Why You MUST Play Bon Jovi at Your Wedding.

1239700_751305166795_691109724_nWhen I was planning my wedding, I got a lot of advice. Everyone I knew had an opinion on what and who needed to be included on our big day. It can be an overwhelming time, and I do my best not to give brides advice until I’m asked. But on this one, I’ve got to speak out.

It was a rainy evening in late September. The cake had been cut, the toasts had been given, and there was but one thing left for us to do: party. Then, IT came on. The DJ, my brother, put on Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer. All the wedding guests ran out onto the dance floor.  EVERYONE danced. Even my husband’s 90 year old grandparents sat and clapped from their chairs, looking on and smiling. Bon Jovi was a hit. People dig 80’s rock. But that’s not why this song is must at a wedding.

People who have been married for more than 20 or so years are often asked a question by those who have been married for less time: “What’s the secret?”. I’ve heard a variety of answers, everything from “honesty” to “laughter”. One person I asked recently gave the best answer I’d ever heard  “What’s the secret?” I asked. “Don’t get divorced.” He answered. I personally find this to be brilliant advice. Because the question wasn’t “How do you stay in love?” or “How to you stay happy with the same partner?” but “How do you stay married?” and that really is the true secret to staying married: not getting a divorce.

Now, I’m not insinuating that every couple is meant to be together forever. In many cases, abuse, neglect, and simply growing apart cause people to lose the luster of what brought them together. And that’s ok. In some cases it’s great. But it is true that while we glamorize the idea of having grown old together, we rarely glamorize the actual concept of growing together. Perhaps these older couples we admire for being “so in love” for many years, had years that didn’t feel like love at all. They most likely had years of struggle, and strife, and fighting, or even not speaking. Women of our recent past and even now often lack the resources to free themselves of these difficult relationships. This lack of choices can lead to what we often covet- a long lasting marriage. So the question must be asked: what is the key to a long lasting and HAPPY marriage? Besides not getting divorced, the answer is obvious: Love.

But what is love? I would argue that when we first say “I love you” to someone in a romantic relationship we rarely mean it. Because love isn’t based on attraction, or fate, or sex, or even compatibility. When we first say “I love you” to someone we are saying that we can see a future with them. That we are psyched that the basic foundation for love is in place, and that IS rare. It should be celebrated. With a romantic proposal, a diamond ring, or a wedding, we celebrate. But we aren’t celebrating love. We are celebrating potential. We are celebrating faith. When two people pledge their lives to one another, it’s no different than going all-in at a poker table. It’s the biggest bet you’ll ever make. And you make it with the person you marry in front of all of your friends and family. But there will be a time when you regret placing that bet, throwing all your chips down, and risking it all. This is normal. All love really is, is having a connection with someone SO deep, that you can’t walk away in a time of crisis. Love is going through it with someone. Love isn’t strengthened in times of trial, it is created there. So, it’s actually impossible to be in love with someone you haven’t been through it with. Whether it’s your best friend, your parent or sibling, wife, or husband, Love only shows itself when it’s called to endure. And when you’ve endured together, you begin to truly love.

Which brings me back to Jon Bon Jovi, who obviously knows the secret to lasting marriage because he married his high-school sweetheart in 1989 and they are still going strong, which is impressive under any circumstance, but remarkable considering he is a rock star celebrity. So you know that you can trust him when he says “you’ve got to hold on to what you got”, and that “it doesn’t really matter if you make it or not”. He’s singing about crisis in a relationship between two people who refuse to give up on their situation, and each other. And that may not be the case for everyone. But it is for Tommy and Gina, who have it tough (so tough). Listening to this song as a younger woman, I felt bad for Tommy and Gina. What a crap situation they have! But as a married woman, I now realize, there isn’t a couple alive that don’t have it tough. This is a song about love. Not crisis. This is a song about marriage. So when you play this song at your wedding, you are solidifying a commitment to love, REAL love. The kind of love that endures. And you are welcoming crisis. Because you won’t be able to avoid it, no matter who you marry. There will be arguments about money, and tears and blame to share. There will be resentment and hurt feelings, and taking turns pulling an unbearable weight. There will be heart-bursting days of overwhelming love, and the kind of tragedy that tears people apart. There will be nights of Netflix, pillow talk, and laughter, and days of sorrow and aches of heart and head. What is important to remember is that for love, you should give it a shot.

