Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"Muslims are terrorists, black guys are scary, cops are racists" and other crazy assumptions we make.

Yesterday, while watching the news unfold about the horrific hostage crisis and shooting by a madman in Sydney, Australia, I became concerned when CNN stated over and over that the shooter was a Muslim cleric. And today, with news of the massacre in Peshawar, I fear the worst. I know how we humans absorb information fed to us by media and make subconscious connections and assumptions; Muslim clerics are terrorists. Black guys are scary gang-bangers. Backwoods Southern boys are Klu Klux Klan members. Catholic priests are pedophiles. Cops are racists.

Above is a photo of Shakeel Syed, a muslim cleric, standing united with Reverend Sandie Richards, Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels, and Reverend Louis Chase, at our one-year memorial event for Sandy Hook last year. This year, in conjunction with our coalition’s #LightLA campaign, Syed’s Muslim community held a vigil to remember all those lost to gun violence. Shakeel Syed is a Muslim cleric. Shakeel Syed is a voice for peace in our community, as are the majority of Muslims. Let that be a new association in your mind.

The judgments we make about others come from the most base part of our brains, actually termed "The Reptilian Complex" (the lizard brain). This is where fear resides. This is where the instantaneous fight or flight reaction comes from. This is the part of our brain that fears anything that is not familiar, anyone who does not look like us, speak like us, live like us. This reptilian complex is where tribalism is centered. Tribalism is what makes us wage wars, or even attack others at sporting events should they root for the opposite team.

But we are not "tribes" any more. We are no longer neanderthals. We are capable of rational thought. Through commerce, culture, and the internet, we have become a blended, interconnected world. But our human brains have not yet evolved to match the level of technology we've achieved.

Only by constantly challenging our own assumptions will we grow. We rise above the lizard brain only by forcing ourselves to entertain the possibility of other humans, very different from us, being just as worthy and deserving as we are.

Let’s stop assuming that all cops are racist, all priests are pedophiles and all blacks are looting, rioting hoodlums. Let’s please stop assuming that all Muslims are Taliban or ISIS terrorists. Let’s stop assuming. Period. Let’s recognize that no one comes into this world aiming to be a heartless villain. It is only a small, sick, tortured minority that becomes that. What if, instead, we awaken to the reality that we are, the majority of us, not enemies, but good people with good intention, even if we go about our lives differently?


For more on the workings of the lizard brain: http://hollyedexter.blogspot.com/2012/03/lizard-brain-strikes-again.html

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Lesson in Courage

The past several weeks, as my heart broke watching the news accounts of the Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner tragedies and protests, I've been reading "The Invention of Wings" by Sue Monk Kidd. The book takes place in the early 1800s and is a historical novel that intertwines the lives of "Handful," a strong and courageous slave girl, and her reluctant "owner" Sarah. The girls become friends and form a bond that will altar the course of their lives. Though a novel, it is historically accurate. I cringed inside while reading the accounts of cruelty and severe punishment that blacks endured in those times, and then I looked up from my book and wondered how the hell this is still happening.

The book is based on the lives of the real Grimke sisters, two wealthy Southern women who, as children, grew up in a house full of slaves. Sarah and Angelina Grimke saw the horrors and the brutality of the slave life and somehow had the moral compass to do something about it. Against their family's  outcries, they moved to Philadelphia and became the first women abolitionists and feminists, traveling from coast to coast, speaking publicly and writing books about the wrongs of slavery, imploring morality from the public. Their books were burned in the South. Religious leaders spoke out against them, saying it was immoral for women to speak in public. They were made pariahs in their home state of South Carolina, and were threatened with imprisonment if they ever returned. They gave up a life of wealth and riches and let go of their family ties forever in order to continue their work.

History had all but forgotten these women, but thank God Kidd has breathed new life into their story. The Grimke sisters eventually ended up freeing many of the Grimke slaves, and some of those freed slaves' children grew up to continue the work as abolitionists. Just before they died, as old women, the Grimke sisters were amongst a handful of women who showed up to vote, illegally, as a protest. These women, and the generations of black families who survived and endured the unimaginable, have put courage in my heart.

We need more women, and men, like this today. More people to stand up against the racial inequality that still is rampant in our culture. It shocked me, while reading this book, while watching the news, how far we've come, yet how much we haven't changed in our hearts. I am still an eternal optimist. I believe we can, we will, change things...

