EX-FILES

Lately I have been keenly aware of the collective experience of relationships, ranging from the desire for the perfect, easy or “right” relationships to the inherent obstacles that arise from seeking those ideals. My personal encounters, those of my closest friends and family, as well as the books, films, and podcasts I am consuming consistently portray this fundamental, often dominating theme for our species. I suppose it is natural that I notice what I am attuned to—and it is hard to escape the topic of relationships when they are as ubiquitous as the air we breathe. After all, we live on a relative plane in which our identities are shaped by who we are in relation to our external world, wherein interactions with other people figure quite centrally. In simple terms, I AM relative to what I AM NOT. 

It is no wonder, then, that we tend to make dramatic declarations about the other actors playing in the theater of our lives through our language and actions, not the least of which is via the labels we assign to them. I am particularly fascinated by the term “ex” and the stigma that is commonly attached to it: ex-boyfriend, ex-husband, ex-friend, etc. When I look up the word in the dictionary, it literally means “is without or excluding,” suggesting that I am in absence of a relationship that was once present. More often than not, the social implication of that expression is one of finality, loss and/or brokenness. Even the intonation of “ex” has a harsh vibration to it. For me, it evokes other words with similar undertones like expelled, excommunicated, and excluded.

True to form and certainly not coincidentally, the Universe reflected outwardly what I am contemplating inwardly through a recent encounter with my own ex. Despite having spent significant time processing and integrating the unravelling of that relationship, I momentarily felt like the ghost of exes past came back to haunt me. I recoiled—not so much at the memory of what he did, but at the reminder of who I was with and to him. Having quickly recovered and checked my ego at the door, as I write this, I have a deep sense of peace as I acknowledge the beauty in that interaction. I witnessed my own response and subsequently chose to release the familiar and even habitual feeling of regret it invoked when I thought about that period of my life. Instead, I embrace its role in constructing who I am today. The book Conversations with God by Neil Donald Walsch powerfully describes the purpose of relationship as a decision about “what part of yourself you’d like to see show up, not what part of another you can capture and hold.” Reading this line revealed to me that throughout the last couple of years, I have held myself hostage to the notion that I was supposed to preserve that relationship. Another “ex” meant failure and loss, but now I see that I didn’t lose anything. Conversely, I gained a greater understanding of my identity, including an awareness of how and when I think, feel and act from a place of love versus a place of fear.  

On my most emotionally mature days, I view relationships as the stage upon which my life unfolds. Objectively, they are the primary domain for my growth and evolution to the extent that I can bear witness to them instead of remaining stuck in my character’s drama. Furthermore, I am learning that I cannot conflate longevity in relationships with success. The present and past is a matter of semantics – time is just another construct through which we relate to our experiences. Although I had to process through an extended period of emotional turmoil when this man became an ex, I see clearly now that a relationship that has changed form is not broken, nor is it final. It is part of the infinite play in which my soul has a starring role. Relationships are the creative force that breathe life into this mortal domain. My heart is happy as I recognize that all of my exes were of my own construction—my ex-pression—in service of revealing and exonerating my spirit. And I dare say, that is ex-traordinary. 

lightning strikes

Amidst the initial lockdown of the pandemic last spring, I spent many evenings perched on my balcony admiring a typical South Florida lightning storm, waiting intently to take the perfect, National Geographic-worthy photo. As soon as I heard a rumble of thunder or detected a flashing light outside my window, I hastily grabbed my phone and told myself I would just give it a few minutes, denying that I had any real vested interest in the outcome. Before long, an hour or two had passed and I had taken upwards of one hundred, mostly unremarkable photos. I even joked with a friend that it was the one instance I recalled exercising any patience in my life. There was something so serene about the scene that it forced me to be truly present in the moment. Tranquility aside, my post-photo shoot evaluation invariably forced me to reckon with the fact that this was a self-imposed game of perfection. I had indeed aspired to capture something extraordinary and when I didn’t score the prize, I was undeniably disappointed. 

Upon reflection, this dynamic is an apt metaphor for my present life. As the pandemic fatigue intensifies and the days start to blur together like a recurrent dream, I feel like I am waiting to seize a flash of lightning. In scientific terms, lightning helps the ground and the atmosphere exchange and balance positive and negative energy. In a similar fashion, I am seeking an energetic discharge from this period of stagnation as I begin to grow restless in anticipation of some dramatic climax. I am waiting for someone or something to propel me out of my monotony and direct me on a new path. One of my friends described it perfectly: lately life is like the instructions on the shampoo bottle, “wash, rinse, and repeat.” I acknowledge my privilege in that I am not preoccupied by health and survival concerns, and I also know that I am not alone in my feelings. While my routine can even feel comforting at times, there is a deep inner yearning for a blaze of inspiration and purpose to shake me out of my stupor.  

