13 February 2013

heart for homeless : homeless hearts

Love me some Banksy.
Social change is what we need! 

Last year, through various situations, I had the pleasure of befriending Portland's homeless community. I didn't volunteer anywhere, I just made friends.
I use the word pleasure intentionally and for the most part, it was exactly that. I say 'for the most part' because, admittedly, some homeless folk can be a little hard to deal with. But I believe that stems from not having a system that supports them properly. Truthfully, I might even say we have a system that does exactly the opposite, a system that can be incredibly disempowering, and even enabling, for someone experiencing homelessness, often due to improper health care systems and much more. But that is a whoooole other book to write...

I watched a movie tonight called Being Flynn. Have you seen it? Not only is it shot and edited extremely well but the way they depict homelessness in large cities is right on point. The story itself isn't the best but I enjoyed the fact that the issue surrounding homelessness was portrayed in such an honest and disarming way. They capture the emotion, the psychological issues, the shame and the physical and mental turmoil surrounding the issue very, very accurately. Also, the character depiction of the volunteers and staff members who work with the homeless; their selflessness, their never ending compassion and their ability to give with out taking, is flawlessly captured on screen.

I had no intention on even watching the film. I was spending time with my father after a simple meal I had prepared and it came on TV. We both sort of got sucked in and minutes later it had my brother, too. The feelings the film immediately engaged within my heart took me by surprise. I have seen it first hand. I have sat with homeless men and youth on the streets, I have sat with them in the pews of a church (not at service, to clarify). I have stood with them while they smoke (I don't smoke but sometimes find myself drawn to the social aspect of being a smoker) and I have listened to them talk when no one else will. Sometimes that shit gets real crazy, but sometimes we all get real crazy and we're just looking for an outlet.
In the beginning of my journey, many of the homeless people I encountered made me feel very uneasy and shy. I think our society had taught me to fear them in the that way I did. But when I allowed myself to understand that they were human, exactly like me, I was able to open up and become a friend.

I have written about how we're all the same. I dwell on this remarkable thought often. We really are all the same, heart and soul, children of God (or the Universe or the Divine or whatever) on earth, yet it's easy to 'forget' that everyone is included in that... including "crazy" homeless people and angry young black-block anti-everything kids with no roofs over their heads or caring families. Judgement is engrained, we have to work to see past it. And it's harder to see past it when you're looking at a guy who hasn't showered in weeks holding a sign with his own clever version of 'spare some change' written in Sharpie while his malnourished pup sits at his feet and you wonder if he reeks of alcohol or not. Most people choose not to see him at all.

But they all have names. And they all have stories. And yeah sure, some of them might be really fucked up, but that doesn't make them any less human than you or me.

Often times they feel forgotten. And a lot of times they are angry about it. They are angry about the unnecessary roughness they endure from the police and they are angry about not being allowed their right to a peaceful night's sleep. They hurting, they are struggling and they are in pain, whether their pride allows them to show it or not. Most of the time they're normal and they have pretty interesting shit to say. My favorite is finding myself smack dab in the middle of an intelligent or spiritual conversation with someone whom our society has cast off as a dead beat!

But the point of this, I guess, is to reflect on a time I now treasure. A time when I could say that most of the people I resonated deepest with had no place to sleep, no place to shower and no promise of their next meal. Many of them younger than myself.

But they all had names. And they all had stories. And they all had hearts.

I don't know if we all need to rush out and volunteer at a homeless shelter, we all have our own ways of making the world a better place and maybe that's not yours or mine. And I'm not saying we should all give money to every homeless person we see, but what I am saying is this; they are people. They are people just like you and me, with hearts and stories and love. If we all made a point to say hi, or pass on blessings, or give food if we feel so inclined, maybe the world would become a little lighter, a little less edgy.

I encourage you to not stop and think about whether or not they 'deserve' your hard earned change, or your snack or even whether or not they 'derserve' your blessing (because somehow society has made the majority of us believe the homeless are a lesser species) and just give them your love. Give them your love. Love is infinite and the more we give the more our own hearts will be bursting with it.

Just say hi, nod your head, make eye contact, bless, acknowledge.

It might make a world of difference. And we've got to start somewhere.

12 February 2013

You just be you. I'm okay with that.

We spend so much of our time trying to change others. 

Even if we notice it or not... or like to admit it (and yes, wishing and hoping that someone will change to better fit 'our version of their best self' counts as well!).

I think it really begins… and ends… with the desire to change parts of ourselves. 

What we see outside is a direct reflection of who we are and how we feel inside. When we are not happy inside, we see a whole lot of 'wrong' in others that we try to change to make our inside feel happier. We will never reach contentment this way. Contentment always comes from within. And without it, qualities (bad or good) we notice in others will tend to have a much greater impact on us. 
When we become content with who we are, the external desire to change those around us subsides and we are able to accept and love them for exactly who they are. 
Becoming content with ourselves allows us to ground in to who we are, consequently, becoming less concerned with who others are (or who they are not). 

When we are not centered, when we self-loathe, question or critique ourselves to no end, we cannot live in harmony within. Our world is, and always will be, a reflection of our own hearts. We experience the outer by way of how the inner is feeling and what we are choosing to see and experience. The world can be shitty, but only if we decide to look at it that way.

"Those who truly love us will never knowingly ask us to be other than we are." -Marc Nepo

When I first came across this quote, it sat on my heart a little awkwardly. I didn't know why at the time but months later, when I had been stripped down of much of my pride, I realized it's awkward perch was because I knew that I was guilty of trying to change loved ones, whether I able to see and admit it or not. And I certainly didn't like admitting it! I had been doing the opposite of truly loving those I… loved. Whoa. 
Maybe this meant, for certain people, I didn't truly love them in the way I was expressing. I was trying to the best of my conscious ability, but I hadn't let myself think that I was loving them in the wrong way. This quote made me feel uneasy, it was allowing those thoughts to wrestle with my heart- maybe I had to love certain people in different ways in order to truly love them well? 
It worked. It was hard to admit, and hard to do but it worked. 

There was another reason Nepo's resonated with me. And after admitting to and forgiving myself of the faults of loving wrong and hoping for change, I knew I had written this quote down and pinned it on my wall months earlier for reasons I could not fully understand at the time. 
It was how I was supposed to be living. It was achievable. And it was right. 
It is what my heart would soon strive for- to simply love. Only love. Let people be free of my judgement, conscious or subconscious, and just love the shit out of them! 

Through an immensely difficult and simultaneously beautiful growth period in my life, I was able to shed so many unwanted layers of pain, confusion, self-loathing and questioning. During this time, I connected with the true matter of all heart and soul- joy. My very own joy. I was able to let go of unnecessary weight, and let in an insane amount of joy, laughter, forgiveness, understanding and purpose. 
Truthfully, all of these feelings had always been there- but somewhere along the way they had been masked by a lot of the more pressing, negative feelings. 
I found that, in this time of growth, I was able to really, truly understand the meaning of Nepo's quote. I was able to understand that not only would I never be successful at changing another human being to better suit me, but that it would be absurd for me to even want to! 

To accept is to love. To understand is to love. To love is to love. 
And we can all do it. 

People aren't always, or ever, going to be exactly the way we want them to be. But, who cares? Do you think you're exactly who others want or 'need' you to be? Chances are, unless you're Jesus, the answer is no (and some would argue that he's not even who they need him to be).

But you know what I say about all that? It's pretty darn beautiful! 
When we make up our minds to look at the world with infinite positivity, things become lighter. Happier. Easier. Understandable. Good. Human. Beautiful. Joyful. Infinite positivity gives us a way to look at people free of judgement or hate. And understanding that we cannot change them, will free our own hearts from a lot of struggle. 

Imagine what the world would be like if we stopped trying to mold people into 'who we think they should be' and started simply loving them for who they are, today, standing in front of us, with all their flaws and weirdness right out there on the table? 

Now, That's the kind of world I'd like to live in. 

06 February 2013

on a hemp kick

Many of us have been advocates for hemp for along time.... 
but it's related to marijuana so we can't use it. 

a pot smoking prophet

Today is this man's birthday.
For some reason, well I suppose for many reasons, I have silently acknowledged and internally celebrated this day for many years. I remember my freshman year in college, February 6th, in my dorm room, learning that it was the Rasta Prophet's birthday. It resonated with me and I knew that something about this day would allow me to reflect on a kind of Godly knowledge and a peace that the man himself held within his soul. 

"The people who were trying to make this world worse are not taking the day off. Why should I? Light up the darkness."

