Try Not to Worry Too Much – it Will Work Out

This is an ode to things working out; the essence of two hands pressed together at heart center, whispering Thank you. It’s a verbal kneeling to smell the soil and feel the sun that still shines. Why? Because it’s what my soul needs right now, and I thought maybe, by chance, it’s what yours needs too. So I’ll write about it.

Every day things go right. It might not always seem that way, depending on your mood, or outlook, but they do. Because you’re still here. Tonight before bed, try thinking about what went right today, and the day before that, and if you can remember it, the day before that. You might be surprised at how this exercise shifts your thinking from negative to a state of gratitude. Feeling gratitude is nothing short of healing. It does wonders for the soul.

Here’s my list of what went right today:

+ I woke up and the sun was shining, casting a fairytale-like glow through my window.
+ My cold is getting better and this morning, I felt energized enough to take a fairly long walk to a coffee shop, where I drank a cup of chai tea and started a new book.
+ By chance my friend was volunteering at the art museum at the same time I wanted to go see an art exhibit and I got a free personal tour!
+ I got to talk on the phone with my Mom, my grandmother, and one of my best friends from Eugene.
+ I was able to conquer Sunday night grocery shopping in under 25 minutes. That’s a record.
+ I felt inspired, finally, after too long of not writing, to write tonight. Already, I’m starting to feel more like myself again.

It’s amazing how we humans can trick ourselves into thinking everything’s going all wrong. Or that we haven’t done enough – that we aren’t enough. I would guess that 99% of the time, that just plainly isn’t true. And so we corner ourselves into a state of fear and apprehension by telling ourselves falsehoods.

This is a reminder to try not to worry too much, because whatever it is you’re struggling with will work out. It will. Give it time. Give it space. Give it some love!

This an ode to things working out, to the world’s way of sifting through the chaos and creating meaning. It’s a bow to the journey – the rickety, bumpy, windy, imperfect ride that somehow works out just how it’s meant to in the end, and teaches us a whole lot of wisdom along the way. It’s a cry for faith, for trust, for holding steady, staying strong, letting it go.

Keep Your Chin Up

Keep Your Chin Up

In Honor of Valentine’s Day: The Road to Compassion & How Being Bullied Turned Out to be a Blessing

This is a special post for Valentine’s Day, centered on the theme of compassion, one of the most powerful and transformational forms of love in this world. It’s not necessarily an emotion we’re born with, but instead something we develop through the breaking open of ourselves and our hearts. Just like the lotus that unfurls gorgeous petals from the mud, compassion is an alchemical force that expands the heart to encompass others. It’s a healing agent that only multiplies when acted upon.

COMPASSION: the feeling of empathy for others; the emotion that we feel in response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help. (Wikipedia)

Something you may not know about me is that I was badly bullied for more than a year when I was a little girl in elementary school. My experience recently came up in a conversation with a friend when I shared with her the story of Colin, a boy who told his mother he didn’t have any friends. Colin struggles socially, in part due to a disability. He eats lunch alone in the office every day because the other kids don’t like him and won’t let him sit nearby. His mother had wanted to organize a birthday party for him next month and was heartbroken when she heard the truth about Colin’s experiences at school. In response his mother started a Facebook page with the intention to show Colin that he is loved. In a matter of weeks, the page has gained over one million followers and his story has gone viral. Colin’s mother plans to surprise him on his birthday with all the wonderful comments people have left him from across the globe.

When I read about Colin’s story, two things struck me: we happen to have the same birthday and he is about to turn 11, just two years older than I was when I suffered significant anxiety and sadness each day at school due to the teasing and bullying of some of my peers. My heart dropped at the thought of his loneliness and teetering self-worth. So I wrote to him on the Facebook page and told him a shorter version of the story I’m going to share with you.

“But why did they pick on you?” my friend asked. It was such a direct question and one I hadn’t thought about in many years; I was caught off guard and paused to take a breath. A sharp pang shot through my torso as an image appeared of my 9-year-old self crying each day after school as my bewildered mother looked on, wanting nothing more than to protect her daughter from social humiliation and emotional pain at such a fragile stage of life – a stage when self-esteem either buds or shrinks due to the direct impact of external forces, such as peer approval.

