We Will Get It Right

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There’s a certain amount of shame involved in civil rights.  To stand up for your own personal equality requires having a conversation with people who literally believe that you are in some way entitled to less in life than they are.  For me, and I’m sure for others, this brings up insecurities that I’ve spent the majority of my life creating coping mechanisms for.  It reminds me of being an overweight kid and being made fun of.  It reminds me of the false hope I would feel throughout my school years when so-called popular classmates fooled me into thinking I was included, only to then deliver a painful punch line.  It reminds me of my traditional, Roman Catholic Italian upbringing that constantly conditioned me to believe that, as a woman, I did not deserve the respect that my male relatives enjoyed, even if I worked harder than they did to earn it.  And it reminds me that there are people out there who actually believe that the love I share with my wife is offensive, immoral, and undeserving of equal treatment under the law.

No matter what age I’ve been, or what social construct I’ve lived within, there have always been people out there telling me I am “less than,” undeserving, misguided, and my personal favorite, arrogant for believing that I should be respected and appreciated for who I am.  Sometimes, these people have been those I should have been able to trust the most.  Other times, like right now with the gay rights debate going on in our political system, they are complete strangers who pass judgement on me without so much as a conversation.

Whether personal or impersonal, family or stranger or anyone in between, my most common reaction is to downplay the pain, in favor of maintaining a positive attitude.  As they say, “where attention goes, energy flows,” and no good will come from wallowing in self-pity.  But sometimes, for whatever reason, I look at it.  I stare the pain right in the face, and I offer a quiet “fuck you” to anyone or anything that has ever made me doubt the amazing, loving, beautiful, generous, kind, and devoted person that I am.

If that sounds like self-love, like conceit, good.  Because sometimes I get angry.  And sometimes, we have to hold ourselves up with strength and compassion because the world has forgotten how incredible we are.  Someone has to remember.  We are all born beautiful, intelligent, compassionate individuals with an astounding ability to love each other.  And if the world has forgotten—if the social and political climate is such that certain people are deemed unworthy—then we have to stand up for ourselves.  We have to speak up and say, “I count.  I am deserving.  In fact, you’d really like me if you gave it a chance.”

To look someone in the eye and say, “No, you do not deserve more in life than I do” is a terrifying thing.  But it is necessary.  It is the only way social progress has ever been made.  So cheers to all of us who have ever been underdogs in any way, and have stood up to the bullies out there who have attempted to keep us in “our place.”  We are stronger than we often think we are, and the muck we trudge through will be worth it.  History shows us that.  We are an evolving, relatively young society here in the west, and we WILL get it right.

Things I am Inspired By

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Today in eastern Massachusettes is one of those days that is too beautiful to waste.  The sun is shining, the air smells clean and crisp, and there’s a bit of a whip in the air—too strong to label it a breeze.  I got out of work early, and am waiting for my wife to join me in venturing out for the afternoon.  Since today is the type of day that easily lends itself to gratitude and appreciation, I thought I’d just take a moment to list some recent things I’ve noticed in my life that inspire me.

 1) The trust in the eyes of a severely developmentally delayed person as I help them in the shower.

 2) My wife’s insistence that meaningful work is out there to find, and her continued pursuit of it.

 3) People in wheelchairs getting into a swimming pool to exercise.

 4) A water arobics instructor’s willingness to do arobics in a bathing suit, outside of the pool so her students can see, even though her figure is not perfect.

 5) My mother-in-law purchasing a recumbant bicycle so she can achieve the necessary weight loss before her knee surgery.

 6) The author of the book I’m reading—and all new authors out there—who had the courage to start and finish a novel, even though the accolades were not yet present.

 7) Me, writing this blog entry because even though it isn’t much, it is something, and my day always feels better if writing was a part of it.

Namaste.  Enjoy the day, everyone!

Got Monsters – Mina Caputo’s Artful Depiction of a Day In the Life of a Transgender Person

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I don’t even have words to express how beautiful I find this video.  I don’t know Mina Caputo or her music.  This came across my radar because of my interest in gender/transgender issues.  This video artfully paints a canvas of what a day in the life of a transgender person feels like.  The lyrics are deliberate, the voice graceful.  The song speaks to all of us who’ve ever felt alone, or scared, but did what we knew we had to do anyway.  It reminds us that we are all the same.

