care, community, compassion

This just in: Can we ever truly have empathy?

Start empathy
Start empathy

“The only true voyage of discovery is not to visit other lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds.” ~Marcel Proust, “Remembrance of Things Past”

I read this quote while I was on the metro Sunday morning and as I looked around the packed train car, I thought about how different the world must look through every set of eyes around me. Sometimes we talk about empathy as if it’s a switch we can flip, as if it’s something so easy to attain that anyone could do it. But truthfully, empathy is difficult and constant work, something that takes effort and grace. To have it, we have to give up our own biases. We have to drop our own baggage and put aside our hard-won perspective in the hope of somehow finding a glimmer of understanding, a glimpse into the world through eyes that aren’t our own.

The New York Times article by psychologist Paul Bloom that featured the quote from Proust questioned whether true empathy is ever really possible or if it’s an unachievable pipe dream. I’m fine with it being either. No matter if it’s achievable or not, it’s worth the effort. Even if we fall far short of true understanding, at least the attempt shows that we cared at all. And isn’t that concern what life is all about?

balance, beauty, care, choices, creativity

This just In: Magic is all around you, everywhere you go

Sombrero Galaxy in infrared light (Hubble Space Telescope and Spitzer Space Telescope)
Sombrero Galaxy in infrared light (Hubble Space Telescope and Spitzer Space Telescope)

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” ~W.B. Yeats

Sometimes we pray for signs—an insight, hint, or direction of what to do next when we can’t see our way out of where we are. The very thing we want—the guidance, love, and concern from the Universe—is already here. It’s everywhere. Around every corner, in every step we take.

I noticed it last week in the morning doves in Rock Creek Park. I felt it in smiles from the people in my neighborhood whom I see every day as I come and go from home. I found it in the light and the sky and the breeze. It was a quiet but still strong whisper. “Keep going. This is the way for you.”

The trail of magic is always there for us to pick up and follow. We just need to open our eyes, and heart, and ears, and let go of the many fears and doubts that keep us down. Sharpen your senses. Attune and align yourself with magic. It’s waiting for you. It’s a choice.

care, health, social media, stress, Twitter

Inspired: Join Me Today For a Twitter Chat on Stress Reduction for Caregivers


I’m thrilled to let you know that today I am guest hosting the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America’s Twitter Chat on stress reduction techniques for caregivers. We’ll get together for an hour from 2pm—3pm Eastern. Ask questions, get tips, share stories, or just follow along via this link: or with the hashtag #careADvchat. Tweet you there!

care, time

Inspired: Take the time to fix what remains

From Pinterest
From Pinterest

When the fire dies down, we don’t seal off the fireplace. We add a log. When the tires on our cars lose their tread, we don’t trade in the car. We get new tires. The same is true for our lives. We don’t toss away things that have a bit of wear and tear. We fix, clean, polish, replenish, repair, and renew them. Do the same with creative projects, work, relationships, a home, and anything else that matters. These things and these people have done a great service to us over time: they’ve made our lives richer and more meaningful. Let’s keep them going. Everything can be made new again.

care, decision-making

Beautiful: We discover our nature via nurture

From the cover of Far from the Tree
From the cover of Far from the Tree

In the book Far from the Tree, author Andrew Solomon shares the idea of nature via nurture rather than the classic nature versus nurture. His argument is that the traits that are nurtured within us are the traits that rise to the surface of our lives. We are all born with inherent tendencies, good and bad. Whether or not certain traits are borne out in our lives is not nature or nurture. The two work together. Are we raised to bring the best parts of our character into being or are we raised to tap into the less desirable parts of our character?

We can’t do much to change our initial gut reactions. Nurture helps us to modulate our actions, and reduce the time between our instinctual reactions and purposeful actions. We are who we are. There is no changing that. Who we become is largely a matter of influence and choice so choose wisely and mindfully. Embrace the fact that what we nurture within us will be our legacy.

care, crime, health, yoga

Beginning: Body Over Mind When Dealing with Trauma

“Our task must be to free ourselves.” ~ Albert Einstein

There’s no rule against having many sides to your personality. For too many years I thought I had to have one set of traits that didn’t contradict each other. My life as a child was chaotic and so as an adult I strove for consistency in every facet of my life. As I got older, I began to release some of the desire for consistency and found that at times I could be very assertive and at other times very shy. I could help and then ask for help when I needed it. I learned that there were times to be strong and times to let my vulnerability show. The key to balance between all of these different sides was authenticity, being in every moment. Authenticity always leads us to the appropriate behavior at the appropriate time. This idea of authenticity and being in the moment saved my life exactly twice.

