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Class of 2016

Equity School

 

It is an honor for me to stand before you tonight.   I take this privilege with great appreciation.  There is always a first time for everything, and this is my first time to be granted with this grand honor. I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for this opportunity and the trust placed in me.

A few months have gone by after my visit to you in your school grounds.  I was kindly invited by Mr. Rodríguez to meet with you and share about my passion in the world of psychology that day.  I don’t recall the exact nature of what I shared with you, all I know is that I was among a group of people who shared significant stories of success and inspiration, I must admit even I was deeply moved and inspired by what the others had to share.  So I ask myself, what could I have possibly said, that granted me this privilege to address these words to you tonight? Yes…. The very familiar voice of Self doubt has been lurking in my soul and mind up to this day.   I have learned through my almost half century of life, that self doubt is my own worst enemy.

Self doubt has a very convincing voice.  I wish it didn’t, but it does.  Let me share with you a few of her lines about my being here tonight.  “ They invited you because they must have been desperate”.  Their preferred option must have cancelled on them. They really don’t know who you are and they are terribly mistaken….and so many more such messages…   Self-doubt has a very loud internal voice, we hear its voice clearly, constantly.  The world seldom offers spaces in which we can voice our fears, our insecurities, or our questioning of ourselves. We attempt to silence it by comparing ourselves to others, by pushing ourselves into being all of what we think we must be, or all of what we are asked to be.  So our major challenge is our fight against that inner voice that destroys us.  You see, Passion lives on the other side of this voice. Self doubt is the obstacle we must overcome so we can claim our sense of our true selves, what I call our self worth.

Let me define self worth for a bit.  Self worth is not the same as self esteem.  Self esteem sometimes might trick us into thinking it is who we truly are.  It is not.  Self esteem is what we build through our interaction with others.  Their approval or not of our actions become our sense of identity.  If we have approval we feel good about ourselves, if we don’t, our sense of identity gets shaken.  Self worth on the other hand is a more internal experience.  It is about advocating on our own behalf.  It is about believing in ourselves despite the response of the outer world.  It is about going against the currents, it is about defiance… (in the good sense), it is about claiming the new and all of  what still remains unknown, and it is about all of what is yet to be discovered.  It is about all the things only we, individuals can bring forth to the world.  It is our calling, our mission, and it is only up to us to discover what those gifts are and how we might bring them as an offering to the world.

This venture in not an easy one.  I know that I have always been dependent, hoping, praying that someone might come and save me from my own fear and show the way.  And yes indeed, I have encountered a few angels in my path through self discovery.  Self discovery requires the help of others.  It requires people who inspire us.  We are not alone.  The most important thing to remember is that inspiration from others must not be confused with feeling obligated to be as they are.  Inspiration is about how others share their life experience so we might use their wisdom as building blocks in the creation of our own work of art.

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Let me tell you a few things that I have learned in the world of art.  As a child I always dreamed of being able to recreate my most beloved characters.  Snoopy for example, was a treasure for me as I knew he was my sister´s favorite character to reproduce. She, at a very young age was very prolific in her drawing abilities and I struggled to find the same talent to my own dismay.  Frustration always came instead.  I desperately wanted to be like her. My relationship with my sister was one of my early experiences of failure to try to become who I was not.  As I compared myself to her, I decided very consciously that art was not for me.  I claimed a disability. I crushed one of my dreams at a very young age.  Comparing myself to my sister, made me destroy every fiber of my desire to be who I wanted to become.  So you see, self doubt comes in many disguises.

Luckily, the voice of who we are is a flame that never dies.  It waits patiently for our time to turn towards it. Pencils, paints, paintbrushes, watercolors, markers, inks, pens, crayons, every art media that I can think of always waved at me fervently, reminding me of my deepest self.

I recently decided that I needed to unearth the artist fibers that I had buried long ago.  I declared myself a learner.  I accepted I had no talent but I decided to be courageous enough to face my frustration and disability by granting myself the courage to step into my own sense of incapacity and build a path towards accomplishment step by step.  I knew I would have to confront my monsters of self doubt and self criticism.  I knew their voice would be loud, and that have been.  My self critical monsters are many, they visit me often, but I have found a few friends that have helped me enter battle with them.

