Conscious Escapism: The Benefits of a Spiritual Cheat Day


“The road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom… You never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough.” ~William Blake

Many people discover spirituality through suffering. I found the path due to years of depression, anxiety, and psychosis. Part of the awakening process is identifying behaviors, traits, habits, or thoughts that don’t serve you. As your behavior changes, so does your diet. Not just what you eat, but everything you consume, including what you listen to, watch, read, and pay attention to.

Orthorexia is the term given to an unhealthy focus on eating in a healthy way. This sounds like a paradox, as a healthy diet improves overall health. However, there’s a tipping point—eating well can become an obsession. You might develop anxiety around eating junk food, and your desire to eat well influences your social life, or you feel guilty for the times you indulge.

Your spiritual diet isn’t free from its own form of orthorexia. A healthy spiritual diet—such as a practice of meditation, reading spiritual texts, spending time in nature, serving others—boosts your spiritual health. But there is a tipping point.

What if you guilt yourself for wanting to spend an evening watching Netflix? Or eating without being mindful? Or being distracted and unfocused? Or not having the energy to serve? Or not catching yourself before reacting in anger?

What if when you feel anxiety, you don’t want to journal or meditate or unpick and dissect its root cause? What if you don’t want to spend the energy to “raise your vibration” or reframe your thoughts? What if all you want is to eat ice cream or go out with friends or have a glass of wine or watch the Champions League?

The time will come where you no longer crave junk food, for the nourishment of the path itself satiates you more than anything. Until this point, rather than trying too hard to resist, it’s much more beneficial to allow yourself to indulge, and give yourself the occasional treat, without guilt or shame.

Unconscious Escapism vs. Conscious Escapism

In psychology, escapism is defined as a behavior or desire to avoid confronting reality. I place escapism into two categories: unconscious and conscious. This is an important distinction, because most people who practice meditation and mindfulness are, to some degree, aware of when they are engaging in unhelpful behavior.

Unconscious escapism lacks self-awareness. It is a default, auto-pilot reaction to certain uncomfortable feelings. It’s not wrong, or bad, it’s just a way we learn how to cope. But in the context of spiritual growth and healing, unconscious escapism perpetuates suffering. It distracts us from discomfort and ultimately distracts us from ourselves.

However, conscious escapism explores and acknowledges underlying emotions with compassion, before choosing to indulge. Maybe you’re just tired or require a feeling of comfort, or simply want to enjoy a movie. All of these options are okay, and don’t make you any less “spiritual.” Quite the opposite: choosing to do a mindless activity can be a great act of self-compassion.

Conscious Escapism Is the Cheat Meal

Conscious escapism is choosing conventional distractions, knowing the occasional cheat meal doesn’t reflect your overall diet. It’s acknowledging where you’re at and allowing yourself to lean on mechanisms behaviors that provide temporary solace, fully aware this isn’t the ideal solution.

To get physically fit, a manageable and balanced routine and diet are better than an extreme, high-intensity routine and crash diet. Start off with high intensity, you’ll likely burn out and return to old habits. Instead, as you progress and form new habits, you might increase the intensity, or find that eating well becomes easier.

There’s no reason the spiritual path has to be any different. Over the years, I’ve experienced the extremes of depriving myself due to the belief around a spiritual person wouldn’t… (get angry, eat nachos or other unhealthy food, binge watch Netflix when feeling down, argue with their partner, enjoy buying new clothes, curse, procrastinate on tackling their finances…)

It’s only when I allowed conscious escapism that I’ve discovered what really benefits me.

Mostly, I was encouraged to try this route by supportive friends and family who could tell I needed time off. I’ve always pushed myself, I’ve always placed high standards on myself, and these traits of perfectionism were absorbed into my spiritual practice.

Over time my need for conventional escape has reduced. But that doesn’t mean I won’t skip a meditation session or watch a few episodes of Community to lighten my mood if it feels right to do so. Going too far in the other direction creates a feeling of stress or even resentment towards my practice, a result of spiritual orthorexia.

