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What if the only thing in life you can control is your response?

She clicked her blue ball point pen twice and looked at me. I curled a loose piece of hair over my index finger and smiled. I like her, she seems to get me; unlike most people. A bunch of papers in her lap gather information about me, including my limiting beliefs and my date of birth. We both know that the papers don’t mean much. Nothing is as intriguing as sitting in front of an honest person who is wiling to tell us everything about their experience. So i embody that and listen intently to her. Tell me about a time when you overcame something you didn’t think was possible, describe the situation exactly as you remember it she said as she sat up straight and square in her chair. She usually does that as she prepares to alter my perspective about something. I answered her giving a simple example and chuckling, I quickly followed it up with a statement to discredit and undermine my triumph.

She then gathered her breath and spoke, you see? We don’t give ourselves enough credit. We tend to remember our failures, our weaknesses and our pains more readily than we do our triumphs. We think we fail a lot more greatly than we overcome. Notice your ability to respond and adapt; you will learn to pay attention to that. Know that you are capable of so much more than you think.

That was our last meeting, after that, life changed forever.

What is an experience that you overcame against all odds? What does your triumph story look like? How does it ring in your ears? Does it have a special taste on the bitterness averse buds of your tongue? Do you tell it to yourself more often than you dwell on your misfortunes and failures? Or do you shy away from the victories and lean in a little too closely to the victimized self?

There are some things that we cannot fathom happening to us, but they do. People we love can die, people we love can leave. Worse yet, we can live despite those things. We can still breathe even though we think that the only way through is out and under, suffocating beneath the immense weight of our exploding hearts. Yet, contrary to what we may think, we are not wired to die out of heartbreak and heart ache; we are made to live through it and thrive because of it. Our human experience must not be limited by the temporary comforts of our existence. We must expand and explode into billions of pieces of who we used to be and gather again. We must mend because that it is the only way.

We ought to live like stars floating in a dark universe, we ought to collide with one another and implode like big bangs dispersing love and light and sheer tragedy into nothingness; only to experience rebirth in form, spirit and depth again and again. That is the continuity we can aspire to and not immortality...

Fear can only be met by experience, as unfortunate as that sounds for my anxious self. The only weapon that can completely obliterate the fearful is deep living; and nothing is more contradictory. Yet, all it takes is a deep breath in, and an acceptance of the impermanence of being here right now.

Imagine your temporary existence as a simple coin, with “You are here now” engraved. There are two ways of responding to that; heads or tails.

Hand flipping a coin in black and white in slow motion

What does temporary existence and a tossed coin have in common? Well, both require a choice and a response. What is your primary choice when faced with life? Expansion or contraction? What is your response after the outcome presents itself? Fear or courage?

Fear is one way to respond. It is the nod of understanding that we can simply die, things can easily end and living is not to be taken for granted so our minds meet that with cowardice, with contraction and the need to preserve the sanity and safety and comfort we have in the split moment of being. We make believe that if we contract and limit our experiences then maybe nothing will happen to us and we can live much longer. The truth is however, the coin is being constantly tossed, comfort isn’t so comfortable when you are always meeting every toss with the fear of losing it all. Its like you are always betting against yourself, and holding your breath.

The other side of meeting that toss of the coin however, is living so unapologetically wild and open. Meeting life with courage because everything can end in a split second; our lives can change and twist out of control and we, the most vulnerable of beings can only respond with embracing the experience no matter how complex, terrifying and extraordinary it is. We accept our odds, we enjoy the comfort but we don’t get attached to it. We take our chances and we acknowledge that this is the game. We meet every toss with a deep breath and an exhale, and we believe in our ability to respond and experience living in our own unique way.

Just don’t live in fear of that coin getting tossed; trust in your ability to respond to the outcome no matter what.

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How Tight Are Those Parameters of Difficulty?

How long can you keep on running away from the difficult and into the easy? All your life? Perhaps.

Will you get insanely good at it that you don’t recognize you’re doing it? Yes. Will life ever be challenging but not on your terms? No.

I’m one to talk when things get difficult my gut instinct is to bail, disappear, escape and find a way out of the situation and into the next; I’m the nearest exit kind of person, I’m the one who pays attention in the plane to the flight attendants as they tell us how to escape if we must. I consider my exit strategy one of my most reliable life skills. Or so I thought.

Turns out, this is a recipe for disastrous anxiety that seeps into the core of every belief in my body. We wire ourselves to always be on the lookout for things to go wrong, and how we could react to that, we are essentially telling ourselves that we will never be good enough or strong enough to face adversity. We are over calculating risk and undermining ourselves and what we can actually handle. The realization feels like a sick punch in the gut, but it does help open one’s eyes to what wimping out on life actually does to you.

It makes you your very worst enemy.

