How to Find Peace

Harmony. Connection. Oneness. These words are often used to refer to humanity; how, if only all people could put away their differences and act as one, the world would be such a better place. Indeed, the world would have a greater chance for survival. So, working on the assumption that what’s good for the world must also be good for each human being, on an individual level, then how can we apply harmony, connection, and oneness to ourselves?

We’re each made up of many “selves”. There are the various masks we wear for different people. There are the multiple voices in our head, often in conflict with each other, telling us how to live our lives. There’s our light selves and our shadow selves; our mind, body, and soul; our need to be and our need to please. Whichever way you look at it, we are fragmented people, and often each fragment is working against the other, which leads to stress, anxiety, depression, and countless illnesses.

How can we get all the parts of our Being to exist in harmony and work as one? First of all, we must acknowledge the presence of each part, no matter how shameful or embarrassing. We must acknowledge and accept it, because as of this present moment, this is all we have to work with. So, one person may be kind and caring, but also self-indulgent and quick-tempered. She could try to hide her negative qualities from the world, or she could be open about them, acknowledge them, and learn how to wield her cravings and passion in a more controlled way. Every individual part of our Being has a purpose; we just need to work on figuring out what that is.

Throughout our lives, we play at being different people, taking qualities we have or ones we pick up along the way, and experimenting with them in various combinations, like a person trying to solve a Rubik’s cube. When we’re young, we try to be more like our peers in order to fit in. As we get older, we try to differentiate ourselves in order to stand out. Eventually, we reach a stage where, after much effort, we begin to understand who we really are and stop trying to be someone we’re not.

I strongly believe all the puzzle pieces are there, within each and every one of us. But perhaps they’re not fitting together as they should be. The order is all wrong. Understanding ourselves is only half the battle; figuring out how best to be ourselves, how best to connect all the puzzle pieces together in a way that allows us to be at one with ourselves – that is the real work. Learning how to accept our anger but still control our temper and let go of our grudges, how to use all our pent-up energy to our advantage, or how to go easy on ourselves if we don’t have some of the qualities people around us expect us to have. We are fine just the way we are – works-in-progress, trying to solve our own Rubik’s cubes.

Harmony. Connection. Oneness. We must strive for these things within us, and simultaneously, around us. This is the struggle at the core of life. This IS life. We are meant to struggle, yearn, and persist, but we are also meant to be at peace. How we put our puzzle pieces together will have an impact on how well we can keep this balance.

Fragmented

Do you know what it’s like to feel fragmented?

Like your brain has been chopped up into several chunky pieces and simmered into stew.

I can almost see the steam rising out of my ears,

as the wheels in my head churn endlessly,

processing all the data being thrown at it,

from a child’s tantrum to a boss’s email

to the 100+ Whatsapp messages waiting for me each night.

When did I start using my head more than my heart?

My poor, simple heart,

that yearns only for one thing:

connection.

The same connection we’re promised when tricked into buying fancy phones and faster Internet,

shiny cars and sappy Mother’s Day cards.

It seems like everything advertised these days promises a feeling of connection,

which never really comes,

does it?

So instead, the head tells the heart to be quiet and stop whining;

it’s distracting the head from calculating, assessing, judging, and overthinking everything.

The heart learns to be quiet and wait patiently,

but wait, it still does.

For magic?

For a miracle, maybe.

For a feeling of oneness that will render the mind speechless.

Then we’ll see whose turn it is to be quiet.

Has Yours Arrived?

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Are You Strong Enough?

I hate the fact that all my life I’ve been told I was “sensitive” as if that was some kind of an insult. You’re too sensitive. You need to be tough to survive in this world; You’re too nice, you let people walk all over you; You’re so quiet, people talk to you non-stop and never let you get a word in edgewise. Yes, there was perhaps some truth to these statements. I did need to work hard to step out of my shadow and use my voice. But it certainly would’ve helped me feel supported if I’d heard: You’re so sensitive, you’re good at understanding how people feel; You’re so nice, you make people feel good; You’re so quiet and such a good listener.

