Thursday, January 19, 2017

The significance of 2016

If we look at what we left behind, to give us an inkling of where we are heading, it's easy to conclude that 2017 is going to be a very challenging year. As a citizen of the world, being a part of a society, governed by politicians, it's hard to accept what 2016 brought, and is promising to bring, as we move towards the future.

About a year ago, at the beginning of 2016, I wrote about 2015 being the prequel of something profound (
And profound it has been.

Politically, 2016 sucker punched me countless of times and it left me dazed and confused, and maybe slightly concussed. A year later, the world we are about to step into is profoundly unsettling.

However, personally, 2016 was one of the most valuable, treasured and profoundly impactful years of my life. About a year ago, I stepped into my role as a volunteer Domestic Violence Counselor. About two months later, I also became a certified Sexual Assault Counselor. Over the past year I have spent my time at a Domestic Violence shelter, and at the hospital, accompanying survivors of sexual assault during their forensic medical exam.

Through this volunteer work, I have learned so much, met so many amazing people and been entrusted with the most personal and naked realities of many survivors.

The strength of the survivors I have met is absolutely awe-inspiring. When they are at their most vulnerable and fragile, they are required to show superhuman strength and bravery, just to be able to endure what none of us should ever have to endure. It's much like David and Goliath, but imagine David coming to the fight without his sling, with a broken arm and a broken spirit. Imagine the strength it would take to still show up and face The Giant.

The compassion of the people I've had the good fortune to work with, keeps my heart and soul toasty warm, regardless of the frigid storm that threatens the world we live in. The support staff, my fellow volunteers and the nurses at the hospital fill my heart with so much hope and they lift my spirit. I owe the ever-expanding soft spot in my heart to them.

This has also been the most humbling experience of my life. The freedom, and humility, to admit that I knew nothing, ultimately gave me endless room to learn without prejudice. When you walk into a room, fully aware of the fact that you know nothing about who you are about to meet, what their needs are and what is about to take place, you learn how to be comfortable with the unknown. And there is an endless amount of unknowns, which in turn means there is an endless amount of things to learn. As long as we can admit that we know very little, we give ourselves so much to discover.

So, here we are, at the threshold of what is to come. It hurts my very core to witness humanity, countries and people being pulled apart by anger and fear, all while, what we desire is to be seen, heard and considered. As much dread and challenges as 2016 brought, it also brought me the very tools to stay on course. I will let strength, compassion and humility be my compass on this journey.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Action Plan

One week has passed since the election. During the past week, I've felt deep worry and profound sadness. I've cried a few solemn tears and I've balled my eyes out. But I've spent most of the week in complete denial. I needed a week, to come to terms with things, and to delay my reaction. Writing this any sooner, would not have been productive, it would most likely have been incoherent ramblings of an emotional wreck.

So, now what?

I will not go into details on the popular vote, the electoral college, polling or the media. I will not try and decipher the agenda of the next president. I would like to dedicate this space to what you and I can do, as humans, in the world we live in, regardless of the presidential election, citizenship or where you live in the world.

It's fair to say that the US election ignited feelings. I believe it's a good thing, when politics and policy making engages people. Whatever emotions we are feeling, this is a good time to channel that energy into action.

I here by challenge you to do something, to participate. If there is a will, there is a way. If you really want to get in the thick of things, get involved in politics, whether it be local, regional, state or national. Volunteering is another great way to get involved in the community and to support issues important to you. If you don't have time to volunteer, you can donate to a cause you care about.

But what if you don't have time, means or interest in doing any of that? Maybe you feel like you want to do something, but not sure what you can do and how it can fit it into your everyday life. I will offer you four options that are highly adaptable and can fit into any lifestyle.

Speak up. If you hear something that doesn't sound right to you, speak up. At times people might find you difficult, but if we want people to participate, we need to engage them in dialogue. No need to be overtly aggressive or confrontational about it, but do call people out. And give them room to explain their thoughts/comments/jokes to you. This might give them the opportunity to think things through, for themselves.

Be an active bystander. If you see things happening, intervene! It might feel scary, or it might feel like you don't know enough to get involved, but go ahead and disrupt. If you see someone being bullied at school or at work, a person being cornered in a bar, or see something that doesn't feel right, listen to your intuition. You can be direct in your approach, or partner up with someone (stranger or not), or create a diversion, anything to involve more people in the situation. We need to let each other know that we are not alone in this world, that people see us and are willing to help us.

