Finding my happy place

Mississippi River

When I hear the term ‘happy place’, I’m always curious what that means for people.  Throughout the years, I have explored different ideas of what this magical place would look like.  It would vary with certain images and experiences but nothing remained constant.   I struggled with the confines of establishing a physical location that only held feelings of happiness or peace.  I began to wonder if I would ever determine one place of existence as purely happy.

Then, this past week I had a perfect storm of stress, anxiety, and fear all rolled into one challenge after another. As I experienced intense uncertainty, anger, and frustration I wasn’t sure what to do or even how to cope.  There was nothing ‘to fix’, it was more about navigating overwhelming feelings and accepting the reality of the situation.  I knew in my heart that I would have to let go of the worry, the fear, and the frustration and try to find a place of peace.  Talking seemed to help a little, but I still needed to clear my head and lighten my heart, so I decided to go for a walk.

As I headed to the park by my house, still full of fear and worry, I realized that I was going towards the only place that could provide me peace.  The park.  It was my refuge.  I go there every week, almost every day to walk our dog or go for a run.  I couldn’t help but welcome the small sense of relief flooding my body as I realized that no matter what, when I am at this park, I feel that the world is an okay place.  There I am insulated from the chaos of the day, the ever-growing tasks lists, and any other expectations from the world.  There is a calm supported by the trees and the rolling hills that is hard to express through words or even pictures. There is a constant that only nature can provide.  The birds never fail to sing in the trees, the river doesn’t cease to continue rolling past, and the squirrels and wildlife promise to rustle in the woods every evening.  And sometimes, the universe will grace me with wonderful surprises in the form of a deer and her fawn running across the grassy area or even the rare site of a blue crane walking along the banks.

I walked for a while and then became absorbed in watching the river run past me and disappear around the bend.  Then, like water rolling off my shoulders, the burden in my heart became lighter.  I forgot about my fears for just those moments and breathed in deep and started releasing some of my tension.  I couldn’t help but be reminded that even in the midst of angry and hurtful people, scary situations, terminal illnesses, and more pain than is imaginable at times…there is also peace.  Walking along the river path and catching a glimpse of a blue crane doesn’t make all that heartache go away.  But it allowed me to catch my breath and simply remember that there is always something bigger than me.  Something more powerful.  I can choose to get caught up in the things that are big, powerful, and scary;  or I can choose to embrace the bigger/more powerful and peaceful things.

blue crane at park

I came home that evening feeling only a little lighter, but I had gained just enough of what I needed to get me through that evening and the next day.  And even more importantly, I realized that I can, without a doubt, finally claim my ultimate happy place.  It’s not the actual space of the park, it’s perspective that I gain through the park.   I believe our happy place resides within us at all times; sometimes we just need an external reminder of how to get there.  Maybe it’s a river walk, maybe it’s a meaningful conversation with a loved one, or maybe it’s just the stillness that is finally recognized in the heart.  No matter what, the space to feel peace is always there, it’s just up to each of us when we are ready to embrace it.  And in that space, deep within my soul where stillness lives…is my happy place.

My park

What is your connection?

Family of Elephants

What defines a connection? How do you know you have connected with someone or something and what does it feel like? And most importantly, how do you nurture these connections? Some people may define their connections in direct correlation with the number of friends they have on Facebook or how many followers they have on Twitter, but I am talking about something more; something deeper that is not captured or analyzed by social media sites.

Connections are meaningful experiences you have with someone or something that happens within yourself.  It’s when you think “this person totally gets me and is simply amazing”.  It is an interaction that leads you to want to spend more time with that person, get to know them, and share more experiences.  It is the feeling you have when you feel most comfortable in your own skin.  And when you don’t need words to fill a silent space. Connections happen when you feel like you are a part of something bigger than your immediate surroundings.  It’s a moment when you are standing on the edge of the ocean and you realize how small you are in comparison to the whole world.  It is when you witness nature in a pure sense and feel like there is purpose within you that speaks ever so softly.

Connections are not to be measured, they are to be experienced. They create a space in your soul that reminds you that you are loved and valued and a part of something much bigger than you can even imagine.  It is through real life interactions that connections grow.

If you do nothing else this week, find a way to nurture one of your treasured connections.  Step outside and gaze at the sunset or clouds in the sky.  Feel the breeze on your skin as you watch squirrels play in the yard.  Buy a card and write out a few lines of gratitude why a particular person is important to you.  Or better yet, send them a hand written note.  Have dinner with a good friend.  Remind yourself and the people in your life what really matters.

Of course, I enjoy using social media and other high-tech methods to stay in touch with loved ones.  However, I believe it’s critical to remember the importance of how we sustain our most treasured resources both within and outside of our self.  I’m sure there is an app somewhere that is designed in the spirit of ‘staying connected’, but nothing is as dependable as the internal programming of my heart and soul.  🙂

The practice of well-being: teaching, learning, and growing.

