I recently had the strange, spiritually-resonant experience of hearing the exact same sentence from the mouths of at least a dozen friends within one week, in a variety of situations.
“You are not responsible for anyone’s happiness but your own.”
I do think I have some responsibility for my children’s happiness, at least until they are well-established as adults, and I’m taking steps to make sure they are stable and that I can care for them from afar, if necessary.
I have felt terrible pangs of guilt for leaving my students. If you are not a bellydancer, or a yogi, you probably can’t imagine how strong the teacher/student bond can become. These women are my friends and my charges. They depend on my studio for their creative outlet, their personal expression, their friendships, their personal space away from jobs and families, their social lives. I have worked so hard to create a place where they could feel accepted, supported.
It’s silly that I had to be told, over and over, that I’m not responsible for these grown women. Obviously they can take responsibility for maintaining their own friendships and for their own growth as dancers and yogis. But it’s hard for women to put themselves first, and I felt like what I offered had value in their lives. I set up a final party to give everyone a last performance opportunity, and some events in and around the studio to offer bonding and closure. My troupemates and I decided over a year ago to dissolve the troupe when I left, rather than continuing it with the remaining dancers. It was an empowering decision, and we’ve enjoyed a heady year of taking on only the gigs that excited and interested us, with no need to consider the future. We felt great about going out on top, at the peak of our success. And we had no doubts about our deep friendships living on beyond the troupe. But now that the time has come, we are all sad. I can see the heaviness and sense of loss in them, and I can feel it in myself. Lotus Arts Dance Company has been a hell of a ride, a pinnacle dance experience. Leaving the men in my life behind is more painful than I can capture in words, and I’ve already posted as much as I intend to say about my romantic situation. But for a woman, a relationship IS an obligation to create happiness for another person. That may not be accurate, or mature, or healthy, but it has been our role. To stand behind someone while he fulfills himself, and to disregard our own hearts, has been the epitome of being a ‘good woman.’ If it weren’t for the fact that I was faced with two wonderful men, whose individual happiness required conflicting choices from me, I might never have seen the third option — that I could craft my own happiness and let the dust settle where it may. Being ripped apart by the impossibility of making everyone happy finally left me free to focus on myself. Never, ever underestimate the power of a woman’s self-actualization to attract and impact men who are ready for a midlife crisis! Through it all, I am wrestling with guilt. People keep telling me I’m an inspiration to them. I feel like a selfish heel. But I’ve heard the ‘inspiration’ thing enough to keep me going, and writing this blog, even though I can’t seem to think of myself that way.
I hope this blog post can inspire one person, though, to listen to this message and spend some time considering what it means to her very core. That would allow me to pay forward the dozen people who’ve schooled me in the last couple of weeks.