The Spiritual Diet and Discernment

A word of warning: Conscious escapism isn’t an excuse to choose the path of least resistance. The ego can hijack this concept, too, weaving a narrative of deceit that finds excuses and reasons as to why you deserve to not meditate, or why your unique spiritual path is finding enlightenment through Game of Thrones.

Be cautious of this and apply the principle of a standard diet. Understand which foods are good and which aren’t. I know that a healthy diet requires me to eat well most of the time. I know that if I always indulge in high-fat, high-sugar junk food, it’ll lead to reduced health. But I know the occasional treat is fine.

Knowing when to indulge and when to do the work is a matter of trial and error. It takes time, practice, and self-honesty. It requires self-compassion for the moments you over-indulge, knowing sometimes the road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom.

When you find momentum with your practice, you might experience a tendency to go all-in. The joy and inspiration that comes from meditation, or spiritual discussions, or insights, or noticing areas of growth or healing, create a sense of wanting more. You might feel the spiritual path is your life’s calling, and you’ll do all you can to honor it.

This is beautiful, and it’s worth appreciating the innocence of this intrinsic motivation. However, I’m here to tell you—you can take the day off. You can breathe, pause, and take time away from growth or development.

You can, unashamedly, give yourself permission to indulge in conscious escapism.





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The Joy and Power of Realizing I Am More Than My Job


“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” ~Brene Brown

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“It’s so nice to meet you. What do you do?”

These are the questions we are asked our entire life. When we’re children, everyone always asks about the future. They excitedly ask, “What will you do?” The subtext of this questions is:

“How will you be productive in society? How will you contribute?”

Being asked those questions all the time as children turned us into the adults that ask them. We are in the same cycle and do not seem to know to ask instead, “Who are you?”

For a long time, my focus and self-identity was tied up in what I did. I would tell people, “I am a filmmaker.” When I was young, I knew I wanted to make films. I loved to tell stories. “I want to be a movie director!”

When I grew up and actually got jobs in Hollywood, I realized that most people are not movie directors. Most people are not even filmmakers. They work in film. It takes many people to make one, but only a handful of people get any recognition or able to consider themselves filmmakers.

“What do you do?” people would ask. I would struggle to figure out how to explain that I was a production assistant who worked on films. I was basically a glorified secretary, a personal assistant. But I was not a filmmaker.

I worked on other filmmaker’s films. I personally had not made any art or films for over six years. I was so busy and tired of trying to work in the industry I wanted to work in that I forgot about myself.

When I could no longer define myself as a filmmaker, I became disillusioned. If I wasn’t one, then what was I? People always got excited when I said I worked on movies. Their eyes would light up, and they would pester me with questions about the famous people I knew or inside secrets.

They never wanted to know how much sleep I missed or how many friends and family events I sacrificed for the bragging rights of Hollywood. They didn’t want to know what excited me about life or who I was. They only wanted to know “what I did.”

This discontentment grew. I became angrier and angrier at the film industry as a whole. I felt used. Worthless. The world was nothing but egos and money. I would never be them unless I sold myself and played their game.

I wasn’t willing to play the game, find the back doors, penny pinch, or be downright cruel. I was beginning to see that the industry was soulless. The art and stories were being dictated by companies that wanted to earn as much as possible.

The stories were not chosen for their value and need in the world, but by which would make the most money. They profited on these stories and off the handwork and sacrifices of the below-the-line workers that were seen as disposable.

Celebrities made millions, and I made minimum wage, but I didn’t have the luxury of a free jet ride back home and an apartment for my girlfriend. I was reprimanded for refusing to work on a Saturday after only five hours off.

Slowly, I began to question if this was who I was. If this “works in the film industry” was really. me. And I felt guilty! I felt like I was being ungrateful. I was working on big movies! How could I not be happy? I had “made it.”

I could only go up from here. I could get to be the next Stephen Spielberg, the next Tarantino, the next Lucas? Then I worked for one of these types of famous guys. He was just a human. He wasn’t the god I held him up to be. He was flawed.

