Thankful of Steroids

And why it matters

Want to know a secret?

Whether you think life is awful or wonderful, you are correct.

The good news: we each have the power to alter our perceptions at any moment.

Live Like My Little Sis

I’ve just returned from the gift of spending time with my younger sister in NY. Well…my sister and her family. During my time there, the following occurred:

  • the bathroom mirror literally started to peel off the wall like a Reflective Tower of Pisa
  • a washing machine began to “chew” clothing reminiscent of a toddler with teething issues
  • the brisket splattered EVERYWHERE (leaving a sticky-savory trail from the oven to the floor — the dogs were smitten)
  • children needed to be taken to doctors while work emergencies erupted

And yet, my little sis’ remained calm and easy, all while preparing a thirteen person dinner party to welcome me home.

Humor as Medicine

Listen, I’m sharing a “sample platter” of all the “dishes” my awesome sis’ handled in the days I spent at her home. This chica has A LOT going on. 

Were there conflicts that arose? Absolutely.

But Little Sis’ handled whatever came her way with humor and grace.

Humor is an undervalued form of medicine. 

Humor makes life’s challenging arrows more palatable. 

When we are able to find humor in those tense moments, we alter our perspective. Life’s challenges and heartaches don’t seem as sharp.

Humor softens our focus, working as a balm to our pain or unease.

We Become What We Think

After creating the first and second platters, my sister had the same reaction each time:

“This is so much fun! Look at how cool this is? I love this!” 

My Little Sis’ was literally jumping up and down each time she completed the platters.

Her eyes danced with delight each time she completed another step creating her cornbread, her lemon zest ricotta cake, her rosemary and apple-infused turkey — you name the dish, she was lit up more than a tree at Rockefeller Center.

When challenges arose, she de-escalated the issue immediately by:

  • focusing on what was working
  • offering a helpful suggestion 
  • bringing her infectious humor

Little Sis’ loves serving the people she cares about. She loves making a difference, loves challenging herself to create new things.

Take it from Oprah:

“What you focus on expands and when you focus on the goodness in your life, you create more of it.”

Focusing on the Good is Contagious

We are all energy. So it’s no wonder that my Little Sis’ family “caught” her warmth and love throughout my visit. And, of course, I wasn’t immune either.

Appreciation is a form of meditation.

I started to notice how long my nephew’s eyelashes are when he looked down to focus on the board game we were playing.

I noticed the sound of my older nephew’s laugh made me think of a warm sunrise.

I noticed the comfort and easiness, the vulnerability and strength between my Little Sis’ and her sweet hubby.

The Gift of Slowing Down

As we approach this holiday season, I’m making a concerted effort to focus on slowing down, not speeding up. I want to relish the gift of this life, honoring my reactions and impressions along the way. 

We will never get “there” because there is no final destination.

There is only the precious moment of now. And when we choose to focus on how amazing this moment, and the next moment is, our lives grow evermore awesome.

I Just Overdosed

On too much well-meaning advice

Ah, friends and family. Those well-meaning people in our lives who offer advice like candy on Halloween.

The problem?

 Taking in others’ advice is like sampling from an apothecary.

Opinions and Asses: Everyone’s Got One

Whether it’s when to leave a career or how to best file income taxes, opinions abound. We are not talking about those rare issues that offer very little gray area.

Nope. We are talking about those hem and haw mental challenges where we just aren’t certain what to do. Situations like:

  • whether to take a Gap Year after high school or head straight to university
  • plan a huge wedding or get married on the beach with only your immediate family and friends
  • have another child
  • change careers midlife

The Stealthy Side Effects of Advice

My issue was dealing with someone who was regularly hell-bent on making my life miserable. 

When we are in a painful or anxious place, we are more vulnerable to other’s well-meaning advice.

Everyone who cared about me offered up their opinions:

“Fight them in court.”

“Whatever you do, don’t go through the legal system. Only the lawyers win in court.”

“Ignore ‘em.”

“You need to see a therapist.”

“You don’t need a therapist. You need to go for a massage.”

“You need to keep busy and not think about it.”

