Healthy Mind & Body

How My Bold Mom Taught Me to Face Fear & Embrace Reality


"We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality." - Seneca

I remember running over the threshold of my playhouse when I was 7-years-old. As my right foot landed on the wooden floor, my childhood friend gave me a playful shove. I lost my balance and fell forward.

Sitting up-side-down was a child-sized ironing board. There was a metal prong exposed. The force of my leg landing on top of it led to the prong slicing into my skin.

Being that I was horrified of anything having to do with hospitals, doctors, and blood from the time I can remember, I nearly had a panic attack as I stood to my feet.

I ran to my Mom's room, blood gushing down my leg.

It was obvious I had to have stitches - so Mom gave me a towel and had me apply pressure to the wound -- then quickly ushered my sobbing being down to the car.

"Mom, I'm not going to have to have stitches, am I?"

The closer we got to Dr. Slayback's office, the more freaked out I became.

"Jennifer, you may have to and it's going to be okay," she tried to reassure me.

My 7-year-old brain was swimming in fear. I had never had stitches and was sure I wasn't going to make it through the procedure.

"Mom, maybe I'm not going to have to have them. Maybe he can just tape it together."

I imagined with horror that he'd stick a needle into my skin and was certain it would be the death of me.

We entered Dr. Slayback's office and he stood there to greet us. He had been a friend of my mom and dad before I was ever conceived.

"Dr. Slayback, I think you can just tape my leg together and I'll be fine. Just please tape it."

He took one look at it and shook his head.

"Jennifer, I'm going to have to give you stitches. There's no other way."

I did everything I could not to cry my eyes out. By that time my pride had kicked in -- I didn't want him to see that I was terrified and weak.

"Okay, Jen. Let's get this started," he said.

I was about to lose it and decided to stall.

"Mom, I need to go to the bathroom. Can you come with me?"

She followed as I limped along.

I sat on the toilet - my legs dangling a couple feet from the ground. Tears welled up in my eyes.

"Mom, I'm scared." She took her fingers and brushed my bangs out of my teary eyes.

"Will you pray with me Mom?"

I held her hand and she asked the universe to protect me. To give me strength.

"It's all going to be okay, Jen. You're such a brave girl."

There was something about Mom that always guided me to a higher state of mind and sense of peace. She was always giving me lessons about using "mind over matter" and her strength dove right into my bones.

When I was calm and ready, she walked me back to where the procedure was going to take place. I leaned back and held her hand in a death grip. Dr. Slayback brought out what seemed to me a monstrous needle. I began to panic inside and did my best to hide it.

"Just close your eyes," Mom suggested. I leaned back and followed her instructions.

Dr. Slayback waited for a bit as the numbing medication took effect.

"Alight, I'm going to start. You're being really brave Jenny," he said.

I asked to see the needle he was going to use to sew my leg up. He held it up for me to see.

"Is it going to hurt?" I was on the verge of panic again.

"No, not at all."

I closed my eyes and gripped Mom's hand again.

A minute or two went by.

"Are you going to start?" I asked.

"I've already started," was Dr. Slayback's reply.

I was shocked at the fact that I didn't feel anything at all. I opened my eyes to see what he was doing.

Then something really strange happened. I became fascinated by what was going on. I sat up and was transfixed -- then watched as he slipped the needle from one side of my wound to the other.

Mom let go of my hand and stood back. I'm pretty sure she was amazed at my newfound strength.

When it was over, we headed out to the car.

"Jen, I am so proud of you. You did such an amazing job in there. You nearly watched the whole thing!"

I remember feeling a new sense of freedom - having faced one of my biggest fears.

As I read the quote, "We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality," this morning -- my childhood experience with stitches emerged from my memory bank.

Our minds are often so filled with fears that are never realized. We fret for hours, days, weeks, months, and even years about things that never happen.

My mom use to drill the concept of "buying trouble" into my mind.  "Jen, the more you think about something and fear it, the more likely it may happen," she'd explain. "Your thoughts affect your actions and then there's no turning back."

Even up to the last days of her life during her cancer battle, she'd school me on this concept.

For example, I'd walk into the room and she'd be so quiet. My imagination would make me believe she wasn't breathing anymore. Her eyes would snap open and she'd say something sarcastic.

"I'm not dead, Jen! I'm perfectly fine!"

Her reactions were strangely funny, and we'd both giggle a bit. Then she'd give me a lecture about not being so scared of what was going on in her body.

"What are you going to do when I'm gone? You'd better get your head screwed on straight."

