Before you read …

There is no shame in being human.

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I’m unabashedly open in my writing because I choose to reject the shame that surrounds the core of being human: our struggles and how we overcome them, our experiences and how they shape us, our perspectives and the give-and-take of sharing them, and the lessons we learn along the way. In fact, the longer I live on this planet, the more this one fact becomes clear:

Remaining silent about that which makes us most fully alive – our challenges, perspectives, and experiences – perpetuates a culture of shame and stunts our personal growth. 

If you’ve stumbled upon this blog, may you be moved to embrace your own struggles as teachers and find your own honorable voice within the madness of humanity.

Lessons from my Father

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Today would have been a day my dad loved, with its sapphire blue sky and soft breeze – the perfect accompaniment to the world’s greatest athletes as they run, dive, swim, tumble, and bicycle across the big-screen TV, in the throes of world records that would have filled him with pride in his human-ness. If he were alive and here today, he would be plopped on my couch, resting his feet on the chaise lounge, my son Koda (who never got to meet him) in his warm lap, a roughly-knit blanket underneath his bum, a bag of pistachios by his side, and Olympic cheers on full blast.

But today, eight years ago, my dad grew his wings. 

My father taught me more lessons than I can put into words, but as I reflect on his life today, there are a few pieces of wisdom that stand out to me, the values he imbedded so deep into my soul that they became indelibly connected to the person I am today: 

  1. “The pen is mightier than the sword.” I recall him saying this more than any other Gandhi-like cliche. My father was a fierce pacifist who taught me that my mind and wisdom are far superior to any amount of muscle, force, or violence than any human could muster up. There are no winners in war. There are no winners when we resort to violence. There are no winners when we disconnect from our wisdom. The mind, and its wisdom, is the most valuable weapon and tool we have. 
  2. “Small minds talk about people. Average minds talk about things. Superior minds talk about ideas.” Another Gandhi-like cliche that my father repeated throughout my childhood and right into adulthood. He taught me that philosophizing was the most honorable way to pass time with another person, and any friend who gossiped about me or to me was not worthy of friendship. 
  3. Women are equal (superior?) to men. He spoke often of his ultra-petite mother who was stronger in mind and spirit than most men he had ever known. He spoke of women with great reverence for their inherent wisdoms and their life-giving, rather than life-taking, leanings. He referred often to Kali, a powerful Hindu goddess, which imprinted in me from an early age that women can be unimaginably strong. Inequalities between women and men made him shiver with a quiet disgust. My dad may not have realized it, but he was a feminist long before it was commonplace for men to be feminists. 
  4. “Bullies are really sad people.” I was bullied in elementary school, by one boy in particular. Though the bullying tormented me when I was at school, it never seeped too far into my psyche; my dad’s wisdom had acted like a waterproof bully-barrier. My father would sit on the edge of my bed and tell me that when I grew up, I would see that bullies are just very, very sad people. Indeed, that is so true; my childhood bully committed suicide a few years later. 
  5. It’s always OK to apologize.  Any time my dad had an ugly human moment – a fight with my mother, an outburst, coming home too late – he would sit on my bed, look me in the eyes, put his arm around my shoulder, lean forward slightly, and apologize. Even when it wasn’t his fault, he would apologize. He taught me that taking ownership of my mistakes, and saying those simple words – “I’m sorry” – help heal wounds even when you don’t create them in the first place. He owned way more mistakes than he needed to or should have, but maybe that’s why I feel such a softness towards him. He never let his pride come before his love.
  6. I look fine. No matter what I looked like, my dad always told me to eat more. Even when I was nine months pregnant with my firstborn and had gained 50 pounds, he still told me to eat more. This was my father’s sweet, subtle way of recalling my struggle with an eating disorder as a kid and telling me not to worry – ever – about my weight or body image. Every time he saw me and asked if I was eating enough, I knew the subtext … and I appreciated it. 

This post could continue for pages, but I’ll leave it here for now. 

Samir Chandra Lahiri – father, husband, friend, mentor, role model … I was so, so lucky to have him in my life. 

Stupid Parenting

Dear Some Parents,

Please stop taking free ranging to Level Stupid, then wondering why your child is out of control. On the flip side, please stop taking suburban mom-ing (or dad-ing) to Level Stupid, then wondering why your child lacks creativity, the ability to entertain himself, or closeness to you. And if you combine the two parenting “tactics,” congratulations, you’ve made it to Level Crazy-Stupid.

To the Free-Range Parents: 

I beg you to free-range parent with common sense.

Allowing a three-year-old to ride his bike down the road without any supervision at all is stupid parenting. Convicted sex offenders live down the street (go online and see for yourself), people text + drive, and three-year-olds can (and do) crash and smash their fragile heads. Where will you be if one of these happens to your little one?

