I’ve been doing this thing lately where I ask “how can I best take care of myself in this moment?” and then I pause long enough to hear the answer. The thing about our hearts, is that they know. This year I’ve placed a high priority on taking care of myself and am constantly reorganizing my commitments and schedule to find balance. It’s not a fixed point you know, taking care of yourself and juggling all of the commitments that life requires of us. My philosophy about self-care and self-love is that you can’t show up fully to the present moment and to the people that you love when you don’t feel whole.
On the surface, self-care can include practices like receiving adequate sleep, spending time in nature, practicing yoga, getting a massage, taking a long bath, or engaging in supportive eating habits. These kinds of activities nourish ourselves and help to restore our hearts and minds; they take care of our most basic needs. And we can practice all of these things and still find ourselves feeling internally restless, uneasy, uninspired, harsh, inadequate, anxious, sad, or unkind. Beyond all of the self-care rituals we can tend to is perhaps a greater, more gentle, and necessary way of being with ourselves.
This year, I started with the practices. I went to yoga almost every day and spent a lot of time outside with my feet in a stream. I collected rocks, slept under the stars, and journaled regularly. I said ‘no’ to things when I was tired and gave myself plenty of permission to rest. But the real work and internal shifts came by getting to know myself deeply enough to identify underlying core beliefs about my worth and how achievements and accomplishments fueled the reaching for feelings of ‘enough.’ The self-love came when I allowed myself to be imperfect after making a mistake, or when I showered myself in kindness after making the wrong choice. The deep self-love came when I interrupted a habitual thought patterning of shame and negative self-talk and stopped myself from continually replaying out situations in my mind, of living in the past.
Our society talks a lot about self-love and self-care, especially these days. But there are still so many people feeling lonely, disappointed, and not okay. I think it’s partly because we have mixed up the intention of doing self-care practices with the intention of being someone who cares about themself. Self-love and self-care are not about excusing your behaviors or giving yourself permission to over-indulge or over-consume, they are about moments when you choose to hold space for the human being that you are. Self-love is about becoming familiar with the thoughts that pass through our minds everyday and learning that we are not our thoughts and we are not our feelings. The practice is in acknowledging the way you are unfolding and blooming to the present moment, no matter how messy or scary that might be. Its requires active and continual effort to honor your existence, tune in, listen, and then make a choice based on what it is you need.
I invite you to begin treating yourself the same way you would treat someone you dearly love. It can get messy because it might ask us to uncover some truths about our self-worth, feelings of value, and ability to set boundaries with time, people, and our resources. It might stir up feelings of regret, anger, shame, or dissatisfaction. And all of that is okay; we can allow ourselves to feel the way we feel without having to act or changing anything. That is self-love.
I offer you ultimate permission to unequivocally be yourself. To feel bad and still be okay, to be imperfect and still enough. To be a work in progress and still a brilliant masterpiece. I encourage you to take as much time as you need, to move slowly, and to work on only one thing at a time. I invite you to learn about where you hurt and why, and to set an intention to send the love there. Connect to what inspires you and chase those little sparks of magic. Be gentle with your current self, the person you once were, and the person that you are becoming.
be brave enough to love yourself more than you think you deserve.
Out of all the things there are to love in this world, people are my favorite. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about all of the hearts I am connected to and how grateful I am to have so many pieces of people’s lives intertwined with my story. Like the man from Budapest who told me about his daughter’s dreams while in Paris or the father I hugged when he got his son back. I think about the chance encounters that became my greatest friendships; your desk being placed next to mine because you were shy and I was not. I think about you crossing oceans and me moving to the mountains and both of us sitting next to each other on a hardwood floor in a circle, hands on our hearts. I think about all of us applying at the same restaurant as we made our way through college and dancing the night away eight years later on my wedding day. My heart thinks about you, all of the people that have read my words and then became my real life friends.
My heart overflows with gratitude when I consider the details that occurred in order for our lives to touch, the miles and miles we each spent walking the earth that resulted in your footprints making their way to my path. I’ll always believe that people show up right when we need them, to help us grow, to open us up to the possibilities, to carry a message, or to hold our hand in comfort after a particularly stormy chapter. I think about the people I’ve come to know who live their lives in the boldest, most beautiful, and magnificent ways. The people who teach you to be soft, who show you how to be honest and vulnerable, the ones who dare to change their paths to answer to their life’s calling. And I think about all of the people I do not know and all of the hearts that are beating just like mine. I think about entire populations of people that many of us know nothing about, who do courageous things and suffer in ways we cannot possibly understand. I think about all of the people sewing beautiful seeds into their corners of the world, who leave roots for things to grow in every place they touch. I imagine picking a flower they once planted or sitting underneath the shade of the tree they helped to grow.
