What Can I Do?

What Can I Do?  I have been asking myself this question daily since the election…and over the last week, sometimes many times during a day.  And depending on the emotional state I’m in when I ask the question, it can be  an inquiry,  a cry of despair, a  determined and defiant act, a doubt of my ability to do anything at all, or a prayer.

Regardless of different opinions, I think we can all agree that we are living in uncertain times and this current political climate is creating a state of unrest for many people.  I also think it’s safe to say that I am not alone in asking the question, “What Can I Do?” and looking for opportunities to take action, even if there is uncertainty about what actions to take.

My mindset has always been progressive  but now, with what’s happening, this is bigger than politics for me and, I suspect for many others as well.  That’s the thing I would most like people to understand.  The outrage that many people feel is not because their candidate or party didn’t win an election.  At its core, in my observation and for myself; the outrage is towards  a mindset, behavior and rhetoric that is an affront to the basic morals and human values of compassion, kindness, empathy. And now actions and proposed policies that are a violation of human rights of anyone who appears “different”from those making the decisions.

I am at the point where I may need to unplug from the news media and even social media for a while.  It has become too counter productive and contributes to my anger, despair and hopeless. It’s  becoming a distraction close to becoming an addiction and impacting my psyche and nervous system negatively.  It’s an endless vicious cycle; and if I say in this state, then I’m no good to anyone, particularly to myself.

As a practice, to counteract the negativity, I continue to allow this question of What Can I do, mull around in my brain and consciousness on a daily basis. And sometimes, opportunities arise from keeping that question in my consciousness.

The other day, I was on my way to a meeting and decided go to the Starbucks in my neighborhood.  A friend, so generously gave me a $50.00 gift card for my birthday and I was happy to get to activate it.

As I crossed the street to the Starbucks, there was a homeless man standing in front of the store asking people to help him get something to eat.  While I am courteous and say hello to street people, it’s not been in my nature to give money to them.  And I have always had a sense of discomfort around the homeless. Part of it is the fear of the unpredictability of human behavior, part the discomfort of seeing human desperation and, part my own fear that what makes me think that I am any different… hard times can fall upon anyone.  I’ve certainly had my own share over the past few years.

Today was different though. I did not plan this,  but something inside of me disrupted my own patterning.  As the man asked me to help him get something to eat, I found myself saying yes, I will help you, what would you like.  I was surprised as he was by my response.  I invited him to join me in line at Starbucks, and, remembering that I had that $50.00 gift card from my generous friend, I couldn’t think of a better way to use it.

I asked him his name (Geronimo), told him mine, and asked him what he would like. He said he would like a large hot chocolate, and then asked if he may get a breakfast sandwich.  We stepped up to the counter to order, I ordering my coffee and inviting him to order what he wanted…he also asked if he might have a piece of coffee cake…I simply kept saying yes and invited him to place his own order.  He asked the guy taking his order, if he could eat his breakfast inside the store…and the Starbucks employee said yes too.  I was glad that someone joined me in saying yes, allowing this man some dignity and the simple experience of being able to sit inside a place of business and eat a meal.  These small things are part of my every day existence and in that moment, i realized how much  I take that for granted.

As we waited for our order, I kept observing myself being at the edge of my own comfort level.  I felt awkward, at a loss of how to engage with this man and wondering,  what to say. I found myself making silly small talk, asking him if he lived around the neighbourhood, which felt dumb, the minute it crossed my lips.  He said that he had slept the night outside of a nearby church, but needed to find a better inside place soon because of how cold it was getting.  I urged him to speak to the church to see if they might help him seek shelter at one of the area shelters.

I needed to catch the EL for my meeting, so I bid him goodbye. He thanked me again and I was on my way.  As I walked to the Red Line, reflecting on this experience, I started crying.  I felt sad, and I continued to cry on the train as I went to my meeting and I had no idea why. I did something in the moment, that felt like the right thing to do, not knowing or having any expectation of the impact.  I didn’t know if the tears I was crying were for me, for him or just an overwhelming sadness of how much over the last week, I’ve observed people in political power  in my own country seem to have little regard for the human condition.

While I don’t talk about this on social media and only with close friends, the last few years have challenging for me, beyond losing my Dad.  After a corporate layoff, I started consulting, as I wasn’t getting hired for full-time employment. I also took a lot of time off to be with family after my Dad passed, did only project work and left my friends and network in LA to basically start over again in Chicago. I’m still seeking to create a consistent flow of income from either full-time employment or consulting.   All of this has drastically decreased my income and benefits, and has drastically increased my debt and my fears.

Whenever I would feel sorry for myself for something not going my way, or for a challenge I was having, my Dad would always say to me, “Nina, be grateful for what you have, there is always someone worse off than you are.”  And he would share a personal example of how he came to have that mindset.  When I was younger, that would really annoy me, as I just wanted my “woe” or “plight” to be acknowledged or validated.  And as I grew older, I understood what he meant.

I continue to reflect on my experience with Geronimo and remember my Dad’s words.  I am grateful.  I have a home in a very nice neighborhood in Chicago, a roof over my head, a family who loves me and generous friends who care about me and give me things like gift cards for my birthday.   I have benefited from many acts of human kindness. And so, while  at the moment, my financial situation and resources may not be what it was, I did have enough to share something with someone who had less than I do and that felt good to be able to offer something.

There is always something we can contribute. No act or gesture is too small. And, being kind to another human being and relating to them as a fellow traveler, and not a stereotype, is free and costs nothing.

Maybe that’s a good place to start, as we as a collective ask the question What can I do?  Simple acts of everyday kindness to our fellow humans, and especially those  who fear being harmed, deported, and even killed for being labeled “different” can make a difference.  Stepping out of our own comfort zone, breaking an old pattern, taking a new action, that’s something we can all do. And I know those simple acts can change the energy of negativity and hatred and the fear mongering being thrown at us daily by our political leadership and reported on in the media.