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In the world of mixed media, the blank page is the first obstacle we encounter.  Blank pages are like new beginnings, and they can be quite intimidating.  A blank page sets the stage for “don’t you dare ruin it”.  Don’t ruin it pushes us into perfectionism, and perfectionism paralyses our soul.  So the first thing to do in a piece of mixed media art is to get rid of the blank page.  This is an example of the description of the process of a mixed media piece.  I find it fascinating.  “Paste collage pieces or begin applying random colors….make sure you use some darks.  Darks are important as they offer the depth of the piece.  The more darks we use, the more contrasting and vibrating our colors will be.  Be sure not to think too much, don’t try to make many plans, just let your soul play and allow the colors to emerge and be blended with each other one by one.

Hearing these instructions referring to mixed media, inevitably spoke to me about life.  The darkest the background, the more vibrating our colors will be.

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This was a new, very exciting concept for me.  I had always run away from what felt dark, fearful and painful.  Mixed media urges me to embrace every bit of it.  To keep it in my background providing me with depth and meaning.  So new beginnings, fear of the unknown and pain of what I used to consider failure have now become my new companions for depth.  I know now that as I embrace them, they will be the clay that will shape my new form.

The second layer of a mixed media piece is what I love the most.  The layer of Gesso. Gesso has become my new best friend.  The background now gets covered with a light layer of gesso.  A white out.  A medium that allows for pieces to be pushed to the background.  We get to choose how thick we want the white out to be.  We can always go back to plain white, but there is no way to deny that a previous layer lies beneath.  It already tells a story, it already provides with depth.  Gesso gives us the opportunity to decide what to do with our previous layer, how much do we want it to show through or how much we want to hide it. Gesso doesn’t care, it doesn’t judge us, it is at our service, providing gentle acceptance of our very personal process.  After gesso is dry, we get to design the shape and color of our new creation.  Gesso gives us the doorway to new beginnings, a pathway to choose again.  It doesn’t matter how many layers of color and gesso we do.  The more layers we have, the more character we build.  Don’t be afraid to build your character.

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Adversity will visit you, be sure of that.  Sometimes adversity will be of our own creation, but most of the time adversity will come without our consent and without previous notice.    It will shake our foundations and our previous sense of stability.  Adversity will challenge us, it will break us, it will deprive us of what we once considered safe and familiar. Our sense of identity might get stripped away from us, and we might enter a deep questioning of our own existence. Stay firm in the face of adversity.  Let it transform you.  Let it burn the old sense of who you were and be present for the new version of you.  It is after adversity when we get to use gesso, take the fire to the background and begin building again, one color at a time.

Be sure protect yourselves in your path.  As much as we wish to have someone to protect us, remember only you can do that for yourselves. Discernment on what is good to us can be very tricky. Our brain is hardwired for blocking pain and it will respond automatically in the face of threat. The part of our brain that protects us is instinctive and very faithful to the preservation of our biology.  This part of our brain has a very loud voice and it will bypass the voice of our higher reasoning. When we feel tense or anxious, our instinctive brain will urge us to seek behaviors and consumptions that provide us with immediate relief.  This part of the brain is only interested in the relief of the moment, and it does not care about the future. The typical options for relief are fight, flight, or freeze responses.  There are many ways in which these responses get played out.  Some examples are the use of alcohol, drugs, compulsive sex, control, compulsive spending, compulsive eating and many others…  Numbing emotions and running from what feels uncomfortable is something that we learn well at a very young age.  This part of our brain thinks that surviving is in our best interest when in truth it keeps the other part of our brain which is of higher functioning out of line.  Stress response blocks us from accomplishing our goals, constructing plans for our future and pursuing our dreams.

We must strive to keep our top brain online.  It is in our top brain where our dreams and aspirations are built.  Drugs, alcohol, and compulsions give us momentary pleasure but destroy every possibility of a bright future.  They are thieves of our gold, don’t let them rob you.  To avoid threat we must build safety.  Safety is based in trust, and trust can only happen if we feel appreciated and accepted.  Be sure to build relationships in which you feel celebrated and in which you have no restriction to celebrate others.  Empowerment of others is our strongest asset.  Being critical sets the stage to be criticized and our self worth will never grow.  Be gentle with each other, be patient, be kind…this is the type of nourishment that the world is lacking today, multiply it by giving it freely.

