Living with JOY!

Do you know what brings you joy?  I mean like the kind of joy that leaves you smiling from ear to ear, where you just want the moment to never end.  What makes you feel most alive?  (I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!)

As I came out of my years of illness and found myself on my own again, I realized that I had forgotten what made me happy.  I had gotten so used to living a life of stress and turmoil that it had been a long time since I really thought about the things that add joy to my life.  I worked with a woman who had me make a list of things that bring me joy.  The items came slow at first, but as I wrote, the momentum built.  It was around this time as I was working to uncover the things that brought me joy, that my son asked me a question and then brought up a point that really hit home for me.  “Mom, what do you do while I’m at school all day?”  At that time he was probably 6 years old, a first grader, and I was working every weekend and had him on my days off.  So, I started listing things like go grocery shopping, clean the house, do laundry, read, nap.  Basically, all of the things that I didn’t do on the days that I worked.  He then said something like, “boy, grownups really do a lot of work all the time,” and/or “grownups don’t do much fun stuff.”  It was so simple yet so profound.  What WAS I doing with my free time??!  Was I making the most of it?  The answer was no, I was not.  So I decided to make changes to my life.

Some of the things on my list were:

  1. Reading with my son
  2. Dancing
  3. White water rafting
  4. Camping under the stars
  5. Hiking
  6. Seeing live music
  7. Exploring with no destination
  8. Skinnydipping
  9. Listening to music
  10. Talking with friends
  11. Reading
  12. Traveling
  13. Drumming
  14. Writing
  15. Being around my whole immediate family
  16. Laughing with a friend
  17. Listening to my son tell me about something he’s really excited about
  18. Jumping into rivers
  19. Snorkeling with fish
  20. Being outside
  21. Yoga
  22. Feeling sun on my skin
  23. Lying on the beach listening to the water
  24. Jumping into lakes
  25. Meeting new people
  26. Hanging out on warm boulders in/near rivers

From March of 2013 to July 2015, I worked on a very stressful unit in the hospital with adult oncology patients.  At first, nursing felt like my passion, my purpose in life, but after a few years with a heavy load of patients, sometimes six at a time, my enthusiasm turned into exhaustion.  I’d go home, shower, eat cereal for dinner, and go to bed, then wake up and do it all over again for the next two days.  My days off felt less like true days off and more like days to recover.  I was still on loads of medications back then and didn’t really feel like I had my health back yet, so I was taking it easy physically and trying to get extra rest on my days off.  I also worked to rebuild my life while learning my new role as a single, working parent.

In July of 2015, I landed my current job working primarily with babies and kids.  It had always been my dream nursing job, floating between all of my favorite units from nursing school.  Pediatrics was always my goal for nursing.  I was so happy for this change.  And after starting a homeopathy remedy in January of 2015, I was now beginning to feel the positive effects of it on my mental, emotional, and physical health.  All of this led me to the place at the end of 2015 when I was feeling so good, and felt like I had the energy to focus on how I wanted my life to look.  And I even had my son noticing that I was filling my days with a lot of boring adult stuff.

So, I began to get outside more.  I had always loved being outside.  I now felt like I had ability to start getting out hiking again.  At this point, my last flare of pericarditis was a few years behind me in November of 2013.  I had been noticing the strength of my body coming back and the exhaustion dissipating.  I sought to make new friends and explore new places.  I ended up finding myself outside in the mountains in rivers a lot, and at the coast next to the ocean.  I started to notice how alive I felt when was hiking on a new trail.  I felt the joy in me well up as I jumped off rocks into rivers and lakes.  I began to find my passions.  As I noticed the things that made me feel most alive, I stored them in my mind and made a conscious effort to do those things as often as possible!  And my life began to get really full.  I was LIVING!  I worked to do chores for a portion of one of my days off, so that I could spend the rest of my time doing things that fed my soul.  I have lived like this ever since.  Sometimes I am urged to go for a hike, and sometimes I am urged to curl up and read a good book and take a nap.  The point is that I stopped worrying about all of the adult things that I am “supposed” to do, and instead I started to do the things that would bring me the most joy.

Nothing makes me happier than exploring and having fun with my son.  At the beginning of the summer this year, we sat down to make a list of things that we hoped to do during summer vacation.  I knew that with only 10 weeks, summer would go by so fast, and that we could easily get swept up in a bunch of lazy days if we didn’t start out with some kind of direction.  At my son’s request, we took turns listing things.  I’d name something, and then he’d name something.  We went back and forth until we had filled an 8.5 x 11 sheet of printer paper.  We wrote down things like backpacking, the local trampoline place, walking at a local oak preserve, hiking and camping in the local NP took up several, the local arcade, Six Flags, seeing Matisyahu live again, and going to the beach.  We actually checked a lot off our list!  And we had a blast!  Having the list kept me focused as I planned our time together week to week.  I highly recommend that you try this approach to summer if you’re like me and my son and want to squeeze out as much fun from the 10 or so weeks that your child/children have off from school in the summer.  I had the advantage of having four days off in a row every week to make so many things possible.  But, this would also be a helpful approach for weekends off as well.

