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"When one experiences truth, the madness of finding faults with others disappears" - S.N. Goenka.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Sometimes, in the dead of night, the silence stirs me awake. Eyes open, blinking to a thumping heartbeat, moving away from dreaming and into the shadows of darkness. “Why am I awake?” is always the first question, “Go back to sleep” is always the response. Resisting wakefulness makes sleep run further away. Finally surrendering to my stubborn mind, it wins and willfully opens the floodgates of thought. Waiting for sleep’s intruder to present itself, I notice and pay attention, observing the thoughts playing in my mind. Each minute the moving clock ticks, my heartbeats grow faster and louder. Anxiously the persistent thought repeats, “I’m still not sleeping! What is so pressing that must be handled right now?”
Monday, August 6, 2012
From Insanity To Sanity: How the American Dream has slipped into American Greed and the need to save humanity.
“You live in America Valeria! You should be so happy to go back home!” Giuseppe was in disbelief when I expressed disappointment about going back to the drear of Detroit. “Leaving this beautiful place is always hard,” I responded. “But you’re going to America!” he shouted. “The land of opportunity! Big buildings, Broadway Theater, Disney World, Madonna and Michael Jackson! Everything and everyone is in America!” My cousin put his hands on my shoulders and shook as if to wake me from a delirious dream. Only when the sadness in my eyes was obvious and real did the stars that danced in the blacks of his iris begin to fade. The sparks of excitement were quickly replaced with a brush of softness that held my gaze. We hugged and an ache pooled at my center. Squeezing my eyes shut hard to force the tears away. If only I could take him and show my America, I thought.
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
It was summer in Sicily. Like kids all over the world, my brother and I spent warm, sun-drenched days playing outside. We made mud pies with dirt the color of dried up orange peels. We captured bugs to lure wild geckos from their hideouts, climbed the tops of fruit trees that stretched for acres, and rode bikes down dirt roads. Unlike most kids in 1984, our dirt roads were in the beautiful Sicilian countryside that led to ancient abandoned castles. The mornings would pass until everyday at noon the bells would clang. It was our cue to run to the fence and watch the herd of sheep pass. They followed each other with their heads low. Defeated and lost they moved slowly and deliberately, one after the other without any will of their own. I looked at them with sadness and thought how horrible it must be to be a sheep, always having to follow a herd.
Sunday, May 6, 2012
The Washington Hilton gleamed with stardom. The red carpet greeted its guests at the door. It glittered with flashing lights that lit along the walkway. Reporters stood in herd-like clumps. They heavily eyed the main entrance with a hunger that had them biting their lips. Anticipating the next high profile interview, they looked right past Pete and I. Reese Witherspoon sashayed over as the voices behind the cameras called, “Reese, over here!” Her smile even made the photographers blush. The first reporter to pounce asked the very important question: “What are you wearing this evening?” Stopping mid-step I couldn’t help but turn my head to hear the answer and stare. Full-length glamour pirouetting with flare, stiletto heels marking the runway, my eyes darting to every corner of the room absorbing the scene as if I were an alien visiting Earth for the first time. Welcome to The White House Correspondents’ Dinner, I thought, a night to forever remember.
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
“Hakuna Matata what a wonderful phrase – it means no worries for the rest of your days, it’s a problem free, philosophy, Hakuna Matata!”
Timon and Pumbaa, the Lion King’s meerkat and warthog, sang my favorite Disney song on stage. Both my daughters watched with eyes wide and mouths’ agape. They were riveted. Fearing that even one blink might lead to missing a thrilling next moment. The live thirty-minute show at Disney World’s Animal Kingdom stirred something deep within me as I watched the reflection of the dancing lights in my daughters’ smiling eyes. The Lion King is my favorite Disney film. Back in college when the movie was first released, I was babysitting Ellis and Owen who were dubbed Mufasa and Simba. They’d play scenes in their entirety, rarely missing a line or skipping a beat. Together we’d sing Hakuna Matata at-full-strength (complete with my obnoxious tone-deaf ear) our arms flailing and hips shaking delirious with laughter. For those brief moments life was problem free without a single worry. Years later, I danced the same way with my daughters, singing Hakauna Matata wildly in our living room. We laughed with a penetrating joy that reached the top of my throat and swelled my eyes with tears that spilled over with happiness.
Monday, March 5, 2012
Almost three hours of pushing had my body trembling with exhaustion. Finding the strength for one more excruciating effort was simply beyond my reach. The nurse, smelling of ammonia and spent perfume, held my hand while my husband stood on the sidelines cheering, “You Can Do This!” Tears swelled my eyes and fell down the side of my face, I screamed through clenched teeth, “I can’t! It’s too hard and I’m just too tired!” The drear of the hospital room felt cold but the fire within me kept my body drenched with sweat. Voices in the far distance were muffled by the dense, heavy sounds of my labor. If escape from myself were possible, I would have taken off running. But the brief silence before the next push helped reclaim my sanity. It was then that something cracked open inside of me, not unlike a watermelon, refreshing and soothing and sweet. Graced with a calming stillness my daughter who stirred within me connected. “There’s nothing to fight,” said the unheard voice, “it’s not a battle.”