On one hand, I honor the individual path that is finding one’s purpose. For a lucky few, clarity comes at a young age. Yet for most of us, it’s a lifelong journey. In all of my rushing to accomplish my definition of success over the last few decades, I can at least acknowledge intellectually that faster is not necessarily better or more fulfilling. There is a beauty in slowing down to savor the moment –like waiting for the flawless shot. I am learning to allow the manifestation of my dreams to synchronize with the right time and place. Conversely, I also realize that I cannot sit and wait for my purpose or life calling to fall out of the sky and knock me upside the head. Eventually, I have to take action, even at the risk of lost time and energy. I was recently reminded of this lesson as I spoke with a friend whom I admire for his passion and seemingly unbridled pursuit of professional gratification. He reinforced that the process entails following different avenues of curiosity without attaching to any one destination. There are no dead ends, only the revelation of new pathways to the extent that we dare to walk a little deeper into the dark forest of the unknown. 

With that perspective in mind, when I recall my quest for the perfect photo, I would be remiss not to recognize the highlight of the season. I was spending the weekend with a friend a few hours from home and our plans to go out for dinner were by all intents and purposes “ruined” by a massive thunderstorm. We resigned ourselves to stay indoors and order takeout when suddenly, after the heavy rain passed, my friend spotted a rainbow out the back window of the house. It was just before dusk and the sky had a muted glow. When we walked out back, our excitement stirred at the sight of a double full rainbow. Immediately, we forgot about our foiled evening plans and simply marveled at the unexpected beauty overhead. I raised my phone to take a picture and, in that moment, lightning struck. If it were not for the “live” photo effect on my phone, I would not believe that it was real. I shrieked with excitement as I captured the most extraordinary bolt of light piercing through the colorful arc.*

As usual, nature leaves clues of a multifaceted explanation for life’s mysteries. Discovering our respective purpose is a journey that indeed involves action. We cannot expect a momentous shift to come from loitering without any effort, or even shooting aimlessly in the dark. Part of that effort does require venturing into the quietude and trusting the inner flame of desire. But it also demands that we go exploring outside; that we get curious, iterate, and be willing to start over without attachment to a particular outcome. Meanwhile, defining or uncovering purpose is so much more enjoyable when we allow ourselves the grace and space for its unfolding; once the right amount of atmospheric pressure builds and we are ready to receive it as a gift, not a prize to be won. Just like my perfect summer photo, my calling will likely materialize when I stop expecting it and enjoy the view today. The divine intelligence of the Universe is unlimited and deserving of reverence – so for now, I choose to appreciate the calm while it lasts until the storm moves in and graces me with its energetic force of awakening.

*Photo posted under “eye candy”

unmasking the love

Throughout my adolescence, I collected masks that covered an entire wall of my bedroom. I do not recall exactly what incited my attraction at the time—perhaps it was their mystique. I just remember the feeling of delight when I occasionally discovered one of those unique ornaments hanging alluringly on the wall of a nondescript store. Today, my visceral response to the mere mention of the word “mask” is one of suffocation in the context of our present-day intimacy with face coverings. The ubiquitous conversation, or debate rather, around the topic of masks in our contemporary dialogue not only jogged the memory of my juvenile fascination, but also drew my attention to their wide-ranging significance.

The origin and function of masks is wildly diverse: they have been associated with everything from warfare to disease prevention to ceremony. One of their most symbolic historical applications in my opinion, was to allow one to become anonymous – with the freedom to be and do as desired. The Venetian masks in particular were frequently worn to allow the rich to mingle with the poor or a bored housewife to enjoy a fling with a mysterious lover. While this may seem like an unusual custom, I would contend that it is not so different from our contemporary realities. Today, we are no stranger to masks; not just because they have been accepted as one of the principal remedies to curb the rampant spread of a virus, but because the majority of us spend our days donning masks of a figurative nature. 