With my blankets astray and snowflakes falling from the sky from my third floor apartment, I think about the ways in which we enter people’s lives. The ways our own feet lead us into another person’s story and create lasting change. We can show up in the world in big and small ways, like the way we carry ourselves, greet a stranger, or stand in a check-out line. We show up in the ways we use our talents to benefit another person, pursue our passions with every fiber of our being, and how we make a person feel about themselves. We choose the way we treat the people we love and the people we do not know. We can be soft while showing up strong, we can withdraw judgement and seek to connect, to extend a hand. We can help people to see the magic that they are.
I think about my yoga teachers, who without words, showed me how I want to be present in other people’s lives. In the last four months I’ve learned about the gift we offer to people we meet and the people we love when we are present and kind. I’ve learned that the more compassionate and gentle we can be with ourselves, the more compassion we can show towards others. I’ve learned how valuable it is to see each person as a whole, to take note of their heart, and to make room for someone to be just as they are. I was able to transform in beautiful ways because my experiences, challenges, and strengths were not only validated and seen, but celebrated and encouraged. I developed as a person because my heart was nurtured, my words were listened to, and my vulnerability was met with sweetness and love.
When it comes to loving people, here is what I know:
Powerful things happen when we allow people to be who they are instead of who we want them to be.
People transform with compassion, not shame.
When we nurture another human being, we create an opportunity for healing, softening, and growth.
We have the power to impact someone’s life in just one conversation, evening, or experience.
I believe when we show up authentically and vulnerably we encourage others to do the same.
We can stop trying to fix people and focus on loving them instead.
and so I thank you, for being who you are and showing up in the way that you did.
A week ago today, we shared our vows between two trees in the mountains with all of the most important people in our lives standing before us as witnesses. I know most everyone says this about their wedding day, but it was magical.
Early on, I set an intention to enjoy the process and to maintain perspective- to remember that I wanted to create a marriage that was more beautiful than our wedding. And so I did my best with infusing each step of the planning with love, attention to detail, and a deep appreciation for all of the help we received along the way. I wasn’t always perfect, but I did always try. July 23rd was an absolute dream that I’m not sure I’ll ever wake from and I’ll take from it more than a genuinely kind husband and a new last name. I gained an abundance of wisdom I never expected to receive and a re-commitment to celebrate each of my days with the same peace, happiness, and thankfulness I experienced during our wedding.
And so when people ask about wedding planning advice, I guess all I really have to offer are suggestions about life and things we already know but so easily lose sight of.
What I know is that love exists in moments. Nights of staying up too late talking, learning to swing dance, and falling asleep in buses, trains, subways, and on hard-wood floors. It’s in monthly budget meetings, cooking dinner at midnight, training for a half-marathon, and watching thunderstorms from the front porch while sipping on wine. It’s in those simple, sweet words that get strung together so perfectly that will one day become your vows. These acts of love are the moments that we will be forever nostalgic for.
And when you choose the person you’re going to spend the rest of your life with, remember that you’re also choosing the person you eat breakfast with, experience heartaches and growing pains with, and a person who will deeply influence who you become. You’re choosing a person who will be in all of the memories you have; a person to sing alongside with during road trips, someone you’ll cry in front of when life gets hard, and a person who you’ll sleep in with on lazy Sunday afternoons. You’re choosing a partner who will not only see you during your greatest and weakest moments, but also endure them all with you.
Choose well. Be with someone who will tell you a corny joke just to make you laugh and who knows when it’s a wine, cheese, and salami kind of day. You deserve a love that lights up your soul in all of the most beautiful ways and knows all of the deepest places in your heart. You deserve a love that is centered around kindness, compassion, sincerity, and warmth; a relationship that is tender, giving, and pure.
The best advice I have is to give away all the love you have in heart, on your wedding day and on unsuspecting moments that feel like ordinary life.
It goes back to love, but take the opportunity to look at every person at the wedding and know that your life story, happiness, and experience in this world has been impacted by all of the warm smiles standing before you. Place your hand on your heart and recognize all of the beautiful faces that showed up in honor of your love and to celebrate your relationship and new life adventure. Know that there may not be another chance to have all of your most treasured people eating together in one place, dancing together during one night. Close your eyes and try to capture it forever.