I think God, or the Universe, the Divine, continues to place people on our Mother Earth to teach. I believe that we still have prophets. And I believe that this Ganja smoking, rastafari loving, dreadlock wearing, man who had many relations with many women, was in fact a prophet of God. 

Maybe that's why I offend some church goers. Who knows. I don't think God has a box he fits things into as the church sometimes does. I think there are lessons all around, wisdom from unlikely places, and often times, faces we may ignore because they are not the norm. As humans, living in collective existence, we should break the mold, break the rules, live on the edge and learn in these unlikely places. 

Bob Marley really isn't too far out there I suppose, I mean he's known in every country of the world and many people think the same way I do about him. But many don't, and I think part of that stems from his use of herb. 

Recently, someone very close to me has been very ill. Without going into unnecessary detail, we have chosen to use marijuana to help ease the pain of what is going on. It has completely changed the way my brother and I look at this particular substance. Not that I was against it before, because I certainly was not, but it has made me look at it in it's true form: medicine. A healing and comforting drug. Now, those of you who know my brother know that his take on the herb is a little different. One could say he may use it pretty recreationally. This situation, too, has changed his outlook on it. He no longer wants to 'misuse' something that has such healing and medicinal properties. 

I think this year as Bob's birthday rolls around, for the first time in my life, he has truly taught me the beauty, strength and power of the herb that many of us look down upon. And that has been an important lesson to learn.

"Herb is the healing of a nation, alcohol is the destruction." -Bob
(It's interesting that the healing is outlawed and the destruction is allowed... backwards? As with many things in our society.)

So, Bob Marley has taught me a lot over the years. His music was some of the first I really listened to, understood and resonated with. His lyrics fill me with hope and joy. For someone with a wandering heart, he helps ground me in to my present existence. I think he, in every way, was a homie of Jesus and was here to teach us in his short time on earth. 

We must remember that We can light up the darkness, we can make the world a better place, we can live in harmony and free ourselves from judgement and hate. It is possible. 

Cheers to you, Mr. Marley! 

31 January 2013

A Reflection of my Path

I applied for a grant to help me pay for my yoga program coming up this spring. There were no detailed requirements, just that you wrote a letter explaining why you are wanting to continue your education the way you are. 
The scholarship was through my sorority. Yup. Me. In a sorority. People are often surprised by this but I have nothing but pride and love for my house and my experience. It taught me how to be a leader and it opened my path to necessary life skills such as; working in community, respecting others, responsibility and holding true to my personal integrity. 
A sisterhood. True friendships (a lot of my closest friends today were my sisters in college). We had a pretty good time, got a little silly, held each other accountable and supported the endeavors of our fellow housemates. 
An experience that I am thankful for everyday.

I've decided to share the letter I wrote. Honestly this is probably just for my own benefit, it's more of a reflection of my path and an overview of the steps I took to reach my today. I like to think I can look back on the lessons I've learned and be thankful for where I am, using my past to feel gratitude and to feel confident in my future without constantly worrying about it.

I can remember the day my real, true spiritual journey began. I was attending the University of Oregon and was in my second year as a Chi Omega. I was a junior by standing as I had joined the house a year late. I believe that joining late was an advantage for me, one that allowed me to enjoy my own pledge class but also connect with the girls in the pledge class above me who were my age in school. I reveled in my new found role in the house, I brought the energy of the 'new kid' but was seasoned in understanding what college was all about. I was cultivating deep relationships with all sorts of girls and getting a taste for responsibility other than making it to my 9 am classes. It took work to learn how to live with 55 girls (I moved in to the house a week after Bid Day!) and it took even more work to uphold the values of a Chi Omega, which I resonated strongly with.

It helped make me who I am today. It laid a strong foundation under my spiritual progression, one of service, dedication, strength and honor. I think the first time I truly learned to honor myself as a woman was in those first two years as a Chi Omega. I learned that not only was it okay to be a strong woman, but that I could achieve anything I wanted if I worked hard enough and stayed true to my personal integrity. To be womanly always, for a girl who was raised by mostly boys, was freeing and enlightening.

