Sunday, December 31, 2017

What We Know, What We Don’t Know, and Seeing with Wonder

This is (just in the nick of time) Essay #52 of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished & messy) essay each week during 2017. I DID IT!!! WOOOO!!!!

Last week, Shannon, my teacher, talked about the idea of not knowing anything. How, as she’s gotten older, she’s come to realize that she really knows nothing. And she’s happy about that. What it means –at least what I think it means—is that you think you might know something, but then something happens to prove you wrong or just limited in what you know. It means that knowing nothing is akin to beginner’s mind. Everything is a clean slate and you are open to receive whatever comes your way. You look at the world with wonder. I’d like to do that: to look at the world with wonder.

Besides, Shannon continued, does it matter? In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter how much we know or don’t know?

Sure, knowledge gained through experience can help us learn how to navigate the world in ways that best suit us, but sometimes our histories can hold us back from experiencing something new. For example, I’ve been practicing Kundalini yoga for about a year and a half – I have a good idea of what I’m walking into. And if I’m being honest, I usually walk into the studio with trepidation. What shit is going to happen to me this time? Am I going to break down crying again? Feel my insides torn to shreds? Or am I going to burst with brilliant light that I could outshine the sun? I usually lean toward the former, but practice the yoga anyway. I know that each day is different, each practice brings something different. So maybe I won’t break down into tears. But here's an idea: what if I just put aside my past experiences? Embrace the not-knowing? Maybe I wouldn't carry that trepidation with me.

How do we practice non-attachment to our histories so that we can be open to wonder with a beginner’s mind?

I don’t have a freaking clue.

maybe wonder starts with making barrettes


On this New Year’s Eve, as many people do, I am reflecting on the past 52 weeks. It’s been quite a ride. To be honest, I much preferred the first half to this second half. The first half, for me, was full of love and wonder and new discoveries and time –time to read and to deeply engage in my spiritual practice. The second half was a frenzy, as if I were running a marathon at a sprinter’s pace. And I have the clutter in my house to prove it! Clutter = never home long enough to put away things in their proper place. Clean? What’s that? You’re lucky I get groceries in the house and the toilet paper stocked!

Kidding aside, this year has been unlike any other. And yeah, everyone says that, right? Every year is different. Every day is different. Change is the only constant in our lives. But this one? Leaps and bounds, my friend. Transformations never before seen.

I know: I sound like an informercial for some cosmic new age retreat in the Catskills. Haha! All those abstract words! Let me try to be more concrete.

The 52 Challenge – woooo, boy. That was something else. At minimum, I showed myself that I really can do anything if I am committed to it. This challenge of writing a personal essay each week for a year pushed me in ways that were uncomfortable and brilliant and loving and, at times—dare I say it?—fun. It got me to be more vulnerable in a very public way. It also taught me how to let go of perfectionism and in some ways, to practice non-attachment. There was no time to hang on and hem and haw over a word choice or tone or any of that because the next week was barreling down on me saying: you need to write the next essay! So I just had to click “Publish” (after a quick proofread for typos – which I sometimes missed!) and move on. I look forward to printing out all 52 essays, laying them out on the living room floor, and seeing what I’ve got.

The essay challenge started out with me telling you stories. By the end, it was me reflecting on my inner self, my spiritual health. But also me being more me, more vulnerable, more true. (At least I’d like to think so.)

I just read my first essay of this year. It’s pretty good. And I’m not saying that out of arrogance. I’m saying that as a teacher of writing. I wonder how long I spent on that essay. I’m pointing this out because the essays of late are not so well-written. Perhaps this is a sign of weariness. Perhaps a sign of very little writing time. Perhaps both. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’m writing. And that I’m letting go of that writing – I’m practicing non-attachment. I write a messy essay, which may or may not be an essay but rather a journal entry, and post it to the world fucking wide web. (who even calls it that anymore?! Hahaha!) What matters is that I don’t know anything, but I write to try to figure out things, to discover things, to uncover things, to excavate, to try to understand things, to learn things, to possibly know things. And then to maybe let all that go.