Notice all of the effort that goes into making not only your wedding, but your life, as memorable as it is and understand that you couldn’t have done this alone. Be mindful of the time spent by your parents making all of the wedding crafts, the sweet gestures of your new in-laws in planning the rehearsal dinner, your bridal party and their willingness to go offer advice and problem-solve challenges, and your extended family members who give up their vacation and contribute their talents into making your wedding day everything you hoped it would be. Recognize that these are the same people that have been offering you their gifts all along.
As a general rule, surround yourself with the people you would like to be like; be kind to everyone and selective in who you allow to become your greatest support. The people who will encourage you to take on new adventures and schedule phone dates with you just so they don’t miss a thing are the ones that will be there on your wedding day and all the days after. Hold on tight to your relationships with them.
And on a different day and in a different setting, look around you. Feel the happiness that wells up in your heart when you focus on the gifts you received in this life that come in the forms of your friends and family members. Focus on the love that brings you all together and gently let go of the rest. I’d like to bottle up all of the love that we were surrounded with on July 23rd and pass it around to strangers on the street in need of a pick-me-up. I believe that everyone deserves that kind of everlasting and unconditional love and I know we all bloom like the magnificent flowers we are when we feel loved, supported, and acknowledged.
3. Everything will fall into place
I think it’s natural to hope that our weddings are beautiful and perfect- but I also noticed that from this comes a hyper-focus on attention to detail, perfection, and rigid ideas about how the day will go. I worried about following the schedule, being on time, and whether the wind would blow our centerpieces away. I worried about whether our moccasins matched the dresses, if the color scheme matched our vision, and whether or not our food would arrive. But life is always teaching and reteaching me that when I loosen my attachment to expectations of how a situation will play out and focus on being open to the experience, everything unfolds in the most breathtaking way. I’m still learning that when we turn ordinary situations into emergencies, we get in our own way of the experience. And I’m still being mindful of the tendency to rob ourselves of the happiness and beauty of the moment by infusing it with our stress or worry.
I practiced allowing the day to unfold and fall into place the most on our wedding day and I smile when I realize how perfect it all was. The interrupted dances, rain on our rehearsal practice, the missing aisle runner, sneaky moonshine, and dipping too soon during our first dance. And as in life, we may not know it at the time but each moment is what we need, exactly in the way we need it.
4. Focus on what matters
Although countless numbers of hours were spent on creating the most serene venue – from the wooden benches to the handmade wood cut slabs and centerpieces- what I’ll remember most is my dad pointing out family members as we walked down the aisle and my two little cousins carrying the train of my wedding dress behind us. I’ll remember my mom dancing the night away with us under the star filled sky, sneaking kisses with my groom, and overlooking the mountains at an incredible view. I’ll replay moments of my bridesmaids sniffling as they heard us share our vows and remember us singing a made-up song to our photographer and watching them sway their hands as my dad and I danced to “My Girl.”
It was easy to get caught up in all of the details- perfecting every last centerpiece and debating over every single hair option, napkin color, and table arrangement. I’m glad I took the time to consider them and create an enchanting atmosphere, but the day would have been perfect without all of that. Don’t lose perspective on the love that brought you to this moment and the love that will sustain your marriage. Don’t get so focused on creating the perfect wedding that you forget to enjoy time with the family and friends that came to share it with you.
There are so many things competing for our attention and so many societal norms demanding our time and money, and in this all, it is our responsibility to choose to spend our energy on enriching our lives. Be unfaltering in your decision to focus on the things that can’t be easily captured or defined and commit to spending your life using up all of the love that you possess. And my dear friend, dance- on your wedding day, in your kitchen, and during salsa lessons- even if you don’t know how to. Promise yourself that you won’t leave the dance floor until you’ve convinced yourself that you have all the moves.
I can’t think about our wedding day and the months, weeks, and days leading up to it without crying. I attribute the constant flow of tears to my heart being so full with appreciation. Never have I experienced people showing up in the most beautiful and thoughtful ways to make us feel so loved and I will always remember this day as a blessing and a privilege.
Live a life of gratitude, of knowing that you have enough, and let the abundance of it all sustain you during difficult times. And in moments of frustration and differing of opinions, take yourself back to the richness of your relationships, the laughter you have shared, and all of the happiness that has colored your life. Take a step back from the push towards consumerism and material pleasures and know that these things will never fulfill our greatest needs. Take a deep breath in and fill yourself with deep gratitude of all that is yours; of all the hands that you’ve held, the scars that have healed, the hugs you’ve received, and the knowledge you have gained.
