Giving up and Letting go…

Letting-GoGiving up and letting go are two very different things.

When you give up, you stop believing in your strength, in the essence of possibility. Your fear of failure and disappointment trumps all. You retreat, succumb, decide that effort is futile, and sulking usually follows. Giving up inhibits growth; it stems from fear and lack of passion.

When you let go, you release what is no longer of use to you. You understand that in order to grow, you need to let go. Letting go brings a sense of freedom and relief, a feeling of euphoria mixed with thrill. Letting go is fueled by courage, which is why it takes such a toll on the heart.

Letting go is essential for a balanced life. You can’t possibly carry everything with you.

A fisherman needs patience so as not to miss his catch. If he gives up, he fails to eat. A bird must let go of her nest to learn to fly. If she holds on, she fails to thrive.

where there is life there is hope

Hope is not always as we expect it to be. It does not always shine brilliantly. Sometimes you have to search for it in heaps of rubble. Quiet your mind from the chaos to hear its soft flutter. Hope will always meet you anywhere, but your will to reach for it must be stronger than your fear that it isn’t there.

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Your PASSION is your assignment in this world

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Courtesy of Moga

We live in such a money-hungry society where success equals money and money equals success. So blinded are we by this notion that we have accepted this as fact, and if not fact, then as unfortunate reality.

I understand that money is a necessary element in this worldly existence of ours. We need it to sustain many basic needs. There’s no denying that. Homes are costly. Food we can’t just reap from the earth ourselves (and nowadays we don’t even have a say in what foods are provided to us; one word: GMO). And education… don’t get me started on that price tag.

But regardless of all these necessary expenses and financial obligations, we cannot allow money to dictate our worth. We cannot allow money to dictate where we place value and how we spend the precious years of our lives. And it’s funny. Even the words worth and value seem to be synonymous with money. We’ve been programmed to think this way and we must transcend this mind-set!

We condemn leaders with dictatorship regimes, and yet here we are allowing ourselves to be ruled by a dictator called money. We spend years chasing money, setting our life’s priorities around what will bring us more money, trying to “stack our chips” to gain purchasing power. And for what? This is the ego’s chase. Not the soul’s. Not the heart’s.

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Things didn’t end well for Walter White.

Money can travel through generations. It does open certain doors. It does act as a safety net. We do need to save for retirement. We do need to cover our health care costs. Life is expensive and money is important. I’m not saying that it’s not. But.

When money becomes all we see, all we live for, when we use money to measure our worth, our success, our happiness, when money trumps all in the realm of important things, therein lies the problem.

It’s a problem because we cannot use something as finite and tangible as money to measure the infinite and intangible aspects of our human experience.

I cannot use a ruler to measure how much I have grown as a person over the last seven years. To measure how much my dog loves me. I cannot use a scale to weigh my happiness. I cannot use Facebook to gauge how many people “like” me. And I cannot use money to determine whether or not I am a successful human being.

As with anything in life, we need to find balance. To recognize our true worth and value—the power of our souls, our passions, our callings, our gifts, our love, our JOY. We need to reflect on what is important to us and live our lives accordingly.

Each person places importance on different things in life. Maybe it is someone’s dream to become CEO of a company or President of a university. That’s okay. But we can’t allow money alone to influence the strings that pull at our hearts. I understand that sometimes sacrifices must be made, but let’s not forsake what our hearts beat for. No one’s dream is too large or too small or too silly. The yearning in your heart is there for a reason.

“Joy is not in things, it is in us.” Richard Wagner

I believe each of us possesses unique gifts and passions for a reason. We spend our lives trying to find “our place” in this world of chaos, in this world that imposes its rules and standards and definitions on us. But we can find our purpose not out there in the world that seeks to categorize us, but in here, in our hearts, in our passions. What we see out there is a mere reflection of what is stirring inside ourselves.

We shouldn’t sweep our passions to a corner—or worse—abandon them, for money. Life is far more precious than that! Money comes and goes but life is like running water, uncontainable. There is nothing worse than waking up one day and realizing that you’ve spent years upon years of the one life you were given, sitting behind a desk counting dollars and vacation hours. Only to retire and be replaced by the next person. Unless you are content with that lifestyle (some people are), don’t be afraid to pursue the life that your soul aches for.

“You can fail at what you don’t love. So you might as well take a chance at doing what you love.” Jim Carrey

I refuse to be a slave to money. Do I want more of it? Of course I do! I am a human being and as human beings we always want more of everything. But do I have all that I NEED? Yes. Will money fulfill my soul? No. Can I live a full life without being a millionaire? Yes.

Create your own definition of success. Do not compare yourself to others. Reflect on your personal values, on what is important to you, and allow your life to flourish from the place in your soul that speaks to you the loudest. Do not bind your spirit for the sake of money. Please don’t be a zombie. We need more passionate people in this world!

And to all the new graduates out there… don’t let the shiny object that is money trump the infinite glow of your soul. Listen to your heart’s calling and build your life’s work around your passion. Therein lies the map to your place in this world. Everything else will fall into place. Believe in your passion. That is your assignment in this world. What a waste it would be to let it go for something as replaceable as money.

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Light up this world with the fires of your passion.

This post was inspired by this comic strip.

the things that truly matter

Thirty years from now, it won’t matter what they thought of you. It won’t matter what things you owned and accumulated, what worries you kept in your pocket.

What will matter are the lessons you learned and how you lived those lessons through.

What will matter are the lives you strived to make better, whether four-legged or two.

What will matter are the relationships you nurtured, and the time you spent trying something new.

What will matter are the fears you conquered and the calling in your heart that you heeded, because that calling makes you you.

What will matter is the knowledge you sought and the wisdom you shared with those younger than you.

Every day, rise with grace, gratitude, and purpose, breathe…

and remember the things that truly matter.

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Deciphering Happiness

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I watched this documentary recently, simply titled: Happy. It’s a thought-provoking examination of life’s most valued human emotion, happiness, and really is a must-watch for everyone. It grapples with the questions: What makes humans happy? And how can we cultivate lasting happiness in our lives?

I learned there are two types of happiness: intrinsic and extrinsic.

Intrinsic happiness has to do with the fulfillment of your soul’s needs. Fulfillment through personal growth, living your passion, knowing your values and aligning your life’s work to them, forging and maintaining meaningful relationships, giving yourself to others (which goes back to the importance of community), nurturing self-esteem, health, and well-being.

Extrinsic happiness has to do with the fulfillment of your ego’s needs (what your mind tells you you want). Fulfillment through obtaining something external (mostly tangible desires): money, success, status, recognition, any kind of “object” that you perceive will make you happy if you could only have it.

Come to think of it, extrinsic happiness is what I realized I was referring to when I wrote “happiness is a unicorn”; it comes from gaining something that you feel was missing from your life—the type of happiness that shapes the attitude: I will be happy if or when I have this.

With extrinsic happiness, we are chasing something outside of ourselves instead of looking inwards. Hence the plight of the human: we always want what we don’t have. Because of this, extrinsic happiness is fleeting. It’s not something we can ever keep or hold.

“Man is a fool. When it’s hot he wants it cool. When it’s cool he wants it hot. Always wanting what is not.”

Intrinsic happiness, on the other hand, stems from the idea that we are the source of our own happiness (“i am the compass”), and that only we can be responsible for our own happiness. As I see it, extrinsic happiness satisfies the ego while intrinsic happiness satisfies the soul. Interestingly, they directly oppose one another, and therein lies the great paradox that we experience in our hearts.

Before watching Happy, I didn’t think real and lasting happiness could be achieved in life; it seemed to me that, like every other human emotion, happiness could never be constant. I believed that happiness was a temporary high, rendering us unable to find a permanent sense of fulfillment, so that we’re constantly on a search for our next dose, the next thing that will make us happy. Each of us carries a hole in our hearts that we try to fill in some way.

