Growth is an essential part of our being. We are constantly changing, whether we recognize it or not. This constant growth can often feel uncomfortable, uncertain, and difficult.
In my last two blog posts, I’ve highlighted six of the ten lessons I feel I’ve learned in the decade of my 20’s as a way to commemorate a new decade of Earth: the 2020’s.
What I didn’t expect was a global pandemic to hit amidst my very personal reflection. This has only deepened my appetite for reflection and creation. Of course, in light of COVID-19, I’ve felt many things shift. I have experienced every array of emotions, sometimes in one five-minute meditation. Yet, my heart is centering more deeply on my values and all I feel connected to. I’ve leaned into so much discomfort, seeking the gentle compassion I know is in my heart and the heart of the world.
Though I created the “Decade of Lessons” list prior to the global pandemic, I can’t help but feel these four lessons remaining are completely applicable to where we are in the world.
In wishing you peace, health, and connection – here are the final four lessons I wish to share with you while we turn many pages in life.
07: Never Be Afraid to Sparkle
And never say never! Just kidding, Justin Bieber.
The real opening quote I want to share is…
True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”– Brené Brown
In a world that asks us to be black and white, I dare you to be colorful and bright. There’s no need to dim your colorful self to fit in with the crowd. We face many obstacles to hearing our heart’s voice because we are constantly surrounded by other voices. Sometimes we aren’t even aware of the noise because we scroll through it so quickly. We waste time and energy that could be better utilized to observe, breathe, and connect to our deepest selves. Focusing inward, not outward. Rather than suffocating ourselves with expectations of the things we aspire to be and comparing to others, we can *pause* and recognize that we don’t need to be anything more – we are already who we’re meant to be!
We have unique gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.
– Romans 12:6
This doesn’t mean we cannot grow or learn (I would strongly disagree with that fo sho). Instead, this is pointing to self-compassion and radical self-acceptance. By alleviating outside pressure, we create space for authentic creativity. We begin to encompass ALL we are, not holding back because of self-imposed limitations and the desire for ‘perfection.’ Once we realize perfection is never the goal and not everything needs to be productive, we can be freer. This means embracing the darkness and the light within us, softening our hearts, and releasing judgement.
During the global pandemic of COVID-19, we are given the challenge of time and the paradox of CHOICE. We have to choose what to do with our time. Some people, I’m sure, feel pressure to be productive. Some people feel crippled by the amount of time alone. Some people may even be relishing in all this alone time (introverts, do you REALLY like this??). Yet… no matter our experience with the isolation, I am sure we are all struggling with similar emotions rising and falling. Through this, I feel the most important thing is self-compassion. A release of pressure. Freedom to just… be.
We really should stop being so harsh on ourselves. We judge ourselves constantly—our internal dialogue sometimes spinning out of control.
When we begin to release judgement, we allow our authentic selves to come through. Though this does require a degree of trust and confidence, we can tap into this at any time.
Today and every day, I aim to create space for my authentic, unique self to shine through. I will surround myself with those that accept me for who I am while also accepting myself. I will allow myself to wear my unicorn onesie around my apartment, get dressed up for Easter dinner, or stay in pajamas all day. I’ll allow myself to cry while in the middle of downward dog or laugh hysterically at myself when I make a silly mistake. I’ll allow myself to write pensive thoughts in my journal or draw a picture of Rafiki just because I wanted to. I’ll wear loud leggings, keep my Christmas tree up and decorate it with St. Patty’s day ornaments, and embrace the silly and free spirit inside of me. I’ll feel lonely and sad when I just want a hug but can’t have one. I’ll feel it all, because all of it is me, and all of me is beautiful.
Soften into the person you are. YOU are beautiful, JUST AS YOU ARE. All of you. Your imperfections, your pain, your sorrow, your love, your scars, your creativity, your strength, your spirit.
Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
08: Find Community Where You Are
This much I can say: We are stronger together, always.
Currently, we have a heightened awareness of our shared vulnerability, impermanence, and collective suffering. The global pandemic has brought us to connect in creative ways and challenging our idea of vulnerability. During our quarantines and isolation, there has been a call for honesty, to collectively admit when we are having a hard time. It takes strength to move through the vulnerability of saying “I need help” or “I need someone to talk to” or “I don’t know when this will end and it scares the shit out of me.” The level of uncertainty is unavoidable.
This is our call to be more authentic in our connections. This is our chance to stop putting up a front, shielding others from the darkness we fear is too ugly to share. We are merely human and simply cannot be in control of our emotions, but we also don’t need to let them control us. By feeling them, sharing them with others, and experiencing this level of suffering together, we can truly begin to know compassion and empathy. We can connect authetnically, deeply, and truly. We can soften our hearts and feel the love of the world.
I have been moved by the words of Pema Chödrön. Below is a passage from her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, which touches upon the noble, awakened heart of bodhichitta.
“This tenderness for life, bodhichitta, awakens when we no longer shield ourselves from the vulnerability of our condition, from the basic fragility of existence. It awakens through kinship with the suffering of others. We train in the bodhichitta practices in order to become so open that we can take the pain of the world in, let it touch our hearts, and turn it into compassion.”
Community has always been important to me. As humans, we are constantly seeking love and belonging. We need a tribe of people to support us, whether we are willing to admit it or not. Our tribe can be found at home, work, on social media, or in our own hearts.
