If happiness is based on how good the situations in our lives are, e.g. how much money we have, how good our relationships are, how healthy we are, then it would be to say that we have little control over how happy we are. You can work hard to make as much money as you want, but regardless of your predisposed social standing or hard earned education, there is no guarantee of having financial wealth. Having good, healthy relationships is a wonderful goal and I believe completely obtainable, but you still have a limited say in how and when this happens. All relationships take work, and when and how you will come across those people that you are the most compatible with is not really something that you can control. And you can work your whole life to be a healthy, fit individual and still have any amount of tragedies health wise.
If we are to admit that we have little control over the outward circumstances in our lives, to say that this is the source of our happiness is really a sad concept. However, if we look inside ourselves first to find inner peace, happiness, joy, we find a completely different outcome. I believe we all have it within ourselves to find these things if we allow ourselves the time and energy to do so. If we allow ourselves to see the beauty inside of our own beings, you are not only less dependent on the world around you to bring you joy, but you are also more likely to see the beauty in all that surrounds you.
This has been my recent endeavor: to change my way of thinking about happiness. My whole adult life I have done what so many of us do. I have worked so that I can make whatever amount of money I felt necessary for me to make at the time. I have searched for those relationships that made me the most happy at the time. I have focused on goals and things in life that I thought would make me feel complete in life and bring me more joy. While I don’t think it is a bad thing to work for things you want in life, all of these things are only situational and subject to change at any time no matter what my efforts. And if and when they do, when that amount of money no longer seems enough, when that relationship goes through hard times, when that sought after good health fails, what are we left with? If we change our way of thinking, though, if we look at happiness as something that dwells inside us always and is a part of us, then we no longer depend on these outer circumstances to make us so. And if we can find that inner peace and knowing of oneself, then doesn’t it seem logical that all those other things in life are more likely to fall into place? If your focus is finding peace within yourself, it seems more likely to me that your life will naturally reflect this, and you will almost subconsciously put yourself in those situations that are more conducive to that state of mind. If you take the time to give grace to yourself and learn the inner workings of your mind and heart, doesn’t it seem more likely that you will make better choices in the important areas of your life like career and relationships?
So, I am attempting to take myself out of the rat race, if only for moments at a time. I’m not quitting my job or pawning my parental responsibilities off on someone else. I still have many, many duties to take care of in life, and I will continue to embrace these. But I am making more time for myself. To meditate. To write. To read. To contemplate. To get to know myself again. To breathe. To be present. To look inside myself and attempt to listen to my heart and mind and relearn what it is that truly brings me joy. To try to see the world as it is: a constant state of change over which I have little control, but is still simply life rearranging itself.
I’ve heard and read many times how good meditation is for you. I’ve done some in my life, but never enough to amount to much. I haven’t done any since having children, even though it could probably be more beneficial to me now than any other time in my life. I read an article the other day that inspired me to start trying it again, though. There were two things the article said that made me decide that this could be good for me right now. The first thing was the fact that one of the benefits of meditation is it helps a person to get to their creative roots, so to say. In this busy, over multi-tasking world we live in, it’s hard to go from work, kids, bills, house, responsibilities, family, work, kids, bills, and on and on to a creative mindset. Taking the time to meditate helps put you back in that state of mind and will hopefully help keep you there most all the time, as opposed to being a wound up robot, just stressed out and working yourself to death. Secondly, you can start small. The main reason I hadn’t really even thought about doing any mediation lately is because it seems I have no time. I have always just kind of figured that a real meditation session should last for at least an hour or so. What I read, though, talked about starting with as little as a few minutes twice a day. Even busy me can manage to fit that into my schedule somewhere.
So, I’ve been meditating for about a week now. I did start very small, five minutes twice a day, adding a couple of minutes to my sessions each day, if I had the time. At first, I just started with some deep breathing exercises and maybe repeating one of my favorite quotes as a mantra, such as “The secret of life is to fall seven times and to get up eight times” by Paulo Coelho or “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars” by Max Ehrmann. During my first five minute session, I simply repeated the words “beauty” and “light” over and over again just because they were the first positive, comforting words that came to my mind. For me, repeating a mantra helps to reinforce positive emotions but also just helps to keep my brain from wandering in every which direction. By the third day, I was doing my first fifteen minute session. After meditating for three days, I had somehow convinced myself that there was some magical process occurring. That taking the time to sit quietly for five minutes twice a day was somehow making me feel better about life. Imagine my surprise when I realized how hard it can be to sit and meditate for 15 minutes. There were no feelings of complete connectedness with the world around me. It seemed impossible to get my brain to shut up. I tried to focus on a mantra, but my mind kept wandering and random thoughts incessantly crept in. I was reminded of a book I once read that was written by a neuroscientist who had suffered from a stroke. She used something like meditation to help her focus on regenerating and reconnecting the synapses in her brain. While trying to focus on this task, random thoughts would creep into her mind. Instead of trying to ignore these thoughts, she would face them, greet them, focus on them, and then let them go. In this way, she was giving her brain the respect it deserves for being able to carry on so much thought at once. At the same time, though, she was training it that now was not the time so that, using the same patient way that you might use with a child, she was teaching herself to control her thoughts. This is what I attempted to do for my 15 minutes of difficulty focusing. I repeated my mantra, which on this day was simply “I am a child of the universe”. I envisioned various scenes in my head of my body being connected with mother nature and the universe. Things like the air in my lungs feeding a river that runs from my spine into my organs, giving life to my organs and making them grow plump and healthy, like fresh fruit on a vine. My favorite vision is of me sitting in a beautiful lush field, with soft green grass underneath me, and a big, open, pastel blue sky dotted with billowy cotton clouds. Behind me standing tall, protective, and majestic is a giant oak tree. Strong and sturdy, its leaves are large and green with yellow on their trim in such a way that it makes the tree glow and shine in the setting sun. While this vision did bring me pleasure, and I do relish the memory and idea of it now, I can’t really say that during my meditation it made it any easier for me to focus on the present moment. I can’t even say that my fifteen minutes of meditation necessarily made me feel any better. I may have actually felt worse in some ways, having inadvertently focused on things that bother me during my quiet time. But to say that I got nothing from it would be a lie. If I had to pick one word to express how I felt directly after, I would have to say “hope” or rather something like “pre-hope”, like that moment just before everything starts to get better. The future did not necessarily look bright and easy, filled with nothing but love and happiness. But, it did feel manageable, as though somehow I had already considered and faced everything stressful in my life and was no longer bothered by it. Instead of worrying unnecessarily, I felt like I could take my life and make it better. I didn’t quite have a plan to make everything wonderful, but I was pretty sure I could make one. And then it occurred to me that it was the perfect time for me to go out for a walk. I love to be outdoors. I love the air. I love the sky. I love the feeling of the blood rushing through my body as it moves against gravity. Suddenly, I knew what I needed to do, and I did it. I went for walk on a crisp fall day with beautiful trees and a sultry sky. Then I wrote this journal entry, with all the feeling I had felt during my brief fifteen minute meditation; reminiscing of pastel blue skies and golden, shining giant oak trees of sweet, loving protection. And thinking to myself, there really must be something to this.
I am currently up to about thirty minutes daily, sometimes 15 minutes twice a day, sometimes 30 minutes once during the day, depending on what my schedule is like. I won’t claim to have found any deep inner peace, yet. But I am enjoying it. It makes a lot of sense to me, that it can be very beneficial, to simply take time to sit and listen to your body and let the world fall away. The one thing I have discovered is something that I am now considering an essential truth:
Your mind, body, heart, and spirit. They know what’s most important to you and the secrets of your happiness. And they will share these secrets with you, if you will be still long enough and listen.