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Posts Tagged ‘Spirituality’


Enjoying the sun

On the eve of my 38th birthday, I sit here in a cafe, wanting to sing out at the top of my lungs, bursting with passion and light. There are hardly words powerful enough to express how much I love my life, how much happiness I feel inside. On a daily basis, my spirit is overflowing with radiant joy and I am forever in search of the right words, words compelling and powerful enough to do it justice. And I realize this is a good challenge to have! But it wasn’t always this way. I fought a long, hard, soul-wrenching journey to arrive in this place.

As is so often the case on one’s birthday, I too find myself in deep reflection of my past journey: each choice made, every road taken, to get me to the place where I am today. When I was a teenager I said to my friends that when I was older I wanted to move around and live in different places. Somehow I knew I wasn’t meant to stay where I was. It seems I always had a wanderlust inside of me, and I could never have imagined what a self-fulfilling prophecy that statement would become. I first dipped my exploratory toes in the water by leaving my home town to move to the summer beach town of York Beach, Maine. This first spreading of my wings would allow me to take flight, and fly I did… straight across the ocean to spend a full year of living in Spain. After that year abroad, there was no going back. I knew it was only full steam ahead.

But the real meat of my journey began when I left college and stepped boldly into adulthood, venturing out on my own as an independent, self-sufficient, fearless adult. And that was the beginning of the journey to fulfilling my childhood prophecy.

I’ve been thinking about the scene in Eat, Pray, Love where Elizabeth Gilbert is contemplating the meaning of her own journey and what the city of Rome represents to her. This got me to thinking of each of the incredible, distinctive cities in which I have lived and worked as an adult, and what they represented to me. And I asked myself, “If I could find one word to define what each city meant to me, what would it be?” Somehow the answers came to me almost instantly.

The first city on my journey was Boston. And the word:

Foundation.

Paul Revere Boston

Photo by Flickr User NathanF.

In my senior year of college I was determined to end up anywhere but Boston, as I was already eager to soar to more distant shores. But it seemed that there in Boston I was meant to stay (at least for then), so that I could build the strong foundations under my feet. No matter where else I have lived, Boston is always the home in my heart, the place where I was able to develop into a strong adult, the place that forged the fire of my inner identity. Boston and her people would have a powerful influence over how I would see the world, over my political ideology, my values, and my manner of interacting in the world. This city, so real and down to earth, would encourage in me my open and direct, “tell it like it is” nature, my high energy and fast-paced, sarcastic wit… oh and of course a superior driving ability. ;-)

During my six years in Boston, I had the fortune of experiencing what it truly means to be fulfilled by a career, and to love going to work every day. My work in international educational travel allowed students to open their eyes and see the world. This work took me overseas multiple times per year, using my Spanish, connecting with foreign souls, learning about the world…building the foundation of who I would become.

Boston would also teach me about the highest and lowest experiences of the heart, connecting me with my first true love, my first passionate soul connection, and in turn my first debilitating broken heart and my first sobering bout of depression. And though I could never have imagined it at the time, this was all part of building a solid foundation, it was laying the building blocks of a strong heart.

When my despair began to overshadow the beauty in my life, when I could no longer bear to look at sights of memories gone by, without being torn apart by the pain, that is when I knew it was time to move on. After six years of exploring her historic cobblestone streets, meandering past her gas lanterns, and taking in the salty sea air, it was my time to leave Boston.

My next destination was Washington, DC, a city to which, only a few years prior, I had stubbornly stated that I would never move. And yet here I was. And the word for DC:

Exploration.

After 911 decimated the student travel industry, I left behind the career I had loved and the only life I had known, to explore being a new version of myself. Passionate about foreign affairs and spurred on by the events taking place in the world, I enrolled in a Master’s of International Affairs program at George Washington University. I remember my first weeks in DC, being so excited to explore a new place. I ventured out around her quaint neighborhoods, admiring her majestic Ambassadorial residences, and charmed by her tree-lined streets, this time with colorful row-houses, a contrast to the dark brownstones of Boston. I was enchanted by her vibrant cherry blossoms, her colorful tulips and daffodils sprouting out from every corner. I was captivated by her diversity, her rich cultural and international identity; and by so many amazing and idealistic causes, initiatives, and events unfolding across the city. Engaged and mentally stimulated at every turn, I was exploring a completely different life than the one I had known in Boston.

DC cherry blossoms

It didn’t take long, however, for me to realize that my exploration into graduate school was not in fact the right path. Turned off by bureaucracy and red-tape, this fast-talking, fast-moving Bostonian needed something that was much more dynamic, much more fluid. After one semester, I decided to take a leave of absence to explore other options.

The sages say “Ask and you shall receive.” If I wanted fast-moving and dynamic, that was exactly what I would get when I suddenly found myself in my very first start-up role. Here in a city known for government and politics, I had found a tiny slice of the dot-com world. And the exploration continued. As I developed into my first ever management role, building out an entire department, team, and infrastructure from scratch, and working infinite hours to do so, at the same time there was a deep exploration of the heart taking place. I was involved (or perhaps “entangled” would be a better word) with my next love, a man who now lived 3,000 miles across the country, in Los Angeles; a man that had “accidentally” become my best friend, a man that could complete my sentences, a man that understood ever fiber of my being. But with this exploration came great challenge and confusion, for this man and I had several years between us, and we were in decidedly different phases of our lives, both ready for different things, and seemingly heading in different directions. And so all good things shall come to an end.

