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The Secret to Happiness? Five Minutes of (Self-Love) Zen at a Time…

13 Aug

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.

survival

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!

walking

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.

five minutes five steps

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!

Carol

If YOU believe it, it is so…

10 Jun

All of our power of creation is invested in our belief, and because we believe it, that’s the way it is.
– don Miguel Ruiz

No truer words were ever spoken!

All one needs to do is to watch any elected politician (even if you do not agree with them), passionate preacher, evangelist, terrorist, judge, etc. to know passion does not lie.  What we believe to be true is the bedrock of our very foundation – and, even if such belief is based on total malarkey or fiction, if we believe it, it is so.  Passion and perception (in the absence of facts to the contrary) become reality.

What does this mean in the grand scheme of our lives?

It all comes down to another quote:

“Whether You Believe You Can, Or You Can’t, You Are Right
Henry Ford

My biggest learning in life to this point (I am at middle age) is that it is only your own opinion that matters in life.  (This is absolutely a polar opposite to how I was raised (and in my long-term now defunct marriage) where my opinion (and intuition) were secondary to others who “knew better” and would love me if I agreed with them.)

This is my three-part (big) piece of advice to anyone who will listen:

Trust YOUR instincts and your intuition first – no matter what others in your past (yesterday and before) told you to do! 

Love yourself for who you are (even if it means that others withhold their “love” from you.) 

If you realize that your intuition is dormant (it may have been squashed or never allowed to grow) – start today to listen to your higher being.

When others (whether they love you or not, and whether they are well-intentioned or not) cast judgment on your life..

or your behavior or your plans or your thoughts (heaven forbid!) – it is up to you and you alone to close the screen door and not allow such negative energy to enter your being.  Negative energy will always be a part of life, but it doesn’t need to be a part of you!

Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know… because you never had the chance (until now!)

Sometimes when you’ve grown up under the influence of others who insisted they knew more/better that we about what was best for us, you never realize that there is any other way.

If you were born into judgment, you learned to give away power and control early – maybe even before the age of reason. Why? Because it was easier to agree than fight. (In the typical “fight or flight” situation, if we are too young to fly, have nowhere to fly, and no way to win the fight without being rejected, we learn to override our intuition.) Then by the time we are four or five, we are already conditioned to believe that one choice (submit and agree) results in love, while others do not. We gain approval, acceptance and hopefully, love, when we agree with the dominating (and usually well-intentioned) mother, father, grandparent, or another.

I am probably a very slow learner, but up until six years ago (my divorce) I never realized this. I spent my life seeking a personal path that would please (or at least not raise the ire) of my husband, my parents, and often, emotionally abusive friends.  Because I am an independent thinker, an individualist, and a survivor, I faced a constant internal battle between my caged intuition (which did not agree with the martyr behavior of taking care of everyone else’s needs first) and keeping the peace (and being “loved”.)

How does Submission and People-Pleasing become a(n unhappy) Way of Life?

For me, submission began with a strict religious upbringing where one choice was possible – ever.  My parents would love me  if I followed their dogma, their interpretation of organized religion, their path in life. Opposition was considered an affront and rejected outright.  In my marriage, when there was disagreement, my spouse’s way of dealing with things was similar “your perception is wrong, that is not the way things are … and I can bring in witnesses who will prove me right.” End of discussion.)

For years, I sought approval (which equated to love and affection) by agreeing and acquiescing to “mandatory” church attendance, strict partisan beliefs, my spouse’s views and choices, and generally squashing down my intuition.  I was woefully unhappy, but felt that I was “loved.” I believed this all to be true, and therefore it was.

And I believed it was so, for so many years…

Looking back, I don’t know why it is remains difficult to forgive myself for being asleep — for the years where I overrode my intuition and higher power in exchange for feeling loved.  In the process of giving first to others and seeking to be loved, I neglected loving myself.  I believed then that I would never know love unless I put others first (even at my own expense.)  Thankfully, I could be myself in my business – and ultimately this freedom to be me led me to find a new path (and new beliefs).

Today I believe that the only authentic true-love (without conditions of any kind) can be attained through self-love. (Because I believe it, it is so!)

I believe the best choices for me come from my higher power and my intuition, not from others who purport to love me if I agree with them.  I also believe that inner peace, free from conflict, is the path to happiness (and I am happy!)

What do you believe (that might hold you back?)  Are your beliefs truly yours or are they beliefs you agreed to long ago as dictated by others?

Wake up to a New Life and New Beliefs!

