It’s easy to get stuck in a cycle of shame and self doubt, especially in a culture that rewards our accomplishments, physical appearance, and bank balances.
As a result, our days are spent striving and pushing toward an end goal. So much so that we infrequently focus on the present moment. It’s so easy to lose sight of our feet on the path with our heads buried in our iPhones.
Is happiness conditional?
“If only I could make a million dollars, then I’ll be happy.”
“If only I could make vice president, then I’ll be happy.”
“If only I could lose those 10 pounds, then I’ll be thin (and happy).”
I know I’ve been guilty of uttering at least some of those phrases and I’m certain you have, too. We think our future is this rosy place of unicorns, happiness, and fulfilled dreams. I’ve got news for you: it’s not.
While we wait for perfection, we push away this moment, criticize ourselves, live in shame, and deny who we are in favor of what we want to be. And we’re in a cycle of never enjoying where we are or what we have.
My teacher often says that all we have is this moment, we don’t know what the future holds. What would happen if we focused on the work itself, not the end result? Is it possible to be enlightened in this moment, to put our whole heart into typing an email or sitting in a meeting?
My dear friend Nilofer Merchant gave me a book called Daring Greatly, probably because she saw me struggling with being open and honest with myself. One of the concepts in this book is that our avoidance of the present is partly to do with shame, sorrow, and darkness.
This lack we feel, these requirements we’ve foisted on ourselves to feel worthy of being happy and joyous, leave us with a sense of shame that we haven’t done enough or aren’t enough now.
One passage of the book struck me: “Joy comes to us in moments—ordinary moments. We risk missing out on joy when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary.”
The book’s author Brene Brown notes that joy and success don’t come from being perfect–that the most valuable and important things in her life came to her when she cultivated the courage to be vulnerable, imperfect, and self compassionate.
We often think that because we’re not thin, rich, or successful that we’re not worthy of joy, that our labors are not enough. Only when we reach our goals will we have achieved success. But in embracing our imperfections, we can be open to love and joy now.
So perhaps it’s time to reframe success and work. Aren’t we all just building sandcastles that will be swept away by the waves?
In Karma Yoga, Swami Vivekananda frames work in such a way that puts the actual work, not results to which we’re attached, as the true source of success and the key to finding our Truth.
“Work incessantly, but give up attachment to work. Do not identify yourself with anything. Hold your mind free. All this that you see, the pains and the miseries, are but the necessary conditions of this world; poverty and wealth and happiness are but momentary; they do not belong to our real nature at all. Our nature is far beyond misery and happiness…misery comes through attachment, not through work.”
What attachments can you give up? What success can you celebrate?