How I Overcame My Anger to Be Better for My Family

“Where there is anger, there is always pain underneath.” ~Eckhart Tolle   As a special-needs parent, it feels that I am in constant anger and fight mode. I am fighting with my children on the home front. I am fighting for their right to get access to services. I am fighting for their acceptance. I am fighting for my children to help them make progress. To be in constant fight mode can be overwhelming and exhausting. In my weakness, I let my emotions get the best of me. I lose my temper with my loved ones.   The One Thing I Regret Saying to My Daughter A particular incident that took place many years ago stands out in my mind to this date. The principal of my daughter’s school told me she was causing lots of problems there. Her behavior was disturbing her classmates, and many parents had complaints about it. “We feel that this school is not suitable for her and it would be best to find her another school,” said the principal. I fought with the school to let her stay. This was the third school we had to fight for her acceptance. I felt that I was coming to another dead end. After that meeting, I headed home and was greeted with an onslaught of screaming and shouting children. Adding to that chaos, my daughter with autism poured out the contents of every toiletry bottle she could find into the bathtub. It is incredible how much children can do given one minute unsupervised. At that very moment, I snapped and yelled. “What is wrong with you? What is wrong with you?” “Why are you always wrecking the house?” “Why can’t I have a moment of peace without you causing any trouble?” “I did not sign up for this!”  “I don’t want you!” My daughter with little communication skills stood frozen. I saw fear in her eyes. She felt every ounce of anger I had in me then.   Why Yelling Further Delays a Child’s Development When children misbehave, yelling at them seems like a natural response. We feel that when we yell at them, we get their attention, we are disciplining them. None of us likes to be yelled at. When we yell at our children, they are more likely to shut down instead of listening. That is not a good way to communicate. For children on the spectrum, yelling can be particularly detrimental, as it may result in them retreating into their own world and not engaging with other people even more. The more we connect and engage with them, the more they can thrive and grow. Hence, yelling can never be a means to “discipline” them regardless of how stressful and frustrated we may feel at that moment.   Not Yelling—Easier Said Than Done Trust me. No one understands this more than I do. When you are stressed and frustrated, releasing all that pent-up emotion seems like the only solution. [...]

2020-03-23T18:40:55-07:00 By |

Quarantine Apathy: 3 Tools for Overcoming Despair During Isolation

As the rain pours and the evening draws to a close, I am swallowed by a prevailing sense of apathy that has grown for weeks in quarantine. At first, this feeling crept into my ambition. It sucked away my longing for a successful career serving humanity. Next, it slipped into my desire for affection. I found myself unmotivated to care for my body. Then it slid into my relationship with my spiritual path. I began to recoil at all outward forms of spirituality. Tonight, it edged into the fledgling pages of my book. Doubts assail me about my ability to write for healing. This apathy is like the Nothing from the Never Ending Story. It blows in as a storm and destroys everything in its path. I am gripped with fear that this Nothing will leave me empty, that I have lost my way and will never find home. In the midst of this anguish, from the power of words, a quiet voice calls out. She says that this too shall pass. She reminds me that this Nothing is merely clearing a path for Something. She says, "pray and be still." The fear releases its grip a little. I remember that rain brings renewal in her wake. Doubt and depression spring from uncertainty and we are a world unraveled. That voice, she is my soul. She whispers, "Be still and know that I am God." I will wait for the change to come. These waves of apathy are to be expected. The remedies we try are many and have varying effectiveness. When overcome by these moments, if we can cling to our inner knowing that this too shall pass, we can avoid some of the pitfalls that cause others to stumble. We can avoid the remedies that break us further. The soothing balms of drugs, alcohol, and emotional avoidance that spiral us further toward depression can be avoided.   Here are 3 tools for being still during these cresting waves of apathy: 1. Rest well and listen When we feel Nothing, it is our mind and body crying for rest. Allow yourself the grace to sink. Sink into the couch, the chair, the bed. Listen to something beautiful as you do this and your mind will lift upward, even as your body sinks down.   2. Reconnect with nature In nature, we feel our place and purpose most clear. Walk in the healing embrace of nature’s beauty. Walk slowly and without a destination. Let your movement be restful and drink in your surroundings.   3. Breathe deeply We are trained to breathe from our chest. As women, even more so, for breathing from our belly causes it to momentarily expand, God forbid! But to breathe deeply is to begin the process of healing. Place your left hand on your belly and your right hand on your side ribcage. Now, slowly and with concentration breathe in through your nose. Fill first your belly (actually your diaphragm, [...]