Allowing your five-year-old, especially if you know she misbehaves to the point where you can’t stand being around her, to run wild and free – away from you – is stupid parenting. Not only is she driving the people down the street crazy with her loudness, but she’s also in danger of everything in the point I made right above this one … sex offenders, bad drivers, and accidents. Again, where will you be?

Allowing your kid to go to someone’s house without knowing the functioning or people of that house is stupid parenting. You can think, “Oh it won’t happen to my kid,” but it just takes one person in one house to happen to have one loaded gun that happens to get in the wrong hands. Or one sick pervert in one house to abuse your innocent child, and change them forever. Know where your child is and talk to them about how to handle dangerous situations.

To the suburban moms + dads who think it’s necessary to keep them busy at all times: 

I beg you to stop competing for who-can-keep-their-kids-busiest.

You take them here and there and then on vacation and then to camp and over to that place and onto sports teams and then to swim lessons and jiu jitsu and dance and then put them in a theater production and then take them to this house and then to grandma’s … Sheesh.

Keeping your child busy every day after school or almost every day in the summer months is stupid parenting. It’s OK for children to have down time, to be a little bored, to slow down and not do so much. I’m not talking about sitting them in front of video games – especially not World of Warcraft, GTA, or League of Legends – all day; I’m talking about true down time. It’s in that screen-less quiet time, in that “boredom,” when they use their imaginations, learn, discover interests, take safe risks, day dream, innovate, lounge around with pets, actually talk to you (imagine that!), and learn that it’s OK to be still, to be alone once in a while, to resort to their inner resources for contentedness.

To the parents who wonder why their kids act the way they do: 

Look in the mirror and reflect on your own parenting habits.

No one is a perfect parent, but a little balance between the two parenting extremes that seem to hover over suburbia just might make for more balanced kids who feel loved and get to explore their world.

It *will* pass.

“Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh

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Though I had known others who committed suicide, when Kate took her own life, I felt a heinous sense of responsibility. I had been her teacher a decade earlier, so I could have, should have, made a difference in her life, in the way it had all unfolded, in this unnecessary tragedy that ended with a beautiful and ingenious young woman seeing no way out.

The last time I saw Kate, I hugged her. I remember the way her long brown hair rolled down her back and along her cheeks, and the torrent of pride and love I felt when she looked in my eyes, mature and confident (so it seemed), and told me about her successes at law school.

Within a year of that embrace, she was gone. If only I had told her what I knew to be so true in my few extra years of life over her, if only I had somehow submerged these words into her consciousness: Just hang on, and it will pass. Whatever the struggles, stressors, sadnesses, problems …  just hang on and soon enough, it (whatever “it” is) will be in the past and can be used to strengthen and empower yourself and your life.  After all, nothing remains. Nothing stays the same. Life — every moment, feeling, relationship, experience — is always changing, like the never-seizing flow of a river, like the constant movement of the air we breathe.  Hang on and whatever your stress or troubles, it will morph. You just have to hang on.

This is true of every facet of life. Every facet. I stopped writing back in May. For the first time in my life, I had no drive to write, no passion for writing, absolutely no topic about which to write. When I considered trying to write or read, my mind turned to static. Whatever it was, perhaps a simple case of long-term writer’s block, I hung on. I waited it out, watched the silence of my normally fiery mind … and it passed. Today, I feel flooded with a passion for reading poetry, writing, sharing Yoga wisdom through writing, and exploring spirituality in a way that is in direct contradiction with the chaotic monotony that had been my mind’s epicenter for the last few months.

And so it was when I found myself in the Children’s Hospital with my son on August 3, 2013, slapped in the face with his diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes and life-long insulin dependence. And so it was when I heard of my father’s premature death, when I felt grief so deeply that I doubled over in pain. And so it was when I faced break-ups, changes in jobs, miscarriages, surgeries, health scares.  Each time, there I stood, in the center of life’s abject discomfort.

When you find yourself cornered by one of life’s emotional, artistic, or professional slumps, know that if you just hang on (and when you feel like you’re going to explode from frustration at being imprisoned in your own personal jail cell, then hang on a bit longer …), it will pass.

What It’s Like to Have Too Many Nerve Endings

“All I ever wanted was to reach out and touch another human being not just with my hands but with my heart.”  ― Tahereh Mafi

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I have too many nerve endings.

No, really, I do.

An official diagnosis wasn’t made until I was 37 years old. The name of the disorder and the events the led to my diagnosis are unimportant here. All that matters right now is what I have learned from this.

Think of a feeling — any feeling, physical or emotional. Now imagine holding a super strong 20x magnifying glass up to that feeling. This magnification is what I feel. When a “normal” person feels pain, I feel all-consuming excruciating agony. When a “normal” person holds my hand, they may feel a warm hand, but I feel tingling micro-sensations transferred to and from the cells in our palms and fingers. Every touch – good or bad – is intense. I have always likened myself to an open nerve walking around the world.

