The Illusion of Control

Control is an illusion.

There, I said it. There is no such thing as control. We have no more control over what happens in our lives than we have over the sun rising and setting. We may convince ourselves of the opposite so we can rise in the morning and go about our day without worrying that we will fall victim to a drunk driver coming home from a bar or a tree branch falling upon as during a walk along a wooded trail. We convince ourselves we have control because this keeps us from going down the rabbit hole of what if’s.

It also ties us down, binds us to become small instead of limitless. We convince ourselves we are living a wonderful fulfilling life, when in actuality we are hiding within the confines of our mind.

We give control such power, and yet it still defies us. Things in life happen anyway. Whether we brace ourself or not, the unexpected occurs because that is why we are here – for the experience. It is not to have only good things, wonderful easy moments. Life lessons are hard, but that is how we grow.  This false notion of control keeps us from living our truest life; one that frees us to follow our intuition, heart and dreams.

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In truth, the more we let go of control, the freer we become.

My illusion of control was shattered when the stillbirth of my son, fourteen years ago life came crashing down upon me. For years following this devastating life event, I felt unsafe, unprotected. I knew anything bad could happen at anytime. Truth is, I was no more vulnerable after the loss of my son than before. I just thought I was because I was forced to confront the illusion of control.

Each time my husband was late, I would panic. Every moment my daughters went out to play in the yard, I would need to go with them. I had thought keeping a close watch on my loved ones would keep them from leaving me, leaving a pain, a hole in my heart, so deep, it could never be filled.

It didn’t work. Soon I began to feel worse. Anxious, fearful and depressed.

Traumatic events, unexpected loss, diagnosis, accidents, job loss, divorce, even natural endings of life’s stages all challenge our notion of control. Sometimes the illusion of control hits us over our head, other times, it can feel like a punch in the gut. It may even show up as a simple detour on our way to work.  Whether you get knocked over, or just feel annoyed by inconvenience, it is how soft you are, how flexible, how permeable, that will determine how soon you get back up. Let life move through you. Sit within the discomfort, become lost within the depth of grief, and it will pass. Eventually everything will move through you, if you don’t dig your heels in the dirt, or grip tightly to your surroundings.

In my darkest out, grasping onto control began to feel like nails on a blackboard. I knew it was no way to live. I had to reach beyond circumstance and begin to trust life again.

But how?

Just feel.

It is that simple. I had to move from my head to my heart.

We must grieve deeply, if life brings us loss. We must allow ourself to feel scared if we become afraid. The only way out is through the mud. Otherwise we risk getting stuck in quicksand.

We must give up our notion that nothing bad is supposed to happen, and release our expectations of what is to come. This is how we move through whatever life brings with a lightness in our step, nor matter how heavy our hearts.

Just feel.

I love to listen to music. For me, this is quickest way for me to get in touch with what I am feeling. It bypasses my mind, and goes right to my heart. You know what works for you. Maybe it’s music or writing. Watching a sad movie. Singing, dancing, pounding pillow, walking in nature. Do whatever it takes to feel your way back from your head to your heart.

Opening your heart is where you will find freedom. Anxiety will dissipate, depression will lift, and you will know what it is like to live within the magic and miracles of life.

Feeling is the pathway out of the illusion of control, and into the glorious wonder of life.

Please excuse all grammatical errors and typos. My editor is on a permanent vacation in the Bahamas.

 

 

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“The Birds are Mad at Me.” Tales of an Empath’s Life.

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This morning, while enjoying my first coffee, I looked outside and noticed the bird feeders were empty.

Crap.

I totally got caught up in my daughter leaving for college, the latest Netflix series, and you know, eating and other life stuff.

If it sounds like an excuse, it is.

I’m thinking what you’re thinking, is it my job to take care of the birds? Unless it actually is my job, and I am getting paid to feed the birds, the answer is no. Still, they’re helpless creatures and in a roundabout way, I signed up for the job because I put up the bird feeder.

