Witnesses to Our lives

Witnesses to Our Lives

There’s something special that exists with reconnecting with your “old school” friends.  These are friends that go way back to your youth: from grade school, high school, and your twenties.  Despite the fact that it may have been years since you spoke, sometimes when you reconnect it may feel like no time has passed.  It’s like a time capsule.  These people were witnesses to your life before.  If you want to excavate and dust off what once was, spend some time with them.  Your memory will be triggered.

When we were young, it’s easy to stay connected.   People then get engaged, married, then have children.  We receive the invitations to these events and attend the accompanying ceremonies.  But then there are no more official and formal excuses to stay in touch, and we begin to drift apart.  Now that I am nearing 40, the odd time that I may hear from an old friend is when people die.  People who once were in your circle of friends, one by one die.

When I see these old pals, I am transported back to the age that I was when we were emotionally close. It’s as if the fountain of youth that truly exists.  It’s unbelievable that my 20 year high school reunion occurred last year. Internally, I am still 21 years old.

Although there may have been fall outs and mishaps with our friends, the more time passes, there is this realization that life is too short for pettiness.  This is the gift that death gives us.  It’s a reminder that we should live fully.  Life is too precious to harbor anger or resentment, or past dramas.  Comparatively it’s true that we can’t keep everyone in our life at the same capacity, there is something special with old friends.  They remember you when you had your first kiss, crush, or boyfriend.  They remember and were present at graduations, and maybe even know your family pets who have long since been deceased.  They remember.  You don’t have to live out that memory in your head, questioning what was real.  You can discuss it and share reflections together.

I was at a presentation recently given by acclaimed psychiatrist Dr. Irvin Yalom who began reflecting on his life.  He shared particular memories of his 6 friends from medical school who he ditched anatomy lab with and would play bridge.   Several of them died within several months of each other recently. His encouraged Yalom to google two of the remaining crew to see how he could connect.  Google informed him the other two had died.  Yalom had the realization that he was now the holder of all of these specific memories.  He began to question what happens to those memories, when all that were present have now become deceased?  There was no body left to be the vessel to store these experiences.  Would they expire after the last member of the group took his last breath?

The gift of death is the reminder to live.  I do not need another notification of a deceased friend to keep this in the forefront of my brain.  The question becomes how am I living my values?  Can I keep those who were witnesses to my life close at hand?  We currently still are living vessels that store these memories, and have the capacity to share them with each other.  I don’t need to live in the past, but it’s good to know while we are all alive I can visit it when needed.

Advertisements

Meeting Your Superheroes

In my life, I truly have been fortunate to meet a majority of people I admire.  Call it luck, assertiveness, or law of attraction, but it happens.  Generally there isn’t a doubt or surprise when this happens to me.  This is my life. My parents used to tell me I was the luckiest girl in the world, and somehow I believed it.  The interesting thing when I meet these people is there is so much I want to say to them of my years of admiration and how they impacted me.  But what comes out of my mouth is not what I envisioned.  It’s not as eloquent or as memorable, it just is.  Lately I will give a positive quote to them to thank them for their impact on me, take a selfie, and that’s it.

I used to feel that meeting someone I admired would be a life changing moment. Because I felt so much high excitement, I expected them to feel the same way too.

The older I get the more I realize how valuable our time and energy is.  As I watch other fans approach these celebrities, authors, or chefs I watch in admiration.  These fans will remember this one particular moment forever, and there may be over 100 fans trying to have one moment with the celebrity within a span of twenty minutes.  To be present, gracious, and friendly is a selfless act, and for each celebrity I met who acted this way I truly thank you.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting both Tony Robbins and Jack Kornfield both at the Psychotherapy Networker Symposium.  Jack is a well known Buddhist psychologist, who helped bring mindfulness to the West.  He is co-founder of two retreat centers in America including Insight Meditation Center and Spirit Rock, and author of numerous books.  I briefly was able to chat with him after his one hour lecture, and asked for a selfie.  He cautiously walked me to the side to take the selfie, so a line wouldn’t begin forming. I told him of the work I do, and he was appreciative of hearing the impact of trying to bring mindfulness, yoga, and therapy to our service members overseas.