Every day when we prepare to confront the world, not only do we choose our clothing as an expression of how we want society to perceive us, but we also select our emotional and characteristic masks of sorts. Typically, this choice is more subconscious than it is conscious; we are conditioned to define our ego identities based upon familial and cultural norms and expectations. Once we are old enough to speak, we begin to gradually abandon our inherent essence in order to feel a sense of belonging. So often that sensation is artificial, however, because the person who strives to belong on the outside rarely belongs to himself. This has never felt truer for me than it has over the last ten months. Now that I am spending 90% of my life at home with only my neck and head visible to others, I neglect an impressive closet full of clothes and consistently wear a rotation of the same five pairs of sweatpants. The lack of a physical barrier between home and work has also emphasized the drastic difference between how I show up in a professional setting versus a personal one. In a mere click from one video call to the next, I can instantly transform my identity. Although I know this is normal adaptive human behavior, this year’s massive life upheaval has given me an opportunity to observe how much of the person that I present to the world is theater. Author Sue Monk Kidd describes this phenomenon beautifully in her book, When the Heart Waits. She writes, “Throughout our lives we create patterns of living that obscure [our] identity. We heap on the darkness, constructing a variety of false selves. We become adept at playing games, wearing masks as if life were a masquerade party. This can go on for a long while. But eventually the music of the True Self seeks us out.”

I wonder, then, how do I begin the journey back home, to belonging to my true Self with a capital “S”? Sue Monk Kidd says “that’s the sacred intent of life—to move us continuously toward…recovering all that is lost and orphaned within us and restoring the divine image imprinted on our soul.” I certainly know when I am on the opposite path; I assume my mask of perfectionism and lead with my professional accomplishments, or even more superficially, my fashion-forward accessories (the same collection that rarely sees the light of day anymore). Yet that fleeting hit of dopamine I feel when I am recognized or sense acceptance as a result of these material effects quickly fades once I am alone with my thoughts. Intellectually, I know that belonging to myself is fundamentally believing in my own worthiness in the absence of everything that is outside of me. It is the stripping away of layers upon layers of masks that I have accumulated since before I ever hung that first one on my bedroom wall as a kid. The illusion is that those metaphorical masks offer protection from the inherent dangers of engaging with society, which assumes that not only are we separate from everyone and everything else, but that we must reinforce that separateness with additional armor.

I believe the quest, should we choose to embark upon it, is to move beyond the subtle awareness of the existence of a true Self and into the wisdom that derives from regularly exposing her to the world. Thereby we must recognize that instead of defending our personal value through separation, we are actually a reflection of everyone and everything in unity with our surroundings. This requires engaging intimately with that colleague and even the stranger on the street with compassion and empathy, remembering that his challenges and insecurities are just like our own. It also calls for our own forgiveness for everything that we think we are not, for we are already whole. I am not neglecting life’s human challenges, which include real dangers, fears and suffering (and yes, sometimes even a need to wear physical masks). Instead, I am proposing that we integrate those experiences as we embrace the mystery of the unknown future and release the fear of judgement along the way. We must trust the beautiful dance between our embodied and our spiritual selves where ultimately, we lean on love, not masks, to protect us. 

mother’s nature

To say that 2020 has been complicated is the understatement of the year. It seems like every day I hear someone say, “I cannot wait for this year to end,” as if the clock will strike midnight on December 31st and suddenly life will return to some sense of normalcy or at minimum, it will markedly improve. Without a doubt, I have encountered my share of challenges this year. Yet if I am honest, 2019 didn’t win any awards either. In fact, the overall quality of my life throughout the last nine months has actually upgraded in terms of flexibility and space to recognize my authentic priorities. This year has also emphasized various lessons for me, not the least of which is to respect the laws of time and nature. 

Last weekend was (literally) a perfect storm of events that reinforced this perspective. As a rare November hurricane named Eta advanced towards South Florida and I watched the news showing at least 10 different spaghetti models for its potential path, I was mildly aggravated as its wet and windy effects coincided with a visit from my mom. Noting the irony of the name, I caught myself wishing I could have the ETA (or Estimated Time of Arrival) and exact location of the storm’s impact. Paradox aside, I know that having certainty of the storm’s path would not actually have given me control over the outcome, but my ego likes to pretend otherwise. I was lamenting the unfortunate weather for my mom’s short stay and how it would disturb our plans and her travel home, until I realized the aptness of the metaphor. Attempting to resist or negotiate with nature is undeniably futile.

As the wind and the rain intensified outside, it set the stage for the extraordinary gift of presence with my mother as she recounted experiences from her life as a young adult into the present day. I lay curled up on the couch listening intently as she spoke and it brought into stark focus what I admire most about her: like nature, she lives in integrity with her essence. She generally does not allow the “should’s”—the usual suspects behind my own anxious thoughts—to infect her vocabulary or her power of decision, especially in her relationships. She is like a kite that flies according to the wind of her soul. Yet remarkably, she is the also the one holding the other end of the string, grounded at her core with the spirit of a child at play. As she related her stories, it was evident that at times her string was shorter and more restricted; however, she ultimately heeded her intuition when it was time to release the slack that she required to survive and thrive.

