Why Pain Matters

Most people run away from pain.

It’s uncomfortable and disturbing.

We think it takes us away 

from being able to enjoy life.

And yet, on the flip side of pain,

there is always pleasure.

They are two opposing sides of the same coin 

that we haven’t learned how to flip to our advantage.

Most people just choose to stuff the coin deep within their pockets,

rejecting both pain and pleasure,

in favor of a routine life,

where both these experiences are tempered,

and life seems manageable.

Except that life isn’t meant to be managed.

It’s meant to be fully lived.

Despite our best efforts, life doesn’t bend to our will.

Instead, we’re the ones getting puppeteered through life,

thrown from one tumult to another,

taking solace in the breaks between each crisis.

What if there is a way for us to align ourselves with the Universe?

To reduce our depression and anxiety,

our chronic loneliness,

always feeling on the fringes,

disconnected?

What if there is a way to be happy,

but it involves taking out that dreaded coin,

and dealing with the pain in our life head on,

learning how to sit with it,

process it,

and ultimately, 

release it?

What if the force of releasing that pain 

had the power to elevate us,

causing the coin to flip on its own? 

Then we might feel the greatest pleasure of all –

connection.

To ourselves.

To each other.

To that spiritual being lying deep within us.

The thing is,

there is no such thing as pleasure

without pain.

If we didn’t have either of these experiences, 

we’d be living a life of ennui.

Without the pain of our aching muscles,

getting a massage wouldn’t feel like such ecstasy.

Without the pain of going to school every day,

we wouldn’t have the pleasure of seeing our friends,

or in the long term,

the satisfaction that comes from achievement,

the joy that comes from using our education to better the world.

Without the travesty of war,

we would not truly cherish peace.

Many of us live with deep wounds,

from childhood,

from broken relationships,

from illness,

or the loss of loved ones.

We endure tremendous pain,

absorbing it into our psyche,

allowing it to diminish our spirit,

trying, unsuccessfully, to ignore it 

until it goes away for good. 

But pain is like a leech.

It won’t leave

unless we learn 

how to heal.

The path to healing is personal.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all set of guidelines

for finding your bliss.

Yes, talking to a therapist might help,

or joining a support group.

Yes, medication might be hugely beneficial,

or reading about personal development, 

opening up 

to new ways of thinking.

Or maybe, for you,

none of this will work.

Perhaps you just need patience

and perseverance,

the sincere desire to evolve,

to transcend this human pain that is constantly weighing you down,

so you might find some semblance of peace –

and dare I say –

happiness. 

The path to healing is personal.

You must figure it out on your own

but not necessarily alone.

In fact, 

you’re never actually alone.

If you step out of your own way,

start ignoring your inner critic –

that pesky roommate who’s taken up residence in your mind –

let go of all your preconceived notions,

your antagonizing ideas about life,

your impressions of success and failure,

if you let go

and trust

your intuition,

that constant connection you have with the universe,

I promise you,

your heart will open up

to the truth.

Your path will be revealed.

Something beautiful will take shape

from the core of your being.

And if you can learn to trust it,

it will never steer you wrong. 

If you are ready to face your trauma,

the challenge will be immense

but the reward exponential.

Because with healing, 

comes the ability to help others.

And in the quest to help others,

you may just find your life’s purpose.

In helping others,

you’re creating a ripple effect

that will change the world.

And in helping others,

the person you’re actually helping the most,

is yourself.

Remembering How to Breathe

I see you.

I see you struggling with life.

The burden of your job,

the responsibility of your relationships,

thinking that everyone else is succeeding in life 

but you.

I see the pain,

the loneliness,

and the sense of hopelessness

that life will never change for you,

that you’ll never get the chance to follow your dream,

or worse,

that you don’t even have a dream.

You think there’s no way out of your situation,

or if there is,

you’re too damn tired to take it.

Perhaps you don’t realize

there’s a power you have at your disposal,

a portal into another world.

It’s not alcohol or drugs,

sex or sleep.

It’s your inherent ability to breathe.

Every living being can breathe,

in fact, so automatically, 

it’s easy to forget you’re doing it.

