Choose empowerment. We are not victims. We do not need to run. We are not helpless. We need to take back our power. There is not one candidate who will magically change our lives or our country. It is an inside job. We do it within ourselves. We do it within our families. We all have the choice.
Choose love. Tell your daughters how beautiful, strong and smart they are. Tell them today and everyday. Teach your sons how to honor women, treat them dignity and respect. Enlighten all our children that it is not the color of our skin, our sexual orientation or where we pray that depicts our humanness, but how much love and compassion we show one another.
Choose compassion. Today be that much more compassionate, patient and helpful to one another. Look for the highest in everyone you see, whether it is on a grocery store line, or listening to the next President of the United States.
Choose hope. We are all entitled to our choices. We need to treat another’s opinion with respect. There is a bigger picture and everything is here to help us. Sometimes our foundation needs to be cracked in order to let in more light.
Turn off the television, get quiet and ask yourself. “What can I do to be the change I want to see in the world?” If you need faith, ask for it. All the answers are inside of us.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Our thoughts, feelings and actions today create the world of tomorrow. Today, I see a world of hope, love and compassion. What do you see?
I have a love/hate relationship with social media. There is always a time and place for it. A new funny video or update from a friend I haven’t seen in years – these are the things I love. Needing our phones, endlessly checking emails, feeling the constant pull towards the internet – these are the things I hate. I guess it is like everything else in this world, it is up to us to be responsible with how much we indulge. Just as we can drink an entire bottle of wine in one sitting, we can spend hours and hours perusing Facebook. These days, I chose to sip a nice cup of Java, and browse here and there. It was one of these mornings a few weeks back, that I opened up Instagram for a quick taste.
With my daughter having just started her freshman year at Penn State, I decided to follow their Instagram as a way of connecting with her life. Just last week, I came across a picture that was posted before the first football game. It depicted instruments lying on the vacant football field, a stark contrast against the backdrop of mist rising above the morning dew. The caption read, “Instruments at rest, countdown to game day is on.” As I have always been an empathic person, I often feel things deeply, sometimes well before they are even occurring. For instance, I can feel the excitment on Friday afternoons, and the dread of Sunday nights, whether I am working these hours or not. I can even sense more personal feelings, as I tap into another person’s sadness who walks by, and know when I walk into a room, the mood of most who gather there.
So it was not unusual that I instantly felt the excitement that many Penn State fans feel before an upcoming game. I could imagine it all. Students huddled together in excitement, their faces decorated with blue and white paint, alongside the local fans preparing for their first tailgating adventure of the season. It was coming, arriving within days, and I could feel it all. I smiled. Excited for what was to come for a very accurate description of what would be a fun filled Saturday for Happy Valley.
I sat in bliss, and decided to scroll down, read the comments on that Instagram post. There were a few comments about the band’s instruments, the upcoming game, and good wishes from adorning fans. I smiled, and then I read the last comment. At first I was confused, like I had just seen someone I knew, but in an unfamiliar setting. But then, I refocused, and gave myself time to incorporate what I was reading. It was a plea from a father. The plea was for money, to help his son, Gabriel, who was fighting a rare form of brain cancer.
What a contrast from what I was feeling a minute ago. Grief, desperation and shock rumbled through my belly in a tightness that I knew was felt by his father on a daily basis. A few deep breaths, and I was back to myself, sitting in my living room, pondering my choice of what to do at that moment. For it was not but a few minutes before that I set my intention for the day. I asked for a day that is filled with joy, peace, health and abundance. I asked to follow my heart, open my awareness and to continue to honor my intuitive gifts. Beyond asking, I added words of appreciation for all I have, guidance for myself and my family. And lastly, I asked, if there is someone who needs my help today, please put them in my path. So right then, I knew Gabriel was put in my path.
I copied the link, read his story, and then I donated.
Why Gabriel? There are millions suffering from poverty, disease and mental illness. Because life will hand you what you are to help out with, especially when you ask for it each morning. We do not ever have to go looking for it, but we need to slow down enough to see it.
As I closed out the Instagram post, I could not overlook the name. Gabriel, often a angel messenger who helps watch over the young, and the creative. As I always ask for my children to be watched over, and my writing to be created in the highest light and love, there was Gabriel acknowledging it all.