She was right.

As the weeks went by during her sickness, I was increasingly infused with the strength I needed to get through it all. Things got tougher for her. Sometimes she'd panic and ask for me to pray with her -- just as she did during my first bout with stitches.

"What am I going to do, Jen?" she asked me one night.

She needed for me to be strong, and all I wanted to do was weep.

(It makes me wonder... did she feel like weeping when as a child I came running to her with my leg split open? Did she want to weep when I asked her to pray with me?)

I stared back at her and did everything I could to assure her that she'd be okay. Her soul was going to be fine.

"Mom, you are such a special human being. Everything is going to be okay."

I stroked her head and tried to calm her.

All I know at this point is that each day, each moment is a new opportunity to look my fears in the eyes and not be overtaken by uncertainty.

"Don't buy trouble"... I try to use my Mom's words and wisdom to fight my own invisible dragons -- those fears that will probably never become a reality.

It's all in the here and now. The real question I need to be asking myself is what can I do in this moment to live and breathe my full potential. How do I use my mind and my talents that will lead to a better and more beautiful future?

There is nothing to be gained by living in fear - by being frozen in "what ifs" and unfounded fears.

I want to dig in and reconnect with the kid I was when I learned that stitches weren't going to kill me. And know that living within me is the strength of my mom whispering softly, "you're so brave Jen. Everything is going to be okay."

What's Surrender All About? What I Learned from My Mentor, on the Camino & What I'm Learning Now

I first met him in a bookstore. He was tall, lanky, and in his early 60s -- his eyes turned bright as we bantered about books.

"You should really check this one out," he said.

He handed me one about the brain and its connection to the heart. "There's so much more to the heart/brain connection than we know, this book explains it all."

I thanked him and put it back on the shelf -- not ready to take the dive into his recommendation.

Little did I know in that moment that Rob would become my writing mentor -- a sort of guru. It would take weeks for that to come about.

There was something familiar about him - a sort of soul recognition. Maybe I had met him before?

As the days went by, I didn't think much about our meeting. Weeks later, I went to a nearby cafe for some breakfast and there he sat reading a book and writing in a journal. We spoke for a few minutes and decided we needed to have breakfast the following Thursday.

Our first Thursday breakfast meeting was so insightful that we decided to make Thursday morning meetings our ritual. This lasted for two years -- and I am certain the universe had made it so.

Rob spoke of surrender.

Over and over again he'd talk about surrendering to the here and now. Believing that the universe knows your order. He led me to a book by Michael A. Singer entitled The Surrender Experiment. It's about a man who decided to say "yes" to what the universe threw his way. This led him to move, to change his life's focus, to learn to meditate, to buy a piece of property that eventually became a haven for those seeking to deepen their meditation practice, and so much more.

I couldn't put the book down. My life had become so strange and there were so many things I had no power over -- the end of my relationship, my mom's sickness, my Mom's death, and trying to keep my head above water in life and matters of the heart.

I wanted nothing more than to surrender - to be happy with the results - knowing that the universe had my back.

"Am I better off making up an alternate reality in my mind and then righting with reality to make it be my way," writes Singer. "Or am I better letting go of what I want and serving the same forces of reality that managed to create the entire perfection of the universe around me?"

This question hit me quite hard.

I so wanted to surrender and let things unfold. To believe that everything was happening for a reason. It became clearer and clearer that I had far less control than I had ever wished to believe - that failing to surrender could break me.

And so I tried to surrender. I learned to be thankful for the things that pained my soul more than words could describe. I tried to say yes to new opportunities as they came flooding in.

I know I'm not alone in the battle between trying to control my world and surrender to what is. Each day, we're all presented with challenges that push us to our limits.

One of the ultimate examples from my life was in May of 2015, four months after my Mom died. For my birthday, I had decided to go with a friend to Spain to walk the Camino. Prior to leaving, I read all about the transformations that people had along the way on the Camino and had a fantasy that I'd have revelations and experiences that would launch me into a new, inspired life.

When I hit the ground in Spain, I felt as though I were starting over -- that the future was so full of possibility, I could barely contain my enthusiasm.

The further we trekked along the trail, the happier and freer I became. During moments of silence, I'd think of my Mom and see her beautiful face in my mind. When we'd stop at the small countryside churches, I'd light a candle for her and thank her for being my best friend and guide. As I'd walk away from each church, I'd think of her light burning brightly within its four walls and my heart would fill and expand.

A few days into our trip, it happened. Life happened in a way I never had expected or wanted.

