Life, After Death

FC6EB7EF-58D3-47B2-8989-AADDB0A1C755.jpeg* Author’s note: I wholeheartedly believe that everyone processes grief and death differently. I write this in hopes to help others better deal with their own grief and to provide a better understanding of the grief process. This is my story.

 

 

When I get the phone call, I will feel pangs in the pit of stomach that radiate to my deepest core. “Dad… he didn’t make it,” my mother will say, choking back tears. That call– those words– will change my life forever.

I will come to realize that the tragic event of my father’s passing will be the catalyst for a major course correction — a personal path toward healing. To those on the outside though, that healing will be presented in the form of isolation, mood swings, behavior changes, and a major shift in ideals. In reality, I will be processing some heavy emotions, and dealing with an existential dilemma which requires lots of time, introspection, self-compassion and rest.

Yes, I will be depressed the months following my father’s death, but I’ll come to realize that my body recognizes the need to take the time and space to heal. I will have to overcome the shame and guilt and burdensome thoughts as I battle with society’s stigmatized views of depression. I’ll quit my job, and I’ll move home with my mom.  I will lie to myself and pretend I don’t feel like a failure for the inability to continue the life I had previously built. I’ll appear strong when in reality I’ll be doing my damnedest not to implode.

After my father’s death, I will endure an existential dilemma. I’ll question the meaning of life. I’ll examine and doubt my existence. I will feel empty. “What is the point?” I’ll ask. Slowly, I’ll begin to reevaluate what is most important.

I’ll analyze my time, and how I spend it. I’ll look at the value of each experience. If it isn’t enriching my life, it’s no longer worth my time. I’ll stop filling my time with meaningless distractions, and I’ll structure my time with purpose. If you waste my time, I’ll become resentful. If you value it, I’ll be greatly appreciative and acknowledge it. I’ll begin to realize my time is now my most valuable, non-renewable resource. Once it’s spent, I’ll never ever get it back.

I’ll acknowledge the overwhelming support and love that I felt at my father’s funeral which will kick-start an evaluative process of my personal relationships. I’ll assess the value of each relationship. I’ll make an effort to reach out to friends and family, to express my gratitude, to contact them on birthdays and holidays and create soul-soothing interactions.

I will determine that my self-care, self-worth and self-love are my highest priority. I’ll recognize the emphasis I once placed on productivity in spite of my health, happiness and my relationships. I’ll confess to my previous drive for external validation– recognition at work, admiration from professors, respect from fellow colleagues/peers, likes on social media platforms, affection from lovers– success as determined by external sources. I will determine none of that is important. I’ll discover what truly matters is my internal validation– do I love myself, do I treat myself with compassion, do I promote self-healing?

For the first time, I’ll put my own damn self into therapy. I’ll begin to own my experience. I will begin to develop my voice, my boundaries, and express them openly. I will discover that how I treat myself is how others will treat me. I will begin to heal.

It will be the call that will cause a disruption in my life and it’s trajectory. Subsequently, I’ll be forced to look into the abyss and contemplate my “new normal” — a world in which I exist but my dad doesn’t.

 

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Reaching Beyond Expectations

 

Last night I had the privilege of hanging with my two climbing partners Adam and Greg at Go Vertical in Philadelphia. It had been at least 7 months since I had climbed last and even longer since I had had a regular climbing routine in the gym. Walking into Go Vert, I set my expectations fairly low, thinking I’d start at 5.6s and maybe I’d be able to complete 5.7s by the end of the night. I was trying to avoid disappointment by my inability to achieve the 5.9/5.10s I was once tackling before I decided to step away from the climbing scene. Nonetheless, I was excited to get back on the wall and see how far I could push myself.

Shooting up my first 5.6 route of the night, I was impressed that I could remember certain techniques and control my body positioning. I was also surprised at what great shape I was in despite my long hiatus. After belaying Greg on his 5.7 arete warm up route, he asked if I wanted to give it a go. I exclaimed, “why the fuck not”, my new life motto, and gave it a try.

The first few holds were jugs, making it fairly easy to climb, although a quarter of the way up the holds became smaller and foot holds were non-existent. Previously, this scenario would have flustered the hell out of me. My breath would shallow, my mind would lose focus, my fingers and forearms in pain, the overwhelming amount of stimuli would be enough to make me give up. But this time was different. I steadied my breath, focused on the problem, shook out my arms one at a time while resting steadily, trusting my feet. With a deep inhale I positioned my left arm on the arete, anchored it by shifting my weight to the right, stuck my feet on the wall and victoriously reached up for the next hand hold. I was determined to climb the route cleanly, without falling, just to prove to myself that I could. Getting past that one tricky spot, I climbed the rest of the route with ease, tapped out on top and was lowered to the ground with a smile on my face. I was in disbelief that I successfully completed the 5.7 cleanly, exceeding my previous expectations. With that climb under my belt, I was aching to see what level I could max out on.

