You Are the Light a.k.a “What Are You Waiting For”

I began graduate school when “things” were good in U.S. society. Jobs were plentiful. Innovation was rampant. Grants and Research funding were flowing, I mean not overflowing, yet the stream was strong. Some questioned why I would continue into a doctoral program in a discipline that was so enigmatic. My masters degree and experience was a solid meal ticket.

A third of the way into my doc program, folks were running to graduate school. Various sectors of the economy were tanking. “Things” were bad everywhere, and for nearly everyone. Folks were applying to and matriculating into graduate school like it was the line for commodities at the community center.

Around this time I encountered a quote/saying that was quippy and made me giggle.

“Due to the recession the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off.”

As it turns out, things got THICK in my doctoral program and subsequently in my ENTIRE life shortly after this nugget was shared with me. Amazingly enough, this little quip helped me through the darkest of periods. It was somewhat of a mantra in the last legs of journey through graduate school.

However, tonight it died a miserable death.

Tonight while relaxing and enjoying a sporadic summer evening’s rain and a cool breeze, I sat rocking with my eyes closed and praying. As I concluded I breathed deeply and would normally have begun to hum softly. Instead I unintentionally found myself ear hustling a conversation that flipped my priceless gem completely. This little nugget that got me through by far the toughest process of my life was now shattered.  Something entirely different was revealed; something that is more valuable to me presently.

“As a leader, you are the light at the end of the tunnel. Find ways to be inspired, to chip away at the barriers ahead.” ~ Lincoln Stephens

My breath caught in my throat and my ear hustling game was discovered. Yet, since I wasn’t a part of the conversation I was luckily able to retreat back into my own lair of thoughts. I recalled a poem I wrote last winter just as my current season was beginning.

What You Are

You are life

You are love

You are a covenant

You are a promise

You are a commitment

You are a sacrifice

You are a protector

You are a cover

You are loving

You are sustaining

You are supportive

You are obedient

You are inspiring

You are tireless

There are no reinforcements

You are who your grandmothers prayed for

Due to the encouragement of one of my mentees, it also happens to be the first poem I ever performed in front of an audience.  I’ve shared it with you, because the sentiments of the quote, and the poem are so much more valuable than the original quip.

The original quote and it’s sentiments made me giggle. These words and thoughts bring me joy.

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Is that All There Is: Lessons in Joy and Dancing

The year 2012 was a sparse year for posts on this blog about joy. The strange thing is that it wasn’t because there wasn’t any joy. In fact, there was more joy, both quantitatively and qualitatively, in 2012 than any other year of my adult life. Qualitatively, there was probably just as much pain. More unexpected and unwanted pain than I had experienced in my entire life.

It baffled my soul and my brain how the two could co-exist, sometimes even simultaneously. Yet they did. It was also difficult to wrap my brain around the fact that what seemed like my entire life falling apart didn’t hurt nearly as much as I thought it would. Sure it hurt like hell, there were moments and sometimes days I felt like I wanted die. Times when I felt like some force was attempting to crumple me like a sheet of loose-leaf paper from the very core of my physical body.

Yet no matter how still I lay cuddled up with that feeling of despair, I could still hear my breath. Death was not coming; and listening to the rhythm of my breath I would realize, repeatedly, that I didn’t really want it to. So I’d get up, and go with the flow.

A tornado lit through my life.

The life I’d worked so hard for. The life I’d done all the right things for. The life I wanted so badly and paid nearly the ultimate price for. The life that, once I was in it, made me wonder, “Is that all there is?”

So I stood there looking at the storm tearing up my life: taking my unborn child too early; destroying my abusive and unhealthy marriage; severing my ties with people that represented everything I had lived for…and when it was all said and done I packed up a little car, with nearly nothing in but a tank full of gas, and went with the flow.

The flow took me to visit friends, interview for jobs and set up a new camp – with next to nothing, save the lessons that I’d learned. The most important one (because there were many) was about holding on and letting go.

My miscarriage and the end of my marriage (only months apart) taught me that if holding on to the thing (person, idea, etc.) that I loved the most was impossible, why decrease the joy in my life even more by holding on to ANYTHING that I didn’t want.

