Update on 1/19/19: My memoir, Angels in the OR: What Dying Taught Me About Healing, Survival, and Transformation, can be pre-ordered now. It is a #1 new release in several categories. I would love it if you helped me make near-death experiences more mainstream.
Mission from The Light: Toward the end of my near death experience, the light of the divine flooded my spirit body with its own power and wholeness. I was shocked by how large and light-filled my spirit body became in that moment and felt a little embarrassed that I was asked to carry this light back into the world. At twenty-one, I felt more comfortable being small and hiding within myself. I felt humbled that this mission would be accomplished by connecting with others and reminding them that their own light can and should be turned on and turned up. There is no better way to be a light and force of good on this planet than to help others learn to love themselves more and to open up to the world with a desire to help, to serve, and to inspire. I saw that my spirit’s journey would influence others to make thier way through the world, committed to making our world a better place with their unique talents and perspectives. Teaching is one of the more obvious ways to build the self-esteem of others and to remind them of their power as individuals as a force of good on this planet. I firmly believe that education transforms lives.
Many of you might be familiar with the Marianne Williamson quote from “A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
No one benefits from anyone who plays small and doesn’t fully own their power. Maybe when you own your power, your family won’t understand you, but maybe thousands of other people might. Maybe some people who don’t know you will be jealous and critical, but thousands of others will love you for being fully yourself, fully alive, and one hundred percent authentically you. If you are a woman, maybe some twisted men will stalk you or harass you. However, I am encouraged by the many women who stand up to their stalkers and refuse to be threatened. I love this millennial generation of strong women, and I learn from them in many ways as I work as their professor. I see that they have learned from the struggles of other generations and are willing to live differently and live with greater and greater personal power.
Education as a Connection to Purpose: In classrooms across the nation, children, teens, and adults get glimpses of how they might offer their talents and joy to the world. This process is the beginning of manifestation. Great book ideas, inventions, and business ideas are often formed from a snippet of a lecture. I love how Rebecca Skloot came up with the idea for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks from a brief mention of the woman whose cancer cells were taken without her knowledge back in 1951. Skloot heard this information while sitting in a biology class in community college. This one moment in time eventually launched a different career path for Skloot. If people dared not to believe in themselves, then the world would have fewer lights, connection, and beauty.
My mission as an instructor and writer (and the most important lesson I teach) is for others to believe in themselves. I have reached a point in life where I know that believing in my power in more expansive ways will open up avenues to reach more people and remind them to love themselves and connect with the divine light inside of them. In turn, they will carry their messages of light, kindness, compassion, and beauty into the world.
Self-Love: Many spiritual practices begin with self-love and that is a great place to begin. Matt Kahn suggests holding your hand over your heart and saying the words, “I love you,” during times of great distress. It is important to keep doing this until you actually feel better. Probably a few times won’t be enough to help. Most people would comfort a child or baby in this way until the child calms down, yet they react to themselves with frustration and anger, sometimes even turning this anger outwards instead of taking care of themselves. Giving ourselves kindness, compassion, and care is the first step in being able to adequately care for others. If we are not filled with love for ourselves, then we are only using other people to fill a gaping hole within ourselves. Self-love works against depression, fear, and trauma. It is one of the greatest healing practices, and it is free, non-toxic, and the only side-effect is brighter eyes, fewer tears, and more joy.
Link between Creativity and Depression: My Creative Writing students ask me why they write their best poems when they are sad or going through a break-up or why so many famous poets battled with depression and sometimes took their own lives. There are many different researchers who claim that there is a link between depression and creativity and a few who claim that there isn’t a definite link. Whether there is a link or not, I care about my student’s well-being, so we talk about ways they might take better care of themselves and others they know who suffer from depression. Self-love seems to be the first step in recovery from depression, but helping others is the step that seems to make the most difference. Being thankful or keeping a gratitude journal is a great way to train the mind to be more optimistic.
Artists have a particularly tough path in that they must also not be afraid of criticism. An extremely healthy self-esteem is part of being a successful artist. Defying tradition and defying the beliefs of others takes enormous courage. The journey of the artist can be a lonely one, but it does not have to be characterized by depression. Luckily, most artists embrace change and growth easily. I have learned that the artist’s journey can be characterized by great, enormous amounts of joy if I only remember to stay present and aware of the beauty of this world. My openness to new experiences and high tolerance for ambiguity means that I am more open-minded than many personality types, and I have the ability to appreciate a wide variety of experiences. In the past, I let criticisms of these traits trouble me, but now I’m glad I live in my mind instead of minds ruled by tradition and routine. Variety of personalities on this planet make the world more interesting. I am who I am, and I choose to appreciate my particular approach to life and journey as an artist. I hope that all creative types do appreciate their way of looking at the world. Myers Briggs, Enneagram, and many other tests show us some of the beautiful variety of people we interact with regularly.
If you have the artist’s journey, be sure to have a good friend take pictures of you laughing. Make sure your critics know that you are enjoying every delicious moment of your life fully and that they are wasting their time and only bringing themselves down with the time they spend in judgement and needless gossip. That time could be better spent liking themselves because loving oneself is one of the most important keys to success. Make sure your critics know that criticism only makes you work harder and shine brighter and will never shut you up. As Aristotle said, “Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” Being and doing nothing benefits no one except the highly insecure.
Healing Work at Colleges and Universities: Years ago, in a large undergraduate class at a large research university, we took a personality quiz and were divided up into groups. Most of my friends participated in large groups of rowdy students as part of a study about leadership, but I was placed in a room by myself and asked to draw pictures and write poems based on various prompts. The study looked at the link between depression and creativity. This is a particularly lovely article from the Atlantic which discusses this possible link and profiles one of my favorite writers during college–Kurt Vonnegut. I like to think that the study I participated in might have helped researchers realize something about the desperation and sadness some students can feel at university when they are thrown into a maelstrom of alcohol, drugs, and noncommittal relationships without having a chance to do any healing work on all of the wounds they may carry from childhood and early adolescence. Barely surviving those first few years of college has given me enormous compassion for my students who struggle in their own ways and desperately try to create a bright future while still suffering from the wounds of their past. They have no idea how to parent themselves in the ways their own parents might have failed them. If they are creative, their artwork might represent some of this struggle. I know that artists are sometimes a bit tortured, lovely but tortured. Perhaps artists need extra healing work in order to help bring about societal changes they sometimes are inspired to create.
Healing work should be required and essential for first week back activities for freshman and community college students. Education certainly transforms lives, but there is much more that it can and might do in the future. I like to believe, despite what we see on the news, that the future is brighter and will continue to be brighter, perhaps because of the many lightworkers on the planet and the many more who will exist in the future and work to make our world safer and more beautiful. One of my visions for my future is being a facilitator for this type of healing work at colleges across the country.