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Shortly after my teaching career in yoga began, I journeyed to my first yoga retreat. It was a secluded weekend at New York’s Omega Institute, a place labeled “The nation’s most trusted retreat center for wellness and personal growth.” I finally gave myself permission to go and felt compelled to spend it alone. Eager to gain a deeper perspective on myself, I packed up my Honda Civic and headed north. Leaving my family for the first time I was caught between two worlds, the selfless devotion of motherhood and the selfish journey of self-exploration. With the windows down and sunroof open the August wind blew through me, time utterly suspended. The earthen smell of cut grass filled my lungs while Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep” played on the radio. I cried but didn’t know why. Cranking the volume I sang like a 16-year old touching the steering wheel of freedom for the first time.
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
The third time the MC stepped on stage my nervousness rose and settled at the base of my throat. I stared at him with wide eyes as if watching a car accident rather than stand-up comedy. The laughter from the audience coaxed me back to reality, “he’s going to do fine,” I repeated to myself, “he’s been doing this for years!” Pete was the next comedian scheduled to perform; he was third on the list – perfect, I thought, just enough time for me to adjust and ease my nerves. It took a few extra minutes for me to warm-up to the first comedian before laughter took over and my anxiety hid under a pile of hilarity, almost forgetting that Pete was moments away from performing.
Monday, January 9, 2012
Fresh out of college, yet to make a mark on the world, I landed my first full-time job, proud and eager to flaunt my academia and contribute toward a better society. The working poor was what Chicago’s local newspaper, the Tribune, labeled all of us case managers working in the social health field. It is one of the sad ironies of modern life that people often seem to be paid in inverse proportion to their value to society. At first it didn’t bother me that I earned less in a five-day workweek than bartending a four-hour shift. I was making a difference helping Chicago’s neediest citizens. My clients were homeless, mentally ill substance abusers, most of them refugees or immigrants who considered the working poor a label of aspiration. I attempted to keep this perspective but my spirit thickened with despair. The job had me treading the dark waters of bleakness. It didn’t take long to realize that four-years of protected college courses did nothing to prepare me for a reality I would otherwise step right over, turn my head and ignore.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
“I don’t like it when grown-ups kill animals and take their skin and fur to make things. When I grow up I’m going to make people stop doing that. I’m going to talk to the president about it.”
Ava casually spoke her thought out loud, as if discussing her favorite toy. She was leaning against the front door patiently waiting for the rest us to put on our jackets when her words stopped me mid-step. Amidst the chaos, her voice struck my core like a vibrating guitar string completing a chord. A tightness rose to my throat. Looking at my 6-year old daughter, I saw old-soul eyes, like she already lived a thousand years. Who told her this? What inspired such depth and activism at such a tender age? Questions sprinted through my mind only beaten to my voice by an attempt to express pride. Swallowing hard I said, “Well good for you Av -” My husband interrupted me with an effort to start a Save the Animals revolution. “And I’ll help you Ava, we’ll do it together!” He said. “No daddy, only I can do this.”
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Religion – a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
“God will punish you and send you straight to hell if you dare cheat on another exam, young lady!” She said with a harsh and stern voice that echoed in the hall of C Wing at St. Michael’s middle school.
Sister Immaculata looked directly at me, penetrating my soul with beady eyes that hid behind black trimmed pointy glasses. Every time she spoke, the wrath of God spoke too. There was nothing warm or fuzzy about her. When she wasn’t spitting daggers of fear directly into your heart, she stood fully erect and maintained an angry expression that repelled perfect strangers. Her face was tense –sustaining a crinkled nose and pressed lips. The corners of her mouth pointed downward and exaggerated wrinkles in her forehead kept her brow furrowed. I wondered if maintaining such a constant expression could exhaust a person or perhaps cause facial cramps.
Sunday, November 6, 2011
The seventh spiritual law of success is the Law of Dharma. (Dharma is a Sanskrit word that means "purpose in life.") This law says that we have taken manifestation in physical form to fulfill a purpose. You have a unique talent and a unique way of expressing it. There is something that you can do better than anyone else in the whole world - and the creative expression of your talent is the spark that creates affluence. Expressing your talents to fulfill needs creates unlimited wealth and abundance. There are three components to the Law of Dharma. The first says that each of us is here to discover our true Self. The second component is to express our unique talents; the expression of that talent takes you into timeless awareness. The third component is service to humanity. When you combine the ability to express your unique talent with service to humanity, then you make full use of the Law of Dharma.
