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winding-pathLife is funny. We sometimes make the mistake of thinking that we know where life is leading us. Sometimes we end up where we predict or in a place that we intended, but so often we end up surprised by the path, astonished by how it all unfolded.

Two years ago I flew to Seattle for a job interview. I had been living in San Francisco for several years and after having spent a few of those years semi-employed while I worked on publishing my first book, I reached the end of that road and had to go back to work. But life in San Francisco was beginning to feel somewhat stagnant, so I took the opportunity for an interview in Seattle. You see, my eldest brother had lived there for decades, so there were plenty of good reasons for me to move to Seattle. And years prior, when I had visited him during college, I had declared that one day I wanted to live in Seattle.

As I flew into Seattle, I descended into the fog and as I rode in my taxi into the city, I looked at the gray, rainy skies around me. After falling in love with the California sunshine, I knew immediately that I just couldn’t see this for myself. I went through the interview (which was for a really interesting job opportunity), but I knew from the moment I walked in the door that I was just going thru the motions. I knew this was not meant to be.

I had rented a place in Capitol Hill for the weekend so that I might get a feel for what it would be like to live there. I went to the yoga studio to which I had many connections. As I roamed around the neighborhood, I thought to myself, “Maybe one day I’ll own property here to rent out, but I can’t see myself living here.” I knew that Seattle was not in the cards for me… or so I thought.

I returned home to San Francisco and I took a job offer that I already knew I did not want. It was a job that would take me back to the corporate rat race, a position that was not aligned with the work of higher consciousness in which I had been engaged through my yoga and writing over the previous years. But San Francisco now being the most expensive city in the country, I knew that I had no choice. I put on my corporate suit, and walked into the uptight, stuffy office, day after day, knowing that this job would crush my soul. I knew I had to get out from the moment I arrived.

A week into that job, I met the man who would become my boyfriend, ironically a Bostonian like me, who had much more recently than I, moved to California. We connected immediately, our Bostonian sarcastic wit creating sparks between us. “Could this be the reason I came to this job?, ” I asked myself. I did not know …

Fast forward a year and a half. That boyfriend and I reached the turning point where we were to take it to the next level of our relationship. But the reality was that with the drastically rising cost of living in San Francisco, we simply could not afford to rent a larger apartment, or ever dream of owning in San Francisco. So we began talking about the next chapter.

This was very difficult for me as San Francisco had been the city where I had truly stepped into my inner power and strength, the place where I had healed my mind, body and soul, the place where I had tasted the sweetest, most joyful bliss I had ever known. I was in alignment. I had stepped into my soul’s purpose and I knew I was on the path I was meant to be living on this Earth.

Triangle

Alamo Square, San Francisco

But that reality kept crashing up against the reality that one could simply not manage to stay in San Francisco unless they were rich. And even if we stayed, how would we ever save and retire? We wouldn’t. We couldn’t. I knew a time of hard decisions was upon me.

We began talking about different places we might live. We both had wanted to escape the cold winters of the Northeast and we both loved beach and summer, so we talked about San Diego. But that didn’t have the tech market that he needed for his work and it didn’t have the vibrant energy that I need in a city. Then we talked about LA. But I had already lived there years before and going back didn’t feel right to either of us. Then we explored Portland. Too small, too rainy. So Seattle entered the picture again.

I had tried for years to convince myself that it was the next place I should consider moving, but after that last interview in Seattle, my brother had said to me, “You always consider Seattle, but it’s never right. It’s just not your city.” It really didn’t feel like it was.

But the more my boyfriend and I talked, the more Seattle started to make sense. It had a great tech scene for him, my brother and his family were here, it had a great yoga scene and the same progressive, environmental, forward-thinking lifestyle and attitudes with which we had resonated in San Francisco. There was really only one negative: the weather. Those cold, wet, dreary winters. After eight years in the California sunshine, and realizing how happy the sun had actually made me, I just didn’t know if it was possible for me to be happy in Seattle.

Despite that, from the moment Seattle entered our conversation, pieces of the puzzle began falling into place. My boyfriend got a great job interview in Seattle. Also, over the previous year, I had managed to leave the soul-sucking job and had returned to a former job that I had loved, a job that allowed me to work from home. And at this exact time, a colleague of mine left, and the Pacific Northwest territory fell into my lap. And then my boyfriend got the job he had interviewed for, a great job in his dream industry. With that seed planted, I asked my company about the possibility of me moving to Seattle. Having just given me this territory, they were on board with the idea, and the wheels were set in motion.