Every character trait and emotion, from callousness to anger to enthusiasm, can be seen as both a strength and a weakness, depending how you look at it. Anger is a destructive emotion when felt to an extreme, but what about the anger one feels towards an injustice? Suddenly, that anger is a positive force that can change the world for the better. Jealousy is a universally reviled emotion, even though everyone feels it at some point in their lives. But jealousy doesn’t have to darken your soul, if you use it to spark self-awareness. What is missing from your own life that’s making you unhappy and jealous to begin with?

Take any feeling or personality trait and you will find they each have their purpose. The tricky part is making sure you don’t overdo it. Don’t let anger turn into rage or sadness into depression. Don’t be so fearful, you get paralyzed. Don’t even act overly happy, in case you get so consumed in your own life, that you forget to spread your joy through acts of kindness.

Everything in life is such a balancing act. My entire life, I’ve felt weak, when in fact, I could have perceived my inherent character traits as strengths. Even now, society still sends mixed messages about how it defines strength and success. Why do I feel the need to constantly justify who I am? If I stop apologizing constantly for my actions, no one is really going to lose out. If I just let myself be, others will automatically learn to adjust.

I will always be on a mission of self-growth and spiritual evolution. But I cannot deny or hide or even change certain things about the way God created me. I just hope to always have the confidence to keep going. It’s so easy to get beaten down and feel hopeless. What’s harder is getting back up and continuing the journey.

Here’s to staying strong and still being sensitive. Here’s to walking the tightrope that is life and not letting yourself fall or get pushed off and devoured by all the nay-sayers. Here’s to always knowing your worth, respecting your emotions, and appreciating yourself.

Seriously, What’s in a Name?

Imagine being born into a world where every creature and object didn’t have a name attached to it. A tree would not be a “tree”, but rather a towering, majestic structure that branches into narrower and narrower web-like claws, sprouting emerald teardrops. A child would not just be a “child”, but rather, an explorer who is small enough to crawl into nooks and crevices holding unknown treasures. Fish would be seen as undulating, iridescent creatures and birds like messengers of joy. There would be no such labels as “black” and “white”, and no division of humans into races, religions, even genders. Everything and everyone would just be.

Do you think if we hadn’t come up with a label for everything, there might be more magic and wonder in our lives? We might start to see things the way a child who hasn’t yet learned to speak can? Has language played some role in, not only taking magic away from our lives, but also dividing people into categories, so that we feel even more isolated from each other than before?

This is a difficult concept for me to float, especially since language has played a pivotal role bringing magic into my life. Who would I be if it weren’t for my mastery of, at least, one language? My childhood was steeped in books of fiction, my youth spent listening to stories about the wonders of the world, and my profession an attempt at maintaining a continuity of language skills from one generation to the next. Without language in my life, I wouldn’t begin to know who I was. To me, words are like fairy dust. If you blow some life into them, they can transform the world.

What, then, of the harm caused by words? Have we just created a few too many labels in our desire for control? When a newspaper headline reads, “Police Officer Kills Black Man”, think about all the various connotations and associations that come up for different people. Why doesn’t the headline just read, “Police Officer Kills Man”, or, in fact, “Man Kills Man.” Why does the presence of certain labels change our perception of what we’re reading?

Then again, language is so important in broadening our horizons, especially those people who know multiple languages. Learning a new language is one way of being able to look at the same thing in a different way. So, for me, a tree is not just a tree, but also a darakht. For some, it is an árbol or an arbre, a shù or a baum. The more words I learn for “tree”, the more I understand how someone else can look at the very same object as me, yet see something completely different. Suddenly, my world opens up.

I guess language, like the mind, is a double-edged sword. You can use it to create magic and change perceptions, but also to categorize and dehumanize. Words are so powerful, they should come with a warning. Consider the difference between a mother scolding her son, saying, “You’re a bad boy,” as opposed to, “You’ve behaved badly.” In the first line, “bad” becomes part of the boy’s identity and sense of self, while in the second line, “bad” describes a choice he made, a choice which he may alter in the future. The irony is, the mother who utters either of these lines is probably not looking to scar her child. She just doesn’t realize how much power her words carry, and so uses them carelessly.