Use your privilege. Without going into the many inner workings of privilege, what I'm asking is that you care about the issues that might not directly apply to you. It's important for men to support women's issues, it's important for the majority to learn from the minorities, it's important for heterosexual people to listen to the LGBTQQI communities, important for the urban population to respect the rural population and it's important for the young to care about the old and the old to care about the young. But make sure to remember the key words: support, listen, learn, respect and care. This is about giving people power, and about creating room for people to be heard. It is most definitely not about taking power away by speaking on someone else's behalf.

Take care of each other. Not for a second do I believe that half of the US population are bigoted racist misogynists. What I do believe is that millions of people, around the world, feel disenfranchised, angry and forgotten. I also believe that in order to feel better about life, we need to feel that we are being seen, heard and taken seriously. That I matter. And here is were every one of us can make a difference. We don't need to be politicians, it's enough that we are neighbors, colleagues, acquaintances and strangers, who choose to care, just a little. If we can see each other, listen to each other and respect each other, we might ultimately help each other get a better sense of self, and remind each other that we are all significant. At the very core of my beliefs, is my conviction that the more we care about people, the more people care about people.

Here is my pledge. I will be an active participant. I will do my best, to see and to hear people around me. When someone feels forgotten, I will try my best to remind them that they are not. I will care about people, even those who don't yet care about me.

Monday, November 7, 2016

The US Presidential Election

First time I attempted to write this post, it was one month left until the election. Then it was a couple of weeks. Then it was one week left, dwindling down to a couple of days. And now, here we are, the night before the election.

I feel so many different things, I have many thoughts and there sure is a whole lot to say, yet I can't seem to find any words. I'm not even sure where I'm going with this post. I guess I feel that I should comment on the election somehow, considering how politics has been a passion of mine for years.

It's a tricky thing, being passionate about something. When you are passionate, you tend to care a lot. When you care a lot, you leave yourself vulnerable to a whole range of emotions. I used to get riled up over the smallest of perceived injustices, and I would rejoice with the smallest perceived successes. Because to me, politics is not about power and control, it's about people.

I think that's why I'm left speechless in this election. Regardless of party affiliations, ideological convictions or personal agendas, I believe that previous presidential candidates have all held a personal interpretation of what would be good for the country and for its people. It has been important to them to implement what they see as improvements for the population. There will always be disagreement over the content, but I welcome that debate, because an open debate about the public good should be at the heart of every democracy.

But what happens when a presidential candidate only cares about their own person, and is willing to take advantage of people, manipulate, intimidate and bully just to boost their own ego. When it's no longer about the people, when it's all about one single person. One person who encourages people to fear, fuels their anger and rewards their hate. One person who could not care less about who gets hurt or trampled on during the process, one who does whatever for his own amusement. A man who treats society like a mockery, a game.

Fear, anger and hate are such strong and consuming emotions. When tapped into, a person seems to be rendered blind and unable to think clearly. Why else would people look to a lying disrespectful rasist misogynist to "make their country great"? When people who struggle to put food on the table, applaud a millionaire bragging about not paying taxes, or when women would gladly give up their 19th amendment right to vote just to prevent women from voting against Donal Trump, we surely have moved beyond the interest of the country and become pawns in a sinister and twisted game.

To sum things up, the feeling I'm left with is one of profound sadness. Much can be said about Donald Trump, but he is only one man. It's what he has tapped into and unleashed that is breaking my heart. The many who have hated in silence, but found a voice in Donald Trump. Have they always been this many? Have they always feared and hated with such intensity? Have they all wanted to laugh at people with disabilities? Or bully bereaved parents? Have they always applauded sexual assault? For people like me, who value compassion, understanding and respect, this is a lot to contend with.

So yes, the countdown to the election might soon be over, but the consequences of this year's presidential campaigns are already being felt. And whatever the outcome tomorrow, the general lack of enthusiasm and hope is discouraging. Even I, the self-proclaimed optimist, is feeling deflated. I think I might need a moment, a moment to sulk. But I'm sure, before long, I'll be ready to pull myself up by my bootstraps and with renewed energy get to work, and participate in creating the society I want to live in.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Consumed by hatred

I hate with such passion. I hate will such intensity. I hate with the core of my being. I hate that you are alive. I hate you so much, I want you to die.

I don't know those feelings. I have no idea how it feels to hate so much. I don't understand where those feelings come from, how they grab ahold or how they fester and infiltrate every cell of a person.