I love the idea that sometimes we have to teach in order to learn.  It becomes more clear all the time that when I share my experiences with someone or teach them something new; I learn the most and ultimately…grow the most.  I used to think that we had to be some sort of expert before we could teach something.  Through my growth I have realized that there is no hard and fast rule that we must master a practice of life before we share it with others.  Especially when it comes to the idea of well-being.  After all, the ideas and concepts of hope, gratitude, joy, love, and happiness are all a practice.  As long as we acknowledge there is no absolute method that fits everyone the same, we will teach and learn through all of our interactions each day.  Through practice we learn how to be present and treasure moments that lift us and fill our hearts and then figure out how to let go of the ones that may not be as kind or inspiring.

There is something magical about teaching and sharing ideas that you are passionate about and believe so deeply within your heart. It’s not about getting people to identify or become aware of things the exact same as you, the magic is that they consider what they agree with and what makes sense for who they are.  It’s like a light within them that shouts “Wait a minute, I know myself and I believe this or I believe that.”  It is a glimpse of their inner wisdom and exploration of exactly who they are and have always been. It’s about creating a reference point to consider and navigate your own outlook, perceptions, and intuition.

The other magical thing is what happens for my own self during this process. I am reminded of my the things I value most and my priorities when I speak about concepts like happiness, satisfaction, love, and hope.  It is an amazing moment of rejuvenation that fills my spirit and calls me to pause and simply take it all in as I hear my own reminders of what truly matters.  It is also beautifully human and empowering to admit to a group that I am growing in awareness in things like ‘letting go’, ‘self-compassion’, and ‘growing in hope’ without claiming to be an expert or some perfect model of total calm each day.

The reality is that we all practicing at the level that we are conscious.  To increase our consciousness, we grow in awareness.  And to grow in awareness we sometimes have to be vulnerable and simply acknowledge that we are perfectly imperfect.

This is my intention:  keep growing in awareness through love, understanding, compassion, and kindness.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that those four things spell out LUCK.  After all, luck is defined as “a force that brings good fortune”.  And what’s more powerful than Love, Understanding, Compassion, and Kindness? Whether you believe in LUCK or not; I am incredibly grateful to be able to experience so many opportunities to teach, learn, and grow every single day.

Pause. Breathe. Repeat.

I have a dear friend Ann who lives in another state and I try to see her as often as possible.  Her husband, Jim, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years ago .  During one visit, I had planned a surprise birthday party for Ann and managed to get most of the family there for the big party.  At one point, Jim came up to me and said, “Well, it’s finally happening.  This is it.  I think I’m going to die now.” This alarmed me quite a bit and I said, “Oh, no.  What makes you say that?”  He responded, “Because everyone I’ve ever loved is here tonight and visiting me.  I’ve seen everyone now and been able to tell them how I feel.  That must mean that it is okay for me to go.”  I remember feeling sad that he interpreted this event as a sign from above that it was his time to go and then feeling angry about the illness that was robbing him of his faculties.  But it wasn’t until later that something clicked for me about that moment. It wasn’t his illness that was creating an irrational thought process about his death.  It was the fact that he, like so many of us, get caught up in our lives and it’s only when something tragic or life changing happens that we truly pause and finally cue ourselves to be completely present with the things that matter most.  People.  Connections.  And our relationships and feelings with those people.  His illness had provided a gift of presence that most of us gloss over each day.  So now, I affectionately call moment’s when I’m acutely aware of the blessings and fortune in my life, a “Jim” moment.  Because I think, “Life is alright.  I’m alright.  I’m safe and the people who love me are here.  This is peace.”

I spend more time in a state of anxiety, worry, or otherwise feeling overwhelmed much more than I would like to admit.  And it becomes too clear when, out of the blue, I have a “Jim” moment.  I can’t help but reflect on a couple of these moments that happened just this week.  The first one happened on my way home as I was talking with my Mom and the second was after spending a laughter filled evening with two of my close friends.

In each of those instances I was able to share how I was feeling, what my worries and fears were about and, in turn, receive love and support. With my Mom it was more of an emotional purging and she responded with love and understanding that sometimes can only come from your Mom.  I was overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude for her support.  With my friends, it was more about the pure acceptance of me that brought so much joy to my heart. They receive me exactly as I am without judgment.  I am able to speak my heart and not worry they are going to look at me like I’m crazy.  Okay, they still may look at me like I’m crazy but we laugh while they are doing it! They remind me what true friendship really looks like.

Unfortunately, it’s easy for me not to be present in my own life.  I often start thinking about some task that I haven’t done yet or some schedule issue that I need to resolve.  I worry about things way outside my control or get caught up in some downward spiral of negative thinking.  But the wild thing is that when I’m present and totally engaged in a moment with someone I feel more alive and true to myself than any other time. My heart fills with joy and it is almost like I’m receiving some miracle drug of sorts that makes whatever current challenge or fear seem more bearable.

I notice that as I take better care of myself and express my true feelings, I have more of the “Jim” moments and become aware of how grateful I am to have people in my life that mean so much to me.  When I am fully present in my daily interactions I am more open to embracing and expressing gratitude.  It is happening more with my family, my friends, with my work, and especially within myself. I hope that I will continue to get better at recognizing and cherishing these moments until one day it is simply the natural state that I exist.  Until then, I will use the simple and effective strategy to increase my awareness…it takes 3 steps: pause, breathe, repeat.