The next thing we knew we were packing up both of our apartments, loading the pets into the car and moving truck and we were on our way to the Emerald City.

(Ironically we ended up living in the very neighborhood that I had explored two years ago during that job interview – the neighborhood where I had imagined that maybe one day I’d own rental property. And we ended up living, somewhat “accidentally,” directly across the street from the yoga studio that I had attended in the past.)

Days turned into weeks, turned into months, and we began to create our new life in Seattle.The transition was hard. I had left my beloved city and yoga community. I had left the apartment which had been my favorite home, the place that had held my life so sweetly for six years, the place where I had awakened and blossomed into my truest self. And not only was I starting over in a new city, but I was also moving in with a partner for the first time in my 40 years. Anyone who has ever lived with a partner knows that that alone is no small transition, never mind adding a new city to the mix!

To add to the challenge, I had also left behind in San Francisco another brother and a very special niece and nephew who only knew life with Aunt Jeannie in it. My heart broke. I missed San Francisco. I missed her breathtaking views. And as the seasons changed, I sorely began to miss her sun. The sky grew dark and gray and depression began to set in. I was lost. I was confused. I was suffocated by confusion. I wasn’t sure which way to go.

I struggled through the fall, unsure if I’d made the biggest mistake of my life having given up the security of my rent-controlled apartment (otherwise known in San Francisco as the “golden handcuffs”). I dug deep into my spiritual practice; I began meditating like crazy, really desperately. I kept on with my yoga practice, trying to go as often as possible, seeking out teachers that could even begin to fill the shoes of my amazing and masterful teachers in San Francisco. The search was not an easy one.

But little by little, the right teachers began to reveal themselves. I came to the mat more and more, and new friends started to appear next to me on the mat. I found myself making friends more quickly and easily than had ever been the case in any other city; and I had a lot of experience on this front, having lived in five cities in the past two decades. I was finding friends who were aligned with my path, friends who spoke my language, friends who understood me and related to my experiences. And it started to become clear that the people who were crossing my path were exactly the people I was meant to meet on this next phase of my journey.

This morning I went to a new favorite Bhakti yoga class, a class that I feel extremely grateful to have found as it resonates deeply with my soul on a cellular level. Here I practice with a room full of yogis, as we move gracefully through our poses, chanting in unison and blending our energies with one another. Such beauty. Such connection.

When I sat on the mat today I introduced myself to the woman beside me. She and I shared the common thread of having lived in Los Angeles. At the end of practice, I was commending her on one of the most beautiful and solid handstands I’d ever seen. When I asked her how long it took her to get to that point in her practice, she began telling me about a teacher in LA that had taught her handstand. It was a name I immediately knew, a teacher whose wife I had worked with closely on one of my own writing projects. Not only had this woman and I lived in the same city, but we had both moved to Seattle at the same time and we knew these same people. I knew that our meeting was fortuitous.

This is the synchronicity that I love about yoga. The more one practices yoga, the more these little magical moments occur – I believe sign posts from the Universe confirming that we are on the right path. I thought of the tea that I shared yesterday with a new yoga friend to whom I feel a deep connection, and of the new friends that I seem to be making day after day. And in that moment, I knew that I had found my tribe, and with it, my next home.

Seattle skyline

Seattle Skyline

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I am always amazed at how things often have a magical way of unfolding.

This past weekend I was supposed to go camping with my meditation group. We had had it on the calendar for a while and I had gotten the time off from my weekend job. I was excited as this would be my first camping trip in years and I looked forward to going deep, in the stillness of nature, with my sweet little meditation group.

But as it often does, things come up and as the weekend got closer, unfortunately a couple of people had to cancel and in the end we decided to postpone. I was disappointed, but I knew we’d go another time.

However, as the weekend unfolded, and different plans began to take form, I was blessed to witness something so magical, so inspiring, that I knew I was exactly where I was meant to be.

My good friend Rebecca (also from said meditation group) and I decided to go for a day hike in Tennessee Valley, just a handful of miles north of the city. San Francisco summer was full on: it was hot, sunny and clear blue skies; the perfect day for a hike to the beach.

