Sprung

“Hop on,” the nurse instructed as she pointed to the scale.

I was going in for an annual checkup and hadn’t thought, until that moment, to weigh myself for the past two months.

“Okay, let me just take my shoes off.”

“No need—they don’t really make that much of a difference.”

“Okay…”

Wary, the shoes remained and I stepped onto the dingy metal contraption.

The nurse must’ve seen my panicked, widened-eye look, because she immediately took back her previous statement:

“Don’t worry, clothes and shoes add at least five pounds to your weight.”

If she was going to lie, couldn’t she have made it a little less obvious?

As I sat in the examining room, waiting for the doctor to make his entrance, I recalled all of the things I did to contribute to my not drastic, but significant enough weight gain.

I turned 22: I ate and drank…and drank and drank.

I vacationed in New Orleans: I ate gorged on jambalaya.

I was stressed about my life after graduating from college: I ate more.

I realized I wouldn’t see some of my friends after graduation: I drank more…I swear, I’m not an alcoholic.

My asthma was flaring up: I stopped working out.

Crepe
That’s me eating a crepe that contained peanut butter, bananas, walnuts, Nutella, marshmallows, and bacon. I ate the entire thing.

As I waited, I remembered the first time I was consciously insecure of how I looked. Samantha, who lived across the street from me had invited me and my next-door-neighbor, Molly, to go swimming with her in her pool. Being new to the neighborhood, I jumped at the opportunity to hang out with actual friends who had thought of me and wanted to see me. Thrilled, while rocking a magenta and orange two-piece, I skirted across the street to my swimming pool friend date. Molly was already there and started talking about American Girl Dolls with me, Samantha greeted me with a skeptical look.

“How much do you guys weigh?” her arms folded across her small waist.

I looked down to my stomach and noticed that instead of the slim, tan skin that Samantha had, I had pasty pudge sticking out from the line where my bathing suit met my body. We went around the circle: Molly was 72 pounds, Samantha was 72 pounds, and suddenly it was my turn to reveal my weight:

“74 pounds.” I heard myself squeak.

But I lied/guessed. I actually had no idea what I weighed. Why? Well, because I was nine-years-old…I wasn’t supposed to know or care about my weight. Molly, Samantha, and I jumped in the pool and swam for the rest of the afternoon and when I went home, I immediately ran to my parents bathroom to see how much I actually weighed: 80 pounds. I haven’t worn a two-piece bathing suit since.

From that point on, my insecurities, regarding weight, flourished with each passing year.

I was eleven when I started crossing my legs to make my thighs look smaller when I sat down.

Thirteen when I realized that sucking in my stomach fat made me look thinner.

Fifteen when I discovered wearing baggy t-shirts hid my curves and made my breasts less prominent.

Seventeen when I vowed to never wear a tube-top again after noticing that my strapless prom dress accentuated the small piece of fat between my chest and armpits.

Nineteen when I stepped on the scale and reached my heaviest weight: 164 pounds.

After reaching my heaviest point, I had an epiphany: I wasn’t living (Metaphorically, of course. Scientifically, I was very much alive.) My insecurities were holding me back from not only being confident, but feeling worthy of anything: nice clothes, enjoying a meal, friendship, romance. I wanted to change. Over the course of the following year I lost 17 pounds and believe it or not, I started to gain a bit of self-worth back. I wasn’t in jaw-dropping shape, but for the first time I was healthy.

My weight loss coincided with the start of mainstream media embracing “full-figured women.” It was weird to read the latest news and see headlines about Aerie refusing to airbrush its models, but to know my peers still held a much more traditional standard of beauty.

After hearing about a romantic escapade my Barbie of housemate went on, my friend and I started talking about what type of men are drawn to us versus our housemate.

“I don’t get it. Why are so many people so into her?” I honestly questioned

I was met with a scoff and all-knowing look.

“Oh, Michalyn, you know guys don’t go for girls like us.”

I physically felt my heart drop from my chest into my stomach as I sat there watching and listening to her explain to me the type of girl guys “go for:” blonde, blue-eyed, sun-kissed…thin.

I was none of those.

“That’s all they care about.”

2nd pictures
This (on the left) is what my body looked like when I was told people wouldn’t find me attractive.

Within seconds, I was the nineteen year old ashamed to be seen in public because of my weight; I was the fat-girl picked last in gym class; I was the girl with long, frizzy brown hair; the girl with glasses, braces, and un-groomed, thick, Middle Eastern eyebrows sitting alone in the back corner of the classroom; I was the girl sucking in her stomach fat while crossing her legs to conceal her meaty thighs; I was the nine-year-old girl who lied about her weight to fit in with her friends.

At 20 years old, I lost any semblance of self-love I had fought so hard for because of one uncalled-for comment by another insecure 20-year-old “friend.”

I was hurt and accepted that I would be a fat, ugly, spinster with 50 cats, despite hating cats. I gave up on trying; I gave up caring; I gave up on hoping for the future; I gave up.

But, I (Let’s be real, mostly my parents) didn’t want my pathetic self and lack luster future to miss out on the coveted American-college-kid experience of studying abroad.

My “unappealing” body and I packed up and moved to London for four months, leaving behind peers who picked friends based on who had which Louis Vuitton bag (Can we just take a moment to appreciate that I spelled Louis Vuitton correctly?) and saw me for who I was on the outside: a woman who didn’t bother wearing makeup to a class that started before 2:00 pm.

For those of you who have never heard me fawn over my love for London, I have argued (on multiple occasions) that London, not Disney World, is the happiest place on earth. And let me tell you, it’s not just because of the townhouses, flawless public transportation, vast history at every turn you make, and pretty men with pretty accents (although all of this certainly helped me love it even more.)

In London, I was away from a place where I had years of unpleasant memories of an unhappy, pudgy girl and unrewarding friendships that did nothing but strengthen a sense of self-pity. I made friends who celebrated me; friends who praised my fat thighs, big boobs, and “hourglass frame;” friends who encouraged intellect and humor; friends who encouraged me to show my personality; friends who reminded me that I was, in fact, beautiful and worthy of respect even though I wasn’t a size two.

And it felt incredible.

3rd Picture
Some beautiful ladies who made me feel beautiful.

The truly magical thing, though, was the response I got when I returned from my mini adventure. I was greeted with a parade of curiosity:

“Did you lose weight?”

The truth is, I actually gained weight—there’s a lot of food to consume in Europe, believe it or not. I did look better, though, I’ll be the first to admit it. But it wasn’t because I lost weight, it was because, for the first time in my memory, I was genuinely happy.

So, here’s the moral of the story, folks: as I sat in the waiting room, having just learned of my minor weight gain, I finally understood that my weight will always fluctuate. I’ll have periods of time where I look thin, I’ll have periods when I look, well, not thin, and that’s okay. But what is not okay is attributing my state-of-mind to my weight.