A note to parents…as much as you would like to hear me say that your work as parents is done, I need to say it is not. Our job as parents will never done.  But you see, in terms of safety and trust, it is we who play the most important role in instilling safety in our children.    We must believe in them, we must show them we trust them even if they are showing us confusion and disorientation.  Trust that they will find their own way, let’s support them in their steps through self discovery. Our fears and insecurities must NOT be imposed on them.  They have their own fears to manage, lets not weigh them down with ours.  Trust that if we support them and believe in their ways of creating a life of their own, they will soar and become who they are meant be.  Please don’t try to invent them, be present to watch the unfolding of who they really are.  Be in awe of their uniqueness.  Our fears come in the form of judgement and control.  These don’t serve them, they need to experience our unconditional love.  Let us be that and only that for them.  Allow enough space for them to explore, to invite and live their new experiences.  They will surely trip and fall, let’s be a safe haven for them when they need to come rest and charge batteries. Our unconditional love is their best medicine.  If we want to protect them lets don’t judge them, let’s celebrate them, and they will surely show us the best version of who they are.

And finally, to the Class of 2016, let me remind you that fear will be your constant companion.  Don’t run away from it, embrace it, breathe through it, and exercise your muscles of vulnerability.  The most courageous are those who are unafraid of their inner fire.  Do not harm your brain, preserve it, and let your brain be clear enough to dream the most unimaginable dreams.  Keep your paintbrushes in hand, your palette of every color handy, don’t forget your darks to provide you with your depth.  Keep gesso at hand, and color our world beautiful.  Lead us.  Show us your masterpiece, let us be in awe of you.

 

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ZOMBIES AND OTHER GATEKEEPERS

Very often I feel depressed. It is not a very happy thing to confess. I wonder why there is a wave of shame as I say this. Even as a child, when tears would come, (and they came very often), I was ridiculed by them. Somehow crying and feeling miserable made others miserable too. But stronger than shame are those deep feelings of sadness that seem to rob life away from me. They come and hijack my desire to do, to move, to create. When energy to live life in its full velocity and intensity is down, the word that comes to me as a name for it is depression. It is a scary word. The images that come usually include a sense of loneliness, of stagnation, of abandon and death.

My sadness and depression seem to take me to other places though. They take me to a space of darkness that I have grown fond of. When one speaks of darkness, our imagination takes us to images of monsters, ghosts and zombies.  These creatures succeeded for many years to keep me away from crossing their locked up fortress. The avoidance of them came in the urgency to find laughter, friends and success. The inevitability of depression has kept me very close to these gates, and as I see these creatures closer to me, the friendlier they appear to be. The eyeless drooling zombie who promises to take away every loved being from my side is the one I fear the most.

So one day I decided to have a conversation with him. He couldn’t look at me straight in the eye for obvious reasons, but he leaned forward as a sign that he was interested in what I was petitioning.

-Would you let me in the fortress? I asked.

He smiled mockingly and opened the heavy gate. As heavy as it it seemed, he was very proficient in his ability to slide it to let me in . He smelled me as I walked past him and followed me in. Shivers.

My heart raced and my breathing grew shallow as I feared dying in that instant, so I turned around to see how close the zombie was to me, just to find that there was no zombie behind me and all I could see was a beautiful sunset and a orange and purple colors of dusk. The soft colors brought my breath back to me and I stopped to take it all in.

Crossing the gate of my fear and befriending my monsters have brought me to beauty. The pain of loss, the pain of cancer, slow death of angel face to a disease too difficult to mention has been a hard thing to carry. It has been difficult to try to understand how the choosing goes. Who gets cancer? Who gets to live more than 2 years? Who grows and who dies before learning to walk? I have never found answers to these questions.