Grabbing the bird seed bag, I hastily filled each feeder, and sent the birds a silent apology. After a few minutes, I peeled myself away from the trees and walked into the bathroom where my husband was shaving. “The birds are mad at me. I haven’t fed them in weeks. I filled the feeder this morning but they’re not coming by to eat.” I looked up at my husband who was now brushing his teeth.

“Birds don’t think like that, honey.” He smiled at me, but also peered in closer to see if I was serious.

I was serious. And yet, I wasn’t.

I knew the birds weren’t mad at me, but when you’re an empath, you feel everything. And sometimes, without realizing, you project.

In other words, someone, somewhere was mad at someone and I picked up on it.

I don’t remember when I first felt that someone was angry. It could have been yesterday, or last week. It could have been a second ago. And I didn’t realize it.

What we take in, needs to come out.

And when we’re not aware, it comes out in a whole bunch of strange ways, like me and the birds.

There’s a benefit to staying awake as an empath. Like a tick: if you find it within 24 hours, you’ll probably be okay. In other words, if you catch it, name what you’re feeling, or move through it—it ends fairly quickly and innocently. If you don’t, and it builds, it can wreak havoc both emotionally and physically.

A spiritual teacher once told me, “As an empath, you need to take out the trash.”

This is why a mindfulness practice for empaths becomes just as important as a healthy diet.

It is not just empathic adults who need to know what it means to be an empath. Many children are empaths and have no idea.

My son, often distracted in school, is exhausted when he returns home. He has been feeling for everyone else—all day, every day. He has no idea why. He just feels and releases. It’s why he goes into the woods as soon as he comes home. He unwinds with the salamanders and frogs. It calms him. He also likes dim lights, soft music, and time alone.

I’m the same, although I can do without the amphibians.

It’s also why we live on six acres and I work from home. As an empath, being around people can be exhausting. We can feel like rubber balls being bounced around by other’s emotions. We don’t know that it’s happening until one day, you look up and think the birds are mad at you. And you realize that something else must be going on. You’re too smart to think the birds are really mad. You know if you wait a little longer, they will begin feeding.

So you laugh at yourself, often.

And you spend time alone.

And you avoid the news.

And you make it daily habit to name what you’re feeling, and you ask often if it’s yours or someone else’s. And you begin to get used to not knowing why you’re feeling whatever it is you are feeling. And it starts to not matter.

And you even laugh, if you can, at some of the labels you and many other empaths have unknowingly taken on: depressed, anxious, ADHD, ADD, paranoid, phobic, introvert, and agoraphobic.

And you think, if they only had one label for all empaths it would be ESEP, Energy Sensitive Empathic People or ESEC, Energy Sensitive Empathic Children.

And you hope one day that all empaths will realize what is going on, and know that being empathic is a gift, not a curse. That being sensitive can have its perks.

You hope that others can see how empaths are helping others—by feeling the feelings for them.

And that spending time alone can lend itself to an active imagination, creative endeavors, and the time for self-reflection, a necessary and often eye-opening part of a life journey.

So the next time you think someone is mad at you, stop and think about the birds.

And then let it go.

After all, it was never yours to keep.

This article was also published on Elephant Journal. You can find it here.

 

 

The Sounds of Silence

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Simon and Garfunkel got it right when they wrote the timeless song, Sounds of Silence, over fifty years ago. Many remakes hit the charts, and then in 2015, the song was given an upgrade by heavy metal band, Disturbed. Not that the original needed any tweaking, but the incredible feeling and power behind David Draiman’s voice brings the song to a whole new level. The first version creeps quietly into my heart while the second, reverberates throughout my body. I listen to both, often.

Like our music that often permeates our homes and our cars, the sounds of silence are anything but silent. As I sit this morning, bringing forth this blog post, I feel the power within and beyond the silence. For many of us, it is rare that we sit in silence. It has been awhile for me as well, yet today, the sounds within and around me, feel like music. Like an old friend, I am welcomed back with open arms.

My home, usually quiet on a Saturday at seven am, feels no different today.  It has been years since babies and toddlers woke us much to early, with their wide eyes and intense hunger. Like a reward for all those sleepless nights, older children sleep late, especially on a Saturday. Two years ago, we emptied one of our bedrooms upstairs as my oldest went to college. In the space she left, we could feel the silence. The first to fly the nest left our house feeling different, a bit awkward and lonely. Yesterday, my second daughter left for college, and along with far too many clothes, she took her laughter, loud music and friends dropping by at all hours of the night. Our newfound silence, again unnerving, but now, more familiar.