Now, at this point, you’re probably not judging me too much since we don’t normally judge people for physical disorders. But extend that disorder of having too many nerve endings to the emotions. At that boundary between the body and the emotions, is where the physical disorder becomes a personality disorder. Yes, my intensity of feeling is as much emotional as it is physical.  A “normal” person feels joy, but I feel like a tsunami of bliss has knocked me over and washed me to shore. A “normal” person might feel rejection, but I feel like a tar-covered truck has run me over and flattened me into the road.

I always knew I was the opposite of a sociopath, but I never realized this actually had a name. When I was diagnosed with my hyper-sensitive nerve endings (inside and out), I initially built a thick brick wall of shame around “it” – shame based on the fear that if anyone ever found out about my diagnosis, I would be judged as a professional, as a parent, as a friend, as a human. But when I started to understand it and its causes, to accept this disorder, to ignore what the Internet had to say about it and instead appreciate my own experience with it, then something simply awesome happened: I began to see my diagnosis as the great blessing that it can be. I focused on the gifts it’s brought me, and there have been many. Ironically, it’s this “disorder” that makes me incredibly loving, nonjudgmental, willful, and an agent of social change.

By focusing on the gifts hidden beneath the diagnosis, I started to remove the bricks of shame,  one at a time.

There is no shame in being human. And if anyone reading this has a personality disorder, a mental illness, or a learning difference, knock those dang bricks of shame down until they crash around you in unrecognizable bits, stomp on them, and never, ever build that wall back up again.

Own your disorder or struggle, embrace it, and use it for good.

The Wise, the Foolish, and the Legacy We Leave Behind (originally penned in 2010)

“Love is wise; hatred is foolish.  … If we are to live together, and not die together, we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance, which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet.”
― Bertrand Russell

Photo courtesy of Johnny Nyugen
Photo courtesy of Johnny Nyugen

I don’t watch the news, read newspapers, or look at fashion magazines very much, in part because they glamorize the worst of humanity, and in part because women and Black Americans, in particular, are presented inaccurately (never mind the fact that Native Americans and Asian-Americans are pretty much ignored altogether, rendering us seemingly voiceless and invisible). But this leaves me ignorant of the situations that are shaping the world and this country. Sometimes those situations matter, and I owe it to humanity to pay attention. And so do you.

We … you, your friends, your coworkers, every American, and I should pay attention right now. Not so that we can point fingers, because that solves nothing at all. Not so that we can stew in anger at either “side” of the situation, because that perpetuates the misunderstandings and fury.

We should all pay attention so that we can see how the separation we create between each other causes harm.

We should all pay attention so that we can see how foolish it is that we judge entire groups of humanity based on just a few.

We should all pay attention because right now in this country, an African-American boy is being taught that he better not wear hoodies, he better not keep his hands in his pockets, he better not look remotely “suspicious” at all, or he could lose his life.

We should all pay attention so that we recognize that racism is alive and real, often in subversive, micro-aggressive, almost unrecognizable ways.

We should all pay attention so that we engage in an actual conversation about race, rather than run away from those same conversations because we prefer the comfort of our privilege or we’re too afraid to speak.

We should all pay attention because this is the world we are creating for our children. If you and I see each other as separate and act not out of compassion, but rather out of fear and anger, our children, and humanity, will inherit that.

Talk to each other.

Listen.

See a human being standing before you, rather than a symbol of an entire group.

Recognize there is no difference between you and me, in our desire to be valued and honored as an individual, in our desire to be respected.

Realize that everything you say and do is being passed on to a child.

Our Suffering can be a Gift.

“Suffering is a gift. In it is hidden mercy.”  – Rumi

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Over our morning coffee, I asked my husband, “So, how long have we been married now – 11 years or 12 years?”  I truly couldn’t remember how long my beloved husband and I had been married. Was this a moment of early senility? Shameful stupidity? His eyes lit up, with that thoughtful pause that always means I might have actually stumped his genius brain. He had a split second of being unsure, too.  Phew.  And then he said with surety, “Twelve years … Going on twelve years.” My almost-40 mind was a drunken bewildering blur, and I admitted, “I have no memory of year 12. Where the hell did year 12 go? I can’t remember our 11th anniversary, and I have no clue where the year went …” He nonchalantly pointed to our bedroom where our oldest son was playing computer games. Ah, yes, there it went. It went to Type 1.

Kyan was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes just 11 days before our 11th wedding anniversary. Though I can’t remember it, we must have spent our anniversary frenzied by feelings of fear, worry, relief, grief, gratitude, and total confusion, and we spent year 12 wrapping our minds — and our entire life as a family — around now being a family with Type 1. No wonder our 11th big day didn’t exist and year 12 was, well, not so romantic.

