You have probably heard the expression, “Would your rather be right or would you rather be happy?” It is a helpful reminder that holding on rigidly to a position creates suffering. However, during this weekend while teaching a workshop, with Dicken Bettinger and Barb Patterson, a different version occurred to me. It was, “Would you rather be happy, or would you rather free?”
For most of my life I focused on happiness and how to get more of it. This created pressure inside of me to not feel certain emotions. I didn’t realize my attachment and desire to feeling happy was actually tying me up and creating suffering. Rather than simply allowing my feelings to flow and being okay with experiencing my full emotional range, I would become reactive to feeling states I didn’t like. I would especially try to get rid of feelings like anxiety and insecurity. I believed their presence was proof of my unworthiness. Having them meant in my mind that there was something wrong with me, and I wasn’t good enough.
My not wanting to feel my shame for have these feelings caused me to work really hard at not having them. I would do my best to be perfect and get things right. I loved getting A’s in school because I saw that as proof that I was worthy for a moment, but it was never good enough. My feelings of worthiness never lasted. I would then need to find another way to prove my worth. Living my life this way was exhausting and left me feeling fragile and weak.
Trying to feel good all the time in order to feel good enough was exhausting because I was constantly trying to manage my experience. This ironically did not lead to more happiness. Instead, it resulted in more suffering. As Jung said, “What we resist persists.”
With my striving for more happiness, it completely blew my mind when a mentor shared with me that she wasn’t bothered by her low moods or the negative feelings that accompanied them. She also said she didn’t put any effort into trying to change them. I was deeply impacted by this because I saw her freedom to be herself. I saw her self-acceptance that seemed radical to me at the time, and I recognized her inner peace.
I was so stupefied by her sharing this with me; it knocked my out of my routine thinking. I was confused and befuddled. This shook me out of normal thinking, and I realized in that moment how good freedom felt. I saw how me trying to be happy was not only stopping me from being free, but it was also making me less happy. In seeing this, I experienced my wellbeing in a more profound way than I had before. I felt my wellbeing as a foundation from which I knew I was okay no matter what my experience. I saw my emotions were transitory, but my wellbeing wasn’t. I might not always feel it, just like I don’t always see the sun because of the clouds, but I felt my wellbeing in a way that helped me to know it is always there. And it isn’t actually my wellbeing. It is the wellbeing that is all of us. It is the oneness beyond the small self. It is where no “I” exists and beautiful feelings abound.
I didn’t do anything to get there. In all of my years of striving and chasing after the experience of happiness, I found myself falling into more beautiful feelings than I had ever imagined through no effort on my own. It happened through me seeing that there was nothing wrong with me, no matter what my emotional experience. I also saw that I am not just my feelings. I saw beyond my self-definition and experienced presence.
I don’t always continue to experience this level of presence, but that deep glimpse into being changed my life and gave me more freedom than I had ever experienced before. It set me free from chasing happiness and helped me to see the freedom in simply being myself and knowing my innate worth no matter what my feelings.
I encourage you to simply see what happens when you look away or look beyond your limiting thoughts. What do you see when you ignore them? One of the metaphors used in the workshop this weekend is the ocean and the wave. What happens when you look beyond your separate self of the wave and recognize you are the ocean too?
I would love to hear about your experience of this, and if you haven’t tried to see what it is like to not manage your experience and allow your feelings to move through you like the weather moves through the sky, are you willing to give it a try? Just be you and let yourself feel whatever is present. This doesn’t guarantee happiness, but it does in my experience result in more peace of mind and bliss.
Rohini Ross is co-founder of “The Rewilders.” Listen to her podcast, with her partner Angus Ross, Rewilding Love. They believe too many good relationships fall apart because couples give up thinking their relationship problems can’t be solved. In this season of the Rewilding Love Podcast, Rohini and Angus help a couple on the brink of divorce due to conflict. Angus and Rohini also co-facilitate private couples' intensives that rewild relationships back to their natural state of love. Rohini is also the author of the ebook Marriage, and she and Angus are co-founders of The 29-Day Rewilding Experience and The Rewilding Community. You can follow Rohini on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. To learn more about her work and subscribe to her blog visit: TheRewilders.org.