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.

All Stories Can Be Summed Up Into This One Line

We are one.

Whether it’s a Regency-era novel or reality TV, self-help books or Sufi poetry, indie movies or Insta highlights – every story we read/hear gives us a peak into someone else’s life.

The story might be set in a past or future landscape, and take place halfway across the world from you. It might be an encapsulation of one person’s emotions or her description of a moment in time. Whatever the story, each one shows us another perspective, another life into which we could have been born. But just because we weren’t, doesn’t mean we can’t try to understand what it’s like to be “other”.

Stories create empathy. They allow us to see ourselves in others. And if we can truly see our reflection in another person, or in several other people, or, indeed, the whole of mankind, we would realize that we’re all the same. We each have a human body with a soul or consciousness. We all go through the same cycles of life and experience the same laws of nature.

If you walked down the street today, and passed by someone who looked exactly like you, perhaps you’d be more likely to smile and say “Hi!” If your enemy suddenly transformed into your mirror image, you’d probably be more likely to resolve your conflicts and forgive him. What if you saw yourself on the news, being attacked or oppressed in some way; wouldn’t you be more likely to help yourself? To speak up, to tell your story, to call out injustice. To create an uproar.

We are one. And like some idiot who hammers nails into his feet and sets his hair on fire, we’re only hurting ourselves by not taking care of each other. It’s only natural for our world to be in pain right now. It’s a symptom of all the damage we’ve inflicted on each other. What’s unnatural is for us – all of us – to not be screaming out in anguish.

Dayton. El Paso. Chicago.

Kashmir. Palestine. Syria.

The Amazon Forest. Our polluted oceans. The toxic atmosphere.

There is no lack of stories to be told, people and places to be cared for. And the great thing is, there is no lack of love in this world, or positive energy with which to spread that love.

So next time you’re walking down the street, see if you can spot yourself – your thoughts, your emotions, your experiences – in the person that passes you by. Then take a moment to wonder what that person’s story might be. The tingle that you feel in your heart? It’s called Empathy, and it’s just another word for Love.

My First Prose Poem Performance

About nine months ago, I shared a prose poem with all of you entitled, “Bare Naked”. If you didn’t get a chance to read it, you can find it here. Today, I’m sharing a video of myself for the first time, in which I’m “performing” it. This is new to me, so thank you, in advance, for your views and comments!

What Does it Mean to be Free?

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like

to evaporate into the air,

transform into a molecule of oxygen and join the rush of wind

as it enters my house through an open window,

flowing past me in a wave of ecstasy,

before rushing out again.

I wonder what it would be like to fly,

to feel the coolness of the breeze and the warmth of the sun at the same time.

But not just to feel the breeze,

to be the breeze,

leaving everyone I pass in a state of bliss.

I wonder what it would be like to feel my own self so fully,

my own little universe in my own tiny molecule,

but also, to be a part of something greater than myself,

the collective expanse of air that makes up our atmosphere.

I wonder what it would be like to fly through the world,

and go anywhere I wanted,

not rooted to any spot,

not bound by the limitations of geography

or the human body.

I wonder what it would feel like

to own this world.

All my life I have felt unanchored,

adrift at sea,

and uncomfortable,

in a way that disturbed me when I was growing up.

The fact of the matter is,

I’m still growing up.

I used to spend each day

trying to figure out why I felt this way,

why I couldn’t feel at peace in the security of my family,

the walls of my house,

knowing that I was loved

knowing that I was taken care of.

Why wasn’t that enough for me?

Now I’m starting to think

I was never actually meant to cling to anything so tightly in the first place.

I was meant to be free,

I just never understood how.

Why would I want to hold on so fiercely to things,

to relationships,

to moments,

to concepts of home,

that are all just constructs of my imagination,

none of them permanent?

No matter how precious they are to me,

I have no control over any of them.

In fact, I have no control over anything.

And that’s why I need to learn to be okay

with just being that free-floating molecule of air,

whether I’m lying stagnant on a hot summer’s day

or whipping about in a fevered frenzy,

or even being thrown from one side of the world to the other

in what feels like a catastrophic storm.

I have no control over what happens in this world.

So why am I trying to grasp so fervently onto what are,

essentially,

clouds,

reassuring and ephemeral,

beautiful yet banal.

I need to learn to let go.

I need to learn to let go

and just enjoy the ride.

Maybe then being unanchored will feel more like freedom.

I am larger than what my body allows me to be.

I am a force of nature, bursting at the seams,

as if I’m trying to get out,

not out of this world, mind you,

but, out of my body.

I’ve always known that there was something precious inside me –

inside all of us –

but for years, I hid it away like a dirty secret

under all these layers of my own making

and now that I’m trying to strip away those layers

and tear down those walls,

that sparkling and buoyant Being is expanding inside of me.

It wants to grow larger than humanly possible.

It wants to bend reality and challenge the limits of my imagination.