I’ve written an incredible amount this year. More than what you see here on this blog, in these 52 essays. Sometimes I forget that. I forget that I’ve written other things. I forget that I’ve written meditative pieces, emails, letters, poems, rants, and yes, on the biz side: personal artists statements (that counts, you know!). And what have I learned in all of that writing? Amidst all of those words? That there’s stuff I know and there’s a whole bunch more that I don’t know. There’s that saying: you don’t know what you don’t know, right? So how do we go about being aware of this? You take a step forward and fumble your way through the dark until you see light.

Here’s to starting with a clean slate, a beginner’s mind to see the world with wonder and to live as authentically as we can.

Much love and light to you, my dear readers. Wishing you many blessings for the new year.

(Will you see me in 2018? Perhaps. I just don’t know what that looks like yet. Maybe another 52 weeks of essays. I’m not sure. And yes, I know, I know: I’d better figure it out stat! Time’s a-ticking! The new year will be here any minute now!)

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Living an Authentic Life

This is (late) Essay #51 of The 52 Essay Challenge, (I'm almost there!!) a series in which I write a new (unpolished & messy) essay each week during 2017.

Each year, I choose a word to carry me through the next twelve months. I use it as a touchstone, as something to remind me of how I want to live in the world. Now, if I’m being honest (and this has been my aim all year), I’ve forgotten this year’s word. Maybe it was HONEST. Hahaha! I don’t know. Nevertheless, I have been thinking about my word for the coming year.


There. My word for 2018. This is how I want to live. This is what I will strive for in the coming months, and hopefully, for a lifetime. I want to live an authentic life.

I know I’ve written about it before, touched on this notion of living authentically. But what does that mean, exactly? For me, it means to really tune into your heart. Your heart-soul. To listen to it carefully. To lead with love. To live honestly. To be true and truthful in all things, at all times.

That’s a tall order, if you ask me. My smaller self is saying: are you suuuure you want this to be the word? Capital Self says: Yes! Absolutely! Otherwise, what’s the point?

Now, what I just listed are all abstractions. What does that actually look like? In concrete terms? How does one practice this life of authenticity? That’s a harder question to answer. But maybe it starts with the small things.

A friend calls and wants to get together. You would like to see this person, but you are feeling too tired or you just aren’t in the mood to go out. Do you force yourself to go out? Or do you stay home? What does your heart say? Will you enjoy being out with your friend once you get there? Or will you inwardly grumble the whole time, imagining your warm cozy bed? Are you going out because you feel obligated and/or you don’t want to hurt your friend’s feelings? Or do you actually want to spend time with your friend?

I’ve been learning that I need to do what’s right for me because in the end, everybody wins (even if, sometimes, it doesn’t feel like it at the time). Of course, I’m not talking about a free pass to be reckless and do whatever the heck you want. I’m talking about honoring what you need to show love and care for yourself, which will then reflect back to others in your life. Very much like the protocol on flights: affix your oxygen mask to yourself first before helping others. What good are you to others if you’re passed out?


For me, this means to be my true self, one-hundred percent.

We all are selective about which parts of ourselves we show to certain people. There are parts we hide from others, certain parts we show only to a chosen few. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a myriad of personas. They’re all me, but they don’t often appear in public simultaneously. For example, my poet self doesn’t show up at family gatherings. My family doesn’t understand art or poetry or what it is that I do. And that’s okay, but I also don’t need to expend energy trying to explain to them this part of my life. Does this make me less authentic? No, I don’t think so. But tucking it away in order to make others feel comfortable? Yes. So, it’s a matter of intent. My family knows I’m a poet and I don’t hide it; it’s just a topic that holds no common ground in that setting. So in this regard, I’m honoring what I need while maintain an authentic life. I think. You follow? (I know  - it can get tricky.)

Recently, I was interviewed by Lisa Factora-Borchers for a piece in Bitch on the fragility of safety with regard to sexual violence and harassment. It went live yesterday. This was me going public as a rape survivor in a very big way, on a large platform.

Yes, I am a rape survivor.

