Know Thyself…

🙂 Smiles and good vibes to everyone!

I talk a lot about living your best life, and that is because I believe in that. Some people are totally satisfied with their life as it is, and I think that is fine. I also think there is always room for personal growth, there is always room to learn something more, and to be open to the possibility that there are still some amazing ways for us to live, to serve, to enjoy, and to experience life. Recently at work, I either have taken or will soon take a series of assessments that have proven to be very insightful into my leadership style, communication style, and just my overall personality. I make the analogy that these assessments remind me of what I have learned from astrology and reading a bit of Jungian psychology—but I digress. (To see this week’s YouTube video, click here: https://youtu.be/qFK1G-WO118)

Self-awareness is a very broad concept, and we won’t have the time to cover everything regarding this topic. This is more of a starting point (or a reminder) for a very very very important journey with yourself. Self-awareness has been vital in my own life in many ways. There was a point where I can honestly say that I only knew myself on a surface level. It can be terrifying to go deeper within and face yourself, but it is so important. Marianne Williamson said, “It takes courage…to endure the sharp pains of self-discovery rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives.” Pema Chodron, “The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.” It can be difficult to take an honest assessment of who we are but it is worth it.

It is important work to do because we spend our whole lives with ourselves—more than with anyone else. You might as well like the person you are; you might as well like your own company. I believe that when you have a deeper understanding of who you are, the good, the bad, and the ugly lol, that it also helps with self-esteem, and with the ability to stand firmly against the harsher criticisms and projections from the outside world. I think it prevents you from being absorbed into people and situations that are not right for you because you have a deeper understanding of your values, and what feels authentic to you. I have also found that becoming more self-aware has actually helped me in other areas of my life, and has helped with my external relationships. When I know myself, it makes it easier to explain to others what are my expectations, what are the things that either hurt and disappoint me, or what are the things that make me feel loved and appreciated. 

The dictionary definition of self-awareness is “the conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires.” Add into that, “the ability to see yourself clearly and objectively through reflection and introspection.” I would sum this all up as, “Do you know who you are?” If I asked you that question right now, what would you tell me? Would you tell me your job title? Or perhaps associate yourself with another role? Would you tell me where you were from? Maybe your zodiac sign because you know I have an appreciation for astrology? LOL. Telling me any of these things is great, but I am asking you to go even deeper. 

I liken this “going deep” to an ancient mythological story. In Sumerian lore, there is the story of the Goddess Inanna. She is beautiful, powerful, and smart. Her people refer to her as the Queen of Heaven and Earth. She had everything she needed in her life, and it was a pretty satisfying life as it was. However, as is often the case in modern day, sometimes something happens that flips our life upside down, sometimes, like Inanna, we get the call for our own personal initiation into the deeper mysteries of life. Sometimes life challenges us to move outside of our comfort zone and grow.

Inanna got the call for initiation. She heard it calling to her in subtle whispers, and even when dissuaded by worried friends, she knew there was a deeper part of herself that she had to connect with. She had to go on what is known as her “descent” into the underworld to face her sister Erishkegal. I have heard one mythologist say Erishkegal was not really her sister, but a representation of her shadow self that needed to be faced. Before Inanna leaves for this journey, she puts on or carries seven items that show her power, wealth, beauty, and stature. She puts on her crown, a blue lapis lazuli necklace, another double strand of lapis beads, her warrior’s breastplate, her cape, her gold bracelet, and then she carries her lapis measuring rod.  

On her journey she has to pass through seven gates, and at each gate something has to be removed. When she finally makes it to the underworld, everything that she thought made her who she was had been removed, and she was left with just her naked self. She had literally been stripped down to her core. In a sense, this is representative of the things that build up our ego. Sometimes when we are stripped of all the things that we think make up who we are, when that part of us has died, we are forced into our own personal descent. What happens when we are in that space is that we realize our own strengths, we realize who we are and who we want to be. Often we realize what truly matters to us. The story of Inanna’s descent is a long and poetic one, but it is also a story about personal transformation. Eventually when you descend, you must ascend, and it is on the rise that we realize that we are no longer who we once were. We are generally stronger, more self-aware, wiser, and more compassionate to others and ourselves. When Inanna ascended, she truly became the Queen that she was meant to be.