Then there was Tony Robbins.  The last time I saw him was at one of his events Unleash the Power Within, with over 10,000 attendees.  It was a 4 day event and insane to see the impact he had in this room of over 10,000 people in London making them dance, meditate, scream, and walk on fire.  He was mesmerizing and untouchable.  The fact that I was able to get front row at yesterday’s workshop was so phenomenal, as I know how difficult it is to get within his atmosphere.  After his three hour talk (he had gone one hour over), he actually talked with fans. It was more than people requesting pictures, but people telling him their life stories, the difficulties they had undergone.  People momentarily were connecting with him. It was as if they wanted to be healed, have a coaching session, or to just briefly be seen by this superhero.  Although it was minimal time he spent with each person, he was able to zoom in, lock their gaze, and hear their story. It reminded me of when people go to visit Amma, the hugging saint. They share their tears, hoping their pain will be lifted away, or a miracle will happen.

 

As he listened to some of their tribulations, Tony began to offer some people free entrance to one of his upcoming events.  It was amazing.  I was in awe, but when I was with him I didn’t want to offer a sob story.  I just wanted to thank him for his influence on my life. It may not be memorable, but I don’t want to ask more of someone who already gives so much. I then began to compare my experience to that of others, why didn’t he hug or kiss me on the head, or give me free entrance?  To simply meet him was phenomenal, why ruin it for wanting more, or wishing to grasp another person’s experience?   It reminded me of a quote that Tony said in his talk earlier that night:

“Trade your expectations for appreciation, and your whole life will change.”

I went to my hotel room after the conference, an acquaintance I met five years ago in my yoga training class reached out to me on Facebook about what an inspiration I was.  We haven’t spoken in five years, but she wanted to thank me for sharing my travel adventures online and how she was moved by a “successful woman like me.”   Hearing this from her truly landed on me that evening.  She saw that I was living my dream life, offered appreciation, and stated it encouraged her to take action in her life.

I was grateful of so much that evening.  I was appreciative of this acquaintance offering her positive thoughts towards me.  I was also filled with gratitude to be at a conference filled with so many psychologists and authors that I have listened to for years.  I am living the dream, and perhaps am the luckiest girl in the world.  The experience of hearing and meeting both Jack and Tony, will stay with me, and definitely filter onto those I work and share my life with. Inspiration is contagious.  I observe these celebrities with admiration.  They have the lives that most of us strive and dream for.  We hope by momentarily being in their presence, some of their luck or talent will rub off on us.  It’s amazing to be surrounded by greatness.  Although in meeting them you realize they are only human beings, it reminds you of the possibilities that life has to offer.

Greatness doesn’t just happen in the worlds of superheroes, giants, and gods.  It can happen within us.  The beauty of being in the presence a cultural “superhero”, is that you see they are mere mortals who have achieved phenomenal success.   All is possible.

It reminds me of the Joseph Campbell quote , “You are the hero of your own story.” Be your own superhero, and in doing this sometimes we end up saving others.

Just as kindness and hatred are contagious, so is amazing feats of gratitude, strength, bravery, and accomplishments. If you have the chance to meet your superheroes, I encourage you to do it.  It doesn’t matter if you fumble with your words or make a fool of yourself in your introduction.  This meeting of a superhero will shake your reality, and perhaps you can see that is possible for you have the potential to join the ranks of being a superhero too.

We can all play our part

Below is a beautiful short story in how one man saved over 600 lives of children in nazi concentration camps .

The Kindness of Cleveland Airport

The first day of official spring marked a winter snowstorm throughout much of the east coast and some of the Midwest yesterday. With my short ten day trip throughout several states of America, it was inevitable that my flight was cancelled from Cleveland to Washington D.C.  Luckily I was informed before making it to the airport, and simply spent more time with my cousin and her family bonding.

It was out of my control, despite trying to reschedule multiple flights, and being on hold with the airlines for one hour.  I settled for one of the first flights out this morning.  I had no choice but to accept my fate, the fact that I will miss the morning of my conference, and pay for one night at the hotel I didn’t stay in. I tried to not ruminate about these occurrences.

But as I checked into the airport today, somehow things turned out to be a breeze.  One might expect all airport staff to be irritable, as I am sure numerous travelers yesterday may have been stranded and angry.  Emotions are contagious. I assumed residual impact today.  It was surprising to see the opposite.

I have to note that Cleveland Airport chose to take customer service to the next level.  I noticed numerous TSA agents joking with families as they checked in, and momentarily all of us were pre-approved to be TSA pre-screened.  Our shoes didn’t have to come off, or our bagged liquids or electronics.  It was an unexpected treat.  The simplicity of travelling pre-9/11 existed again. I overheard another passenger thanking a TSA agent for the joy it brought others to have this service momentarily.

From each service I got in the morning, from breakfast, to coffee, to the flight staff members who honored my upgraded seat from yesterday, it was delightful. When you start the day slightly irritable, and apprehensive of how the flight status may turn out, it’s a relief to see how the airport and staff are cushioning your experience with comfort.

Although I am originally from Ohio, i haven’t lived here for 17 years . It’s easy to forget the kindness the Midwest offers.  Smiles and friendliness are the norm.  People may not be bitter with the intensity of commuting that cities offer. It’s refreshing to be around.  When I informed an Ohio friend yesterday that I was stranded another day, he said “you are lucky.”  I asked why?  He responded, “because Ohio is awesome.”  For a moment I thought he was being sarcastic, but he truly has a love for this state, having lived here his entire adult life. This same friend also mentioned to me that Ohio is my home, it may be almost twenty years since I lived here, but people perceive it to be my home.

I can appreciate being from here and acknowledge the beauty the locals hold.  It may not have the celebrity appeal, trendsetting fashion, allure of exotic cuisine , but it has internal warmth and kindness. Thanks Ohio, particularly Cleveland airport 🙂

Transforming Airport Anger

The act of travelling can make us so quick to anger.  It’s as if flights (especially multiple trips in one week) can have the ability to ignite this fire in me.  I want to lash out with the built up frustration.  We all know what this is like: flight is delayed or cancelled, we scramble for finding another way out of the city.   Or perhaps our bag is overweight, and we have to maneuver shifting our entire luggage scheme within minutes.   Maybe we realize we have to pay for our luggage which we were not expecting, another added cost to an expensive trip.  Or imagine a fellow passenger wants to act snarky with us because they are in a bad mood, although we did nothing to them.  All of this has happened to me the past four days.

Negativity is contagious, and it’s easy to get sucked in.  Despite all the meditation, mindfulness, and reflection I do, the trigger is there for me to get angry.  My bandwidth is shorter with each flight I take.  Hopefully we have the insight in these furious moments to realize there is a choice in how to respond.  You don’t have to succumb to feeding and distributing the negativity.  At the moment we may not able to take solace in engaging in our preferable coping skills.  Our regular “go to” chill pills are not available: running, yoga, knitting, screaming, punching things, shopping, painting, or seeking comfort with our pets.  Even though these are not affordable to us at the time, we can look at what’s available right now to chill out.

It has been said before that all of our emotions are only energy.  We have a choice in how to distribute this energy.  Some may opt to deny it through suppression or repression, but that will only deepen it’s impact on us down the road.  We can take it out on others, but in the end it only hurts ourselves.  Buddha once said, “Anger is like drinking poison, and expecting the other person to die.”  Exerting our anger towards others always seems to have negative consequences.  Despite the fact we know this, many of us may choose to continue to act out.

For me today, I am early for my flight (which is just a connecting flight).  In addition to dealing with drama with my family I had been visiting for the weekend, I had minute instances this morning at the airport that infuriated me.  Initially I wanted to lash out on staff members, people who were just doing their job.  They didn’t deserve to be the recipient of my anger.

Although I am not a smoker, I yearned for a cigarette or a drink, anything to escape the fury I was feeling.  At the time, I had to put aside our anger and continue with the check in process, security, getting to our gate, etc.  I wanted to run from the emotions I was feeling, afraid that if I let them arise it would be detrimental to numerous individuals in my atmosphere.

Instead I knew there was another way out. I opted that this would be the day to use one of my remaining passes for the United Club to chill out at the lounge.  When I entered the lounge, I was disappointed.  I began automatically comparing the space to other previously well established lounges in London, Seattle, or even Newark.  There was such a minimal selection of food and drinks, and this further infuriated me to waste a day pass worth $50 here.

