If you keep up with our posts, this one may seem like a do-over. Yes, I’m talking about presence of mind again. Yes, being in the moment is of the utmost importance. Yes, the present is a “present.” I’m going to put a little bit of a spin on this one, though, trust me.
With this post, I want to talk about presence in terms of mastery of our energy and how we present to the world. In terms of self-care, how you feel about yourself is easily more important than how others feel about you. However, to pretend that the way we are received by those around us has no connection whatsoever with how we feel about ourselves would be completely disingenuous. Additionally, there are patterns that we establish in our lives when we are not aware of (or in control of) the kind of energy we’re putting out.
Here’s an example… I have two friends who have the same exact problem. Almost every single time they go to eating establishments, the server or cashier gets their order wrong. Nearly every time. It’s pretty amazing to watch because - in regular, non-restaurant life - both friends are delightful, intentional and super intuitive but as soon as they get into an eating establishment all of these things go out of the window for two, very differing reasons.
The first friend - let’s call her “Meek" - lowers her volume to a barely audible amount when she orders. She avoids eye contact, looking down or to the side as she mumbles out what she wants. In some cases, I’ve cringingly watched as the server asks her to repeat herself - and my friend gets quieter. Other times, I’ve casually repeated the order loud enough for the server or cashier to save face (“Oh!!! The nicoise salad?! That sounds amazing!”). Most times, however, the harried server takes off and comes back with something completely different than what Meek ordered and we start the “I didn’t ask for that” dance.
The second friend - we’ll call her “The Sergeant” - is on the opposite end of that spectrum. She speaks at a good volume and makes eye contact but fires off her order at lightning speed while adding a ton of modifications and changing her mind as she goes. She doesn’t double check to make sure the server heard her and when they ask questions, she says “never mind” and changes back to a previous modification. Her favorite words to say as the waiter walks away is “They’re going to get it wrong, just watch.” It’s almost as if she’s playing a game with the restaurant staff. Unfortunately, with this game, everybody loses. The server, my friend, anyone joining her for dinner, the establishment itself… everybody.
In both cases my friends would say (and have said) the fact that this constantly happens, has nothing to do with them. “She must be deaf,” Meek always says (I’m laughing as I type this because… *le sigh*). The Sergeant just chalks it up to the incompetence of waitstaff these days. Again, both women are great people and very good friends but both are not aware, whatsoever, of the energy they give off.
I love using restaurants and particularly waitstaff as examples of how the universe works because it’s practically the perfect analogy. The universe gives us what we order. It gives us things through the use of people, objects, coincidences, situations, opportunities, etc. Whatever is in existence can be used by the universe to give us our blessings. However, if we’re presenting orders quietly or creating impossible odds, we can’t expect to get what we want. Or if we do finally get what we want, it will be a laborious, long-awaited affair that wasn’t worth the wait.
Okay, so what does all this have to do with the way we present ourselves? A lot. Being aware of our presence (our tone, use of space, pretty much our overall energy) can be the difference between getting exactly what you want and people “getting you f*ed up.” In some cases it will show you your true intention in the first place. To go back to my example, my friend The Sergeant, often seemed like she was so focused on the server messing up her order that I wondered if she WANTED them to. (Needless to say, I avoid restaurant outings with her.)
So how do we become aware of how we’re coming across? If you don’t know where I’m going with this, you’re new here. Mindfulness through meditation can be an invaluable tool toward self awareness. By being intentional about how we present ourselves to the world, we can take some of the guesswork out of how we’re being received. Of course not every misunderstanding can be self-diagnosed away (for example, as a black woman I have to just be at peace with knowing that some people are going to misinterpret my very presence as an act of aggression) but it never hurts to do a quick check in with ourselves, especially when dealing with others. Recognizing patterns is the key.
That said, let’s move through the month of July with full awareness of our presence and how it affects our lives.
Have you ever said something you really regret? I mean something REEEEALLY out of character? And right afterward, you may have thought… ‘why on earth did I say that of all things?’ The thing that you said, you may not have even believed. It may have even felt like your mouth was talking all by itself, untethered from your brain. And you retrace your steps over and over again, only to find that there is no connection between logic and what just came out of your mouth.
Here’s another one… the times where you might’ve been at a loss for words. In those moments, it seems as if the silence is suffocating you and as you drown in a whirlpool of “what do I say?” you realize that the time to respond is swiftly passing by and there won’t ever be a more perfect time to revisit this moment, articulately saying the exact thing you wanted to say. And you kick yourself with regret, maybe even rehearsing for some improbable future when the moment repeats itself and you get a do-over.
Here’s the thing… we all get do-overs. Those do-overs are called the present.
For the month of June, Black Women’s Day of Meditation has chosen ‘mindfulness' as our focus. We’ve chosen mindfulness because it’s a big part of meditation. Some even call it a practice all by itself. Mindfulness, places you, your mind and your body in the present. So that your mind and body are connected (and you’re not worrying about what’s going to come out of your mouth.)
In his book Mindfulness for Everyday Living, Christopher Titmuss says 'Mindfulness is an indispensable tool for daily living. It helps us to cultivate a clear and comprehensive awareness of what is happening WHILE it is happening without allowing the mind to wander.' The reason I chose to start this blog by talking about “brain farts” and its many variations is because when we are not mindful, we increase the odds of experiencing regretful things.
Being aware and absorbed in every moment gives our brain the ability to be sharp and firing on all cylinders. When we’re thinking about the future or the past or all of the things we need to do - in other words, when our mind is everywhere but in the present moment - we force our brain to operate without us, inadvertently bringing us to an outcome we don’t want.
So how can one be mindful?
There are a number of techniques that can be used to pull you back into the moment. One of the things that I like to do is focus on my surroundings. Whenever I find my mind doing backflips and jumping all over the place from thought to thought and worry to worry, I stop and look around. I ask questions like "Where am I?” “What am I doing right now?” (Sometimes I ask this out loud). I then think about whether I am giving my full attention to this task. For example, if I’m making a sandwich, the answers to my question would be “I’m in the kitchen. I am making a sandwich.” The biggest question of all - in my opinion - is, am I giving this task the respect it deserves? In thinking like this, I recognize that the thing that I am honoring with this task, deserves to have my full attention. I don’t want to give my taste-buds and stomach a crappy sandwich. I want to pour my love and attention into this important task. And so I will take my time and be in the moment, focusing on nothing but making this sandwich and when it is finished, I will enjoy it.
Having respect for the present and whatever task you are doing is a huge part of mindfulness. Many times, when we split our focus between what we’re doing and what we hope to achieve (or don’t hope to achieve or whatever else), we are rejecting a positive outcome. I’ll give you a real world example. When you do not chew your food thoroughly, it messes up your digestion. So while that big chunk of stuffing and chicken might be the least of your priorities while it's going down your throat, the disrespect you had for your stomach when you were mindlessly shoveling food into your mouth is going to show up in the form of indigestion. This is a universal law. You get what you paid for.
So mindfulness is a form of showing respect, PAYING attention to the things that you are doing so that when it’s time to GET what you paid for… your return on investment comes in full.
In addition to being aware of your surroundings, there are a number of breathing techniques that you can use in order to practice mindfulness. I like to observe my breath. Breathing in and out. In doing this, I become aware of whether I was breathing at a fast rate or very slow. (In my case, most times it’s the former). In managing my breathing, I regain my sense of calm and become aware of my body, relaxing parts that were tense. Once I get my body and mind to a peaceful and manageable state, my attention is then put toward whatever I am doing. In these moments, I honor the present.
So this month, I encourage you all to honor the present. Take in every moment (yes, even the crappy ones) with gratitude and respect. Because every moment is here to teach us something and if we’re paying attention - especially when things are at their worst - we can reap amazing benefits later on. Additionally, in showing respect to the present moment, we are honoring ourselves, our loved ones and essentially, the entire Universe. I can’t even begin to think of a better gift than that.
Life is a classroom. And every experience we have can teach us something about the world we live in. One of the biggest lessons I’ve had the opportunity to observe this month has been about graciousness and appreciation. I’ll start by telling you about an experience I recently had with my niece and the lesson I gleaned from it...
A few weeks ago (shortly before the Black Women’s Day of Meditation holiday), I had the pleasure of staying with my very pregnant sister for a few days. She was getting closer and closer to her due date and aside from throwing her baby shower, I also took it upon myself to help her do a deep clean on her house and get the baby’s bedroom in order. My partner in crime was my thirteen year old niece (we’ll call her “K”) - a hilariously wisecracking - and sometimes moody - teenager who wanted nothing more than to play on her phone all day. Getting K to help me was, at times, harder than actually getting things done myself. But when she worked with me, things moved along swimmingly and I wanted nothing more than to kiss her chubby cheeks and reward her for her services - which I did, as much as I could.
Now when I visit home, I always bring a little cash - a few fives and tens - to randomly hand out to my nieces and nephews. Sometimes I hide the money in weird places to surprise them, etc. So this week, I had a little extra money in my pocket in full preparation to reward K handsomely for helping me (and therefore her mother) around the house. Considering she had a new sibling on the way, I imagined that it would feel good for her to get a bit of something to show her how much she was appreciated and loved. I also wanted her to see how beneficial it is when we all work together to help each other. $100 should do it, I told myself.
So for the week, we worked. I hauled tables and chairs, dressers and boxes from one room to the next. Scrubbed, cleaned and “saged." Made runs to UHaul and Salvation Army and Home Depot to drop things off, pick things up and move things around. K was beside me the entire time, helping when she could but also being very “teenager-y” (I’ll spare you the details) and slowing me down.
Regardless, the week ended on a great note. I’d finished everything I set out to do and was preparing to fly back to the West Coast when I remembered that I wanted to give my niece her money. In an effort to get her to leave the room so I could retrieve the funds, I asked her to do me a small favor and let her rambunctious puppy outside to pee. This, surprisingly, proved too much for my niece. She groaned and complained as the anxious pup ran back and forth. I asked again and again, hinting that it would be in her best favor to do so. Still nothing. In other words, K wasn’t budging and I couldn’t get her to leave the room so I could surprise her with the money she’d worked so hard for. And the worst part was that the more she complained, the more my enthusiasm for giving her the money evaporated until I no longer cared to give it to her in the dramatic fashion I’d initially planned. In fact, I didn’t want to give it to her at all. So rather than do the big surprise I was planning, I dug into my pocket and gave her whatever I had on me.
It was $40.
She hugged me tightly, smiling from ear to ear. I was happy to give her this money but felt a little saddened because deep down inside I knew she’d screwed herself out of the full amount and in the words of Tyra Banks, "I was rooting for [her]… we were ALL rooting for [her]!”
Now I’m not telling this story about my lovely niece in order to criticize her. She’s a really great kid and anyone with teenagers knows that they can be (to put it nicely) horrible, lol. There will also be many more opportunities in the future for me to shell out money to her and her thousands of cousins. I tell this story to say that my niece - in this anecdote - is every single one of us. And the universe is the exhausted auntie who is conspiring to love on us and give us what we’ve asked for (and more) if we would only get out of our own way.
The Universe is ALWAYS Conspiring in our Favor
That’s right, everyONE and everyTHING is in on this grand conspiracy. You are sharper because of the experiences in your life that challenged you. You are smarter. More empathetic. And when you flow along in the direction of the universe, you are rewarded… handsomely.
Now for the record, “flowing in the direction of the universe” is NOT about blind obedience. Many religions and belief systems promote rigid conformity in exchange for reward but you are not under any obligation to blindly obey any person on this planet (just like my niece isn’t under any obligation to blindly obey my every word.) Additionally, if you are ONLY doing it to be rewarded, you’re missing the point entirely. What I mean by flowing in the direction of the universe is being "a helper."
What I could’ve used from my niece - and what I suspect the Universe could use from all of us - is a bit of assistance. The times that my niece helped me the most were when she voluntarily did little things like grabbing me a cup of water to drink after I’d lifted heavy boxes. Or cleared my path because she’d seen what I was doing and knew it could be done more efficiently with a bit of help. It was the times when she did these small things - when she WORKED WITH ME - that I wanted nothing more than to shower her with kisses, shove money into her hands and, hell, give her whatever else she may have wanted. The thought alone that she cared enough to make my life easier brought tears to my eyes. To her, these were small gestures, for me, they were huge. And unlike her, I had the ability to show my appreciation in very generous and grandiose ways.
Working alongside the Universe means exhibiting small kindnesses that contribute to the greater good of the world. It means making things better NOT worse. Imagine, for example, that a house is on fire and the fire-truck can’t get to it because no cars are moving out of the way. In this case, everyone would be a hero and flow in the direction of the Universe, by moving out of the way. Sometimes, it’s that simple!
Your friends, family and acquaintances who give you a kind word or pop up at the perfect time to help you or say some encouraging thing that you needed to hear… they’re the Universe. The big tip you got from a customer, the lady who gave you her extra coupon at the store the other day, the man YOU helped after he dropped his credit card… these people and experiences are all part of the same Universe. When we help each other we are part of the Universe’s wonderful conspiracy of abundant kindness, peace and love FOR ALL.
When we don’t appreciate the people, experiences and things that we have… when we work against the greater good by having a bad attitude, holding onto toxic behaviors, discouraging those who are attempting to be better versions of themselves and mistreating ourselves and others, standing in the way of progress… we are telling the Universe that we don’t deserve nice things. And everyone knows that one of the hardest things to do is to give a gift to someone who doesn’t want or appreciate it. In fact, sometimes the easiest thing is just to withhold the gift altogether.
So how do you know how you’ve been treating the Universe all this time? How do you know if you’re a helper?
That’s actually a really easy question to answer.
How do you treat the people who love you the most? How much do you appreciate and take care of what you have? Do you give thanks for experiences big and small? When it’s time to get things done do you moan and groan and side-eye? Or do you put in the work? These are your answers in a nutshell. Just like every Black mom (at least in MY Black-ass family) says “Y’all gonna appreciate me when I’m gone,” this is the same energy that the Universe has. So appreciate Her while she’s here, all around you. Providing, giving and conspiring in your favor. Sharpening you, motivating you. Because just like your favorite Auntie, the Universe loves you dearly and wants you to be happy beyond your wildest imagination… but if you don’t care, then She doesn’t either.
I want to end this blog post by saying that I want nothing but good things for you. Just like the Universe (and Tyra Banks), I’m rooting for you. We’re ALL rooting for you!
Now go and be great. And for the love of all things good, clean your room!
Today I want to focus on an epidemic. “Busy-ness.”
Everybody is busy these days. This is a word I hear a lot. “Oh I’ve been soooo busy this week” or “I haven’t found a second to myself” or “I’m booked and busy.” To be honest, when I hear these things, it NEVER sounds good (ok, maybe that last one sounds good, lol). A few years ago when I was jobless, I would hear these words with jealousy. Hell, I wanted to be busy too. Like many people, I thought that being busy was a badge of honor.
But when I think back to times that I was at my busiest, I was usually doing things I didn’t want to do. I was stuck editing lengthy videos for people for cheap or for free. I was working extra shifts to make ends meet and missing major life events of friends and family. It felt like I was being pulled along by some strong outside force and life was passing me by. Being busy meant eating on the run, which meant a horrible diet and digestion issues. It meant rushing from one crisis to the next. The times in my life when I had the most car accidents, the most money issues and the most horrendous, life-altering events were when I was at my busiest. And in hindsight, I see how much that wasn’t a coincidence.
These days I find joy in NOT being “busy.” I work, yes, but my main focus is on taking care of myself, enjoying my life and doing things that I WANT to do. When I make plans, I make them because I want to have a good experience, not because I’m coming up for air. What I do for a living is not exactly my life’s passion, but I thoroughly enjoy it and it pays the bills. Also, it’s flexible and gives me enough down-time to be able to pursue my own personal hobbies like traveling and painting. I don’t have children, so that’s another bonus to my non-hectic life. I say all of this to say I’m NOT busy. And I’m proud of this.
It means I’ve taken charge of my life.
Unfortunately, we live in a world that discourages everything I just said. Busy-ness is associated with productivity. Words like “hustle” and “slay” are part of “grind culture” vernacular. People are making decisions to pay the bills, but not paying any mind to their bodies or spirits whatsoever. Yes, paying bills are important but if you’re working long hours at a job that is physically and mentally taxing with no end in sight... what are you sacrificing? Valuable relationships? Valuable time? Your health? The life you actually WANT to live? These are ALL things that can NEVER be replaced. They’re priceless. As the saying goes, most of us will never be on our death bed talking about how many more shifts we could’ve picked up if we had more time.
One of the things I wish I’d have been taught in my twenties was meditation and self-care. Why? Because this would have allowed me to stop and figure out what I actually wanted in life and - in turn actually ACHIEVE this goal - as opposed to making reckless life decisions based off of fear and desperation. These decisions lead to years of stress and low-paying, dead-end jobs which lead to more stress and additional dead end jobs to supplement the money I wasn’t making at dead-end job number one and then two and then three. There was a period of time when I didn’t see my friends or family for years at a time. And every time I spoke to them I was frantically driving to my next gig talkmbout, “Yeah, sorry! I’ve been busy!”
Which leads me to my next thing...
STOP TELLING PEOPLE HOW BUSY YOU ARE
As a rule of thumb, I steer away from putting these words out there too much. I rarely say it for several reasons...
1. IT’S A WAY OF TELLING PEOPLE THAT YOU DON’T VALUE THEM OR THEIR TIME - I don’t tell anyone I love that I’m too busy because I don’t ever want them to feel like I’m too busy for them. If I’m in the middle of something and they call, I ask if I can give them a call back. Sometimes, I tell them when I’ll next be free and ask if we can talk then. Only exceptions are when I literally can’t pick up the phone to say this. I, personally, try to be accessible to people because I feel like life is precious and tomorrow is not promised. Of course, it’s important to set healthy boundaries and make sure that no one is abusing this accessibility but my main point is to make sure your loved ones know where they stand with you while you have the luxury of being a part of their earthly lives (and they, yours). If you don’t value them or their time and don’t want them to ever call again... yes, tell them you’re busy until they get the point. But if it’s friends, family or people who’s relationships you actually cherish, imagine your last words to them being “I’m busy.” Imagine how that would feel to hear.
2. IT REEKS OF INCOMPETENCE - Being busy isn’t as good a look as people think. Part of what I do in my professional life is form relationships and partnerships on various projects. People who are constantly “busy” make the worst business partners, hands down. It takes them longer to return messages. They’re forgetful and irritable. They can rarely carry their end of the work load. They’re rushing from one thing to the next. Eating on the run and careening into crisis after crisis, similar to me when I was a slave to my ridiculous schedule. Against common belief, busy-ness doesn’t always mean an abundance of opportunities... often times it means poor time-management skills. I steer away from working with people who wax on about their busy schedules because it is not a good selling point. But it surprises me how much people think it is. I don’t tell people how busy I am because I don’t want to scare off opportunities. If you tell the universe you’re too busy, She’ll believe you. (And every one of us is a small part of the universe.)
Sidenote: I also don’t tell people how free my schedule is but that’s its own blog post. The point is to make time in your day for yourself and don’t go blabbing your whole schedule to the whole world.
With this post, I hope you feel encouraged to set some time aside to recalibrate and ask yourself important questions like am I busy with things that I want to do? Do I make time for the experiences in life that bring me joy? Do I appreciate them? (Remember, what you appreciate, appreciates.) If you’re not feeling the things that are taking up most of your time, think about the state of mind you were in when you accepted those responsibilities in the first place. Visualize exactly what you want and stay in whatever state of mind this visualization conjures in order to attract the life you want.
Take control. Don’t hand over the power to anyONE or anyTHING to create your life.
9 months of planning, promoting on social media, handing out flyers, sending emails and DMs, blogging and applying to grants and sponsorships so we can get this holiday going and this weekend, we gave birth (hence the picture of the baby) to what I’d like to call one of my greatest accomplishments. Black Women’s Day of Meditation is a holiday built around healing the world by first healing ourselves, starting with the group that is most affected by stress and systemic oppression.
I’m so proud of what we’ve set out to accomplish and to say that the day went off without a hitch would - well, it would be a lie - but it would go against the whole point of the day. Meditation isn’t about finding peace in a perfect world. It’s about finding peace in a world that is absolutely chaotic at times.
To be honest, on the day of this beautiful, peaceful holiday built around love and solidarity, I woke up in a crappy mood. My brain was racing from one worry to the next. I laid in bed trying to figure out why - of all days - my brain would decide to do me like this. Nine months of zen and calm and today I woke up ready to have a panic attack. I took a few deep breaths and sat up. Then something strange happened.
My brain had conjured up the image of me walking into the venue ready to kick off Black Women’s Day of Meditation while looking a hot-ass, frazzled mess. It was almost as if I’d pictured looking on the outside the way I felt on the inside. Something about that image helped me to relax. I shook my head and focused on what I was doing. Making tea. Brushing my teeth. Making my bed.
I’d like to say that my brain quit with the shenanigans but homegirl was still on some bull, so I did something that surprisingly worked really well. I put on some ratchet music. This allowed the kinetic energy inside of me to find an outlet.
So I’m on the road rapping along to City Girls when I arrive at the venue. I got my medi-TEA-tion juice (peach tea infused with herbs and fruit), some cups, my speaker and a number of other things. Then it hits me… I forgot to bring my own damn yoga mat. Again, I laugh and go around to the trunk, collecting up the things I DID have. I figured that I’d make it work somehow. No big deal! In this light-hearted state, I was able to remember that I’d always kept a yoga mat in my trunk. I dug it out from beneath all of the stuff, thanked my ancestors and ran across the street to the venue.
I’m not going to get into too much detail about the hour and a half of meditation. If you were there, you know what happened. If you weren’t, here’s the gist… Ajia and I introduced ourselves and we did a number of introductions around the room. Then we played a guided meditation from the Liberate App. After this, Ajia guided us in a meditation of her own. Then we listened to soothing music for about 25 minutes and concluded the evening.
When we first started, there were a number of sirens going off. Anyone familiar with Los Angeles knows that ambulances, fire trucks and police vehicles are a part of the auditory ambiance in this city. The walls of the venue were thin and every outside sound permeated the room, including music from the place next door. I’m not going to lie, I was freaking out. Thoughts of inadequacy and guilt - lower frequency thoughts - found their way to the forefront of my mind and I worried that people would regret having attended our event. Then suddenly the sirens seemed to stop as I sank into the words from the meditation. I’m not sure if it was because my focus had shifted or whether it was because the sirens really DID stop, but I was relieved and happy to have found my peace in that moment. I was also happy to have been reminded of the point of meditation. Again, it’s not about finding peace in a perfect world. It’s about finding peace in the world we live in.
From there, we drifted into our meditative states and when the music hit, I knew everyone was in a peaceful state right along with me. It’s hard to explain, but you know when the energy in a room is peaceful. For me, my confirmation came when I heard a small snore.
Once the meditation was over, everyone sat up and we talked a moment about how we felt. Some people grabbed more tea and socialized, others gathered their things and drifted toward the door. It was mission accomplished. Whether they (we) knew it or not, every woman in the room took their moment of peace with them to the outside world, better equipped to handle the chaos of life. Perhaps more clear on things. Perhaps more aware. Perhaps not. Regardless, for a moment, this small room of beautiful Black and Indigenous women were in tune with each other. And sometimes, that’s all it takes to start a movement.
May is the month of “The Big Day.” May is also mental health awareness month. It’s also the month where our theme is Inner Peace. So, yeah… a lot going on. With this blog post, I’d like to focus on all three of these things because in the awesome and beautifully poetic way that life works, they’re all very closely connected.
The Big Day
The Big Day is the national holiday that is Black Women’s Day of Meditation. It is the building block of our movement. It is the point of it all. Back in October when me, Ajia and Dominique set out to create this holiday we had massive plans that involved gathering thousands of people together in one place. We were going to have big celebrities like India Arie, Oprah and Halle Berry - people who promoted and embodied a lifestyle of mindfulness and meditation. Being that we were a few months out, it was going to be a big deal if we could pull it off. Of course, things didn’t quite go as planned but what was learned in the midst of our efforts was that small beginnings help you to build a sustainable creation. One that - like an infant - has time to grow from the inside out, taking on a life of its own. So for now, we are being patient with our little group. We are mindfully devoting our time to it and watching it take baby steps toward the worldwide movement that it will become. And I am happy to say that on May 11th 2019, small groups of women all over the United States will be gathered in celebration of an inclusive meditation holiday that encourages people all over the world to slow down, rest and come together in mind, body and spirit to make the world a better place. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, please feel free to join us. If you’re not in the Los Angeles area, please feel free to start your own group in observance of this day.
The point to everything I’m saying is that when you set out to do something, the energy in which you do it has to match the message you’re sending to the world. Starting out small, being patient, mindful and grateful has to be a big part of our process or what we’re trying to accomplish won’t mean anything. Additionally, the process forces us to embody those things. So the fact that our initiative didn’t blow up to Oprah levels doesn’t mean that we failed. It means that we must make peace with the process of building a movement. Slowly. Steadily. And patiently. Peace is the key to receiving all of the blessings that come with life’s many lessons. (Hey, that rhymed! :)
Mental Health Awareness Month
May is mental health awareness month. I didn’t know that until I saw all of the social media posts educating people about mental illness. After reading through dozens of Instagram and Twitter posts and articles online, however, I’ve learned a number of things that I didn’t know before. For example, did you know that 1 in 5 people in America suffer from mental illness? Or that an estimated 26% of homeless adults staying in shelters live with serious mental illness? These statistics are surprising but when you really think about them, it’s clear that mental illness affects all of us and has been surrounding us all along.
In my family - as with many African American families - the stigma of mental illness is high. I’ve heard family members dismissively refer to relatives as “crazy” or “sensitive.” The term mental illness was rarely (if ever) spoken - at least, not to my knowledge. Those who struggled with psychological disorders, like addiction or depression, were encouraged to go to church, seek prayer or just ‘get over’ their problems. Being “crazy" was something to laugh at or ignore. This was the old school way of dealing with mental illness. And this way was wrong.
Now that I’m older, my heart breaks for the people in my family who lived and died not having access to any real support or resources to help them with their illness. They’d instead been marginalized, ignored and humiliated for something that was out of their control. And the judgment must have surely agitated their situation, dissuading them from seeking help on their own (if they had the capacity to do so). It is my hope, to be a part of the movement that breaks this cycle in my family and in the world. Mental illness is not a joke. It shouldn’t be dismissed or treated like an embarrassing secret that has to be swept under a carpet somewhere. It is something that should be looked in the eye and death with. The resources that exist in order to help people who are struggling with their mental health are plentiful and becoming more and more prevalent as wellness and mental health gain attention as a societal priority.
With meditation, it is my hope to provide additional reinforcement to those who seek to make mental and emotional wellness a priority in their lives. While it’s not a replacement for professional medical help for mental illness, it is a great way to give our brains (and therefore our bodies) the rest it needs in order to relieve stress and prevent further agitation. In other words, meditation helps you to take care of your brain. Again, this is NOT to say that it is the only treatment needed. It is, however, a great resource to use in addition to whatever professional help may be needed.
Inner Peace, to some, may seem like a nebulous concept. A person might wonder what it really means. To me, it’s about finding peace within ourselves and therefore with every situation we find ourselves in. Being able to quiet the mind and observe the universe from a distance but with empathy and optimism. I’ve struggled a lot with finding peace within myself but meditation has really changed me and my outlook on life. It’s a lifelong learning process but one that is worth the effort.
This month, the month that we celebrate Black Women’s Day of Meditation, it is my hope that our collective efforts to find peace within will lead to world peace. Yes, I have high hopes but that’s because I know that all major changes on this planet start from within. The body of a fetus grows from the inside out. Plants grow from the inside out. Buildings can’t be built from the top down. The foundation must be set first and, from there, the structure is built - up and outward. With this in mind, I hope that we can all look into ways that meditation will help us on our journey to world peace. Because if we’re not at peace with ourselves, we cannot receive the blessing of finding peace with our neighbors.
So let’s take care of our mental health, find our inner peace and come together on May 11th to heal the world through collective meditation and consciousness.
I am a strong believer that the behavior and language we use towards others is a window into the way we treat our inner selves. In fact, I think this is exactly what people mean when they say someone’s bad actions “say more about them than the other person.”
To be honest, I never quite understood this until recently. In the past I'd put the “this says more about you than me” phrase into what I call the “high road” sayings. You know, the kind of sayings that are supposed to make you feel like a better person because you didn’t stoop to the same low level as the person who assaulted you but it still doesn’t really make you feel good. It’s like ‘yeah, they punched you in the face… but it says more about them than you."
Now that I’m older, I have a new saying and it goes like this...
Everyone is talking to a mirror.
I say this quite a bit these days because I believe it with all my heart. As a person who used to say some pretty messed up things to myself, some of my biggest regrets in life have been the times I’ve said terrible things to other people. And those regrettable mishaps tended to happen during the lowest points in my life. In other words, I talked so badly to myself that I slipped up and used some of the same abusive language that’d been swirling around in the inner workings of my sub conscious toward people in the outside world. I regretted these moments most for two reasons...
1. I was deeply embarrassed because I knew that I’d just revealed to this person what was going on in the deep recesses of my mind. Should this person decide NOT to receive whatever negative things I might’ve said or done to them, they would look at me - the source of the negativity - and understand that I was deeply troubled, that I was not to be trusted and that I maybe needed some help that - at the time - I was probably too ashamed to get.
2. The person might internalize the negativity I’d dished out to them.
The second reason listed is the worst of all. I knew (and know) that how other people choose to process the world around them is not my responsibility but still, no one wants to plant seeds of abuse into another person. While being embarrassed and exposing myself as someone who has some issues to work out is pretty bad, passing on the disease of negativity and self hate was - for me - unforgivable.
Regardless, after a bit of time to work on and forgive myself (it’s an ongoing process) I’ve had a chance to revisit so many moments in life. And so many of those moments involve identifying the times where I thought I was talking to someone else but was really just “talking into a mirror.” I’ve also revisited times when I’d been burnt by the hurtful words of someone only to realize that they were really just talking to themselves as well.
I’ll give you an example:
I worked on an indie film project a few years ago with a lead producer who’s not exactly well-known but has established a name for themselves in indie film circles. The project was EXTREMELY low budget. The kind of low budget where everyone is calling in favors and trying to make it work in any way possible. I’d personally done everything I could to save money and come in under budget, including things that were wayyyyyyyyy out of my job description as a producer. I’d taken a huge pay cut to do this job and, along with the physical and mental labor I underwent every single day for three weeks, I’d proven my commitment to the project over and over and over again. And then something went wrong. Something that I didn’t see coming. Something that wasn’t the worst thing to happen (and could’ve happened to anyone) but considering the high levels of stress we were all under, it was NOT a good thing. And so the lead producer and I had to have a conversation. In this conversation, the producer expressed his disappointment in my leadership and said a number of hurtful things about my overall performance. I remembered him using a particular phrase that I thought was really odd and thankfully, this phrase stood out enough to make me start to question everything else he had to say. He'd said that he was “over-promised” on me.
I was hurt hearing these words… for like 3 seconds.
And then suddenly a quick mental review of all the work I’d put into the project, the hours I’d sacrificed for practically nothing, the literal sweat that poured from my body as I moved equipment, painted walls and went above and beyond as a producer - flashed before my eyes. It was at this moment that I decided to reject his assessment. I decided that I was the best thing that could’ve happened to that project. I couldn’t think of anyone else with my level of experience and education who would’ve put in the kind of work that I’d put in. I started to wonder what would make him decide to use the phrase “over-promised” to describe me. How could anyone be “over-promised” on me when no one on the project knew who I was? I wasn’t some well-known, up-and-coming producer with big credits to my name. I was a "wild card” crew member, brought on last minute to help out as a favor to the director. It was then that it hit me that he was expressing his biggest criticisms… about himself. At that moment, I felt relieved. I also felt a little embarrassed for him. That experience gave me an outside perspective of what it looks like when we attempt to project our feelings of inadequacies onto others. And y’all… it’s not a good look. At all.
Now that I talk to myself a lot gentler, I don’t slip up and say mean things to people like I used to. I am also highly self aware and recognize when I’m in a low place because the last thing I need to do is take other people to that level with me. Self-care has been a big factor for me in this regard. When I hear the negative self-talk creeping in, I take a moment to stop and quiet the mind, soothing myself. I pay attention to the kind of words I use toward myself. I focus on my inner good and therefore, I can’t help but to see the good in others. Essentially, I meditate.
When you are gentle toward yourself, you are gentle toward others. Your inner-self likes you more, because you’re not going around abusing it. And because of this, your outer-self is quicker to be gentle with others. And people tend to like you more because you’re not going around abusing them.
So think of it this way. Clean your mental house up. Be kind and know yourself. Get your mind so comfortable with hearing gentle truthful words, from YOU, that when someone else tries to infiltrate with negativity that has nothing to do with who you really are - flaws and all - you can reject it outright. You can see clearly and quickly that the person is speaking to a mirror. And you can see when you are doing the same.
If you’ve had a chance to check out our Instagram, Twitter or the meditation challenge page, you know that this month, we'll be focused completely on the act of forgiveness. So with this blog post, I wanted to share with you my personal journey through the land of forgiveness.
When I was younger, my entire outlook on life was built around Old Testament justice. I believed in doing the right thing and I also believed that God would take care of “my enemies” who would one day be a footstool for my pedicured tootsies (Ps. 110:1). So I waited and waited because I wanted to be in the front row, snacking on popcorn, enjoying the groveling of those who'd wronged me while choosing whether to grant them the clemency they so desperately wanted from me. Yeah, to say I was in for a rude awakening would be the understatement of the century.
Despite coming to the full understanding that those who did me wrong are not obligated to drop dead on the spot (hell, they’re not even obligated to acknowledge their actions), I still wanted some kind of tangible vindication for my pain. I mean, how else can I release the person from my headlock of guilt if they don’t emotionally and very publicly say “Uncle”? I felt I needed this in order to let go. But what I didn’t understand was that my unwillingness to let go was tying me forever to the life of the very person I deemed “my enemy.” I also needed to ask myself how this person and their past action was still a part of my story. If I’d cut them off, why was the pain still there? And who was I mentally (and sometimes verbally) sparring with about the situation?
MAKING PEACE WITH MYSELF
This is where forgiveness started for me. Through meditation and nonjudgmental observation of my thoughts, I began to realize that I needed to forgive myself and release whatever I’d internalized. For example, I’d been hurt years back and - despite my relentless grudge against the person who’d hurt me - the real truth was that I’d blamed myself. My deeper consciousness was overly critical, saying things like “You LET that happen” or “You were so stupid.” Repeatedly saying these things to myself at a subconscious level, caused my conscious self to speak out in defense. And the more I defended, the more I was arguing with a ghost. Reliving the past, on loop. Demonizing a person (who no longer existed) and their transgression (that was no longer happening) so much so that they now lived on in infamy in my mind, committing this “crime" against me over and over and over again.
The day that I truly forgave my younger self, telling her that I understood and loved her, was the day I released my own spirit from the “headlock of guilt” I’d so incorrectly imagined the other person (the one who'd hurt me) had been in. My younger self became stronger. She became freer. And I was finally able to let go of the pain WE were in. But here’s the thing… I had to really understand and love her because lying to my subconscious self wasn’t an option. And so through meditation, I spoke directly to her, thanked her for doing her best at the time, and am happy to say, we’re doing quite well these days thank you very much.
As for the person who’d hurt me in the original situation, as I said earlier, they no longer exist. This might sound harsh, but what I’m saying is that they’ve changed and are (hopefully) now a better person. I know I'm not the same person I was when the situation happened and to assume that the world has stayed still since that day would be ridiculous and depressing. Thankfully for me, that person ceased to be a part of my life and so I can only wonder what’s happened to them. But in situations where I’ve had no choice but to continue to be in a person’s presence, I’ve been forced to utilize another key component of forgiveness...
We’re all doing our best with what we have. All of us. Even those who are out here doing some terrible stuff. And to forgive a person, means you have to come to terms with their actions. And in order to come to terms with their actions, you must first understand them. (Don’t have to agree with them, don’t even have to like them… just gotta understand.)
In my life, this was key. For years, I’d heard ‘forgive those who have hurt you, so you can have peace’ or ‘forgiveness is not for them… it’s for you.’ And while these words make it all sound flowery and easy, if you don’t know HOW to truly forgive someone, then how in the world can you do it and then proceed to reap the benefits? You can’t… that’s how. Forgiving someone is not simply uttering the phrase “I forgive you” through gritted teeth while peacefully holding your hands together and calmly walking off into the abyss.
Forgiveness is NOT a performance.
Okay, story time… I used to work with a woman who was very annoying. (I’ve worked with a lot of annoying people in life so anyone reading this post who personally knows me will not be able to narrow it down.) This lady was rude, meddlesome AND she was my immediate supervisor. Every day that I had to see this person (and it was every single day because this woman never missed a day of work), I knew I was going to be targeted, bullied and irritated. It didn’t take long, however, before I saw that this person was dealing with some serious insecurities. (Spoiler Alert: everyone who bullies and mistreats others is doing so from a place of existential lacking.) Anyway, when I saw the details of what she thought of herself - her need to put others down in order to have any semblance of self esteem - I realized that she was just a struggling-ass person, doing the best that she could… just like me and every other human being on this planet. I was just lucky enough to not feel the need to go around treating people badly because my self esteem was in a better place than hers. I could look my fellow coworkers in the eye and feel strong in my sense of self. I didn’t take pleasure in anyone’s pain or humiliation because it had absolutely no bearing on what I thought of myself. She, on the other hand, didn’t feel she had that luxury. Her sense of self relied fully on other people to the point that she couldn’t function without creating a miserable work environment that reflected the darkness that lied within her soul. Now if that ain’t sad… I don’t know what is.
Did coming to the realization that this poor woman was creating her own hell - because that’s what allowed her to live with herself - make me feel any better about having to work with her? No. But it made her less of a threat because I didn’t internalize anything she said or did. And, to be honest, it even fueled my ambitions to work my way up and out of that particular job. This, for me, was forgiveness. It'd took the form of quiet, compassion. I didn’t spend my time focusing on changing her or accepting an apology that she was never going to give in the first place. The focus was on understanding her so that the ongoing psychological threat she presented was neutralized. In other words, her actions and words didn’t control my emotions. In other, OTHER words… I’d made peace with myself, with her and with the situation.
MAKING PEACE WITH THE OTHER PERSON
One of the things that irks me more than anything about how we as a society view forgiveness is how much we make it about the act of publicly excusing the other person while telling ourselves and others that it’s NOT about the other person at all. Press conferences are held where victims courageously announce that they’ve chosen to forgive the most egregious of crimes barely seconds after the crime has been committed. It becomes a spectacle. Loud. Instant. As if the transgression was no longer a crime but instead an unfortunate but necessary sacrifice for the victim to reveal their ascent to sainthood.
