Friday, October 11, 2019

The Drowning Lifeguard

I know I can't afford it, but he's really hungry again. At this point, it's not even worth mentioning the job he was supposed to be getting. It will only cause us to argue and leave me feeling like perhaps I'm being a little too hard on him. Besides, there needs to be at least one person in his life who won't abandon him like everyone else. I didn't realize it at first, but I had begun fighting to prove to him what unconditional love felt like. I was determined. Even if it meant I had to go without a few things every now and then, I wanted him to know that someone was willing to put him before themselves.  My behavior, however, was not unique to him. I thought like this about everyone. I help people. I heal people.  I save people. It's a beautiful gift to be able to make peoples' burdens lighter. So I break and I bend for people who never even notice, or notice just in time to take advantage. Still, I lean on my crutch that taught me to put others before myself, even at the expense of my own wellbeing. Where they are weak, I must be strong, and where they lack, I must provide. I'll do it, as long as it means I can go on neglecting the work I'm supposed to be doing on myself. After all, I simply don't have the mental capacity, or time, to take care of myself because...well... They need me. Unfortunately, I neglected to consider that the more of other people's luggage I choose to carry, the longer and more difficult my own journey will be.

One of the best feelings in the world is the satisfaction that comes from helping someone. Whether it's your neighbor, your child, or an old lady trying to cross the street, instances where you are able to assist someone can be impactful far beyond the surface. These instances provide space to experience the beauty of human connection, and vulnerability. By being willing to meet someone where they're at, it exercises one's ability to be patient. By being willing to ask for help when necessary, it exercises one's ability to be humble. However, like everything else in life, "helping" must be done in moderation, and in a way that is not detrimental to a person's own wellbeing.

Although this idea may seem quite obvious, many people simply are unable to find the appropriate balance between self-care and self-sacrifice. In fact, for some, being the person that everyone goes to for help and support is the one thing that affords them the validation they seek. With that being the silver lining, there are few positive outcomes for the individual who chooses to pour into the world without ever refilling their own cup. As a woman of color, I grew up watching the women around me rise to the occasion and handle things. Regardless of their needs, personal goals, or ambitions, they handled every obstacle that was thrown their way. Not only did they take care of things for themselves, but these strong women helped everyone around them handle their afflictions as well. All the while praying and believing that one day they would be rewarded for their efforts.

Photographer: Karen Alfaro
From a Christian perspective, I understand that this doctrine stems from the idea that people should strive to be like Christ. Since Jesus is portrayed as providing the ultimate sacrifice, followers of his should also strive to be selfless. As beautiful and romantic as this idea is in theory, in practice, it can actually be extremely harmful if gone unchecked. There is an important distinction between helping someone because you're able to, and helping someone because you feel morally obligated to, and will feel extremely guilty if you do not. The issue is in the latter. The subconscious avoidance of guilt can cause people to overextend themselves in ways contrary to their own best interests. Furthermore, by the time most people realize they have given too much of themselves, and have nothing left to offer at the moment, the time for them to pursue their own dreams and interests has passed them by. Although it is never too late to actualize your dreams, in most cases it's only a matter of time before someone else, that you simply must save, takes you off course again. Often times the hardest battles are within. Therefore, we look to the outside world for distractions, and to deflect the spotlight away from our own challenges.

In this case, the focus must be placed on creating balance in one's life on all fronts. Keep in mind that having a "well-balanced life" will look different for everyone. Nevertheless, a good place to start is by being intentional about which situations you intervene in, and understanding that not every battle is yours to fight. Sometimes balance can mean simply sharing resources with someone, rather than trying to provide what they need on your own. In addition, balance can also look like pouring into others, as you simultaneously pour into yourself. However, the minute that delicate equilibrium is disturbed, the risk that someone will either overburden themselves or act out of selfishness, becomes far greater. Lastly, balance can also be achieved by setting and enforcing clear boundaries with the people in your life. Be aware though, you may encounter some pushback when you begin prioritizing yourself. This is not something to be taken lightly. Pay close attention to the people that become cold when they lose access to you in some way. In most cases, those people were hoping to continue benefiting off of your desire to help, with no intention of offering anything in return.

With this in mind, please take one thing to heart. YOU ARE ENOUGH! You do not need to go around extending yourself to every person or solving every problem. You don't need to go around fighting everyone's battles just to prove that you are a warrior. You are worthy of love and acceptance. So today I challenge you to be more mindful and intentional about who you're giving your effort and energy to in the name of "helping". Take a moment to consider the ways in which you are working to fill your own cup on a regular basis. If after your evaluation you find that you are giving more of yourself than you can afford to, know that no regret is greater than the life you could have lived... If you had only put on your own lifevest before trying to save someone else.

All Power And Love To The People,

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Blessing At Rock Bottom

It literally could not have gotten any worse. The love of my life had broken up with me to pursue other interests. Now he was off to the beautiful land of Peru and had no intention of ever returning to the place we once shared. I wanted to be mad at him, but how could I blame someone for choosing their own happiness over mine? Nevertheless, there I was trying to collect the pieces of my heart that had just been shattered, still in a daze, and confused. Why now? Why this? Why ME? I mourned for days, which quickly turned into weeks. Before I knew it, months had gone by and I still didn't feel strong enough to pick myself back up. No amount of talking, reading, or crying could ease the pain. Eventually, even my friends and family began to distance themselves from me, as my sorrow became too heavy a burden for them to bear. The truth of the matter is that I had completely lost myself in that relationship. Now that it was over, I had no idea where I was going, and what I genuinely wanted out of life. It was up to me to figure out who I was again, but this time in a way that could never be so compromised. However, this would mean unpacking and sitting with some of my darkest realities. To be honest, I wasn't ready. I would rather sit here sending him postcards and love letters from rock bottom. 

Photographer: Jenny Desrosiers 
It is completely okay, to not be okay. It is normal to have moments where you feel like every possible bad thing that could happen to you is happening to you all at the same time. We live in a society where the idea of "positive vibes only" has often been misconstrued to mean that having unpleasant feelings, is somehow toxic to the people around you. This thinking is dangerously flawed. Although it is important to do the things that bring us happiness and comfort, it is equally as important to confront the things that cause us unpleasant feelings and pain. By only validating the positive, it is easy to suppress the negative emotions and thoughts, leaving them to fester under the surface. 
Nevertheless, when someone feels like they have reached rock bottom, there are still blessings and opportunities that can be found there.
One very important opportunity, that can be found at rock bottom, is the chance to view your life and wellbeing in a realistic way. Many times when everything seems to be going well on the surface, we forget that there is constantly work that needs to be done within. As we continue through life, we should be constantly learning, growing, and unlearning things regularly. If not, we run the risk of becoming victims of our own ignorance. Hitting rock bottom doesn't allow us to hide. This state-of-being causes us to accept the fact that something isn't working. At this point, we are left with two options. We can choose to give up and stay at rock bottom, or we can redirect ourselves and try another approach to get back on track. Victory is most often found in the latter. 

Furthermore, when we get to a space that feels lower than we've ever felt before, it is easy to opt for isolation. This is often to avoid having to put on a friendly face while crumbling inside. And although isolation can become unhealthy at a point, if done with intention, it can be used as a way to create the space necessary to reflect, redirect, and reemerge. When we reflect, we consider all the variables that may have expedited our descent into rock bottom. These variables may include,  unhealthy relationships, uncontrolled vices, and poor decisions that we've made. Once we are able to define and accept those variables, we are then able to redirect our energy and focus. This allows us the space to learn from our past mistakes and put a plan in place to do things differently moving forward. Only then are we able to reemerge with a new outlook and sense of self. 