Yet, it was not just the empty bedrooms. I had no choice this morning but to sit within the silence. When things call to me, as I follow that inner voice which feels anything but silent, I listen. Sit and do nothing, it said. While I do miss my daughters, the silence they left behind in this moment feels welcoming. A chance to reunite with myself.

I have heard all the arguments why people do not like the silence:  I have no time. It makes me uncomfortable. My mind always wanders. I just can’t sit there and do nothing. I know them well because I have used all of them.

Maybe it is because we don’t ever visit with silence that we fear the worst, and then we think we are proven right when we finally sit quietly. Our thoughts go on tangents, seeking rabbit holes without our permission, and our feelings, having been stifled, seem to bring forth the most inconvenient emotions. Perhaps this happens because we never allow them to come out, we never give them a chance to run free. Like a dog kept in a cage or cows prevented from grazing, it is only natural for it to be awkward when finally given a voice, a chance at freedom. Perhaps that anxiety and depression that seems to coming knocking is actually our soul’s need for silence. It is our inner voice of our soul that is banging on the bars of the cage, begging for freedom.

I have only two rules when it comes to silence.

  1. What happens in silence, stays in silence. It need not be discussed, unless that is your desire. Forging your own relationship with the voice of your soul for the first time can look messy.  We may think strange things, or feel that anger that has been buried for years. We may have intrusive thoughts about what we said in jest to a friend or feel the grief from our grandmother passing decades earlier that we never fully felt. It gets better. If we ride out the wave of what happens when we allow ourselves to sit quietly, things will settle. We will begin to hear the music playing so beautifully from the silence of our surroundings.
  2. Be comfortable. No need to suffer in silence. Grab a blanket, a mug of hot tea, a glass of water with ice. Sit in a field of grass or lay in bed. Even driving can be a wonderful place for silence when we turn off the radio. I like to hear the silence with my morning coffee. It seems that if I do not sit first thing, I do not sit. Emails, errands, writing, cleaning, my son – all take precedent. When we don’t label it, or think that it has to be done in a certain way, silence feels like a warm bubble bath, both soothing and invigorating.

As much as I love the mindfulness movement, the encouragement to meditate, it has created an imaginary box, a way of doing something that puts many people off. Sitting in silence is not about setting a timer and closing our eyes, chanting or listening to our breath, unless it works for you. There is no time limit or method. It is just about sitting, in the way that feels most comfortable for you, and just being. You can write things down, or not. Focus on your breath or not. Close your eyes or leave them open. Go for a run. Garden. Bake.

What do you hear? Smell? Feel? Sense? 

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With my coffee this morning, as I sit, I can both, hear sounds I usually overlook and feel what lies beyond the silence. I hear my husband snoring from the other room, my dog breathing lightly, and the birds making  plans around the yard. I can feel the emptiness of my daughters’ rooms, and the anticipation of my son’s excitement waking on a Saturday morning, having no school. I sense the flowers on the deck making their final offering to the bees, before giving in to the cold and snow.

As I sit longer, the sounds continue. An alarm from a watch goes off for ten seconds. It calls to me from a distant room of the house, likely lost behind a dresser. The white noise from the environment increases in intensity, its energy pulling me into the remembering that so much is going on behind the scenes in our lives, that there is another world going on within our world. Ideas, plans, to do lists begin to elbow their way to the forefront. I greet their existence, and having been welcomed, they simply take a number and wait their turn for my attention. Body sensations become known – last night’s dinner having a rager, while cool water settle its rumblings.

The sounds of silence are never silent. It is filled with hope, sadness, passion, expectations and anticipation of what is to come. As it was sung, “Here my words and I might teach you. Take my arms that I might reach you. But my words, like silent raindrops fell. And echoed in the wells of silence.”