A time for action
Had my head been able to rule my gut when my apartment building caught fire almost 2 years ago, I would not be here to write this post to you. Without a split second of conscious thought, I felt an incredibly assertive, unshakable strength in my belly. I literally flew down four floors, past burning apartments, and never felt my feet hit the ground. It was pitch black and I couldn’t see even an inch in front of me. It was as if I had been tightly blindfolded, and still I kept moving without hesitation. It that moment, my body chose life.

A time to give up
When I was a sophomore in college in Philadelphia I was robbed at knife point in the campus subway station. I was heading downtown to buy reeds for my saxophone at my favorite music shop. A man appeared in front of me without warning as I waited for my train, looming over me with a long, thin, sharp knife at my gut. “I don’t wanna hurt you; I just need your wallet.” All I could focus on was the gleam off of that blade. Without thinking I reached into my bag, grabbed my wallet, and handed it to him. He took the cash, handed the wallet back to me, and shooed me out of the station with the knife.

This time, I did feel my feet, and knees and face, hit the floor as I clumsily scrambled up the stairs. I felt like the subway station spit me out onto the sidewalk when I got to the surface. A naval officer was walking by and stopped to help me. He stayed with me while I talked to the police and even got me safely back to my dorm. Again, my gut chose life, but this time it chose life by giving up.

Both of these events brought on a good deal of trauma for me even though no bodily harm resulted from either incident. The pain and the harm was all in my mind and in my spirit. I was fearful and angry after both incidents, and wasn’t sure how to process either of those emotions. I was adrift, and I felt alone.

Recovery time
It took me a solid 6 months to get through the aftermath of the apartment building fire and over 2 years to get through the fear I felt on campus after the robbery. Help came in two completely different forms.

Asking for help
I credit my increased ability to ask for help with the shortened recovery time after the fire. I started working with my coach, Brian, as a result of the fire and it has proven to be one of the very best relationships of my life. When I was in college I was convinced that I had to get through the robbery on my own. If I didn’t feel okay, I needed to fake it. I didn’t go to counseling and I rarely talked about the incident with my friends. I beat myself up for giving that man my wallet; I didn’t honor the quiet strength of surrender that had saved my life.

How healing begins
With the fire, I couldn’t pretend to be okay. I would be walking down the street and suddenly be hysterical sitting on the curb. I couldn’t buy anything and I couldn’t hang up anything on the walls of my apartment. I was clearly not okay, and the guy I was dating at the time just wanted me to “get over it.” My friend, Rob, knew better and he referred me to Brian. Brian helped me reclaim my authenticity, find my voice, and taught me about the balance we can and should strike between strength and vulnerability.

After two years of completely avoiding the Philadelphia subway, Paul, my senior year boyfriend, suggested we take the train downtown. I couldn’t walk down the steps, and for the first time I told him the story about the robbery. We could have just walked or taken a cab. Instead, he grabbed my hand, guided me down the stairs, got on the train with me, and let me just cry it out. He literally cracked my heart open so I could begin to heal.

We can’t go it alone
We have the ability to be appropriately tough and soft. Our body knows exactly which way to be at every moment. It’s our mind that gets in the way. It’s the stories we tell ourselves that really send us into a tailspin. The hardest part of dealing with trauma is not the incident that causes it; it’s the sifting that our mind has to do once the danger recedes. Once we are through the physical cause of the trauma, we are left with so much to process and rarely can we do that processing alone. The mind needs patience and time, and very often the loving heart and healing of another person to help make us whole again. That person can be a teacher, a partner, a friend. What those going through trauma must know is that they don’t have to go it alone; there is someone who can help if only we can be strong enough, and equally vulnerable, to let someone else in.

What these incidents mean for my yoga teaching
These two incidents, and several other periods that I went through earlier in my life, led me to a strong interest in trauma and neuroscience. For a time I thought this interest was leading me to medical school when I suddenly realized that my long-time yoga practice was merging with my interest in how the mind recovers and heals. These two parts of my life has been calling to one another, learning from each other, and informing one another.

