What Were You Thinking?

There is a beauty found in our unfiltered thoughts…

The other day I found myself craving sweet and salty—something that happens when I am feeling that all-too-common yearning for comfort food. Thanks to a regular routine of meditation, I caught myself in the moment and put the bag of chips and ice-cream away (after having a healthy serving-size of each). The practice of meditation has helped me grow still and aware when I’m not meditating, helping to prevent those eating-without-tasting moments while binging through Netflix shows.

            Later that night, I gave myself an exercise in “walking back the cat.” Knowing I crave comfort food when stressed, I let loose on the page all that had transpired that day. There was the morning traffic commute, complete with a firetruck that caused drivers (myself included) to jut into made-up lanes, the new deadlines at work, learning about a family member’s need for surgery, and the discovery of a broken toilet in our home. Those were the highlights.

            But each one of those highlights offered another opportunity to delve deeper. I could easily name each of those items and not have gotten to the root of my voracious cravings. It was the writing, the action of slowing down and putting pen to paper that helped me uncover my thinking—the very source of where the figurative cat first began its steps.

            Reflective writing gives us the opportunity to hear our thoughts. Earlier that day, I’d agreed to do something that was not only time-consuming; it was also impractical and unnecessary. 

            What was my voice whispering at the moment I said “Yes” aloud? “I want to please. This is what matters most. I don’t want to disappoint.” Yet moments after I uttered that one syllable, I walked away feeling heavy, trapped like a bird in a cage.

            Listening to my thoughts, I was able to walk back the cat and pinpoint the moment my catecholamine activity kicked up several notches: the moment I betrayed myself, agreeing to something I didn’t agree with.

            Thanks to the above exercise, I have since altered my “yes” to “no.”

            This Saturday, October 30th I am hosting a workshop through and for the iWRITE Youth Club, specifically designed to ignite your inner compass through a specific form of reflective writing. Thanks to the inspiration and teachings of Dr. Metcalf and Dr. Simon, the webinar: Reflective Writing: Finding Insight, Empowerment, and Peace will offer a simple but transformative tool to connect the outer experience of our daily lives with the often-dormant terrain of our inner world.

            Here’s a link to register: https://iwrite.org/product/reflective-writing/

            Meditation can be practiced in many forms. Meditation in writing gives us a chance to grow present, fostering awareness, creativity, compassion, and peace.

            I hope to see you soon:-)

Allowing Our Problems to Help

Seeing our problems as an outward symptom of a deeper issue offers us an opportunity to heal.

The other day, a friend asked me to pick up some books for her. Well…over 600 books. I drive a small car. An even smaller voice whispered to me: “I don’t feel comfortable putting over 600 books in my car. This will not end well.”

Alas, since the voice inside of me was much smaller than my car, I psychically “shushed” the voice and picked up the books.

The next morning my rear tire was flat, like Flat Stanley flat.

The problem might externally look like a flat tire that needs nothing more than a replacement; the problem might sound like a headache: calling AAA, waiting at a tire store for hours, and finally, getting that new tire installed.

All of the above is correct, but there’s a larger problem, one that has reared its head in many forms in these decades of my life on this floating planet: ignoring that small voice.

I’m not angry with my friend for asking me to pick up the books; I’m angry with myself for not heeding that small voice. I’m angry at myself because this is far from the first time that I’ve chosen to help another while ignoring my intuition.

Recognizing the problem, the REAL problem, is when growth can take place. The problem is the portal to changing our self-sabotaging habits or triggers. According to Counselor and Instructor, (Core Belief Engineering) Lisa Sidorowicz:

“Imagine for a minute that your “problems” are actually portals to resolution and healing…. Imagine not having to turn away from them anymore, but stepping into them…transforming your issues and getting beyond them.”

If we think of our problems as opportunities, as breadcrumbs on a trail to understand ourselves instead of something to avoid at all costs, we can actually dissolve the problems themselves.

In the case of the flat tire, the tire will get fixed, and I will drive again. But the source of the problem, the issue of ignoring my inner voice, a habit I have grooved into my subconscious when it comes to pleasing others, is no longer present. By stepping INTO the problem, I have journeyed through the core issue itself (putting others before myself) and come out the other side (honoring my inner voice).