Although hard for me to admit, Chi Omega was my first true lesson in community service and upholding the values of service in daily life. I had done some community service throughout my younger years but never took it seriously enough. It was during my time as a junior in the house, when it started to resonate and the gifts of service started laying themselves on my heart as something I could no longer push aside. I remember the questions starting to raise their heads; 'why are we here?' 'what am I doing?' 'what am I here for?’ ‘There has to be more to it and I have to find out.' During my junior and senior years I started having these kinds of conversations with my sisters and friends. It was also a time when I decided I wanted to see the world by way of studying abroad.

I studied abroad in Australia, which in turn lead me back after graduation. That's when the spiritual adventure really became my focus. I was constantly seeking, asking questions, never satisfied. I was always wanting more and couldn't read enough, write enough, paint, run, make pottery, learn Spanish, converse or learn enough. I was like a human sponge trying to understand my place in the world. I thought I would find the answer outside of myself; I thought it may come from a teacher, a friend, a guru, a half marathon course, swimming in the ocean or reading book after book. What I wasn't able to understand was that the answer was within and that is where I was truly seeking.

So, as I sought, I became restless. During a particular time of restlessness I looked up service programs and short missions trips somewhere close to Australia. By coincidence, fate, or Divine intervention, the same day I was Googling service programs, I met a Canadian girl and she explained to me that she had been in Asia for six months and really wanted to go back to work in an orphanage in Cambodia. I was sold. Three days later I had my plane tickets, my work in Australia was put on hold and three weeks later I was off. I had never experienced life in a developing country and I was keen to see what it would offer me. What I wasn't prepared for was that it would offer me my true heart.

That first day we adventured to the orphanage is a joyful memory embedded on my heart for the rest of my days. The children changed everything about me in about 30 seconds. Only, it took much longer than 30 seconds to sink in. After my experience of selflessly serving 73 children who essentially had nothing but joy, my heart's passion was once more alit and stoked, and the urgency of my seeking only became more intense. I knew I wanted to help, I knew I wanted to give and I knew I had (literally) been born into a life that would allow me to do so, somehow.

After settling in Australia for a little over a year, I moved to New Zealand and resided in a very small town on the south island. I only tell the story of my history because it has brought me to the point I stand today, knowing that I want to dedicate my life, my energy, my passion and my love to others. I see no other way to live my life and I feel infinitely blessed to be given the challenge.

One day, in this tiny town in New Zealand, my restless heart kept calling me to get away. So I borrowed a friend's car and drove to another town about two hours away. During this time I was relentlessly asking myself the big 'what is my purpose?' questions and desperately seeking an answer I could make sense of. I knew the kids in Cambodia had changed my life, I knew that I loved people and I knew that there was some sense of 'wanting to make the world a better place' imprinted on my heart. But I was lost. I was lost and eager to find my calling. Looking back, I love that in this time the universe was teaching me patience and strength by allowing me to walk this spiritual journey for so long. As I sat in a park overlooking a beautiful lake, asking myself the endless questions and drawing in my journal, I look over and see the town's monument. Glaring down at me like a big flashing sign, older than anything in the town, the only words inscribed on the whole monument read, 'Service Above Self.' And I knew.

I knew what it was I was here to do. I knew I had to serve.
Then came more searching for the 'how'. Frankly, it terrified me. Imagine knowing, at 24, that you were going to have to sacrifice certain things and give up other things for the goodness of others. I didn't quite know what to do with all of that.

The time came for me to move home to Portland, Oregon and I left my non-kin, beloved families in Australia and New Zealand to embark on the journey home and into 'real life.'

I've never really believed that people had to conform to this so called 'real life' thing but I didn't know what else to do so I moved home, flat broke, and still confused. I moved in with my parents and took a job to pay the bills, but sought the 'how' more each day. Immediately after moving home I took my first official yoga class. And it was bliss. Looking back on it, I think part of me knew I wanted to become a teacher that first day. My intuition tugged at my heartstrings and I felt that passion rise up again. I got into a routine and went to class 3-5 per week. But what's more than that was the connection I felt between my desire to serve and my heart during my practice. It was as if love was literally emanating from my being. I couldn't love people enough, I couldn't hold enough joy within. I was slowly making that connection that my desire to serve and my passion for yoga could potentially be intertwined.

My first yoga class was almost four years ago and I still feel the same way today as I did in that first class. I have never left a practice feeling anything but gratitude, love, strength, honor, passion and joy.

And that is why I want to teach. I want to be able to give those gifts to my community and my world. I want to be able to share those feelings with others, help them open their hearts and help make the world a more loving place. It is no secret that the world we live in could use a little more love, and I intend on giving that through my chance to teach such a sacred practice.