I notice the heat that built up internally and externally.  I was like a dragon who wanted to breathe out fire and destroy all those in my path.  But I began to let it go, I knew this was a time that I actually needed to simmer down.

I began to transform this internal anger through writing, having a relaxing drink, and zoning into how I could chill out.   This was my time to practice the principles that I preach.  If we notice where we feel these emotions in our body, we realize they pass. Can we be a witness to these emotions without getting enmeshed with them?  I have so many expectations for myself to be better than this, to never get angry and always be full of equanimity.   But this is not reality, I must remind myself that I am a human being just like everyone else.  Emotions such as anger and frustration are normal, welcome them in with observation, and see how they can be transformed.

So much in our lives it out of our control, but we can control how we respond.  We can control if we let these emotions take over the rest of our day, in interactions with others.  I was grateful that I came early enough for my flight, that I had time to de-escalate before I boarded.

I recently listened to the On Being Podcast that featured an interview with poet Naomi Shihab Nye.  She discussed this concept in Japan called Yutori, which is described as this sense of spaciousness.  When I heard it, I realized it sounded like mindfulness, an example given would arriving early for an appointment to allow enough time to look around. Other definitions were given which included the following quote “After you read a poem, just knowing you can hold it — you can be in that space of the poem, and it can hold you in its space, and you don’t have to explain it. You don’t have to paraphrase it. You just hold it, and it allows you to see differently.”

To counteract these moments of frustration when I travel, perhaps I need to perpetually welcome and prepare for this spaciousness to be available.  I can allow myself to arrive to the moment, notice what’s around, and release anything I don’t need for this next trip.  I need more space to welcome all that is unknown or unexpected in.

So I opt to write my first Haiku…

Volcano erupts

Pele’s fury does ignite

Lava opts for sea

Realistically, I may never be able to be anger free.  This is a normal emotion, but I can choose another way to discard it. There is a way out.  Notice anger, allow it to arise, and know that it can be transformed.  Don’t blame yourself for being human.  Choose to live differently.  Create a new habit.  We are not the culmination of our habits and emotions, there’s always potential to shift and change.  This is where freedom lies.

As I continued on my journey of the day, I tried to notice moments of kindness again.  I began offering these positive quotes to others that served me.  As I sat on another flight, I witnessed a woman not having space for her backpack under her seat as she was in an exit row.  The woman next to me, offered the space below her feet.  As they began a conversation, this woman began to discuss how she attended each one of her daughter’s college basketball games.  Her daughter lived in Maryland, she lived in Ohio.  The stranger whose bag was under my neighbor’s chair said, “not only are you my guardian angel, you are your daughter’s.  The woman responded with, “my daughter is my guardian angel.”   I wouldn’t have witnessed this if I didn’t allow my anger to subside, and allow myself to witness moments of kindness offered in my atmosphere.  We always have an option of what we seek to look for in the world.

“We sow the seed of intention in every moment of ill will: the intention to befriend and begin to see that our capacity to radically change our mind of the moment through metta is to change the shape of the world of the moment.”-Christina Feldman

Happy travels! Note as you fly, apps that are available to make mindfulness accessible . I was happy to see this in my airline magazine .

Welcome Home

What constitutes being an American?  It’s been ten months since I have stepped foot in America, and almost five years since I have lived here.  As I filled out the customs form, I was confused. Do I write resident or visitor? After numerous crossed out lines, I decided on visitor.  And this is how I feel.

I entered the line at Newark airport for passport security, a staff member of Latino descent asked me “passport or green card?”  “Passport” I said, finding it odd that I am supposedly in my “homeland”, but feel excluded.  It’s as if I don’t belong, after receiving my passport printout, I turn it into another staff member of Asian descent.  He says I must return to a separate line due to the fact my scanned form had a big X over it.

“Why did I pop up as an X?”  I inquired to the another worker of Latino descent in the new line I joined.  “Was it because I live overseas, or because I visited numerous countries since my last time here?  Is it because my passport is due to expire in 6.5 months?”  He responded with “No, it’s because you ate chicken mcnuggets at McDonalds and forgot to pay for them.  You got too much ketchup.” I added, “and sweet and sour sauce.”  Relief.  I’ve heard horror stories of intensive questioning at passport security, and to minimize it all with comedy was a major relief.  But I began to wonder, why did I pop up as a warning or seem as if someone who has a green card?