So, the next time you are facing a problem, consider it deeper than its face value. Ask yourself:

What’s going on here that’s shown up in different forms before?

What is the core issue I am avoiding and need to face?

When we embrace discomfort, we find our pain offers a clue to our healing.

What We Can Learn from Butterflies

Humankind can gleam lessons from its fellow neighbor in the animal kingdom: the butterfly.

Several years ago, I had a vividly haunting dream about butterflies. It affected and inspired me so much so that I went on to write a novel about it. I’m more than halfway through writing it, so stay tuned for that book’s availability down the literary road!

For months prior to writing the book, I researched anything and everything I could get my hands on about these mysterious cold-blooded, near-sighted insects. One of the most fascinating aspects of them is their ability to morph from egg to caterpillar to pupa to butterfly.

But are we any different than the butterfly?

I think about the famous sphinx riddle:

What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three legs in the evening?

The answer is humankind: we are a baby or toddler in the morning of our life; in the prime or afternoon of our life, we walk upright on two legs, and in the evening of our life, we often need assistance (i.e. a cane) to help us remain ambulatory.

Regardless of how we got here, we are in a worldwide pandemic. We are in the pupa stage of a butterfly life cycle as a human race. 

So, what IS the pupa stage?

It’s a resting stage, “where the animal does not eat or move, although great changes occur….Once all the necessary changes have taken place and environmental conditions are favorable, the butterfly is ready to emerge.” (Source: Do Butterflies Bite? by Hazel Davies and Carol A. Butler).

The pandemic has created a forced pause button on the world; we are currently not much different than the butterfly in its pupa stage. Even the amazing doctors, nurses, janitors, Amazon workers, deliverymen and women, supermarket employees—the list goes on and on—even they are forced to alter their way of doing things. We are all, like the mysterious insect who must morph.

There is no one on the planet that is unaffected by COVID-19. Mother Nature is giving us a no opt-out option. I encourage all of us to accept, like the butterfly in its pupa stage, the new reality we find ourselves in and take a moment to pause and reflect. It is when we reflect that real growth begins.

The TV of the Mind

Who is running the show of your life? It need not be your mind.

On a recent trip to New Jersey, the flight was delayed significantly. We departed on time, but our plane hovered for a couple of hours over Virginia, waiting for the storm over Newark to pass. 

One of the passengers beside me, a man from Florida sighed loudly. “I’ve been up since 4 in the morning. I am exhausted.” It was the third time he announced this since our plane first took off. Now there was an edge to his voice.

The pilot announced we were now flying into Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to refuel and “wait for further instructions.”

“Man, I’m hungry. And tired. I’ve been going since 4 this morning.”

The woman between us nodded her head. “Oh, wow.”

“Yeah, I’m in construction. I need to help with the remodeling from Ida in New Jersey.”

“Oh, what kind of construction do you do?” the woman asked.

An hour later, the pilot announced that we would be idling on the plane “just a bit longer.”

If the man and woman’s dialogue could be heard as music, the man’s words sounded painful, whiny, out of tune; the woman’s speech was soothing and buoyant. 

Hours passed. I listened to the growing tense “music” of the passengers around me: some were downright heartbreaking (a baby’s cries) while others were pleasant (a couple’s laughter).

The music shifted between the man and woman beside me: the man’s complaints morphed into humor (“Mother Nature’s gotta’ do what she does”) and then finally curiosity.

“Where are you heading?” he asked.

“Bombay.”

“Oh wow, did you miss your flight?”

“Yes, I think so.” Despite her mask, I could feel her smiling.

“What will you do?”

“I will get the next one.”

“Man, how long is that flight?”

“Sixteen-hours.”

“That’s crazy.”

“It is nice. I enjoy it.”

The normally 3.5-hour trip lasted 10 hours before we landed in Newark. By the time we deplaned, the “I’ve-been-up-since-‘4am” man was jovial; the woman from Bombay, appearing as content as she was from the start of our journey.

