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.
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.
The hardest thing I may never truly master in my life is the art of letting go. I have this idea that letting go is simple yet when the moment comes, I can be at a total loss. If I wrote out all of the things in my life I have chosen to let go of it would be an incredibly brief list.
I have to laugh at myself because it is kind of ridiculous. Letting go of things that do not serve purpose in my life should be easy so why is it so damn hard? I hang on to things that are not helpful, not inspiring, not even rationale at times. I wonder how long I can hold on to these familiar emotions and continue to let them saturate my heart with sadness and frustration. I witness other people’s struggles and can easily identify the things they could let go…and often think “why do they continue to have the same struggle within themselves, can’t they see it gets them nowhere?” Yet, I often fail to remember or maybe even comprehend the same magnitude of power for my own struggles.
I know that I only need to let go of things that have no value for me. When I’m sitting in the car stuck in traffic, I can let go of my frustration or I can sit there and hold it in and express it through various explicit salutations and exasperation. When a family member demonstrates their inability to consider an alternative viewpoint I can choose to let go of my expectation that they will gain a new perspective or stay stuck in that place of irritation and disgust that their values conflict with my own. Yes, I can choose to let go of these things yet I often choose to stay in that space of anxiety or pain.
The problem with letting go is that if I let something go there is this fear of “what will fill that space?” I am only now realizing that when I let things go that have no importance in my life, it is quickly filled with something much more powerful and amazing. It is replaced with hope. Because then I am hopeful that the space that was holding on to all of that useless emotion and energy will be replaced with inspiration and love and even acceptance. And let’s face it, those things simply feel better than anger, frustration, worry, and stress. Through letting go, I can release this need to control things/events and how people respond to me. Don’t get me wrong, I like control. Control makes me feel safe. Control makes me feel powerful. The problem with all that control is that it takes up way too much time trying organize things, maintain order, and such. In turn, when I am holding on to things I am unable to be in the present moment for what it is. When I let go I am actually being more thoughtful and present in my life than any other time I choose to ‘stay stuck’ in all that negative space. I am able to see the beauty in something or open my heart to an experience that would have otherwise been shut down.
I value being present in my life, I value experiencing hope and love, and I value seeing the good in people. Next time I find myself wrapped up in an inner struggle that I could choose to let go, I will simply remind myself of what it is I value and let anything that doesn’t match up with those values simply go. The best thing that I can remember, and anyone for that matter, is that letting go is a practice. And sometimes our practice will be awesome and sometimes our practice will have lots of room for improvement. I do believe that as long as we are willing to engage in a practice, we will grow no matter how difficult it may feel or awkward it may be. As long as I’m growing, regardless of the pace, all will be okay. In retrospect, maybe this isn’t something that I need to master after all; I simply need to practice and keep practicing until the art of letting go no longer feels like a struggle and instead feels like an amazing opportunity for peace within myself.
What is the stress in your life? The actual definition of stress is an emotional strain on the body. However, I think we tend to use the word like it’s a living thing instead of simply a reaction of our own thinking. The reality is that we can’t bottle stress up and give it away, we can’t take it from someone or leave it on the kitchen table. Stress is the result of what we feel after experiencing stressful thoughts. In those terms, if we limit or reduce the stressful thinking; we reduce the experience of stress. Simple, right? Ha! Even as I write that statement I realize how difficult it is to let that sit. Stress is real. I feel it, I experience it.
The problem is that I don’t often take the time to think through to the source of stress. It’s easier to say, “yeah, work is stressing me out’ than it is to actually process what is happening and what I could reasonably do about it. Oh wait, that’s part of the problem. Because when I feel stressed out, I start thinking about the fact that I may not be able to do anything about it. And of course, the other twisted part of this whole stress reaction is its kissing cousin, worry. Worry is also a source of thoughts that typically involve anxiety or concern about a real or imagined situation. I mean, has there ever been a time in your life when worrying about something helped the situation? Or made you feel better?
Hmm, I’m sensing some themes here. So if we think stressful thoughts and worry about things that may or may not happen we essentially cause our own emotional and mental strain on our bodies. Now, I’m not going all crazy and suggesting that we never experience stress or worry. But maybe if we realize that when the stressful thoughts occur or the worry happens, we simply acknowledge it and spin it into a less stressful thought that includes a solution, support, or strength. For instance instead of thinking “all this work is stressing me out” could be “how can I take better care of myself and organize my work to make it feel more manageable?” Granted, it may be tough to find a positive spin or proactive approach for each situation, but it’s a lot easier to think about actions I can take to change a situation or simply cope rather than get caught up in the relentless space of fear, worry, and stress. Yes, if I have to choose, I will always choose a space of hope versus stress or worry. Now I just have to practice making that conscious choice instead of falling into the habit of an automatic way of thinking. 🙂