But what about the boy, Gabriel? Was he not watched over? Why did he become sick? I sat and thought about the contrast in so many peoples lives at any given time. Some are deciding which stove to buy for their kitchen, what to wear for the first day of school, and some are fighting for their lives. Someone receives a promotion and another gets fired.This is our world. This is life. But it goes beyond that. Our world is out of control. All we need to do is turn on the news and see the latest terrorist attack, a tragedy or a senseless shooting.
Living in our world can get overwhelming and we can either become inundated or we can turn a blind eye to everything. Adding to it, most of us are too busy or overwhelmed in our own lives to think about helping others. We are bombarded with information, events, coming at us at all times. We don’t have time to breathe, much less help out another. Yet, the way to breathe easier and slow down, is to ask each morning to help another and then see who is put in our path. When we help another, we always benefit. We leave our immediate world. We feel good. We stop the thoughts in our head, the constant information, and we spring into action. We connect with others in a meaningful way. We begin in the smallest of ways, to change our world.
It does not matter how we help. If we are guided to donate to a cause, then donate. If we get the feeling we should help someone cross the street or fill another’s parking meter, then do that. Maybe helping is about saying a prayer for all who suffer, or telling a person she is beautiful or he is smart. Your gut will tell you when its right and when its not. Perhaps your child just needs to hear your voice, and that is answering a call for help.
Slowly, when asking each day to help another, the beginnings of love and peace will emerge as a small space in our chaotic world. The way to make a difference is to start with one person, which automatically becomes two. For helping another is the surest way to help ourselves. It will happen. We can make a difference one random, or not so random, act of kindness at a time.
Not convinced? According to an article in the Huffington Post, “Giving back has an effect on your body. Studies show that when people donated to charity, the mesolimbic system, the portion of the brain responsible for feelings of reward was triggered. The brain also releases feel-good chemicals and spurs you to perform more kind acts — something psychologists call “helper’s high.”
I do not know why Gabriel has become ill, but I do know life put him in my path that day. Why not ask who can you help today?
In the wake of the Orlando Shootings, the latest massacre of innocent victims, I turn my attention not to the victims, but the shooter. The person who was so filled with hatred, that he opened fired upon unsuspecting human beings who were simply out to enjoy themselves. How does one go from an innocent baby to a mass murderer? How does one acquire so much hatred in his heart that he unleashes his fury upon not just one, but hundreds of others? These are the question we need to keep asking ourselves.
Most can not help but focus on the victims. They are the ones who suffered. They are the ones whose families are going through shock, disbelief and unbelievable grief. It is the same way, I turn my attention towards my son when he has been bullied on and off this year. It is natural to turn our attention and our hearts to the victims, not to the offender who somehow, someway, turned his feelings of worthlessness, powerlessness, loneliness, self-hatred, anger and self loathing upon others. So why am I focusing on someone who committed such a horrendous act? Why would I want to help a bully?
It is a not a new saying that “hurt people, hurt people.” And there are a lot of “hurt people” walking around our world. Thankfully most of them do not unleash their pain on others with semi automatic rifles. But all we need to do is to look around to see the pain in another’s eyes, the disconnect and loneliness so many people feel who walk upon this earth. Forget loving ourselves, most people don’t even like themselves. Is this shooter just an extreme example of how many people feel in this world?
In order to stop the hurting, we need to face our own feelings of self-hatred. So many of us search for so much in this life. We search for money, fame, relationships and achievements, yet all of this leads us down a path away from ourselves. So we keep searching and we don’t even know what we are searching for. And when we come up empty. We drink, we work too much, we become addicted to pain killers, we worry about our weight or how we are aging. We dye, nip, tuck, and hide. And we still come up empty.
What we are searching for cannot be had, obtained or kept. It cannot be stolen. It cannot be taken. It cannot be felt by hurting another. What we are searching for is love. More specifically, self-love.
You do not need to be religious or to be in a relationship to understand what it means to feel loved. This is temporary love, the kind that disappears when the person or object goes away. Most never know what that feels like – to love themselves.