The side effect of all of this mental and contradictory advice: my heart and head felt incapable of processing.

Here’s the danger of heeding others’ advice: the more you listen to others’ mental medicine, the less you can hear your own inner wisdom.

Word Drugs

It’s one thing to hear what another person has to say; it’s quite another to take in that advice.

Some of us are sensitive and not aligned (at the time — this too can always change) with our inner compass, so that even hearing the advice isn’t healthy for us.

When I’m not feeling centered, all I have to do is read the side effect warnings of a drug and the placebo effects begins.

But when we heed the opinions and suggestions of others, we are reneging our intuition to someone else. 

Accepting the opinions of others as your own is a form of mental ingestion. Digest enough of those varied words as yours and you’ve just mentally overdosed.

The Best Prescription

The best prescription when you feel uncertain about your next move is the one that arrives from within.

I’m not suggesting to stick your head in the sand like an ostrich (besides, that would be me giving you advice;-).

The best prescription is tuning into you. 

Maybe that means going for a walk or baking or meditating. Maybe it means drawing or taking a siesta for a couple of hours.

When we tune inwards for guidance, we find balance; we are better equipped to then hear the opinions of others without ingesting them.

Snowflake Humans

Humans are like snowflakes. Each of us is unique. And just like a snowflake, each of us is going to offer a perspective that is a one-of-a-kind-by-product from the alchemy of our environment and genetics:

Because a snowflake’s shape evolves as it journeys through the air, no two will ever be the same. Even two flakes floating side by side will each be blown through different levels of humidity and vapor to create a shape that is truly unique.-BBC

So, centered, it doesn’t surprise me that my friend who was, at one point, a victim of an abuser, gave me the advice to “Fight ’em in court.”

A family member who thankfully cannot relate to my situation but is perpetually burning the midnight oil, suggested I just “get a massage” and “don’t think about it.”

Everyone’s advice came from a loving place. But the verbal drugs they were offering were created in the lab of their own perspective.

Overdosing on others’ advice made me both fatigued and anxious. Without realizing it, “swallowing” their advice pills, I lost my way.

It wasn’t until I got quiet (lots of walks and naps:) that I realized what I needed to do — for me.

Signs of a Potential Overdose

Wondering what a potential Advice Overdose looks like? Here are some that I encountered:

  • anxiety
  • difficulty sleeping
  • irritability
  • difficulty concentrating
  • mental fatigue
  • upset stomach

Take Two and Call Me in the Morning

Joking — don’t take two of anything from me. (I’m not a doctor, though I play one on TV;-)

Be kind to yourself. Journal. Reflect. Take deep breaths. Do whatever you can to slow down and honor that voice always residing within you.

Our feelings offer a powerful guide in this life. When we slow down, we are more likely to pay attention and notice what feelings are coming up. Acknowledging them is the first step in finding the best self-prescription.

The Day She Snapped

And what we can do to prevent further meltdowns

Sometimes, it’s the kindest people who experience the harshest meltdowns.

A dear friend of mine is the mother of a teen obsessed with musical theater. For the past decade, despite working full time and having one other kid to raise, her son has participated in community theater that requires my friend to drive far and wide all over New York, often late at night. 

A Window View

The other day, I was on the phone with my friend when her son came into the car from another rehearsal. Here’s how the dialogue went:

Teen: I’m hungry. 

Friend: (handing him string cheese) Here you go.

Teen: No, I want McDonald’s.

Friend: You can get that tomorrow after your PSAT test.

Teen: What the f$%&! No, I’m not taking that. I don’t even need it. I have plans with my girlfriend tomorrow.

Let’s just say, I got off that phone as quickly as possible.

The Backstory

My friend is a single mom. Everything has been on her. As her son was growing, there were several small occasions when her son spoke down to her and my friend placated or ignored the disrespectful behavior.

My friend’s empathy for her son eclipsed her judgement.

For years, my friend would say:

“He doesn’t have a father. I feel so bad for him. I want him to know how loved he is and how much he matters.”

Creating a Monster

Just prior to her son entering the car, my friend confided:

“I snapped the other day. I couldn’t take it anymore. I’ve created a monster.”

