Happiness Is…

Reflecting, Reframing, Rebuilding and Returning.

This is my journey. From building my life in a high demand religion to breaking it all down. In the face of losing everything, I found myself.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” 

-Maya Angelou

Songs and Stories

Something powerful happens when song & story come together. Music has been a part of my journey, so I created this playlist to share with you. Feel free to listen as you read. Each of these songs has impacted my journey. I hope it may inspire you too!

Happiness Is…

My childhood was filled with family camping trips, bike rides and trips to the gas station. I choreographed dance routines with my sisters, rode horses, and spent lots of time at our Grandparents’ homes. We had home-made Easter dresses, magical Christmas mornings, and home-cooked meals. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we were happy. 

I loved the seasons, our traditions, cheesy love songs, journaling and writing poetry.

Life was simple. I remember lying on the trampoline under our big shaded cherry tree, curious about the world around me. I laid here on many a day, doing what many young girls do… daydreaming.  

I had this one particular dream. I wanted to own a flower shop someday. I decided that I would name my flower shop, “Happiness Is…” It was followed by the ‘dot dot dot’ because I wanted my future customers to discover what made them feel happy. I wanted bold colorful letters stamped across my store window with that phrase. Bright colorful flowers made me feel happy. It was a beautiful dream.

There would be a lot of happiness in my future flower shop.

I really enjoy helping other people feel happy. Here’s the problem. I spent much of my life trying to make sure everyone else was happy. In my effort to do so, I lost sight of my own self and my own sense of happiness.

Never Enough

As a young woman, I struggled to feel a sense of real confidence. I bought into the story many of us can relate to…the story of Not Enough. We carry these stories and negative thought patterns with us, and they show up in so many areas of our lives. As I have become more self-aware, I’ve asked myself how and where that story came from. The Not Enough Story.

I come from a long line of Mormon ancestry, aka The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. For those who are unfamiliar with this religion, it is a high demand religion; many members refer to it as ‘a way of life’.

I came from a good family. My parents were simple, salt of the earth type people. They did Mormonism their own way. They showed up, worked hard, and served. They taught me to do the same things. I knew that the church meant a lot to my parents. They did not force it on us; they let us choose. I chose it.

My beliefs and my testimony helped me feel very connected to them. I was the oldest of 5 children. My siblings all sort of went their own ways over the years. I took on the role of the example, the good girl, the strong one. This unnecessary pressure I put on myself was not healthy. I can see now that it led me into patterns of people pleasing and toxic perfectionism. I felt really guilty when I messed up. And I messed up a lot.

I believed that I had a Savior who made up for my weaknesses and my not-enoughness. I clung to the belief that someone else could fix me. This belief does not resonate with me anymore, but as a young girl, it gave me a sense of peace and hope.

In school, I was the girl who tried out for everything. From dance to sports to leadership. I usually got close to making it, but was never quite enough. That sucked. I always felt a bit awkward. I felt like the underdog. 

Finding my Footing

When I was 40, I was at the top of my game. I was a devout Mormon woman serving in a variety of callings (serving as a volunteer in many different duties). I was a committed mother, a wife, a corporate travel agent, a PTA member, beloved neighbor, sister, and friend.

My husband was a foot and ankle surgeon, and we lived in a beautiful home.

You see, I was doing all the things. I was juggling it all, and I was proud. I took pride in completed checklists, but this checklist way of living began to take a toll on me. I came to a place of real exhaustion. I was burnt out, stressed out, and max’d out. This exhaustion began to show up in a myriad of ways. I felt the exhaustion in my very body. I was dealing with daily stomach issues, chronic headaches, intense anxiety, and occasional paranoia. I felt like I was going crazy. 

From the outside, it appeared that I had it all together. Yet, inside, I was falling apart. Little by little, I began to feel very disconnected from the very people and structures I had built my life around, including Mormonism, my belief system of 40 years, my marriage of 20 years and my career of 20 years. I began questioning it all.

First, there was my religion. I felt disconnected from the church’s policies, doctrines, and cultural norms. I was a true believer all my life. I was all-in! I served a mission, I was married in the temple, and I went to Ward Council. I had a deep testimony of Jesus Christ. He was the most important character in my Mormon story. 

I loved the leaders. I believed they had authority to speak for God. I learned to put my trust in them. I may have been rejected as a girl, but I was accepted as a Mormon woman.

I was a really good Mormon. It was the one thing I felt like I was really good at. I said yes, I showed up, I served with all my heart. For most of my life, it felt really good to be a part of something special, to have the truth, to be chosen. 

But…over the years, this stopped feeling good; it stopped feeling true. 

But I was so conflicted. I had a lot of spiritual experiences. Early on, I attributed them to my membership in the church. But over time, I realized that these spiritual experiences had nothing to do with my membership in a religion, but had everything to do with me. 