Murder beats it all though. There are no words that can describe the horror of such an act that robbed the most perfect mother from my side. As much as I know I will never recover from these losses, in my fortress, which by the way is no fortress at all, I have found a boundaryless space of grass that invites me to wander and wonder without the demand to arrive at any place or be anything or anybody. I get to ask all these questions and have the answers come to me in a soft breeze of Truth expressed in the images and sounds that this space brings to me.

When early morning comes, I walk out and I am greeted with sounds of birds and roosters.  I wish I was more knowledgeable about birds to tell you about the variety of what I hear. I also wish I had more technology awareness to have you hear my recording of this morning´s greeting.   They speak to me of a new day, of a new beginning, of all that is before me that is familiar and yet so new. Sounds that welcome me into the adventure of what I am willing to create in a space of both the predictable and the unpredictable. They teach me that there is no way of knowing what will come, but our true nature makes us sing our own song, for today, and only today.

I take a deep breath with that realization and my gaze turns downward. I find the exuberance of a blooming so magnificent that words are too limited to express the image. Every tiny bloom making its way to express its full potencial. Every other bloom making way for each one to form precious bouquets that would only be possible with the existence of each one. Aren´t they telling me to accept my space in this world and to contribute to the masterpiece of humanity as a whole in my ability to bloom along with others, not more, but nevertheless, not less either?

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I take a walk on the beach. Yes my ocean is there before me bringing the salty mist that reminds me of the taste of tears. Waves crashing constantly, some small, other big. Some calm, others fierce. They come. No force can ever stop them. Like life. Some small waves, some big. Some calm, some fierce. Why? No reason. Just the way of life. No one at the choosing booth.

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As I sit with this realization, I look to my side and I have the cutest being looking at me with an investigative gaze. He lets me pet him, he doesn’t seem to be afraid of me even though he doesn’t know me. He has no judgment and no paradigm that speaks to him about me before his experience of me. We granted each other an experience of each other. I inevitably fell in love with him, to the point of wanting to own him. He followed me for a bit, and I feared hurting him when I had to abandon him. I stayed for another while until he decided it was time to continue on his way. I watched him walk away. He didn’t look back. We had had our moment. We had had our experience of each other. Love wants to possess, and he taught me to love and let go.  I do hope and wish he had a nourishing moment and significant as what he was for me. I will never know what I meant to him, but what I am sure of is that he seemed to be fine with letting go.

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I return to get my early morning lime water and I find that we are out of limes in the kitchen. After a moment of freak, I walk to the lime tree to see if they are in their offering time.   Ahhhhhh the delight I find… Offering is their word. “Take me and serve yourself”, they tell me. Oh what a lesson.

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What is my existence about if not one of offering.? I understand now how service is what I am in this world for. Sometimes sadness and grief are all about my pain. Pain and suffering dissolves with such ease once I focus on using myself for service. Pain doesn’t go away but I seem to be able to carry it with more ease.

The brightness of sun makes my dark place pretty bright and colorful. It turns everything around me into a display of shapes and color that inevitably makes me smile.

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Pain will never cease. Of that I am sure. I have learned that monsters, ghosts and zombies are my illusion that keep me from confronting my fears about having another one of life´s waves be huge and bring me to the ground again. I understand today that I have no power to either predict the size of my next wave nor the power to stop it. In my walk through life I will stop more and look down to the blooms making space for one another. I will allow an open door for new friends, for as long as they remain, and I will continue to learn to say good-bye, until the next hello.

Sensitive.  We all are.

I know that I am. I also know that because of this, I will be a trigger to others and others will be triggers to me.  There is no way of predicting, and even less, controlling how and when we will be triggered.  Life seems to be a battle ground in which we are constantly wounded without having a place to heal.

