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Posts Tagged ‘journal’


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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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 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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They say that during your toughest times, you find out who your true friends are. I am learning that this is also true during your best times.

In recent months I have begun to see positive movement forward in my writing career and while most of the people in my life have truly been avid cheerleaders, and for that support I am eternally grateful, others have been noticeably silent. They have made no acknowledgment of my successes, have offered no kind words of encouragement, and frankly have offered no words at all. Some are very simply jealous, envious of the success I am seeing, others disapprove of what I am doing or how I am doing it, while still others think I have simply gone off the “new-age deep-end”. At this premise I simply have to laugh because for one, what mainstream society unwittingly calls “new-age” philosophy is actually based on ancient wisdom, wisdom as old as the stars. But secondly, even if inadequately named, to this notion I would have to respond, “Yes, proudly. ; )” But I digress..

When I was younger and I would express to my Grandmother my distress about friends who were being unsupportive, she would simply say to me, “Oh nevermind.” I now realize how much wisdom was held within that simple statement. For I have realized that it doesn’t matter what any of those detractors think of what I am doing. If they choose to be unsupportive or disapproving, I have realized that that is their problem, not mine. And it is not worth a moment of my precious energy trying to please them.

All of my life I have cared way too much about what other people think of me. I don’t know where this personality trait comes from, but even from a young age I have always been a people-pleaser. Whether I was trying to please my parents by getting the best grades, or trying to please my teachers by being the model student, if I wasn’t doing perfectly and making people proud of me, I was not content. As an adult I carried this into my professional life by always striving to be the top employee and climb the corporate ladder. But I have realized that over the years I have acted this out to a fault: I have spent years walking on eggshells, agonizing over my choice of words, and ensuring that I did or said the right things in order to not offend or upset the people around me. And while that was always from a place of good intention, and there are certainly moments when being a diplomat is the right course of action, as a whole I have realized that trying to please everyone else is a futile effort and frankly a waste of my valuable time. Simply put, it does not matter how well-intentioned I may be, or how hard I strive to act from a place of highest good, there will always be people who are unhappy with me. Being a writer has forced me to face this reality, and for this I am grateful. I know that no matter what I write, no matter how sincere or heartfelt, that there will be people who hate it, people who are enraged by my words. And so I realize, yet again, that that is their problem, not mine.

Oprah Winfrey spoke on her final show about the idea that everyone on this Earth has a calling:

“Everybody has a calling, and your real job in life is to figure out what that is and get about the business of doing it. Every time we have seen a person on this stage who is a success in their life, they spoke of the job, and they spoke of the juice that they receive from doing what they knew they were meant to be doing. We saw it in the volunteers who rocked abandoned babies in Atlanta. We saw it with those lovely pie ladies from Cape Cod making those delicious potpies. … We saw it every time Tina Turner, Celine, Bocelli or Lady Gaga lit up the stage with their passion. Because that is what a calling is. It lights you up and it lets you know that you are exactly where you’re supposed to be, doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. And that is what I want for all of you and hope that you will take from this show. To live from the heart of yourself. You have to make a living; I understand that. But you also have to know what sparks the light in you so that you, in your own way, can illuminate the world.”

As I watched Oprah beautifully express her final soliloquy, her words came out of the television screen and enveloped me. I was moved to tears and goosebumps ran up and down my spine. As she described what it means to have found your calling, I knew that I had found mine. This message further reverberated with me only a few weeks later when one of my yoga teachers was talking about the first time she stepped onto the mat, and how she knew immediately that it was her calling to be a yoga teacher. As I sat on my own mat, legs folded in a seated meditation position, I resonated with everything my teacher was saying, and I felt exactly what she must have felt that day she realized her own calling. I too realized that I had found my calling.

This life has the possibility of presenting us with profound spiritual experiences, experiences that allow us to expand our consciousness and to access our deep, inner truth. By living through one of these experiences, and going deep into the recesses of your spirit and your higher consciousness, you are able to access ancient wisdom. And if you are open enough to “see”and brave enough to trust what lays within, you may be fortunate enough to find your calling. This is exactly what happened to me. The type of life experiences that can lead to such a powerful opening and awaking of consciousness are often experiences of the most painful and tragic kind. Traveling to such profound levels of grief can allow you to blow wide open. This is exactly what happened to me when I lived through my “dark night of the soul“.

