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.

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.

The Cyclical Nature of Life

We’ve all heard the idea that life moves in cycles. Sometimes we experience joy in life and sometimes we endure hardship. Sometimes we feel happy, and other times, blue. The seasons change from hot to cold and back again. We live, then we die, only to be born again, according to some people’s beliefs, into an eternal life. Or perhaps, as others believe, we are reborn as different people in successive lives, thus perpetuating the cycle.

If you think a bit more deeply about this cyclical nature of, not just the physical things around us, but also concepts and ideas, you realize that almost every idea has a cyclical opposite. Such is the duality of life. The opposite of beauty is ugliness; guilty is innocent; give is take; and forward is backward. If you think of these concepts, not as linear opposites, but rather cyclical ones, your understanding of life will start to change.

Let me clarify what I mean. In a cycle, forward is not just the opposite of backward; it is actually leading us to backward, and then forward again. As individuals, we are each on our own path, at different points upon these cycles. For example, a criminal may feel guilty and ashamed, but he may also be kind to animals and mentally intelligent. Over the course of his life, his guilt may lead to innocence in some form. Perhaps, he will find a way to cleanse his soul or help someone else avoid the same fate as him. Shame might lead to a sense of pride; not necessarily arrogance, but a humble kind of pride. His kindness doesn’t necessarily have to lead to unkindness. If he works at it, this man can extend the kindness he shows to animals, to humans, too. His mental intelligence might not lead to idiocy, but rather spiritual intelligence. So the cycle doesn’t necessarily remain static. This man always had choices, at every step of his life. By making the right ones, he was able to evolve as a person. Hence, you realize that the cycle is not really a cycle at all, but a spiral, with never-ending opportunities for us to evolve.

It’s interesting to note that we all have microscopic spirals within each of our cells, called DNA. Our DNA is what dictates who we are. But science has proven that DNA can also change over time. Just like each and every one of us can.

If the spiral is in the form of an infinite loop, then we are always moving forward and backward at the same time, as if we’re walking up an escalator that’s going down, or running on a hamster wheel. What does this all mean, exactly? I don’t know. I’m neither a scientist, nor a theologian. I’m just someone who’s trying to figure out how to fight my demons and evolve as a person, using the resources at my disposal – the coding in my DNA – to try to help me understand the truth.

One of the reasons I find the idea of spirals and cycles so appealing is that it takes a little bit of the pressure off. We were all born at different points in the “universal spiral” of life. We had absolutely no say in it. All we can do is the best we can, with what we’ve got. This idea might help us to be less judgmental of others, too. Not just our friends and neighbors, but also our parents and partners. Who’s to say who’s more evolved as a person – you or anybody else? If ever you’ve compared yourself to another person (you know we all do it) and quietly assumed, in the deepest recesses of your heart, that you are, in some way, better than that person, let that feeling go. Yes, you might be better at Math, and he/she at Writing. But in the overall scheme of life, no one is superior to another, because we each started our lives with different handicaps and circumstances, and we’re each equipped with our own particular strengths and weaknesses.

In the end, we’re all walking forward and backward on the same universal spiral. We’re all struggling with our own demons, as different as they may be. We’re all really just the same. And we all really just need each other.

The opposite of being alone is being together. At this current point in our universal existence, maybe our loneliness, which itself was a reaction to too much forced togetherness, is now leading us back towards a more enlightened sense of community and connection. I really do hope so.

I’d love to hear your what you think. Please leave a comment below.

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.

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.