For these situations, I always wonder why the focus is on forgiveness of the transgressor and not on the mental, physical and emotional wellbeing of the person who has been hurt. It makes me cringe when - immediately after some horrible crime has happened - what should be a natural grieving process seems to be trampled beneath the obligatory forgiveness parade. I often wonder if the person has been given the proper amount of respect, care and space to repair their spirit.
I think that in order to forgive someone, it’s important to neutralize them as a threat. I mean, you can’t exactly make peace with a lion while it’s ripping you to shreds. It’s also important to - as mentioned - repair yourself. To use the lion analogy again, you can’t make peace with a lion while you’re losing consciousness from bleeding out. Call me crazy but it just makes sense that you would need to possess a bit of grace for yourself before you can proceed to extend it to others. If forgiveness is recognizing another person’s humanity, how can this be done if we’re not in sound mind?
Not saying we should withhold forgiveness, just saying do a quick body scan to make sure you’re okay first.
I was lucky that my aforementioned cantankerous manager never got the chance to fire me. I’m sure that had she decided to do that, I would’ve been very upset and it would’ve taken me a bit of time to recover before I could travel down the road of forgiveness. However, if she’d have done that I would have had two options…
I could go on for the rest of my life being fired by her over and over and over again in my mind or I could move on and remember her as a person from my past who was a catalyst for some new job, lesson or journey that I wouldn’t otherwise have experienced. In one scenario, she’s a major part of my consciousness forever and in the other, she’s a very minor character in the awesome and spectacular story that is MY life.
For me, when I say the words “I forgive you” to someone, what I’m really saying is “I have no emotional ties to the part you played in this situation anymore.” Doesn’t mean the situation is no longer relevant. Doesn’t mean that I don’t hold the person accountable for what they did. Doesn’t even mean I can’t be angry sometimes. It just means that I’ve made peace with the person's existence. I can see them and hold them accountable for their present actions, as opposed to something they did in the past that I cannot ever change. No one wants to walk around being defined by their worst moments - I know I don’t want to be - and so giving another human BEing the chance to BE a better human (even in our imaginations), is a wonderful gift. It’s not always pretty. It’s not always easy. But that’s life. And, for me, that is forgiveness.
Enjoy your April and feel free to share your journeys and stories of forgiveness on Instagram, Twitter and in the comments below!
Spring has officially sprung and I couldn't be happier. Those of us in the northern hemisphere of the planet can now start expecting earlier sunrises, later sunsets and sprouting plants. I'd like to say spring is my favorite season, but to be honest, I have an appreciation for every season. Okay, okay, I'm not going to lie, I'm super stoked about spring. It just does something to my soul. Personally, the best description of what spring means to me can be found in Michelle Obama's book Becoming, when she describes her mother's spring cleaning ritual. I love spring cleaning. Putting on gloves, old clothes and just going into my garage or back patio and getting to work, scrubbing, cleaning and throwing out old items that'd been collected throughout the year. Something about doing this just gives me new energy. This year I also plan to start a garden on my front patio. The thought alone of planting a garden is intimidating but there's something about spring that rejuvenates my feelings of possibility.
One thing that I did today was a full moon ritual. We're currently experiencing a full moon AND super moon today and I wanted to release some things from my spirit. I'll tell you about my ritual, but to be honest, I'm not overly procedural about how I do things so if you want a very detailed step-by-step, Google the words "full moon ritual." Anyway, here's what I did...
1. Smudged my room with sage. I burnt some sage and used a seashell to catch the ashes as I went around my room clearing out any negative energy.
2. Wrote out the things I want to release. I got a piece of loose leaf paper and, at the top of my page, put the date March 20th 2019 and after that I wrote "I now release these things..." From there I listed all of the things that I wanted to release. My fears, anxieties, past pain, etc. I also made sure to mention that I release anything that's not in alignment with the greater good of the universe.
3. Burnt this paper. After writing out my list, I set out to my back patio, put my piece of paper into a place where it could safely burn (the grill), lit it on fire and watched the smoke release into the sky. I took a deep breath and exhaled as my burdens lifted off of the page and out into the universe.
After this, I high-fived my husband and we got back to our day. So that's been my spring thus far. I look forward to getting out more as the weather warms up. Also, there are a few colorful spring outfits that will be making an appearance in the next few weeks/months.
What's your favorite spring tradition? Did you do/are you doing a full moon ritual?
“Life is but a dream”… I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase or watched Beyonce’s HBO special of the same title. But have you ever really thought about these words? When I’m working or doing chores or stuck in traffic, I sure don’t feel like life is a dream. It feels like the real deal. But when I step back and think about the things that stress me out or make me feel anxious, many times those things aren’t real and immediate threats to my life although my body reacts as if it is.
For example, being stuck in traffic while on the way home from work isn’t exactly a clear and present danger. In fact, when I focus on the fact that I’m literally just sitting in my car and no amount of hair pulling or screaming is going to get me to my destination sooner, I relax a bit. Would it kill me to settle into my seat? Turn on XM radio, a podcast or audio book or just play my favorite CD? (Yes, I still have CDs). Maybe I even call a friend or family member and catch up (hands free, of course!).
When I focus on being present - no matter what the situation - everything stops feeling ominous and threatening. Essentially, I’m reducing the situation to what it is. An experience that is not permanent or as dramatically nightmarish as my mind is making it out to be. I am allowing myself to awaken from any dream that I do not want to experience and awaken to the reality that I am breathing. I am alive. And although that may seem like something to be taken for granted, it is a wonderful gift in and of itself.
So I ask this of you, dear reader… if you find yourself in a situation that feels overwhelmingly bad, remember to breathe. And with each breath, remind yourself that you are alive and that is the only thing that is real in this moment. Everything else is a story that you can choose or not choose to buy into. In this moment, you are experiencing something real that will fade into a distant memory. And then one day it will become a dream. Because… life is but a dream. Make it a good one whenever you can.