I went into my “dark night” having been a manager in the .com world. To my surprise I emerged a writer. As I listened to Oprah Winfrey’s experience, it struck me that often times we have no idea of what our calling will be. We may think that we are supposed to be a doctor because society says that is the best career, or a lawyer because we come from a long line of lawyers, but the truth is that what we think we are supposed to be doing, may in fact be the farthest thing from the truth; it may have nothing to do with our calling. Never in my life did I want to be a writer. It was never remotely a thought in my head. I was not the kid in English class dreaming of being a literary master (and believe me I know plenty who were!). I hated writing. Hell, I even avoided certain college classes because there were too many required research papers for my taste. But when life happened to me, and I suddenly found myself placed on the path of the writer, without having any idea of how I had gotten there, that’s when I knew it was exactly where I was supposed to be.

This brings me back to those people who are being less than enthusiastic about my new-found path and reminds me of another story. Earlier this week my yoga community was celebrating the 14th Birthday of Anusara Yoga. The same teacher I mentioned above was giving a tribute to Anusara founder, John Friend, and she was telling us that when John Friend first started what was a brand new branch of yoga and a new lineage of teaching, while he was blessed with the support of many, he also had a number of detractors and was met with some criticism. Of course he was, he was doing something different from the mainstream. He was taking bold actions to develop a brand new style of yoga and this was threatening to the “old guard.” But as my teacher reminded us, John had already found his inner truth and he knew that he was on his true path, that he had found his calling. Despite the criticism, he knew he had to stand in his truth. Now, 14 years later, Anusara Yoga is one of the fastest-growing yoga movements on the planet, and John’s teachings have profoundly and beautifully impacted and transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people (I am one of those!). John Friend was right to trust his inner guidance and to stand in his truth.

I was lit up as my teacher told this story. As seems to happen more often than not, I felt that her message was magically directed straight at me. I knew immediately that I am no different than John Friend. I have accessed an inner truth that has given me 100% certainty that I have found my calling and that I am on my truth path on this Earth. My journey is to write inspirational stories from the heart, stories of hurt and healing, of betrayal and triumph; to help others with their own healing, by writing about mine. And as I move forward and I am inevitably met with additional criticism, I will always remember the wise words of my Grandmother, “Oh Nevermind.” And I will stop trying to please everyone around me, and instead I will STAND IN MY TRUTH because I know that as long as I am on my true path the rest will follow…

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grief (n.)= keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.

Grief is a funny thing. Our society teaches us to avoid it at all costs, and yet it is part of the natural cycle of life. We will all experience it in our lives, that is if we have a pulse. And we will all experience it in different ways, different times and in varying degrees. Some of us will suffer the horrific grief from the loss of a child, others will suffer the heart-breaking grief from the loss of a love or spouse, and still others will suffer profound grief from the loss of a pet. That is just to name a few losses which we may face over a lifetime.  It doesn’t matter what the source, but life pretty much guarantees it: the grief will come, and for a time it will be debilitating. And what is for certain is that there is no way to measure the level of one’s grief. Nobody can say “my grief is more intense than yours” or vice versa. There is no scale of 1-5 that allows for an objective measurement and comparison. For each person, grief is different, and it is their own. One can try to empathize with someone who is grieving, from having been through their own grief, but at the end of the day nobody else can truly put themselves in your shoes. Your grief is yours and yours alone.

Everyone has different ways of coping with their grief: some will turn to therapy and others will turn to prayer, and some to both. I fall somewhere in the middle: I turn inward to meditation. What is clear is that not all methods of coping with grief will work for all people, and it is important for each of us to find the path that works best for us. While I’ve always been hopeful about its effects, and despite various attempts, therapy has never made any meaningful impact on me. But meditation has. By going deep within, calming the inner turmoil and mind chatter, and through lots of practice, I have found ways that I can literally raise my consciousness above the turmoil, where I can look down at it from above, objectively. Of course meditation is not a magic bullet. It takes consistent practice and considerable commitment. And it too is not for everyone. But what I do know for sure is that nobody can say to you, “This is how you should be handling your grief.” Nobody has had the exact same experiences that you have had, and therefore nobody, no matter how empathetic or well-intentioned they may be, can truly know what is best for you. Nor do they have the right to tell you so. When it comes to deciding how best to handle your own grief, you are the only person who can make that decision.

