I realize this might seem backwards, but when I get dressed each morning, I begin by selecting my accessories.
Today is a typical Tuesday morning in my household, where I live with my husband, two teenage daughters, and a few four-legged creatures.
The first thing I notice, as I study myself in the mirror, is that I’m still wearing a little leftover stress and fatigue from our recent overseas trip. I love to travel, but the flight anxiety, time differences, strange beds, food changes, and stifling crowds chip away at my energy over time. Like mascara you can’t quite wipe off, the fatigue sits around my eyes in small, dark lines. It’s okay, though, for they will fade as surely as they arrived, while the experiences I had will remain in my heart forever.
A peek at my iPhone reminds me that today, my daughter Kelsey has to undergo a procedure for a torn tendon in her knee. The doctor will draw blood from her arm, and then inject it directly into her knee.
This procedure, designed to restart what they believe is a stunted healing process, would intimidate anyone—of that I’m sure. But ever since doctors performed a spinal tap on her as a toddler in suspicion of meningitis, she’s been especially petrified of needles. Today will be the first time she comes face to face with this fear, and I can’t help but match it with a thin scarf of fear around my own shoulders.
But my own wrap is tinged with purple and gold—the colors of courage and bravery. Hopefully, when she looks at me, she will color her own fear with this power.
Today is also a big day for both of my competitive-dancing daughters, and anticipation fills our house like the aroma of morning coffee. Today they will learn what teams they will be on this year. In a pre-celebratory dance move of my own, I slip on some bright pink bracelets of joy, friendship, celebration, and fun. My enthusiasm is palpable, and I will willingly share it with anyone.
My belt for today is a staple I’ve had to learn to love, despite its tightness. It’s braided with my human impatience. Right now, it’s pinching with my writer’s impatience for word from my editor about my latest book revision, and a little mother’s impatience for school to start already. But the little sparkles on the belt are gems from my soul, gifts that remind me that everything works in its own time, at its own pace.
Besides, today, I have much to be grateful for. I’m grateful for my family’s health, my opportunities, my connections, my front porch, and my life. So, I feel like slipping into my wine-red shoes, the ones that keep me grounded in this gratitude.
There are a few other pieces that I choose to accentuate my outfit with today. I can’t help but still put on my necklace, a holdover from my upbringing in Fargo, North Dakota, strung with beads of Midwestern stubbornness and self-sufficiency. The necklace pairs nicely with the diamond barrettes I’ve collected in my ongoing spiritual search, and I wear them in my hair near my crown chakra. Infused with compassion, they open and connect me to all beings, all times, and all states of consciousness.
Finally, underneath the wraps, shoes, belts, and accessories of my emotions and my temporary states, I slip on the most important piece of all, the one I sewed for myself: my everyday, little black dress of contentment.
I remember the first time I wore this dress.
I’d been stitching it together for some time, in my meditation and yoga classes, but there was one day when I realized it was ready to wear.
It was when my two daughters were toddlers. They did something that required a parent’s anger to correct. And so, using a stern voice and donning a serious facial expression, I won their full attention. As I scolded them outwardly, however, I inwardly felt calm, still, and centered. I watched myself from the inside, fully aware of a mother’s impact on a child, and fully attuned to when enough was enough.
My dress may not be fancy, or frilly, or eye-popping, but it fits me and my curves well. It goes with everything and anything in my emotional closet—from my angry bursts to my despairing moments to my guilty habits.
This dress does not overlay my emotions, nor does it seek to supplant them. The beauty of this dress is actually enhanced by the daily modifications.
Even now, more than 10 years old, my dress still looks and fits like new. I just wash and wear it. It is durable, stretchy, and fade-resistant. It mixes and matches with emotional adornment without ever being diminished or greyed out.
Many don’t even see I have it on—that’s how well it blends with my essence. It’s easier to see my accessories. Of course, they sit closer to the surface.
But I’ve never been someone who can hide my feelings well, anyway. And now that I’ve come to understand the temporary nature of my emotions, I don’t mind my see-through self. I’m neither afraid nor ashamed of my emotions. Contentment cannot be intimidated or overshadowed by the outrageousness of anger or even the sparkles of happiness. So I let emotions come, I let them express, and I let them pass.
Being a human being, by definition, means to be an emotional being. We aren’t meant to wear only one face or one outfit—even one of joy or happiness. We should expect to go through a wide variety of emotions on any given day.
If we watch closely enough, we can see how we are happy and laughing one minute, but feel a twinge of regret in the next. Maybe a little fear or anger rises suddenly. Sometimes, I feel a sadness overtake me, and then a minute later, I can’t remember why I felt that sadness. Then, for some reason I can only attribute to human nature, I start hunting for the source of that sadness. If I remember, a fresh wave sweeps over me. If I can’t find it, then I feel worried about the sadness I was supposed to feel but can no longer remember why.
It’s strange, our human condition, but knowing that my little black dress of contentment is always there, just under the surface, helps me accept it with equal parts grace and humor. At the end of a day, or in any quiet moment, I can bring my awareness to my body and feel my inner contentment—soft and comforting—against my skin.
I don’t consider myself weaker or less yogic for living this way. On the contrary, living this openly helps me feel more connected, more alive, and more wholly and soulfully human.
Contentment is not indifference. It is not complacency. It is not resignation.
Contentment, worn daily, is the most powerful, most versatile piece of clothing we can pull from our human closet.
Author: Keri Mangis
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Yoli Ramazzina