Yearly Archives: 2015

Being Happy vs. Feeling Better

Saucer Magnolia at Winterthur

I had a blinding flash of the obvious the other night when I realized there’s a difference between being happy and feeling better.  My go-to when I’m depressed is to eat something to feel better.  This ultimately doesn’t make me feel better because I’m just stuffing my emotions, not dealing with them, and it contributes to my lifelong weight and body image issues.  In that moment my brain has me convinced that eating chips or chocolate will make me feel better and in the past that was true.  For that time, I forgot about my pain and could feel a little pleasure.  But that’s not happiness. That’s avoiding feeling pain.  It’s better than the pain but it doesn’t solve the problem.  You have to feel your emotions– all your emotions, even the pain–if you are to experience true joy and happiness.  There’s nothing wrong with emotions per se.  It’s trying to control them that creates the problems.  If we would just acknowledge we’ve been hurt and process the pain and let it pass through, we’d all be happier. Happiness isn’t about not feeling pain.  It’s about choosing to be happy no matter what happens, including painful events. That’s hard to do when you’ve just lost your job, you’re in the middle of a divorce, or a loved one dies.

When we feel pain we just want to feel better right now.  If you’re not in tune with your Higher Self, your brain is going to say, “Go drink some alcohol.  Do drugs.  Go shopping.  Have sex.” Or in my case, “Eat something, you’ll feel  better.”  And if the intention is to avoid feeling pain, then it does feel better. The problem is you keep needing more and more because it doesn’t have the same soothing effect.  You’re using the outside activity to try to heal the hole within you.  That’s never going to work.  Once you realize that, true healing can begin.  What’s worked in the past doesn’t work anymore, because now you don’t just want to feel a little better, you want to be happy. You wouldn’t think wanting to feel better and wanting to be happy would be in direct conflict, but in this case they are, because the intention behind feeling better is to avoid pain.

In order to truly be happy you have to process the pain you’ve been avoiding.  Which means feeling it. You have to acknowledge the pain and let it go. A lot of people say that’s focusing on the pain and the whole point of Law of Attraction is to shift your focus.  That’s true, and if you can truly do that, great, go for it, but most of us try to shift our focus in order to avoid feeling bad. That’s not the focus shift needed for true transformation. That’s being aware there’s a monster in the room and saying, “I’m not looking at it, I’m not looking at it,  I’m not looking at it,” and then pretending it’s not there.  Your focus is on not looking at something you don’t want, which only brings it closer.

So look at it.  See your fear for what it is.  An emotion.  It’s your guidance system telling you what you’re thinking about isn’t true and is not in alignment with your Higher Self.  But in order to know this, you have to allow yourself to feel it.  We’ve all got a lot of fear and pain buried within, and in order to be happy, you have to release that and you release it by feeling it.  I’m not talking about wallowing in it and being a victim.  I’m saying acknowledge it’s in there and do whatever you need to do to release it and let it go.  You will have to feel the pain though.  It doesn’t have to be agonizing, but it will at the very least be uncomfortable. The fact is you’ve been feeling the pain since whatever event caused it.  You’re not creating new pain.  You’re lancing a festering wound so it can heal.

The pain is temporary or at least it should be.  I’ve held onto mine like it’s a life raft because my belief has been that if I let the pain out, I’d die or become more depressed.  In actuality, the opposite is true.  Letting go of the pain buried deep inside you is the path to happiness.  You have to get to the point where you’re the observer of your pain.  You are not your pain.  Try to step back and see your pain from a balance perspective, so you can see you have nothing to fear from it.  Easy said than done, but that’s the path.

Don’t be surprised if you start crying, sometimes uncontrollably or for no active reason. Crying is just a release of resistance, and you’ve expended a lot of energy over the years to keeping a tight lid on your pain, so there’s going to be a lot of pressure built up.  Crying is just releasing that pressure.  The key is to no longer avoid feeling your emotions, whether it’s joy or pain.  The emotions or the physical events that caused them are not who you truly are.  You are a beautiful soul of pure love.  Your emotions are just an indication of your proximity to your soul.  It’s like the game we all played as kids.  Find an object based on someone saying you’re getting hot if you’re near it or you’re getting cold if you’re moving farther away from it.  Feeling bad just means you’re moving further away from your soul.  Feeling good means you’re closer to who you truly are.