But don’t feel sorry for me or Nik, or for our kids, even for a second. I wouldn’t change a thing and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Yes, of course I wish this was a universe where I could take all of my kid’s suffering away and, yes, of course I would take Type 1 away from him and give it to myself if only I could. As Nik always says, though, why fight what you cannot change if resisting it only causes more suffering? So we try to roll with it. But, more than that, you see, these last few months of our marriage and our family have actually been a gift that, when unwrapped mindfully, offers up blessing after blessing. This disease did not break us; it made us stronger, as cliche as that sounds. This situation that could be construed as “terrible” has actually reiterated to us what’s truly important:

🔅 Remembering that every day of life is more valuable than we ever really realized, for every day we have is a gift

🔅 Showing each other love each day instead of just on Hallmark holidays

🔅 Spending time altogether as a family every single day

🔅 Eating together every day, no matter how loud and obnoxious it gets at times

🔅 Finding humor in almost everything every day, including diseases, struggles, and stressors

🔅 That a long and successful marriage can expect both romantic and un-romantic times, and both phases are temporary

🔅 That what can be perceived as “bad” can actually be a gift once you get through the worst of it

When I gave birth to my sons, I wanted more than anything to shelter them from pain and suffering. I failed at that, not because I’m a failure, but because that hope was totally unrealistic. Everyone must struggle from time to time and each one of our children will face adversity in some form or another, no matter how much we may wish a suffering-free and easy life for them.

As parents, will we shrivel up into a puddle of self-sorry sadness when that happens, or will we role model strength, humor, love, and hope? Nik and I are choosing the latter … even if that means forgetting our anniversary once in a while.

To Life:

To me, the meaning of life is simple.

I think I first understood it when my beloved dog’s eyes settled on mine, oozing with compassion as I leaned into her fur, my face coated in childhood tears and snot.  I understood it when my sister told me, fervently, that she wished I could view myself as she viewed me, love myself as much as she loved me.  I understood it when I fell so in love that his departure from my life left me sickeningly, unabridgedly hollow.  I understood it when my dear late friend placed his hands on my shoulders, looked into and beyond my eyes, and told me that he loved me unconditionally.  I understood it with each foster pet I rescued from a terrible fate.  I understood it when Nik’s green eyes looked down at mine – present, hopeful, erupting in soulfulness – as he asked me to marry him.  I understood it as every one of my cells wept at my father’s memorial service.  I understood it when we stared mournfully at a blank ultrasound monitor.  I understood it when I held my sons close for the first time.  I understand it when I look at my boys.  I understand it when I stand before a room full of adolescents who perk up with excitement when we talk about literature.  I understand it when I write.  I understand it when I hike with my family, when I make morning coffee for Nik, when I see a black bear in the wild, when I wake up and realize I’m still here.

We intellectualize, analyze, anatomize, scrutinize the meaning of our lives … when, really, the meaning of life is quite simple.

Here’s to Life.

 

The Missing Ingredient in Happy

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” – John Lennon

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When my son asked me the other day what he should be when he grows up, like a good 21st-century American mom, I answered, “Happy.” And while I have written about happiness, and I have always believed true happiness to be one of the meanings of life (after love, that is), I heard my own voice say that elusive word to my son, happy, felt inauthentic for that moment, and had an epiphany.  Do I really want for him to spend his life being happy, to just melt inside of happiness, all giddy with a vapid smile on his face?  If I look deeply and honestly enough, my eyes wide open to the truth that lingers there, quietly and ashamed, the answer is, no.  I want my sons to be more than simply happy.

American society says that the point of life is to be happy (and, so stupidly, that material possessions or physical pleasures will make us “happy”).  But, no, that’s not for me. Joyful, yes. Grateful, yes. Mindful and present, yes.  To drink in the serenity and vitality we experience when we sit still, eyes closed, lungs full of air, feeling life pulsating through our every vein, yes. But just happy, no. Happy is missing a key ingredient. It occurred to me that I feel deep joy, gratitude, and pleasure in this life … I notice it, embrace it, bathe in it, swallow it whole.

But self-consumed happiness actually eludes me, and I am OK with that. Here’s why: If you asked me if I am a happy person, I would say yes, for I feel positive emotions way more than painful ones.

But how can I be 100% happy knowing that suffering exists in this very moment and always has? That violence is being done. That slavery existed — and still lurks. That a little girl is being told she cannot do something because she is weak or dumb. That a black man is being wrongly looked upon as a criminal. That a man is hitting a woman, a gay man is being beaten, a teen is contemplating suicide, a mother is having a miscarriage, a pet is being abandoned, a fly is having his wings torn off. That children are dying of the same disease that my own boy has just because they don’t have the privilege of being in America. How can I want my heart to be swallowed up in happiness when so much suffering exists right now?  How selfish and self centered of me to feel unbridled happiness just because I happen to be having a blessed life or a great day!

