From Acceptance To Serenity

Many philosophers have pondered the question:  What is happiness?  And there have been many different answers.  Most probably agree that happiness is not a constant state but a fleeting emotion.  Yet there is still this idea in our society that this ‘happiness’ is something we can obtain; something that will last forever once we get it.  People search for the right job, for Mr. or Mrs. Right, the perfect home in the perfect location.  Once we get the right job, the right partner, the perfect life, we are baffled as to why we do not feel happy all the time.  Even though we know logically that this is impossible, since in one day we can experience a whole range of emotions, the feeling of dissatisfaction remains.

What I think most people are seeking is satisfaction, not happiness.  So far, I have discovered what I see as three levels of satisfaction:  pleasure, contentment and fulfillment.  At the very basic level is pleasure.  Pleasure is satisfaction of the senses.  We eat delicious food to satisfy our taste;  we watch 3D movies to satisfy our eyes and we listen to music to satisfy our ears.  At the next level is contentment.  Contentment is being satisfied with our life situation and what we have.  When we are living comfortably and most of our standards have been met, we have a sense of being content.  Life is pretty good and we feel we can relax a little.  Going up to the next level, we find fulfillment.  Fulfillment is satisfaction due to developing our character and our abilities.  As we grow, we find more challenging work, more intimate relationships;  we explore new hobbies and new places.

The problem with just going after pleasure, contentment and fulfillment is that they are all dependent on being satisfied and humans never seem to be satisfied!  It seems it is our nature to always want more.  So what is the secret ingredient that is missing?  What element is necessary to make these ‘enough’?  How do we go from the feeling that we are lacking something to feeling like, “I am enough”?

My answer is –ACCEPTANCE.  Acceptance cannot be separated from the present.  When we are completely in the moment, acceptance is always there.  Acceptance comes in different forms:  there is non-attachment, gratitude and integrity.

Non-attachment helps us to accept the non-permanence of all things.  It applies particularly to the concept of pleasure, but also to contentment and fulfillment.   In terms of pleasure–The beautiful smell of spring flowers will pass and the last piece of chocolate cake will be eaten.  With contentment, too–Our favourite shoes will get old and worn out and our bed mattress will become saggy and uncomfortable.  Even fulfillment–Close friendships will fade out and our ability to run 5-minute marathons will eventually come to an end, too.  This is the nature of life.  Nothing lasts.

When we become too attached to things or people in our lives, it generally makes us feel sad or powerless or leads to addiction.  When we can really be in the moment and smell the roses, love the comfort of our favourite runners and enjoy a conversation over tea with a good friend, then we don’t mind so much when these things pass.  We know that around the corner is another moment with another opportunity.

With acceptance of this impermanence, we can really start to feel gratitude.  When something appears to be always there, we sometimes forget to appreciate it.  Gratitude embraces the fact that everything will come and go.  And just like non-attachment, feeling gratitude brings deeper meaning to pleasure, contentment and fulfillment and I think it is closest to contentment.  Rather than just thinking, “Yeah, I’m pretty happy with my life but I wish I had more sex, a bigger house or a better career”, gratitude is appreciating all that is offered in this moment.

Gratitude is accepting ALL that comes your way, including the things you may interpret as ‘bad’.  Maybe a fight with your spouse isn’t pleasant, but you are learning something and you can be grateful for that.  Having this health challenge certainly hasn’t been easy but I am grateful for all that it is teaching me and I am more grateful than ever when I do feel really good.  In any situation, there is something to be thankful for.

The third one, and perhaps the most significant one, is INTEGRITY.  Integrity comes from a latin word meaning whole.  Integrity means aligning your actions with your highest and wisest inner self;  it’s accepting yourself as a complete person, with good and bad qualities.  There is an internal integrity which is strengthened when your patterns of behaviour are consistent with your values and there is an external integrity which comes from being authentic in how you present yourself to others.

How fulfilled we are definitely depends on how integrated we are and in order to be an integrated human being, we first must know ourselves.–Know Thyself! –That means digging down to your core beliefs and values and discovering what is really important to you.  It means uncovering all those ugly pieces that you didn’t want to see and accepting that they are part of what makes you unique and beautiful.

Acting with integrity is something I am struggling with right now.  I know who I am on the inside and I can imagine the person that I want to present to the world but at times I sense there are discrepancies.   It’s kind of like trying to turn a t-shirt inside out.  I feel like I am strong, confident, truthful, joyful, expressive, compassionate but how do I project these outward?

I know I need to be more gentle with myself and allow the variances to occur.  I need to accept that I am not always going to appear to be the perfectly confident, joyful, expressive woman I see myself as.  My words may not always come out quite the way I want them to and my actions may not always match how I feel inside but that’s okay– I’m always progressing towards wholeness.