As the dance floor swelled on my wedding night, Bon Jovi declared the ultimate statement. “You live for the fight when that’s all that you got.” Then, the bad ass key change happened. Key changes are often used to enhance the feel of a song. They increase a sense of climax and usher in a surge of optimism, which is exactly what you will need at some point in your marriage.  Whether it’s a career that you love, a family member, friend, or spouse, you won’t know your capacity to love until you’re living on a prayer. So on your wedding, make sure you get blessed by Bon Jovi. Look at the person you’re thinking of marrying. If you’d work at a diner for them or hock your favorite guitar, take their hand. You’ll make it. I swear.

 

Let them eat Girl Scout Cookies

545959_752414738205_2028475612_n-1Oh, today’s health scene!  It’s quite a minefield of information and misinformation. The topics du jour range from vaccinations, to  paleo vs. vegan, and  whether or not you should steam your nether regions. It can be overwhelming to navigate today’s world of health, and one word continues to crop in in 2015 that isn’t making it any easier. Cleansing. In the 1980’s and 90’s, they were casually referred to as “diets”. This was before the word diet itself carried the negative associations with deprivation, shame, and knowing that the weight would most likely come right back on. Thankfully, at the turn of the new century, we got wise and stopped “dieting”. Then we started “cleansing”.  Now, many wellness professionals are  likely to start you on a “cleanse” or “detox” to get you into optimal health. And like it’s grandfather, the diet, the cleanse and those pushing it promise significant benefits to your health and happiness. But do they work?

I’ve done several cleanses myself. Most recently after the Super Bowl. I was feeling icky and knew that my digestion was suffering from my consistent eating of toxic food. Yes, I used that too often thrown around hippie term: TOXIC. Because I know my body, and I know when I’ve overindulged. For me, overindulgence usually isn’t about weight gain, but a general feeling of sluggishness and irritability. I knew it was time to reset, and so I took the advice of a friend and did a very simple, whole foods cleanse. And it was going well…until it wasn’t. By the end of the first phase, my stomach was officially done. It did pretty much everything to tell me so except leaving my body completely. And one could argue that these were withdrawal symptoms, and that if I had toughed it out, I would have felt better eventually. But a friend, who is also in wellness, pointed out that the cleanse I was on was just not agreeing with me. I hadn’t even considered up to this point that my body couldn’t handle all the ruffage, and I took it as a sign of my own (and my body’s) weakness. But after hearing her say this, I realized that I hadn’t been using this cleanse to love my body. I had been using it to punish it.

For some, cleanses really do work. A cleanse or elimination diet truly can reset your body. If you’ve never experienced this for yourself, you should . I recommend consulting a professional, who can help guide you and present alternatives if you experience symptoms. If you are a person who eats quite a bit of processed food, you really should consider this. It can be life-changing and even set you on a path for a longer, healthier life. I’ve seen it happen, many times. But for the rest of us, those of us who are already “clean” and “detoxed” and “yoga”ed to the max, are we taking it a bit too far?

In the movie Wall Street, Gordon Gekko proclaimed that “Greed is Good.”, a statement I’m sure most Yogis and natural health nuts would vehemently disagree with. But is it possible to be greedy for things other than money and possessions? The recent surge of those who are health obsessed are demonstrating with much vigor that greed is alive in the counterculture and is simply showing itself in other forms. There is constantly the need to acquire more;  clearer skin, more radiant hair, a smaller waist, a better Yoga pose, a cuter butt, and even a beefed-up immune system. Where this need came from is not difficult to see. We are desperately trying to “get back to nature” in our ways of eating, living, and breathing. Of course this is a noble intention. Most of us in this camp have studied what is making our nation and planet sick, and we want to be part of the solution. But now even large corporations are spinning this desire to get more money from us, the “conscious” consumer. Everything is now “green”, from toilet paper to lip balm. Suddenly slapping a “contains sugar cane” (instead of corn syrup) label is the answer. We feel a surge of pride for buying the “all-natural” products to use on our skin. And of course, you’d jump at the chance to feel more radiantly alive, and present in your own body. But what if being present isn’t just about acquiring better health?

My friend suggested I have rice instead of vegetables for a little bit. I did. My stomach let out the digestive-organ version of a sigh of relief. I felt comforted at the idea that I didn’t have to, well, I didn’t have to…anything. I eat well. I practice Yoga, daily in fact. I do everything in my power to be mindful, and loving, and self-aware, and present. But damn. I swear, sometimes, it is just too much for us to expect that our lives must be like this all the time. It’s too much to anticipate or aspire to an idea of enlightenment, which I’d argue is the standard by which we now measure ourselves. We have boxed ourselves in confines disguised as self-love, and used our social media outlets to both brag on our “good” behavior, and publicly shame ourselves for “bad” behavior (#faileo). The need to acquire on the part of the ego does not dissolve with kale juices. I’d argue in fact, that in some ways, we are feeding that need. We are perpetuating a cycle in which we feel compelled to be better, and do better, and eat better, and poo better. And at what cost? Isn’t it enough to just be?