2020-05-26T17:12:58-07:00 By |

Simple Ways to Deepen Your Connection with the Natural World

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” ~John Muir   Somewhere, stashed away in my collection of childhood memories, I recall having this small deck of cards with random, uplifting activities on them. I don’t remember how they journeyed my way, and I don’t remember them staying around for long, but I do remember that just reading through them was uplifting. It’s interesting, the things that our minds choose to file away—and while I’m a little intrigued that these cards earned a spot, I’m not surprised, at all, that memories of entire days spent out in the woods near our home, as a child, are firmly rooted. It felt as though there were magical secrets hanging from every tree branch and tucked away, at every step, along the forest floor. Throughout the years, I don’t know that I’ve ever felt as content as I do when I’m muddying up a pair of hiking boots. Tuning in to the natural world around us and feeling at ease go hand-in-hand. This is a simple truth that most of us are intrinsically aware of and are intuitively pulled toward, yet as more and more of our natural landscape is forced to concede to pavement and buildings, our stretches of mingling with untouched fields and forests become fewer. The natural world offers a quick and reliable way to effectively manage anxiety, depression and stress-related conditions. In a world that seems increasingly focused on technological routine and gadgetry, basking in the gentle and balancing support that radiates from and within our natural world might seem too simple—and, as a result, may not always be taken seriously as an effective stress-managing solution. Even if we don’t step outside our back door to acres of countryside, we can integrate the benefits that time with nature offers through seeking out pockets of less-cultivated ground during our daily routines. A stroll through a park on the way to work or eating lunch outside can quickly instill a worthwhile sense of peace and tranquility. Aside from our own intuitive awareness, there is much research pointing to the restorative effects of nature—for both our minds and our bodies. It has a quick way of moving through busy, ongoing internal chatter and shape-shifting our thoughts and perspectives. Watching animals collect food along the ground or listening to the rain or birds can immediately shift us into a meditative space. These experiences offer us a chance to connect, in a whole-body way, to the ebb and flow of our entire natural world—to simultaneously become aware of our presence and lose ourselves within this same energetic rhythm. The natural world is in a constant state of change. It brings light to our own dynamic life happenings and gifts the opportunity, regardless of our individual struggles or situations, to just be. Calm and connected. Thinking back to that deck of cards from my [...]

2020-03-23T18:25:57-07:00 By |

I Want to Be Rich in Memories

“My life isn’t perfect, but it does have perfect moments.” ~Unknown   Practice was over, the hot Florida sun was settling in behind the tall bleachers, casting golden rays onto the track. Behind me was my dear school, engulfed in beautiful palm trees. “California Girls” was playing through the speakers, and I was laughing with friends at something a teammate said. There, I realized how truly alive I felt in that moment. It was seemingly picture perfect in every way. A couple years ago I could only imagine being on this team, going to such a great school, and living in such a beautiful place as sunny Florida. Growing up as an immigrant child in the United States comes with a lot of uncertainty and oftentimes, worries, as you never know what lies ahead. But through all the uncertainties stood my beautiful family, always my rock through every situation. And now, standing on the crimson-red track, I understood why my family had sacrificed so much to be here. I maybe would have never gotten to attend an American high school and to participate in a sport I love so much, or to feel as free anywhere else. After fearing political persecution back in my home country of Kazakhstan, we were blessed to have a new beginning in America. I realized in that moment how wonderful it is to be living this life and how a seemingly ordinary moment can be taken for granted. Life is composed of countless moments worth living for, strung together by the seemingly mundane stretches in between. The moments, when all the chaos freezes, the outside noises die down, and you realize that you are living the dream you could once only pray for, it’s much like a cinematic fragment of a Hollywood movie—everything is still but the beat of your own heart and you feel nothing less than alive. Could it be that these glimpses often pass by us unnoticed, while we’re busy living in the thresholds of our complex minds and endless woes? As soon as we deal with one of life’s issues, it seems another is ready to spring into our mind leaving us in a rat race for happiness. We’re always chasing happiness, as if it’s something complicated and hard to find. Just Google books on happiness or success and I guarantee you’ll be occupied for a while. But happiness isn’t something we can permanently attain. It’s much like a fleeting wind—one moment it’s here, and another, it’s far gone. It seems to me that everything we do is driven by the desire to be happy. But what are we really looking for? Does his wish for a new car stem from the desire to have autocracy over a heap of metal, or the desire to feel free as he cruises along the coast reminiscing on his youthful years? Does she really wish for a new phone, or does she simply desire to feel respected by her [...]

2020-03-23T18:14:12-07:00 By |

Death in a Time of Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has brought our mortality into stark relief. Whether we are among those most vulnerable or not, death seems to be all around us. This is disturbing for even the most hearty among us. I was reflecting today how death and birth have so many parallels. Both can be beautiful and Divine, but are also unpredictable, painful, and supremely human. Both come with change akin to alchemy and require an inordinate amount of administrativia. Here in America, we don’t do either very well. We birth in notoriously inequitable hospitals, as if our pregnancies are an illness (not a judgement, I had both my babies in the hospital). The resulting outcomes for moms and babies are the worst among all developed nations. And the end of life? Well, we tuck away our elders in their final years, rather than build robust systems to age in place. We spend tens of thousands to prolong our lives by mere months at the cost of quality connections with loved ones and a peaceful exit. Here at Ananda, the meditation and yoga community where I live, we do our best to exit with grace. We spend a lot of time practicing death through our daily practice of meditation, introspection, and right attitudes. A dear friend died this week after a many-year battle with terminal illness. And while the grief is as piercing as it ever is, he left with immense grace by his ability to surrender through the process. We’re all blessed by it and by his friendship. Today, as thousands lie in hospital beds alone, my heart breaks. I wish we as a culture did death better. It wouldn’t fix this situation, but it might bring greater peace to those who are dying right now. If only we spoke of death more, honored the death process, prepared ourselves for what was in store. We may hold different beliefs about what happens after we die, but the process of death is universal. First, there is the body. It is dying, which means that it is difficult, likely painful. If we spend more time learning to breathe acceptance into the painful parts, might this be less scary? If we experienced pain as a natural part of life, rather than avoiding it at all cost, might we be better prepared? Next, there is the mind. Could we spend more time preparing the mind to be strong and able to remain calm, even under mortal threat? Neuroscience suggests yes. The brain retains plasticity for our entire lives. There is a sizable body of research that demonstrates that meditation strengthens the prefrontal cortex of the brain, while it simultaneously reduces the activity of the limbic system. In other words, you can train your brain to maintain greater calm and reduce its reactive impulses. Finally, there is the Soul. This is supremely personal and many Americans spend a great deal of time on this, while others dismiss it entirely. I love that about [...]

2020-04-24T18:01:20-07:00 By |

5 Ways to Social Distance for the Long Haul

This global pandemic is surreal. Each moment brings with it waves of feeling that are so disparate and so unpredictable that their best parallel is Kubler Ross’ 5 stages of grief. And yet, it’s not grief exactly either. Among the waves of acceptance, anger, denial, bargaining, and depression, there are also many moments of joy and even forgetfulness. So much has changed, but our bodies and minds are adapting. This may not be true for those who find themselves quarantined in unfamiliar places, nor for those who are suffering in broken homes, nor those living in the urban epicenters of the pandemic. But for those of us in rural communities, or whose work was previously remote and merely continues to be, the surrealness can sometimes come from the moments of familiarity in the midst of global upheaval. Peering out the window onto my garden, tucked away in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, I catch myself relaxing in utter forgetfulness. When I come to, I move to gratitude that this is my problem; my challenge is to remain vigilant when the forest around me gives me no sign of danger. The first glimmers of hope are upon us; the curve appears to be flattening. Soon, even those in the epicenters may face my reality: a world that feels safe from COVID-19, but is actually not yet. To help those of us already living in a false sense of security and those who may enter it soon, here are five ways to remain vigilant yet fearless for the long haul: Use habit as your superpower. We are currently normalizing to a pandemic world. In doing so, we are already building new habits like wearing masks and washing hands for 20 seconds. To avoid letting these new habits die too soon, reinforce them creatively. Make masks that you find amusing or beautiful, keep song lyrics posted above your sinks, leave Lysol by your front door for packages. The easier and more creative you can make these new habits, the more likely you’ll be to maintain them. Find your why. Perhaps your “why” is a loved one who is more vulnerable to complications. Perhaps it’s the medical community who are begging for your cooperation to save their lives. Perhaps it’s a desire to show your children the value of self-sacrifice. Whatever your “why” may be, it is the most essential component to social distance success. Remain informed. News “fasts” are good, but it’s important to tune into what is happening in your community, country, and world in the ways that you can tolerate right now. Particularly when you feel your “why” slipping or your complacency growing. This pandemic is unfolding at different rates in different cities and nations, so yours may be calm, but the storm is raging somewhere and it’s wise to remember that from time to time. Practice calmness. Calmness is essential, even if we need to remain informed and vigilant. Our bodies need to [...]

2020-04-13T17:01:25-07:00 By |

5 Things to Remember When You Feel Ashamed of Your Flaws

If you asked me when I was younger what I wanted to be when I grew up, I may have answered perfect, or famous, which is incredibly ironic, I know. I simultaneously craved a spotlight while fearing what it might reveal—my inadequacies, my weaknesses, my flaws. I thought being perfect meant being beyond reproach—undeniably lovable and worthy of respect, something I didn’t always receive growing up. And I assumed that if I were perfect in all ways, I could finally relax and enjoy my life because I could trust that no one would judge or hurt me. I could navigate the world secure in the knowledge I was good enough, and everyone knew it, so I had nothing to prove. Though I spent years trying to overcome all my weaknesses—my anxiety, my insecurity, my controlling nature, my need to be liked—I’ve never arrived at a place of complete freedom from these struggles. I’ve made progress, sure, but I’m still flawed. I’m still craggy and cracked, like a mirror that’s been shattered and glued together many times over. I started thinking about this recently when listening to the sixth episode of Next Creator Up, the podcast I’ve been producing with Ehren Prudhel, the show’s host and my partner in many things. In this interview, Hollywood screenwriter and author Noah Knox Marshall talked a little about his non-dystopian sci-fi book series for kids and how strong characters have flaws. That’s what makes them real—their quirks, their struggles, their insecurities, and rough edges—because this is what it means to be human. When we see a flawed character in a movie or a book, we instinctively empathize with them and root for their happiness and success. We know they’re neurotic or needy or scornful or scared, but we care about them anyway and sit at the edge of our seats hoping they get the job, get the girl, or at least get the message they need to grow and thrive. We see ourselves in these characters, and we want for them the peace and happiness we may deny ourselves. The irony is we deny ourselves peace and happiness for the very same reason we want it for them—because we’re undeniably and permanently imperfect, and always have something new to work on, no matter how much we learn and grow. There was a time when I resisted this reality. I truly believed I could eventually reach a point when I did everything “right.” When I always said the right thing, did the right thing, and responded in the right way when other people triggered or challenged me. When I struggled to do these things, my shame was palpable, and I wanted to hide. But I’m done hiding now, because I realize flaws don’t just make strong characters—they also make strong people. We’re not weak for having challenges and shortcomings; we’re strong for facing them, owning them, working on them, and doing our best every day in spite of them. So [...]

2020-01-09T16:52:57-08:00 By |

Simple Self Care Tips

What is self-care? Self-care is a deliberate effort to take care of yourself physically, emotionally, or spiritually. When you make an effort to prioritize your needs, it’s not selfish - it’s smart. Caring for yourself may not come intuitively, but it’s essential so you can feel good. When you neglect yourself, it will come out in other ways. You may start to feel resentful toward people you are sacrificing yourself for, and that’s not good. You could end up feeling physically and emotionally exhausted. Here are some simple ways you can engage in self-care.   Have some quiet time Take a small amount of time to read a book, write in a journal, meditate, take a nap, or go for a quiet walk. Having time where you are free from obligations and can embrace silence can feel freeing. You don’t have to be “on” all the time. You may be thinking, “I’m too busy to set aside time to be quiet.” It doesn’t take a lot of time. You can put aside 10 minutes to write each day, which will help you feel better.   Pet your animals  Animals are great comforts to us when we’re feeling anxious, stressed, or depressed. One thing you can do to take care of yourself is pet your cat or take your dog for a walk. You are caring for another living creature, but it’s also comforting to you. When you take your dog to the park, it’s a small victory. You can feel good about the fact that you cared for them, and it’s also a way for you to get out of the house and get some fresh air. It’s a win/win situation; your dog gets to play, and you get to clear your mind.   Eat something you love What’s your favorite meal? Make it for yourself. Cooking can be healing if you enjoy it. If you don’t like to cook, take yourself out for dinner or dessert. Think about what makes you happy to eat and enjoy it. Maybe you love to make salads. Perhaps you adore brownie sundaes. It’s okay to treat yourself once in a while. Choosing a food you love is simple, but can make you feel cared for and loved.   Create something If you’re an artistic person, creating something can make you feel good about yourself. If you like to paint, take out some watercolors and make a painting. If you enjoy acting, use your smartphone and take a video of yourself doing a monologue. Some people love singing, and that’s something that you can do anywhere. Whatever makes you feel creative, engage in that activity. You don’t have to be an artist to create. You can make things recreationally too. It can feel therapeutic to doodle or color in a coloring book or on an app. Creating something can make you feel accomplished and calm.   Taking care of yourself in therapy Another way to care for yourself is [...]

2020-03-02T16:31:07-08:00 By |

The Best Thing to Say to Someone Who Won’t Understand You

“True love is born from understanding.” ~Buddha I believe one of our strongest desires in life is to feel understood. We want to know that people see our good intentions and not only get where we’re coming from but get us. We want to know they see us. They recognize the thoughts, feelings, and struggles that underlie our choices, and they not only empathize but maybe even relate. And maybe they’d do the same thing if they were in our shoes. Maybe, if they’d been where we’ve been, if they’d seen what we’ve seen, they’d stand right where we are now, in the same circumstances, with the same beliefs, making the same choices. Underneath all these maybes is the desire to feel validated. We’re social creatures, and we thrive when feel a sense of belonging. That requires a certain sense of safety, which hinges upon feeling valued and accepted. But those feelings don’t always come easily. There was a time when one of my relationships felt incredibly unsafe. I never felt understood or validated, and worse, I often got the sense the other person didn’t care to understand me. When you’re the one withholding the comfort of understanding, it can imbue you with a sense of power. And it also creates a sense of separation, which, for some, feels safer than closeness. This person often assumed the worst of me—that I was selfish and weak—and interpreted things I did through this lens. They would belittle my beliefs and opinions, as if they warranted neither consideration nor respect. And they would even make fun of me when I tried to share my thoughts and feelings, minimizing not only my perspective but also my personhood. Like I had no value. Like I wasn’t worth hearing out. Like I didn’t deserve respect. It hurts. It hurts to feel like someone doesn’t care to see where you’re coming from or hear what you have to say. It hurts to feel like someone is more committed to misunderstanding you than developing any sense of common ground. It hurts to feel invalidated. We often take that pain and churn into anger. Or at least that’s what I did. I fought. I screamed. I cried. I tried to force them to see my basic goodness and view the world from my vantage point. I tried to impose my will upon them—the will to be valued and heard—regardless of whether they were willing or capable of giving me those courtesies. And I caused myself a lot of pain, all the while justifying this madness with an indignant sense of righteousness. Because people should try to understand. People should treat each other with respect. People should be kind and loving and open. Because that would make the world feel safe. But here’s the thing I’ve learned: Should is always a trap. Things will never be exactly as we think they should be, and resisting this only causes us pain. But more importantly, there’s something [...]

2020-01-09T16:41:28-08:00 By |