I wondered: what makes people experience the same event so differently? It was also not lost on me that the woman bound for Bombay influenced—for the better—our Floridian companion.

If we think of the mind as a TV, we can objectify the mind. We can watch the thoughts, but we don’t need to act on those thoughts. We can observe the facts as the peaceful woman on our plane did:

The plane is delayed.

We do not know where or when the plane will land.

We can choose to be aware of the facts of a situation—however unpleasant if not downright painful at times, without reacting to them.

In Martha Beck’s book, The Way of Integrity, the life coach writes candidly about her past struggles with anxiety. Her way out was through: through observing without judgment, through allowing without reacting:

“Clearly, my thoughts caused suffering. So, I didn’t obey them. Instead, I watched and questioned them until they dissolved.”

We possess this ability. We can choose to react or to grow still. We are not our mind, and our mind is not in control. We are the observer of the mind, the observer of life.

When we watch a dramatic movie, we can lose ourselves in the scenes and characters. We can literally forget that we are watching a movie, so drawn in we can become to the setting and actions of the story on the screen. But at any moment, we can become aware that we are merely the observer of the action on the colorful monitor.

When life feels unpleasant or downright painful, we can grow still and observe. We can watch without becoming the negativity or suffering.

Limbo Life

On the precipice, our perspective is heightened.

Everywhere I look these days, someone or something is “on the edge.” Listen to the media, scroll through your Twitter feed or even share a dialogue with a family member or friend, and you’ll find a wait-and-see mentality that often shows up with several audible sighs and shaking of the head.

There are societal divides–sometimes violently visible, sometimes unspoken yet loud, emanating between humanity as it holds what feels like its last inhale. This divide can be felt on the phone with an uncle or a colleague or a best friend. Politics are no longer “politics” but carry a weight like a spiritual albatross that makes the space between people feel electric.

But there is another divide existing in our pandemic, killer-hornet, presidential election world of 2020: the conflict within ourselves.

You see, it’s not just humanity that’s globally on the cusp of a major shift; it’s each of us as individuals. The pandemic is forcing us to “get real” with ourselves; it seems the more we try to skirt around the fact of it, the louder COVID-19 grows. We keep trying to adapt our pre-pandemic lens to our current pandemic reality, and based on the ever-increasing numbers around the world, we need to change our prescription, our perspective, our actions.

We can see our limbo, our very discomfort and frustration with existing in the space where we are, as a chance to gain perspective and make changes. Those changes need to start with ourselves. The backyard of humanity first gets cleaned up by the individual choosing to pick up their own figurative rake–not by forcing that rake into someone else’s hand. Limbo offers an opportunity on the ledge of possibility: to see what you see and not someone else; to respect what someone else sees yet not feel compelled to change them; to address your issues and not others’.

On the precipice of change, our perspective is heightened. Limbo is the RESTROOM pit stop on the highway of life. Embrace your respite–even its potential discomfort. There are lessons to be divined on this limbo ledge that won’t be available for long.

Serving Ourselves a Dare

The fear paradox: the greater we avoid something, the more likely it is to consume us.

Remember when you were a kid or teen and you dared your friends to do something scary? Sometimes it was something that in hindsight wasn’t so scary like going up to a police officer and asking him for the time; other times it was scary but—once again with that good ole’ hindsight—foolish and borderline dangerous, like eating something questionable like glue or a bug?

Regardless of what kind of dare you were given or gave, the intent was always the same: to get a thrill, a rise, a rush of adrenaline through our youthful veins. Even just giving someone a dare was enough to make our blood pump faster.

If you are reading this, chances are you fall into the adult demographic and your days are filled with lots of R’s (responsibilities). Time is limited while to-do lists are infinite; you are rarely in the now and more often than not, planning what needs to be accomplished or completed next.

One of my colleagues recently said, “I’m going to be like an ostrich and keep my head in the sand.” She was referring to our new virtual reality of teaching through so many new online platforms. A friend of mine shared with me this evening that she accepted a new position because “it’s safe.” As we get older—and with the uncertain backdrop of the ubiquitous pandemic—it’s understandable and downright tempting to want to cling to what is safe, to dig our head into the figurative sand until the unknown passes.