All those years of yes-ing her son in an effort to make him feel like he mattered, prevented him from learning respect and appreciating another person’s perspective — in this case, his own mother.

The Snap

We humans tend to snap when there’s been a buildup of tension and frustration. We snap after a long time of undisclosed and/or unaddressed unhappiness or resentment.

Like a zit that’s just come to a head, the snap is a manifestation of pent up emotion that needs to come out.

My friend snapped after her son told her he was going to be changing high schools because it had a better musical theater program. 

There was no discussion; in his 15-year-old-mind, changing high schools was going to happen.

Friend: I will look into the high school program.

Teen: I already know I want to do it. There’s nothing to look into. This is my life, not yours.

On and on this dialogue went until my friend, inevitably snapped:

“You know what? You are a child, a minor. Do you not understand that? You know what, just forget it. You’re going to do what you want anyway. Just do it; just do it! GO — what are you waiting for?! I don’t care anymore. Just do whatever the hell you want.”

And the teen’s response:

“It’s okay. I don’t have to do it.”

The Aftermath of a Snap

My friend felt such guilt for snapping at her son.

“You should have seen the look on his face. He looked so scared of me. I feel awful about it.”

And yet, a day later, her son was cursing up a storm in front of her, sometimes at her. There was no:

  • Thank you for picking me up from theater rehersals.

or

  • Thank you for bringing me a snack.

The Thing About Snaps

Snaps don’t address the core issue (in this case: lacking respect for a parent).

Snaps are nothing more than the surface of an emotional iceberg. 

It’s no wonder her teen returned to dictating what would and wouldn’t happen regarding the PSAT and McDonald’s. The roles in their relationship were never addressed in my friend’s snapping.

Love isn’t a Doormat

Whether married or raising kids solo, parenting is not easy. But loving our kids does not mean letting them run the show. 

We wouldn’t give a kindergartner the key to our car. Yet when we placate our children with blind consent, contorting ourselves to please them, we are effectively putting them in the driver’s seat.

There’s Still Time

I don’t know what transpired between my friend and her son after I hung up the other day. I can only hope she:

  • didn’t get him McDonald’s
  • insisted he take the PSAT
  • is going to look into the new high school and not blindly consent

As long as her son is under her roof and a minor, there’s still time for the roles to alter.

Of course, its’ easy for me to see what’s happening: I’m not in the situation. I’m a mere observer. But I can relate to those moments when a need to demonstrate love to my children eclipsed my better judgement. 

Self-compassion

My friend is trying her best. We are all just trying our best in this life. The word compassion means: to suffer with and take action. 

Self-compassion is looking within, exploring the why behind our respective snaps and doing something about it. Sometimes that means saying no to your kid, even if that no will illicit a temper tantrum.

Better a temper tantrum from our kid now than a giant snap from us later.

The Keys to the Kingdom

Happiness isn’t a verb; it’s a state of mind.

Remember that famous line Dorothy was told to repeat in The Wizard of Oz?:

There’s no place like home.

Dorothy wasn’t hankering for Kansas. She missed home: Auntie Em and Uncle Henry. She hungered for the love and ease that home represented.

Finding Our Way Home

When we are tired or angry, it’s hard to find our way home. The road can get bumpy and long. It’s easy to lose our way.

Home is a kingdom that resides in our heart.

It’s easy to find our home when we are well-rested and fed. When the road is smooth and predictable, home a key just waiting for you to unlock and open the door.

The challenge arrives when we are starving, confused, distraught, depressed or brimming with anger. Then, home feels like a mirage in an emotional desert.

Fortunately, there are four keys that will open the door to the Kingdom inside all of us.

Key #1: Acknowledge What Is

Whether it’s a flat tire or the death of a loved one, you are suddenly faced with bad news. Observe the news. Watch it. Don’t hide behind busy-ness or booze. Allow yourself to fully note what is right in front of you.

The pain of acknowledging what is now prevents the pain from festering later.

Unaddressed pain or problems only grow, making the road to Home that much longer.