When I am consistently practicing, everything is clearer. Not only when I am on the mat, but much clearer and calmer when I am off the mat. Everything settles in, settles down.

Yoga saves me from my own brain. It helps ease the pain my heart feels for the suffering in the world. It brings me joy and allows me to let go of things I don't know how else to let go of. It assures me that there is actually something I can do to make the world a better place. It relieves my almost constant need to be hard on myself.

There is something that connects my heart, my mind and my soul within the four corners of that mat. And it is a true blessing.

I understand the things going on in the world around me when I practice yoga and meditation. Everything becomes simpler. I understand love. It flows from everything. I understand service. There is nothing I yearn for more but to give myself to others. I can feel joy and can revel in the space of purity and goodness for the duration of a session and then throughout my day. Sometimes this joy is literally bursting from the seems of my heart, I can do nothing but laugh or smile or hug people or wiggle around as if my heart may jump from my chest at any moment.

It's like a really good friend who makes you laugh. Or therapy. It's like hiking, or a sunny day, a road trip with no agenda, love between two hearts, a hug shared with your mama, a piece of chocolate and a good cup of tea, a book you can't put down. It's like standing in the middle of everything and everyone you've ever known and shining your light around the circle. It is a blessing. 

And that is the reason I want to become a teacher of yoga and the physical, emotional, spiritual and mental health it can give to this world.

My spiritual journey began on a day in late October in Chi Omega when the seeking could no longer be ignored. It continued through my study abroad and my journeys back to such amazing countries. It continued in my heart each and every day and it found a true outlet on a yoga mat. My spiritual journey will always continue and it is my intention to follow my passions and continue to learn, so I may give those things to the world, one class at a time.

It would be an honor to receive this scholarship to help pave the way in the beginning of such a journey. Over the last few years I have continued to give myself to the nonprofit world. I have made sacrifices to serve and do what fulfills me each day. When I am serving and attempting to make the world a little better, I find my heart’s content. For sake of repetition I will say that my employer’s letter states my financial need pretty well. I believe in what I am doing, even when that comes with financial sacrifice. It is an honor to run Wearshare50/50 and help nonprofits spread awareness and raise funding for their causes each day. Because the program, and the company, is a small start up, it has not been a lucrative position for me. But people are more valuable than money and I know what I am doing is right. This educational grant will allow me to gain the resources I need to continue to serve my fellow brothers and sisters. It will allow me to empower others through the gifts of yoga, positivity and healthy lifestyle choices.

I truly do not believe I'd be where I am if it weren't for the support of my sisters, the strength of a forever sisterhood, or the spirit of service Chi Omega awakened in my heart. I am blessed, either way, to have gotten to share my story with you and hope that this letter finds you well and in a place of inspiration to make the world a little brighter today and everyday. 


30 January 2013

Dear Kid President; you make my soul wiggle with joy.

There are SO many things this little peanut says that I would like to quote as my favorite. I absolutely can not pick one... So you'll just have to watch it and let your soul resonate for itself... and maybe giggle a little. :)

Loving all of you. Thankful for my community and my world. Hoping to make it a happier, more caring place each day. Let's all give the world a reason to dance, it is our responsibility, after all.

29 January 2013

l o v e .

Dear Human, 
You’ve got it all wrong. You didn’t come here to master unconditional love. That is where you came from and where you’ll return. You came here to learn personal love. Universal love. Messy love. Sweaty love. Crazy love. Broken love. Whole love. Infused with divinity. Lived through the grace of stumbling. Demonstrated through the beauty of… messing up. Often. You didn’t come here to be perfect. You already are. You came here to be gorgeously human. Flawed and fabulous. And then to rise again into remembering. But unconditional love? Stop telling that story. Love, in truth, doesn’t need ANY other adjectives. It doesn’t require modifiers. It doesn’t require the condition of perfection. It only asks that you show up. And do your best. That you stay present and feel fully. That you shine and fly and laugh and cry and hurt and heal and fall and get back up and play and work and live and die as YOU. It’s enough. It’s Plenty.

— Courtney A. Walsh

i lovelovelove this. 
(borrowed from the fabulous Kdaniel Ellis, my friend + fabulous photographer at ATLAS pdx)