I loved my time living in Washington, DC, but from the moment I arrived, I somehow knew it was only temporary. There was a deep calling within me, an inner knowing that I must one day move to the west coast. When this man suddenly met another woman and chose her to walk beside, I knew that this period of exploration was over, and that instead it was time for decisive action. Around the same time, my start-up had gotten acquired, and I knew it was becoming time to move on from Washington, DC. After four years of walking past the White House and the great halls of Congress, biking the shores of the Potomac River, sitting next to the magnificent seat of Abraham Lincoln and looking out over the National Mall in deep contemplation, I knew it was time to leave the nation’s great capital. And it was the time to take the next step towards my destiny path of moving to the west coast.

It is safe to say that had it not been for this man, Los Angeles would never in a million years have been on my radar. In fact ask him at the time and he would have told you that I hated Los Angeles. And yet the next thing I knew I was loaded up in my 1997 Saturn, with a friend and my loyal feline companion, and I was going for broke. I knew I had to fight for love.

Photo by Flickr user victoriabernal.

Photo by Flickr user victoriabernal.

3,000 miles later I drove into the city of Los Angeles, the blazing sunset lighting up the palm trees and sparkling with possibility over the sea before me. And so began my new life on the west coast. And the word that would come to represent Los Angeles:

Awakening.

It was here in Los Angeles that the man for whom I had risked it all, rejected me and wrote me out of his story. He was moving on and in the blink of an eye, he was out of my life forever. Forget about him having been my best friend, forget about him having known my soul more deeply than any other being, forget about all of the sincere promises to be in my life forever. None of that seemed to matter. He disappeared into the night. And here begins the “dark night of the soul.” Having just given up a high-paying, stable job and great friends in DC, I now found myself jobless, friendless, and virtually alone in the City of Angels. Despite the name, I felt no angels by my side. I felt completely alone in a vast sea of emptiness, left with nothing but a gaping hole in my heart.

Looking back with hindsight, I can now see that what I’ve described above are the perfect conditions to launch one into a powerful spiritual awakening; when one hits the true rock bottom and when there is nowhere deeper to go, I believe that this is when we are perfectly prepared to crack wide open. And crack open I did.

There were angels in Los Angeles, and those angels guided me to yoga.

The practice of yoga would change my life forever and in ways of which I could never dare dream. The yoga created a profound energetic shift within me and magic began to stir. Psychic dreams began to occur, my empathic abilities became incredibly heightened. I could feel the Kundalini energy awakening within me. In one of my darkest moments, all of these swirling energies culminated for me in a powerful out of body experience. My spirit left my body and in an instant I was embraced in the warm light of the Divine. When I came back into my body, my life would never again be the same. I knew for certain the immortality of my own soul, I knew that I was part of a greater sea of energy, of a collective consciousness. And I  knew that I would never again be alone. “Awakening” truly is the only word that I have been able to identify that comes close to describing what I experienced.

After this experience, my connection with Los Angeles was never the same. I would hike regularly in the Hollywood Hills and each time I did, I would be overcome with emotion when I would reach the top and look down on the breathtaking, expansive city below. And I understood in an instant why the Spaniards had named it “The City of Angels.” They too must have felt what I felt. Love poured down from the heavens and into my soul. I now knew that there were angels all around me. I felt them. I sensed them. It is somewhat ironic given the negative stereotypes of Los Angeles, but to this day, Los Angeles remains the place on this Earth where I have felt the most spiritually connected.

As I continued down the yogic path, my life began to align in crazy and undeniable ways. My intuition and inner guidance grew stronger and stronger and signs appeared to me, left and right, guiding me along my path, showing me which way to go. And the signs were very clearly pointing in one direction, and one direction only: to San Francisco. And the word that has come to encapsulate San Francisco for me:

Expansion.

How do I even begin to describe the magic, the sheer expansion that has occurred in my life since moving to San Francisco? There is so much: So much beauty, so much Grace, so much of the right person showing up at the right time, so much of the perfect opportunity falling in my lap at exactly the moment that I needed it, so much unexplainable mystery and synchronicity that defies all reason and logic. And it happens on a regular basis.

I moved to San Francisco on the tails of another dot-com job, thus continuing on the career path previously started in Washington, DC. But it became quickly clear to me that this job was merely a catalyst to get me to San Francisco. The job that brought me here eventually let me go, releasing me into the perfect storm of freedom and opportunity, a culmination of all of my different life experiences coming together in a singular moment; a moment that I don’t even remember, the moment when I chose be a writer. Looking back, I truthfully have no recollection of this precise moment, of the how, the why, the when. It just happened. It was as if the Divine hand of Grace reached down and took me over and I was simply on auto-pilot.

San Francisco golden Gate view

From that moment on my life has expanded beyond my wildest dreams. I am blown away and humbled on a daily basis by the large audience that has gathered in support around me, from all around the world; people who are actually interested in hearing what I have to say: ME. This still astonishes me. My writing has been featured in various online publications; I appeared in my first print magazine, as Martha Stewart’s Blogger of the Month in her Whole Living Magazine (I still have to pinch myself over this one!), and I am honored for my next, upcoming appearance in Origin Magazine. I have been interviewed by the most wonderful people, truly beautiful souls who are aligning with their true paths. And I know, with such clarity, that I too have aligned with my true purpose: to help people to heal, by sharing my experiences of triumph over darkness, and by sharing stories of the healing power of yoga, as I do weekly in my blog, The Yoga Diaries™. I believe that yoga has the power to heal the world and I am on a personal mission to share that message.

As I marvel at the unbelievable blessings that occur in my life on a daily basis, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for these gifts. And through the ongoing expression and practice of gratitude, I see even more of it flow into my life. The beauty continues to compound upon itself. I have met the most incredible people on this journey: beautiful friends who walk beside me on this soul path; amazing connections around every corner, people who are living from the heart and following their passions to do good for the world. All of this has amazingly even led to me working with a best-selling author, who has become a good friend. And I continue to be blown away. I stand in awe, every single day, of the wonderful souls that surround me, that support me, and that help my spirit and my life to expand beyond all wonder.

I often have younger people express to me their confusion about their paths, struggling to make sense of where it’s all going. And I always assure them that one day they will reach a point where they will be able to look back and realize that all the dots connected. As I reflect on my own journey, I am once again able to see the same thing. Not only do the dots connect, but if we are open and paying attention to the signs around us, they do so in miraculous and mind-blowing ways.

I stand on the many hilltops of San Francisco, looking out at the spectacular beauty all around me, and all I see are limitless possibilities. And I feel my spirit expand towards the heavens.

Heart Wide Open Cropped

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I was sitting on my futon writing when suddenly I heard a creaking in the walls. Assuming it was the usual bus driving down the street, I thought nothing of it. Seconds later, my two kitties came flying erratically into the living room and suddenly the entire room began to shake. We were having an earthquake. My legs involuntarily turned to jello.

I live in San Francisco, so I am no stranger to earthquakes. But despite that, they still give you a shock when they come, always so unexpectedly. Several hours later, having wound down from the adrenalin of the small quake, I was laying in the acupuncture chair, full of needles and definitely ready for the relaxation of my weekly acupuncture treatment. Suddenly the acupuncture clinic began to shake somewhat violently. I threw my upper body into the air and yelled out an expletive! We were having yet another earthquake! Twice in one day.

Those two earthquakes were several months ago now, but I was reminded of them early this morning at 5:30 am when I was jolted awake by yet another earthquake. Fortunately none of these quakes were serious ones, but each one of them has gotten me thinking… thinking about change. It has me thinking about how change can come at any moment, when you least expect it, and often when you are not remotely prepared for it. I am certain that we have all learned this lesson in our lives, often the hard way.

It seems to me there are three types of change: 1. the type of change we consciously make and for which we are excited, 2. the changes that we do make of our own volition, but yet which are still very difficult and sometimes heart-wrenching, and then there is the third type of change: the type of change that catches you completely off-guard, takes you completely by surprise, knocks you over and has the ability to shatter you, just like an earthquake. I have learned through my own experiences that we can learn to approach all of these types of changes in the same fashion: with openness, vulnerability and a willingness to accept whatever may come our way…and not only to accept it, but to embrace it. But I did not come to this place easily.

I’ll never forget the very first major change of my “adult” life. I was 18 years old, just barely an adult, and due to a broken heart and complex emotions in which I was stagnating in my home town, I made the decision (at the encouragement of my mother) to drive the two hours north to spend the summer living at my grandparents’ adorable little beach cottage in the resort town of York Beach, Maine. I had spent all of my childhood traveling there in the summers with my family. It was, in fact, my favorite place on earth, so moving there should have been an exciting change. And in part, it was.

But after packing up the car and making my way part-way up the highway for what felt like a journey to another dimension, I suddenly found myself gripped with panic. I had never lived anywhere except my small, quaint colonial town of Wrentham, Massachusetts. I had never known any friends but those friends with whom I had gone to school for the previous twelve years. Suddenly the thought of moving to a new place, where I didn’t know a soul (other than my family), was terrifying.

I pulled over to a gas station, pumped the pay phone full of coins and called my best friend back home. I was in tears, I was gripped with fear. The tremor of change had taken me over. This friend, who had been my closest friend all throughout my high school years, was wise beyond her years at 18. She somehow knew I needed to overcome this fear and confront this change. She told me to forge on. My eyes brimming with tears, I got back in the car and continued on, steeped in my own trepidation.

Well, I am so glad that friend encouraged me to continue forth because that change turned out to be one of the most important ones I have ever made. It was that step that allowed me to see that there was life beyond the 20 mile radius that I had known all of my life. That move opened up a whole new world to me that I never could have imagined; a new job, new friends, and most importantly…a new perspective. But even more importantly, it was this move, this first spreading of my wings that would pave for the way for me to dive head first into many more significant and life-altering changes to come. It was largely this change that allowed me to put myself on a plane, by myself, to go live in Spain for a year; to subsequently move to several new cities and then furthermore to move across the country and begin a whole new life. It all started with that two-hour drive to York Beach, Maine.