The goal should be to narrow that gap so we express our authentic selves as much as possible and the best way to do this is to stay present.  When we are in the moment, we can be in tune with our values, our needs and our intuition.  Then our words and deeds are more likely to match our inner selves.  Staying present also eliminates fear which means we will have the courage to show our true self to the world with worrying so much about being accepted.  Being open like this takes tremendous courage.  Think of yourself as a flower slowly blossoming.   Have the goal everyday to act with integrity–to know your truth, to speak your truth and to be true to yourself.

If we search for satisfaction alone, we will continually be disappointed and dismayed.  It’s when we strive to be in the moment and practice all three kinds of acceptance–non-attachment, gratitude and integrity, that we come closer to that elusive state of well-being that we all look for.  I like the word WELL-BEING as opposed to happiness.  If we reverse it, it becomes ‘being well’  which, for me, encompasses both the ideas of acceptance and being present.

And, in the end, what is it that we truly want?  What are we really aiming for here?  The thread which holds all of this together is what I believe to be our ultimate goal–SERENITY.  It’s that quietness and stillness in the mind.  It’s that calmness and peace of mind that we all want access to.  And we do have access to it…at any time! Borrowing an analogy that I heard, serenity is the deep sea within you which doesn’t change with your current circumstances.  At the surface of the water, our emotions may be stormy or things may seem out of control, but deep below is the ever-present sense of tranquility, a knowing that all is well.

So how do we gain access to the power of serenity?  A few great ways are deep breathing, meditation, mindful body movement like yoga or walking, setting intentions for your day and having a mantra or an affirmation that can serve as your anchor.   These can all be easily incorporated into your daily routine.

Do a 10-minute meditation in the morning, set your intention for the day as you drink your morning coffee (for example:  “I intend to act with integrity” or “I intend to be compassionate”) and say it in your head as you begin your day.  Do some deep breathing and stretching on your lunch break, repeat your mantra or affirmation whenever you feel stressed or overwhelmed (for example:  “OM” or “I am open”), try another short meditation in the evening and go for a mindful walk on the weekend.

Sounds like a lot?  Then try just one or two and gradually add more.  After a while, you will begin to notice a difference.  You will see that you are able to remain calmer in stressful situations.  You will see yourself more objectively.  You will complain less and appreciate more.  You will feel a deeper connection with yourself and with those around you.  You will be living with more awareness, more purpose and more enthusiasm.

Accept yourself and all that is…feel your deep sea of serenity.

 

TED TALK:

The habits of happiness

The Universe is a Friendly Place

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We all have underlying beliefs;  many that we may not even know about.  These beliefs help us to organize and interpret information.  Our beliefs propel our lives;  they shape our world and determine how we perceive what’s going on around us.  There is no one reality;  everyone sees things from their own perspective.  What one person my view as an interesting challenge, another my see as a dangerous threat.  Where one person sees harmony and peace, another might interpret chaos and disorder.  It all depends on our core beliefs–called schemas.

Some schemas are accurate and aid us in adapting the new situations.  When we move to a new city or start a new job we rely on information based on our previous experience or knowledge.  And the new situation often ends up confirming our pre-existing ideas.  But schemas can also be maladaptive–in other words, not able to adjust well to the current environment.  I would propose that most psychological fears stem from these maladaptive schemas.  For example, if you believe that people can’t be trusted then you will fear people are out to deceive you or hurt you.  This belief will affect many of your choices and actions.

I think sensitive people are often naturally cautious and careful.  They pause before they speak or act.  Some sensitive people, though, due to their experiences or lack of experiences, probably hold the belief that the world is a little scary or dangerous.  They may become overly cautious and careful which in turn confirms their belief that the universe is a place that is frightening, perilous and unpredictable.

A few nights ago, I went to bed thinking that I was ready to get some new insights.  I set the intention–I am open to receive. Bring it on!–and went to sleep.  That night I received the message–“The universe is a friendly place.”  I had heard this phrase before but why had this particular phrase come to me so strongly in a dream?  How was it important to me?  It prompted me to go further in my quest to uncover my deepest beliefs about myself and the world.  After my dream, I kept repeating to myself, “The universe is a friendly place,” and I realized clearly that I had clung to believing in the opposite–that the universe wasn’t friendly but always throwing you unpleasant surprises.

Another belief that is likely held by many sensitive people is “I am weak.” or “I am not capable of handling the challenges of life”.  This is one that I uncovered not to long ago in myself.  That voice in my head I discovered was telling me–“You can’t do it!  You don’t have what it takes!  You just don’t have the knowledge or abilities that others have.  What’s the point!”  It has kept me from taking risks and from living up to my fullest potential.

