SOAR with JewelsHeart - Stillness - Openness - Acceptance - Release/Receive SOAR
As a busy, work-at-home-mom, married to an on-the-road NFL Scout, my lifestyle may seem unconventional to many, but it works for me. I'm blessed to be raising four amazing boys (Tommy 24; Gregory 21; Matthew 16 & Bandit; my 4-legged 8-yr old side-kick).
PLAYING OUT MY ROLE.
Wearing many colorful hats -- wife, mother, daughter; middle & only sister, sandwiched between two incredible brothers; sister-in-law; daughter-in-law; aunt; Godmother; teacher/counselor/friend; and most importantly, fellow human recognizing that we're all the same -- passionately curious; imaginative, perfectly-imperfect beings – all just trying on different hats -- attempting to play out our roles the best we can.
SHAKE UP TO WAKE UP.
But . . . sometimes we just need a little gentle reminding of who we really are – for some of us, like myself, a full-blown shake-up into awakening is necessary.
I've never been afraid of work. My parents taught me at an early age that no job is beneath me. We grew up in a hard-working Italian home brimming with family, food, love, and affection. While my dad was outside the home earning money, my mom was home teaching me how to be a "good person" and "good mom" and to say "yes." Her acts of "selflessness" told me to put other people's feelings first, for that's what a "good" Italian woman does. Anything else would be "selfish," self-centered. Guilt followed me, especially if I wanted to do things for myself. In learning how to serve others I never truly learned how to assert my own priorities or how to communicate what I was really feeling.
So I ran. Deep down I may have been running away from myself. Maybe I was serving others not to face myself, maybe I was doing things for others to gain approval. But when I was running, I didn't have to serve anybody or concern myself with anyone's approval.
Attachment to this role I adopted had me exhausted as I found myself running around "doing good" and helping others. I was incapable of saying no to people and with each mindless yes, I eventually became more and more depleted, with little to nothing left to serve.
My doing was at the expense of myself; I was running out of gas. The more exhausted I became, the raspier my voice grew. People complimented me on my deep rasp but had no idea the toll this seemingly sexy voice was taking. What looked appealing on the surface was literally making me sick. Vocal polyps took my voice and left me searching for nourishment. I was desperately in need of replenishment.
To avoid throat surgery, I was put on a regiment of vocal therapy, including voice & breathing lessons as well as vocal rest. To meet these demands, I scaled back, working less hours outside the home, spending more time home -- as a full-time "home mom-a-ger" -- I quickly realized why many women prefer working outside the home -- It's literally a "walk in the park" compared to actually taking three kids to the park!
Working outside the home or not, moms work, doing one of the toughest and most important jobs. Duty calls 24/7, without pay or time off. Moms must be flexible, competent in many areas, patient, organized, able to multi-task and most of all, be able to laugh. There's no textbooks, no multiple-choice tests, and no instructional manual that comes with the job. Theory does no good when your kid is projectile vomiting directly in your face, so pretty much, it's hands on, learn-as-you-go.
My educational and professional life have been as unconventional as my marriage. I literally typed my way into an Ivy League University --all the way through to graduate school and beyond. My work ethic earned me business awards, recognition, scholarship money, athletic medals, good-paying jobs, promotions, and sickness!
As a working-student-athlete, I was always in a state of limbo: I wasn't a full-fledged student who could lounge on the green tossing frisbees. I identified more as a University employee who had to work, act right, and play the part responsibly. I often felt alone, without support, especially from the women.
The office atmosphere was challenging, filled with frustrated women who were angry -- feeling stuck in their chosen positions -- definitely not overly receptive to a young girl simply using the position as a means to getting her degree.
Meanwhile the classroom setting wasn't any easier -- cut-throat, sterile, and competitive -- logic and ego running rampant, with fear keeping everyone competing, trying to maneuver and get an edge.
NEEDING FRESH AIR.
Simona Hill was a breath of fresh air. My strong African American Professor (Sociology of The Family) got me excited about learning and my abilities as a student. She opened my eyes and helped me look at myself. Her passion and style fired me up and captured my attention. Her plump frame, stunningly adorned in colorful African garb, was beautifully infectious. She exuded confidence and grace. Her unique manner made an immediate impression but it was her message that was most lasting. "Women can't have it all." They want careers and want to be mothers, but they can't do it all." Hmmmmm.
