Thursday, May 30, 2013

Compassion, Gratitude and Love

You are loved. You are valued. You are worthy.  Count your blessings.  Be grateful.  Life is precious, and so are you.

I remember a time in my life when I would have been angered by statements like these.  I thought that no one understood me and that no one could relate.  During those dark days, I suffered from a deep depression, and I didn't know how to let love in.  I didn't believe people when they told me nice things, and I hated myself.  My mind was like a looping record... repeating self deprecating thoughts over and over again.  I think back to those days and all that's happened in between.  What changed?  Why was I one of the "lucky ones" who successfully disengaged the looping track?

Yesterday, a friend's daughter took her own life.  She was just a kid...  This friend is a beautiful human being.  I've always known her to have a smile on her face and to be surrounded by family and friends.  She's a loving mother, and my heart hurts for her in this moment.  How does one recover from the loss of a child to suicide?  I am sending love and praying for her healing.

How do we show up in the world and communicate so people get that they matter?  How do we reach people where they are and make a difference in their lives?  I don't have the answers, but I keep coming back to compassion, gratitude and love.  We must stop placing blame on ourselves and others.  We must BE the change that we wish to see in the world.  We must also forgive... forgiving one's self is sometimes the hardest thing to do, and it's necessary.

When I think back to my own struggle with depression and feelings of suicide, what stopped me was the fact that I didn't want to hurt my family and friends.  The reminder of my cousin's suicide and how it affected our family is what I kept going back to.  I thought that I had to live with the sadness and deal with it on my own because I was too ashamed to tell anyone about it.  I was angry with myself for being depressed.  I thought that I was a bad person because I couldn't control my feelings, and I should know better... especially after what happened with Brad.  I even thought that there was some universal mistake... that it was supposed to have been me, not him.

I spent years like this, and I eventually hit rock bottom... I was dragged to a psychiatrist by my mom and sister and put on medication, after a drunk driving incident that could have taken lives (including my own), and I was responsible for it.  This was my wake up call.

In the years that followed, I changed my diet and embarked on a spiritual, holistic healing path.  I went off of the prescription medication, and during that time, hoop dancing entered my life.  I escaped from negative internal chatter with flow.  It was a mental release and the most powerful healing tool for me.    I began to practice meditation, and I incorporated positive daily affirmations into my life.  I surrounded myself with uplifting people, and my entire world changed.  It didn't happen overnight.  It was a process that took time, discipline and effort.

I don't worry about having a breakdown with depression anymore.  I haven't had one in six years.  This is what healing looks like for me.  There are many different paths to healing, and I believe that people must access their own internal wisdom to discover what's best for them.

We can search for reasons and answers.  Or we can be present and show love.  We can't see into the minds of others, but we can be responsible for our own behaviors, actions and words.

Make eye contact and smile at a stranger.  Pay it forward.  Show random acts of kindness.  Help your neighbor.  Let someone know how much they mean to you.  Appreciate each day.  FORGIVE.  Know that every breath is a gift.  Be vulnerable.  Find a passion and pursue it.  Start a gratitude journal and write down 5 things you are grateful for every day.  GIVE.  LOVE. LIVE.

I love you, and I'm grateful that you are here.  You are a blessing and a gift.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Seeing With New Eyes

As living creatures, we are constantly growing and evolving.  When we are open to change, we have the ability to see things from different vantage points.  To experience this, we must first surrender control.  Then, it's possible to find freedom in the unknown and be accepting of what is.

New possibilities are constantly available to us, and most of the time, we don't know the details of how it will all play out.  It's ok to not know.  Surrendering to life's unexpected moments, challenges and opportunities is a major aspect of growth and transformation.  Coming to these realizations has enabled my book to take on new meaning; it feels like a living creature now.

My perspective has shifted during the writing process, and I finally feel as though I'm creating the book that it was always meant to be.  It looks nothing like I thought it would, when I first starting writing.

I'm sharing dark days from a place of love.

Feelings of fear, judgement, anger, resentment and guilt exist, in writing, from a different place and time.  Scribbled in hand-written journals, I reflect on the days when life was painful, and I was confused.  In those moments, when I poured my heart out on paper, I didn't see the world as I do today.

I look through eyes of love, without self-deprecating thoughts, resentment or blame.  I am grateful for the words that I wrote years ago.  I appreciate the path of self-discovery that began with pen and paper, and I believe that light is born from darkness.