Why do we do the things that we do?  Do you ever think about that?  Are we living the life that we want to live, or are we living the life that we have been told that we ‘should’ live?  Every day, we get bombarded by ‘shoulds’.  I ‘should’ go to college.  I ‘should’ become a lawyer, doctor, teacher etc.  I ‘should’ buy a new car.  I ‘should get married’.  I ‘should’ have kids.  I ‘should’ buy a house a fill it with a bunch of stuff.  I have always sort of just naturally lived outside the norm, but I also found myself fulfilling a lot of the ‘shoulds’.  These are just some examples that I think are pretty universal.  For instance, when I graduated high school, I felt like I HAD to go to college.  I didn’t even think there was another choice for me.  I mostly put that on myself.  Sure it was talked about in high school a lot, but at the time, I felt like taking out loans and going to college was the only way that I’d be able to move from my hometown and travel.  I see now that that’s just not the case.  A friend’s awesome daughter just graduated from high school and is now spending a year in New Zealand on a work visa.  And my inner teenager is completely inspired by this move!  The possibilities!  There are many other ‘shoulds’ that I am sure you are thinking about right now.  I could go on with other examples of how I would ‘should’ myself through the years.  Are you ‘shoulding’ yourself about something in your own life?  Are the ‘shoulds’ from other people or society causing you to miss that you’re living a beautiful life just as you are? It is OK to throw out what other people expect of you and live the life that YOU want to live!  Life is too short to not live your own joy!

One of the best things I ever did for myself was to stop it with the ‘shoulds’!  When a ‘should’ came up, I would acknowledge it and look at where it was coming from and then just dismiss it.  Even in my current life, if I wasn’t so strong on my path, I could be really giving myself a hard time by comparing myself to other people my age.  I could be feeling like my life is lacking, because of comparison to other people.  But, I choose not to live that way.  I base my success in life not on whether or not I own a house or drive a fancy car, or have an intact family or have a bunch of fancy gadgets, but on my level of happiness and inner peace.  I do more things that give me joy and peace.  I find that peace generally comes when I quiet my mind and accept life as it is.  The happiness comes when I add more things to my daily living that bring me joy.  These aren’t impossible things, but it takes work to recognize the things that are stealing your peace and to adjust accordingly.  It takes work to shut off your mind and the ‘shoulds’ that you’ve been hanging onto for so long.  But the worthwhile result of all of that work is a contentment that has to really be experienced to be fully understood and appreciated.

I know that we aren’t meant to work all the time, never doing the things that make us happy, and then die.  That’s not at all what life is about.  If that is your life and you aren’t happy, then I would suggest that you work to change it.  I think the root of the issue is that most of us feel a void in us.  We aren’t sure why it’s there.  We don’t know how it got there, or when, but it’s there.  It’s that feeling that makes people shop and gather a bunch of things that they’ll never use.  It’s the feeling that causes people to jump from one relationship to the next.  Because that feeling of void in us is so strong and scary at times, we usually seek to fill it up with things and people versus figure it out so that we can get rid of it.  So, there are many people walking through life doing the things that they were told were important, and they have jobs they hate and relationships that leave them unfulfilled, and a whole house of stuff that still leaves them feeling that deep void and lack of fulfillment.  But they just keep going, because that’s just what they’re “supposed to do”.  I have experienced the other side.  I can tell you that it is possible to love the work that you do.  I have had, and loved two different careers now.  It is more than possible to live a life you love.  It is possible to turn your passions into your life’s work.  Each of us is born with a unique set of gifts to share with the world.  We then travel on our individual journeys and collect moments that give us each a very unique skill set and perspective on life.  I am not the only one who believes that the purpose of this life is to wake up and also find your gifts and give them to the world.  If you have a dream, believe that it is possible, because you are able to imagine it.  If it wasn’t possible, it wouldn’t even be available in your mind’s eye.  The fact that you can dream it means that you can create it.  And you don’t need a degree or someone else to tell you so.  You have the power to dream up a life and live it.  But you have to trust and let go of the self-limiting beliefs that are holding you back.  It takes work to shine a light on your beliefs and let go of the ones that no longer serve you.  It takes even more work to recognize when the beliefs that you’re holding aren’t even yours.  Maybe your parents have been telling you what to believe up to now.  Maybe society has been screaming so loudly in your ear that you haven’t been able to hear the whispers of your soul, your higher self.  I have learned that my mind is very loud compared to my intuition, so it helps when I quiet my mind with meditation or time in nature.

Right now, I am working to unravel and change my beliefs surrounding money and abundance.  I can see that I am holding onto beliefs that aren’t serving me based on what I am seeing show up in my life around finances.  Just when I think I have it figured out, I find a piece of the puzzle that I hadn’t been aware of.  I am sure that many of you can relate.  I come from a strong line of women who took care of their families largely on their own.  Both of my parents come from very large families where the household lived on one income for 6 and 8 kids.  Mostly, the Dad’s worked and the women were left to raise the kids.  They had what they needed probably most of the time, but nothing extra.  So beliefs like money is hard to come by and we don’t have what we need got passed down (I’m just speculating based on what my experience has been).  Growing up, my parents always wanted us to have all of the things that they felt they didn’t.  So we were given lots of stuff.  But with one income and three kids, there was a level of struggle that was palpable.  As an adult, I have uncovered beliefs in myself like money is hard to come by, you have to work really hard to make money, money doesn’t grow on trees, money and finances equal stress and uncertainty.  I have to really work to trust that I am always being taken care of and that I am always given what I need, especially when several unexpected expenses come up at the same time.  So I have to focus on today, the present.  I have what I need today.  I have food.  I have shelter.  I have the necessities and then some.  I have excess.  And so I work to acknowledge that every day.  My sister and I once talked about the fact that no matter how much money we make, we never feel like we have enough.  That’s part of our money programming.  Upon recognizing that we are both doing just fine, as a doctor and a nurse, I realized that what I was telling myself was simply not true.  And that’s what led me to dig deeper into my beliefs about money and other areas of my life.  The first step is seeing the belief, then you look to see how it’s affecting you and your life, and then you find a way to change the beliefs that aren’t working for you.  For me, I stopped and realized that I always had what I needed and then some.  I started being more grateful for what I had versus being upset about what I felt like I didn’t.