I faced something similar many years ago when I went through a painful divorce. I was younger, and had planned my whole life. There is a saying that, “man plans, and God laughs.” So it was truly horrific when everything started to crumble. During that time, one of the things I realized was that I had not spent much time alone with myself throughout my life. A textbook extrovert who loves people, I was with either family, friends, or a romantic partner. Because of this, I had never really done much introspection and reflection. I remember the awareness one day that I was by myself. I was alone in my apartment, and I felt the weight and gravity of loneliness. I sank into despair and a very deep depression.

There are many tools including therapy that helped, but even in therapy I had to do the work of facing myself. My therapist often gave me the assignment of looking in a mirror right at myself, and having conversation with myself. I also had to look in the mirror and tell myself that I loved myself, and that seemed to be the most difficult part of the task. The first several of these mirror sessions resulted in deep tears. This was my personal descent, and it was my dark night of the soul. Echkart Tolle said, “The “dark night of the soul” is a term that goes back a long time. Yes, I have also experienced it. It is a term used to describe what one could call a collapse of a perceived meaning in life…an eruption into your life of a deep sense of meaninglessness.” Ram Dass also said, “The dark night of the soul is when you have lost the flavor of life but have not yet gained the fullness of divinity. So it is that we must weather that dark time, the period of transformation when what is familiar has been taken away and the new richness is not yet ours.”

 And so it was that in my personal descent I was truly able to learn a lot about myself. What did I enjoy doing? Who was I if my job title or my degrees got stripped away? What were the things that I loved about myself? What were the things that I felt vulnerable about sharing with others? What were my interests? Did I have any interests? Were my interests truly my own, or were they things that I had picked up from other people to fit in or people please? 

I also took a bunch of personality quizzes, which I love, lol, and did a deep dive into whatever I could learn about myself. It was very informative because I didn’t focus on why did I? Or what ifs? I think learning from the past is great, but we cannot stay there. Life is for moving forward, not making ourselves prisoners to the past. A funny anecdote, I leaned that my Myers-Briggs personality type was “ENFP.” This is one of the 16 personality types from Myers-Briggs, and it accounts for 5-7% of the human population. We are the “Campaigners,” the true “people-person.” I was scrolling through social media one day and my cousin posted about her MB type. It was “INFP.” The introvert to my extrovert. One of her friends said she was that too, and I literally said, “This friend of my cousin’s will one day be my friend too….” and that is literally how my friendship with Tiffany began. I don’t know if it is the personality type, but since the time we met she has been a wonderful friend. Because we do have an understanding of our personality types, I know when to let her introvert. I am literally also surrounded by introverts in my own life, and becoming more self-aware has allowed me to respect their boundaries, and understand when they need to recharge. If my younger sister and I go out, we have a code for when she has “peopled enough” and needs to go home. So what are my tips for becoming more self-aware? 

Celestial Goodness tips for becoming more self-aware:

1)     Do not be afraid of what you will find when you go deeper inside yourself. You may be surprised to find that you are endlessly fascinating. I hope that when you dive deep within yourself, that you find a reservoir of serenity, strength, love, and compassion for yourself and others. Meditation is one way, but there are others. Research what works for you!

2)     Become curious about you. Even asking some of the most basic questions. What is my favorite color? If I had to eat one food all day, what would it be? Plantains definitely lol. If I could sit and talk with five people from the past who would they be? Hmm. Bob Marley, my grandparents who have passed away, Nanny of the Maroons are a few. LOL!

3)     Look in the mirror. Literally, look in the mirror and talk to yourself. I found this to be one of my most useful tools from therapy. 

4)     Ask the people close to you for genuine feedback. Make a safe space for them to give their feedback. Don’t hold it against them if they say something critical. Try to understand why that came up. 

5)     Do a SWOT analysis. In business this is, “Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats,” for a business plan. You can tailor this to you. What are your strengths? What are your areas for development? What are some opportunities that you can take advantage of to either make progress on your dreams, or get to know yourself better? I would identify threats as character traits that could impede your progress. Once you identify them you can do better. 

6)     Take personality tests, or see someone whose job it is to do assessments like this. Clinical Psychologists or coaches come to mind. Some tests include Myers-Briggs, the Dharma Types, and DiSC assessments. You can find many free ones online. 

7)     Identify your values, passions, and things that are important to you.

8)     Say “Yes” to life. When you say yes to new experiences and events, you will find either that you like it or you do not. That can help you become more aware…

Once you do these things, ask yourself the question of what you learned. How can you use what you learned to make your life and the lives of those around you better? Better communication, better understanding, and a better sense of self?