They are part of the human experience. I am a spiritual woman. 

I really wanted to stay in the church. I wanted to find a way to do it. At first, I thought I could help make changes in the church. So I started speaking up more. I battled back and forth between speaking up and staying silent. Keeping it all inside made me feel sick, and yet questioning it out loud made me feel ashamed. It was an uphill battle that put me in a downward spiral.

It didn’t help that my marriage was falling apart. This felt confusing and sad. We had built a beautiful life together. We worked really hard. We have 3 beautiful daughters. We overcame some big challenges in our 20 years of marriage, including medical school, residency, and multiple moves. When I was pregnant with my youngest, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Early in COVID, I lost my job of 20 years in the travel industry.

Despite these challenges, I was proud of us. We had come so far, worked through so much. 

But, we had grown apart. I knew it and he knew it. I fought to keep the marriage intact. Yet deep down, I knew it was over.

I fought hard to build this life, and I fought hard to keep it, even though, deep down, I wanted something different. I wanted to grow. I wanted more. And I felt guilty for wanting this.

I wanted MORE from life. Not more stuff. We had plenty of fancy vacations and nice things. 

But I wanted something different from life. I was not happy, and I wanted to rediscover that dream I had as a little girl. Happiness. 

And yet I was so scared. So I did what I knew best. I fought. But, the harder I tried to stay in my marriage, in my career, and in the Church, the more they slipped through my fingers.

The tighter I held, the more I was suffocating. I felt like a caged bird. How could I just walk away from my life’s work? I had poured my heart and soul into this life I built, and now I was just giving up? 

Yet, how could I keep living in a cage? How could I keep living a lie? These were the questions of my heart. I desperately wanted freedom. And I wanted happiness.

My Soul Shift

As I was struggling with all this chaos, I was also reflecting deeply upon my life.

I could feel my soul shifting. I was curious to know more about the world around me. I read a lot of books. And, I began to write again. 

As a young girl, I loved to write. When I write, the words just come to me and I am able to express what is going on in my head and in my heart. Thoughts crash into me, like the waves of the ocean crashing into the shore. 

I felt drawn to a more mindful, meditative path. I felt a pull to SLOW DOWN. I went on a lot of walks. I began to pay attention. I began to notice again. I began to witness beautiful synchronicities and tiny miracles all around me. Most often, I found these in Nature.

I was experiencing the darkest days of my life, and yet I was experiencing moments of such joy and peace.

Becoming Like a Child

In the middle of all this chaos, I began practicing Yoga. I never saw myself being a Yogi. I was not flexible. But, I was strong and I was determined. Yoga was physically and mentally challenging for me. I felt called to this practice. I met teachers who inspired me. Time after time, I found myself lying in a warm room, at the end of class, in tears. Yoga became my safe place, a place where I could feel it all. I learned how to surrender. I learned how to breathe. As I learned to move my body and explore this practice, I felt alive, sensual, and free. This felt so good for me. I suppressed and repressed so much over the years. This practice felt healing to me. I practiced with intention, almost daily.

There was one particular day, early in my Yoga journey. I had an epiphany that changed me. 

We ended our practice and I was lying in Child’s Pose. To this day, this is my favorite grounding pose. Not only is it so good for the body, but I love the metaphor of Child’s Pose. It symbolizes one who seeks greater connection with and a better understanding of the universe and their place within it. It is achieved by surrendering the ego. By embodying the pose of the child, you access a version of yourself who can love unconditionally. This childlike surrender and connection to the Earth opens the heart to be willing to truly receive. 

I remember this moment vividly. It was that day, in that place of humility, I experienced an epiphany moment which changed the course of my life. 

I was searching for answers.  I was trying to reconcile so much. As I laid there, very present and fully embodied, I felt a whispering, a voice within me. 

In Mormonism, we gave this voice a label: the Spirit, or the Holy Ghost. As long as you were baptized, obedient, and worthy, you could always access it. But in that moment I had a realization. I had been taught this voice came from something outside of me. 

No, this voice was mine. 

It was not theirs to give to me. It was inherently mine. It always was mine. We can call it what we want. Spirit, the still small voice, the voice of consciousness, intuition, our authentic voice, our Native Breath. This moment felt so personal, so pivotal. I felt empowered. This was the day I discovered my voice.

Since that day, I have had many other moments of realization which have helped me re-frame what I once held dear. I am choosing to let go of what doesn’t work for me and hold onto that which does.

My truth is this. I needed to leave the church, and go my own way. I needed to end my marriage and begin again. I needed to start my career over again and do something I felt more passionate about. This is what I have spent the last several years doing. 