When we got to the parking lot, we decided it was too hot for sneakers and slipped into more comfortable shoes for the fairly flat walk to the beach. Rebecca put on her favorite pair of flip-flops and we made our way to the Pacific. It was a beautiful day at the beach. It was hot, but there was a perfect, soft sea breeze and for once it was actually warm enough to wade in the water (a rare thing in San Francisco).

Photo by Rebecca Fettig of http://goldenpointsf.com/

Photo by Rebecca Fettig of http://goldenpointsf.com/

We left our shoes in the sand, went into the water, and waded around happily for a while at the shore. Walking along the beach, the tide was clearly coming in and the waves were catching us by surprise and splashing playfully against us. Set against the shimmering water were the beautiful California hills, limestone cliffs jutting up dramatically against the sky.

We walked around a rock and at that moment, we saw a big wave coming. Rebecca managed to run away from it, but I on the other hand was not fast enough and got a refreshing sprinkle.

With the tide coming in so fast, our thoughts turned to our shoes and it occurred to us that we hadn’t even thought about how far they were from the water. We wondered if they were even still there, or if they had been whisked away, sacrificed into the sea. We began walking back the short distance of the beach, preparing and laughing to ourselves about the prospect of having to possibly hike back to the car barefoot.

As we got closer and closer, I saw no shoes in sight. I was convinced they were long gone and I chuckled. Yes, it would be unfortunate, but it makes for a great story, so the humor in it did not escape me. However, as we made our way back to the spot where we thought the shoes were, a friendly woman asked us if these shoes were ours, pointing to the wet, sand-covered shoes. Yep, that was them. The tide had in fact tried to steal them away from us, but thanks to the kindness of complete strangers, we would not have to go shoeless that day. That was just one of the magical encounters of the day.

I tell this part of the story because it is relevant to the next part. If we hadn’t found our shoes, we wouldn’t have ventured out on our next adventure and we wouldn’t have experienced the most magical encounter of all.

As we began making our way back towards the car, along the dry, dusty path, we saw several different trails, to the left and right, meandering up and over the rolling hills. We knew we didn’t have loads of time, and as the trail heads were marked with their corresponding mileage, we decided to take the shortest one, a 1.9 mile trail up to the right. And off we went.

Shortly after embarking along the path, suddenly we were under a canopy of trees, in what I can only describe as a tiny enchanted forest. We crossed over a sweet little bridge over a trickle of river and the sun was magically filtering through the trees. Within the rest of the dry, hot landscape, this little oasis seemed very out of place. We reveled in it.

Emerging out of this small grove, we then started heading up and up over the hill. As we got further along and it began to get steeper, Rebecca began to hesitate. She was uncertain if her flip-flops would be able to handle the slippery slope back down and she of course didn’t want to fall. We knew we weren’t prepared to do a major hike in our chosen footwear, but we figured we’d go as far as we could. So we paused for a moment as she tested out the security of her footing beneath her.

In that moment, I looked up and saw something I will never forget. I turned to Rebecca and in response to her question about whether or not we should keep going, I said, “Look up and I think you have your answer. Let’s keep going.”

She looked up and saw what I saw. There was a man, with not one, but two prosthetic legs, walking carefully down the steep dirt trail, ensuring that he had his footing as he went. And if that isn’t incredible enough, not only did he have two prosthetic legs, he also had one prosthetic arm. And this man was hiking, by himself. Are you blown away yet? Because there’s more. Yes, more. On top of having three prosthetic limbs, this amazing human being was also carrying a mountain bike over his shoulder. This man (perhaps a veteran of war?), who through some unknown turn of events was left with only one natural limb, was spending the day hiking and mountain-biking. Rebecca and I were completely dumbfounded.

As the man (who was quite good-looking by the way- just sayin’!) walked by, we greeted him and asked him how his day was going. He returned our greeting with a friendly smile. We asked him how much farther it was to the top and he told us we were about 65% of the way. We wished him a beautiful day and kept on going. And as we continued up the hill, our hearts were blown wide open. We, both of us, were absolutely in awe of this beautiful spirit, this incredible being whose story we knew nothing about, but who clearly had the immeasurable strength to overcome so much adversity. And we stood in wonder of the resilience of the human spirit.

We got to the top of the crest and looked out at the breathtaking scenery: romantic, rolling hills colliding with the churning ocean, and a group of hawks soaring majestically above. I was filled with goose bumps. Rebecca and I looked at each other and we acknowledged the absolute gift with which we had just been blessed; the absolute wonder and testament to the triumphant nature of the human spirit. The two of us were overflowing with amazement and gratitude.