Any good health professional will tell you that true health is about balance. That balance is different for all people. Most of us agree that junk food and couch surfing are not the healthiest way to live. But now that we are moving into the 21st century, it is important going forward that we acknowledge that health is a transient state of mind, as is balance. Being present itself, is an impossible state to live in consistently. Homeostasis- of mind, body, and spirit, is an ever-shifting state. Sometimes that shift might include beer, or corn chips. Or it might even contain that which is even more toxic- shame and guilt. As a practice of mindfulness and in hopes of  health, we must constantly evaluate what that health is for each of us. The commercials, new products, Gurus, and billboards don’t contain the answer to what is right for you. Information on nutrition and exercise change daily. Fads and trends will continue to correspond with this ever-changing field of science, and that’s wonderful and exciting. And it’s important to take in this information seriously. But what matters most is how you feel. Your confidence and happiness, your ability to simply “be” in your own skin are the best ways to measure your health. Because there is only one true expert on your wellbeing. You.

 

 

 

Kanye, Gurus, and the Problem with Acclaim

f3e20b94356546036f51f55d66b7cc01-1When you think about it, musicians and Yoga teachers have a lot in common. They both work tirelessly to promote themselves and the venues at which they appear. They both express themselves through a method that speaks to them. Luckily for Yoga teachers, we have not yet begun a process of actually giving awards to one another based on our job performances. Hopefully, we never will. This could aggravate the already present ego in the doing of what we do. After last weekend’s Grammy awards, there’s been a lot of talk about Kanye West’s criticism on long-time artist Beck’s win of Best Album of the Year. West claims that Beck did not indeed deserve the award, and that it should have gone instead to his friend Beyonce. This week we, the people, have argued about West’s behavior and who should have won that award. But the real problem is not the institutions that give awards, our unfair society and the standards we uphold, or even the inappropriate behavior of an artist. The problem is that which we all possess: the ego, and it’s desire for acclaim.

No matter what you do for a living, we all appreciate acclaim. Compliments, pats on the back, awards, and money show us that we are doing a good job and signify that we are in the right place, and doing the right thing with our lives. Everyone seeks approval. How will we know if we are doing a good job without verbal praise, a raise, or a high-five? This is Kanye’s problem. He’s angry because he feels that a piece of medal is equivalent to this approval, and that without it, the world is an unjust place. He can’t stand this. But then, neither can the rest of us. We’re all prone to succumb to fits of “unfairness” in our adult lives. Being passed over and not being given what we deserve is felt as great injustice. And yet, we continually perpetuate this cycle, yearning for the praise and feeling utter rejection the moment it is not given.

In an age when the words, posts, pictures, and thoughts you share can gain “likes” and “followers”, our need for approval is at an all-time high. And I do mean, HIGH. Studies have shown that your brain is actually becoming wired to seek likes and constantly check your feed. We’ve never before in any generation had the ability to be self-fed approval at such a high rate of frequency, on such a massive scale. I wrote an article recently that gained over 1,000 likes. It also had about 100 negative comments about me and my writing. What struck me as really amazing was the fact that I couldn’t feel it. When I say I couldn’t feel it, I mean I COULDN’T FEEL IT.  I realized in that moment, how much of a choice it is to take criticism and praise seriously. They really are synonymous. They are equally inconsequential.

Being a celebrity must be tough. You have no clear gauge of who likes you, and for what reason. Acclaim feels like the real reason do anything. With this need for approval, the ego can dominate, causing one to publicly outburst, as Mr. West did on Sunday night. The same is true of all artists, but they aren’t alone. Another career that is gaining popularity in the 21st century, is that of the Guru. The Self-helpers, Yoga Teachers, Healers, of all sorts, who want nothing more than to help you heal. But…a little acclaim doesn’t hurt. Like celebrities, Gurus can become ego-dominant as well. Seeking money, acclaim, and followers to help them promote their careers also sometimes referred to as “paths”. The desire to help people is noble indeed, but it may be a counterproductive goal to have as a wellness practitioner. Seeking to “help” can be another way of finding acclaim.