There is no clear answer to my friend’s question, because bullying is rarely about the victim, and almost always about the power the victimizer gains from minimizing another person. In other words, it wasn’t as if I had done something to warrant the attacks. I was just a sensitive and kind girl who was an easy target because I let the taunting affect me. And could anyone blame me? I was in the valley of girlhood, awkward in my skin, feeling the societal pressures of fitting in, the high expectations of beauty, and just barely beginning to know myself. As soon as peers criticized me and my appearance, my self-worth plummeted. Since I’ve always been someone who wears my emotions on my face, my perpetrators could see the instant result of their efforts and they got an ego-boost from that.

Thankfully, my parents, although distressed about the situation, were incredibly supportive (which is more than I can say about my teachers and the school’s administration). Ultimately, they decided to move me to a new school to turn a page and get me into a safer space. Although I was apprehensive at first, it turned out to be the fresh start I needed, and the wounds of the bullying gradually dissipated, replaced by normal coming-of-age joys like sleepover parties, getting my ears pierced, going on my first movie date and buying my first music album. The following year, I purposefully went to a middle school where I knew my elementary tormentors wouldn’t be. And something amazing happened. I made friends – lots of them. I played team sports, I joined choir, and I thrived in my classes. Over time, I grew into a stronger person with a deep sense of justice, individuality and awareness for the wellbeing of those around me.

I began feeling what I now know is compassion. As a result, I actively stood up to peers who treated others poorly, and comforted their victims. I regularly befriended the underdog in school, offering words of encouragement and kindness to those I knew felt left out. After all, I had been through what they went through and I knew it wasn’t right, and moreover, that no one deserved to feel like they’re worth less than they are.

Through Colin’s story and revisiting my own, I’ve come to the conclusion that being bullied as a kid actually turned out to be a great blessing. I am so thankful that I feel for others and know that my heart is big enough to hold so many. Although it is at times painful to feel empathy because a little of another’s pain then becomes my own, I choose to stay open-hearted, or compassionate, because it enriches life and feels right. The truth is, I believe in love. Not just the romantic, gushy kind you might have with a significant other, but the heart-opening, spirit-uplifting, moving-humanity-forward kind that we can have with a perfect stranger. Moments of love like this make life worth living. And they’re contagious, that’s the best part! Compassion shared just grows and grows and grows and grows until it has reached farther than you can ever calculate, moving from person to person, touching lives.

Keep in mind that any kindness you show others will be returned to you ten-fold. I believe this because I’ve witnessed it. Just tonight I received a beautiful letter out of the blue from a friend across the country who I haven’t seen in over a year. In her letter, she described how I’m making a difference in her life through writing on this very blog. Wow. There are several words to describe how that feels to hear, but here’s the first that comes to mind: affirming.

Whatever you do this Valentine’s Day, I hope it involves loving. That’s what it’s all about after all, and not just the holiday, but life in general!

I’ll leave you with a photo of a few Valentines cards I made for friends and family during my lunch break today at work 🙂 Love is in the air — I can feel it! Can you??

A few of my Handmade Valentines Day Cards

A few of my Handmade Valentines Day Cards

An Ode to Identity Crisis, Embracing Change & Living Fully Now

“The purpose of the spiritual path is to unmask, to take off our armor. When that happens it feels like a crisis because it is a crisis – a fixed-identity crisis.” – Pema Chodron

What once was will not always be. And not just in regards to the external aspects of your life, but the internal aspects that make up who you are and how you interact with life. As humans, many of us are on a roller coaster, riding the emotional ups and downs of a constantly shifting understanding of ourselves, our place in the world and our purpose for being alive. When we deny the instability of our identities – and more broadly, the instability of our experience of being alive on this planet – we have what Bhuddist Nun, Pema Chodron, calls a ‘fixed-identity crisis’.

Yes change is scary. Yes change causes us anxiety and depression, but there is a way to ride the roller coaster and enjoy it. I know there is because I’ve experienced glimpses of it, tiny shreds of clarity and deep contentment, reached through great moments of surrender to living right now.

To demonstrate, I’ll share some of the many ways my life and identity have changed over the last decade and how, today, I’ve found a way to embrace change and live life fully.

Sixteen years of school fostered in me a safe and reliable identity of being a student. Being a student provided me a sense of security due to a pre-built infrastructure I could predict, access to a community of similarly identified people in my age group, and a clear medium through which to gauge my progress, successes and growth. University, albeit feeling restrictive to my freedom some of the time, provided a direct path to walk on and a clearly defined goal to reach: graduation with a degree in hand. Still, despite the label of “student,” I felt extremely uncertain about who I truly was and what it all was for, throughout that period of time. This was in part because I often attached my identity to the ever-changing relationships I was in, the opinions of my peers and family, my grades, my health, and of course, the constantly growing and shrinking awareness about myself, my political views, goals, dreams and values. Sound familiar?