There is no formula for how long it will or should take someone to get over grief. I’ve heard it said that to get over a love relationship, it should take you 1/2 of the time that you were together. According to whom?? Based on what??? That would falsely assume that all people are the same, and that everyone feels the same level of emotions, and that every relationship is the exact same level of love and intensity, which of course couldn’t be farther from the truth. We are dealing with human beings, not algebra! We are all unique. For some it could take weeks to grieve, for others years, and still for some it will become a lifelong struggle. I know that anyone who has lost a child will tell you that it is a loss you never get over; instead one has to learn how to live WITH it and incorporate it into a new reality, no matter how gut-wrenching. But I also know that you don’t have to have lost a child in order to feel that level of grief. There are other types of losses that can be just as intense for people. We’ve all heard of the phrase, “She died of a broken heart.” That phrase didn’t appear out of nowhere and it doesn’t just happen in the movies. Sadly, it can and does happen.

The most important element in the process of overcoming grief is simply time. But there is no way to predict the amount of time, and it is also the nature of grief that it can and will come in waves. One can be feeling fine for months or even years, and then suddenly out of the blue a reminder comes pounding in like a wave, and drags them into the undertow: it could be an Anniversary date, a song, a photograph, there are a million little things that could trigger a wave of grief to wash over you. And when that happens the best thing that the grieving person can do is try to “ride the wave”, knowing that it is a temporary storm in the sea of life and that this wave too will pass. The only way out is through.

How many of you have been told, “You need to get over it. It’s been too long.”? Every time I hear someone say that I want to spit, and I am reminded of how impatient and lacking empathy human beings can truly be. Of course people mean well when they say that, but by doing so they are belittling the loss that you have lived through and they are not respecting the grief process that YOU are living. The grief process is yours and yours alone. If anyone tries to tell you that, and it hurts or angers you, don’t fret. Step back and know that you are standing in your own process and be true to yourself: do what you need to do for yourself and do not be concerned with what anybody else thinks of you. At the end of the day you are your own best friend, and you know better than anyone what your own spirit needs.

I am often shocked by how few people want to deal with one’s grief, how afraid of it people tend to be. From writing in this community, I have met several other writers who are dealing with their own deep grief, and I’ve seen a reoccurring theme: they’ve all had friends and family who have pulled away from them, and in some cases permanently, because the friends or family were too uncomfortable and unequipped emotionally to deal with the other person’s grief. This is a sad statement; because of course when one is grieving that is when one needs their friends and family the most. But I have learned this same lesson in my own life, multiple times. Some people simply don’t have the emotional bandwidth, sensitivity, patience or level of empathy necessary to handle someone else’s grief. If everyone had that ability, then everyone would be a Priest, a Nun …or at the very least a grief counselor!

But most importantly it is a stark misconception to think that grief is bad and that we should in any way try to rush through it, push it aside or numb ourselves to it. Sadly so many people do this: they try to avoid the pain of a lost love by jumping into the next love; they push the devastating emotions down and try to pretend that they don’t exist, which sadly will often lead to the manifestation of disease; and others will try to drown out the pain with drugs and alcohol. None of these escape mechanisms will work. To quote Ovid,

“Suppressed grief suffocates, it rages within the breast, and is forced to multiply its strength.”

By trying to distract ourselves from grief, we are making a mistake. By trying to ignore the grief, we are not honoring the loss that we have experienced. We are also denying ourselves one of the most powerful opportunities for growth and learning that this earthly life affords us. Our darkest times are our most powerful teachers. The sage knows that to try to skip over such difficult times, is to deny himself of powerful learning and soul evolution. In the wise words of Marcel Proust,

“Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind.”