Taking the time to learn about other people’s cultures, their race, their religion, the challenges facing their communities, that’s something we can do.  By  listening and learning we can be better equipped to know what issues we want to help support and if everyone did something, again no act being too small,  we can collectively come together to create change.

If we come together in our diversity and cross the isles to help each other, I truly belief that will not only have us be united, but also have us be able to push back on the polices that this administration and congress is trying to enforce on us.  Just as men came out to stand with women at the women’s march, if we stand together as one…there is much power we have to stand up for the human rights of all of us.  Mindsets, ideologies and  policies that discriminate, separate, divide and create fear are not the foundations of not what our county was founded upon or who we are as Americans.  And I will not let anyone tell me otherwise, nor will I tolerate, comply with or accept those beliefs, mindset or policies.

I support nothing that this current administration stands for, has tried to impose on us or has banned this first week in power.  That does not make America great.    We all have the power to do something…to take one action that will change everything.

People need to see that far from being an obstacle the world’s diversity of languages, religions and traditions is a great treasure affording us precious opportunities to recognize ourselves in others. – Youssou N’ Dour, Musician

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Be Your Own Hero

A few weeks ago, I had a job interview and one of the interview questions posed to me was “Who is your Hero?” What a great question, and one not often asked in the context of an interview.

My answer was and has always been my Dad.  However, what was different this time, was that it was the first time I had been asked or answered the question since my Dad died.  My eyes welled up in tears as I answered the question.

Those who know me, or who knew my Dad, know the profound impact he had on my life, and that his death has had on me over the past year.  I came across this communication that I sent to a friend on the day we buried my Dad:

How do I say goodbye to the most important man in my life?
I knew this day would come…I just didn’t think it would come so soon.
I’ve been able to fly as high as I have because I always knew my Dad would be there to catch me if I fell….and over the last few years I’ve done a lot of falling.  And in those moments when I didn’t think I could get back up again, it was my Dad who would remind me of my strength and called my forth so I could pick myself back up again.
Right now, life seems to have no meaning or purpose

As I read what I wrote, over a year and a half ago, I am present to how I felt when I wrote it. Lost. Hopeless. Uncertain. Afraid.  Deeply sorrowful.

In my second interview with the same company, the interviewer asked a question something along the lines of, “What have you learned about yourself?”

My answer was, “That I am resilient.” What I’ve learned over the last year and a half is to be my own hero.  Grief and loss can be incredible teachers if we let them.  Without having my Dad to call or talk to or rely upon, I’ve needed to call upon and rely on myself in new ways.  I’ve had to learn to catch myself, to build myself up, to see myself in the ways that my Dad has always seen me.

On November 9, I woke up,  like many other Americans feeling as though the world had changed, and like many, feeling it was not for the better.  After weeks of experiencing many of the same symptoms of grief, depression and anger that I felt in the months after my Dad’s death, I began to inquire into the “reason” for this and the opportunity.

The other night, I saw Hamilton.  Yes, it lives up to the hype.  It’s so much more than a hip-hop musical, or a way to get old white people to appreciate that style of music.  It is an evocative piece of art that is timeless and now, very timely. As I took in the show, and allowed the music and the message to wash over me, I couldn’t help but wonder what I might have felt, had the election outcome been different.

Hamilton evoked many emotions  inside me. The first was sadness.  As I watched the story of our forefathers and how they created our nation, what they stood for, and how our country began (by breaking away from a patriarchical ruler and fighting for freedom); I felt sad about how divided our nation seems now and the extremes of our differences.  I also felt sad that we now have a president-elect that I can not get behind, because I can not normalize something that simply isn’t “normal” and who certainly does not, in my opinion, represent the values and ideology that our country was founded upon.

After experiencing my sadness, what I saw next was the opportunity that this might present.  Just as our forefathers ushered in a new nation from a revolution…the people of our county perhaps might rise up and do the same.

We the American people can no longer rely on politicians, elected officials or even our President to look out for us or to be our heroes.  Just as I have needed to learn this lesson after losing my Dad, we the people, need to step up and be our own heroes now. We as a nation are resilient and it’s time to see ourselves in new ways and rise together.

Times of uncertainty and unrest can call forth creativity, innovation and pave the way for  new leadership, ideas, solutions.  Now is not the time for complacency or resignation. Perhaps it is time for another revolution.  But not a revolution of hatred, war, killing or bloodshed. A revolution of ideas, thinking and being that contribute to new solutions in business, in the economy, the environment, education, healthcare, in our communities, etc.

When you fight against the current narrative you give it power. We have never been here before, so  we need a new approach, which includes listening to understand.  And also thinking and feeling before speaking, which would lend itself to tapping more into our hearts and not so much from our minds, or what we already “know.”  From there, new ideas and solutions can arise and one can take action from this new place.

As the Schuyler sisters say in Hamilton,Look  around, look around, how lucky we are to be alive right now.”  We are in a position to create a new narrative. It’s the story that we all tell next that will create the future.

So what story are you going to tell?

 

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From Grief to Grace In This Time of Unrest

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein

I am, like many Americans (and our friends globally),  still reeling from the aftermath of the election.  Over the last few days I’ve found myself crying, experiencing sadness, anger, fear, being tired, not too hungry, trying to understand what happened and working very hard to not get sucked into the cycle of fear and despair.

These spaces, I’ve been moving through have seemed familiar.  Having been on the emotional tidal wave over the last year after my Dad’s death…it dawned on me…I’m grieving and so are many other people.

This election was brutal.  Month after month, the drama, the mudslinging, the hateful rhetoric, the scandals the sleazy politicking played out and the media just kept adding gasoline to the fire.

No matter where you stand or how you voted, our collective psyche has suffered greatly, our nervous system is in fight or flight and our anxiety levels continue to be on hyper alert.

People are experiencing genuine sadness and fear and not because their candidate lost.  This election result is not about Democrat or Republican or liberals being upset that a conservative candidate won.  This is about basic human values and human rights being threatened, and  because many are trying to understand how someone who spewed  hateful rhetoric and demonstrated values or a mindset that many Americans simply to not share has been elected to the highest office in our nation.  And the groups whom he has spoken out against are genuinely fearful about what happens now not only with public policy, but also with a rise in hate crimes…it’s already happening.

So if you are someone who voted for Trump because you couldn’t stand Clinton or wanted to disrupt the status quo or were willing to overlook the man he has shown himself to be because you thought he’d be better for the economy, or you didn’t vote at all…please don’t judge or tell people to get over it because their candidate didn’t win.  This is much bigger than that.

And if you are someone who is angry at the turnout of the election and want to do something, please do.  Peaceful protesting and being in community with other people is a great way to express your emotions, but please be responsible.  Violence will not solve anything and burning your own city or flag is just stupid, disrespectful and will not win anyone over to your side.

Please have compassion for the space that people are in right now, even if you don’t get it.  And,  you are one of the people grieving right now please have compassion for yourself and be responsible in your expression of that grief.

Here are the Five stages of grief, so you can know where you are (or where those around you are):

  1. Denial and Isolation
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

It’s not a cyclical process either, so you may teeter back and forth between stages.  It’s important to allow yourself to experience your experience and also move through and release the emotion so you don’t get stuck in it.  That’s when you can become harmful to yourself or to others.

So how do we move from grief to grace?

“In this time Piscean values are giving way to Aquarian values. The difference between the two is very simple. Piscean values work from the ego, creating boundaries. Aquarian values have no boundaries; they are Infinite. Aquarian consciousness takes you inside your soul, so that you can relate to the soul in all.” -Yogi Bhajan

Those are the words and teachings of Yogi Bhajan, the teacher who brought the principles, practices and technology of Kundalini Yoga to the west from India in 1969.

This new age that we are living in, asks us to each elevate our own consciousness and gives us  five principles to practice and live by, or as he called them the Five Sutras of the Aquarian Age.  While they are simple and straightforward, they are also deep and can transcend us beyond our current state of emotion or being and allow for a state of neutrality and mindful thinking, being and acting.

The Five Sutras of the Aquarian Age

1. Recognize that the other person is you.
2. There is a way through every block.
3. When the time is on you, start, and the pressure will be off.
4.  Understand through compassion or you will misunderstand the times.
5. Vibrate the cosmos, and the cosmos shall clear the path.

As I read each of these, I am struck at how relevent and important these principles are right now.  The one that most speaks to me at the moment is number four. Understand through compassion or  you will misunderstand the times.

While the times are uncertain and there is valid reason for fear and unease, I can also see the opportunity.  The opportunity for each of us to seek not to judge or try to convince someone to see our perspective, but rather to seek to understand the perspective or another through compassion.

As much as I want others to see the world as I do, to be as progressive and forward thinking that I am, it’s more important right now that I seek to understand the point of view of another than to try to convert anyone to my way of thinking.  For to cause any lasting change, I must first understand where other people are and what’s informing their belief system and point of view.  And I must listen from compassion rather than for the opportunity to interject my point of view.

I am aware of my own struggles to do that at the moment, and my own thoughts wanting to travel the rabbit hole to a lot of darkness.  But I know that won’t solve anything or make a difference. And so these Five Sutras are great anchors at the moment to pull my mind back to a neutral state and be in the present moment.

When we can allow ourselves to be present, we can achieve a state of grace.  And it is from that state that healing can begin, connection becomes possible and solutions can arise and we can rise together to stand up for liberty and justice for all.

Sat Nam!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Light in the Darkness

I had a meeting this morning over on the River North and decided to walk home and enjoy the beautiful crisp Fall day and the fact it is still warm enough to walk home.

On my walk, I passed Holy Name Cathedral and decided to stop in the church, sit quietly with my thoughts and pray. I’m still processing and trying to understand what happened with our election, what this means for our country now and what I might do to help create change and be a part of a solution as we move forward.

There were a few other people in the church as well, perhaps all there for the same reason that I was.

As I sat quietly, inviting God into the space, All of my grief and sadness came to the surface and I started crying. Many thoughts raced through my mind as I sat with my sadness. I felt sad that our country is so divided right now. I felt sad that this man was elected president in spite of being the man he has shown us he is. I felt ashamed to be white, knowing that the majority of votes, unkindness, hate speech and actions are coming from men and women who share my skin color but not my values. I felt frustrated for not having a solution to this problem and not quite knowing what I can do.

There was a black woman in the pew across from me. She saw me crying and got up from her pew and walked towards me, asking if she could hug me. I said yes and I started sobbing as she held me, telling me it would all be OK. She told me that I reminded her of her mom who passed away in 2014 and showed me her picture. And she said with my red hair I reminded her of a fairy, like Tinkerbell.

I thanked her for her kindness and her comfort in my state of broken heartedness and she made her way out of the church. That woman was my Angel today and she may never know the impact she had on me. I may never see her again, but I will never forget that simple act of human kindness.

That simple act, restored my faith in humanity and restored my hope that in this madness, positive change will come.

Now more than ever we need to stop looking to someone to save us or for someone else to blame and take responsibility. It is our collective consciousness that got us here. And if we are willing to see that, then we are not powerless, we are powerful and capable of change.

There is no them…that’s an illusion that keeps us in fear. And when we act from fear we do stupid things. There is no black, white, hispanic, gay, straight, muslim, christian, jew, man, woman. In our highest self, we are a soul having a human experience in the body we chose to walk this earth in. Those ways that we identify ourselves also keep us separate. Issues that impact those specific segments of our population, impact all of us.

Now more than ever we need to come together in dialogue to listen, to understand and know that is our diversity and different perspectives that makes us stronger. We need to take care of each other and our planet.

We are the greatest nation in the world, many look to us for leadership and as an example. We need to break down walls not build them. We need to disrupt our old thinking and outdated beliefs and create new solutions that serve our current demographic.

We are the ones we have been waiting for. Let’s start by making America kind again.

#lovetrumpshate #love #kindness #riseup

The Parable of the Trapeze

I’ve been in a transitional state for a while now.  I moved back to Chicago at the beginning of the year with high hopes of moving on after my Father’s death and creating something new.  What I discovered, was that first, I needed to take another journey.  A deep journey inward, and into the depths of my sorrow, my fears, my grief, tmy anger, the darkness of it all.  For 6 months, I went into the cocoon…allowing.  Allowing whatever wanted to emerge to emerge.  Allowing myself to be with it, with no judgement, with compassion, with love, with gratitude, with anger..whatever arose in the space. To be there.

I am emerging from the cocoon…having gone in a caterpillar and coming out a butterfly starting to flap her wings to break free, to expand, to fly.  As I emerge, I understand now the importance of going into the cocoon.  To give myself that time.  I emerge in a new space, with a new mindset… ready. Ready to serve, to live, to love.  And I find myself impatient to be in that vision fulfilled to be living the purpose of my being here, now (all the while not quite sure anymore if the vision is the same. And  I in the inquiry of what it might be).

So…it was quite auspicious to discover this parable today, as I was perusing through one of my journals. I can not take credit for writing it, but I’m glad someone did.  I don’t know who the author is to give credit to them, but I thank them.

The Parable of the Trapeze

Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings.  I’m either hanging on to a trapeze bar or swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I’m hurtling across space in between bars.  Most of the time, I spend my life, hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar-of-the-moment.  It carries me along a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I’m not in control of my life.  I know most of the right questions and even some of the right answers.  But once in a while, as I’m merrily (or not so merrily) swinging along, I look ahead of me.  It’s empty and I know, in that place in me that knows, that this new trapeze bar has my name in it.  It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness coming to get me.  In my heart of hearts, I know that for me to grow, I must release my grip on the present, well-know bar to move to the new one.

Each time it happens to me, I hop (no, I pray) that I won’t have to grab the new one.  But in my knowing place, I know that i must totally release my grasp on my old bar, and for some moment in time, I must hurdle across space before I can grab onto the new bar.  each time I filled with terror.  It doesn’t matter that in all  my previous hurdles across the void of unknowing, I have always made it.  Each time I’m afraid I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between the bars.  But I do it anyway.  Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience.  No guarantee, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow, to keep hanging onto that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives.  And so for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of “the past is gone, the future is not yet here.”  Its called transition.  I have com to belive that it is the only place that real change occurs.  I mean real change, not the pseudo-change that only lasts until the next time my old buttons get pushed.

I have noticed that, in our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as “nothing”, a no-place between places.  Sure the old trapeze-bar was real and that new coming towards me, I hope, that’s real too.  But the void in between?  That’s just a scary, confusing, disorienting, “nowhere” that must be gotten through as fast and as unconsciously as possible.  What a waste!  I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing, and the bard are illusions we dream up to avoid the void, where the real change, the real growth occurs for us.  Whether or not my hunch is true, it remains that the transition zones of our lives are incredibly rich places.  They should be honored, even savored.  Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out-of-control that can (but necessarily) accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, most growth-filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives. 

And so transformation of fear may have nothing to do with making fear go away, but rather with giving ourselves permission to hang out” in the transition between the trapeze bars.  Transforming our need to grab that new bar, any bar, is allowing ourselves to dwell in the only place where change really happens.  It can be terrifying.  It can be enlightening, in the true sense of the word.  Hurling though the void, we just may learn how to fly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Signs…Everywhere Signs

“Oh, signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs, Blocking up the scenery, breaking my mind.” says the song by Tesla.

Shortly after my Dad died, I was talking to a friend about what happens after we die.  Is there an afterlife or are we just worm food was my question?  My friend said that he suspected that when we are gone, we are gone…eternal darkness, worm food, a long dirt nap.

I know what my Catholic school upbringing taught, but I started questioning those beliefs and wondering if I really believed them…and if I didn’t believe what I was taught growing up…then what did I believe?. As I started to go down the rabbit hole of my inquiry, I noticed that I became fearful.  What if I dove into this and discovered that we really are only worm food.  Then what? Would my whole existence be shaken to the core?  Would life seem empty, lacking any purpose or meaning?  I wasn’t sure I wanted to go down that road…but in my shocked state of grief and not wanting to let go of my Dad…down the rabbit hole I went.  Death and grief has one consider and do many things you’ve never may have thought about before.

Many questions arose from this inquiry…Is there life really beyond this one?  If so, what does the after life look like?  How does reincarnation factor into all of this? ( I believe in this as well…although this not a belief of the Catholic Church).  Do our loved one’s hang around us, or are they partying it up somewhere with our other dearly departed loved ones?  When my Dad crossed over, was he met by his Mom, Dad, sister and grandson who all passed before him?  What does his heaven look like ? (When he was alive we used to talk about this and he said his heaven would look like Pittsburgh, while I would share that my heaven will look like Positano, Italy).

And then…things started happening around the house.  The day after we buried my Dad and on Mother’s Day the front door bell of my mom’s house rang early in the morning on a Sunday, just after we woke up.  Seems normal right…except that my mom’s front door bell doesn’t work…and when we went to the door, there was no one there.  A week after we buried my Dad, the microwave went on the fritz and other strange electrical things happened around the house. Lights would flicker on and off.  And then there was the simultaneous connection that my mom, brother and I had that led us to find the owner’s manual to his car…something we had been searching for since his passing.  And I kept having dreams about him (and still do).

Sure, the rational mind could pass these things off as coincidence or bad electrical work in my mom’s house, but there were too many things happening in quick succession and in a short window of time or on specific occasions to be explained as such.

I started to explore further…reading books, talking to priests, intuitives, my spiritual teachers, others who have had loved ones die.  And researching as much as I could about how the spirit world makes contact with the human world and what happens to our subtle body after we leave our physical one.  A lot of what we experienced, from what I’ve learned are ways that the spirit world makes contact.  We are all energy after all…we simply change form.

People kept telling me that they could feel my Dad around me…I could not, in those early stages of grief.  All I could feel was the loss and the deep hole in my heart that was left as a result of his absence.  But as I allowed myself to experience my broken heartedness and sorrow and not resist it; the rawness ripped me open and my vulnerability enabled me to see and feel things I never had before when my defenses were up.

Signs of life…or the afterlife.  At the suggestion of one of my spiritual teachers, I started talking to my Dad, just as I spoke with him when he was alive.  And I started imagining what he might say as a response or I asked for a direct sign that he heard me. I’ve been told that our loved ones can hear us when we speak. That’s when I started finding pennies from heaven. One of my intuitives told me that one of the ways he would communicate with me was by leaving me pennies (and I’ve read that this is not on uncommon way that our deceased loved ones make contact).  When I have a question for him or ask for his help…and even when I’m troubled by something that I’m wanting to be resolved…I will find a penny…in some strange places.  I take that as a sign that he’s letting me know that he has my back…as he always has.  He has given me other signs (that I would recognize) when I ask for them as well.  Always my Dad.

I have started feeling his presence more around me.  When I was up in Ojai sitting outside at night watching the stars and again, when I was at a Dodger’s game. Mostly doing things or experiencing things my Dad loved…forging that connection with him in a new way.

One might dismiss all I’ve shared as a sad grieving daughter not willing to accept the reality that her Dad is dead and desperate to find meaning.  Believe me, I’ve considered that myself.  There is a permanance to death…like never again seeing or hugging or hearing a loved one’s voice or laugh.  However why should love die when our loved ones do?  And if our love is so strong…why shouldn’t that connection  and relationship remain…particularly that of a parent to a child, or a spouse to a spouse (my mom has had similar experiences).  My father was a man who deeply loved his family and was always there for them…why should that change now that he’s not in his physical body.

Why should the relationship die after a loved one dies?  What if it does just changes form?  I was committed to having an extraordinary relationship with my Dad while he was alive.  And I did a lot of work on myself to transform over the years and complete anything unresolved from my past with him.  I constantly did what I needed to reinvent myself and the relationship over and over again…with lots of opportunities for growth along the way.  And in that level of growth, I came to an acceptance of my Dad…who he was and who he wasn’t…nothing incomplete or unresolved…which at last…opened up a deep level of intimacy and love to consistently be present.  I’m grateful I got to have that experience…that he got to  have that experience and fully be loved by his daughter and that I was willing to do whatever it took to create that.  Why should that end? All that is present is love. What if that love contributes to our loves ones journey where ever they may be?  What if we simply need to open ourselves up to continue to be in relationship with our deceased loved ones?   And be willing to explore what that relationship might be?  To kiss the spirit world, if you will.

There are a thousand little things I miss about my Dad when he was in his physical body.  Who he was, what he would say, what he did.  I will forever miss him picking me up and dropping me off at the airport…that simple task…was so precious to me…as it was one of my Dad’s many ways of expressing love…acts of service…and it was our time to just be together and get connected…even if there were no words being spoken.  And I wonder, what new experiences might I have with him now that he is in his subtle body.

My Dad’s absence will always be palpable, but I am starting to find him in places I never looked before.  By opening myself up to other realms, by learning to read the signs.   And he comes to LA to visit now…he never liked coming here when he was alive.

I read somewhere that a part of the old you dies with your loved one and a part of your loved one lives on in the new you.  As I  travel along this journey of grief it continues to be a masterful teacher, and I would stay I agree with that statement.  I’ve had to start relying on myself more and finding that strength that my Dad always pulled forward in me, when I couldn’t see it, on my own.  It was always there, I’ve just needed to learn to see it for myself.  I’ve also started seeing myself as the powerful woman he saw me grow into vs. the scared little girl I thought I still was. I’ve needed to start to learn to parent myself.  I am my father’s daughter and I think he’s proud of who I’m growing into…knowing that he did his job and left me to carry on his legacy.   And I can just picture him smiling and saying “You are one classy broad, Neen.”

Where is Home?

Where is home?  This is a question I’ve been asking myself a lot since my Dad died three months ago.  I’ve spent time in four states,  in about as many months and, even though I live in Los Angeles, I’ve spent a total of three of the last seven months here.  I’ve also spent a lot of time in other people’s homes, having given up my own apartment last year.

What now?  Also a question I’ve been asking myself a lot over the last three months.  I spent more time in Pittsburgh this year then I have since I left home and moved to Washington, DC over 20 years ago.  And while it was comforting to grieve my Dad in my home town and be able to spend so much time with my mom,  I was pretty clear that I didn’t see myself living there or moving back there.  I’ve come to appreciate my hometown in many ways spending so much time there and I’m proud to hail from Pittsburgh, but it doesn’t feel like my home anymore.  Minneapolis, where my brother and his family live is a great place to visit but also didn’t feel like home to me.  Then there is Chicago, which is my adopted hometown, full of wonderful friends, memories and love.  My time there was immensely comforting and the energy of the city and being around such close friends felt like a warm blanket of love wrapped around me.  I felt so supported and it was just the healing I needed as I started to make my way back to California.

I landed in Los Angeles and it didn’t quite feel like home. If felt strangely familiar.  But I felt so disconnected to the city I’ve lived in for almost five years.  It was a little unsettling and while I’m clear I don’t want to make a lot of major life decisions at the moment, I did find myself questioning if it was a good idea to come back so soon…or if at all.  One of my pieces of luggage decided to not make the trip, so it would seem even my belongings were wondering where to go. Thankfully it showed up the next day.

I spent a total of 48 hours in LA then left for some much-needed R & R up in Ojai, which I really needed after the last few months.  The energy up there is restorative and peaceful and I always feel so at home when I am there, I’ve often contemplated if that might be a future home at some point.  Although I am more drawn to the water then the mountains.

Now I’m back and settling back in to LA.  Living in a new part of town, getting used to driving again after not driving for over three months, learning my way around from point A to B from my new location and settling back into a life that has forever been altered.  Feeling a little out-of-place and asking questions like What’s next?  Where should I be? Where is home?  As though I’ve been waiting for the answer to miraculously come to me or some sign to tell me where to be.

Then, the answer came, clear as a bell…Home is where you say it is.  Yes!  Home is where I choose to be.  And LA, I choose you.

I’m living on the West side and the vibe and energy is completely different and it suits me  I’m starting to reemerge and reconnect with old friends and connect with new people.  Having new experiences, making new discoveries, learning what feels right for me and being intentional about what I think and shifting my thoughts when something is out of alignment,  as I’ve learned along that way, that what where we put our focus and energy is what we shall manifest and create more of.

I’m back, but it’s not a continuation of the past…it’s a whole new opportunity to create from nothing.  To create from here and now. I am not the same person who left LA months ago.  I’ve lost so much and quite honestly I have nothing left to lose, so I might as well create a fucking amazing life.  What an inspiring way to honor my Dad and honor his legacy. And I can still be the little girl grieving the loss of my Daddy while being the powerful woman my Dad encouraged me to be.  They are not separate from each other. I can still be sad and joyful. Angry and happy.  And I’m learning that allowing myself to experience the sadness and not resist it allows space for joy. Being open  and vulnerable has been crucial.  If I shut down and numb myself out, I’m screwed because the energy gets blocked and stuck.  Breathing…very critical, it helps to shift the energy and helps me remember I’m alive and feel the life force running through me.

I think the most important thing I discovered in asking where is home?, is that we are always home when we are at home with ourselves.  Being authentic, honoring our truth, creating our life vs. being at the effect of circumstances outside of our control. When we can truly be at home and at peace with ourselves, our zip code or address is insignificant.

What Can We Create in the Space After Exeperiencing a Loss?

I’m beginning my transition back into life and out of the bubble I’ve been living in since my Dad died, two months ago. I still have days where it doesn’t seem real, or possible or I’m waiting to wake up from some really bad dream and see him walk in the door from work, or golfing, or Rockefeller’s, his favorite hang out. This has been the most profound and deep losses that I’ve ever experienced and it has knocked the wind out of me.

I’m incredibly grateful that I have the type of career and lifestyle that  gives me the freedom, flexibility and ability to be anywhere.  I’m also grateful that I didn’t have to rush back to LA or to work after the funeral.  It’s been incredibly healing to spend time in my hometown in familiar surroundings, with my mom, in my parents house where there are memories of my Dad. I don’t know how people jump back into work or normalcy or every day life after the loss of a loved one, or a marriage or the ending of a life that once was familiar.  It’s been a blessing to slow down and  experience all of it and to have the time to just be and to listen to my own inner compass guiding me towards what I’ve needed to do to take care of myself.  There is no manual for this.

I also have an appreciation for the shock and denial phases or grief.  Feeling the deep loss in itself is a shock to the system a month and two months out…these two phases allows one to ease into the next wave of emotions and feelings.  I can’t imagine feeling it all at once. Over the last two months, I  pretty much buried myself into a cocoon surrounded by those comforts of the familiar.  I also focused a lot of my time and attention to helping my mother through the transition of what will not be an easy road ahead as we all get used to life without my Dad.  Having things to do like clean out the basement and other things my mom needed help with was a welcome distraction to the thoughts in my own head and the wave of emotions that would crash over me like a tsunami.

There is a huge empty space, a loss, a void since my Dad died.  My family is experiencing it and feeling it in different ways.  I can feel it in the energy.  My Dad had a presence and you could feel the energy when walked in the room.  His energy took up a lot of space.  Now the space feels empty, as though something is missing. Even though we know he’s gone, my mom and I couldn’t help but find ourselves waiting for him to walk in the room…filling up the space once again.  I felt safe in that space.  I felt love in that space. Sometimes I felt conflict in that space when we would disagree on something…both being positional and stubborn in our point of view.  Mostly,  I felt like I could do anything in that space, because he would be there to catch me if I fell, or at least be there to tell me to pick myself up, after I went spat on the pavement.

Then there is the clearing of the physical space after loss.  As my mom and I cleaned out the basement, clearing out old boxes, belongings,  throwing out items, donating items, space has gotten created.  The heaviness of the physical once gone, created space, a lightness an opening. Not only in the space itself but in us as we went through the ritual of letting go and treasuring what we found and chose to keep.   We also packed some of my Dad’s things in boxes….to be sorted through later…when we are ready.  This has also made space..both in the physical clearing and in the mental space knowing that it’s not something we need to rush into.

Finally, there is the space left when the person who is gone is no longer there to do or provide all of the things they did.  Their “role” in the family, the tasks they were accountable for, the things they provided.  My Dad had a way with people…of being able to deal with difficult customers and he knew the appliance service industry like a bird knows how to fly.  The space he left is being felt by the company he advised after he retired from his own business.  What he provided was so seemless…they didn’t even know it was missing until he was gone.

There have already been so many little every day moments that are reminders that life is different, that the space is different.  My Dad did so many little things that filled up the space, that makes his absence known like an announcement on a loud speaker. There have been moments of needing something, trying to figure out something that I know he would know or even having an experience that I’ve wanted to share and then I remember that he’s not here…and it feels empty…I experience an emptiness.  It feels as though a part of me has been ripped from my heart and there is a hole…and an ache where the hole is.

As I transition out of the bubble and into the world, I have moments of wondering if I will ever experience joy again.  And if I do, will I ever experience it without the immediate sense of loss and sadness and tears because my Dad isn’t here to experience it too or here to share it with. Yesterday, I held my new baby niece for the first time and as I looked into her eyes and her tiny, beautiful face, I started sobbing, sad that my Dad never got to meet her.  And sad that she won’t get to experience him.  He loved his grandaughters.

I also wonder who am I now…now that life has altered in such a profound way. While this is certainly a defining moment in my life,  I don’t want to be defined by this experience and remain this sad girl who has lost her Dad. My Dad certainly wouldn’t want his death to take me out of life nor would I want to honor his memory or legacy by staying stuck in my grief.

Space makes room for new things, so it sparked an inquiry of what can one create after experiencing a loss.  Some moments I am enlivened by that question and other moments a panic comes over me.  My spiritual director provided a great image for me to hold onto in those moments when I do experience panic.  Imagine my family as a school of fish, swimming, playing and traveling together in the ocean.  One of us has left the school, gone, swimming elsewhere. And now there is a space where he no longer is.  And we feel the loss, we miss his presence,  but the space isn’t empty…God is in that space.  And God is all around us, in the water that we swim in, in the air that we breath.

A friend pointed out to me that what’s been missing in the space has been trust.  Trusting in God, in others and in myself that I will go through this and come out the other side OK.  That there is a bigger plan at work, that some good could actually come from this great loss.

I wonder what might open up in me that space makes room for.  There is an openness, a vulnerability and a rawness at the moment that creativity can dwell in, because there is a clear channel with no barriers.  I created my Happy, Healthy and Hot course after my nephew died and I lost my job.

What might I create now?  What would be something big enough what would honor my Dad’s memory and  call me forth beyond this current space I’m in?  What can we create in the space after experiencing a loss?

Lessons in the Key of G (Grief)

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a month that my Dad has passed. Every day there seems to be some reminder of just how much I miss him.

I went to the car wash with my Mom last week and my eyes welled up with tears. The last time I was at that car wash was back in March with my Mom and Dad, just after he came home from the hospital the first time…he was alive then and recovering so well from the first attempt at the heart surgery.  And when I was a kid, I used to love sitting in the car with my Dad while we went through the car wash.  It’s so hard to predict on a daily basis how I will feel or what will trigger a period of sadness. And it’s not consistent, I have many moments of peace and laughter too.  I’m like a symphony of emotions experiencing and feeling it all…resisting nothing.

I’m still in a state of experiencing the loss and the absence of my Dad. Have not yet achieved the space of knowing quite how to experience him being with me in a new form.  It’s all still too surreal.  And yet there have been moments, when he’s made his presence known. This has raised questions and an exploration for me about death and dying, the afterlife and how we can continue to have a relationship with our loved ones once they pass this life…and just where to they go when they leave this realm.  Particularly since death seems so permanent.

When someone says “He’s in a better place now” my first thought is, that’s such a crock of shit. How do we know that, what could be better than being here with the people who loved him and who he loved.  But, what do I know…I’ve not yet experienced the great unknown…at least not in this incarnation.

I do feel oddly at peace in my grief and sadness.  Over the last year I had so much fear and anxiety…fear of the unknown, the future, the uncertainty around work and finances and what was next as I made the conscious choice to shift the direction of my career and reinvent myself.  While I was honoring my truth in following my path, it was not without a cost.  At one point, I became so consumed by fear that I stopped experiencing joy. Trust me, that seems like nothing compared to what I’m experiencing now.

Looking back, all of the moments over the last year when I didn’t have consistent work, or I said no to something that didn’t feel right, or a job opportunity didn’t work work out, were an incredible blessing. It gave me the freedom and flexibility to spend a lot of time with my family and with my Dad…not knowing at the time what would come.  And I wouldn’t trade that for the world….wouldn’t change a thing…except to have worried less.  We had made some incredible memories over the last year as a family. I got to spend a month with my Dad when he came home from the hospital in February and we as a family got to be together for his last days on earth. And for that I feel blessed and full of gratitude.  And it helps me in those moments when the waves of grief and sorrow arise.  I have no regrets.  I have no wondering what I should or shouldn’t have done.  I was right where I was supposed to be.

In this moment I have no fear. All of the concerns and worries that consumed my thinking are so insignificant and really don’t matter.  I am in a place of being surrendered and receptive and in a place of trust.  Having had the experience to reflect on the last several months, I can see now that there was a greater plan at place…beyond, in my humanity, what I could see at the time.  That doors were closed for a reason…that the Divine was at work…steering me in a different direction…to places where I was needed…and taking care of me along the way. As I look back on the last year, there is no way that I could ever deny the existence of God or Spirit working on our behalf.  I was completely taken care of so that I could be where I was needed.  My faith has been strengthened, not diminished by this experience.

I’m discovering that the stages of grief are not a linear experience and that grief is a very individual and unique experience. There is no “right or appropriate way” to grieve. And I’m unwilling to allow anyone to tell me how I should or shouldn’t behave.  Just as it’s not my place to tell anyone else how they should grieve. This is my process and they have theirs.  The best advice came from my brother who said, “Neen, don’t let anyone tell you how you should grieve. You do whatever you need to.” And I’m completely comfortable with how I choose to experience and express it.  I’m doing what I need to do for myself and asking for support if I need it. I’m in a completely new state…I’ve never been here before, so I really don’t know what to expect.  But, oddly I’m not afraid of it. I know it’s all part of the grieving process and that the best way through it is to ride the wave, experience my experience and feel it all.  I would say I’m being pretty healthy about it all.  And who knows, I could wake up tomorrow morning in the fetal position and not be able to get out of bed for days. That’s the mystery of it all.  It keeps me present, that’s for sure.