In that waiting room, I decided that I will no longer push things off for, “when I lose weight.” If I want to wear a crop top, I’ll wear that crop top; if I want to wear a mini-skirt, I’ll wear the goddamn skirt; if I’m feeling like wearing a bikini, I’m gonna do it. Why? I want girls to look at me and see a woman who is confident, who demands respect, and knows her own self-worth. No nine-year-old girl should feel pressured to lie about her weight to her friends and if my embracing my imperfect, curvy, fluctuating body can help achieve that, then I’m in.

Plus, I’ve kinda grown to love my big butt…and I cannot lie about that.

4th Picture
My hips also don’t lie.

 


 

**Michalyn Curran is a recent college graduate and aspiring writer working for Kirschenbaum Productions. Her blog, Begrudgingly Optimistic, explores the complexities of being positive in an increasingly negative world. While it is most often a challenge to stay optimistic while living in the heart of NYC and striving for recognition in a cutthroat industry, it IS possible with a little bit of effort and a forgiving sense of humor. To read more of her writings, visit her site at: begrudginglyoptimistic.com 

Posted in Personal Posts | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

What Do We Mean When We Say “Self-Love?”

Therapists like myself spend a lot of time talking about self-love. But if you’re like many of my patients, you might not know what self-love means exactly. Many people mistakenly believe that self-love is the same as narcissism, or having a big ego. It’s not. So, what do we mean when we say “self-love”? Self-love means having a high regard for your own wellbeing and happiness. Self-love means taking care of your own needs and not sacrificing your wellbeing to please others. Self-love means not settling for less than you deserve.

Loving yourself doesn’t mean you think you’re the smartest, most talented, and most beautiful person in the world. Instead, when you love yourself you accept your so-called weaknesses, appreciate these so-called shortcomings as something that makes you who you are. When you love yourself you have compassion for yourself. You take care of yourself like you’d take care of a friend in distress. You treat yourself kindly. You don’t nitpick and criticize yourself. For many, especially those of us who grew up in households that lacked love or in which love waxed and waned, loving yourself will take work. Self-love is a practice and it’s a skill that takes work.

Self-love isn’t about instant gratification. A new pair of shoes or eating an entire pizza might make you feel good in the moment (or taste delicious), but the feeling isn’t lasting–and could be damaging in the long run. Self-love means giving yourself what your body, brain, and soul needs for the marathon that is life. It isn’t hedonism and it isn’t chasing a physical or emotional high. The practice of self-love is the practice of nourishing yourself.

Self-love means taking care of your needs. If your needs were neglected when you were a child, it’s important that you develop the ability to recognize what you need and to meet your own needs. If you were sent the message as a kid that you didn’t actually need what you asked for, or you where always ignored when you asked, you likely didn’t learn how to meet your own needs and may even have trouble recognizing what your needs are. Whether it’s food, comfort, exercise, or something as simple as a long, hot shower, self-love for those who missed out on consistent love and care as children can mean starting with the basics. Self-love means you care for yourself the way a loving parent should.

When self-love isn’t something that comes easily to you, or something that you’re used to, there can be a learning curve. You need to explore what makes you feel cared for. Is it taking a long yoga class? Bubble baths? Curling up with a good book? Try different things. Keep track of what works and what doesn’t.

Self-love means self-respect. Boundaries are essential when it comes to self-respect. Learn what your boundaries are, express them to the people in your life, call people out when they step over your boundaries, and remove people from your life who consistently disrespect your boundaries.

Self-love means you don’t compare yourself to others. Looking to other people for an idea of what you should be like, look like, or act like is always a path toward self-hate. For those of us who struggle with self-love and self-esteem, it can feel like we’re surrounded by people who make us feel inferior. A good remedy for this is to spend time doing what you’re good at and what makes you feel good about yourself.

self-love 2

The more you feel capable of, the easier loving yourself will be; it’s hard to feel good about yourself when you feel incapable. When we surround ourselves with people who treat us like we’re incapable––or we were raised by parents who were critical and constantly told us that we weren’t good enough—we internalize that message. Self-love can mean not letting people do things for you. Push yourself a little. Remind yourself that you’re capable. You can take care of yourself. You can do this.

Self-love is an important skill to learn and practice not only because it means our day-to-day happiness, but also because it affects our relationships. Self-love determines the quality of our romantic partners. The person you’re with is dependent on what you think you deserve. If you lack love for yourself, you’ll settle for a partner who doesn’t treat you well.

When we lack love in our childhoods, we often fall into the trap of relying on our adult romantic partners to parent us. We rely on them to take care of us, to do things for us that we don’t feel capable of, and we rely on them to love us the way a parent should––love that’s not tied to results or reciprocity. But that’s not how a healthy relationship works. Our partners aren’t our parents. They can’t, and shouldn’t, do everything for us, take care of our every need, and love us no matter what. That’s what we need to provide for ourselves. We need to take care of our own needs and love ourselves no matter what. We need to be there for ourselves, to stand by ourselves through the ups and down, because if we don’t love ourselves like this, we will fall apart when our romantic relationships break down.

Learning to love oneself isn’t easy. At first, self-love may feel uncomfortable. It may even feel indulgent. But, keep at it. Loving yourself doesn’t mean you’re selfish or self-centered. On the contrary, the more you love yourself, the more you’ll have of yourself to give to others. But you can’t spread your love, smarts, talent, and kindness around to the people in your life if you neglect the person who should be most important to you: you.


**Dr. Andrea Brant is a marriage and family therapist in Santa Monica, California who is an expert in treating a full range of emotional issues, including anger & aggression, anxiety & trauma, aging, relationships, work-life balance, workplace, and women’s issues. In her workshops, patient sessions and presentations, Dr. Brandt reveals positive paths to emotional health that teach you how to reinvent and empower yourself. To learn more about her seminars and workshops, go to mindfulangerworkshop.com for details.

AB office 1

Posted in Personal Posts | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Finding Self-Love and Compassion Through Yoga

Have you ever had one of those years where you look back and say to yourself, “How the fuck did I ever make it through that?” Well that’s pretty much where I am right now. I have spent the past year doing some pretty intensive trauma work with my therapist. When I walked into her office a year ago, I thought maybe she would just give some new healthy coping skills to use and then I would be on my merry way and life would be great. I didn’t realize that in order to “fix” my problems, we would have to address my childhood.

I was severely sexually abused from the time I was about 5 years old until I was 11. I never really thought that those early experiences had anything to do with my current “issues” though. So, at 27 years old, I went to see a therapist because I felt like it really wasn’t appropriate for me to still be cutting myself. I mean, after all, I am a mom, a wife, and a highly successful professional. But for whatever reason, despite the slew of healthy coping skills that I had learned over the years, despite being a recovering alcoholic with several years of AA sobriety, and despite rapidly approaching 30, I still really struggled with self-injury.

