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Does God Exist? How Faith Has Kept Me Afloat

Posted by on Mar 28, 2016 in Blog | 2 comments

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Does God Exist?  It’s one of the oldest, most important and controversial questions a person can ask.  I’ve struggled with the concept on and off throughout my life, and I have finally come to believe that it does.  In my darker moments, I doubt it because I am angry at the world that creates tragedies and horrific consequences to our irresponsible actions and negative thought patterns (ironically, in my darkest moments, I’ve taken great, unspeakable comfort in the notion that there is a God and that I’m safe because of this entity’s bottomless love). But I’ve also come to realize that the suffering we endure as humans is part of a much more complex web of intricacies involving our separate will(s), our soul’s choices, and perhaps even far away galaxies whose existence we are not privy to understand.

Last year I attended a presentation led by Deepak Chopra in which he discussed his new book God: A Story of Revelation (HarperOne, 2012).  He argued that science isn’t capable of explaining the multi-galaxy world in which we live.  What we see with our naked eyes is pure energy, he said; hence, it doesn’t exist.  Ultimately our realities are an illusion of the mind, which we create to evolve as spiritual beings.

The more I listened to Chopra’s theories the more I understood the fundamentals of what he was saying.  God exists in the space where noise stops.  By noise I mean outside racket, the din in our minds, the words we speak, the ramblings we think.  When all is still and all is silent, when our brains register nothing more than a straight line on a brain scan, we realize the presence of something that exists beyond us.  This presence watches, listens, decides.  It is God.

I wanted to raise my hand and ask questions.  I didn’t.  I did, however, reflect back upon moments I’ve experienced during meditation when the chatter around me and in my head subsided and disappeared.  I felt an inexplicable presence and spaciousness inside me.  Intangible as that presence was, it made me feel cherished.  Loved.  At times, I’ve been fortunate enough to carry that sensation past meditation, to allow it to guide me in ways that no human has ever been able to do.  It is in that space where I have absolute certainty in the idea that we are spiritual beings, alive for a reason, and continue to exist long after we’ve passed away.  God must be a part of such an equation.

Back to Chopra.  In one of his previous books, he explained that our longing for a parental figure’s love and affection is nothing more than our deeply-ingrained desire to reconnect with our Creator.  I can rack my brain all I want on this one but when it comes down to it, I cannot argue with Chopra on this belief.  And within that I am offered a thought worth contemplating: Would I even be alive if I hadn’t been comforted and protected by something much more infinite and powerful than my mortal family?  It is doubtful, I sometimes think.  It’s likely that I would have succumbed to the darkness and distress and addiction and uncertainty that threatened to swallow me whole.

I was raised to believe in the God that’s fashioned out of Catholic icons: Tall, with a long white beard, a cape around his neck.  It’s taken me years to dismiss these patriarchal ideas, and even more years to understand that absolutely everything that happens to us is part of our journey, and that,even the death of those we love the most is a small piece of a much larger puzzle. When their journey of learning, of helping others and/or teaching is finished, they go, just like we will go once we are done in our carnal form. It is not necessarily the end as we, humans, conceive it. It is only a passage to a different realm from what we know today.

Whether we believe or not is not important; what’s important is to remain open to the presence Chopra talked about.  Perhaps this presence won’t arrive daily, but on my part I’ve learned that it’s visited me when I’ve needed it most.  It’s kept me afloat.

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Trespass at Your Own Risk: How to Create and Keep Healthy Boundaries

Posted by on Dec 15, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

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I rarely had to concern myself with boundaries when I lived in the United States. It was hard enough to get a smile back from a fellow shopper while strolling through the aisles of Whole Foods. Personal Space in the US is clearly demarcated, bright as a neon sign. Boundaries in Italy—my birth country, where I temporarily relocated to not long ago—are blurry concepts saved for quieter countries. The stereotypes are true: We’re a cozy lot. Often, too cozy.

By the time I left Milan in my 20s, I’d had more than enough of people touching me while speaking, shouting instead of talking, and foisting their food, moral judgments, gossip, and most intimate secrets upon me. I wanted room to breathe, space to think—and skin that hadn’t been touched by every stranger in a three-block vicinity.