I still stay up late at night thinking about the kindness received from strangers and new friends in support of our wedding and the people in our lives who continue to teach me what it means to be selfless, flexible, and compassionate. I’m endlessly grateful for a husband who continues to be the best person I know and who always responds in the exact way I need. I’ll always go back to the conversation we had at 3am on the Thursday before the wedding in which he reminded me to hold on to every moment because they would be so fleeting, where we talked about the intentionality of happiness, and choosing to respond to whatever comes our way with love. I’m so grateful for every moment, misstep, and wrong turn that became our love story.
Today was meaningful because sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts, and sometimes when it is, you decide to make it last a lifetime by saying ‘I Do.’
i have this belief that within all of us is untapped potential.
and because i am a characteristically anxious person, i find that i’m constantly playing the what if game. and if you know this game, you know that the background conversation playing in your mind goes something like “what if they don’t like me? what if i’m not good enough? what if i don’t get the job? what if i don’t pass the test? what if i never get married? what if it doesn’t work out? what if the worst case scenario happens? what if i’m not a good enough parent.friend.person.employee.student.writer.artist? what if i fail?”
if you know yourself or are in the process of getting to know yourself, you might find the what if game comes from a place of insecurity or a belief that we are not enough… and if it doesn’t consciously start from that place it often takes us there. and for me, this kind of thinking is always about working against myself. i don’t always realize it, but somehow insecurity, feelings of inadequacy, and anxiety start surfacing. when i engage myself in this way, i encourage negative thoughts, energy, emotions, and worry by creating worst case-scenarios, catastrophizing events, and imagining all the ways in which something will fall apart. and usually my what if games lead to believing that the challenges ahead of me are more difficult than my ability to master them- that the challenge surpasses my capabilities. we sell ourselves short in this incessant stream of thinking and believing that we are less capable than we truly are.
i’m trying to play a different what if game with myself; one that encourages thinking about possibilities rather than limitations. one that fosters imagination, breaks down walls, and involves expanding ourselves to be more than we have ever considered. this what if game is about believing in ourselves, it’s about coming from a place where we are enough. this game is about knowing that we can do the work and that we can get to that place within ourselves and in the world that we never thought we’d see. this reverse kind of thinking acknowledges that we have the ability to grow, to develop, and to improve. its about creativity, experimenting, and playfulness. it’s about imagining all of the possibilities. and knowing that they are out there for us to grasp.
and so here’s mine:
what if i devoted this year to working on my goals in a way i have not done before?
what if i woke up every morning and set an intention for the day?
what if i stayed focused on each intention and worked diligently on my goals until i accomplished them all?
what if i was consistent in my efforts?
what if i slowed down and stopped frequently to breathe?
what if i acknowledged that i have enough time?
what if i stopped listening to negative self-talk?
what if i softened into my efforts?
what if i tried harder each time that i failed?
what if i gave myself permission to fail?
what if i each action and behavior was chosen from love?
what if i spent less time on my cell phone and more time investing in my relationships? in myself? in my community?
what if i wrote every day?
what if i expanded my mind every day?
what if i took risks? what if i got uncomfortable?
what if i started today? right now?
what if i was limitless?
do you feel the difference?
when we open ourselves up to the possibilities we begin to pave the pathway for our goals to unfold. train your mind to look within yourself in a new way, and train your inner voice to build you up to your capabilities instead of breaking you apart through your insecurities.
i have this belief that it is our responsibility and gift to use ourselves up. to grow into our weaknesses and to give to the world the talents that are within each of us that only we as individuals have. i have this belief that we are all incredible. that if we sat down and took the time to look within ourselves, to get to know ourselves, and committed to the process of achieving our heart’s purpose, that we would astound ourselves and one another in what we could accomplish.
i have this belief that the world would become even more beautiful.
i wrote you a letter once and i’ve thought about you a lot since then, mainly because life continues to present its experiences to me and i like to think that we are here in this world learning together. i like to imagine the two of us meeting in a coffee shop with mismatched furniture sipping on our favorite hot tea and exchanging bits of wisdom learned from the struggles we have endured, the tears we’ve cried, and the moments we have celebrated.
i think the thing about advice is that we can share it, but only through experience and overcoming our individual struggles do we ever really understand. i think pain, discomfort, heartache, uncertainty, and raw emotions are necessary for our growth and important in realizing the richness of life. perhaps the lessons learned from my pain will be different from the ones you learn in yours; and maybe we offer these things to each other so that our individual discomforts can be different, although shared, and somehow that is comforting. and so i’ll give you my words in hopes that you’ll get from them something that you need and in hopes that you’ll know that wherever you are, we are both here.
