There is a story about a seeker who travels to the Himalayas, looking for an enlightened Buddha in order to receive personal teachings. This seeker wants the last word on the subject of enlightenment. Walking and trekking for days, he begins to drop his heavy gear as he makes his way to the top of a high peak in Nepal. He drops his tent, his camping equipment, and his heavy backpack.
Stripped of almost everything and having breathed so many hundreds of thousands of breaths, he has finally forgotten about his worldly preoccupations. He is ready to arrive and very ready to listen. He pulls himself up over the final rim of the mountain and looks into the mouth of a cave. Amazingly enough, the Buddha-like master is sitting right there.
Stunned, relieved, and overjoyed, the seeker asks the Sage, “What is the first principle? What is your most important truth and teaching?”
The seeker thinks this is going to be his big moment and that he is about to become enlightened. He is going to discover the one essential thing for him to ponder. And then the Buddha replies: “Dukkha. Life is suffering, life is fraught, life is difficult.”
And the seeker is totally disappointed! He looks around wildly and shouts, “Is there anyone else up here that I can talk to?!!”
I love that story. What do we do when we experience something that isn’t quite what we hoped for, or worse, when we experience something that is truly difficult?
A Buddhist wise guy’s rendition of the First Nobel Truth of dukkha (or dissatisfaction) is that in life pain is inevitable, BUT SUFFERING IS OPTIONAL. How much we suffer depends on us, our internal development, and our spiritual understanding and realization.
By recognizing this, we can learn to use loss and suffering in ways that help us grow wiser and become more at peace with ourselves and the universe.
I believe that this is the time to become warriors for peace and dialogue, not warmongers or mere worriers. We must learn the hard lesson that without the pain of inner irritation, the pearls of wisdom will not be produced within us. I lovingly call this The Pearl Principle: no pain, no transformative gain.
A few days ago I had a conversation with a woman with a four-year-old child and a baby on the way. “I miss the days that my life was my own,” she shared. The wild thing is that just a few minutes earlier I had been thinking about the fact that I don’t have any children, and I’m single to boot. To be honest, earlier in the day I had felt a deep sense of envy for those with a family.
And there I stood looking into the eyes of a woman who was overwhelmed and wishing she could experience once again the freedom I own. Having said this, I can’t help but think we all need to learn to breathe easier – no matter our station of life:
1. Be thankful for NOW. We human beings are pros at being half-present in our daily lives. We fret about the past, freak out about the future, and get lost in a web of confusion.
One day in the future I may find myself bogged down with familial responsibilities and wish that I had experienced my singleness and freedom with joy. Or, the woman with child will wish she could have poured her being into motherhood the day she sees her daughter go off to college.
Author Leo Babauta suggests thinking of three good things a day to avoid becoming bitter or frustrated. Or, I’ve been trying to make a concerted effort lately to do something to disrupt negative thought patterns — such as a long walk or workout.
2. Get in a flow. Breathing into the moment and pouring focus/energy into being and doing results in “flow.” The concept coined by Mihaly Cskiszentmihalyi (a positive psychology expert) sees a person fully immersed into what they are undertaking. He or she operates with “energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process” of an activity.
If you need a bit of reference for this type of being, think back to when you were a child swimming in a pool or climbing trees. You were in the “here and now” so very deeply. Activities were pursued with passion, laughter, and sometimes tears.
Let’s get back into that groove as adults, pouring ourselves into our lives with all we possess. I’m thinking we’ll sleep much better and smile more.
3. Meditate and or pray. Take time to find silence. Discover a meditation or prayer practice that works for you and dedicate at least five minutes to it per day.
Bonus Tip: Love freely. “Those who can’t say I love you, can rarely say I forgive you.” I recently heard these words. I find them so simple, yet so very profound.
Our breath is also directly connected to our ability to love and forgive. If we can’t love ourselves and others — if we can’t forgive ourselves and others — how can we breathe with ease? Our insides instead become gobbled up with resentments, frustrations, and fear.