Before we part for this week, I want to share with you one of my favorite poems, by Oriah Mountain Dreamer. It is called “The Invitation.”

“It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, ‘Yes.’

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company, you keep in the empty moments.”

I do hope that you take the invitation and find out something amazing about who you are. I have faith and hope in the treasures that are within you. I hope you pull them out, polish them up, or leave them raw if you choose, but I hope that they make your life feel meaningful and remind you of the love and beauty that yet remains. May the stars shine brightly over your week, and may it be an amazing one indeed. Thank you!

Life, Death, and Everything in between…(on living a more full life)

There are years of my life when it seemed like nothing really happened, and then years when a lot happened all at once. Paulo Coelho says, “Life has many ways of testing a person’s will, either by having nothing happen at all or by having everything happen all at once.” 2020 feels like the year where everything happens all at once. See this week’s YouTube video at: https://youtu.be/2NSvu9x3r1U

The constant optimist, I can still see where there is beauty, love, and amazing happening, yes in this very year. In fact, there are some really, really good things happening for a lot of people that I know right now, and even just the thought of that brings a smile to my face. I mean some cute babies have been born, marriages are happening, health goals being met, financial goals being met, new homes, and for some just a deeper relationship with their authentic selves. Given that I don’t live wearing rose colored glasses, I can also see where there is pain and where there are difficult moments happening. Yes, to say that there are some less than stellar things happening in our world would be an understatement.

I attended a virtual retreat last weekend led by Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron. I am not Buddhist, but I believe that we can learn a lot of many different people and practices. Pema has written many books on coping with difficult situations and times, and wise advice for our healing. I came across some of her work when I was going through a very painful time in my own life. I found her words at the time to be soothing, and helpful. The topic for last weekend’s retreat was, “Welcoming the Unwelcome.” Pema talked to the group from her home—the Gampo Abbey—located in a remote part of Nova Scotia. I wondered, “Does Pema know what’s going on, living tucked away in an abbey?” However, that thought dissipated when she began talking. She was well aware of all the things happening in the world, and she was especially aware of how fear seems to loom heavily over all of our heads. 

Have you ever looked at someone’s face and seen wisdom? That is how I felt when she began to talk. She was a picture of serenity, and I felt calm, hopeful, and inspired. She started us off with this prayer from Shantideva. “May all who are sick and ill, quickly be freed from their ailments. May whatever diseases there are in the world never occur again. May the frightened cease to be afraid. May those who are bound, be freed. May the powerless find power, and may beings think to benefit each other.”  I let those words sit with me, especially “may beings think to benefit each other.” How different the world might be if we were all a little less selfish. I don’t say that in judgment, just speculation because it does appear that some of our current problems are borne from selfishness. 

In welcoming the unwelcome, we identify our capacity for holding difficult feelings without panicking. We can acknowledge that these difficult events and experiences are happening, and even just that act of acknowledging what is happening is a powerful part of the experience and our healing. 

Pema once said, “Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. It is both. Appreciating the gloriousness inspires us, encourages us, cheers us up, gives us a bigger perspective, energizes us. We feel connected. But if that’s all that’s happening, we get arrogant and start to look down on others, and there is a sense of making ourselves a big deal and being really serious about it, wanting it to be like that forever. The gloriousness becomes tinged by craving and addiction. On the other hand, wretchedness–life’s painful aspect–softens us up considerably. Knowing pain is a very important ingredient of being there for another person. When you are feeling a lot of grief, you can look right into somebody’s eyes because you feel you haven’t got anything to lose–you’re just there. The wretchedness humbles us and softens us, but if we were only wretched, we would all just go down the tubes. We’d be so depressed, discouraged, and hopeless that we wouldn’t have enough energy to eat an apple. Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together.”

Pema used a phrase, “collaborating with the world,” frequently through the talk, and I saw it as the way we are all woven together, and how each of our individual actions influence and affect the whole. She also mentioned that our growth really happens outside of our personal comfort zone in what she called our challenge zone. I do believe that 2020 has challenged many of us and have thrust us right out of our comfort zones. What will we grow into because of this?