But it seemed that those intentional changes, despite having to overcome fear, did little to prepare me for the unexpected, undesirable and involuntary changes that were to come my way down the road. When the first true love of my life left me in my mid-20′s, I felt like there had been a massive earthquake and the whole earth had fallen out from under my feet. It seemed that there would be no possible way to put the pieces back together again. My world had crumbled.

I did everything in my human ability to try to adapt to that change, but despite my best efforts, it was a change to which I simply could not adjust. Without realizing it, I was fighting tooth and nail to resist that change, and I suffered greatly for it. Life was trying to pull me with the current, but I refused to go. I couldn’t go. I didn’t know how, where or why. It wasn’t until an even more devastating broken heart, six years later, that I would begin to realize that there was only one way to deal with an unwanted, gut-wrenching change. If that first heartbreak had seen the earth fall out from under me, this one had done both that and had overcome me like a giant tsunami and I was drowning in my own sorrow, in utter despair. As I struggled to breathe under the weight of the crushing waves, I reached a point of complete desperation, a point where I knew I only had one option: I had to surrender.

Since reaching that point of surrender in recent years, I have begun to perfect the art of surrendering, going with the flow and trusting in the Universal forces. I have learned that though we cannot see them at the time, there are reasons why all of these changes, however painful and unexpected, come into our lives: they come to teach us powerful lessons; they come to take us with the current and deliver us to new found places we never could have before imagined; they come to transform us into the people that we are meant to be. Those changes, however unsought and however devastating, have allowed me to live through a transformation, a more powerful alchemy than I ever could have imagined. They have allowed me to blossom into a person I never could have known, living a life of emotional and spiritual richness of which I never would have dared dream. Those changes, however unwanted, were in the end…gifts.

And one of the most powerful lessons I have learned from walking through the fire of my own changes, is how to truly open myself up and surrender to any changes that may come in my future: whatever they may be; however painful, however unimaginable and earth-shattering. As I think about this morning’s earthquake, those that have already gone by and those that will come, I have realized that earthquakes provide us with a powerful lesson for life:

Dramatic change can come at any time. To cope, adapt and thrive, we must soften, surrender and go with the flow.

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Our society largely teaches us that if we hope to find happiness, we must have a myriad of very specific things, among them: romantic love, marriage, children and a stable, high-paying career. I have none of these things, and yet I am living more fully than I have ever lived before. Only one month into 2012 and I can already see that my 37th year is gearing up to be the best of my life. And I am yet again reminded that if we are open, if we pay attention to the signs, if we listen to our instincts and trust, we can create and experience nothing short of magic in our lives.

One year ago today, shortly after being fired for the first time in my life, I reflected on the idea of the “life plan,” the idea that there are certain milestones towards which we are “supposed” to work and specific benchmarks by which we measure our success in achieving said milestones. And I am now able to see that it wasn’t until I rejected those measurements, and let go of any idea of the life I had planned, that I began to see the true magic unfold in my life. It was truly by surrendering that my life began to flow with the current.

Today I turn 37 years old and I stand in awe of the life that has manifested before me. It is not a life I ever could have dreamed of or imagined. It is, in fact, the farthest thing from any picture I ever could have painted for myself. Nor is it a life that any of my friends or family ever would have predicted for me. Yet I look back in wonder and amazement at the incredible journey, the unexpected twists and turns, the surprising detours and the life-altering and mind-blowing experiences that have delivered me to this very place in time and space.

Simultaneously, I am mesmerized by how much has happened, by how quickly the years have passed, a blip on the dashboard of universal time. And I find myself sounding like my father when I say, “I never thought I’d get to be {insert age}!” Just the other day I expressed this same thought to a friend of mine, who very wisely responded, “You’ve earned your 37 and you have to admit it is probably better then 17 or 27 for that matter.” As I pondered this, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the veritable accuracy and poignancy of that statement. I looked back on my life at those ages and this is what I realized: 17 was the year of my first broken heart; 27 was the year of my second broken heart…So what of 37?… 37 is the year of my LIBERATED HEART.

For much of the two decades between my tender 17-year old adolescent self and my now 37-year older and wiser self, I have been through the wringer of broken hearts, time and again left dripping helplessly into the floor. I have touched every range of emotion and their deep and often painful polar opposites. I have lived, breathed and tasted them. And I have drowned in them. I have looked for love and happiness in all of the wrong places, and I have fought tooth and nail for loves that left me broken and wrung out. And in the process I have seen the inner fibers of my heart carved out, leaving me with gaping holes of emptiness.

Whatever remnants of an intact heart were left after the first two broken hearts, were finally completely shattered by the third (and hopefully last!). But though I did not realize it at that time, it was that utter smashing of my heart that would actually be the key to cracking me wide open. I saw a beautiful quote the other day:

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”~ Rumi

The day that my heart was shattered into smithereens, was the day that my true healing could really begin. Since that time, I have dived more deeply into my soul than I ever dared dream possible. I have touched the source of the divine within me, the deep well of wisdom and knowing, and I have connected with the celestial forces all around me, above and beneath me. I have drunk, tasted and touched the pure light of love. I have found Bliss.