The other prominent schema that I have is one perfectionists (and therefore also sensitive people) commonly have.  That belief is “It’s not okay to make mistakes.  If I make a mistake, I will be embarrassed or rejected or something terrible will happen.”  The voice held me back from using my own personal power.  There were sometimes those voices in my head saying–“Don’t do that!  You shouldn’t say that.  You might be wrong.  People might laugh at you.  You don’t want to fail and look like an idiot.  Then no one will accept you!  Don’t let them see that you are defective!”

So basically I think my underlying beliefs are:

1. The universe is a unpredictable and sometimes scary place.  If I plan well keep things organized and keep regular routines, I will be safe and secure.  (vulnerability)

2.  I am weak.  I am not capable of doing it myself.  I need support.  (incompetence, dependence)

3.  If I make a mistake, it means I am an idiot and a failure.  (perfectionism)

4.  If I say or do the wrong thing, something bad might happen or someone might leave me. (abandonment, instability)

5.  There is something wrong with me.  If I am not careful, people will see my weakness and I will be humiliated and rejected. (defectiveness, shame)

But I don’t want to paint a picture that is so bleak. Of course, these beliefs didn’t rule everything I did.  I have done many things in my life that required courage, bold leaps of faith, strength, confidence and letting go of getting it all right.  Certainly moving to a different country takes all of the qualities.  There have been times when I was sure that the universe was on my side, making everything everything fall into place and go smoothly.

I have gotten stronger, bolder and more flexible over the years and especially lately.  My question now is –How do I change these fundamental beliefs?  Will I ever be the person I see myself as–strong, powerful, bold, confident, spontaneous, lighthearted and FREE!?  Will I ever be able to be totally me without worrying what others think?  What if I really can’t make it out there in the world on my own?  The fears sneak back in….

Now I feel conflicted.  A large part of me wants desperately to be known, to go out there, speak my truth and show everyone who I really am and what I am capable of.  And yet the other parts still lie underneath, screaming in their subtle, quiet voices.  So where do I go from here?  Well, the simple answer that just came to me is ‘FORWARD!!’  I know there is no other way to go.  Deep down, I KNOW that I am going to survive and I know I AM going to feel more and more comfortable out in the world.

I encourage anyone reading this to investigate into their underlying beliefs because these schema are the keys to understanding what is holding you back from feeling fulfilled, balanced and at peace.  There is no easy way to reach the depth where these beliefs lie.  It will take time, a lot of digging and most importantly–mindfulness.   Rather than getting wrapped up in your emotions or rejecting them–calmly acknowledge and accept them.

What I suggest is to first take a look at situations where you experience uncomfortable emotions such as nervousness, frustration, anger, depression.  Then ask yourself–Why do I feel this way?  And continue asking ‘why?’  For instance:

situation: I felt a lot of anxiety before making a presentation in front of my peers.

why did I feel anxiety? —  because I was afraid of making a mistake

why was I afraid of making a mistake? — because I was afraid of embarrassing myself and because I wanted things to go perfectly

why was I afraid of embarrassing myself?  — because I was afraid that everyone would see that I was nervous

why was I afraid of people seeing me nervous? — because I was afraid that they would see that I am not perfect, flawed and they would reject me

why did I want things to go perfectly? —because if things didn’t go perfectly and smoothly, it would be chaos and I would be a failure

 

 

EVOLUTION- Part 2

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So is being a highly sensitive person a blessing or an affliction?  Well, I think if you are aware of your sensitivities and you are learning ways to deal with stressful situations then being highly sensitive can definitely be an asset.  It could even be your greatest gift.  I’d bet some of the best teachers, writers, artists, interior designers and psychologists are highly sensitive people.  And I would guess that sensitive people often make great friends as well.

For me, the major hazards I have to watch out for are perfectionism and anxiety since sensitive people are more prone to both of these.  The danger of having more awareness of details and subtle things in your environment is that it can drive you to wanting things to be ‘just right’.  Some perfectionists may strive to have the perfect, orderly and organized home or they may work longer than necessary on projects, trying to get everything exactly how they want.  A little bit of perfectionism is beneficial but becoming obsessed with tiny details is inefficient.

Many perfectionists probably have trouble believing that they are good enough.  They might have extremely high expectations for themselves and others or be constantly reaching for some impossible goal or ideal.  Another element of perfectionism is the desire to look competent and perform well in front of others.  Such people may be terrified of making mistakes or appearing less than perfect.  I can definitely relate!

With such thin skin, some sensitive people believe that they are transparent and worry that others will be able to see what they are thinking or feeling.   This can bring about that unbearable fear of shame.  Sensitive people are even more likely to have that horrible feeling that someone will see their vulnerabilities and inadequacies.  I noticed this recently in my life.  I realized I wasn’t really afraid of doing the task I had to do because I know I had the skills and experience necessary to do a good job.  Rather, I was afraid of people knowing and seeing that I was nervous.  In other words, I was anxious about feeling nervous!  It sound crazy but what it comes down to is fearing fear.

