I never thought I’d say this but I am closer to a “permanent state of happy” than I’ve ever been before. Yet, to look at my life objectively, I’ve got less of the material trappings than I’ve ever had in the past and my type-A personality is no longer governed by titles or financial goals. The journey to happy has been a conscious one – and along the way I’ve gleaned a few nuggets of wisdom from others that led me to where I am today.
I’d like to share them with you in the hopes that no matter where life led you in the past, and whatever is planned for tomorrow, you CAN experience moments of happy zen today. (Even if the rest of your day is stressed beyond belief!) But first…
A little about me
Today I earn less money and have a less stable financial future than ever before, I’m middle-aged (and the youngest I will ever be again!); I likely won’t retire until I’m 80 (given that I find sustainable income soon); I have many stressed out friends (because of their kids and unemployment); and I’m divorced without a love/”partner” relationship. YET (this is the good part!) on 99% of my days, I’m blissfully happy. And you can be too!
It wasn’t always that way: I started off in my early 20’s as a young go-getter – an engineering graduate, a career-minded mother of two with a husband in school, and multiple roles: mother, wife, daughter, friend, employer, breadwinner, maid, cook, PTA member, entrepreneur, co-worker, confidante, volunteer, role-model, sister, motivator, pet owner… I was busy, needed, loved by others, in demand, and yet something was missing.
In the midst of constant crisis (goes with being a mom and everything else) and feeling out of control, I neglected “ME.”
When things got overwhelming from the demands of others on me, I tried harder to please others and became more and more unhappy. Self-love was something I was never taught – and the self-help books that said “take care of yourself and go take a bath” just didn’t make sense.
I WAS happy in my role as mother to two wonderful kids and my career was taking off (software consulting), but I seldom felt satisfied being me. When it felt like the world was caving in with demands, school work, dinners, clients, employees, soccer games, family engagements, I often envied those who had the time to breathe and smell the flowers. Here I was SuperWoman – in good health and physically fit, but there were times when I had no idea how I was going to survive the stress of it all. I was everything to everyone and every moment of my time was spoken for by others (children, husband, clients, co-workers, employees, family, friends, acquaintances, etc.)
When I laid my head on my pillow at night and my husband wanted to be amorous, my head was already trying to find solutions to tackle the mounting to-do list only a sleepy 8 hours away. In my dreams I was alive, but realistically I was fast asleep as far as life and loving ME.
As life progressed, the real me virtually disappeared – my (now ex-) husband continually had to be right (obsessively so) and my intuition died; my son became a violent (towards me) teenager; my business declined; and my daughter moved to NYC – I had become a Stepford Wife and the real me was gone from my personal life.
By spring of 2006, I was divorced (financially and emotionally devastated); lonely (I didn’t have any personal non-mutual friends aside from business); alone (my son was in Colorado at holistic wilderness camp); challenged in business (the nature of consulting); and essentially asleep.
What I didn’t realize then was that “While I was busy in life TAKING CARE OF THE WORLD, NO ONE (not even me) WAS TAKING CARE OF ME!” When you are taught to take care of the world one person at a time, you really have no idea how to take care of yourself! The cost of putting everyone else first was almost my life. At that point, I WOKE UP to the fact that even I didn’t love me!
What I’ve Learned that Might Help You…
- Although self-love is instinctive, it is systematically programmed out of us from birth. We are taught (especially as females) to put others before ourselves – and that pleasing others is more unselfish. What I’ve learned: Self love IS the KEY! You have to put on your own mask first! The airlines have it right by saying: “Put on your own mask first before assisting others” – I found out the hard way that if you sacrifice yourself in the service of others, no one takes care of you!
- Learning self-care and self-love is (for many of us) is a new skill that can be mastered over time. After a lifetime of putting others first (what’s in it FROM ME?) I’m awakening to the realization that I matter! (I.e., what’s in it FOR ME?)
- The key to finding happiness comes with five minutes of self-love (my definition of “zen”) at a time
Five minutes of (Self-Love) Zen at a time…
- Give yourself the gift of the present to get reacquainted with the real you: set aside five minutes (at a time) anywhere that you can be alone in relative silence (even if this is a restroom stall). Once you’ve turned off distractions (your cell phone, tablet, blackberry, pager…) – tell yourself how much you love YOU (this might seem hokey, but bear with me). Make sure you use words such as “I love you – you deserve to be loved – you are a wonderful, kind, giving, genuine person. Pretend that you are your child, a best friend, a lover and use words that you would use for them. (Note that you may not want to say this aloud in a restroom stall – you might get attention that you really don’t want!);
- Be kind – think about five things that you do well (this sometimes takes practice) and remind yourself of this. These can be little things such as “you know better than anyone how to see the good in others”, “you are imaginative and creative”;
- Be playful – consider one or two things that make you smile (or if it’s not happening in the present, something that made you smile in the past) and thank yourself for being able to smile!;
- Be giving – imagine surrounding yourself with the warmest, most embracing, most genuine bear hug you can possibly give – filled with appreciation and love;
- Be ruthless and protective: when your inner critic tries to interfere in YOUR five minutes – tell them this is your time and tell them to “shut up and butt out”;
- Be conscious – take in the air around you and breathe – thanking your heart for beating and allowing you to transform the air into oxygen that your body needs;
- Be optimistic – tell yourself that you are a survivor (you are!) who deserves the best things in life no matter what is happening around you outside of this five minutes. Make sure you tell yourself the same wondrous things you’d say to a best friend you are encouraging;
- Close your eyes and imagine the warmth of a newborn swaddled and cuddled in the arms of the most loving parent – give yourself this gift even if you’ve never experienced it for yourself. Become the loving parent (for five minutes at a time) to your true inner self;
- Be proud of yourself: too often we seek acceptance and approval from others when we really need it from within – tell yourself how proud you are that you’ve made it this far in life! That’s an accomplishment in itself and a privilege that you are alive!;
- One foot forward at a time: all you need to do no matter where you are at in life is to put one foot forward at a time – a marathon is won by many small steps – and you CAN take one step forward no matter what’s going on in your life. Just one step – a baby step is admirable!;
- Remind yourself of your value: you deserve happiness, peace, tranquility, love, and time for you.
For me, the many, many five minute sessions of self-love zen are becoming second nature. It’s really been crucial to me learning to take care of myself and overcome the tendency to put everyone else first. (Forty plus years of self-neglect takes time and energy to overcome!)
It is so much easier to face (and conquer) the challenges of everyday life (finances, lack of work, unemployment, disrespectful people, acquaintances who I thought were friends, family, disappointments, etc.) when I know that I have at least 3 main supporters in my life: Me, Myself and I – and that I can rely on them to come to my rescue with Five Minutes of Self-Love Zen throughout the day.
Wishing you a wonderful day!
p.s., if you got ANYTHING out of this post – please let me know. Comments (good, bad, ugly, amusing) are welcome!