A Self-Designed Obstacle Course

A Self-Designed Obstacle Course
by LiYana Silver

Bare With Me Newsletter, August 2007


200018745-001What makes women happy and radiant?
What makes men become kings?
What are the two ways to win and one way to lose?

Yesterday in a yoga class, the teacher told us about an exercise that boy scouts do when initiating new scouts. They set up a room full of chairs, like an obstacle course. They give the new scout a few moments to observe the course, and then they blindfold him. While he is being blindfolded, all the chairs are quietly removed, and the scout proceeds through the space, carefully, as though he is great danger of bumping up against the obstacles. The moral is that there are no real obstacles in our lives, only the ones we create and imagine to be there, even after they’ve evaporated when we close our eyes.

A couple of years ago, I realized that I had become an expert custom-designer of obstacle courses. I believed that to deserve pleasure and to earn any reward, I needed to work hard and to go through pain and suffering. I was sure there was a direct correlation between how hard I worked and how much suffering I could endure and the amount of pleasure and reward that was to be mine as a result. And being a perfectionist and overachiever, I decided I’d arrange my life to work even harder than those around me; I built my muscles to endure even more pain and suffering than those around me; and I waited patiently for the pleasure and reward to descend upon me. I waited through a 10-year career as a professional dancer, I waited through two long-term relationships, and I waited through countless to-do lists that I diligently completed.

Then I realized I was waiting for Godot. Enjoyment was not coming, no matter how long-sufferingly I waited for it. It began to dawn on me that I had needlessly put the obstacles of pain, suffering and hard work in the way of my enjoyment. I created my own personal obstacle course, and became so invested in my obstacles I never reached the end of the course; I never got to the whole point – enjoying my life, being happy.

Then things became very interesting. I decided to change the metric by which I was measuring my success from one of productivity, hard work and suffering to one of how much I was enjoying myself and my life. I decided to research what made me happy.

The price of pleasure is simple: it is enjoyment. Meaning, all it takes to have pleasure is to enjoy. The ability to enjoy something has nothing to do with circumstances. It has nothing to do with how much I’ve earned it or how many obstacles I’ve overcome. Enjoying my life and being happy is my birthright, like the ability to breathe, as it is yours.

In researching my own happiness, I stumbled on a huge cultural phenomenon: most people, and especially women, are gravely unhappy. But before I go any further, it would be a good thing to define the term, “happiness,” – at least for the purposes of this little treatise. Happiness is not an absolute – you know when you are happy and when you are not; it is different for different people. But one way to put it is that when you are happy and enjoying your life your are finding your life right and good, just as it is.

I’ve heard it wisely said that the health of a group, whether that is as large as a culture or as small as a relationship, can be measured by the happiness of the women. When the women are happy, everyone is happy; when the women are unhappy, by default no one else is happy. And if you look around you, you’ll likely notice that most women around you are shut down, unhappy and pissed off. Maybe you’ve never even seen what a happy, radiant woman looks like.

Why are the women so angry? As many advances and liberations that women enjoy currently, we are still considered second-class citizens. Our cultural, societal, economic, emotional, and medical belief systems are all prejudiced to reference the male as the standard. Any straying from the standard is considered deviant. So women, like other oppressed groups, have learned we are not welcomed as we are; it is not safe to be as we are. We have learned that since the playing field is not equal, we have to lie, cheat and manipulate to get what we want. We have learned that what we want is not important and we have learned to bury what we want – or we try to not want at all. The result is a bunch of royally pissed off women, who are hungry and depleted at every level.

The remedy is simple. Fill up the women.

A gratified woman is a unique and precious commodity; she is a fountain overflowing. A hungry woman might just be the meanest thing around.

How to feed and fill up a woman? What we want most is attention – real, genuine and approving attention. We want to be noticed not as a formula, but as a unique being, different from moment to moment. Women are accustomed to being overlooked, ignored and disregarded and the powerful antidote is to see us, pay attention to us, to give us you full-hearted regard. It may take a long time of this to fill us up – our wells might be very dry indeed. But a woman in surplus is a delight and a gift to everyone around her. A gratified woman wants everyone to get exactly what they want and then has the power to make that happen.