And for a long time, I kept it from people. I didn’t want others to treat me differently as people are wont to do. I didn’t want them to treat me with fragility. If anything, that would just piss me off. But keeping it tucked away did not serve me. It felt like a secret, an open secret – it was there, some folks knew, but nobody talked about it. Still, a secret is a secret, even an open one, and keeping that part of me held inside felt inauthentic. I wasn’t wholly me. I wasn’t living a whole life.

My parents don’t know I was raped. But they might know now. Will we talk about it? Probably not. Because: Asian/Filipino. Do I want to talk about it with them? Not really. It wouldn’t be useful to me. (I mean, if they wanted to talk about it, sure, I’ll talk with them. But I’m not going to initiate a sit-down.) Does this make me less authentic? I don’t know. I don’t think so.

I think the point here is that I’ve released that hidden part of me into the light, into the world. As if to say: here I am world – all of me and my messy parts! Take it or leave it. Doesn’t matter. I am me and I don’t need anyone’s approval. I love myself –all of myself—enough to not need it. This is me and I’m good with that.


We are all multifaceted. I joke with my friend Emily: we both are jacks-of-all-trades, masters-of-none. What I’m hoping to do in the coming year is to put all those “trades”, all those selves, all those facets of me out into the light. To really be wholly me. Which means to be vulnerable, to be open to hurt and pain. But it also means to be open to love, which is vast and infinite.

I’m scared shitless.
But if I lead with love, maybe it won’t be so bad.
Here we go.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas. Joy. And yes, Love.

This is (really late) Essay #50 of The 52 Essay Challenge, (I'm almost there!!) a series in which I write a new (unpolished & messy) essay each week during 2017.

I would be remiss if I didn’t write about Christmas and spirituality and everything in between. And so, predictably, on this 25th day of December, I will write about Christmas and what it means to me (man, how cliché is that sentence?! I feel like throwing up from the cheesiness dripping off that sentence! Hahaha!).

In all seriousness…

Because I have kids who still believe in Santa, we attended the Christmas vigil mass yesterday afternoon. This has been our custom. How can I reasonably expect to get this family to mass on Christmas morning? There are presents to play with, breakfast treats to eat, assembly instructions to read, family to visit. When they are older, I’d like to take them to midnight mass. There’s something sacred about being in a church lit only by candles held by congregants.

So, if you don’t know, I’m a practicing Catholic who also practices yoga and believes in yogic philosophy and Hinduism and Buddhism. My faith practices are a mosaic of these. There’s this one devout Catholic I know who believes I’m going to burn in hell for this; she didn’t say so directly, but paraphrased some priest who said, in so many words, that people who practice yoga are going to hell as it is akin to paganism. Whatever, dude. God loves all people, no matter how they practice their faith or religion, if they even do that. He loves all of us even if some of us don’t believe he exists.

This is what gets me about religion: so many rules, so many “dos” and “don’ts”. Listen, as along as it’s done with love and causes harm to no one (including yourself), do whatever you want, do whatever connects you, whatever works for you. We’re all God, you know.

Anyway, while I have my issues with the Catholic Church, I still go to mass because there is something there for me. Yes, the predictability of ritual can get boring. (Though my favorite hymns can never get boring. Sometimes I wonder why the music director even tries new songs. Let’s stick with the tried and true!) Yes, most folks in attendance are there out of obligation rather than celebration (often, I ask myself why they even show up at all – but my Tita Emma says at least they’re there. There’s an opportunity for something to happen. Ever the optimist she is.). Yes, the patriarchal structure of the Church bugs the shit out of me (remind me why we can’t have women as priests & deacons??). But still, I still go to mass.

There’s something about being in a space deemed sacred, about being in that place with other people, and sharing, more or less, the same intent. But also having the opportunity to go within oneself in the midst of all this. It’s kinda like going to yoga class. For me, anyway. Yoga is a sacred practice for me and while I have my own home practice, it’s different when I practice with a class. There is collective energy that usually, but not always, feeds me.