Friday, November 21, 2014

How To Survive Being Fired

Author Wayne Dyer recently told a story about doing an interview at a radio station where a huge layoff had just taken place. As he walked down the halls, he saw employees packing up their offices. “Congratulations!” he called out. One of the employees responded, “You don’t understand. We just lost our jobs.” But Wayne said that he did understand, and from his view, the Universe was pushing each of them into a new direction that they might not have had the courage to pursue. Face it, he said, you’ve all known for a long time you wanted to leave this job. The Universe just gave you a shove.

I was mortified when I was fired this summer. I am the proverbial overachiever. Employee of the year, yada yada yada. Never in a million years did I imagine myself being fired. But I was - and from an organization I had completely devoted my life to. I was knocked flat for weeks. But here I am months later saying hallelujah, because it was truly the best thing that ever happened to me. I am now in a job where I am appreciated, trusted, and given the space to flourish and do what I do best.

If you have been fired, as counterintuitive as it may seem, try saying THANK YOU. More than likely, you’ve been stuck in the equivalent of an abusive relationship. You stayed because of financial security. You stayed because you thought you could somehow make it better. You stayed because you were determined to win them over. (Ever see the movie The Devil Wears Prada?) You stayed for a myriad of reasons, but not one of those reasons was that this was your dream job.

Yes, you may be in a really tough predicament right now. It might even look hopeless. Yes, it’s going to be messy and uncomfortable for a while, but you’re going to make it. You know why? Because you always have. You find a way to survive and thrive. You have before and you will again.
And I promise you, if you keep yourself in a positive frame of mind, you will eventually end up in a better position.

Just to lift your spirits, here is an article about very successful people who got fired. You’ll be surprised…and inspired.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Fire Season - My Journey from Ruin to Redemption

As many of you know, in November of 1994, our house burned down. After my husband Troy and I jumped out second story windows with nothing but our pajamas and our kid, our lives began a downward spiral of loss that would continue for four years, leading us into a deep depression and the brink of divorce. We lost three homes in 2 years, lost our cars, lost our friends, I lost my national business, we were bankrupted and we almost lost each other. But we survived. In 1999 we bought our house, things got better and were actually pretty great until 2010.

And then, in 2010, it seemed the cycle was beginning again. We were sued over a little dog named Stitch that we adopted. A three-year court battle followed. We had to get a restraining order against a violent neighbor with a criminal record for assault with a gun, who threatened my husband’s life. My husband’s boss, and great friend, Greg, dropped dead of a heart attack. Our dog Brandy died. Our septic system failed and flooded the yard, leading to a 10,000 repair job and an invasion of flies, not unlike the Amityville Horror (except they had better plumbing). We were busted flat broke from home repairs and court costs. And then, our daughter-in-law took our one-year-old grandson to Japan for a visit... and didn’t return. We thought we’d never see them again. We were overcome with grief.

During this time, I took an eight-week writing course with my friend Amy Friedman, where I wrote and shared, for the first time, the story of our fire. I was shaking so bad I couldn’t read the essay in the group, so Amy read it for me. After class, Amy and I went out for coffee and I confessed to her something I had been secretly fearing in my head. I told her, “My life is spinning wildly out of control, and I am terrified that I am in the beginning of a life pattern where I’m going to repeat another four years of hell.” And this is basically what she said. “You are still afraid of what happened to you, because you didn’t get the lesson in it. If you don’t write your way through this, you’re going to repeat the pattern. This fire story is not an essay. This is a book you need to write.” And only out of sheer terror and because I am slightly superstitious did I begin to write this book.

Four years later, Fire Season is about to be published with She Writes Press this spring (and you can pre-order it now for a discount on Amazon).

What I learned in writing my book was that I am stronger than I knew. That every time I let fear control my life, everything fell to shit. I saw, through my writing process, as I mapped out and wrote those years down, that it wasn’t until I chose love over fear that my life began to turn around. Through these past four years of intense challenges that began again in 2010, I learned to choose love over fear, and instead of losing everything, like we did in 1994, this time the outcome was very different.