Sure, he got the adrenaline rush of making art, but at my expense. I was lucky to have my name in the credits. I wasn’t part of the golden ones, the actors and producers who were the “real” movie.

If I didn’t want to play the “Hollywood” game I could go independent. But I felt guilty that I called myself a filmmaker when I hadn’t made a film in years! I didn’t even have any desire to even come up with one.

I had friends who were making films on the weekends. They dedicated every free second to it. All I did was sleep. Then drag myself for dinner or a date and pretend I had a social life before I had to be back at work. I felt guilty and afraid that if left the industry I would be seen as a failure.

I was afraid that I would be seen as weak or people would think that I couldn’t hack it. The more angst I felt, the more I turned to my unhelpful habit of Googling advice.  There is nothing helpful about hours of reddit and self-help blogs. They are all contradictory.

This Googling, however, led to some articles with actual facts. This is when I started to read about Americans’ tendency to identify with our jobs. Our self-worth and identity are wrapped up in what we do.

We say things like, “I am a lawyer.” “I am a physicist.” “I am a teacher.” We don’t say, “I practice law.” “I study physics. “I teach.” We put the emphasis on the job and not the I.

I started the long, tedious process of separating myself, the me, from the filmmaker and the woman who worked in film. I realized that I was uncomfortable calling myself a filmmaker because I wasn’t one.

I struggled to define my title to other because I didn’t really believe that it was who I was. I am a woman who enjoys movies and stories. More importantly, I am energized by stories.

Filmmaking was just a job. The intense zealotry aspect of the film industry had always sat wrong with me. Now I know why. I am not a job. I am more than the work I do.

Through this process I came to slowly accept that I wasn’t happy with the work I was doing. There was a disconnect between it and the way I saw myself in life. I needed to walk away for a bit and allow myself to heal from the harm I and the toxic industry had infected upon my soul.

It is not just the film industry that is toxic. American work culture is. We have created an environment where work has to be our passion. Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” I disagree. Work is work.

You might enjoy it, but as long as you are giving your time for money you are participating in a business transaction, and it is work. Just accept it as work and accept that you can be a whole person outside of your job. Your job is only a small sliver of the much larger person.

Our work culture throws around the phrase “We are like a family.” It is encouraged and suggested that your team members and colleagues are family. They aren’t.

You can get along with them, be friends with them, but by labeling them as family there is a pressure to feel loyal and not let them down. Our alliances are manipulated to be given first and foremost to work. Any time spend doing something for yourself or your actual family is seen as selfish.

A year after my last film job I still struggle to see myself outside these identities. I am now enrolled in grad school and I want to label myself as a student. But I am not. I am Dia. I study mythology.

Sometimes I am a storyteller, but that title does not and cannot encompass the whole and vastness that I am as a person.

Identifying ourselves by our work is like trying to fill a mug with the ocean. At some point the ocean will overpower the mug, and we will be left wet and feeling bad about ourselves.

The next time you are at a party, after the pandemic, and you meet someone new, maybe don’t ask, “What do you do?” Instead ask, “Who are you?” Create the space to meet the real, whole person; the person who is vast, deep, and full of wonder for the world.





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12 Habits that Turn Dreams into Reality


“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Don’t wait. The time will never be just right.”
Napoleon Hill

What makes dreams into reality?

I believe that perhaps the most important – and an often ignored – thing is simply taking action.

I used to be really bad at it when I was younger.

Back then I usually got stuck.

I got stuck in my dreams about what I wanted to do.

I got stuck in analysis paralysis due to my habit of overthinking things. I got stuck in procrastination and in pessimism.

Things have changed a lot since then though. I have added many new habits that help me to take much more action than I used to.

I hope this week’s article will help you to do the same.

1. Get your day off to a great start by doing the most important thing.

I first learned about this about 19 years ago when I used to sell computers.

