Personal Stories

Panorama of my Silence Heart

Sometimes a place can hold a specific marker in one’s life.  Sometimes a place was meant to be found and meant to be entered into.   Sometimes I wonder…do the places we occupy get created before we enter them or do we somehow create the places we are meant to occupy?

That’s what it felt like for me.  A tiny cafe in Queens, along a busy road, hidden in between a laundromat and a hair salon, seemed not to have existed before I found it…perhaps created just for me.  An outside observer walking past may not have even noticed the small, humble exterior, but a keen observer would have noted something different about the sky blue facade and the light stained glass windows.  Upon entering, one would have to notice something different about this blue and yellow cafe, from the women in colorful saris to the prayer flags to the pink roses in glass to the all-vegetarian menu.   It seemed oddly out of place in this asphalt Queens desert, cars streaming by and buses rumbling past.

I discovered The Panorama of my Silence-Heart cafe (yes, it’s called that) about a year into living in Briarwood, Queens.  Little did I know that this small cafe was going to become a second home the summer I had a deep personal healing open up and in the year after I quit my job and started a private practice.   Little did I know that it would hold space for so many of my emotional ups and downs in the span of two years.   I didn’t know much about the Indian guru Sri Chinmoy whose spiritual community had founded the cafe, but I soon got to know him well.   His image, art, and quotations were infused throughout the space.   It became almost impossible to separate the space from the man himself, who has passed on but continues to occupy its walls with his presence.

It was strangely more comforting for Sri Chinmoy to be holding space for the cafe from the beyond, somehow lending his image and legacy a bit more mystery and power.  Gurus or spiritual leaders still in the flesh tend to have the unfortunate aspect of being all too human and all too flawed.  His silent presence in the cafe seemed to give it an air of protection and potency that may not have existed had he been walking along its floors.  But then again, I’ve never met the man. 

Sometimes a place itself becomes like a person…a person beyond the person who created it or beyond the people who occupy it.   This cafe became like an intimate partner for two years of my life, watching and holding space for my most sad, lost, and worried moments, as well as my most joyful, lively, and creative selves.  This space has seen me at my best and worst and has been the best kind of partner: never judging, never prying, yet ever-present.  Each emotion, thought, and creative impulse seemed to land with just the right amount softness and inquisitiveness.  The space seemed to speak at times, as if to say, “You are more than you think you are.”

I redesigned my website in this cafe.  I wrote blog posts.  I began writing a book.  I had conversations with friends who ventured in from other cities or the faraway land of Manhattan.   I drank fresh green tea.  I cried silently to myself.   I sat elated, saving the world in my mind.  I stared at the bookshelf lost in thought, drawn to titles on nutrition, spirituality, and self-development.   I ate so many omelettes with homemade pesto and fresh greens.  I listened to many songs.  I wrote for many hours.   

I found myself here.   I found my voice here.   I gave these walls my trauma.  I demanded my life force back.  I spoke to the Universe silently, asking questions of its mysteries, sometimes with deep, empty silence, sometimes with whispers in response.  I sat cross legged at the low table, the one in the back, reveling in the simple pleasure of sipping a smoothie through a straw and burrowing into a pile of pillows.  

It’s hard to leave places.  It’s even harder to leave places that have become a part of your story, that have weaved themselves into your development.  One summer in the middle of some particularly intense spiritual experiences, I found this place.  I grounded my energy here.  This place saw me through the next two years of some intense personal and spiritual development.  It allowed a deepening in my life.  It was both a portal to distant places in my psyche and a landing pad to come back.  

As I move on and leave Queens for Westchester, I recognize that I am leaving more than just a place behind, I am leaving behind a specific time in my life.  And there’s nothing that can properly capture that or mark that.  We are here one day and somewhere else the next.  But just the fact that we have been here, that we have lived through these moments, marked by these places that we have occupied has to leave something behind.  These chairs will not telegraph my having been here.  The ladies behind the counter will eventually forget my regular order.  But something of this time will remain.  And something of me will remain in this space.  I’ll be that ethereal presence, crying and laughing silently, writing and singing to myself, still traveling through that portal, holding it open for those who need to find themselves too.