What does that even look like?
I saw a post the other day by Anita Moorjani , a woman who became physically sick with cancer, and was given a few days to live. That was ten years ago. The post read, “How well does love thy neighbor as thyself work, if you don’t even love yourself?” How Anita is still alive today? The lymphoma had spread throughout her body, and on the eve of her inevitable passing, she had a near death experience. You can read about it in more detail here, in her book, Dying To Be Me. Anita defied all medical knowledge. Within weeks her cancer was 50% resolved, and within months, not a trace of cancer found within her body. The message she received was “Love yourself like your life depends on it, because it does!” She speaks today about the importance of loving ourselves. That is why she is still here.
And I cannot agree more. We need to love ourselves beyond what we think we deserve. And then when we are spilling over with love, well beyond our expectations, then we give this love away to others, well beyond their wildest expectations.
This is not about becoming self-centered, but performing self-care. What is the difference? Self-care is about taking good care of our own feelings so we don’t project them onto others, act badly, or cause problems in relationships. Being in touch with our own feelings and embracing them is the healthiest thing we can do. Being honest when we feel jealous, angry or sad. Feel them all and allow them to come and go without lashing out. Self care is about taking care of our hearts, bodies and soul on the deepest level imaginable. Self centeredness or narcissism is an inflated sense of someone’s own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. There is a big difference.
Are we loving ourselves enough?
Enough to find time to meditate so we can feel the rhythm of our own breath?
Enough to feed our bodies nutritious foods?
Enough to find balance between work, play and family?
Enough to say no when we are asked to stray from our truth?
Enough to stand up for what we believe even in the face of opposition?
Enough to come out of the closet?
Enough to set boundaries with others, especially those we love?
Enough to be honest with our how feel?
Enough to speak kindly to ourselves?
Enough to realize that we are good enough, just the way we are?
Enough to listen to our bodies when we are thirsty, hungry or tired?
Enough to say to ourselves what we never heard from another?
Enough to love ourselves no matter what we have done, said, or thought?
If we all loved ourselves beyond our expectations, our hearts would be transformed; our lives would be transformed; our world would be transformed.
This is dedicated to anyone who never felt they were good enough. Even those that pulled the trigger.
Moment by moment.
The moment when you stop trying to be somebody else, and begin to just be yourself.
The moment when you stop caring what others think.
The moment when you realize it is okay to ask for help.
The moment when you realize if you stop running away from fear, it stops chasing you.
The moment when you remember that laughter is fun, and smiling is contagious.
The moment when you know you are being guided by something greater.
The moment when you find your voice.
The moment when you are touched so deeply, your heart feels like it will split open, and this feels so raw, yet so incredibly human.
The moment when you realize endings are just the next step in whatever life will bring.
The moment when you realize love is all that matters.
The moment when you understand that everything in life is a gift, no matter how it is wrapped.
The moment when competition comes in second place to cooperation.
The moment when whispering words of wisdom has more impact than shouting words of hate.
The moment when the fight for your religion is not going to matter.
The moment that you realize that being prettier, smarter, faster, is not going to matter.
The moment when you realize you are perfect just the way you are.
The moment when you realize that being the answer to someone else’s prayer, is far more rewarding than getting your way.
Moment by Moment.
We have all heard the saying count your blessings. Be grateful. Appreciate what you have. Say thank you. Sometimes this feels fake. Does it not? When we are having a bad day, or things do not go as we had hoped. When we lose someone we love, become ill, have a child that struggles socially, or just don’t have the life we want, we don’t want to appreciate what we have! And at that moment, we shouldn’t. We are not ready.
It is not the time to count our blessings but to become brutally honest, and shout,”Wow, this sucks! I do not like this at all.” Allow ourselves to feel lonely, sad, pissed off, as deeply and thoroughly as possible. To be disappointed, frustrated, jealous, heartbroken. To leave judgment aside, and stop labeling our emotions as good or bad. If we are angry, be freaking angry or unbelievably sad. Scream, punch pillows, be a bitch. Most of us, don’t allow ourselves to feel. Instead, we want to blame someone else because we don’t like what we are feeling. Sometimes it is another person, or even God that we blame. Yet, hiding, judging, blaming or denying our feelings is what keeps these emotions hanging around like an unwanted house guest. And we never actually get to count our blessings.