One of the things that throws a lot of us out of our comfort zone is the topic of death. Very recently, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an all-around amazing human, beacon of legal scholarship, and Supreme Court Justice passed away. She had battle health issues, but she was still working, still living her personal legend. I opened social media, and saw an interesting reaction to her death. Because of the political climate, many people expressed fears about what would happen next with her seat. The energy of fear was so pervasive that I felt a little guilty that we wanted an 87 year old woman battling pancreatic cancer to live longer so that we could be saved from something ominous. I know how important the times are, and I recognize the important of her role, but in that moment, I wanted the world to just say, “thank you Ruth, for a job well done. Rest well dear lady.” I saw something similar when John Lewis passed away, the concern that our heroes were dying, and we would be powerless without them. I offer gratitude for what these people did with the time that they had. I do not think that we are powerless; rather, these individuals have laid the foundation for us to carry on their legacy of love, compassion, and care for our fellow human being. We must rise to the occasion as these individuals did; we must collaborate with the world, to stand for what we value, what we believe in, and what we know to be an authentic and real way forward. 

Death is life’s great mystery. I have researched how different cultures and people deal with the notion of death. It has been a mystery since the early civilizations. The ancient Egyptians built the pyramids most as tombs and they had a reverence for what they felt happened in the afterlife. No one truly knows what happens when we die, but each culture, each religion, each country and whatever category you can put people in, all have a way of looking at death. 

When I was growing up, I thought that everyone had long multi-day celebrations to honor their dead. In Jamaican culture, a funeral had several components. We had the “grave digging,” where the community gathered to watch workers dig the grave. Then we had something called the “Nine-night.” Because of patois, for the longest time I thought it was “nigh night” and it does last nigh into the wee hours of the funeral morning. My experience with the nine-night is that it was a big celebration of the life of the deceased with music—old school music especially. The family of the deceased would be responsible for feeding the community with fried fish, bread, and lots of other food. They were also responsible for drinks—and rum seemed to be the preferred drink. Because of this tradition, I always saw death as a celebration of the life of someone who died. At the funeral, and Jamaican funerals can be long, people remember the person with speeches, song, and scripture. After the funeral, a smaller group gathers at the house for more remembrance and food. It wasn’t until later in life when I attended a funeral in America that I realized that Jamaican funerals were different; they were more celebratory than somber.

In researching death around the world, there are so many different traditions and viewpoints; we don’t have time to capture it all here. I did hear it say though that western cultures see death as something to avoid, while many Eastern cultures see death as a transition to a next stage of the soul’s existence. I don’t have the answers to that, but I know death is something many fear. The reality is that none of us are going to make it out of here alive. Death is what reminds us that we are not immortal and unless someone out there is, and I don’t know about it, our time here is finite.  Also sidebar: every novel or movie that I have ever read where someone was immortal, they seemed to hate it. It seemed like a curse more than a blessing. But getting back to my point, what does death tell us about living? I think death instructs us that we should make the most of the time we have, and we should live courageously and without regrets. We should love, laugh, and feel things—we will feel pain, and hurt, but we should not live in those emotions. 

The writer Bronnie Ware, wrote the book, “The Top Five Regrets of Dying People.” Two of those regrets were that they did not have the courage to live a life true to who they were, but they lived how others expected them to live, and that they wish they had let themselves be happier. Bronnie says, “The peace each of these dear people found before their passing is available now, without having to wait until your final hours. You have the choice to change your life, to be courageous, to live a life true to your heart, one that will see you pass without regret.” I believe that death can instruct us on how to live more fully. I believe that we should tell people now that we love and care about them. We should give them their flowers now. 

We can also learn what we can from the legacy that people leave behind. I had a great friend from law school, Israel. He and I had similar upbringings, and we could always share a laugh together. One of the things that I loved the most about him was that he was a true lover of life. He always said, “why not?” When he said that, he usually was on his way to experiencing some delightful adventure. He worked hard, but he truly lived. When he died, I took a look at my life, and realized that I was saving so many experiences for some future time that I wasn’t sure might even happen. I started to live, not just for myself, to honor all the people I knew who had died. In some ways, we live for those who are gone. I went out on work nights to performances, I traveled to places that I might have said no to previously for reasons like, oh the cost, or I have work. These excuses were preventing me from living. I think you should save and get your resources in order, but I also think you should say yes to life.

There is a famous poem called “The Dash” by Linda Ellis, and it says,

“I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend. He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning… to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears, but he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time they spent alive on earth and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own, the cars… the house… the cash. What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard; are there things you’d like to change? For you never know how much time is left that still can be rearranged.

To be less quick to anger and show appreciation more and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile… remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.

So when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash, would you be proud of the things they say about how you lived your dash?”