So yes, it is true: I have no romantic love. I have no marriage or children. And I don’t have a stable, high-paying career. But I lack nothing. I have found true happiness in myself, with myself and by myself.

On that note, age 36, I bid thee a loving farewell. You have been a true and trusted friend on the journey to the heart, you have been the gateway to my liberation. I will always look back on you with reverence as the year that changed everything and I will carry you with me as I walk forward into what I know will be one of the most powerful and transformational years of my life.

Hello age 37. I welcome you with open arms and a fully intact heart.

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I am not a great meditator. Just as I often lack the patience to sit down and finish a book (and believe me I’m in the middle of many!), I too often lack the discipline to sit down and meditate. But that does not mean that its benefits escape me. I have been through periods in my life when I have had deep and prolonged meditations, out of which have come powerful and even life-changing insights.  And equally I have been through other periods where my life just simply gets busy and I’m running in a million different directions. That’s when we find ourselves in the old Catch 22: Because of course that is when meditation can benefit us the most, but as we all know, it can sometimes just be hard to make the time. Tonight I made the time.

My meditation routine is a simple one. I sit in a cross-legged position, on a soft pillow, and I begin to focus on my breath. It does not take me long to get into a steady rhythm and as I do, inevitably one of my cats will meander over to take up a meditation position of his own on my lap as I breathe in and out. They too are not ignorant to the benefits of meditation. As I dive deeper through the different brain waves, I can feel the cat’s energy field connecting with mine and I can feel his body moving up and down with his breath and his purring grow deeper and deeper. This simple scenario is my constant reminder that we are all one, that all creatures on this Earth are connected.

After a steady period of focusing on my breath, it gradually reaches a state where my breathing begins to slow down, almost to a seeming halt, and I begin to become unaware of it. And then the powerful surges of energy come. Simultaneously, I can feel myself diving deeper within and my consciousness being elevated to a higher state of awareness; a state in which I suddenly have a stronger sense of knowing, a state from which clarity and insights often are revealed to me. Tonight, the message was a simple one and one I get frequently. As my eyes welled up with tears, all I could feel and know was that…love is all that matters.

Well that’s an awfully vague statement, right? What do I mean by “love”? Am I talking about romantic love, or perhaps love of family and friends, or simply a love of life? I am talking about all of those and none of those at the same time. And no, you do not need to be “in love” to experience what I’m talking about. I am talking about Universal love: The love that encompasses all things. The love that connects me to my cats as I meditate; the love that connects us to people across the globe who are grieving after a horrible tragedy; the love that wells up inside of us at the sight of a newborn baby; the love that overcomes us when we see ocean waves crashing passionately against the shoreline. Love is everywhere, and it is everything. Not only is it within each one of us, but it IS each one of us, whether we feel it or not. It has the capacity to awaken us, to move us to our core, or humble us to our knees. It has the capacity to transform us. It is all that matters.

Upon finishing my meditation, I immediately posted the message, “Love…is all that matters” to my Facebook page. Within seconds I had a plethora responses and thumbs up. After all, love reaches out and grabs you by the soul strings. But I was struck by one response that was in disagreement with my own. This person commented that “people are really selfish” and that “they do not care about others.”

This notion will likely elicit lots of diverse responses and emotions in each of you. My first emotion was empathy. For I too have at times in my life felt exactly what this person has expressed. I am certain that we all have at one time or another. Whether we’ve been hurt or betrayed by a friend or lover, or been trampled on in our careers, most of us can relate to feeling this way. I used to feel this way a lot more than I do now. And this is where the meditation has changed my life.

Meditation has the power to change our thought patterns and our brain chemistry. By maintaining a regular practice over time, we begin to notice that things that once bothered, upset or even enraged us, suddenly do not anymore. In fact often we can surprise ourselves by not even being remotely ruffled when something negative happens to us. I continue to delight in this surprise in my own life. The longer I meditate the more I am amazed at how I have this new-found capacity to rise above whatever malice or negativity is being directed at me; I have developed a better ability to let it wash right over me and not get me wet.

I have found that when my life hits a rocky patch and I find myself back in the midst of turmoil or distress, when I return to meditation, I am immediately able to find peace…and love. When we meditate, we go within and we connect with something deep inside of ourselves, a bottomless well of Universal love that is connected to all things, to all beings, to Earth and Spirit.

So while it is almost certain that we will have our bad days and we will come on hard times, sometimes at the hand of other people who may or may not be bad-intentioned, it is up to us to decide how we respond to it. At a time on the Earth when there is more turmoil and division than we’ve seen in a very long time, it is more important than ever that we can all develop this capacity to rise above negativity, anger and fear. So I invite you all to learn to meditate or return to your own practice: go within, touch the bliss of divine consciousness that is the connecting force between all beings on this Earth and beyond. Seek out peace and light. And never forget that love IS all that matters.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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The year was 1995. I was 20 years old and I found myself alone at a friend’s apartment in London. It was a cold winter day and because London was dark by 3pm, I was stuck in the apartment very early in the day. Dinner consisted of a pathetic bowl of ice-cream as I watched a dreadfully boring tv show (on a screen full of static snow) about cheese-making in Britain. This was my first Christmas spent alone. It is a day I will never forget. I had never felt so alone in my life.

