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Photo attributed to Flickr User flydown.

For years I could not visit Boston. The pain was too great, the ghosts too many. Haunted by the memories of failed relationships, of devastating broken hearts, and of shattered dreams, the thought of returning to the scene of the crime simply filled me with too much dread. I had moved forward to new cities, new adventures with new lives and new friends, where I was living new memories and trying to forget the tragedy of fore. I was attempting, determinedly and desperately, to birth a new Jeannie.

But over time, the pull of family obligations and unexpected job opportunities would find me back in Boston, walking reluctantly through my old closets, trying to dodge the skeletons. Try as I might to avoid my old haunts, the pull of unresolved emotion would sometimes be too great to resist. I would find myself walking in a fog of mental haze through old neighborhoods, past old apartments, and stepping right through time portals that would carry me straight back to the scene of so many memories, so many palpable emotions. I tasted them, more bitter than sweet. I smelled them, more sour than succulent. Though they were done and dead, I relived them, painfully and tragically, over and over.

I couldn’t go to that restaurant, for that was where I met “him.” That patch of grass was where we lay looking for shooting stars. That video store was where I mustered up the guts to talk to “him.” That park was where we broke up. That subway was what we would ride, holding hands. That store was where we walked by the sweet kitty in the window. That bar was where we shared our first kiss. And that stoop was where I said good-bye, wiping the tears from “his” eyes. It seemed everywhere I looked there were reminders of love lost, of best friends tragically ripped from my life.

Photo attributed to Flickr User Helmut Kaczmarek.

But the years went by and as it always does, time began to heal all wounds, little by little. One city, then another city, and then a third city, and I had created three new versions of Jeannie, each a little different than the first. I was slowly becoming a different person. I was meeting new people, having new experiences, creating new memories, making new friends, living entirely different lives. Eventually, I was no longer that same Jeannie who had lain on that patch of grass or stood on that stoop. Though that person would always be a part of me, she had transformed and blossomed into a new creature, a stronger and more resilient being, shaped by the landscape of life.

This year, family would find me returning to Boston, now a hard-to-imagine 9 years since I’d left. And I unexpectedly found myself excited to return. I was excited to visit with family, to smell the salty sea air, to walk around the quaint cobblestone streets with their charming colonial houses. I looked forward to creating new memories.

Boston Public Garden

Once there, my family and I set right out to experience all that the beautiful city of Boston has to offer: walks through the Boston Public Garden, under my favorite weeping willow trees; strolling past the old row-houses of Back Bay; romping through the historic streets of Beacon Hill with their adorable gas lanterns; walking along the waterfront taking in the sweet smell of salty air as we watched the boats come and go. I felt no need to re-visit my old haunts, I somehow knew that those graves did not need to be walked on.

But as we strolled about, all over the city, we inevitably happened upon several of the spots of my past trials. Not sure how I would feel, I was somewhat surprised and delighted to find myself smiling. Those memories that had once been painful, were no longer. What had once filled my heart with deep, debilitating pain, now instead filled my heart with peace and love. I thought about the memories, and the people behind them, and to my shock I found myself filled with nothing but fondness for them. I realized in that instant that the old Jeannie had integrated with the new Jeannie.

I remember the feeling that I had that first day that I landed in Boston. As the old Jeannie collided with the new Jeannie, I felt a sense of strangeness; how surreal it was to have to consider and attempt to reconcile these two completely different people. They were so different: one was young, innocent, and vulnerable; while the other was mature, graceful and wise. They knew such different experiences, such distinct lives.

But now as I sit on the airplane heading back to San Francisco, the city of my current life, I realize that I am happily and peacefully integrated. The new Jeannie met the old Jeannie, thanked her for all of the powerful lessons learned, recognizing that she could not exist without her former self. And the old Jeannie smiled proudly at the new Jeannie, patted her on the back for a job well done and sent her off on her way, into the new adventures and lessons that would await…and transform her once again.

Photo attributed to Flickr User h.koppdelaney.

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Photo attributed to Flickr User: CaptPiper.

It was with every ounce of energy that I could muster from the deep recesses of my soul, that I dragged myself into my neighborhood yoga studio. I hadn’t set foot on a yoga mat in years, and as I was still relatively new to Los Angeles, I didn’t know a soul at this yoga studio. But despite that, something compelled me to enter the studio that day. That day was the first day of the rest of my life…

It was February of 2008 and I was living through the deepest, most paralyzing depression of my life. It was not by any accident that I had found myself suddenly living in Los Angeles, after having spent my entire life living on the East Coast. All of my life I had dreamed of moving to the West Coast, but at this particular time in my life, there was a love in Los Angeles…a love for which I needed to fight…and fight I did, with every breath in my body.

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Over recent weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting with several different friends from out of town, all friends who came from different cities and from previous lives of mine. Not only was it wonderful to catch up with these old friends and reminisce about times gone by, but it was a compelling opportunity to look back on my journey, to see all of the dots that have connected, and to reflect on all of the wonderful souls who have touched and shaped my path along this winding road of life.

Boston, MA

The first of these friends, Simone, was visiting from my home city of Boston. We began working together when I was a mere 23 years old, fairly fresh out of college and wet behind the ears. Looking back on that young age, now 14 years later, it is hard to even recognize the person that I once was. I was just barely beginning my journey into adulthood and I had so much to learn, and so many tough lessons that were still ahead of me. In my wildest imagination (or nightmares!), I could not have conceived of what was yet to come. I was, however, fortunate enough to land the job of a lifetime. For several years we organized student tours abroad and got to reap the benefit of traveling to exciting, foreign lands. This was a professional life filled with wonderful friends, laughter, hilarious travel stories and adventures and simply joyful and rewarding times. These were the days of our lives.

Fast forward five years and I would find myself a new resident of the nation’s capital, Washington, DC, and a newly enrolled graduate student. Having left behind a broken heart and dark clouds in Boston, I was starting over in a new life, preparing to embark on a career of international diplomacy and peace-keeping. However, a semester of confusion, dissatisfaction and feeling like a fish out of water, would eventually lead to my leaving graduate school and landing serendipitously in a job working for an International Human Rights organization. This is where I would meet Lauren, the second visitor to San Francisco in recent weeks.

Washington, DC

Lauren and I would become part of what I coined the “The Sex and the City” foursome of ladies who would get together regularly for dinner and girl talk. These friends were the rocks that kept me grounded during my four years in Washington. Lauren would witness me evolve into my first management role in the .com world, she would see me grapple with the stresses of a high-pressure, long-hour career, and she would see me struggle through a confusing yet painfully beautiful long-distance “relationship,” a relationship which would eventually leave me completely shattered, turned inside out and gasping for air. About to embark on what would turn out to be my “dark night of the soul,” Lauren would be part of the good group of friends that would send me off on my forever-destined journey to the west coast, leaving behind my east coast life and friends, leaving behind a part of myself.

The journey west would take me to Los Angeles, a city that would unwittingly become home to the deepest depression, the most gripping pain and the most intense struggle of my life. But simultaneously, and somewhat ironically, it would become the most bewitching and magical place I have ever lived, deeply connecting with the fibers of my spirit. Filling me up with her bittersweet nectar, Los Angeles would eventually become the gateway to a profound spiritual awakening, a complete transformation and a brand new Jeannie, alchemized by the fire of life.

Magical Los Angeles

Enter Garrett. A childhood friend of the family, Garrett had known me since I was a young girl and he had seen me grow into a woman. He had known me through various lives and several different versions of myself. Upon my arrival in Los Angeles, he was one of the only people I knew and was often the only shoulder to cry on during a very dark time. Garrett was witness to the darkest years of my life, the most profound turmoil through which I have walked, and for this I am grateful.

I am grateful because today when I met Garrett and his girlfriend for coffee in downtown San Francisco, while they were visiting from Los Angeles, I was able to shine brightly and tell Garrett how happy I am, how much joy, wonder and magic I experience on a daily basis. Had Garrett not been there to witness my lowest point, I’m not sure anyone would truly know how extraordinary and powerful my transformation has been, and how grateful I am for all of the trials and tribulations that have led me to this place.

As I look back on these friends, and the many others who have laughed with me, cried with me, fought with me and walked alongside me, I am deeply touched by the indelible marks that each one has left on my soul. It is often said that we should not look back to the past, but I profoundly disagree. There is so much grace and beauty in putting the pieces together and making sense of how the journey unfolded. Some of the most important lessons, and even revelations, of our lives come from time reflecting back on our previous journeys. It is all a beautiful, and necessary, part of our evolution.

It is true that however we might plan and plot, in large part we have no idea where are journeys will take us next, or where each path will lead; but what I am sure of is that there will be beautiful souls along the way, souls who will come into our lives to help us along our journey. There will be souls who help us, souls who hurt us, and there will be souls who crack us wide open, but each one of these souls has a purpose and a powerful lesson to teach us. And as we walk along our path, however much it twists and turns, and however dark, scary and painful it may become at times… we should embrace the journey.

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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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