Slow gratitude
Yoga gave me a way to begin to be grateful for trauma. It’s only recently that I realized this was even possible. I thought trauma was a thing to file away as deeply as possible. I thought the best I could hope for would be to forget it, bury it. Healing is not an easy task; it’s difficult and uncomfortable and painfully slow. With patience and time, everything is possible, even the healing that we think will never come. I’m learning that eventually, we really can be truly grateful for even our darkest moments because they are often the spark that leads to our brightest light.

care, community, relationships, religion

Beginning: Why and How to Start Understanding the Muslim World

Last week I had the great good fortune to see the documentary Koran by Heart at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film tracks the lives of several young people who are contestants in “the world’s preeminent Koran recitation competition in Cairo, where Muslim children come from across the globe to perform in front of a panel of prominent judges. Contestants as young as 7 years old are ranked against kids more than twice their age for both their comprehensive memorization of the 600-page text as well as their improvised melodies.” It is a stunning feat to witness. There is one more screening today at the festival – details here.

The film got me thinking about how little I know about the Muslim world, despite my efforts to consume news until my brain can’t hold any more information. It’s so complex with so many layers. Even classifying it as “the Muslim World” is a disservice. The diversity among Muslims is so vast and spans across so many cultures, languages, nations, and factions. I was reminded of Dr. Lu’s saying that “you can’t understand the Eastern world with a Western mind.” The same is true of understanding Islam. It requires us to shrug off our biases and prejudices, and see the religion and its believers in their own light.

Why? Can’t we pretend that our heads of state will take care of this issue? Can’t we go on just living our U.S. focused lives without delving in to this other complicated part of the world that seems incomprehensible to us at first blush? Sure. You could absolutely pretend it’s not there. However, the world of Islam is increasingly becoming tied to our own national security, indeed our global security as a whole. There are as many as 7 million Muslims living in the U.S., and the number is growing – particularly in urban areas. 1.2 billion people around the world practice Islam. That’s a big, big number.

They are a voice in our society and that voice deserves recognition and understanding, just like yours and just like mine. Additionally, the religion at its core is a beautiful way of living. Too often we associate it with extremism and terrorism. It’s so unfortunate. At its heart, it prescribes a peaceful, harmonious existence and has much to teach us whether we follow its belief or not. Understanding the perspective of another always, always helps create a better world, and isn’t that what we’re all after?

But how? How does a well-intentioned, curious, Western mind begin to understand Islam and its place in the world? I wondered, too, and put this list of resources together in the hopes that it may begin to tear down the wall that for too long has existed between us. I hope you find these resources helpful.

4 Resources to Begin Learning About Islam
1.) Leap of Faith by Queen Noor of Jordan

2.) A 5 minute video that introduces Islam to non-Muslims

3.) Website dedicated to introducing the beliefs of Islam to non-Muslims

4.) The book Introduction to Islam by Frederick Mathewson Denny

calm, care, clarity, commitment, community, healthcare, meditation, silence, simplicity, yoga

Beginning: The Moment We Miss

“The moment we most often miss is this one.” ~ Robert Chodo Campbell, HHC

My heart is still singing from the Integrative Healthcare Symposium I attended on Friday. It felt so good, so nourishing to be in the company of so many people who think about health and wellness as a spiritual and a physical journey. I found confirmation in my beliefs that have largely been from my gut as medical doctors from the world-class medical facilities such as Beth Israel and top research universities presented their research and advocated for a more holistic approach to heathcare in the US.

We started Monday morning with a presentation by Robert Chodo Campbell and Koshin Pauley Ellison, two Buddhist Monks who co-founded and co-manage the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care. We did some meditation exercises that have given me weeks worth of material for this blog and for ideas for my SXSW session that is coming up in Austin next week. They shared stories about their work as the co-directors of Contemplative Care at Beth Israel Medical Center, where I’m hoping to do some type of volunteer / intern work.

One of the lines that really hit me was Chodo’s quote above. We are constantly trying to get somewhere. This is not a new revelation. They actually joked about the idea that nothing they teach is revolutionary – it’s ancient wisdom. And still, as often as we hear it, we don’t always take the idea into our hearts. There is still so much opportunity to improve our awareness, to cultivate more gratitude.