There’s no one way to do this. We all have to find what works for us and go with that. I have my truth, and you have yours. Ultimately, we are all searching for truth. What is Truth, we ask? 

“Truth is the corrective return to who you completely are.”

Mark Nepo

When we begin to shed all the untruths we have been told about who we are, and when we discover who we really are, this is the magic.

I am that same young girl I always was- the one who loved life and went after what she wanted, the one who keeps trying. I just needed to rediscover her, remember her and become a wiser version of her.  

My Life Today

Where am I today? I no longer subscribe to a book of rules or commandments. I am designing my own values and rules. This has not been easy. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along my way. This journey has matured me.

I am raising 3 incredible humans (sometimes hellcats). They have seen me through many tears. I have witnessed each of them battling her own dark night of the soul. My children are my greatest teachers. My hope is that if there is anything my daughters choose to believe in, that they first and foremost believe in themselves. That is the best belief system I can instill within me and inside of each of them. This journey, for me, has been one of discovery and self-love. I am learning how to love myself first. I hope they do the same.

Working through my divorce has taken a long time and felt complicated and challenging. I’ve learned to forgive and learned to let go. We remain friends. We made these beautiful humans together, and we’ll always have that connection.

I became passionate about Yoga, so I became a teacher. I have worked really hard over the last 2 years to rebuild my career. 

Last year, I made the choice to go back to school. I am engaged in a 2.5 year program in the emerging field of Yoga Therapy. In this program, we study Yoga, Mindfulness, Meditation, Breath Work, Holistic Anatomy and Physiology, Addiction Recovery, Disease, Psychology, and more.

The study of Yoga is the study of the Self. Yoga brings together science and spirituality, two things I feel passionate about. This practice and this study have enhanced my life & given me tools to help me manage stress and anxiety and to help me in my parenting and in my relationships.

Happiness Is.

So, what is Happiness after all? The world will give us all sorts of definitions. Fairy tale endings, popularity, wealth, fame. Religion teaches us that happiness comes from following a set of rules; in my religion, they had their own ‘Plan of Happiness’. A PLAN.

That felt good to the Type-A Planner I had become. And it worked for a long time.

When I first left the church, I heard many people talk about how happy they felt after they left the church. I was grieving. Happiness was not on the top of my feelings list. I lost all that was precious to me. I was left alone in the world, to figure it all out. And that felt really hard. 

II am not sure if happiness can be defined, but here is what I believe. Happiness, for me, is living with integrity. It is not found outside of us; rather it is found within us. 

Happiness IS. Period. Happiness is a state of being. Happiness must first be a choice. And then, it must become a practice. And the only time we can be happy is right now, in the present moment.

It’s a Paradox…

A wise teacher once said:

“The deepest spiritual teaching is PARADOX.” 

(Richard Miller, IAYT)

The paradox for me is this: I had to lose myself to find myself. Pain and darkness are wise teachers. The most valuable lessons and moments of enlightenment, for me, have been during periods of darkness.

I had to experience unhappiness to understand real happiness. I had to experience heartbreak to fully open my heart again. I had to lose one kind of love to experience another, where trust, respect and vulnerability are nurtured. I feel so grateful for those who are my cherished friends and loved ones. I feel grateful for second chances.

I have a few simple things I try to live by. I stay curious and open. I try to live my life with a sense of wonder.

For me, God is in the Great Out Doors. Nature is my master teacher.

I am not attached to any beliefs about Jesus or an afterlife. I find the parables and metaphors in the stories of Jesus, Buddha, and many other gurus to be beautiful. They are simply stories to me now. I have no idea what happens to us after this life, and I am ok with that. I am ok with not having all the answers anymore.

I try to practice Presence. Eckhart Tolle says,

“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.” 

I believe that solitude is sacred, that less is more, that the extraordinary is found within the ordinary.

I believe that boundaries are important; I believe that relationships take time to heal and time to rebuild. 

I believe that love is the one Universal truth that really matters.

I still question and doubt myself. I still grieve. I still feel fear about the unknown future ahead for me. I have made a lot of mistakes along my journey. I have had moments of wanting it all to end. But something has kept me going. I am grateful for that.

I am writing a brand new story. This time, I am the author.

Author Brene Brown said:

“When we deny the story, it defines us. When we own the story, we can write a brave new ending.”

Stories are beautiful, but they can also become a cage.

If you feel trapped in the story of your life, if you feel like you’re not enough… I ask: “What if the most beautiful story of your life is the one in which you free yourself of all the stories?”

You are enough.

You can trust the voice inside you.

Happiness Is. It’s inside you right now, just waiting to be discovered. It’s in the sunset. It’s in the chirping of birds. It’s in the tranquility of the ocean. It’s in the color of flowers. It’s in your very breath. All we have to do is notice.

Namaste, my friends.

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