But what would happen if we, as author and professor, Brene Brown suggests in her eponymous book, DARING GREATLY, we became that young kid again (who still resides inside of us)? What if we chose to shake the sand off of our heads and see whatever is going on without judgement? What if we decided to not cling to safety so steadfast and instead, allowed ourselves to feel a little rush of fear as we considered other alternatives to earning money?

When we were children, we dared each other; as adults, we need to serve ourselves a dare: something that will reignite our soul and breathe fresh life into our lives.

Consider the pandemic, the growing violence in our world, the political tension—let’s not forget the killer hornets and potential meteor headed our way (the day before the US Election). Do we really have the control that we are so hungry for? Uncertainty is abound, and here’s the rub: the more we cling to things/people/circumstances for peace of mind, the less peace of mind we will experience. 

So what can we do? How can we serve ourselves a dish of happiness in such an uncertain world? We can find opportunities to dare ourselves—even if it’s over something that might seem small. 

My dare is often involving facing my fears. Fears embraced lose their power over us. And there’s nothing that feels more alive than meeting your fear head-on—talk about an adrenaline rush!

The great thing about being an adult is you don’t need to wait for someone to dare you. But since I’m still that kid inside who never grew up, I’ll take this moment to dare you, right now! Serve yourself a daring dish and watch your life change—dare I say, for the better!

Tween Hunger

Our teens and tweens are starving for understanding and to be understood. They are scared; they are overwhelmed; they are victims of a system that is no longer working. 

I’m working virtually as a middle grade teacher these days. Teachers and students alike are expected to perform their respective roles as per pre-COVID protocol: showing up for class on time, paying attention, staying engaged, testing…testing…testing.

There is no doubt that we are all craving a return to normal, but when it comes to our educational system, do we really want to maintain the academic world we left in March of 2020? The bell ringing-standardized-test-taking-one-size-fits-all-remnant of the Industrial Revolution American educational system is past its expiration date and in need of a reboot.

Today’s educational system was literally designed to teach future factory workers to be “punctual, docile, and sober.” (Source: Quartz qz.com, Reporter: Allison Schrager). Before that, an education was considered only something reserved for the elite. And while two-hundred years ago, the factory-model of education may have served its purpose, in our 21st century, the same system that helped future factory workers learn punctuality and obedience in order to do what their managers told them, no longer works for our post-industrial era.

The pandemic highlights the cracks and fissures in our educational system. American education is a sinking ship and we are sending our children on a veritable Titanic, stopping up the ever-growing gaping holes with standardized tests. If we were sinking before COVID, our educational system is already on its way to full submersion. 

As an English teacher, I have the fortune of connecting to the tweens I work with through creative writing and open discussions regarding their respective connection to texts we read. This past week alone, the following comments, whether in writing or articulated verbally, were shared with me:

“I’m so stressed.”

“I’m having a mini heart attack.” (regarding testing/assignments)

“I am so insecure. I struggle with that.”

“My uncle died of COVID this summer. It’s been really hard.”

Here’s the crux of the problem, as I see it, with education: We are steaming ahead with a system that has not changed yet society has DRASTICALLY changed. We wouldn’t treat a diabetic with asthma medication, but that is exactly what we are doing to our children.

Our students are hungry for engagement, compassion, and challenges that help them grow academically, emotionally, spiritually and physically. But such growth is hard to come by when it is based in a world that relies on a battery of tests, when the educators which comprise this nucleus are bombarded with a barrage of to-do’s that are all about politics; veritable academic dog-and-pony shows that leave little time to actually engage in authentic student assessment and lesson planning. 

If you are a parent, give your child a much-needed hug; pay attention to what they are saying, how they are behaving. Based on these first six weeks of school with them and almost a decade of time in the classroom, I see that our teens and tweens are starving for understanding and to be understood. They are scared; they are overwhelmed; they are victims of a system that is no longer working. 

