“When I had nothing to lose, I had everything. When I stopped being who I am, I found myself.” ~Paulo Coelho
Someone once asked me if I was happy.
The question confused me because it didn’t really seem like something I had a choice in.
I had two parents and wonderful siblings who loved me deeply. I was smart, a good friend, and had opportunities many people throughout the world didn’t have. I never worried about being hungry or safe. What else was there?
Unfortunately, growing up semi-privileged doesn’t prevent us from developing fears and insecurities.
Though there was laughter and creativity in my early life, I was too busy deflecting judgments and attacks to feel okay in my own skin.
People would tell me to smile, so I learned that something was wrong with me if I wasn’t smiling.
Someone told me I had a big nose and hairy arms, so I discovered my body was not up to my peers’ high standards.
I often felt misunderstood or unseen for who I really was.
As I got older, I dated men who made me feel good about myself. They loved me, with my big nose and hairy arms. They also had just enough problems to keep me busy avoiding myself.
Somewhere in midst of trying to show them they could be anything, I lost myself entirely.
I didn’t actually feel comfortable in my own skin. I judged my words, my actions, and my thoughts constantly. I did the same with others. I was always trying to figure “it” out. I don’t think I even knew what “it” was back then. I do now.
“It” was happiness. I wanted to figure out how I could stop running in place. The present moment was never enough for me.
I was always going to be happy when I had a new roommate, my boyfriend changed, I signed up at a yoga studio, my Mom saw things my way, or I was making more money. The now, for me, was completely inadequate, and I was always reaching for some future event to make it better.
Throughout my twenties, my life began to transform, but it was just two years ago when I hit the climax. Three things happened all at once:
One, I fell in love with a man who showed me unconditional love; two, I became conscious of the fact that I was in relationships with people who were no longer serving me, and I left; and three, I discovered breathwork, the most powerful tool in my life.
The first thing, unconditional love, gave me the safety to see the truth about myself.
Because I was always in relationships with men who needed me to be there for them, I had developed a habit of hiding from my own needs. This relationship allowed me to feel safe so I could finally focus on myself with the support of someone who loved me deeply.
The second thing, leaving unhealthy relationships, showed me I had the strength to choose what is best for me.
There were clear signs that I was engaged with people who were manipulative and felt they knew what was better for me than I did. Walking away from relationships that I had put so much energy, trust, and love into was challenging, but ultimately liberating.
And the third thing, finding breathwork, transformed my life in the deepest way possible. Breathwork was my tool to accept myself.
At the time I couldn’t fathom how breathing could make any sort of significant change in my life, but this particular type of breathing was powerful. It helped me get out of my head and into my heart. It helped me see the truth about myself and life.
Through a two-step deep breathing process in a safe and guided environment, I was able to release limiting beliefs and past traumas. Breathing deep into my belly and then into my chest, I was able to bring my awareness into my body.
It’s a healing practice that has a life of its own and didn’t require me to do anything but breathe.
Each time I practiced I felt myself let go a little more until I was grounded into a healthier relationship with myself and the people around me. On many occasions breathwork has helped me feel the emotions I was hiding from, see the truth about my life, and know that everything is perfect as it is.
Because I was always in my head, I was a very analytical person, always seeing what was wrong and how I needed to fix it. When I learned to accept myself, I was finally able to relax and enjoy simply being.
And through accepting myself I learned to love myself. Not all at once, but it happened gradually. It’s probably still happening. But the eyes I see myself through now are full of funky daisies and hand drawn roses. Way better than red pen edits and negative graffiti, let me tell you.
I am happy.
If you’re unsure if you’re happy I have to tell you, you’re not. Happiness, to me, is not a state. Sometimes I’m down. Sometimes I’m up. Happiness is my relationship to life.
I am happy in my life. I am happy in my skin. I am happy with the body I have. I adore the people in my life. I am blessed. I am grateful.
The hunt for happiness is exhausting. I was always trying—trying to be knowledgeable about one more thing, trying to do this better, trying to make my business more successful. Everything revolved around reaching.
Now, I sit back. I smile. I can let life unfold without needing to control it. I can enjoy each moment for what it is.
There is naivety around happiness and healing. There’s this idea that we shouldn’t get sad, that we should be able to cope with every situation perfectly, and that we are only going to go up from here. That hasn’t been my experience.
I have days when I’m depressed. But I know my feelings are fleeting, so I can embrace them and let them be what they are.
I have grown and learned tremendously about myself.
I have been willing to answer the tough questions honestly.
I have been willing to show up and see the truth of myself. That means times get hard. Sometimes I get a little lost. That’s why I have my practice. That’s why I have support.
This is what life is. It’s up and it’s down. It’s high and it’s low. It’s happy and it’s sad. And I love it all.
I can’t reject the bad because it’s part of life. I embrace it and accept it. I break through the stories and limiting beliefs and show myself love and compassion. And that is how I am happy.
So, if you want to be happy do this first: be willing to see the truth of who you are right now. Release judgment and accept everything about who you are right now. Show compassion for the parts of yourself that are difficult to bear. Begin to show yourself love.
Rinse and repeat.
This life is far too precious to wait another moment to be happy.
Happy woman smiling image via Shutterstock