In speaking about relationships in particular, like a flash of lightning, I was struck by a meaningful realization. To grieve the possibility of what could be or could have been is to neglect the gift of the present. Although I have not personally been among those counting the minutes until 2021, I have spent more than enough time mourning past circumstances that I have no power to change (just like the weather). My revelation in speaking to my mother is that those seemingly innocuous could’s andshould’s are draining me of my joy today. I have been attached to a past condition and projecting it onto my future as if I might somehow preserve it forever. Perhaps I am no different from the masses – wishing that I could either revert back or fast forward to a “better” time and space. The reality is that our forever afters are not a single, fixed destination. They are fluid like the wind. Some days are calm and light, and others are aggressive and strong enough to destroy entire cities. Nature does not try to maintain itself in one form or another – it just is. So why should we be any different?

Ultimately, I have nothing but gratitude for the profound lessons that this year has offered. Notably, nature’s essence is ephemeral (global pandemic included) and it ebbs and flows in cycles. Nothing is ever static. No two clouds or snowflakes are alike for a reason, just as no two days, weeks or years are ever the same – thankfully. Every challenging circumstance and relationship shape our eternal regeneration, just like a forest fire cultivates new growth. We are all just a combination of nature’s elements with the additional power of consciousness to observe and decide to continue forward or change the track we are traversing. To truly harness that power is to transcend the attachment to the past or future that never was; instead, it is a recognition and respect for our lack of control in the first place. I tip my proverbial hat to the divine forces that gently help me forge the path, and very often re-direct it when I am clinging adamantly to a particular narrative of what “should” be. To quote an unknown author’s poignant suggestion, “let go of the illusion that it could have been any different.”

treasure

Once upon a time, I fell in love. But, alas, the promise of the happily ever after was never realized. I’ve been grieving that perceived loss for longer than I care to admit, and sometimes even shaming myself for it because my inner glutton for punishment enjoys judging a negative feeling. That period of grief has been punctuated by moments of anger that felt justified because I thought this man made me fall in love with him and believe in the possibility of a beautiful future together. After one of my recent, intermittent “woe is me” spells, I was reading a chapter in Glennon Doyle’s book, Untamed, and she shared a piece of wisdom that resonated so profoundly it brought me to tears. She says that anger delivers important information about which one of our boundaries have been crossed, and when we restore the boundary, we honor and liberate ourselves to live with integrity, peace, and power. I would offer that any “negative” or provocative emotion is a response to an attachment, resistance, or both. On the heels of my 35th birthday, I don’t have a wish, but rather an intention for this next year of my life and beyond: my beautiful future, and my present for that matter, is not dependent or attached to any one person except for my loving self. 

Doyle describes a boundary as “the edge of one of our root beliefs about ourselves and the world;” and since what we believe we become, there is nothing more important than unearthing what we really believe to be true about ourselves and the circumstances of our life. Her hypothesis is that examining our anger is an effective way to do just that. When I take a hard look at my emotions, I recognize that I have held onto a belief that this novel feeling of love meant that it must have been the right love. Finally, I was convinced that I found the real deal – the one and only. He was my savior because he made me feel safe and protected. I am angry because hindsight shows me that, in fact, I discounted my knowing self and renounced my power in order to capture and hold on for dear life to a feeling. That feeling was one of arrival; I found my partner to whom I bequeathed the authority to validate my lovability. Finally, I was somebody’s treasure and I was more than willing – excited actually – to give it all to him.

In reflecting back over previous relationships, I have masterfully guarded my heart inside of a protected treasure chest and I never allowed anyone to completely unlock it. Maybe all those Disney movies that idealize love ingrained some deep-seeded belief that Prince Charming was going to gallop up to the towering wall of my castle and free me. At last, my Prince did come, and I not only lowered the drawbridge, but I gave him the key to my treasure. I let down my hair and stretched out my hand so he could hoist me onto his horse and carry me away into the beautiful sunset of our future. I shed my armored warrior facade to reveal the delicate Princess yearning for salvation. I allowed him to open my chest, and I willingly gave him a piece of my treasure until it was clear that the real wealth was to be pursued elsewhere.  

As I reach the final chapter of this story and look towards the sequel, I am being called to make a decision: what do I want to believe now? Further examination shows me that my subconscious construct has been that love is finite; there is only so much of it and only so much time to experience it. My sense of betrayal exposed an assumption that any man could steal both my love and my time. My empowered self tells me that it’s time to change the narrative from someday my Prince will come and give me love to whichever Prince comes next better have a horse fast enough to keep stride with me. Perhaps we will define a new destination together. And if not, I really like the space of love where I am heading, despite the arduousness of the journey. I am observing the blessed abundance in my life and what I have created, and no one can rob that from me. The gift of that relationship was not the package inside of the box, it was the process of opening it. My treasure was finally exposed and now I must decide if I am willing to keep it out in the open at risk of being pillaged by some hypothetical pirate. Truthfully, I am scared. But it is so much more fun to play with my proverbial fortune than keep it locked away. Perhaps my Prince Charming is out there on his own treasure hunt as we speak. In the meantime, I am going to bask in the glory of knowing that I am my ultimate source of wealth. 

house of mirrors

Lately I notice mirrors everywhere; not actual mirrors, but messages, metaphors and people reflecting an image of myself that I expertly avoid or manipulate to fit my perfect narrative. I dare say that image is not one of the impeccably coifed, collected and accomplished woman that I strive to be. In contrast, I see a flawed human being who has been impatiently constructing a model resume replete with the right education, the successful job, the unblemished aesthetic, and even awaiting an ideal love. In writing this, I am reminded of the classic story of Snow White, where the Evil Queen obsessively asks a menacing-looking head suspended in a magic mirror, “who is the fairest of them all”? As a child, this appeared to be a simple story of good versus evil; yet, age and maturity allow me to discern and even relate to the nuanced symbolism. The mirror served as a tool to perpetuate the Queen’s ego and evade a universal truth: there is always someone fairer. 

My mirrors are bringing into stark focus a notion that not only is there always someone that seems to have more or be more, but also that as humans, without exception, we are all inherently binary and vulnerable individuals just doing the best that we can on any given day. Ostensibly, mirrors reflect an image of reality; but in fact, they can only portray the beholder’s subjective viewpoint. And what is reality if not a mere projection of our brains’ clever inner workings? Albeit challenging in that it requires taking responsibility for the experience and results of our lives, we must acknowledge that reality is one of our own choosing. Speaking for myself, instead of facing, accepting and integrating the good, the bad and the ugly as part of the divine design, I distort or deny the unpleasant images. I strap on my metaphorical hard hat and build invisible walls to separate myself from the discomfort or perceived imperfections. Poignantly, the Universe continues to slap me in the face with the real truth. As speaker and author Byron Katie so wisely observes, “everyone is a mirror image of yourself—your own thinking coming back at you.” Every interaction and every person that enters our lives is a reflection of a particular quality or characteristic that we ourselves possess, if we choose to see it. After all, we can only recognize what we know.

As I’ve been masterfully sidestepping anything and anyone that embodies this less than perfect ideal, I am beginning to realize that I am not just missing the fun of the journey, but I am actively setting the bar so high that I am destined to stand alone on my pedestal. I might have a great view from the top, but it sure is lonely up there by myself. In a climactic scene between the Merlin and Arthur toward the end of Deepak Chopra’s The Return of Merlin, the wizard shares the secret of his power with the young king: “Have you considered what this world really is?…Wherever I look I see reflections of myself. Look into the mirror of the world and you will see only yourself.” If I can look acutely at the world’s beauty and ugliness and see myself in all of it, then there is nowhere to run and nothing to achieve that is any more perfect than what already is. 

When I really look at myself in the mirror – not in a fleeting appraisal of my appearance, but rather with an open curiosity and depth – I am faced with my real truth: that I am the good and I am the malevolent, I am Snow White and the Evil Queen. I am perfectly imperfect and just like everyone else on this planet, I long for love, connection and meaning while committing countless fantastic mistakes that will never be showcased on a resume. In this house of mirrors that we call life, the reflections are not always beautiful and very often they are frightening. But we cannot let our eyes or our egos deceive us. I suppose I am the fairest one after all, not because of my list of impeccable attributes or accomplishments, but because I am a reflection of pure love – if I choose to see it.   

twinkle, twinkle

One of the most fear-inducing conditions for me is a sense of being lost. As a young child, I remember being separated from my mother in a shopping mall and the sweeping panic that overtook my body. To this day, I can still feel the rush of adrenaline and the terrified narrator in my head telling me that my survival was at risk. Now, here I am thirty years later, and although that lost feeling is a bit less dramatic and visceral, I find it strangely familiar. To my knowledge, we all experience periods of time in our lives when we feel like we are on shaky ground; we are not quite sure where we are headed and it is an accomplishment to simply endure each day. What is it about that lack of clarity that is so disconcerting, and how do we recognize when we are truly “found”, or at least on the right path? 

