Unveiling Darkness

“Take your Broken Heart, Turn it into Art.” Meryl Streep, Golden Globes 2017

Unveiling Darkness…

I do not have depression. However, I have darkness, which disguises itself as depression. One thing I have come to find about darkness is it’s real, as real as a broken wrist bone, as real as a playful dog. It doesn’t have to be conquered by the despair of one hundred oppressed dragons epitomizing you to become a source of good. This closet that I hang fear inside is full of discoverable lost secrets. I befriend the darkness and hide in it some days when it feels like too much to bear but I will keep sifting… and keep feeling until the boulder in my chest erodes.

Allow me to paint my dramatic picture. Have you ever felt impenetrable? Like, the loveliest rose-colored sunset can’t even peak in. All the kind reassuring words given to you are meaningless. Basically, the passionate life you love feels like memories, stuck inside a dormant volcano. This is the neglected darkness in charge, untamed due to a shaky fear of her texture and flavor and a projection of how it will change you.

I am embarrassed by the dominating darkness dimming my days for over a month now… Darkness lingers in wintertime and winter is now. This is not your fault. I am forced to face the alternative of being alien to this unaccommodating world or just weak in the knees in the face of no obvious light. I noticed today while sitting on my bed that I have felt very empty, day after day. Running on nothing but distractions and the fleeting momentum you gain from faking it. I feel the stone over my soft heart sometimes, and I can’t help but hate what it does to my life. When I turn toward this cold, jagged layer inside of me, I run the risk of it becoming something outside of me. I become injured prey in the wild jungle. All I have left is the instinct to locate safety, in someone, in something, but that body or substance of refuge never lasts forever, which angers me. I want to run as far away as possible in hope that this costume will stop teasing me and just go away. After running, my exhausted emptiness will fantasize a home for my sensitive heart to sit for a while. The daydream will excite by alcohol, drugs, sex, and food. When the dream fades, the darkness has caught up with me. The smell of fear attracts her. Then something like a circular whirl starts to replicate.

Nothing has taste but I eat anyway hoping there’s a springtime in my mouth and my taste buds have returned. The intention has changed from enjoying to numbing. Before the yellow light can turn to red, everyone’s minds are inside mine. The sky is the only place that I want to go to but my eyes are the only travelers that get there, leaving my heavy body to feel.

When the darkness consumes me to the point of a million sirens blaring into channels of tears, like it did today on my bed, I feel alive again, an eruption of past aliveness mingled with the present, and thank Goodness, some relief. My defense mechanisms refuse to fire because the heart of love and acceptance will prevail. I am hopeful that the next time the darkness visits, I can meet it with a smile, lifting its veil with kindness in my trembling hands, knowing what it’s made out of…gold treasures of wise secrets, Earth’s and ancestor’s belongings.

Aligning Body and World

Deep in our hearts, we carry the truth. Truth about how to live a meaningful life, apart from the harmful temptations and distractions of everyday life. This heart wisdom must be gardened in order to open the world up a little more. The work begins with us. Retreats have been one of the priceless gifts to the Shambhala Mountain Center staff. The opportunity to engage in the breath of this magical place during the weekend is essential because every weekend, at the very least, one individual’s life completely changes forever.

My first heart gardening weekend hosted by Shambhala Mountain Center took place in the summer of 2014 with Katharine Kaufman. The retreat was called Women’s Meditation and Yoga Retreat. For me, the retreat was all about working with our habit patterns. We learned how to expand our eye power. What does that even mean? Katharine guided us in eye exercises, challenging us to see in-between objects and acknowledge space that we often disregard. Another instruction was to see as if we were a newborn baby, with huge eyes. I remember her telling us to move and stretch in ways that our bodies wanted to, not our minds or in the ways that we’ve been taught.

I was learning how to touch the present moment with my five senses.

It has almost been a year since I first stepped on the energetic lands of Shambhala Mountain Center. I am one of the many young Americans who was raised Catholic and found the Buddha as an old friend. I hopped on the Shambhala path and have cherished every step of the way. When I arrived at Shambhala Training Level 4, I was given the gift of “merging both my inner and outer worlds.” The meditative gaze is raised giving rise to elation and excitement. Steve Seely, my Level 4 teacher and friend, talked about “learning to find comfort in not-knowing.” As I settled my mind into mind, my veils of ignorance lifted and my protective habit mind released captive emotions and created space for new ones. Who knew you could hold sorrow and joy together?

I remember walking outside after this Level training and feeling the romance of a warm breeze. My naked heart no longer wanted to only live in my body.

Happy Birthday to my favorite fun girl.
Happy Birthday to my favorite fun girl.

A Love is Never Lost, Especially A Mother’s

No matter the circumstance, when you spend a lot of money last minute on a plane ticket, glimpses arise about what it means to let go, of not just your anxiety about spending money when you work at a place where money is the absolute late incentive, but the big bowling balls that life throws you. Surrendering.

I came home to Wisconsin last Monday after day by day, reality was slowly beginning to reveal itself and accumulate weight. My breaking heart trembled and shook, causing me to cry and cry and cry. Soon, my grandmother’s hug would be just a memory. This grandmother was the mother of my mother. A lineage holder of the magnificent blessing that life is.