Following Adam and Greg’s climb, I challenged myself to a 5.8- route with an overhang. In my climbing experience, overhangs have always been my nemesis. Just the anticipation of tackling an overhang has filled me with anxiety, usually stifling any chance at true success. But as I did with the 5.7, I thought, why the fuck not, and gave it a try.

As I had anticipated, just at the point of the overhang, my progress stalled and my shallow breathing kicked in. My mind went blank while my arms and fingers ached, and I let go, swinging out from the wall. Adam who was belaying me asked if I wanted to stay for another attempt. I replied, “fuck yea!”

Kicking off the wall and swinging myself back towards the route I grabbed a jug and pulled myself back onto the holds. I tried to recall how I had scaled overhangs in past climbs. Get your feet high, I told myself. Feet high, hips into the wall, and swing like a pendulum to get to the next hand hold.

After two failed attempts, and some recovery time to regain energy, I  planted my feet high, swung my body up and grabbed the hold letting out a loud grunt, with cheers from Adam and Greg below. I completed the rest of the route, not cleanly, but that didn’t matter. I hadn’t given up, which was a success in itself. Before my hiatus, I would have abandoned the route on my second failed attempt. Tonight though, I had a fire burning inside, determined to push my limits and exceed my own expectations. Defeat was not an option.

The rest of the night I stuck to 5.7s and completed one more 5.8 before doing a quick 5.5 to top out, leaving all of my energy on the wall. When the night was over I had nothing but a large grin plastered on my face. I felt exhausted yet empowered, reveling in my personal success.

Coming back from my gap in training, I mentally prepared myself to expect failure. Realistically, There was no way I was going to be able to get back to the 5.9s/5.10s I was working on before my time off, and I knew I had to set realistic goals for myself in the gym. I also relied on self-compassion, allowing myself to be disappointed that I’m not at my best, but I was enough at the moment. This mindset helped me to remain positive when I experienced a set back or challenge, and allowed me to enjoy my time with my friends.  I truly enjoyed my time hanging with Greg and Adam, living in the moment, shooting the shit about life, cheering each other’s successes and supporting one another through our personal struggles on the wall.

Returning to the gym and being not far off of my personal best has renewed my resolve to get back into the climbing routine. It’s my hope that I can cultivate this wild flame of willpower to overcome and surpass all of my own expectations, reaching above what I think I am capable of achieving in the climbing gym and beyond. I implore you to also think beyond your own comfort zone and ability. When you reach beyond the limits  you set for yourself, the possibilities far exceed anything you may be able to ascertain.

Trusting My Wings

Prior to coming over to Australia, I had determined that this trip was going to be a life experiment in letting go. If I could let go of my expectations and trust that the universe would provide everything I needed, then I’d be happier. But as with every experiment, there is the potential that the trials may yield different results.

As I now sit here in Cairns, waiting to in the airport to depart for home at the end of my Australia adventure, I believe there is an added variable in play that I did not anticipate in my original hypothesis. Although I still think that my original theory, letting go and putting trust in the universe, is accurate, I’d like to amend my original statement.

It was about a 3 months ago that I had this epiphany that came in the form of a conversation with my work exchange host, Steve, with whom I was working to renovate a rental property that he owned. On one of our daily drives back from the property, I was explaining to him my decisions for coming to Australia.

It was in that moment that he pondered what I had said, and formulated his response. Steve, being an avid traveler and vagabond in his younger days, had traveled around Asia, Europe and America, living dollar to dollar, picking up odd jobs and renovation work wherever he could to supplement his travels. His response was based in his years of experience cheaply traveling the globe, but it was so profound that I determined it was the missing component of my now seemingly incomplete hypothesis.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of trusting the universe, I think it’s about trusting yourself in your own abilities,” he insisted.  To explain his point, he proceeded to tell me a story about a bird, who found himself on a weak, unsteady branch. “Now this bird has two options,” Steve continued, “he can trust that the branch will hold him, or he can trust his wings and his ability to fly.”