People don’t need to see it or get it, you do though. What becomes of us when we keep on running away? What happens when we choose to walk away from difficulty for no logical or viable reasoning but fear and a preference for the easier? What kind of message are we sending to ourselves? Let me tell you, the message becomes loud and clear. “You cannot do it” becomes the motto that you proudly parade on the back of your leather jacket while playing down the immensity of the energy you put into exiting. At times it’s actually a lot more valuable to stand your ground and face adversity. You might surprise yourself at how impressive your ability to be slapped by life is and how glorious it is to get up after it.

If I think back to all the things I’ve faced off with, I’d say I’ve done a pretty decent job at not crumbling under seemingly high-risk difficulties. Why not give ourselves some credit where it is deserved? The notion that difficulty is a good enough deterrent to living the life we deserve is self-defeating. It is hiding behind a one-dimensional opinion of ultimate weakness and fragility with no space for courage or wit.

What kind of life would we then be able to have if those were the parameters for all our actions?

The next time you have a face off with a difficult or scary situation, give yourself a little pat on the back and a nice treat for standing your ground. Bravery begins from fear, wit is created from acceptance and experience and with the proper mindset and training, we can all find the little warrior within that comes out to play when the world decides that it’s our turn now to thicken that ultra soft skin.

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Time to Change That Rusty Mindset

I have come to a shy realization that I am not the only one who’s searching for myself in this big wild world. You know? Sometimes it seems like I have it all figured out, sometimes I even forget that I am searching for anything in the first place; it suddenly all seems here, present. Everything flows, I am sure you’ve felt that at some point too. That mysterious “it” we are all wondering about falls into our laps, we are then able to touch it and hear it, to see it everywhere we look and life surprisingly becomes simple, as though it was all there all along for us to just grab, or see or whatever it is we must do to believe. And then, in a split second, it all dissipates again, as though it was never there tragically the loss is immense and our entire mindset weaponizes to begin that pursuit again.

It really is mind-boggling; because we all grew up hearing things like ” it comes when you least expect it to, or you will fall in love when you aren’t looking…” etc. So the vagueness of it all kind of bothers me, perhaps it even irks you too. I’m curious what about that is actually so annoying and tricky and unfair?

I remember once standing by the sticky doors of the N train in New York City, going home to my old squeaky apartment after a long day of NYU Masters’ classes. My head was filled with the words of international law professors and their jargon. Except until this day, I remember one thing; funnily enough not the laws, nor the jargon but the feelings. And if you’ve read me in the past years, you’d know how big on noticing feelings I am; almost to a fault! That day I felt like I had it figured out. Imagine looking out of those doors, catching a flash of the city drenched in another glorious sunset and knowing things are good. I’ll tell you, things made sense! I felt it, I had it. It was all there, all around, and I thought that nothing else would feel as rewarding, nor as good. Naturally, that changed, life changed, my days, my location, my feelings- everything became different. I spiraled, felt lost and confused and I wondered what in the world was happening? Had I lost “it” all? and to what?

You see? You have it and then you don’t. Better yet, you think you have it and then you think that you don’t. That “THINK” is the culprit. When we let ourselves rely on certain conditions outside of our control we might be setting ourselves up. The way we perceive our life becomes dangerous and fragile because it all happens through a lens framed by conditions that could simply change or disappear. Long story short, our errant thoughts and perceptions bite us in the ass eventually.

This is not to say doubt every good thing, au contraire. We must practice not searching for ourselves because that comes from a place of being lost. We can instead rely on who we are now and who we aim to become. This attitude is boundless and limitless because it allows us to be free. If I limit my pursuit to a very specific feeling or goal; I might end up on the wrong end; because things don’t always go as planned.

Wait!

Now, watch me put away my preacher hat and replace it with the “doing it” sombrero for this! I am embracing the odds, welcoming the process and trying to care less about the end goal! you can hold your applause because it is insanely difficult for someone with anxiety (aka your writer). Obviously, many of us are in the same club where we perceive the world as dangerous, as uncertain and as filled with potholes. So we tiptoe and we plan and we perfect every move to fall gracefully and not perish. We try to avoid as much pain as possible. In our heads, all that pain, along with every possible catastrophe has made itself present; and so we propel ourselves into a pursuit of safety and a perfectly aligned life that has little confusion or surprise. The conditions become immense, but that my friend is why we must try to transform and change the story!

So I go back to my opening point. I’ve been searching since I started wondering since I started thinking and assessing life’s dangers. Yet, as I search I find myself and others in the weirdest places. I however also find things when I’m not searching. When I think that I have arrived, life doesn’t stop, and conditions keep on changing. So as every spiritual teaching says; just be, and let things happen all around. I halt the pursuit and look around because it was in NYC once that I found myself, it was in Bali later, but here I am in Beirut figuring it out all the same. So where am I really? was I even ever lost? and is it possible that when I stop searching I learn more than when I’m searching like a chicken with its head cut off? – sorry for the metaphor!