So the lesson was one that was as old as time: Let go. Vairāgya. Practice detachment.

The joy in my life presently is unspeakable. I’ve tried since September to write a post and just couldn’t sit still long enough; or when I sat still couldn’t find the words to describe and explain. I hadn’t wrapped my head around it. As I’ve spent more time in prayer and asana I have come to realize why that was.

A friend captured this picture of me while I was lost in the music.

A friend captured this picture of me this summer while I was lost in the music.

It cannot be wrapped up, it can only be observed. I cannot possess it; I can only experience it.

So that’s my latest lesson. Your experiences with joy become a bit more frequent when you let it roam free and don’t try to possess it.

What is it that you’re holding on to? Why is it that you’re holding on to it?

(Post Vibes: “Tornado” by Little Big Town; “Free” by The Zac Brown Band; “Bag Lady” by Erykah Badu)

Joy Bandits (a.k.a The things We Tell Ourselves)

For much of our lives we seek joy in our relationships. Pre-puberty our friendships and our families are the center of our universe and we are content as long as someone reads us a story at bedtime, shares snack time with us in the afternoon, and our playmates seek us when we hide.

During and after puberty, these are still priorities in some way or another, yet we begin to feel the yearning for something deeper; for someone to connect with even if we don’t share our toys or DNA. This is when loyalty and commitment become the brass rings in our lives.

…and this is when the fabric of our conversations changes. We begin to say that “Love is hard to find.” We begin to say that “loyalty is a lost art.” We begin to say that “love hurts” and “friends come and go.” 

I REFUSE to believe any of this. I may groove to those words when they’re lying on top of a dope beat or a soulful fiddle, but I don’t believe any of it really.

Still, in the midst of my most recent and traumatic season of “Things fall apart,” I wonder if I’m intentionally and recklessly naive. Yet I still hold tightly to the idea that we all want the best for ourselves and one another, especially in our relationships; and we’re just all doing the best we can.

Many of my friends have complimented me on my lack of general bitterness.

They’ve said how proud they are of me for being strong.

They’ve commented on my general lack of “F*@k ‘em all” and “Dudes ain’t S#*t” comments.

They’ve mentioned that it’s okay if I’m angry, and been skeptical of how little negative energy I’m feeling/sharing with them.

The issue is this: I see bad men, and people in general, as exceptions. I am genuinely surprised and sometimes shocked by people who behave badly, specifically folks in romantic relationships.

I always have been.

I don’t believe most folks cheat. I’ve known very few cheaters in my liftetime.

I don’t believe most folks are insanely insecure or jealous. I’ve known very few folks who let their insecurities run them in all the years I’ve had close male friends.

I don’t believe that most folks are afraid to commit. I’ve known folks, men and women alike, that have looked forward to their wedding day and their future wife and children for much of their post-puberty years my entire life. [This may be skewed by the fact that I was raised and came of age deeply embedded in Christian, Southern and West Indian cultures – separately and in their sum totality]

…and before you question my perspective…If thirty some odd years was enough for Martin Lutha tha Kang and Jesus then I feel comfortable using “my entire life” is a valid temporal context for drawing these conclusions about commitment.

Allow me to bust some fences for a moment. [I’m about to be heteronormative for a moment, but indulge me because the point is universal]

I don’t know any dudes with commitment issues. I know that sounds crazy. It is the opposite of everything that makes our social world spin.

I know guys that aren’t interested.

I know guys that aren’t financially prepared.

I know guys that are working on their insecurities.

I know guys that are waiting to hear from God about the one they already love.

I even know guys who are intentionally taking a hiatus from serious relationships because some aspect of their world has recently fallen apart.

There are some that don’t believe in marriage, yet they do believe in commitment, monogamy and family. I do not know any guy that has an aversion to commitment.

This could be for one of two reasons:

1)      I don’t really understand men and so my guy friends are admitting their commitment-phobia yet it is done in coded by mandate of man-law and my XX DNA configuration can’t detect it.

2)      I don’t actually understand what commitment issues are.