Life is so very short!!
Let’s dare to enjoy the moment, get in a flow, and find a bit of quiet time reserved for breathing free.
– Jen Engevik
Yesterday I went for a walk around Soka University with one of my best buds. It was dusk, and I was so very excited to share my love for the picturesque campus with her.
What was expected to be a short walk turned into a few hours. I led her first to the edge of a bluff that overlooked the running track. On the way we picked fresh lavender, rubbed it between our palms, and breathed in its luxurious fragrance. Next, we trekked to a small garden with lemon trees and a large, friendly statue of Gandhi. We surveyed the sage and reminded ourselves of his willingness to sacrifice his life for a better, more peaceful world.
My silly-goose side inspired me to place a lemon in his left hand. We both giggled like two kids as we exited the garden.
I then led her up to my favorite courtyard on the campus, featuring a handful of lily ponds. There we sat and discussed our triumphs and challenges — the sound of flowing water soothing our souls. She spoke of her quest to find an amazing man and then graciously listened to me pour out the many things that have pulled at my heartstrings over the past few months.
As I write some beautiful words come to mind:
Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are — chaff and grain together — certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away. – Dinah Mulock
I want to do these things more often — keep my laptop powered off — my cell phone hidden far, far away — and my TV powerless too. Under the blue skies of life, there is so much to see and explore.
Get outside!!! Free yourself from the boring prisons we adults all too easily create.
– Jen Engevik
It feels amazingly freeing to blog for a second day in a row. In order to climb my mountain of self-discovery, I must return to my purpose. Wildly enough, this includes pouring my soul out to strangers, those who have known me for a lifetime, and everyone in between.
I truly believe that within each of our beings (if we are quiet enough) we can hear soft whispers that reveal what we are meant to do and who we are meant to touch. Throughout my 37 years, sometimes a whisper ignored has turned into a sonic boom that has forced me in a new direction.
Setting out on a new journey can be frightening. We leave behind the “comforts” and assurances that have been our security blankets for so long and set into the unknown with a hope and a dream.
I’ll never forget the day I left home for the first time. Mom accompanied me to college, stayed a couple days in town, and then left with a hug, a few tears, and a wave. I watched her drive away and felt an urge to run after her. That evening I tried my very best to stifle my fears. At one point, I panicked and felt my world spin on its axis.
As the days progressed, I began to pour myself into my studies, met new friends, and explored the campus. My being expanded and a new sense of courage arose. I found my smile and giddy laughter once again.
Such is life.
“A life without a cause is a life without an effect.” Yesterday, I shared these simple yet profound words by Paulo Coelho.
This morning I wonder…is this why there is so much unhappiness on Planet Earth? Are too many of us without a true cause? Are we ignoring the whisper of our souls because we are too afraid to expand and grow?
For me, one of the first pains I felt in life was when my parents tried to wean me off of my “blankie.” My completely worn blanket that I took with me everywhere I went. When I was tired, I sucked my right thumb and held my blankie to my face. Oh the pain of trying to sleep without it for the first few times!!
As hard as change can be for us all, I’m certain failure to grow to new heights leads to suffering in one way or another.
Courage is the answer.
Whether this means turning off the TV and going outside for a run — throwing away the fatty crap that sits within a fridge and replacing it with veggies — leaving behind what is familiar to explore the world, a new occupation, etc — or freeing ourselves of patterns and relationships that are killing our souls — we must heed the whisper (or the sonic boom) within if we are to find our smiles again.
Thomas Bayancya, Elder of the Hopi Nation once penned a powerful poem on personal progress. Here is the part that I love most:
There is a river flowing now very fast,
It is so great and swift.
That there are those who will be afraid,
They will try to hold onto the shore.
They will feel they are being pulled apart,
And will suffer greatly.
Understand that the river knows its’ destination,
The elders say we must let go of the shore.
Push off into the middle of the river,
Keep our eyes open and our heads above water.
