Friday, August 30, 2013

Loss, and Longing, and other L words…

Life deals us many hands and we go through many changes, whether by choice or by predetermined circumstances. Due to these various changes, I've come to realize that in life we face what I call "people turnover." People come into our lives and leave our lives. In a discussion about death with a spiritual group, one insightful individual stated that death is hard to deal with because "we were never meant to experience such loss," a perspective I appreciate because it helps me feel as though my disfunction has a rhyme and reason. In order to explain my personal experience facing loss, another dear friend tells me it is because I care so much and so strongly about the relationships in my life that it becomes so difficult to accept when people leave my life for one reason or another. All of this helps me to understand my experience better, but the struggle of dealing with loss remains. I do understand that the bottom line is: people will come, and people will go, and my little heart will have to accept that.

Of course there are deep spiritual thoughts that can help us face and understand these issues. Yet, I can't help but feel frustrated. I watch as relationships that once sustained me end, in which we were in some form for each other, and as people who were in my everyday life just vanish, slowly dissipating into the past. I attempt to fight it, and reach out and sustain them. Yet as texts go without response, phone calls unreturned, my little heart tugs with disappointment, and sometimes a crushing sadness at the loss of friendships, even whilst understanding that "life gets in the way."

And those are the losses we experience in living. There is also the coming to grips with loss that is no one's doing. I've experienced death in my life more times than I care to count, each one a painful blow and a deep struggle to understand how we move on. This person who was once in our life, who graced us with love and laughter, who cradled us and supported us, or who simply brightened our days, now gone forever. Conversations gone. Their touch forever a memory. We --unfortunately-- constantly face death and the final separation from those we grew to love. How do we encounter that? How do we understand it? How do we surpass it?

Last week I read The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live--and How You Can Change Them by Richard J. Davidson, a neuroscientist and psychology and psychiatry professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He defined Emotional Styles as a part-genetic, part-environmentally influenced, more stable definition of our emotional beings than personalities and moods. There are six dimensions that define how we think, feel, and react, that create your unique emotional style. While there is no right or wrong emotional style, through reflection and introspection, we can learn more about our own styles and decide if we feel we need to alter these in order to help ourselves along, be healthier, happier, or whatever the need may be. You can read more about that in the links below and in his book.

What I learned through this book was that in the Resilience dimension, I fall towards the "Slow to Recover" end of the spectrum. Resilience in this context is briefly defined as how long it takes you to rebound after adversity and is determined by signals between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. I had already acknowledged and learned through my 27 years of living that I struggle with adverse situations, but particularly with facing loss--loss of certain circumstances, but most importantly loss of people in my life, whether through break ups, relocation, or death. There is something comforting in being able to place what I saw as an inability to deal with one of life's most universal truths to something physical (neurological) and not just that I am emotionally and psychologically broken or damaged. I am literally wired in such a way that makes it difficult for me to face these changes. My attachments to the people I love in my life are neurologically explained. Hooray!

Through tips from Davidson's book and other practices, like mindfulness meditation, journaling and introspection, I can work with myself to move down the spectrum to a healthier (or what I consider healthier) way of facing and reacting to adversity--more towards the "Quick to Recover" side of the spectrum. This is the welcomed challenge I now face to learn to help myself along. It has also helped me to understand myself and accept who/how I am, to understand I have a particular emotional signature that helps me deal with life's ways. This book was a challenge to read in some ways, but ultimately an empowering declaration of our own agency within our bodies. Yes, we are emotional creatures, as Eve Ensler states in her book, but we are not determined or frozen by our emotional character. The human brain is a mighty creature, and while it can define us, it is brilliant enough to adjust as needed so we can be enriched and live more wholesomely. But this adjustment can only occur if we work on it.

So while yes, I am emotional, loving and attached, and death and separation make absolutely no sense to me, I now have new hope that I can learn to face these adversities in healthier ways, to fully experience them while not letting them diminish me.

To read more about Richard J. Davidson's work and learn about your own Emotional Style, read The Emotional Life of Your Brain, and click here for a quick summary of Emotional Styles.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

For the Mommas

To give back.  To say thanks.  To our mommas.

Check out the Strong Families Blog and my personal post about my mother.

Strong Families celebrates's Mama's Day by highlighting the real lives and experiences of the mamas in our lives.  Enjoy!

Many blessings of love and light to all the Mothers in your lives.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"I shall call him Squishy and he shall be mine and he shall be my Squishy. Come on, Squishy..." ~ Dory, Finding Nemo, 2003

"Perhaps we have an obsession with naming ourselves because for most of our lives we have been named by other people."
~ Angela Davis on Identity

There is power in naming something.  Naming something acknowledges its existence.  Naming is creation. So when others name us, they create us, our identity, the reality of us. Reclaiming that power is critical.

