Are You Brave Enough to Go the Distance for Happiness?

Note: This is the last in a series of posts about living an aware, awake life. Here are the links to the series:

Even though the series is over, the delights and challenges of inhabiting our lives completely, of living as aliveness itself, of surrendering into the flow of life continue. And I happily continue to share with you the tools and insights that have supported me along the way.

“When you struggle with your partner, you are struggling with yourself. Every fault you see in them touches a denied weakness in yourself.”
~Deepak Chopra

Are you ready for the next level of clarity and happiness? Would you like your daily life to be more peaceful and sane? Well, here is the good news: the clues are all around you.

For, as the saying goes, what we do to others, we do to ourselves.

It Always Comes Down to You

Take any reaction you have toward someone else, any desire you have for the other to change. Turn it around and see that the source of it, and the potential resolution, is within you. Remember that common break-up line, “It’s not you, it’s me?” Well, I’m here to tell you – it’s always you. Our thoughts and feelings originate within us and are never caused by someone else.

Can you see how freeing this is? We let go of the impossible – trying to control other people’s behavior – and we look within ourselves to untangle our own reactions. Once we do, we simply aren’t triggered as much. Our contentment is not dependent on what other people do or say.

Several years ago, I had a lightbulb moment that changed everything. I was driving down a street, and ahead of me was a high-end BMW with a vanity license plate. Immediately, a judging thought appeared in my mind about the car’s owner. Then, by some stroke of grace, I got the full extent of the impact of that thought. It was not at all about the other person. Not only did it bring disharmony to me in that moment, but it fed divisiveness and separation.

It was not how I wanted to be, and it didn’t serve me or anyone else.

The Truth About Our Reactions

Avoiding our own problems by focusing on the other is intrinsic to our culture. People who run countries and corporations rarely take responsibility for themselves. They look to others to satisfy their demands and expectations, which is one reason our world is in so much trouble. The most intelligent, compassionate thing we can do is start by looking within ourselves. Where are you still struggling? Here are some hints.

  • When we lie to others, we are betraying ourselves.
  • When we hide from others, we are hiding from ourselves.
  • When we reject others, we are rejecting a part of ourselves.
  • When we judge others, we feed inner division.
  • When we are defensive toward others, we are blind to our own pain.
  • When we blame others, we pretend we aren’t part of the solution.
  • When we are heartless toward others, we miss that our own hearts are closed.

Any reaction we have toward another is a signal, a neon light, to remind us to turn our attention toward ourselves. Do you find yourself frustrated or fed up, lonely or lacking? Turn your attention inward to explore your own thoughts and feelings. I guarantee you will discover the kernel of truth that will set you free.

Overcoming Obstacles to Inner Reflection

Disconnection from our inner selves runs rampant in our society. Here are some reasons why:

  • We are overstimulated by input which draws our attention outward.
  • We resist being quiet and still.
  • We are afraid of what we might find out about ourselves.
  • We think that being vulnerable is weak.
  • We don’t know how to handle strong emotions.
  • We are afraid of our feelings.

If you want to nourish happiness and peace, if you want to express your light rather than your shadow, set upon a course to dispel these obstacles, with love. Start by being compassionate toward yourself. Then, find quiet time. Learn to meditate. Question your beliefs. Take the plunge and face your emotions. Get to know how your triggers work, and lovingly embrace all the hurting parts of yourself. If you need help, contact a therapist, guide, or teacher.

The Choice to Pay Attention

It all boils down to what we want. How do you want to live your life? What do you want to offer to the world?

The answers are not in vague ideas or broad brushstrokes. Pay attention to the moments of your life, because that is where the answers are. Notice all the sticky places – the places of disillusionment, settling, and despair. The tensions in your body, the reactions so familiar that you take them for granted.

Get a hold of yourself. Know that you will not find the ease you seek by changing other people. People do what they do – that is their job, and it is out of your control. Have the courage to take a stand for what is most important to you. Then continually open your heart to all the tender places in you.

Only you hold the key to your freedom.

How do you avoid yourself? What have you learned from reflecting inward?

image: Thomas Perkins

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  1. says

    That looking inward has been so insightful for me. I feel so much more connected to the “real” me.

    And what I’ve also found, is that the more I’ve allowed myself that space for inner reflection, the less I find myself in a judgmental state. And – just the more general peace and overall happiness I feel in my life.

    This reminds me too of a book I’ve read recently. “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz. The second agreement is to not take anything personally – because what others say/do is about them, not me. (which I think just fits so well to all that you have written about here today) Sometimes I still have to remind myself of that – and when I do – there is another layer of calm – one that helps me to even more deeply feel peace within.

    Gail, what you write here – it is filled with such deeply good thoughts. Thank you so much for writing what you do…
    .-= Lance´s last blog ..You’re Beautiful!…Yes- YOU! =-.

    • Gail Brenner says

      Beautiful, Lance. Some people like fast cars or action movies. But for me, I am thrilled when I hear about these insights and how they are transforming your life. When we take care of our inner world, the judgments and other reactions melt away. It may take some time, but if we let the goal of peace and happiness go, the moments of our lives become joyful with awakening and insight. Calm and ease are possible, available, here.

      What you mention from “The Four Agreements” is so useful. What others say or do is never about us. That understanding bring so much compassion.

      Thank you for your wise and kind words.

    • Gail Brenner says

      Hi Jarrod,

      This understanding is essential to our happiness, isn’t it? Because, although the world may conform to what we want at times, it is not within our control. What you write is so clear: “Every problem is something we have created in our mind. Every resistance to life as it is is of our own choosing.” We have unlimited potential to be peaceful and happy.

      Although we may feel stuck at times, there is always a path to freedom.

  2. says

    In the past week, I have read the general theme in your post at least three times, fromvery disparate sources. I guess the universe is trying to refresh me. Recently I have picked up my meditation practice again. I found that I was having difficulty with focus and that was partly because I was spending little time “inside” and all of it being overstimulated by all things competing for attention. Thanks for the reminders!
    .-= OccasionallySerene´s last blog ..What could you do if… you could accept praise =-.

    • Gail Brenner says

      This is a very useful point about meditation, OS. It offers an invitation to slow down, be quiet, and bring our attention inward. Even so, sometimes when we meditate, the mind is very active – it needs some time to unwind.

      The simple act of sitting in silence can be revolutionary.

      Sounds like you are getting tapped on the shoulder – over and over. I love how we get exactly what we need. Enjoy!

  3. says

    Hi Gail,
    We often go through life without noticing the little things, working through everything we ‘should’ or ‘have to’ do, but never reflecting on what we truely desire and think. Taking this time should be top of everyones priority list – the world would be a better place!
    Thanks for the reminder.

    • Gail Brenner says

      I agree, Kate. Each person who makes the choice to be open, to not hide from themselves, contributes to the healing of the world. It’s a lifestyle within reach to all of us, and has potentially huge implications. But our job is for each of us to do our part – and it sounds like you are one of those who makes a positive contribution.

      Great to hear from you.

  4. says

    Beautifully said, Gail. I’ve had many similar experiences in your BMW story. We can ONLY see what we believe about ourselves, and we do this anytime we offer an opinion about the world or someone in it. This opinion reveals something about us. When I catch myself condemning anything, I remind myself it is time to revolt! That is, revolt against my own wrong way of seeing things.

    • Gail Brenner says

      I love that, Rob – time to revolt against your own misunderstanding. When we take a look at a thought, we see that it comes from nowhere and consists of nothing. Yet we take them to be true and base our behavior on them. When we question these thoughts, we see the falsehood and separation. You can count me in to join the revolution – to overthrow my thinking mind – except when it is helpful.

      Anyone else?

  5. says


    You are beautiful. Your ideas are so right on with my philosophy of life, I love reading how you express and shed further light on them. You are so right, our attitudes and perceptions of EVERYTHING outside ourselves are projections of what’s inside ourselves. You’ve got great suggestions for turning the lens back onto ourselves. I think there’s another reason we look outward and maintain our disconnection from self – we’ve learned early to believe that we are not worthy, valuable, or deserving, and so must turn away from, reject our core. It takes a lot of work and patience to turn our inner eye back and dig through the layers of self-rejection and denial to reinstitute the worthy and valuable spirit still and always inside us.

    Thank you for this post and just being you.

    love, linda

    • Gail Brenner says

      It’s beautiful to feel the resonance, Linda, and you’ve expressed it so well.

      Thanks for adding another point. We learn to disconnect if we are somehow taught that we are not worthy. This makes us turn away from ourselves.

      And the healing is to not believe even the story of unworthiness. We have been whole all along. I notice that you talk about this investigation being a lot of work. This is not my experience. In the beginning, I had some trepidation, but eventually it became a joy. Even when I uncover something painful or difficult, the experiencing of it is joyful and light. That’s a paradox, I know, but it is my experience. Just wondering, if you feel like sharing, what makes it feel like work to you?

      Sending love to you…

      • says


        Great response. I think it’s worth exploring the way the disconnection happens – each of us individually, but then overall, societally, what are the pressures to survive this way.

        That’s a good question about why I call it work to keep looking and digging and becoming aware and doing things differently. I like your attitude, and frankly, I love doing this work. Perhaps I am projecting that most people see it as difficult, and I certainly have had my resistance to looking at myself, it can be painful. But like you, I love it, just at a more sedate level or something…it’s cool to hear from someone like you who is traveling the same path but sees it through a joyful lens.

        .-= Linda Wolf (Insanely Serene)´s last blog ..Resistance is Futile- How to Give Up the Illusion of Control =-.

  6. says

    I have read this twice – and I find myself in an odd place. I have been the scapegoat – if something happens, I am the one blame privately and publically. If I had all the power I am said to have… wow! I have struggled with myself – do I give respect to someone who shows me none? Only to find the answer is that I have to respect others regardless of what they demonstrate in return because it is about me… not about them. Whether or not I am treated respect by others, I want to treat myself with respect. The challenges continue as I work – I feel the frustration that comes with being the focus of blame, being negated, treated with disrespect, and feeling as if there is nothing I can do but detach – but know that I only am responsible for this and that but not everything – that the blame is deflected to me but I need not accept what is not mine to accept… that I can detach and let go and respect myself and continue to make choices that are about that self respect and acceptance. I can continue to feel another’s rejection and denial – but I choose not to follow that path because it is denying reality. And I have to do this for me but I also have to do this for my daughter – a beautiful soul who needs to learn to accept all parts of herself and her life – despite the rejection of me she sees and herself that she experiences from others…
    The line is there but it blurs at times. I ties hard not to feel the frustration when you are negated and denied and yet blamed for everything… and yet detaching and letting go and treating myself differently are the healthy ways forward.
    .-= The Exception´s last blog ..Love and Connectedness- Raoka =-.

    • Gail Brenner says

      Hi Exception,

      What I absolutely love about your comment is that it contains all the lessons you need to know. Bravo to you for finding the answers and support that you need and putting them into practice in your own life. For you and for your daughter.

      I don’t know very much about your situation, but a couple of thoughts come to mind. First, do you need to keep yourself connected to people who are continually rejecting and denying you? We can detach emotionally as well as physically, if this is appropriate. And second, I’m not sure what you mean by respecting the people in your life who disrespect you. Certainly, it’s wise to accept the truth of what is happening, to wish them no ill will, and to thank them for whatever gifts they have brought to your life. Anything else is extra.

      And I’m wondering…can you consider not taking personally whatever anyone says or does toward you (sort of like detaching)? To take something personally, we have to believe that the essence of who we are is a person – a body with a name, history, etc. This brings up the deepest question: Who am I? Once you discover that the “you” you think you are is an illusion (a very seductive one), there is nowhere for the criticism and rejection to land. The arrow is shot, but it dissolves into space, going nowhere.

      I am so honored that you share your process here. You have my total support.

  7. says

    Dearest Gail, this is such a powerful post. There are just so many layers of depth and insight to it. It is very liberating when we can own all of our emotions and actions.

    I think it’s one of Life’s biggest and toughest lessons to learn that most things we in response to someone else are about ourselves. I just love this line:

    “Any reaction we have toward another is a signal, a neon light, to remind us to turn our attention toward ourselves.”

    It really is interesting how we humans often try to change the people and world around us to stop from feeling things we don’t want to feel. It’s almost comical when you really think about it.

    You wisdom is very earthy or grounded and I like that. It’s not clinical or “heady”. Whether you talk about yourself or not there is always a strong energy of you in your writing, which I find very soothing or comforting. I especially needed that tonight.

    Thank you beautiful soul.
    Much love,

    • Gail Brenner says

      Dear Robin,

      I am so engrossed in your book (Naked in Eden, available on Amazon), that I read your comment and all I can think of is the wisdom handed down to you from all the beings, seen and unseen, in the rainforest.

      I get the humor in humans trying to change things around us so we don’t feel what we feel. They are just feelings, and if they are appearing, they are natural. It is such a blessing to know the insights that allow us to flow like water, to actually be the water with no separation between anything, limitless, vast awareness.

      You are one amazing being, Robin. An inspiration for what is possible for all of us. With my whole heart, thank you.

      Much love to you,

  8. says

    Hi Gail. Wonderful and simple. Our thoughts create and if we’re judging others then we’re creating judgement. It’s not the reaction, but what fuels the reaction. Express emotions mindfully and with full responsibility – I’m simply angry and drop the because. Love and peace, Simon.
    .-= Simon Hay´s last blog ..Soul Healing and Friends Questions =-.

    • Gail Brenner says

      Hi Simon,

      I love how you put this so simply. Feel what you feel, and drop the story. All the story does is perpetuate the feeling, and keep us steeped in unhappiness. I’ll choose happiness any day, which means tending to my own garden.

      Love and love…

  9. says

    I have not been paying attention to myself. I’ve been waiting for my circumstances to change (in this case giving birth to my 5th) before I take the time for myself that I need- meditation, exercise, etc.

    But I’m only ‘starving myself’ of the things I really need and making myself miserable with the lie that it will be easier, I will be stronger, after this baby comes.

    I need to find the power inside NOW, and not wait for the ‘ideal’ circumstance that will never be :)

    .-= Rachel Denning´s last blog ..Three Life Changing Benefits to Seeking Adventure With Children =-.

    • Gail Brenner says

      Welcome, Rachel! So glad to meet you.

      I hear the intensity in your comment, and it sounds like you are crystal clear about what you need – more time and attention toward yourself. I would imagine that it won’t be easier when your baby is born, as infants need so much from us.

      I hear you loud and clear: “I need to find the power inside NOW, and not wait for the ‘ideal’ circumstance that will never be.” I completely support you in finding that power within yourself. If you take care of yourself even a little more, you will be able to come from a fresh and full place in relating to your children, rather than from fatigue and depletion. Just a couple of minutes of meditation (quiet and stillness) can make a difference.

      I’d love to hear how it goes.

  10. says

    Hi Gail!

    I agree. I believe that our work starts by taking 100% responsibility for our feelings and thoughts. The only person we can change is ourselves. Awareness allows us to see the lessons in each encounter so we can choose differently.

    Thanks for the beautiful post. Loving blessings!
    .-= Andrea DeBell´s last blog ..A Brief Guide to Loving Everyone =-.

    • Gail Brenner says

      A warm welcome to you, Andrea!

      Your words are like a breath of fresh air: “The only person we can change is ourselves. Awareness allows us to see the lessons in each encounter so we can choose differently.”

      So clear and simple. Thanks so much.

  11. says

    This post really touched home for me. I used to be so afraid of some of my feelings, especially anger. It was like, if i acknowledge it then I have to find a way to deal with it and I couldn’t fathom that. I started working with this idea of my inner brave girl and slowly but surely became comfortable with looking inside for longer and longer periods of time. Eventually I was able to greet anger when it appeared and to know it was safe to experience it and that the feeling was not a permanent one. So yea, being brave is hard work but the benefits are amazingly life changing. Your whole series has been filled with one gem after another. Thanks for that. :)
    .-= Clearly Composed´s last blog .. Summer Fun Series- Summer Spa Day =-.

    • Gail Brenner says

      Hi CC,

      This is a very useful description of the real world process of embracing our feelings. It is not always easy and we may be frightened to take a look. You worked with it slowly – finding the inner brave girl then eventually greeting the anger. This is it!! Nothing fancy – just step by step persistence. I’m with you about amazing life changes.

      Thanks for sharing so openly.

  12. says

    Good on yer Gail. Any time I react to a person or a situation I am reacting to myself. There is a door here as you say with FREEDOM written all over it — because when I do look to myself, and am willing to be honest with myself, whatever is needed to resolve a situation in a creative way always presents itself.

    The door to authentic happiness swings wide open and there are bright blue skies and beaming smiles of welcome on the other side. We realize anew the true magnificence that exists forever at the core of our own being.

    • Gail Brenner says

      This is such a beautiful sentence, Chris: “We realize anew the true magnificence that exists forever at the core of our own being.” Always within our reach, just by knowing ourselves. I love how simple it is.

  13. BB says

    I was ready to end my long distance relationship because I felt that I am not all that important to my partner. There is no question that he loves me but maybe not enough to seize every opportunity to see me. It’s always “hopefully, it will work out”, “no promises but I would be very happy to see you”. I would go the distance to see him even for a few hours. I was going to let him know how hurt and disappointed I am until I read your beautiful and wise words. I know what I need to do to make myself happy but why I do feel that my happiness is dependent on my partner?

    • Gail Brenner says

      Hi BB, and welcome to you.

      I don’t know why you feel your happiness is dependent on your partner, but if it is, this needs to be examined. Here is the quote by Deepak Chopra that began this article: “When you struggle with your partner, you are struggling with yourself. Every fault you see in them touches a denied weakness in yourself.”

      So what are you denying in yourself? What feeling are you afraid to feel? What would be your inner reaction if you let yourself be unattached to him? This is what is waiting for your loving attention, even though it may be painful. And this attention is what can free you.

      To be honest, I see some red flags in what he is saying. If what you want is a reliable partner who will go the distance for you (pun intended), I’m not sure he is the one.

      Be oh so kind to yourself, take care of yourself. True happiness is waiting for you.


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