Congratulations, Mr. Chopra, (someday I hope we are on a first name basis, Deepak). You wrapped one of the most loaded words in any language (purpose) into a pretty little simplified package. I embrace it, accept it and love it, but maybe you’re missing one very significant part. What if we’re one of the (gazillion) unfortunate ones who spend a lifetime trying to figure out what our dharma is? What if we are always chasing an elusive goal and seeking an underlying purpose? How many times in my life have I said, “This is it!” or “I’ve finally figure out what I’m supposed to do with my life!” Only to turn around, practically seconds later, and say, “This definitely isn’t it.”
More than is worth counting.
Saturday, October 15, 2011
I opened my eyes before the alarm clock sounded. It was unusual to have an extra thirty minutes. With an extended yawn, I wrapped the oversized comforter snuggly around me and rolled back over, desperately wanting to go back to sleep. It was then that I remembered.
The day was September 29th.
There were years when almost the entire morning disappeared before I caught wind of the date. Once, while mindlessly beating eggs for a Sunday morning brunch, my daughter rushed in with her arms wide open and screamed, “Happy birthday mommy!” Her greeting and comforting hug brought tears of disbelief. I hugged her for longer than usual and thought, “Oh my god, she’s right! It’s my birthday!” My amazing 3-year old daughter had to remind me.
Monday, September 26, 2011
The hot moist summer air filled my lungs as I raced across the familiar hidden trail. It smelled of moss and wet earth despite the blaze of the blistering sun. Branches littered the path - remnants of yesterday’s massive storm. The hurricane had been named Irene. Her category I force touched land the night before. Gusts of winds nearing 85 miles an hour, she fiercely made her way through the North Eastern coastal states and was a reminder of earth’s abounding power. The storm’s destruction; broken power lines, fallen trees, and flooded streets – all amidst a tranquil backdrop of blue skies. My steady pace was marked by the sount of sticks cracking beneath my feet. The sunrays rained through branches and extended toward earth. I eagerly ran toward the brightness of a beam and closing my eyes felt its acceptance. The surrender was complete serenity. My face flushed red from both the strength of the sun and the blood pulsing through my veins. My heart beat against my chest as I ran with the rhythm of my breath, droplets of sweat periodically falling from my brow, stinging my eyes. Suddenly, I had this intense urge to veer off course.
Monday, September 5, 2011
“If you think you’re enlightened spend a weekend with family and then reevaluate.”
It was early in my yoga career the first time I heard that statement. The beginning stage is when everything is new and blissfully exotic; where you start to connect meaning with every movement and every breath. This phase in a relationship is where the fantasy of the next encounter keeps a smile etched as a permanent expression on your face. Your eyes are glazed with a sweetness that permits a glimpse of perfection. The thought of this new romance causes your body to tingle and palms to sweat. At that eager stage of my yoga affair, every morning began by chanting the sweet sound of OM in a class filled with equally fervent yoga students. My mat time triggered new thoughts and lessons learned.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
My dad signaled when he was about to strike. His round, hairless head turned a bright shade of red while his lips pressed so tightly together, they lost their color. Like a gazelle looking up in a nature film my body became aware of an impending danger. It was when my Dad’s upper lip virtually disappeared and his bulging, eyes shifted from green to a devilish red – that I knew I’d better start running. His glare was so frightening; I literally felt the wrath of God. I ran with the same fierce, life-saving determination of a gazelle that spots a salivating leopard ready to pounce. Nothing stood in my way from trying to escape his rage. I turned over chairs, moved tables, jumped furniture - all with the gripping hope of making it to the door in enough time to open it.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
happened during my third year in college when I enrolled in a course entitled Mind, Body Medicine. The course was a requirement for my Health Science major and, in hindsight, a fortunate obligation. I was in my early twenties, on the brink of adulthood - somewhere between reckless, insecure teen and responsible, "in-control" adult. Everything in this world was possible, where you know the rules to success and you agreeably play the game. But where trepidation and inhibition keep you bound to perpetual self-doubt. And yes, smoking lots of pot and drinking beer through funnels seemed to be the most effective way to cope.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
“Happiness is not getting what you want, it is wanting what you get.” – Neale Donald Walsch.
I grew up on the outskirts of the City of Detroit’s west side, just one mile north of Eminem’s now famous 8 Mile Road. Our neighborhood streets weren’t exactly tree-lined, nor were there pools in every yard. Instead, it was abandoned lawns, cracked and crumbled driveways, and homes in desperate need of fresh paint.
Tom’s Party Shop was just down our road. It was a place where neighborhood kids went with their pockets flush with coins to buy handfuls of candies or frozen treats. If you were an under-aged teen with a little extra cash, you had no problem getting your share of Marlboros. Tom’s was the meet-up point for our neighborhood “gang.” After meeting, we scattered throughout the neighborhood. Days spent riding bikes, running through sprinklers and hiking the woods. We climbed trees, ate Popsicles and sometimes smoked those shared Marlboros. We had everything we needed. There was nothing lacking in our world. We were simply flowing with a curiosity borne of our childhood innocence. A feeling so intense, that we explored our world with creative imagination and complete openness.