We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.
I was talking to friend of mine about my ideas of keeping myself happy, that is to say, if I can make myself happy now I’ll be poised to have, create or solve any problem or issue I face. In response, he began to tell me all the reasons why “happy ideas” were not going to distract him from the really important thinks like his crazy money situation or his rocky relationship. It was inconceivable to him that appreciating the little things or doing things that make him happy in the moment could help him write music or right his relationships. After talking with him, I realized it wasn’t so long ago that I felt and acted the same way. And despite all of the advice that abounds about the importance of finding peace with and within ourselves, it’s difficult to figure out exactly how to do it.
Eckhart Tolle says, “The power for creating a better future is contained in the present moment. You create a good future by creating a good present.” Now I understand what he means. But I must admit, just like my friend, there was a time when saying like this were too abstract for me to get my head around let alone incorporate it into my very ordinary life.
I’d ask myself, how am I supposed to create this “good” present? Am I supposed to run off to an ashram? And who are those lucky souls who can forget about regular life and drift off to a spiritual retreat anyway? Did I mention that being enlightened sounded like a lot of work? Who has the time? And am I supposed to incorporate these ‘great truths’ into my everyday routine?
After a lot of questioning, reflection and effort I distilled Tolle’s words into three things that more or less get me to that illusive state of a “good” present and leaving me enough time to work, go grocery shopping and do the laundry. My golden rules are:
- Listen to my feelings.
- Do something that makes me happy every day
- And look for reasons to be happy.
Just to make sure we are on the same page, when I say happy I mean the kind of happy that makes you smile to yourself as you walk down the street happy or maybe even hum a little bit, not the Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah’s sofa kind of happy.
Here’s a quick glimpse into what my golden rules look like in my everyday life.
Step 1: I listen to my feeling.
- I check in with myself regularly, just to see how I feel. When I first started paying attention to me, I was surprised at how often I didn’t—didn’t stop when I was tired, didn’t acknowledge when I was happy or sad, I didn’t even recognized that I start to nibble when I start to get hungry. I was in the habit of powering through situations so much so that I’d actually taught myself to ignore how I felt. Now I breathe or do whatever I need to do to get centered then I ask myself if whatever it was that got me going really matters. That simple question changed everything. Sometimes I’m just fine. Other times it takes a while for me to pull myself together, but instead of ignoring my feelings or stuffing them down, now I look at them head on.
- No matter what’s going on I’m nice to myself. Of course that’s easy when I’m in a good mood. But when I’m subtly unhappy, a little blue or even really discontent for no apparent reason usually my inner critic jumps in foot first telling me to suck it up. Now I’ve silenced that nonsense. My inner critic now has a new job; she’s my inner detective. Do I need to go the gym and work off a bit of stress? Do I need a nice bath and some me time? Have I been getting enough sleep? And when I stop and check in with myself I can get back on track a lot faster than I ever could by pushing harder.
- Now I look at my emotions as guidance. As it turns out my emotions have been letting me know that something is out of balance. That imbalance may be a sign of something small like a few too many drinks with friends or getting to bed a few hours too late too many nights in a row or something bigger like a really stressful situation. “Moodiness” usually is my first sign that something is not as it should be. My emotions have revealed themselves as an asset that helps me navigate the world instead of something I need to fight against.
Step 2: I do something that makes me happy every day.
- I’ve made a list of things that makes me feel good. I know for example that a walk around my neighborhood will totally change my attitude and I also know all of the neighbors who have roses in front yards because I literally stop and smell the roses.
- I seek out things that I find funny. There was a moment when I was writing this post I started feeling a little stuck, so I stopped and watched an episode of Tree House Masters. Why? Because Pete Nelson, the show’s narrator, makes me laugh. There’s something about him that just makes me giddy.
- But most important of all I make my feeling good a top priority. At first it seemed a little selfish, but then I started to notice that I actually get more done when I indulge myself. And the big “ah ha!” was that no one seemed to notice that I was being selfish. The idea that I had to or should take care of others before me, was all in my own head.
Step 3: I look for or create reasons to be happy.
I love my clothes. And since here in Europe bedrooms often don’t have built-in closets, we have to buy armoires, clothes racks or something. (Thank God for IKEA.) So having bought a clothes rack when I moved into our place, I decided to add a lovely wooden hanger into the mix. Then I placed my clothes rack, so that the first things I see when I wake up in the morning are my clothes! Every morning I wake up in gratitude for my lovely things! Silly? Well of course it is. But it works! And in the process I’m setting myself up for success.
It took years, and I do mean years, for me to understand this ancient wisdom. So I’m writing this so that I can remember why I think what I think. It is so funny how lovely memories get lost in time. That said, now that I’ve got a general handle on what the wise ones mean, it really hasn’t take that long to incorporate what they say into my life, in a way that is meaningful to me. Yes it has required a little trial and error to find the right mix, then a fair bit of practice to get in the habit of thinking in a new way and doing things differently, but now that I’ve got I realize that it wasn’t as hard or time consuming as I originally thought it would be.
Not only does everyone in my life benefit from me being a happier me, my work benefits too. When I’m happier I think clearer, I can see opportunities quicker, storyline becomes clearer, planning is easier. So the best thing for all involved is for me to take care of me. So again the ancients were right, the key to happiness rests in knowing myself and using that understanding to do things that keep me content. And now that I have written this all down, when I forget, because I surely will, I have something to remind me of what I should be doing!
Will these always be my three golden rules? I think they will because from time to time I still find myself trying to muscle my way through the day and because I’m still faced with new and challenging situations. In short my life isn’t static, so I’ll fall back on these fundamentals anytime I need to find things that keep my spirits high and everything in my life just that much better.