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What if There’s a Refuge Built Right Inside Every Human Being?

This week I listened to an episode of the On Being podcast that made me reconsider how we humans survive trauma or hardship.

Krista Tippett’s interview with poet John O’Donohue was profound. I found myself rewinding and replaying segments that rang through my body like an ancient song of wisdom. I’d like to share with you what struck such a resonant chord with me.

Here’s the transcript excerpt of O’Donohue talking about the thirteenth century mystic called Meister Eckhart:

…one day I read him, and he said, “There is a place in the soul that neither time nor space nor no created thing can touch.” And I really thought that was amazing. And if you cash it out, what it means is that your identity is not equivalent to your biography and that there is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there is still a sureness in you, where there’s a seamlessness in you, and where there is a confidence and tranquility in you. And I think the intention of prayer and spirituality and love is now and again to visit that inner kind of sanctuary.

This simple thought made me feel like rewriting the story I’d been telling myself about my own life. See, lately I have been reclaiming the idea that none of us are our past, or “our story.” I think for so long I held on to the idea of figuring out my past in order to find answers to my identity. Years into researching and writing my own memoir, I now see that while my past has served to form me, I am so much more than my story.

Let me explain.

Years ago, there was a moment when the course of my life changed drastically. It was 1995; I was fifteen and engaged to be married to a man I wasn’t in love with (long story). Between my fiancé’s absolute joy, my parents’ financial investment in the wedding, and my people-pleasing mentality, I didn’t have the nerve to call things off. I told no one how I felt, but squirreled away my truth into a place so deep within my soul that I soon forgot it was there. I told myself I could do ‘this’—for everyone else’s sake. All it required was some denial and muscling through.

The new me continued in the forward motion of life, getting married at sixteen, pregnant at seventeen, and again at nineteen. I moved across the country with my then husband and children, and was a good Christian wife who submitted to him, and followed where he led. From time to time, my natural verve broke through and I’d challenge him on theological or philosophical assumptions, or what I believed to be my one area of expertise—how the children should be raised. But for the most part, I lived with eyes half-shuttered, ears muffled, and head down.

As the years passed, though I had an eternally deep well of love for my children, I grew numb to most everything. Soon the simple act of continuing to exist became painful. I slipped into a depression and then slipped back out (sort of) while taking Zoloft.

Andrea and kids in Europe

Me at 22, with my kids in Europe; daughter covered in chocolate, son passed out. Summer 2002

About six years into that murky time, we compiled student loans, a little savings, and a lot of credit card debt to fund a twelve-week trip across Europe with our four-year old and nineteen-month-old. It was there in Europe, exposed to a vast expanse of life, history, and culture that I realized there was more to life than how I’d been living. My head raised, eyes snapped open, and my ears suddenly heard what they couldn’t before.

But the problem with understanding that there is more is realizing that you don’t have it.

I began to see that my melancholy was caused by a slow bleeding-out of everything I once was before I got married. And because I had married so young, I had been losing my identity before it had had a chance to fully form. My soul was dying in the marriage we had constructed of silt and toothpicks.

But that secret part of me I’d hidden away almost a decade before began to crackle and glow within me and do its work to bust apart the layers of murky malaise I had lived in so long.

I’ve been working on a memoir for several years now and have always interpreted that “me nugget” I squirreled away at fifteen as a vestige of my former self—the girl I used to be. Through the fifteen plus years since that fateful Europe trip, my children and I have been through multiple serious hardships (more on that another time).

Lately, I’ve been wondering when I’ll run out of energy to weather the next life challenge, when or should it arrive. I have been looking at myself like a damaged warrior. As anyone who’s been through a marathon of personal battles will tell you, what doesn’t kill you doesn’t always necessarily make you stronger. Sometimes it drains you to within inches of your life.

And then this thought came along on the podcast—through the centuries, through Meister Eckhart, and John O’Donohue: what if there is a part of me that is untouched by fear or trauma? What if there is an island of solace in the depths of each of us? What if there is an eye of the storm we can come home to when our lives are whirling in chaos?

What a relief. I don’t have to worry about being strong enough if I can retreat to my untouched soul when I need to regroup.

After I listened to the podcast, I discussed this idea over lunch with my son and daughter, now nineteen and sixteen. They brought up Eastern philosophies which teach not only a sort of untouched place in your soul, but that it is a communal space we all belong to. It is a central universal consciousness where we find refuge and connection with the entire human race and maybe all of earth itself.

We all have our own private struggles, some in the hard work of pursuing our dreams, some in the push of birthing beauty into this world, and others with massive health, economic, cultural, weather, or societal events that threaten to crack us open and bleed us out.

I’m not convinced there’s always a reason for when bad things happen. I mean, tell that to the child imprisoned as a sex-worker, or to the countless families who’ve lost their homes in Hurricane Harvey and Irma, or the refugee who lost his family.

I’m not saying there can’t be purpose in tragedy. But that line of reasoning has only ever comforted me when the stakes are low. Otherwise, it reeks of bullshit.

Still there are some of us who weather tragedy and hardship better than others. Maybe this unwounded soul thing is why.

I like the idea that there is an inner holy refuge built right into each of us, that it is something I can cling to when the storm is raging all around me.

O’Donohue went on to mention that the most direct way to connect with that part of ourselves (and our interior life) is through beauty, whether it is an impeccably performed song, a well-crafted book, the exquisite dance of nature, or a lovingly prepared meal. These corporeal pleasures fast-track us from fear to home (the home inside ourselves).

So maybe I never actually squirreled away that part of me like I thought I did. Maybe that untouched part of me was always there, waiting for me to reconnect. And perhaps that Europe trip came to me at the exact right time, when seeing masterful art at the Louvre, sipping beer in a German beer garden, savoring chocolate in Belgium, and standing in the Roman Forum connected me not only to that stalwart part of me, but bound me to the consciousness of my sisters and brothers throughout history as well.

I felt this while I was there, but never had the concept to wrap around the feeling. Until now.

Maybe that sureness is what has sustained me through my own personal hells. Maybe that is the super power we all have and we all share and need only access.

I choose to believe the beauty we see, the beauty we are, and the beauty we create has the power to truly change the world.

>> Listen to the John O’Donohue episode of On Being. <<

Namaste

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Feel Wonder Again

A walk in the park.  Our busy lives make it seem so difficult.

I’m making the simple act of walking more of a priority in my daily life. And boy howdy, does it change my mood. It was good to just be in the moment. To feel the wonder again. Here are a few photos from my stroll this morning. (I’m no photographer, but hope these bring you some peace anyway. )

So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and start admiring the little things again.

 

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First 4 Favorite Creative Resources of 2014

Have you ever had one of those moments where you’re just putting your dream “out there” and suddenly the Universe/God takes notice and decides to throw you a bone?  Those moments are divine.   Last week was like a big “Yep, you’re on the right track, kiddo,” from God.  It seemed that inspiration came from every outlet I was exposed to.  Friends, colleagues and family provided new tools, so much in fact that it took me a few days to process.

It feels like optimism is literally flowing through my veins.  And I want to share that with you!

I have to taste-tested each of these resources before I recommend them to you.

Snag these creative resources to start your year off right:

Click image to download

1.  Visit the lovely Susannah Conway’s website and download her free Unraveling the Year Ahead 2014 workbook.  Sometimes we all just need a little hand-holding when it comes to figuring out what’s next.  This workbook is a great tool.  Thanks to my friend Emily for sharing this with me.

 

A Year of Writing Dangerously cover2.  Buy A Year of Writing Dangerously, by Barbara Abercrombie, well, that is, if you’re in to writing – even just for fun.

I’m only a few days into this book, but every day is another meaningful, meaty inspiration.  It’s so good it’s almost too good.  I haven’t stopped savoring the previous day’s inspiration when it’s already time for today’s treasure.  It’s like being at an all-you-can-eat buffet of carefully selected gourmet fare.

I am a big fan of Barbara Abercrombie, in fact she is one of the first authors I came across, years ago, when I was toying with the idea of becoming a writer.

Visit her site here:  barbaraabercrombie.com

3.  Sign Up for Monica Bhide’s Powered by Hope, a one-year long digital storytelling project.  It’s free and it’s just one  inspirational email per week, “to get you thinking,” and then on Fridays you can chat with Monica live on Facebook.  It just started on Monday, Jan. 6th so jump on board.

Powered by Hope Monica Bhide

I was immediately intrigued by Monica’s story because she too had a former life before becoming a writer and one day (ten years ago) decided to finally pursue her dream.  She has become quite the successful writer as well.  She is one of the top 10 food writers on Twitter.  In addition to several books, her work has been published in The New York Times, SELF, Food & Wine, Bon Apetit & more.

Her first email (sent Monday) helped me set my week with the intention of focusing on what I really want to do, not the 1,000 other things I could do.  I look forward to the next and subsequent emails.

So what are you waiting for? Go sign up before you miss too many inspirations! Plus it’s Free.  Join the Powered by Hope movement >

(You also get a pretty amazing free gift when you sign up – like whip cream on top.)

 

The Complete Artist's Way Julia Cameron4.  Finally, Buy & Use The Complete Artist’s Way: Creativity as a Spiritual Practice, by Julia Cameron. “Wow,” is the first thing I have to say.  I received this book for Christmas, from my wonderfully supportive mom.  I started working through the 12 week creativity reawakening exercises.  Let me tell ya, if you want to be a more creative person, whether it’s in your art, craft, writing, speaking, even work you will grow leaps and bounds by implementing the principles in this book.

I’ve been wanting to read/practice this book for years, but my life has been quite tumultuous.  I finally have the time and support to commit now and I am utterly enjoying it.  I consider myself a pretty creative person – a designer, brand strategist, writer, etc. but this book is helping me open the floodgates and court the muse like I never have before.

 

As you step into this New Year I encourage you to imagine the possibilities and visualize what could happen if this year becomes the year you finally commit to your dream(s).

Have some creative or inspiring resources?  Please do share!

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Brave

If you’re ever in a down moment, need a little inspiration, Sara’s got it for you. I heart this video/song! (And yes, I’ve been known to spontaneously dance in public – my kids & boyfriend can attest to that).

 

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You are not alone

“The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love.”
Hubert H. Humphrey, Jr.

some "girl time" © kirbybird

some “girl time” © kirbybird

Sometimes life pummels you with some curve balls and, if you’re anything like me, you get a little light headed and starting spinning.   I find myself doing this time again when I get smacked with a stressful situation; to mix metaphors, I totally start spinning my wheels.  I’ve been struggling lately with some personal hurdles while trying to keep focused on my path to my dreams.

I can see a million possibilities and it’s hard for me to pick the right one and sometimes reaching out for help is hard.  Studies show that friendship is one of the major contributors to happiness and yet so many of us hermit-ify ourselves when we’re trying to make a decision or cope with a problem.  “But I don’t want to burden them,” or “They are probably busy” or “I’m sure they are sick of me by now,” are a few of my choice excuses for not calling a friend when I need help.

A few years ago I was really going through it, my business was failing, I had no love life and I was facing the harrowing reality of having to move back in with my mom. (love you mom)  I just shutdown emotionally.  I withdrew from many of my friends and it was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I felt extremely alone.  I was upset that more of my friends weren’t reaching out to me to help me through this hard time.  I was blaming them for my feeling lonely.  One day I realized that “you’re only alone if you let yourself be.’  Believe it or not your friends still care about you, but they have their own lives too and won’t always remember to call.  Sometimes you have to be the one to reach out and pipe up, “Hey, I really need you right now, I’m struggling and I need to talk (& a hug).”

If  you’re on your path to living your dream, or you just want to be more positive, it’s time to start getting back in touch with your friends.   They help you sort through your thoughts and give you fresh perspective.  Plus they give you a  hug when you need it!  [Bonus!]  Sometimes it just gives you a boost to know that someone cares and gives you the strength to hold on to the end of your rope.  When I go home after having spent time with friends I am energized and have that youthful zeal back in my life.  I feel more prepared to tackle the challenges ahead.  The funny thing is, this phenomena goes both ways, as you both share your struggles and joys, you BOTH come away feeling better.