I was so dumbfounded by Steve’s response that I sat in the car speechless. He was right. All the bird needed to do was trust his wings, not the branch. Maybe I didn’t just have to trust in the universe to provide all that I needed, but more so I had to trust in my own abilities to go after all that I needed and wanted.

The rest of the afternoon I reflected on this new way of thinking, and checked to see if it had applied it to my travels on my Australian adventure. Undeniably, there had been moments when the “branch” fell out from under me, in the form of missed or canceled flights, miscommunication or tension with a host, last minute plans falling through, cancelled tours, and rearranging travel plans in the aftermath of a major cyclone. But at the end of the day, I persevered, pushed through the awkward, uncomfortable or stressful situations and ensured that things worked in my favor. Despite having the branches fall out from under me on numerous occasions, indeed I did fly.

Therefore, after months of research into my life experiment in letting go, I can amend my hypothesis to be more accurate. To live a life filled with happiness, I do need to let go and put trust in the universe to provide all that I need. But, when the branch does inevitably fall, thanks to the multiple tests and trials I faced in Australia, it is with deep faith that I can now trust my ability to spread my wings and fly.

Jump and the Net Will Be Revealed

Let go of what does not serve you – Make room for what is still to come

 

Letting go easily has never been a strength of mine. Admittedly, anything I’ve ever let go had claw marks on it from holding on too tightly. I’ve lived most of my adult life heavily attaching myself to things, people, feelings and identities. In the event I did let go, the pain was so overwhelming that I would lose myself in the process.

In reality, things, people, feelings, they all come and go, in and out of our lives in different times. What I’ve come to realize is that no matter what the season, everything comes into our life for a reason. There are small lessons in every situation, but you need to have the awareness to acknowledge them. When their shelf life is through, they leave you,  hopefully, stronger and wiser than when they found you. Still, the toughest thing to do is to let go of the person, the feeling, the thing, that you desire to keep around. It takes grace to let them go willingly, without a struggle.

Desire and attachment are two things that stand in the way of my true happiness. Acquiring or holding on to what I value most takes up vital energy that could be better spent allowing myself to be present and enjoy the moment. I get so anxious over the stress of losing or attaining that I don’t value what I already have. It prevents me from putting my trust and faith in the universe that I have all that I need and that it will always support me.

I’ve recognized my inability to put trust and faith in the universe and have been working to correct these shortcomings. In the past few months, I have been mentally preparing myself to let go. I have already let go of a job that did not serve me and my greatest potential. I’ve let go of a great place to live, but one that I have outgrown emotionally and spiritually. And now I am letting go of the past, letting go of my life in Philadelphia and beginning a new chapter, starting with an adventure in Australia.

To me, my adventure in Australia is my ultimate experiment in letting go. To much of people’s dismay, when I talk about my plans for Australia, I very adamantly state, “My plan is to have no plan.” After that statement, I get confused looks, clarifying questions, and phrases like “God bless you!” or “you’re so brave!” I guess people tend to plan large trips like this, but ultimately, I think I get the most out of traveling when I am planning on the fly. Concrete plans are being sorted and figured out while I’m here in Australia. Jobs, living arrangements, friends, they all have come into my life when I needed them.

One day, while I was relaxing on the beach in Hawaii (my pre-adventure vacation), I started to feel a bit lonely on my own. I put my head down for 5 minutes and when I got back up, I took my camera out of my bag to shoot a few pictures, and the guy next to me started chatting with me about cameras. The next thing I knew we went out for drinks and dinner. It was one of the best dates I’ve ever had!

The first day I arrived in Australia, I was anxiously anticipating my new life and worrying about what could go wrong.  When I walked into my hostel room, I met a girl named Katie, and we became good friends over the few short days I stayed at the hostel. We walked around Cairns, partied and had lots of laughs along the way. After my hostel stay, I worked out a work exchange with a family living in Cairns. The husband and wife are travel agents who have helped me to book excursions during my stay in Cairns. They have even offered to keep in touch throughout my stay in Australia to help me book more side trips. Steve and I talk about politics every morning, and have chatted extensively about our adventures abroad. Maria is the nicest, caring mother who ensures I have clean clothes, and a well fed stomach each day. After the partying scene at the hostel, it was nice to come to a chill, relaxed, warm and welcoming home where I have my own room and a comfy bed.

Things have indeed worked themselves out nicely, and I hope that things will continue to work out in my favor. As someone I met on my travels told me, “Jump, and the net will be revealed.” Well, coming to Australia and leaving my old life behind was my “jump”, and the “net” is slowly being revealed as I continue on this adventure.