Key #2: Accept What Is

Your cat has cancer or you just got fired. Whatever the problem or source of pain, you’ve already acknowledged what’s occurred. Now it’s time to accept it.

Accepting something painful means allowing ourselves to feel whatever emotions come up and through us.

Like acknowledging the negative situation, when we allow the less-than-pleasant emotions to go through us, we are that much closer to Home.

Acceptance over something negative or unwanted, acceptance over the myriad of unpleasant emotions we experience breeds self-compassion — a signpost on the road to Home that you are getting closer.

Key #3: Angle the Headlights Home

If you’re driving on a dirt road at night, you’ll need headlights on to help you find your way home.

Do you focus your headlights on the side of the road? Of course not. You do that, and you’ll likely get into an accident. It’ll be a long time before you make your way home then!

Appreciation is the headlight Home.

Whatever we focus on grows. Ever notice if you feel a little “off” or under-the-weather, if you head into work or get busy doing something you enjoy, you start to feel better? Why is that?

We are spirits having a physical experience, so what we focus our energy on manifests an outcome.

There is a momentum of energy that builds upon itself when we focus on appreciation. Well, the same is true for focusing on the negative, but why would we want to do that?

Right now, think of three things you could appreciate right now. Here’s my three:

  • My children’s health.
  • My ability to type the words you are reading.
  • My ability to hear the sound of a fan whirring softly above me

Already, my mind is lit up like those headlights on a dirt road at night. I’m literally lit up with other things I feel appreciation for.

How do you feel now?

Appreciation fosters only more appreciation.

Appreciation brings us Home.

Key #4: The Spiritual Chiropractor

I see a chiropractor once a month for maintenance. But there was a time when it wasn’t just keeping my spine aligned. Like my life, my spine was all over the place.

The physical is often a manifestation of what is occurring emotionally.

The body keeps score. It’s difficult to open the key to our inner Home if we are in need of some spiritual WD-4.

We creatures of flesh and blood often forget that we are spiritual beings experiencing this temporary physical dimension. 

But the body often “acts up” as whispers to remind us that we have traveled down the wrong path.

So what is the “spiritual chiropractor?” that can bring us Home even faster? 

Alignment. Alignment with your Highest Self. Alignment is:

  • that inner voice that tells you not to get in the elevator alone with a stranger that makes you feel uneasy. 
  • that inner knowing that the manuscript you are working on is meant to be written. 
  • trusting you are right where you need to be, however it looks to the outside world
  • going within for clarity

A Different Kind of Road Trip

This is not AAA. There is no fee for your Triptik to the Kingdom. All travelers are welcome to choose this road.

  • Acknowledgment
  • Acceptance
  • Appreciation
  • Alignment

The road Home that Dorothy hungered for did not require her clicking those shiny red shoes.

The road Home arrives when you understand the Keys to the Kingdom are always in you.

Behind the Curtain:

Life Backstage Tells a Different Story

The front row has nothing on the real drama backstage.

The other day I was venting to my sister about pressing financial matters.

“I guess I’ll just be working well into my 70’s.”

“You could be like those older ladies I see at Macy’s. They are at least that age and so adorable working there.”

My sister’s tone was genuine, making the delivery of her words sting that much more.

“Great idea! That’s always what I wanted to do late in life.” My voice dripped with sarcasm.

“I think it would be fun.” 

Now the gloves were off. Like a water hose finally unplugged, I unleashed my anger her way.

“Fun? How can you say that? Why the hell would I want to work at some meaningless job in retail out of necessity in my 70’s?!”

Behind the Curtain of Anger

My sister hadn’t done anything wrong. The anger I unfairly threw her way stemmed from a genuine fear of which her words had, inadvertently, fanned the flames.

Fear is the backstage entity often cloaked in anger. When we aren’t in alignment with ourselves, the slightest comment or action of another can be perceived as salt on a wound.

My sister had genuinely tried to comfort me. She, of course, could only do this from her own vantage point:

“I’d love to have a job like that someday. My career involves so much responsibility. I can’t imagine not working even after I retire, so doing something in retail part time would be fun.”