Initially I thought, maybe it’s the style of clothes I am wearing.  I look so European, that I must be a green card carrier.  Maybe it’s flattery for my image having an X over it, because I seem as if I could be this beautiful spy in a Jason Bourne film.  But in reality, it’s most probably because I have brown skin.  (Although living in England for five years, this is the whitest I have ever been). It’s interesting because all of the staff members I encountered were of other ethnic minority origins as well.  I try to not let it get to me, and find relief that the passport worker made the experience a light hearted comedy for a moment.

Welcome back to America, but is this home anymore? I wanted someone, a staff member or anyone at the airport to greet me with “welcome back,” I heard it uttered to another stranger.  Why not me?  But I may be a foreigner.

I take the train from Newark to Trenton to be picked up by mother and step-father.  As the train is nearing completion, a fellow passenger of Latino descent mutters something to me which I couldn’t understand.  He repeats it, I still cannot make out what he said.  He then said, “habla espanol?” “Mas o menos” I reply.  He was inquiring of the book I was reading, approved of it, and went on his way.

Perhaps I should not be offended that nobody thinks I am “American.”  This is how I had perceived the situation, I expected when I set foot on land that people would know I am from the Midwest, this is where “I’m from.”  But all of these people I interacted with who made these assumptions were ethnic minorities themselves.  Maybe they were relating to me as if I was a family member. My mom and all of my maternal lineage is from another country, green cards I guess aren’t so far off.  Their quick judgements made could have came from a place of solidarity.  They could possibly also receive these comments when they return from foreign lands.

I began writing this particular blog post with the undertone of not belonging anywhere, in the UK or in America, and other various complexities.  But beneath all of this, there’s this realization that these assumptions did not come from a place of hate or exclusion.  It could come from a place of empathy, relatability, and connection.  In their minds, I could have been a family member.  Nobody was rude, they may have been trying to connect.

Given the complexities and tension in America at the current moment, there are so many ways I can choose to view these situations.  It could be a situation of hate, exclusion, judgement, discrimination, or numerous other factors.  But I choose to view it from the lens of love and compassion.

Why would I want to view it as anything else?

Ode to Stephen Hawking

When we collectively lose a great mind or talent , I feel the world should be required to pause for a moment of silence to breathe it in. So is the case for Stephen Hawking. This brilliant mind impacted the world not only by his scientific contributions, but the resilience he demonstrated throughout his life. Despite being diagnosed with an illness that ate away at his physical mobility and tactile independence , his intellect, deductive imagination, and exploration transcended to the ether. He seemed to be one of our world’s most recognisable and famous scientists. He was a rock star!

Although I lived in Cambridge for several years, I never had the privilege of meeting him. I had heard a deeply kind gesture about him years ago from an acquaintance of how he displayed his gratitude for those that assisted him. Mr. Hawking had a maid for several years he adored and assisted her with a down payment on her house. I heard of people having spottings of Professor Hawking at the Cambridge movie theatre , but I never was lucky enough to spot my neighbor . He remained connected with the university till the end of his life , continuing to offer support and guidance in anyway he could.

As I read through the paper about Stephen Hawking‘s life, accomplishments, and recent film that was made about his life (Theory of Everything), I realised that people are not grieving his loss but celebrating his life. The world always seemed to be holding their breath about the fragility of his physical state, but he lived to be 76. He outlived numerous individuals who were theoretically “healthy”. But perhaps because his health loomed over him, it deepened his appreciation for each day. An article in the evening standard said that “the subtext of everything he did and said was carpe diem.”

The Buddhists practice a daily reminder that your life is impermenant, five times per day actually. There is an app I recently downloaded called We Croak. If you downloaded , you are given a reminder “you are going to die” , 5x each day . It is then followed by an inspirational quote. If we practice reflecting on our mortality more frequently , it can deepen our experience of life.

We salute you Professor Stephen Hawking for providing a constant reminder of what we are capable of, to never give up, and “while there is life there is hope

Previous Older Entries