But to breathe is to have power.

We often hear people say,

“You should stop and smell the roses,”

but how many times do we heed that advice?

How often do we breathe so deeply

that the smell of lavender tickles our brain cells into a natural high?

How often do we step away from the daily grind,

close our eyes,

and breathe in, 

2, 3, 4,

then hold it…

and breathe out, 

2, 3, 4,

and hold it?

At the end of a busy day,

when my shoulders are burning from stress,

and my back muscles are clenched like unrepentant fists,

I sit still,

remain quiet,

and breathe.

I breathe in as if my life depends on it,

like I’ve forgotten what it feels like to have fresh air coursing through my lungs,

luxurious and exultant.

Then I breathe out,

so deeply,

as if the toxins I need to release from my body are emerging from a bottomless pit.

I breathe, 

and breathe, 

and breathe,

until each part of my body has untangled from its burdens,

until each part of my body feels loved and cared for,

until my skin feels ready to dissolve into the air,

allowing my inner being to expand

and encompass the world.

When I breathe

with attention

and intention

I can access another part of me,

the one that’s limitless,

and overflowing with love.

I choose to believe that there’s real magic in this world,

that portals do exist,

and energies can be manipulated.

I choose to believe 

that if you spend more time being aware of your breath,

then suddenly everything will come into focus.

Your once burdensome job will seem like more of an adventure, 

or a learning opportunity that has reached its expiration date.

Those relationships will feel more special,

tender and temporary,

nurturing,

or else, unworthy of your time.

You will start to see the pain and struggle in others’ eyes,

and realize, you’re not alone, 

you never were.

We’re all going through the same process

of trying to remember 

how to live and love,

of trying to remember 

how to breathe.

Life Sentence

I’m a prisoner in my own mind

sentenced to a life of despair,

and the only one able to save me

is behind bars, too.

For years, I longed for a savior –

an attentive parent,

an inspiring mentor,

a romantic partner.

For years, I waited.

People came and people went,

but not one of them could save me.

Because the only one able to save me

is behind bars, too.

She has the keys to our freedom,

but not quite the strength.

She knows that I love her,

but my love is weak.

We’ve spent so many years apart,

walled off from each other

because I abandoned her,

but only to protect her.

What good was our bond if it had only caused pain?

So she turned her back on me,

and I on her.

Doesn’t matter that we were stuck in the same cell,

the walls between us of our own making.

All these years later,

I turn to face her.

She’s the only one who can save us,

if only she could muster the will.

I’m begging her to unlock the prison door,

and set us free.

Let us live as one,

in this perfect human body,

with this identity that, together, we can sculpt to our liking. 

Let’s forget the past

and not dwell on the future,

but just experience each moment as it comes,

with nothing but love for each other,

with nothing but gratitude for our oneness,

with nothing but grace and contentment in our heart.

She reluctantly turns towards me

and points to something in my hand.

Turns out, 

I had the key to our freedom all along.

When I look to the prison bars,

all I see is a curtain of wild flowers intertwined with leafy vines,

sunlight peaking in through the gaps.

We hold hands,

lift up the curtain together,

and walk into the beautiful landscape 

of the unknown.

We saved ourselves.

And who knows?

Maybe we are the savior in someone else’s story, too.

The Jaded ‘One’

Five years ago, I started a now inactive blog called “A Storyed Sensibility”. This is a slightly edited re-post of a blog from that site. It still resonates with me today, and I hope it will with you, too. Please share your thoughts below after you’ve read it.

Many of us spend the first two decades of our lives in fear. We are taught by our families to fear God, to be on our best behavior in order to avoid punishment, be it in the pits of hell or behind the palms of our parents’ hands. We’re told to fear falling behind in school and getting bad grades because otherwise, we won’t get into a good college. And if we don’t get into a good college, our future is screwed. We won’t get a decent job, no one will want to marry us, and we’ll spend the rest of our days poor, alone, and miserable. Also, we better make sure we fit in with the masses, because standing out will make us seem different, and different is always bad.