After a year of praying and sending nothing but love to our daughter-in-law in Japan, many miracles lined up to bring our grandson home, and he now lives with his mother in L.A. After our three-year court battle, we still have our dog Stitch. The violent, criminal neighbors were evicted (the day after Christmas – best Christmas gift ever). We still have our home 15 years later and the new septic system works perfectly. This time, we didn’t lose everything. This time, yes, life knocked us on our asses – but we got back up faster. This time, when it seemed everything was falling apart, Troy and I turned toward each other in our grief and sadness (love), and not against each other (fear).

So, like Amy Friedman advised, I wrote my way through these four years, and now, after a summer from hell, I hope to God I’m coming out the other side. It’s not that I don’t have my challenges still. We’ve got a building inspector trying to wreak havoc with our house, and some trouble with termites…but I know better now than to let fear get the best of me.

Back in 1995, when I was spiraling down, I felt so alone, like there wasn’t a single person who got what I was going through. Books were what saved me. Books about hope, about endurance, about surviving. I wrote Fire Season because I don’t want anyone to feel alone like I did. I want to share my experience of finding hope on the other side of darkness.

I know that you, like me, have endured some difficult losses and challenges. I hope you’ll share your stories in the comments below…

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Shero's Journey: Women Risen from the Ashes

If you are familiar with author Joseph Campbell’s work around the “Hero’s Journey,” perhaps you’ve recognized the patterns in your own life. Campbell said that numerous myths from the ages share this fundamental pattern:

    “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” – Joseph Campbell, from The Hero with a Thousand Faces

In our everyday lives, it looks more like this: You’re plodding along, following the societal norms. You set up a nice average life, make sure you have all the proper insurance policies and WHAM - life smacks you upside the head with either tragedy or slow quiet suffocation, and you are faced with a darkness that threatens to take you down. Campbell said the lives of Buddha, Moses, and Christ followed this basic pattern, as do many other stories from around the world. You can even find the mythic Hero’s Journey in Star Wars. (Remember when Luke faces his nemesis in the cave?) The Hero’s journey crosses countries, cultures and religions, but what’s missing from this narrative are women’s stories. Recently on Super Soul Sunday, Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) talked with Oprah about this very issue, saying how important it is that women rise up and tell their own stories.

Playwright, educator and speaker Lyena Strelkoff, always thinking ahead of the curve, had already been long at work on this issue. This year, Lyena had been gathering women’s stories she dubbed The Shero Summit, and has put them together in a free telesummit that anyone can join. Seven women tell their stories of transformation, finding medicine in the poison life has dealt them. I am proud and honored to be one of those seven women, and will be sharing the story from my new memoir Fire Season: My Journey from Ruin to Redemption.

The Shero Summit is a collection of real life stories, lived by women challenged by circumstance to lay down or rise. Funny, heartbreaking, inspiring, uplifting…. These shero stories shine powerful light into the journey of human transformation and, in so doing, light the way for you no matter what stage of the journey you’re on.

Because Lyena wanted this journey to be available to every woman (and man), it is a free telesummit.
I so hope you will join me, Lyena and the other brave women who have so courageously shared the good the bad and the ugly of their journeys. I know you will find pieces of yourself in each woman, and am sure you will walk away lifted and inspired.

7 women, risen from the ashes! Click here to register for your week of free video interviews: http://sherosummit.com/


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

What I Learned From My Two-Month Internet Break

This summer, after years of both working in social media and having active personal accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, a spate of ugly events caused me to shut down my computer and walk away. I didn’t plan this, nor did I have any idea if I would ever open it again. My computer remained shut for two months.

At first, I walked around in a daze, unsure of where I fit or what I was supposed to be doing. I scrubbed my counters. I completely re-landscaped my front yard. I tried writing with pen and paper but it felt weird and I was too upset by aforementioned events to write anyway. I decided that if I didn’t know where I should be, then I would just ‘be.” I walked my neighborhood in the quiet of the early mornings. I meditated. If I arrived early to an appointment, I did nothing but observe my surroundings, while the people around me sat with hunched shoulders, heads slumped forward like human question marks, their eyes focused on their phones and the postage stamp-sized world inside. I watched them plummet down the rabbit hole, completely tuning out to the here and now. I doubt any of them even knew I was in the room. I felt like a sober girl at the cocktail party of life.