Namaste to you, and me too!
– Jen Engevik
This morning as I begin to write, much of my decision is based on something I have just read. “A fish cannot drown in water, a bird does not fall in air. Each creature must live in his own nature.” – Mechthild of Magdeburg
Being a human being is a tricky science. Oftentimes, I’ve thought it would be quite amazing to be a dog or a cat. From the time they are born, they are certain of their roles in the world. They are also given the ability to focus on the moment, being completely present in the here and now. This is probably why they are such loyal and kind friends. They can go confidently into their days knowing that they will make it through and they are just perfect in their four-legged nature.
We human beings on the other hand are so very complex. We are given numerous choices in life and forced to make extremely difficult decisions each and every day. According to poet and author Mark Nepo, our most intense challenges come when we fight against our own unique natures. He shares that his mother wanted for him to be a lawyer, while his father wanted him to be an architect. He writes in The Book of Awakening, “Somehow I knew I needed to be a poet; something in it brought me alive.”
In reading this passage today, I realize that writing is the thing that makes me feel oh so alive. Could it be that this is what I am meant to do for the rest of my days? I may have concluded this long ago, but the responsibility that comes with admitting our purpose on Planet Earth can be a bit overwhelming. Once we admit our truth, steps have to be taken. A great idea only becomes an innovation after the hard work is done, which is why so many projects collect cobwebs in the attic of our self-imposed limitations.
Could it be that the reason for humanity’s confusion is that we simply don’t listen to the voice within and fight our true natures? Could it be that our fear of failure, disappointment, and hard work leads us down the winding path of disease, frustration, and confusion?
I find children utterly amazing. For the most part, they are like cats and dogs. They are in the moment; wide eyed and truly inspired by the world around them. Until we troubled and ultra-confused adults get a hold of them and taint them with our expectations, frustrations, biases, and ugly baggage, children are free to be amazing and true. That is why they make us smile and giggle until tears spring from our eyes.
Is it possible that one of the worst and most destructive lessons growing adults learn is that they must conform to some strange sense of propriety or norm? It is more than possible that because we are taught to limit our dreams…to fear risk…there are far less innovators and a lot more bored and frustrated individuals on the planet.
Is there any area in your life that you need to be more authentic? Are there steps you need to take to embrace what you know you are meant to accomplish in your lifetime?
“When one performs his or her prescribed duty only because it ought to be done…is said to be in the mode of goodness,” says the Gita. “It is better to engage in one’s own occupation (or the thing they are meant to do on the planet), even though one may perform it imperfectly, than to accept another’s occupation and perform it perfectly.”
In other words, be true to who you are and what makes you tick…and then see how it infuses your bones with life!
Wishing you a beautiful Friday!
Ever since I can remember, I have been acutely aware of the suffering in the world, both that which is part of the fabric of life such as illness, death, and natural occurrences, and that which we create on our own through the perpetuation of our harmful beliefs and actions toward ourselves and others. It troubled me a great deal, and I often felt overwhelmed by it. I couldn’t make sense of it. At the same time, I recognized that many people deny this aspect of life. I felt quite isolated in my recognition of, and depth of feeling about, the painful aspects of being alive. This combination of factors became the impetus for my commitment to spiritual practice as well as my interest in psychotherapy. I began a very serious meditation practice as well as a great deal of inner work to clear my own harmful patterns.
I later learned that this is referred to as the “gate of suffering” in Buddhist practice–that the acute awareness of the painful aspects of life becomes the entry point into questioning conventional notions of attaining happiness through the acquisition of material possessions and pleasant experiences. That in fact this “gate” or doorway leads to the recognition that suffering is universal, that no one escapes it, and that it links us together as a human family. My response to this truth, as it is for many who recognize it deeply, has been to dedicate my life to learning how to respond to all beings with wisdom and love. This is quite a practice! I have also found that by facing suffering directly, it is transformed. The Heart can grow in its ability to love, and we can come to recognize the workings of Love all around us.