People may wonder and think I am being difficult in reclaiming my first name. But seventeen years ago, I took on the nickname Beni (misspelled at that) because I felt people could not say my name. I didn't want to be mocked. I wanted to fit in as best I could.  I wanted to make things easier on everybody.  So I became Beni.
I don't hate this person I became, nor do I cringe or wish it had been different.  At the time, it is who I needed to be. I love that person. I am mentally kind to that person because it was a young, frail, scared child who did not want to suffer and found strategies to avoid pain. That was my way of doing it and there's nothing innately wrong with that. Self-preservation is human.

But I am happy that, thanks to Front Line Leaders Academy and Joel Silberman in 2008, I realized that I am beautiful.  The person I am is beautiful.  And unique.  And I have a unique contribution to the world.  And nothing represents that better than my name--my real name. Especially because in the US, Bernardita is painfully unique name.

Yes, it is the name my parents gave me… and upon moving here I made the choice--forced by circumstance--to become Beni.  But there is something quite powerful in reclaiming my name… and all that it speaks with its ten long letters. Reclaiming my name is me taking ownership of myself, my life, my person. Reclaiming me is to reframe me… I am creating myself anew. And I am the one who defines me, not others, not those who can't say my name or a world that finds me strange.

Reclaiming Bernardita shows the world "here is this long-named, curious person," and I am imparting upon others great respect because I no longer think my name is too strange for them to say it.  Instead, I give people credit for their ability to learn it.

I am not making things difficult--sharing who I am should not be a difficulty for anybody.  I am sharing myself. I am being truthful to who I am. I am telling you, "this is me--no alterations."

Naming is critical. It creates realities. In 2008, I acknowledged I have power over the reality of myself that I present to others. Obviously, I knew I had it back in 1996, but what I didn't know is that I could expect the world to understand me as I am without making changes to fit the world's mold.  Instead, I could value the world's ability to value … me.

And so I introduce myself to you.  I am Bernardita. And we can now begin the business of sharing.

"The precision of naming takes away from the uniqueness of seeing." 
~ Pierre Bonnard 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Steubenville: on Education and Social Responsibility

This Steubenville situation has me real fired up. The incredible disconnect of these boys and the witnesses to the violent sexual act is disturbing, at best. How can people be so disconnected from others' humanity that they don't see they are harming, violating, disrespecting, and abusing another human being?  Are we that self-involved and desensitized to humanity?  Are all human beings no longer worthy of respect? What is going on in our world? Are parents, teachers, leaders, no longer teaching the value of a person to our children?

This just bleeds into the broken education system in which we live. We need to nurture people's spirits, feed into children's souls, allow for their ultimate expression and care for it.  Let them be as they are and allow them to feel loved and appreciated, wholly. 

Demonstrate that appreciation so they can pass that on to others and see the value in each individual's contributions. 

We don't have that anymore.  Each person needs to de-"self"-themselves. Lose who they are to become a piece, an equal soldier in an army of conscious-less, spirit-less drones. (Teaching to the test? Pass/Fail to rate the quality of our schools and educators?)

Maybe this is the intersection, this disconnect, between artistic endeavors (our soul) and education and policy.  We remove passion and love and expression from our children's lives by not funding arts education, and by doing so, we tell our children that art is unimportant, that their soul dancing is irregular, unnatural, unacceptable, and their spirit soaring is an acrimonious violation of the social order. Their spark is diminished for the sake of conformity to a system… a well-oiled machine that needs to continue running, requiring its little workers to be one and the same, not alter the system so as to prevent it breaking. We can't handle change, difference, dissonance. We can't see the beauty in it.

But this system is already broken.  We teach children to remove their uniqueness, to learn to pass uniform exams, and we remove music and arts, the things that nurture their spirits and emotional intelligence, and replace them with basic, formulaic education, lacking creativity. Children no longer play with free minds, but rather desensitize through computers and gaming, numbing the frustration of an education that bores and discriminates. The system creates individuals so hardened that their hearts no longer see the hearts of others as beating, bleeding muscles of love and pain. They do not see that their touch, even their words, create gashes in the tissue… They do not see that it is life that exists around us and it is life they take through their coldness and disconnect.
Is empathy dead?

The reality is that we are socially responsible for each other. We are socially responsible to teach our children they are responsible for each other, that they exist in unison with their brothers and sisters. We are socially responsible to create a society with a living, beating, bleeding heart. This is our duty and where our responsibility lies.