Sometimes, we spend so much time working to fill our void that we end up in a life that leaves us unhappy surrounded by a pile of things that just create more chaos around us.  Rather than living our own joy, a lot of the time, I think we chase dreams that aren’t our own and chase material things that we don’t even enjoy.  I was talking to a friend recently and we got on the subject of “stuff,” and how it feels like excess stuff clutters up our lives.  He told me about a documentary he had watched and enjoyed on Netflix called “Minimalism:  A Documentary About the Important Things” with Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus.  I watched it and really loved it.  They have a website and are also on Facebook.  They’re two guys who have paired down their stuff in a way that declutters their lives.  On their about page on their website HERE, they explain it better than I could: “Minimalists don’t focus on having less, less, less; rather, we focus on making room for more: more time, more passion, more experiences, more growth, more contribution, more contentment. More freedom. Clearing the clutter from life’s path helps us make that room.”

My next step is to declutter my living space.  I have been urged to do so for quite some time now, but I keep putting it off.  A lot of the stuff I need to go through is in my closet and behind other closed doors, so it’s been a bit of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.  But that’s starting to not be the case anymore.  I know it’s there and I feel it cluttering my space and my mind more all the time.  And I keep being shown examples of people who have minimized their stuff with great outcomes, so I know that’s the Universe’s way of telling me to follow suit.  I believe that when we clear the things/patterns/beliefs/activities/people out of our lives that aren’t giving us joy, we make room for more meaningful and positive things, people, and situations to enter our lives.  Doesn’t that make sense?  We can’t make room for the things that we want in our lives if our lives are already full of a bunch of things that we don’t want.

I listened to a podcast by the Minimalists titled, Masks, this morning.  You can find it HERE.  They talk more about what I have addressed here.  It was really great listen.  They ended the podcast with this:  “Love people and use things, because the opposite never works.”

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Listen to Michael Franti’s “Do It for the Love” HERE

 

 

 

Thankful Thoughts

I think it’s so cool how I view relationships now. It’s so freeing. I see people as inspiration. Or proof that I’m not alone. People spur me on to keep living my authentic life separate from what mainstream society tells me that I need to be doing. There are others, like me, who feel most alive when they’re hiking or jumping into and swimming in wild rivers. There are other people who find freedom in more adventure, more exploring, and less stuff. There are those of us who are single and traveling alone and still living in love, and enjoying every minute of it. I’m growing and transforming all the time. I’m enjoying the adventure. I’m enjoying the connections that I make with random strangers, good friends, and new friends.

What brings you joy?

Time Travel

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a good friend of mine and I told her that I wish that I could go back in time and relive my life, but with my current mentality.  I wanted to go back and have the experiences of the traveling and hiking for work with the level of gratitude and mindfulness that I currently experience.  I just had this idea that I would appreciate every experience, every hike I was able to do, every connection that I made with other people back then so much more with my current perspective on life.  In those days, I traveled, hiked, and LIVED in some of the most amazing and beautiful places that you can visit in the United States!  And I enjoyed it all at the time, but my life sort of splits at the time that I lost my health.  There’s the ‘before I lost my health’ time, and the ‘after I lost my health’ time.  Can you relate?  Did something change your life so dramatically that you also have a before (fill in the blank) time, and an after (fill in the blank) time?

Before I lost my health, I did what my body could do and didn’t even really think about it.  My body did whatever I wanted it to do.  If I needed to hike 17 miles in a day for work, I did it.  If I needed to carry a heavy backpack for 10 miles for work, I did it.  If I needed to lift a recliner into the back of a truck by myself, I did it.  After I lost my health, I experienced times when I couldn’t get off the couch because my chest pain was so bad.  I couldn’t walk to my mailbox that was maybe 30 feet from our house.  Actually come to think of it, maybe I am living in the after I lost my health AND after I got my health back time.  I am the same person, except now, I have all of the collective memories from all the time periods of my life.  And with the memories of the stark differences in what my body was able to do, I live with an immense gratitude so enormous that when I hike (or do something else that I thought I would never get to do again), I am usually brought to laughter and tears of joy.  And I am not exaggerating in the slightest.  I’ve asked friends of mine if the hikes they do ever bring them to tears, because it happens so often to me now.

As my friend and I discussed my time travel idea, we came to the conclusion that if I could go back with my current perspective that my life would likely be completely different now.  And really, I wouldn’t want that, because I would always choose to have my son.  But what I have realized since talking to my friend is that while we cannot currently (I never say never about anything) travel back in time physically as who we were then and experience things over again all “Back to the Future” style, we do have the ability to travel back to places that we once visited, experiencing it as our current selves.  And over the last few weeks, I have found that it’s pretty damn close.

I went to Southwest Utah last weekend on a whim.  I have been called (ie my heart/gut/ intuition/soul keep bringing it up over and over) to revisit the beautiful red rock of Zion National Park now for a long time, especially for the majority of this year.  Because I do not usually have a three-day weekend off all to myself, I was not about to waste it by sitting at home doing things that I could do on any other day.  I worked in SW Utah back in 2003, initially hiking through the desert looking for desert tortoises, and later using seining and electroshocking in rivers and streams to collect data on various fish species.  I even did some work in the Virgin River in Zion National Park.  I fell in love with the contrasting colors of the red rock against the bright blue sky and earthy green sage and cacti.  It’s art for the eyes unlike any other place I have ever seen.  When I realized that I had a 3-day weekend coming up, I began thinking of things that I could do during that time, specifically where I could go hiking.  I immediately thought of Zion National Park.  But as quickly as I thought of it, my mind started to work against me.  It’s an 8-hour drive and I haven’t done a long road trip like that by myself in a long time.  Can I stay awake, driving for that long?  How much is this going to cost me?  Can I afford it?  I can do it if I find a free place to stay, but not if I have to pay.  How much gas am I going to end up using and paying for?  Is 3 days really long enough to go all the way to Zion?!  I mean I’m basically going to drive there, hike, and drive back.  But, luckily, there are bigger forces at work than my mind that obviously wanted me to go to Zion.