Tennessee Valley

In the end, I’d have to say I’m pretty happy that our camping trip got canceled because I wouldn’t have wanted to miss that encounter for the world. It was an experience by which I was deeply humbled, a gift for which I am truly grateful, and a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life.

And if ever you find yourself thinking that you are incapable of accomplishing or overcoming something? Think again.

“Although the world is full of suffering,
it is full also of the overcoming of it.”

~ Helen Keller

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DSCN1335Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles

It was exactly six years ago today that I drove my trusted little Saturn into the City of Angels, the crimson sun setting behind the mighty palms. It had always been my dream to move to the West Coast, and at this moment in my life, I was spurred on by a fight for love. Sadly I was met with anything but. And so began the darkest years of my life: alone, jobless, and heartbroken in the vast and lonely sea of Los Angeles.

In a moment of desperation, I dragged myself into my neighborhood yoga studio. And that seemingly small decision would forever change the course of my life: it would be my first step into a profound healing journey and the beginnings of a major life transformation, the likes of which I never could have imagined. Yoga led me to Peru. Peru led me to San Francisco and here I discovered a whole new Jeannie and a whole new life: a beloved community, an unexpected and dramatic career turn, a book, so many magical experiences and powerful manifestations. It has been a story that this writer never could have written.

Golden Gate from Buena Vista with AnkitGolden Gate Bridge from Buena Vista Park, San Francisco

For six years, California has been home. In fact, from the moment I arrived here, I felt like I had come home. When my heart was broken, Los Angeles held me in her warm embrace and surrounded me with her Angels. California has taken my breath away with her unrivaled beauty: her brilliant sunshine, her majestic mountains, her pristine ocean. And then there was San Francisco. Oh, San Francisco. With her forward-thinking, progressive, risk-taking mentality, San Francisco has inspired in me a well of limitless possibilities and she has allowed for an energetic expansion beyond all measure. California has cracked my heart wide open and allowed me to connect with the Spirit within and all around me.

On a regular basis, I have stood in awe of her outrageous scenery: spectacular views of the shimmering Bay, the electric view of Los Angeles from the Hollywood Hills, the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge, the snow capping the mighty San Gabriel Mountains, the jaw-dropping vistas from the twists and turns of the Pacific Coast Highway, and the mystical fog cradling the dramatic San Francisco skyline.

California has changed me. She has saved me. She has inspired me. I am forever grateful for this place.

DSCF2697Baker Beach, San Francisco

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DSCF2660

I have always loved those moments in life when you find yourself in a time and place that you never in a million years would have imagined. Right now is one of those moments. As I sit on the vast, green lawn, overlooking the lake at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, in the beautiful Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts, I am pondering, in amazement, the many dots that had to connect to lead to this moment in time.

It all started in Boston, just about one year ago, when my mother’s boyfriend handed me the Kripalu catalog, knowing that I am an avid practitioner of yoga. Greatly appreciative of his thoughtfulness, I happily took it home with me to San Francisco. After thoroughly browsing through (and drooling over) its offerings, it took up a permanent residence on my coffee table.

Fast forward a few months: In the midst of a job search, I took to my regular practice of meditation, hoping to get clarity on my direction. During what would be one of those rare (but fortuitous) occasions when an insight pops into my awareness, the name “Kripalu” appeared in the forefront of my mind. If there is one thing I’ve learned through my meditation, it’s that when these random “messages” occur, I need to pay attention.

I immediately halted my meditation and pulled out my laptop. I navigated straight to the Kripalu website, where I found a job listing that greatly interested me… this despite my deep down feeling that I really had no desire to move back east, nor  to return to the harsh cold of winter. Listening to my rational mind, I applied for the job anyway.

DSCF2654

Forever being a master networker, I reached out to my network to see who might have a connection for me at Kripalu. As it turned out, a fellow writing friend of mine happened to be friends with one of the foremost yogic scholars, a well-known author and senior teacher at Kripalu. My friend very graciously passed my resume on to this connection. But as fate would have it, the Universe had other plans in store for me. I did not get that job at Kripalu, and I eventually realized that I do belong right where I am, in San Francisco.