The second Christmas I would spend alone was in 2007. I was now 32 years old and living in Los Angeles. I spent the day curled up in an agonizing ball of tears, grieving over the man I loved, who would be spending his first Christmas with the woman who had replaced me. There was no eating on that day. The pain was too great to allow for food. It was too much to even answer the phone. I talked to no friends or family that day. The only place I could bear to be was alone with my grief. That was the low point of my life.

The third Christmas I would spend alone is this one: 2011. I am now 36, almost 37 years old and I am living in San Francisco. It is so fascinating and thought-provoking for me to reflect on all of the Christmases between this one and that first lonely Christmas spent in London. To be honest with you, I don’t even remember where I spent all of the Christmases in between. There may have been other lonely holidays spent alone, but the ones I remember are the ones I’ve mentioned. Those are the ones that stand out as the painful and defining moments in my life.

I ponder the 16 years that have passed since I served myself that Christmas ice-cream “feast,” and it is hard to even fathom the person I was and the person I have become. A lifetime of changes, heartaches, joys, triumphs, laughter, tears and adventures have taken place over those 16 years. From Spain to Boston, to Washington, DC, Los Angeles to San Francisco, I have lived across a span of 6,000 miles. I have gone from being a student living in Spain, to planning international travel, to being a graduate school drop out, to working at the United Nations in Geneva, through my first acquisition as a manager at a start-up, to working at a minimum wage job struggling to pay my rent, back to management in a start-up, to being fired and now to being an inspirational writer. It has been a path I could never have imagined and a level of growth and transformation that is immeasurable by time or space.

As I write this post, it is Christmas Eve and I am curled up in my pajamas with my two kitties, the only two constant companions in my life over the past decade. They are the wall between me and the full grip of loneliness. I will not be with close friends or family this Christmas, not because I don’t have those, but simply because we are all in different places this year and circumstances prevent us from being together. Is it easy to be alone? I would certainly be lying if I said “yes,” but I am here to tell you that there is an indomitable strength and fortitude that has come from having to face the depths of such solitude. Walking through such loneliness over a span of so many years has forced me to walk through the fire and it has allowed me to emerge a Spiritual Warrior. And with that has come the knowledge and the wisdom that I am my own strongest ally, that with my inner strength and fire I can overcome and endure any plight or challenge that comes my way.

I am here today to reach out to all of the other lonely souls out there who feel that they are all alone and who feel that they are the only ones. I am here to tell you that you are not alone. I am here to tell you that you are one of millions, that as I write these words there are countless other people in the exact same situation, wishing that they had loved ones with whom to share the holidays. And I am here to tell you that there is strength in that. You are not alone. None of us are alone. We are all connected by heart and spirit. We are all Spiritual Warriors and if we can tap into that collective energy we can feel the love and brotherhood among us.

I am also here to tell you that there is opportunity in solitude. I could spend Christmas Day alone and depressed about how everyone else I know is with loved ones. It would be far too easy to go to that place. But I refuse to allow myself that poisonous indulgence. Instead I will begin my day with a deep meditation, allowing myself to access that profound well of inner calm and the connection to my higher self and Universal love; that place where peace washes over you. Then I have organized a Christmas dinner, a dinner of complete strangers, an opportunity for other solitary souls to come together to share a dinner in the comfort of community; an opportunity to get to know new people, to share stories, to laugh and to allow ourselves to feel the joy of simple human connection.

If you are alone this Christmas, be comforted in knowing that in fact you are not alone. Reach out and connect with strangers. Go out to the pub and strike up a conversation with your neighbor. Go volunteer at a soup kitchen and connect with others by giving of your heart. Go to a yoga class and flow with a community of like-minded souls. Remember that we are all brothers and sisters on this journey of souls and none of us are ever alone. We are all connected.

Whatever holiday you celebrate, from my heart to yours…..

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Today is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States, a day of giving thanks and expressing gratitude for all of the gifts in each of our lives. Thanksgiving as a cultural holiday is all about turkeys and stuffing, pumpkin pies, laughing with family, watching football, playing board games…so many different ways for families to come together and share their joy with one another. For many families it also involves saying Grace at the dinner table.

I remember as a kid being very uncomfortable with this concept. I didn’t come from a particularly religious family, so for me saying Grace was synonymous with praying. It was something that religious families did, something that for me involved that awkward and elusive word “God.” It was simply something that was not part of my vocabulary and it was definitely something that felt a bit too ritualistic for my taste.

I have now realized that while saying Grace is a practice performed by many different religions and spiritual traditions all over the world, at its core the concept really has nothing to do with the institution of religion itself. Grace is simply about the attitude of being grateful, expressing joy for all of the beautiful things in your life. It is not about wishing for more, but instead it is about being grateful for exactly what you have, whatever or however little that is. And I have also realized that it is far more than just a mere ritual of words. The act of saying Grace, the proactive and conscious practice of gratitude has much, much more power than one might possibly imagine.

The Gratitude Tree by Nick Wormell

Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, has spent his whole adult life centered in and sharing the practice of gratitude and gratefulness. He explains gratitude as having two inter-related branches: one is gratefulness and the other is thanksgiving. He describes gratefulness using the image of a bowl, as a representation of life. As one has the experience of feeling so appreciative, so full of gratitude, their bowl gets filled to the brim, just to the point where it is almost overflowing. You’ve all felt this sensation at some point in your lives: When you are so grateful for something that has occurred to you, perhaps the news that you landed the dream job, perhaps a dear friend or family member giving birth to a healthy baby. Whatever the situation may be, you are so elated and bubbling over with joy that you feel the sensation of the bowl filling up with happiness and gratefulness.

As you focus on these jubilant life situations and wonderful emotions, as you feel the overwhelming sense of gratitude and appreciation, the bowl gets so full that it begins to overflow into the second branch of gratitude: thanksgiving. As a result of feeling the ecstasy of the absolute fullness of life, you now begin to attract beautiful things back into your life. As your own gratefulness overflows, thanksgiving brings ever more bounty into your life. And as you begin to become aware of and consciously focus on your feelings of gratitude, you notice that as they get more powerful and more a regular part of your life, so too does the flow of abundance into your life.

This awesome power of gratitude has become ever more evident to me as I’ve studied more and more about the power of the mind, the power of our thoughts to impact our surroundings and our experiences, the power of our emotions to attract beauty into our lives. As I wrote about recently in my post “The REAL Secret,” our thoughts do have power, both for good and bad. And if we can allow ourselves to live with conscious awareness of what we are thinking and feeling, and if we can harness our thoughts to focus on the beauty, to feel absolute joy and gratitude for any and all of the positive elements in our lives (regardless of what other negative elements may exist), magic will happen. By focusing on that for which we are grateful, by practicing gratitude every single day, by seeking out the beauty and the positivity in every waking moment, we can create our very own cornucopia of abundance.

Looking back on my awkward childhood relationship with the concept of saying Grace, I now look back and nod with understanding. I now get it. I understand why people say Grace and I fully appreciate how powerful a practice it actually is. And while I am still not a religious person and probably will not be holding hands around the Thanksgiving dinner table to say Grace, I realize that I don’t have to. I hold gratitude in my own heart, in my own way, every moment of every day. And my cup (or bowl) runneth over…

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I love Joseph Campbell. I think his writings and his philosophies were and continue to be brilliant and thought-provoking, and when I read his works it is clear to me that he was tapping into a deeper, ancient fountain of wisdom. “Follow Your Bliss” is one of his most famous statements. We all know what that means: follow what it is that brings you true joy, and you will find true happiness at the other end. While I agree with that in part, the problem is that we humans tend to take it too literally. What do I mean by that? Well, here’s the thing: if you are living a full life, there will be dozens if not tens of dozens of things (hobbies, activities, careers, etc) that bring you Bliss. So how do you know if you are following the right one? 

When I was a kid, like many little girls I dreamed of being a dancer. If I had followed that Bliss, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have turned out very fruitful for me. But would it be because I didn’t try hard enough or that I didn’t set a strong enough intention and stick with it? Nope. Not at all. It would in fact be because I don’t believe I was good enough. I loved to dance, but truthfully I was only an average dancer. And as I watched the top students go on to be stars in the Nutcracker, I knew they had something that I didn’t. They were born with a talent that I knew I did not possess. Was I being too hard on myself and giving up too easily? Nope. Even as a child I had enough wisdom to know that not all dreams are meant for all people. Since moving to San Francisco, I’ve met a woman who is one of the soloist ballerinas for the San Francisco Ballet. When I watch this woman move, it is clear to me that she was born with a true gift: she was born with this special talent, but she was also born with the perfect stature and grace to be a ballerina. I was not. I believe this was her Calling. And I know that it was not mine.

Later on in life, in my late 20′s I found myself writing an extensive thesis to President Bush about all that was wrong with our foreign policy. Even as I wrote it, I found myself wondering “Wow, where is THIS coming from?” I was passionate about foreign affairs. So following that Bliss, I quit my job in Boston and moved to Washington, DC where I enrolled in a Master’s program in International Affairs at George Washington University. I was going to solve the Middle East Crisis, that was my goal. I was following my passion, my Bliss, so surely I was on the correct track. Right? Wrong. It didn’t take me more than one semester in Washington, DC to realize that I was NOT a bureaucrat, that the life of a government employee would not in fact bring me Bliss, that it would instead bring me soul-numbing frustration. So I left graduate school and gave up on that dream and went on to another. One could read that and tell me that I had simply quit, that I had given up. But here’s where they’d be wrong: one major mistake that we make as stubborn human beings is not knowing WHEN to give up, when to change gears. I did not quit. I simply was aware of the sign posts, and when the sign said “turn here” I paid attention and turned instead of wasting more time on what I knew was the wrong path. I had followed Bliss, but it was the wrong Bliss.