The thoughts and feelings that I had when I was depressed are long gone.  I'm not as attached to my history and my old thought patterns anymore.  When I reflect on my journals, it often feels as though I'm reading someone else's words. I can visualize my present self sitting next to the little girl version of me, drying her tears and helping her to see that the sun will shine again.

I now get to communicate without attachment to beliefs and ideas that do not serve me or the world at large.  It feels amazing.

I think, perspective shifts in physical form too.  I just returned from a family visit to Inverness, my home town.  As a high schooler, I couldn't wait to leave.  I didn't see beauty in my surroundings because I didn't see beauty in myself.

Yesterday morning, I meditated with my sister underneath an old cypress tree with Spanish moss canopies hanging overhead.  We sat cross-legged facing the lake, eyes closed, and in silence... breathing fresh air and going inward.  When the meditation ended, I had tears in my eyes as I took in the beautiful place that I will always call home.  There were butterflies dancing nearby and fuzzy little caterpillars crawling on our blanket.


Beauty and love surround us always.  Where we choose to focus is what makes all the difference.





Guest Blog for TWLOHA

To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.  I've been following TWLOHA for almost five years, and I knew that I wanted to work with the organization somehow, someday.

When I was asked to be a guest blogger, I jumped at the opportunity.  I'm honored to share the published blog with you today...

The World Seems A Little Brighter

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Book Decalarations

- I will have the first draft of my book complete by May 20, 2013.
- The book will clearly and authentically communicate a message of healing and transformation.
- I commit to being vulnerable, inspirational, loving and compassionate with my written words.
- Readers of my book will get that they matter.
- I will have my book published by Hay House on or before August 15, 2013.
- My book will be on shelves at major book stores by October 1, 2013.

Friends, I ask for your support.  Check in with me.  Ask me how the book is coming along.  Send positive energy to me :)  Believe in me.  Thank you.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Clarity

I'm getting clear on my book.

When I started writing it, I was focused on becoming an advocate for depression awareness and suicide prevention.  I knew that I wanted to share my story with the intention of helping others.  But as time went on, I kept getting “stuck." I’d take long breaks from my writing, and I would become frustrated and aggravated due to lack of progress.  I thought that I wasn't moving forward fast enough.  Feelings of guilt would flood in, and I couldn’t understand why it was taking me so long to finish. I set deadlines, and they'd pass by at lightning speed.

I now realize that I wasn’t progressing because the book wasn’t evolving the way it was supposed to.  I knew, in my heart, that this book would have the power to help people.  But the way I was writing it wasn’t accomplishing that goal.  And as humbling as this is to admit, my book would have been irresponsible and potentially destructive had I continued on the path that I was on.  I now realize that it was my perspective that was blocking me.  I had too much anger, resentment, fear and self-doubt inside of me.

Truth be told, I had work to do… work on myself.  While writing the book, I realized something profound:  I had to heal myself in order to truly help others.  So, I started working... soul searching, confronting my ego, diving deep into my stories and re-evaluating the belief systems that do not serve me or those around me.  I enrolled in an extensive transformational leadership program called "Gratitude Training."  Imagine... being grateful for everything (and I do mean EVERYTHING).  

Instead of approaching my book from a 'victim' perspective, I now see that I have the power to make positive change from the inside out.  And with this power, I have the ability to authentically help others.  

This is what my book is about:  I'm sharing my transformational story by standing in the light while evaluating my journal entries that were written years ago, from a place of darkness.  I am changing my outlook on life in order to live a more fulfilling existence and inspire others to do the same.

A friend recently invited me to look up the definition of forgiveness.  This is what I read:

(Wikipedia): Forgiveness is the renunciation or cessation of resentment, indignation or anger as a result of a perceived offense, disagreement, or mistake, or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution.

When we hold onto hurt, anger and resentment, we block ourselves from living an authentic life.  I continued my research and was excited to find this article: 


I believe that we must first forgive ourselves for holding onto ideas and beliefs that do not serve us or the world at large.

My perspective is shifting...  And with this shift, the end of my book became the beginning.  The road blocks have cleared.  Two months ago, I was invited to join the Board of Directors for the Tampa Bay Chapter of the National Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  I'm well on my way now...  I'm promoting a cause that I believe in and sharing a story that's written from a place of truth:  from my heart.

I'm setting an intention to have my book published with Louise Hay:  Hay House Publishing.  It's a big goal, and I WILL make it happen.

DREAM BIG.  LIVE to your fullest potential. SHINE on.  I love you.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Visiting the Dark

At the age of 13, I read "The Diary of Anne Frank."  I remember the book having an intense impact on me.  After all, my grandfather was a Jewish American of German descent who fought in World War II. It's part of my family's history.

Today, I saw the Holocaust devastation through another person's eyes and through another medium.  Oprah Winfrey interviewed Elie Wiesel (Jewish-American Holocaust survivor, writer, professor, humanitarian and political activist. He is the author of 57 books, including Night, a work based on his experiences as a prisoner in the Auschwitz, Buna, and Buchenwald concentration camps. In 1986, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for speaking out against violence, repression and racism).

Through his words, and by looking into the eyes of the photographs of Jewish prisoners who walked towards death, I visited the dark today.  So much emotion swept over me, and I was crying while I watched and listened to the interview unfold.  Before today, I knew Nazi Germany was terrible, but now I see that my brain can't possibly understand how devastating it really was.  Elie Wiesel referred to the concentration camps as death factories.

As Oprah and Elie walked arm and arm through Auschwitz (a network of death factories built and operated by Nazi Germany), I learned about the horrible medical experiments that were conducted on the Jewish prisoners; I learned that when friends and family members died at Auschwitz, crying wasn't an option - because if one cried, he might be killed or he might never stop crying.  I saw glass cases filled with human hair because Jewish prisoners were viewed as 'products, not people' (their heads were shaved before execution, in order to make fabric).

I saw miles and miles of empty suitcases that were once filled with valuables and family heirlooms.  Each one had been labeled with the owner's name and date of birth. Jewish civilians were asked to fill these suitcases and were told that they'd be relocating to a place of freedom.  They were tricked into thinking they had hope, when in actuality, their worldly possessions were confiscated and they relocated to death at Auschwitz.  Wiesel posed this question, "How many Nobel Peace prize winners died at the age of 1, 2, 3?"  He goes on to say, "Maybe one of these suitcases was once filled with the posessions of a child who might have someday grown up to find the cure for cancer or AIDS... we'll never know."

I learned about mothers who held their babies in front of their faces so soldiers would only have to use one bullet instead of two.

In that moment, I realized that up until now, I've been comfortable with my belief that "ignorance is bliss." This was my reason for turning a blind eye to what's happened in history; I simply didn't want to know because it was too hard to comprehend.

This has to change.  Ignorance is not bliss.  Ignorance is irresponsible.

At the end of the interview, these words appeared on the screen:

To the next generations... we must never forget.

We need to pay attention to history so we can avoid making the same mistakes.  I've heard the definition of insanity as "doing the same things over and over again, expecting different results."

Hate crimes are happening all over the world, in this moment, as I sit here typing.  History is repeating itself, and it will continue to repeat itself if we don't pay attention and make a change.

I believe that we all have a purpose.  I believe in Gandhi's words, "Be the change you want to see in the world."  I believe that just one person can make a major difference... maybe you're that person?

Maybe it's important for us to visit the dark sometimes so we can truly express gratitude when we see the light?  Maybe heaven isn't just a place up above, and maybe hell isn't only somewhere down below.  Maybe both exist right here, on planet Earth, right now. And maybe it's up to us to start paying attention, in an effort to make positive change?

I'm tired of claiming ignorance, and I'm ready to start making a difference.

Today, I honor Elie Wiesel... a man who lived much of his life in darkness so intense that most of us can't even imagine it.  A man who used his gifts to reach the masses.  He allowed himself to be vulnerable, in order to share a story that we need to hear.  A man whose existence matters, and because of him, there's hope for a brighter future.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Future of Storytelling

I was fortunate to attend the TEDx Tampa Bay event yesterday and hear from a lineup of incredible speakers.  Motivational speakers.  The theme was, "The Future of Storytelling."  As you may know, TED is a not for profit organization dedicated to "ideas worth spreading." I cleared my schedule at the last minute and signed up for the event without expectations but with an open mind.

Speakers ranged from artists to writers, entrepreneurs to scientists, and explorers to professionals of play (like me).  The event schedule said 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.  I pulled into my parking spot at 8:05, and when I walked inside, I was thrilled to discover that there was a one-hour "meet and greet" factored in, with coffee.  Speakers didn't come on until 9.  So, I met a young woman named Kelly.  We talked about our reasons for being there, and I learned that she recently moved to St. Pete and wants to start her own not-for-profit someday.  I told her about my business and my writing, and we chatted up until the time doors opened. A few friends showed up too:  Vinny (who I knew would be there), Tracey (one of my hoop dance students who I ran into unexpectedly) and George (a former colleague who I haven't seen in 9 years!  Turns out, he's friends with Vinny, too).