It is not that men get ignored in this equation. This was my boyfriend’s fear for a long time, as we both experimented with the edgy concept of putting my happiness first and filling up my dry well. An amazing thing happens when I am full of the attention and approval from my man; I want more than anything for him to be happy and enjoying his life. Giving from surplus creates more; giving from deficit creates anger and resentment, even if you are really good at hiding it or burying it, like me. What we discovered is that my true happiness and enjoyment overflowed onto him in nourishing and inspiring ways.

My boyfriend describes an unhappy woman as mean, bitchy and not fun to be around, and a happy woman as radiant, wildly attractive and a joy to be with. When I am happy, he feels like he has achieved something; when I am not happy, he feels as though he has not been able to give me what I want, and has hence lost. He says to be that he got into our relationships in order to have a good time – and an ever-increasingly better time – with me. When that is not the case, he feels he has failed. One of the worst things in the world is for a man to fail and lose. He’ll only lose so much before he checks out, physically or emotionally.

When a happy woman is finding her life right and good and having a great time, then the man who is a major part of her life is a part of all that. He feels it, and feels he is party at cause for it. When she’s not enjoying her life, she, by default, is not enjoying her man. Or anyone around her, for that matter.

It is not the easiest thing for a man to widen his scope of attention to include a mercurial woman. However, putting regard and attention on women and the deep respect that requires is the fire that forges a boy into a man, a man into a king. It widens him, strengthens him, opens him and deepens him. A king, after all, is no king without a queen.

When we have to pick which comes first, the chicken or the egg – focusing on the happiness of the women or of the men – we have to pick the women. Happy women make everyone else happy. A happy woman naturally wants everyone else around her to be happy and get exactly what they want. This is not necessarily the case with happy men.

Women want to be radiant and happy, but we cannot, however, wait around for guys (or people in general) to catch on and start paying attention to us. It must start with taking personal responsibility for our own happiness. And this, I noticed, takes a huge paradigm shift. It takes a level of understanding how you are wired and what to do with that. It takes the ability to communicate, to tell the truth, to be open and vulnerable. What it took for me was a realization that if I was losing, it was my choice. If there were obstacles between me and my enjoyment of my life, they were of my own creation.

Says Dr. Victor Baranco of Morehouse, in any challenging situation, there are two ways to win and one way to lose. You can win by either changing the situation or changing your mind about the situation. The only other option is to lose.

In my life, I was trying to create the perfect arrangement of circumstances – get all my ducks in a row, so to speak – before enjoying, before have the experience of winning in my life. Enjoying has nothing to do with circumstances of life, but to really get this I had to change my mind first. If you are going to play the game of life, the game of relationships, you might as well play it to win. I had to redesign my obstacle course to one in which I win and enjoy, rather than losing and suffering. It is an essential key to life, but not one you’re likely to trip over in daily life. Which is why I do the research I do, and teach what I do.

It is a surprisingly challenging proposition – to enjoy my life. I have a carefully constructed psyche to keep me like a hamster in a wheel, running through the obstacle course of my own making. I am, like most people – and women – swimming upstream against a culture that bonds around losing and suffering. Ours is a soup that steeps us in what is going wrong what is bad and getting worse. We exist in a world where we are constantly confirmed to be inferior to men. This is why it is good to hang out with other people having the same strange and new conversation as you. It is good to build new muscles by doing workshops, getting coaching, developing your skills, trying on new perspectives; it is good to test out through your own direct experience, and with the support of others, what your own happiness looks like.

I’ve developed the facility to actually enjoy my self-created obstacles, these very things that used to make me suffer: being productive, creating, striving and playing a full-out game. Running my own gauntlet has stopped being an excuse to suffer and is now another cause for satisfaction. I no longer delay my joy; I just grab it, surrender to it, lay down and roll in it, moment by moment, each and every day.

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