 

 

 

 

2017: The Year of Loving-Kindness

This post is a bit late, as I wanted to write it as a New Years 2017 post, but I feel like with the current political climate in the US and the tensions being created, this post might be appropriate on the day of Donald Trump’s Inauguration.

To follow up my intentions and past year of work being more authentic and vulnerable, I want to make 2017 my year of Loving-Kindness. What is Loving-Kindness and how did I get to this point of inviting it into my life? During my two months of time off for self-care and self-reflection before my Australian Adventure, I began to look into Buddhist practices and beliefs. Prior to this time, I had basic knowledge about Buddhism and what I did know, made sense to me in the broader context of the world. As I explored more into Buddhist practices and beliefs, I stumbled upon Metta meditations, otherwise known as Loving-Kindness meditations.

Loving-Kindness meditations are meant to free us from suffering, by dispelling previously held beliefs that we are all separated, and acknowledging that indeed we, all living beings, are connected in this universe, and that there is potential for love in all of us. For someone who had been closed off to real love, love from within and love from my friends and family, this concept of Loving-Kindness spoke to me as something I needed to continue to cultivate, because for so long, I’ve felt separated, alone, unlovable and unable to love.

Luck came my way when I found a great book on understanding and cultivating Loving-Kindness through meditation and I decided to give it a try. The first phase of Metta focuses on generating loving-kindness from within. In order to be able to transmit Loving-Kindness outwardly, it first must be generated from within, towards yourself, otherwise if you can’t be kind to yourself, you will never authentically be kind to others. The literal translation of Metta means “to be gentle” or “friend”, therefore it is my responsibility to be my own gentle friend.

When thinking about a good friend, they aren’t only there to help you celebrate the good times, they are the shoulder to cry on during the bad. They are constant, through the happy and the sad.This right here, being my own friend, through the thick and thin, is what I was lacking. I was a terrible friend to myself, especially when things would go wrong. When shit hit the fan, I would blame, ridicule, guilt and put myself down. Reflecting now, I truly did not like who I was. The first phase of Loving-Kindness is to be a gentle friend to my own soul. I yearn to be my own constant peace and love, no matter what the outside circumstances.

Part two of Loving-Kindness is to show it to friends and family. Over the holidays, this is what I practiced the most. I made sure to get back in touch with friends who I rarely see or speak to, I continued to show my love and support for friends in my immediate circle of daily life, and I made an effort to show my love and appreciation through gifts, small gestures and cards. These small offerings were gestures of my love  and appreciation for my friends and family, and it allowed me to feel more connected to these people in my life. I was able to quell the fear of loneliness and separation by making an effort to stay connected, and be grateful for all who was in my life. This is a continuous process, being self-aware and acknowledging when I am thinking about someone, BUT ALSO making an effort to show them I am thinking about them.

Part three, the part that is most difficult, is to offer Loving-Kindness to others, especially the ones who I may feel don’t deserve it. The challenge is offer Loving-Kindness to those who have hurt me, those who will try to hurt me, those  who are hurting, those who have so much hate in their hearts that they project it outwardly. In order to do this, I need to remember that they too were once born with Loving-Kindness in their heart, and the circumstances in their life changed them to be negative, feel bitter, hold hate, project hate, be fearful. They were all victims once, and their actions now reflect their experiences that they are still holding and have yet to let go. For me, this phase of Loving-Kindness  will not be easy. It has taken lots of changes in my thoughts and actions to try and give Loving-Kindness to these people , but I’ve found that it is worth my hard work. Not only do I sometimes come out of stressful situations feeling more confident, more at ease, but sometimes the people with heaviness in their hearts come out feeling lighter too.

I am extremely grateful to have found Loving-Kindness and to be practicing it every day. There are lots of people in this world who project hate, fear, and negativity and it is inevitable that I will have to interact with them. Being in control of the way I act, I can project Loving-Kindness no matter the difficulty of circumstances, and in the end I believe that I will be better for it. For me, it is comforting to know when you meet the Donald Trumps of the world, the people who spout hate, and try to divide when you know that we are all spiritually connected, I can be my own anchor of peace and love, and project that outward. Who knows, maybe it might be contagious.

Taking Life By the Balls

Today is the day that I take life by the balls. It’s been a year in a half in the making, two months in the planning and a whole lot of emotional and spiritual growth to get here. Before today, I was a scared, anxious girl who went through life playing the victim. I watched my life pass me by as if it was playing on the big screen and I was a paying customer. Yes, I made decisions and yes, I was going through the motions of life, but I did not feel like an active and willing participant. Things happened to me and I passively reacted. I had goals and dreams but they seemed far off in the distance, impossible to achieve. Today is the day that changes. Today is the day I head out on my Australian adventure.