I began to get messages in the form of Instagram and Facebook posts.  For instance, upon sitting on my couch and contemplating the trip while looking up places to camp and stay, I checked my Instagram to find two posts from two separate accounts featuring pictures taken in Zion National Park.  You can believe whatever you want, but I have seen enough in my own life to know without a doubt that there are no coincidences in this life.  If you feel like you’re getting messages, you are.  One of the pictures was taken from the top of Angel’s Landing, one of my favorite hikes in Zion that I planned on doing if I made the trip.  I also began to have other quotes, and articles pop up on my Facebook feed dealing with blocks that we sometimes create between ourselves and money, and also about the importance of following your intuition and doing the things that you are feeling urged to do.  So between message after message essentially yelling at me to go to Utah, and a sweet guy in Utah who runs a camping airbnb who hooked me up with coordinates for free camp sites on BLM land with a fall back option of his backyard if they were all full, I decided to go to Utah!  And man, am I happy that I did!!

Zion was always a magical place to me, but I think it was even more so during this visit!  I was able to experience the entire trip with the perspective of getting my health back after losing it, and during every shuttle, and hike, and conversation, I was saying to myself, I cannot believe I am lucky enough to be here right now!  I looked around with awe and a huge smile on my face the whole time.  I noticed some of the other hikers walking with almost grimaces on their faces, and I wanted to shake them and say “Can you believe that we are here in this magical place?!  This place is AMAZING!  Aren’t we so lucky that our bodies allow us to hike like this??!!”

I got there on Friday, set up my camp, and then went straight to the park to hop the shuttle and ended up hiking the Emerald Pools trail.  As I hiked, I smiled BIG!  It felt so right to be back there!  I looked around amazed as if I was seeing the Park for the first time!  On the shuttle to Emerald Pools, I struck up a conversation with a woman beside me, and asked her what hike she was going to do.  We started talking about where we were from and how long we were going to be there.  And we talked about hikes that we were going to do and that she had done.  She told me that she had hiked The Narrows the day before and that it was so beautiful and that I should do it if I had the time.  I had thought about it before my trip, but was not sure that I wanted to rent the gear for $40.  This conversation sealed the deal for me, and she told me where she rented the gear and what time they opened in the morning.  So again, flying by the seat of my pants, on Saturday, I hiked The Narrows, one of the most iconic hikes in Zion National Park.  I have hiked a lot in my life, but The Narrows is now my absolute FAVORITE hike!  My soul was overwhelmed with joy to be hiking through a river surrounded by a red rock canyon!  If your body is able, and hiking in a place like that makes your soul happy too, you MUST get yourself there and experience it for yourself.  No picture, no matter how beautifully taken, can ever capture the feeling of being there yourself.  In my opinion, Zion National Park is a must-see and The Narrows hike is a must-do!

Me on top of Angel’s Landing in the Fall of 2003:

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Me on top of Angel’s Landing on October 15, 2017:

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Our souls/higher selves really do know what is best for us.  I see it play out in my life all the time as opportunities and people are placed on my path.  After my trip to Utah, I knew that I could in fact travel in time by revisiting places I have lived and loved in the past.  But, I had no idea that another hike I did yesterday in Sequoia National Park would show me that again.

I had wrongly assumed that I was working all weekend this weekend, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, until I looked at my work schedule again last week.  It turns out that I had Sunday off.  So again, I began to think of hikes that I could do that day.  I have a friend that I have written about before who does all sorts of cool, epic hikes in this area, and he’s always happy to give me trail recommendations.  When he told me about the Lakes Trail in Sequoia National Park, it sounded perfect!  There are four lakes on the trail, all at various distances from the trail head, so you can decide on how short or long you want your hike to be, and the scenery at any of the lakes is gorgeous, so you win regardless of how far you go.  Before I left, he said to take the Watchtower trail vs. the Hump trail at one of the junctions on the way to the lakes, because of the scenery along the Watchtower trail.  Inspired by my friend, I set my alarm, and ended up being on the road to go hike by 4:45 am!!  I started the trail at 6:45 am, just before sunrise.  I was leaving my plan open-ended and decided that I would see how I felt at the various lakes before deciding on my ultimate destination.  The trail was so beautiful!  I had the trail all to myself until I hit the first lake, Heather Lake, when I started passing people who had camped at the lakes going in the opposite direction as me.  Aside from that, I felt like I had the entire trail to myself.  I stopped to take some pictures at the Watchtower.  The view up there is amazing!  All of the granite peaks and drop offs, the sun just making its way up into the sky.   Stunning!  I thought of how grateful I was to be able to hike that trail.  I felt so lit up from the inside.  I kept going.  At one point, there was a sign that said something like Emerald Lake 1 mile, Pear Lake 2 miles, and right then, I decided that I was feeling good enough to do the whole 12.4 mile round trip trail to Pear Lake.  There was no way that I was going to stop short just 1 mile from Pear Lake.  The hike was just what I needed!  It felt so good to get out there and do the whole 12.4 miles.  I went to bed feeling exhausted (in a good way) and full of love and gratitude for my life.  All of it.