In my deepest moments of pain, I am gaining much wisdom. My heart hurts and I’m experiencing a deep sorrow that I’ve never known, yet, in my broken heartedness, my heart has been broken open and I’m present to love, vulnerability, compassion and a myriad of other emotions.  There is a rawness, a sensitivity.  Something has been cracked open, but I’m not broken.  There is a knowing…that as devastating as this is…it will be alright…I’ll be alright.  My life has forever been altered and will never be the same, but something good will come of this loss, I can feel it.  Death gives birth to new life.  I hear my Dad’s voice in those moments when I wonder if I can make it through a bad day.  When I had a disappointment or came up against a challenge and wanted to give up, he would say “You may take a beating and fall down, but you pick yourself up and you get up and move on.”  And when I would say to him. “How? I’m not sure I can.  I’m so tired, Daddy.”  He would say “You just do it.  What other option do you have?”

I’ve become acutely aware of the preciousness of life.  Long before my Dad died, I constantly felt blessed and grateful to have both of my parents and not for once took that for granted.  I’ve known so many friends who have lost a parent young and I was thankful each day for still having both of mine.  And as we’ve grown older, I was aware that our time together was shortening and each moment became more precious.  I really did believe though that we’d have more time, that this was something I’d be dealing with 15 or if we were really lucky 20 years from now. That this time wouldn’t have come this soon.  My Dad had cheated death so many times, we used to joke that he had nine lives.  Which has made this loss particularly shocking.  It seemed as though he was invincible. I also understand now that when we grieve…we not only are grieving that loss of that person, we are grieving the loss of the future we don’t get to have because that person is no longer with us.

I’m particularly grateful for the kindness of others.  The many friends who have taken the time to call, text, email, be in communication in some way.  I feel the love and it gives me comfort.  I may not always have the energy to respond as promptly as is customary for me, but those words of encouragement keep me going in the moments when I feel so zapped of energy.  And I feel blessed to have to many beautiful people in my life.

If I can offer anything to people wondering what they should do for someone who is grieving.  Reach out, let them know you are thinking about them. They may not respond right away, or at all, but don’t feel weird or think you should leave them alone.  Text, call, send them a token that you love and are thinking about them.  Those tiny acts of kindness mean more then you can ever imagine.  They fill the hole in the breaking heart with love…and experiencing that love…makes such a difference.

We live and then at some point we die…and we don’t know when that moment will be. What matters is how we choose to live those moments and who we choose to live them with.  Who we choose to be and how and who we choose to love.  And that we live and breathe those moments living our truth…not someone else’s.

My brother and I are my Dad’s legacy.  And I know that he is somewhere, looking at us  and smiling…proud of who we are.  And loving us…as we are him…for love never dies….it’s eternal.

How Do You Say Goodbye?

How do I say goodbye to the most important man in my life?

Today we buried my Dad. I knew this day would come someday, I just didn’t think it would be this soon.

I’ve been able to fly so high because I knew my Dad would catch me if I fell. And over the last few years, I’ve done a lot of falling, and in those moments when I didn’t think I could get back up again, it was my Dad who reminded me of my strength and called me forth to pick myself up again.

Right now life seems to have no meaning or purpose.

What was the most comforting was knowing that so many people where also grieving with us and came to honor and celebrate my Dad. We had over 250 people come to pay their respects and share memories of the impact my Dad had on them, who he was for them and share some funny and heart felt stories.

My Dad was not rich or famous but he was a person of influence because of the way he chose to live his life…by being of service to others. He coached my brother’s little league, football and wrestling teams and had the opportunity to teach and mentor many young boys.

One of my brother’s friends whom my Dad coached said, “Your Dad taught us how to be men.” And as I reconnected with those now men he coached, I could see what good men they were.

He was in the appliance service business and was one of the best in the industry in knowledge of the ins and outs of any major appliance and how to fix them to creating a world class service department. As a small business owner, he had the opportunity to teach and mentor many service technicians and other independent business owners.

One of men he did business with over the years said “Your Dad was an icon in the industry.”

He made friends everywhere he went and was known, loved and respected in many circles and yet he was a humble man who never forgot where he came from and when he gave you his word, it was as good as gold.

But most of all, he was a family man and provider who loved and adored my mom, and loved and was proud of the children he raised and was madly in love with his grandchildren.

The ride to the cemetery was one of the longest car rides of my life but it was comforting to have so many cars behind us in the procession to my Dad’s final resting place and led by a country Sheriff’s car, provided by a friend who is the Allegheny County Sheriff.

Hearing people share about who my Dad was for them and the impact of having known him, as his child was inspiring. My Dad was by no means perfect, but he led by example and strove to be the best man he could be and to do the right thing. My brother and I have learned many lessons from him.

One of his friends said it best, “Your Dad was a gentleman.”

While the road ahead will be hard without him, I have so much love and pride for this man and feel proud and blessed to be his daughter. There is nothing incomplete, unresolved or any regrets I feel other then I want more days with him and I’d give anything for more time. It feels like he was taken much too soon and that there was more future for him to create, more impact for him to make, more experiences for us to have as a family. I’m incredibly grateful to have gotten to spend so much time over the last year with him and my family and to have been here for a month following his first surgery attempt and the few days before his death.

We simply never know when will be the last time that we see someone and the importance of leaving nothing left unsaid or having any unfinished business lands so much deeper now. The last car ride with him as we drove to the hospital for his surgery…a simple moment…has so much meaning now. We were sitting next to each other in the back seat and I reached over and took his hand in mine and we sat there holding hands for awhile…not saying a word…there was no need to say anything, for in the unsaid, in the space between us was and will always be love.

I Love you Daddy, and I miss you so much already

Written on April 18, 2015

“I know all your life you wondered, about that step we all take alone.
How far does the spirit travel on the journey”
You must surely be near heaven and it thrills me to the bone,
To know daddy knows the great unknown ” – April 24, 1981 by Rick SpringfieldIMG_0020