But this connection did bear other fruits for me, as I ended up working as a consultant to this well-known yoga author and teacher. Having the great privilege of working with this man, as I learned more about him and read his books, I recognized that this was a person I wanted to know better, and whose great work I wanted to follow and support.

And so here I find myself, breathing in the fresh and fragrant spring air of the Berkshires, having very excitedly journeyed from San Francisco to the wilds of Western Massachusetts, to attend this teacher’s workshop on cultivating the practice of Loving Kindness (Metta).

As part of our meditation practice for the weekend, and in order to take advantage of the spectacular spring weather, he spontaneously changed the day’s agenda and sent us out to the great lawn for some walking meditation- something I did not particularly enjoy doing just a few weeks ago, back home in California. But here, in the brilliant sunshine of Massachusetts’ spring, my feet found themselves unexpectedly in paradise as I slipped off my flip-flops and stepped into the thick, lush grass, warmed by the sun. As I walked amongst the field of dandelions, each blade of grass playfully tickling my toes, I was struck by the fact that I cannot often (if ever) do this in San Francisco.

DSCF2659

In our cool San Francisco climate, it is the exception, rather than the rule, that we get weather that is warm enough for sandals. And even the few wonderful times when it is warm enough (believe me, there is much rejoicing!), the climate of our “Fog City” very often leaves the grass wet and cold- not exactly an inviting environment for your cold little piggies! In that very moment, as my toes sank into the soft, warm grass, it occurred to me that I haven’t walked barefoot in the grass for years!

I was immediately struck by how much people take for granted this simple pleasure. And in that instant, I paused and held such gratitude for my toes being able to experience this heaven beneath my feet. And at the very same time, I was grateful for my life in San Francisco affording me the opportunity for this moment of perspective and profound appreciation.

I continued to move my feet slowly, tuning in closely to the focal points of walking meditation: placing the foot, rolling the foot, lifting the foot, rinse and repeat, all the while being acutely aware of the feeling of my feet touching the Earth. As I did so, the sounds and smells of spring came into my awareness: the freshly cut grass, the bees buzzing around my feet, the soft breeze on my ears… and then there it was- the bird off in the distance singing his “see-saw” song, something that I then realized is an iconically New England sound. We don’t hear that particular bird, with that unique song, in California. Once again I delighted in gratitude for the wonder of Mother Nature and all her diversity.

As I absorbed the see-saw song, I was immediately transported back to the childhood swing-set, swinging by the school yard. That bird, and that song, represent the sounds of my childhood. And then I was flooded with the countless childhood memories of running barefoot through the grass: backyard barbeques, graduation parties, badminton matches, pool parties, camping in my grandparents’ back yard, summer concerts on the common- of all the moments when we unconsciously allowed ourselves to run barefoot in the warm grass, never thinking that there was anything particularly special about it.

And in this very special moment in time, here on the great lawn of Kripalu, during this very unexpected trip, I realized that never again would I take that simple pleasure for granted….and never again would I forget that feeling of heaven beneath my feet.

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Photo by Flickr user: wolfsoul.

Photo by Flickr user: wolfsoul.

As I see it, there is an epidemic occurring in our society; it is an epidemic of people being terrified to be alone and as a result remaining stuck in the wrong relationships. Sadly, I see examples of this around me on a daily basis. And unfortunately I see far more examples of that than of the opposite. Should it be any surprise, then, that 50% of marriages end in divorce? It isn’t to me.

One of the benefits to growing older is that as you experience [and learn] more, and as you observe more, you are [hopefully] much more clearly able to see when a relationship is right…and when it is wrong.

If the 20s were the decade of friends getting married, the 30s have proven to be the decade of friends getting divorced. I think it was around the age of 35 when I noticed that what had once been the “summer wedding season” had instead turned into the “summer divorce season.” And all of the couples that I saw in my 20s and thought to myself “those two are so wrong for each other!”, those couples have in my 30s ended up divorced: almost without fail.

Image by Flickr user: donkeyhotey.

Image by Flickr user: donkeyhotey.

Conversely, I’m sure we’ve all seen the couples that when you look at them, you think to yourself “Yes, that is how love is supposed to look!” and it is just so obvious that the pair are so in love; they show mutual respect, admiration, and affection; and they show it over years, regardless of the passage of time. Such couples reveal such a beautiful, powerful energetic connection, and they complement each other so well, truly embodying the spirit of yin and yang. They are simply a joy and an inspiration to be around. I am grateful that growing up I had a friend whose parents exemplified this for me, even after 25 years of marriage. So even from a young age, I knew what love could look like. And today I am so grateful to have even a small handful of such couples in my life, for they remind me over and over again of the kind of love that I want in my life and why I choose to not settle for any less than that.

