What defines “success”? Personal success? Is it a certain income, a certain job title, marriage or some achievement? We often consider people around us “successful” by some measure, does that same measure apply, then, to us? Do those we call “successful” consider themselves successful? Or do we all measure success, of ourselves, and others, differently? With a different yardstick? In different increments or units?
Success is personal. What personal success is to one does not mean personal success to another. Only you can define what personal success is, for you. Whether you believe personal success is just being happy or that success is measured in wealth and material conquests, personal success takes commitment and a great deal of effort, devotion and even sacrifice.
But, really, what is success?
From anyone else’s perspective, under scrutiny, I may not look like much of a success. It took me eleven years to get my Bachelor’s Degree. I change jobs every five years. My marriage ended. I no longer own any real estate. I live in the house I grew up in, with my mom. Yet, as I see it, I’m a success! I have a rewarding career. I am healthy, thin, fit, and active. I have an exciting new business. I have many great friends. I’m in an exciting, loving, supportive and fulfilling relationship. I have freedom. I am happy.
What is happy? What does it mean when someone says “I am happy”? Like success, happiness is a word that means different things to different people. Sadly, I think many people use the word “happy” incorrectly. Happy, to some, means what success means; the big house, the important job title, the fancy car, the gobs of money, the trophy spouse, the smart kids. And yet, even with the acquisition, the achievement of all those things, most are still unhappy, most still strive for more success, they are empty and sad, even for all their perceived success.
For other, more enlightened people, true happiness is living in the present moment, mindfully, with gratitude, love, grace, and the ability to forgive. That’s all. And the beauty of true happiness is that anyone can achieve it, with commitment and a great deal of effort, devotion and even sacrifice.
Happiness is personal, it comes from within, it does not happen to us from the outside, it is not dependent on other people or on other things. Only you can create your happiness, only you can maintain your happiness. True happiness is a lot like yoga, it’s a practice, a daily practice. And like yoga, some days your practice will be better than others, but you keep on practicing, day after day, and there is always growth and improvement over the long term.
Personal success, then, is true happiness, and nothing more. Success, like personal happiness, is not something that happens to us, it isn’t something that can be bought, earned or married, it’s internal and grows from within through happiness, that grows with the diligent practice of mindfulness, presence, gratitude, love, and forgiveness.
Happiness is success. Success is happiness. I define mine, you define yours and whether we achieve either, truly depends on our understanding of the words and our practice of the concepts or principles we believe will bring us what we desire.
The first, at the airport. I am now part of the TSA Pre-Check program. I received an unsolicited email from United, my airline of choice, stating that I was enrolled in the program. I suppose, as often as I fly, and since I have not made an effort to blow up any airplanes, it is assumed I’ll have no desire to do so any time in the future. A safe assumption. So, I don’t have to remove my shoes, my 3-1-1 baggie, my scarf, my sweater or light jacket. I do not have to remove any of my computers from my bag. I just toss my bag on the belt and dash through the scanner. This reminds me of simpler times. Another loosening of the leash; upon boarding the plane, we were all told we no longer have to turn any of our small personal electronics off for take off and landing; my phones, my Kindle, my iPad, all can stay on, in non-transmitting mode. It’s like someone granted me a block of free time. I was unsure as to how I should busy myself as the plane door was closing. This time has always been devoted to frantically ensuring every device was completely off. This newfound liberation, this freedom, seems so foreign in a world that has been so up tight for so long. The TSA agents and flight attendants were near jubilant in their efforts to wave us through security, all smiles as they assured us we could leave our phones on during the entire flight. I haven’t seen such glee at the airport, on behalf of employees and travelers, alike, in a very long time.
While the plane door was closing, with my newfound block of free time, I opened up a black, hard covered book with gold letters on the cover. This, the other trip back in time, was a little less pleasant. This book I read today, moved me to tears. In public. On a fucking airplane. My dear, near lifelong friend, Clarissa, showed me the book when I visited her home last week. Clarissa Lynn Coupon. It was a book written, from the copyright, just a couple of years ago, but told of a time I recall well from nearly three decades ago. It was a self-published book, written for a group of long-time friends and distributed amongst some number of people. As books will, they have been circulating from family to family and from acquaintance to acquaintance. It is hard to say just how far and wide this story has travelled. I dare not hazard a guess.