Just this week, I was given a chance to feel the gamut of human emotions. I allowed them to come and go like a summer sun shower. At the end of the week, after a particularly long day, I sat and watched my son, Drew, in his Tae Kwon Do class. Having struggled with gross motor coordination, he has progressed beautifully, and watching him attempt to follow Master Kwon was beautiful. Yet, I was distracted, as news of my daughter’s torn ACL ligament was fresh in my mind, and a mother’s worry about an serious injury, trumps roundhouse kicks. Emotions such as anger, frustration, fear, sadness, disbelief took their turn, emerging from my heart in succession. In fact, I was so completely engrossed in details of picking up her pain medications, scheduling surgery, canceling college soccer ID camps, I did not notice a boy, much older than Drew, who had run off the mat, crying, until he was right next to me. The boy sat huddled in a ball so tight, it seemed he wanted to disappear. After a few minutes of encouragement by his mother and instructor, the boy returned to class, leaving behind tears imprinted upon his mother’s heart.
I was about to go back to the mindless chatter in my head, but life had other plans. The boys’ mother spoke to me, as she wiped away her own tears.”He had a brother who was eighteen years old. He died a year ago.” She pointed to her younger son, now back out on the mat. I observed his arms folded protectively in front of his chest, adamantly protesting his participation in class. “He has never been the same,” she added, before turning away.
I knew her wounds were still fresh, a year is drop in the bucket when it comes to losing a child. Without trying, I pushed aside my worries and listened compassionately. I did not know what it would be like to lose a child at the tender age of eighteen, but I offered up the information how Drew struggled when he first started class, and how great the instructors had been with him. I explained his sensory processing disorder. How his confidence is often compromised because of all he has been through.
The mom then uttered,”Is that okay if I pray for your son?”
I was speechless. How harrowing an experience she has been through, yet she was praying for my son. I thanked her, and could not gather my thoughts as before, nor could I tap into the feelings. I could only begin counting my blessings. There are no accidents. I had allowed myself eight hours of worry, anger, sadness and honest frustration at life. And now it was time to see the gift life had just planted in my lap. The gift of remembering that life happens when we are making other plans. And sometimes what happens in life is shitty, and sometimes it is horrific. It is not about denying our feelings, but being honest with ourselves. And only through honesty, can we somehow become thankful for all that we have, come to know that it is not what happens to us in life, but how we react to it. And it is not about all that we do not have, but how beautiful and giving life is, no matter what we are feeling. How living life from this higher perspective, sends a wave of appreciation out into the world, or at least to the person sitting next to you.
Of course, we cannot rush it – that moment of appreciation will appear when we are ready. It may take eight hours or eight years. Grief will run its course as our the tears we shed, wash away all that clouds our vision, until we begin to know how lucky we all truly are. How crappy things are often dressed up in an ice pack of pain, yet honesty reduces the swelling of unfortunate events, until we allow ourselves to open our eyes to what is next for us. How there is a time for everything, and if we do not get there on own, life will help us out. We often have little control in this life, but we can make the choice to not look a gift horse in the mouth.
I did silently pray for both the mother next to me, and her son. And then I thought about how I could ruminate on all that my son is not, or I could admire his strengths, his gifts and the beautiful person that he is. I could focus on the hill that my daughter will be climbing, all she may be missing, or I could bring to mind what life may be bringing to her during her recovery – opportunities she may not have had, new experiences, and a strength deep inside that she had never before witnessed.
We can never know what life has in store for us, and we can say, “Really life? Is this the best that you got?” And then we can say, “thank you.” For our hidden treasures are often wrapped in a tattered quilt, and when we spend the time expressing our hearts no matter what, life will drop a beautiful gift into our laps. And when we are ready, we can open it, and at the right moment, give it away to someone else.
