Last February I began my journey toward health with an introduction of raw food lifestyle into my life. I have experienced amazing improvements in health and overall well being. Now that my awareness was awakened there was no way for me to go back to how things were and I didn’t want to. Some days it was hard to follow the lifestyle. I slipped up. I got frustrated and overwhelmed at time. I wished there were more people around who sought health by bringing balance back to the body. At times I seemed at odds with the world as I persisted on this newfound path, step by step, thought by thought, day by day, mostly on my own. I read one book after another on raw food and natural healing. Books helped, but I craved human connections, others to share my journey with.
My desire to connect with people that have similar mindset brought me to Living Foods Institute (LFI) in Atlanta. I originally came across their website in March or April and right away I knew that I wanted to go. It was going to be tough to take time off for myself for ten days because that wasn’t something that I was used to doing. For some reason it felt selfish to dedicate time for healing, but by now I knew better than to give in to negative thoughts of my restless mind. There is nothing more important than health and taking time off to heal so that I can be a more positive and capable presence in lives of those who I love is not selfish in the least. And so I made another wishful determination - I was going to go to LFI in the coming year. By some miracle or law of universal attraction I was presented with such an opportunity in about six months. I booked for February without another nagging afterthought, it was my wish manifesting. I took the gift with gratitude and joyful excitement.
It is funny how future is always so different from what we expect. I wanted to go to Atlanta to learn more about raw food (in case a tidbit of important information managed to escape my attention after reading a dozen of books), to get hands on experience preparing recipes and, of course, to meet others who were interested in this kind of lifestyle. Lucky me, I got so much more than I would have ever anticipated. Let me start by saying that the whole place was physically created with love. From the moment you walk in on the first morning of classes to the evening of graduation from the program on day ten, you are literally surrounded by positivity and joy. It is so drastically different from the “real” world that it takes some getting used to before one can let the guard down and take a deep breath. Worries and negative thoughts dissipated one by one in each one of us who attended the seminar and we relaxed into a mindset of healing.
About thirty perfect strangers timidly introduced themselves. Some came in hopes to heal a life-threatening illness and others wanted to learn more about raw living food to prevent illness from ever occurring. I had tremendous respect for them all - it takes guts to follow your inner voice and to go against what is commonly accepted. One of the first things we were taught was the importance of positive attitude. Healing starts in the mind. It is a thought and a feeling of being healthy. Thus the routine of daily affirmations practiced at the center to reinforce our positive beliefs. Our emotions play an integral part in either creating or disrupting the balance in our bodies. When the negative feelings of pain, fear, regret or anger are held on to for a long time, they produce blockages of energy in our physical bodies and we manifest sickness or “dis-ease”. Therefore, a path to health is through finding balance on all levels – physical, emotional and spiritual.
For ten days we prepared and ate only organic raw vegan foods and, contrary to popular assumption, no one was starving. We cleansed physically and emotionally, and even though some days were painful for some of us, we kept smiling and supporting each other on this journey because we understood that the process of releasing toxins is an essential part of healing. With each day we bonded with each other more and more as our hearts opened to give and receive love. We weren’t perfect strangers any longer as we witnessed each other’s pain when feelings bottled inside for years, or even decades, came to the surface with the help of healing foods and therapies. We cried and laughed together. We shared without holding back. We found new ways to let go of the past and to forgive. We discovered how similar we all are deep down, no matter what religion we followed or didn’t follow, no matter if we were rich or poor, what race we were thought to belong to or how we previously viewed ourselves. We were there on a mission to heal ourselves peacefully and with respect toward the planet and our bodies, and to discover an even bigger mission called life, which is the process of spiritual growth through giving and receiving unconditional love.
Back in January 2004 I have met an amazing person, Sidney Springer. He came to DDC where I worked at the time with his wife and daughter. His daughter was probably about two years old and his wife was pregnant with their second child. He came to share his experience at the weekly Buddhist meeting that we had during lunch breaks on Wednesdays. I knew he was coming and made sure that nothing interfered with me being there. Carlyle, the man who introduced me to Buddhism (he also introduced Sidney to the practice), said that a young man will come to the meeting who was recently diagnosed with cancer. He said that this young man wanted to encourage people with his positive outlook and victorious spirit. Despite Carlyle’s confidence, I wasn’t expecting a happy encouraging person. How can someone recently diagnosed with cancer not be swayed by the fact that he was probably dying? Forget encouraging me with my silly inconsequential problems, I wanted to go so that there would be someone who supported him during this trying time.