They counseled us to take a breath, a full, conscious, beautiful breath several times throughout the day. When we finish a phone call, take a breath. When we complete a task we’ve been concentrating on, take a breath. And when our thoughts are racing by us, close the eyes and count 1. No complicated mantra needed. Just focus on counting to 1, over and over again until the racing mind, the monkey mind, calms down.

There’s a lot of beauty, a lot of blessing, right now in this moment. In every moment. Take it in; it’s yours.

I love the beauty and simplicity of the image above. It appears on the NY Zen Center’s website.

This blog is also available as a podcast on Cinch and iTunes.

care, courage, dreams, education, inspiration, integrity, story

Further Thoughts on MLK Day

This post is available as a podcast on Cinch and iTunes.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” ~ MLK via CharlesMBlow

Charles M. Blow is The New York Times’s visual Op-Ed columnist. His column appears every Saturday.

“Dr. King delivered the “I have a dream” speech at age 34 and lived only 39 years.” ~ via Drew Allen

I read these two tweets on Monday morning with so much gratitude and then so much awe for the person Dr. King was and the person that he asked all of us to be. He was the age I am now when he delivered the I Have a Dream speech and his life was cut far too short only 5 years later. Those two pieces of information weigh heavy on my heart, particularly when I consider how far we still have to go to create a more peaceful society where everyone, regardless of race, creed, gender, personal economics, or upbringing, can advance through hard work and determination.

Coincidentally I am now reading Condoleezza Rice’s book, Extraordinary, Ordinary People, which reminds me of how much hope we have in our society. While I don’t agree with her politics, the inspiration of her story can’t be denied. She grew up in pre-Civil Rights Birmingham and rose to be one of the most influential people in the world because of her hard-won education. She has a quote in the book that hit me like a ton of bricks because of the courage and passion it coveys. She says of her parents, “Somehow they raised their little girl in Jim Crow Birmingham to believe that even if she couldn’t have a hamburger at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, she could be President of the United States.”

I understand her fervent belief in education. I grew up in a family that didn’t have a lot of money but believed in education. I studied hard, worked hard, and pushed myself, sometimes far beyond my limits, because even at an early age I knew that my education would improve the quality of my life in the long run. That bet, that long, sometimes-difficult-to-believe-in bet, paid off. My education, and the will it took to get it, are two things that I am incredibly grateful for every day. I live a really good life as a result of my education. I like to share that story, particularly with children, through my volunteer work. It gives them some hope to meet a real life person who understands where they are and where they can get to by working hard.

In the spirit of Dr. King, we need to share our stories through every channel we’ve got. We must continue to talk about what’s important to us and what matters. And we must do so without ever really knowing how or when or why it will affect someone else. Martin Luther King Day reminds us why it is so important to speak our minds and then live accordingly – because it makes a difference.

This blog is part of the 2011 WordPress Post Every Day Challenge.

care, health, teaching, yoga

Step 310: Healing by Example

“The physician who knows only medicine, knows not even medicine.” It would follow that the care-taker that does not care for themselves cannot care-“fully” for others.” ~ Mark Twain

Yoga City NYC is a fantastic resource for anyone interested in yoga and wellness, two giant common interests among many New Yorkers. In their newsletter last week they published this quote by Mark Twain. It reminds me of how important it is as a teacher to not only compose a well-organized yoga class, but to practice what I teach in my daily life for my own benefit. To give care, we need to receive care, too.

For the new year, I am exploring new opportunities to teach yoga to under-served populations in unconventional spaces. Caregivers are a population I’m particularly keen on because it would help me to lever up my impact. If I can help caregivers be well, then they can take care of others more effectively. Caregivers come in many forms – doctors, nurses, teachers, coaches, mentors. They give of themselves every day, but how often does anyone give to them?

I hear a lot of people, especially moms, say that they just don’t have time to take care of themselves because they’re too busy taking care of everyone else. The truth is that taking care of themselves is the best way that they can care for others. We can’t give from a deficit – the math just doesn’t work that way. So if we really want to heal and care for others, we need to heal ourselves first. And there’s not a single selfish thing about self-care; it’s actually the most generous thing we can do. What we give is rooted in what we have.