I’ll never forget my first session with my therapist. The very last question she asked me was if I had any history of trauma or abuse. I slowly nodded my head yes. I was so offended that she had asked that, especially since I had worked hard in that session to keep it all together and look like I was pretty much “normal.” After a couple of months of seeing her weekly and reading a few Brené Brown books, I decided that maybe I was ready to delve into the memories of my childhood trauma.

During the past year, I have recounted the worst memories of my life with her – many of them several times. I have struggled with flashbacks and nightmares, and some of the most intense anxiety I have ever experienced. However, I have also found amazing strength and hope. And for the first time ever, I finally feel like I truly love and respect myself for what I have been through and who I am today.

In the beginning of our trauma work, my therapist suggested that we incorporate restorative yoga and breathwork to help alleviate the PTSD symptoms that I was experiencing. I was a little bit hesitant, but felt immediate relief after our first yoga session. At the time, I had no idea the important role yoga would play in my life.

image (1)

My therapist would always tell me to show myself compassion in the days following a difficult trauma session. I didn’t really understand what it meant to “show yourself compassion.” All I knew was that drinking, drugging, and self-injury didn’t fall into that category of showing compassion. What does self-compassion look like? Well, according to my shrink, it looks like treating yourself the way you would treat a friend who were going through a similar situation. Ok, now I’m an egotistical alcoholic and friendship has never really been my strong suit, so we need to break that down a little more.

I can tell you that showing myself compassion when I am having a difficult day has been quite the process. It started with Starbucks. Every time I had a bad day, Starbucks was the solution. Then I realized that while I enjoy my $5 latte, it doesn’t really change the way I feel. Next I tried shopping. Maybe if I bought myself a new shirt, I would feel better. This actually backfired. I spent most of my teenage years struggling with anorexia and body image issues, and I still get very discouraged when I go shopping and can’t find anything flattering to buy. After a few yoga sessions with my therapist, I realized that maybe I was putting my efforts of self-compassion in the wrong places. Perhaps, instead of buying myself expensive coffees and new clothes, I needed to take time to just be present with myself during those moments of despair.

Restorative yoga became a part of every trauma session with my therapist – starting and ending in poses supported by blankets and bolsters, weighed down with sandbags for grounding. I began practicing these poses at home when my anxiety would creep up to those high numbers. Any time I felt dysregulated, instead of reaching for a razorblade, I started gravitating towards a restorative child’s pose, restorative bridge pose, etc. Instead of blaring bands like Chevelle and Disturbed, I turned on soft classical music to slow my heart rate and my mind down. Finally, after months of just practicing yoga with my therapist or at home by myself, I signed up for my very first yoga class.

image

Every time I go another 50 days without cutting, I celebrate. For making it 150 days without cutting, I decided to celebrate by going to a yoga class at a local studio. It was a beginners’ class that focused on the foundations of yoga. It was my first time doing anything other than restorative yoga. I was instantly hooked. I loved the way that practicing yoga made me feel – quieting my mind, but also energizing my body. I began going to yoga classes weekly.

“This is it,” I thought, “This is what it’s like to show yourself love and compassion!” Finding things that make you feel good, things that you are passionate about, and taking the time to do those things for yourself. I had never really had a “hobby” before. I had never had something that truly made me feel good about myself. I am not super athletic and I certainly don’t workout or run. But I could practice yoga and feel successful.

I’ve spent virtually my entire life feeling like I am not good enough, like I am not important, like I’m not even worthy of living. I never realized how much my abusive past impacted my personality and my struggles with self-love. I mean, at 27 years old, I didn’t even know what it meant to show myself compassion! To be fair though, I had never really had anyone show me compassion. My childhood was rough, to say the least. However, I’m currently 246 days without cutting, over four years sober, and going to a variety of yoga classes almost daily. I take time for myself when I need it now. Every time I step onto my yoga mat, I think of the little girl that I used to be, the one that he hurt for so many years, and I dedicate my practice to her. Through yoga, I celebrate the person that I am today, my successes and failures; I celebrate my growth and the progress that I have made. Trauma work is, by far, the most difficult thing that I have ever done. However, without it, I would have never been introduced to yoga; and yoga has truly transformed my life. Because of yoga, I am able to love who I am.


 

***After spending most of her life struggling to overcome a traumatic childhood, alcoholism, and self-injury, the Courageous Yoga Chick decided to reach out to a therapist for help. After a year of working through memories of sexual abuse, she decided to find meaning in her suffering. She created a blog designed to provide hope and strength to anyone struggling with anxiety, depression, self-injury, and/or PTSD. She wanted to use her experiences as a survivor of severe childhood sexual abuse to help others. The Courageous Yoga Chick’s writing showcases how she has learned to thrive with Complex PTSD through incorporating yoga into her life.

Read more of her writings HERE!

Posted in Personal Posts | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

10 Ways to “Brave Up:” How to Rise Up, Speak Up, and Stand Up Boldly for Yourself

Kathy Cipriano Image

When I was immersed in my 18-year corporate life, I struggled inwardly to feel successful, valued and to make what I felt was a positive contribution in the world. Back then, I thought I was brave, but I wasn’t. Not by a long shot. I was afraid all the time, and I didn’t muster the courage to speak up and stand up for myself, or for others. I didn’t have the strength to take on that which was wrong and unfair, glaring me right in the face. I was afraid of not being liked if I showed my true feelings. And I was deeply afraid that I never really knew enough to “belong” there in a powerful way (the old impostor syndrome played big tricks with my head).

Now that I’m in my own business and have chosen a direction that feels right to me, I’ve seen that thousands (dare I say millions) of people aren’t brave enough in their lives either, to be who they really are, or make the impact they long to. I’ve worked with so many mid- to high-level professional men and women who have faced all forms of trauma, abuse, challenge, crisis, hardship and suffering in their lives and work, yet haven’t figured out the way to muster the bravery to step beyond that hardship, and honor why they came to this planet at this time.

To me, it has often felt like my female clients and course members are “bloodied, wounded soldiers on the battlefield,” and I’m desperately asking, “Where’s the Red Cross?” When that realization hit me hard this year, I finally took critical action to build my own form of the “Red Cross.” (I launched a new Coach Certification training program to share what I’ve found to be helpful in transforming challenge and hardship into growth.) The truth is that I continue to see over and over again that each and every one of needs to rise up even higher, to speak up more boldly, and stand up courageously for ourselves and for others, and when we do, it changes everything.

Here are 10 critical ways that people can “brave up” today – address and move through their fears, revise their feeling of unworthiness, and overcome their concerns about being rejected, isolated and hated if they reveal and honor who they really are.