Instead, we seem to be missing that key ingredient to happiness that will make it way more fulfilling and authentic: Peace. Peace born from compassion. It’s peace that I want for my sons and that gives my life unburdened contentment — peace that sits in the center of my soul, that rests there every time I am filled with gratitude, present-moment awareness, absolute joy, every time I breathe in life

and breathe out compassion for all of the suffering in the world, suffering which I cannot deny or turn away from, even for a second.

So, as trendy as it has become to want to seek out and bask in our personal happiness, I have started to think about happiness in a different way. Happiness is not just about feeling content with our life situation, or having good things happen, or even making bad things seem great by learning from them.  Maybe true “happiness” can only exist if that happiness is also tempered with sincere compassion for all those who are suffering in any way. And in the end, maybe that dash of compassion added to our cup of self-created happiness leaves us with a delicious inner peace instead.

Type 1 Letter to the World

I am a Type 1 Mother, and this is my letter to you.

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To the non-diabetics:

I don’t want your pity, your fear, or your advice. I don’t want your judgment, your gossip, or your ignorance.

I want you to know the difference between Type 1 and Type 2. My father was Type 2, but my child is Type 1 — They are different diseases and need to be considered as such.

My child did not eat too much of this or that. My child is not fat. My child was not lazy. In fact, my child did nothing at all to deserve this.

My child is not contagious, weak, sickly, or hopeless. On the contrary, he is one of the strongest people I’ve ever known.  He takes four shots a day, when most people complain about one a year. He bleeds five times a day without a tear when many might cry at a single drop of blood. He does math a dozen times for your every one. He plays sports, creates art, earns A’s, and has goals and visions for his life … All of this despite living with Type 1.

Your advice to feed him cinnamon, ancient medicine, or magic herbs is unnecessary — I’m not interested in bringing his glucose down a few points; I am interested in a cure

Your judgmental questions (“Can he really eat that?!”) are unwelcome here, so keep them to yourself.

Your comparison of my child to your great aunt or elderly dog is not helpful: Type 1 is not Type 2.

Please, have compassion without pity, educate yourself, be patient if I am running late due to my kid’s high or low, and once in a while, simply listen.

To the parents of Type 1 children:

Whether you believe it or not, your attitude in the face of Type 1 impacts your child every single day.

This is not your fault, so stop beating yourself up.

This is not the worst tragedy known to humankind, so don’t feel sorry for yourself and your child.

Stand up with your head held high and support your kid with every ounce of positivity and encouragement you can muster.

Be a role model of strength, optimism, faith, and courage.

To the siblings of Type 1 children:

You are never forgotten on this journey. Your strength when things got scary at first, your patience when urgency is required, your understanding when everything seems to focus on everyone but you — all of this is seen and appreciated and honored. You are a necessary piece of the puzzle, without which the Type 1 world would be so much harder for all.

To the children with Type 1:

You are resilient and courageous.

Your willingness to take what could be so unpleasant and make it into a reason to be even stronger, to live even longer, to defy stereotypes, to smash expectations, is a trait that the world should honor.

You inspire me to accept what comes, to see all that we do have with gratitude, to drink in life in a way I never did before, and to appreciate YOU every single second of each day.

With faith that a cure for Type 1 will soon be found,

A Type 1 Mother

 

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Inexplicable Karma

“If you’re really a mean person, you’re going to come back as a fly and eat poop.”  Kurt Cobain

art by Janelle Schneider
art by Janelle Schneider

Back in the 90’s, Kurt Cobain was one of my heroes.  He reeked of passion.  He emanated cool.  He embodied beautiful grungy masculinity.

And then he died.

His horrific and unexpected death sent me spiraling headlong into a frenzy of asking why? How could something so tragic have happened to someone so great? Panicked at the realty of untimely and tragic deaths, I became obsessed with the young people in my life who had died: Sean Miller, a phenomenal skateboarder who had lived with so much vitality; Ben Detwiler, a spirited teenager who undoubtedly would have lived a life of charisma and love; Tony Grandy, my disaffected childhood bully who later succumbed to suicide; friends’ parents; my precious young dog.  Like a cyclone, my 19-year-old mind was whirring with thoughts of rage at the hideous unfairness of our very existence.

As life unwrapped itself through my twenties and early thirties, that unfairness became normal scenery.  Like most adults, I saw more of the world, and that awareness walked hand-in-hand with September 11, Hurricane Katrina, miscarriages, watching my husband lose his father to cancer, the premature death of my own father, tsunamis, earthquakes, political conflicts, injustices that seemed to occur every which way I turned, and the deaths of more friends and acquaintances. In my mid-thirties, I had moments of sheer infuriation when I discovered that people I love – even family – are not always honest and good, that seemingly decent people can and do lie to get the status or ends that they desire — and some of these people are never caught.  How could people could get away with being so “bad?”

Depressing stuff when you list it all out like that.

Yet, between the wretched awareness of suffering and loss, there were moments of incomprehensible joy that occurred with more and more frequency over time — luck, grace, serendipity, and blessings that were too many to count at times.

How could any of this be fair? How could any of this make sense? Why is that a seemingly decent person is suffering while a different person — sometimes one who is downright immoral — has so much luck?

As I headed into my forties, I no longer had to ask why with anger or confusion (getting older truly is a blessing). The answer is simple:  KARMA — otherwise known as “what goes around comes around,” “what you put out there comes back to you,” or “he’ll have his in the end.” I’m no elderly sage, but I have been on this planet long enough to know that there is divine order to everything. Energy never dies, and the energy we put out into the world and into our lives does and will come back to us in some form and at some time.

KARMA.  Is that an easy answer to un-answerable questions? Maybe. Is it new age hogwash (even though we Indians know the concept has been around for 3,000+ years) that has no scientific evidence? Possibly. But it is the only answer I can comprehend after 40+ years of life. It is the only answer that makes sense every time I wonder with astonishment and horror why an innocent person has to suffer or a guilty person goes undetected. It is the only answer I can accept for my loved ones’ sufferings or my own blessings.

“Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment.”

Eckhart Tolle

The Tragedy of Normalcy

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures and beauty that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”  ~ Jawaharlal Nehru

"Soul of a Rose"

We are a world of self-created tragedy.

When is the last time I heard someone complain about the stupidest, most trivial – and I mean *trivial* things? This weather is crazy. My spouse works too much. My 9-5 job is overwhelming.  Being a stay-at-home mom is so boring.  I have SO much to do.  Situation X, Y, or Z is so unfair.  My kids are annoying.  This cold sucks. I hate cleaning my house/doing laundry/paying for gas … On and on and on we go, fighting reality, griping about pretty much anything.

Now, think … really think:  What do you suppose a fatality victim of 911 would give to be able to experience the weather, no matter how “crazy” it is? What would a homeless woman who has lost her “overwhelming” job give to have that job back? What would a parent of a child killed in the Newtown, Connecticut shootings give to be able to hug their “annoying” son or daughter again? What would a mother who is dying of breast cancer give to have the “boring” life of a stay-at-home mom? How much would a man who is dying of a bullet wound right now want a “sucky” cold instead?

We are a culture of chronic complaining, of under-appreciating the thousands of gifts we are given every single day.

As I sit here at home on this cloudy October afternoon, I don’t have a huge house or a particularly high-paying job, and the sun isn’t shining. But I still feel utter gratitude for the sense of sight that allows me to see the resplendency of a New England autumn; for the sound of my boisterous sons as they wrestle and bicker; for the aroma of a simple chili warming in the slow cooker all day; for my husband who spends his Saturdays working non-stop for the good of the family; for the access my son has to insulin for his diabetes; for my husband’s cold that’s starting to dissipate and which urged me to finally purchase him health insurance. On and on the list of minuscule-to-massive miracles goes — for each of us, if only we would open our eyes to what is good rather than to what isn’t exactly as we want it.

Here is my complaint: Complainers irritate me. Things aren’t perfect, but still, I try to open my eyes the way a blind person would if he could, appreciate what has been given to me the way a person who lives in poverty might, drink in life itself the way a mass-tragedy victim would if he could. When I catch myself whining, I try to stop and ask myself, if I were to die tonight, would I still complain in the same way?

The tragedy of normalcy is that for so many people, the miracles that are right in front of them are so normal that they no longer notice them.

Why I Became a Teacher

Over the years, people have repeatedly asked me why in the world I decided to become a teacher …

I decided to be a teacher when I was eight, when my third grade teacher neglected to report my broken bone and the secrecy that surrounded it to Child and Youth Services.  Of course, at that young age, I had no idea what he was supposed to do with the knowledge that I came to school one day shattered and shy, but I knew he should have done something.  I knew if I could be a teacher, I would protect children to the best of my ability.

I realized the power of being a teacher again when my sixth grade principal noticed I had waited to be picked up from school for two hours – long after all the other kids had gone home.  He sat me down while I waited for someone – anyone – to show up, and he told me that I was important, that I was valuable, that he would always be there if I needed to talk. I never did talk to him, but the way he made me feel has stayed with me all of these years. I knew if I could be a teacher, I would try to make invisible children feel seen and cared about, too.

When I learned about the Holocaust, the reality set in that humanity can be ugly on a scale so huge, it is unfathomable.  I told myself that if I could be a teacher, I would teach children to think for themselves, to stand up for what is right and good and just in this world.  I thought that perhaps being a teacher could be my way of trying to prevent such evil from taking root.

In high school, I loved the beautiful idiosyncrasies of the punks, the jocks, the nerds, the artists, the quiet ones, the intellects, the normal ones.  I knew if I could be a teacher, I would soak up that vibrant energy every single day.

As a teacher, I learn more in a day than many might learn in a lifetime.  I am challenged, humored, excited, needed, inspired, and rewarded every single day.