When someone tells me that I’m good at my job, it means a lot. But I can’t feel it too much. Nor can I feel when they say I’m bad at my job. Because it ultimately doesn’t matter if I’m perceived as “good” or “bad”. I just love what I do. Some days I feel like I’m doing a horrible job. Some days I feel like I’m doing powerful work. Some days I get a Kanye-style sense of insecurity. I pound my chest when threatened, drop the mic when I’m killing it. It’s just the boost of ego I need to propel me forward. It causes me to ask for what I need, to take time for myself, and to know that I am worthy. But if I allow this Kanye “I’m a genius”-ness to overcome me, I lose my center, and I lose the best part of what I actually do.

I believe that we are not in charge of when we do good things. I for one, am a tragically flawed human being. The part of me that emerges when teaching, creating, or being my most compassionate and present self is a gift for me as much as it is for anyone else.  The greatest compliment someone could pay me is to say “You’ve helped me.” or “I feel better now” and even this is not something I can take in. Because all I’ve done is show up, and be present, and allow. When I hear this, it means the world to me. And the best I can think to say is the truth which is, “I’m so happy that you feel better.” Because it’s the connection between me and the student that caused that healing, not me. It’s the work, it’s what they bring to it, what they seek from it, and what they see in me is what they actually see in themselves. Therefore, the compliment is not mine, nor is the criticism. I do take both seriously. I work to improve, and I accept what’s working. But it’s still not mine. What IS mine, is the love. The love I have for what I do, the love I have for who I work with, and the love I have for myself. That’s the one thing I can consistently rely on.

In this life, there are no Gurus. AND, we are all Gurus. We all bring light to darkness. We all help each other out. We all inspire each other to healing, or to destruction. We all clarify paths for others, whether or not we piss them off. We all have a choice about how we interact in the world. What Kanye forgot is that acclaim doesn’t matter. What matters is that someone, somewhere, is inspired by your music, your work, your teaching, your art. Someone, somewhere is having an easier time because you showed up to work today. It might be your boss, or that last customer, or your client, or your audience. It doesn’t matter. If love is felt, and there is a connection is present, you are doing your life’s work. You are in the right place, at the right time. What better acclaim is there than that?

 

Grief and the Color Pink.

10676275_895411431685_3273988775137810797_nMy Aunt Lucille loved pink. She wore it quite a bit. She also wore Keds. As long as I can remember, the only shoes I ever saw her in were Keds. Until recently, when my mother started buying her slippers. She needed special slippers that would hold onto the backs of her heels, so they wouldn’t slip off when she was in her wheelchair. She had been in the nursing home since a bad fall about 5 years ago, and ever since, her mental, emotional, and physical state were on the decline. When I found out that she had passed away on Saturday morning, I felt relieved. She had been suffering since her fall, and her life wasn’t what it was when I had known her as a child. She was in a state of torment, and it was painful to watch. Knowing she had died meant no more torment for my Aunt Lucille. And I felt relieved. Happy even. Then, like a wind that sweeps in before the first sign of Fall, I began to feel it. You know the feeling. It’s that feeling you get…the one that happens when someone dies…no matter the circumstances, it awakens…and it grips you from the inside…

Grief isn’t fun. I’ll be the first to say that I will feel almost anything before I will allow myself to feel sadness. Mainly anger. Anger is my go-to. Something’s scary? I get angry. Someone I love is hurt? I get angry. All is lost or uncertain or just plain sucks? Anger, anger, anger. And this is a place I’m comfortable living. Most of the time. Until the appropriate emotion is grief. And then there is a cage match inside of my soul. Grief vs. Anger could be a Saturday night special on HBO, duking it out to see who wins. I’ve gone through this cycle enough to know who will come out on top, everytime. Anger is going down. Like, out-cold down. And it will be bloodied and bruised and crying for it’s mama. This is what the grieving process is for me.

From watching her last years of life, I could wager a guess that my Aunt Lucille had the same cycle with grief, surrender, and acceptance. I don’t mind telling you that in the last years, she was PISSED. She would have made Dylan Thomas proud. Her rage against the dying of the light was nothing if not admirable. She was always complaining that she was bored. She didn’t seem to understand her condition, her limitations, her age, her situation, and was she livid that she wasn’t free. Like many elderly patients in this circumstance, she slipped into periods of depression. But what remained was her fight. Conversations with her were like listening to a tape on repeat, one that demanded to be freed, and put back in her old house, and given the keys to a car she could no longer drive. She didn’t understand, and she didn’t accept that she was 95, and injured, and incapable of living the life she once had. And it killed her. It killed us, too. Watching someone you love live a life of imprisonment and being able to do nothing about it is awful. Particularly when it’s a prison of the mind. Dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other mental afflictions tear people apart slowly, and it’s beyond painful to be a loved one to a person experiencing mental anguish. All I wanted was to give her some comfort.

