Dealing with the Darkness: Honoring the Life of Robin Williams

Robin WilliamsAs I continue to sit with the tragedy of Robin Williams, I am filled with mixed emotions and thoughts in how to best honor his legacy – his light and darkness.

As someone who has struggled with depression at different times in my life, I can get the despair that can swallow you up, grabbing the steering wheel, while you ride shotgun. The darkness is palpable. Even with all the tools I have learned on my journey, I am not immune to the darkness taking hold.

I have learned that if you try to fight or deny or dismiss the darkness, it just squeezes tighter like the toy – Chinese Finger Cuffs.

fingercuffsI have learned to lean into the darkness from a place of curiosity and exploration. I know this may sound counter-intuitive, but this isn’t about giving up or giving in. It’s about dancing with this part of me that is just as real and valid as the lightness within me.

While we experience the pain, there is nothing inherently wrong with darkness. It’s how we relate to the darkness–our thoughts and actions in response–that are most damaging. By removing the judgment from the dark experience, you can create more freedom to dance with the darkness and in turn grow stronger.

By dancing with my darkness, I learned to reclaim my power and reclaim my life. I can take the wheel back and steer toward the light.

You may be asking – How do you dance with the darkness?

Here are a few practices inspired by Robin’s own words:

Dead-poets-societyUse your Voice

“You must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.’ Don’t be resigned to that. Break out!” Dead Poets Society

So often we stay silent around darkness. It’s barely talked about in close circles, let alone in public circles. That’s how it lives and grows…in the silence, in the shame. By bringing voice to the darkness, it brings it into the light and loses strength and power.

So when the darkness descends, reach out and find someone to talk to about it, someone you trust. It can be a family member or close friend, a therapist or even someone on the end of a hotline. By simply speaking it aloud, the darkness begins to loosen its grip.

good-will-huntingLook for the Good in the Dark

“People call those imperfections, but no, that’s the good stuff.” Good Will Hunting

Life is messy, filled with imperfections and flaws and failures—filled with darkness as much as the light. If we continue to dread the darkness when it shows up…and it always does in this crazy world, then fall victim to the darkness.

If we can see the good stuff, the gift, the wisdom in the darkness, then we can begin to change our perspective on the darkness. We can begin to see what it can give us instead of all that it takes away. I often find that my darkness gives me the gift of reflection as well as connection to others.

patchadamsNever Give Up

“The most radical act anyone can commit is to be happy.” Patch Adams

I don’t say this lightly because it takes something to Be Happy, something radical. It doesn’t mean you have to feel happy all the time because that just isn’t humanly possible. We all experience the darkness, but it is important to stay vigilant and never give up in that darkness.

We must commit to return to the light, each and every time. The commitment is not to stay in the light because we will have those descents into darkness, but simply do the work necessary to return to the light without judgment, without shame.

If you are dealing with some darkness, know that you are not alone. Reach out to those who love you. If you are not able to see the light right now, let your loved ones hold the light for you until you can see it yourself. The light will come.

 

Robin Williams – You may have lost the battle with darkness, but you will be remembered for the brilliant light that you brought to the world.

 

Speak Up – Speak Out against Oppression!

woman-covering-mouthYour voice needs to be heard.  That’s what I tell my public speaking students on the first day of class.  So much of my message, my life’s mission really, is to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard.  Well, that requires people to speak up and share their truth even when it’s risky or vulnerable, especially when it’s vulnerable.  It is then that our power and greatness shines brightly.

Last week, I saw a young man, Jay, do exactly that – speak his truth – in a powerful and inspiring way.   At the Q & A segment of Michael Eric Dyson’s talk on Race and Race Relations in America, Jay was the first at the mic.  He spoke about his experience as a young Latino man on campus, his desire to feel a sense of belonging for himself and other students of color and the barriers he experiences. The whole audience was riveted by his heartfelt plea to create something different, not just for him but for the next generation.  I was in awe of Jay’s eloquence and courage.

Now…I recognize that Jay’s experience isn’t unique.  It’s unfortunately all too common on college campuses across the country.  It was happening when on my college campus – that sense of exclusion, both conscious and unconscious, that had students of color feel unwelcome and unwanted. A continued conversation is needed. It is an uncomfortable conversation for sure, but an essential one.  We cannot remain silent.  We must ALL courageously step into this conversation with compassion and connection at the forefront.

So when someone from the college responded to Jay’s plea with a commitment to take action and continue the conversation, I was excited that it didn’t fall on deaf ears and someone listened, not with defensiveness but with an interest in engaging.  I am hopeful that this is the first of many exchanges in the dialogue.

When listening to Jay, I was reminded where I stopped engaging in this conversation, not just about race, but about social justice issues as a whole.  In my twenties, I was a loud mouth activist who spoke up anytime I heard a remark or witnessed an act that perpetuated oppression, be it racism, sexism or homophobia.  Whether it was my personal and professional life, I would not stand for any injustice.