It wants to break free,

as if this combination of body and mind is some kind of prison,

but it’s not.

At least, it doesn’t have to be.

It’s only a prison if I allow it to be one.

It’s meant to be a vessel that I borrowed for a short time

which will help me experience what it’s like to be human,

to experience pain and pleasure and everything in between

the way only a human can.

But this growing Being inside of me

isn’t quite content with this arrangement.

It wants to be free.

Of what, I’m not sure.

How can I be both a human of this world,

and a Being far harder to describe, from some other world,

at the same time?

One foot here and one foot there.

How can I be in two different places at once,

two different beings in one?

Please help me

to be both human and spirit at the same time,

to find the balance to float freely between worlds,

as seamlessly as the wind blowing in and out of my window.

Please help me to unanchor myself from my limited understanding of the world,

and to be okay with it.

I long for the truth,

but I don’t need to know it all,

at least not yet.

Please help me let my Being evolve as much as it can,

even if that means it grows larger than the confines of my body,

as enormous as the Earth itself,

as inexhaustible as the universe.

Who says I can only be a human who exists inside the universe?

Why can’t I be something greater?

Something shiny yet invisible, full yet free, everywhere and nowhere at once, 

with the universe inside of me?

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.

My Adventures in Meditating on the London Underground

Recently, I started working full-time in an office environment, after 12 years of being in Academia. It’s taking my body some time to adjust to the longer hours – the early morning, 45 minute commute, the long stretches of time sitting in front of a screen, and the exhausting return home during rush hour when I’m lucky if I can find a spot in the tube to stand, shoulder-to-shoulder with other weary passengers, who can’t wait to get home, plop onto their sofas and watch Netflix in a state of zombie-like zen (for those of us with kids to put to bed, this end-of-day ecstasy doesn’t come for another couple hours).

During my time on the tube, I’ve tried listening to music and reading books (yes, even standing up, with one hand clasped around a pole for dear life, and the other expertly holding the book and turning its pages with a flick of my thumb). As a person who’s recently stumbled onto, for lack of a better word, “meditation”, not by reading about it or watching YouTube videos, but quite accidentally and on my own, I decided one day to attempt it while crammed into the tube like a suffocating sardine.

Up until this point, I had only meditated while lying down. It was just simpler to tell people I wanted to lie down and take a nap, than to say, “I’m going to go focus on releasing my negative energy and replacing it with something much lighter.” That day on the tube, with nothing to do and nowhere to go, not wanting to whip out my phone and stare at it like everyone else was doing, I closed my eyes and began my process. At first, I felt a bit awkward. I mean, what would people think? It’s one thing to close your eyes and nod off while sitting, but to do it while standing? They would think I had the uncanny ability to sleep stand.

After a while, when I realized that nobody really cared enough to focus on what I was doing, I closed my eyes again and returned to my meditation. I took a deep breath in and keenly focused my concentration onto the topmost part of my head. As I breathed out, I felt an inner layer of soul skin slowly rolling down from my head to my toes, and an immediate sense of relief from letting it go. Another breath, in and out, focusing this time on my eyes – not exactly my eyes, rather the muscles around my eyes – and I felt the muscles relax, as another layer of consciousness unspooled within me.

With each breath, and each concentrated intention to release the stress from each part of my body, I peeled off all the layers of soul skin, until there was nothing left but raw, pulsating energy circulating within me. My physical skin tingled from its touch. The more I concentrated on it, the more the energy grew. It kept expanding, like a rising balloon, until it was ready to depart my nuisance of a body, with all its limitations, its aches and pains. This pure energy, that was really and truly me, rose up into the air and flew through the clouds, leaving behind the preoccupied people of the world, until they appeared as mere ants in procession, and later, as tiny dots scattered on the globe, and ultimately, were nowhere to be seen.

This being of energy wanted to go somewhere where it could grow, where it could combine with other beings into one enormous entity. This being felt like it could soar. This being felt like bliss.

As I experienced this energy-induced “high”, for a moment I didn’t feel like just another drained commuter going home, on a day that too closely resembled previous days, feeling like nothing she was doing really mattered in life. My spirit drifted, weightless and unburdened.

In an instant, the vehicle where I had left my physical body behind, came lurching to a violent stop. The energy magically returned to its original human packaging. My eyes opened to register my surroundings. I disembarked at my destination and joined the throngs of other worker bees headed home. But I had a little extra pep in my step. A renewed energy to get me through dinner, my son’s bedtime routine, and my own personal rituals for winding down.

Also, I was reminded that there was a blessing in just my being. I don’t necessarily need to do something outstanding to win the accolades or admiration of my peers, and feel worthy of being in this world. I just need to be, and that is all. There is something sacred inside of me, and I need only close my eyes, breathe deeply, and shut my mind, to access it. Perhaps if I made the effort to meditate more often, I’d be able to shine some of that magic into the outer world, too.