When I checked Facebook this morning, I had memories to look back on.  Wow, did I!  As I scrolled down, I came to a group of photos that were part of an album labeled 6 to 11 months.  There was a picture in particular that I noticed where I was holding my son at an overlook on a hike that we did when he was 6 months old.  I wondered where the picture was taken, because I had no memory of the trail or its name.  So I clicked on the picture and under it was the caption “At the Watchtower.”  My son turned 6 months old on October 23, 2009.  We must have done that hike almost exactly 8 years ago.  And as I just wrote that sentence, I checked today’s date and got chills when I saw that today is October 23, 2017.  Wow.  There are seriously NO coincidences in this life!  I could have gone on any hike yesterday, but I was led to go on the same hike that I had gone on 8 years ago almost to the day!  Again, I got to relive my past with my current perspective and level of gratitude and mindfulness.  In 2009, the first picture was taken not even two weeks before I started having symptoms that ultimately led to my complete loss of health, so it falls just into the ‘before I lost my health’ time period.

My son and I at the Watchtower in October 2009:

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Me at the Watchtower on October 22, 2017:

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I know I have said it many times, but without the perspective of gratitude that I have gained from having my life split into two when I lost my health, I would not have hiked with as much joy as I did yesterday, last weekend, or during the last few years as I have been getting back on the trails.  I would not be as grateful for all that my body is able to do, because I would not know any other way.  The scenery and trails haven’t changed, but I have!  I am lucky, because life has given me the opportunity to go back and really soak in the experiences that I have had.  I have gotten a second chance at life, so I do not intend to waste it.  This perspective is why I do the things I do.  It’s why I live my life seeking the things that bring me the most joy.  It’s why I don’t wait around for other people to be available if I really want to do something.  I know that I woke up this morning and am alive TODAY.  I know that I am healthy enough to go on long hikes by myself TODAY.  Tomorrow is not guaranteed, friends.  What are you putting off for another day?  I would encourage you to do it!  Be here NOW.  I hope that you, too, are living this amazing and magical life to the fullest!

I sang Michael Franti’s song, “Gloria”, all weekend as I drove to and hiked around Zion NP.  I was really feeling the lyrics, because I am so glad to be alive!  I had no idea of the story behind the song until I just searched for a link to add here!  Watch an amazing video of Michael Franti talking about and singing his song, “Gloria” HERE

or the album version of “Gloria” HERE

Forgive Others

What does it mean to forgive someone?  I’ve been grappling with this question for years.  Various memes, articles, and quotes tell me that forgiveness does not mean that you are excusing the person’s behavior, but that when you forgive, you are freeing yourself.  There have been times when I believed that I had completely forgiven a person, but then something comes up, and buried feelings float back up to the surface, and I am reminded of more work that I need to do.

This morning, a friend posted a video of a Holocaust survivor named Eva.  During the Holocaust, Eva was a young girl living in Romania.  She and her entire family, including her twin sister, were taken to the concentration camp of Auschwitz.  Within 30 minutes of getting off of the cattle car that transported them there, Eva was separated from her Dad and Mom and never saw either of them again.  When the SS Officers realized that Eva and her sister were twins, the two young girls were sent off to special barracks were the doctors were performing experiments on twins in an attempt to figure out a way for the Aryan race to proliferate faster.  As you can imagine, it’s a very sad story, but also a very inspiring one.  You can watch the video HERE.

The reason that I am writing about this video is because in the end, years after the Holocaust had ended and Eva was an adult, Eva took it upon herself to go to Germany to meet with one of the doctors from Auschwitz and later, ultimately forgave him for his part in the torture and killing.  She later forgave Dr. Mengele, the doctor directly responsible for the torturous experiments that were done on Eva and her sister.  To me, this was extremely powerful.  Here is a woman who lost everyone but her sister at Auschwitz, and she’s finding it in her heart to forgive the people responsible??!!  While I acknowledge that all struggles are relative and that we don’t have to go through the Holocaust to have deep wounds from a painful past, to me, if Eva can forgive these SS doctors, who am I not to forgive people in my life?  Later, Eva was denounced by many other Holocaust survivors, because of her act of forgiveness to these doctors, but she stood by her decision.  Eva saw that forgiveness had led to her own healing, and to her, that was more important than staying in line with everyone else.  So I went for a walk on this gorgeous day.  And as I walked, still amazed by Eva’s ability and willingness to forgive those SS doctors, I started thinking about forgiveness and my own relationship with it in my life.

In the years when I was struggling with illness, I felt trapped in a body that I no longer recognized and simultaneously,  I also felt trapped in a marriage that had become toxic for me.   My belief is that we all choose the big, key players in our lives.  As souls before we incarnate into this life, we choose our parents, siblings choose each other, and I believe we also choose those who we share major relationships with in our lives.  And likewise, our children choose us, their parents.  In every case, our souls make agreements with each other to help each other learn various lessons in this life with the ultimate goal of our incarnation being to awaken.  (If you want to read more about this, check out  the book, “Your Soul’s Plan:  Discovering the Real Meaning of the Life You Planned Before You Were Born” by Robert Schwartz that I posted on my book list.)  Each of our souls reincarnate to this Earth School many times over, thousands of times, in order to learn the lessons that we are meant to learn that will eventually wake us up. And many times, we travel with a soul group that we have known in past lives.  So it is highly likely that my ex-husband and I have been closely connected in many past lives.  We choose the souls in our lives knowing the details of what the relationship with them will look like.  To put it in the simplest terms, I think that his soul lovingly agreed with mine to enter into my life this time around in a relationship that would tear me down, so that I could eventually build myself back up from the ground to be the person that I came here to be, and to do the things that I am meant to do.  And for that, I am very grateful.  It’s like the story of myself was broken down, and when I got back to re-writing it, I relocated some of the positive aspects of myself, but released a lot of the negative parts.  I believe had that not happened, I would have likely been carrying some of those negative parts of my story around with me for a lifetime.  I see now that I was ready to finally question and work through the self-limiting beliefs and the story that I had held about myself for so long.