Christmas mass is always special for me. The familiar hymns get me misty, especially “Joy to the World” because it’s so big in its joy, its celebration over the birth of a tiny baby who has come to light our way. The packed house gets me, too. And while I know most of those folks never step into a church except for this day (no, they don’t even come for Easter), the fact that they’re there, that it fills the church where it’s standing room only – it fills me, for some reason. It could just be the sheer volume: all of these people, I tell myself, have come to celebrate the birth of this baby who is pure love, pure joy. How can we be that all the time? How can we be joy and love? How can we keep practicing towards that: pure love, pure joy?

But there are also moments during the mass itself when my eyes tear up a bit. Most of those moments are when I close my eyes in prayer. I can feel an energy in the room, a brilliant light, a high vibration. This, I dare say, is what joy feels like. And this is why I keep coming back to mass.

Know this about me: I serve in my church as a Eucharistic Minister. So last night, I played in the all-star game (yeah, I got jokes!). I always forget how amazing it feels to offer the Body of Christ to congregants. (I’ll save the religion talk about the Body of Christ for another time) For me, it’s not what you might think. It’s not: whoa – I get to hold the Body of Christ in my hands! How cool is that?? For me, I have this honor of sharing something holy with others, whether they share this belief or not. And by holy, I mean it in the sense that the act of sharing in and of itself is holy. Food becomes holy when it’s shared (this is something food writer, Simran Sethi, has said & I agree!) Yes, it’s an honor because not everyone gets to do this, but mostly because I get the serve and to share. And to do that with people who may or may not believe in the same things I do. With people who may or may not see me at all. (And when I say “see”, you must know by know that I mean for people to really SEE, to acknowledge the presence of one’s soul, one’s existence as an individual.) But then again, it’s not about me. It’s not about anyone seeing me –not in this role. I am only there to facilitate the communion of believer with Christ, to commune self with Self.

I was thinking about this while I offered the host last night. Then, I noticed each person that came up to receive was white. Seriously. I don’t think there was one person of color in my section. I remember thinking to myself: man, I didn’t think my church was this white! Hahaha! What was interesting in that moment of realization, though (and the re-realization that most of these folks put Cheetoh in office), was that I didn’t have an emotional reaction to this. It was more just a noticing: they are white, I am not.

I could also tell by how they prepared to receive the Body of Christ that they were either out of practice or, more likely, they didn’t see this ritual as sacred. I noticed their hands. Were they placed one on top of the other, palms open? At heart level? Or at belly level? Hands cupped like I was going to pour water in there? Some people just held out one hand and tossed the host in their mouths like popcorn. Some approached with a grumble; others with a smile. One person opened his mouth to receive— I raised the host and began to carefully place it on his tongue in the way I’ve been trained so as not to touch; he darted his mouth forward and almost ate my finger. Most people who receive by mouth usually hold the Body of Christ as so sacred that they cannot touch it with their own hands. I thought this was true of this person. But then as he turned away to move along, he was laughing a little with his friend, as if someone had just told a joke. I was puzzled. But the amazing thing? No emotional response – I didn’t get mad like I might have (take this seriously, would you?!), but instead, just noticed. Interesting, I thought to myself.

As I write this, I think about the neutral mind (one of the bodies of existence according to Kundalini – go look it up!) – is that what this is? I also wonder if this is a sign of my heart growing wider, expanding with unconditional love. And then I think about the sound of my kids fighting over who’s winning (or, cheating) at foosball, my skin starts to prickle, and suddenly I ask: unconditional love? Really? Haha!

But in all seriousness, if we can put aside all the shit that we have allowed Christmas to become –which, it seems, is the checking off of a to-do list by a hard deadline (when I mentioned that I hadn’t done my cards yet, my uncle’s wife said: there’s always next year. To which I said: no, there’s tomorrow – it’s still the season. Does everything end on the 26th??)—then maybe there’s room for love, for real pure love. And for joy, absolute joy.