A year in a half ago, I had the idea to try an Australian working holiday when I was out visiting my friend Brendan in Minnesota. As he was telling me about his experience in Australia, I started to wonder if I was capable of trying this once in a lifetime experience. Fear had prevented me from not going into the Peace Corps directly after college and fear had prevented me from not teaching English abroad after grad school, two experiences I regret not doing. This working holiday in Australia seemed like the perfect way to get a similar experience living abroad and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Over the past year, I had become overwhelmingly disappointed living and working in Philadelphia and I felt the need to start looking for a new place to call home. Since I can remember, I’ve always dreamed of moving to Colorado because of the landscape and the lifestyle it affords. This has been my dream that alluded me since I was sixteen. This is what I once thought was impossible, but now I know it’s within reach. My Australian adventure will be my last hoorah before my relocation to Colorado, as a way to reignite my passion for life.

It hasn’t been an easy road, planning and prepping this Australian adventure. There have been multiple setbacks, including the expiration of my original visa. I’ve struggled with the decision to go, leaving my dog, my comfort zone and all of the friends and family that I love. I’ve anxiously debated if I could manage to work and live in another country successfully. I’ve struggled to hide my doubts with a fake smile and laugh as other friends and family members have expressed their excitement, their joy, their support for my trip. As my departure date has drawn closer, I’ve become more comfortable with my decision, more confident that this will be an amazing experience. But I guarantee the meltdowns will come. I guarantee things might not work out as planned. And I guarantee there will be times when I question myself as to what I’m doing.  But ultimately, I truly believe that this adventure is just what is needed for me to move on to the next chapter of my life.

I have specific intentions for my Australian adventure, which I will be writing about in later posts. But today, I’m making the conscious decision to change my life’s trajectory instead of maintaining the status quo, despite all of the anxiousness, insecurities, and doubt that come with it. So today, this girl is taking life by the balls and being that badass I always knew I could be.

AHA!

Have you ever had an Aha moment? A moment where time stands still, when an idea, a thought, a feeling hits you square in the gut or forehead. It’s enough to make you pay attention and listen. Little did I know it at the time, but this Aha moment was enough to change my life’s path at that exact moment, forever.

It was my first day at my first teaching job at an urban charter school in Philadelphia. The staff had gathered in the auditorium of Arcadia University to listen to a motivational speaker, Marlon Smith, to inspire us as we kicked off our weeklong professional development training. I arrived early to settle into the auditorium in order to calm my nerves, as I eagerly anticipated the day’s events. As the staff arrived I carefully watched as returning staff greeted each other with hugs and handshakes, sharing jokes and stories about their summers. I looked around, hoping to see a colleague I knew who had recommended me for this job. I sat for a minute or two, by myself just observing and taking in the atmosphere,  when I saw my friend. He greeted his fellow 4th grade teachers as I came up to introduce myself.

As I introduced myself, our principal got up to speak and welcome everyone to the start of the school year, and invited everyone to take a seat. Marlon was introduced to the crowd and immediately I was engaged with his enthusiasm and excitement. I eagerly took notes on how to “live a life of purpose” thinking that I could apply his ideas to my life. It couldn’t hurt, I thought. As I took notes, Marlon spoke one phrase that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand straight up. I put the pencil down, I looked up and

Don’t live your life out of fear.

WHAM! Those words slapped me across the face. I felt my entire body tingle, as I wrote those words in bold letters across my notebook. It  was as if the universe knew it was exactly what I needed to hear, yet I was uncertain as to why.

As Marlon continued on, the room came back to life, the fleeting Aha moment subsided, yet its impression on me lingered. I couldn’t get the phrase out of my head. I decided to revisit it at the end of the day when I returned home.

Those seven words were what inspired me to start living my Year of No Fear. It wasn’t until about five months after hearing those words that I started using the hashtag #yearofnofear and purposefully confronting my fear through my adventures. I took up white water kayaking, started backpacking solo, traveled solo, learned to sail, among other things that once scared me. Now it’s been about three years since hearing, don’t live your life out of fear, and I’ve continued to be inspired to confront my more psychological fears. That Aha moment has had a lasting impression on my life.

Have you ever had an Aha moment? How was it presented to you? Did you listen and make changes?