The story is told from the perspective of a young man and spans a decade or so of his life, weaving the tales of his evolution from boy to adolescent to man, a story of drunkenness, debauchery, deceit, drugs, dishonesty, infidelity and God. The story revolves around friendships that developed and endured this period of time, and beyond. The story, I assume, was solely for the enjoyment of this misfit group of friends, sort of a 1980’s version of “Bro’s before Ho’s”. But, I am reminded, as I am currently in custody of this black, hard-bound book with gold lettering on the cover, that stories do travel, and sometimes their arrival in a particular reader’s hands is miscalculated and most definitely unanticipated.
The “hero” of our story is Stanly. Stanly had a healthy fear of God and an uncertainty about religion that he seemed to struggle with for most of the ample book. He suffered a certain amount of turmoil as his parents divorced and as he tried to find his way, painfully and pitifully, through the loss of his virginity, and any semblance of sobriety.
After high school, I’m sure to everyone’s relief, Stanly finally managed to lose his virginity, to a girl he used specifically and solely for that fait accomplit. Magically, and only with the assistance of his good friend Dan, Stanly hooked up with Wendy and for the next couple of pages, really liked her. Loved her even. But, pages later, Stanly was avoiding her and wishing for the company of other female companions and, in fact, cheating on her at every opportunity, which, he admitted, wasn’t often. For the next, oh, two years or so, Stanly continued to see Wendy, to use her, pretty much, as needed. I read on, which was painful. I got within thirty pages of the final page, page 547, and skipped toward the end to a chapter titled “Forsaken”. In this chapter Stanly finally did the honorable thing and broke up with Wendy.
I know, this does not seem like the type of book I would generally read. It isn’t. In fact, reading this book was, by far, one of the worst experiences of my life, because the story, you see, is a true story, I knew Stanly, well, I thought, because, I am Wendy. And of much of this, I had no idea. For four years. For the better part of four years, I was being used. A booty call, piece of ass, I guess, when nothing better panned out.
You know that feeling you get when you receive really horrible news? The edges of your vision turn fuzzy and white? Like all the blood just drained from your body and dumped, suddenly, and sickeningly, into your stomach? Yah. That happened pretty much, repeatedly, throughout the entire volume. Every time I flipped a page and saw the word “Wendy” on it, I gripped the arm of the chair and braced myself. Do you have any idea what it feels like to read about yourself in a story like that, where the entire cast of characters are real and they all know you’re just someone’s booty call, piece of ass? I still see these people, in real life. Nice, right?
I find myself in the weirdest position and one that has robbed me of some sleep, some self-respect, some self-confidence and a bit of my usual glee, for a few minutes, anyway. It is hard to describe a brand new, open and bleeding, thirty-year-old wound. How is it even possible to have a brand new, thirty-year-old wound? I am shaken, to the core, and reeling, and beating myself up for being shaken, to the core, and reeling. How asinine. Of me.
These questions floated through my mind as I feigned sleep, for a spell, last night:
Every man in my past, ever, has betrayed me, in some way, or in many ways, how will I ever trust anyone again?
I saw a quote the other day, by Ernest Hemingway, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” So, I shall. I do. I must.
Why do I care, thirty years later?
Because it hurt. I don’t really care, it just hurt. I’ll lick my wounds and I’ll be over it, or not. I only found myself Googling a list of therapists, once. The lessons I have gleaned from this and the ability to share those lessons is therapy enough. It’s all about the lessons we learn from our life experiences, whether ugly or utopian. And sharing those lessons in hopes they may help others in pain, guarantees bliss.
Is my self-respect in tact? To find out one has been so degraded, for such a long time, certainly must erode one’s self-respect.
Nope. Remember, we are solely responsible for our own self-respect, it is a reflection of us from within and has nothing to do with what other, lesser life forms, posing as people, inflict on us, for their own reward and benefit. Had Stanly been the least bit honest, or any more sloppy, had I known at any moment in time how I was truly regarded, I would have walked away, head held high. That this is a new, thirty-year-old wound diminishes my ability to walk away, head held high, none, whatsoever.
How, in the world, should I react?
Oh, I lost a wee bit of sleep fantasizing about public humiliation, via a Facebook wall post on Stanly’s wall, but what would that gain? Really, only further publicity and humiliation for me. And while it was mildly satisfying to talk of the tale here, I do so in fair anonymity, in a much less public venue, and with the careful passage of enough time to choose words carefully.
What have I learned?
Lots. That Ernest Hemingway is to be trusted on the topic of trust.
