“The amount of happiness that you have depends on the amount of freedom you have in your heart.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
I have learned a new perspective on life from the teachings of Pema Chödrön on Maitri.
Maitri is unconditional friendship and acceptance of one’s self. It may seem to be a very simple concept on the outset, but more often than not, we are more inclined to disapprove of ourselves. According to Pema, by looking inward, we find our basis of compassion and our “seed of happiness.”
With an understanding of Maitri, I now know that true happiness begins within myself. It is right in front of me at this present moment. This power of happiness is actually in my own hands. The way we react to problems and life situations determines how we allow them to impact our state of well-being and happiness.
When we were young, we created a snapshot image of happiness that imprinted in our memory bank. For me, my childhood snapshot of happiness was hugs and kisses from my parents and grandparents and ice cream. I remembered how joyful I was. I skipped around playfully whenever I heard the ringing bells of the ice cream man riding his scooter.
When I was a school student, receiving an achievement award was my cup of tea of happiness. The success of achieving all this was self-gratification and exuberance for me—it kept me yearning for more.
As an adult, I had an insatiable appetite for happiness. My family and loved ones found me demanding and not easy to please as my bar for happiness was raised with each year I grew older. My equation for happiness was a better job, a better house, a better car, and also a better partner in life.
Materialism was my denomination for happiness. I was faced with my shadow side that cared selfishly for myself. I prioritised my own needs above others.
We all want to be loved, but happiness sometimes can be short-lived. Certain triggers in life will wipe away the happiness and create a web of doubts, insecurities and self-sabotage. We see our happiness crushed before our eyes. Sometimes we are guilty of running away from our current state of flow because we believe that the grass is greener on the other side.
With each new relationship, I thought I was closer to my fairy-tale dream of happiness. I laughed to myself that I had to kiss many frogs in hopes of finding my Prince Charming. I wanted a family of my own, a few children and a loving husband as a companion. In return, I gave my complete love and trust to my partner and expected love to be reciprocated. Any lack of effort would disappoint me and my perceived happiness.
I had a mental picture of my happiness barometer. It had to be a certain level, and more often, I expected it to rise above the optimum level. Loving someone like me was like trying to be a clown in a circus. Every single day was a circus performance to keep this woman happy, for she knew she deserved happiness and wanted it to be nothing but perfect.
I would not fall for the ordinary family-oriented men who were a safer bet to be the marrying kind and an easier path to happiness because I was in love with romance itself. I wanted men who were natural Casanovas who knew how to romance me—I was a sucker for their attention.
The people around me could not understand that my search for happiness consumed me tremendously, such that I was willing to travel the ends of the world to find it.
According to Pema Chödrön, in human life, there is pain. A certain amount of pain in life is inevitable, like growing old, dying or suffering from illness. When we love someone, there is a tremendous sense of well-being, and the stronger the love for the person, the stronger the grief when we lose that person in our lives.
Maitri is a catalyst of understanding and awareness of what causes suffering and what causes happiness. With the death of a relationship, we are faced with suffering and we tend to take the burden of more suffering onto ourselves. Instead of addressing the situation, we seek pleasure in the wrong places.
I could relate to this experience as I was guilty of not giving myself ample time to grieve the pain and practice maitri with myself after the death of a toxic relationship I had been in. We had been deeply in love. I caused grave harm to my heart by signing myself up on some online dating sites too soon after the severing of our relationship. With a wounded heart, but still adamant on not giving up hope for love, I have already started the search for the next flight take-off for happiness. With each date, I have met new people who seemed nice, but there were not able to fix the void in my heart which is fundamentally not their job, but mine.
Healing within takes time. I have learned that I could sit all day in self-pity, but that would not change things and do any good for my well-being. The best thing I could do for myself was to pick myself up, chin high and move on with life and try to be happy again.
Life is beautiful and there is a wide horizon out there. At the same time, I have learned the right way that being alone, meditating, taking care of myself and loving myself compassionately to wholeness is the best friendship with myself. I have to be first genuinely happy within.
We all deserve happiness. We all can take this first step by having loving-kindness for ourselves.
“You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” ~ Brené Brown
Author: Michelle Hardie
Image: @elephantjournal on Instagram
Editor: Caitlin Oriel
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