As lovers of men, when things fall apart we often reach for that dominant gender narrative that men are men and afraid of a good thing tying them down, even when they know it’s a good thing. But what if they aren’t? …if men aren’t afraid of commitment what will those of us who love men use as the scapegoat now….?

How do these types of negative depictions of those we desire closeness with damage OUR ability to create spaces of joy and grace? 

Peaces of Joy

As horrible of a speller as I am, many folks probably believe that title contains a legitimate error. However, it’s actually a play on words, describing the wonderful connection between joy and peace.

I’ve discovered in the past month that the frequency of my joy has a direct relationship to the intensity of the peace present in my life. Actually that’s slightly inaccurate. It isn’t the presence of peace in my life; it’s actually the presence of peace in me – in my soul.

All hell could break loose in your life and your heart can be sad, however if your soul is at peace…

Meaning…

Your soul is assured you acted with integrity.

Your soul is assured that you acted responsibly.

Your soul is assured that you acted in love.

Your soul is assured that you acted on your core values.

Then you will be in a constant state of peace and your ability to HAVE joy, SAVOR joy, BASK in joy, and SHARE joy will occur frequently. Your joy will be abundant and your peace will be unshakeable.

So be sure to honor your time, your body, your mind and your spirit in ways that cultivate and nurture peace. Set boundaries; take naps; eat healthy; take up a new hobby or exercise goal. Without these types of caring activities peace will be harder to grasp and the frequency of your joy becomes unpredictable…and that’s no fun at all.

How do you cultivate peace in your life? I’d love to gather new and creative strategies; follow me on twitter @busi_B to get some great ideas, or comment below to share your own.

The Break-Up: Making Decisions

How often do you break-up with yourself to live a life uncommitted to your values and priorities?

I know it sounds weird to say that we break up with ourselves. Yet if you think about how often we make choices that are out of line with what we believe about our lives and ourselves, you would think that who we are at our core is completely different than who we as we go about everyday life. Many times our behavior says to our soul: I think we should see other people.

This is a common, and even predictable, thing. I mean, making decisions is hard. Especially when you consider the way that we tend to make decisions.

When you have to make a decision, do you look at all the choices you have, and by looking at your choices, believe that you’ll be able to determine which choice yields the best results?

When you aren’t sure which option to choose, do you explore all the potential consequences of each choice, good and bad, and dream of the life possible via each path?

When you have a choice to make, do you ask advice from those that know you best, including God, seeking an insight into yourself and your purpose that might illuminate the best choice?

Does any variation of examining choices described above fit you?

Does your method work every time?

Do you sometimes find yourself in a great relationship…

Or job…

Or social setting…

Or workshop…

Or graduate program

Or church service, yet you are getting nothing out of it. It isn’t the right place for you. It could be a lovely place, or it could be hell, yet you know it isn’t the best place for you.

You begin to wonder if that other choice might have been better or even  if you should have just declined them all, and waited for the next set of options.

I’ve learned in the past year with my own dissertations, marriage, moves,  graduations and jobs that looking at choices doesn’t help you make the best choice.

Examining opportunities doesn’t reveal their benefits to your life.

The best way…

The way that relieves confusion…

The way that relieves guilt…

The way that relieves doubt

The way that relieves remorse, is to look at your core values and priorities. When you examine what you believe and how you wish to live your life and stack that up against your options, then decisions will make themselves.

Making decisions isn’t about choosing, it’s really about being committed to yourself.  So when you’ve got a big, or small, decision  to make, take yourself to your favorite place, or buy yourself a nice bottle of wine and a good meal  instead of making a pro/con list.

Not only will your choices bring you more joy, the process itself will become more joy filled as well.

Moments of Clarity: How Getting Over Yourself Can Increase Your Joy

Have you ever looked at the sender or subject line of an unopened email and instantly got a knot in the pit of your stomach? Or maybe you already opened the message thinking it was one thing and then got to reading and opened up a wound that you didn’t even realize that you had?

It’s like when you grab a handful of popcorn and yelp in pain because you didn’t realize that you had a paper cut until the salt from the popcorn informed you of it. You’re going along just fine in life; grateful for what you have, thinking that you are full of joy and overflowing with graciousness and THEN you open a message or look down at the screen of your phone as it rings and something pops up that you weren’t expecting.