The boss told us that if we took care of the most important task of the day – often one of the more difficult ones too – right away in the morning the rest of the day would be a lot easier and lighter.

He was right about that.

When that first and most important task is done you don’t have to worry about it. It won’t weigh down on your day. You feel good about yourself.

And you’ll have less inner resistance to taking action for the rest of the day.

2. Just take responsibility for your actions and the process.

I love this quote from the ancient Sanskrit Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita:

“To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits; let not the fruits of action be thy motive; neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction.”

Why?

Because every time I look at it or remind myself of it I feel a sort of freedom and relief.

This quote reminds me to understand that I cannot control the results of my action. I can’t control how someone reacts to what I say or what I do.

It reminds me that it usually works better for me to stay motivated to keep doing what I do if I do something I really like doing.

Basically, I do what I think is right and that is my responsibility. And then the rest (the possible results), well, that is not up to me to decide about or try to control.

I let it go.

Taking action becomes a so much lighter activity when you only have to take responsibility for doing what you think is right.

3. Don’t feel like doing it? Start small.

Getting the most important thing done first thing in your day and setting yourself up for an action-packed day sounds great in theory.

But in reality you will have unmotivated days.

Days when you feel emotionally low or when you are confronted with having to do something you don’t want to do.

That’s life. But no reason to let that sink your day into inaction and feeling sorry for yourself.

I have found that the best thing for these situations is to start very small. To just…

  • Write for 1-2 minutes.
  • Lift free weights for just a few repetitions.
  • Spend 1 minute with getting started on something that scares me.

After that I have the choice to go do something else.

But I seldom do.

I just need an easy way to get started and then, when I am in motion, I usually continue taking action for a while longer.

4. Don’t hurt yourself.

This is a powerful motivator for me to grow and to become a better person.

If I don’t do what I deep down think is the right thing to do then I hurt myself and my self-esteem. What I do – or do not do – during my day sends powerful signals back to me about what kind of person I am.

There is no escaping yourself. And there is always a price to pay when you don’t do what you think is the right thing.

5. A reminder for focus.

If you don’t remind yourself often about what you need to focus on and why you are doing it then it is easy to let days slip away or to spend too much time on less important things.

So create a a simple reminder on a piece of paper. On it you can for example write down:

  • Your top 3 priorities in life right now.
  • Your most important goal or new habit for the next 30 days.
  • A motto or quote you want to stay focused on and live by at this time in your life.

6. Stay accountable to the people in your life.

An accountability buddy can help you to stay on track and to keep taking action towards your goal or dream even when the initial enthusiasm has dissipated.

For example, many of you as readers help me to stay accountable to provide helpful content. I get feedback all the time about if I do things in a helpful or less helpful way. I get a ton of encouragement.

People closer to me in my life help me to stay accountable to for instance not eating too much unhealthy stuff, to working out and to not working too much.

Find someone in real life or online who wants to get in better shape too. Or start a business online. Motivate each other.

Keep each other accountable so you take action and take steps forward each week.

7. Cycle fully focused work and fully relaxing rest.

Get your kitchen timer or access the stop-watch function on your cellphone.

Set the timer for 45 minutes. During those minutes just work on your most important task/small step forward. Nothing else. No distractions.

After those 45 minutes are up, take a relaxing break.

Distract yourself on Facebook if you like. Or step away from your work space and take a short walk, stretch or go for an apple for the next 15 minutes.

By working these fully focused periods of time you’ll:

  • Get more done and do work of higher quality.
  • Be able to concentrate for a longer time in your day and week and get less tired.
  • Train yourself to focus on one thing at time, instead of getting stuck in your mind between work and relaxation and building up friction and stress within.
  • Be able to enjoy your rest periods without a guilty conscience.

45 minutes of work too much?

Try 25 minutes instead.

Procrastinating half-way into your 25 minute period?

Set the timer for 10 or 5 minutes and build up the time that you can fully focus on the work over the next few weeks and months.

