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

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. 

We were sitting on the redbrick well, Nonno Saro and I, at the foot of a tangerine tree that seemed to stretch to heaven. I asked about the sheep.  “Why do they always pass at the same time everyday?  They’re probably hot and tired because they don’t look happy.” My grandfather looked at me, his tired eyes glazed with cataracts.  He bent over and picked up a small green tangerine from the ground, rolling it a bit between his worn callused fingers before giving it to me.  It was cool to the touch. I brought it to my nose to smell the sweet scent of citrus.  My grandfather let out a long drawn out sigh.  His thoughts lay heavy in the steadiness of his gaze. 

In his deep raspy voice he said, “You know, Valeria, sheep are stupidi animali.  They just follow the group.  You know, people are like sheep. They just do what they’re told and follow the rules even if the rules don’t make sense.   They’re too scared to live, too scared to dream, too scared to be different.  When you’re a bambino you have to listen to grown-ups but when you get big, you learn, you watch the world with your big eyes, be courageous, curious and smart and never be afraid to live.” He picked me up and sat me on his lap. He patted my chest with a hand that fell across the width of my body, and he whispered, “Always follow your heart not someone else’s – then you won’t be a sheep.”

The most impactful lessons happen when least expect them, like red-hot flames spreading through the calming stillness of a dry forest.  Too young to realize at that moment, that day an internal flame was sparked.  The shutters that sit over my mind and heart were cracked open.  It would be years before I noticed.

I can’t say for certain that it was that conversation with my grandfather that propelled me to live life against the grain. Perhaps my life of opposing convention at all cost would have happened anyway.  But that summer day remains as clear and concise in my mind as the smell of a small fresh green tangerine picked up off the ground. The rest of that summer day in 1984 was spent contemplating my grandfather’s words. Soon enough though, they were lost and forgotten and buried deep somewhere in the crevasses of my memory. 

As a teenager I was too busy living as a rebel, a free thinker and a lone spirit.  Never claiming a group in high school, avoiding the cheerleaders while comforting the bullied, I was directionless but determined. Aimlessly searching for my own path, unaware that my grandfather’s voice was captured within me.  Somehow there was a life to claim yet the stake was nowhere to be found.  Twenty-some years later the sheep story bubbled up surfacing like a hidden treasure that was set free from the chains that kept it sunken below.  Maybe it was the shelves of self-help books that finally triggered its release.

“Your heart calls you to step into an uncommon life, the life of living from inspiration instead of fear.  I urge you to follow your call, even if it’s murky and frustrating, because nothing else will stir you in the same way.  Many of us stop at the threshold of our extraordinary capabilities because we can’t see how to do something.  We can’t figure out how things will happen.  But that’s the delicious grace of this path.  We can’t plan an inspired life.  Your brain will never take you there.  But your love can and will.” Tama J. Kieves, This Time I Dance!

I spent years fooling myself into believing I was fighting convention. Instead I was kicking dirt in my own face while following the herd.  My life was lived teetering on the edge.  Determined not to follow the safe path for the sake of familiarity and comfort.  My hope was that the back roads would lead to someplace different, but instead they took me to the exact same place.  Living in doubt and fear and convincing myself that it’s just too irresponsible or silly or a “waste of time” to follow my own heart. And so my search continued.  

My success was measured by society’s standards and when we do that we lose our inner compass and feed attention to our obstacles while dampening our inner desires.  It’s like going through life clutching our neighbor’s prize and convincing ourselves it’s our own, or driving in the comfort and beauty of a Rolls-Royce without a road map to paradise.

A year ago I started writing this blog.  For the first time I took my writing out of the closet and into the open air for the world to witness, critique and judge.  My secret form of creative self-expression, in all its rawness and vulnerability, was exposed.   Apprehension, self-doubt and fear were screaming with deafening might to put the nonsense aside and run for the hills.  Writing was something writers did…who was I to claim such a role? And to do it with such audacity, shamelessly purging my life without restrictions. 

Every time I wrote my heart sang and spirit soared, while my mind would have temper tantrums.  It took a full year to calm the screaming, erratic and totally irrational noise that relentlessly fought to win.  I meditated, binged on invigorating and empowering books, fully connected with inspiring and influential role models, and suddenly the world expanded before me.  

My symbol for success stopped becoming something I could touch and claim, but rather something felt and experienced. Finally, I understood what it meant to live from the heart - to feel alive with passion and creativity. Moving beyond approval, status or expectation I inherited the ultimate trust fund – my inner truth.  Soon steadiness and calmness were there even in the changing winds and pouring rains. There wasn’t a destination or prize that needed to be had in order to feel success and happiness.  Experiencing the things I love NOW – without tags, requirements or restrictions became my symbol for success. I finally gave myself permission to write for the sake of writing. My stake was firmly planted in the ground, officially naming myself “Writer” - even without a published book or astute title.

The sense of liberation that comes from the loving confidence we offer ourselves is empowering and contagious.  It leaks and spreads into all aspects of our lives, deepening all of our experiences with grace, intention and meaning.  Writing has been my teacher.  Blowing the dust out of my eyes so I can stop following the herd and veer off the defeated course of familiarity. It reminded me of what I always knew, even before sitting Nonno Saro’s lap at the well in Sicily almost thirty years ago. 

“If you wait for skill before you dare anything, you will only wait and ache.  Yet proceed with simplicity and you will inch, then launch, toward proficiency.  Don’t ache to be great.  Don’t desire and wait.  Care enough about your gifts to get there.” – Tama J. Kieves

June 10th 2012 is SmileWithYourEntireBody.com’s official first year anniversary.  My heart leaps and tumbles with excitement as I reflect on the past months and anticipate the journey ahead.  There is no plan, or agenda – maybe I’ll post more frequently, writing shorter posts on lighter subjects, or maybe I’ll post less often and instead start different writing projects.  My goal it to keep writing, reading, learning, teaching, playing and smiling  - and doing it all with passion and love in this very moment J 

In honoring this past year, I’d like to extend my deepest and most sincere gratitude to the people who have helped me on my journey thus far:

A special and most sincere thanks to Mark Collantes, my writing mentor, coach and editor – without you I wouldn’t have made it past my first blog post, “Listening To the Whisper.”  You have given me courage, support, strength and the will to continue to move forward. 

To my mother-in-law Mary Dominick who has been my grammar coach and editor, thank you for your continued effort, encouragement and love. And to my husband, Pete Dominick, for reading and critiquing all my pieces, promoting, plugging, tweeting and face booking – without your support I would have never experienced the thrill of writing for an audience. 

Thank you to Lisa Lampanelli, Patrick Meagher, Jenny Hunt and all my friends and supporters who’ve been spreading the word about smiling with your entire body. 

And an abundance of gratitude to my readers – thank you for your feedback, your support and your wonderful insight.  You have been my driving force.  I’m excited to keep walking this journey with you.  Keep smiling and Living From The Heart.


Unknown said...

I came here due to your husband's tweet. I will return because of what I found here.

You can not claim the title of writer if you are not one to begin with.

When you have the talent and ability to educate, entertain and/or enrich other people's lives with your written words, then you are a writer

You do not claim or earn the title, you have in truth accepted the responsibility and challenge of doing that which you were obviously meant to do. You are, and have always been, a writer.

Thank you for sharing. It was both enriching and enjoyable.

Todd said...

Wonderfully written. I am always looking for ways to inspire my children. This will definitely be something I will share with them as the journey to find their own path in this world.

Unknown said...

Your beautiful expression brings tears to my eyes and ignites my inner flame as well. graetful for your gifts and the shining courage you found to share them. Ashe!


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