And as an excerpt, The poet Mary Oliver who I loved, said in her poem, “The Summer Day,”

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

Maya Angelou another great poet said, in her poem, “When Great Trees Fall,” I will read a small bit, “And when great souls die, after a period peace blooms, slowly and always irregularly. Spaces fill with a kind of soothing electric vibration. Our senses, restored, never to be the same, whisper to us. They existed. They existed. We can be. Be and be better. For they existed.”

So many brilliant people have existed, and amazing people will continue to be born and die, and we will have to face life again experiencing death over and over again, growing and grieving, but knowing that whatever died existed, and whatever is remembered lives on. Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “If you want to be a true professional, you will do something outside yourself. Something to make life a little better for people less fortunate than you.” I think what she was saying is that life is also about service. What can you do to offer service to humanity, especially in these times? What can you do to live your life fully, so that when death comes, we would know that you enjoyed, and loved, and cherished every ounce of your wild and precious life? I hope this gives you something to think about. May the stars shine brightly over your week, and may it be one in which you truly feel alive.

On Reading, and “The Alchemist”…

One of my all time favorite books!

It should come as no surprise to anyone that knows me, that I love books and that I love to read. I believe that reading is one of the most fundamental things that we can do to improve and to enjoy our lives. Jim Rohn said, “Miss a meal if you have to, but never miss a book.” I have heard that reading for even 15 minutes per day can greatly enhance your quality of life, and can lead to better overall wellbeing. Within the pages of books are adventure, mystery, evolution, peace, love, and so much for us to think about as far as life goes. Gosh, so many of us are “surviving” the pandemic because we have books to entertain us, or to help us forget the outside world for a bit. See this week’s YouTube video here: https://youtu.be/4FazAe1f7eM

As nerds do, I read all kinds of books, on different topics, and so, I often get the question, “What is your favorite book?” That is an extremely difficult question for me, partially because there are so many different genres. Can I really put an Agatha Christie over Sherlock Holmes, or mythology over science fiction? Sometimes I have been in the mood for something more fluffy and easy to get through. And what about my beloved Harry Potter books, what can compare to the years of my life that I devoted to waiting for the next book, reading all night, and crying at the loss of some my beloved characters? Where would I put new authors like Tomi Adeyemi and Elizabeth Acevedo whose books remind me of the magic while also allowing a space where I can see myself in the characters? No, picking one book as a favorite is a cruel question to ask a book lover. 

Separately, in your own reading nooks 🙂

I also believe that some books came into my world for a particular season; so while they were a favorite at one point, at this present moment, and in this chapter of my life, there are other books that are filling the space of favorite. I sometimes read numerous different books at once, some books I have to be in the mood for, and some books I have to read them slowly to let the words roll over my mind like honey. I may buy books, and they might sit on my shelf until it is their time. In this stage of my life, I also have stopped trying to read books that bore me. There are so many other interesting books, that if I can’t get into it after several chapters and attempts, I send it on its way to find a new home. 

I confess that I love the feel of physical books, but I also like the convenience of digital books as well. Reading can really open your eyes to the amazing, the extraordinary, and the miraculous. George R.R. Martin said, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies . . . The man who never reads lives only one.” Please do yourself a favor and read something. If you are having a hard time getting back to reading a real book, a phenomenon that I experienced after law school—I think reading all the legal books made me get to a place where I just wanted things to get to the point—this made it almost impossible for me to enjoy a good book. I had to start with something that did not require heavy brainwork, something light and fun, and then I pick up from there. (It was Harry Potter lol). I also had to remind myself of the value of reading, and that it is a truly worthwhile hobby. There is also something really delicious about reading a book, and finding a glorious sentence or quote; It might be one that stays with you, and comes to life at the right moment, in the right situation. If you are having trouble getting back into reading, start with something small and fun, and see if that gets your gears going.

Getting back to the question of my favorite books, like I said, that is very difficult for numerous reasons. I do have books that crack my top five, and their pages are worn with love. These are books that I will never loan out, but I will happily send you a copy.  One of these books for me is “The Alchemist,” written by one of my favorite authors Paulo Coelho. I like the style of his writing, and the way in which it feels that there is always a much bigger message looming below an easy to read, and easy to follow story. I have read many books by Paulo Coelho and some of my other favorites are: Manuscript found in Accra, Warrior of Light, The Pilgrimage, The Valkyries, Aleph, and Brida.  

The Alchemist is my favorite book by Paulo, and it is one of those books that found me when I needed it, and then it stayed for other moments when I would need to be reminded of its lessons again and again. I have read this book more than once; I have also listened to the audiobook numerous times, and in each time that I have read it or listened to it, I have seen something that I missed before, gained new insight, or some new reminders and I come away from the book feeling refreshed and inspired. I am sure that there are many reviews of the book, but this is not so much a review as a tribute to what I consider a classic and essential work. There are others who have said, they did not get much from the book, or they cannot see why people like it so much (This book spent over 400 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list), but alas, I think some things should be experienced for yourself so that you can decide. Make a hot cup of tea, sit somewhere comfy, and prepare for a desert adventure. 

In short, and without ruining it for you, The Alchemist follows the story of a shepherd boy named Santiago who is living in the south of Spain. After a series of prophetic dreams, he embarks on a great adventure to find and fulfill, his “Personal Legend.” That is to find your own personal destiny and to fulfill it. This journey leads Santiago from his home in Spain all the way to the Great Pyramids in Egypt and back again. T.S Elliot said, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

From Pintrest…

What happens on the journey transforms Santiago’s life, opens his eyes to love, and yes, there is a bit of personal alchemy. Santiago overcomes many obstacles and meets many unforgettable characters, but what he gained in life experience and insight was priceless, not just for him, but also for anyone who reads the story. He also ends up learning a great deal of wisdom from an actual alchemist. What is an alchemist anyway? Well naturally, someone who practices alchemy. Hahaha. Alchemists are people who, “who transform or create something through a seemingly magical process.” In its simplest definition, alchemy was, “the medieval forerunner of chemistry, based on the supposed transformation of matter. It was concerned particularly with attempts to convert base metals into gold or to find a universal elixir.”  Many people understood alchemy to be more than converting lead to gold; they saw it as the process of self-transformation.  If you did read Harry Potter, you may have heard mention of “Nicholas Flamel.” He was a real person, and many thought he discovered the philosopher’s stone and therefore gained immortality. That’s a conversation for another day. 

We are all on our own personal journey, and every day people ask the questions, “What is my purpose?” and “What is the meaning of life?” I don’t have the answers to those questions, but I heard a quote recently that really resonated with me. It said, “The meaning of life is to give life meaning.” Anais Nin also said, “There is not one big cosmic meaning for all; there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.” 

I think that is a commendable goal. In the Alchemist are also some of the best quotes on finding ways to enjoy the journey of our life, on realizing that nothing is wasted in our experience, and that we are constantly looking for ways to fulfill our personal legend. “To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation.”

From: Sagegoddess

To me, this book becomes a manual, guiding anyone who has a dream in their heart on not giving up, but instead realizing that there are signposts, and people, and something bigger than all of us conspiring to help us realize those dreams; “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the Alchemist. 

· “When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

·       “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”

·       “The simple things are also the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them.”

·       “Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.” 

·       “Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.”

·        “There is only one way to learn. It is through action. Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey.” 

·       “At a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.” 

·       “Before a dream is realized, the Soul of the World tests everything that was learned along the way. It does this not because it is evil, but so that we can, in addition to realizing our dreams, master the lessons we’ve learned as we’ve moved toward that dream. That’s the point at which most people give up. It’s the point at which, as we say in the language of the desert, one ‘dies of thirst just when the palm trees have appeared on the horizon.” 

I guess the point of this week’s message is simply to remind you that you are amazing, that you do have purpose, and that you will be supported at each step of your journey. Life is always waiting to surprise us with good things, even in moments when it does not feel that way. Failure and the fear of suffering can prevent us from taking the steps that we need to move forward with our lives. If you have something that you want, and you let fear hold you back from that, you will never know how amazing it could have been.

I always say that if you want to get to the beautiful island of Tahiti and experience paradise, then you may have to get on a plane or a boat to get there. You may have a long trip ahead of you. You may worry that something bad may happen along the way, and yes, something bad could happen. Alternatively, you could arrive safely, and experience the joys of Tahiti. Life is similar. What you want might require you to move outside of your comfort zone and take a risk. 

Elizabeth Gilbert has two quotes that I love from her book, “Big Magic.” “Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.” And also this one: “The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.” Here I am hoping that you find your treasures, your jewels, and that you fulfill your personal legend.

The Alchemist also says, “We are travelers on a cosmic journey, stardust, swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share. This is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity.”

This is a precious moment, and you a precious part of this world and this life. Please make the most of it. Read some good books, give your heart to the things that make you come alive, and give meaning to your life. In that way, when the day comes for you to depart from this realm—and no one makes it out alive—everyone will know that you did all that you came here to do. May the stars shine brightly over your week, and may it be a lovely week indeed.