My human mind has worked hard to come to terms with the way things happened, and I am still working to forgive, so that I can be free.  I see myself as a willing participant in a marriage that I chose for myself.  That being said, I learned some lessons the hard way.  I questioned everything I did, said, and felt, and I allowed myself to completely lose my sense of self.  And the situation, with us living so far from any family members, was very isolating.

I have forgiven lots of people in my life, and have also been forgiven lots of times.  And I know the relief that comes with forgiveness.  The act of letting go of what happened moves you beyond suffering, so that you can go on and live your life.  I am very aware of the feeling of stuck energy in my body when I’m holding onto the feelings of resentment.  I know that to end my mental suffering, I must FULLY forgive people.  So what is the process of releasing that?  How do I move past the abstract thought of forgiveness and actually forgive?  A big part of it for me is remembering that we are all humans doing our best in the life that we have been given.  I do not claim that I was a perfect spouse.  I had baggage with triggers that were getting activated regularly, and I was not mindful of them during that time.  I realize now that a lot of the time, we all walk around with our baggage getting triggered, and we think that it’s all happening because of one person, or one situation, when in fact, we are likely dealing with feelings, emotions, and beliefs that we picked up during childhood, or even from our ancestors.  A marriage is bringing two people with all of that baggage together, and if neither person is even aware of their baggage, it can be a disaster.  When I look at my ex as a whole, I can see the story of his life and all that he has been through, and I can see how he came to be, and I feel compassion towards him.  I know that we were both doing our best in the marriage even if our best was less than either of us believed we needed at the time.  I also recognize that if it wasn’t for him, I would not have my amazing son.  I highly recommend doing this practice in your own life.  That’s a big part of the work I’ve done to get me to a place of true self-love.  I look at the whole picture of myself, from my birth to the present, and I am reminded of all that I have experienced in this life, and how far I’ve come.  Think of a person that you’re having a difficult time forgiving (even yourself), and do a quick overview of their (your) life in your mind’s eye.  (this requires that you know the person pretty well, otherwise you can just trust that everyone you meet has been through a lot to get them to the person that they are now).  Can you see how the pieces might fit together?  Can you view them with compassion as a fellow human being doing their best in this life?  Can you step back and stop taking things personally, so that you can see that no one’s actions or words have anything to do with you, but everything to do with them?  I know sometimes the things we have to forgive are absolutely horrific, so in that case, can you forgive solely out of kindness to yourself, for your own healing?  To free yourself?

We all have similar baggage and triggers, but we can react to those triggers in very different ways, which is why relationships can be so complicated.  It takes a certain level of mindfulness to navigate through the triggers and subsequent reactions that come out during a relationship.  It also takes mutual forgiveness to get through those times, and come back together.  I am extremely grateful that I have experienced first-hand how drastically mindfulness can positively impact a relationship.  When two people can be triggered and react, yet come back together and talk about what happened, and are able to see that their individual reactions had nothing to do with the other person, it is a beautiful, beautiful thing.  And it allows for self-awareness, individual growth, and compassion to blossom in such an amazing way within the relationship.

As I was out walking today, I actually asked my guides out loud for help and support so that I can finally forgive.  I told them that I was having a really hard time with it, but that I am ready.  So as I switched gears and headed to another spot, I was just enjoying my surroundings and the weather, not really thinking of anything in particular when I came upon this little sign that someone hung on the bridge that read “Forgive others.”  And I just started laughing.  There really are NO coincidences in life!  I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried!  As my friend, Erin, likes to say, nicely done, Universe!  Nicely done!

 

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While my health problems did have physical causes, I believe that the disease I experienced stemmed from the fact that I had stopped listening to my intuition. Eventually, when you live in a state of mental and emotional stress for so long, the toxicity will manifest in your physical body.  If you don’t listen to your intuition, your gut, your heart, and take care of yourself first and remove yourself from negative situations, the Universe will step in and make you physically ill to get you out of them. That’s how the Universe works:  we get small warnings, then bigger warnings, and then it eventually knocks us on our asses!  So, it is important that we learn to pay attention to the small warnings, or better yet, learn to follow our intuition more closely and trust it.  When we follow our intuition and live in the flow, we will find that we no longer need to experience the big tests, like a complete loss of our health, and that our lives become easier and more fluid.

I had to almost die, so that I would finally start giving myself the love, attention, and care that I always deserved from myself.  But you don’t have to wait until you get to that point.  We have all heard that chronic stress is bad for our health.  Well, after getting sick, I would physically feel the effects of stress on my body.  I noticed that stress caused flares of the pericarditis.  So, naturally, I started limiting the stress in my life.  I began to stop sweating the small stuff, because none of it was worth my health.  Knowing that my body couldn’t handle the stress of my marriage AND the stress of being a new nurse, I finally worked up the courage to get myself out of the marriage.  Once I started following my intuition again, I immediately became healthier without changing any other part of my health regimen.  And over time, with regular use, my intuition has only gotten stronger and stronger.

We must all work to forgive the people in our lives who have hurt us, because we are the ones who suffer, not them.  We must recognize that holding onto negativity or resentment creates stress in our own bodies which will eventually bring about pain and disease.  And we must forgive regardless of if we ever get an apology or not, because it’s really about us and our own healing at this point, not them.  Remembering that I have made mistakes and have hurt people in this life helps me respond to others from a place of empathy and compassion when they hurt me.  Regardless of what we think about some people in our lives, they, like us,  are on this Earth for a reason, and they are in our lives for a reason.  And they are experiencing their own set of struggles in this life.  Again, the message comes back to self-love.  Love yourself enough so that you are able to move on and forgive others.  More self-love = more love for others = what the world needs right now.

Sending you all so much love!

Michael Franti “Let It Go”

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A Common Thread Connects Us All

What I love about this process of growing and learning and transforming is that I am able to look upon situations that have always been, and see them with new, fresh eyes.  It’s like different parts of the world around me get lit up in a way to draw attention to the seemingly obvious.  And it is invigorating!  With each new way of seeing things, the world lights up a bit more brightly for me.  It gives me the momentum to keep working to be the best version of myself.

The recurring theme I am noticing right now is the fact that we are all fighting battles that most people around us know nothing about.  WE ARE ALL FIGHTING BATTLES.  We are ALL struggling with something in our lives.  I am sure that YOU are fighting a battle that many know nothing about right now.  Before starting this blog, I stayed pretty closed inside myself, somewhat sheltered from the people around me.  I became a combination of self-reliant and cautious.  It was a result of a variety of things.  I think it somewhat started in high school when I was dealing with stressors at home and I was struggling with depression.  But in those days, I surrounded myself with a great group of friends who I felt comfortable to be myself around.  I was comfortable speaking my mind in general and felt free enough that I didn’t get swept into following the crowd.  Later on, my marriage was toxic for me, and because I was hoping that something would change, I kept a lot of it to myself, even from my family.  The fact that I was isolated and away from family and close friends sort of made me retract into my shell even more.  As someone who dealt with years of clinical depression, I was all too aware of the stigma attached to it, which made me keep it to myself.  Then, enter in a baby who needed me, an illness that demanded a lot of my energy, a divorce that led to a complete clearing and restructuring of the people in my life, and a new nursing career that left me with little energy for socializing, you could say that I kept to myself quite a lot during those years.  I sort of felt like I was in crisis mode a lot of that time, and I did what I needed to do to get by.  I mostly worked to put one foot in front of the other, trying to not think too far ahead.  I had my family and close friends to talk to (mostly long distance), but aside from that, I kept the things I was going through to myself while working to get my health back and trying to be the best Mom and nurse that I could be.  While I have always been one to look for silver linings and bright spots in situations, I have had my share of feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, and depressed.  Even now, I have things in my life that cause me a lot of anxiety.

During a lot of my trials, I would say that many of the people around me had no idea what I was going through.  I, like many of you, don’t like to bombard people with my problems and struggles.  Plus, when I am going through something difficult, I haven’t always wanted to talk about it.  After all, sometimes it’s difficult enough to be dealing with something stressful, let alone talking about it all the time.  I’m also introspective, so I tend to think things through (sometimes over thinking things to the point where the hamsters in my head escape from their wheels and start running around my brain like wild maniacs!) before sharing my thoughts.

Well, something in me has shifted and I am no longer willing to stay closed and quiet and disconnected.  I made a collage with this quote on it years ago, and keep it on my living room wall:

” And then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was greater than the risk it took to bloom.”  Anais Nin

I find that this sentiment is ringing even more true to me now than it did when I decided to hang it on my wall.  You see, what I have seen in sharing myself with all of you via this blog is that it is breaking down the barriers I put up a long time ago in an effort to keep me safe from other people, from getting hurt.  Some of the things that I have shared about myself have felt sort of taboo to share at one point or another in my life.  But what I am finding is that a common thread connects us all.  People have responded really beautifully to the things I have shared which has taken away my fears about sharing about my journey.  And in breaking down my own walls and sharing more of myself with the world, people are feeling safe to share their own stories and fears and struggles with me.  It has led to a lot of beautiful connections.  Not only that, but just in talking to people, what I am hearing time and time again is that we are all battling something. None of us escape this life unscathed.  Like I have said before, the battles aren’t meant to punish or torture us, but rather they are meant to grow us.

There are only so many different combinations of struggles that people can experience.  So even while we have individual differences related to our personal journeys, we can expect to come out of them with similar baggage and triggers.  A common thread that I have heard often is a feeling of neglect and/or fear of abandonment that we picked up during childhood.  Mine came from the constant back and forth fighting and making up that my parents teetered between.  In one moment my Mom would be confiding in me, and the next, she’d be talking to my Dad more than me.  I have worked through this stuff, so I don’t harbor ill feelings toward my parents or the situation.  I recognize that they were doing their best at the time, and that’s all any of us can do at any given time.  Maya Angelou was once quoted as saying, “when we know better, we do better” which I think is a really great way to look at it.  At any rate, I grew up feeling neglected and fearful of abandonment.  I am not special in that way, but I am like many of you in that way.  So for me, neglect and fear of abandonment became a few of my triggers as an adult.  And I have watched them come out in various ways both when I was unconscious of them, and also when I was conscious of them.  It doesn’t matter where or from whom we picked up our baggage and subsequent triggers.  What I am realizing is that perhaps the most important thing regarding our baggage is that our baggage is just like everyone else’s.  Our journeys may be different, but OUR BAGGAGE AND TRIGGERS ARE THE SAME!  It’s time that we stop thinking that our demons are worse than everyone else’s.  I know that realization makes me feel a lot better.  How does knowing that make you feel?  How would it feel if you shared more of yourself and your journey with the people around you?

The fact that we are all facing battles of some kind is what makes it so very important that we always treat everyone with kindness and love.  Trust me when I tell you that you can positively affect someone else’s life when you act kindly and do good deeds for them.  It may be that the person that lands in your path even if just briefly just lost one or both of their parents…lost their job…is worried about making ends meet…just got a cancer diagnosis…had a miscarriage…is fighting with their significant other every day…is feeling alone…is feeling like killing themselves…is upset that they’re hooked on drugs and that they can’t break the addiction and it’s ruining their life… the list goes on and on and on.  I am unique in my DNA, my journey, but I am not special.  I am one manifestation of the divine in human form.  There are billions of us.  My life does not demand more respect than anyone else’s.  I do not deserve different treatment because of the struggles I have faced, or the posts that I write.  I am human, like you are human, like we all are human.  What I hope you realize is that we are all the same.  Our lives are not meant to be competitions with each other.  No struggle deserves more respect than another.  No human deserves more respect than another.  Our struggles are all relative.  And just because someone else doesn’t open up and tell you about their story, their problems, their fears does not mean that they do not have them.  I believe that real change in this world is going to come when we all learn to love ourselves and each other exactly as we are.  Not for how we wish we were or how we hope others will be, but for EXACTLY who we all are right this minute.