This commitment to using my life to grow in consciousness and living from the Heart has been the underlying force behind the various activities/roles that I have explored. Seeing the suffering in myself and others prompted me to undertake rigorous training in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis so as to help others transform harmful patterns that were blocking their authentic life force and ability to express themselves fully. As I continued on in my meditation practice, I was offered the opportunity to teach, and to use this role to help others to turn toward their own pain with compassion, and, eventually, to see that it is possible to use our limited time here to follow the promptings of the Heart, to grow in our capacity for love and wisdom.
Listening to my Heart’s intention to grow also prompted me to explore the Yogic tradition. I completed a Yoga Teacher Training and seriously undertook the practice of Bhakti Yoga, or the Yoga of Devotion. Bhakti Yoga has taught me, and continues to teach me, how to open to life with gratitude, to recognize that the life force which created everything is large beyond my comprehension, to pay homage to its grandeur and to the energy which caused all that is to come into being. It is a softening practice that asks us to not habitually demand what we want from life, but to surrender and to listen deeply to what life is asking of us! By giving up control of how I think things should be (which often causes a lot of suffering when things don’t turn out according to plan), I have been taken to wonderful places that I never would have expected. And this leads me right to my music!
I never set out to be a singer, or to write songs, but instead wanted to learn to how open my heart to life by singing and chanting. Through this process, I eventually met a man who I thought was going to teach me some well known yoga chants, but instead suggested that I write my own music. Having never been trained as a musician, at first I thought this a preposterous suggestion (!) but eventually I settled into it, and it felt completely right.
I have been singing and writing songs for almost ten years now. I began by using ancient yogic mantras in Sanskrit with my original music. Eventually, I was asked to lead evenings of chanting where groups of people come together and use chant as a heart-opening practice. Continuing to sing, write, and lead others in this practice, has been a great blessing for me and has brought me much joy! Without this as an agenda, I came to meet professional musicians, composers, and singers who were writing songs outside of a spiritual/chant based tradition. Being exposed to them, exposed me to the art of song-writing, and has birthed a whole new aspect of my music.
My journey has been to wake up by transforming the inner suffering, to ignite the Divine spark of the Heart, to fan the flame of this inner fire of love. This is a universal spiritual journey, not owned by any one group, but is the potential of everyone. And so, my songs are now outside of any particular spiritual tradition, they are songs that speak to the Divine spark of Love that lives within us all. At its core, my music continues to convey the same intention that I set as my life’s work many years ago. How do we use our time here wisely? Can the suffering in the world be responded to with Love? How do we evolve in our consciousness to see the Largeness of Life with gratitude, to wake up to its mystery, and the miracle that there is anything here at all? How do we pay homage to that Force that created us and everything that we see, a Force that is wise and loving beyond our comprehension? And how do we recognize that it is this Force that is the guiding Force of our own Heart, whispering to us, and prompting us to follow Love as a path.
One day, I came across an amazing woman when searching for bold individuals to feature on Project BE Bold. My hope was to discover a being that couldn’t resist but follow his or her inner voice/passion in an effort to make the world a better place. My search led me to the Website of Christine Schwab. A pioneer in the TV makeover world, she has worked to inspire people seeking a new lease on life via Live with Regis and Kelly, Oprah, Entertainment Tonight, the CBS Early Show, and more.
In her recent book Take Me Home from the Oscars: Arthritis, Television, Fashion, and Me, Schwab shares the harrowing discovery that she had developed Rheumatoid Arthritis and the events that shaped her life up to that point. Her heartfelt and inspired book reveals the fighter within who has dared to inspire others to live their dreams and overcome their limitations.
I hope the following Q & A session will inspire your heart. Please pass this interview on to anyone you may think will benefit from Christine’s wisdom and inspiration:
1. What were your earliest recollections as a child and how have they helped shape you as an adult? Being boarded in foster homes. I think the insecurity of my life then turned into the impetus to succeed, as I became an adult. I always wanted a better life and was determined to work hard to achieve it.