The 10 Ways You Can Brave Up Today:

See Bravely

It’s time to stop seeing yourself in the old, habitual, small way. Tell yourself a new story that makes you the hero of your life, not the loser. Understand what and who has formed and influenced you from the past, but know that those influences are from the past and don’t have to continue to hold you down. You can shape your future differently, right now. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps, move beyond your current challenges and hardships, and embrace all that you are to start stepping up towards your highest visions. And don’t let your over-attachment to “authenticity” keep you from becoming a stronger version of yourself.

Tip: Understand the dominant way you take action towards a goal, and what you need to motivate you to move forward, and start leveraging your dominant style more fully. Stop pretending to be someone you’re not. Forget that. Just recognize who you are at your core and honor it.

Speak Bravely

So many of the women I’ve worked with are afraid to communicate powerfully, authoritatively and confidently. They’ve either been culturally trained not to, or they’ve had damaging experiences in life that taught them they’d be punished if they speak bravely about themselves. We don’t come out of the womb afraid to speak up for ourselves – it’s a learned behavior.

Tip:

Learn to recognize your many amazing talents and gifts, and share them with confidence.

Yes, some people will be put off when you do this. Too bad. Those who are confident, strong and successful will appreciate your bravery.  Stop hiding your talents, and stop worrying that you’re bragging when you shine your light. (Read this for tips to communicate more confidently.)

Ask Bravely

Another way people hold themselves back and sabotage their own growth is to remain vague and muddy about what they really want. They waffle back and forth between their fantasies and dreams, running to and fro towards this shiny thing and that, but never do anything. It’s time to identify exactly what you want — from yourself, your life, others and your work — ask for it and get it. In fact, demand it, but in an open, compassionate and flexible way that will be appreciated and respected. Don’t take “no” for an answer about what makes your life worth living.

Tip: Figure out the one biggest goal for your life that will make your life worth living, and do something powerful about it today. (Here’s a way to fuel your energy to start something “stupid” today.)

Connect Bravely

Networking is one thing, but truly connecting, from your spirit and your soul, with inspiring, enlivening people whom you admire and who wish to support and assist you, is a completely different matter (and a life-changer). Learn new ways to connect, network, find inspiring role models, mentors, and supporters who will help you become a braver version of yourself, and make a true difference in your life and work.

Tip: One first, practical step is to start offering heartfelt recommendations on LinkedIn to people you love, respect and admire, and ask for their recommendations as well. Here’s some specific language to help you engage with others, and ask for help.

Serve Bravely

Stop waiting for the world to serve you. Understand that it’s what you put out in the world — how you serve, support, uplift and assist others and support the greater good of all with your talents that brings true abundance, prosperity, happiness, meaning and purpose. Where and how can you serve others with your amazing gifts and talents?

Tip: Brainstorm three new ways you can leverage your fantastic talents in ways that will be juicy and exciting to you. What causes do you care about? What situations do you want to change? What stand do you want to take in the world? Find a way to do it, even if you’re stuck in a job you hate, or employer you want to leave. Do it today. (For inspiration, here are 9 core behaviors of people who positively impact the world.)

Protect Bravely

As the tragedies of this week have reinforced, none of us are invulnerable – we all can be hurt, diminished and cast away in this life. But we can’t live in fear. We need to soldier on, living the lives that matter most to us.

To do that, you need to protect yourself, your dreams and your highest visions with fierce commitment and very strong, well-developed boundaries. And you need to protect and support other men and women who are part of your global family. Stop allowing mistreatment and abuse into your life, and take a brave stand against it. Realize that you are a co-contributor of all that is around you. If you hate, hate will spread. If you love, love will spread and grow. Fiercely protect your spirit and your dreams and stand up for others, and for love, forgiveness and compassion in this world. Don’t become a hater just because hating is what we’re seeing a million times a day, every day – in the headlines, in the political arena, and on the global stage.

Tip: Where are your boundaries being violated, either at work or in your personal life?  Where do you feel beleaguered, put upon and taken advantage of? That’s the place to start. Have a bold conversation with the one person you need to tell, “Enough!”

Heal Bravely

Life hurts (sometimes a lot), and can injure us badly. Every one of us has experienced some degree of trauma, pain, suffering, sadness, isolation and self-hatred. What can we do about it? We can learn how to heal ourselves. It’s possible for all of us. But only when we take different steps, with new, expansive mindsets, practices and commitments — and helpers — than we’ve ever experienced before. Right now, for instance, I’m working on my own healing process by taking beloved Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön’s course The Heart of the Matter, and it’s already shifting my healing in a big way.

Tip: Sit with yourself quietly for an hour this weekend, and bring to mind (I know it’s hard) the one thing that pains you the most about your life, and about your past and your present. What hurts you to think about? What takes your breath away because it’s so hard to face? That’s the very thing that needs healing today. Reach out to a therapeutic provider, friend or a mentor who has experience with this type of pain, and ask for help to feel it fully, process it, then heal through it.

Stretch Bravely

Humans are happiest and most fulfilled when they are growing towards their highest potential. But that requires seeking and stretching, every day. We need to get out of the tight box we’ve trapped ourselves in, and learn how to seek – to allow ourselves to long for new experiences, sensations and learnings and “try them on” so we can explore and expand, even amidst what we believe are the tight constraints of our present lives.

Tip: What’s the new direction you’re longing to stretch to, but you feel too scared to move? Understand that you will feel scared – that’s the reality. Get used to it and get comfortable with it. It’s a sign that you’re growing. In fact, the more you grow, the more “scared” is not something you give attention or credence to, when it comes to expanding beyond where you are today. Scared is the feeling that all brave, impactful and hopeful people feel, every day. Take the step and stretch.

Challenge Bravely

I was so very saddened this week after I posted this piece on the Stanford rape case, and hundreds of women privately told me and the interviewee Cheryl Hunter that they agreed with the article, but only a tiny handful of women had the courage to post their opinions publicly. That’s a terribly sad state of affairs. Women so often fail to bravely challenge the status quo. They fail to say “no” publicly to what is intolerable. They fail to do what’s necessary to risk, and say what needs to be said, with power and authority.

Learn how to challenge — in an effective, constructive and life-giving way — what’s feels wrong to you, in your life and work. Challenge and revise what no longer works. And learn how to take on the haters without becoming a hater yourself. Only when we bravely challenge what is wrong, unjust, and hateful in the world, can we transform it.

Tip: What do you need to challenge today? What in your life is wrong, unfair, and unjust that you’ve been an accomplice too because you haven’t said a thing. Challenge it this week.

Love Bravely

Finally, we all deeply desire love — to be honored, cherished, respected and nurtured (at both work and home), and to give abundant love in return. But to be loved and share love, we have to love ourselves without fail, with bravery, acceptance and forgiveness. And we need to heal and transform that which is unloving and unrelenting. Learn how to love yourself more bravely by exposing and exploring what’s hidden, secret, and “shameful,” and say “no” to behavior and treatment that tears down love.