Closets are for more than just hiding from the world who we choose to love. They are about how we choose to keep secret a thought, idea, feeling, wish and belief from the world, for fear of disapproval. It is where we hide, until something or someone cracks open the door. We may decide in life to no longer play a sport we have been driven to play our whole lives. Perhaps we desire to engage in an alternate profession, dissolve a marriage, or worship in a different sanctuary. Maybe, we can see “dead” people or communicate with animals, and we worry that people will think we are crazy. We may be wanting to act, think and feel differently than we were taught, but be afraid to say, hey world, this is me. And yet when we have the courage to push open the closet door, we say I love myself enough to shout it out to the world. To be true to who I am now, or maybe who I have always been.
Some of us have elaborate walk in closets with tons of stuff hidden that we haven’t put on in years. Others, have simple shelves, open for everyone to see. Regardless of what is in our closets, it feels so good to open the door and clear the shelves of old clothes that are no longer us; shoes with holes, and those damn wire hangers from the dry cleaners that always sneak in when we are not looking. All this stuff that has gathered in our closets is just taking up space. It is simply fear and doubt that we have gathered over the years; denial and the need for approval, collecting dust.
One morning, a few weeks ago, my son wanted to go off to school with his nails polished. HIs sisters did him the honor of painting his nails, each a different color. He also had his hair slicked up into the greatest Mohawk I have ever seen, and put on his best button down collared shirt and khaki pants. He was so proud of how he looked, and so was I. For him, there are no closets, as is the truth for many children. For they do not see labels, only what is on the inside.
It was not to long ago, my daughter was able to choose any doll she wanted from the shelves at the toy store for her fifth birthday. There were hundreds of dolls to choose from. It took her awhile, and then she chose the doll she wanted. She chose the only African American doll on the shelves. Our of curiosity, I asked her if she noticed anything different about the doll. Her reply was that the doll was really cute and the other dolls, not so much. It brought tears to my eyes, how innocent and loving children can be, how they view the world with love, not appearances. Our children have so much to teach us.
Yet, somewhere along the way, when children grow, labels become more important, insecurities emerge and there is a desire to fit into a box instead of being different, being themselves. Yet, is it not how we learn, how our world has become more beautiful, when we are able to be ourselves, love who we are unconditionally? It is the true key to happiness and life where our hearts are open, our days fulfilled.
I would be lying if I said we were not worried the morning, that our son went off to school with polished nails; concerned he would be made fun of, laughed at. But he did not think twice. Off he went with an air of confidence you always want for your child. When my son came home that afternoon, nothing really came of his wearing nail polish. For this, I must thank those brave souls who had once been able to open their closet door, be themselves, love themselves, and honor themselves. To say, I know this is different from what you see, but it is not wrong. It is me. Perhaps one day there will be no more closets, no more labels.
It is never too late! The next time one of your closet doors becomes unhinged, take a leap of faith. Remember what matters most is that we honor and we love ourselves for who we are. We can believe whatever we choose, simply because it is what we believe. We can decide who to love today, regardless of who we loved yesterday. And perhaps, someday, instead of defending our religious and political beliefs with bloodshed, we can simply choose in that moment, what to believe and where to worship. We will be free to be you and me.
Since that morning, the polish has faded, along with Drew’s interest in it. Maybe it will return, maybe not. Perhaps things become more of a big deal, when we make it that way. We judge others, put labels and attack those that are different, until they have no choice but to rally, fight back, or sneak back into their closet. If we accept everyone as they are, whether they dress differently, pray differently, speak differently, look differently, perhaps nobody will need to come out of the closet. There will be no doors shut around them, no labels needed to talk about who they are. We will not be Muslim, Jewish, smart, poor, overweight. We will just be human.
What’s in your closet? What words are you hiding beneath that old suit? What idea is hanging beside one of those old bridesmaid dresses? What creation is tucked away behind that box of old pictures?
When we come out of the closet, we are taking a step not only down the road less travelled, but but a giant leap for humanity. We need to ask ourselves, in the end, does it really matter what other people think?
I will end with a quote from the amazing, Bruce Springsteen. The boss sings praises in one of the greatest rock and roll songs of all times, Rosalita:
Windows are for cheaters, chimneys for the poor
Oh, closets are for hangers, winners use the door
So use it Rosie, that’s what it’s there for
Let’s all begin to use the door. That’s what it’s there for.