Worthy of noting, here is an exerpt from her bio that I found riveting:

“Obsessed with hard truths, Caputo remains an intrepid conquistador of her own pain. Orphaned by heroin-addicted parents, she was forced to grow up in a dark world of poverty, violence and crime. And while themes of abuse and abandonment may seem familiar to those who follow her work, Caputo is innovative enough to shed new light on these subjects with every song she writes. And as shocking as her lyrical content can sometimes be, the biggest bombshell is her undying romanticism; her unwavering insistence on seeing the silver lining to every cloud. As Caputo herself says, “From my own feelings of displacement, dissatisfaction and yearning, comes a vast sea of compassion.”

Here is the video.  May we all experience a drop of this “vast sea of compassion” as we hear this song.  Keep singing, sister…

http://youtu.be/D9GhaCdLtd4

Here are the lyrics to Monsters Too (I No Longer Exist):

i got monsters
how bout you
was born a monster
do you hide your monsters too
now everybody else in here
what has become of you
i’ve got monsters
how about you
we got monsters
we suffer like the rest
man i don’t know & i don’t care
what a lovely home we shared
what a tangled web we have weaved
now everybody else in here
what has become of you
i’ve got monsters
how about you
now everybody else in here
what has become of you
i tiptoed up to my daughter’s room
& i saw her monsters too
i’ve got monsters
how about you
yes i’ve got monsters too
yes i’ve got monsters too
yes i’ve got monsters too

Competitive Yoga?

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This morning, The AP put out a story about a fairly new athletic competition in The US.  The National Yoga Asana Championship, holding its ninth annual event this weekend in California, awards points for perfect posture and removes points for failure to meet the strictest standards.

And yes, there will be a winner.

What makes this newsworthy?  This year, the hope is for The Olympics to take notice.  According to Rajashree Choudhury, founder of USA Yoga, the organization that is holding the competition, this weekend is not about the spiritual and meditative aspects of yoga; it is about athleticism and precision.  The intention is for The Olympics to grant yoga a seat in future years.

Some critics are concerned that extrapolating and focusing on only the physical aspect of yoga will intimidate the general public—it might prevent someone from trying yoga because they feel they could never achieve a perfect posture.  Choudhury’s simple response?  “Yoga teaches people to be not-judgemental.”

I’m a bit torn on this one.  On the one hand, my first reaction to hearing there was going to be a yoga asana competition was, Oh man, I wish it was televised!  (For the record, it will be streamed online.)  Inarguably, for anyone who practices yoga, it would be beyond cool to watch the best of the best show off a perfect pose.  Even for those who don’t practice, you’ve got to admit that a photograph of an advanced yoga move can make you hold your breath in awe.

And, speaking to the concern that “ordinary people” won’t try yoga if they see a competition full of perfect asanas, I say:  What about The World Series?  The Superbowl?  The Olympic Ski Team?  Or how about Olympic divers?  Talk about precision!  Citizens all over this country get involved in every type of sport there is.  We don’t see people saying, Why should I even get on the diving board?  I’m never going to be able to do a two-and-a-half somersault twist like Matthew Mitcham.   Please!  For the other 99.999% of us who are not destined to win an Olympic gold medal, we get involved in sports and other physical activities because they are fun, and because it keeps us healthy.  We don’t expect to one day compete with the best.

On the other hand, I’m thinking about the aspect of yoga that I enjoy the most, and that is spirituality.  It does make me sad to think that, one day in the near future, yoga might be seen as a physical sport and nothing more.  At the age of twenty, I began a yoga practice because I thought a spiritually-centered form of exercise might actually be something I would stick with.  Turns out I was right. 

As someone who’s always had the tendency for a sedentary lifestyle, yoga has been the most consistent things that has gotten me up and moving.  Nearly all other forms of exercise generally come from a “should” mentality, while yoga feels like I am pampering myself.  I wonder if I would have ever given it a try if, as a meditating, twenty-year-old hippy, I had just witnessed the Matthew Mitcham of yoga perform a perfect rooster pose on tv, to the applause of hundreds of thousands of people.  Would there have been the same appeal?