There is no doubt that grief is painful, and in many cases, devastating and debilitating. I’m sure none of you will argue with that. It can change your life forever, and often against your will. That has certainly been the case in my life. And while it may get easier with time, it can still be something that we simply have to learn how to live with, as difficult as that may be. But even in that circumstance, if we can dig in deep and instead of running away and hiding from grief, if we can muster up the strength to walk through it and experience it, and allow ourselves to ride the wave, it has the power to transform us.

“Grief drives men into habits of serious reflection, sharpens the understanding, and softens the heart.”- John Adams

This post is dedicated to my friend Judy.

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Previously featured on Elephant Journal.

Growing up as little girls in America, we are fortunate to have no shortage of empowered women to whom we can look up as role models. From the early childhood years we learn about Susan B. Anthony and her contributions to the women’s suffrage moment, and as we mature we delve into the progressive politics of Eleanor Roosevelt, a woman ahead of her time, who made tireless contributions to workers’ rights, women’s rights and human rights as a whole. More recently we can look to Oprah Winfrey, with whom I grew up, having been at the impressionable age of 11 when the Oprah Winfrey Show first launched. Throughout my adolescence and into my womanhood, I watched in awe as Oprah changed and inspired the world for the better. Pretty incredible for a poor, black girl from rural Mississippi. For me, Oprah encapsulates the essence of female empowerment.

Now why am I singling out women as the shining examples of empowerment? Of course there are thousands of examples of empowered men who have made significant impacts on our society, but as we live in a society where women still earn on average 20% less than men, and men still dominate the executive offices, I think it is more important than ever that young girls have positive, powerful and capable female role models. As I think of Oprah and the other empowered female leaders of our time, it occurs to me that I don’t need to look any further than my own circle to find powerful examples of female empowerment… starting with my own mother. Here, I would like to introduce you to some of the incredible women in my life, who have inspired and continue to inspire me, everyday:

Meet Marilyn (a.k.a. Mom). Mom was born into a generation where most women did not have a college education and many did not have careers. Of course, never one to sit idly by, Mom was way ahead of her time. By the age of 35, Mom had earned a Master’s degree while raising three children under the age of five, she had a solid career in education and had lived in two countries and five different states.  Later on, motivated to further her career, while raising three teenagers and working a full-time job, she proceeded to earn her Ph.D., and added three more states to her list of homes. She has now been a distinguished professor at three different colleges, has published three books, has lived in eight different states and has traveled to 20 countries. Mom taught me everyday, simply through her own actions, that women in our society can accomplish anything they want. Of course it’s no surprise that Mom was as empowered as she was, having come from a long line of empowered women. Her mother, my Grandma Monks, although from a generation when women rarely drove, was tenacious enough to get her first driver’s license at the age of 62, and even more amazingly to earn herself a Bachelor’s degree at the sprightly age of 72. As if that weren’t enough, that same year she decided she also needed to hike to the  summit of a 3,165 ft. Mt. Monadnock. And what of her mother? My Great Grandmother Beckford was the most feisty of the bunch. As a widow, she raised two kids during the depression, she ran for a legislative office in 1940 (only 20 years after being granted the right to vote!) and she refused to take social security until age 80 when she stopped working. Who does that?? With influences like those, it would be hard to imagine any other possible outcome than for both my mother and myself to have ended up as empowered women. When asked what she would do if she had all the money in the world, Mom answers, “I would build a home in Maine, make sure my kids all had homes, travel to Greece and also I would support an incubator for people who developed unique plans for helping disadvantaged or troubled teenagers.”

Meet Julie. Julie and I met almost 15 years ago as colleagues planning educational tours abroad for students. An adventurer from the start, by the age of 15 Julie and a friend had decided to send themselves to Europe for the summer, where they spent a month in Spain, followed by a second month in France. This was just the beginning of her adventurous life. Over the following two years she spent a total of six weeks in both Guadeloupe and Ecuador on study programs, and by the age of 22 she had spent two separate years living in two separate parts of France. Was that enough?  No way. A Francophile practically from the minute she left the womb, Julie went on to obtain a Master’s degree in French studies at NYU, taking her to live in France a third time. Throughout all of this incredible journey, she has managed to devote herself selflessly to several different volunteer organizations; among them completing an entire year of inner city volunteerism with City Year, and additionally with two organizations specifically focused on women’s economic inclusion and empowerment (a topic about which Julie is impassioned): Women for Women International and Women’s World Banking. All of this hard work and understanding of foreign cultures and economics has led Julie to a prestigious career working in international trade and investment with the French government. Julie is now responsible for creating and nurturing business ties between French and U.S. entities, companies, and governments. She has now traveled to 25 countries across five continents. When asked what she would do if she had unlimited wealth, her answer is “I would do what I am doing right now – only more of it – more money to causes I support, I would take care of my family financially, and I would travel more.”

Meet Kim. Kim and I also met at the same educational travel company where I met Julie (apparently an incubator for empowered women!). Another daring adventurer, by the age of 23, Kim had already lived in three separate foreign countries: The UK, France and the Netherlands. (Italy and India would be added to this list before the age of 30!) Having had the dream to work in the field of foreign affairs, Kim worked tirelessly to get herself accepted to Harvard and earned a Master’s degree in International Education. Ever the consummate achiever, Kim went on to be awarded the prestigious Presidential Management Fellowship in 2003, leading her to a highly successful career with the U.S. Department of State.  Throughout her seven year tenure at the Department of State, Kim has excelled to achieve the highest GS grade level, for her performance on managing foreign assistance, and has spent a tour living in India. She currently has the very important responsibility of managing all of the United States Government’s foreign assistance used for security purposes, including our commitments to Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, etc. Kim has traveled to a staggering 72 countries and her work has taken her, with two separate Secretaries of State, to every continent except for Antarctica. In addition to maintaining this high-powered career, Kim is now serving in the most important role of her lifetime, as the mother of a beautiful baby girl. With Kim as a role model of female empowerment, I have no doubt that her daughter will follow in her mother’s footsteps to achieve equally impressive accomplishments. When asked what she would do if she had unlimited wealth, Kim answers, “After providing a modest safety net for my daughter, I think I would pay it forward in as many situations as possible, help the neediest and those truly struggling, support key issues that are important to me such as animal welfare, abused and neglected children, education reform and the environment.”

Meet Kathleen. She is one of my favorite examples of total female empowerment, and not for any of the reasons I’ve mentioned above with my previous friends.  In fact, Kathleen has had quite a different story from any of these ladies. You see, Kathleen gave birth to her first child at the tender age of 15. Even she herself finds that hard to believe as she reads it! She went on to have a total of three children, and unable to take the traditional path of college and career, she had to make great sacrifices for her children. Now a single Mom, and barely over the age of 30, her oldest child is soon to be entering college… and despite the hardships and obstacles she has faced, Kathleen has managed to work herself into a very successful career in banking, all the while raising three happy, healthy and well-mannered children. Having gained the perfect niche skill-set, Kathleen became integral to the FDIC during the plethora of bank loan and mortgage defaults that occurred after the 2008 recession. This unique and sought-after experience later led to Kathleen being hired by one of the largest and most prestigious banks in the state of Georgia. When I look at Kathleen’s life, I am completely in awe. Not only is she without a doubt, one of the smartest, most eloquent and well-spoken people I know, here is a woman who can take on the world. True. Female. Empowerment. When asked what she would do with all of the money in the world, Kathleen answers, “I would take care of my family, who has supported me all my life, and show my children the world through travel.”

Meet Steph. Last year I was traveling with a tour group to Brazil and Argentina. Among the members of the group was a lovely family from New Zealand, who were visiting their daughter, Steph, who was spending the year living in a remote village of Argentina. Having studied abroad in college myself, when I met Steph and saw her level of maturity, I was sure that she too must be a college student spending her junior year abroad. I was shocked to learn that she was only 16! Only 16 years old, and this brave young lady took herself to the other side of the world, where she knew not a soul, to spend an entire year away from her family and the comforts of home. When I think back to myself at age 16, I could barely fathom leaving the state, nevermind the country, for that length of time. This was a truly impressive young lady. When I look back at my other friends mentioned above, who took similar, life-changing actions in their teenage years, I am filled with excitement to think about what Steph’s incredible journey will have in store for both her, and for the world. Where will she go? What will she do? Anywhere and anything she wants. The world is her oyster. When asked what she would do with all of the money in the world, Steph answers, “I would follow my desire to go to college and study law, and to learn Italian and French. I would then like to travel further abroad, extending my horizons, giving support to those who are truly less fortunate. I would eventually like to do work involving international relations.”

