Picture Perfect Puzzle Pieces: A Story

“Most people think happiness is about gaining something, but it’s not. It’s all about getting rid of the darkness you’ve accumulated.” – Jo Oz @ozlifeadvice

I posted this quote a few weeks ago, but I had to revisit it because it presents such a different perspective on happiness as we know it. Let me begin by stating that I do believe that things and people have the ability to create happiness, or to at least encourage happiness. We would all be liars if we said this is not somewhat true. My family, friends, my wonderful future husband, and having a few extra bucks in my pocket makes me very happy. And to be perfectly honest, I look forward to and hope for more love and more money. Really, who wouldn’t? But when I look at society and within myself there seems to be this insatiable desire to chase happiness at all cost. We chase and chase even more without ever looking internally to examine the thoughts and areas of our past that may be preventing us from finding or sustaining happiness. Some of us still carry negative thoughts, defensive walls, warped perceptions, shallow vision, and sabotaging behaviors that often cause us to overlook and destroy the happiness right in front of us.

Story time: Imagine with me for a moment that you are sitting on the floor in the middle of a medium-sized room. On the walls around you are bright colorful pieces of art neatly arranged against white walls. Scattered in the spaces among these paintings are large framed quotes of what you later realize are successful people of our time. As you put your hand down to begin standing up you hear a crunching noise and the feeling of something small and sturdy beneath you. Around you are about 100 puzzle pieces randomly piled in all directions. Fascinated by the paintings and quotes, you begin walking across the room with your eye fixed on a frame entitled “Keys to Happiness.” As you get closer you notice the quotation is by [insert the name of a person whose success you admire and dream to have]. Eager to see more, you examine every piece arranged around the room noting every signature on the paintings and each name quoted in a frame. They are all from people you admire. Naturally, you begin examining your life and plot out what you might need to do to achieve the level of happiness expressed through every piece. How did they create such beautiful pieces? How did they create such beautiful lives? As you ponder on each piece, you begin to notice that the puzzle pieces scattered across the floor have a seemingly consistent color scheme. You see the shades of blues, greens, browns, whites, and yellows and realize that they might connect to create a larger image. Confused as to why they are randomly in the middle of the room, you begin looking around for a box or someone to explain the odd occurrence. Across the room you spot an intercom and are about ready to push the button when you notice something strange about one of the paintings. Now less then 12 inches away from it, you discover that the painting is actually made up of tiny puzzle pieces! Astonished, you look toward the floor, drop to your knees, and begin trying to assemble the puzzle. After five minutes of intense focus you pick up a few puzzle pieces and find a note: “If you can assemble this beautiful masterpiece, it is all yours.” Determined to own a piece of art, you painstakingly find each proper piece one at a time. While assembling the pieces, you notice that they do indeed fit together but are damaged thanks to you walking all over them. Nonetheless, you carry on building your masterpiece. Halfway through your impromptu art project you make a startling discovery – you are a part of the puzzle. Somewhat disappointed that you might not be building a “masterpiece” if you are in it, you still continue on curious to see what the entire image will reveal. Finally finished, you take three giant steps back to see an image of you with/in [insert the people, things, or places that you envision as your ultimate image of happiness]. In awe, you realize the beauty in front of you but also all the dents and rips you created as you crushed your own picture in pursuit of everyone else’s in the room. As you look around again, you now notice that every beautiful image and success quote in the room is made up of tiny puzzle pieces. Overwhelmed by the experience, you slowly sit back on the floor. While staring at your partially self-inflicted damaged image of happiness, you realize that your beautiful masterpiece could have been as beautiful as the collection in the room if only you had not been so quick to reach for the keys to happiness in someone else’s dream.

The moral of the story: Find happiness in the small puzzle pieces life has given you, because from them will come your image of true happiness. Borrowing pieces from someone else’s puzzle will never quite fit yours perfectly. However, what you can take from their puzzles are (1) the steps they took to learn how to love the puzzle pieces they were given and (2) how they used the small piece to create a beautiful personal masterpiece.