In the end, it is not my words that will teach, or another’s. But the walls within your own desire to sit within the silence and all you need to know will reveal itself to you. Your questions, desires, hopes and dreams. Don’t be afraid of the silence. It has everything you want and need. You just need to open the cage and walk out.When we welcome silence, it receives our invitation. As often as I forget, silence is always waiting, patiently. It will always invite me back no matter how many times I shun it, or put it off.

The world is your oyster. It is waiting for you. You just need to be quiet enough to hear it.

Please excuse all grammatical errors and typos. My editor is on a permanent vacation in the Bahamas.

How Crying in a Bathroom Stall Can Change your Life.

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This story begins with a women’s experience, which turns out, is also mine. We are all connected, more than we realize. As you read this post, see if you can also see yourself in her. If not, perhaps your story is still unwritten.

This woman, on the very first day of her corporate job, one where had been given a six-figure salary, the task of overseeing a large department and managing multi-million dollar budgets, found herself hiding in a bathroom stall, crying. It seems the life she had been leading, all she had been working towards – the degrees, the promotions, the awards – came crashing down upon her. In that moment, she had no way of knowing that everything in her life was about to change for the better.

It would be a cool story, had she walked out of that New York high-rise that afternoon, but life isn’t about being cool, and neither is this blog. Change often takes time, and it took many more moments in the bathroom stall for her to find her voice.

How we had met was many years later, when she had asked me to write her a speech on Women Finding Their Voice. In preparation for my writing her speech, she told me her story, and how she had left her corporate job in order to pursue her passion – photographing women who life had beaten down. Women who didn’t look or feel good about themselves. Some were overweight, or fighting their way out of an abusive marriage, others had cancer. Through email, I learned how she had ignited her passion for photography, while also finding a way to make a difference for others. What seemed like an end, that moment in the stall, was actually a beginning. Along with her tears that morning, came a soothing ache of relief, a gift, a door opening. The first step she would take in a series of steps in finding her voice.

Due to unforeseen circumstance, she never did make it to that speech, but perhaps life had orchestrated our meeting just for me – and for you. To open my eyes to the path I was indeed walking in my own life, my own journey in finding my voice. Through her story, I had come to realize that finding my passion in writing, something that would lift me every day, while hoping to make a difference for someone else, began with many of my own moments in a bathroom stall.

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The steps she had taken that led her out of that bathroom stall, were ones I too had taken. Today, I share them with you. For sometimes we need to take the road less travelled, and other times, simply trace another’s footsteps in the sand.

As you read through these steps, please keep in mind that in finding our voice, our steps are fluid, as we can often skip or repeat steps along the way, moving forward and backward like a childhood game of hopscotch. Inevitably, whether we walk gracefully or clumsily stumble through these five steps, when we follow our hearts, we will find our voice.

The following five steps are simple, but not necessarily easy:

  1. Seek out your feelings. Our emotions always tell us the truth – sometimes whispering, often shouting at us. These are our bathroom stall moments. Take time to think about about your work, or your life. Does thinking about your day create feelings of joy or dread? When we begin to take notice of how we feel, we start to see the truth, to hear what is in our heart. When we follow our hearts, we find ourselves not at the end, but at the beginning of our story.
  2. Release Others’ Expectations. As we peel back the layers of our longings that linger beneath our skin, we often find a voice that is not our own. For many of us, our accomplishments have been driven by others’ expectations of us. Our stories of our higher education, financial success, the success of our children, can stem from a hidden need for approval. Releasing expectations is about not only releasing personal expectations about what we should do, but about what we think the world expects of us. It begins with the question, who am I doing this for and ends with what am I doing for myself? It continues with separating the voices of those we have known, from our own voice. We can meet every definition of the word success, except the one that matter to us. Success goes far beyond degrees, responsibilities and money.
  3. Find your passion. Unearthing your passion is not easy, but when you find it, it will feel like magic! Someday, you will be at the end of this wonderful life, and what will you find? Did you live your life for you? Did you follow your heart? Close your eyes, and think of something you love to do, that you would do for free. Start there. What makes you happy? As you take your last breath on this earth, what do you want to leave behind, and be proud of? This is the key to finding your passion. You will know you have stumbled upon it, by the excitement you feel, the joyful and peaceful feelings that emerge.
  4. Become courageous. This can be the most challenging step. Yet, when we reach deep within ourselves, finding the courage and taking a leap of faith with our passion, we are often rewarded. Give yourself a time limit, but don’t adhere to it. Set a goal but be willing to change it. Just begin doing what you love, and the rest will fall into place. Courage takes sacrifice, determination and pushing through adversity. As your courage grows, your passion grows, and this wonderful cycle continues.
  5. Share your Voice. Once you follow the other four steps, you will need to share your voice with the world. As you walk beyond the threshold of this fear, the life you have always wanted will begin to naturally unfold in front of your eyes. Resist the temptation to run back and hide. While many believe they have a fear of failure, it is often a fear of success. When everything you have been waiting for, that life you only imagined living, begins to take shape in front of your eyes, breath, say thank you. Remind yourself, you are worth it.