And you have a visceral response to some past hurt…

And it happens so quickly…

And from so deep down inside…

And it so completely overwhelms you that you know without a doubt that there is no question about your feelings.

Even though you know it isn’t good that you feel this way…

Good as in healthy…

Good as in productive

Good as in helpful

Good as in aligned with your values.

Yet you know it’s justified; you know that others would agree with you and say that they had a similar experience.

I had that experience this week. I received an email about an opportunity that I knew my students could potentially benefit from. Yet it was from an organization that many of my colleagues and myself would agree was not the best environment for our development, although we all made the best out of it. There have been changes within the organization in the nearly 10 years since I have been there, yet I am not sure how superficial or complete their implementation has been.

I then realized that was none of my business. I had learned many lessons since then, all of which could help my students navigate this organization or any other. Additionally, with the condition of society and higher education presently I can’t guarantee that avoiding this organization would allow my students to avoid the hurtful experiences that me and my colleagues had anyway.

Once I got over myself, this is the prayer that came to me …

Dear People & Places that I have  been; The circle of life has now brought forth the opportunity to send folks down the pathways I have cleared, as well as those I was able to pave since they has been cleared by others. I pray that you will be kinder to them, than you were to me; and I pray that I have healed and developed maturity rather than bitterness, so that I can send them your way with anticipation, joy, and encouragement rather than bitterness, skepticism and fear. Amen.

Have you ever had a moment of clarity that highlights how your pain or opinions could hurt others? How were you able to overcome it? Leave a comment or follow me, @busi_B, on twitter to share.

FOCUS: The Benefits of Priorities, Passion & Purpose

Yesterday my husband and I enjoyed our 1st wedding anniversary. Since we met almost 3 years ago everything I’ve wanted in life and spent so much time and energy working toward has fallen into place. As hokey & romantic as that may sound it’s true. However, it has less to do with the magic of love and more to do with a decision I made about a year before we met, and subsequent choices that were consistent with that decision.

The decision was to FOCUS.

To get into MY zone.

To STAY into my lane.

It was more difficult for me to do than it sounds. At the time I was an advanced graduate student, an active member of a large church and one of its more active areas of ministry, a great friend, a sister & a daughter; I was someone’s girlfriend; I was a good citizen of my university and department community; I was….

I was…

I was…

I was so many things.

I was everything I needed, and as much as humanly possibly I was also what students, friends, the first lady of my church, my brother, my neighbors, the more novice graduate students in my department and at times even what the stranger on the bus needed.

It wasn’t that what those folks needed or even what I thought I needed wasn’t noble or good.

Yet much of it had little or nothing to do with my purpose

And so I was using ALL of my energy and I was completely unfulfilled. I had no joy, despite the fact that I was a good person.

I went looking for joy, using so many formulas. One of which was to make myself laugh at least 3 times a day. I mean a belly laugh, not a giggle, every day.

So one day I was watching comedy videos clips on YouTube, and a comedian I find hilarious did a routine about focusing on your dreams and staying in your lane.

And that is when I began to realize that I needed to FOCUS. I didn’t know at first what that meant, yet over the course of the next six months God presented opportunities almost every moment of every day and every choice I had I FOCUSED on three things:

1)      Priorities NOT opportunities: Everything that sounds good isn’t what’s good for you. Just as there are times that you see an outfit on a hat that look good on someone else, then you try to pull it off and it doesn’t work. It isn’t that it isn’t still a good look, it just isn’t for you. The same with that promotion or job or relationship. If you make decisions by focusing on your priorities you limit unintentionally putting yourself in mismatched or overwhelming situation and also make the decision process less confusing and agonizing.

2)      Passion NOT consistency: There were times that I would find myself committed to something I didn’t really want to do because it was something I was good at. Someone would approach me with a favor or opportunity because they knew I was good at that sort of thing. I’d also find myself passing up opportunities by hiding behind the fact that it just wasn’t the kind of thing that I was accustomed to doing or the kind of thing I was good at. Sometimes staying on message limits you, paints you into a box and allows you to hide from actual living. Choose to do those things that ignite and keep your passion lit and brightly shining.

3)      Purpose NOT platform: This essentially means that you should choose clarity over recognition. When you are faced with a decision regarding what to do with your time and energy focus on opportunities that CLEARLY line up with your purpose and communicate to the world what you believe in. Whether it’s personal or professional if health is a priority for you then make sure you are clearly communicating with your words and deeds that message. Even though that may mean turning down bigger platforms in the beginning, the clarity in your message using smaller platforms is better than confusing folks when you don’t appear passionate about what you are doing on a larger platform.

Once I began to focus on PRIORITIES, PASSION & PURPOSE the universe conspired to bring me everything I desired as if it was always there just waiting for me. Soon after applying clarifying and applying this set of ideas in my life I met my husband for the first time. Then we met again a few months after that and began dating. A few months after that I defended my dissertation proposal; five months after that we got engaged, several months after that we got married, and six months after we got married I successfully defended my completed dissertation.

Some folks would say I hit my sweet spot.

Others might say I found my groove.

I can say without a doubt that what actually happened was that I began to FOCUS. God didn’t do anything differently, I did; and tapped into my joy during the process.

What do you do to focus your life? Let me know on twitter by following @busi_B.

Public Bathrooms, Toilet Paper & Paper Towels: Faith vs. Risk

A few weeks ago I found myself in a quandary, while sitting in a public bathroom stall. It was in one of my favorite stores and its usually one of the better public bathrooms I’ve ever been in. Yet I still found myself sitting in the stall, on the pot, having done my business, with no tissue.

Well, the NO tissue statement isn’t entirely the truth. There was no tissue on the roll. There was a lone moderately sufficient sized 5 sheet sliver on the floor – that looked completely clean – at least to my increasingly panicked eye.

So I stared at that sheet trying to determine the amount of germs it held, sitting there so innocently on the bathroom floor. I looked under the stall, no one was in the bathroom; I listened intently to be sure. Yup, no one was around.

I contemplated running with jeans at my knees to the next stall to retrieve some tissue from the  roll next door. Yet, halfway to the door in my own stall it occurred to me that it may not have any tissue either. Sigh – could I make it in and out of multiple stalls searching for tissue on the roll, with no one walking in on me? Should I sit here and wait for someone, so I can ask for help?

Sigh.

I looked back down at that potentially disease infested sliver of toilet paper that seemed to be growing longer and longer as it lay on the floor.

With what I’d read in a magazine article about public bathroom toilet seats and floors, all I could think about was trying to explain an STI to my husband if I caught something from a random piece of toilet paper.

I half stood, half crouched at the door of my stall a moment longer.

Should I risk it? Did I have enough faith in one of my favorite public bathrooms, which had already let me down to check another stall? Did I have enough faith that I’d God would create a star wars force field outside the bathroom door so that no one would walk in on me running around a public restroom with my bum out?

Sigh.

I unlocked and cracked the door. No one there.

I opened the door…

AND THERE WAS THE PAPER TOWEL HOLDER!

Angels sung!

I didn’t even have to move my bum completely out of the stall…if I bent over awkwardly.

I only took a split second to acknowledge, and quickly dismiss, the fact that the paper towels were those hard brown paper bag ones. Even though I used this public restroom many times before, I always use the hand blow dryer to reduce the environmental waste of paper towels.

Sigh. This registers as I make use of the paper towels. I take solace in the fact that least no one  walked in.

My risk was rewarded. There were greater risks I could have taken that would not have required my reliance on so many unknowns. For instance, I could have used the tissue on floor. I could have just pulled up my pants and left (surprisingly as I am writing this I realize that the latter never occurred to me).

How often do you take risks, especially in a situation where you’ve already been let down by someone or something you’ve previously had faith in?

What would you have done?

Showing Up vs. Being There

When I was in 3rd grade I got a certificate for perfect attendance. The irony of the situation was that on the day of the awards ceremony I was absent. That is an experience that has always stuck out in my memories of childhood. 

The thing is, we often have fuzzy moments of our lives that we recall, rather than a life full of intense and vivid memories.