I got a text from one of my brother's workers saying he was worried he'd had a stroke. "His face seems to be drooping on one side. He needs to get to a hospital."

The world spun on its axis.

"What???" I texted back. "Are you sure?"

"Yes, he's not remembering any of our names. He's really acting strange."

All of my new found enthusiasm and charge for life was instantly drained. I sat down on a large boulder and tried to reckon with the fact that I was being forced back into a caretaker role. Without my Mom around and my brother being single, I had no choice.

"I can't handle this," I told my trekking partner. "I can't do it."

I hiked along in the middle of nowhere, wondering how I was going to pull it together.

Surrender -- fucking surrender. I'm surrendering, alright! 

I was angry and frustrated. My internal dialogue was tearing me apart on the inside.

My friend would try to get me to smile and laugh, but the knowledge of what waited for me back home made it nearly impossible. Thanks to my cousin and sister, I was able to finish the trip to Santiago.

I tried my best to surrender to what awaited me. It wasn't the trip I expected, but I attempted to enjoy the beautiful landscapes, the towering trees, the cafes we frequented, the wine we drank and the fresh food we ate after miles of walking, the dogs I fell in love with, and the people I met along the way.

It was as if the universe was giving me the ultimate example of the bittersweetness of life. There will always be painful challenges, but nonetheless there is beauty everywhere.

Upon reentering the US, I went straight to the hospital and it all started over again. The care taking. Decision making for a loved-one, doctors, medications, follow-ups -- along with having to spend hour upon hour in the hospital that my Mom fought her cancer battle.

It didn't end there, and it isn't over. My brother is now living with me and I'm trying my best to surrender daily.

Through it all, there have been moments of beauty. Moments that make it all worth it. Like the time I was driving with him and a bank of clouds swept over the hills from the ocean.

My brother's eyes opened wide and he pointed at the scene with wonder. "Look! How beautiful! Isn't it beautiful?"

I saw what he was pointing to and tears crept into my eyes. That simple moment made everything worth it. His amazement made it all worth it. The fact that we were both driving down the street living, breathing, and seeing. It made it all worth it.

My brother was so often caught up in his work life and busy world before his stroke that a moment like this would probably would never have happened. A simple, yet profound moment shared between brother and sister -- and the clouds, how beautiful they were as they floated into view.

This life isn't easy. But I'm learning more and more that I must surrender. To listen to the universe's wisdom and to grow as I'm meant to -- knowing that it will lead me to where I'm meant to be.

I know everyone faces his or her own challenges. If you're facing one, I can only suggest that you take in a deep breath, hold it for a second, and exhale with a sense of surrender. Know that it's going to be okay and look for the simple beauties that surround you.

It's there.

The human mind is an interesting beast. We hope for the fairytale. We want things to be easy... but it doesn't always work the way we dream.

Instead we are pushed to our limits, and if we look close enough -- we can find the meaning behind it all.

"Everything is perfect, Jen," my mentor Rob would tell me over and over again during our meetings. "It's the way it's supposed to be... where you are here and now."

Who knew that Rob was preparing me for my ultimate lesson in surrender. Thank goodness he came into my life - to be a guide.

And, so I attempt to surrender -- even when I hurt. Even when I have no clue -- actually especially when I have no clue as to what is next or where I'm supposed to go.

One breath at a time, one second at a time... life will spell itself out and beauty will arrive as it should.


Musings By My Writing Mentor and a Tobacco Vendor Turned Spiritual Genius


My writing mentor Rob had a pension for passing along his favorite books. I'd show up for weekly writing meetings, and more often than not he'd present me with one wrapped in beautiful paper.

Sometimes the books were brand new. Other times they were used classics that he'd pull from his own collection (I liked those the most).

Inside each cover, he'd write a note in his clean, clear script (ALL-CAPS, of course).

JUNE 25, 2014





I recently opened this particular book and randomly turned to a page that read:

"Absolute perfection is here and now, not in some future, near or far. The secret is in action -- here and now. It is your behavior that blinds you to yourself. Disregard whatever you think yourself to be and act as if you were absolutely perfect -- whatever your idea of perfection may be. All you need is courage."

It continued...

"All  you need you have. Use it. Behave as best you know, do what you think you should. Don't be afraid of mistakes; you can always correct them, only intentions matter. The shape things take is not within your power; the motives of your actions are."

Rob and Me

We use to talk about this a lot, Rob and I. How we human beings are such pros at clouding up our worlds with our complicated brains.