I wish you and yours a blessed and joyful Christmas, no matter what faith you practice, because really, I’m wishing you love.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Light, The Dark, The In-Between

This is (really late) Essay #49 of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished & messy) essay each week during 2017.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.
--Isaiah 9:2

I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in darkness, 
the astonishing Light of your own Being.

How do you find joy even in darkness? How do you sustain hope that you will see that great light as darkness closes in?


Me and the fam went out the other night to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi. (Don’t worry: no spoilers here.) Let’s just assume we all know that the Jedi religion is loosely based on yogic teachings. (There’s one scene where Luke is levitating while he sits with his legs crossed. I can’t help but think of Book 3 of The Sutras.) Now, as with all Star Wars movies (and in any great story, for that matter), there is always that moment (if not several) in which we see the heroes at the very edge of defeat. Someone gets captured. Someone nearly dies. But always, always their limits and their character are tested. Will they rise to the occasion and fight for victory? Or will they succumb to the Dark Side?

We know, deep down, that despite how harrowing and desperate the situation might be, Light always wins.

But what about in real life?

It’s been a hard year for all of us. It feels like the world is exploding. The nation we have come to know and love is no longer that place. And we have to fight to get it back. Or, better yet: to recreate it into something more spectacular. But the road is long and hard. Can we sustain hope as we fight for freedom and justice just as the Resistance does? Can we hang on to that tiny spark no matter how dark it gets?

I am so freaking tired.

But this essay is not about the political battle. It’s about the personal one.


I wish I had a story to you tell you today, but I don’t. I can only tell you how I am feeling.

This should be a time of great joy. There is promise of Light during the Christmas season. Jesus has come to guide us back to Light as we have lost our way in the darkness. Whether you believe him to be the Son of God or not doesn’t matter – he was a man who made a difference in people’s lives. He gave people hope. He lit a path to a better way of living. He showed us how to be kind, how to show love even to those who want to kill us. I am grateful for his example.

But lately, I am not feeling so joyful.

It is hard to be quiet here, among the glitz and glamour of gift-giving. Capitalism at this finest: creating desires for things that you didn’t know you needed. Do I need that car with the big red bow? No. Do I need an entire library with a big red bow? Maybe. Hahaha! Yes, the Christmas industry is alive and well. Secular songs on infinite repeat in every public space. They even sell you sentiment: Christmas is the time of year when you take a risk, a leap of faith and tell people you love them – or tell the truth about something. To go all out in a “Seize the Day!” manner. And you can say it with a card. Or the luxury car with the red bow. It’s all or nothing at Christmas, because… Christmas.

This feels—to state the obvious—forced. And trite. Contrived.

Which feels terrible to say because who can’t use a little more love, a little more honesty?

Maybe it’s just the angry melancholy in me talking right now.

Wait. What? Is that even allowed?? At Christmas??

This is one of the reasons why I’ve been hesitating to write this thing that may or may not be an essay. I feel sad, angry, exhausted, defeated. Totally defeated. How can I be okay with feeling like this when everything around you is celebratory, loud, and full of sparkle? And trust me, I love sparkles! So imagine how hard this is to try to be okay with feeling shitty.

Which is to say that I am not okay with feeling like a wet blanket on the fluffy cloud of sweet cotton candy cane that is Christmas.

But if I’ve learned anything in the past year or so, it’s that I need to honor where I am, to be okay with where I am, even if I find myself in a little bit of darkness or sadness or anger or anything deemed unattractive. I am okay. I am loved. I am worthy of that love. I am deserving. Even when I feel lost. Even when I feel like shit. Even when I don’t want to believe any of it. Even when I feel alone. Even when I feel defeated.

Just because I feel this way doesn’t mean I am those things: alone & defeated. (Friends reading this might be saying to themselves: I’m here for you! And I am grateful.) But I want to sit in this for a while. Is it wrong to want that? Some might say yes. And the tiny Asian girl within me doesn’t want to be wrong. But the grown me knows that it’s okay. I sense there is something useful hidden in there. What that is remains to be seen. I just have to be mindful that I do not get attached to the feeling of melancholy to the point where I get stuck there. Because that would not be useful. I also know that change is inevitable and this, too, shall pass. But for now, I am here, feeling this way.

