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"When one experiences truth, the madness of finding faults with others disappears" - S.N. Goenka.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Stirring that Keeps Us Awake

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

Living From The Heart

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

Fame, Power and Flashing Lights

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

Happy? YES!

“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

The Feminine Spring: Birth of a New Woman

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

Loving From The Inside Out

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

Married to Stand-Up Comedy

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

The Power Behind Money

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.