A few years back when I was being trained as a yoga teacher, I was introduced to a fascinating world that I had no idea existed.  I was struck by the immensity and depth of it.  I was totally captured by the essence of the philosophy and grew eager to learn how to offer it back to others. Savasana, the final posture of practice is said to be the most important posture of all.  It means corpse pose.  The moment in which we die to the present moment so we may be reborn into the next.  A moment of surrender, of acceptance of things as they are, a moment to trust that we are being held by an energy greater than us.  A moment in which we lose control and rejoice in our mere existence.  A moment of allowing ourselves to just be.  The instructor holds space for the practitioners, and becomes the time keeper and the one who leads the “dead” back into a renewed life.  The instructor has the honor to offer that rest space and uses his creativity to construct a taste of the sacred. I was deeply touched when I became aware of the sanctity of the moment.  I had seen people leave class before the time of savasana by thinking that excersise was over and “resting” was not only unnecessary, but a waste of time.  I must confess there were times when I thought the same, but I stayed as a sign of respect for the instructor.  As I stayed, I grew more fond of the gift that it is and I am totally devoted to savasana today.

Anyway, during my training, I continued with my personal morning practice.  The instructor that I went to for my daily practice led us up to savasana and then he would walk out of class leaving us there to awaken on our own.  All of us practitioners would get up after what felt like ages, noting that there was evidence that we were leaderless.  This went on for a few days and I began feeling very uncomfortable.  I felt disrespected in what I had learned was a sacred moment. His walking away felt like an abandonment.  It felt as if he was careless about the holiness of the moment.  I wanted to share my feelings with him but I was hesitant as I did not want to offend him.  However, I wanted to express my dislike of the way he was managing savasana.

I decided I would write him an email.  I remember I was mindful about my potential to be a trigger to him.  I knew how hard it is to get negative feedback from a student, so I chose my words carefully. What happened next has many details that i will spare you with, but in conclusion, I was expelled from his studio.  One of the things he told me was “what an EGO you have”.   In his mind, I was a student who had to be respectful of my teacher´s wisdom.  Telling him that his ways were not in sync with what I was learning insulted him as he felt I was outsmarting him.  Although this was never my intention, it became evident that my actions had been hurtful and massively misinterpreted.

“What an EGO I have”.  For many days (weeks), I ruminated over this phrase.  In my mind, I strived to convince him and the world that my petition had not come from ego, that it had come from my desire to receive a gift that I had grown hungry for.  Ego, ego, ego.  In many ways i tried to eliminate it, I fought it, I tried to convince myself that I didn’t have it. In my mind I practiced endless conversations with with my teacher convincing him that he was wrong, I even practiced court room dialogues attempting to be ruled NOT GUILTY.

G U I L T Y.

The verdict came soon enough.  It was an inner veridict.  I did have an ego. I still do, and will continue to have it until I die.  I understood its purpose.  My battle had to do with my hurt and from what I interpreted as an unfair treatment.  He had his personal reasons based on his personal standards, and my standards collided with his.  I was trying to convince him to teach in my preferred style, and by my doing so I offended him.  His ego protected him by expelling me from his studio, and my ego protected me from feeling rejected and abused.  I wanted to tell this story in full detail, accusing him of his wrongdoings.   I wanted the world to be his jury and to rule against him. I felt hurt.

In that instant when I realized i was hurt, was when the understanding came. Ego was yelling out “IT HURTS”.  Ego wanted the blessing, it wanted to be held. I did not want to feel abandoned nor forgotten.  I had a moment of clarity.  I finally understood that ego plays an important role in my life.  It protects me.  It is up to me to be able to listen to his childish language  that attempts to communicate that it needs caring.  The type of caring that ego is urging for is kindness.  Ego comes forth in aggressive ways.  It fights when it feels hurt.  However, in its darkened way, it urges us to look for our wrongdoings so we may choose the enlightened option.  It alerts us.  It tells us that something is wrong, that darkness is close.  it is a call to our awakening desire of seeing the light within us.

I am grateful to my teacher.  I learned that indeed I do have a friend called ego who will constantly be on call nudging me onto a gentle, compassionate way of being.  I understand it is the only way to be able to offer the same to others.  Everyone is thirsty for kindness, ego protects us from the hurt that our sensitive selves feel.  It relentlessly offers opportunities to choose.  Today I choose kindness, gentleness, compassion, and acceptance of what is different.  Thank you ego…my friend.

And I continue to enjoy my time at savasan.  Well… when my agitated mind allows me.  Sometimes my mind wanders and appears like the photo below…but I continue my practice, day in and day out…so I find the peace within where only light resides.IMG_2956