Why I can’t give up on Hope and Love…

Two of my favorite things!

The last several weeks have been heavy for many reasons. Some of the reasons need no introduction. Enter pandemic, stage right. Enter global protest for a variety of different reasons including racism, environmental issues, and more, stage left.

As a black woman living in America, I have felt stretched to the limits of my grief at times. I wondered on some days if there were enough tears, while on other days I felt numb and mechanical, just going through the motions, observing myself, but not quite myself. This period has been the great balancing act, learning more deeply how to navigate joy, pain, and everything that happens in between those two emotions. Even if you are the type of person who tries to shield yourself from the news of the world, I am sure some news has reached your ears. There have just been so many things adding up to be that proverbial straw on the camel’s back. These things trickle into the psyche and fill us with a sense of fear, despair, and sadness. The biggest question often seems to be, “When will it all end?”

I too, an eternal optimist, felt disheartened because in addition to everything else, I started to sense a common theme. It scared me a little, because it seemed to be a sense of hopelessness, and when we have lost hope, then everything really is gone. I saw messages of, “I don’t want your love and light,” or “I don’t want your thoughts and prayers,” and things just as doom and gloom as we could get. To be fair, I get the meaning behind some of those messages; most people right now are yearning to see something concrete. They are yearning for action, yearning for proof that prayers can be answered, and yearning to know that miracles still exist. I cried reading some of these messages, because I am a water bucket; I feel a lot and I often can feel the collective grief. The past few weeks it has felt heavy like an iron ball and chain dragging behind me. I wondered what bothered me so deeply about this?

The notion of “light and love” and “thoughts and prayers” has come to be seen as something meaningless, popping up as hashtags on every crisis, ever tragedy, and everything that is demanding something more. I too want concrete action and justice for the woes of the world, but I urge us to remember that love is the highest emotion and the strongest power in this entire universe. Biblically speaking, 1st Corinthians 13:13 says, “And Now These Three Remain Faith, Hope, And Love, But The Greatest Of These Is Love.

I think it is beautiful that is at Chapter 13, verse 13; 13, in numerology is the number of the divine feminine, it is a number that brings things into balance, and is said to ascend matter; it is coded with the frequencies of Ascension, Oneness, and the Unity that transforms all things.

Divine feminine. Photo from Unsplash

I want your love, and I want to see you shine your light as bright as any star in the sky. (Be as bright as Sirius—the brightest star in our galaxy). I also want your prayers when things go wrong, and I want them when things are going right. I think it is beautiful to be in someone’s thoughts (for good reasons lol). For me, prayer is one of the most intimate acts that I engage in. Side note: I still write prayers/blessings for friends and family, so if you need one, let me know. When I say a prayer, it is personal, powerful, and an acknowledgment that I am co-creating something beautiful each day with the divine. If I pray for you, if I include your essence in that space, my most private space, how could it not be powerful?

Everyone is naturally inclined to their own views, but I will continue to advocate for these things: love, kindness, hope, and a better world for all of us. I asked, in my own prayers, and in conversation with myself (hahaha, yes, I chat to myself, no shame in that), how could this be made better? I started to notice a curious thing happening. When I slept, I get sensing this message of “don’t give up on hope.” Do not give up on humanity. Do not give up on love. That message was with me when I woke up each day this week, and it stayed with me throughout each day. As I am learning to balance days where something shocking could happen, and throw my emotions for a loop, with days where I feel joy, gratitude and love, in between each of these kinds of days, I encourage us to believe in hope and to believe in love. I am also asking us to be the best of humanity.

When I created my blog, and YouTube channel, my goal was to create a space where we could all be reminded of the best of the world, and the best of humanity—the beauty, the kindness, the love, the grace, the faith, and the hope. I wanted to create a space where each of us would be reminded of our own greatness, and be encouraged in our goals and dreams, to know that they are valid and possible. You can see this week’s video here: https://youtu.be/J5VHDVXoxk0