Wearing Someone Else’s Shoes Hurts

When we look for comfort from someone else, we need to remember that they:

  • only possess their own vantage point
  • are not responsible for the other person’s inner alignment

My sister can hear that I’m experiencing a fiscal crisis, but that is not the same as experiencing it. Likewise, I can hear my sister express her potential enjoyment at working in retail later in life, but I can’t make myself share this sentiment.

Asking someone to feel what you are feeling is like shoving your shoe onto someone else’s foot: it’s not going to fit and can be downright painful.

It’s important to know what you are asking for from that person in the first place. My sister was only sharing her thoughts on the idea of working in her 70’s.

 But I had never been clear about where I was standing: blazing, unfiltered fear.

Say Where You Are

I hadn’t acknowledged the intense fear and instead danced in front of the figurative curtain with haughty anger.

My attitude had been a defiant “Can you believe this bullshit?” but inside, behind the curtain, I was peeing in my pants.

How could we expect anyone to be there for us emotionally if we don’t tell them where we are emotionally?

Spend Time Backstage

After touring the backstage area of my psyche, I got real with the fear. 

When we spend time in the discomfort of fear, acknowledging its presence, and facing it head on, the fear itself dissipates. 

The fiscal situation is still there, but my spiritual awareness of the bigger picture has kicked in, and with it, I know that my health is the most invaluable gift there is and not worth sacrificing to the external (and temporary) reality.

Backstage is where fear likes to lurk; it is a stealthy entity, hiding behind anger. But when we face our fear head-on, peeling back the curtain to the what-ifs that plague our psyches, light pours in, leaving no room for fear to hide.

When Lightning Strikes

Sometimes it takes a strike of lightning to wake us up.

Last month, lightning struck Washington DC. Four people went under a tree for shelter. Only one survived.

Sole Survivor

Amber Escudero-Kontostathis is twenty-eight and the sole survivor of the Lafayette Square lightning strike. When the summer storm began, Amber and three others went for cover under a tree just north of the White House.

  • Six bolts of lightening struck down where the four were waiting out the storm. Six bolts of lightning within 30 seconds.
  • High school sweethearts, James Mueller (76) and Donna Mueller (75) died from the lightening under that tree.
  • Brooks Lambertson (29) died shortly after from injuries caused by the lightening.
  • Amber Escudero-Kontostathis went 10 minutes without oxygen to her brain and without a heartbeat at all.

Life After Lightening Strikes

Amber lives with the physical sensation of surviving a lightning strike on her body:

Her nerves are misfiring. Her foot will sometimes feel like it is bare in snow. On the worst days, she feels like there are “10,000 grains of salt moving through each pore” of her feet. Source: The New York Times

There is the spiritual component of survival for Anna who frequently awakens to a “feeling similar to a dream of falling, except the thing that jolts her is a glowing ball of light the size of a playground ball speeding toward her face.”

When Amber Escudero-Kontostathis, 28, drifts into a light sleep, she is frequently awakened by a feeling similar to a dream of falling, except the thing that jolts her is a glowing ball of light the size of a playground ball speeding toward her face.

And of course, Anna struggles with the mental anguish that comes from the miracle of surviving something that something that kills approximately 43 people a year.

Amber died on her birthday and was brought back — twice.

“I am not really comfortable being the one,[who survived]but it’s the hand I was dealt, and I am grateful for it, and I am going to make sure I do not let those three people down. I carry them with me in thought and in action every day.”-Amber Escudero-Kontostathis — NY TIMES

Amber’s Lesson for All of Us

Shortly after the August 4th deadly lightening strike, I was picking my son up from school. Thunder crackled and boomed around us as he got in the car, and bolts of lightening kept us company on the drive home.

We drove by a teenaged boy sitting with an umbrella. There were cars behind us. I couldn’t stop. He was sitting under a tree.

“That boy needs to get somewhere inside.” I said.

“Why? He’s protected from the tree,” my son said.

And there it was: a different kind of lightening, for sure. But striking (for me) all the same. I’d assumed my son knew that trees were a fantastic conductor of electricity. After all, he is in his second year of high school and taking rigorous STEM courses. Of course he would know that a tree was the worst place to go for shelter during a thunderstorm.

The Danger of Assumptions

Amber, James, Donna, and Brooks all assumed — like my son that heading under a tree during a thunderstorm brought protection.

It made me wonder: what other things do I assume my son knows?

My son now knows that heading under a tree during a lightening storm is the worst place to go. We talked about the roots of the tree offering a fast conductor for an electrical storm. 

Indoors are the safest places. Cars are safe as well. It’s the metal doors and roof that protect us — not the rubber tires.

The odds of getting struck by lightning in the U.S. in any year is 1 in 700,000. It’s far from common. And maybe that’s why my son made the same assumption Amber, James, Donna, and Brooks did. Maybe that’s why I assumed my son knew how to stay safe during a lightning storm.

Regardless, it makes me wonder: 

  • What other assumptions do I walk around with? 
  • What lessons do I want to impart to my son instead of assuming he already knows them?
  • What assumptions do I walk around with that need to be addressed?

A heartfelt prayer of peace to the August 4th victims of the Washington D.C. lightening strike — both here and on the Other Side.

Are You Easy?

Calling all self-proclaimed “people pleasers!” Peace is a direct manifestation of living in alignment with your intuition.

I was twenty-five and had just found my husband dead.

Someone had recommended a therapist for me. I called and the receptionist answered.

“Is this an emergency?”

“Uh, no, no, it’s not an emergency.”

We scheduled a first appointment to see the therapist a good week later.

What We Think Matters

Back then, my inner dialogue went something like this:

I don’t want to make waves. I want to be easy, not a burden for others. This therapist obviously has a lot of patients to see if she can’t see me, a new patient, in the next 24 hours. I’m in terrible pain right now, but I am not bleeding, not on death’s door. I do not have the right to call my situation an emergency, since I’m still alive and breathing on my own. So, I will sit with the pain, shock, and fear I do not know how to process until it is a better time for this recommended therapist to meet with me.

The Balm of Self-Compassion

Writing this now, I want to hug that young woman I was, look her in the eyes and grab her firmly by her hunched shoulders. I write with tears in my eyes, yearning for that young adult to honor her experience and the feelings that were emerging, to explore the pain instead of holding it in her body like a grenade until it was convenient for a therapist to see her.

The Allure of Being Easy

There are many levels and forms of “being easy” for others.

We contort ourselves under the false notion that doing so will help us somehow belong, experience love, and feel worthy

The desire to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance is normal; after all, we are social creatures, spiritually wired to connect and even flourish through connection. The problem arrives when we subjugate our own needs to please others.

When our sense of self is inextricably tied to the approval of others, we lose our inner compass. 

We starve ourselves, either physically or spiritually, to feed what we believe others want.

The Most Important Question

The late playwright, George Bernard Shaw is famous for his pithy line:

“Youth is wasted on the young.”

I argue that it doesn’t need to be. You don’t need to be a twenty-five-year-old widow to discover the lesson that you can stop being easy, NOW — regardless of your number of years on Earth.

So, what can we do to help dissipate the often, knee-jerk reaction some of us have to please others at the expense of ourselves?

We can check-in with ourselves. We can cultivate a habit of asking ourselves a simple but profound question: What do I think?

If I could go back to that young adult who had just found her dead husband, I would ask her: What do you think?

She would say:

I am fucking scared! I am broken and lost. I don’t know how one minute, I was sleeping next to my husband, his warm hand on my stomach and now he is dead. I need a therapist NOW; this IS an emergency. My heart, mind, and soul cannot comprehend what just happened. I need someone to process what feels impossible to process NOW.

Easy is Overrated

Easy is overrated. Easy is the Corset of Life: it might look easy and effortless on the outside, but inside, we are slowly losing oxygen. 

Easy doesn’t avoid growth; it just postpones growth.

 The longer we are easy, ignoring what’s under the hood of our psyches, the greater the spiritual repair fee. But make no mistake, there’s a price for Easy.