 

**Kathy Caprino, M.A., is an internationally-recognized women’s career success and work-life expert, leadership consultant, speaker, and trainer dedicated to the advancement of women in business.  A featured contributor on women’s careers, business and leadership for Forbes, Huffington Post, and LinkedIn, she is also the author of Breakdown, Breakthrough: The Professional Woman’s Guide to Claiming a Life of Passion, Power, and Purpose.  A champion for working women, Kathy is a former corporate Vice President, a trained psychotherapist, specialized career and executive coach, and sought-after writer and speaker on women’s issues.  She is the Founder and President of Ellia Communications, Inc. and The Amazing Career Project, supporting women to build successful, rewarding careers of significance.

Read the original published article HERE!

 

Posted in Personal Posts | Tagged , | Leave a comment

In Time of Tragedy….Keep them Close by Letting Go

The nature of tragedy is that it is out of our control. Ultimately so is just about everything. The nature of parenting is the desire to maintain control. The irony is that in order to best handle times of tragedy and to best maintain influence over our children, we first need to let go of that desire to control.

CandlesInstead we tell them what to think and feel, what to say and do. Everything around us tells us that if we do this, take that, wear this and buy that, we will be happy. Rewards and punishments are the way we control and tell them how to be. This method raises our children to focus externally (what will happen to me if…? Or what will I get if…?). They often don’t know how to handle themselves without those external controls. Most of us have lost sight of what we already know — if we could trust ourselves to just listen.

In order to stay calm, do our best work, and have the greatest influence on those around us, we must stop trying to control others. Nobody likes a dictator. Children are no exception. In working with parents all over the world, I find that nothing is harder for parents to do than let go of control.

When tragedy strikes, we try to protect our children from worry and fear. When my daughter was four she was afraid of fire. One Sunday the house next door burned to the ground. My first instinct was to close the door of the room she was in to insure she did not see the fire. Immediately, I realized the futility, and so I carried her to the window to watch. She wanted to get as close as I would allow. She was mesmerized and asked lots of questions over days and months that I answered honestly. The experience helped her through and over her fear, to know it was not the end of the world. It helped her to feel less afraid.

Often our experience of tragedy comes from how those around us deal with it. My father died suddenly in the middle of the night when I was eleven. With all best intentions, my uncle hushed my crying with, “Now, now, Bonnie, none of that.” My mother remained stoic without a tear. She later had a nervous breakdown, and I learned the consequences of stuffing my feelings around tragedy. This is not the way I chose to bring up my children.

Letting go means trusting that our children are strong, capable and resilient. Resilience comes from experiencing all that we have inside us and getting to the other side of big intense feelings — not by denial, belittling, toughening up, or keeping secrets. Our children are capable of understanding truth. They don’t need details they cannot yet understand to feel assured by a parent’s willingness to tell the truth.

For children, tragedy is personal — losing a parent, friend, pet. A terrorist attack or mass deaths will not hit home unless they fear it will happen to them. Imagined tragedy can be as strong — a parent’s death, thunderstorms, a monster attack, a bad guy getting in the house. Whatever it is, children do better when they come face to face with the fear, have a parent’s calm support and understanding, and get through it — sometimes years later. The more calm and centered we are, the more we understand that we have no control of our children’s futures, fears and experiences. The more we understand our role as their guides along their own journeys, the more we can allow them experiences rich with feeling, often unpleasant, to be better prepared for the hard world.

Trust
Trusting a child’s capabilities is hard for a parent who was not trusted as a child—a child who was told to listen to someone else, who was ruled by the carrot or the stick, or who was sheltered from the knocks of life. We lack trust in our children to the degree we worry and fear for their safety and healthy development and to the degree we fear lack of control over them.

Trust is like a constant flow of antioxidants into your children’s veins—trust that your child knows right from wrong; trust that expression of his feelings will never hurt anyone (but bottled up emotions can), trust that he can make good decisions and wants to succeed; trust that sometimes he knows better than you what is right for him, and trust that he will make mistakes, sometimes big ones, which he will learn from when he has your trust that it was indeed a mistake.

Model honesty
Be honest with your children. Don’t try to hide or deny what you know they have been touched by. Keep TV news off in front of young children but do not dismiss or belittle anything they ask or express. Fears will only expand when you dismiss a worried child with, “There’s nothing to worry about.” When your child asks questions or exhibits concerning behavior at a time of stress in the world or in your family, talking about it with facts and assurances will help.

Grow and develop along with your children
If you have used reward and punishment methods to control your young child, your influence and limits will be ignored in the teen years. Influence and limits will remain strong when you give your children more and more responsibilities and freedom to make their own choices and direct their own lives. This requires connection and trust.

Letting go of control and parenting with acceptance, understanding, support, and guidance keeps your influence primary. Control turns them away to find authority among their peers. Your influence and values will always be their rock when life throws the unexpected their way.

 

*Bonnie Harris is the director of Connective Parenting. She counsels and teaches parents internationally with the mission of encouraging connection between parents and their children (something Gayle lacked as a child). Her two books are When Your Kids Push Your Buttons andConfident Parents, Remarkable Kids: 8 Principles for Raising Kids You’ll Love to Live With.

 

Read the original blog publication HERE!

Posted in Personal Posts | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Finding ‘Fine’ Again

 

MEcool

I saw an old friend yesterday. We met for a drink at a bar in Korea town where we always liked to frequent.

“How are you doing?” she asked with that slightly condescending tone stinking just enough of pity.

“I’m fine,” I replied casually, tossing back a shot of soju—Korean rice whiskey. It’s smooth, so very dangerous.

“You’re so strong.” She shook her head in wonder. Eyes wide with what I suppose was sympathy.

“I can’t even imagine what it must have been like…”

I had no response. All the words I’d planned to say had dried on my tongue.

I’m fine.

I’m fine.

Don’t worry. I’m fine

And yet—on the inside, nothing was “fine.” Sometimes it felt like it never would be ever again.

In November of 2015, three days before my 28th birthday, while on my way home from that same Korean bar, stumbling from too many shots of soju, I was intercepted by a group of men, taken to the basement of a house a few blocks from my Crown Heights apartment and violently raped by one, and then another, and then another…

“Girl, you’re so fine—” They’d said to me on the street trying to get my attention.

But everything that was, died in that basement bedroom… or so it seemed.

Everyone said it was a miracle, a blessing that I survived and got out of that situation alive. How did I do it, you ask? I’m about to get real. (Trigger warning)

I got out by pretending—by getting aggressive. For a brief moment I took my power back, pure survival instinct kicked in. Because looking back on it—I can’t really believe I did what I did.

“So is anyone else going to fuck me?” I snapped, challenging them, throwing them off their guards. “Because if not, I’m going home.”

As steadily as I could, I stood from the mattress, adjusting my clothes and grabbing my bag.