I will leave this with you for now. The mystery lives on and I tag along, and I hope that you do too because, well… life happens when you don’t think about it and you never know what you will find when you aren’t looking!

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Arms Down Feet Up

You might not have time to read, but know this: The good kind of surrender is knowing when to put your feet up and wait. This is a post about learning when to surrender.

Who are we to carry all that weight all the time?

I have been thinking about surrender for some time now. As a word, as an action and as a way of life; however I keep running into all the negative possible meanings linked to that action or state, which is why I feel I must color that term a little less bleakly and show you my dear reader as I show myself how precious this exercise in learning when to surrender can be.

Surrender as a verb means to

“cease resistance to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority.”

Surrender here stops being a soft word, it becomes a term to describe the weak, the unable and the powerless. Although surely surrender is the opposite of what one must do when faced with unfairness, injustice and threat. So fight if you must.

Why do we say “I give up” so defeatedly in our day to day life? Why do we beat ourselves up and resist so hard to stay afloat and live another day? Why is life so crushing and difficult? Why are we in constant battle? an eye for an eye, a heart for a heart. We learn that life is aggressive so we learn to become even more militant towards it. Every day becomes a struggle not just with ourselves but with those around us, everyone and everything could be an enemy; and WE NEVER SURRENDER.

I have to admit my heartbeat became faster as I wrote the lines above. My blood started to rush as I let those thoughts out of their cages and into this page. I’ve been writing about this for a long time now, and you might be expecting my next words, but ask yourself this:

“Why are you fighting?”

Who are you in battle with? and what is there to lose if you stop resisting? Is your life really constantly filled with enemies, and life threatening events? Is the world conspiring to shred you to pieces? Why you? What have you done that you feel has been so bad you cannot stop the fight? Are you a victim of your own doing?

The questions burn if one is to really consider them, but there is comfort at the end. There is something utterly gentle in nurturing a spiritual side to our lives. There is a secret, one that sometimes eludes itself, because can a secret really also be so obvious?

What if you chose to look at life as a friend, perhaps a teacher? What if you are not in battle with an opposing authority anymore? What would surrender mean then?

Imagine this for a taste in learning how to surrender.

Resisting a kiss by a beloved versus surrendering to it.

Resisting a thoughtful comment by a friend vs surrendering to it.

Resisting the urge to tell someone they are beautiful, that you love them and that you are thankful to them, vs surrendering to it.

Resisting an intellectual challenge by dismissing its wisdom vs surrendering to the conversation necessary.

See resistance is a skill. It is a strength of spirit in times of undeniable darkness and need, it is the daughter of a war mentality, an agility in survival. However, we must not allow for mindless resistance. Baseless opposition is poisonous and serving only for self punishment. If there is no war, why do you continue to resist? especially if the only one left to fight with is you.

In Arabic there is a term that says “ارحم نفسك” which directly translates to “have mercy on yourself”. That is where learning when to surrender comes in, the good kind, the soft kind that is not a matter of defeat, because it comes with an acceptance that there is no fight in the first place. There is no benefit in crushing an enemy that doesn’t exist. So surrender to the life that shows you its blessings as it shows its teeth. Learn to differentiate between lessons and battles, and train yourself to notice peacefulness wherever it presents itself. Understand your value as a warrior in the right time at the right place but not all the time.

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Kintsugi: The Art of Brokenness

Sometimes we come across ideas that make us pause, they make us wonder and question what we thought we knew the second before our discovery. Knowing is fragile; because what do you really know? You live your life looking for new things, new ideas that could help you make sense of a rancid world. This is how Kintsugi came into my life.

You could say I’m in the pursuit of ideas as much as I am in pursuit of joy. In some way they collide, they have a sweetness that justifies worse days. Then again, we look around us for anything that helps us today, because what is living if not a carousel of moments passing us by. We dwell in the center at times, and at others we play the game. Then, we learn something new, something that the game had possibly distracted us from, maybe even never hid; we just had to look hard enough.

I can toy with my love for ideas not thoughts, I can write for hours about the pleasure of feeling something new. Novelty stands on its tip toes seducing me and my shy words into touching its bare hand. So I reach out and there I go falling deeper into a love I never knew I had.

Welcome to Kintsugi

Welcome to my discovery of beauty in plain sight. Never have I considered brokenness a prerequisite of grace; but I must say Kintsugi showed me how.

Kintsugi means “golden Joining” in Japanese, it is the art of mending what was once broken in an authentic and beautiful way. Essentially, it is a practice of embracing damage and underlining its beauty. Kintsugi is the art of mending broken pottery by joining the pieces again with one special attribute. The cracks are celebrated and highlighted with lacquer mixed with melted gold.