Emotional Enlightenment

Universal Terms of Surrender

This is the third time I’ve attempted to write this post.  Each time I’ve written it it mysteriously deletes itself or doesn’t save properly.   So…the Universe is asking me to practice what I preach (or write) with this one.

Surrender is one of those words that I believe has been deeply misunderstood in the English language.  Typically, it’s been used in conjunction with wartime to denote a loss on the battle field or a relinquishment of sovereignty.  When did we remove all of the beauty from this word and from this state of being?

I first connected to the word in a different way in relation to the qualities of the Divine Feminine.  Regardless of physical gender, we all have masculine and feminine qualities within, or yang and yin for those familiar with Eastern philosophy.  Surrender, along with the element of water, flow, the moon, compassion, creativity, nurturing and “being” is typically associated with the Mother principle, or divine feminine (yin) in Eastern spiritual traditions.  The masculine, Father principle (yang), is typically described as the active, linear, steady and “doing” force and is associated with the element of fire and the sun.  

So surrender in the spiritual sense has a different meaning than the “rolling over” or “giving up” aspect we might associate with it.

The word surrender when we perceive it in a different way comes with a connotation of great strength rather than great weakness.  Surrender is the state of openness to the unknown, in which we cannot know what comes next in our lives but can allow each moment to stand exactly as it presents itself to us.  Surrender asks us to release our expectations about what’s next, to release our tight grip over control, and to allow a flow to take hold in our lives.  There is courage in facing exactly what appears.  True surrender doesn’t shield one from difficulties or negative outcomes.  It simply asks us to accept that we can’t know or control each moment in the context of a broader orchestration or larger divine dance. 

Surrendering to the possibilities around us at any moment contains an element of fear.  If I surrender to all of the unknown possibilities in this moment, it could mean that I could face some danger from which I won’t recover.  But in the act of closing ourselves off to the anxiety of feared consequences, we often shut our emotional systems down to positive sensations as well, like love, pleasure, excitement, joy, and calm.

Sometimes we spend so much of our mental and emotional resources trying to predict or prevent small or large shake-ups in our lives that we lock away our energy into narrowly focused worries.   And we don’t realize that often these worst moments, when they happen, are the ones that end up defining us the most, unlocking the hidden resources and paths we didn’t before see.

Reconnecting to the flow in my life has required some extreme rewrites and redirects.  An ill-advised cleanse which landed me in the ER seven years ago led to a dietary overhaul and a search for answers through alternative medicine.  Quitting a job (that I thought I would love) eight months into a three year contract gave me the fire in my belly to eventually work for myself.   A jarring kundalini awakening five months before my graduation date led to an exploration of spirituality and energy healing.  For me, these moments of painful and unplanned surrender were unwelcome at first, but they represented the beginnings of a much larger and more rewarding healing journey.

The lesson of the Divine Feminine is that from our place of greatest struggle and pain comes our greatest potential and possibility, our greatest inner resiliency, if we can only open and let go.  The true face of surrender is not giving up.  It is allowing the freedom to feel all of ourselves without contraction and having the courage to release what needs to go and invite what wishes to flow.  

Emotional Healing

Finding Harmony with the Inner Critic

Our internal house can sometimes harbor different voices, different perspectives on the same circumstance.  When we are at war within, how can we truly know how we feel?

For instance, take my decision to open my private practice…part of me was thrilled and excited, ready for the adventure that comes from entrepreneurship.  Another part of me was terrified and negative, certain that this was a silly decision.  In the end, my internal cheerleader and risk-taker won the battle, placating my inner critic with the reasoning that I could always return to a 9-5 position if it didn’t work out.