My awakening, to the realization that I gave up my power and control to others, was life-changing.  While my road to authenticity and living with integrity is like climbing a mountain, (my daughter once told me after my divorce that to “reach the other side, you have to go through a lot of fire”) – I am grateful to finally have my intuition firing on all cylinders and directing my life.

As I continue to wake up even more to being under my own control (instead of the Stepford-like control of others) – life gets better. I believe in the power of the Royal We (me, myself and I), and… life is good!

What do you think?

(While I may not choose to allow your opinion to influence my life, I still like to hear how my readers think!)

Carol

Doubters anonymous…

9 Jun

When our word isn’t dissipated by doubt, the power of our word is even stronger.
– don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the power of Doubt, maybe it’s because I am learning that I am the only one who can ever make myself happy, and the pain of a narcissistic long-term relationship is moving further away.

Today, I realize that I am a whole, complete and perfect (okay, two out of three isn’t bad!) person who can do anything I set my dreams on (with confidence!), who deserves love and gives much to the world.

It wasn’t always like that, I lived with Doubt (I constantly questioned whether I was good enough, smart enough, lovable…) – all due to my own misgivings and “healthy doses of doubt and gentle correction” heaped on by those around me.  I was addicted to doubt!

“Doubt” used to be a frequent companion,

a hanger-on’er who came into my life in early childhood and who crept around making sure I would stop myself before trying new or challenging things.  (Somehow I managed to keep doubt at bay in my business, all the while he wreaked havoc in my personal life!)

I know that Doubt has emerged in great force in this economy – he plays increasingly larger parts in the lives of others I know – and these are good, solid, inspiring people who deserve success and great things.  Yet, Doubt has moved in taking up the real estate that Confidence deserves to own. 

(Aside:  as a recovering Doubt-addict, I know that instilling confidence and supporting others is an important step in their own Doubt-recovery!  Inspire confidence in others through the power of your (positive!) words.)

Get Past a Doubt-filled Past!

I know that in my past, “Doubt” was seldom alone – he was usually cheered on by a crowd who agreed that I would screw up whatever I might think to try. Doubt (and his supporters) never liked me for who I am, and that’s why I need to steer clear of him!

“Doubt” loved being best friends with my (harsh) inner critic, my parents, and my spouse – they would take turns playing “you need to change this” and “who do you think you are?”   “Doubt” crept around like he didn’t belong (he never did) but when he partnered with others, it was downright insidious. He was like a storm cloud always threatening rain!

In nature, we have the power of water and wind to erode, in people we allow doubt to sculpt us into wisps of  people immobilized with holes that doubt inflicts.   I believe that doubt is an addiction – that if it is left unchecked can render one addicted and damaged.

“We are born to do wonderful, innovative, passionate things with our life, and to live a happy life! We are born to be confident and find our way!  We are born to be surrounded by sunshine – it is our (confidence-inspired) destiny!” – Carol Dekkers

Doubt pours down on those possibilities and leaves us unmotivated, tired, and uninspired.  Some days it might seem like the sun will never come out.

If I can be a Doubt-Survivor, so can you!

I’ve overcome my doubt addiction through conscious work, and by neutralizing the negative doubt-mongering (but well-intentioned) people in my life (some I have de-friended entirely!)

While yesterday had room for Doubt, my future does not!  The work involved realizing that I was living without integrity – that is, I was saying things to myself that I would never say to a best friend. While I didn’t do a formal 12 step doubt-removal program,  Today I can proudly announce that I am in doubt recovery!

While we cannot control the seeds of doubt that others try to plant in our fertile minds, we can banish them from our mind’s garden – and nurture positive, inspiring affirmations that in time, will remove the power of doubt.  Confidence renders “Doubt” speechless.

You are intended to be… great!  So go out today and get started – you don’t have a heartbeat to wait.

Have a great week!

Carol

p.s., Send me a note if you’d like to know more about how I overcame doubt… it’s a journey of self-discovery and self-love!

Baggage Fees for People…

13 Mar

Whatever life takes away from you, let it go.  When you surrender and let go of the past, you allow yourself to be fully alive in the moment. – don Miguel Ruiz

This is true whether life has taken from you your life savings, relationships (toxic or not), possessions, emotions, or people.

In our capitalist society, we grow up with the illusion that whoever amasses the most things – wins!  In addition to material things, we hold emotions and experiences, and keep them forever (even when it is not good for us!)  Sometimes I think we are like the TV showHoarders” with the amount of intellectual and emotional baggage we drag behind us.  (If you do not think you are “packing” baggage, think about how often you serenade friends with the same litany of a past hurt…)

The analogy of baggage fees for emotional baggage hit me the other day at the airport as a fashionista was unloading her luggage on to a baggage cart for an upcoming flight. She was aghast when the agent assessed her with hundreds of dollars in “extra” baggage fees, and I realized that this same situation could work well with the invisible baggage we all insist on bringing with us.

Think about it for a minute – why do we need to bring a “steamer trunk” full of childhood pain along to a family picnic?  The answer is that we DON”T!

Imagine if we could visualize the baggage that we and everyone else bring along when we go out?  Picture this hilarious scenario:  People at a picnic surrounded by masses of steamer trunks (full of crap), garment bags (with clothes that no longer fit) , sports equipment (long worn out), golf bags (with mismatched clubs), garbage bags (filled with discarded papers), and suitcases so old they need duct tape to stay together.

It would be the most bizarre scene from “Hoarders” (people who discard nothing!)

Baggage fees for people?

If we were forced to pay fees (which we do unconsciously) for each unnecessary piece of baggage we brought the world economy would restart in a minute!  The world would change for the better in two ways:

  1. People would carefully pack only the luggage they need to take on a journey and discard the rest (we would all be more emotionally healthy!);
  2. Those who wish to remain emotional “hoarders” would contribute financially for the privilege!

The emotional baggage we carry is invisible, yet we drag, push, and pull way too much of it along like some sort of badge of honor.  If it were real, some of it would smell bad, be oozing out of its containers, and some of it would be so dangerous as to alert the “HAZMAT” team (hazardous materials).

We do not realize that life could be so much easier (with great fitness benefits to our emotional health) by discarding, recycling, reframing, and forgiving the things we lost in the past and that life took from us. Things we thought we need to keep might actually be costing us unconsciously by holding on to them.  Clear out your storage locker and your mind of this clutter and make room for new emotions and wonderful experiences today. (Related post: New Math – Subtraction can add Years to your life!)

We need to take inventory and streamline our journey forward by discarding the worn out and out-of-date from our lives!

Starting today, I am going to work to discard the waste, and watch what bags I pack to go out tonight.

If it is more than I can fit into a small purse – it is tooooooo much!  If I go out and drag along a few extra steamer trunks (out of habit), I will ask my friends to collect baggage fees at the table.  What do you think?

Have a great (baggage free) week!

Carol

Living Life Fully… 5 minutes at a Time

12 Mar

Life can be wondrous, exciting, frustrating, passionate, stressful, exhilarating, and sad, and sometimes it can be all of these at the same time! And that can bring on moments where we feel completely overwhelmed and incapable of thinking or moving forward.  When this happens to me, I remember one of the best pieces of advice from a friend:

You only have to make it through the next five minutes – one minute at a time…
and you WILL be fine.

She was right, and I share her wisdom with others when I see someone under stress.  If it works for me, why not for others?

Take a deep breath, inhale and exhale and simply breathe through the next 60 seconds, then 60 more until the magical 5 minute point.  At that point, nothing has changed but the wave of utter helplessness has somehow subsided.  Feeling overwhelmed is like the perfect storm – all things seem to collide at the same time making the negative waves seem like they are drowning us!

When we are overcome by emotion (positive or negative), financial or physical stress, or when something happens that “breaks the camel’s back”, we might wonder if we can make it through life – but we really only have to make it through the next five minutes.

Even 5 minutes can seem like an eternity!

But… when you set aside the massive pile of things that overwhelm you at the moment, and simply concentrate on making it through the next five minutes, five minutes at a time, things often become easier.

Five minutes are akin to bite size pieces of our lives. (Have you heard the famous answer to: How does one eat an elephant?  “One bite at a time.”)

Living life fully is sometimes as simple (and as difficult) as living it in bite sized pieces… five minutes at a time.

Wishing you a low stress, happy week ahead!

Carol

 

Recovery from Childhood – a Lifelong Journey…

24 Jan

I am a big believer in The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz and his recent book The Fifth Agreement.  In summary, don Miguel teaches us to get over the seemingly innocent agreements we entered into and made (often unconsciously) in early life.  We accepted these in childhood as a done deal imposed by parents with the noble intent of “domesticating” us into submission and assimilation into a civil society.

Our parents typically raised us in the same way they were, without consideration that such ways might not prepare us to deal with the disappointments and realities of adult life.  Case in point:  life is not fair, and there are no guarantees of respectful treatment, yet many of us learned to follow the Golden Rule.  Others were taught (especially females) to take care of others first and foremost (see my previous post Put on Your Own Mask First for more about this…)  These concepts don’t hold in adult world where others are focused on self-interests (as well they should.)

The Four Agreements and The Fifth Agreement are worthwhile investments for anyone seeking to understand relationships – especially because both books explain how to work with others and ourselves in daily life.  I love the writings and the works!

In spite of studying and practicing The Four Agreements (1. Live with Integrity; 2. Don’t take anything personally; 3. Never assume (ask questions instead); and 4. Always do your best) – I face challenges to overcome “childhood teachings”- even though decades separate me from those years.  Moreover, in talking to friends both older and younger, I am not alone!

Why is it that we spend the first 15-20 years learning how to live (childhood) and the rest of our life overcoming the same?

Some people do not have childhood baggage.  I know people whose childhoods abounded with unconditional love and acceptance, and their parents treated them as the apple(s) of their eyes. As a result, one friend has so much self-esteem that co-workers tire of her incredibly healthy self-image!  Unfortunately, I think that this situation is more the exception than the rule.

Is there ever a point when our parents can no longer get under our skin, or when they are no longer the voices in our heads?

Even though I am middle-aged, I routinely get emails from my father chiding me for not calling enough (I call every week), emailing enough (I respond and send emails all the time), thanking enough for gifts (no matter that I have).  These emails bother me, and it bothers me that they bother me!  I should be used to the treatment by now… and one would think I would stop hoping for acceptance!

As an accomplished professional, I know that I am a great person – so why would I still hold out hope that my father will someday notice this?  As a child, I learned that 97% was never good enough – it was always 3% short of the perfection that meant acceptance.

Why do we keep hoping for change in others even when we know that we can only change ourselves?  Why do grown women seek approval from judgmental fathers (and often marry similar men)?  Why do grown men keep hoping they will buy that perfect gift for an unapproving mother?  Why do we strive to make our parents proud long after it shouldn’t matter?

I know that parental love is expressed by pointing out shortfalls and faults, yet I still hold onto the dream that someday just being ME will be enough.  I’m not alone in the lifetime journey of recovering from childhood and some people have it much worse. I read about similar struggles on blogs, in discussions, and in listening to friends and colleagues worldwide!

I am optimistic as I watch my son and daughter-in-law raising two daughters in a loving, accepting and supportive home, and it warms my heart as they show their princesses unconditional love.  Even so, I wonder if anyone has a childhood from which they do not seek to recover.

Wishing you a peaceful week where you experience self-love and an ongoing recovery as you move forward in your life!

Carol

Let’s stop being wasteful – in consumerism and in life!

9 Aug

I’ve had a great summer with more beach time than I can recall in recent years. It’s funny how peaceful and contemplative we can become when we sit still and listen to the repetitive lull of the waves lapping at the shore.

Times at the beach lead my mind to wander and wonder – about all sorts of mundane things… like what’s the point of so much consumption of “new” products when yesterday’s products still work?

Last week when I was in New York City, my daughter and I visited a few clothing consignment shops (formerly called second-hand stores) and I realized just how much greener our society could become if we all decided to reuse, recycle, and restore.  It was amazing how good were the clothes as the shops showcased next-to-new clothing, gently worn, at a fraction of the original price!  Some of the pieces still had the tags on them!  Why do we keep churning out miles and miles of new textiles when the ones already fashioned are still wearable?

As I was thinking, it occurred to me that another “wasteland” is in our heads… Have you noticed lately how people love to plant “waste” in your psyche with negativity the minute you mention something good has happened?  I have “friends” who chide me about wearing fashionable black nail polish that I love (“you’re not really wearing that color to work are you? That’s not professional!”) or who project jealousy through my clothing choices (“I don’t think your shirt really looks all that good with that skirt”) or who can’t wait to disparage a new interesting person in my life (“why would he like YOU?”).  When you stop to consider what  a waste of time and energy it is to: 1. listen to them at all; and 2. to allow their negative waste to invade your good day!

My new “recycling campaign” is to repeat and reinforce positive ideas in my head so that I can spread GOOD cheer and not “fertilizer” (aka waste).  I would be ashamed to say the things some people say to me!

Today, more than ever, we need to sustain and nurture our spirits with environmentally friendly thoughts and actions – why not plant seeds of positivism and recycle good words to others today?

Have a great week!

Carol

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