Perhaps the biggest danger of being a highly sensitive person is the temptation to stay inside as much as possible, avoiding the stress of the outside world.  The problem with this strategy, as I mentioned before, is that the more you avoid something, the scarier it becomes.  If you want to travel but don’t because you are afraid of all the changes and new situations, you are basically telling yourself that you are not fit to survive out there.  Travelling will then become overwhelmingly stressful.

On the other hand, the desire to prove you are just as tough as others can get you into trouble, too.  If you put too much pressure on yourself and force yourself to do more than your body can handle, you will likely end up with problems like headaches, fatigue or insomnia.  So it is important for sensitive people to put themselves out there but how much?  This is one question that I am pondering now.

During my adult life, I have swung from one extreme to the other.  For most of my 20’s, I lived like a hermit;  rarely going out and hardly ever socializing with anyone.  Then in my 30’s, I became a wild party girl and social butterfly, spending most of my weekends in clubs filled with people.

Now, at 43, I find myself swinging back to the “staying in” side.  I just don’t have the desire to go out much.  I would much rather stay home and have quiet time for myself:  writing in my blog, doing yoga or reading a book.  The thought of being in a crowded place with lots of noise and things to look at is not appealing at all.  The few times I have tried to push myself by going downtown or going out dancing for a couple of hours, I have ended up feeling anxious and drained.

Now, I’m perfectly content hanging out in my living room, listening to some chill out music, gazing out the window and looking at the trees.  What a strange 25 years it has been!!  I can hardly believe that the girl who danced crazily in Tokyo was really me!  I wonder who I will become next…

I think as we get older, we all tend to retreat a little.  Our priorities change and we often become more focused on family and the home.  Plus we may not have the energy we used to for social outings, events and other adventures.  For the sensitive ones, continuing to make an effort to break out of the comfort zone of home is essential.

If any of this sounds like you and you suspect you may be a sensitive person, be sure to take care of yourself and pay close attention to what your body is telling you.  Do what FEELS right.  Forget about what other people have told you about what you ‘should’ be doing.  YOU know yourself and your body better than anyone!  Balance is really the key here.  Being highly sensitive is not an obstacle as long as you are in tune with yourself.  Withdrawing from the world is not healthy but neither is over-stressing yourself.

I believe that balancing the root chakra can be helpful for more sensitive people.  The root chakra is located at the base of the spine.  When your root chakra is balanced, you feel grounded, stable, safe and secure;  you are connected to your body and present in the moment.  You are calm and open to change.  If you don’t know much about chakras, I encourage you to find out!

Meditation is an especially important tool for us sensitive beings.  As you increase you awareness and intuition, you will be better able to distinguish situations are harmful to your physical, mental and emotional health from situations that are challenging but helpful to your growth and sense of security and confidence.  If you can do one thing to your enhance your daily routine, add a short meditation!  Just 10-15 minutes will make a difference.

The goal is to KNOW yourself more intimately and be open and flexible to your own personal evolution.  As I discover more about myself, I get more acquainted with what motivates me and what my true values and desires are.  I also get better at seeing the real obstacles that are getting in the way of being my best, most peaceful, joyful, powerful, courageous, creative and compassionate self.

You alone are the explorer of your inner world.  It’s like the Star Trek opening narration–“to explore strange new worlds…to boldly go where no man (or woman!) has gone before.”  It is my mission to understand the TRUTH of who I am, to have the courage to be who I really am and to share my truth and my JOY with the world.

I’m learning that I have to let go of trying to be perfect all the time and I’m learning to believe in myself;  to have confidence and trust that I DO have what it takes to make it out there in the world.  Knowing my ‘weaknesses’ has given me more wisdom; wisdom that helps me make good choices.  Realizing that I am highly sensitive empowers me to take actions which lead to my overall well-being and happiness.

When you know your weaknesses, you know your strengths.  Prepare yourself to be pleasantly surprised as you follow your own spiritual path.  Spirituality is transcendence of the self–going beyond the limits of who you thought you were and becoming a more enlightened human being.  This evolution is gradual and slow and requires a lot of patience and self-compassion.  Just as in nature, evolution does not happen overnight.

This is not about making sudden drastic changes in your life or beating yourself up when you think you have fallen short of your fullest potential.  This is not a race and you don’t win any prizes when you get to the finish line.  This is about finding your own beauty.  I will quote my therapist who wrote, “Much of the beauty in this world is unravelled when we look inwards.”

Be as gentle with yourself as you would a child.  Remember that you are exactly where you need to be right now.  Follow your intuition.  Be open.  Be curious.  Explore!  Allow yourself to unravel and EVOLVE!