What is the solution? Elon Musk created the Astra Nova (New Star, in Latin) School that focuses on learning “simulations, case studies, fabrication and design projects, labs, and corporate collaboration….We redesign each year based on our students. We apply the lessons learned from every project, lab, and discussion to inform our next move.” (Interesting Engineering Source: Oleksandr Pupko)

Redesign…that’s the key word that is missing from our current system. We need to rethink, reflect, and redesign the antiquated world of education like Elon Musk has and does. 

In the meantime, I will continue to carve out lessons that inspire our students, reminding them that they matter, feeding their hunger to make a difference. To educators everywhere, I thank you. 

The Dish of a Hard Lesson

Our harshest teacher is often where we find our greatest strength.

We all have someone or something in our lives that pushes us to do the very thing we may not want to do or don’t think we can do. Today, I ask you to consider the following idea:

Our greatest teachers or lessons are often the ones that involve falling to our knees.

Why is this? Why can’t we get the lesson or experience like one would experience a massage? Why is our greatest teacher often the person who makes us feel ready to pull our hair out?

The Universe works in mysterious ways, but it is always working in its own intricate and beneficial way. We are like fish in a bowl, looking out at the world around us but only having a limited perspective of what reality is. Hindsight often offers us a better view in our respective fishbowls.

When I reflect upon the very things that I was certain would break me (the death of a loved one, the belligerent colleague, the litigious ex), it is hindsight that demonstrates time and time again, how each hardship, each challenge caused me to push past my comfort zone and grow. Each seemingly impossible situation or person caused me to get up off of my figurative knees and figure out a way. Had the person or situation not felt so overwhelming or heartbreaking, I would not be the strong, capable person I see myself as today.

We all arrive on this planet loving ourselves. We never see a baby embarrassed about the size of their derriere! But over time, many of us are taught to doubt ourselves. That doubt attracts us to all kinds of lessons and teachers. Once we get the lesson, the problem or problematic situation disappears.

Some of us—like myself—needed some tough lessons. It is once I thank those teachers that I notice they start bothering me. 

I encourage you to consider a figurative dish in your life—a person or situation that is challenging you (You know, the ones that cause your blood pressure to rise or the ones that make you feel like your heart is breaking and will never be whole again.). Serve yourself an alternate perspective: what if this person or situation is here to teach me another way? To show me an inner strength that was dormant until now? To help me realize what really matters and what I need to let go of?

When we thank our hardest teachers, we receive the invaluable gifts of peace and growth.

Protecting Our (Emotional) Garden

I like to think of the soul as a garden. It is up to each of us to tend to what goes into and out of that sacred space.

With COVID-19 in full force worldwide, the previously heated political climate is now past its boiling point. Turn on your TV, scroll through social media and you are catapulted into a world of information overload and with it, a myriad of strong and often divided opinions.

It is easy to get overloaded in our 24/7 news coverage world; it is also easy to get persuaded to share our opinions, to “like” a friend’s political cartoon or meme or offer an angry emoji to show support for said friend’s left or right wing views. And if you are comfortable doing so, that’s great, keep doing you!

But there is a fine but distinctive line between supporting a friend and abdicating your own comfort level; it is one thing to support a cause important to you and another to feel cyber-pressure to agree with something or someone online when you don’t feel comfortable sharing.

In our omnipresent social media world (particularly now that we are flattening the curve through social distancing), we are hungry for connection. After all, we are humans, connecting is what we DO. Yet we owe it to ourselves to share what each of us wants to share, not feels obliged to share.

I like to think of the soul as a garden. It is up to each of us to tend to what goes into and out of that sacred space. What makes your space fertile might cause another’s to perish. I encourage you to reflect on what helps keep your emotional “garden” flourishing.

When I was a little girl, I recall hearing the phrase “There are two things you don’t talk about in public: sex and politics.” Of course, I didn’t get it at the time. Now as an adult, I know that the world isn’t black and white and this pithy statement is no exception. But it is a cliché for a reason: it is a reminder that certain topics are either gateways for growth or destruction.

So how do we know when politics, sex or any other impassioned topics are healthy or harmful to “air and share”?

The answer is simple but not easy: heed your inner garden each time someone or something online or in the news stands at its entrance. Each time, depending on the topic and/or person, your garden might perk up or shudder. The key is to listen to its personal message to you and you alone.