In a week’s time, my mother has become my greatest role model. A woman with strength as strong as torrential rainstorms. The rainstorms that you surrender to on your front porch and become beatific witnesses of. I have never met a woman so strong. Strength, I have found, is a human’s ability to be in clear harmony with emotions. We might not feel harmony, but it’s there if you are able to move from warm joy to boundless tears of heart break, another kind of warm.

During my trip home, although it was unfortunate circumstances, it was a trip I will cherish for forever. I have learned to be open to the pain of life, because this pain is an integral part of why I smile so much. Without pain, I would not have been able to even touch the depth and gentleness that lived in each one of my family members this past week. Maybe I would have touched it, but I wouldn’t have received it as my own.

I have considered moving closer to home, because I now know that living life isn’t about “me”. It’s about being there and holding each other when it’s dark, no matter what time of day. Be close to the home of your loved ones, if you can’t be close, then buy a Southwest credit card… I plan to do one of the two.

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Bittersweet Arrivederci

The other day, I purchased my favorite book in an Italian bookstore. I have my tattered English version always near. Forgive me for making a lot of Eat Pray Love references, but now that I have both copies I am having the best time translating the inspirational experience in its (somewhat) intended language. My friends are always giving me trouble for loving such a cliche book. I am not reluctant to share that the messages and voyage of Liz never fails to inspire me. Although a mid-life, depression crisis did not bring me to Firenze, I think that most, if not all, of the life lessons suffice to my Italian living experience.

“I respond with gratitude to anyone who has ever voyaged to the center of that heart, and who has then returned to the world with a report for the rest of us that God is an experience of supreme love.”

“I am entitled to the enjoyment in this life.”

“The only thing I ever want to know about any place or any person is the story, this the only thing I watch for- never for aesthetic details.”

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Special discoveries about this magical place- Italia – where do I begin and how do I finish?

I’m flirting with the Italian phrases. The way I say “Grazie” has become a consistent little game to see how well I can trill my “r”. I always look to see how impressed the Italian looks after I feel like I delivered “a good one”. I love the way the indirect and direct objects snuggle on to the end of the verbs. The language is simply an expression of how life feels today, in the warm sun, that was hiding during a large portion of my time in Firenze. The beautiful part of this is that I feel so able to embrace and envelop the warmth on these perfect spring days. It all feels like such a gift, and Firenze is a different place.

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What will I bring back with me to the United States soil, Chicago, Wisconsin, Lincoln Park, DePaul. Well, I think just about everything. I will take back a newfound, simplistic appreciation for my senses. I have senses to embrace this precious gift of life, sometimes I feel like I hear the sound of sunshine. My good friend Hallie once introduced me to the idea that God gave us taste buds so we could understand the significance of delicious. We only truly need food for energy, taste buds are seemingly useless.

I respond to most Italians when I can’t communicate my passion for their lifestyles with…”La vita dolce” (The sweet life). I just wrote a few letters to the people who will have an everlasting impact on my spirit. Whenever I am overwhelmed with love for this city and my life here, I simply say the phrase I just mentioned, and eat a Baci chocolate. This chocolate never fails to compliment my explosive passion and ability to taste life’s sweetness. It has also served as a perfect method of communication between my host mamma and me after dinners.

Last week, it was  80 degrees each day. No rain! It’s a miracle. My main realization in Florence after this long, dreary period of weather we all suffered, is that when the sun is shining, Italians become their best selves. I feel like I step out my door and encounter a city of Florentine angels. Everyone’s smiling, drinking wine, giggling, helping each other. Although I can’t pack Florence up in my suitcase, I acknowledge the reality of nature and that the outdoors is a sibling to our well-beings.

I learned once that the reason we hold on so tightly to the experiences embedded deep within us is because we fear something so great won’t happen twice.

May we always cherish the places that make our hearts feel Baci sweetness. May we mindfully cradle our new and ever-changing hearts in our lungs, forever.

Cheers to happy endings and new beginnings. Arrivederci! 1

Homestay Photo Essay

Allow me to introduce you to my bella Florentine home stay.

My hope is that these photos give you a glance into my unique experience with an Italian mother, dog, and nourishing home away from home.

Unintentional Theme: “Light”

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A radiant beam that so kindly greeted me home from school.

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And then there’s Pepe, always greeting me…. although he usually only wants a food handout.

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The kitchen/dining room area.

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The bathroom door sign that I’ve always simply liked.

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A neighbor preparing for the wonderful, sunny, flowery spring ahead. A photo I took outside of my window.

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This mural in our living room was painted by a Japanese student who, Daniela (my host mom), hosted a few years ago. My assumption is that this was a token of her immense gratitude for Daniela. If only I was a brilliant artist.

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I took this photo at about 5am when the sun was about to take the moon’s spot in the sky. It was the first thing I saw when I spontaneously woke up after a long night of midterm studying.

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An atypical Tuscan countryside view, always a glance away from any and every window.

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We eat a lot of Nutella in this household. It’s a sweet life.

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And then of course, the woman who has left a significant mark on my heart, soul, pant size, life, TUTTI (everything)!

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The part hidden with my sleeve might be the most important word- “Be the Light” Thank you, CEA, for allowing me to truly embody a girl of her word through your flawless housing assignment to me. A pleasant reminder stamped on my wrist forever!