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.

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.

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.

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.