But how are we to deal with our internal landscape, when we can have differing opinions and emotions towards the same circumstance?  It’s difficult enough to deal with external feedback, let alone be split into opposing teams within ourselves.

I’ve come to call this more fearful part of myself the “inner critic,” or sometimes, my “inner skeptic.”  This is the part of me that has internalized messages, likely from a young age, of fear and lack from the broader cultural landscape, or from personal experiences.  It’s the part of myself that worries about finances, takes to heart stories of failure or loss, or worries about potential or actualized missteps.

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Spirituality

The Return of the Light

At this time of the year, with the Winter Solstice behind us and the new year around the corner, we are assured a return of the light.  We’ve lived through the shortest day of the year and have made it past our descent into the dark.  While we are still fully encapsulated in winter, daylight becomes more and more prominent from now until the summer season.

These seasonal cycles were once honored by ancient cultures for the distinct energy they would bring into our lives.  Spring is a time of rebirth, summer is a time of youthful exuberance and planting seeds, fall brings the harvest and decline of the light, and winter is a time of hibernation, contemplation and gathering our strength for the inevitable rebirth.

Cultures, like the ancient Druids and other pagan traditions, who celebrated Solstice and seasonal rites of passage were wise in their recognition of the seasonal cycle as representative of the human narrative as a whole.  There are seasons to our lives, descents and ascents.  There are times for deeper lessons and karmic experiences and times for jubilation, emergence, and a celebration of cycles completed.  As we deepen our winter burrowing, we are in preparation for the the journey back to our rebirth in the Spring.

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Personal Stories, Spirituality

How Spirituality Found Me (a former skeptic)

I’ve contemplated writing about my spiritual awakening experience for a while now, but it has never quite felt like the right time.   Words aren’t always adequate to capture an experience that’s both deeply personal and is best understood as a felt, embodied sense rather than something that can be described and analyzed.  But I am going to try my best because it feels important to begin sharing how my own path has included twists and turns for those who may have had their own interesting, unexplainable experiences.

I grew up within the Catholic religion, experiencing all the prescribed milestones throughout my childhood: Baptism, First Communion, and Confirmation.   I even had the opportunity to visit the Vatican and see the pope from afar in my teens. While I always appreciated the rich tradition that Catholicism provided, beautiful religious art and architecture especially, as I grew into my late teens and early 20’s I began to look at religion as a cultural signpost, a representation of my heritage, rather than as a spiritual tradition.   I recognized that religion did provide spiritual support for many and good moral foundations, but it had never fully connected the dots for me and the dogma didn’t seem to fit my developing sense of self-autonomy.  And so I left it at that….without the drive to explore further, I labeled myself as agnostic in my young adulthood and visited Church only on holidays.

Science and research became another “religion” of sorts for me in my late 20’s as I entered graduate school for psychology.  It seemed to provide solidity in a way that was comforting, in a way that I could get behind.  There was a prescribed sequence of inquiry, analysis, and data that research provided.  My analytical left brain found satisfaction and excitement in finding new ways to explore the world of human nature through reading, citing, and conducting research.  I felt like I had a greater understanding of the world, a foundation from which to base my decisions, actions, and worldview.  And I did….but little did I know, as I entered my final year of graduate school, that things were about to get a whole lot less linear.

Continue reading “How Spirituality Found Me (a former skeptic)”

Emotional Healing, Inspirational Figures, Personal Stories

“Sensitive is Just How I was Made”

 

In a vulnerable talk about her bulimia, alcoholism, and drug abuse, Glennon Doyle Melton teaches the joy and strength in removing our public masks to express our emotions and finally feel all the difficult human stuff we tend to push down by wearing our daily superhero “capes.”   Children know how to express their emotions from a very young age, crying and raging easily, but we tend to find ways around this expression as adults as it becomes less and less acceptable to feel and embody the messiness of life.  Sensitive souls, especially, may find themselves mired in addiction, or chronic pain, or medication.  Truth, vulnerability, and authenticity are the keys to beginning a healing process.  Glennon leads the way…

Emotional Enlightenment, Power of Thought

Leaping toward Life

We are human, and humans like to feel comfortable.  Pretty much all of the time.  It makes sense.  We avoid what feels bad, scary, or hurtful.  In fact, seminal psychological research in the 1950’s and 60’s  by Kurt Lewin and Neal Miller showed that our avoidance tendencies tend to win out even over approaching pleasure, when these two motivators are in conflict.