Jo Oz’s quote reminds me to not overlook the light that is inside of me. We have the potential to create the same bright happiness we see in others, but we have filled ourselves with so much “darkness” that we believe that our light is not bright enough to create anything similar. If we were to get rid of some of the “darkness,” I am almost positive that we would see the happiness in the small things, in the people around us, in the present situation, and in ourselves. We would move from chasing happiness to becoming happiness; having become happier, we will attract more happiness; and as we attract more happiness, we will look up one day and see that we are overwhelmed with happiness only to then realize that we never had to chase something that we already had. It gives new meaning to the phrase “I AM happy.”

Let Me Fly

I think they were afraid to let me fly – scared that if I left the ground it would expose their inner fear of leaving the ground. My flight would expose the fact that they were actually the ones that were supposed to teach me how to fly, but for one reason or the other, they could never leave the ground.

As life passed there was this voice inside that always told me that I was meant to fly – even nudging me toward the edge, daring me to take flight. Second guessing, listening, asking around, and running this “fly” things by friends, I wondered if maybe it was just gas or something I ate, or better yet, the introjection of someone else’s dream. Until I realized that the voice inside never quieted, and as much as I tried to silence it away, “fly, fly, fly” was always in the back of the head. As I got older, I could see more and more people in the distance leaving the ground, some even soaring so high they looked like ants with wings – and higher they flew until they disappeared.

Realizing that I still had time and the desire to fly, I stood, looked and day-dreamed, finding inspiration in all those that ever left the ground. Still hesitant about what I might be leaving behind and about what fantasies I might fail to find out there in open space, I still did not leave the ground. Then, one day they returned with stories of what it feels like to fly and of what the world looks like from the sky. They said, “all those mountains seem so small from way up there. Come on, just try it…fly.” Since I figured that gravity was created as an invisible leash to always help me find my way back home, I said “screw it,” and turned to all those people whispering warnings in my ear and said “excuse me while I fly.”

Poisoned

I wonder how many negative thoughts, societal norms and ideas I have digested that have slowly poisoned me. Over the past seven years, and a little before that, I really started to notice how some of my ways of thinking about certain things were just plain wrong. They were also likely some of the main reasons why I was struggling to move forward in particular areas. So, I slowly started to renew my mind and form a stronger foundation of principles and ideas that I could confidently stand on and live by. At times, ridding myself of these thoughts was not easy, but I knew it was something I had to do in order to truly live both mentally and emotionally free.

The other day I saw three of the smallest ants I have ever seen crawling around my bathroom floor. Sorry to all the ant lovers, but I killed them by spraying bleach on them. Then, another five came along. After a few days, I refused to deal with such invasive creatures probably staring at me while I showered, so I purchased some ant bait from the hardware store and was shocked by what happened next. After ten minutes of putting the bait down, literally, TONS of ants came out of what seemed like nowhere (well, it was from the crack in the wall leading to the ant world)! Unbeknownst to the little creatures, they were running toward the juicy poison that would kill their entire community. You see, the bait is designed to allow the ants to live long enough to transport it back to the ant farm where the ants will eventually eat it and die.

Fascinated, I started to wonder about all the innocent ants waiting inside for the yummy food whom would never see and know what killed them. Then, I started to recall all the poisonous mental food that my family, friends, peers, and society has unintentionally brought back to me throughout the years, and all the poison that I have ignorantly intentionally eaten from society and other people. In most cases, people really do believe their opinions are right. So when they share them with you they are often not willfully trying to poison you; but, it happens anyway. It is like a contagious illness that a person cannot help but give to you; it simply transfers without your knowledge. It is not until you begin feeling the symptoms of the illness that you realize you have somehow been infected.

Whether intentional or not, this little experience reminded me of the importance of guarding my mind, and periodically checking through my mental inventory to see if a cleansing is in order. Protect your mind, because poisonous thoughts eventually lead to a life that feels dead.

A Guide to Becoming Whole: An Essential Part of Success and Successful Relationships

And we wonder why our lives feel like a glass filled with holes in which happiness and people dissolve faster than we can really enjoy them? It is much easier to feel incomplete, empty, and lonely in this world than to believe that within ourselves lies the capacity to be whole. Two is supposed to be better than one, so how can we hope that half of us and half of another person will ever equal a dynamic duo. Ultimately, we either believe that as human beings we are born whole, but become pierced and broken over time, or we believe that we are born as weak, broken, empty persons expected to find fullness throughout our lifetime.