Everyone knew he was coming and there was sadness in the air - he was only twenty eight. However, when he stepped into the room with his wife and his daughter at hand, the atmosphere transformed in seconds. It was still sad, but now that we met him, we were encouraged by his remarkable strength and positivity. He was living his life to the fullest, without fear, without regrets and without asking “why me”. He talked about his sickness, but I could tell that his main reason for coming was to encourage everyone not to give up on their dreams no matter what. It was as if for him living to the fullest was touching as many hearts as possible. He fearlessly cheered people on to pursue their happiness without a selfish thought. It was beautiful how his wife supported him with her genuine loving smile and gentle touch.
I often thought about the bright young man that I have met on the cold day In January years ago. His smile, his words and his love for his wife reminded me about important things in life time and again. I hoped that he got well and overcame his sickness. I wished that someday I could tell him how grateful I was and give him a piece of my happiness to return the favor. Sadly, the only favor I could return was attending his memorial this October. He died on September 2, the day before his 36th birthday. On the day of the memorial it was raining and snowing, and everyone knows how I dislike going to the city without a class or dinner incentive, but there was no question that I had to be there for him and his family. My boyfriend came with me, knowing how important this memorial was from what I have told him. My grandfather also had lung cancer and died, but all he had was six months after the doctors got involved. Sidney was fortunate enough to have another eight years with his family. He got to meet his second daughter and see both of his children grow. He didn’t just disintegrate mentally, physically or spiritually, he lived with joy and vigor while he was alive.
During the first part of the memorial there was a lot of chanting, this would have made Sidney happy. I chanted for him with appreciation - thank you for being who you were, thank you for bringing so much optimism into the world that it stayed there even after you were gone. People shared their memories of Sidney. His wife remembered the lessons that he taught her, most important ones being that one has to be happy first before he/she can make others happy and that we need to chant for people who make us miserable because they need it most since they are suffering. One of his friends remembered how toward the end Sidney was so week that he had to be rolled in his chair from one room to the next, but he was always up for chanting. Another friend shared Sidney’s confidence that we always get back what we give. Sidney firmly believed that no smile is wasted, that each one will be returned by the person smiling back at us. That’s how he lived his life, bringing his smile wherever he went! His daughters danced for daddy, his friends sang and told jokes. It was a celebration of a wonderful young man’s life, a young man who deserved to be remembered. Sidney’s spirit is now a part of all the people that he has touched and therefore will live on through us as ripples of goodness and compassion that we project forth with him in mind.
Celebration of my birthday this year coincided with the ten year anniversary of 9/11. There is nothing more humbling than such great tragedy. I didn’t want anything fancy, no breakfast at Tiffany’s, no drinks on any of Manhattan’s rooftops, no extravagant presents or loud parties. I never do, a quiet afternoon with my loved ones is all I ever want. I am full of gratitude for being alive. Thank you mom for having me, for staying up all night when I was sick and for doing your best. Even though we have arguments sometimes and it seems that there is a deep void between us, somehow we always find a way to see how much we love each other and to forgive.
Every year before my birthday my mind goes through a process where it evaluates everything in my life and looks for things to leave behind. Past few years my focus has been on getting rid of negativity. I find that there are two major forms of negativity that we deal on a day to day basis, our internal negativity and the people around us who drag us down. I believe that all people have both positive and negative inside them. Some people have a naturally positive disposition and others don’t, but everyone is capable of becoming more optimistic. It is up to each one of us to determine which side will be predominant going forward - we can make a conscious choice and challenge ourselves to be positive every day.
For years I have been working on transforming my internal state to be lighter and more positive, so much so that by now it has become a habit. And even though there may be some days when it is harder than others, I see every day as a fresh start. I don’t get discouraged if I don’t feel like I am happy every single moment of my life. The key is to figure out what’s bothering you and come up with a way to address it. Buddhism works great for me - all I need to do is sit down and focus on the problem for a second. Then I let it go and the solution floats in my mind while I am chanting.
