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Intimacy Begins with Me

Last week, I wrote about the death of a colleague. In addition to grieving, I’m learning a lot about intimacy.

So often when I think about intimacy, it’s in the context of a romantic relationship, but the truth is, intimacy is not confined to a romantic partner. Real intimacy is like unzipping yourself and displaying your insides, and that can be done with anyone, something I’ve witnessed in this process.

As I share the news about my co-worker’s death, people react in different ways. Some people allow me to cry without offering a diversion or attempting to fix it. Other people become discomfited and say a quick, “I’m sorry,” before moving on to another topic. I’m not deriding people for their reactions – people are where they’re at and will respond how they do. What I notice though is in order to share my feelings with someone else, to be intimate with them, I have to acknowledge my feelings first. If I’m uncomfortable feeling sad, there’s no way I can share that with someone else because I’m shutting the feelings down internally. Someone else may be more than willing to share and connect with me, but if I’m not connected to myself, no one else can connect with me either.

As with most things, intimacy is an inside job.

We hear often, “You can’t give what you don’t have,” but I’m a concrete gal and I like examples. As an example, if someone asked me for oranges right now, I’d have to shake my head and say, “Sorry, I don’t have any.” Similarly, I can’t give intimacy if I don’t have it internally.

We think of intimacy and love as “out there,” something to find or force. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve complained about certain men in my life, lamenting that they’re not opening up, as if they were clams I could pry open. I’ve craved intimacy, but it’s only been within recent years I’ve created it internally by embracing all of my emotions. By giving myself space to feel.

Love and intimacy get presented as if we could walk into a store and buy them. We don’t realize intimacy is something we create, something we work on internally. I could be in relationship with the most amazing person, someone who loves intimacy, but if I’m not in touch with my own feelings, if I’m not allowing myself to feel them, we won’t have intimacy. It will be like talking to a brick wall. I say this because that’s also been my experience in grieving. When I share my insides with people who are discomfited, it’s like I threw an egg against a brick wall – my insides are smeared, on display. There’s no reciprocity, only impact. When I share my insides with people who are comfortable with emotion, it’s like I threw an egg at a cloud of cotton – I feel held, comforted, and supported.

Matt Licata, a psychotherapist I follow, synthesizes this concept well:

When all is said and done, perhaps there is no secret to co-creating a fulfilling, supportive, mutually beneficial intimate relationship, as it is always in the end a movement of the unknown. Healthy intimacy is not something you will figure out one day by way of some checklist or magical formula, but something you are asked to live in each moment, in all its chaotic glory. By learning to take care of yourself, you are creating a foundation upon which the mysteries of intimacy can come alive within and around you, providing a crucible like no other for the great work of aliveness that you have come here to embody.

I dream of a world where we embody our emotions. A world where we understand intimacy is not something “out there,” but rather “in here.” A world where we recognize intimacy is not something we find, but rather something we create. A world where we realize intimacy beings with us.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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Out, Out, Brief Candle

I found out on Thursday a work colleague of mine died unexpectedly. No warning, no known life-threatening health issues, just gone. Out like a candle. It reminds me of that passage from Macbeth:

Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.

I’m still in shock to be honest. Here one minute, gone the next. It doesn’t seem real. I know some people experience a shift in perspective at times like these. It reminds them life is short and not to waste a minute of it. This it not that sort of blogpost. I will not suddenly seize the day or live like I’ll die tomorrow, because for me, that sort of pace will kill me. I know this because living with that mindset has wrecked my body. Instead, this post is a meditation on transience.

We are all candles, here for a brief period.

My colleague’s death reminds me that everything – my thoughts, my feelings, even my life – has an end. I trick myself otherwise, convinced every feeling and situation is interminable, but in truth, it’s not. We often say, “This, too, shall pass,” forgetting “this” also includes life itself.

I’m still coming out of shock and into grief, yet I feel at peace, not about my colleague’s death, but about the nature of life itself. I’m in deep acceptance that I don’t have as much agency as I think I do. That I can eat well, exercise, wear sunscreen, but when I die is not up to me. I will be here as long as I am here.

In my spiritual tradition, we say a person will merge in Cosmic Consciousness only after completing the duty assigned to him or her by Cosmic Consciousness. The trouble is, there’s no sand timer in the sky letting us know when the sand has run out. And what’s interesting is the older I get, the more I understand what people mean when they say life goes by quickly. With that in mind, I have no trouble believing I could live until I was 120 and it would still feel too short. It would still feel like a flash in the pan. In truth, no matter how long we live, it will always be a brief moment in time, a period when for a short while we walked the Earth.

My spiritual teacher says, “This expressed universe is nothing but a collection of temporary entities which are undergoing constant metamorphosis according to the sweet will of nature.” We are all temporary entities and we are all constantly undergoing change. Nothing stays the same. Nothing. I can’t help but wonder if I kept this thought at the forefront of my mind how my life would be different. If I would experience more ease and peace as well as joy knowing my life is like a candle that can be blown out at any moment.

This post is a somber one, I know, but I hope it will also be a reassuring one. For those of you undergoing hardship, remember it will end. And for those of you undergoing ecstasy, enjoy it while you can, because it, too, will end.

I dream of a world where we remember all things are temporary. A world where we realize we’re not in control of everything. A world where we practice acceptance of what is because we recognize like everything else, this, too, shall pass.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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Accepting Uncertainty

Historically, one of the ways I’ve dealt with uncertainty and ambiguity is to become controlling. If I didn’t know what was going on, I’d make a plan or force a decision so that I did, because then at least I’d know, and knowing was more comfortable than not knowing.

It should come as no surprise I was a stage manager in high school, and for a couple of years in college. For those unaware, the stage manager is the person behind the scenes of a show who is calling all the lighting and sound cues, the person who makes sure the sets are moving when they should, the person who determines when the show starts, even. This is not done without input or help, but the ultimate responsibility is the stage manager’s. I loved stage managing. At last my character traits of controlling and perfectionism were put to good use. Instead of being disparaged for them, I was lauded.

Will this person hitch a ride or not?

Unfortunately, while all the world’s a stage, I’m not the stage manager. Nor did I get the script in advance. For someone prone to anxiety, and who likes to know what’s happening beforehand, this is not a good combination. To manage this, I could have become the type of person who does the same thing every day, who sticks to a schedule rigidly, who never tries anything new, who lives in a safe container of the known and the familiar, but I get bored and restless. Well shucks. What’s a gal to do then?

Lately, instead of defaulting to controlling, I’m allowing all of my feelings. I’m letting it be OK that I’m scared. I’m letting it be OK that I think things should be this way or that. I’m also letting it be OK that there’s a part of me itching to decide one way or another. These days I’m letting all my parts co-exist and that means accepting uncertainty. The truth is, for all my planning, nothing ever happened the way I thought it would anyway. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop planning altogether – I will never be a person who’s comfortable flying into a foreign city without knowing where she’s sleeping that night – but it also means I’m allowing for flexibility.

According to my spiritual teacher, and many teachers, adjustment and flexibility are essentials for human progress. My teacher says, “Intelligent people will not cling to old, outdated ideas. Rather they will wholeheartedly embrace that theory which adjusts with time, space, and person, and will continue to exist forever.”

He’s speaking about societal theories here, but I think the same principle applies on an individual level. I must discard old and outdated ways of being in the world. Handling uncertainty by clinging to a fixed plan no longer serves me. Dealing with ambiguity by forcing a decision before the answer is clear no longer works for me. The only person I have any agency over is me, and treating myself with gentleness, humor, love, and respect sounds like the best plan to deal with uncertainty that I could ever concoct.

I dream of a world where we accept uncertainty. A world where we realize nothing will ever go exactly the way we planned. A world where we embrace flexibility and adjustment while we move ahead on the path of our lives. A world where we allow all parts of ourselves to exist in peaceful harmony.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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Held in Suspension

I am obsessed with progress and growth. I want to do and to achieve all the time. One of my worst fears is getting stuck, of being trapped. It should come as no surprise then I’m claustrophobic and freak out in large crowds when I can’t move as freely as I’d like. It’s not only an external fear, but an internal one.

The thing about my health is I feel stuck. There are many things I cannot do right now. As I’ve written about previously, my dreams are on hold and that suuuuuucks.

I called a friend this week to share my fears with him, and instead of dissuading me from my current perspective, he told me he’s been meditating on the tarot card the hanged man. Some would view the image of a hanged man as violent, something to fear and avoid. My friend however said he views the hanged man as being suspended instead of hanged. Of being still, in a pause, held. And perhaps the same applies to my life right now. That I don’t have to do anything, and instead of fighting the stuckness, I can enjoy the sense of ease that can arise because it’s a moment in time when the divine is holding the rope and keeping me in place. Instead of stuck, I’m held in suspension.

Been meditating on the hanged man. Perhaps he’s only suspended.

I like thinking of it in that way and also I’m reminded there’s more here. It’s important for me to relax while I’m suspended, to embrace the inactive part of me.

In my spiritual philosophy, there are three binding forces in the world called gunas. The forces are sattvic, or sentient, rajasic, or mutative, and tamasic, or static. All beings have a mixture of these forces within them to varying degrees. I can say without a doubt I’ve been denying the static force within me. I’ve been pretending that part of me doesn’t exist, and furthermore, not giving it expression in any way. Even when I’m at home, relaxing, there is an internal struggle within me that says I should be doing something else. Something productive. And even though I haven’t paid attention to that voice, even though I stay where I am and keep reading my book, the voice still lives within me.

This week something shifted and I’m yielding to inertia, to laziness. You would think it’s easy because, “Woohoo! Green light to sit around and watch Netflix all day!” but actually, it’s been excruciating. This week I’ve been crawling out of my skin with how uncomfortable I am. And in fact, instead of embracing laziness, on Friday night I cleaned my bathroom. So. You know. Still learning over here.

Again, as I think of my spiritual philosophy though, it’s one of wholeness and integration. One where we view everything as an expression of an infinite loving consciousness, and that means the static side too. That means the lazy, do-nothing part of me is also divine and I’m not doing myself any favors by pretending it’s not. There is a time and a place for everything, and right now, it’s time for me to be lazy without guilt.

I dream of a world where we embrace all the forces within us. A world where we view all periods of our life as sacred. A world where even if we feel stuck, instead we start thinking of it as being held while in suspension.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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Grace in the Gunk

I’m reminded even when life doesn’t look the way we want it to, grace can still be found. On a macro level, there are some aspects of my life that are not how I’d pictured them, and it’s easy to sink into woe. At the same time, there can be grace in the gunk.

I’m not saying to avoid feeling woeful – everyone needs a good cry now and again – but it’s interesting for me to note in the midst of not-fun things I can experience wonder and delight. Life is complicated like that.

Last weekend I traveled to Philadelphia for a wedding of a dear friend of mine. It was beautiful and touching and sweet, but I anticipated that. What I didn’t anticipate were the other moments of grace that remind me there is a divine intelligence in the world, and that it cares about me.

Grace can be found everywhere.

Following the last dance at the wedding, the brides (it was a lesbian wedding) rushed out the door under a canopy of rustling wands that we, the guests, held above their heads. Therefore, I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye, which saddened me. The next day, while in the lobby, the elevator door pinged open and there stood one of the brides. I was able to say a few words before the door shut again and we went our separate ways. Quite literally in this case because she descended to the ground floor while I ascended to the fifth. An hour later, I took the elevator to the ground floor and ran into the other bride, my friend, while she waited for her elevator. We had a longer conversation and a proper hug goodbye. If I had left a few moments earlier or later, I would have missed her.

The same day, I trundled around Philadelphia with my rolling luggage, soaking up the sights. Due to losing my way, I arrived at the train station at 4:25, the exact time my train was scheduled to depart. I purchased my ticket and was informed the train was running two minutes late, which meant I just barely caught my train. And I do mean just barely. The train doors had already closed by the time I arrived, but the train conductor reopened them for me.

A few more things happened, like my flight arriving half an hour early even though we left later than our departure time. They aren’t huge things, and they don’t fix the macro issues in my life like my health or my finances, but they’re enough to remind me grace is here, too. I can have poor health and poor finances and still be taken care of. Furthermore, I didn’t orchestrate any of the things I experienced. I didn’t manifest it or attract it or visualize it or have any control in the matter whatsoever.

And that’s the thing about grace – it’s not rational, it doesn’t follow a formula. It just comes. My spiritual teacher says God’s grace is for all – both the virtuous and nonvirtuous. Nobody is unimportant or insignificant. Everyone is a divine child and grace is always with us, even in the gunk.

I dream of a world where we all feel graced. A world where we feel the love that surrounds us. A world where we know grace is not a reward for good behavior, it’s given regardless. A world where we find grace in the gunk.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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I found out recently in China if a woman is unmarried by age 27, she’s called “sheng nu,” or “leftover woman.” And if you’re 30 and unmarried? Forget it. Life’s over. That’s literally what these women are told. The whole thing makes my blood boil.

I think what pisses me off most of all is the notion that if a woman has a Master’s degree, or is successful in her field, or if she’s helping others and just generally being a good human, she’s still considered “less than” all because she doesn’t have a ring on her finger. Are you kidding me? When did our worth become defined by our relationship status? When did getting married become the most important metric?

It should be noted here I’m not anti-marriage. I’ve been to about 20 weddings in the past 10 years and am currently at one this weekend. I love weddings. I love marriage. But I do not love the idea that somehow a person is “left over” if they’re still single by a certain age. I say this to myself, too. There’s a part of me that asks, “What’s wrong with me that I’m still single?” I have imagined conversations with people justifying why I’m not married because even internally, I feel a twinge of shame that at my age, 32.5, I’m unmarried. However, hearing about these women in China who are harassed and shamed by their families on a regular basis for being single put me over the edge.

Some of us may never get here, or not get here by a certain age, and that’s OK.

This is not a post where I say there’s nothing wrong with being single, or that there’s a pot for every lid, that eventually we all meet our match. No. This is a post where I fume at patriarchy, which is the precise system that dictates a woman is worthless if she isn’t married. I realize some men feel this way too, but in articles about unmarried Chinese men, it’s couched as a supply issue – too few women – whereas in articles about Chinese women, it’s couched as some unfortunate mystery. That somehow it’s the woman’s fault she’s still single. That my friends, is patriarchy.

My spiritual teacher says, in society the value of a woman is not an iota less than that of a man. And furthermore, every human being is a divine child of God – both the unmarried and the married. That means I could be single until my dying days and my value would not be any less. That means I could be single forever and still do great and worthwhile things. My worth does not go up and down depending on my relationship status, and neither does yours.

I realize some people will still look at me and ask, “Why is she still single? What’s wrong with her?” I can’t do anything about that, but I can do something about my internal dialogue. I can remind myself I’m amazing with or without a partner. And I can do my part to extricate myself from a system that works to make me feel inferior because I’m single. I’m not inferior and neither is anyone else, regardless of their romantic situation.

I dream of a world where we realize our relationship status doesn’t define our value. A world where we recognize shaming people for being single is just another form of oppression, of subtly saying they’re only worth something if they’re attached to someone else. A world where we realize we are fantastic and amazing human beings whether we’re in a relationship or not.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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The Awakening of Women

This weekend I saw Wonder Woman and loved it. Something about watching a female superhero really got to me in a way I didn’t expect. I started tearing up. As I teared up, I was reminded this has been a long time coming. Not only the movie, which it has, but more importantly, equality for women, which we’re still working on.

Last year I would have told you things aren’t perfect, but we as a society have progressed far in terms of equal rights for women. This year I can say that statement is both true and not true. It’s true women no longer need a husband to open up a credit card account (which wasn’t the case until 1974, by the way), but at the same time, we also earn less than men. And the amount is far less for women of color. Also, I can’t pretend women are treated fairly in the U.S. when our current president was recorded as saying as a star, he can do anything, he can grab women by the pussy. Neither can I pretend women are treated fairly in the U.S. when the penalty for sexual assault is so lenient. It’s obvious many in power think of women as inferior beings.

I look forward to the day when we can all shine like we’re meant to.

At the same time, I have to admit not everyone in power thinks of women as inferior, and we have more women in positions of power not only in politics, such as Prime Minister Theresa May and Angela Merkel, but business as well, such as Sheryl Sandberg and Arianna Huffington. What I find baffling is what many don’t seem to grasp, is the better life is for women, the better life is for everyone. I don’t mean that in the sense, “Happy wife, happy life.” I mean, when women are educated, society flourishes.

My spiritual teacher says, “Ideally, women should also move with their own strength and with the same speed as their male counterparts. In the process of movement, if they feel pain in their legs, if they fall on their faces, they should be physically lifted up. The fact is that we must move together in unison with all.” Moving together in unison with all means we all go far. If men are allowed to dominate and demean, we as a society are like a bird flying with one wing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying women should have equal rights only because it means we all benefit. All human beings should have equal rights. I don’t understand why it’s even a question. My teacher also says, “Women should have as much unbarred liberty to enjoy the light, air, earth, and water like children of nature as men have. In fact, it is not a case of granting rights to women, it is a case of recognizing their rights.”

We already have rights that are not recognized. What will it take for those rights to be recognized? I’m not sure, but I am confident the old ways of thinking will crumble into dust. Just as the Wonder Woman movie was finally made, eventually all women will have equal rights. It will take time, but it will happen. One more quote to end on: “Let women be the vanguard of a new revolution which humanity must achieve for a glorious tomorrow.”

I dream of a world where women lead a revolution that achieves a glorious tomorrow. A world where women’s inherent rights are recognized. A world where all women everywhere shake off the slumber of dogma and inferiority, breaking the shackles that chain them. A world where women wake up to the true magnificence of who they are.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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The Power of Language

Lately I’ve been thinking about the power of language. The way it builds bridges or constructs walls. And how it shapes our perspective, often in subtle ways. For instance, there is a huge difference in calling someone a rape victim versus a rape survivor. One is more passive, connoting power over, whereas the other connotes someone who endured hardship and continues to live.

Part of my musings were inspired by this article about George Lakoff. He suggests people vote with their values and thus words matter. For instance, there’s a different connotation between “federal regulations” and “federal protections.” Regardless of where a person falls on the political spectrum, it’s obvious to me words are powerful and shape the direction of a conversation and often the outcome.

I’m with you kid. Books are amazing.

It’s not only the words we use to describe something, its names too. Names mean something and the more we call a person their name, the more they embody it. For instance, in Sanskrit, if a person is named “Madhu,” which means “honey,” or “sweet,” they start to become more sweet. They develop the qualities of the name. Names are powerful, as we know, but often forget. What we call people matters. How we describe people matters. Both for the person and for us, because it determines the lens through which we view the person. For instance, I could look at a person and think “criminal” or I could think “disadvantaged.” Each will lead me down a different path. For the criminal, throw them in jail, make ’em pay. For the disadvantaged, provide help and resources.

It’s important to choose with care our words. I’m reminded of a yogic concept I’ve written about before: satya. It implies proper action of mind and the right use of words with the spirit of welfare.

My spiritual teacher says, “Humans are rational beings: They possess in varying degrees the capability to do what is necessary or good for humanity. In the realm of spirituality, such thought, word, or action has been defined as satya.”

I guess to me that means it is our responsibility to use language in such a way that it engenders the all-around welfare for everyone. It is our responsibility to use language so that we start moving together in a direction that means everyone is living better. Because language is powerful and the more we recognize that and utilize it for the benefit of all, the better off we’ll all be.

I dream of a world where we recognize the power of language and we use it to make lives better for everyone. A world where we use language to unite rather than divide. A world where we choose our words with care.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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We are Kaleidoscopes

I detest the saying, “There’s no such thing as an original idea. Every idea worth having has been had thousands of times already.” Funnily enough, I can’t find who to attribute that statement to. Does that make the notion itself unoriginal because it doesn’t belong to one person? Moving on. . .

I loathe the concept there are no original ideas because I long for recognition and credit. If I have an idea, I want people to attribute it to me, and I get upset if someone else has the same idea independent of me. Childish, I know, but there we are. When I think about my spiritual philosophy though, things make more sense.

We are all kaleidoscopes making unique shapes and combinations.

One metaphor that’s been used in my spiritual philosophy is God is like the moon and each of us are like mirrors, reflecting the moon. We all have the same original image, but how it shows up on our mirrors is different. Some mirrors are speckled or cracked. Some mirrors are cloudy or clear. The originality, the origin, if you will, is the moon, but the way the moon is reflected in the mirror is unique.

When looking up the attribution for the no-original-ideas concept, I stumbled across a quote from Mark Twain that fits. He wrote:

There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.

We human beings are like that – we keep making new and curious combinations. My work is to understand just because we keep using the same old pieces of colored glass, doesn’t mean the new combination is any less valuable or beautiful or worthy.

Someone told me once, “There may be a thousand youtube videos out there about how to make a green smoothie, but mine may be the one a particular person sees that encourages them to actually make it.”

Bottom line for me is it’s likely I’ll say the same thing someone else says or vice versa, but it doesn’t mean I should stop saying it because I am a unique and special, individually crafted mirror full of interesting speckles and discolorations reflecting the moon in a certain way. I am a kaleidoscope of colors. We all are.

I dream of a world where we understand we may never be the first or last person to say or do something, but that doesn’t mean our contribution is any less valuable. A world where we understand we are reflecting the same thing, but the way the reflection appears is unique. A world where we embrace we are all kaleidoscopes.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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Embrace it All

Lately I find myself wading deeper and deeper into the realm of emotion. That may sound funny because people often describe me as “emotional,” but what I mean is instead of flirting with an emotion, I’m embracing it. The despair, the anger, the disappointment. All of it. Not only am I embracing my feelings, I’m also no longer trying to fix them.

For me, whenever I felt really down, or lonely, for instance, I turned to something to make myself feel better: I called a friend, turned on the TV, picked up a book. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with those activities, but they became compulsions, ways for me to avoid diving deep. To avoid the emotional pain of fully embodying my emotions. These days I’m learning to sit with my feelings, no matter what they are.

These days I’m embracing everything, even the prickly bits.

Matt Licata, a psychotherapist, has a blog I read every couple of weeks. In one blogpost he wrote:

[T]he question during these times is: Are you going to use these reorganizing and shattering experiences as vehicles though which to befriend yourself, to attune to the unprecedented flow of feeling with you, and to weave a sanctuary for the wisdom-pieces of the broken world to be held and illuminated? Or, will you fall back into your habitual, conditioned history, attack yourself, your tenderness, and your sacred vulnerability, spinning into the habitual fight-flight urgency of shame, blame, resentment, and self-aggression?

In another he wrote:

The invitation is into intimate communion: to move closer, and even closer still, into the feelings, the emotions, and the sensations as they surge. To surround the surging material with curiosity, warmth, and most importantly with kindness, as an inner explorer of the galaxy of your own body, of which there is no temple more sacred.

Communion. Yes, that’s what I long for. And communion means befriending my pain, befriending my sorrow, befriending my disappointment. Every cell of my being longs for love, and that means the pain, the sorrow, and the disappointment too. In my journey toward wholeness, toward the divine, I must embrace everything within me.

In my spiritual practices, we view everything as an expression of an infinite loving consciousness, and that means me too. Not only the me in this physical form, but the internal me as well. The one that feels pain, the one that feels lonely, the one that feels disappointment.

These days I’m practicing loving those parts too and I have that wish for others as well.

I dream of a world where we embrace all parts of ourselves. A world where we feel every emotion as it arises. A world where we sit with our pain because we recognize it, too, is divine.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

 

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