That experience of dropping out of graduate school was a perfect example of trial and error and this is what I think is so important with helping us to truly find the Bliss that we are meant to find. Many of the things that we LOVE to do, that truly bring us Bliss, are not in fact our true Calling and would actually be better simply as hobbies. This is what I realized about foreign affairs. I realized that I could simply read The Economist weekly and engage in intellectual debates with my like-minded friends. But it didn’t have to be my career, my livelihood. It could instead simply be a hobby. Years prior when I had been a Zoology major and was determined to fulfill my childhood dream of going to Africa to save all of the endangered species, I was disappointed to find myself earning C’s and D’s in the challenging science classes: chemistry, physics, etc. This brought me the same realization. I could love animals, and I could volunteer my time and donate money to animal charities (which I do), but it did not need to be my career. I knew that that path was met with too much challenge for it to be my true Bliss.

As we are such a stubborn race, so many of us foolishly cling to false ideas of what we think is our Bliss, and instead we lose the opportunity to be open to something that we never might have imagined. Several days ago someone told me that they had followed their Bliss to be a musician, but that it had only led to a life of pain. I would then argue that that was the wrong Bliss, and not the one that was truly that person’s Calling. When you’ve found your true Calling, it is true that the Universe conspires to help you: doors that were previously shut tight suddenly blow open for you, the right people show up into your life to help you at exactly the right moment, and magic happens. I know this because this has happened to me since I started writing. And here’s the beauty in this statement: I never in my life wanted to be a writer. Looking back, it would never have been my Bliss. So how can I then say that I support the idea, even somewhat of “Follow Your Bliss“. Because writing actually IS my Bliss, I just hadn’t yet discovered it. There was a whole path out there that I never would have considered for myself, one that I never would have imagined would bring me Bliss. So how could I have found it? I couldn’t have. I had to be OPEN to IT finding me. And once it did, that’s when I knew this was a Bliss I could follow. And just as with the trial and error that I had tried previously, I tried this path. And that’s when the doors started blowing wide open.

Peter Tileston, my high school band director

Life is not meant to be difficult, and so often we waste so much time swimming upstream, and we fail to recognize that the fact that we are being met with nothing but obstacle, challenge and uphill battles is actually the Universe trying to hit us over the head and tell us that we are on the WRONG path. And if we would just let go, and let the current take us downstream, we would find that life can be so much easier, and beauty that we never would have imagined will come to us. So many of us are clinging to ideas that we THINK are right, but we are too afraid to let go and surrender to the idea that there may be something entirely different meant for us. What about that person who had followed their Bliss into a life of pain as a musician? Perhaps, their TRUE Bliss would have been not in being a performing musician, but rather as a teacher, bringing the magic of music to others? I was blessed with an incredible music teacher and band director in high school. This man had gone to school for music and I’m sure at one time or another thought that his Bliss was to be a professional musician. But I can tell you that from the 1,000s of students lives he has impacted, and the beautiful and life-changing lessons that he instilled in all of us, that this man had found his Calling as a teacher.

What about the person who is clinging to the idea that they are meant to be an artist, they are trying to follow their Bliss, but instead it has led to a life of struggle and destitution? That is not true Bliss. Perhaps if this person opened themselves up to other ideas, they might find their true magic in doing art therapy with disabled children. Perhaps the person who is certain that they are supposed to be a famous, published author, is actually instead meant to be the one-of-a-kind, special teacher who nurtures and mentors the NEXT Nobel Laureate. Or perhaps it’s something entirely different than what we want and imagine for ourselves. Perhaps the person who insists that their Bliss is to be a filmmaker is actually meant to be an internationally-renowned Yoga teacher? This one is actually a real-life example of which I just learned. When I was living in Los Angeles, one of my earliest yoga teachers who inspired me onto the path of yoga was this fabulous teacher named Tara Judelle. She is an internationally-renowned Anusara yoga teacher who travels the world leading workshops and now lives in Bali teaching yoga in paradise. I did not know this about Tara, but just the other day she posted this message: “9/11 marks the 10 year anniversary of my decision to stop making films and start making change as a yoga facilitator- be the change.” I was shocked because I had never known that she had previously been a filmmaker. All I knew of her was that she made magic on the mat as a yoga teacher. It is clear to me now that by releasing her career as a filmmaker, she was able to find what I believe is her true Bliss, her true Calling: to be a soulful, beautifully impactful yoga teacher who spreads light, and Bliss, all around the world.

Tara Judelle

So how do you find YOUR Bliss? Trial and error. Try lots of different things, explore all of the different activities and adventures that bring you Bliss. BE OPEN: Be open to the idea that any one of those examples of Bliss may in fact be better meant as a hobby and not actually as your Calling. BE ATTENTIVE: If life is too difficult and wrought with challenge, and is not simply flowing, the Universe is trying to tell you something. Listen. BE FLEXIBLE: When you get these blaring sign-posts from the Universe be willing to change gears, be willing to give up what you are doing and turn to the right and try something else. Be like the water and go with the flow. BE BRAVE: Be willing to try something completely new, something you never would have imagined. You just never know what Calling may find YOU.

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