Now, I have noticed areas where I have silenced my activist in my professional life.  While many of my programs incorporate courageous conversations about oppression, the silence has infiltrated in little ways.  I hold back on Facebook or Twitter so as not to upset or offend any of my followers.  But in my silence, there is a form of condoning, an allowing, that I have perpetuated by not speaking up, but not speaking out against the injustices that are happening across the nation every day.

So, inspired by Jay’s courage, I am committing to speaking up and speaking out against the oppression that still plagues our country.  If this is the land of the free and home of the brave, I must be brave and speak out to ensure true freedom for all who live here.

I need your help though.  I ask that you join me to speak up and speak out.  I need you to be brave and speak out for justice.  It doesn’t require a protest sign, all it requires is for you to speak your truth.

There may be areas where you do speak out and for that I thank you greatly.  However, if there are areas where you don’t, now’s the time.  The next generation is waiting.

Question: Where do you feel silenced? Where are you willing to speak up?

Going for Gold? Go Within

With my fascination of Olympics, I have been in awe of all the tremendous hard work and difficult decisions that the Olympians have had to make over their lifetime to achieve their ultimate goal – GOLD!

With so many difficult decisions and sacrifices they have made to pursue their dreams, they had to look within, trust their gut or intuition to determine which way to go.

You have probably heard someone say, “Go with Your Gut!”  That’s what I often say when someone is struggling with a  decision to make.  The reason for this simple answer is that we truly do know what is best.  We have the wisdom within us to make those difficult choices.  It’s that quiet whisper that nudges you to make a choice that is consistent with who you truly are.

It’s not always the easier choice.  In fact, it is often more risky, more uncomfortable, but oh so much more rewarding.  In his famous 2005 commencement speech, Steve Jobs encourages “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.“

Every time, I am struggling with a life decision, especially the bigger ones, I waiver between what my inner voice says and what I think I should be doing.  The suffering that occurs in my head – should I – shouldn’t I.  In the end, after all the back and forth, when I go with my gut, I am so much happier and it more often works itself out.  When I follow the “should,” I often create more struggle and suffering.

Now this is not to say, seek out the advice and opinions of others or consider all options.  I am a big fan of checking in with others – the people who know me well or have some experience with the issue.  Sometimes, I seek out direct advice.  Sometimes, it’s just listening and teasing out what’s going on underneath the suffering.  They can provide new information to assist in making a stronger choice.  Who do you reach out to for advice or support?

Now you may be saying to yourself, “How can I trust that voice? I have made bad choices in the past, I don’t know if I can trust myself.” Self-doubt can run rampant in tough decisions.  Look – I get it.  Why do you think I suffer so much in decision wavering?  I am afraid of making the wrong decision. So I sit on the fence, which can be really uncomfortable – Ouch!

So it’s time to get off the fence and make a choice.  Remember you aren’t married to your choice – you can always make another choice later. As I look back on those bad decisions, I realized that I wasn’t following my inner wisdom, my fear or need to prove myself.  It was more in quick reaction rather than taking a breath, settling in and finding what was the deeper wisdom.

So the next time, you are going for gold or simply struggling to make a decision, take a breath, listen to that quiet wisdom, and step forward!

A Deeper Look

  • What would you do if you listened to your inner wisdom?
  • Who can you seek out for support?

Fire Re-ignited

heart-of-fire-love-30476808-1920-1080

Last month, I had the awesome opportunity to attend the Omega Institute’s Women & Power Retreat and felt the Fire Reignited!  Inspired into action by listening to Omega’s Co-Founder Elizabeth Lesser, Vulnerability Expert Brene Brown, and Roshi Joan Halifax, I was ready to reconnect to my passion and purpose to make a difference.

This past year that fiery passion had been doused with doubt and struggle.  I had been on the economic roller coaster where my self-worth had been tied to the money in my bank account.  Even with a decade of inner work, I still struggled to find some peace in the matter.

With the amazing support of my partner, friends and family, I found the strength to keep holding on when all I wanted to do was jump off the ride.  Finally the financial roller coaster has slowed down and leveled out, I am incredibly grateful for the lessons the ride has taught me and ready to get back to my work on this planet – radical self-acceptance.

While it’s not all figured out, I have learned some great lessons along the way that I would like to share.

1.  You are not your circumstances. While I have heard this one many of times and even said it to others, I didn’t realized how much I tied my identity to my work. I found myself flailing when my career was in limbo.  Not sure where to go, not sure who I was. I had to keep telling myself, I am not my job.  I am not my bank account.  Even if we don’t attach to that, we may attach to other things like how smooth our day goes or how many likes we get on Facebook or Instagram.  We are sooo much bigger than those details.  If we can see our worth beyond our circumstances, then life’s challenges aren’t quite so debilitating. Our worth is unwavering.