The children in Steubenville that committed these horrific acts need to understand their actions for the harm they caused their sister, not for the negative consequences they receive themselves. Children need to learn of the humanity of others, awaken their hearts to their connection with this other person, and understand more deeply that the pain they feel about the status of their lives is tiny particle of a much greater pain, a drop in the ocean of pain suffered by the young woman they violated, and a mere hint of the pain experienced by the thousands of youth who suffer sexual violence every day. What they feel, others feel, and that can be their bridge to sharing in others' humanity. What she felt and feels today is an experience we all share in.

When one suffers, the whole suffers. We can't numb ourselves to this because in that numbness is where we lose our hearts, the heart of whole world, and we lose sight of our relationship and connectedness with every individual around us. We are one part of the whole. We cannot divorce that.

We are responsible for one another. We are all at fault here. And we are all empowered to change.

Friday, March 22, 2013

"Imaginary though it was, its influence affected her, for she was feeding heart and fancy..."

Fiction is not merely entertainment. It isn't fluff or an inane part of our existence that doesn't mean much for our lives. Fiction is part of our reality.  Why? Because fiction is how we experience life. Fiction is where we learn to experience emotions, and where we go to continue to experience them: to experience excitement when our life is dull, joy when our life is sad, pain when a release is needed. Fiction is regenerative. It is invigorating. Fiction truly matters in our lives because our experience of it keeps our hearts and minds awake, alert, and alive.

I realize that crying over the death of a beloved character in a favorite TV show may seem to some to be ridiculous and immature, but it is my personal and passionate opinion that it being fiction does not make it unreal. The reality of our lived experience of those emotions is not diminished because it is a story of characters that do not exist in our world. I may not have known this person as a real human being in my every day existence, but this character, this person, kept me company on certain evenings, told me stories for weeks, made me laugh with them, and gave me joy through her experiences of love and excitement. We traveled together through time as she grew and married and created a family. We may not live in the same realm or reality, but she gave me these experiences and joys and pains, and my experience of those feelings that I shared with her through her story is not any less real.

We often hear about how our reality is that which we create. How we perceive the world to be, and how we respond to it. Our reality is that which  we imagine and perceive.  At the end of the day, what we experienced, how we felt, what we went through--that is what is real. Therefore, these experiences through the fiction that we live through by reading them, hearing characters, and watching life unfold in shows and movies… these are part of our reality.  These are relationships we have built in our lives that we manage and maintain, that give us new experiences, and create in us real emotion and reactions.

You may ask why this is so? As discussed on the "On Being" podcast episode on fairy tales, we are able to experience fiction as real because these stories reflect our other realities. As Krista Tippet of "On Being" stated on "The Great Cauldron of Story: Maria Tatar on Why Fairy Tales Are For Adults Again," these stories carry plots "we endlessly re-work in the narratives of our lives--helping us work through things like fear and hope." When we experience joy or pain through watching or reading something, our body connects to a moment in time where that experience arose. We live that experience again… Anew.

Fiction, then, helps us learn how to manage our experiences by giving us new ones to live and work through, and guides us on how to live a better existence by fine-tuning and deepening our emotional experience. Do not diminish the experience of fiction in our lives.  Relish in it.  Don't hide when tears well up in your eyes as we are forced to say goodbye to a beloved storyline, or rejoice in the joy of a happy ending. Instead, appreciate the experience as a privileged chance to live more deeply, love more fully, explore your emotions, and grow your heart. See fiction as rehearsal--the practice part of what makes perfect. It is our tool. And our experience of it is not any less real than our experience of a friend or a parent, a sibling or a child, causing us pain or great joy.

"Late at night my mind would come alive with voices and stories and friends as dear to me as any in the real world. I gave myself up to it, longing for transformation."
- Jo March, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott 

Sunday, March 17, 2013


I won't say that today marks a new beginning... because every day is a new beginning.  We start fresh every day. In yoga, they say that our body is different every time, so to be open to what it has to offer each day and accepting of where it can go in that moment. Every moment is different. We are constantly changing energy.

So today, like every day, is a new beginning. The start of something new. The person I am today. And like Brené Brown teaches us, that is enough.

Today, I am taking on this new project to create this blog and share with others, opening up the space for safety and love.

   "As I began to love myself
     I freed myself of anything
     that is no good for my health
     -- food, people, things, situations,
     and everything that drew me down
     and away from myself.
     At first I called this attitude
     a healthy egoism
     Today I know it is

~ Charlie Chaplin