The first time I recall facing the lack of a clear direction was upon graduating college. Up until that moment, there was always an expected and obvious subsequent move or goal to meet: passing exams, moving onto the next grade, until finally it was time to choose a profession. Naturally, in absence of any real certainty of my intended career path, I chose one that felt socially acceptable and equipped to provide me with ensuing options: consulting.  Nonetheless, looking back, I was more lost than ever in that position. I was working an unsustainable number of hours each week and encumbering myself with an unhealthy level of stress just to prove that I was on the correct and most direct road to professional success. 

Fast forward another fourteen years, and to some degree, I still feel as if I am at a juncture. As wise men often say, timing is everything. As if by divine intervention, I recently picked up Paulo Coelho’s famous book off my bookshelf, The Alchemist, to re-read for the first time in a decade. The entire premise of the story is the fulfillment of one’s “Personal Legend” or purpose. The central message is that the Universe achieves harmony if all, natural things continuously undergo a cycle of pursuing new goals and evolving into a higher being, in the process of achieving their Personal Legend. The notion being that the individualistic pursuit of a Personal Legend exists as life’s dominant spiritual demand. What stands out for me is how the protagonist, a boy named Santiago, is tested in his faith as he is lost in the desert in search of his treasure. He knows he has a goal for his life (represented by a dream of a relatively ambiguous treasure), but he also has to learn to be comfortable in not knowing how and when he will find it – and the possibility that he will die trying. Symbolically, Santiago didn’t use a map, just the North Star, which served as his compass. He was guided by a single star in a direction that he trusted was the right one based upon listening to the signs that were constantly reinforcing his path forward.

On my own journey through the darkness that has me questioning whether I am moving in the direction of fulfillment, I am learning two important lessons. One is summarized best in a line by the author Sue Monk Kidd: “To know exactly where you’re headed may be the best way to go astray. Not all who loiter are lost.” The boy in The Alchemist technically “loitered” for years. Setback after setback, his option was either to return to where he came from, or to stay put and re-define himself. Only much later is it obvious that all the times he idled in place feeling lost were really the periods when he learned and evolved the most, appropriately preparing him for his next act. 

The other message, or reminder, for me is one of trust. We are constantly guided by a North Star (literally or figuratively) that ultimately leads to an oasis. Even on cloudy nights when it is impossible to see, it remains; the shining twinkle is just waiting for the perfect timing to reveal itself again. First published in 1806, the popular English lullaby, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, encapsulates the message beautifully. If only as children we had learned and integrated more than the first stanza…

Twinkle, twinkle, little star, How I wonder what you are!

Up above the world so high,  Like a diamond in the sky.

When the blazing sun is gone,  When he nothing shines upon,

Then you show your little light, Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.

Then the trav’ller in the dark, 
Thanks you for your tiny spark,

He could not see which way to go,  If you did not twinkle so.

In the dark blue sky you keep,  And often thro’ my curtains peep,

For you never shut your eye, Till the sun is in the sky.

‘Tis your bright and tiny spark, 
Lights the trav’ller in the dark,

Tho’ I know not what you are, Twinkle, twinkle, little star.

enough is enough

Enough. It seems like such a benign, commonplace word on its face. It can simply mean sufficient; as much as required.  On a basic level, “enough” is also an expression of the impatient desire for the end of undesirable circumstances – most definitely a common sentiment these days. I cannot count the number of times I’ve felt like I’ve had enough of the challenging external events that have occurred over the last few years, and particularly the last few months. But the depth and breadth of the word is really exposed when I dare to look at my internal world. The pervasive fear of “am I enough?” surfaces; it is a sentiment that speaks to our fundamental value as human beings. Notwithstanding the cliché, we are living in an unprecedented time of unsettledness, and the nuanced definition and application of this unassuming word seems worthy of exploration.

Regardless of our job titles (or lack thereof), socioeconomic status, age, gender or ethnicity, it is evident that collectively, we are all suffering from some degree of fear of insufficiency. The hoarding of basic items ranging from toilet paper to chicken has become commonplace. I am ashamed to admit it, but the last time I went to a grocery store, I found myself waiting anxiously amid a group of people at 7:30am for the doors to open. When they did, I eagerly pushed my cart inside, competing with a legion of glove and mask-bearing customers. Adrenaline surged through my body as my primordial brain convinced me that I might miss out on securing the last of my basic necessities. Would Publix have enough of my favorite yogurt? Maybe. Did my survival depend on it? No. But it sure felt that way. 

