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Jesica Hanley Vega

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spiritual growth

5 Life Lessons from 2015

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Handmade ornaments celebrating peace from our most recent workshop at Retreats With Heart.

Feeling good feels good. I experimented a lot this year with simply feeling good. Regardless of circumstance, I made an effort to find a good feeling whenever I could (or as Abraham Hicks calls it “a better feeling thought”).

The biggest surprise was learning how much better it felt to admit I felt crappy. In the past, I’d tried to force myself to feel better in challenging moments, but this year I discovered the grace in simply saying “I feel like crap.”

And very often, when I felt that way, I would sit down on my sofa and not get up until I felt better. Just sit. Not meditate. Not read. Not check my phone. Just sit. And it felt really good. And I was a much nicer person to my kids and my husband too.

Doing what frightens me makes me feel alive. This year was full of things that frightened me; I led my first workshops, did my first public speaking, crowd-funded and attended The Hive Global Leaders Program , admitted I wanted a divorce in couples’ counseling (we later reconciled) and quit consuming espresso, pasta, bread and sugar (mostly). Each one of these forced me to transcend the “me” I knew and become someone new. While it was terrifying to step into the unknown – socially, personally, and dietarily – each leap released an energy, a wildness and a wisdom that I couldn’t have acquired any other way. I got to know myself on a deeper level and it was exhilarating.

Life is much easier when I don’t take things personally. That guy who wanted his money back when he didn’t like my talk? The friend who decided she no longer wanted me in her life? The family member with negative opinions about how I’ve lived my life? In the past, I spent a lot of time and energy trying to prove myself to dissenters and win back those I’d offended. But this year I finally accepted that people are going to do what they’re going to do and think what they’re going to think – because they have their own lives to lead, and their own stories to tell.

Relationships will end and endeavors will fail, and to take it all personally is to try way too hard to be the center of a universe in which I am only one part. Ultimately, it’s a relief knowing I can’t control it all and it’s made me even more grateful for what I have.

Life is even easier when I stop trying to improve, help, heal and otherwise make a difference in people’s lives. Co-dependent much? Maybe just a little. As a sensitive, caring person, it’s easy to feel responsible for others’ problems. Whether I’ve felt like I caused them, or just had the solutions that would ease them, I expended a lot of energy thinking, talking and strategizing about other people’s lives. But once I stopped, wow, it was like being relieved of a fifty pound weight. It’s still tempting, when someone is struggling or feels hurt, to turn myself inside out, beat myself up and do whatever it takes to make it right. But I’ve learned the best path is to take what responsibility is mine and give others the gift of their own.

I’m human. Of course, of course, of course, we’re all human. But there’s nothing like getting knocked down a few notches to remind me (see numbers 2 and 3) how human I am. Whether my ego is dominating me with an inflated sense of my own worth, or berating me for not being good enough, my ego has a hard time accepting who I truly am.

I am gifted in some ways, flawed in others; I can be wonderful and I can be insensitive. Just like all human beings, I am not only one thing.

A large part of becoming a loving, compassionate human being is accepting my shadow without believing it dims my light, because only then can I  accept the humanity of others. And I’ve come a long way in accepting others humanity this year as well: my kids’, my family’s, my friends and most of all, my dear and very human husband.

Growing Through Paradox

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Life growing from a dead thing.

This week’s podcast is about confronting the paradoxes in our lives: not through running away, numbing ourselves or hiding our heads in the sand, but through opening our hearts and expanding our awareness.

From watching my children develop, I’ve observed that there are few things as painful to the human psyche as a contradiction. Knowing something is true and that it’s opposite is also true can cause so much mental anguish, the effect is almost physical.

Who hasn’t wanted to scream in frustration when they’ve wanted two things equally? Or hated the person you love? Or hated yourself because of two seemingly incompatible qualities or drives?

Contradictions and paradox are an inevitable part of life, but when we run away from them, we run away from something that has the power to reveal deeper aspects of our realities and ourselves.

The trick is that our ordinary minds have no capacity for such revelations. Living in a physical world, our minds are accustomed to things being one way and not another. Confronting things that express both/and, rather than either/or, can really blow our gaskets.

And yet,  contemplation – which cultivates a state in which we are lovingly engaged with the focus of our attention – can train us to see with a deeper wisdom beyond the usual five senses. It can  teach us to approach contradictions with peace, compassion and acceptance, rather than reactivity and despair.

The more I focus on the topic of contemplation, the more I realize how much it can help us all during these very stressful times, and the more I realize how much it’s given me.

 

Ending War With (Inner) Peace

IMG_2272In the midst of an already overwhelming humanitarian nightmare,  the world recently witnessed a siege of extreme violence committed against innocent people: a siege born of great rage, hatred and despair. And in bearing witness to this tragedy, the world immediately reacted with an overwhelming jumble of grief, sympathy, anger and fear.

But bearing witness to terror can be more than a shared social trauma, more than an excuse to point fingers and more than a reason to circle the wagons. Bearing witness can also be a source of spiritual awakening: an opportunity to see, feel and express things that transcend the ordinary.

As painful and confusing as it may be, let us be awakened by the violence and tragedy around us, not only today but everyday. Let us be changed instead of stuck, inspired to grow instead of mired in old limitations.

It was Gandhi who said “Be the change you wish to see” and yet this statement is often dismissed as merely hopeful thinking or naive optimism. But Gandhi was more than hopeful, and he was definitely not naive. He was a man whose conviction and inner strength initiated a previously unthinkable revolution. He was a man who knew the power of demonstrating what one wishes to see: as an example to others, but also as a challenge.

In my lifetime I wish to see peace. And I believe the path to that begins with standing for peace every day, and holding my self to a standard of non-violence and compassion.

While even I am occasionally tempted to dismiss the pursuits of self-realization, personal development and spiritual growth as self-absorbed and pointless, in the end, if we can’t be kinder to each other in the midst of daily stresses, what hope is there for us to end war?

And how else can we learn the skills of compassion and kindness – which transcend reactions of fear and anger – without taking on contemplative practices designed to teach us those very things?

I believe in peace, because I have achieved it in my own life. Not every day and not every minute. But I have witnessed my self NOT lash out in anger at a defiant child, NOT shrink away from a daunting conversation, NOT hold on to resentments which would poison my relationships and my future. And I firmly believe that when each person has attained their own experience of inner peace at the critical moment when before they would have only felt inner war – each person will also know that the end of war is possible.

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