2. When did you know that you wanted to be a part of the entertainment world? I didn’t. I started out working part time doing makeup and became interested in the entire package of a person. I opened a day spa where we took that entire person into consideration, hair, skin care, clothes, make up, exercise, and diet. It was very successful and ground breaking. We got a lot of media attention, one form being TV and somehow it came naturally to me and I just clicked. After seven years running the spa and doing TV to promote it, I sold the spa and decided to give TV a run as a full time career.
3. How did you get your first career break? It really came through press for the salon. As the buzz increased, TV came. My first show was a morning show in LA with Regis Philbin. I worked for 25 years with Regis on national TV. It was a great match. I also learned to think on my feet working with him, which came in really handy for live TV.
4. What is the boldest thing you ever have done within your career? Give up my salon and go for TV. It was so scary and unknown. Up to then I had only appeared on TV to promote my salon. The decision to just work in TV was bold and many said foolish, and yet it worked and I loved it. Not managing 60 people anymore, just putting together segments was so much more creative for me.
5. What were the first signs that you had Rheumatoid Arthritis? My feet started bothering me when I was in New York doing a week of makeovers for Live. I thought I had just overdone it on the treadmill but as the week progressed, my pain became worse and moved up to my knees.
6. How did the diagnosis affect you mental well being in the beginning? It floored me. And I returned to my childhood method of denial in order to keep my career going. I knew I would lose my career if the word got out and so I made sure it didn’t…for twenty years. And the denial helped me to cope. I refused to read any books on arthritis, refused to talk about it except to my doctor. I lived in the same fantasy-land that enabled me to survive my childhood.
7. When did you come to the conclusion that you could make a difference for others with Rheumatoid Arthritis? It came to me. I never set out to be an advocate. But the story was brewing inside my head and I finally put it down on paper. When it sold to a publisher, I knew my secret would be out. I contacted the national arthritis foundation and the rest was history. As I started speaking out, the feedback encouraged me to speak louder. The reason I didn’t come out was because of the negative connotation about arthritis. I became determined to change that stigma.
8. For others diagnosed with arthritis, what advice can you provide on staying strong and gaining appropriate treatment? Be aggressive in finding a good, progressive doctor. Someone who gets you. I dedicated my book to my doctor at UCLA because he got me and kept me moving forward with promises of new medications coming in the research pipeline. He never gave up on hope or on me.
9. What is Christine’s Kids and how can others get involved? Christine’s Kids is one of my Facebook pages. I started it because in the beginning I never knew that kids got arthritis too. I thought, like most people that it was a disease of the old and disabled. Not so. When I started meeting these kids and their families I was shocked. Their plight is so difficult. These kids fight daily for their childhood. I wanted to create more awareness for them and let the world know that this disease knows no age boundaries. Each week I feature another child on Christine’s kids. They are superheroes to me. Others can help by coming to my Facebook page and clicking on “like” and then sharing it with friends. The more people we reach, the more awareness we achieve. The link to christine’s kids is http://ow.ly/8huwf
10. What advice can you give to those seeking strength in today’s world? I would encourage anyone who had any adversity in their life to read my book Take Me Home from the Oscars. It is honest and insightful, and mostly offers hope. I had to overcome adversity. I know it can be done. Otherwise you let the adversity win, and that is just not acceptable. How do we best harness our bold selves? You have to believe in yourself. Whatever it takes, for me it was education. Learning to be a writer, learning to deal in business. And of course working in television gave me great confidence. Don’t settle, keep growing and improving. We are never finished, there is always more to learn and do in life.
11. Please share your favorite quote(s) of all time…
“Thoroughbreds wear blinders and they run their own race.”
This quote has gotten me through so many tough times. I have willed myself to just get out my blinders and keep going forward!
Thank you Christine for your inspiration and willingness to share! For more information on Christine, please visit www.ChristineSchwab.com.
– Post By Jen Engevik of Project BE Bold