After a few weeks, I could feel I was changing. I noticed that gradually my posture improved because my head was above my shoulders where it belonged. I was aware and engaged with my kids, not distracted. They, in turn, behaved better, and I had a level of patience I had forgotten I was capable of. I was experiencing a strange, unfamiliar feeling. Some might call it calm. While driving, I no longer checked my email at every stoplight. Instead I watched the characters that walked past; Two homeless men sharing a meal in a fort they had built under a shopping cart. A hispanic woman with a significant limp who crossed the street every morning at 7:42 am. The veteran in a wheelchair with the American flag mounted on the back, pledging his allegiance to the country for which he sacrificed his legs. I had been missing all of this for so long. For anyone to miss this is a shame, but for a writer, it is practically a crime.

I stole away with my family for a weekend in Idyllwild where I sat in a hammock and read books, or sometimes just watched the leaves shimmer in the breeze. I noticed things, like the way color and light changes within a flickering moment. I noticed the life buzzing right in my own front yard – for instance, I now know that Monarch butterflies do not welcome Painted Zebras into their habitat, and squirrels rub the sides of their faces against the rough pine bark to get sap off their whiskers. Suddenly I understood that I was living in an ordered Universe, and this made me feel safe and at peace. This also felt more important to me than anything I had read on Facebook.

I’m not knocking social media. I have met wonderful people and had incredible opportunities come my way through it, not to mention that working as a social media manager is what has paid my bills for the majority of this year. I’m grateful for it, while also having a new awareness of the dire need for balance.

I came back slowly to social media, and saw that nothing had changed while I was gone. The same problems and arguments raged on, just like they did before. I noticed right away how my brain waves changed when I engaged online. I became more irritable, easily distracted, my thoughts scattered. At the same time I was happy to be re-connected to the beautiful community I’ve found online.

My new challenge is to remain mindful of the time I allot for checking in with friends and colleagues, to focus on and share positive posts, and then to shut the computer and check back in with the world around me: to feel my feet on the floor, take in the sights around me, notice my breath. Like waking from a dream, re-entry into the real world takes a minute, but I’ve rediscovered that the world outside is a glorious place. I’m also reacquainting myself with my world inside – and that is where the real fun begins.

Here is an interesting article author Dani Shapiro just wrote in the New York Times about our reliance on social media: http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/memoir-status-update

Monday, August 11, 2014

Downloading Happiness


Wouldn't it be amazing if we could simply download happiness into our brains? According to Harvard researchers, that actually might not be so far-fetched. 

Though our experiences in life shape us, we are all born with a certain type of temperament. Some of us tend to be generally happy-go-lucky, and some of us aren't. For me, tragic experiences led me into some years of depression and PTSD, but because I have a generally resilient and optimistic temperament, I was able to eventually bounce back. But what if you are a glass-half-empty kind of person - is it possible to actually re-wire your brain for optimism? Positive psychology researcher Shaun Achor, who taught Harvard’s most popular “Happiness” class, says it is.

Achor lists three simple things you can start doing right now to rewire your brain for optimism, and they only take two minutes. If you do these things for 21 days, research has shown it will actually change the patterns in your brain.

1)    Start every day by writing down three things you are grateful for. Each day should be three different things. Starting the day with gratitude, rather than stress or worry, is an instant mood lifter.

2)    One of the most significant factors for achieving happiness actually has nothing to do with money, success or love, but about knowing that your work has meaning, and that your life matters. At the end of each day, single out a moment from that day that had meaning for you, and then write about it in detail. Write every single thing you can remember about it. Our brains are excellent at replaying hurts, injuries and insults, but quickly drop the good stuff. By replaying the good, you are programming yourself to look for and remember the good in each moment, and actually changing your brainwaves.

3)    Every day, thank someone. Call, send an email, or write a card and let them know you are grateful for who they are, what they’ve done or what they mean in your life.

Achor’s research has proven that if these three things are done every day for 21 days, a significant shift will take place in the brain, and you will be happier.

I started this practice a few months ago, but in the aftermath of a few hard losses this summer, I became so depressed I forgot to do my happiness exercises. Like anything else, achieving happiness is a practice. Just like eating healthy, working out to stay fit, you have to do it every day for results.

A 21-day trial is great, but I know the best action to take would be to make this my lifestyle. So I am back on the horse, and feeling better already.

If you’re interested in trying it yourself, check out this video of Shaun Achor talking with Oprah: