My Life in Words
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I own a dance company of which I manage several locations, instructors and students. The other day, I had a very upset and frightened mother call me. She said “Amna, I am so livid. I just came to pick up my daughter from dance class and she was outside all alone and your studio was locked. All the instructors had left. I am so scared thinking of all the horrible things that could have happened to her.” As she said this, I could hear her voice trembling while she tried to push away her tears.
I am a mother. How could I not relate? My stomach was in knots. I messed up. I royally messed up. I took full accountability and did my best to show her I do care for her little seven year old and thanked her for sharing this with me because now I get to do better.
I felt the waves of emotions within me. The judgmental thoughts that started to tell me ‘How could you do this?’ ‘What's wrong with you?’ ‘No one will trust you again’... you know the spiel.
Click here to read full article on how this big mistake helped connect me to my intuition.
Have you ever started a day with a vision for what your day would look like? All the things you would get done. The people you would see. How your house would look. Even maybe what you would look like.
Only to reach the end of your day with most of your goals undone, canceled plans, your house hasn't looked messier and let's not even talk about what you look like.
When I wake up, I visualize my day ahead: Meditate. Coffee. Drop my daughter off to school (on time). Nap time for baby. Write. Respond to emails. Go for a run. Make lunch. School pick up .
And then the day actually unfolds and I am hit with a blocker right away. I am late for drop off AGAIN. Then I miss baby's nap time. And the ripple effect is REAL. I feel defeated and down at the end of the day, hoping tomorrow would be better. And the cycle continues.
We sit in traffic lights every day. We set a destination of where we need to be and our car's GPS has pre-determined what that will look like. Then we follow the rules of the traffic lights. When it is red, we stop. Yellow, slow down. Green, go. We sit in our cars patiently (or impatiently) until it tells us when to go or stop. This is what control feels like.
And control is the opposite of freedom.
Granted we need traffic lights in our physical world so we can be safe.
However, we have allowed similar traffic lights to enter our internal worlds as well. We are controlling ourselves every day with our thoughts and expectations. We are stripping our humanity from experiencing our innate freedom.
When we set expectations for our days, we have entered specific "destinations" into the "GPS" of our inner world. We engrain very specific images of what each goal will look like and exactly how we will get there. And, of course, this leads to an ego-ic attachment to each outcome of our days.
Because our thoughts create such rigid "routes" on how we will achieve our expectations, as soon as we hit a red light, we stop. Poof. We never get there. Not even close. It's gone. And thus, we reach the end of my day with a bunch of unreached "destinations".
I have let the GPS of my thoughts control my life. And the only way to break free of that is through FREEDOM.
Yesterday, I went through the typical happenings of my day. Wake up. Coffee. Drop off, etc. To no surprise of my own, most things in my day were already going "wrong". I was off schedule. I felt the annoyance at myself for falling asleep with my baby in the middle of the day and for being late to my daughter's drop off once again.
But there was one thing I was absolutely determined to do. I had to get my run in! So, I hurried my baby into the carseat and was on my way to pick up my daughter from school, during which, I made a plan. I told myself we would run together as a family as soon as we got home.
Images were automatically created in my mind. We would get home. Wash our hands. Grab a snack. She would get on her rollerblades. Baby in stroller. We would go to our neighborhood trail. I would get to go on my run. Check.
Well... We got home. I pulled into the drive way. I turned around only to see my daughter passed out, completely exhausted. SHE FELL ASLEEP. Oh my goodness.
Is the universe out to get me today? Can one thing just go "right"?!?!?
That's when my newly created Self-Talk kicked in:
Ok, Amna. Remember. You are free...
I am Free. I am Free. I am Free.
I saw two scenarios in my head. I can wake her up and tell her we are going for a family run. To which she would inevitably throw a tantrum, ending with us both inside the house, totally and utterly upset. Or I can pick her up and let her get some sleep on her bed, while I mope around the house furious that I couldn't do the one thing I wanted to do all day.
This is what control looks like. It doesn't allow you to be flexible. It is not adaptive. It is limiting.
I am Free. I am Free. I am Free. I am FREE.
Saying these words to myself over and over again was nothing short of magical.
I literally felt my blockers lift. My limiting thoughts and images disappeared and were replaced by possibilities. I felt my creative hat turn on. And it was INCREDIBLE. Guess what I saw...
I saw new images created in my mind.
I shut off the car engine, popped a window open, and let my daughter continue to sleep in the car. I opened our garage gate, got out the stroller, buckled baby in and started doing laps in our cul de sac. 20 minutes later, I had a good sweat going. I was on an emotional high from the endorphins I just released. But my greatest high was this newfound realization I just experienced.
Holy Wow! I actually am Free!
This is fantastic.
I am flexible. It am adaptive. I am creative...
The thoughts and images in our mind DO create our lives.
I had almost succumbed to the defeat of not being able to run that day just because I had limited myself to what that run would look like. As soon as I realized my natural right to be free, I opened up to our world's abundance that allowed me to reach my goal. It just looked a little different.
I have been controlled by the traffic lights of my inner world until this moment. Destinations are a must. Routes are great. But our inability to see that we are FREE to create a new route when we hit a red light is what keeps us locked in the cycle of our daily cages.
This realization has been life changing. Every day when I create rigid goals for my day, I have created traffic lights that tell me to stop or go based on my self-imposed & limited vision. But when I KNOW I am FREE, those traffic lights become creative outlets. And I am able to truly see the vastness of the whole landscape that is before me. I can play and move as I please.
This does not mean that you will always get to your destination. It just doesn't feel limiting anymore. When one door closes, you will see other open doors. When you don't meet a specific goal, you will see all the unexpected goals you did meet. Your perspective will be full of abundance.
Let's reflect on my day before the run.
When I fell asleep putting my baby to sleep, I could be upset about losing this golden time to do something for myself. Or I could be FREE. Free of the desire to be productive. This allowed me to appreciate the cuddle time that will soon fade into a distant memory.
When I was late for my daughter's drop off, I could have noticed that as a failure to reach yet another goal. Or I could be FREE. Unattached to the outcome. I had a goal which I didn't reach. I can try again tomorrow. This feeling allows me to accept. Acceptance creates openness to receive the present moment.
I am very aware of toxic positivity so sometimes, things do just suck. And my freedom allows me to accept how much a moment may suck without feeling controlled or attached to an outcome that maybe looks better than this one. I get to accept that I was late. It is what it is. I am not a failure. My day is not ruined. This is the only way I am able to receive the rest of the day with gratitude within me instead of lingering annoyance or resistance.
This is what Freedom looks like!
We truly do have free will.
Our free will doesn't favor or choose what is physically manifested or not. WE choose it through the thoughts and images expressed in our minds. These thoughts and images create our life.
Freedom will create more green lights in your life and this will automatically make you more creative.
We get to CHOOSE if we stop during our red lights or CREATE a different route and perspective.
Most of us are unconsciously stopping and going through the motions. But when you can SEE this. You are AWAKE. And then you feel unstoppable.
May you live every day FREELY and with lots of CREATIVE POSSIBILITIES!
I used to hold your hand so tight
When the waves would hit our feet
And now I see the space that time
Has made between you and me
You no longer need my hand
You stand tall and strong
Water knee deep. Your back to me
You are Curious. Enthralled
The space between us will only grow
As I learn to let go
And you yearn to see more
One day you will make a boat
And sail far away
While I watch from ashore
As bittersweet tears warm my face
Until that day when I will no longer feel far away
Because at that moment I won’t be standing here
I will be the ocean in which you sail
2021 (and 2020) has connected me to nature in a deeper way than ever before. Here are some things I have learned about the human experience through the incredible wisdom of Mother Nature.
Changing seasons show us that…
The season of Autumn shows us that…
Animals who hibernate show us that…
Animals who can camouflage show us that…
Trees that last 100s of years show us that…
Birds that pollinate show us that…
Metamorphosis shows us that…
Caterpillar’s chrysalis show us that…
… and it goes on and on and on. May you have a soul-enlightening and connecting-the-dots kind of new year ahead.
Patterns you react to most strongly in others and misperceive as their identity tend to be the same patterns that are also in you, but you are unable or unwilling to detect within yourself…
Anything that you resent and strongly react to in others is also in you. But it is no more than a form of ego... it is completely impersonal. It has nothing to do with who that person is, nor has it anything to do with who you are.