The first time I opened up to my voice, when Elephant Journal agreed to publish my article, I felt both disbelief and pride, joy and fear. Within twenty-four hours I had almost 50,000 views. My article had touched a chord about special needs children, and it was because it came from my truth, my voice. Not every article finds that success, but I have come to realize, the ones that I create from honesty and vulnerability, intimacy and truth, find their way more often into others’ hearts and Facebook pages.

I urge you to go out and find your voice. To listen to the gentle whispers of your heart, and follow it. To uncover and release any expectations that are not your own. To uncover your passion, reach for that courage and unleash your voice onto the world.

We can wake up each morning, and go through our days, never finding our voice, knowing the sun will continue to rise and fall. Or we can step out of our comfort zone, follow our hears and leave our mark on this world.

 

Please excuse all grammatical errors and typos. My editor is permanently on vacation.

 

 

When You Start Blaming, You Start Healing.

Why are we so afraid to blame others? Blame is calling people on their shit. It is putting the onus where it deserves. It is giving the shame back to the abuser, the rape back to the rapist, the battering back to the batterer. Blame is empowering. It is about getting angry, and saying, you did this. You don’t have to take ownership, but I am no longer blaming myself.

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At some point in my life, I made a promise that I would devote my life to helping others feel worthy, and this blog has evolved out of that promise. I made that promise because I spent so much of my life feeling the opposite – unworthy, ashamed, bad, and confused about why I felt this way. Perfectionism, achievements were my way out of this unworthiness, or so I thought. Wrong! We can become intellectually worthy, but that is not the same as truly feeling worthy.

Feeling worthy begins with getting honest, real, speaking the truth. Sometimes being inspirational is about lifting others up with a hand, and other times it is about keeping it real.

Today, I am going to get real. If it is too real for you, feel free to look away. But if you have ever felt less than, unworthy, deep down like you are not enough, then stay with me. Whether you have experienced exactly what I have or can just be helped in some way from my experience, read on.

I used to think being a good person was about being nice. Janet Straightarrow, a very wise woman once told me, that nice is just an acronym for:  Neurotic Insecure Codependent Emotional. Does not sound as appealing does it? Truth is being nice is not the same as being loving, having compassion or feeling through our heart. People pleasing often puts the pleasing away from us, and we are left feeling empty, hollow and wondering why we always come last.

Want to take back your life? Start blaming.

I know blame is taboo. I have heard it many times. “No,” they shout from the rooftops. “Don’t blame! Forgive.” Here is the thing.

If you feel unworthy, like you are not good enough, chances are you are already blaming; you are just blaming yourself.

Why are we so afraid to blame others? Blame is calling people on their shit. It is putting the onus where it deserves. It is giving the shame back to the abuser, the rape back to the rapist, the battering back to the batterer. Blame is empowering. It is about getting angry, and saying, you did this. You don’t have to take ownership, but I am no longer blaming myself. Someone is never responsible for our feelings, our reactions, but he is responsible for his actions. She is responsible for her abuse.

Why has blame become so taboo? The actual definition of blame is to assign responsibility for a fault or wrong. Why is putting the responsibility where it is deserves – wrong?