8. Focus more on the how to and less on the what-ifs.

If your thoughts starts spinning as you are thinking about taking action then in your mind shout: STOP!

Don’t allow yourself to get stuck in the negative spiral of analysis paralysis.

Sure, it is smart to think before you act in many cases but overthinking things tends to become a way to try to control things you cannot control or to simply stay away from action because you are scared in some way.

After you have said stop to that train of thought open up your mind to what you CAN DO instead of all the things that could go wrong in the worst case scenario.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • What is one small step I can take today to move forward towards my goal or out of this situation?
  • What is one thing I can learn from this situation?

Write down the answers you come up with and take action on them.

9. People don’t care that much about what you do so don’t let that hold you back.

When I was younger I almost always let what people may have thought or said if I did something hold me back and I got stuck in inaction.

It was more of a self-centered than accurate belief.

In reality people have their own things going on in busy lives.

They think about the job, kids, a partner, the cat, a vacation, what to have for dinner and they worry about what you and other people may think about them.

You are probably not the main character in other people’s lives. Even if you are that in your own life.

A realization that can be a bit disappointing but something that can also can set you free from self-imposed bonds.

10. Tap into enthusiasm.

When you dream and when you get started with something new in life then the enthusiasm flows like a fountain.

A few weeks later it may have decreased quite a bit. Don’t let that lead you to quitting if you think this is something you want to continue doing.

Tap into enthusiasm in your surroundings instead.

  • Let the enthusiasm of your accountability buddy flow of over to you and create a flow back to him or her by being enthusiastic about his or her goals and dreams.
  • Listen to podcasts or audiobooks by inspiring people.
  • Read blogs, websites and take courses that help you to get a dose of enthusiasm every week.
  • Let the enthusiasm from friends, children or pets flow over to you.
  • Listen to music and watch movies or Youtube-videos that increase your joy for life.

Bring the enthusiasm of the rest of the world into your life.

11. Add the fun.

Some tasks simply are boring or not much fun at all.

Then try this while you are doing them to add a bit of fun:

  • Add some music that gives you energy and inspires you.
  • Make it into a game where you compete with friend about who can finish something first or do the most amount of something in 10 or 30 minutes.

Change your perspective on what you are doing, lighten things up a bit and it tends to become quite a bit easier to take a lot of action on what you may have procrastinated on for some time.

12. Celebrate what you did today.

Take 2 minutes at the end of your day to think about, appreciate and celebrate what you have taken action on today. No matter how small the action may have been.

It will:

 



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Why Curiosity Is My Love Language and How It Makes Me Feel Seen


“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” ~David W. Augsburger

The five love languages—a framework for how we give and receive affection created by psychologist Gary Chapman in 1992⁠—include quality time, gifts, acts of service, words of affirmation, and physical touch.

As much as I love receiving all five demonstrations of care, I’ve always felt that my truest love language was missing from this list.

My love language is curiosity. I show others I care for them by asking questions, learning their experiences, and being hungry for the essence of them beneath the small talk and the pleasantries. I want to see them for who they are and know what makes them tick. And I, too, want to be loved this way.

Like many recovering people-pleasers, I spent most of my life over-attuned to others’ moods and needs, accustomed to relationships in which I did all of the seeing but rarely felt seen.

While I know that people-pleasing is usually an outdated coping mechanism from childhood, I also know that my ability to get curious about others is my superpower. Regardless of its origin, it is just as much a part of me as my eye color or my heritage.

This desire to deeply understand others is a quality about myself that I love, something that I do just as much in service to myself as in service to others.

For years, my curiosity often led me to play the role of confidante and cheerleader in my relationships. Friends, partners, and acquaintances said I was an “exceptional listener.” And while I appreciated their praise, I often felt that folks cherished my companionship the way they would cherish a finely polished mirror—a smooth surface in which they could admire their own reflection.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve determined that I’m no longer willing to be a part of one-sided relationships in which I know others inside and out, but they regard me as a foreign language. I want a person who can put their ego aside and get curious. I want someone who maps my terrain eagerly, who crests the peaks and sprints into the jagged valleys of my tales, who overturns stones for what lies hidden beneath.