After college, I wanted desperately to leave my hometown. I was ready to spread my wings and see more of the world. A common practice was to berate myself for not having left sooner, like many of my peers who moved across the country for college, thinking it somehow reflected a lack of bravery or adventure in me. Now I was finally free to go somewhere new, I thought. I attached my identity so strongly to where I physically lived that when a good job located in my hometown fell into my lap, I suffered a near-constant state of anxiety after accepting the position. Oh and did I mention that the transition from “student” to “worker” caused me panic, doubt and uncertainty? Well, that happened. Just ask my friends and family.

To make matters worse, shortly thereafter, my 2-year relationship painfully fell apart. A person who had become a large part of my life was no longer there, and I had to figure out what that meant and how to move forward. This was just months after I had moved into an intentional community, or cooperative home, built around living a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle, eating organic, growing our food and raising hens, eating vegetarian, sharing resources and connecting with the people around me on a deeper level than I had ever connected with previous housemates. At work, I sat in a bland, gray cubicle in a field of bland, gray cubicles. At home, I was taking naked saunas with my household, cooking dinner for my nine housemates each week, fetching eggs from the henhouse in the backyard and growing my repertoire of hula-hoop dance moves. Back at the office, I wore slacks and helped the company grow their bottom line through effective communications.

Along with the heartbreak I was experiencing, this oxymoronic double-life existence was causing me a lot of distress. I constantly felt like a fraud even though, in more ways than one, I actually fit into both lives to some extent at the time. I was successful at what I was doing in my job and started thriving when a manager I looked up to began mentoring me. Meanwhile, at home, I was happy hula hooping on the front lawn, writing poetry, living with a diverse group of people who I was growing to love, learning to blues dance and cook delicious vegetarian meals. I kept my personal life private from most of my co-workers out of fear that they would not take me seriously in the competitive corporate environment we were working in.

Eventually, the time came for me to make the changes my heart had desired for a long time and end the internal battle I was having about where I worked and its misalignment with my values. Ultimately, just like after graduating University, I strongly felt I needed to explore and experience more of the world, and in tandem, more of myself and what I was truly capable of. The death of two friends in the past year had sparked a sense of urgency in me to live life now and not postpone my dreams. Making a big change toward a more courageous and whole life was one way I felt I could honor my dear friends’ lives and their impact on me, so it was time to do something, and soon.

That’s when I bought a one-way ticket to Europe, left my job and moved in with my parents to save for the biggest adventure of my life to date. To say that I experienced fixed-identity crisis during my preparation for the trip would be a dire understatement. I was freaking out. My days were filled with both blissful excitement, and overwhelming anxiety and debilitating fear of the complete unknown I was about to actively dive into. Well, in case you haven’t read the numerous stories on this blog I wrote while on the trip [select ‘Travel‘ in the topics bar], let me just say it was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life and was EXACTLY what I needed, and more.

Three-in-a-half months of backpacking solo through twelve countries and 35 cities later,
I was on a 9-hour flight back to the United States, a changed woman inside and out. I promptly moved to Portland and started working full-time at a start-up, which brings me to today.

As you can tell, that’s a lot of change in a fairly short period of time. And maybe you’re thinking: that’s a lot of identity crisis to go through. And it was, but I’m learning that celebrating being alive now, in every state of mood, in every job, in every relationship, in every moment is really the antidote to fixed-identity crisis.

Today I drove home along the same mundane route I drive every day to and from work, singing at the top of my lungs and fist-pumping to the chorus while stopped at the red light, so I could celebrate being alive right then. Tonight, I’m going to spend my precious hours of free-time after work cleaning my room, cooking dinner and packing my lunch for tomorrow. It isn’t as glamorous as exploring Italy or dancing in Barcelona, but I’m going to do it while listening to music that makes me groove, so I can celebrate being alive right now. Tomorrow I’m going to participate in a strength-training class that kicks my ass every time, and I’m going to savor the deep breaths between sets, so I can celebrate being alive right then.

I guess the goal is this: to greet every changing moment of existence for the gift that it is and let it be. More importantly, to let yourself be. I’m going to avoid clinging to one experience as a definer of who I am, or one perspective of my life as a fact written in concrete. Because life is fluid, and we are too.

Everything changes and the more we embrace that, the more we can remove the mask of fixed-identity and be who we are right now in this moment – the only moment we have.

Life is now.

Life is now.