I am reminded, though I know, from the core, that self-respect, self-confidence and self-esteem come from within and are not the property of anyone but the bearer. No one can take our self-respect, our self-confidence or our self-esteem from us, no matter what. No one can diminish them in the least, we are solely in care, charge and custody of them and if they erode, even in the slightest, it is at our very own hands, solely, and only we can repair them. That alone is empowering beyond anything else.
I also learned that when someone you once respected, honored, trusted and admired, whether for three minutes, or three decades, shows their true colors, when honesty, integrity and even chivalry are replaced with selfishness, infidelity, dishonesty, deceit and disrespect, the only thing to do is to observe, acknowledge, accept and forgive.
In observing the true nature of the person, we realize they are completely separate from us, their actions are separate from us and lessen us in no way. In acknowledging that they are completely separate from us and that their actions are not for us to react to, we rise above them in honor and integrity and common, human decency. In accepting what has happened as something in the past, that can never be changed, we release it and relish, again, the only time in which we truly live, the present. And, the hardest part; in forgiving those who trespass against us, we are freed from the hurt, the pain, and any power our trespasser may feel they hold over us is diffused, forever.
It may seem odd to say, but I am grateful for having had the opportunity to read the black, hardbound book, with the gold lettering on the cover, dreadful as it was. The pain and the horror of the tale subside with each breath I draw and release, and I have had another rare opportunity to take a horrific situation and use it as a catapult to further evolve into the person I am destined to be; great today, greater, even, tomorrow. Thank you, Stanly.
I go through any given day often cursing things that; bug me, thwart my attempts to accomplish a task, vex me, complicate things, get in my way, or just generally piss me off. These “things”, can be things, or people. And, if left unchecked, I find I spend a significant portion of my day cursing, usually silently, sometimes under my breath, and every now and then, out loud. Honestly, I like the word “fuck” the best. I use it alone or in combination with any number of other words to express my thoughts about something. This week’s favorite is “fuck breath”. I’m pretty creative, I know.
As far as people go, there are the strangers I curse at, usually drivers that don’t drive exactly the way I think they should. Sometimes while running, amateur cyclists who think it’s okay to cycle on the sidewalk when there is a dedicated bike lane a few feet away. And, sadly, I will often curse people I know and people I love, not usually with an “f-bomb”, but a curse, nonetheless, and usually because they have behaved in some way that isn’t consistent with my expectations, which in itself is a flaw of mine I try very hard to curtail.
Right now I am cursing Elaine.
Elaine is a toddler, a swarthy toddler of perhaps two years of age, who has come into the coffee shop I have been peacefully enjoying working from for the past couple of hours. I’ve been sitting here, sipping an iced decaf coffee, writing to my heart’s content. Then came Elaine. With her parents. For fro yo. I like kids. I love kids. I have kids. And never, ever, did I allow my kids to screech at the top of their lungs for sport. Elaine is just emitting a happy, high pitched screech every 45 seconds or so, in a public place, that echoes, she is grabbing things off of other people’s tables, smearing her fingers all over the glass protecting the frozen yogurt from her advances and walking right up to other patrons and waving at them, three inches from their faces. It was cute for about three seconds. Her (also swarthy) parents are laughing very loudly and further encouraging her with very annoying, very loud baby talk, in response to all of her antics, including the screeching. I think my ears are bleeding. Curse them all.
But, cursing Elaine, and her parents really did nothing, other than make me feel grumpy. I left, out of frustration, and as I backed out of my parking spot, Elaine and her parents left, too. Now I’m home, writing from my un-air-conditioned office on a ninety-degree afternoon. Having a beer. I could still be at the, now peaceful, coffee shop. I deserve what I get. Curses.
“Bless a thing and it will bless you. Curse it and it will curse you. If you bless a situation, it has no power to hurt you.” –
1886-1951, Spiritual Leader
I’ve seen this saying before, and other similar teachings. And I know it, but like all that we try to encompass into our personal evolutionary process, sometimes an important lesson gets buried by others and is momentarily forgotten. Usually, about that time, a reminder lesson manifests. Like Elaine. Bless her heart.
