The Dance of Connection

Rescuing women and men from the quicksand of difficult relationships.

The Key to Happiness in One Easy Step

How to eliminate anxiety, fear and shame in one magical step

Do you want happiness to be available to you at any time, no matter how difficult your life may be?

Would you like to always be in the flow of the present moment, living each day to the fullest, and exuding such a deep sense of calm, joy, and happiness that everyone wants to be around you?

The key to achieving perfect happiness is a simple one:

You need to become a cat.

Consider Felix, now deceased, who was my little Buddhist, my feline role model for mindful living. He demonstrated a healthy fight-or-flight response when threatened, but he only felt fear when fear was due. He didn’t let fear, worry and rumination spoil an otherwise perfectly good day.

Felix lived in the moment. When he played, he played. When he ate, he ate. When he had sex, he had sex, utterly unencumbered by fear, shame or guilt. Once “fixed” (the downside of being a pet), he settled immediately into a perfect acceptance of his situation.

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“Wherever you go, there you are,” was the motto I believe he lived by.

This capacity to inhabit the moment granted Felix a kind of profound self-acceptance. When he licked his fur, he didn’t worry about whether he was doing the job well enough, or whether he was taking too long to lick down all his hair, or whether certain of his body parts weren’t all that attractive and perhaps shouldn’t be displayed to my dinner guests.

Nor did he dissipate his energy with anxious thoughts such as: “What’s wrong with me that I don’t make more fruitful and creative use of my time?”

Because Felix didn’t live a fear-driven life, he was able to operate from his essential Felixness. When he wanted connection, he would jump on my lap without stopping to wonder whether I might find him too needy and dependent (especially for a cat). With equal aplomb, he would jump off my lap and saunter out of the room when he felt like it, never worrying that I might take his departure personally and feel really hurt.

I could go on, but you get the picture.

Of course, Felix didn’t have it all. If he missed out on the miseries of being human, he also missed out on some uniquely human pleasures, from reading a riveting novel to falling in love. One might debate whether it is preferable to be a cat or a person, but why get into it? If you are reading this now, you are not a cat and never will be. So along with the good days, you’re going to experience the entire range of painful emotions that make us human.

This means that you’ll wake up at three in the morning searching your breasts for lumps. You’ll worry that your daughter has dropped out of her drug treatment program (again), that your partner is getting bored with you, that you’ll end up homeless if you leave your job, that your memory is getting more porous with each passing day, and that possibly you’re going crazy.

You can make your own list. No one is immune to the grip of anxiety, fear, and shame. These are the uninvited guests in our lives. When hardship hits, they may become our constant companions.

Of course, we all want a quick fix for managing fear and suffering, and there is no lack of inspirational books that make large and silly promises. One self-help guide states, “Bliss is available to anyone at any time, no matter how difficult life may be.”

Really?

If you want to let real happiness in, you need to understand and accept the full range of human emotions. You can’t chase the painful ones away with a big stick, and you can’t become Felix.

You can, however,  have a strategy and a clear plan when anxiety wreaks havoc on your self-esteem, when shame kicks in, when rumination ruins an otherwise good day, and when things fall apart and we face illness and suffering. Life will bring you all of these things, if not now then later.

Happily, there are many resources out there, including The Dance of Fear, to help us make our lives as large as possible, and look clearly and unflinchingly at life’s most difficult emotions. Sometimes we can rise above anxiety, fear, and shame to be our best and bravest self.

 

Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., is best known for her work on marriage and family relationships and the psychology of women. Her book The Dance of Anger has recently been reissued.

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