Regardless of personal philosophies, at one or more times in our life, circumstance, experience, fear or poor self-image causes most of us to succumb to the feeling of inadequacy. It sucks because we are told that the foundation of successful relationships (of any kind) is built by bricks of individuality and completeness. After loss, hurt, and disappointment, we are admonished that healing is essential to regain our wholeness. But how? How can we fill voids that we often are not aware we even have? Moreover, if we knew how to fill these voids, we would not have them to begin with. They are unique as the pieces of a puzzle, certain to make everyone’s journey to discovering and understanding how to become whole a very individual one. Ultimately, no one can make you whole because no one understands your complete picture like you and God.

So, after spending countless hours of my early years assuming that I was incomplete without particular people, relationships, and other “things,” and after many failed Google searches, internal conversations, broken-hearted moments, failures, and struggles with self-image, somewhere along the way, I started to become whole, or maybe I just started to believe in my already existent wholeness. Let this guide save you time and emotions. Friends, it is time to pick up the pieces, fill in the gaps, and become whole.

1. Acknowledge the areas in which you feel incomplete and inadequate. This may take some digging or honesty with yourself, but it is an important step. As in the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, “admission is the first step to recover.” You may not be an alcoholic, but most people sure are addicted to the negativity that keeps them feeling less than whole. According to Leonard Noel, “acceptance does not mean that we agree with what is happening or that we believe it must continue… Acceptance means that we are able to gaze into the face of the present and say, ’You are in front of me, and I acknowledge you are here.'”

2. Uncover the experiences that started creating “voids” in your life. Once you acknowledge the areas in which you feel there are a voids, you also need to start the process of understanding how they got there so that you can forgive whomever needs to be forgiven, and then forgive yourself. In reality, no one has that much control over you to permanently create a void in your life, unless you allow it. You just might need to take back that piece of yourself that you gave away. 

3. Identify the behaviors and negative coping you have used to deal with and cover up the voids or hurts. Often, we do not even notice that we are not whole or that we are broken because we are so good at telling ourselves that we are okay. Sometimes it is by examining our behaviors that we see that we are overcompensating for the incompleteness that we feel.

4. Consider your self-image. In order to become whole, or accept the fact that we are whole beings separate from others, we must believe that we are capable of and strong enough to be whole. Of course we all have imperfections, and might always have them, but imperfections do not always equal inadequacy. Think positive, be positive, and then have a positive self-image.

5. Accept your uniqueness. Most times we do not feel whole because we feel inadequate in some way. It is critical to accept and find peace in the fact that we are different and were created to be different. We typically strive to be different, but spend more time comparing ourselves to others than working on being unique. If we always look to complete ourselves with what other people are, we will never be whole. Someone else’s uniqueness was never meant for you.

6. Understand your reasons for wanting that relationship. I am inserting this here because being whole is important for having good relationships with other people, especially relationships with “significant others” or spouses. However, many people chase relationships instead of wholeness all because Jerry Maguire said “you complete me.” No. They should make you better, not make you.

7. Understand that people’s behaviors are not always your fault. Most of our feelings of inadequacy come as a results of what other people have said and done to us. They do or say something. We blame ourselves. They support and echo the blame. We try to change ourselves to “fix it.” Then, they find something else or become a prick about another thing. Maybe sometimes it is your fault, but in other cases, they are the sole issue and source of the problem. Do not internalize and degrade yourself for something that is not even your issue. Some people have major issues and their behaviors originate out of those screwed up issues.

8. Don’t let society make you feel incomplete. Now this is a hard one. The images and norms that bombard us make it difficult to not feel empty or inadequate. I don’t know about you, but some of what the Joneses, celebrities, and other people have is quite attractive. But, we must be careful not to judge ourselves against another man’s standard which will likely change in the next five years. In many ways, society is warped. Trying not to internalize every thought and image it shoves in your face will be essential to feeling whole. Have or have not, maybe physiological voids at times, but you are still a whole soul.

9. Maintain your wholeness. Arriving at a place where you feel whole does not mean you will feel that way forever. It is important to maintain a positive self-image and constantly keep your mind polished. Things that go untouched accumulate debris. Such will become your feeling of being whole if you do not maintain it. Be willing and committed to investing in YOU.

10. Protect your wholeness. Inevitably, there will be times when you will lose people that were intricately woven into your life. In many ways, they might have been crucial in helping you maintain the feeling of being whole. It is in those times that you have to try your hardest to accept the loss, find some piece of closure, or heal. Be careful not to fall into the trap of quickly “replacing” them because subconsciously you feel lost and incomplete with them. This might be hard. In other situations, protecting your wholeness will be less about who you lost and more about who you choice to add or allow in your life.

Hopefully, you found something in this post that has helped you become more whole as a person. Now that you are whole, go out and help someone else get there, but be patient and remember that it did not happen for you overnight.

Forgive Yourself.

“Forgive yourself,” he said. I thought I did, but I had just barely scratched the surface.

Forgiveness. According to most self-help books, it is one of the words that can make or break the strength of our emotional development, and in some situations our emotional recovery. There are times in life when people, whether intentional or unintentional, disappoint, hurt, scar, or maim us leaving us oddly re-inspired, refocused, scarred, or even emotionally handicapped. Most times we are told to forgive those people. We are told that forgiveness is “more for you than it is for them,” It is supposed to grant you peace within and the liberty to move forward weightless and healed. Unfortunately, in reality the one dimensional word “forgiveness” is both multidimensional and intangible. In essence forgiveness is an intangible word meant to cure real, tangible problems.

Most times, in others, we look for the signs of forgiveness in apologetic words and changes in behavior and we hope that an intangible word can produce healing that we can truly feel. An apology from a remorseful person is the easiest wrong to overcome. However, more difficult times to forgive are those in which (1) the other person(s) apologizes but we perceive no change in their behavior towards us, and (2) the times in which the other person is not remorseful and there is no apology anywhere in sight. The even more difficult times are those in which we have no answers for the other person(s) behavior toward us and no possible way of getting those answers (i.e. death, estranged, etc.) The truth is, sometimes you can say you forgive someone but the hurt doesn’t quite disappear as easily, especially when something reminds you of what that person did.

I remember experiencing disappointments by a person that I considered a role model and in many ways a mentor. In this case it was nothing like being physically violated, though there are more people than care to admit that are struggling to find peace after a person has left them emotionally scarred in that manner. This was more a case of being a young person looking up to someone for approval, wisdom, and guidance in life and instead receiving confusion, contradiction, and disregard. Over the next ten years, I ultimately lost a mentor and slowly became an enemy in that person’s mind. Long story shorter than short, those initial small disappointments turned into more hurts and confusion, and eventually turned into emotional scars.

Notably, my emotional response was likely more intense than their actions. Sometimes, our “hurt” is more intensified by experience and personal expectations and can often be interpreted by others as an exaggerated response. Everyone’s feelings are valid whether we agree with them or not, so at the time, my feelings felt extremely valid. But eventually, I forgave, or so I thought I did. Surely, at many moments over the last couples of years my forgiveness was very genuine. I felt free, happy, silently praying and wishing the best for them. However, every now and then (mostly when I was frustrated in those areas of my life that I believed suffered the most as a result of the hurt from the broken relationship) I would find myself bitter, yet in denial of the fact that maybe I was still angry with the other person, wanting something more like an apology, remorse, or to see a change in their behavior. Maybe I did not even know what I really wanted. Sometimes the only thing that will really quiet your emotional pain is to rewind time and rewrite history, which is impossible.

One day during one of my “animated” discussions about this person, a close friend said “You really hate ____.” Flabbergasted and appalled at the idea that he thought I could have hatred toward someone, but personally more scared that I might feel that way, I denied it quickly responding with “maybe a long time ago but I have forgive them. We are good now, really.” Hate was too strong a word, but it did make me question if I truly had forgiven them. Then he said, “You need to forgive yourself…”

There was much more that followed his statement, but this part matter the most to me. I realized that I was still affected. Since I never received what I thought was a sufficient apology, I still had some need for closure. My second realization was that I was upset with myself for even allowing this hurt to still affect me after so many years. Supposedly, I had moved on. I was stronger and more confident than anything that someone could do to me. I was unaffected. Or at least that’s what I wanted to believe.

Whether you have forgiven, are still waiting for your emotions to allow you to get to that point, or are somewhere in between, don’t forget to forgive yourself for any of the following:

…for being in the situation in the first place

…for maybe expecting more from a human than their personal experiences even allow them to give

…for forgiving, but still being affected by the memory

…for replaying the wish that it never happened

…for using a grudge as an excuse to not move on

…for putting maximum effort into your healing but finding that it still hurts

If I left anything off the list, forgive yourself for that too. It is easier to hang on to pain than it is to forgive, but hanging on to pain only brings more or the same. Set yourself free, and move on.

On the Other Side of Fear

It was about 11 o’clock at night and I had just landed at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. I was on the second leg of a three stop journey – Atlanta, Phoenix, San Diego. Being my first time visiting Arizona, and not knowing when or if I would return, I somehow thought it would be a great idea to start my Arizona visit off with a drive straight to the Grand Canyon to see the sunrise. Four hours away from the Grand Canyon, I started my midnight journey in a completely unknown place, down a totally foreign highway, to a highly anticipated breathtaking view. This might be a great place to mention that I was ALONE. Looking back, it probably wasn’t the wisest decision to go exploring a canyon, the desert, and a popular West Coast city alone, but there was something freeing and freakishly appealing about going on a solo journey to discover, pray, and relax with only God to protect me. It strangely felt like it was just him and I, and kind of liked it that way.

Traveling down the pitch-black highway, bopping to cool tunes, I noticed fewer and fewer cars around me. My ears popped as I drove through various elevations, my mind wondering how high I had traveled. In the calm of the night, I started to see more trucks and trailers and started questioning what the heck I was thinking driving along these dark roads alone. Ignoring the fear, I observed how BIG and close the stars felt. It was so beautiful and vivid that I had to look away for fear that I was looking into the eyes of God. Big city living comes with many perks, but missing out on pure beauty like these bright natural lights is definitely a downside.

Three hours later, I finally exited the highway onto the final stretch. “Grand Canyon here I come.” But, as the roads quickly turned into a black, you-can-only-see-as-far-as-your-car-lights-shine, heavily signed “watch out” for the deer, mouse, and dinosaurs, single lane road, FEAR became a passenger. Once I saw the first set of highlighter-green-eyed deer staring at me like gangsters wondering what I was doing driving through their streets, I was officially panicked and scared and realized that I could not see ANYTHING to the left or right of the road. Wondering, then believing, that I was driving right on the edge of the canyon itself, I figured that I better drive cautiously enough to not go over the edge and die, yet fast enough to not become the animals’ mid-night snack. After all, I would make quite the tasty piece of meat. Maintaining my composure, uttering a silent pray, and focusing on the beauty that I was fast approaching, I started picturing my adventure more like a surprise. I mean I was in the dark simply waiting for the sun to show me something great. Refocused on the excitement of what the morning would bring, my fears somehow subsided.

Finally, I arrived. The sun rose 30 minutes later. I hiked into the canyon and was back up by noon, grabbed lunch, basked in the awe of the miles-wide masterpiece, and began my journey back to Phoenix for the real portion of the second vacation stop. Realizing that eventually the road became one lane again, I started to look to the left and right to see what lurked in the darkness on my drive up. Ready? Wide-opened fields and desert for as far as the eyes could see with beautiful mountains painted in the distance. No massive animals in sight. What a gorgeous unveiling. My “edge of the cliff” theory could not have been further from reality.

For hours, I was consumed, almost overtaken by the thought of what lurked in the darkness. If I had been back home, I would have probably convinced myself that I needed to turn around, get the heck away from these weird animals along the roadside, and wait until the morning to make the journey. While I don’t encourage you to take this trip alone (although it was awesome and peaceful), and I am not saying I would do it again, I learned a valuable and necessary lesson: Sometimes the most beautiful things are on the other side of fear and just a moment outside the darkness. The key is to feel the fear and keep moving. On that terrifying portion of the drive, I also saw stars brighter than I’d ever seen in my life. Maybe sometimes it takes darkness to reveal what’s beautiful.