I have a co-worker from the Midwest, I used to work with her quite a bit until she took a different position within the company. She taught, like I do, and I frequently “shadowed” her to learn to teach different classes. Whenever she spoke of someone, in class or out, she would add, “bless her heart” or his heart, or their hearts. Then she’d inform the participants in class that this was a Midwestern tradition and by blessing someone’s’ heart, in this manner, it gave you license to continue talking about them. While I find this amusing, and now often repeat the same joke when I teach classes (we steal each other’s material regularly), there is some merit to this practice. I’m not saying we can all just go about gossiping and speaking poorly of others just because we preface our tirade with “bless his heart”. I’m saying that if someone is conversation worthy, in their absence, they could probably use the blessing! I’m also suggesting that blessing people, and things, is the right thing to do. For them and for us.
This sort of goes along with forgiveness. Blessing and forgiveness both free us from whatever negative feeling we feel victim of. I saw another saying on Facebook this week, “forgive others not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace.” Forgiveness and blessing both act as an acknowledgement of letting it go. “It” being whatever is making us feel bad, angry, or sad. How liberating to just let “it” go. By hanging on to it, we are nurturing the bad, angry or sad feeling, we are giving power to whatever is causing those negative feelings. Blessing it, and forgiving it, free us from those negative stimuli and allow us to move on, into more positive territory.
I once vowed to the man I exchanged vows with that I would never forgive him. For a very long time, I didn’t. As a result, I was just bitter and resentful towards him and every reminder of him. I suffered emotionally, spiritually and probably even physically as a result of my unwillingness to forgive. And this just gave him more power over me and the new life I was trying to build for myself. It took a lot of time, reflection and self-education to finally realize that forgiveness, and even blessing, was the key to the freedom I so dearly craved. And in that eventual ability to forgive, and even bless, I am totally and completely liberated. I am free of those negative feelings and of the negative energy associated with all those long harbored feelings of spite, hatred and anger. I had that power all along, sort of like Dorothy and her ruby red slippers, she had the power to get home to Kansas throughout that whole, epic journey, she just didn’t know it.
I have been, now, reminded of this lesson; to bless and to forgive, everyone and everything. But, like Elaine and the joy she derived from screeching and hearing her own voice, I’m quite certain that I will still look for opportunities to creatively combine the “f-word” with other words to communicate my momentary displeasure with someone or something. I’m sorry, it’s just sport. I’ll bless them and forgive them, I promise.
This simple equation is the formula for peace and prosperity. Perhaps not on a global scale, but definitely in “our world”, the realm of our family, friends, home and even, perhaps, our workplace. This simple equation can erase the ugliest of insults, blame and hurt if it is used as quickly as possible and with genuine sincerity.
I have known, and used this equation many, many times before and have restored peace and goodwill almost without exception. My reluctance to use it quickly today derailed every hope, plan and ambition I had for the day. My day was nearly lost, as a result of my stubborn reluctance to employ this equation.
On not utilizing this equation at the earliest opportunity, I found myself on the wrong side of much of the advice I give. I stayed in my sweat pants for most of the day; I neglected to eat my healthful morning snack and my lunch. I brooded and moped. I did, somehow, manage to get some projects for work finished up, but not without distraction and a dismal attitude. I didn’t make it to the gym, as I had intended.
As the day wore on, I was more and more consumed with ill feelings, I actually wondered if, perhaps, I were coming down with something. I caught myself thinking less than uplifting thoughts, my “self speak” was quite negative. I wasn’t able to compose a thought for an article or for another personal project I’ve been looking forward to working on. I felt unqualified to broach any subject of self-motivation, evolution, or, well, anything. I considered, even, going back to bed. All because I didn’t put two and three together earlier.
I wasn’t being stubborn, actually, I was acting out of regret, shame and remorse. Small words can do great harm, especially when two little numbers aren’t quickly added up to remedy the situation. I know, in my heart, that words, once spoken, can never be erased. Be very careful in what you say to anyone, but especially to those you honor and cherish.
Out of momentary anger and frustration I think I believed the hurtful words I said, when I said them. But with my pitiful day of reflection, I decided I really didn’t. I was wrong. Humans are wrong, often. Best to own up to it, perform a simple equation, and put it all behind us. Two plus three is greater than it’s sum times itself, exponentially.
The success of the simple equation, two plus three, does rely on the addition of another three. Without the other three, the original equation is zero; nothing. Both two plus three, and then the addition of three, while simple arithmetic, can be very, very difficult for some. Impossible even. I’ve known many people in my life who were completely and totally incapable of three, even after I gave them my most heartfelt two plus three.
The two? Not math, but English. Two little words. “I’m sorry.”
The three? Again, words, “I love you.”
The corresponding three to be given in reply? “I forgive you.”