Every time I see/hear/read messages of hate, I ponder these thoughts. I never reach a conclusion. How can I even begin to relate, when I've never felt it myself? There is such a vast and insurmountable gap between "almost hate" and hate. And then, in addition to that, to hate so much that you want someone to die, or hate so much that you go out of your way to kill, I feel completely at loss, I fundamentally don't understand, my brain does not compute.

In my life, I've always valued compassion and empathy. To me, it's one of the greatest experiences of being human, our capacity to relate and to connect with one another. But in this case, I might make an exception. I don't want to be able to empathize. I don't ever want to know this kind of hatred. I never want to find myself wishing for death and destruction. I much rather continue on in life wishing for hope and change.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Love takes Courage

This passed weekend, many people around the world celebrated Valentine's Day. For some, it was serious business involving intricate planning, gifts, flowers, surprises, dinners, trips and grand gestures of love. For some, it was an intimate affair with a home-cooked meal and a good movie. Some gave their children a little extra attention. Some gave their parents a call. Some texted hearts and happy emojis to their friends. Some didn't really care, and some would rather have seen it removed from the calendar year.

I have no opinions on the opinions about Valentine's Day, but since February 14th is recognized as Valentine's day in many parts of the world, I want to take this opportunity (though a few days late) to share some love-related thoughts.

Love plays such a central role in many people's lives, whether it be romantic love, love of children, love of family, love of friends or all the above. With such an engulfing and exposing emotion, no wonder love can both heal and hurt.

We learn to love from a very early age, we love our parents, grandparents and/or friends. So, from a very early age, we are vulnerable to being hurt, maybe by a secret our first BFF promised never to tell, or by a parent who couldn't make it to a recital. As we grow older, and perhaps have our first romantic love encounter, that experience will usually also translate into our very first soul-wrenching break-up.

Eventually we might find our soulmate, the one who completes us and makes the world make sense. But we know, for a lot of people, that soulmate will be the most hurtful relationship they will ever have. Many will start families, and bring new life into the world. The love for their children is unlike any other love and with that comes enough worry and fear to last a lifetime.

We lose people we love. They grow old or their lives are cut short by sickness, accidents or other forces at play. Unhealthy love can trap people in abusive relationships and it can be a life-shattering force of destruction.

We don't know the outcome when we love. We just love. And when we love completely and wholeheartedly, without holding back, we expose everything that we are, and leave ourselves naked in the hands of the person we love. We trust them with our dreams, hopes and happiness and trust that they will keep all of it, and ultimately us, safe. When you give away that much power, you leave yourself vulnerable to be hurt, in ways that are unparalleled. And yet, most us us, long to love and love to love.

Sometimes, especially in this day and age, our world can seem to be a scary place. We are encouraged to toughen up, to be prepared, so that we can defend ourselves, against the many things that can attack us and is out to harm us. But in reality, fear and anger is pretty easy, it doesn't take much courage to be afraid. Love on the other hand, takes real bravery. So if you're a person who love, have loved or is able to love, when you get up in the morning and get ready to step into the world, remember how brave you are, and that real bravery comes from having the courage to love and to trust.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

2015, The Prequel

It's a new year. It's 2016, to be precise. Last year was a really good year, as most years are. I travelled, ate great food, drank great wine, loved great people and moved into a new home. But if I would speculate on what I will remember as the most significant happenings, ten years from now, two things stand out.

Two things were set in motion in 2015 that might potentially have a real impact on my future, for years to come. 

First off, meditation. About a year ago, I took a real interest in meditation and started practicing. It's been a real journey and it has been much more rewarding than I first thought it would be. I believe meditation is a lifelong practice, it is not a skill you acquire but a skill that invites you to continuously keep exploring. The journey this far has taken me from ordering a book on Amazon to regular meditation and lectures at the local Buddhist temple. I've persevered through some of the longest minutes of my life, but also experienced what 9 hours of sitting meditation feels like. A year in and I already have a feeling meditation will be a trusted companion in life.