2. Community is key. One of my saving graces has been and continues to be my community.  I am incredibly grateful for friends and family to listen when I needed to vent, hug me when I needed comforting, and the kick in the butt when I wanted to give up.  It’s important to reach out, get real and share what’s true for you in times of struggle. While often challenging to be vulnerable and reveal we don’t have it altogether (believe me, I can relate), it’s a crucial component to surviving the struggle.

3.  Get in action…Stay in action. This is easier said than done, at least the staying in action part.  By getting in action, doors opened for me, opportunities were created.  Despite my fantasy and desire that money would come in by watching marathons on Netflix, it didn’t work out that way.  By getting into action, energy was created and the world responded with something positive, some doorway to walk through.  While I must admit I didn’t walk through all the doorways, I know momentum was created with each threshold I passed, physically, energetically, emotionally.  I didn’t always know what was opening up, but I kept walking through.  By keeping enough momentum with each action step, shifts can occur and life can unfold in your favor.

Life is messy, uncertain and full of challenges. One day it can take you to the top of the mountain; the next day in the deep ravine.  That’s what makes it so beautifully mysterious.  It is that fire within each of us that keeps us going, that gives us grit and determination to not give up.  Push through the challenges, rise up out of the ravine and seek the summit of the mountain.   Join me and let your light shine for all to see!

Thank You…More than Just Being Polite

THANK YOU…How many times do you hear it in a day? How many times do you say it in a day? If I consciously counted, I am sure there are at least dozen on each side of the Thank You.

However, I have difficulty remembering any that actually made an impact. Most could be categorized in the humdrum automatic social politeness. Rarely does the Thank You leave a lasting impression. Our Thank You’s can quickly become hollow in meaning, but they don’t have to be.

A thoughtful Thank You can create an opportunity for someone to not just be acknowledged, but truly seen. Whether it’s family, colleagues or customers, people want to know they matter, they make a difference in the world. Let the people in your life know they matter to you, they have an impact on your life.

Just after Superstorm Sandy, I had the pleasure of meeting Terry, a utility worker from California restoring power to a Queens neighborhood. Even after six days of exhausting work clearing trees and repairing power lines, he was proud to serve his country in desperate need of rebuilding. He was willing to put his life on hold for weeks to bring light to a community living in darkness. As a native Californian, I was so grateful for his generosity and sacrifice. As I thanked Terry, he quietly smiled – while probably not used to hearing gratitude in that way, it was apparent he was touched by my words and being seen for being a True Man of Service.

Here are a few tips to turn your Thank You from automatic to awesome:

Make it Personal– I find myself saying Thank You more as an automatic response than an actual Thank You. Whether it’s the clerk at the grocery store or the person holding the door open, a personal Thank You with eye contact and a smile interrupts the automatic and allows it to actually be heard as a message of gratitude rather than a required politeness. If you really want to interrupt the automaticity of thanks, you can use a sales clerk’s name (from their nametag). It often gets an extra smile.

Sprinkle in Specificity – This is a great strategy for the workplace. A simple Thank You is appreciated with colleagues; it is even more appreciated when there are some specifics attached to it. Adding some details with what they specifically did creates an environment that shows that you truly see them, their hard work and their contribution to the company. Thank You with specificity builds loyalty and encourages people to work even harder.

Top it off with Heart – A heartfelt Thank You is an amazing gift to give someone. Those are the ones I remember, the ones that remind me that I am making a difference in the lives of others. With Thanksgiving days away, a great way to thank your friends and loved ones is to acknowledge them for not just what they do for you, but how their actions have impacted your life. Share with them how they have made a difference in your life. I know this may be outside of your comfort zone and could even be a bit awkward, but the benefits can far outlast the awkward moment.

With Thanksgiving around the corner…Who can you thank in your life? Whether it’s a stranger, like Terry, or a loved one, I encourage you to acknowledge them with a personal, specific and heart-filled Thank You.

The Power of Speaking Your Truth

After the long journey I have had to reclaim my voice and speak my truth,
I still struggle sometimes to speak my truth, but I know that it is a practice, a choice in every moment. Before I needed to fit in; I needed to belong. Now I know I have the choice, and it is very real and conscious. I continue to search for opportunities to uncover areas where I may be suppressed and I can choose self-expression. With every choice I make to express myself, my roar is reclaimed, and I seize another opportunity to speak my truth.

Deep within my soul, I know I was given the responsibility of reclaiming my voice for a divine purpose. I know I am meant to share my journey as an example for others to reclaim their voices, to reclaim their own roar. Much of my work as a life coach and motivational speaker now involves empowering women and girls to speak their truth and roar. I am constantly inspired by courageous women who allow themselves to be vulnerable enough to look at where they have been silenced. I become energized as I watch them reclaim their voices, and speak their truths. I am honored to be part of that process. A self-expressed woman is beyond strong. She is invincible.

You can read more of my story in the upcoming book – Speaking Your Truth: Courageous Stories From Inspiring Women – launching August 9th. Click here to purchase the book.