I used to be a competitive athlete, stuck on an endless quest for more strength, speed and endurance. Training and racing ruled my life. I hired a coach and had a rigid training schedule. At the height of my addiction, I devoted about fifteen hours a week to it —- on top of my full-time private practice. And, those fifteen hours were not a restful stroll in the park. It was grueling, hard-core work that often left me exhausted, too tired to really enjoy much of anything.
Everything I did was focused on improving performance and increasing my chances of winning. I thought about training and racing all the time. My life revolved around it. In truth, it was my life. I would only commit to social activities if they happened to fit my schedule. Even then, I found myself thinking and talking about my sports.
My happiness and joy in life were based on my performance. It affected my sense of self-worth and personal value. Get a personal best or win a race and I could be happy. But the joy would be short-lived. The next race was always right around the corner. Deep, lingering disappointment would come with a loss. I couldn’t just enjoy the experience. I had to be a winner. Failing to win was more than just failing to win, it meant I was a loser. And, nobody loves a loser.
My children saved me. By the time my second child came along, it was abundantly clear that I could no longer keep on doing what I was doing and be an engaged parent. Something had to give. I quit racing. And, in hindsight, it was one of the best things that could have happened to me. It allowed me to gain my freedom and find my Self. I’ve gradually come to realize two incredibly important things — realizations that have changed everything. The first is that how I feel and how I am are two different things. The second is that I am joyful — always. Joy describes the real me, my true Self.
The beauty and power of this is that I can always be happy and joyful. I don’t need anything but my Self. I don’t always feel joyful. Sometimes I feel angry, sad or scared. But deep down on the inside where it matters most, I am joyful. This never changes. I can stop and reconnect with that source of joy at any moment because joy is what I am. All I need to do is turn my awareness inward and focus on my true Self. I have never found that I am anything but happy, content and joyful. I expect the same will be true for you.
Back when I was in college, a professor told the class that you can only do one thing at a time. What I think she meant was that you can only think about, or focus on, one thing at a time. When your awareness is focused on any one thing, everything else is put on hold or forgotten.
We live in a very busy, distracting world — and most of us have minds that never shut up. I don’t know about you, but my head is a very noisy place. Many of my thoughts are anything but joyful. When my focus is on the world around me or on my thoughts, I lose touch with my Self and start feeling terrible things fueled by my judgmental ego.
To be happy and joyful requires putting your focus in the right place. If you look for happiness and joy outside of your Self, you probably won’t find it. It’s not out there. Joy lives inside of you. That’s where you need to look.
Stop everything. Sit in a quiet, comfortable place. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply, slowly and rhythmically, focusing your attention on your chest and belly. Let yourself relax and get centered. When you’re ready, ask your Self this yes-or-no question: “Am I joyful?” Let yourself know the truth. Do this daily and carry your inner joy with you everywhere.