Secondly, I decided to pursue a new endeavor all together. Last fall, I took the first steps towards becoming a certified Domestic Violence Counselor. This journey was not necessarily planned, and it happened spontaneously, but while looking at volunteer options, I stumbled upon this opportunity and something about it just felt right. It took me a while to think it through, to make sure this was something I was ready to take on. After some soul-searching and self-evaluation, I filled out the application, and before I knew it I had done my interview, been accepted and found myself in a classroom doing my 40-hour California state mandated Domestic Violence training. I finished my training in December, just a few days before the Holidays. I met the most amazing people, fellow Domestic Violence Counselors in the making, and one couldn't help but be inspired and humbled. I left the training feeling slightly overwhelmed, a little bit nervous, but also empowered and really eager to go into the world and lend a helping hand.

So here we are, at the start of 2016. Seldom have I felt this antsy at the start of a year. Preparations were made, I'm all warmed up and much of what happened in 2015 is leading up to this moment. I'm in the starting blocks, ready to go. As I try to tell myself to stay calm and focused, I can't help but yearn for the sound of the starter pistol. And when it goes off, I will slowly and mindfully, with patience and compassion, walk to greet all that 2016 has to offer. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Stay kind, stay compassionate

One moment, you're living life, whether it be at a concert, enjoying a nice dinner or doing some shopping. Next moment, it all goes black.


When innocence is under attack, it's an attack on our humanity. Not just an attack on our way of living, or the way we have structured our society, but an attack on how we think and what we bear in our hearts. It threatens our safety, it creates fear and it feeds on our insecurities. It hardens us.

In a world that is more intertwined than ever, forces are at play, trying to polarize us and pitch us against each other. In these uncertain times, I believe there is only one distinction that matters. Every single person on this planet, who don't engage in terror, devastation or the desire to create fear, are on the same team. It doesn't matter where you're from, what you do or who you are, activist, Average Joe or refugee, we're all in this together, in the same boat, trying to navigate treacherous waters.

For our team to win, we need to remember to support each other, watch out for one another and to be each others cheerleaders. We need to open our hearts and minds, and trust our team members and allow them to play. We need to understand that we can help our team, but also that the team can help us.

When faced with something unfathomable, we often feel helpless. But we are not. We can stay kind, stay compassionate and stay optimistic. Remember our team's past victories and believe in our future successes.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

No complaining?

Today is October first, and my month long challenge of no complaining has come to an end. So, how did it go?

It went... ok..?

The challenge turned out to be different than I thought. In my mind, the goal was to find out how it would affect me, and my interactions with others, when removing all negative sentiments from my speech. I would be vigilant of what I said and therefore I would be able to notice the impact of complaining and whining.

Right off the bat, I had made the wrong assumption. I assumed I would be able to think before I speak, and that turned out to be false. It was much easier to be aware and mindful when faced with a conflict or when negative emotions were in play, may it be news media or being cut off in traffic. But in regular conversation, about mundane things, it was very difficult to watch every word coming our of my mouth. More often than not, I would realize I said something negative, or agreed with something negative, as I heard myself say it. And I'm absolutely certain a lot fell off the radar all together.

It was interesting to me, that I, personally, had a much more difficult time adjusting my habitual speech, than to adjust my expression of strong negative emotions/sensations. It was much easier to not complain about physical pain than to keep myself from complaining about the weather.

The biggest fail of the month happened early on, and it was the biggest fail because I was fully aware and I actively chose to complain/whine/bitch. My husband and I had planned a visit to a tannery in Santa Cruz, to buy leather for some craft projects. We decided to start the day with a few hours of hiking, then find a cute place to eat lunch, followed by shopping. The hike in Big Basin was great, but by the time we sat down for lunch, I was ravenous. A ravenous woman, waiting for food, in a small café in Santa Cruz could only end one way.

After expressing myself through some very negative body language, I turned to my husband and declared that I didn't care how I promised I wouldn't complain, I'm totally gonna. "How difficult can it be to make a panini? I know it's Santa Cruz, but come on! How do they survive as a business, they are sooooo slow! Look, they are just chatting amongst themselves and not even caring about their paying customers! Chipotle is down the street and we would've been fed by now!"

Eventually, I did get my food. It was delicious. Instant happy camper. Also, I was happy we chose to support a small local business. And I apologized to my husband, and the universe, for not having more patience.

One subject stood out, as a repeated source of whining. The weather. We've had a very warm month. We don't have AC, my allergies prevents us from leaving our windows open at night, and we've had quite a few days in the upper 90s (35C+). Sleeping was a struggle. I was better at not complaining about the heat itself, but I did a horrible job at not whining about being tired.

Moving forward, I will keep on trying to minimize unnecessary negativity. I will practice thinking before speaking. I will remind myself that whining will not change the weather, or make cheese melt faster. As long as I keep myself fed and well-rested, I believe I'm up for the challenge.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015


"Please share a few words about your experiences over the past 12 weeks"
This was the instruction, at the final class of my Meditation & Zen Buddhism Course.

My respons: "It has been a huge sigh of relief. I've been told, on many occasions, that I'm naive, I need to grow up and I need to realize that the world is a tough place, it's eat or be eaten. But here, I've realized that maybe I'm not crazy after all, my sunny outlook on life isn't something I need to rid myself of and it's perfectly ok to be happy and content.

Also, it has been great to be around people who are trying to solve their personal problems, and problems of the world, through kindness and compassion."

Let me take you back a few months. Last winter I started thinking about meditation, as a great tool to have in life's toolbox. My understanding of meditation was the ability to calm the mind and to be able to see things for what they truly are. I thought it might be a good thing to learn while life is good and easy, so that in the future, if I need it, I would already have a head start.

The step to explore meditation was not a very big one. My grandparents were both devout Buddhists and avid meditators, so even if I never took part, or knew much about it, Buddhism and meditation wasn't anything foreign or mystical.

After New Year, I started the exploration in the privacy of my home. I Googled books and articles and ended up reading a couple. A book that I found particularly approachable was "How to Meditate", by Pema Chödrön. But the more I read the more I understood the benefits of participating in guided meditation.

After some more research (i.e. Yelp) I found Chung Tai Zen Center in Sunnyvale, just a couple of miles from where I live. They offered free Meditation and Zen Buddhist classes throughout the year, different level courses, each lasting 12 weeks. Once a week, one hour of meditation, followed by one hour of Buddhist teachings.

In all honesty, I was somewhat hesitant at first. I wanted the one hour meditation, but wasn't sure about the one hour lecture that followed. Would they try to "recruit" me and rope me into their religion? But I was still curious, and also interested in how it all tied together. Curiosity won. And I'm so very glad it did. The lectures were interesting and inspiring in so many ways, and it gave depth to the meditation I wouldn't want to be without.

I ended up doing Level 1, and this week, I'm starting Level 2. I've found all of it very interesting, very thoughtful and sometimes very challenging. I expect I will want to share some of the things I've learned and some of my personal insights moving forward. But for now, I'll leave you with something inspired from a fellow meditator. This older gentleman presented himself as a devout Catholic, born, raised and practicing. When he is asked how he consolidates his Catholic beliefs with attending classes at the temple, he simply says "There is only one God, but Buddha is a great teacher".

To make his quote my own, "I don't believe there is a God/Gods, but I believe Buddha is a great teacher".

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

No complaining, please!

Today is September 1st and summer has officially come to an end. A new season brings a great opportunity to take a refreshed look at things. So, in the spirit of self-revising, I will set myself a challenge, or will conduct an experiment rather. Over the next 30 days, there will be no complaining.

Let me elaborate. Over the next 30 days I will make every effort not to vocalize negative sentiments that will not lead to actual action. So, no complaining, no negative comments, no "policing", no whining, no arguing, no debating etc. You get the picture.

Why am I doing this? If you ask people who know me, I don't think they would describe me as a negative person or a pessimist. In my own self-assessment, I'm pretty easy going and generally happy. So this is not an intervention or an "attitude-detox". However, I've noticed how often negative comments creep into conversations, almost like fillers we don't really think about. I'm curious to know how much I do it myself.

I'm also hoping to discover in what ways it will affect my conversations when I become more aware of how I participate in them. This will make me much more mindful of the words I speak. And how will this affect my thoughts? Will I internalize and turn my mind into a cynical whiner, because I lack other outlets? Or will I let things go faster because I can't seek reinforcements?

Since this experiment came about out of curiosity, rather than needing a life-overhaul, and in keeping with a positive attitude, I will not be penalized if I slip, there will be no "swear-jar". I will allow myself to answer questions honestly and I will always have the option to say no, or to walk away. This is a "no-negativity" challenge, not a "always-positive" challenge. Also, I realize the subjective nature of defining "negative", but when in doubt, at least I will have to make a conscious decision.

If you and I have a conversation over the next 30 days, please help me and call me out if I slip. Please be patient if it takes me longer to respond than usual. In the best of worlds, these 30 days will not be much different from all other days. In the worst of worlds, these 30 days will be very quite days. But then again, maybe quite isn't always such a bad thing.