i hope you are always learning, dear stranger. that you look at the world through eyes filled with wonder, curiosity, and imagination. i hope you fail frequently and continue to try. that you view the simplest pleasures through the earnest eyes of a child. i hope you create beautiful things and use all of your senses. that you read interesting books, seek out new adventures, and have deep conversations with someone you hardly know. i hope you listen to the news and read things that challenge your beliefs, i hope you write down poetry and sing silly rhymes. i hope you paint. that you walk. that you touch nature with an explorer’s heart. i hope you listen more than you talk and that you love before you judge. and i hope you know the world to be simple, complex, and wonderful.
dear stranger, we let go of so many moments in our rush to get to the next one. i’m always learning that if you don’t pay attention, you’ll miss out on this moment. i hope you don’t wish time away. you’ll miss kindness in the eyes of the cashier, the sound of a small child giggling, and the crunch of the leaves underneath your shoe. when we get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of the sickness that is busy, we don’t slow down enough to experience the rise and fall of our breath, witness the sun set, or smell the scent of a cool summer’s rain. we don’t hear what our parents are saying, feel the love that other people are offering, or notice a stranger’s attempt at connection. although i understand the lure of the future, the draw towards tomorrow, and the excitement of what will be, i also recognize that we do so in exchange for the now.what i know is that it is about today. right now. this exact moment is your life.
when we constantly reach out for distraction, use our time for mindless scrolling, and focus on the world through a screen, we give away the opportunity to practice patience in moments of frustration and to understand how we truly feel. dear stranger, please put down your cellphone and live in what’s real, in what’s right in front of you. when you are with your friends, family members, strangers, on the bus, driving in your car, in a work meeting, trying something new, eating dinner, relaxing before bedtime, or celebrating something momentous, put down your phone. i worry that pretty soon we will have lived a life of moments captured, but not truly enjoyed. and we will be left with a life that is unlived. unnoticed. and unappreciated. turn off your phone for a while, my friend…. we don’t get these moments back.
i’ve been learning about quality in this last year. the quality of the relationships i have with friends, family, and my community. who i call and who calls me back. quality work, lessons, experiences, and tasks. i’ve come to understand that part of developing quality is about being selective and that it is also about time; choosing how you spend it, what you give it, the amount offered to it, and whom or what we give it to. you don’t have to accept every task, article, or thing to do; you don’t have to accept every argument or conversation. decide what will add value to your life, who will enrich your worldview, and what will bring happiness and then do these things. gently let go of the rest.
pay attention, my friend. notice what you offer the world and yourself through the words you mutter underneath your breath, in the background noise of your mind, and in exchanges you have with people you love and the people you don’t know. focus on the quality of the time, energy, and effort you offer to the world and notice how it comes back to you. are you here? are you present? what message are you sending? what lessons are you teaching? what energy are you allowing to fill up your soul? what relationships are you giving of your heart and your time? and is this the way you would like for it to be?
and when it comes to love, i hope you have the courage to let go of somebody who doesn’t love you. that in your search for a companion, you get to know yourself first, accept your shortcomings, and make peace with your flaws. i hope you let love come when it does and in the meantime you celebrate the wholeness you already are. i hope you don’t accept misguided attention to escape your loneliness, and when your heart gets broken dear stranger, i hope you know that you are still complete. and when you are in fact lonely, i encourage you to seek out connection rather than half-hearted attention. connect your heart to someone else’s, someone who understands your worth. recognize that you are enough and start to learn all of the ways in which you convince yourself that you are not. take time to listen to the background noise that plays throughout your mind and learn that you don’t have to believe every thought you think. and remember that your value is not dependent on another person’s acknoweldgment or acceptance.
i hope you take sometime to look for the cobwebs that may exist in the corners of your heart and decide to let them go, clean them out. past anger, unforgiven hurts, and feelings of inadequacy or not being enough. listen for those whispers that cloud your mind with feelings of anxiety, disappointment, sadness, or hurt. replace them with self-love, compassion, empathy, and gratitude. and remember dear stranger, other people’s happiness and successes are not the absence of your own.
i hope you don’t let your dreams pass you by in exchange for the easier route. i challenge you to create routines and put forth the energy needed to accomplish your heart’s mission. nurture self-discipline and foster the habits necessary that will lead you to your goals. i hope you find something that you are passionate about and live it. i hope you fight for something that is larger than yourself and become all that you already are. and while you are on the way, take care of yourself and tend to your own garden. wish others well. give yourself permission to be strong and in the same breathe, to be soft, to be unsure. take the time to practice being you and drown out the unnecessary noise that tends to clutter our lives. and most importantly, show yourself some kindness as you grow.
dear stranger, give out pieces of your heart without attachment or expectation. share your love, give out kindness, and shine your light.