suddenly so zen

I'm not sure when or why it happened, but I'm suddenly aware of a zen-like peace in my life.

I don't know how this change in me came about. I think it had something to do with the reconstruction I had to do at the end of last year, when I got out of a really, really bad relationship. I've said before that when that ended, I was so shattered - and so bewildered by how shattered I was - that it forced me to look at my "shards" very carefully, as I picked each of them back up. Another metaphor: that relationship was a sort of crucible. I was forged, at exceptionally high, nearly destructive temperatures, into something new and different and hard and strong.

At any rate, here I am, in this strange new land of zen. I don't know how long I'll be here, but for now, I'm looking around and taking notes, in case I get lost and want to find my way back. And here's what I've figured out I've done differently lately - what I think is making it possible for me to feel this new sense of calm.

1. I try not to internalize the emotions of other people.

This was my specialty, for most of my adult life. I perfected the art of carrying other people's emotions. I let my own mood, my own state of mind, be dictated by their sadness, or their anger. I did this with my parents, as a child. I did this with my boyfriends, and my husband. I did this with my friends. Maybe on some level, I felt guilty for feeling happiness or joy when someone I loved felt the opposite. Maybe I didn't love myself enough to think I deserved those good feelings, when my loved one didn't share them. I don't know. But it was an exhausting way to live my life.

This is not to say I don't feel empathy, because I believe that I do. It's just a matter of drawing a boundary around my heart, and saying, I feel that you're in pain. I can only feel so much of it with you, though, and for so long.

I try to do the opposite, when someone feels joyous emotion. Then I give myself permission to be a sponge, and soak up a bit of their good energy. Or, maybe a better analogy: a solar panel to their sunshine. I feel no shame in reflecting and pulling energy from the happiness of others; just gratitude for the lift up. For the charge. But I make sure to recognize I don't need their sunshine to recharge my own batteries. Nor can I become dependent on it. It's a secondary or tertiary source, not a primary one.

2. I regularly say "no".

I'm a born people pleaser, so this was an important lesson for me to learn. For one thing, I hate feeling like I'm missing out on anything - on a chance to bond with someone by sharing some experience with them. For another, when I felt that I had to let someone down by saying no, I beat myself over it. I considered myself a bad friend/daughter/spouse/employee. I felt like I'd failed. I imagined and projected onto them all sorts of negative emotions: disappointment, anger, frustration, sadness (even if I had no cause to think they'd feel these things). Then I shamed myself for causing those bad feelings.

But there's no faster path to self-depletion than saying "yes" to everything. And I realized I wasn't doing my loved ones any favors by stretching myself paper-thin, just to be present and accounted for. In fact, I was doing the opposite. I was damaging these relationships, by allowing myself to slowly become passive-aggressively embittered towards them. I'd never even articulate the thoughts to myself, but the makings of them were there in the back of my head, swirling in the dark: How could she ask this of me?... He should know I don't want to do this...He should know I'm too tired/not into this...She doesn't know me/love me well enough, to expect this of me.

Saying "no" every so often makes saying "yes" more fun. "No" empowers the "yes" to be more valuable and valued. Saying "no" to someone is saying I value and respect you enough to know that if I say "yes", you won't be getting the best version of me. And that's not good enough for either of us. "No" is a way to recognize and honor my personal boundaries. "No" allows me to just get shit done. And when my shit is done - when my chores and work are complete - I feel zen.

3. I try to appreciate the bloom.

Everything has its moment of bloom. Here's a great piece about this concept; which explains it better than I could.

When I recognize that everything has its time of bloom, it reminds me to live in the present, to appreciate and value what I've got at this moment. It also braces me for the inevitable pain of decay. With the knowledge that any given beautiful thing must die comes acceptance. The acceptance softens the blow. And it keeps me level. Zen.

4. I try to treat feelings like clouds.

I'm not sure where I first came across the idea of just objectively recognizing my feelings as they pass (I know it's nothing new), but it's helped me to become a happier, more peaceful person. The idea is that when some overwhelming emotion swells up, instead of letting it override me and carry me off, I just step back and calmly, quietly try to see it. I visualize it as a cloud, slowly drifting through my horizon. I take my time to examine and understand it, I but don't climb into it: it's cold and wet inside of clouds.

This really helps me when short-term, negative emotions threaten to ruin my day. When I'm annoyed or sad or hurt that someone hasn't returned my call, for instance, or I feel discouraged about some mistake I've made. I try not to let the feeling consume my day. Instead I just look it over, consider what caused it, then allow it to float away again, before it grows any bigger (or worse, latches on to another cloud). I don't attach value or judgment to it. I just let it be what it is.

5. I try to forgive myself.

I forgive myself my mistakes, big and small. I forgive myself my failures. I used to turn self-critical thoughts over in my head, fingering every last nook and cranny of them until they were worn smooth like worry stones. I became very, very familiar with my shortcomings.

And I still am. It's important to be.

The difference now is that when they get the better of me, I try to take a look at what happened, figure out what'll be different next time, and then just let go. And it has been amazing, truly, how much of my mental energy and time were freed up once I learned to forgive myself.