So when I felt that feeling that a lot of people were losing hope, I had to even grab myself and say, no. No. Don’t succumb to that despair. It is ok, as I have said before that we acknowledge the range of our emotions, and that we understand, that everything has its shadow side. Even for us as humans, our shadow side serves us in important ways. That is a conversation for another time. I do think that when we face ourselves truly and we can embrace the parts of ourselves that we do not love as much, or the parts of ourselves that we think other people might not like, it really does allow for deeper self-awareness, and the possibility for deeper healing. I really think some of what we are seeing, is a situation in which the world is facing its shadow. When we do face ourselves, and experience deeper healing and acceptance—and I do think that some part of “healing” is realizing that while we are growing, learning, and moving towards our own self-actualization, that we are beautiful and amazing as we are right now. But when we get to this space, this translates into a situation where we allow love to guide us on this incredible journey of life. When we allow love to guide us, what happens next? Miracles…

In her amazing book, “A Return to Love, Reflections on A Course in Miracles,” Marianne Williamson says, “Miracles occur naturally as expressions of love. They reflect a shift in how we think, releasing the power of the mind to the processes of healing and correction…In asking for miracles, we are seeking a practical goal: a return to inner peace…We are not asking for something outside of us to change, but for something inside us to change…ultimately all creation is expressed through the mind. Thus, as A Course in Miracles says, our greatest tool for changing the world is our capacity to change our minds about the world.”

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but no one is coming to save us. The responsibility of saving humanity, the world, and ourselves from whatever we perceive that we need saving from, falls to us. That means that we are the greatest tool for changing the world. If we lose hope, then we have already lost a battle that we did not even attempt to fight. Let me also add, that small actions lead to big change. You don’t have to become a politician or Oprah, you can make small changes from a place of love, right where you are, with the resources that you have. 

The late Congressman John Lewis who was very wise, said this, “You are a light. You are the light. Never let anyone—any person or any force—dampen, dim or diminish your light. Study the path of others to make your way easier and more abundant. Lean toward the whispers of your own heart, discover the universal truth, and follow its dictates. […] Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won. Choose confrontation wisely, but when it is your time don’t be afraid to stand up, speak up, and speak out against injustice. And if you follow your truth down the road to peace and the affirmation of love, if you shine like a beacon for all to see, then the poetry of all the great dreamers and philosophers is yours to manifest in a nation, a world community, and a Beloved Community that is finally at peace with itself.”

I can imagine that place, that world where things are at peace. I have not lost hope for that, and I know that to get to that place requires something of me as well. Maybe my role in all this is to help spread that light, spread that love, and to remind others of what they are capable of doing.  Maybe when the time comes, I can stand for the things that I truly believe in, and I can stand for the people that I love and care for. Maybe I can remind others to do the same. 

A few years ago, my mom gave me the book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Viktor Frankl. Frankl had survived the Holocaust, and he was the founder of logotheraphy—healing through meaning. He said, ““For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.” He also said, “Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”

Taking action can help us to regain a sense of hope. Barack Obama said, “The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.” 

We do have a responsibility to answer to the highest calling of our life and to be of service to humanity. I absolutely love John Lennon’s song, “Imagine.” It is worth taking a listen sometimes to remember that the dreamers of the world are not alone in their desire for something really beautiful to unfold, despite everything that may be happening. He said, “Imagine all the people living life in peace, You may say I’m a dreamer, But I’m not the only one, I hope some day you’ll join us. And the world will be as one.” Oprah Winfrey said, “I’ve come to believe that each of us has a personal calling that’s as unique as a fingerprint – and that the best way to succeed is to discover what you love and then find a way to offer it to others in the form of service, working hard, and also allowing the energy of the universe to lead you.”

I have sprinkled in this conversation some of my favorite quotes on hope. It is my desire that you let these words sink into your psyche, and that as the world changes before our eyes, and as things get seemingly worse, before they get better, that you do not give into despair; instead, allow the courage of your soul to remind you that hope lives, love lives, and that you can help to create the world as you would like to see it. Barbara Kingsolver, said, “The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.”

Laini Taylor, said, “Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.” Amy Tan said, “We dream to give ourselves hope. To stop dreaming – well, that’s like saying you can never change your fate.” Please do not stop dreaming. You are the master of your fate, the captain of your destiny.

The Dalai Lama, “There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’ No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.” His good friend Desmond Tutu said, “Hope is being able to see the light, despite all of the darkness.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

In his Autobiography, Nelson Mandela said, “I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” 

And to round things out, In J.R.R Tolkien’s, “The Fellowship of the Ring,” I think he captures a sentiment that fits our world well right now. “The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”

May love and hope continue to grow and may whatever unfolds for us—with our help—be something beautiful. May the stars shine brightly over your week, and may you find hope aplenty, and may you find that love abounds.