The Impossibility of Pleasing Others

We will never please everyone, no matter how much we bend over backwards. There’s a comfort in knowing that when we start to please ourselves first, honoring our birthright gut, life actually gets easier.

They Myth of Empathy: What It Is and Isn’t

The notion that empathy can deplete our mental resources or hurt us is an unarticulated myth.We can appreciate someone else’s suffering without the need to experience it.

A good friend has a car accident. Your uncle has dementia. A sibling has breast cancer. In each of these situations, as in any challenging time in the lives of loved ones, our heart has the opportunity to open and experience compassion.

But sometimes, we humans confuse Compassion’s powerful sibling, Empathy, for a virus that’s potentially contagious. 

So, we close up, emotionally distancing ourselves from whatever turmoil a loved one is experiencing, not because we don’t care, but because we are afraid to care too much.

Empathy Fear in Action

Years ago, a friend of mine saw I was struggling with a family issue. When I articulated what was going on, she told me the following:

“You know I love you, but I can’t be around you while you are going through this. It’s too hard for me. Once it’s over, let’s get together.”

Despite knowing me for years, my friend equated “being there for me” with somehow catching the challenges I was facing.

What Empathy is Not

Empathy is not something that requires physical, emotional, or spiritual stamina. It doesn’t ask us to drain our health, bank account, or time. Empathy doesn’t infringe or demand. It isn’t a cosmic paramecium, feeding off of us to help another.

What Empathy Is

The prefix EM means to put into or bring to a certain state. The root word PATHY means feeling or suffering. To have empathy to imagine what another feels in a given situation. We are imagining the Other’s experience, but we are not in the situation itself. Empathy is the emotional lubricant that allows humanity to connect. By putting ourselves in another’s shoes, we stimulate Compassion.

Empathy in Action

My friend’s fear of empathy ironically prevented her from experiencing it. When someone loses a loved one, when there’s a difficult divorce, when a family member is robbed — the greatest thing we can do for that person is be present. The sufferer does not expect their friend to BE in pain, only to acknowledge that it’s there.

Empathy is a silent or verbal acknowledgement to let the sufferer know they are not alone. It can manifest in anything from a homemade pie to a text, letting them know you’re thinking of them.

The Myth of Empathy

There’s this unspoken fear that demonstrating empathy, allowing ourselves to “go there” for someone in pain, is going to break us. 

But the opposite is true: when we open our hearts to someone else’s pain, our heart gets stronger, not weaker. Our ability to put ourselves in another’s figurative shoes makes us more powerful, not less.

A Surprising Benefit to Empathy

When we lean into empathy for another’s suffering, we strengthen self-compassion for ourselves. By welcoming the unwelcome in others, we grow more understanding and forgiving of our own imperfections and challenges.

What’s the Big Deal with Meditation?

Meditation is about giving the fractured parts of us a space to commune.

Last night, the rain slammed against the windows of my home and woke me up, thunder making sure I stayed awake. I tossed and turned, not quite asleep but not awake either, as the light bled into the bedroom with the dawn.

A couple of years ago, a storm like that would have easily rendered me hitting my pillow, counting, and recounting the hours of sleep I was missing. A couple of years ago, I perceived life coming at me more than coming through me. A couple of years ago, I saw my brain’s worst-case-scenario game as something belonging to me instead of a mere function of that organ warehoused in my body.

My external life hasn’t changed much in these past couple of years. There’s still bills to pay, traffic to maneuver through, personal challenges to face — you name it, life stressors continue.

So, what’s changed? What’s given me the gift of inner peace, the ability to both strive and surrender, to relish experience over destination, to trust that everything is always working out — even at those times when my brain is telling me a very different story?

Meditation. I love it and cannot recommend it enough.

The prefix medi is Latin for middle. When we meditate, we are putting ourselves into this middle space between waking and dreaming. We are both in our physical bodies and beyond them.