Perhaps I am looking for Hafiz’s “astonishing Light of my own Being” which can be more easily seen in darkness. Perhaps.

Perhaps Joy is hidden in there, too. Or perhaps Joy is waiting for me on the other side. I don’t know.

I'm not looking for someone to cheer me up or try to fix me. I’m just looking for someone to hold that little spark of hope for me. Just for a little while. So I can rest. I’m already so tired.


Fellow 52Challenge essayist, Beth Godbee, offered a few small ways to care for ourselves, to nourish our spirits. She offered her favorite things. Maybe this will, at the very least, get me grounded, back into my body. Epsom salt baths are the best. What are your favorite things?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

On Mortality

This is (really late) Essay #48 of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished & messy) essay each week during 2017.

I’m thinking about mortality.

What would you do if you knew exactly when you would leave this earth, this body? How would you live our your remaining days?

This is not a new question. In fact, it’s been asked so much that it’s become a cliché to even ask it! But I don’t know if I’ve asked this question of myself and really pondered on the answers. Sure, I’ve asked the question. I’ve told myself and others that we are never promised tomorrow. And the question is usually raised when someone in my life dies. Or, right now, when someone in my life is diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.

Stage 3. That’s one stage lower than Stage 4, the final stage where nothing really can be done. So, it’s not a death countdown but it’s also not Stage 1 (early stages).

I’m still trying to wrap my brain around it. What does that mean? What’s the survival rate? Should I be freaking out that she might, indeed, die? I mean, yes, we all are going to die, but I don’t know how to respond to this information. I can’t tell what level of “oh shit” this is. My friend, M, is really holding it together on the outside. Casual and nonchalant. Really frank about discussing her treatment and saying things like “we’re going to kick cancer’s ass”. Talking facts rather than feelings. I wonder what’s going on deep within. I hope that she’s talking about it with other people: her husband, a therapist, somebody. Because we all know that tamping down emotions just makes them stronger, and, sometimes, toxic. You can’t just will yourself to be strong and not allow for grief and heartache to come into play, too. The sadness and anger will only grow and perhaps hinder the strength.

When she first told me about her diagnosis, she expressed some anger. Why is this happening to me? I eat organic. I take care of myself. But the way she said it – it sounded like she was really working hard at holding it together, working hard at not breaking down. I get it. I’d probably be the same way. But how useful is that? To deny ourselves to feel the things we need to feel?

I understand that everyone has their own way of dealing with feelings, with expressing them. I just hope that she is able to process all of this with help, in the way is best for her. It’s just that holding it together, tamping it down, perhaps even denying feelings – that’s not the best way for anybody.


In facing one’s mortality head on, we tend to deny it. We refuse help. We insist on self-reliance. Look at my in-laws who are well advanced in age and need all sorts of help, help that might be best found in an assisted living situation. (I’ve already discussed this a little bit here.) Our pride gets in our way. As does our denial of death. We are very attached to things, to our status quo. Change is inevitable, as is death. So why not embrace rather than resist them both?

And what does it feel like to know more concretely that you are closer to death than most people? How would you move through your life? What would change?

These are questions I am contemplating.

How would I live my life differently? Would I live my life differently?

I’ve been trying to live my life in the present moment, trying to thrive and live like I will die tomorrow. Trying is the operative word. It’s not easy. Old habits die hard. But I am making an effort. I am seeking out and trying to create as much joy in my life, as much play.

The year is coming to a close. With the new year on the horizon, many of us use this as an opportunity to create a fresh start, a clean slate. It always feels so good to do that. But often, these “do better” lists don’t get to the heart of thriving in this life we’ve been given. “Lose 10 lbs” is a good old standby. What does that even mean? That you are unhappy with your body? Love your body and be grateful for all that it does for you. Treat it well, like the holy temple it is. Nourish it with goodness and you’ll feel physically better. If you focus on the weight loss, you’re not creating joy – you’re creating suffering. Because you’ve got this idea that your body isn’t good enough as it is. You got a little extra cushion? Love it and then tell yourself that maybe the extra cushion has served its purpose and now you are working on letting it go because it no longer serves you. Doesn’t that sound more inviting? Like maybe there’s potential for love and joy in that?