The US, vast and grand, new and shiny, no doubt gave me that. It also gave me a feeling of coldness and separation I couldn’t quite shake. The very things that irked me in Italy—effusive greetings from shopkeepers, bear hugs from friends and strangers alike, saucy confessions in loud tones, fingers on my wrists and arms and face, the feeling that I couldn’t escape family no matter where I went because familia was something so loosely defined—were also the very things I missed most. I wanted someone to ask me how I was and mean it. I needed a hug, a sympathetic ear, a spontaneous diversion when working from home. And I couldn’t come to terms with people driving patiently behind someone going well below the speed limit. In Italy? We’d punch a horn, yell out something snarky, and pass them the moment we could. America was too refined, too restrained, too polite—all of which gave me the sneaky suspicion that some of my compatriots were insincere and repressed; utter bores.

There is no word for “boundary” in Italian—not in the clean and precise way it can be defined in English. Boundary means confine, but of the geographical kind. So when I mutter what can be slackly translated as “boundaries, boundaries!” in Italian—more often than not when an acquaintance is regaling a story in the center of the street, two inches away from my face—I’m greeted with a look that says my time in America has left me loony.

And it’s true: I have changed. In the quiet space I was given in the US, I learned a great deal about myself—what I do and don’t like, what’s appropriate and what’s a clear invasion of my privacy, what can be tolerated and what’s impermissible. Back in Italy, I’m often tense and on-guard because of the sheer number of people around me. I’m overwhelmed at times by loved ones and neighbors coming over uninvited, or getting cajoled into a gelato or a cappuccino when I have a list of to-dos, or finding myself in a spontaneous and unwelcome conversation in which divulging the most private details of my personal life is demanded of me. Certainly a happy medium must exist somewhere.

It does. It’s just a matter of understanding boundaries before one can implement them with grace and skill.

There are four primary forms of boundaries: Material, as in lending a favorite shirt to a friend or allowing someone to borrow your car; physical, or pertaining to your body and your personal space; mental, as in the trespasses one can make in terms of your intellectual or spiritual space, and emotional—that sacred area where, when crossed, other people’s dramas, penetrations, and aggressions directly influence how you feel. If any of these are encroached upon, you’re bound to feel angry, frustrated, spent, crushed—and wholly discouraged.

Research points to a distinct correlation between abusive or challenging childhoods and weak boundaries. It makes perfect sense: If one’s opinions, presence, space, and possessions aren’t valued by others, why should they place any significance on them? And yet, to not establish boundaries is to open yourself up wide open to potential hurt. But this begs the question: How do we maintain healthy boundaries if we never learned them in the first place?

The first step is educating yourself. Examining your past and present challenges will foster your ability to recognize when, why, and where your personal No Trespassing sign is quivering and unsteady in the wind. Are you being overly generous in the hope that it will earn you affection? Are you saying yes to outings and events out of fear of hurting someone else’s feelings? Are you bending your spiritual beliefs simply to concede someone else’s? Are you at risk of getting hurt because it might lead to another’s comfort? Are you unable to hear your inner voice because there are so many people yelling their opinions in your head? Being able to see where you start and others begin is key—after all, there’s nothing even remotely selfish about protecting yourself from potential harm. Constructing boundaries, and navigating others, first and foremost requires awareness. And with that comes tools of dignity and diplomacy to skirt certain situations, assert yourself, and live in peace.

Say you have a friend who shows up at your doorstep unexpected and uninvited, presuming that, due to the nature of your friendship, you are at his or her beck and call. Kindly, compassionately, but firmly explain that their surprise visits leave you feeling intruded upon and interrupt your daily routine. Instead, offer to set up a date with them to have coffee. Say a cousin of yours, who is in the throes of divorce, calls incessantly to announce the next heartache in her life. If she’s used to you answering her calls and texts without hesitation, start letting her to go to voicemail and send her a sweet but solid text explaining that you’re busy. If your dear neighbor has made a habit of borrowing supplies and items without returning them, gently tell her that you, too, are low on sugar. As for strangers who get right up in your face? Don’t hesitate to back away and stand your ground, even if it means lifting a hand to keep them from coming nearer. The intent of a stop sign, after all, is seldom lost in translation.

With time, your new actions—generous at times, but securely in your grasp—will garner notice. Shifts will occur, and oftentimes for the better: The time you spend with others will be relished, not tolerated; what you choose to disclose will have more meaning and depth precisely because they’re not coerced out of you; your thoughts and preferences will be heard, not overburdened by others’ desires and commands. And the less your boundaries are weakened, the stronger you’ll grow—leaving you emboldened, wiser, and in greater control of your own frontier.

Want to Feel Better? 6 Simple Ways to Raise Your Vibration Fast

Posted by on Nov 14, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

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Underneath the solid matter that we encounter on a day to day basis—our floors, our cars, the desks upon which we work, the coffee cups we use—exists what we cannot see with the naked eye: Pure energy.

Human beings, animals, plants, even objects—all are made, for the most part, of vibrating energy. Believe it or not, but everything you see around you is vibrating at one frequency or another. We don’t see it, and many hardly think about it, because we are accustomed to relating to things that our senses can prove “actually” exist. This is particularly true for Westerners, who are habituated to believing that anything beyond what we cannot see, touch, smell, hear, or validate through empirical data is sheer myth.

And yet. That chair you’re sitting on as you read this is vibrating. And within that chair are millions of subatomic particles running around and popping with energy. The table upon which you eat your dinner is as well—it is energy, movement; a quiet force.

Need a better example? Consider electricity. We know for a fact that it exists—it charges the very device you’re using at this moment—but we can’t touch it or smell it (and rarely do we smell it or hear it!) For those of us who aren’t physicists, we vaguely understand how it’s generated, but, because it’s evidenced to us daily, we wouldn’t dare object to the fact that it exists.

Unlike our familiarization with lights that turn on with a mere flip of the switch, we’re seldom attuned to the vibrations within us but energy is what shapes us. It reveals itself as strength and stamina. It’s the power by which our bodies move, our minds think, our hearts ache, and our senses are come alive.

There is more than meets the (naked) eye 

If you’re still dubious, consider this:

Max Planck, one of the founders of Quantum Physics, gave a talk that addressed, in part, the continuous spectrum of frequencies of light emitted by an “ideal heated body.” Planck proposed that a piece of matter is equivalent to a collection of oscillating electric charges and went on to prove that solid matter is comprised of energy—even if those wily electrical charges aren’t readily seen by the naked eye. Professor John Hagelin defined this energy as the Unified Field of Energy—meaning, quite simply, that we all share the same plateau; we all derive energy from this source.

The hidden consciousness

Hagelin went on to report that “cutting-edge research in the field of neuroscience has revealed the existence of a ‘unified field’—a fourth major state of human consciousness, which is physiologically and subjectively distinct from waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. In this meditative state, aka Samadhi, the threefold structure of the waking experience—the observer, the observed, and the process of observation—are united in one indivisible wholeness of consciousness.”

While it might be quite a mouthful, think of it this way: Do you know that feeling of unity you feel in savasana in yoga? Or the clarity and self-compassion you experience after a massage, a Reiki session, a reunion with nature, or meditation? Such is the fourth state of consciousness, where divisions merge and distance is replaced with cohesion.

By and large, we live in a world of solid matter. This is even more pronounced in our consumerist society, which creates a dependence on and desire for what is tangible: Money. A house. Clothes. Accessories. A flat screen TV. These tangibles, however, have a remarkable way of making us feel that we’re closer to something—success, the right social status, acceptance, love—when in fact they push us off the main path of centeredness and contentment. The more these tangibles incite us, the more the energies within us become chaotic and tumultuous, like a lamp with a faulty wire.

For example: A colleague gets upset because she isn’t given the promotion she believes she deserves. With the promotion, she believes she’ll reach a higher level of admiration and greater access to the material things she wants. Instead of contemplating the factors that led to the decision—tardiness, resentment in the workplace, poor performance—she creates a negative field of energy around her. This field produces particles in her body that eventually may produce illness. Without deconstructing this negativity, anxiety and depression builds and builds until it manifests in a physical response.

Think about it. How often, in your personal life, is a serious illness a side effect of stress? Stress, the emotional response to pressure, catapults us into physical wear and tear. A simple cold or infection suddenly becomes something much direr.

As children, we are taught to brush and floss our teeth daily to prevent cavities and disease. Similarly, we learned that fresh foods ensure health and vitality, and are given antibiotics to cure infections. But, as a whole, we have not learned to “cleanse” our energy from the drama, dependence, negativity, and traumas that can easily translate into foul emotional responses and sicknesses.

To put it plainly, underneath the junk we eat, the drama we create or embrace, the beliefs others impose on us, and the pessimism we observe or participate in, is a brilliant field of energy from which we can all till. But until we learn to remove the debris—the sticks and weeds and garbage and rocks of what we ingest, literally and figuratively—we are vulnerable to tripping, or falling into a dark hole.

Cleanse the body and polish the brain

The question is: How do we cleanse our internal field of energy?
To some, the question may sound preposterous—an inquiry reserved for those who spend their days cleansing their chakras and lighting incense to ward off evil spirits. But those who partake in these actions are onto something: When they’re centering themselves while we’re getting distracted by that glittery object in the distance, they’re giving their consciousness a good scrub. But before you bust out the theoretical exfoliator, consider these six suggestions to maintain health and find a unified sense of being:

  • Spend fifteen minutes in silence. You could be at home, on your commute, on a run—wherever you find yourself, at one point in your day, make a commitment to yourself that you’ll do nothing, nothing, for a stretch of fifteen minutes. Put the newspaper down. Shut off the TV. Turn off your phone. Close the shades, if you must. Let your mind wander in this space. Don’t allow it to veer into the musts that might creep in—or the I should haves, I wish, or if not fors—as that will completely undermine the purpose of this practice. Turn off the ticker tape of the mind, if you will, and enjoy the quiet. When those fifteen minutes are up, note how you feel. Freer? Fresher? More enthusiastic to take on the rest of the day? More often than not, you’ll feel all of this at once.
  • Start your morning with a cup of coffee—for the soul. Our morning routines usually pass by at a feverish pace—coffee, news, emails, breakfast, shower. Rarely do we pause when we wake up to consider things that are beyond the day in front of us. Select a spiritual book (for ideas, see Books & Media) and read a few passages. It’ll nourish your soul, and get that energy within you blinking just right.
  • Move your body. Yoga, running, cycling, martial arts—whatever it is you choose, commit to consistency. Natural antidepressants exist within us, and by breathing right and awakening your endorphins, you’ll notice a stronger sense of unity between your mind, body, and soul.
  • Avoid drama. It’s everywhere—your co-worker’s relationship woes, your spouse’s angst, your teenager’s hormonal outbursts—and it’s tempting to dive into other people’s turmoil because it distracts you from facing your own. But like a blown socket, it will create layer after layer of pressurized energy within you, which inevitably leads to poor decisions and a weariness in the soul.
  • Form an intention. Mentally decide on the adjective you’d like to describe your day when all is said and done by the time you go to sleep. Is it happiness? Serenity? Productivity? Picturing that word in your mind compels you to continue aspiring to it as the day rolls on, which will steer you towards a deeper connection between your brain, your body, and your heart—thereby reinforcing the intent.
  • Just say ‘om.’ Chanting ‘om’ need not be reserved solely for the yoga studio. Saying it creates a vibration in our bodies that ascends us to a higher state, anytime, anywhere. Gabriel Axel, in Your Brain on Om: The Science of Mantra, confirms that “performing (om) can create an event inside the nervous system, which can then become an object of concentration and meditation, and thereby a focal point for expanding physical and emotional awareness.” The vibratory sensation, in fact, “has a funneling effect, narrowing the consciousness into subtler sensations such as thoughts and impressions, approximating the dream state.” And it is in this dream state that the tangible desires around us—food, sex, money, possessions—fade in importance, achieving enlightenment and soul-fulfillment becomes paramount, and success arrives in the soul. 

Indeed: “Success,” writes the great Paramahansa Yogananda in Man’s Eternal Quest, “is not a simple matter; it cannot be determined by the amount of money and material possessions you have. The meaning of success goes far deeper. It can only be measured by the extent to which your inner peace and mental control enable you to be happy under all circumstances.” Consider your quest not eternal, but electric. It’s just a matter of accessing the right switch.

 

How to Make our Inner Critic Work for Us

Posted by on Oct 27, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

 

Whether you’re a mother or a father, an aunt or an uncle, a friend or a stranger, people have long been drawn to the beauty and purity of children. It’s more than their ready smiles, their precociousness, their simplicity, their endless awe. They mesmerize us precisely because they represent the parts of ourselves we have lost with time.

We are born whole. Think about it: We are tiny creatures with little more than the basic instinct to survive. And yet within those fragile, miniature bodies, we have resilience, untainted knowledge, and vision. Ancient texts attest to this, in different forms and in varied volumes: “…the people are one, and they all have one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do: And now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.” To put it plainly, we are comprised of and possess the same qualities, just as we are all capable, to some degree, to think, speak, and imagine in boundless ways.

The singular, signature language of humans, however–which I define as one that seeks love, comfort, health, wisdom, and grace–becomes warbled and unclear as we grow older. Societal, familial, and financial pressures invite self-doubt. Our gleeful, promising paths are often obscured by wanting to impress or please someone else other than ourselves. We make sacrifices–to our true goals, our authentic emotions, and our honest desires–in search of acceptance, stability, and success.

This separation seems innocuous enough. After all, the aim to fit in, get ahead, and prosper is seen all around us, from neighbors and colleagues to media. Ultimately, though, this distancing from the selves we were as children produces internal discord: Anxiety, grief, depression, envy, and anger. As Buddhists say, we become hungry ghosts, with appetites that can never be sated, no matter how many triumphs we have under our belts, material possessions in our garages, or money in the bank. Someone, somewhere has it better than us. And, through the illusions we allow to absorb and internalize, we want what they have.

“On the level of Spirit,” Marianne Williamson once said, “we are all one.” We tend to forget this, however, in our pursuit to quell cravings that refuse to be satisfied. While owning a home is a valid goal, why do we seek the grandest residence in town? While financial security diminishes angst, why do we strive for more, and more, and more, until dollar signs is all we see? What if we were to stop trying to outrun or even keep up with one another, and use that time and effort to be present for each other and ourselves? To speak the same language again?

Take into consideration this: We are all imperfect. We all need to be loved. We seek through others recognition and belonging. The hungry ghost that resides in us is trying to run away from this acknowledgment as quickly as possible–and, in so doing, our inner critics become amplified.

That’s because in order to be “on the right track,” we develop at an early age an interior analyst and detractor in response to the limitation of our expressions, which arrives primarily in the form of our parents, teachers, and peers. Believe it or not, we’re better equipped to collaborate with our inner critics as children than we are as adults. When young, our inner critics serve to correct our mistakes or gently suggest better alternatives; with time, this voice becomes insidious and unkind. It wants to control everything we do, say, feel. Often, by the time we become adults, our inner critics are yelling from megaphones–and if someone gives us even the slightest signal of not being “good enough,” we condemn ourselves to the point that we aren’t able to function effectively, freely, and happily. This corrosiveness, borne out of separation from ourselves and others, leads to lives of despair.

As I write this, I’m reminded of two dear friends. Both have created vast chasms in their lives between who they are and who they want others to perceive them to be. The first is a woman who has a long list of insecurities. Like many of us, she comes from a troubled past, and gravitates towards people who mistreat her because it is all she has ever known. When incidents occur in which she suffers the consequences of others’ actions and behaviors, she makes elaborate lists of the wrongs she finds in others and the pains she’s endured. The second is a friend who sees the world in black and white, with only an occasional shade of gray. Rarely can she spot the strand of gold in the stack of hay, so to speak, and spends countless hours judging those she believes have judged her with the exactness she projects unto others.

The time and energy these two women have spent concentrating on the wrong subjects provides us with a vital reminder: Introspection leads us to solicitude–internal and external–far faster than animosity, regret, and pointing fingers. Focusing on HOW others perceive us adds to the separation that starts in us as children, ultimately blinding us, and making that language we all speak sound foreign to even the most attentive ears.

Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Barrack Obama, to name but a few, are widely known for not wasting time looking outside of themselves. Instead, they’ve provided critical tools for progress. Their concentration on being whole, innovative, and attuned to others has inarguably changed our present landscape. They’ve retained the resilience in character with which we are born.

Focus not on the world outside of you and begin focusing on the world inside of you. From there, we’ll discover unity with others–and, even more importantly, harmony with ourselves.

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The Necessary Pauses

Posted by on Jul 1, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

Recently, I came upon a passage in Anne Lamott’s Grace (Eventually) that rang so true to my ears I kept flipping back to it for days.

“…She looked like the monk seals that swim ashore in Hawaii to rest on the sand,” Lamott writes.  “The adult seals are six and seven feet long, and they all look like Charles Laughton.  The newest tourists on the beach think they are dying and need to be rescued, but anyone who has been there even a day knows that they come onshore to rest.

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