As someone who spent much of her life feeling unseen, I notice when someone really makes an effort to see me.

I notice when people look directly into my eyes and ask, “But really⁠—how are you feeling today?”

I notice when people share a story and then pause to ask, “Have you ever experienced anything like that before?”

I notice when others seem just as comfortable holding space as they do taking up space.

I notice when folks treat conversations like opportunities for co-creation instead of pedestals from which to preach.

I also notice when people ask perfunctory questions and, moments later, check their phones or stare off into space.

I notice when others use my stories as springboards to leap into their own experiences.

I notice when I’m interrupted repeatedly by someone who is so eager to speak that they can’t fathom making room for anyone else.

I notice when people use me as a sounding board or a therapist with no reciprocity in sight.

With time, I have learned to leave these relationships behind. They drain me energetically and, by participating in them, I teach myself that I am not worthy of more.

I distinctly remember a friendship where, after every afternoon spent together, my body craved a two-hour nap. I remember other connections that left me feeling hallowed out and sunken, like a withered plant that hadn’t seen a glimpse of sun in weeks.

Ultimately, it was my responsibility to shift this pattern and make space in my life for healthier connections. I could continue to feel victimized by one-sided relationships, or I could leave them behind and trust that I deserved better⁠—and that better existed.

We co-create these healthier, reciprocal connections by communicating, clearly, what we need in order to feel seen. The love language framework is so valuable because it gives us a simple, casual way to do so. After all, we can’t expect others to read our minds and know automatically what’s best for us.

This is why I’ve learned to say to friends and prospective partners early on, “My love language is curiosity. I feel most loved when others ask questions and want to understand me.” By offering this simple truth, we give others the information they need to love us well. Whether they choose to act on that information is up to them.

If we find ourselves in relationships that are one-sided, we need to be willing to let them go, and embrace the initial loneliness that comes from leaving the old while awaiting the new. We need to learn to trust that we are interesting, that our experiences are valuable, and that our words are just as worthy of space as anyone else’s.

With every new relationship that makes space for the essence of us, the more believable these truths become.





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Creative Meditation? This Art Subscription Box Incorporates Mindfulness




Get into the feel-good flow of creating with the new and improved Master Peace Box, now only $39.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m passionate about creating. For me, it’s a form of therapy. It’s a chance to get out of my head and into a state of flow, freeing myself from my obsessive thoughts while pouring all my feelings onto the page, or the canvas, or even the pot. (Though to be fair, not often the pot. I’m a horrible, infrequent cook!)

Creativity is healing, energizing, and rejuvenating, and it’s also a fun, easy way to be mindful—to be fully immersed in the present moment, free from pressures, worries, and regrets.

It also enables you to create something you can feel proud of. It doesn’t have to be perfect or professional; regardless of what you make, it’s yours. Your heart. Your soul. Your vision. A piece of you, and all your complex beauty. And there’s something empowering about that.

If you also appreciate the healing benefits of art and enjoy accessing the feel-good state creativity evokes, I think you’ll love the Master Peace Box!

What Is the Master Peace Box?

This art subscription box sends a monthly art supply kit that pairs with a guided virtual workshop. The classes incorporate meditation, helping you foster mindfulness through creativity every month, on your own or as a fun date night activity.

You’ll receive everything you need to craft something beautiful, with expert guidance from professional artists over Zoom.

Each month, you’ll explore a new artistic and healing experience.

This month, the Master Peace Box takes on watercolors and sound healing. You’ll get into a relaxing, soothing flow state with a sound healing practice, led by Susy Shieffelin, founder of The Copper Vessel and sound healing training guide. Then, you’ll dive into the painting lesson, creating a watercolor piece with The Whimsical Creative.

The event goes live on March 28th, at 10am PST, but if you can’t make the live Zoom workshop, no worries! You’ll have three weeks to access a recording of the event, so you can find the perfect time to unwind and enjoy a little relaxation and imagination.