As a young hard-working woman, I was doing it all: working full time, taking classes before, during, and after work, running --working out like an animal, studying whenever and wherever I could, typing papers for everybody who asked while never missing out on having a good time. Burning the candle at both ends was how I rolled until . . .something would take me down.
I didn't consider my feelings much. I guess, deep down, I didn't feel like I had a right to feel good. I just did what I thought I "had" to do. Everyone else was stressed and running on empty. I rationalized that this is just the way it is. Meanwhile, my cynicism and frequent sicknesses were signaling that I needed something more.
My English comp professor's words still haunt me, "It's difficult to understand what you're saying, you're cloudy, I don't think you're clear about what you're trying to express." Yes, no shit. When fear has a grip, has you running scared, feeling intimidated, feeling inadequate, and out of place, words don't quite suffice. Words are words, easily misinterpreted, especially when the speaker is uncertain, but one thing's for certain -- the body keeps track of it all.
While I may have been suppressing my feelings in this competitive atmosphere, I still was achieving. I was an extremely conscientious worker, efficient and productive in the office --but with my "peers," in my role as a "student" is where I felt uncertain -- I wasn't sure where I fit.
My mind was always racing. When my teacher's words drifted into the background, my dad's words came to the fore, "You could be a corporate executive's top assistant," "You'd have flexibility, make good money, and still be able to get married and have kids." Thoughts. "Doesn't he believe in me?" "I'm more than that." And when I actually took a semester off from school, choosing to just work, I heard my father, "You're not enrolled this semester?" It wasn't what he said but how he said it -- Just in the shake of his head -- the words weren't even necessary for telling me how disappointed he felt.
MESSAGES! MESSAGES! Everyone's telling me what I need to do to be "successful," "earn those degrees," "work hard," do . . .do . . . do . . ." Here I am, doing it, busting my ass, all stressed out and never stopping to ask myself what I really wanted. I never asked myself WHY?
Full Speed Ahead.
Nervous energy . . . anxiety . . . kept me plowing full speed ahead -- to get on to that next accomplishment: fall semester, intercession, spring session, summer session, job promotion, overtime . . . Rarely did I look up to notice the beautiful scenery flanking the historical cobblestoned Locust Walk.
With no time to fully linger or play, I always felt rushed. Complicating matters was the fact that I was living and maneuvering in a rough part of West Philly. I was always on my toes, on high alert, always ready to run. The frequent sound of gun shots outside my low-rise bedroom window threatened me as much as the words and expectations of others, for I'd replay them for years beyond graduation.
Operating so long in such high gear, always ready to "fight or take flight," took its toll. Ironically, the thugs and violence all around me weren't my greatest fear --Nope, I was actually my own worst enemy.
Living perpetually in fast-forward led me to develop a vicious cycle of work hard/play hard. I went hard for as I could until sickness sidelined me. I could work through seasonal allergies and frequent sinus infections. But chronic stress weakened my immune system allowing me to get whatever came down the pike. Emotional vulnerability had me seduced -- by lots of interesting stuff --heartache suffered at the hands of immature college guys was quickly forgotten in lieu of big league names like TMJ, mumps, chronic mono, Epstein Bar Virus (EBV). Post undergrad I moved on . . . to meet shingles, vocal polyps and fibromyalgia.
Stress was my baseline, my normal. With only weeks left until college graduation, my car got stolen. Ironic? Not really. It all happened while I was half-watching The Abyss with friends. While friends were engaged, enjoying the movie, I was there in body only, my mind had me racing everywhere -- it was even worrying about my car outside. I remember peeking out from between the barred windows, noticing some suspicious dudes pacing about. But I didn't follow my gut. I didn't do anything. Actually, in retrospect, I sensed what was going down but I was too disconnected to really notice. I should not have been surprised when I didn't see my car outside at 3 AM. Nope, it hadn't rolled down the street -- I checked. I was so angry, but more sad and scared. I felt violated -- the criminals only confirmed the signals (the negative vibes) I was sending out to the world.
I felt helpless.