Basically, don’t quit in darkness because there just might be something beautiful waiting for you once it’s daylight.

GPS: Shut Up and Fly

On a street stands a girl from a big city, with great dreams, huge wings, and a warped sense of what it means to fly. She stands at the bottom of a tall building enthusiastically determined to reach the top and roam throughout the skies as if there’s a world to discover in limited time. She reaches the top of the building, breeze gently calming the fears of what might happen if she falls off the edge.

Confidently ready to soar, backpack filled and wings outstretched, she begins approaching the edge. Suddenly, yards before her feet are supposed to leave the ground, she abruptly stops. “Where am I going? What if I am not supposed to go there? What if I make a wrong turn along the way and end up someplace I was never supposed to be?” After minutes of what seems like forever, she hesitantly sits down in one of the chairs left over from what seemed like a roof-top party. She refuses to go back down to the street-level, and is too overwhelmed, confused, and nervous to fly, so she decides to stay on the roof until she has a well-thought-out plan and route.

Well-intentioned, the girl spent more time in that chair than she originally anticipated and worried if her decisions were going to lead her in the right direction. If you put a bullhorn to her head, you would hear her thoughts resounding like a tape stuck on repeat.

After time had passed and the girl had questioned herself, life, and her journey to the point where even her questions started asking for a rest, she heard a voice say “shut up and fly.” It was the GPS system someone or something had placed on the back of her right wing.

“Listen, in this life, you are supposed to fly,” says the GPS. “And yes, you may make a few flippin’ wrong turns along the way, but you know what? There are multiple routes to the same destination. “If you would just listen carefully enough, you will hear me say “recalculating route. Even if you “go it alone” and get lost, just turn me on and we can start flying from the dreaded land of the lost. Granted, it may take you longer, but you WILL arrive at your destination. So, that being said, can we go now? I mean my gosh, SHUT UP and FLY!”

Still shaken from the unexpected voice and her body’s fight-or-flight still in high gear, she stepped back, ran toward the edge, and took off like a bird that had been caged for far too long.

10 Steps to Finding Happiness

It’s raining outside today. It rained yesterday and it is forecast to rain for the  rest of the week. Before all this rain, there were blue skies, sunshine, and the warm sun on our skin. In New England, the weather changes rapidly, and the seasons change just when you are starting to settle into one.

Such is life and HAPPINESS.  If circumstances change rapidly, how then can we be HAPPY for an extended period of time? Most people strive for happiness, yet discover that once they find “happiness” it fades, is redefined, or disappears momentarily. HAPPINESS is defined as a state of well-being or contentment, an emotion felt when experiencing something pleasurable or satisfying. So then, maybe HAPPINESS is learning to accept and be content in all experiences, both positive and negative. You will be H.A.P.P.Y when you learn to Hurtle A Problem Presented Yesterday.

Here are 10 steps to finding HAPPINESS:

1.  Understand that what makes you happy is different from what makes others happy. Step one is to STOP defining your happiness by someone else’s happiness or standard.

2. Happiness is an emotion, a feeling. Feelings change, emotions vacillate. It’s normal. It’s reality. Don’t beat yourself up. Move on.

3. Happiness is something you DECIDE TO BE more than something you wait to “FEEL.”

4. If you are solely waiting for someone else to make you happy, you might be waiting forever.

5. Learn to laugh. Happiness always follows a good laugh. Surrounding yourself with people that love to laugh may be a good start.

6. Learn to ignore or overlook things that aggravate or anger you, if you always give it your attention, you will likely be angry more than you will ever be happy.

7. Learn to sometimes care about people, but not carry their burdens as your own.

8. Understand and accept that not everyone wants to see you happy. Keep calm and skip-to-my-lou ON.

9. EVERY career has it’s unhappy side. Don’t get overly disappointed about it. Choose one that has less unhappy “triggers.” Don’t feel bad it you can’t get rid of them all. If you work for yourself, clients might be the problem. And Lord knows, if you work with people, you are almost guaranteed to be thrown off the HAPPY WAGON once or twice. It is OK.

10. Happiness requires a small measure of faith and hope in order to accept that TODAY may not be a happy one, but TOMORROW just might be.

Don’t worry. Be happy.