… This is why I am a teacher

To the Four-Leggeds:

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”  – Anatole France

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To the four-leggeds — the impeccably loyal, wildly funny, intensely loving four-leggeds:

You demonstrate the art of selfless, patient listening as you sit by our feet, ears flickering and head tilted, while we drone on about our worldly and unimportant problems.

You offer unceasing compassion when we face times of wretched internal pain, your rich eyes watching us with a softness that no human could duplicate.

You gift us with endless forgiveness, remaining wholly faithful despite negligence, betrayal, abandonment, cruelty.

You inspire us to be resilient, living with unselfish strength as you continue to run, to fly, to make your way through life despite injuries and disabilities.

You teach us, again and again, that death is merely a stage of evolution that brings peace and relief from suffering.

You exemplify the joy and unconditional love for which we pathetic two-leggeds pine.

For all of this and so much more, thank you.


When the Clouds Collapse

“Every problem and moment of suffering is an opportunity to learn, evolve, and give thanks. Whether that opportunity is wasted or embraced is up to you.”

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My universe paused this past Saturday. The earth simply stopped spinning, and the clouds collapsed on me and my husband. Though it was the worst moment of our life — because it was the worst moment of our child’s life –, I am grateful.

I am grateful for intuition, for the flashes of all-knowing insight that something was just not right with our son. 

I am grateful that we got our boy to the doctor in time to discover he needed to get to the hospital now. 

I am grateful that that he not only survived those treacherous moments of feeling nurses jabbing needles into his arms, of seeing blood exit his 55-pound body through terrifyingly long tubes, of the incomparable pain and fear he had to feel in that moment, but that he actually looks on that anguish now as a fleeting moment that he was strong enough to live through.

I am grateful that we live in America where we have access to insulin shots, to blood sugar tests, to competent physicians, nurses, and nutritionists.

I am grateful that he only has Type 1 Diabetes. Shots, insulin, counting carbs, blood sugar tests, lots of doctor’s appointments, a change in lifestyle. So what.

What do we do when bad things happen in our lives? Live in misery and play the role of victim, or find that for which we can feel grateful.  Ask “Why me?” or pray for everyone who is also going through the same – or worse – pain.  Give up and give in to depression, or actually learn all the lessons available to us from this so-called “bad” experience.

I am choosing to learn and give thanks.

 

Bipartisan Spirits

“If they’re all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other?” – Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

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Most people think their way is the right way.  And I’m no different.

In America — land of the free and democratic — especially, we all have opinions. Religious and political views; stances on abortion, gun ownership, gay marriage, human rights, police brutality, child-rearing, education, drugs, sex, pornography; views on how to save the earth and whether to save the earth, on prostitution and whether to legalize it, on animals and whether humans are or are not superior to them. We are 7 billion strong and counting, and no two of us can agree on much.

I have very little in common with my two older brothers regarding religion, politics, gun ownership … you get the idea. Now, my brothers and I have a choice:  We could get together and let our differences prevail. We could talk (er, fight?) about politics, religion, gay rights, animal rights … and allow these differences of opinion to frustrate, upset, and anger us, to possibly even tear us apart. OR we can focus instead on what really matters – the love we feel for our children, the memories and history we share, the appreciation we have for nature, the ways we can still act like hyperactive kids and make each other laugh, even in our 30’s and 40’s.

I’ve learned something profound from my latest interactions with my brothers: The last two times I saw them, there was no arguing, bickering, or hurt feelings. We focused solely on things of the spirit, on the here and now, and we got along impeccably well despite our differences in opinions.

It makes me wonder, then … what if, from time to time, we just let go of our worldly opinions and focused instead on nothing but the present, temporary moment that we have with each other? What if we dropped the desire to persuade everyone to agree with our stances, and just co-existed? What if we saw beyond another person’s opinions and saw into their spirit instead? What if …

The Disease of Doing

“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”  Socrates

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There is an epidemic in the industrial world that’s accepted, and even embraced, by way too many of us. I know about a dozen people who have it and talk about it with a hint of self-importance … and it drives me crazy. It remains nameless, so I’m giving it a name: the Disease of Doing, a.k.a. I’m-So-Busy Syndrome.

There are people – too many people – who believe that our lives have more value if we’re in a constant state of busy-ness. Being “so busy” has become some sort of whiny rite of passage, and stranger still, being busy and disliking being that busy is further proof of a person’s worth, at least according to those who suffer from I’m-So-Busy Syndrome. 

But what would happen if we all just paused when we felt compelled to? What would happen if we stopped to take ten deep breaths a few times a day, or spent a day off actually doing nothing or practicing self-care rather than running around being busy? What would happen if we did not view busy-ness as a glorified state of existence, but rather viewed the act of connecting with the breath, with quietness, with the essence of life, as respectable and praiseworthy instead? 