I have experienced many major milestones this past year and have had several intense transitions in my life during this time as well. In just the last few months nearly a dozen folks that I admire, call examples and have looked to as role models have passed on. They were accomplished individuals, some famously so, and others simply known and revered to those who had the privilege of sharing their last name or zip code.

I heard myself saying and saw myself posting on twitter, that there must be some sort of conspiracy going on in the universe. Then as I heard and read the words over several occassions, I realized that isn’t exactly how the universe works. Death is just as common and miraculous as birth…and curiously enough so is the part in between…

The living part. 

It seems crazy, and even definitively inaccurate, to think of miracles as common things. Yet when you consider the human body and what has to be in place and in sync for us to take a breath, and that if for some reason we fail to take a breath we will fail to live, you begin to apprehend how common miracles really are.

We love to think of miracles this time of year. We love to sing of them. We love to watch movies & plays about them. We love to celebrate them.

Yet when was the last time you celebrated the miracle of your life? When was the last time you paid attention to the miracle that is your life?

If someone sat underneath a shooting star reading a book, or cursed the darkness caused by an eclipse, or failed to acknowledge their own birthday let alone the birth of a new baby, we would question their saneness. We would wonder at their lack of humanity.

Yet when was the last time you were present and reveled in the miracle that is your life?

This is what I have been doing. I have been being present.

I have been watching my dog as he walks.

I have been thinking of my students’ faces and backstories as I grade their papers.

I have been watching my husband as he washing dishes.

I have been looking at the walls I wish to paint in my apartment.

I have been riding in cars with my friends and laughing.

I have been sitting at my mother (in-laws’) kitchen table chatting & watching soaps.

I have been writing nothing down, yet remembering so much more. Being present has been the greatest gift of joy I’ve given myself in quite some time. When was the last time you recall being really present in the moment? Do you think being present always bring more joy to our lives? What are some of the ways that you bring meaning to your life?

The Reason Joy Isn’t Constant

Do you know how to cultivate compassion?

Do you know how to cultivate acceptance?

Do you know how to cultivate a better life for ALL?

I know that you think you know what my answer will be. It’ll have something to do with cultivating more joy in your life.

You’re wrong.

Compassion, acceptance and a more humane society have much more to do with those infrequent times when joy is more difficult to find than a solid first half by the Detroit Lions.

It’s been about 3 weeks or so since I’ve published a new post. I know exactly why. 

It has nothing to do with writers block.

I’ve entered one of those infrequent seasons, when joy makes itself scarce. When I stop looking in the mirror and counting my blessing. When I stop meditating and looking inside. When I stop praying and looking above…and I start looking around.

I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I’m not asking for your pity; nor is it a case of needing to be reminded of the millions of ways to cultivate joy in my life.  Neither is it one of those times when I find myself being envious.

What I’m actually experiencing is disgust, anguish, indignation, anger, sadness and fear that this is the best that we will do as humans; not because we can’t do better, yet because we are distracted, lazy and apathetic. This is one of those periods in life that are necessary. It’s one of those seasons that spark action by motivating movements and creating compassion. 

No matter what it is that you believe in or think needs to change, seasons where joy is sparse are the times when you should ask yourself…so what am I going to do about it?

There is a reason why joy is a frequent state, rather than a constant one, and it has little to do with being ungrateful and more to do with cultivating faith in ourselves in humans to cultivate more hope and less hurt.

Joy cultivates quiet peace and contentment. Yet the ways that our society operates and deals with our family, friends and neighbors doesn’t give everyone a life that makes joy easy to experience. It isn’t just about society’s that don’t have clean water or civil servants and police officers that the citizens can trust. It’s also about those that guarantee a free education that doesn’t and can’t provide the knowledge of math, science and comprehension to function adequately enough to understand your bank accounts, doctor’s advice or car insurance policy.

Have you found yourself with a little less joy lately? Were you exasperated when someone said, “Count your blessings;” or “Stop being ungrateful”?  It might not be dissatisfaction with your life. It might be a dissatisfaction with the world you live your life in; and you have just as much control over that as you do over your actual life.

What’s the one thing you will do today that will bring more joy to someone other than you?