Kintsugi used to repair bowl

Adding to the mastery of the art itself, one cannot miss the metaphor in this. The philosophy bracing itself in gold is immense and liberating. The reason behind celebrating damage in such a precise way removes us from our western standards and our limiting acknowledgement of only the perfect and symmetrical. What if we walk away from that? What would a celebration of your damage look like? Not a victim and not a fighter, just a graceful witness to the remarkable beauty of mending, and forgiving but never hiding.

What if we carry our brokenness like warriors? If each injury and each heart break carried with itself a beautiful story bracing us in gold and in authenticity what more could we want? Can you see how much meaning lay in that art? Can you picture how soft living becomes?

If your pieces were picked up and rejoined with every crack presenting itself as a proof of life, perfection becomes obsolete, because it then means that what is perfect was never alive.

Perfection is unnecessary for beauty.

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The Art of Transforming Responsibility into Contribution

What are we responsible for?

That’s a good question we rarely ask ourselves, and one that I recently found myself wondering about extensively.

There are many things we find ourselves doing, countless boxes we tick, and days of ongoing mental scenarios about things we should/could say, or maybe never should have said. To say that we carry an immense load is an understatement. To be fair, we just do what must be done, but who determines the must, well that’s where the pit of our anxieties lay.

Children understand their responsibilities because parents or authority figures determine them clearly (when that isn’t done, well a lot of built up trauma and confusion ensues). As adults we must reimagine the ways in which we perceive and receive our responsibilities. We learn our duties as we grow, until they grow with us. Except, do responsibilities really expand and become more difficult or is it our perception of them?

I think that our responsibility is threefold, it includes many branches, but it also is not as heavy as we think it should be.

  1. Responsibility for SelF; this includes mind body and spirit.
  2. Responsibility for community; this includes family friends and people in general.
  3. Responsibility for home and it’s elements; that includes the physical spaces we occupy, the bigger planet that sustains us and its creatures.

We must keep a balance between our responsibilities and we must maintain a sense of wellness, kindness and gentleness in how we approach those.

If you are carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders then you are neglecting your responsibility for your self. If you live to please and help others, you might also be coming out short of meeting your own needs and the needs of the home that sustains you. To make the loop complete, if you only care about yourself and perceive your needs as singular ones, then you might be losing touch with those who surround you and that which provides for you.

Consider your responsibilities and think about how you perceive each one, is there a balance? Is there a feeling of contentment and contribution?

We complicate life, and we lose touch with one thing after the other every time we choose to focus on something and forget the rest. Yet, rest assured that you are not alone,. In truly believing that, the connections that you will make simply by fulfilling the balance that wants to live through you, your responsibilities will become life vessels and contributions.

Responsibility is not supposed to be a negative experience, on the contrary, it ought to be a peaceful equation, a map that helps you determine whether you are lost, and where you ought to be in order to regain power in your life. Adulthood and its responsibilities must not mean helplessness and lack of choice, but it must mean freedom to contribute.

What are your responsibilities? Can you view them as contributions instead of worries? Can you find power in feeling like you carry so much weight? Can you choose to pick up that weight in parts and give yourself reason for doing so?

Try it, you might be surprised.

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Mind Hack: Be The Magnet

If you were a magnet what would you attract? What would you repel?

Look at yourself right now, and imagine that everything in your life is stuck on to you. Imagine every thought with its own weight, every person and place and emotion stuck on to you externally. How heavy can you possibly become? Now what if you lose your charge completely? What if everything and everyone falls off, how would that feel?

What if you got to choose what to carry? What if you were given the ability to repel certain thoughts, people memories and events?

See, not all people have the same magnetic force, same as emotions, thoughts and memories, and places. We spend a lot of our time not noticing how heavy somethings are, and when we are absolutely consumed by their unyielding force we wonder what it is that makes us feel so heavy, so weighed down.

Except we can do something about it. We can take a minute maybe even a day to think about the experience of being stuck to too many things; we can dwell on the importance and significance of that. We can then understand why it is that with some people we feel weightless, and with others we cannot move.

We must learn what serves us, what is good for us and what isn’t. We must detach from the forceful and detrimental elements; no matter how difficult it is.

What if you could choose when to turn your magnet off, and simply let go of what’s stuck to you? What if all you need to do is think about it and recognize that harmful things are being done to you simply because you are unaware that there is an off button.

We don’t all live in the same manner, and surely some of us are better than others in knowing when to switch off, and when to go all out attracting the best things in life. You are bound to get some unwanted objects stuck to you here an there, but the act of cleansing always rids you of what was, and allows you to reconsider what could be.

So switch that magnet off, and give yourself a second. You deserve some time off.