But now I see that I was only thinking about extrinsic happiness. Now I see there is a constant happiness that we can achieve in our lives—one that comes from centering ourselves, knowing and being true to ourselves, and giving ourselves to something bigger than our own personal desires and ambitions. Gratitude, appreciation, purpose, a sense of connection with yourself and others… all these things cultivate a steady flow of intrinsic happiness.

I don’t mean to say that personal ambition is wrong or bad. Only that we need to find a balance between fulfilling both mind and spirit. Happiness, as I understand it now, is not just a fleeting human emotion, it’s a state of being, an attitude, a way of life, a deliberate choice to focus on certain aspects of life over others.

The documentary Happy inspires a clairvoyant understanding of this emotion that we all crave and seek. We all want to be happy. We’re all trying to figure out how to be and stay happy. We all think we know what will make us happy. Many people believe the goal and purpose of life is to achieve happiness.

But I don’t believe happiness is a goal or a prize—I believe happiness is a by-product emotion that springs from the heart, that can be achieved and maintained through actions that are driven by the heart. We become what we do every day.

Do what makes you happy and you will be happy; no action or thought is too small to inspire a sense of happiness. Chase what makes you happy and you will forever be in a chase; everything eventually loses its novelty. So what are the things that your heart longs for? And what are the things that light up your heart from the inside out? True happiness is not something to covet, it is something to be.

Watch the documentary and let me know what you think! 🙂

The Monday Frame of Mind

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I get it. Nobody likes Mondays (or whatever day your week begins). Nobody likes waking up early after taking a much needed break from the alarm clock. Nobody likes getting up and going somewhere under the pressures of obligation and responsibility, especially if you don’t particularly like your job.

Bear with me here. I’m going to risk you rolling your eyes at me.

mondayI have grown to really dislike the “Monday blues” attitude. It’s such a cliche, this way of viewing Monday. I dislike sour attitudes in general because they cloud my world and bring me down. There’s enough external junk beyond our control that we have to deal with on the daily, so if there’s one thing I strive to control in my life it’s my attitude—my way of absorbing the world around me. My way of viewing myself in the world.

The way we approach every day really is a matter of choice.

I wasn’t always this person who strove to be happy. I was the opposite. I lived under a veil of pessimism and unhappiness for a long time, but ironically, those years inspired me to find a renewed sense of joy and optimism in my life. I realized nothing was going to change for me if I didn’t change for me.

1004650_495422900533919_350052237_nThat said, I used to be on the “I hate Monday” band wagon too… until I realized that it’s actually pretty silly to hate a day, and it’s actually pretty awesome waking up because you have something to do.

Mondays represent having to go back to work, sure, but they also represent a new beginning, a new week, a new day of being alive. You woke up today, on this day you dread called Monday, but you woke up. Waking up to a new day, Monday or not, is something to be glad about, I think. No?

At least you didn’t wake up as a giant bug? (Kafka, anyone?)

“In your mind, change the name of every day to Saturday… change the name of work to play.” Matt Haig from The Humans

What is it with Mondays?

I’m stubborn and I hate cliches, so I’ve rebelled against this anti-Monday attitude. I don’t want to be another “I hate Monday” zombie who’s only saving grace is a shot of caffeine and the fact that the day will eventually end. And I feel genuinely better now that I’ve changed the way I view and anticipate Mondays.

1345678621940074Yes, I’m that happy person at work on Mondays, but I’m also that happy person (I try my best!) any day of the week. Why? Because I want to be happy no matter what day it is. Because the opposite of happiness sucks, quite frankly. And because happiness is a good kind of contagious. People who are sour will be sour regardless, so people who strive to be happy should strive to be happy regardless.

Changing your attitude about Monday is not about changing your attitude about your job necessarily. (External circumstance rarely brings internal happiness; we will always be wanting of something—it’s our inherent flaw as human beings to believe we’ll be happier if or when _________).  (So if you can’t be happy Now with what you have then you won’t be happy ever.)

Changing your attitude about Monday, rather, is about seeing Monday as simply a new day, as opposed to a day of going back to the reality of work. It’s about seeing Monday as a new beginning, as opposed to the end of the weekend. It’s about seeing Monday as a day you get stuff done, as opposed to a day you have to do stuff.

Monday-12-2Wake up, people! You are alive. You lived to see another day. Who cares if it’s called Monday (or whatever day your week begins)? Let’s see and treat Monday for what it really is—another day of life, the refresh button for a new week. Monday is like New Years Day once a week! (Is this too much? Maybe…)

Bottom line—begin your day blah, and you will be blah; begin your day grateful, and you will be grateful. So choose your frame of mind for every day—and watch your world change, or not change.

Thanks for bearing with me.

Happy Monday, world.

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Give your Gift: Reflections from a Week of Service in Montgomery, Alabama

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A year ago this week, in the spring of 2013, I embarked on a service immersion trip to Montgomery, Alabama with nine undergraduate students. During our one-week stay we served some unforgettable communities and learned a great deal, through various tours and personal stories, about the Civil Rights movement. We met people whose faces and stories will forever be etched into my mind, and in this reflection, I hope to give my humble thanks to them—with a special thanks to our most generous hosts Ms. Michelle Coe and Father Emanual—for opening their hearts and lives to us, for teaching me the power and importance of community, and for making us feel like home in a place we had never been before.

Finding Community in Montgomery

WP_20130324_025Alabama is truly beautiful. Its soft hills and endless fields of green lulled me into daydreams. I was mesmerized by the commanding presence of nature all around as we drove through the state. An enormous wall of trees bordered the highways, clumps of leaves and tangled moss dangling from perpendicular branches, the sun glazing over the windshield, poking its yellow beams through knots of leaves in the trees. Every so often the wall of trees would drop, and my eyes would suddenly gaze over a serene scene of land where cows and horses grazed just beyond a fence that separated nature from concrete. They appeared as a mirage, the animals, detached from the complex world of the modern human. They were undisturbed.

I’d always intellectually understood the importance of community, of kindness, and of giving yourself to a larger purpose. But the week I spent in Montgomery last spring refocused my understanding completely.

I realized that community is sacred, not just important. That kindness is necessary, not just a matter of manners or convenience. It’s easy to be kind when you’re in a good mood and when you like the person to whom you offer your kindness. But how about when your spirits are low and the people around you feel like hungry hyenas? That’s when it’s most important to be kind. It’s certainly not easy, but that’s why it’s so necessary.

“To strengthen the muscles of your heart, the best exercise is lifting someone else’s spirit whenever you can.” Dodinski

I realized that giving yourself to a larger purpose is essential to peace, to positive change, and to the understanding of self and others.

WP_20130325_009I am a part of so many communities. My work community, my social community, my family community, my neighborhood community, my local, national, and global community. Many others too. We all are.

But what does this mean?

I began to reflect on my role within the communities that I populate. And that’s just it—am I merely populating them? Am I just a seat filler, a street address, a name on a family tree? If I were going to be exiled from my communities, what would I say as a defense for why I should stay?

What is my unique contribution?

Everybody has a unique gift. Even the act of being a good friend is a unique gift (and sometimes even a treasure) to someone’s life. I believe one of the purposes of life is to discover, hone, and give your unique gift to those around you. We are all born with unique gifts that can be nurtured into talents and skills and strengths. Some gifts are more obvious than others; some gifts may take years to develop or be discovered.

WP_20130327_007And these gifts, once found and honed, are meant to be given—not hoarded, not placed inside of a glass case or beneath a fancy title for admiration. Gifts are meant to be given. Stories are meant to be shared. If we have the courage to give our gifts and share our stories, the world will feel less daunting, coarse, and lonely.

“Each of us feels some aspect of the world’s suffering acutely. And we must pay attention. We must act. This little corner of the world is ours to transform. This little corner of the world is ours to save.” Stephen Cope from The Great Work of Your Life

My week in Montgomery taught me the importance of being an active member in my communities. I’m not saying you have to run for PTA president or dedicate your life to social activism (although, hey, if that’s your calling, go for it!)… What I’m saying is that it’s important to be cognizant of the powerful impact that you can have where you stand, wherever that may be.

WP_20130325_023I learned that it doesn’t suffice to carry on in your life, in your own personal radius, chasing your own personal ambitions, content in the thought that so long as your actions aren’t harming anyone, you can do as you please. The question that should be asked is: are your actions helping anyone? Whether that anyone is a friend or a family member or an animal or a person you may never even meet.

The problem is that people tend to underestimate the difference they can make in their communities. Everyone thinks: “Well, I am just one. What can I do?”

“If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito in the room.” Dalai Lama

I don’t think you can strive to be the best person that you can be without your communities. And that’s because we are social creatures. We are interdependent. We need each other. We are reflections of each other. We are all connected in one way or another.

WP_20130329_024Retreating to your personal radius is necessary; believe me, as an introvert, I know. But my week in Montgomery helped me recognize just how important a role I can play in my communities. Being active—that’s what kneads bread, builds roads, draws smiles, sows gardens, teaches children, nurtures friendships, molds strength, creates art, cultivates growth, inspires ideas.

Community is more than just a physical location. More than the environment you occupy. Community is a smile to your neighbor, a kind word to a stranger or loved one, an empty can that you pick up from a lawn that isn’t yours, and speaking of lawns—community is picking up after your dog!

Community is the giving of yourself to that which you belong.

WP_20130905_007Community is about nurturing and celebrating and appreciating people.

And it’s true. The one thing I learned from living in different countries is that the people make the place. I cannot stress this enough. Not the aesthetics of buildings or streets. Not the attractions or amenities or affordability of certain luxuries. Not even the climate or geographical location (although I do love beaches). It’s the people that make the place. It’s the friendships and bonds and memories you create… with people in that place.

Families turn houses into homes. Neighbors turn streets into magical childhood settings, plots of dirt into bountiful community gardens. Children and teachers and staff turn buildings and campuses into schools. And in that same way, we human beings make this earth. From the earth we were shaped and to the earth we shall return.

WP_20130329_022And so I came to understand that civic health is not less important than physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional health. To be civically healthy is to be aware of what’s happening outside of your personal world, to engage in your communities and strive to make them better so that you too can be better, so that future generations can be inspired to be better.

And we can only be responsible for what we do in our communities. And it’s up to us to figure out what we can do. It’s overwhelming because there are so many needs in this world. Where does one even begin?! How does one even try to make a difference?

And the answer is in your gift. Find your assignment. What is it that you’re good at or passionate about?

There is where you can make a supreme difference.

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Bringing Change Home

The thing about inspiration is that it’s so potent in the moment, but sadly, like perfume, it fades. But my experience in Montgomery, Alabama last spring was so transformative and illuminating, it awakened in me a heightened sense of duty towards the communities in my life, one that has permanently changed the way I view myself in this world.

Since Montgomery—I read my neighborhood’s community newsletter, which I would have trashed into the recycle bin before.

WP_20130626_018Since Montgomery—I have volunteered at my neighborhood’s community garden.

Since Montgomery—I have made more of an effort to call and visit my beloved grandmother. My overall sense of appreciation for the loved ones in my life has magnified ten times over.

WP_20130525_021Since Montgomery—I have participated in a global protest against Monsanto, the corporation responsible for GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

Since Montgomery—I have become a member of Illinois PIRG, “a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety”.

Since Montgomery—I have strived to educate my family and friends on the evils of puppy mills (I’m passionate about animal welfare as far as pets are concerned), and on the importance of adopting, not buying, cats and dogs.

10342-custom-ribbon-magnet-sticker-STOP+Puppy+Mills+++Adopt+a+shelter+petSince Montgomery—I am more conscientious about buying from small and local businesses as much as I possibly can.

Since Montgomery—I have started this blog, which may sound silly, but it has given me a channel through which I can share my gift—my passion for writing—something I didn’t have the courage to do before.

But most of all, since Montgomery, I have recognized that I do play an important role in the people in my life, a role I shouldn’t underestimate, a role I must live up to.

I have learned that I must always have the courage to give my gift and share my story and stand up for the things that are important to me.

I have learned that service comes in many forms, and that you truly can make a difference anywhere you are, and in many simple ways. You just need to be willing. You just need to step outside of your personal world a little bit, look around you, be a part of your community, and arm your heart with hope, faith, courage, and the power of love and persistence.

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Celebrating small victories

sunflower_on_blue_sky_by_stock_by_kaiI’m hard on myself when it comes to my accomplishments. It’s good to have high expectations for yourself, but not to a degree that makes you dismiss your small victories. My friends and family tell me I never give myself enough credit for anything I do, and they’re right. In my mind, many things that I’ve achieved have simply been “not enough”… in comparison to the bigger picture of what I hope to accomplish.

I have a hard time celebrating my small victories because I am a person who always strives to keep her mind on the bigger picture—and usually that is a good thing. Keeping an eye on the bigger picture is calming to me, most of the time. The bigger picture offers perspective, reminds me that in the grander scheme of things, I will be okay. All will be okay. The bigger picture helps me align my priorities. It keeps me in check.

But I’m slowly realizing that my bigger picture is also casting a shadow on my small victories. The bigger picture can be overwhelming. Like the sun, it can sting you if you look at it for too long. It can make you lose sight of the smaller pieces that you’ve put together that ultimately… make up that bigger picture.

There are so many things I want to do—dreams I want to see to fruition. And in this context, the bigger picture of all that I hope to accomplish ends up paralyzing me instead of motivating me. It all becomes so overwhelming. There’s just too much to do!

So I retreat.

I camp outside my mountain of dreams because the mountain hovers too high. I can’t imagine where on earth I would begin my climb, or how I would even survive such a climb.

Well, needless to say, that approach has gotten me nowhere.

I woke up one day and realized that my small victories had gathered like dust in the corners of my room. And instead of using them as building blocks, instead of seeing them as reminders that I’m on the right track, that I’m doing something and there’s still more to do, I left them there to dry… to blur into the background of my life.

Celebrate your small victories! Make a big deal out of them. (Maybe not to the extent of throwing a party and inviting all your friends, but…) In your mind, they should always represent a check point on your road to your bigger picture, your vision of your success. Small victories are evidence of growth and progress. Evidence that you are an active member of life.

And realize that you should always have a vision of your success—there should always be something you’re chasing, something that will push you and inspire you to do better and be better. There’s no such thing as “arriving” at your success. People who “arrive” at their successes and decide to kick their feet up only get passed up by the rest of us who don’t stop moving forward. And I don’t mean to say that life is a race and that we should compare our successes to other people’s—no. What I mean is that once you lift from your mind this idea that success is a destination, you will be able to relax to a degree and appreciate your small victories.

And it’s not easy. We see our goals, our hopes, our dreams… we see them as shimmering palaces in the far distance, and we become weary wondering if we’ll ever find our way there. But life is not a prize to covet, it’s an experience, and so it is with success and accomplishment. Small victories, like memories we accumulate over the years, are a part of your bigger picture, a part of your experience, a part of your success, a part of your story. They are significant.

So celebrate your small victories; don’t just keep your eyes on the prize, on the big mountain of your dreams. Without your small victories, there would be no mountain… and your dreams would just be wishes in the wind.

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