I’m roasting marshmallows as I write this. Alone.
We got this outside fire pit so that our family – beginning its orderly disintegration as our oldest approaches college age – would have an excuse to hang out together every once in a while. (I particularly enjoy it when my sons compete for who can make mom the best marshmallow.) But we rarely hang out here – or anywhere – together anymore. I seem to enjoy the fire pit more than anyone, and so here I sit alone at our symbol of togetherness, eating marshmallows I’m cooking myself.
And I’m unbelievably happy.
Happiness is a state of being
How is this possible? My reality does not match my aspirations for the role this fire pit would play in our lives and my house is a mess, and I need more clients and ... there are so many other ways I could envision this evening as “perfect”: I miss my family; I could really use more money in the bank and fewer pounds around my middle; I could be surrounded by scintillating and successful people to keep me company; all my laundry could be folded and my kitchen clean... but alas, these things are not part of my reality at the moment. Well, my son just texted me that he’s jealous of my marshmallow time, which is something, and the marshmallows are very tasty, but that’s not really why I’m happy.
I’m happy because at this moment I’m completely successful. I’m alive and intensely aware. And I don’t mean “conscious, breathing and with a heartbeat.” I mean that this present moment is very real to me, the smell of the burning wood and the cool air, the sting of the smoke in my eyes and the fact that my family is all engaged in activities they enjoy (including me, it turns out!). I have recently discovered that I don’t need to DO or BE anything in particular to be successful. I simply need to be the best me I can be in the present moment and do the most good in the world I can do at any particular time. That’s my new definition of success. And at this very moment, I’m being exceedingly successful at making myself marshmallows and accepting that there’s nothing more I need to do right this moment to help the world except send little happiness beams out into the ether.
I’ve tried to live this way for a long time. I’ve tried to want what I have instead of need what I want. I’ve tried to appreciate the good stuff and feel gratitude that I’m not destitute and suffering horrible pain. But it’s taken me a lot longer to get here than I expected because I’ve been haunted by a sense of lack - too much awareness of what I wasn’t and too little appreciation for what I was. But over time, I’ve become more and more conscious of the fact that it’s really my choice whether to give weight to the lack in my life or to the fullness in it. Actually, I think I arrived at a sense of fullness a while ago, but my inner critic – so well rehearsed in his articulation of lack (“yes, this fire is nice, but to really enjoy it your kids should be serving you s’mores.”) kept me from realizing it fully. Since releasing this inner critic gremlin recently, I’m realizing how much easier it is to enjoy my little fire.
I’d be lying if I told you I got to this sense of contentment with my simple marshmallow roast all on my own. If I hadn’t met other people along the way that were alive and full of mojo even when – objectively speaking – there was lots of room for improvement in their own situations, I’m not sure I’d have believed it was possible. They are my teachers because they show me it can be done.
There’s lovely Meg, on the road and finding a new definition of home. There are my friends diagnosed with diseases that threaten to deteriorate their bodies and brains who are living life with so much mojo I am in constant admiration. There’s my friend who has joyful sex even though he struggles with impotence. There’s my friend who grieves the loss of her business by sending me and many others love and light. There are the girls and women of Half the Sky – and millions more the go uncelebrated – that turn personal horror into life-giving and lifesaving acts of love. What I’ve learned by knowing and learning about these amazing people is that if you go looking for it, you’ll find hundreds of thousands of similar stories of people living in lack who simply don’t give it - the lack - emotional weight. And these people are amazingly successful at living contented lives and at changing their worlds for the better.
I’ve made it a goal to be one of those people. I think at this moment in front of the fire, I’m there. But as my day job will remind me, staying “here” is a moment-by-moment practice. Success at being content with what I have and who I am only exists in each moment I have that perspective. This kind of success (like all kinds, I guess) can slip away – into habit or overwhelm – in the blink of an eye. Being gentle with myself, I’m prepared for that to happen. And I’m resolved to remain aware of when my perception begins to give weight to all the lack in my life, so I can shift back into contentedness again.
For me, Success is not a destination; it has become a moment-by-moment triumph of perception.
What is success for you? Are you “there”? Do you give too much weight to the lack in your life? Or the riches? Where is your journey taking you? How often do you check in with your level of success? How do you reorient your perspective when you realize it’s not serving you?
Love, light, and perspective,
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