There is no question that yoga can be seen as a two-edged sword (in a completely nonviolent way, of course!)  It simultaneously hones the body and the spirit.  My back is stronger than it’s ever been because of the yoga I’ve been doing recently.  My mind is calmer, too.  I have more confidence, and I meditate more often.  I think what I love about yoga the most is that it strengthens the mind-body connection, and keeps the practitioner’s body and spirit working in harmony.  I personally cannot (and don’t want to) see yoga as a strictly physical sport.

What do you think?  Should the physical and spiritual aspects of yoga be appreciated separately?  Is it okay for the mainstream appreciation of yoga to center around it being an athletic event?  Would that change, over time, what yoga is and how it adds value to our lives?  Would you be less likely to try it if it were broadcast in The Olympics?

(This post paraphrases the article Yoga event called step to Olympic recognition, The Associated Press, March 3, 2012.)

Pepsi Next, Compromise or Clever Deception?

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A long time ago, I gave up soda entirely.  The amount of sugar in regular soda exceeds most desserts, and the artificial sweeteners in diet soda wreak havoc on the body.  Either choice of beverage is like introducing your immune system to a battle with every single sip.  Over time, the regular consumption of soda presents your body with a war it cannot win.

That being said, I was intrigued by an advertisement I saw the other day while I was pumping gas at a gas station that has television screens at the pumps.  Pepsi Next, a new soft drink scheduled to hit shelves at the end of March, promised to be a compromise between those concerned with the amount of sugar in regular soft drinks, and those concerned with the artificial sweeteners in diet soda.  While I have no intention of returning to soda, this ad sparked in me some hope for those who regularly drink it.  Perhaps, I thought, our culture’s shift toward a more natural approach to health and wellness is starting to sink in with major corporations.  Perhaps, much like how Clorox came up with a line of green cleaning products, Pepsi is attempting to win back customers who want to be informed about what they are putting into their bodies.

After some research, I’m a bit sad—although I can’t say terribly surprised—to say apparently not.  If you get a moment, check out this article by Minnesota Public Radio.  If you don’t have the time to read the whole thing, here’s the part that needs to be called out.  About half-way through the article, it reads:

Pepsi says its latest stab at an in-between soda uses a different formula to more closely imitate the taste of regular soda. In addition to sugar, Pepsi Next is made with a mix of three artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup.

High fructose corn syrup?  REALLY????  This is their attempt at a compromise?  A highly volatile, “all natural” ingredient that is known to cause liver damage because the body does not recognize it as food?  And what about the “mix of three artificial sweeteners” that Pepsi is not willing to list?  What are we to make of that?

It seems Pepsi’s intention is crystal clear: use taste, above all else, to win back customers who hopefully will not notice or care that they will be pumping their bodies full of poison.

With a heavy sigh, I apologize for stepping away from what I fully intend to be a positive, love-filled blog.  I do hop on my soap box from time to time.  Suffice to say the deceit in the advertisement I saw inspired me to pass on a warning.  If you’re a soda drinker, don’t be fooled by Pepsi’s new “compromise.”  You’d be better off drinking regular soda.  Sure, it has more calories and a higher sugar content, but you won’t be pumping your body full of artificial and dangerous ingredients.  If you’re concerned about health, and have been thinking of laying off the soft drinks, consider switching to Vitamin Water Zero.  Its taste and electrolyte boost is similar to Gatorade, but it has zero calories.  Here’s the great part:  it’s sweetened with an herb called stevia, which is 100% natural and easy to digest, and has no caloric content. 

And, because I simply can’t sign off without saying this, please love yourself enough to drink water!  The benefits of pure H2O cannot be stressed enough, especially if you do drink other beverages that contain questionable ingredients.  Water, along with countless other benefits, will aid your body in flushing out what does not belong there.  Okay ‘nough said.  Now that I’ve gone and added water, my soap box is all sudsy.  And with that truly awful joke, I bid you adieu.

Let Your Weakness Be Your Superhero

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When the words, “I’ve developed a really good relationship with my tonsils” left my mouth, my wife decided it was time to leave the room.  I can’t say I blame her; she puts up with a lot of weird conversations.  This time, my father-in-law was the one to humor me.