The work is in discerning the difference, because our mind would have us think that eating the junk food to avoid feeling pain is the path to feeling good.  No, it’s the path to avoiding pain.  But here’s the catch–you’re already feeling the pain, so it’s really more like an athlete playing through the pain.  It’s still there until you let it heal, and you can’t do that unless you acknowledge it’s there.  You can choose to hang onto it or let it go but either way it exists.  Do whatever works for you–meditation, therapy, talking to a friend, working with a life coach, taking long walks in nature.

The goal is to be happy, so do whatever brings you joy, but be aware if you’re using things that are fun to avoid feeling the trauma inside you.  Playing with your kids or pet, exercising, having sex, even doing a job you love could be you avoiding dealing with what’s trapped inside you.  That’s where it can get confusing.  “What do you mean I shouldn’t do something joyful?”  I’m not saying that.  I think you should do as many joyful things you can, but doing those things to avoid dealing with your emotions isn’t truly joyful.  “But shouldn’t I take those joyful moments where I can find them? Otherwise I’d be depressed all the time.”  Absolutely take the moment, but admit to yourself why you’re doing it.  Always take that joyful moment.  That’s what life is about, but don’t ignore the fact that the depression is still there.  And here’s where I would say, “Right, like I ever forget the depression is there.”

I have to acknowledge that staying depressed is my way of avoiding the pain and trauma I haven’t processed. If I truly want to be happy I have to let that go, and I’ve been too scared to let it surface because I thought it would destroy me.  That’s why I buried it in the first place.  It was too overwhelming so I suppressed it.  The problem is it just keeps getting bigger the longer you hold onto it, and it requires more and more energy to wrangle it back under control.  The only way to release it is to feel it, see it for what it is–an indication–and let it go.

This isn’t a one and done.  It certainly can be but it’s not how it’s ever happened for me.  It’s a process. Maybe the first time you become aware of what’s behind your actions is years after it happens.  Then it’s a month after.  Then it’s right after and you say next time I’m going to do things differently.  Then the next time you do it the same way and then berate yourself for not being able to hold your balance and be the observer.  But you’re observing yourself doing that, so that’s progress.  Then you kind of sort of do it partly even though it looks like a train wreck.  Give yourself a pat on the back. You’re heading in the right direction.  Then you know exactly how you should handle the situation–five minutes after it ends. Again, kudos you’re doing it right.  Then you process all your emotions from a situation and don’t suppress them.  Congratulations.  Now do that every day for the rest of your life.  I’m being facetious but not really.  That’s why trying to be perfect is a lost cause.  Give it up (and I’m speaking to myself here as well.)  There’s always going to be another emotion, another situation to experience.  The point of life is to experience as much joy and happiness as possible.  The pain is there to tell you you’re heading in the wrong direction. Thank it for the information and let it be on its way.

In The Arena

Colosseum, Rome

Are you in the arena participating in life or are you on the sidelines?

At end of the book Ashley’s War, during Ashley White’s funeral, one of the Rangers read the Man in the Arena section of Teddy Roosevelt’s “Citizenship in a Republic” speech from April 1910, and it got me thinking.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

(The full text of the speech can be found here.)

There have been so many times I’ve hesitated or not done something for fear of disapproval, the criticism for failing. I now find that as much as the teasing and shaming hurt, what is more agonizing is not being who I truly am. I want to be in the arena. I want to be the one doing it, not the one on the sidelines critiquing and pointing out the faults of someone who is actually doing it.

I think this holds true for all life, not just for soldiers. Are you in the arena or are you on the sidelines of your life? There are times I wish I had the nice cushy seat in the grandstand, because mostly I feel bloody and bruised from battle, but I know as hard as my life is sometimes, I’d rather be in the arena. We all face our own battles, some physical like the soldiers, some mental and emotional like depression, but the most important thing is to take the next step and keep moving forward.

Book: Ashley’s War

Ashley's War

I had seen this books on many recommended lists and always felt drawn to it, but military books aren’t my thing. I just don’t understand that pull to serve in that capacity. I don’t agree with a lot of the military decisions that have been made in the last thirty years, so the thought of volunteering to go where I’m told and put my life on the line under orders of people I don’t really respect isn’t something I’m ever going to do. I absolutely respect and admire people who feel that calling and are willing to face that fear to do what they’ve been asked to do, but I know I will never serve in that way.

That said, I could not ignore the pull I had to read Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon about women in combat attached to Special Ops teams. I’m so glad I did not let my aversion to the military keep me from reading this incredibly moving and inspiring book. While the through line of the book is Ashley White, as indicated by the title, the stories of the many other women who joined the Cultural Support Teams are woven throughout. CSTs were created because the Special Ops teams were having difficulties searching areas in the Muslim world where women are segregated and it’s extremely disrespectful for a man outside the family to see them, much less question them. Western women are considered a third gender. Not a woman who needs to be sequestered, but also not a threatening male, so female soldiers can talk to and search the women, gathering valuable intel for the men of the Special Ops teams.

What I really enjoyed about this book was how it illustrates that women can serve and be assets, not by trying to be aggressive and loud like the men, but by being women, by bringing their femininity and unique female viewpoint to work with the men. Men and women are different. That’s never going to change. For so long, women have tried to act like men in order to survive in a man’s world. That holds true for the military as well as civilian life. Each of us needs to be true to ourselves and use our own unique talents to contribute to the whole.

Stories like these need to be told. These women worked twice as hard as the men and had to put up with a lot of harassment and judgment from men thinking women couldn’t possibly do the job. I laughed when the women were in weapons training and the instructor was shocked that the women listened to him when he made corrections, and then they worked to make the adjustments permanent. The men always whined and told him they knew what they were doing, their daddies had taught them to shoot, etc. The women wanted to be there and learn as much as possible. The other story that to me showed the difference and the resilience of women was when during a long day of training, one of the women got her period. She was so tired and sweating so much, she didn’t realize that she was soaked in blood from her waist to her knees until she was about to be lifted onto another woman’s shoulders for a drill. The other women just joked about it. The male instructors were uncomfortable and a little freaked out, like what do we do with this? The woman in question just went off into the woods, took care of business and then continued with the training. That’s what women do, and it’s that aspect that needs to be recognized and utilized in every area of our society.

While I can’t identify with the desire to join the military, what I do understand is the calling these women felt to participate in this program. They wanted to push themselves and prove themselves, and they felt this was something they had to do.  I envy them that. To find that passion and drive and direction is something so few people find. I’m still searching for my calling.

I always enjoy reading about women who have pushed the boundaries set for women in our society. (On a side note, check out Lemmon’s other book, The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.) I deeply admire these women, who volunteered to be some of the first women in combat because they wanted the choice. That’s what being a feminist is about. Having the choice to do what you are called to do and what you are physically capable of doing, regardless of gender. There are some amazing women out there, but too often their stories get lost because they’re not as outspoken in their successes. We penalize women for celebrating themselves, but feel men in the same situation are completely justified in promoting their accomplishments. That needs to change. These women have every right to be recognized for their achievements, and more women and men need to support that. More girls need to see that. Little kids of both genders start out saying, “I’m awesome.” Somewhere along the way the girls learn that isn’t what good little girls do and they suppress that, while the boys are encouraged to continue saying it. In order for girls to maintain their knowledge of their own awesomeness, women have to step up and start owning their own awesomeness.

This post turned into a combination book review and life coaching session, but it all goes together. Celebrate yourself. Do what fills you with joy, whether that’s being an artist or being a soldier. I recently read that Ashley’s War has been optioned by Reese Witherspoon, and It’s What I Do is going to be made into a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence. I guess that’s where the artist meets the soldier. A full circle of women being awesome.