“I’m going home.” I stated, and moved past the men who had been tormenting me the past hour.

It was like they didn’t even know what to do—my behavior had completely confused them. Were they expecting tears? Was I supposed to beg? I will never know why it happened the way it did, but I walked out of that basement of nightmares on my own two feet.

It wasn’t until I was out on the street, walking at a fast pace through the crisp November night, that shock and terror set it. I was intensively frightened and disoriented, and I just took off, not even paying attention to where I was going. I remember walking and walking, and feeling like I’d never get home.

This all took place within a three-block radius of where I’d lived for three years, mind you. That’s how out of my head I was—I was lost in my own neighborhood, the place I thought I knew like the back of my hand. It was at this time I also discovered they had taken my phone, my wallet and my keys (including my car key, which led to my adorable VW Beetle getting stolen and burnt to a crisp after a high speed chase through Long Island—but that’s a story for another day).

I didn’t know how I was going to get home. When I momentarily came out of my shock, I realized I’d wandered so far in the wrong direction, I was on a street I’d never even heard of. I saw a cab and begged him to help me out. Luckily he got me back to my place and with incessant buzzing I was able to wake my roommate from the downstairs lobby.

“Hello? Who is it?” A groggy voice came over the speaker—at this point it was past 3am.

“Kelly let me in, let me in! Let me in! Please!”

A savior. A blessing. I’d never wanted a roommate in my 1 bedroom apartment (necessity had led to that) but at this moment I’d never been happier. If she hadn’t been there, I would have been in a lot more trouble.

Inside I was able to call the police and my mom who lives in Dallas Fort Worth, and that set off a whirlwind of gritty, miserable events and experiences.

The attack itself had been surreal; it was like I’d stepped outside myself. But now harsh reality had hit and I was dealing with the fallout under the biting neon lights of the emergency room and the SVU detective’s office. The whole experience left me reeling, shaken to the core—in shock and struggling with the early signs of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).

I was not fine. I couldn’t event fathom feeling stable or normal again; like the person I’d been before was completely and utterly lost to me.

But I suppose… somehow, through all of it there was something guiding me—some positive energy or “bigger reason” why this had happened. I’m not a particularly religious person, but I had to believe it was more than just chaos. It also helped that I have wonderful friends and family who supported me and showed their love in many ways, from helping out with expenses, to just making me laugh, to even tweeting out about my cause when I was fighting with the banks (another story for another day that involved checks getting re-cashed and money stolen).

Anyway—through this intense darkness, there was this thin ray of light, almost invisible at first but getting slightly bigger week to week. As corny as it probably is, I literally visualized it as a light at the end of a tunnel, and I just moved towards it step by step, sometimes even less then that, sometimes tiny centimeter by centimeter. Sometimes I even moved backwards, but that light was always there. In the distance.

I cocooned myself, leaving the cruel city to stay with my mom in Texas for a few months. I was surrounded by family, but mostly I just liked being by myself. When I was with others I had to put on a mask and pretend like I was ok. Not that they all expected me to be ok, but I’m the type who doesn’t express her more intense emotions very well. And my family, though very supportive, are not of the “lovey-dovey, talk about feelings” variety.

Still, this break was good for me—the demons seemed farther behind me than before, and at last I felt that I had come to the end of the tunnel, ready to step out into the sun. I decided it was time to come back to New York.

I was returning to a better situation, many friends who were eager to see me, and a new apartment far enough from my old place that I’d never have to return to that area—never have to walk down those streets littered with bad memories ever again.

But I can’t say it’s been easy.

After the whirlwind of moving, my mom flew back to Fort Worth and again I was on my own, for the first time since the night I had been attacked. Every day is a struggle and the Post Traumatic Stress has reared its ugly head more intensely than before. I get scared and startled easily—something I’d never experienced before—and my anxiety is off the charts. I have intrusive thoughts, visual flashbacks, every day.

But the nightmares have stopped. And I do feel like I stepped out into the daylight. That darkness is still right behind me, just over my shoulder, and sometimes (more often than I’d like) it reaches out a slippery tendril and coils its way around me.

Regardless…it is behind me. And every breath I take, every waking moment, propels me away from it and into that light.

Since this trauma happened, I’ve been determined to make something of it, to turn it around, to find a way to channel it and maybe—possibly—help others who have experienced something similar.

For a long time I wasn’t ready. I still may not be; I don’t really know. But I’m a big believer of “Fake it till you make it.” So for now, I’m going to keep pretending I’m Fine, and wait for the day I finally am.

Posted in Mental Health, Personal Posts, Social Issues, Women's Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

ONE MOVE FORWARD

Much like The Doctor, I am not good with “goodbyes”, for this will be my last post as I prepare to venture into other unknown territories. Look At Us Now, Mother! was not the first film project I worked for, but it certainly was a new experience; never had I worked on a documentary or as a writer for a films’ website and it truly was an amazing time. I also have a different type of appreciation for this position that I did not have working in film before…it is a personal venture that I began and finished (at least my contribution, not the film).

There are so many projects that I’ve begun in my life that I have never completed and purposefully avoid on a daily basis: paintings, poems, books (both in development and on my reading list), organizing projects that I’ve been perpetually ignoring, sculptures…legitimate projects that I have began and wait patiently to complete themselves. It could be a side effect of laziness, but I like to think of it as a symptom of my millennial-ness; we are the generation of instant gratification. Its factual existence was recently expressed to me while at work one day when an older woman (Baby Boomer era) passionately expressed her opinions regarding the new New York City that’s taken over.

file281334265141

Whereas I love any opportunity to wax poetic about how great NYC used to be, this is not that time. I am consciously putting this aside to focus on a statement that came from said Baby Boomer, when we proceeded to discuss politics and the approaching presidential election the tone of the conversation took a much darker turn. The problem is that a majority of the voters in the US are Millennials, and the majority of Millennials do not vote (ironically enough these are also the ones who complain the loudest). Baby Boomers vote the most and are technically the most (respectively) entitled generation, whereas Millennials are the most self-serving. This is a bad combination but the math is simple: self-entitlement breeds self-serving. And it was brought to a head when the Baby Boomer said quite plainly: I’m just grateful I’m old, I’m going to die soon. I feel bad for your generation, you’re young and you’re going to be here for a while.
There are few things that have gripped me to the point of silence in this life, but that certainly made the cut. How does anyone respond to that? I didn’t and the conversation ended, a heavy irritation growing more dense every time I repeat to my java-loving parents: you can compost coffee filters.

This conversation happened weeks ago and it still looms over my head like an ominous little cloud of joy-zapping electricity. I have spent the better part of my twenties trying to evolve out of the self-centered mind-frame (and some would argue a bit too much), but is it enough? Which is why I am moving forward in life. Unsure of the road ahead of me but perhaps that is a good thing, rather than having a plan in hand at all times. Sometimes it is better to operate by idea.

