Archive for the ‘Letting Go’ Category

The article, A New Gauge to See What’s Beyond Happiness, by John Tierney (click here to read the whole article) in today’s New York Times questions the idea that happiness is what we should all strive for.  It’s not that happiness is bad, but the author and people interviewed in the article ask whether there is a richer sense of well-being that comes from more than just positive, happy feelings.

This strikes a chord with me. Partly personally, but also because I see clients all the time looking for a deeper well-being, even when in many ways they would describe themselves as happy.   They’re looking for connection and relationships, both personal and in work.  They’re looking for contributing to the greater good and being part of something bigger.

Psychologist Martin Seligman, who founded the positive psychology movement, says he has come around to see that happiness (positive emotion)  is not enough, but just one of what he believes are five crucial elements of well-being: positive emotion, engagement (the feeling of being lost in a task), relationships, meaning and accomplishment.

“Well-being cannot exist just in your own head,” he writes. “Well-being is a combination of feeling good as well as actually having meaning, good relationships and accomplishment.”

The economist Arthur Brooks agrees.

In his 2008 book, “Gross National Happiness,” Dr. Brooks argues that what’s crucial to well-being is not how cheerful you feel, not how much money you make, but rather the meaning you find in life and your sense of “earned success” — the belief that you have created value in your life or others’ lives.

Brooks explains one way this plays out.

“People find meaning in providing unconditional love for children,” writes Dr. Brooks, who is now president of the American Enterprise Institute. “Paradoxically, your happiness is raised by the very fact that you are willing to have your happiness lowered through years of dirty diapers, tantrums and backtalk. Willingness to accept unhappiness from children is a source of happiness.”

Why does this all resonate with me?  I guess because it makes sense that well-being is not always connected to or dependent on happiness per se.  Our culture sometimes puts happiness so high on the pedestal of life, that short of achieving happiness nothing is enough.  This view that overall well-being is more complicated and complex than just feeling happy makes me feel more normal and validated.

What do you do that doesn’t necessarily always make  you happy but that adds to your overall sense of well-being?

My husband said something to me the other day about how celebrating birthdays is important to me.  I said, no celebrating other people’s birthdays is important to me.  I don’t care about celebrating mine.  And I believe that.  It makes me uncomfortable.  My instinct is to have as normal a day as possible and quietly move on to another year of life.  But it sort of hit me how that’s not really fair.  Why do I get the pleasure of celebrating others, but not let them have that pleasure themselves?

And this has really stuck in my head over the past few days because I have a number of clients who do the very same thing in their lives.  They are always ready to give, but not open to receiving and I have asked them to challenge that.  I have asked them to allow themselves to be open to receiving.  I have asked them to try, just try to do it differently.  How can I keep asking that of them if I’m not ready to do it myself?

Every caution flag set off in my head as I contemplated writing about my birthday here.  What will people think?  Should I write that they don’t have to write to me?  Does this seem pathetic?  The more my mind shouted at me “DON’T DO IT!” the more I thought, this is precisely what I should do.  Sit with my discomfort.  I actually really like the idea of starting a new year of life pushing myself to try something new.

So there you have it.  I look at the blue “Publish” button and it looks back at me.  Will I push it?  What will it feel like?  Well, at 45 I am about to find out!

Happy Birthday to me…

I picked up an Eckhart Tolle book, A New Earth, that I have been reading very very slowly and sporadically.  It’s extremely dense and if I’m not in just the right mood, I can’t wrap my mind around anything he’s saying.  But today I thought I’d try again.  At first it felt like a slog, but then I decided to just open to a random page and see what was there.  The section heading, The Duck with a Human Mind caught my eye.  I thought I could handle that.

And I could.  Tolle explains the idea of moving on or being in the moment incredibly succinctly by describing what ducks do after a fight; they separate and float off in opposite directions.

Then each duck will flap its wings vigorously a few times, thus releasing the surplus energy that built up during the fight.  After they flap their wings, they float on peacefully, as if nothing had ever happened.

In my mind’s eye, I can see that excess energy getting pushed out, and I get a sensation of relief.  Tolle then goes on to explain how a duck with a human mind would keep the encounter alive by thinking about it, going over it, expecting the next encounter and so on and so on.  Even though the physical fight would be over, the mind would keep the battle alive and the duck would have physical responses (like stress, anger, dread) to those thoughts.

Reading that made me so badly want to be able to flap my wings and move on!   All the thinking can be so exhausting.  I can’t even imagine being able to let go so completely, but it is very appealing.  I know I’ll no sooner start quacking than I will be able to glide away to the opposite side of the pond in a state of peace after a conflict.  But I can remind myself of that duck.  And I can imagine flapping my proverbial wings and moving on.  And that’s a first step.

As I contemplated the idea of the sand mandala that Tibetan monks made at my kids’ school and then swept away (see my earlier post), I kept getting an image of how we all sort of make these “mind” mandalas that we build on and build on, but don’t sweep away.

Okay, here’s what I mean.  We all have recurring thoughts that run through our heads.  Sometimes they’re negative…something that nags and makes you feel bad.  Other times they’re good…maybe something you’re looking forward to or makes you feel happy.  I would argue, based on nothing but my intuition, that humans go back to the negative feelings more often than the positive ones.  We obsess about the things that bother us.  And so I imagine that every time we go back to one of those thoughts, it’s like we’re putting another grain of sand in the mandala to that particular thing.

Let’s say you have a boss you don’t like.  In your head, you revisit this subject often, putting in all the reasons you don’t like this person…one grain at a time.  If you say that each different point you make is a different color, I would bet there are a lot of repeat colors because our minds go over the same thing again and again.  To what end?  We create this elaborate mandala, beautiful in a way, to something that upsets us.  And we just take for granted that it’s there and permanent in some way.

Why not sweep it away?  Why keep feeding it?  It’s okay to feel angry or hurt or not heard, but as long as you hold on to that mandala, nothing will change.  What about creating one quickly…putting together every element you can come up with.  Pouring your energy into this thing and then simply sweep it away, and not accept this status quo mandala you’re holding onto in your head.

I experienced something really cool last Friday.  My kids’ school had five Tibetan monks on campus for a week, and they spent three of those days creating a Sand Mandala.

On Friday they had a closing ceremony when they swept it away.  The Mandala was an intricate design of brightly colored sand about three feet by three feet.  The monks, dressed in their maroon robes, created it painstakingly grain by grain by grain.

I felt drawn to the whole idea of creating something and then taking it away, so I went to the closing ceremony.  It was a funny and somehow moving scene.  The entire school was crammed into one room to watch.  Everyone stayed quiet and still while thanks were given, chants were chanted.  When one monk started the process of sweeping the Mandala away (it was on a table and the kids were sitting on the floor),  first one, then two, then three of them popped up like gophers from their holes to get a better look.  The teachers tried to wave them back down without talking, but the tide got too strong and all of a sudden all the students were standing around the table to get a better look.

That struck me.  This quiet, calm moment had a group of kids, from 5 to 14-years-old completely enthralled.  It was the ceremony of it, but I also think there was a bit of wonder at the fact that they were taking away this beautiful creation they had spent many hours making.   I couldn’t help but think about all the artwork and small creations that our children make and we parents save.  We take photos to save moments.  We take video to save moments.  We save and we save.  What are we holding onto?  Do we ever teach our children to let go?

I’m not saying that saving and treasuring is bad, but I do think it’s worth thinking about how much we do it and what it is like to accept the idea of impermanence that this ritual represents.  Everything has a beginning, middle and an end.  And that’s okay.

Because of this experience, I’ve been thinking a lot about impermanence and not being attached.  Both to things and thoughts.  I’ve got a few things/thoughts I’m going to try to let go…to sweep away.   What are you holding onto that might be good to let go?