In the middle, we are able to watch our thoughts without judgment or censorship. Meditation allows us to go from a micro to macro perspective. The late and great, Dr. Wayne Dyer wrote powerfully about this in his book, The Shift: Taking Your Life from Ambition to Meaning:

“Becoming the observer (step back) you begin to live in process, trusting where our source is taking you. You begin to detach from the outcome. That detachment allows you to stop fighting and allows things to just come to you…You get to a place where you begin to be guided by something greater than yourself.” -Dr. Wayne Dyer

The gift of meditation grows over time. Each time I take those 10–15 minutes in the morning to meditate, my spiritual muscles are stronger than the day before. If I find myself in what I perceive to be a stressful situation, I am able to catch myself that much sooner and breathe through any unpleasant feelings that arise, “welcoming the unwelcome” (Pema Chodron), knowing as the pithy goes, “This too shall pass.”

There is no wrong way to meditate. Go for a walk, listen to the air conditioning as you sit comfortably on a chair, fold laundry, paying attention to the sensations of the fabrics your fingers touch.

Meditation is about giving the fractured parts of us a space to commune. It’s an opportunity to slow down and observe, to watch without fixing, to feel without concealing, to allow our sheer being to just…be. Over time, you learn to trust both the Universe and your inner knowing (which, in my book, are one in the same).

“People can tell you all kinds of wrong directions, lead you around any corner. You can’t trust any of that. You can’t even trust me. What do they say in car adverts? About the navigation system? Comes as standard. Everything you need to know about right and wrong is already there. It comes as standard. It’s like music. You just have to listen.” How to Stop Time (author, Matt Haig).

Meditation is the portal to listening and by extension, knowing ourselves.

What’s the big deal about meditation?

In my opinion, everything. Cultivating our inner compass is where the real magic happens.

Got Anxiety? (It’s Not You)

The heart-racing-sweaty-brow unpleasant-sensations are byproducts that aren’t you!

There’s this organ that can wreak havoc on our body and spirit — if we permit it. It’s a clever organ with the best of good intentions, like a toddler who decides to surprise their parents with a “homemade breakfast.” You know that kitchen is going to look like a disaster area when that two-year old is finished making your special meal.

So, what’s this organ that behaves like a toddler? The brain.

The brain does everything to protect you if it senses the slightest danger. Sometimes, as in the case of a fire or a robbery, it does exactly what it’s meant to do, acting quickly on our behalf — no different than that thoughtful toddler who brings home a necklace for you out of Fruit-loops’ cereal. Beautiful intention and outcome align.

But sometimes, our well-meaning brain works against us, offering up a mess of what-if scenarios we don’t need. Anxiety creeps in, all of the cortisol activity from our fight-or-flight manifesting in anything from panic attacks to irrational fears.

When anxiety takes the driver’s seat, we can’t seem to steer our way out of fear. Reason seems miles away.

What can we do when anxiety is driving our lives?

Here are three powerful tools to put YOU back into the driver’s seat and dispel anxiety:

1. Depersonalize anxiety: When your well-meaning toddler made you breakfast, they left several cracked and sticky eggshells all over the kitchen floor, syrup spilling at the edge of the counter, and caked flour stuck on the fridge door. The room is amess! But do you get mad at that toddler? Of course not.

Your well-meaning brain is only doing what it knows how to do. You can give that overworking-well-intentioned organ a heartfelt thank you and not take the mess of thoughts they create personally.

2. Objectify anxiety: We tend to see anxiety as a part of us, but it is nothing more than emotion passing through us. When the weather is stormy with skies the color of slate, we don’t say “Oh no, I must have done something terrible.” We know that the state of weather is not a reflection of us.

Our anxiety is no different from the weather. Anxiety is an emotion that is no different than any other emotion. When we see it as something separate from us, passing through us, we remember that we are whole and happen to experience this particular emotion that is not us.

3. Welcome anxiety: I know, I know, it sounds counterintuitive, but it works! When we lean into the very thing we fear, the fear dissipates. We are no longer fighting what feels like an uphill battle. Our brains want to fight something to help us; when we surrender to those unpleasant feelings, they ironically, pass through us that much faster.

As the late French philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said:

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.

Anxiety, like everything else in life, is moving through you. Anxiety is an experience created by our active, well-meaning brains. But we are not our brains. We are spiritual beings. When we observe without attaching, we can enjoy the ride even more.