Luckily, in just a few days, the police recovered the body of my car but most everything was gone; lacrosse gear, stereo system, wallet, I.D. and house keys, and my fav box of CD mixes, created specially. The ordeal might have been done but the worry continued . . .
While we may never have caught the car thieves, intensive vocal therapy taught me how to catch my breath. Literally. I was forced to take time out to relearn how to breathe. My breath reminded me to take notice of the little things I so mindlessly took for granted. My breath offered me time out but being sick felt like punishment. Up until now I never really ever had to sit the bench. I always got to "play" in the game. So sitting out was NOT easy. Resting made me feel even more anxious and somewhat depressed. Nursing my injuries made me feel weak, like a failure. I [my ego] kept telling myself that I needed to get back into the game. I didn't want to waste time watching from the sidelines.
WOW! WAS I WRONG!!!
News Flash . . . time out actually works.
Being forced into time out gave me rest -- enough rest to catch my breath but at first I didn't get the message; I kept coming out of time out prematurely -- each time, I'd be forced back to the "bench" with another setback. Eventually, I sat long enough to realize that it was time . . . to make change.
In time, I learned how to call TIME OUT. I learned how to sit my ass down, to recognize when I needed well-deserved rest!
READY TO WORK.
Acknowledging guilt was necessary in order to be ready to do my real work. We all have stresses. Life is full of challenges and problems. No one's trauma is bigger -- problems are relative. My biggest problem was that I only saw problems. My negative thinking created a negative loop or spiral; one that would never go away. I didn't see the light at the end of the tunnel. I'd work compulsively, almost angrily, to achieve any goal and just kept going -- I never stopped to acknowledge or reward myself. While on to achieving the next challenge, I missed out on so many teachable, beautiful present moments.
College versed me in theory, but left me lacking in mindful practice. I was desperately in need of new tools. I needed to learn how to find peace, harmony, and joy. I needed to find balance. I needed to connect my mind with my body. I needed to figure out WHY I was so hard on myself. Who was I?
My Need To Dig.
I've always loved digging on the beach as a kid. I'd work hard to reach water so that I could make tall drip castles with the mud; I'd decorate the castle with shells and seaweed I had collected. Time stood still while I was creating my castle. When my masterpiece was complete, I'd continue digging deep moots all around the perimeter in order to protect it from doom. The fast-approaching high tide motivated me to work faster, to dig deeper -- a desperate attempt to escape inevitable collapse.
Working with the warm sand felt good. Building was empowering and gave me a sense of freedom, of rhythm and flow. Doing something with my hands allowed me to connect in a way that brought me out of my head -- long enough to get lost in creation -- to get in touch with feeling from within. Creating helped me forget myself, to forget little me, to loosen my grip on time -- to let go and allow myself to BE ONE with creation.
Writing is a lot like digging. It gives me time out to create, to breathe, to reflect, to imagine. Thank God for writing. Writing's been cathartic. It has helped me to organize my thoughts and to spit out my stuff so that my brain doesn't explode! I've been keeping a journal for as long as I can remember, and it's served as my outlet; my trusty companion; my psychiatrist.
Lost & Found
Fast forward to marriage and kids -- which is when I lost my voice. At the same time I lost my voice, my husband found a his with a new job out on the West Coast. What perfect timing. My life was about to change forever.
By now I was ready for change. Although I hadn't been acting on my feelings, I had been dreaming about change for a very long time. My wheels were always turning. Deep down I knew what I needed, and the West Coast was the perfect prescription.
I needed to shift physically to sunny California to access inspiration and hope. For the first time since I was a kid, I found myself writing about the things I was grateful for instead of all the things I was telling myself were wrong. As my attitude lifted, so too did my thoughts and eventually, I could consciously choose to see beauty instead of just the ugly.
CRAWL, WALK, RUN, FLY & SOAR . . .
It was in California that I learned how to crawl again -- beginning with my breath - relearning how to breathe. It's there that I truly learned how to walk once again. With two feet firmly planted on the ground, I spent quality time in stillness; smelling my beautiful roses; noticing wispy clouds in the crystal-blue sky above; noticing a fleeting butterfly randomly greeting me; and especially appreciating long nightly walks with my husband -- catching up, sharing philosophies and feelings, reconnecting, and being together.
Eventually my walks led to runs. Literally. I found great healing in the rhythm and solitude of running. Unlike the grueling runs of my competitive high school and college days, these runs were just for me.
My runs gave me the space I needed to feel guilt-free, for allowing myself to reminisce or dream. Running gave me permission to go wherever I wanted, at my own pace. The rhythmic motion of running and the beautiful landscape helped me let go of time urgency, to relax my body, and to clarify my mind.
My mind and body have been running alongside me for a long time, but they seemed to be on the same page. Actually, they never really knew one another. They had agendas of their own; when my mind wanted to get going, my body often resisted. Other times my body needed to rest, but my mind just saw the finish line. This tug of war between mind-body left little room for faith and trust. My energy was so drained that I felt helpless, without choice. I didn't know this at that time. I wasn't ready; I wasn't fully aware.
Ego kept me in the dark. Ego got me to lace up my running shoes despite the brutal temperature. Ego pushed me through that first mile or two, ignoring sore hips and knees with a walkman turned up at a deafening decibel. Selfishly it needed the adrenaline; it thrived on the addictive feelings running gave it. It's my ego that's been screaming all along for "more," drowning out my poor body's pleas for much-needed rest. And left to its own devices, ego had us competing in triathlons. Until -- my body had to call "time out" -- forcing us back into recovery once again.
Recovery was found in a HOT ROOM in San Ramon, California. It was in the Bikram Yoga studio that I found the safe space to begin healing.
I discovered Bikram Yoga back in the nineties and liked the challenge but used it primarily for stretch and recovery after running. When I lived in New Jersey, I would travel a distance to practice at this big-old farm house where brave, dedicated yogis arrived early enough to grab a spot up front and center, next to the piping hot coal stove and humidifiers, right up there in the glaring spotlight of the daunting wall-to-floor mirrors.
Initially, my relationship was love/hate with Bikram Yoga. Like running, I hated getting started. Despite my reluctance, I'd lace up my sneakers or grab my yoga mat and head out to that hot torture chamber, BUT I always felt focused and replenished after I was done.
While running gave me a sense of control - letting me set the pace, distance, and course, Bikram forced me to give up control. While I could run anytime; hot, cold, rainy or snowy, Bikram was different. There were set conditions. There were guidelines to be followed. We'd start and end class with a breathing exercise and would perform the same twenty-six postures in a strictly controlled environment, with specific heat, humidity and dialogued instruction.
You'd think this routine would get boring, right? Wrong! The heat, the mirrors, the same routine was all part of the magic. The conditions were controlled for me so I didn't have to do anything but follow direction. I was supposed to let go of trying to control things, to just be present, to give up control.
Easy. Right? Holy Shit!
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
The West Coast and Bikram Yoga were the perfect combination for healing and self-realization. It was like "beauty and the beast" and the two together brought about amazing transformation.
My newfound breath found calm, focused discipline and direction out West. It was there that I relearned how to use my breath for self control. It was there that I became aware of breath as the bridge for merging my mind with my body. My breath re-introduced my mind to my body and taught them how to negotiate, listen, and respect one another.
The confines of that hot room gave me ninety minutes to insulate myself from the outer world and it's noise so I could tune into the raging battling within. My job was to practice getting out of my own way. I needed to learn how to observe, to just notice. I had to step back and recognize that I was not my thoughts, that my voice inside my head was something I could control, but first I needed to become aware enough to notice it. To complicate matters I had to learn to pay attention to what my body was saying too. Ahhhhh!
It was like being thrown into the boxing ring, unprotected, and told not to engage, but to bob and weave instead. With no way out, I had to learn to concede . . . to take some punches and to learn how to dance. I had to do the best I could and take whatever came my way, without worrying about winning the match.
Running Into Stillness.
I've always been so busy running, but Bikram took my running into stillness. I never realized how noisy, how deafening loud stillness could be. But with practice, I eventually learned to give up and just let it be noisy. I learned how to let go of my mind/ego trying to control things and let my body teach me to relax. I used my breath as my guide and it taught me where I needed to go and how to adjust accordingly. I had to be in the moment and learn how to let it be. Stillness can be so gratifying, so deliciously amazing!
HOUSE OF MIRRORS.
It's funny, actually. Growing up, I lived in a shore house covered in mirrors. We jokingly referred to it as the "fun house" or the "house of mirrors." My dad strategically hung mirrors on every door, front and back, in this little house of ours, in an effort to make it look bigger. As kids, we would position the doors and line up the mirrors in order to make them look like they went on forever. I had to look into lots of mirrors while growing up. I used them to dress up for the world. But interestingly I never actually really looked at myself. I guess I wasn't ready. Ironically, it took looking into the mirror, over 3000 miles away, in a hot yoga room in California, to wake me up and actually get me look at my self in the mirror.
It's in stillness that my journey into self-realization has taken flight. It was Bikram Yoga that brought me into Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) to study the scientific method of meditation. After three years of intensive study, I was initiated into Kriya Yoga. This period was challenging to say the least. With every step forward, there were more steps backwards. With the help of Eckhart Tolle, I gained sufficient awareness to begin the slow process of bringing death to my ego. I had to dive deeper into the darkness, into the depths of the Dark Night of Soul if I truly was to step fully into faith.
It's been 30+ years of disciplined yoga that helped prepare me to bring my practice out into the world. Yoga has taught me to see everyone as my mirror and how to use each moment as an opportunity to check in with myself, to become aware of my reactions and judgements. For everything is my mirror that helps me continue to learn something new, helping me to "grow up."
GRATITUDE TO BECOME A BUTTERFLY.
Only with daily, persistent conscientious practice have I been able to discover newfound appreciation and gratitude, willingness to accept, love, & forgive myself so that I am able to do the same with others. While I have accumulated a plethora of self-help tools for coping and healing, the mirror continues to guide me best.
The beauty and energy of the West Coast provided a ripe atmosphere conducive for change . . . for metamorphosis . . . for becoming that beautiful butterfly that all too often tried to captivate my attention.
MY NEED FOR MORE.
All I had to do was bring all my "stuff" out West, to apply that work ethic of mine, and to become willing to listen. Listening involved more than connecting to my body, but learning how to be still long enough to feel what my heart was trying to express. Continued effort led to greater gaps of effortlessness for surrendering with trust that my soul has a purpose greater than what my limited mind and body could achieve all on their own. In this unfamiliar territory, I was forced to leave the familiar behavior, to risk closing my eyes, and to dig deeply. For the deeper I would dig, I would find a rhythm that felt familiar, a flow that made me feel safe enough so that I could believe once again. With greater self awareness, I began to feel newly empowered, always guided, and excitedly creative . . . Everyday was a day of preparation into the unknown, for feeling ready enough to fly.
And this is what I did --out West -- and this is what I'm continuing to do day after day, living now on the East Coast of my type A days. The West Coast has prepared me to be able to roll with whatever comes my way in the high-stress, competitive East Coast Land of Doing.
TAKING BABY STEPS TO GET GROUNDED.
While I still work diligently . . . every. single. day. . . . Now, work no longer feels like work. I'm not looking for answers. I'm not trying to prove anything to myself or anyone else. I accept all that comes and I take time to rest and to play.
I love exploring my inner landscape -- always searching -- noticing -- trying; but now, I work more patiently, more acceptingly of myself and others, more consciously. With greater awareness, there's a knowing for when it's time to take my time-outs. I've learned how to listen with my gut.
Each step along my journey grounds me for the next one. And I continue living fully . . . enjoying each and every step . . .
SPACE TO BLOG.
Since moving back to the East Coast (2013,) I decided to create this blog -- this space -- to organize my thoughts, to share feelings in hopeful self-discovery. I wanted to create an atmosphere to *SOAR freely - similar to how I felt living in California. . . . this is a space for hopefully sharing good energy, for being open-hearted and honest, and for rediscovering our inner beauty together as we regain our footing for flying freely.
I hope you enjoy the chronicles of my self discovery and that you'll feel safe enough in this space to SOAR and share along with me. Please make some TIME OUT to *SOAR playfully with me in exploring:
*S - Stillness and Space
*O - Open Heartedness & Open Mind
*A - Allowance, Awareness & Acceptance
*R - Releasing all that no longer serves
& Receiving all the good stuff that life has to offer
xo -Jewels from the Heart