I have taken care of Moms who have just had a baby and are facing the reality that they will not be able to take their baby home with them because Mom and baby both tested positive for methamphetamine.  Sometimes it has been their first baby, sometimes it has been their fifth.  I trust that Mom and baby’s paths were chosen by their souls, and I trust that their souls are going to learn valuable lessons for all of humanity by going through their lives.  But I see the pain in Mom’s eyes and feel her energy of immense sadness as she says goodbye to her baby.  I have teared up talking to these Moms, because as a Mom, I know the connection we have with our babies even before they are born.  These Moms are no different.  And it is not for me to judge them or their experience here in this life.  I do not know what their life has been like thus far.  I do not know what led them to start using drugs in the first place.  And while I know that meth is one of the most addictive drugs, I cannot know what it feels like to not be able to stop even through a pregnancy.  In those situations, I am not meant to judge, I am meant to care for Mom and baby as best I can given the situation.  I am there to show empathy and compassion for my fellow human.  I can imagine that if I knew the full story of these Moms’ lives, I would feel a great sense of compassion for how they landed in their current predicament.  I am not better than these Moms.  I have led a different life that has presented me with different options and choices.  I have made different choices.  But who is to say that had I lived the life of one of these Moms that I wouldn’t be exactly where they find themselves?  We like to walk around and judge and comment on how we would have handled things differently if we had experienced (fill in the blank), but the truth is that unless we walk the exact path of another person (which isn’t possible) we cannot ever know what we would do in their shoes.  So the best thing for us to do is to treat everyone around us with kindness.  Treat everyone as if they are having their worst day.  Only good things can come from treating the people around you this way.  If we do this enough, we will create a positive ripple effect of kindness.  Let’s try it.

As I have gotten more comfortable with sharing, I am finding that I am connecting to people in my day-to-day life on a much deeper level than I was before.  The cool thing is that I realize that it’s not that anyone had a problem with me before, and are now treating me differently, but that the shift to be more open and deeply connected to myself is giving me the opportunity to have deeper connections with others.  I was always one to strike up conversations with anyone, the cashier at the store, another shopper, a coworker, and all of the other people who might land in my path on any given day.  Lately, I have noticed that as I am striking up conversations with everyone I come across, the conversation moves from surface topics, and the next thing I know, people are sharing deeper things about their journeys with me.  And it is AWESOME!  Today for instance, I struck up a conversation with a Mom who was out hiking with her husband and two young sons.  She was holding her 27 month-old in her arms as she was walking, and I think I said something to the effect of “looks like you could use a carrier.”  To which the Mom told me that she had one, but had decided to leave it at home and was regretting that decision now.  We went on to talk about how great it is when the kids are little enough to carry and how fast they grow up.  We commiserated with each other about our struggles as Moms and we even shared that we were both not proud of the fact that we sometimes yell at our kids.  That led to me talking about how I think that our kids are meant to trigger us so that we are finally able to see our triggers out in the open, so that we can start to heal them.  I told her that I am working all the time on responding versus reacting to what my son says and does.  It was a great conversation!  I shared that all of us Moms are going through the exact same things.  The next thing I knew, this Mom was opening up about how her son has a partial hearing deficit that wasn’t detected by doctors for some time, and her struggle to get him diagnosed and fitted for hearing aids.  It was a topic that left this sweet Mom feeling badly that she somehow missed this about her son, and she was obviously feeling the need to share.  And I thought it was really beautiful.  This has been happening to me a lot.  People have shared a lot of below-the-surface things about their lives and things that have been facing.  Acquaintances at work sharing the stories of their parents’ deaths.  The individual things that people have shared with me aren’t important.  What is important is that I am being shown examples time and time again that we are all going through difficult things.  As I have been opening up, I think I may have created a safe place for other people to share.  Mind you, a lot of these people are maybe only energetically aware that I am a safe place for them to share, because many of the people who I have had these types of interactions with do not know me well, and do not know that I have this blog.  I’m just speculating that by removing my own walls and blockages, that I am opening myself to deeper connections with other people.  And I cannot tell you how happy that makes me!  I have spent years being annoyed with small talk.  I have always preferred to have real, meaningful conversations, but I have spent a lot of time not always getting that type of communication with people.  Now I’m realizing (and this goes with every issue I have worked through) that I was the one blocking myself from the types of connections that I wanted in my life.  The issue was with me, NOT with the other people.  Friends, regardless of what you think is creating your suffering, YOU are creating your suffering. We all have choices in life, and by consciously choosing to accept ourselves as we are, others as they are, and life as it is, I have found a lot more inner peace and happiness in life.  And by treating others with the gentleness that I wish to experience in the world, my connections have grown and multiplied.  My heart is so full and grateful because of it.

Remaining tight in a bud kept me feeling alone in my struggles and isolated and separate from other people.  The truth is that we are all connected, both in a grander spiritual sense, and also in the commonalities created by our collective human experience.  I took a risk by opening up my life in such a public forum by starting this blog and sharing intimate details about myself and my journey, and it has been scary for me at times, but experiencing my life in bloom has made it all worth the risk.  Leap and feel the net catch you.  Love yourself and all of your self-perceived flaws, so that you can give unconditional love to others.  The world needs more love.  How would your life change if you gave yourself more love?  How can you work to treat yourself and others with more empathy and compassion?

Matisyahu “Obstacles”