Take my 11th grade self, for example.  After asking my crush out to prom (approach!), I proceeded to spend the next three months leading up to said prom making sure I did my best to dodge all encounters, of any kind, with said prom date (avoidance!), in order to not deal with the anxiety and discomfort of conversation (or possible reciprocation of feelings).   For me, the fear of possible of awkwardness far outweighed the satisfaction of possible connection and positive interaction.  Phew, exhausting!  (Thank goodness I got past 16).

Aside from prom dates, we tend to avoid in small ways throughout our day, without even realizing it, to our own detriments and enjoyment.  For example, you may put off responding to that email even though you know it’s important, because finding the words is going to be difficult, you may avoid asking for that raise because you know your boss won’t like it, or you may say yes to making plans, even when not feeling it, to avoid the discomfort of a “no.”  These are ways in which our avoidance can become self-defeating, a temporary measure to avoid feeling uncomfortable, with longer term consequences in life satisfaction.

Avoidance can become even more self-defeating, in larger ways, when we put off making big life decisions, like breaking up with a partner we’re no longer compatible with because the break feels more painful than staying, or delaying looking for that new job, despite hating cubicle life, because the process appears too daunting or time consuming (I don’t have a new resume, haven’t bought a new suit in years, can’t possibly live my dream, etc.).

I will raise my hand as guilty as anyone for playing the avoidance game.  It’s sometimes snugly and cozy to remain right where we are, in the status quo (perhaps that’s why we’re still using a 226-year-old document to run our country today)… I digress.

So what are you to do if this is you?

First, look at why you are avoiding.  You may be avoiding a very specific emotion that you do not wish to feel.  Is is anger, fear, sadness, or shame?  Feel the emotion, be with it, and acknowledge it as part of you, rather than some dark, shadowy corner you’d much rather attribute to <insert presidential candidate here>.

Next, what are the thoughts that start to emerge when you even think about taking that step forward that you’ve been putting off?  It’s a guarantee that you’ll never ask your boss for a raise if you’ve somehow convinced yourself it’s already a definite “no,” or it’s going to put your job in jeopardy.   How realistic are these thoughts and how attached to them are you?  There are many ways that we as humans create stories in our heads about certain situations, relationships, and outcomes, mostly rooted in our fears, past experiences, and cultural lenses.  Can you detach yourself from your nightmare scenario long enough to see where your lens has been colored?  Can you brush aside or release the power of the self-defeating thoughts which are pushing you away from your desired outcome?  This will make room for the new ones…

Try to embrace and envision the pleasure and triumph of a smooth and best-case scenario.  While we may not always achieve it, just opening up the possibility of the positive in our brains can make us feel more assured and confident, so that when we do actually take the leap over the avoidance cliff our bodies are not in high-alert, flight-or-fight mode.  Just practicing the small jumps across the rocky terrain towards our desires (and gaining successes, or at least a bolder skill set in handling failure) can build us up for the large catapults.  Leaps are meant to be scary.  They’ll never stop being scary, but if we stop just at the edge of the ledge, we’ll never really know what’s on the other side.  And in taking the leap, regardless of outcome, we’ll always have the satisfaction of knowing we reached, and we cared enough to go for it.

But don’t just take my word for it!  I leave you with words of Theodore Roosevelt….

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

~Theodore Roosevelt

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