When it comes to living the lives we want, many people say Oh, I’ll do that next year. Or, I have to wait until all my ducks are in a row. Or, Just as soon as I do XYZ first. I am one of those people. Or, at least I used to be. Now, I’ve been working on going after the things I want in this moment. And when I say “the things I want” I don’t mean material things (though, to be honest, I do want the Gravity blanket. Have you seen this thing?? So amazing! Though, not cheap.) I’m talking about seizing the day. Do we have to wait until we receive our death notices in order to thrive in the life we’ve been given? Or will we go out each day and do the thing that brings us joy, the things that scares the shit out of us, the thing that pushes us to our edge to that we can grow to the most excellent versions of ourselves? I don’t know about you, but that’s how I want to live: awake and alive exploding with joy. (yeah, yeah, the darkness can come too. Hahaha!)

On that note, I have this dilemma: I want to go on this spiritual study retreat to India in February with my teacher. There’s a whole group going from my home studio. To visit the childhood home of Krishna? To physically be in the sacred space and energy of Vrindavan? Man, that would be something else. The dilemma? Financing the trip. Yes, seize the day. But how to balance that with a certain level of responsibility? If I were dying, would I say, “fuck it and rack up that debt”? I can’t say.

Which brings me to m original question: what would I do differently if I knew when I would leave this earth? Maybe I’d go to India on my already-maxed-out card. Maybe I’d open a new card (if they let me – haha) and take my whole family to the Philippines and to Italy because my kids want to see where their grandparents are from. Maybe I’d get that Gravity blanket. Maybe I’d try skydiving. Maybe. I don’t know – I’m terrified of heights. But if I’m going to die anyway, why the hell not?

I’d definitely tell everyone I loved them every freaking minute of the day (which I kinda already do). I’d take more bubble baths. Take even more naps (because naps are awesome! And hello, Gravity blanket! Naps will be even more awesome!). I’d get some massages because I don’t get enough of that kind of magic. I’d try to create as much magic as possible in my life and everyone around me. And play. Always play.

Carpe diem, my friends. Because you don’t know when you last breath will come.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Notes from Your Resident Hippy-Dippy: On Listening & Discernment

This is (really late) Essay #47 of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished & messy) essay each week during 2017.

Follow your heart.

You see it on painted wood signs in the décor aisle of Home Goods. It’s on Instagrammed photos that then get shared on Facebook. If one is lucky enough: encouraging parents whisper this in the ears of their children as they wander off into unchartered territory called college. It’s a phrase we hear so often. But what the hell does it mean? What if you can’t even hear your heart?


Back in 2003, my friend Erika and I started on a spiritual path together. I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into, but I knew that I was looking for something. So, she suggested we started listening to Louise Hay’s book, I Can Do It! We listened because we could “read” the book during our commutes between home and work. Erika lives in the Bay Area and I’m in Jersey so we’d Skype weekly to check-in. We talked about writing, mostly (we two were a little writing “group”), but Louise’s positive affirmations also came into the conversation. Little did I know that this began my relationship with the power of mantra. That year, I could feel a shift within me. Something was starting to happen.

Over the years, we sought out book after book: Ask and It Is Given, The Art of Receiving, The Artist’s Way (which we both had for quite some time, but upon returning to it, found new ways of being), The Magic (oh, the magic of gratitude!), and everything Pema Chodron! I could feel my spiritual self grow and develop – it was really amazing! This is what I had wanted from my own religious practices (Catholic), but didn’t know that this was what I wanted, nor did I know I didn’t have it—until I got it.

Small things started to change. And the changes were tiny, incremental. I found more patience with people, particularly my kids. I could create moments of calm. I found yoga to be a more spiritual experience and not just a physical workout. The things that mattered to me were less about material things and status; instead, it was about intangible things: happiness, love, kindness. I felt more connected to my Self (though, at the time, I didn’t know it was higher, divine Self as opposed to self). I also started to pay closer attention. The universe was talking to me, and all this time, I hadn’t been listening.