And I am by no means under the illusion that a relationship should be easy all the time, nor am I espousing that. I am the first to know that love can be messy and that it takes real work to keep a relationship intact. But what I can say, from experience and from keen observation, is that the right relationship should be much easier than the wrong one. And if the relationship is a constant uphill battle, a constant struggle, then it’s not the right one. We can choose to have something better, more easeful.

Unfortunately, for every one of the couples that exemplify what love can be, I have known twice as many couples who exemplify the opposite of that. I have known the couples who fight all the time and who you just dread to be around. I have known the couples where it’s just so obvious to an outside observer that one of the people is in love, but not the other. I have known the couples where the woman is so desperate to get married and make babies, that she ignores all of the signs that scream that he is not the proverbial “one.” I have known the couples that break up and get back together, over and over again (Oh wait, that was me!). I have known the couples where one partner wants to have kids and the other does not, and they stay together for years, one partner clinging onto hope that the other will change their mind.

I have known the couples that are simply tolerating each other, out of some sort of misguided sense of obligation, rather than showing or feeling anything resembling love. I have known couples where the man only got married because of pressure (or even an ultimatum!) from the woman. I have been in the weddings where you are biting your tongue as the bride walks down the aisle, because you just know with every fiber of your being that they are making a mistake (incidentally I’ve been in three such weddings, and ALL have ended (happily) in divorce). Heck, I have even known multiple couples who themselves admit that they knew it was a mistake, but they walked down the aisle anyway. I have seen people engaged in extramarital affairs and in circumstances that are far too “complicated” to be “right,” people who are clinging to the unhealthiest of situations in a desperate attempt to find happiness.

And when I speak of such couples, I do so with deep empathy and understanding, for I too have lived through my own version of the “wrong” relationship. And I know that these souls are on the same powerful journey of growth and learning on which I reluctantly found myself (that is if they are open to such growth and learning). I spent years with the wrong person, trying to convince myself that it was right. I have always said that one of the cruelest aspects of life is that we have the ability to fall in love with the wrong person. Frankly, it’s brutal and there are few things more painful than star-crossed lovers. And I know how difficult, how painful, and how seemingly “impossible” it can be to extricate ourselves from the wrong relationships; I know all too well how paralyzed we can become, how stuck we can get. I know the feeling of having the constant pit in your stomach and of your head trying to rationalize that it’s caused by something else, when deep down in your heart, you know the real reason but don’t want to admit it.

I have also learned that love is not enough, and that of equal importance are timing and compatibility. You can love someone with every fiber of your being, with every breath of air in your body, but if it’s not right, if they are not the right match for you, it won’t matter. Of this I personally know all too well.

So why is it that so many people stay together for all the wrong reasons? Why are people so afraid to be alone? Fear. Society. Expectations. As I’ve observed people and relationships over the years, it has become clear that so many people are terrified of being alone; terrified of ending up alone, and of dying alone. I once shared this fear, so it is one I relate to and understand well. And as I already said, I understand how it feels to be stuck with the wrong person, and in the wrong relationship, for all of the wrong reasons. I have been there and I am fortunate that my partner had the guts to release me from it, as I’m not sure I ever would have had the courage on my own; for I too was living in fear.

Society tells us that we are meant to follow a very specific formula for life: college, career, love, marriage, and babies… only in that order! We do not even realize how brainwashed we have been as a society. And what society teaches us, our friends and families only reinforce. Everyone has an opinion about what we should be doing. When we see our friends getting married and having kids, we feel even more pressure to be doing the same. If we do not follow that formula, our parents disapprove, people think there is something wrong with us. We all have the aunt who asks, “So when are you going to get married?” There is so much pressure to conform, to fulfill the expectations of society.

I spent the first half of my 30s gripped in sadness and despair, because I too felt that I had to fulfill that formula, and it just wasn’t working out for me. I found myself 32 (and then 33, 34, 35…), single, and childless and that had never been the plan. I should have had three kids by that age. For all of my life I had planned to get married and raise a family. And I am such a passionate, open-hearted woman with so much love to give; how could I not be finding a beautiful soul to complement my heart?

Well, if life has taught me one thing, it’s that the most difficult times are the most valuable and that by walking through each one of them, there are invaluable lessons to learn. I had to walk through an extremely dark time of loneliness, of being completely on my own, for years, before I could come to understand the importance and value of being happy on our own. It was only by walking through my own darkness that I was able to find the light, and in doing so I realized that the light comes from within. The true joy, the absolute bliss is only to be found within us, never outside of us.

And if there’s one universal truth, it’s this: Before you can ever be happy with someone else, you must first be happy with yourself.

And I have not only made full peace with the fact that I am now 38, single, and childless, but I have fully embraced it and the truth is that I have never lived more happily, more vibrantly, more fulfilled. I love my life and there is nothing missing. I now could care less about having children (If you’d told me 10 years ago that I’d be saying that now, I’d have thought you were c-c-c-crazy!) Does this mean I am cynical and do not believe that true love exists? Not at all. I have the gift of having experienced it with my own heart, so I know it’s out there. And if I happen to find it, well great, because that would just be the cherry on top of an already wonderful life. But I know it’s not necessary for my happiness. I know I already am, and will continue to be, happy and fulfilled no matter what comes into my life.

The moment we release the expectation that we can only complete ourselves with another, the moment we can release the idea that we have to adhere to society’s mold, is the moment we find freedom. And in freedom, we can find true happiness.

Photo by Flickr user Chema Escarcega.

Photo by Flickr user Chema Escarcega.

It’s funny, I suspect that many of my friends might pity me for being alone, for not yet having had the “fortune” of getting married and having children. But what they may not realize is that I choose to be single. I could easily have been in relationships over the years, but I knew they would be with the wrong person, and I have no interest in getting myself embroiled in something wrong, when instead I can be keeping myself open for something right.

And I’m happy to say that I have absolutely learned the valuable lesson that it is far better to be single than to be with the wrong person.

So, yes, some people may feel sorry for me that I am alone. But the irony of that is that when I look around me and observe so many unhappy, dissatisfied relationships and I see so many people who are stuck, all I can think to myself is, “Thank God I’m single!”

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For years I have been traveling alone, and for years I have wished that I didn’t have to. During my 20s, I had a great international travel job that took me overseas multiple times per year, to wonderful places the likes of Madrid, Paris, London, or even Costa Rica. These were fabulous opportunities and I took full advantage, exploring as much as I could while there. But yet there was always something missing and I always wished I could share it with someone.

And when it came to love, it just never worked out timing wise that I had a partner with whom to travel and share my adventures. Inevitably I was always involved with someone either too broke or disorganized to get a trip together, or I was involved with someone on the other side of the country; always finding myself in circumstances in which I would end up traveling alone. And after experiencing a string of brutal broken hearts, travel became not only lonely, but sad, as I would find myself thinking of my lost loves, everywhere I would go, thinking of the “what-ifs” and the missed opportunities.

The good news is that experience changes us and time heals all wounds. And the longer we are alone, the more we learn to embrace our solitude, the more we learn to love our own company and to become our own best friend; and the more we come to crave our time alone. That is the place in life to which I have very happily arrived. So when I have recently found myself at a crossroads, unsure of which path to take next, I knew I needed to take a soul-searching journey…and I knew I needed to do it alone.

So I set out on a road-trip down the Pacific Coast Highway, just me, my trusty stick-shift, and the radio; ready for adventure, ripe for epiphanies, and open to whatever might come…

DSCN1364My first stop along the way was at the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, where I set out on a hike towards a waterfall. This was really my first time hiking alone and as I set out over tree stumps and craggy rocks, I contemplated the solitude, consciously taking in all of the beauty around me. I passed a pair of couples who had stopped to take a breath and were laughing amongst themselves. As is always the case when hiking, we greeted each other with a friendly “hello” and I walked by smiling to myself at their obvious enjoyment and laughter.

When I arrived to the waterfall, I scrambled up onto a rock and perched myself against a tree to eat my lunch, with the sound of water flowing in the background. I was immersed in the serenity of nature and I made note of my happiness, in spite of my solitude. As I was eating my sandwich, the two couples made their way to the falls, we greeted each other again and I offered to take their photos. We shared a few laughs and I delighted at the opportunity for human connection with complete strangers.