"Jen, everything is perfect," he'd reiterate time and time again. "It's all a choice. you just have to surrender. Your life is as simple as you make it."

I've thought long and hard about Rob's definition of surrender.

He defined it as allowing the heart to be your guide, rather than letting the ego run the show.  "It's about the heart consciousness," he explained. "Everything good in this world comes from the heart. Of course you need your brain to function, but the with the heart as guide, the mind can make sound and just decisions. Heartfelt decisions make the world better for everyone."


I think back to when I was a little girl running barefoot and free. I'd climb trees, play imaginary baseball games, skateboard, create products and sell them to our neighbors. I let my imagination run wild. More often than not I'd sit in school and count down the minutes until I could return to adventures at home.

In those days, I'd end up with all sorts of scratches and battle wounds. A skateboarding adventure would leave me with bloody knees. A tree climbing expedition left a long scar on my left wrist. I tried to rescue a cat from its apparent homelessness and it scratched my ear into oblivion. I brought home a stray dog that I claimed as my own, and my parents about fell over when they saw it was covered in mange.

While sometimes my adventures were painful, they were magnificent and worth every moment. The view from the tree was worth the scratch, the thrill of flying down a hill on four wheels made the bloody knee a prized battle wound, and hugging that homeless cat for a few moments made my day. Not to mention the numerous doors closed in my face during my sales efforts, made the single dollar I earned from one willing client a prize.

In the case of the dog that I found, my Dad's first impulse was to head to the pound. But I fought with everything I had in my 7-year-old being to keep her. I made it clear that I wanted to protect and love her. I had been pleading for a pup for so long. I wasn't going to take no for an answer this time.

Dad saw my passion and it caught his attention.

He decided to work with me. So we headed to the vet and got some horrible smelling medication. Each day we'd combine it with water and scrub the pup down. As result of our efforts, she got better and better -- and loved me for it. Ruffles became my confidant and friend. Everywhere I went she'd follow.

I saved her -- she saved me. It was an affair of the heart.

"Only good things come from the heart," said Rob.

"All you need is courage," said the tobacco vendor turned spiritual genius.


If Rob were alive today, I think he'd tell me that it all begins now. Forget the past... let go of your hurts and fears. Begin living from the heart in this second. Keep it simple. Tap into the child within (it still exists) and be authentically you. Don't let the world make you into a scared, inspirationless adult. Don't be idle.

When faced with a tough moment, take a deep breath and make every effort to see things from a heartfelt perspective. This doesn't mean not standing up for ourselves and having healthy boundaries, but we must understand our motives.

For "only intentions matter" in the end.

WATCH: What Really Matters at the End of Life by BJ Miller

A beautiful TED talk about the importance of the way we view and take steps to understanding end of life care.

how to let go

The Act of Letting Go -- It's One of The Most Important Things We Can Do

"I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go." -- Pi Patel from the movie Life of Pi

One of the concepts that I've been wrestling with since my days as a child is the impermanence of people and things. It all began with the death of my Norwegian grandmother, then the death of my nasty parakeet (I say nasty because the thing use to bite me anytime I got near it :-D), then the death of my uncle, then my dog Ruffles died,  then we sold my childhood home (which was a very tough change), and then my dad died unexpectedly. All by the time I was 10-years-old.

The concept of loss became a companion that I hoped and prayed would go away. Yet -- it has followed me into my late thirties and will continue to do so until I'm 100. Nothing is permanent.

I can either be friends with this concept -- or I can allow for it to drive me into the ground.

As Surya Lama Das puts it, "In life, pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional."

I know... I know... he makes it sound so simple. I wish that by actively acknowledging this fact I didn't suffer, but that would be the lie of a century. For example, when my five-year relationship came to an end a few years ago, I was broken. Horribly pained.  I became a hermit. My yoga practice eventually fell away. My writing suffered. Even my people skills turned to mush.

However, there came a time (actually several  times) that  I realized it was time to move forward. I learned that moving forward didn't negate or do away with the beautiful times that we experienced; rather,  it opened new doors that will lead me one step closer to where I need to be.

Letting go comes in so many forms. It can mean letting go of a limiting conception, a habit/addiction, an object, a person, a place, an era, and the list goes on. Our human brains get so wrapped up into our comfort zones and patterns that we'd rather obliterate our authentic selves than let go.

This behavior began when we were tiny babies — with our parents, blankets, pacifiers, and comfort foods. As adults, it hasn’t changed — now we fear losing our homes, our iPhones, our computers, love, marriage, and the list goes on.