If I zoom out and look at my life from a metaphorical balcony, I can’t help but feel just as frightened. Besides the threat of fulfilling my most basic needs for survival, the top of my Maslow pyramid is also crumbling; it is marked by the anxiety that I am being robbed of time, interaction, and opportunities to achieve. There won’t be enough resources to accomplish my dreams and consequently attain fulfillment and self-actualization because I am losing out on today and every day for the foreseeable future. However paradoxically, these circumstances just might be exposing a hidden gift. While I cannot find as much numbing comfort in the purchasing of things because they are either out of stock or I cannot justify spending the money (or both), I am compelled to look inside and rely upon myself – my internal state – in order to uncover a sense of sufficiency. Minor inconveniences aside, most of us currently have and will continue to have enough to survive. But how can we genuinely unearth our innate resourcefulness and believe that we alone are enough? 

I’ve been reading Dr. Brené Brown’s work for years and recently a friend turned me onto her new podcast, “Unlocking Us.” It reminded me of the researcher and author’s famous thesis: a pervasive sense of shame makes many of us feel unworthy of true human connection. The shame is derived from our perfectionistic culture, in which most of us believe we’re “not good enough…not thin enough, rich enough, beautiful enough, smart enough, promoted enough” to be worthy of love. As a result, we build up an armor and resist vulnerability because letting others see us as we really are might mean rejection and pain. I believe that now more than ever, we are being stripped of that armor. We are isolated, forced to really see ourselves and forgo all those things we used to be able to do and buy to fill the void. The call to action here is to get to know ourselves more intimately than ever, realize that we are now and will always be enough, and as such we can truly connect with each other no matter the extent of our physical social distancing. If this time – for all of its hardship and pain – isn’t unlocking a serious superpower in all of us, then I don’t know what else can. 

As I experience anxiety, frustration, and exhaustion throughout the indefinite duration of this pandemic fallout and ultimate recovery, I just want to scream ENOUGH! I know I am not alone in yearning for the return of my “normal”, and as much as I want to take the higher consciousness perspective and ascertain that I am not a victim, for goodness sakes, I’ve had enough. But when my resistance grows tired and my inner tantrum quiets, I get a glimpse of something beautiful. At any given moment, I am provided with everything I need because I am everything I need. That does not take away from the fundamental human necessity for connecting with others, it enables it. We must first remove our proverbial armor and get connected to our own true essence. To quote Brené Brown, “believing that you are enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic”; even if sometimes that means admitting to myself and to the world that I am authentically sad and afraid. 

somewhere…there’s always a rainbow

We are living through trying and even surreal times. As I write this, I am managing a flurry of emotions along with the rest of humanity amid the unfolding of a global breakdown. On its face, that breakdown is a rapidly spreading virus that has reached pandemic proportions. But dig a little deeper and the crisis is also one of shifting paradigms. As the author and spiritual leader Kute Blackson eloquently said in a recent video, we are being forced to stop and slow down, really connect, and undergo a process of authentication. What is real in our lives when we are stripped of all the business and noise? What is left when we are alone and still?  More optimistically, like a rainbow following a dark storm, what is seeking to emerge?

A few weeks ago, when I started writing this blog and before our lives were turned upside down, I felt inspired to explore the symbolism of rainbows. Although I started a draft, it remained unpublished because it was not connected to anything meaningful for me. Suddenly today, this theme makes sense on so many levels. Rainbows are one of those phenomena that are just rare enough – bright, elusive, and heavenly – that they make almost everyone stop and marvel. In part, I believe it has to do with the conditions upon which rainbows appear. You can be stuck in a rainstorm with the darkest of skies, and suddenly it ends and this beacon of light in a perfect arc materializes. Science tells us that rainbows are created when white light from the sun passes through the raindrops and the different colors change to a speed proportional to their characteristic wavelength. After scattering inside the rain droplet, the light reflects until it exits the droplet and a rainbow is created. Mythology, of course, tells a more vibrant story.

Whether as bridge, messenger, archer’s bow, or serpent, all different cultures have symbolized the rainbow for millennia and it plays a magical, otherworldly part in most ancient and modern belief systems around the world. The rainbow myth is far-reaching and even considered to be representative of human hopes and fears. One such story according to Genesis, is that after Noah saved the animals from the Great Flood, a rainbow appeared. The flood had killed all other living beings, and the rainbow came to indicate God’s promise that he would never send another flood to destroy the earth. The rainbow epitomized hope, faith, and survival.

With a bit more levity, the Irish legend tells the story of Leprechauns that bury pots of gold at the end of the rainbow.  But since a rainbow can only be seen at a distance, the gold is forever illusive. This might actually be a deliberate part of the myth, suggesting that the pot of gold is an unattainable goal and something that can never be found.