Create More, Stress Less (in 3 Easy Steps)

Want to give the Master Peace Box a try?

1. Get the Box.

After you sign up here, you’ll receive a box full of art supplies for the paired virtual workshop.

2. Join the Workshop.

Get access to live art classes from professional and renowned artists. If quarantine has made life feel a little grey, this is a great way to add some color!

3. Feel Good.

The Master Peace Box team holds space for you and your creative journey. Who knew feeling good was so easy? Art knew. Art knew all along.

The Master Peace Box was created by life coach Michael Gallagher. His intention was to share the practices that helped him heal—meditation and self-expression—in one easy and approachable setting.

To dive deeper into the worlds of creativity and spirituality, follow him on Clubhouse @masterpeacebox.

Maybe you’re like me and you relish the opportunity to express yourself while feeling free and childlike, or maybe you’re new to art but love the idea of feeling alive, excited, and inspired. Either way, the Master Peace Box can take you on a journey to calm and creative bliss. I hope you enjoy the sound healing and workshop—and I’d love to see your painting if you want to email it to me after the event!

**Though this is a sponsored post, you can trust I only promote products I love and can easily personally recommend!





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The Day I Found Out from the Internet my Estranged Father Had Died


“The scars you can’t see are the hardest to heal.” ~Astrid Alauda

On a lazy Sunday morning as I lounged in bed, I picked up my phone, scrolled through my news feed on Facebook, and decided to Google my parents’ names.

I am estranged from my parents, and I have not had much of a relationship with them in over fifteen years; however, there’s a part of me that will always care about them.

I Googled my mother’s name first and found the usual articles about her dance classes, and her name on church and community bulletin boards. From what I was able to find, it appeared she was doing well.

Then I went on to Google my father’s name. The first item I came across was an obituary posted on the website of a business that provides cremation and burial services. However, there was no actual obituary, only a few pictures of a much younger man and a profile of a much older man.

Was this my dad’s obituary? It couldn’t be, could it? In shock, I convinced myself that it wasn’t his obituary, but I could not shake the nagging feeling that it was.

For the last month I had a feeling that something was off, that something terrible had happened or was going to happen. At the time I attributed these feelings to work stress and the global pandemic.

When I learned of the death of one of my mentors, who had been like a father to me, I attributed these feelings to this experience. Could I have been wrong?

Later that morning I decided to search for my dad’s name in the obituary section of the online local paper. His name came up instantly, and much to my horror, this was how I learned about his death.

Shock washed over me as I read the obituary. He had been dead for a month when I began having those intense, unsettling feelings of foreboding, as if something terrible had happened. It all made sense.

My full name, which I had legally changed several years ago, was mentioned in the obituary under his surviving relatives, which quickly turned my feelings of shock into rage. Did my family think that I didn’t care about him? Did they think that I didn’t have a right to know about his death?

I reached out to members of my estranged support group only to learn that many others had found out about a parent’s passing in the same manner.

Years earlier I had feared that I might find out about one of my parents passing through Google; however, I had dismissed the fear and forced myself to believe that someone in my family would tell me if one of my parents had passed.

In the days and weeks that followed I continued to Google my dad’s name. As I read tributes written by friends and other family members, I was hit with the realization that I did not know the person they were describing.

He was described as a “simple religious man who was a welcoming neighbor, a devoted friend, family man, and an excellent father.” To me, however, he was none of those things, and as I continued to read the tributes, sadness and anger washed over me, and I was forced to reflect on the painful relationship that I’d had with him.

In kindergarten I remember him telling me over and over, “You are as dumb as a post.” Later, after a visit to see his father, he repeated his father’s hurtful words, “You’re a wild hair, and you’re going to come to a sad end.”

He continued to repeat these words on a regular basis throughout our relationship. Every mistake I made was met with harsh judgements, such as “You will never be good at that, you were just wasting your time, you were never going to amount to anything.”