A few minutes later an older lady arrived on her own. I offered to take her photo as well and then we began chatting. We immediately began talking about the adventures of hiking alone, of all of the other solo hikers that you come across, and discussed how being alone presents such a great opportunity to connect with other people along the way. I was happy to connect with her in such a way and I felt proud of myself for venturing out on my own. I looked forward to whomever….or whatever… I would encounter next.

The encounter that happened next is one that would take my breath away. As I was walking down the last part of the path, almost back to the parking lot, I saw what I thought was someone’s dog, off leash, approaching me. I thought nothing of it. A few moments later, I wondered where his owners were, and realizing that there was nobody in sight, it occurred to me that it may not have been a dog at all. I heard it rustling around in the woods just to the side of me, so I stopped and cautiously peeped into the brush to take a closer look. That is when I realized that I was only a few feet away from a wild bobcat! Now, anyone that knows me, knows that I am not only a supreme animal lover, but I am also a huge lover of cats, having two kitties of my own.

My mom will tell you that as a kid, I was always the one who would stay in the petting zoo for hours, and that I had no fear at all of any of the animals. I was the kid that would constantly bring home wounded squirrels and bunny rabbits, attempting to nurse them back to health with an eye dropper. My mother was of course always worried about me getting rabies, but I never had any fear. I knew that I had a deeper connection to the animal world and that I was attuned to their energies. So when I found myself face to face with a bobcat, once again, I had no fear. This was probably a good thing, because had I been fearful, the cat would have sensed that and would likely have reacted more negatively towards me. Instead, he was cautious and moved away from me slowly, keeping his eyes locked on me the entire time.

Bobcat

I watched him with absolute awe and wonder, observing in him the very same behaviors that I see daily in my own cats. I admired the pointy tufts on his ears and the beautiful spots on his coat, and watched, fully captivated, as he moved gracefully and with great agility, up through the trees and brush and eventually onto the upper ledge of the hill beside me. For me this was an unforgettable moment that I will carry with me for the rest of my life; a powerful moment of connection with the natural world.

Absolutely thrilled with my magical encounter, I got back in my car and headed south down The Pacific Coast, continuing along my journey. Anyone who has ever traveled The Pacific Coast Highway knows that there is no shortage of mind-blowing, breathtaking vistas, all along the way. For that reason, one generally takes their time, pulling off to the side of the road often to take in dramatic views. At one point, while I was driving along, I saw a bunch of people pointing up at the sky. I pulled off the road to see what they were looking at. It turned out this was a prime location for spotting the great California Condor and there was a gaggle of birdwatchers, waiting patiently with their binoculars. I stopped and looked for a while, but after not spotting any, I hopped back in the car and continued on my way.

And then, there it was. As I was cruising down the highway, I looked up and saw him soaring directly overhead, a graceful, powerful Condor. Such majesty, such absolute freedom. I imagined myself flying like a bird, high above the Earth, taking it all in. I felt my spirit once again expand at the great fortune of having yet another beautiful connection with nature. Filled with amazement and gratitude, I continued on my way.

A little further along the highway, I stopped to take a picture at another fantastic vista point. And low and behold, there was the pair of couples from my first hike. We greeted each other again and this time chatted more about where we were from, where we were going, etc. I would bump into these same couples two more times over the course of my three-day journey, and each time we laughed with delight at the synchronicity; each time it confirmed for me the interconnectedness of all beings on this Earth. How wonderful it is to connect with other people, to get to know a little bit about complete strangers, reminding me once again that although I was traveling by myself, I was never alone.

DSCN1400

After taking in another marvelous vista, I got back in my car and continued on my way, a smile on my face. I coasted around the windy, curvy highway, having an absolute blast driving my stick-shift, the windows down, the music blaring, and the wind blowing through my hair. I thought to myself, “it doesn’t get any better than this.” A few moments later, I rounded a bend, and in the turn-off to my left, I saw a man with his Great Dane. The dog was up on his hind legs and the man was dancing with him. I laughed out loud… and then my eyes filled with tears… tears of joy.

I realized in that moment that life is not about what we’ve accomplished, how much money we make, or about any of the material things we’ve amassed. It is not about whether we are alone or with another. It is about connection: connection with other human beings, connection with animals, connection with spirit. It is about living in the present moment, and taking in the beauty, the magic, and mystery that surround us at every moment. It is about the experiences that leave an indelible mark on our soul. It is about the moments that take our breath away. It is about living. And it is about dancing with your dog…

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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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