The hope for survival or the futile quest for the pot of gold might actually be one in the same. What is the promise the rainbow brings? Mythology aside, it is an interesting metaphor for the destination trap, or the belief that suddenly we are going to “arrive” at the ideal that we have defined in our personal or collective stories. The universe’s joke is that we will continue searching as long as we forget to look at the forest through the trees. Rainbows remind us to behold the miracle of life from a distance, recognizing that we are the observers. Our own eyes and brain work in tandem to perceive all the colors, the darkness and the light, and we get to choose to appreciate the present moment – even amid a crisis. Ironically, a rainbow reveals the spectrum of light that always exists, we just cannot detect it until the speed slows.

In these stormy times, it is so easy to hope and search desperately for the solution, or the proverbial pot of gold. Interestingly, from where we sit today, that hope is just a return to normalcy. We want our ordinary routines, our small conveniences – which we usually neglect to appreciate – back to being how they were. I would offer that in this uncertainty, fear, and heightened emotional state, we can choose to stop and see the rainbow anytime. It is always there; we just don’t see it. And life is forcing us to stop anyway, right?  What can we do to remember our place in this wide world of endless possibilities? How can we use this time to expand our consciousness and bring ourselves into alignment with what is truly important? Now is the time to ease our resistance to the storm – go play in the rain with loved ones and marvel at the mystical that is always surrounding us. And when the storm subsides, definitely don’t go inside, back to your daily grind, without looking out for the rainbow.

the completion condition

“Once upon a time…and they lived happily ever after” are arguably the most well-known first and last lines of any fairy tale. If only the creator of such fantasies realized the set of expectations that those simple words would ignite in the minds of millions of young, impressionable children for decades to come. An ending to any story implying that everything is tied up into a nice little bow is unquestionably satisfying. But why? As humans we share a culture of distinguishing endings – generally with celebration, unless it’s a funeral – and in my observation, it demonstrates a need for closing chapters before truly feeling prepared to start new ones. It’s as if the acknowledgement of completion gives us both permission and the endurance to begin something else. In the case of the fairy tale, it signifies the onset of the rest of the couple’s lives (which is of course, nothing but perfect). When we step outside of that ideal, however, a sign or an act of completion is a dualistic notion worth questioning.

The word “completion” has two connotations. First, it means that something is finished. There is a measurable result and no further action to take. The other significance is one of wholeness or being filled up. Doesn’t everyone want to look into their partner’s eyes and say with conviction, “you complete me”? Maybe that’s a bit extreme, but to some degree or another, we often yearn to be filled by someone or something outside of ourselves. Maybe it’s a person, or perhaps it’s a job or material items like a car, house or jewelry. Speaking from personal experience, we may even seek fulfillment from traveling the world, with its ascribed romantic allure of foreign people and places. The duality in the meaning of the word “complete” makes it easy to confuse wholeness with a final destination. If I only achieve X (fill in the blank here), then I will feel complete inside….but the real Cinderella is surely shaking her discerning head.

This week I finished a yearlong program to become a professional coach, and we marked the end of each class and finally our last, weekly group call with a closing remark followed by the statement “I am complete.” It was a ritual of sorts, and it felt so satisfying to really mark the end of each segment of the journey. What I noticed is that it allowed for reflection of what we learned, recognition of what we accomplished, and a renewal of energy for the next phase or chapter. It felt important to tie up that bow, even knowing there was more road to traverse ahead. And that’s the paradox: there is always more road ahead. The natural order of life is cyclical; there is never really an ending. In the grand scheme of the world, it’s just a continual forward movement and evolution. But perhaps our human limitation is that we can’t always grasp what’s beyond our ability to see, touch and feel: the infinite. Thus, we create tangible endings, not because something has really come to an end, but so that we can feel complete or whole. One meaning begets the other. The act of ending is a condition of feeling complete. There is a satisfaction in the finality because it means that there’s no uncertainty or obscurity. We are in the driver’s seat controlling the pedals of the car that is our life.

I recently found myself yearning for a sign of completion in an area of my life that I perceived to be floating in the space of the unknown. I desperately wished for a marked ending of a relationship, just to escape the ambiguity that I was feeling. I believed that it would give me the closure that I thought I needed to re-open myself. The Universe, true to form, divinely intervened. I listened to a message about cultivating personal power, and it reminded me that my power comes from my ability to decide what I think. I realized that I can choose to think that I create my new beginnings, not my circumstances or anyone outside of me. I can also choose to think that I am complete and whole, no matter what. I do not need a signal of closure to give me permission to open. I do not need an end to begin again. All I need is me and the consciousness that I am on an infinte road of possibilities. And with that, I am complete.