A word of caution:  avoid Toxic-Negativity-Mongers and Stuff-Their-Feelings-So-They-Look-Righteous-Peddlers.  You’ve heard it before, but its good to have a reminder  that it’s important to pay attention to which friends you are reaching out to when you are going through a hard time.  A lot of us, (I’m totally raising my hand here), have the tendency to call up our B*tching Buddy when something goes awry and just let loose a deluge of garbage back & forth.  Or how about your Negative Nelly friend?  Need someone to agree with how horrible your situation is, there he/she is to comply.  These “friends,” although well meaning and offering toxic condolences that will only weigh you down and you should stay away.  Now I’m not saying just go to someone who is ONLY positive either, because that kind of saccharin sweet is just bull pucky, in my opinion.  Their glossed-over perspective will only leave you feeling needy and invalidated.  You know the kinds – Toxic-Negativity-Mongers and Stuff-Their-Feelings-So-They-Look-Righteous-Peddlers.  Find your true friends, the ones that know the real you and can empathize with your pain or fear, but also have a positive perspective on life.  If your selection of those kinds of friends is slim…perhaps its time to start reaching out to make some new friends.

Side Note:  I am currently reading The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin.

Lots of good info on the circumstances and practices that lead to happiness.  Hint, hint – friendship is a big one.  Check out Gretchen’s blog (I’ve linked directly to her category on “Friends”)

 

 

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Put Your Hands Up!

Surrender.

I needed to hear that today and as the Universe would have it I came a great blog post reminding me of the power of surrender (see video below).  I’ve been struggling with some personal and career decisions lately, and frankly, stressing myself the hell out.  A big stressor was recently removed from my life, but ironically, more devious little stress buggers cropped up in it’s place.  I knew the problem was not just the source of stress, but me and how I choose to deal with it.  Still, sometimes I’m so lost in the problem, I don’t stop to really think and find the solution.  A solution is surrender…and here’s my story:

About 2 years ago I was really struggling in the dating world.  I wasn’t finding anyone I truly wanted to be with and to be honest, there were a lot of guys more interested in getting into my pants than my head.  My mindset of yearning for a mate fed into that vibe, unconsciously attracting the opposite kind of guy that I wanted.  I had the usual cadre of blocks in my head:  I’m not cool enough, I’ve got two kids, my business is flailing, & conversely, I like myself, I think I’m pretty cool, am a good mom, am ambitious, workout, etc. -SO WHY don’t I have a boyfriend?  I was deeply entrenched in WHY.

Then I realized that even if I found my soul mate, at some point, I would, at least near the end of life, be without him again.  At that realization, I decided right then that I needed to get “ok” with being alone.  I had to fully surrender my fear of not finding “the one” and for me, that meant “give it to God.”  I kept working at it because it didn’t come easy, but every day, sometimes many times I would visualize the burden being lifted and me giving it away.  Visualization helped a TON.

The anxiety, the struggle, the insecurity, the stupid decisions melted away and I was comfortable in my own skin, on my own at a movie and alone in my bed.  I flourished in the things, friends and family I loved and loved myself just as I was.  A few months went by and then out of the blue, the most wonderful man I have ever known came into my life.

I’m not saying that if you surrender you’re going to get exactly what you want right away.  Sometimes you will get exactly what you didn’t know you needed in an unexpected form.  (I’ve been there, lemme tell ya)  But, surrender is the key to open the door to the free-flowing abundance of how things are meant to be for you.

Here’s the video post from Carrie of Female Entrepreneur Association that prompted this post today:

And here’s the video of Oprah that she refers to:  Watch BOTH!! 🙂

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Friends & Family

I was able to spend some quality time with friends & family this weekend. It was a nice treat. I, of course, talked their ears off and somehow they still hung out. 😉 Sometimes when I am busy (much of the time) I don’t get the time carved out to spend quality time with friends & extended family. I’m working on balancing that more. Anywho some lovely quotes on the matter:

“There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate.”
― Linda Grayson

“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.”
― William Shakespeare

“It’s the friends you can call up at 4 a.m. that matter.”
― Marlene Dietrich

You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them. ~Desmond Tutu

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Guerrilla Gardening

What if you became a guerrilla gardener, but instead of flowers or grass you plant joy, hope and healing?guerrilla gardeners dumpster

Guerrilla Gardening can be a peaceful protest, a stand for beliefs, and a way to build community.  In urban areas, green-thumbed passionates plant flowers, shurbs or grass to, at the least, make a statement and, even more, foster community cause.  From revitalizing abandoned areas to creating new space for community grown food, Guerrilla Gardening is changing urban life, one  patch at a time.  These rebel gardeners plant in dumpsters, abandoned lots, places that used  to be a blight, a depressive reminder of hopelessness and despair.  More than just beauty or a harvest of food these gardens remind us that hope still exists, even amongst gray harsh concrete,  cold rusted metal and the discarded remains of human use and neglect.

What if we, who believe in the power of our dreams, start acting as Guerrilla Gardeners of hope?  Instead of following the norm, imagine planting seeds of confidence, cultivating joy and hope, harvesting changes of mind, inspiration.  Like flowers that blossom with water, care and fertilizer, so gardeners of the spirit can help people bloom in the most unlikely of places – right where they are.  In spite of hopeless times, harsh environments and the never ending over-stimulation of media, there is hope for a fulfilled life.  It doesn’t just lie in what we want to achieve, but rather it is there all along, latent as a seed waiting to germinate,  in our natural state (notice “nature” in that word), a reminder of who we are meant to be.

I truly believe as we free ourselves from the bonds of fear and negativity, as we give ourselves permission to shine as we were meant to, we unconsciously inspire others  to do the same.  I want to be a Guerrilla Gardener, planting the seeds of hope, courage, wisdom and love in as many seemingly hopeless, fearful and abandoned places as possible.  It starts with my own neglected spaces.  Tending my own garden first will give me the tools to help other’s hope flourish.

guerrilla gardening of hope

To inspire you to think about places you might be a gardener of hope, check out this lovely article from Good, about Guerrilla Gardening:  http://www.good.is/posts/10-most-awesome-guerrilla-gardens-from-around-the-world?utm_source=upw

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Trust

My reason/ excuse is that I worked two jobs today – my reason I’m not writing much tonight.

So I am working on trust in a certain area of my life, therefore I thought it apropos to share this quote:

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
― Ernest Hemingway

🙂

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What does it mean?

Last night I heard a powerful story of vision and passion, a story I am excited to share with you.  At Toastmasters* one of my co-members spoke about the idea of vision, specifically our individual visions for what we wanted to achieve through Toastmasters.  He invited us to take a moment  to really think about what we hope to do with the speaking and leadership skills we are learning.  He illustrated what is was like to have vision (& pursue it) with two stories.  One of those stories especially struck a chord with me.

Viktor-FranklViktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist and neurologist who lived through WWII in Europe.  Dr. Frankl was also Jewish and as such was relegated to concentration camps, where, as you may guess, he encountered the extremes of human suffering.  What set Dr. Frankl apart however was his approach to the ordeals he faced.  Despite the dire circumstances of his surroundings, including all of his family suffering similar fates, he decided to use his passion and experience to help others cope with their desperate situation.  He used his knowledge to help those around him and himself.  Here is an excerpt from the book he wrote after he was released from  Türkheim camp:

“We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road leading from the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbor’s arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his mouth behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: “If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don’t know what is happening to us.”

That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.

A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way—an honorable way—in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.”

Saying Yes to Life in Spite of Everything: A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp (in German), known in English by the title Man’s Search for Meaning (1959)

When I heard this story last night it cut me to the quick.  We all have situations we are trying to “survive,” or muddle through without losing our minds – a dramatic family situation, a bad relationship, an irritating job, etc.  But most of us (here in America) are not facing the real drama of living through something like a concentration camp.  Yet this man, Dr. Viktor Frankl, when faced with a nightmare, decided to not give up hope or lose his vision.  He reframed his circumstances and continued to use his God-given gifts anyway and as a result he helped many as well as himself.

Dr. Frankl went on to teach across Europe and the US, including Harvard.  He received 29 honorary doctoral degrees, published 39 books, translated into 40 languages, one of which (Man’s Search for Meaning) was toted one of  “the ten most influential books in the United States.”  In 1985 he was awarded the Oskar Pfister Award for contributions to religion and psychiatry.

I look forward to learning more about Dr. Frankl.  But in the meantime, I am blessed to have heard a bit of his story.  It fuels my commitment to live fully, passions infused and vision intact, despite the hard times.

Imagine what is possible if we choose to shine despite the darkness, if we reach down to the deepest part of us and pull up our true selves to face the world!!

 

 *Toastmasters is an educational group which helps you learn speaking & leadership skills.  (Let me know if you ever want to come with- it’s awesome)