This is just a small glimpse into the lives of the empowered goddesses that surround me, and it is just a reminder of that which women are capable, at all ages and under all circumstances. Who are the women in your life who have served as powerful and positive models of empowerment for YOU? Have you ever thought about how they have influenced your own life and about ways in which they might have shaped who you are today? Have you ever looked at your OWN life and realized how you might be more empowered than you ever realized?…. that in fact YOU might be serving as a model of empowerment for others? Write down your own story, as I have done with these “Wonder Women,” and you may just be surprised by what you find. Look around you and within you, and see the examples of strong, capable, empowered women, both young and old, who shape you and inspire you everyday. And if you have the chance to serve as a role model for a young girl, take it.

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Today I am faced with perhaps the most profound opportunity for growth that this life has yet afforded me. Today is the day that the man I have loved and trusted beyond all others, will marry another woman, the woman with whom he replaced me…instantly. Am I ok with this? This is an interesting question. I have been dreading this day for years, and while I was certain the answer to that question would have been a resounding “NO!”, I am pleasantly surprised and pleased to report that the actual answer is “I do not care.”

It is true that this man misled me, that he lied to me, and that he betrayed every promise he ever made to me. It is true that this man broke me, in the most profound sense of the word. And yet as I write this I am reminded that just the other day a dear friend of mine was telling me about a poem that she had written called “Broken Open,” a poem that described how we need to be broken open, so that we can more fully experience love and life. There is so much truth in that.

I am further reminded of the Tower card in Tarot. This is a card that on the surface is of utter destruction, of ruin, of falling down. The card itself depicts the collapse of a castle tower, falling into burning flames. And while this card is often feared and dreaded, it is actually a powerful card of transformation.  Although there are various interpretations, the central theme of what the Tower card actually represents is one’s life deconstructing itself, the falling away of that which doesn’t serve one. It represents the burning down to one’s core, and by that burning down to nothing but rubble, which equates to our true essence, that essence is then purified by the fire, allowing one to begin anew and rebuild one’s life, from a clean slate. And so I realize that my being broken by this man was part of a greater process, a process of removing the misaligned parts of my life. This was an experience, as painful and life-altering as it was, through which I needed to walk.

In 2008, while in the depths of my grief, I was in Sedona, Arizona, desperately seeking healing for this profound wound. I met with a healer there who said something to me that I will never forget. He told me that I had the cards of a “healer,” but that they were cards he seldom saw in someone of my young age, and rather were cards more typical of an 80-year old woman. He said to me, “Jeannie you have already lived through a lot in your life. This is for a reason. You are the wounded healer being healed. You are meant to walk through your own healing so that you may help others with theirs.” Chills came over me as he spoke those words, as nothing had ever rung so true for me. I knew I was on the path of the healer.

Now, three years later and after years of painstaking self-reflection, arduous emotional work and profound personal growth, my intuition and my higher guidance have guided me to become a writer, to share my stories from the heart in the hopes that they might help others. As I receive hundreds of emails and messages, from people of all ages, all over the world, telling me that my writing has brought them healing, I am humbled beyond any words. I am moved to my core knowing that I am on my destiny path, that I have been called to fulfill a higher purpose to help people.

And while what I went through with this man did break me to my core, while it ripped through me on a cellular level, I know that I can only owe him a debt of gratitude; for various reasons. If it were not for him, I would not have moved across the country to California, which is my true home; I would not have discovered Anusara yoga, which has changed my life; but the third reason why I owe him a debt of gratitude is the most meaningful: If his actions had not broken me to my core, I would not have lived through my “dark night of the soul,” I would not have had a powerful spiritual awakening and I would not be writing to you right now, from the seat of my destiny…

This post is dedicated to all of the beautiful souls who are suffering from broken hearts. May you embrace the pain, walk through it, and allow it to transform you.

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