When I was a teenager, I got strep throat multiple times each year.  I was blessed (note the sarcasm) with enormous tonsils, which apparently translated into a hot party zone for germs.  By the time I graduated high school, I was familiar with all of the standard antibiotics, and my GP had gotten into the habit of asking me which drug I would like a prescription for.  While he (as well as my parents) was in favor of having my tonsils removed, I stubbornly held on to my little nemeses.   It appeared my body had developed a weakness, and I’ve always been one to fight for the underdog.

I don’t have a medical background, and I have no idea why certain people are prone to specific, repetitive ailments.  I do know this, though: 

1) I still have my tonsils.  We’ve actually become good friends. 
2) I don’t get strep throat anymore. 
And 3) I know exactly why that is.

You see, what I didn’t know as a teenager was that my high-sugar, packaged junk food, eat-whatever-I-want-whenever-I-want diet was majorly impacting my health.  This may sound like it should have been common sense, but I don’t just mean that I was overweight.  I got sick.  A lot.  I was too young to experience some of the more serious, long-term consequences, but my immune system was taking a real beating.  Processed sugar and packaged foods chuck full of chemicals were sending my white blood cells on sabbatical.  My tonsils, bless them and all of their tantrums, were trying to tell me something.

My lifestyle has since evolved into something unrecognizable to the kid who ate chocolate ice-cream to make her throat feel better.  What I now understand is that, as far as common germs are concerned, our throat is the gateway to our body.  This makes our tonsils the bouncers.  Nowadays, I eat very little processed sugar, and I pay close attention to the things I do choose to eat.  When I get a tickle in my throat, it is a message I do not ignore.  As soon as swallowing feels the tiniest bit funny, I double my daily vitamin C and pump my body full of the essential oil blend I use to boost my immune system. 

My tonsils are no longer a nuisance, no longer a weakness.  To my body, they are rock stars.  They are little warriors, alerting me to a problem I still have time to avoid.  I don’t get sick anymore.  This, I’m sure, is largely because of some major changes I’ve made in my lifestyle (both food and supplements).  But I won’t forget to give credit where it’s due.  Once my body’s most annoying weakness, my tonsils are now its superhero.  When my body is faced with a threat, they flare up.  They signal that danger is close, and I listen.  The potential was there all along.  I just had to get out of my own way to let the magic happen.

I’m fascinated by the concept of a weakness or sensitivity actually being a great strength we do not yet know how to use.  This applies to issues on the physical, mental, and spiritual levels.  If I took the time, I’m sure I’d come up with several other superheros that have presented themselves first as hindrances in my life.  I’m sure, also, that there are more to be discovered.  You see, that’s the beauty of power; when disallowed, it gets pissy.  It’s damn near impossible to ignore.  It’s a cry to be noticed.  To be appreciated.  To be put into action.  

How about you?  What ailments or patterns persist in your life?  Might they be alerting you to a power unrealized?

World Yoga Day; Practice With a Purpose

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This year’s World Yoga Day has some personal meaning for me.  As a writer with a journalism degree, I deeply value the free press.  In today’s world of media monopolization, it’s getting increasingly harder to find trustworthy news services.  On the other end of this disturbing spectrum, we have American reporters risking their lives to bring us news from other countries.

Now, we all have our political opinions.  I could go on and on about the things taking place in the world that shouldn’t be, and how I wish the “civilized” world was a safer place for all people.  But the bottom line is that international journalists need support, regardless of whether we agree with the wars they are covering or the media companies they represent.  These are hardworking, impassioned professionals with good intentions and, often, brave hearts that take them far beyond what most of us would be willing to do.  They work to shed light in some of the world’s darkest corners, and they deserve the support of the people they risk their lives to inform.

If you practice yoga, consider joining those around the globe who will be rolling out their mats on Sunday, February 26 to benefit Reporters Without Borders, an organization that works to defend and protect journalists’ rights around the globe.   Yoga centers in thirty-four countries are participating by donating the money they collect from classes that day.  If your local yoga center is not involved (check participating centers here) or if, like me, you have to work, you can simply dedicate your practice that day to imprisoned journalists and their families.  If you feel called to, you could also make a donation to the organization.  Remember that there are all kinds of currency, and the offering of a prayer, meditation, or kind thought is also a powerful contribution.  You don’t have to be a yogi to contribute!

