Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Tao

I just realized I'd be completely remiss if I didn't mention the Tao, (Tao Te Ching: The New Translation from Tao Te Ching: The Definitive Edition (Tarcher Cornerstone Editions) because this book has had a major impact on my life and my current state of mind.

It sits on my nightstand, next to my bible. It is worn and tattered and underlined and scribbled. In the introduction, translator Johnathan Star says "this book will change your life."

It's the truth. Get it. Now.

Mara disguised: Always looking for answers

According to my dad, when I was little I used to ask "why." Alot. I was one of those pesky toddlers who was always like, "why, why, why?" I wanted to know the answer to things like "why is the sky blue?"

I don't really know why I always asked why, except that obviously the answer was very important to my young fresh eyes. (And why is the sky blue anyway? Does anyone know?)


I've realized that I never completely lost that habit and even into adulthood I find myself asking why quite often. These why's are not always verbalized as they were when I was a child, but they are often swirling around my head like insects to a flame, searching for answers.

I am a naturally curious person, probably the reason why my career goal in college was to be a reporter and why I worked as a reporter for three years at the beginning of my career. The biggest part of my job was asking why. If you failed to ask a "why," you might miss a big story. (One time I followed a teenager into the woods looking for homeless people. I also knocked on doors in crappy neighborhoods and got chased to my car by a pitbull...all for a story. And those are just a couple tidbits)

Something happened just last weekend that caused me to get stuck on why. It didn't matter the fact that what happened was really a good thing, it was meant to be, it needed to happen. And the why wasn't going to change anything about the outcome. But I still couldn't get past was the why.

In the confines of my worried mind I must have come up with five fictional, sometimes fantastical, and a couple even a little paranoid stories on why exactly this thing happened. Although I have moved on, I still found myself just this morning wondering why. Then something else crazy happened today at work that caused me to scream WHY? at the universe.

The problem is that sometimes answers don't want to be found, and that's when the why's turn into anxiety -- secretly masquerading as Mara. That's when we get a case of the why's in the wee hours of the morning.

The fact is -- a fact I personally have a hard time with --- is that sometimes the why doesn't matter.

Sometimes there isn't a definitive why.

Sometimes it's better not to know why.

Sometimes the universe, or God, or Whomever, keeps the why from us until we need to know it.

Today, I release the why to Mara, accepting that there is no answer. You should try it. Peace.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Hope is one of my favorite virtues. I remember first being able to personify hope as a little child, hearing about the Greek fable of Pandora's Box, in which Pandora unknowingly unleashed all of mankind's evil contained in a box; a gift from angry Zeus. At the bottom of this "box," however, contained some stories translated as a bird chasing the evil shadows out of the box. Other versions say hope stayed behind in the box.

"...Only Hope was left within her unbreakable house..."

Anyway, hope is the bird that chases away our evils. It is what carries us through. If we think about it hard enough, all of our lives are an intermixed box full of blessings and evils, yin and yang. Without each other, neither can flourish.

But I will get to the point.

The real reason of my post today is to direct you to a wonderful web site. If you have not yet heard of Gives Me Hope, you need to go there and check it out. Chances are if you are reading my blog you will really enjoy that site as well. It's an optimists playground. Sometimes if I'm having a bad day I go there to read the posts and feel lifted up as if I've been given wings.

Created in 2009 by University of Notre Dame alums Gaby Montero and Emerson Spartz as a reaction to the negativity on the website F MyLife, GMH has really grown in popularity in the last year and sparked a sister site, Love Gives Me Hope.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Recommended Reading

As I've been talking about some authors and concepts here, I thought you might like to know where to go for further information. The books/CD's shown below I have all read/listened to and highly recommend. They are helpful on the journey to defying Mara.

Before Change

Becoming Comfortable

Lead me to the rock that is higher than I,
the Psalms cry.

What then, happens when we get to the top?
Do we listen for your voice?

Does the sun set on us,
glorious in its orange warmth,
The lion's breath in our ear?

Should we stay steady,
cool and dewey,
Laying in wait, our hands cradling our heads?

Will it be too late when daybreak comes?

And how do we descend without slipping, knowing that precarious doom
that lies below?

Poetry inspired by Mara

Come to Tea

I see you Mara-
I feel you in my heart.

Before I woke this morning
You crept into my dreams
like dawn on the horizon
I fought the urge to draw the curtains

You joined me in my closet, uninvited
Chiding my outfit choices
and hiding in the bathroom
While I showered

You brought along your friends:
Doubt, Anxiety and Self-loathing.
They are your biggest infantry,
and you know it.