~ Eckart Tolle's A New Earth
The path of true consciousness requires us to really understand our egos, not just yours or mine, but the collective ego of humanity. And in my opinion, the hard work is set out for us with our kiddos. Because they test us. They trigger us. They challenge us.
And they will continue to challenge us until we are able to step aside and realize their egos are not who they are. Just like our egos are not who we are. And when we can really internalize this truth, then we can see our situations simply as events. Not emotions. Not reactions. JUST events.
A year ago, I was triggered by my five year old. She had just given her cousin, Jane, one of her special rings but told her not to wear it yet. Jane decided to wear it anyway. Soon afterwards, Jane lost the ring to which my daughter said, "See! This is why I didn't want you to wear it. I knew you would lose it." I saw Jane's face drown in sadness and I felt myself reach for her sensitive soul. My daughter was mean and cruel with her words. She did not show empathy. She blamed her.
I know that no child wants to be "bad". As Tolle referenced above, when we react in anger, our egos have been triggered. This is not our identity. This is not who she is. This simple fact helped me not react or judge her in that moment.
I also know that kids this age are acting out scenarios that they are still trying to understand and process. When she said what she said, she was recreating a situation that she had experienced before; a situation that probably didn't feel good for her.
Knowing this made me ask some important questions. Where did she learn to speak that way? School? Teachers? Other friends? Am I saying things like this?
That last question is perhaps the hardest one. "Am I saying things like this?" As soon as I said that, I felt my body tense up. I felt myself become defensive. I heard my thoughts say, Of course not. I would never say anything like this.
I realize how brilliantly Tolle described this human condition within me: Patterns you react to most strongly in others and misperceive as their identity tend to be the same patterns that are also in you, but you are unable or unwilling to detect within yourself.
So, I have been detecting...
Why? Because I am an empath. I feel deeply for others. I try my best not to hurt other's feelings, intentionally or unintentionally. I want to help nurture a kind and empathetic human in my daughter. The opposite of that triggers me. And according to Tolle, if it triggers me, it is also within me.
And he is right on!
Within just a few days, I noticed myself saying things like "This is why I told you not to..." "I knew you would drop that glass..."
Holy wow! She IS learning this from me. But what is wrong with what I am saying? It's true! I did tell her not to do this and she did it anyway. I have to point it out.
Well then, why did it bother me so much when she said the same thing to Jane? Because of the way she said it. Her words inflicted guilt on Jane. Jane was already feeling bad. She already felt guilty. Did it help her to have my daughter throw it at her face? Is it helping my daughter when I throw it in her face?
So, I have been trying to rephrase and reword a healthier way to say this. It's been over a year, and I finally feel like I have a concrete solution around this. Just this week it all finally clicked together.
Yesterday, we went to Ojai for a hike as a family. I held our nine-month old son on a carrier and Nora, our now six year old, wanted to climb a little hill. It had been raining so the ground was a little slippery. She was adamant about climbing that hill. My husband said no at first but then he finally succumbed and they climbed the hill. I heard her awe when she was at the top. He was encouraging her the entire way. Then they started to climb back down. The dirt was slippery, the rocks were loose, so their feet struggled to find their grip. This was hard. My husband started teaching her some awesome skills on how to fall the right way if she slips. I could sense he was worried about making sure she was safe. I could see my husband's patience being tested. When they were almost all the way down, they reached the steepest part. That's when I saw my hubby's animal brain turn on - the fight and flight had been activated - and he said "This is why I told you not to climb up. You need to listen to me next time." She looked confused and hurt. She even asked, "You said I couldn't go?"
I thank God for this moment because I was finally able to see it clearly.
At first, I felt myself get angry at my husband for saying that to her. I heard the narrative of irrational fear within me say that the awe and magnificence of her climb was being stripped away from her because of that one statement that inflicted guilt upon her.
But I know that: Anything that you resent and strongly react to in others is also in you.
So, I transformed my anger into reflection. I saw myself in my husband. I saw what was happening. We have been un-consciously saying these things because they have been said to us many times before. But I get to examine this and make sure my words are aligned with my intentions.
So I asked myself some questions.
What exactly are we saying when we say "This is why I told you not to climb up. You need to listen to me next time."
We are saying this is your fault. We are shifting our accountability and essentially putting the blame on the other.
Why do we want to find fault and blame in others?
Because of our own need to RIGHT.
Guess who is puppeteering that within us?
You guessed it! Our EGO.
Boom! Ego has been revealed. I SEE you. And thus, the ego no longer holds the power within me.
So, now let's get to the real work:
Conscious communication requires us to see our role in the situation. How can I rephrase this so it's about me and not my child?
Here is what I came up with:
Ego says: "This is why I told you not to climb up. You need to listen to me next time."
Consciousness says: "I should have listened to myself and not let us climb up. I will be braver next time."
You know, when I say these two statements out loud, I feel like people are mostly made to feel bad with the first one and they learn how to place the blame on the other.
Yet with the second one, people are allowed to hear some big introspective life lessons that they can carry with them for the rest of their life.
Something horrible happened
I am calm
I say my truth
I set a limit
The limit gone
My voice forgotten
Why am I not heard?
Do I need to be loud?
Why can’t you hear
The pain in my calm?
Dose the strength of my calm
Weaken the story of my pain?
I feel Resentment
finding a place to live within
It’s time Assertiveness stops feeling like a guest
So my Calm cannot be confused again
I had been working with my five year old on emotional intelligence tools for years now. We have read a ton of kids books on feelings. We have a calming corner for her to reference tools to help her shift her moods. I model it for her by narrating what I am doing internally to regulate my emotions. You name it and we have probably done it.
Yet, if there is one emotion she struggles to regulate the most, it is anger.
She is in a primitive reactionary state and literally cannot hear me when she is angry. I tried to focus on just one strategy... deep breaths. But she refused to take deep breaths in the midst of her roaring anger. That is until, I created this story for her.
Her school has a lovely philosophy for teaching kids such things. That is where I learned that stories are a powerful tool to inform self-discipline and values in our children. Why? Because it activates their imagination - the primary inner muscle that they are using in full capacity when they are 3-7 years old. It also helps them hear the messages better because it is not personalized or lectured. It is about someone else... a fictional character in the book. So our little ones can actually hear and see and understand and process every detail without having any defenses up.
So, finally one night in bed, I decided to make up a story about Mr. Potato Head who said and did unkind things when he got angry, until one day...
And to my surprise, my daughter asked me to tell her this story almost every night for a week or two and here is the best part... she did it! She got angry at a friend and she took some deep breaths. I didn't have to tell her anything or do anything. All, I had to do was tell her this story a few times and she internalized it.
So, here it is...
MR. POTATO HEAD
a story about anger, friendship, community, and deep breaths
Click here to listen to the Audio Story on Hatch Brighter
Mr. Potato Head lived in a large green forest, full of friends, hills, meadows and endless colors of nature. One day he was walking across a bridge to get to the other side of the hill when a Big Brown Squirrel accidentally bumped into him.
Mr. Potato Head stopped and his face got super red and he started to breathe really heavily. He did not feel like he could control his body and all of a sudden he saw his leg come up and kick Big Brown Squirrel.
Big Brown Squirrel was bewildered and he exclaimed "Mr. Potato Head, that was not kind."
To which Mr. Potato Head replied "You came in my way."
"You need to think of a different way to act when you are angry," said Big Brown Squirrel as she stomped away.
Well Mr. Potato Head just kept on walking until he finally reached the Orchard he had been craving the apples from. This Orchard was full of flying butterflies and unicorns that loved dancing around the tall apple trees. Mr. Potato Head spotted a bright red apple to eat and as he was just about to jump and reach for the apple, a flying unicorn flew in between the apple and Mr. Potato Head's hand, causing Mr. Potato Head to fall on the ground.
"I am so sorry," said the flying Unicorn.
Mr. Potato Head stopped and his face got super red and he started to breathe really heavily. He did not feel like he could control his words and all of a sudden he yelled at the Unicorn with a very loud voice and told him to never do that again.
The Unicorn's feelings were hurt and he sadly said "You need to think of a different way to talk when you are angry," and he flew away.
Mr. Potato Head grabbed the shiny apple and sat under the tree to enjoy it's deliciousness. As he was chewing the apple, he remembered he was supposed to meet his friends Ms. Strawberry and Ms. Raspberry at the river. He finished his apple and hurried to the river where he found them waiting on a boat. He hopped in and they enjoyed a wonderful boat ride. They were having a funny conversation when all of a sudden they noticed water starting to seep into the boat. There was a hole in the boat and it was starting to overflow.
Mr. Potato Head stopped and his face got super red and he started to breathe really heavily. He did not feel like he could control his thoughts and all of a sudden he shouted at Ms. Strawberry, "You forgot to fix the hole in the boat even though I reminded you five times this week. How could you!" He jumped off the boat and furiously swam away to shore.
When he turned around, he noticed that Ms. Strawberry and Ms. Raspberry had both jumped off the boat and were swimming to the opposite side of the shore angrily.
As he began to walk home, he noticed some uncomfortable feelings deep within.
But then he was distracted by a screaming sound for help. He ran past the river, through the Orchard, over the Hill, across the bridge and into the meadow, where he found a big pond.
"Help! Help!" said a little Fish as a big alligator chased it with it's jaws wide open.
Mr. Potato Head ran to the closest tree and found a huge branch on the floor. He ran back to the fish and extended the branch towards the fish. The fish jumped on the branch and Mr. Potato Head quickly pulled the branch towards him away from the alligator. He then quickly hid behind a bush. Since the alligator couldn't see the fish anymore, it swam away.
Mr. Potato Head came out of the bush and noticed that the fish wasn't speaking and realized she needed to breathe. So he threw the fish into the pond quickly hoping he wasn't too late. Fortunately, the fish jumped out of the water with a big smile and said "Thank You! You saved my life. I cannot breathe air like you can. I can only breath if I am under water. "
Mr. Potato Head shook his head and replied, "No, no. I am the one who is sorry. I am so used to breathing air out here that I forgot you needed to breathe in the water."
They started to chat and quickly became friends. Mr. Potato Head told the fish everything that happened that day and how he lost control of his body, words and thoughts.
The fish listened quietly and then said, "You know what my mom taught me to do whenever I feel super angry? She told me to take deep breaths, under water of course. I didn't believe her but then I tried it the other day when I got mad at my brother and it actually worked. I didn't say or do things I didn't mean after I took some deep breaths. Maybe you can try it too."
Mr. Potato Head thanked the kindly fish for the tip and they made plans to see each other again soon. He was happy to have made a new friend.
When he finally got home and crawled into bed, he remembered that tomorrow was the Forest Festival. This made him feel excited as he started to look forward to the next day.
When he awoke, he quickly got ready so he can be first in line for the popcorn stand at the Forest Festival.
He went outside and saw all his neighbors and friends walking to the Forest Festival. When Big Brown Squirrel saw Mr. Potato Head, she quickly turned around and walked the other way.
Then he saw the flying Unicorn from the Orchard walking along with his family. Mr. Potato Head felt bad for what he did the other day and waved at the Unicorn with a smile, but they did not wave back. The Unicorn's feelings were still hurt.
Off on the corner, he saw Ms. Strawberry and Ms. Raspberry playing some games together. He walked over to see if he could play with them but they said they were still upset with him as they walked away.
He started to feel very sad. He felt as if everyone in the forest was upset with him. He turned to find the popcorn stand and noticed that everyone had already started lining up for the popcorn. So he stood in line and waited his turn for the popcorn.
He waited and waited.
And then he waited and waited some more.
Finally, it was his turn and as he was just about to get his popcorn bag, little Baby Blueberry cut in line and took his popcorn instead.
The whole forest seemed to become quiet all of a sudden and everyone was staring at Mr. Potato Head and Baby Blueberry.
Mr. Potato Head stopped and his face got super red and he started to breathe really heavily. He did not feel like he could control his words or his thoughts or his body.
Baby Blueberry quivered looking up at Mr. Potato Head, afraid of what he was going to do.
To everyone's surprise, Mr. Potato Head started to take a big deep breath.
And then he took another deep breath.
And another one.
And then he said in a very stern yet calm voice, "It was my turn and that is my popcorn."
Baby Blueberry gave Mr. Potato Head his popcorn and everyone gasped in sweet surprise.
Ms. Strawberry and Ms. Raspberry ran over immediately to Mr. Potato Head and asked him to share the story of how he was able to finally control his anger. Mr. Potato Head smiled and started to tell them all about his new friend the fish and the alligator he saved the fish from.
Next to modeling, stories are perhaps the most powerful tool we can offer our kids to learn the big ideas in life.
When do you listen best? When someone tells you what you should do? Or when someone shares an experience (or story) with you?
Stories is the way to go! That’s why I am so passionate about them.
Through stories we activate the creative side of the brain, the home to our imaginations.
Stephen Spitalmy in his excerpt on “what is a story” shares that “Through hearing and digesting stories our heart and brain can learn to work together and we can become fully integrated human beings.”
It is our heart that determines the truths in life and that is what we need to connect to.
Children listen to stories with all of their senses. They are fully present. When we lecture or tell them what to do or not to do - they are no longer fully present because their guard and defenses are up.
Here’s an example of how a story may help.
Our daughter recently shared that when she proudly spoke to her friends about her brother, they laughed as soon as they heard his name. She said this made her feel bad and that she thinks we should change his name.
This is actually a personal trigger for me because I was made fun of most of childhood because of my unique name that’s hard to pronounce and spell. So I didn’t really have much to say here.
I shared this with my husband and he decided to share a story with her the next morning on their drive to school.
He shared Oprah Winfrey’s story, about how people made fun of her name throughout her childhood but she never changed her name and now everyone in the world knows who she is and that name is looked upon with so much admiration and inspiration.
Here’s the key thing though: he didn’t connect the dots for her. He just shared the story. This is not always the rule to follow in everything but when it comes to something that may feel like a fresh wound to them, it is best to just share the story. Why?
Because she will eventually make the connection herself. And that’s when it will be her own Truth. Making their own connections - that’s when the magic happens!
I can’t tell you how many times I have told children (including my own) to do or say something and it is as if I never even said it. But as soon as I make it less personal and instead share a story with a similar message, either a true story or one I made up, BOOM! They are instantly doing it or saying it or seeing it :)
Some of my favorite stories that I have made up for my daughter are one about Mr. Potato Head who learned to take a deep breath whenever he got mad. This was to help her finally start doing it herself.
And when my daughter stopped going to the pool because she’s afraid of bees, I made up a story about a little girl who saved Little Uncle Bee while he was drowning in the pool and that because of her kindness, now the bees make sure to come visit her garden every day so more flowers can grow as a way to say thank you.
These are also some of her favorite stories that she asks me to tell her again and again. And I am just delighted to slowly share them with you here on these blogs. Hope they bring joy and delight for you and your little ones.
I attended a phenomenal mental health workshop in which Daniel Siegel shared the above knowledge bomb.
I have often felt this way but to hear it being backed up by science and clinical studies just sealed the deal for me.
Dr Siegel shares that if you don't make sense of your life, then you are likely to pass on non-secure attachment to the next generation.
What does this look like? It’s when you yell at your child and you show that you have made sense of your triggers (or past) by saying, “I yell when you don’t listen to me because when I was a kid, my mom did the same thing. But that’s not right. I want to be better. Next time I raise my voice, can you remind me to speak to you with respect? I promise I won’t get mad when you say that.”
Or… “ I am sorry I made you feel like you are not good enough just because you didn’t get an A on your test. When I was younger, I felt like I had to get As so I can be liked and admired. But that’s not right. You are extraordinary just the way you are. And all that matters is that you work hard and do YOUR best. Please help me remember this next time I forget.”
You don’t need to feel overwhelmed about this though. You just need to start. Here’s an extremely simple example. Next time you are with your kids and you struggle to be completely PRESENT - as in not thinking about what you have to do next, or having a bunch of mind clutter, judgmental thoughts, anxiety, etc. - NOTICE IT. Be aware of your internal world. Look at your inability to be present straight in the eye.
Boom! You are awake now and the rest will flow… because when you start to ask the what, why and how questions of your internal world, you will uncover things about your life and past that will not only create a better version of you but also transform the generations of souls that come through you.
So, do take the time to reflect and make sense of your past when the time is right, that’s the ONLY way to avoid passing it forward.
My Outer-Self: B.S. from USC in Industrial & Systems Engineering, owner of Amna Dance, Co-founder of Hatch Brighter and You Matter Too.