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Today I am honored and humbled to be featured on “Transformation Talk,” a new blog series where each Thursday Alana Sheeren will interview people who have deepened their passion or found their calling after experiencing a loss, trauma or diagnosis. I am truly honored to be a part of this project.

To all of you out there who are suffering from grief and loss, I hope that you will tune in each Thursday to Alana’s blog. She has many incredible and inspiring stories to share, the least of which is her own. ♥

*****

Can you share a little about your grief journey and a specific experience that had a profound effect on your path?

In 2007 I lost the best friend I had ever had in my life, a man who had been my rock and with whom I shared every aspect of my heart and soul, for almost four years. He did not die or anything that dramatic, but after he met a new woman, he chose to cut me completely from his life. As he truly was my best friend, and I was certain that this was a soul-connected being, for me this felt worse than death. I gave up a great job and a well-established life and moved 3,000 miles across the country to fight for him. But sadly I was met with only more anger and hatred from him.  He tossed me to the curb like a piece of garbage. That was 5 years ago, he has since married that woman, and I’ve never heard from him since.

Though I had lost other best friends and had lived through devastating broken hearts in the past, nothing in my life could ever have prepared me for the grief that I felt when this man walked right out of my life and acted as if I’d never mattered at all to him. The person I had most trusted on this Earth, betrayed that trust, broke all of his promises to me, and abandoned me. Everything I had ever known and believed came crashing down around me. I had entered my “dark night of the soul.”

To continue reading the interview, click here.

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Photo by Flickr user qviri.

You never know what you are going to find around the next corner…

Tonight I changed my routine a bit. Because my regular yoga teacher is out of town, I decided to check out a new yoga class, which on this Friday night put me in a different neighborhood, at a different time than my usual routine.

I walked through San Francisco’s beautiful Panhandle Park, happily listening to my Pandora. Enjoying the shadows of the late afternoon sun, I watched joggers and bikers breeze by, men playing basketball on the nearby court, and dog-lovers throwing tennis balls to their “Fido.” It was a lovely, typical Friday evening in San Francisco.

I turned the corner onto Stanyan Street to head towards the yoga studio, and as I approached the Whole Foods Market, suddenly I heard loud sirens and saw several police cars and motorcycles descend upon the market. I stopped to see what was going on. From where I stood I could see two men on the ground, one flailing around and yelling, the other silent and motionless. I chatted with other onlookers, all of us trying to piece together what had happened. Apparently someone had been caught shop-lifting (the young guy who was pinned down and yelling) and there was some kind of pursuit by the security guard, which somehow rendered the security guard lying lifeless on the pavement.

Photo by Flickr user Scott Beale.

Next, a fire truck roared up, and one of the police officers ran over to the fire department medic that jumped out of the truck. Listening intently to what the officers said, I overheard the police officer say (I believe about the security guard), “He’s turning blue.”

It occurred to me that his airway was obstructed and that he was likely in shock or had perhaps suffered a heart attack. The medic ran over to the security guard on the ground, and then I and my fellow onlookers watched in sobering awe as the medic began CPR on the man. We could see his chest move up and down as the medic performed repeated chest compressions. This went on for several minutes.

In a split second, I reflected on my previous training class with the San Francisco Fire Department for Emergency Rescue training, and on the CPR certification that I had received. As I thought of all of those trial runs I had performed on the dummy, my mind raced to remember the correct CPR ratio: 2 breaths to every 30 chest compressions. It was one thing to be performing CPR on a practice dummy in the safety of a class, but here I was witnessing the real deal, and I thought to myself, “If I had to do it for real, would I be able? Would I remember what I needed to do?” I was struck by the reality that this man’s fragile human life lay in the hands of another human being, a complete stranger. If ever there was a sobering moment, this was it.

Photo by Flickr user onns.

I couldn’t help but think about the absolute fragility of life; of how delicate our organic bodies are, and of how many possible threats and dangers exist in every day life. At any moment, any one of us could get hit by a bus, have a dangerous fall down the stairs, suffer from an unexpected stroke or heart attack, or even (when you live in a major city like San Francisco) be hit by a stray bullet. And in that moment it occurred to me how frivolous and irrelevant are so many of our trivial human worries: how pointless it is for us to worry about that guy or girl who rejected us; to be upset about the bad haircut; to be stressed about our jerk boss or the promotion we didn’t get.

In the grand scheme of things, and of our place in the Universe, these daily trials and tribulations are so unimportant and are not worth wasting our energy over. Instead we should be focusing on living in the present moment, on the positivity and beauty that exists in our lives and around us at any given moment. We should take the time to tell our friends and family how much we love them. Instead of worrying and stressing, we should be living… and we should be loving.

I was jerked out of my deep thoughts as I saw the medic pull out the paddles with which to shock the man. I knew from my own CPR course that the amount of time he had spent doing chest compressions was a worrying sign. I held my breath as I watched him apply the paddles and shock the man. I was all too aware of the gravity of the situation I just happened to be observing.

To the relief of all those of us who watched, suddenly we saw them putting an IV drip into the man’s arm. I then overheard one of the officers saying that the man had a pulse. I let out a sigh of relief and then watched in awe and admiration as they lifted the man onto a stretcher and loaded him into the back of the ambulance. I had just witnessed this man’s life being saved, right before my eyes…just on a random Friday night, on my random walk to yoga.

With great respect and appreciation, I thought about all of our brave first responders who save so many lives, every day. After the recent anniversary of September 11th, followed by a sad week of watching four of our American citizens tragically lose their lives in Libya, and now after witnessing this incredible scene of this fireman saving the life of a complete stranger, I was reminded that there are heroes all around us and among us. And whether they are saving lives, or sacrificing their lives, they are a very important reminder that life is to be celebrated.

So the next time you are out and about, whether on your usual routine, or perhaps mixing up your routine as I did mine, open your eyes. Look around you. Look at all of the beauty and life that is teeming around you, at every moment, or perhaps just around the next corner. Remember that life is a gift, that it is precious…and remember that life should be celebrated, always.

Photo by Flickr user Princess K8.

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Photo attributed to Flickr User flydown.

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

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

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

Photo attributed to Flickr User Helmut Kaczmarek.

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

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

Boston Public Garden

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

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

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

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

Photo attributed to Flickr User h.koppdelaney.

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Photo attributed to Flickr User: CaptPiper.

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

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

To continue reading, please visit The Yoga Diaries.

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

Boston, MA

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

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

Washington, DC

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

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

Magical Los Angeles

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

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

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

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

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