When I failed, he rubbed my failures in my face, and to this day failure is one of my greatest fears despite becoming a somewhat successful professional and academic.

Time and time again, he told me:

“It would be much easier to care about you if you did well with your studies.”

“You’re illiterate, you’re a delinquent, you’re a dunce, and you are an embarrassment.”

“You are never going to amount anything; you are going to end up working a minimum-wage job with angry, stupid people.”

“You are fat, you are lazy, you are unfocused, and you are wasting your time with that stupid piano; you will never amount anything with that hammering.”

After I broke up with my first serious boyfriend, my father told me, “What do you expect? A person like you is naturally going to have problems with their relationships, I fully expect you to have serious problems in your marriage as well.”

When I was preparing to move away to go to university, he told me, “When you flunk out, don’t expect to come back here, just find a minimum-wage job and support yourself.”

It’s taken me years to realize that comments like these are verbal abuse!

Verbal abuse can be disguised in the form of a parent insulting a child to do better, to push themselves to be more, to lose weight, or enter a particular field. It can be disguised as caring or wanting to push someone to be a better version of themselves. Regardless of the parent’s motive, insults and put-downs are, in fact, verbal abuse, and no number of justifications can change this.

Verbal abuse can have devastating effects on a child’s life, and these effects can be felt well into adulthood.

Throughout my childhood and into my teens, my parents’ abusive comments caused me to believe that no one would want me and that I was not good enough for anyone. This limiting belief inhibited my ability to form friendships. As a result, I spent much of my childhood and my teens alone, playing the piano or spending time with my pets.

The friendships that I did form were often one-sided because I made it very easy for people to take advantage of me, because I believed that I had to give and give in order to be worthy of the friendship.

I also feared failure more than anything else and became very anxious in any environment where I might fail. This inhibited me from trying new things, and I only engaged in activities I knew I was good at.

It was not until my mid-teens that I met a mentor who not only saw my work but loved me and nurtured me as if I was his own daughter. For the very first time in my life, I had an adult to support me apart from my grandmother and my grandfather, who believed in me and reminded me every day of my value and my abilities.

“You are good, you are smart and highly intelligent, you’re capable of doing anything you set your sights on,” he would tell me. At first, I did not believe him, but in time I slowly began to see myself through his eyes.

He talked to me the way a loving parent would have. When I failed, he didn’t make fun of me; instead, he encouraged me to reflect on what I’d learned from the experience and how I could do better in the future.

He distilled in me the foundation of shaky self-confidence that enabled me to have the courage to apply to university. Without this relationship, I would likely not be where I am today because I would not have had the courage to break free from the verbally abusive narrative my parents had taught me to believe, or to challenge this narrative.

As I was reading attributes about my father in tributes from people who knew him, I was filled with a sense of longing. Had my dad been the man who was described in those tributes we could have had a healthy relationship, and I would not have had to make the painful decision to cut him out of my life.

At the same time, these tributes forced me to accept that we are many things to different people. To some people we are a wonderful friend, a kind neighbor, and a loving parent, but to others we are a rude jerk, a self-centered person, and verbally abusive or neglectful parent. Each one of us has the right to remember the dead as they experienced them and honor their memory as we see fit.

Years after cutting my parents out of my life I silently forgave them for the hurt they had caused me, and I worked to let go of the pain from the past. However, at times, I found myself fantasizing about what a healthy adult relationship could look like with my father.

I imagined mutually respectful philosophical discussions, long walks, trips to far off places, and most importantly, being seen not as an unlovable failure, but as a successful adult worthy of love and acceptance.

My last conversation with my father before my grandmother had passed away was positive, which only fueled these fantasies. Yet in these fits of fantasy, I was forced to accept my father for who he was and acknowledge the painful fact that some people are just not capable being who we need them to be.

We can choose to plead for a relationship that will never be, or for the person to be something they are not, or we can choose to accept them as they are and accept ourselves in spite of their abuse. But this means we must let go and accept that the future holds time we can never have together.





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