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.

Do You Feel Loved?

I’ve been thinking lately about this whole idea of people feeling alone, even when they’re surrounded by a room full of others. We all feel this way sometimes. And it makes me wonder, why? Why is this loneliness such a common phenomenon? Why are we having such a hard time feeling connected to others? Is it that we’re not putting ourselves out there enough? Or are we putting ourselves out there too much, and just not getting any response? Are we hanging out with the wrong people? There are a ton of questions in my mind and even fewer answers.

I’m sure the reasons for being lonely vary from person to person. But one common theme that emerges when I talk to others, is that they are afraid of rejection, which stems from their core belief that they do not feel like they are good enough. If we believe we’re not good enough – because we’re too fat or too skinny, too shy or too hyper, too anything – then we feel the chance of being rejected by another person is high. Before we can experience the pain of rejection, we withdraw. We don’t reveal our true selves, or we pretend to be the kind of person other people would like. And where do we get our ideas about what makes a person likable? Well, I guess it’s all around us, in the TV shows we watch, the music we listen to, the ads in magazines or on billboards. Sure, we can blame the media for not including more diverse representations of people who are liked and accepted by society, but we continue to suffer. If we don’t make a concerted effort to be more self-aware and reflect on our own thought patterns and consequent behaviors, we’ll never break this cycle of feeling unworthy.

If you’re reading this right now, I invite you to close your eyes and imagine for a minute how it would feel if someone you cared about loved you and recognized you for being exactly who you are? This person could be a parent, a partner, a friend, anyone. Even if it’s not a reflection of your reality, just imagine that person appreciates you for simply being. Not for what you can do for them. Just for simply being.

How does it feel? Does it feel like a relief to let go of all the different masks you wear and people you pretend to be? Isn’t it freeing to disengage with all your fears and insecurities? Do you feel a sense of warmth from the knowledge that you are loved? Perhaps you can’t change how others treat you, but you can certainly change the way you respond to them. If you could walk around with this feeling of freedom from your self-imposed beliefs, and this sense of being loved for who you are, couldn’t that change your entire perception of life?

I know it’s easier said than done, but you cannot stop trying. Even when you are at your worst, you must remember that you are loved. Maybe not by the person you desire, or in the way you desire, but by the someone or something that created you. You are loved. That is the belief I have started carrying within me, to replace all the previous lies I used to tell myself. And this belief emerged after many years of struggle and despondency. It started to grow in me, the moment I made a conscious decision to lead a meaningful life in a quest for connection, with the world and God. The moment I decided to cast off the masks and be my true self.

Maybe we can start our road to feeling worthy by doing the exercise above from time to time, and imagining what it feels like to be confident in our own skins, and let go of all the emotional baggage weighing us down. If we spend enough time thinking about it and relishing in the surge of love that comes from within, maybe we can take small steps in our real lives to be our true selves. If we feel like we don’t even know our true selves, then we must commit to a journey of honesty and self-discovery. Let the Universe do the rest.

Mad-Hatted Courtroom

*In a departure from my usual posts, I’m sharing the beginning of a children’s story I wrote. I’d love to read your comments. Thank you!

 

“Order! Order! Order in the court,” yelled the restless judge with the rainbow colored robe and the purple top hat. “Mr. Rabbit, please explain why we’re here.”

“Yes, sir. Right away, sir,” said the jumpy prosecutor with the white fur and pocket watch. “We are here today, my honor,” he stated, as his hand swept over the courtroom, revealing all the people of Wonderland, “we are here to charge the Cheshire Cat as being an absolute failure.”

“Failure?” asked the mad judge, as if it were a word he’d never heard before. “Prey tell, what is a failure?”

“It is someone who has not made any meaningful contribution to society. Someone who hasn’t amounted to anything, and never will.” The prosecutor’s tone was emphatic. He kept glancing at his watch, though, as if he had another important meeting to attend.

“Your honor, forgive me. I’m in quite a rush. I have another client to represent soon.”

“Of course, of course,” said the genial judge. “We wouldn’t want you to be late, now would we?”

The rabbit hopped off his seat and trotted down the aisle of the courtroom towards the exit. The residents of Wonderland erupted in confused murmurs.

“Order! Order, please,” said the judge, as if he was inviting everyone over for tea. “Well, now, Mr. Cat,” said the judge with a mischievous smile. “How do you plead?”

Suddenly, the cat, who had up until now been invisible, appeared in his bright pink glory with a beauteous smile arching across his face.

“My lawyer will represent me, your honor.”

The doors of the courtroom slammed wide open, as the Cheshire Cat’s lawyer made a grand entrance. It was none other than the white rabbit, making his way down the aisle, as if he was a very important man of heft. One foot pounded the floor, then the other, like a cowboy ready to start a shoot-out. When he made it to the seat beside the cat, he hopped on and said, “We plead Not Guilty, sir.”

“Well, I never…,” chuckled the judge. “What is going on here? You cannot represent the prosecution AND the defence, Mr. Rabbit.”

The courtroom could tell the judge was trying very hard to sound serious, but was really more tickled than tart.

To Be Continued…

Adulting

Most days, I’m like a scared six-year-old who hates having to sleep alone in her room, who will make every excuse to invade the sanctity of her parents’ bed. Other days – and these are my best – I find delight in the little details of life, like bubbles reflecting rainbow colors or origami butterflies taking flight. But in between my deep need for comfort and my unadulterated joy, there are moments when I become an adult, and those are the moments I dread.

Ironing the wrinkles out of my husband’s shirts. Folding my child’s freshly laundered school uniforms. Driving to work in rush hour traffic. Apologizing for mistakes I never made, yet trying to justify the insensitivity of others. Making sure I return favors, remember to give gifts, wish someone a happy birthday on Facebook. Acting like everything’s going to be okay in front of my child, when I know they’re not okay at all. Smiling through depression. Remembering to pay the bills. Feeling the need to stay on top of current events and participate in drawing room discussions. Struggling to keep up with everyone else who, conveniently, seem to have their life sorted out. The list is endless and, when you put it together, feels insurmountable. “To Do” lists used to help me stay organized. Now they just give me anxiety. Is this what it means to be an adult? Really? Why was I ever in such a hurry to grow up?

What bothers me is that we’ve branded “adulting” as being this terrible condition where life is all work and no play, and the only time you can let your hair down is when the kids are in bed, or there’s a babysitter available, or you’re holding a cocktail in your hand while lying on a beach chair in Puerto Rico (although that would be nice). Why can’t we reframe the narrative and think of adults as being these awesome people who have the same level of curiosity and imagination as children, only with more resources at their disposal to transform some of those dreams into reality? We all grew up thinking about what we wanted to be as adults – writers, artists, doctors, astronauts. But many of us ended up basing our career choices on what made sense for us at the time or what would earn us the most money. And now many of us are stuck in these jobs we hate, taking care of these families we resent, feeling like the joy has just been sucked out of our lives.

Imagine always being able to see the world through a child’s eyes. Close your eyes and really think about what that would be like. Where do you still find wonder? What excites you, or makes you want to know more? Where does your inner voice lead you, when you’re half awake and half dreaming? I love stories. Even when I’m not reading a book or watching a movie, I’m making up my own stories. Sometimes they’re projections of me in the future, imagining myself becoming the person I want to be. Other times, they’ve got complex characters and intriguing storylines. Should I be writing these down? Sharing them? Publishing them? Maybe. I’m not sure where my sense of wonder will take me next. Do you think it’s possible to make a career out of chasing wonder?

What do you hear when you close your eyes and listen? Where does your mind journey, when you allow it some freedom? It doesn’t matter how seemingly ridiculous or far-fetched it might sound. We need to re-claim a little bit of our childhood, in order to become cooler, better, and ultimately, happier adults.

New Chapter

This summer, I moved with my family from one continent to another. And so began a new chapter in my life. I’m overwhelmed by the possibilities, paralyzed, really, by all the different ways in which I can reinvent myself. What will most likely happen, though, is that I will stay put in this exact same persona, doomed to carry on the same cycle of negative thinking. I’m trying so hard for this not to be true. To be a stronger, more emotionally resilient person. Not so dependent on any one person to make me feel loved or special. The love lies within, I keep telling myself. The strength lies within.

But who am I kidding? This is easier said than done. The frequency of moments in which I feel overwhelmed just keeps increasing. The potency of those moments, too, and their ability to just shut me down, completely. I always feel a hair’s length away from falling apart. Why am I like this, I often wonder. God made me this way, so I can’t be all bad, right? God made me sensitive and caring to a fault. There must be some way to be sensitive yet strong. To not lose heart every time I hear the news, or talk to my son about what bothers him, or see my spouse vacillate between moods. I want to find this wellspring of strength within me. I need to find it. Because I don’t think my life can go on this way.

A new chapter means new beginnings and endless possibilities. I hope I find that strength so that I might be the surprise character who emerges from this next chapter, the one who will carry the entire story through to its glorious end.