P.S. – I learned about this awesome global event on Andrea Leber’s yoga blog.  Good stuff :)

At the Heart of Yoga, Trust Blooms

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Today, yoga was divine.  I don’t know why It took me twelve years to feel comfortable with the idea of guiding my own flow.  I used to be filled with so much fear that, if not led by a pre-arranged salutation, I would do things in an order that was not good for my body or energetic wellbeing.  Finally, I’m actively understanding that the only “wrong” way to do yoga is to go against intuition.  It is about trust.  Trust in my body.  Trust in my connection to the energy that surrounds me.  Trust that, enveloped in an expression of love, I would never harm myself.

Ah, trust.  It’s a slippery thing to appreciate.  One moment we’re locked solid in our intuition, the next, doubt fills our core.  It is this dramatic sometimes.  I have no problem trusting people.  I’m not a “trust is earned” type of person.  I offer trust freely until given reason not to (and even then it is generally easily offered again).  Mind you, I am not a foolish or gullible person.  I simply believe that I will know if a person is not trustworthy.  I will know it without need for explanation.  And if I don’t get that feeling, then trust comes easily to me.

Trusting myself can be another matter, though.  It’s amazing how quickly the fat kid in me returns, insisting that she should not be left alone to figure out anything having to do with physical activity.  “Do you not remember always being chosen last in gym class?  There was a reason for that!”  If this isn’t the tune the little bugger sings, then it’s generally something spiritual.  Little Kate (as I like to call my ego) just loves to jump in with her latest spin on the “you’re not spiritually evolved enough to do that” story.

This voice has been getting smaller and smaller.  Perhaps I’m finally taking the advice in all the books I’ve read.  Be kind, they say, say hello to the thought, thank it for the message, and ask it to leave.  Or maybe I just don’t buy it anymore.  It seems that lately I’ve been less and less willing to believe that any part of me is out to get me.  My inner saboteur is shrinking by the minute.

This morning, I put on some new age music, unrolled my yoga mat, and danced with the flow of the energy around me.  My aura was tinged in purple.  I held poses for longer than I ever have before.  I smiled.  On the wall, my inner light was reflected back to me.  As I relaxed my gaze, I used my own reflection to keep my balance.  It was fantastic.  It seems, after twelve years of practicing off and on, I’ve gotten to the heart of yoga.  I went within.  I trusted myself.  And I bloomed.

Exiting the Rabbit Hole; Life Without a Data Plan

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Tomorrow, I will enter a time machine.  First, I will wake and do all the usual things.  I will reach for my cell phone before my eyes are fully open, and I will check to see who “liked” or signed up to follow this blog while I was asleep.  I will check my e-mail.  I may post a status on Facebook or instant message a friend.  I will definitely have a thought or two to “write down” in my memo app before leaving my bed’s warm cocoon.  And then, all things in order and my day begun, I will put down a part of myself and return to a simpler time—a time before smartphones.

Tomorrow will be my last morning with my Android Fascinate.  It shocks me how unsettling this feels.  How much I’ve allowed constant contact with the cyber world to become part of my psychological barometer.  This change was primarily a financial decision, but the discomfort it summoned has made me welcome what I have started to call a “technology cleanse.”  No worries; I will still be checking e-mail and writing here.  But my pants will not vibrate when you decide to leave a comment.  I will have to wait to discover your lovely words when I deliberately check my e-mail by turning on my laptop.  I know, I know, how old-fashioned of me!

I know I am not alone in allowing a part of my identity to be defined by the magical black rectangle in my pocket.  Like Alice’s rabbit hole, these electronic devices transport us into a different, exciting world—a world of techy convenience, social networking, and a projected image of being important.  For me, even though I had to be talked into getting a smartphone, it only took a few weeks before I could hardly remember life without the smooth gliding of my finger on a touchscreen. 

I’ve loved having a smartphone.  I’m sure I will love having one again at some point in the future.  I am not suggesting we all collectively toss our 3 and 4G’s into a heaping pile and return to the days of (gasp!) simple text messaging and actual phone calls.  I am, however, offering up for consideration that we might all want to take a look at the attachments we’ve created.  No part of us is defined by the devices we carry, or what we use them for.  We, in fact, are way cooler than that.  And that’s something worth remembering.

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