When faced with the loss of any of these, we assume that it is going to be all over. That we are going to cease to exist. But this is the great lie.

I recently read the most amazing letter from a mother penned to her daughter. Toward the end it reads, "And when you feel small in the great big world, be still. Think of your beautiful roots. They are deep and true and will allow you to stretch far. So go into the world and let your little light shine. And always remember you are loved."

We will ALL lose things. Life will continue to change. That is one of the only things we can be sure of. Loss and change occur every single day on this planet.

I think the key to surviving is this...

We often forget the root of the root of our beings. But if we can be silent for a moment and dive inside, it is  possible to discover that our roots are deep and strong. So deep that we don't have to compromise and hold on to what is killing us.

My ultimate loss was the death of my mom at the start of this year. I never could have imagined the world without her, but I'm discovering more and more each day that my roots are strong. I'm learning to have faith in life's process. Sometimes it's damn scary and overwhelming, but my mom prepared me for this moment. My roots are deep. And so are yours.

We just have to take time to connect with the strength within. And when we can't find it, ask for help.

FYI, for some of us a part of letting go is asking for help and admitting that you just don't know. We get so wrapped up in our glorified conceptions of who and what we think we're "supposed" to be that we keep everything inside.

In the end, letting go means releasing all the bullshit stories we keep telling ourselves - those that keep us making the same mistakes over and over again.

thich nhat hanh quote

By Jen Engevik - Project Be Bold



Some great ideas for taking care of ourselves.

A New Definition of Love -- Gained Through Life's Pains & the Unknown

This life can be a jungle.
Full of unknowns, twists, and turns.

How does a person gain his or her bearings when it's this way?

Each day we're faced with challenges (some with the power to knock you down on your arse).

My first realization of this very fact came when I found out my parents were having marital problems when I was about 7. The second came when my dad died. I was just 10-years-old on that summer day. It was a heart attack that stole him away.

The world turned upside down. A darkness set in. For years, I was in a foggy haze. My schoolbook photos reveal this girl with sad eyes and a half smile.

That was my story (for years).

Yet, gradually I learned that out of darkness and difficulty can arise something significant. Actually, many things significant.

Like perseverance, to start. Understanding. Compassion. Passion. Individuality. Strength. Truth. FORGIVENESS.

It took me time to FORGIVE the universe for yanking the carpet (the life I knew) from under my feet. I was well into my late twenties when I finally became okay with it all. When I decided I didn't want to own the same old story anymore. Rather than being the kid that lost her dad, I decided to become the woman who was thankful for the challenges that were cast my way.

I thanked the universe for the lessons I had learned.

"I'm so sorry your dad died," said a good friend of mine one day.

Before I could even think, I threw out the following reply: "While I miss him so much, I wouldn't be me if he had lived. I am who I am partially because he died."

And with that reply, I realized I had found a new sense of freedom.

Fast forward to a couple of years ago. My world was flipped upside down. My relationship of five years ended. The sense of home that had been created (by my ex and me) was no more. Soon thereafter my mother became ill. And now her illness is back.

Just a week ago, I spent countless hours with her in the hospital. Seeing her struggle has been so painful for me.

I've evolved into my mother's guardian and protector. This reality is one I had only heard about, not yet experienced. My father's death was so sudden -- it almost seemed unreal. But before me is my fragile mom (my best friend) asking for me to give her drink. To help her turn over. To read to her. To say an evening prayer -- just like she did after I was tucked in bed as a child.

One evening last week, she was in pain and flustered in her hospital bed. I knew that holding her would make all the difference in the world. So I climbed onto her hospital bed and wrapped my arms around her. In seconds, I could feel her body relax. When all was calm and good in our immediate world, I pulled out her tablet and turned on her favorite show. One that makes us both laugh until tears come to our eyes.

As we watched and giggled together, I realized we were experiencing a perfect moment -- pure bliss -- in the middle of a scary time in life.

The next day I found out that Mom was so relaxed when I left that she didn't even need pain medication. A bit of laughter and a whole lot of love gave her the peace she needed.

It's understandable that we human beings desire ease of living (I do with all of my being) -- but, unfortunately (and maybe even fortunately) the difficult moments that we face have the power to transform us forever. To make us better, bolder, and braver.

I have no idea what is in store for mom and my family (and this freaks me out!!). But what I do know is that through the pains and joys we are experiencing, we're learning a whole new definition of love.

- Jen Engevik
Project Be Bold