Ubuntu is a beautiful word that is challenging to translate into English. It is a Nguni Bantu term meaning “humanity,” often translated as “I am because we are.” It represents “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.” It defines how we should behave towards other humans: to act in order to benefit the community at large. Right now, we are being asked to do JUST that. To selflessly sacrifice our comfort (and, at times, our sanity) for the benefit of the world at large. We are being asked to cancel weddings and vacations. We are furloughed, getting laid off, or working overtime. We are struggling, but we are doing it together, all of humanity, all at once.
Connection has come in many creative ways. While physical touch is a huge part of my connection to others (yes, I’m almost guaranteed to hug you when I meet you for the first time), this is not possible at this time. I have visualized many hugs and and holds, feeling the warmth consume me and deeply hug my heart. Though I cannot experience connection physically, I have accepted every dopamine hit from social media outlets, hung out with friends on Google Hangouts/Zoom/FaceTime/SnapChat, played virtual board games with the family (they duct tape me to a chair in the kitchen on FaceTime so I can feel like I’m with them, haha!), done virtual yoga classes, and more. I have so much gratitude for technology and its ability to connect us. Though it’s not the same as feeling the energy of the people in the room with me, I feel surrounded by love and community. The difficulties we are facing has revealed how true and reliable my relationships are and, for this, I am beyond grateful.
Our oneness has never been so apparent. During this global pandemic and for the rest of your days, don’t hesitate to reach out. Stay connected–authentically, vulnerably, and frequently.
09: Find Stillness in a Busy World
We have found so many ways to numb ourselves. How many distractions do we have access to on a constant basis – phones, television, podcasts, music? It’s all just background noise.
We are a culture of people who’ve bought into the idea that if we stay busy enough, the truth of our lives won’t catch up with us.”
– Brené Brown
I definitely do “busy” well. I work a full-time job. I volunteer with a minimum of two organizations at a time. I bring groups of professional and student Physical Therapists to Tanzania. I take on projects at work to stay stimulated. And I definitely feel joyful in my organizational ability to tackle this all!
Yet… I also do “stillness” really well. I choose to be a homebody on some days. To simply be home, alone, recovering. I used to be on the go constantly, but I no longer need this constant stimulation. I am really good at carpe diem-ing, but it doesn’t always look like skiing epic powder, traveling, or socializing. Sometimes, I can carpe diem by embracing my free time to walk in the woods or along the seashore, sitting and breathing, meditating, doing yoga, doing nothing. Connecting to the now. Observing my thoughts, feelings. Doing art for no purpose at all. Writing, journaling, creating. Taking a bath. Reading in silence.
While I typically enjoy these things as a choice, I do not have a luxury to choose at this time. While some people are being called to work incredibly stressful jobs in grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals, COVID-19 units, and more, I am working from home in my solo apartment most days. While this is not my choice, I know it is my CHOICE to stay healthy, safe, and protect those who are more vulnerable.
In light of isolation, I feel many of us are slowing down during this global pandemic. With time spent in physical isolation, we are asking to strip down the stories we tell ourselves and figure out what’s really important. We’re being asked to find new sources of joy—baking, crafting, drawing, writing, learning something new, watching a TV show/movie we wouldn’t normally. While this could be attributed to stress and the need for distraction, I also think it’s giving us a chance to get to know ourselves. It’s giving us time to PLAY without a real purpose. It’s a chance to invite stillness into our hearts.
In the end, it’s all about balance: grounding ourselves, reminding ourselves it’s okay not to be productive all the time. Releasing the pressure, stopping the chase, and settling into peace.
Sometimes, I feel like we’re hurrying up to slow down–racing to the next milestone, summit, relationship, etc., etc. We work feverishly to suck every joy out of our time because we know it’s a non-renewable resource. When we are asked to slow down, we find all the rushing does the opposite of what we want. Rather than getting more experience and joy, it pulls us down. There’s a saying in Swahili “Haraka haraka haina baraka,” which essentially translates to “hurry, hurry, has no blessing” (or, ‘haste makes waste’).
One of the ways I deeply connect to the present moment and stillness of the earth is through mountain adventures. Walking through the woods, climbing on rock, swimming in alpine lakes, skiing on snow all bring me a sense of deep connection. While this is not accessible because of CDC guidelines, I am finding ways to appreciate nature close by. Listening to the birds outside my window, feeling the sunshine on my skin, and marveling at the peaks from a distance. I know stripping ourselves of this joyful practice of outdoor exploration is challenging many of us to find where else we can have stillness.
The truth is, our stillness is here, in our hearts. It is with us all the time. We just have to quiet everything around us so we can finally hear it.
10: Stay Grounded in Your Truth
My spirit, faith, and heart have grown and expanded with each year, obstacle, and triumph. I’ve deepened the connection to my internal compass as I’ve explored the depths of my heart, working through past experiences & memories to learn more about myself. I’ve become stronger in my resilience, boundaries, and physical fitness. I have found a way to stay grounded within me, to keep my feet on the ground and stand for what I believe in. I’ve accepted all of my emotions—even the negative ones that my optimism usually pushes away. I’ve moved through fear, anger, and disappointment with courage and faith. I truly feel I lived fully and freely, building a strong foundation for the next decade of my life on Earth.
Staying grounded in your truth means staying true to YOU and your values. It means being authentic, choosing love over fear, and letting go of the need to control your outside world.
By deeply connecting and rooting in myself, I am one with my source energy; the energy that ignites my fire of passion & enthusiasm. The energy that is full of love & light. The energy that wants to reach it to others who share similar sentiments and work in commune to raise each other higher.
1. Growth takes courage.
2. Perseverance is rooted in faith and compassion.
3. “Yes” and “No” should come from the heart.
4. I am responsible for myself, my actions, and reactions.
5. Connection and love give life meaning.
6. Anger and fear communicate to me.