Blame is a necessary step in healing. Do you want to feel relief like you have never felt? Do you want to honor all you have experienced and then be able to let go of whatever you are holding on to? Want to watch anxiety and depression melt away like an ice cream cone on a hundred degree day? Get angry, put the blame back where it deserves. Write return to sender on the package that you mistakenly opened and thought was yours, and give it back. images-3

We jump to forgiveness because we are being nice – the good daughter, the cooperative friend, the submissive spouse – and it is hurting us on all levels. We have no idea what self-care, nurturing, or true feelings, look, feel, taste and smell like.

I was the ultimate champion for running away – I literally began running for miles and miles to escape the past, those unwanted feelings that seemed to creep in when I was least expecting. Here’s the thing, the run always ends. It all catches up with us – every last repressed feeling. I had always known there was something very wrong with how I felt growing up. I just didn’t know the extent to the trauma and abuse I endured. I am learning that now with the help of an amazing therapist, among other things.

I know I am not alone. I know there are those of you out there, who also have endured trauma and abuse – whether it was a one time occurrence or over the span of years. The #metoo movement is just the tip of the iceberg, but it is one hell of a start. Whether it was a single event, or repetitive, it is time to let yourself off the hook. Educate yourself. And if you are or know of someone who is struggling with the effects of abuse or a traumatic event, please seek professional help. Please email me. I have resources, and information to share.

As a waitress in college, there was an old saying, I am in the weeds. It describes how we would feel when the hostess used to sit three tables in our section at once. I am currently in the weeds because I am doing the work. I feel at the moment like the hostess has sat ten tables all in my section and they all want a five-course meal with drinks. Before we can have a beautiful rose garden, we must begin pulling our weeds.I just keep pulling the weeds out, one by one. I also ask for help. There are food servers, gardeners and managers – all waiting to help us. We don’t have to go it alone.

One of the greatest strengths of those of us who endured abuse is our ability to handle  anything. Whatever life has thrown at me, I have handled it. But we can handle a lot more when we stop blaming ourselves. When we rush to forgive the abuse, injustice, assault, the lashing out – whether it is an internet troll lurking behind the tree, ready to toss off an angry post or someone who is close to us, who we least expect, hurting us. It can be a grandiose boss who berates us on a conference call, a borderline friend, who puts us on a pedestal only to cut us down the next week. A possessive boyfriend, exploitive controlling parent, or a narcissistic coach.

We have been taught forgiveness is the key to moving on, letting go. Yes, this is true. But not before we do the work, not before we blame.We rush into forgiveness because blaming, getting angry is about getting dirty. And it can cause us to roll around in the mud for years. We want clean, tidy, perfectly wrapped presents, complete with a beautiful bow. We put that neatly wrapped present upon the shelf for years, hoping that is where it stays. Until someone comes into our life – someone who is kind, compassionate, unconditionally loving, and she looks at the present on the shelf and he points and says, what is that? And we say, Oh, that? It is nothing. 

It is time to open the box. Picking up the phone or sending that letter to whoever hurt us, may be a part of your healing, but that is not what I am talking about. It means giving ourself the green light to send it all back, to finally honor what we really feel. It is not about getting someone to admit what she did, but getting ourself to admit it. If you feel called to reach out to the person who caused you to wrap up your pretty box in the first place, do so, not for a response or an apology, do it for yourself.

Rushed forgiveness does not break the cycle. Rushed forgiveness is not healing. Healing begins with blame.

I could not possibly cover everything about the effects of a traumatic event or long-term abuse in this blog post, but I hope this will be a springboard, a start. You can heal. It takes strength, love and support, but you can do it. Please reach out for help. I will continue to inspire you to believe you are worthy, beautiful, smart and enough because it is the truth. But you must find the strength to do the work or my words will bounce off of you like rain pelting down upon an umbrella. It is time to dance in the rain.

Do the work, get into that discomfort zone, and you will find yourself gifted to everything you ever desired – peace, joy, love and the greatest inspirational feelings you can imagine. Life is a gift. If someone opened yours, and cast it aside, it is time to take your life back. After all, it was never his to take.