Growing up, my mother worked and my Aunt Lucille was my caretaker. Some of the first memories I have are of her. She held me, and taught me, and fawned over me like I was a precious little princess. She had no children of her own, for reasons I’ll never be sure, but I received the benefit of this need to pamper and spoil and love a little girl. I was that little girl to my Aunt Lucille. She’d often take me shopping, and we’d pick out dresses and shoes and pretty much whatever I wanted. Although she liked salads and I liked outings to McDonald’s, there was one thing we could always agree on; the fabulous feminine power of the color pink. I wore a lot of pink in those days, as did she. I’d watch her powder her nose with her fancy Estee Lauder powder, and she’d fill me with confidence on my beauty, my preciousness, and my worth. She was my  pink-loving, fashion forward, confidence boosting, and attention-giving Godmother. As long as I could remember she was lively, and fun, and kind (especially to me) and full of life. Her last years of life were nothing like the fun we had back then, and I found myself wishing I could give her the back the gift of pink.

The last time I saw my Aunt Lucille was the day after Christmas. My mother and I went shopping to get her some presents, but we knew she wouldn’t recognize us or understand why we were there or when Christmas was. I picked out a shawl for her. It had fun, spirited flecks of pink in it. I knew it would keep her warm, and I was sure to pick out something I’d feel comfortable wearing. I had a feeling it would be coming back to me shortly. It was an extremely painful day that day. Lucille’s conversation tape was much more sad and desperate today. There was much less fight, and it was hard to take. She begged us to take her home with us. She kept saying “Why can’t we all be together? I just want us all to be together.” It struck me in that moment, how incredibly cruel life can be. It was a torturous scene, reminiscent of the scene in the Exorcist when Linda Blair’s demon starts speaking to the priest as his mother. There was nothing we could do for her. Except to be a witness to her pain, and a loving smile and nod, and a warm hand across her forehead.

My mother was feeling it that day. I told her to go ahead, that I’d be out shortly. Lucille had mentioned my Grandmother several times in this visit. My Grandmother died a few years back. And I’m of the mindset that there may be some cross-over action for those who are close to death, seeing loved ones on the other side. She mentioned she had seen my Grandmother. “Vera was here earlier.” she said. “She will be so sad she missed you.” then she became desperate again. “Why can’t I go home with Vera?” she pleaded. “I just want us all to be together.” I patted her arm as she softened. She made a confession, “I’m a very lonely person.” she said. I looked her straight in the eye. “No you’re not, Lucille. You’re a very loved person.” She inhaled and sighed. “Thank you.” Then she looked outside and pointed. “Do you see those birds? All day long I watch those birds fly.” I was impressed. It was the single most mindful, soft, and unfocused thing I’d ever heard her say. Then she began complaining again. I touched her hand. “Lucille,” I said, “You wanna know what? I bet if you keep looking out that window, and if you relax and keep watching the birds, I bet Vera will come back and take you home. In fact, I’m sure of it.” I began to make my goodbye. “I have to go now. But I’ll be back. If you want to go home before I see you again, you can. If Vera comes back, and Jesse comes back to take you home, you can go with them. I love you.”

In an era when the word “blessed” has become little more than a hashtag, I feel comfortable saying that this was one of the most authentic moments of my life. And I do count myself as being very “blessed”. Because there was no part of watching my Grandparents die that was easy. There was pain, and there was sorrow, and there was the putrid stench of Hospice care and nursing facilities. There was anguish, and strife, and uncertainty, and an education on the shittiest part of this amazing life. But we saw it through. In order to truly love, we must remain present for all the moments of our lives. The suffering comes not in pain, but in the denial of pain. In the rage and the resistance and the denial, my Aunt fought her last days wanting to get back what she had lost. And I sat with her as she began to learn to let go. To be a witness to that change is something I will never take for granted. And I only pray that in time, I may learn the same lesson.

So here’s to life, and the color pink, in all it’s comforting fabulousness. For all the dreams and wishes of little girls, and the women who raise them to love. Here’s to the comfort of being held, and the discomfort of holding on. And for the hope that all of us may experience anything that brings us together.