Being at rock bottom can often feel like there is no way out of such misery. However, it is important to remember that this is simply untrue. It will certainly require you to do the mental and emotional labor that we often run from, but the reward is always well worth it. There's a delicate balance that must exist between being blinded by negative emotions, and being willing to face them head-on. It then becomes much easier to recognize and utilize the tools that may be right in front of you, to construct a pathway out of rock bottom. As always, be kind to yourself during this process, and know that the road to success is rarely linear.  

All Love & Power To The People, 

Friday, July 19, 2019

The Beauty In Solitude

Tanya was awakened by the birds again. Chirping ever so gleefully outside of her window, they reminded her that today was a new day. She didn't feel bound by any of the misfortunes of yesterday, just refreshed and at peace. As she slowly stood up to stretch, she was overcome with gratitude, accepting the idea that today presented endless possibilities. Looking out over the quiet mountains of Montana, she was thankful for the small part she played in the story of humanity. It was time for Tanya's morning meditation, and she couldn't be more excited. She enjoyed the quiet time with her thoughts and facing her fears head-on. Through meditation, she knew she could find the inner-strength to silence the anxiety-causing voices in her head, and refocus her energy. Although currently beaming with sunlight, Tanya's mornings haven't always been so bright. 

There were times where depression and anxiety caused her to feel tied to her bed. Stuck...Unable to move, and unable to start her day. Tanya tried everything from religion to natural remedies to heal herself. She even tried being vulnerable with those around her, hoping to find a helping hand or at least some solid advice. But the more she tried to talk to others about it, the more their own problems and life experiences overshadowed her issues. For a while though, this allowed her to hide. She would hide behind helping other people solve their problems, and being the "strong friend" that everyone came to for advice. She was always willing to go out, meet people and "network" to fill the void. In this way, she was able to distract herself from doing the hard work on herself, and in her own life. If she could just convince the world that she had it all together, she might be able to forget about the fact that her entire world was spiraling out of control. But once the phone calls and text messages from friends stopped, she was forced to be with herself. She was forced to look at what was really going on beneath the surface, and what she found was a beautiful mess. 

It has often been said that "no man is an island unto himself", meaning everyone, at some point, relies on others for their survival. Although this is an important concept to grasp when it comes to community building, it is also necessary to realize that there are times when being an island is imperative for your own mental health and prosperity. There are few things more rewarding than having moments of absolute clarity, purpose, and focus. However, these moments are not often experienced in groups of people, or during a time of swift movement, and transition. Usually, the most sacred opportunities for divine download occur in times of silence and stillness. Perhaps during prayer or meditation, when your spirit is open to receiving, you are better able to focus on your next step. You're able to see more clearly where you are, and where you should be heading, as well as what may be holding you back. The clarity and self-confidence that come from spending time in solitude are immeasurable. Nevertheless, simply spending time by yourself is not enough. It is important to spend this time doing things that help you unlearn the negative thoughts and behaviors that often cause us to feel sad or unworthy. This could include reading inspirational books, spending time in nature, taking yourself on a date, or even creating art. The important piece is that whatever action is being taken during this time, it is done with intention and with purpose.

Additionally, there is an important distinction to be made between being alone, and being lonely. Unfortunately, people often assume that these concepts are interchangeable, and therefore avoid being alone at all costs. Consequently, they miss out on the healing that can be experienced from spending time in solitude. When you're alone, it's much easier to reflect, assess, and plan based on your own needs and desires/ There is no one else around to make you doubt, or question those desires, and you are better able to see yourself for who you truly are. These moments in solitude should not be feared or avoided, but rather sought after and embraced. So today, I challenge you to spend some intentional alone time each week, to center yourself and refocus. The reward from doing so may not be immediately apparent, but over time, you are sure to experience the many benefits if you stay consistent.

All Power and Love to The People,
Shani ✊🏾

Sunday, July 14, 2019

My 7 Guiding Principles

Every year I acknowledge my birthday as being my own personal new year. This time of year often represents a fresh start, and another chance for me to actualize my wildest dreams. As each birthday approaches, I am reminded of the lessons I've learned thus far, as well as taking inventory of the spaces where growth and healing are still needed. Although I continue to change and develop on my life journey, there are certain principles that have stuck with me, and have helped guide me to victory in each situation. So today, as I celebrate my birthday, I'd like to share these principles with you in the hope that they may resonate with you at the right time. 

Photographer: Jenny Desrosiers
  1. Be brave enough to say "No". Your personal well-being must be paramount. Ultimately, you cannot pour from an empty cup.
  2. Think outside the boundaries you have placed on yourself, as well as the ones others have tried to place around you. 
  3. Be your own hero. Realize that no one is on their way to save your life and turn it into something that makes you happy. You have to do that for yourself. 
  4. Keep God involved in all that you do, through prayer, faith, and hard work. 
  5. Be willing to let go of people and situations that no longer serve you. This especially goes for people who don't value you in the way that you feel you deserve. 
  6. Plan, execute, repeat. 
  7. Make time for the people who matter to you most. 

All  Power & Love To The People,

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Where You'd Rather Be

Nichole sat at her desk anxiously watching the clock. How much longer until 5? She could feel her freedom approaching with every passing second. Her boss had been riding her back all week about deadlines, and how she could be doing more for the company. So much so, Nichole contemplated calling out 4 out of 5 days this week. Needless to say, she could not wait for her weekend festivities to commence. She could picture it now, twirling around on the dance floor, meeting lovely strangers, and living for the thrill of it just one more time. When Nichole finally got home from work, the only motivation she had left was to pour her favorite glass of wine and binge watch "Scandal" for the rest of the night. With a deviant smile on her face, she turned her phone off in order to avoid the, "Girl, WYA? You still pullin up?" texts that she knew were inevitable. Nevertheless, she was thoroughly content with just being home, in her safe space, where she controlled her own time and actions. She was slowly becoming "one of those people". The kind of person who spends all week daydreaming about the weekend, but then spends their weekends literally doing nothing, in an attempt to mentally recover from their work week.. As Nichole sat in front of the TV, waiting for the commercials to end, she wondered what life would be like if she spent her week days doing the kind of work she didn't feel the need to mentally recover from. What would life be like if she was the captain of her own ship? And at that moment, it hit her. She had never attempted to "be the captain" because she had no idea where her destination was. So how could she possibly trust herself to steer? She would remain stuck in this cycle until she decided where she would rather be. Clearly...It was time for Nichole to do some soul searching.
Photographer: Jenny Desrosiers
Like Nichole, many of us find ourselves living life in a way that allows us to simply "get by". We work to pay bills, and if we're lucky, we are allowed to take a vacation once a year. We believe that if we just work hard, and show our dedication, our employers will recognize our efforts, and eventually we will be promoted to a position of authority.After that, we'll have enough money and status to live our best lives until it's time for an early retirement. The good news is, it does work this way for a few people. The bad news is, it doesn't work this way for most people, and instead of "movin on up" a lot of us are just moving in place. Living in this way, although comfortable for some, creates a situation where we are merely letting life happen TO us, instead of FOR us. Unless you are doing the kind of work that you are absolutely passionate about, and using that passion to truly make a difference, you're essentially dedicating precious and irreplaceable hours of your life to further someone else's vision and dreams. Now for some, the check they receive for doing so feels like a fair trade off. But for others, the money they earn simply serves as the bait that keeps trapping them in the rat race. Nevertheless, today I implore you to take a moment to be honest with yourself about whether or not you are genuinely fulfilled in the life you are leading. If not, take some time to reflect on where you'd rather be. Lastly, take a moment to consider what it would realistically take to get there, all the while keeping in mind that vision without action, is just a dream.

Hasta la victoria siempre,