But I did not ignore your red-eyed threats.
I did not run out the door, disheveled and shaken.
I did not brood.
In fact, I had been expecting you.

I had invited over my friends: Faith, Hope and Love.
I put on my suit of armor.
Smiling, I cooked eggs for two.
I invited you to tea.

In the brightness of the morning,
sitting at my table
You were not so scary.
You even looked kind of boring.

Facing you, I could move on.
I reminded myself how lucky I was to have eggs, a shower, and a closet.
I made it known that you were welcome
But your friends would have to go after a while.

I would need to get on with my day.


Have you ever been down, plagued by doubts, insecurities or habits of the mind that seem to follow you around?

Ever felt like no matter what you do, you are always running from Mara?

Well, I've been there. That's why I'm sharing how I've learned to live with Mara and love my life regardless of what goes on around me. (Look to the right for what "Mara" is)

I should explain a little about why I've taken this journey of defying Mara. I've recently struggled with some major life changes and the subsequent emotional, financial, and at times physical & safety problems that accompanied them. I won't get into details due to legalities, but let's just say that it was a horrifying time, and I struggle with it to this day. But it's changed me and made me who I am -- someone I am proud of, someone who is much stronger than she was.

So who is she?

She is a young woman who laughs in the face of change (like the above pic, although that is NOT me), and in fact she reacts back to change things even more. Defying Mara is similar to making lemonade out of life's lemons, or knowing how to play the cards you've been dealt. And it's about accepting the fact that we will all get lemons and bad hands sometimes. It's about using this to our advantage rather than running from our fear, or our personal Mara.

It's important that I give credit to Tara Brach, author, Buddhist teacher and clinical psychologist. I first heard of the concept of Mara and "inviting Mara to tea" a couple of years ago from Brach and her incredible books, podcasts and guided meditations. If it wasn't for her, as well as Jon Kabat-Zinn, (also Buddhist author/teacher), my family, friends, faith and hope, I really don't think I would have pulled through the tough times with my sanity intact. There are many different translations on what exactly Mara is, but I use Mara the way Brach does, explained in my welcome at the top right. I wouldn't say that I am a "Buddhist" or fit in any other strict religious category, although I was raised Catholic. On a side note, I should mention that Buddhism was never meant to be a religion and the Buddha himself never claimed to be a God. It is just a way of living. Many practice it because it is healing. It has only recently gained popularity in the western world. I wrote a research paper on the healing process of Buddhist practices such as meditation in my first masters level class in 2008. I am still reading and learning about the many inspirational Buddhist concepts. I won't call myself an expert because Buddhism itself has depths upon depths of historical concepts, but I will say I once checked out every book the Indiana University library had on it (17+) and read them all, in addition to all of Brach's and Kabat-Zinn's books and guided meditations. So at least I can claim to be well-read on the topic. I've gotten pretty good at meditation as well. (Which, by the way, if you do right is really friggin hard!) Because of my Catholic gradeschool roots, I will also be sharing some other healing concepts that are similar to defying Mara, but with a Christian slant.

Basically, I am a spiritual person who believes in God and keeps faith as my foundation. I also love to learn and delve into things that peak my interest.

I am sure there are many thousands of people in tough situations right now, which is part of the reason I've decided to share what I've learned. My ex-husband once called me a "hopeless, hopeless optimist" (hence, the tagline at the top of this blog). Not sure if he meant it as a compliment (probably not, given the context of the conversation we were having and the fact that it is a complete oxymoron), but I took it as a compliment, and I am proud of it, because this personality trait is needed to overcome adversity. But I want to make it clear that I am human and have weakness, depression, and uncertainty just like everyone else. I've learned to counter these times with my optimism, all the while re-negotiating the terms of my life when facing change. In other words, I've learned to accept the change and even accept my weak moments, and in the process I've learned how to defy Mara.

This blog will be somewhat of a way to continue my healing journey, but I want to reach out to others on their journey. I will also be posting other resources similar to the defying Mara theme. I should also mention that I am a writer at heart, and I love to write and read poetry. I recently become close with a friend who I knew for a short time. As change goes, this time was shorter than I'd hoped. But he taught me how to share my poetry, something I've never done before. So, I am going to try and continue that here and will be posting poetry that may have something to do with defying Mara.