It is more of a challenge when it comes to other people because we can’t directly change them. All we can do is be positive and approach them kindly. With time they too will change, but meanwhile they might take their sweet time and torment us. I had a few people like that in my life and was tired of waiting for them to become kinder to me, so I chanted for their happiness and for my own and decided that it will be in everyone’s best interest if they were physically out of my life. There was not much more I was willing to do for them from that point on than to chant from a safe distance for their happiness. They were selfishly hogging my energy; stopping me from growing at the rate I was capable of developing and preventing me from helping other people.
This year, finally, my life had no such obstacles and I was able to concentrate on clearing out my living space from old memories and physical junk. Things that should have been thrown out awhile ago are little by little being let go. Just like when I was moving my stuff at work, there are feelings involved. We get attached to things and get mentally stuck in places because of them. But, life is about moving forward and there is no better time to reflect on it than your birthday. I guess that the gift that I give myself this year is doing just that by clearing out the house, from the now broken couch that served me well for almost nine years to the messy closets full of useless junk. Time to let it go, birthday girl, time to move forward!
Summer has flown by in an instant and as I am saying my last goodbyes, the rain is insistently wetting everything in sight. Without encouraging rays of the sun, it is not an optimal choice of a day to move from my desk to a new location. It would have been easier if I were able to see its glow from the big dusty windows of the room that I am moving to; after all, having windows was the number one perk of the move.
This morning I decided that postponing the inevitable is torturous and I should just do it. It would be like pulling off the band aid, one quick jerk and that’s it, no need to prolog the pain. I start with the move and it feels like I am downsizing from a house to an apartment. I can’t fit all my stuff in properly, so I spent some time going through piles of paper and cleaning out the drawers. It is a perfect chance to get rid of the clutter that I have accumulated over the years, personal and otherwise. As I lugged massive piles of useless paper to the recycle bin, I felt some relief from the anxiety I felt about moving. Cleaning has a therapeutic effect on me. My energy seems to flow better when there is less clutter around and the absence of dust adds newness even to the old desk that’s to become my new home. Two towering stacks of thick technical books have been already moved over and are taking one side of my desk. Picture of my son from when he was one year old is affectionately displayed next to them. It is evident that at times I have a hard time leaving precious memories behind. My son is nine now, but I just love having his baby face smile at me from the small silver frame.
Little by little I move things over and the new place starts to look more inviting. As I come back one last time to get whatever is left, deep emotion wells up in my chest. Tears start to tickle my nose and I know that it’s time to go. I chant in a soft whisper. It is my way to bide a warm goodbye to the place and its memories. I sense deep appreciation as I leave the room. This is it - off I go to make new memories. Out with the old, in with the new! I remind myself how much I love the fall and its richness of color. There will be more sunny days ahead, more inviting blue skies and more smiles. And there will definitely be more adventures, wherever I go. When something ends, something new begins.
Sunshine is the nickname that I was given by one of my dear friends, the friend that has introduced me to Buddhism. I carry my nickname with pride - what can be more praiseworthy of one then to be called a human ray of sun. To me, this appellation implies an ability to reflect the radiance of life and to illuminate the darkness of human condition.
I haven’t always been sunny and cheerful. I have had my dark moments, more than plenty of them. There were times when I wondered the streets of New York, feeling absent from life, observing others with apathy and speculating whether they could go through me if they kept walking straight and I didn’t bother to turn. I felt paper thin, invisible at times, ghostly and wretched. What was the reason for my existence, I wanted to know, but no one had the answer that would make sense to me. I was alive because my parents had made me, science explained and I felt angry that no one asked me first if I wanted to be born. I was alive because god gave me life, church declared without really answering my question. Questions are not encouraged when it comes to god’s will, we should just have faith. I was alive because somehow I was special and meant to contribute to the world in my unique way, whispered my heart and then the mind forced its murky discernment over the tiny sliver of hope.
One day an older Jamaican man with long braided dreadlocks and funky attitude came up to me and asked why I had a look of an old disappointed woman on my face. I didn’t like the question, but after a brief hesitation I did let him know what I thought about life. “I see”, he said. And then he taught me how to chant. I chanted on my own for a few months, every day seeking him out at work to talk more about Buddhist philosophy. I was thirsty for it like a dried out desert was for a drop of rain. The more I learned, the more I realized that I was always a Buddhist at heart.
However, the battle hasn’t been won yet, the past was resistant of letting me go. I was chased by a Christian madman, pleading and urging for me to come to church. I knew that there was nothing there that would make me happy, but was scared to move on and officially practice Buddhism. I was feeling the fear and guilt that were instilled in me from childhood. If you hear that lack of faith in god will send you to hell after death a million times, it kind of becomes a certainty in your mind, on a deep subconscious level. And the talks of Christ dying for people’s sins weighted heavily down on my soul. The Christian guy, sensing my fear and guilt pressed harder, pushed further until it became quite hostile between the two of us. He upset me to tears with his threats and the predictions of my demise if I continued to chant.
But I kept chanting because it was helping me. I felt lighter and happier, and the little sliver of hope was emerging from my depths and blooming like a flower. I was beginning to discover the wonders of who I was and seeing the beauty around myself to which I was previously oblivious. There was no way any man was going to stop me from diving even deeper into the welcoming embrace of my being. However, the feeling of guilt and fear was still ever present in the background. It is not easy to change something that is hidden on a deeper level of conscience. It takes a lot of effort and work. My friend put it very logically, though, he said that practicing a religion for the wrong reasons, such as fear and guilt, is really equivalent to not practicing it at all. If your heart is not in it or it doesn’t make sense to you, you might as well look for happiness somewhere else and get over that fear and guilt, they are not constructive.
One day we were talking, as usual, and he presented me with my first pair of beads for chanting. The beads were inside a container, so I didn’t know what I was holding until he told me. The Christian man who harassed me came by and forcefully handed me the Bible before I could object. So, there I was, standing with Buddhist beads in one hand and a Bible in the other. Everything around me seemed to disappear, time slowed down and froze - the universe itself was waiting for me to make my decision. I knew at that moment, that most profound moment of my life that I will be happy and that I knew how. I gave the Bible back to the man, smiling with confidence and determination, “No thanks, I am good.” He looked bewildered, clearly in shock of my instant transformation from being somewhat gullible and easily harassed to a person of unshakable resolve. Something wonderful has happened to me in the moment when I was making my choice - the feeling of being broken was gone, it was replaced by sensation of bottomless joy. I felt truly complete. Without any doubt in my mind I knew that there existed the beautiful marvelous everlasting me and that the feeling of being special that followed me through life was not some ego nonsense, it was who I truly was.
The man has never bothered me again even though I have made no attempts to avoid him. I passed by him almost every day when on the way to my friend’s desk. I held my head high, politely smiling with joy, not to him per se, but because I just couldn’t stop. That was my first true victory over negativity. And today, after over seven years of chanting, I still have a giddy smile on my face more often than not.
It is the weekend of hurricane Irene and I am at home devoting myself lovingly to website setup and writing my first blog entry. As I attach the picture of a peaceful Cape Cod shore to the page, I am overwhelmed by fond memories of the trip. Those memories wouldn’t have existed were I to hesitate and not book the trip, or cancel last minute, or drop the guided tour. There are so many factors involved for something valuable to come together, but the journey always begins with a single step. So, here I am, taking that tiny, baby step forward. I have no idea how all this is going to work out or whether a lot of people will read my articles, but I am not budging under pressure of going live, I have decided to let the chips fall where they may.
I have dreamt of writing a book for years now, worked on it on and off. Responsibilities and obligations usually left little room for anything imaginative to take place. Days, weeks and years have passed, then this year I finally found myself being able to explore my creative side to a greater extent. I have made a mental commitment and a promise to myself to start a blog before the year ends. I even took a “Creative Writing” and “How to Blog” classes with Gotham Writers to solidify my intent. Of course, creative writing classes and exercises go beyond setting my goal in stone, I only had two classes so far and already I feel like I am more creative and adventurous in my writing. I really needed the extra push and motivation to sit still and explore my abilities, to challenge myself, especially when writing about a topic that I found extremely boring at a first glance.
But in order to become a better writer, practice is a must. Just like with anything else in life, the art is in perfection. Some pieces will come out awful, some – decent enough to share with others. The key is not paying attention to the inner voice of negativity when it tells you that something isn’t worth doing when you know that it is. When you have passion and ability to succeed the only factor that can potentially stop you from accomplishing your goal is you, with the limitations that you set on yourself.