The announcer was energetic and funny, and as the first speaker approached the stage, I had a feeling that it was going to be a powerful day.  I was right.  I don't remember the last time I've been this excited about learning.

All of the presenters were incredible, but I think I connected most with Kathleen Taylor, Nora Gaunt & Ryan Mitchell, Sharon Britton, Michael Kruse, Mark Gordon and Reuben Pressman & Hunter Payne.  You can read bios here.

Kathleen is a licensed mental health counselor who spoke about her years working for Hospice.  She said that people often ask her why she enjoys working with terminally ill patients.  I loved her response.  "It's because they are incapable of bullshit," she said.  She explained that when people approach death, they speak truth.  They make amends with family members who they haven't spoken to in years.  They reflect on their lives, and as they prepare for death, they wake up to the preciousness of time.

"Do you know the number one regret people have, when they look back on their lives?" she asked.  "It's wishing that they had lived their truth."

I learned from her talk that, in the end, it doesn't matter who's right or wrong.  And it doesn't matter if you follow the norms that society has set out for you.  What matters is living to your true, authentic potential.  There is only one you, and it's never too soon to take action and make positive change.  When we tap into our true, authentic beings, we increase understanding and decrease fear.  This results in joy.

There were more talks with the "happiness" theme.  I loved Nora and Ryan's take on it:  Wealth is not measured by possessions, they told us.  Wealth is measured by happiness.  After traveling halfway around the world, this duo had wise words to share about wealth in experiences.  They found themselves in far away countries, where language barriers were broken with smiles and hard work.  They choose to invest in experience and personal connections verses worldly possessions.

It was a talk that I really enjoyed.  I'll admit that I'm sometimes guilty of "retail therapy."  You know... shopping for the sake of shopping just because it makes you feel better, when really the root of the problem is something else.  Most of the things I buy when I feel this way are things that I don't really need.  But when I turn off the TV, put down the cell phone, and truly take the time to connect with people, I have the most amazing experiences.  For these reasons, I go to hoop dance & yoga retreats and spend time on the water with people I care about.  I make it a point to pick up the phone and call old friends, and I'm going to make a conscious effort to do an even better job of this moving forward.

Then there was Sharon Britton - a high powered New York City attorney who left it all to become a painter.  She practices yoga and talks about replacing fear with love.  She discussed higher vibrations and how we should move away from 'anti' campaigns and move towards 'love' campaigns.  Sharon calls herself a neurotic hippie.

Michael Kruse was one of my favorite speakers of the day.  There was no power point presentation, and he organized his speech much like I would imagine he organizes his columns for the Tampa Bay Times.  The man is an artist of words and stories.  He ended his discussion with a little nugget of inspiration that I especially loved, in relation to the event theme.  He said that the future of stories was stories, and I agree.  Throughout time, storytelling has been present.  We live in a fast-paced world, with technological advances happening at an alarming pace.  But we re-tell stories from those who came before us, and we can only imagine what stories are yet to come.

Mark Gordon was fascinated by the ocean for as long as he can remember.  He talked about walks on the beach and staring out into the water, as he daydreamed about treasures under the sea.  Today, Mark owns a company called Odyssey, and he's a professional treasure hunter.  His company uncovered more than 40 tons of silver from a World War II shipwreck, which was located 4,700 meters below sea level (this is deeper than the Titanic).

Next up... Reuben and Hunter.  I've been connected with these guys for a while now.  Our paths keep crossing (St. Pete becomes a small town when you surround yourself with like-minded people).  Our businesses are very similar, in the sense that we promote joy, laughter and personal connections through play.  Reuben and Hunter are the founders of Swings Tampa Bay - a spontaneous community building organization that hangs hand-painted swings (created by regular members of our community) all over Tampa.  We've run into each other at professional networking events, the Saturday Morning Market and through mutual friends.  These guys rock, and their energy on stage was contagious.

The day was filled with "delicious listening," as one of the presenters so creatively referred to it.  I left yesterday's event feeling thoroughly inspired and also eager to keep learning.  This morning, I watched more inspirational TED talks online, and I think that I'm officially a TED junkie now.  I'm going to make it to that national conference someday.  And who knows?  Maybe it will be me speaking on that stage.  The sky is the limit, baby!

Next week, I'm packing my bags for a Buddhist Retreat Center in Santa Cruz, CA.  I'm so honored to be teaching at Hoop Camp, the largest hoop dance gathering in the country.  I can't wait to share, learn, connect, re-connect and meditate in this beautiful, serene place.  I have a feeling that I'll be doing a lot of writing on my trip also.  More to stories to come...