I took my first Kundalini yoga class a year and a half ago. I had no idea what Kundalini was but I needed to take a class with this particular instructor and this is what fit into my schedule at the time. This instructor was running the 200 hour teacher training I was interested in. I needed to know who she was; word of mouth said she was fantastic, but I wanted to find out firsthand.

That was the longest rollercoaster of seventy-five minutes I ever experienced. Holy shit. This is what went through my mind during the class:

First: what the fuck is this? This isn’t yoga! [pause] But she did tell me it was weird. Man, is it weird! What the hell are we doing??

Second: Why am I sweating so much? Oh my God, this is worse than the hardest spin class I’ve ever taken – I might sweat all over my mat! And I don't have a towel. Shit. I didn’t know this was HOT yoga. Wait – it’s not even hot in here. What the hell? What the hell is going on? And we’re just breathing and twisting our spines. What?

Almost immediately after that: Holy shit. I gotta get out of here. What the fuck is going on with me? What? What? There’s something going on in here and I don’t know what it is and I want to leave. Should I just get up and leave? I can’t just get up and leave. Can I? Maybe I can. Shit. Come on. You can do it. Just hold on a little longer. Maybe it’ll go away. Hold on. Hold on tight. Brace yourself. You can do it. You can finish this class. I know you can.

[almost passes out]

Last ten minutes of class: wow – what is that warm light? It feels so good. I feel so light. Am I flying? I must be flying. Is the sun in here?

Later in the reception area: holy shit – I feel amazing. What the hell happened to me? [to Shannon]: What the hell happened to me?

I can’t remember if she actually answered. She probably just smiled at me and nodded. I signed up for teacher training right on the spot. Shannon was, indeed, fantastic. (Of course, I'd change my mind several times over the span of the 9-month training as she poked and prodded us in order to encourage us to evolve. No one said growth was easy. Or fun. But happy to report that I love her to death!)


Fast forward to the present.

Kundalini is the fast-track to heightened awareness. I kid you not.

With all of this awareness, a new challenge has come up: discernment. How do I know what I’m hearing is the universe? How do I know it’s not my ego pretending to be the universe? How do I differentiate between the two?

Well, it comes down to the gut. Instinct. The deepest parts of your heart.

But to get there, you need to get through some layers of shit. As you go through the layers, how do you distinguish the shit, the illusion, the ego’s desires from the real, the truth? What rings true? How do you know?

I know, I know: I sound like this esoteric New Age hippy-dippy again! Hahaha!

But these are real questions I ask myself. And there’s so much information out there, coming at us at the speed of light. How can we hear ourselves inside so much noise?

Oh, Meditation. Welcome to my temple.


Why, you might wonder, dear Reader, am I even asking these questions? Of what use will these answers be if I find them?

I am a Seeker.

Shannon called me this during our graduation ceremony for yoga teacher training. (There are varying definitions of this, but basically, it just means that I’m seeking out spiritual growth and development, that I’m curious –endlessly curious.) What this means for me is that I am looking for ways to improve my life and how I live it. How to evolve spiritually and how to lead a more authentic life. And what does that mean? To live in as much love and truth as best I can. And to answer the calling for my life, which is the same call everyone has: what are you here to do? What is your dharma? (Oooo! A yoga term! Hahaha!)

So in order to follow you heart, you first need to hear it. To truly hear it and not mistake it for the ego. For me, following your heart is about doing your best to live your best, most authentic and truth-driven life, led with love, kindness, and generosity. And what that looks like changes every day, every minute. My best might be taking a nap because my body needs it. My best might be eating a Bavarian cream donut because my body needs it. Hahaha! I'm kidding! My best might simply be listening to someone, to actively listen and see them --really see them. My best might be holding my tongue when I really want to shout. My best might be to shout after holding so much silence.

Get quiet a little bit everyday so you can listen. What does your heart-soul say? And after you listen, will you follow it?