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Archive for the ‘Storytelling’ Category

May I Have This Dance?

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016

“You didn’t come all this way to sit on a couch, did you?” That was my pick up line at a dance in 1994. It was awkward and funny and eventually I danced with the woman who became my spouse.

It was almost 22 years ago that I went to a dance by myself to be part of the L.G.B.T. community, to meet new friends, and to dance. I remember feeling scared to go. It took every ounce of courage to get on the subway from the Bronx and travel to Webster Hall in Manhattan for a big dancing night. I didn’t know a soul there. I walked into the room wide-eyed and curious and anxious. I was searching for something I didn’t even know I was seeking – my inner freedom. The freedom to be myself, fully. The freedom to be with a woman. The freedom to love – all of me. The freedom to release worry of what “others” might think.

That night in Webster Hall gave me more than a life partner. It gave me my life back. A life that was no longer ashamed to be who I am in the world. A life where I was no longer inhibited by internal or external homophobia. A life where I was no longer inhibited by my body image.

Dance halls and clubs are where so many in the L.G.B.T. community gather for a sense of belonging, connection, and hope. Dance floors are places of refuge. In Buddhist terms, clubs and dance floors are often our sangha. It’s our community. It’s a place we can express ourselves, release inhibition, and be completely free – arms in the air (like we just don’t care).

The tragedy in Orlando was an attack on more than the L.G.B.T. community. It was an attack on expression and freedom. It opened up old shame wounds of our society about integration, diversity, sexuality, and our beliefs on how we define love. In many ways, it was an attack on love itself.

The mass shooting could have targeted any community and many have experienced this trauma before in other places and with other victims: movie theaters, schools, politicians, children, churches, and L.G.B.T. communities.

Our L.G.B.T. community has been vulnerable to hate, to slurs, to violence, to whispers, to looks, to shame, and more. Anyone who has ever come out knows these experiences deep in their cells. It’s the one where someone in our life feels disappointed, scared, angry and ashamed about who we are and who we love. At times, it triggers our own questioning of our identity and we begin to question — is this the life I want?

Then, on a random Saturday night, you ask someone to dance. And you dance and dance and dance.

And then you know, this sangha, this dance hall/club refuge is the very freedom that lives inside of you waiting to be expressed in the world.

Please remember – you are not alone. We are in this together.

Cry. Hug. Hold Hands. Sing. Be Seen. Be Heard. Love More. Dance. Keep Dancing.

Allow grief to surface. Reach out. And when you are ready, please keep dancing.

We Are Orlando.

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Book Review: Tribe – On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

“In keeping with something called self-determination theory, which holds that human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others.” ― Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

tribeIn his new book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, Sebastian Junger suggests that we miss the fraternity that thousands of years of tribal life have programmed us for. Instead, Junger writes about how society has moved away from communal living. He gives examples of how we live at a time where a sense of entitlement has replaced a sense of village. Sebastian Junger shows us just how at odds the structure of modern society is with our tribal instincts, arguing that the difficulties many veterans face upon returning home from war do not stem entirely from the trauma they’ve suffered, but also from the individualist societies they must reintegrate into. Sebastian Junger, takes a critical look at post-traumatic stress disorder and the many challenges today’s returning veterans face.

Junger tackles the tough subjects of the rising rate of mental illness and PTSD that many in our society are experiencing. His book starts at the beginning with the Native Americans and their society that celebrated communal living and how we have moved away from the collective to the induvial. His book provides many stories of how our current way of living with selfishness and lack of connection has led to a disconnected society.

The most recent example of societal disconnect includes many of the combat veterans who come home only to find themselves missing the incredibly intimate bonds of platoon life. According to Junger, the loss of closeness that comes at the end of deployment may explain the high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by military veterans today. Tribe explores what we can learn from tribal societies about connection, belonging, loyalty, and the question for meaning.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


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Give It Away

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

jacketI recently donated a jacket that was only two years old. There was no reason to keep it, despite my inner voice saying, “You might it need it someday.” I don’t. And the reality is that someone needs it more than I do. Plus, the jacket will probably just sit on a hanger for more than a year.

Why hold onto it?

Somewhere inside there is a fear of scarcity. It’s a sense of needing to hold on. It’s a sense of control. It’s a sense of “someday.” If I can’t control the weather then at least I can control the various jackets I own.

This is only a jacket, yet it has deeper meaning into holding on and the fear of letting go. What else in my life am I holding or gripping onto? What else in my life am I carrying around and unwilling to give away? What else is hanging on the hangers of my heart?

My invitation is for each of us to look within and notice what we are carrying around on every level. Maybe it’s time to let it go. Maybe it’s time to do the kind thing and give it away.

We can all donate more than a jacket. We can donate kindness, compassion, and love. We have so much to give away.

How about you? What will you give away with love and kindness?


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Namaste Express

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

crowded subwayAs I stepped into a crowded subway car, the conductor asked everyone to stand in and stand clear of the closing doors. After the doors closed, the conductor’s voice boomed into the subway car, “Number 6 Bronx Express.” It was so loud, it sounded like she said, “Namaste Bronx 6 Express.” I smiled at the thought of hearing I might be on a Namaste subway car.

What if as I stood in the crowed train that the light in me saw the light in you? I watched as people gave up their seats to those in need and held the doors open for others. I observed a passenger help a mother with her baby carriage and also assisted an older woman with her bags.

Yes, perhaps I was on the Namaste train. Perhaps I always am. Maybe I can make each train the Namaste Express. When I am willing to look past the façade, the light in me is the light in you.

Next stop on my train ─ peace.

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Berni’s Journey in Wanderland

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

Bernadette Slowey is in post-production for her film, Berni’s Journey in Wanderland. After leaving a toxic work environment from a successful 20-year career in the financial industry, she flew in the face of convention to reach for a dream she once thought impossible. She took a risk and went to India to film a documentary about a group of spiritual teachers from North America. However, the production doesn’t go as planned. In a pivotal moment, Berni discovers the real purpose of her journey as the film becomes her story of resolving her past as a child refugee, being vulnerable to live authentically today and to be courageous with the unknown of tomorrow. Below is a Q & A of how the transition of a career that resulted in a life-changing transformation.  Slowey is raising funds to finish her film. To view the teaser trailer visit: http://bit.ly/WanderlandJourney 

Q: What is the most important message you took from your transformation that you want to share with others?

A:  There were several messages from my transformational experience filming in India that it is difficult to name just one. The universal message that I believe is most beneficial for everyone to know is that we are our own best guru. You don’t have to go to India, or anywhere for that matter, to learn that the best navigation system through life is our own intuition. Ever since I was a young girl, my parents, society, even my ego, dictated most of my actions. I was told that my feelings didn’t matter and my choices had an impact on how others would treat me or think of me. I think that is where my perfectionism formed. If I behaved perfectly and did everything right, I was worthy of love. As long as I met other’s expectations, it didn’t matter what my gut was telling me. I started to conform and relied on external validation. My ego has served me well in this capacity but it has also been a detriment. I think ego is worldly and intuition is other-worldly. My ego made me successful in my career, but I was very lost without the titles, the paycheck and the corporate achievements. My intuition is what guided me to follow my dream and know that the bumps along the way were part of the journey. Ego can be a friend and our worst enemy, but I believe it is better to fall in love with our intuition. It is the greatest honor we can give ourselves. 

Q: What will the audience take away from the film and it’s message?

A: My hope is that the telling of my story through film serves as a mirror for people to reflect on their own life. We are all connected; as humans, as dreamers and as spiritual beings searching for our purpose. The film will have different meaning depending on where the viewer is in their life. Wherever that may be, my intention is that the movie will help shift the perspective from victim to co-creator, from scarcity to abundance, from fear to courage. I would love it if everyone felt empowered to tear down limiting beliefs and inspired to take steps toward their dream while watching the credits roll and long after they watched the film. 

Q: How do you know you actually had a transformation?

A:  The encounter with the cobra and facing my fear was the catharsis of my transformation. My emotional breakdown is caught on camera when I am asked if I was afraid of dying. I am raw and vulnerable when I respond that I’m more afraid of not fully living before I die. At the same time that I was gripped by my phobia, I felt that every cell in my body was alert.  In that fateful moment, I was extremely present and consciously aware of the energy running up and down my spine. I hadn’t felt that present and alive in a long time. It was the pivotal moment when the focus of the documentary went from following the spiritual teachers on their tour of India to the spiritual teachers mentoring me through my journey of transformation. Later that evening as I was watching the footage, I have an emotional reaction but it was not one I expected. As the camera got close to the cobra, it got scared and tried to get away. It kept getting pulled back by the snake charmer and was placed back in the basket. My fear turned to compassion for the cobra. I found myself relating to it’s fear. The snake was trying to escape but it was being pulled back and caged. I had felt that same way during my corporate career. People ask me how I’ve changed. I prefer to say that the transformation allowed me to evolve into my truer self. The essence of me is the same, it is my perspective that has changed. 

Q:  How will your audience find clarity through this film?

A:  My hope is that the film serves as a mirror for the audience to be reflective. There are several universal messages that are relevant for men and women and whatever challenges they may be facing that I call the Dreadful D’s: Death, Divorce, Debt, Disease, Disaster and aDdiction. We all experience at least one of these issues. Despite the hardship, it’s makes life interesting and hopefully we grow from the situation. The film brings up questions about how we judge or perceive adversity. Instead of being a victim, can we change our point of view? I believe it is a mindful choice to flip the perspective so we direct of our life to Dream for health, a loving relationship, abundance, sobriety, etc. Whatever the message that strikes a chord with the individual is exactly what I hope begins a journey of clarity for all viewers.

Q:  What was the initial documentary going to be about?

A:  I can tell you that I had not planned for this to be about my story! I would have lost 10 pounds for the camera and probably rehearsed in front of the mirror every day before leaving for India. After I left my 20-year career, I spiraled into a serious identity crisis. My pursuit of the American Dream had turned into a nightmare and my self-worth was wrapped around titles and the size of my paycheck.  I received a call from transformational coach Harrison Klein (whom I met at the time my work environment had become toxic and when I had the first of my three miscarriages) after taking a couple of his tele-seminar courses. Harrison initially invited me to join a group of people to tour sacred places in Italy. I declined and told him that I was looking for a documentary subject that combined science with spirituality. Harrison proceeded to tell he was hosting a group of North American spiritual teachers to speak at the World United Alliance’s 1st Parliament of Spiritual Science conference in Hyderabad, India. The speakers were then going on a tour throughout India. I would interview the speakers about their modality at the conference and then get their background story during the tour.  Although I would only have five weeks to plan, unlike Brazil, there was so much synchronicity during pre-production and all the signs were clear that I was to go to India. I felt as though I had received a literal and figurative “call” and my intuition told me to answer it.

Q:  Did your age make it more difficult to take on this challenge to find your inner self?

A:  I believe age played a positive factor in wanting to find my true self. Perhaps because I reached a milestone that many of us face as we reach a certain point in our life and ask, “Is this it? Am I living my purpose?” What presented more of a challenge were the limiting beliefs about myself that I learned very young. I evacuated from Vietnam with my mother just days before Saigon fell in 1975. My mother and I experienced prejudice and bigotry when we moved to my father’s home state of Nebraska. My family then moved to Iran to make a fresh start, however we had to evacuate again with the anti-Shah revolution in 1979. Going back to Nebraska, people thought my mother and I were Persian and angry about the Iran hostage situation. It seemed I couldn’t win. I was made fun of, and often taunted by both students as well as adults. I just wanted to fit-in and be accepted. That was about the time when my perfectionism emerged and my ambition to achieve was driven by external validation. All through high-school, college and my career, it was about accomplishments and getting to the next rung on the corporate ladder. When I had achieved what I had always imagined, the successful career, two beautiful children with a wonderful husband and a lovely home, I had every reason to be happy. So why was I experiencing inner-turmoil? I didn’t know who I was because my actions and choice were motivated by the need of approval from others. Deciding to fly in the face of convention and leaving this safe, comfortable life was a scary risk. Maybe if I was a 20-something without attachments, it would have been easier to leave – easier to focus on myself. I think transitions are part of all stages of life, no matter what age. They are no less harder when you are younger or when you are older. There is an element of fear and doubt when you leave what you know – what you are comfortable with – to take a leap into the unknown.

Q:  How will your message give others the courage to overcome the fear of the unknown to take a leap of faith?

A:  I think it will be a mix of the messaging with the witnessing of someone experiencing a personal transition crisis who undergoes a life altering transformation. It’s the classic hero’s journey scenario in that the viewer sees parts of themselves by watching the film. The audience doesn’t have to go to India, or anywhere, to experience a transformation. By borrowing my story watching the movie, I hope the viewer can get in less than an hour what took me years to discover. 

Q:  What would you say to those who feel as if they don’t have the courage to take a leap of faith?

A:  I would tell them that I also did not feel as if I had the courage to take a leap of faith initially. My intuition was pulling me toward this project and yet I felt doubt and I was afraid of failure. The ego can be a friend and foe. I’m really glad I followed my intuition. I wouldn’t have this journey to share with others. The film is meant to demonstrate to viewers that they are not alone in this fear – we all go through feelings of doubt, especially when it comes to change and the unknown. Just knowing that we aren’t alone and that we share common bonds provides a sense of unity. Deep down I believe we all want to reconnect with our spirit. We can only do that if we break through illusions that we are limited or that we hold ourselves back being concerned about what others think of us rather than how we feel. I now see that when we don’t honor ourselves and follow our heart, that is the ultimate betrayal to our spirit.

Q:  If you had taken a different fork in the road, how different would your life be? Do you think you made the right choice?

A:  Now, I honestly believe that if I chose a different path, then that was the one I was meant to follow. That is the beauty of free will and how we are truly the co-creators of our lives. I see day to day how our choices reflect our thoughts and our thoughts become our actions. I knew I needed to find something to pull me out of autopilot. This is when the journey began. I made the right choice because, subconsciously, I knew what I needed to finally be present in life – to awaken. For me, there wasn’t a different road – no other choice. My growth in India happened because I dreamed of it mentally and craved for it spiritually.

To learn more about the film and Berni’s story, go to:

http://journeyinwanderland.com or visit her blog at bernijourney.wordpress.com

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While I’m Living…I Will…

Monday, July 29th, 2013

A few weeks ago I passed a blackboard that read: “Before I Die I Want To”

 It caught my eye as I started to read what people wanted to do before their last breath. When I started thinking about the sign, all I could hear was, “While I Walk This Earth, I Will…” Changing the words shifted the energy for me. While I’m on this earth how do I want to spend my time? What places do I want to see? I’m moving the conversation from “I want to” to “I will.”

How about you?

Oh, and if you are curious, my answer on the blackboard was Surf.

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Huffin’ and Puffin’

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

I recently sat in long traffic on my express bus ride from Manhattan to the Bronx. It took three hours to get home because of a sinkhole on the highway. There were plenty of huffs and puffs from passengers. There were folks fidgeting and making loud sigh noises. Here is what I discovered about my ride home. All the huffs and puffs were not going to make the traffic move any faster and certainly didn’t help surrounding passengers feel any better.

As one of my teachers, Kelsang Gyatso, says, “If there is a remedy to a problem, be happy. If there is no remedy to a problem, be happy.” Gyatso invites students to recognize internal problems and external problems. Can I change the sinkhole on the highway? No. I can, however, change the way I look at sitting on a bus in standstill traffic. I can use the time to complain or I can use the time to meditate and listen to good music.

Of course, I too have had my fair share of huffin’ and puffin’ moments and I’ve been known to have a pretty loud, “Oh, come on.” But as live my practice of meditation, I realize everything is an opportunity to go inside and listen. If I really want to know how I am doing with my meditation practice, all I have to do is look at my reaction to the three hour bus ride home. Still learning … Still practicing…

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A Mother’s Embrace

Saturday, July 13th, 2013

Yesterday marked the 13th anniversary of my mom’s passing. In the past I spent the day quiet, weepy, and often withdrawn. I decided to do something different to honor my mom.

The hugging saint, Amma, is in New York City July 11-13. An embrace by Amma is a unique, inspiring, and personally transformative experience. Amma spends hours as people line up to receive their hug.

I spent my mom’s anniversary in Amma’s presence. As I waited my turn for a hug, my whole body started shaking. And then I looked up and Amma was in front of me. Amma looked at me, smiled, and pulled me into her chest. She put her lips right to my ear, rocked me back and forth and said, “My Dola, My Dola, My Dola, My Dola.” It took me awhile to understand that she was really saying, “My Daughter, My Daughter…” I was overcome with tears as I felt as if my whole body was being comforted and loved.

My daughter. My daughter. An embrace by Amma reminds me just how much I miss and love my mother. I returned to my seat and closed my eyes. I felt my beloved mother and her embrace. Amma’s embrace filled me with the love I have for my mom.

Heaven to earth. Earth to heaven.

Dedicated to my mom, Catherine Flanagan.

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Cape May Poem

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

Sitting still

watching the waves roll in

Remembering the winged-ones

My first ruby crowned kinglet

Listening to the music

of purple martins in white houses

Allowing the wind

to carry me away in the woods

Noticing the light

dawn to dusk — a setting sun

Awakening to quiet

Resting into nothingness.

Mary Anne Flanagan 


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Maternal Love

Friday, May 10th, 2013

As I remember my mom this weekend and all that she taught me, I carry her spirit of her love of children. I have been blessed to have worked with and cared for many youth in some form for more than 22 years.

There are times when I feel very maternal with young people – offering advice, giving a hug, cleaning a scraped knee or wiping a tear. I have had a deep love for children my whole life.

Here is what I hope my maternal love has taught them:
Be curious.
Be yourself even when it’s hard.
Be kind to others.
Believe you are worthy of love, always.
Stay in school – lifelong learning is more important than grades.
Play and laugh often.
Help other people whenever you can.
Say “I love you.” People need to hear more words of love.
Do your best and your best will always do.
Dream big and live your dream.
Trust your heart.
Be of service.
Be grateful for every day.

Celebrate the mom in you. We all have maternal love to give.

Happy Mother’s Day.

This is dedicated to all the young people who have touched my life, especially those I had the privilege of watch grow up, Samantha, Ryan, Michael, and Ashley. I love you.

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