I began working at Kirschenbaum Productions because I truly believed in Look At Us Now, Mother! and the purpose behind it, to bring to light the pains of overcoming projected insecurity for the greater good is what drives societal development. It takes a remarkable amount of strength and grit to confront an unpleasant history/truth/issue and it’s this mission that inspires me to embark on my own journey now. I do not know what the future holds for me or my generation, but if there’s anything I can do to save the world I will find it some where. Somewhere, where it is my purpose and not the purpose of others. This is not the first project that I’ve seen through, and it’s certainly not the end for the Kirschenbaum Team, but it’s definitely the first time I’m fully acknowledging the feeling of satisfaction.

Posted in Personal Posts | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Maintaining Mental Health in the Face of Stress and Adversity

CurvyRoad

I want to take a minute (or five) to talk about mental health.

If you’ve followed my revealing stories on the Kirschenbaum Productions blog, you know that I’ve had my ups and downs with depression and anxiety. After finally finding a therapist who took a more spiritual, “mind-body connection” approach, I was finally able to pull myself up out of the mire and find my way back to the optimistic, easy going person I naturally am.

But like many things in life, there are no “happy endings”. What does it take to maintain mental health in the face of obstacles, tragedies and overwhelming stress?

I’ve been faced with all the above, most intensely the stress of work, poor health, and dire financial struggles. All of these things make maintaining a balanced, healthy mind that much more difficult. Yet, through it all, I have been able to stay afloat. So how is this possible? What are my techniques? Well, let’s break it down!

 

1) Take Things One Day at a Time

As trite as that may sound, sometimes it is an absolute necessity. I learned when I suffered from my darkest depths of depression (when I was briefly hospitalized) that sometimes even that isn’t enough.

At the most trying times, I’ve had to break it down to one hour at a time. For that one hour you have to be totally present–you aren’t allowed to worry about the past or stress about the future. Your only concern, the only task at hand, is to focus on the moment and the hour ahead. What do you need to do to get through that hour? Concentrate on that, and when that hour is up, repeat the process. Take the day in increments and before you know it, you will be at the other end. Anxiety builds when you stress about tomorrow. Tomorrow can wait.

2) Do Not Fear Your Anxiety/Depression

Once you start to worry about having a panic attack, or slipping back into depression (and believe me–it’s common to have anxiety about anxiety), you are giving it power over you.

Something I realized is that after becoming aware of my suceptibility towards mental illness, I was immediately taking my power back. When you are aware, you recognize the symptoms and have tools to counteract them. Even when we do start to slip backwards, we will never be able to fully return to that place of darkness. You can’t “unknow” things. You can’t become unaware again, unless you purposely and deliberately make that choice–which is a whole other problem.

I recently had a phone conversation with my mother about worrying I might be moving backwards re: my mental health. I had started to have some destructive thoughts, the kind of thoughts I hadn’t experienced for years, but I realized: even recognizing these thoughts, hearing them and understanding what they mean was actually a step forward.

I’m aware of these habits now, conscious of my weaknesses. I am not afraid of depression anymore, I won’t give negative thoughts about self destruction power over me. And I know what to do when they start to occur, which leads to:

3) Actively Take Care of Your Mental Health/See to Your Peace of Mind

This could mean several things and depends on a certain level of that awareness, of knowing yourself.

If you see a therapist, this could mean scheduling an appointment. It could be taking time to practice meditation, taking time for physical activity (very important) such as doing yoga, going for a jog, or my personal favorite, taking a dance class.

Taking care of your physical health is so important. If our bodies are in a weak state it’s harder for our minds to stay strong. Treat your body like the temple it is, nourish it with good foods, take vitamins and supplements, and make sure you get enough sleep.

 

Even with the knowledge I’ve gained and these tools at the ready in my toolkit, it is still an up hill climb to keep my mind healthy. I’m still working on taking care of my body to care for my mind, but it is absolutely worth the effort. I have come so far and every struggle, every obstacle that comes my way is another opportunity to make me stronger (OY! Again with the trite sayings!)

I hope these little insights can maybe help guide and inspire you to work your way through your own struggles and hardships. Mental health is so vital to not just living, but thriving. Please take the time to care for yourself and treat yourself with infinite love and gratitude.

Posted in Personal Posts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mama’s Boy

As a first generation Italian American, it should come as no surprise that family is an integral part of my culture. And that’s to put it lightly. When I was younger and I had to set the table every weekend for 20+ guests, I would whine to my parents and say things like: Why do I have to do this every weekend? Why can’t we just order pizza like all the other kids do? Why do we always have to have cousins and uncles and aunts over!? Why can’t I go hang out with my friends on Sundays? My parents would always have me repeat a mantra of sorts when I would do this repetitive cycle of whining. They would say: What’s most important in life? And I would begrudgingly answer family and then they would ask: What’s second most important? I would answer family. And what’s third? Family. Sometimes if I was feeling extra rebellious I would say, money or friends or soccer and they would laugh and tell me to be quiet and set the table anyway.

IMG_1787

Understanding that this wasn’t the “norm” for other families made me feel isolated. I was always over protected. I couldn’t stay out late with friends. I could only ride my bike in between the two mailboxes in front of my house because “what if something happened?”, as my mom would say. I couldn’t go to my town’s carnival without my mom following me and my friends a few paces behind us because “what if something happened?” So yes, I was very sheltered as a child and the only thing I was not sheltered from was family time. Growing up like this it’s difficult to create an identity for yourself. It’s sort of like your identity becomes interwoven with those around you, since well, they’re always around. I never really had the rebellious teenage phase because rebellion just isn’t something my siblings and I do very well. As soon as a hint, a scent of rebellion is wafted; my parents were quick to notice and quicker to act. They usually used embarrassment as a form of rebellion control. Like bringing up at the dinner table in front of everyone that Jamie wants to dye his hair blue which was met with the ridicule of judgmental eyes and the adult-like smirk that always manages to say “oh you silly kid” without even uttering a word. It’s hard to explore yourself when it’s up for family debate.

IMG_0817

As a kid I was always furious with them and their over-protective tendencies. I wanted to be like all the other kids in my class who were allowed to do whatever they pleased. But as I’ve grown, I’ve learned more about my parents and their upbringings and although they seemed unreasonable in my youth; I have come to appreciate their behavior as weird symptoms of over-loving, as I like to think of it. But, as the baby of the family by 16 years, I have always been smothered by not only my parents but by my three older siblings as well. I sometimes think of them as my three extra parents as they have never truly been my peers. So trying to decipher my identity all the while dealing with constant bombardment of company was not easy and it still isn’t. Even my older siblings who are all married now still struggle to find the line between family and personal space and self-discovery.