This is what would happen: The chores would still get done, but more efficiently because we would actually be more grounded. Work would still be completed, but with even more attention to detail because our minds would be clear and our bodies rested. Relationships would still be intact, and even more intimate and satisfying, because we would have more quality energy to give others.

I know because I’ve spent the last few weeks actually listening to my mind and body’s needs, giving both whatever they needed in the moment (Imagine that!). I ate when I was hungry, exercised when my body wanted to move, wrote when I felt creative, socialized when I felt the need to connect with others, worked hard when my mind was active, cooked when I felt the desire to get in the kitchen and cook, took deep breaths when I needed solitude. And lo and behold, what happened? I lost six pounds, I did work efficiently and well, I did all the chores I needed to do, I was anxious less often, and, best of all … I feel really, really healthy and centered.

Yes, we all have to go to work, to get out of bed earlier than we’d like and stick to a schedule that keeps us going for long hours on end. And then many of us come home to needy children who deserve every iota of our care and attention. And then there is housework.  And of course, there’s also caring for the animals who give us so much. But around and within that, we do have moments of flexibility – seconds and minutes (and if we’re really, really blessed and lucky, hours) off when we can listen to what we really need from life – whether it be to do absolutely nothing, play, work, create, or cook.

The bottom line is, we don’t have to be so dang busy all the time! And we really don’t need to whine about that so-called busy-ness. I’m convinced that being “so busy” is a way for people to simply feel important. But our health is so much more important than that. Our mental and physical health reap endless benefits when we slow down, pause, and actually enjoy life. We would actually be better workers, parents, friends, spouses, and people when if we made every effort to get out of the mindset that busy is good, and finally cure our disease of Doing.

It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants.  — Henry David Thoreau

Those who are wise won’t be busy, and those who are too busy can’t be wise.
― Lin Yutang

You are the master and the captain.

I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

 – William Earnest Henley 

 

If you are old enough to read this, then your life is a mathematical equation:

all of your thoughts + your karma = your present circumstance

Each one of us faces problems, frustrations, fears, phobias, enemies, challenges, stressors, and worries. But you are not a victim of your life. Your life presents to you the situations you need in order to evolve. What you do with your life circumstances — how you view them, how you speak about them, the attitude with which you live them — determines whether or not you choose to play the role of victim, or the role of hero.

As Sir Henley put it,

You are the master of your destiny. You are the captain of your soul. 

The Best Work of Art

“The human body is the best work of art.” ― Jess C. Scott 

I used to be a size 2.  A flat hard tummy came to me with literally no work at all.  I would eat an entire gallon of ice cream in a sitting, and I was still thin the next day.  Friends envied me, men twice my 14 years gawked at me (!), and my physique resembled those that graced magazines … but I didn’t like my body. A high school diploma and 10 pounds later, I could slide into a size 4 … and I still didn’t like my body. A college degree and 5 more pounds later, my body remained petite and the world might have stared when I walked into a room, yet I still judged my body. And when I became pregnant for the first time, I miscarried 14 weeks in … and this life-long dissatisfaction with my body became all-out distrust and anger; my body had betrayed me and compromised my femininity, so I thought.

But when I was 7 weeks into my second pregnancy, we saw the flashing white light of a heartbeat in utero, and a tsunami of understanding flooded me.  Before that moment, I had been so busy judging my body that I never really saw it for what it was.  This body, your body, that body over there, is nothing short of a miracle.  A miracle.  Even with diseases, disorders, sicknesses, illnesses, and disabilities, the fact that your heart beats and your organs (or most of them, at least) push and pull and pump and cleanse in near-perfect harmony as you read this, the fact that your bones and muscles and blood cells have grown and regenerated as they have … all of this despite the violence we do to our bodies.  We exhaust our digestive systems with excessive food, most of which is doused in chemicals; drown our lungs in cigarette smoke; neglect vitamins and minerals; shallowly inhale polluted air; infiltrate our livers with amphetamines, barbiturates, painkillers and liquor; we over-exercise, under-excercise, over-eat, and under-eat.  But despite the cruelty – or disdain – we inflict on our bodies, they are exceedingly patient with us.  After years of taking it for granted, here was my body still working, my heart still beating, my lungs still expanding, and then to make a miracle even more extraordinary, this body of mine was strong enough to sustain both my own life and the life of another human being.  Doubly amazing.   

Now, in my late 30’s, when I hear anyone insult their body,  I feel sorry for it, for that hardworking, patient, abused, wondrous form.  It makes me absolutely cringe to hear pregnant women or mothers complain about being fat; these extra pounds are not to be reviled, but rather exalted as reminders of our bodies’ incredible life-giving, nurturing powers.

We’re brainwashed to think we’ll be “happier” when we’re thinner or buffer or more attractive by cultural standards. But my irony is, I wasn’t happy with my appearance when I was skinny and “beautiful.” It wasn’t until I had additional pounds packed on my hips that I started to love and respect this body, to admire it for the amazing machine and work of art that it is.