Of course, as you grow into young adulthood, many of the beliefs you once held to be true take the form of the myths they really are. You realize standing out can be a positive thing. It makes you unique. Being different adds richness and diversity to the world. And getting a high salaried office job is not the comfort you once thought it would be. In fact, you’re miserable in your career, despite having more money than you need, and all you want is to feel happy and alive. Short term goals like losing weight and getting that promotion don’t necessarily lead to happiness. And the high of having a glossy magazine-worthy wedding will only last so long; it won’t replace the fissures in your relationship.

A lot of people spend an excessive amount of time in this Jaded Zone, saying things like:

“Life isn’t all it’s knocked up to be.”

“I’m just another cog in the machine.”

“God? Which God? If there was a God, the world wouldn’t be as messed up as it is right now.”

I know this, because I’ve been there. And, every so often, I cycle back to this Jaded Zone.

After a series of random moments of clarity, though, over the course of the last three years, I have come to believe that if you are sincerely in search of the truth, you will eventually find it. In fact, it will be revealed to you.

Each person’s journey is different; their goalposts won’t necessarily match up, but they’ll all eventually arrive at the same truth. It might be an overnight revelation for some, and a life-long struggle for others. For me, it was the year I turned 36; everything changed. I’d been searching for so long, trying to answer all these complex existential questions like, who am I, where is home, what is my mission, why am I so miserable, and why isn’t God responding to me.

What I didn’t realize until then was that He’d been communicating with me all along. I just didn’t have the tools I’d needed to be aware of it. I’d been blind even though I had eyes to see; I’d been deaf though I had ears to hear; and I’d been dumb, despite the fact that, as a member of the most complex species in the world, I had a brain. I’d just been focusing on all the wrong things.

The truth is so simple it hurts. It hurts because I see now how far the world has drifted away from it. And the effort to unmask this worldly façade feels almost futile.

The truth is: we are One. Like the different parts of a body, we can only work effectively, if we work together. If I stab my left hand with my right, it doesn’t help the rest of my body in any way. The health of the entire body, the entire human race, can only be assured, if it extends to everyone.

We are each unique and beautiful in our own way. There is a little piece of God in each of us, and yet we waste so much time worrying that we’re not pretty, or we’re too fat, or we’re unworthy of anyone’s love. Would you ever say God is ugly? Would you ever say God is fat? If, indeed, you believe in God, and you imagine him in the same manner you might imagine Santa Clause – gentle and loving, full of affection, wagging his finger to those kids who’ve been naughty, lavishing gifts on those kids who’ve been nice – then would you ever think him unworthy of love? I don’t think so.

Even if you don’t believe in God, surely you believe there is some kind of Universal Energy or Power which controls the cycles of nature. Do you think that Energy cares if we are rich or poor? Do you think it makes distinctions between which houses are too opulent to be ruined by hurricanes, and which are too spare?

If we can recognize the beauty in each one of us, and forget about the really useless issues, like which designer bag we can afford, or why he/she isn’t returning our calls, then maybe we can move on with the next step in our lives. To put it in mathematical terms,

God’s love = brotherly love = self love

We know it’s important to love God. We’ve been taught to love our fellow man. But what we hardly hear is the importance of loving ourselves. Of respecting our bodies. Of trusting our intuition. And of treasuring our gifts.

Once we realize just how important we are, so much so that God thought us worthy of being created and put on this Earth, we can move ahead with the business of trying to figure out why we’re here. What is our mission? Because I’m pretty sure it isn’t just to break our backs making money and then spending it all to live in empty comfort. Each of us is here for a different reason. And what I’m starting to believe is that God only reveals your path if you are truly searching for it. The internal struggle, the curiosity, the desire to ‘do more’ and ‘be more’ – that’s a pre-requisite.

The lucky ones among us may have been hearing this message from Day One. Perhaps their parents were already enlightened. Most of us, though, have parents who’ve had their own struggles in life; they weren’t necessarily able to lift themselves out of their troubles long enough to realize what was what. But today, everything is different. The world is smaller than it’s ever been before. We’re more connected than ever, and it doesn’t take a genius to realize that we’re all in this together. We can either all spectacularly fail together, or we can slowly plod our way to progress.

All it takes is a bit of reflection. If we can shut our Netflix for long enough, and stop taking selfies, if we can stop scrolling through Instagram and playing video games for long enough, we might just be able to experience this truth. That we are all One. And submitting to God is only as good as your ability to submit to each other. That love comes in all forms, shapes and sizes. And it is a far better unifier than hate.

We are far from destroyed. We need not be disheartened. We have only to treat each other the way we want to be treated. There’s a reason they call it the Golden Rule. We have only to continue our education insofar as it helps us to learn more about how the world works. We have only to bask in the awe of how different we all are and to focus on the reality of how similar we all are. We have only to be our best selves; to be good to our families, friends, and neighbors; to learn what our missions are and how we can utilize our talents towards those missions; to stand up for the truth; and to spread the message of Oneness. We have only to love each person on this planet, no matter how wretched or saintly, because God considered each one of them worthy of Creation. We have only to fight our own demons, be they negativity, addiction, envy, rage, or fear. We have only to try. And to keep trying. And to try even harder, yet fall countless times, only to get up and try again.

And we have only one life in which to do it.

How to Get Rid of Those Sunday Blues

How can your mood go from upbeat to somewhat disinterested to super depressed, all in the span of one morning? And why does that morning always tend to be on a Sunday?

The Sunday Blues is a universal phenomenon. Nobody wants to go back to school or work on Monday, and do the homework or chores that ensure the rest of the week will go smoothly. Most people spend their Sundays procrastinating as much as possible, then scrambling to get their work done before bedtime.

There’s also another, less talked about, element to the Sunday Blues. When Friday becomes Saturday, you’re moving from a structured day to an unstructured one. Unstructured can be fun, at first. The chance to sleep in and have breakfast at 11am, to lounge in your pajamas for half the day, or spend time outdoors in the fresh air. But with unstructured time, there can be trouble, too.

If there’s more than one person living in your house, you’ve likely already experienced the Battle of Expectations. One person may want to stay home, while the other wants to go out. One person wants to socialize, while the other wants to read. If you’re part of a couple or a family that wants to spend time together but can’t agree on what to do, it’s tremendously challenging to meet everyone’s expectations. And if you’re a parent – well – it comes naturally to place your needs behind everybody else’s. By the time Sunday rears its ugly head, you feel a creeping sense of dissatisfaction and realize that your valuable free time is running out.

Often, the negative thoughts and unpleasant feelings you’ve been avoiding all week attack you when you’re at your lowest, like on a Sunday. That’s when you really start to feel miserable. It’s inevitable, though. If you’ve spent a lifetime feeling unworthy of having your needs met, then even as you try to rebuild yourself and your sense of worth, the road to recovery will still be full of stumbling blocks. And when you stumble, you’ll feel like all the progress you thought you were making was just a hoax. It’s the “one step forward, two steps back” conundrum.

At this point, you have two options: wallow in self-pity all day, or allow yourself to feel your feelings and then re-double your determination to keep moving forward. What does it mean to “feel your feelings”? If you feel despondent, don’t hide it. Tell people and give them a chance to help you. If you feel like being alone, say so. Perhaps this miserable feeling is your body’s way of saying you need more time to yourself. You can nap or shower or read or write. You can call a friend or listen to music. What you shouldn’t do is feel guilty about taking time for yourself, as if you’re failing everyone’s expectations. Because what you are actually doing is failing your own needs. And that’s not okay.

In time, you’ll learn to express your needs more frequently. You might adopt healthy strategies like planning out weekend activities and setting clear boundaries ahead of time; letting everyone know that, on Sunday, during the morning or afternoon or whatever day and time suits you, you just want to do your own thing. Or maybe you want to do something that does involve others, like going for a group hike, or to see a play. It’s about doing something you enjoy, something that nourishes your soul.

Feeling the Sunday Blues (or in fact, feeling blue on any day of the week) doesn’t have to be a constant. It can serve as a kick in the ass, and a message from your soul that it needs some love and attention. If you heed that message for long enough, then feeling bad will lead to feeling better. And suddenly, you’ve turned a difficult experience into a more enlightened and uplifting one.

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.