As I maneuver into adulthood I still do not know what it means to be independent from one’s family. Does it mean monetarily or emotionally or spatially? I don’t know the answer to that. If I one day move far away I still think I’ll repeat that mantra to my kids when I get older. If I am a product of my environment then I am my family. Yes, I am different from them in my own way but I am ultimately a compilation of my experiences and those experiences, well a lot of them, included my family and that’s perfectly okay with me. I think they’re pretty rad anyway. Cultural relativism is important to understand before we burden others from different cultural backgrounds with uniquely American conceptions of independence. I’m a proud Italian mama’s boy and that’s totally okay with me. They support and love me for me and what else can you really ask for as a queer transgender son? I’d say I hit the jackpot being born into this family.

10298856_10152433004847952_3103122415063748908_n

 

Posted in Personal Posts | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lessons From Avatar – The Last Airbender & Conor McGregor

Lessons from Avatar: The Last Airbender and Conor McGregor

It has always been my conviction that people have overarching themes to their lives: something they spend the majority of their time and energy trying to achieve. So much so that everything in their lives from the seemingly most minute efforts to thought process and speech can be tied back to these themes. For my brother, I suspect those themes are family and romance. His entire life, ever since we were kids, he loved to love. Everything in his life seems to be driven towards the attainment and sustenance of those two themes. From taking on a provider and father figure role to our family all the way through to his romantic misadventures like the time he moved to California for 3 years for a girl he’d only spoken to via phone for a year. Whatever needed to be done he would do it as long as it contributed to these two themes. For me, conversely, the theme has always been independence. Everything I do is an effort to sustain the notion that I did it on my own, independent of everything and everyone. It wasn’t until recently I realized my interpretation of independence is not the most accurate and that its true application to my life may be just outside of the realm of possibility. The oddest thing about these epiphanies is that they came to me from the most unexpected sources: a children’s cartoon show and an MMA fighter whose public arrogance I reserve my highest level of disdain.

Lesson 1: The illusion of separation
If you’re unfamiliar with the television show Avatar: The Last Airbender I suspect that there is an inexplicable emptiness in your life. I grieve for you! But do not fret, friend. This children’s show will not only entertain your mind with an action-packed story, it will also lighten your hearts and souls with its humorous adventures. It takes place in a fictional world where some humans are born with the ability to manipulate or “bend” one of the traditional four elements: fire, air, water, and earth. The characters live the four nations, each of which associate with one of those four elements. In all of the world, there is one “Avatar” who has the ability to bend all four elements. It is the Avatar’s responsibility to maintain the balance of the world.

The premise of the show surrounds Avatar Aang, a twelve-year-old boy and the last remaining Airbender who was frozen for in ice for 100 years. During the time Aang was frozen, the Fire Lord, leader of the Fire Nation, committed genocide against the Air Nomads in an attempt to find and kill the Avatar. This was the beginning of an era of Fire Nation conquest of all the world. The enslavement of the other nations and the genocide of the Air Nomads upset the balance of the world and perfectly positioned the Avatar and the new Fire Lord for an inevitable collision course. But first, the Avatar needed to master the other three elements to not only survive a battle with the much more seasoned and deadly Fire Lord but to beat him and restore balance to the world. On his journey to master the elements, Aang found himself unable to connect with his “Avatar State”, a state in which he can summon the knowledge, skill, spirits and energy of all the previous incarnations of the Avatar. To remedy this, he sought Guru Pathik, a friend and “spiritual brother” to Aang’s Air Nomads. Guru Pathik walked Aang through opening all of his chakras one of which was the chakra of Light. He then explained the details of this chakra: “It deals with insight and is blocked by illusion. The greatest illusion of this world is the illusion of separation. Things you think are separate and different are actually one and the same.”

Almost immediately I began thinking about what that statement meant in relation to my theme of independence. If it was true it would mean that independence couldn’t truly exist because independence by definition implies some form of separation. It is a state of being relative to something other than yourself. When I think of independence I immediately think of being independent of something. Even in thinking of synonyms like autonomy and freedom there’s is the implication of relation. Autonomous means self-governing and as long as there is a notion of self there would always be separation. Self is individual, and if its individual then it is separate. Similarly, the word freedom has a relative quality since the word begs the question: free from what? After briefly thinking on the subject, I filed this away as something I just didn’t agree with, and no longer required any more analysis. That was until I saw the post fight interview with Conor McGregor.

Lesson 2: Self-made
I first came across Conor McGregor a few weeks ago in one of those situations where you look one thing up on YouTube and all of sudden you are sucked into a vortex where time seemingly stops existing and before you know it you’ve wasted half the day watching video clips. In any case, I was looking up Ronda Rousey, who I love to watch fight but is believed to have trash talked herself into a premature championship fight. So it makes sense that Conor McGregor would have shown up as a related search since he too has a penchant for trash talk. Here are a few things that the Irish fighter has said to his shorter opponent, Chad Mendes, a few weeks ago:

“I can rest my balls on your forehead.”
“I will take that belt from Jose , and I will come back hunting for your little midget head.”

While it was fun to watch Mendes and McGregor trash talk each other leading up to the fight, I found myself naturally hoping the Mendes would win and serve McGregor some humble pie. When that didn’t happen I had to see what outrageous thing would fly right out of McGregors’ mouth in the post-fight interviews. Much to my surprise, McGregor came across quite gracious, an uncharacteristic departure from his typically brash and crass interviews. He said the following which really resonated with me: “I honestly believe there is now such thing as self-made . . .The people who have been around me . . . helped shape this moment.” Aside from being surprised by McGregors uncharacteristic humility, I was more surprised with the fact that I found validity in the statement. Especially given the fact the it contrasts even more strongly with my initial notion of independence than Guru Pathik’s statement on the illusion of separation. If there is no such thing as self-made then independence as I’ve defined it cannot exist.

I reflected on some of my proudest achievements and testaments to independence and realized that somehow, someway, those achievements came to fruition through the joint efforts of myself and my friends and family. My academic success wouldn’t have been possible without the help of my brother, friends, and professors. It was my degree and yet it wasn’t. It belonged to everyone who contributed that effort and energy in me which I then poured into the task at hand. The same is true for my professional career.

However hard I worked, however many hours I put in, that success was afforded to me through the help of my team. They were my promotions, but were also afforded by the energy of my supporters as well as my own efforts. I realized that if I was accepting this statement as true then I’m forfeiting my interpretation of independence as doing things on my own. And if I no longer find that definition to be valid then there’s is nothing in the way of accepting that separation is an illusion. By accepting both statements as true the theme of my life as independence transforms. The new definition, therefore, would be the acknowledgment that I did not do things on my own. Instead, I accepted the gift of support and energy afforded to me by my social circle to do things that I autonomously found fulfilling. In this way, my circle operates as a collective of energy contributors gathering a pool of independence that we can all use a resource towards fulfillment.

Posted in Personal Posts | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment