heartbeat. We aren’t failures, we are living creatures with wiring that makes it so. Again & again, not an excuse – but an opportunity to accept the nature of what is, forgive ourselves, and give gratitude that we have the mind power to change patterns since we have a little more thinking opportunity than chickens, and can be self-reflective.
It’s all good.
Closing Thoughts –
So be good to yourself and others. We are just frail little humans. We think materialism, acquiring more things, brings joy – but it doesn’t. Use this season, this beautiful solstice, to learn something new. Focus on acceptance of what is, letting go of the past, and being grateful. These are some of the most beautiful gifts we can give ourselves and one another.
As I stated at the beginning of this blog: true inner joy & peace can only come from within.
Happy Winter Solstice 2017.