As an experiment, I ask you to look at any object in your reach, and imagine that it does not already have a name. Observe the object with as many of your senses as possible and think about what other function it might serve. Be creative. A scarf could be a belt. A drinking glass could be a kaleidoscope through which to view things. A landscape painting could be the doorway into another world. A pencil could be a mini-sword or even a magic wand. We often do this without realizing it, when we play with children or make an effort to think “outside-the-box”. It may seem silly, but for a moment, we suspend our beliefs about what we know to be true and attempt to perceive things differently.

Now try this exercise: think of your partner, or child, or friend, and make a point to forget all the labels attached to him/her. Erase his name and specific relation to you from your memory. Look at her with new eyes, as if meeting for the first time. Take it a step further and give him a different label, like a new name, age, and personality trait. Your friend who is a housewife might suddenly become a secret agent in disguise. Your child might actually be a wise, old sage who has the answers to all the questions in the universe. Your colleague who seems shy on the surface can actually become an overly confident entertainer. Have fun with it. Become a character in your own story. Transform into an author or actor, and create a new story line for your life. You may doubt the idea that one thing can magically turn into another, and that any one person can be transformed into whoever it is they want to be. But really, anything is possible if you learn to play around with language.

If we think something has been described incorrectly, we can use our own language to counter that. The character trait of being “sensitive” doesn’t have to be seen as a weakness anymore, if we talk about how it gives us strength. A “wall” doesn’t need to denote protection if it is described as being divisive and breakable. And the word “other” doesn’t have to sound scary, if we talk about it as being essential. Our words shape the world. Let’s use them with care.

Plugging Off

We’ve all heard the phrase “plugging off”, and we know what it means – taking time off from our gadgets and electronics; turning off our televisions, iPads, laptops, and smartphones; being more aware of our surroundings and feeling present in the moment. But there’s one other thing that needs to be switched off before we can truly feel a sense of connection with the world, and that is our mind. Our minds are always on and running at hyper speed, tackling a myriad of issues, all at the same time, imagining future scenarios, both frightening and fanciful, and reliving past moments with all their associated pain. Our minds are incredible. They set us apart from being just another species of animal on this earth. But just like too much of anything can be bad for you, overthinking can turn our minds from marvels into monsters. We get stressed out, on edge, anxious and depressed. We’re unable to sleep or eat or function. Every so often, the mind needs to be turned off, so that we can connect with another part of our beings – our souls.

The soul is probably the most neglected part of us, perhaps because it’s invisible, unlike the mind and body, and so, easy to forget about. But when depression strikes or we feel a general sense of despair, it’s not the mind or body that comes to the rescue (at least, not on their own). Often times, the mind IS at the root of our problems, and needs to be turned off. So where, then, is the off switch?

Everyone has a different off switch or way of zoning out. Some like to meditate or pray, others exercise or simply daydream. You must find the method that works for you. The point is to stop thinking and start feeling. For a lot of people, the easiest way to do this is to focus on your breath. When you focus on your breath, all your other thoughts disappear and you become more aware of your actual Being. If you do it often enough, it will turn into a habit, one you can do for five minutes or fifty. When you “plug off” like this, it feels kind of like waking up from a dream to a beautiful reality. The more you connect with your Being, the more your world, as you know it, starts to feel less important, less stressful. Because at the end of the day, your long-term happiness doesn’t come from completing all the tasks on your To Do list. It comes from feeling fully connected to yourself and the world around you. It comes from the realization that you are a small part of a greater whole, and being 20 minutes late to work, or winning the temporary adoration of your fans, will not change that.

I’m not saying you should quit your day job or stop caring about your responsibilities. I’m saying, take some of the pressure off yourself. You’re not meant to be the perfect man or woman. You’re meant to be flawed and incomplete. You’re a work-in-progress, but each brushstroke you make adds beauty to the bigger picture every time you make the effort to “connect”.

What do I mean when I say “connect”? I mean getting back in touch with your true self, your soul, your intuition. Call it what you want. It’s the inner voice that guides you every time you make a decision. Not all the other voices that you hear on a daily basis telling you that you’re falling behind or you’re not good enough. Those are the very voices that are drowning out your true self. By shutting off our mind, we are telling those negative voices to take a hike, so we can do our best to hear what our inner self is saying. You might not hear it at first, but if you keep trying to make that connection, you will hear it. Your inner self will only ever tell you the truth. The truth about who you are, why you exist, and what you should be doing during your time on Earth. I believe the more we keep striving to listen to our inner voice, the more we will learn about ourselves, and the more at peace we will feel.

Focus on your breath right now. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and focus. Do it for three minutes, or five, or ten. See what happens. Switch your mind off and let yourself go. Then tell me what you felt. I’d love to know. If your experience is anything like mine, you may feel a tingling sensation in your body, or the sense that you’re being lifted into the air. It’s hard to shut the mind off, I know, but please try. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Have You Lost Your Sense of Wonder?

As a child, I remember being fascinated by the idea of the circus, hot air balloons, and anything else that fit into my idea of a whimsical world. I was delighted by stories and the playful ways words could be rearranged to elicit different reactions from different people. On the contrary, as an adult, sometimes language seems like such a chore, so limiting, almost like it does more harm than good, and can lead to a myriad of misunderstandings. When did I become such a bore? How did I lose that special sense of wonder that used to get sparked by the most basic of things?

Wonder comes from a simple, child-like place. But as you get older, it gets harder and harder to access. It gets drowned out by all the clutter in your mind, all the worldly distractions, psychological fears and insecurities. Only when you make a concerted effort to remove all that noise, will you be left with an empty space inside of you, a space ready and waiting to be transformed by your sense of wonder.

Wonder comes from your search to understand the world around you. It comes from your intense yearning for connection with something or someone greater than yourself. Sometimes you feel wonder at the genius of a new contraption, at the logic behind the chaos that is life, at the beauty of this world and humanity, even at the devastation that plays out on such a grand scale around us. Wonder is what leads us to the questions, “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?”

I was blessed to be born into a loving family with comfortable means. Yet, at times, I felt like no one understood me. Like, perhaps, I was a child who’d been taken away from her real mother to be raised by some other family. My real mother would know all the answers to my questions, and solutions to my problems. I realize now, of course, that perfect mother I imagined is God, who has always been with me, whether I knew it or not.  I think, like a foster child or someone who was adopted, you never stop wanting to know the truth about where you really came from.

This desire to learn about our origins and, indeed, our eventual destination, is what drives so many of us. This is why people enjoy reading stories and watching films about characters who go on journeys and endure hardships, to find some meaning in their lives. These stories help people to create a lens through which to understand our world. Perhaps listening to stories is one way for us to re-claim our child-like wonder, and be reminded to keep looking at the world with fresh eyes and an open heart.

When you learn something new as a result of wonder – be it a mathematical concept, a better understanding of your partner, or an epiphany about your own life – you feel triumphant, like you’ve solved an important riddle. But all you’ve really done is unlocked your access to the next riddle. As people, we keep evolving, and with each new riddle, or trauma, or trial in life, the way we solve it or get through it determines how much we grow, spiritually.

Some people want to dig deeper and gain self-awareness in order to heal or grow. Others don’t want to dig deep. They’re perfectly happy not facing their demons. Perhaps they’re afraid of opening a Pandora’s box of problems they can’t face. And that’s okay. Each person is at a different level of self-awareness in life. Each person needs to move at his own pace. But if this describes your partner or parent or friend, make sure you don’t let him/her discourage you from doing what you have to do to find your own truth. Don’t dilute your sense of wonder for anyone else. Let it build and grow, and maybe even engulf those around you.

If we live from a place of wonder – not of certainty and control – navigating life’s challenges might become a little more bearable.