Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Farewell to Mt. Nittany Institute

Last Saturday I received a letter from my school, Mt. Nittany Institute of Natural Health, stating that after this spring, it would cease to exist. I was completely stunned and confused. We had just rallied to save the school less than a year ago. It was one of 2,500 other small trade schools across the nation set to loose student funding and be forced to close. There was a huge outpouring of support and love. 110 support letters were written. 521 signatures signed to petition it's safety. It was a huge victory. In the end it was 1 of four to be reinstated nationwide and survive. A true miracle. And I say, "thank you" to Sallie Mae CEO Jim Eickhoff for that. But in the letter, my teacher, Anne (who I will always dearly love and respect), and owner of the school had chosen to follow her own smaller business pursuits and the school was to be closed and in addition, the building demolished.

I felt an instant panic set in. I LOVE this school. And however cliché, feel it is like air to me. And now additionally, there was the pressure that the first workshop that I would facilitate on my own would be one of the final classes taught in it's 15 history. It is an true honor but very scary as well. Now at this point, I want to add that, as a student, if I have learned anything, it is never to judge another's decision about what's best for their life's path. I stand firmly in that belief. This post is simply me putting to words my emotional journey.

The back story:
In 2007, I was led to the Holistic Health program at a time in my life when I was searching for new meaning. I went to the open house for another curriculum knowing that Holistic Health Practitioner Training was geared more toward people with a teaching, counseling, or nursing background. I was encouraged by a friend to attend that info session anyway. After the presentation, I literally started to cry it was so perfect. I had no idea that anything like that even existed. I asked if there was a chance that I could take the program even though my background was graphic design. Anne, my soon-to-be teacher, looked at me and smiled and said, "I think we can work something out."

Thus began the toughest year of my life. And the most cleansing. Four months into the program, I realized a divorce was necessary. My ex-husband is truly a caring and wonderful man but we needed to grow in our own separate ways. I came to realize sometimes it's better to leave while you still do have compassion for each other. And today we are still very good friends.

Six months into the program, I saw my class, composed of twelve of the most beautiful women I've ever met, emerge into pure strength and joy. Each overcoming personal obstacles they'd chosen to work through for the year. We were required to walk the talk. Every class weekend, we dove into the depths of the deepest, scariest, most unloved parts of ourselves and cried and supported each other through our catharses.

As the stages of my divorce moved forward, I changed back to my former last name, and I began what I believed was my first new relationship in twelve years. It turned out it was not meant to be. It was at that point everything hit me with an unimaginable force. This was my creation. And I needed to take ownership of it. Every last horrible bit. I got up every morning with such despair that I could hardly believe that I didn't simply cease to exist. I was alone for the first time in my life. Most of the labels that I'd identified myself with for 12 years were gone. I'd lost my name. I felt completely directionless and grieved to my friend that I realized that I didn't know how to not belong to someone. He replied, "you belong to all of us." Anne said to me, "you belong to you."

Through it all, my girls were supporting me and I was able to work thorough the pain in class exercises and through personal counseling sessions with Anne. I KNEW in my heart that I'd made the right decision. I just needed to embrace the lessons that go along with fearless living.

I woke up on January 1st, 2008 feeling as though the sun had come back into my life. I became completely euphoric with the idea of being alone. And once I embraced it, I was unstoppable. Everyday was total joy. It was the first time in my life I felt pure freedom and totally limitless. And it was then, after I allowed the joy to return, that I began dating my new sweetie. And I graduated.

My classmates, my teacher, and her assistant were/are my beloved sisters. We knew more about each other's struggles and longings than anyone else we'd known. And it was a beautiful honor. Many of us continued to take workshops there, feeling like we had come back to a loving home each time.

By now, I'm sure you can imagine why receiving that letter was so difficult and why this school means so much to me. I don't know what I would have become without it. I thought of the "Miracle Man" from "The Secret." While in the hospital with a crushed windpipe, he kept telling himself, "breathe deep." Eventually he was able to breathe on his own. Because he believed he could. I thought about Mt. Nittany Institute, my "air" and came to a realization. For the past two years, I've been growing stronger and more centered. I've been confidently learning to breathe on my own. And I've been helping others to do the same. The school had already done it's share of my work. I had taken that knowledge with gratitude and built a new, amazing life. It was ok to say goodbye. I sat very still, with the letter in my hand knowing that this is just one more beginning in a life that's had many. I shut my eyes and said, "Breathe deep Stacy." "Breathe deep."

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Never Talk to Strangers? Surely You Can't Be Serious.

Of course we've all heard this from the time we were young. And for a small, unattended child, that's probably good advice. But as with so many scripts in our adult lives, what we have learned or found to be useful or true as young children do not serve us well into adulthood. Just to get this out of the way, of course do use your intuition and proper caution. If a person or situation doesn't feel safe, do not engage. I am not talking about following healthy caution. I'm referring to an aversion to the unknown. And that includes people you don't know.

I have the opposite problem. I love talking to strangers. Love it. Some days I simply cannot help myself if I'm in an elevator or in line at the grocery store. I've been told it's a Pennsylvania thing but I can't say for sure. Last year, my sweetie and I were in DC and I felt the need to stop a man in the metro and tell him he was dragging his coat tie. My sweetie politely told me I really should not talk to strangers there, it wasn't safe. I know very little about DC but I couldn't wait to get back to PA where I was promptly able to have an informative discussion about the best type of Band-Aid with a woman in the first aid aisle at Target.

Here's the beauty of engaging in a short conversation or showing a small, spur-of-the-moment kindness to someone you don't know. You will probably never see them again. There is no pressure from either of you. There's no need to impress. You are also without the burden of knowing that person's history. Sometimes it's hard to show compassion to someone who has hurt you or hurt someone you dearly love. It can be draining to show patience with someone who has let you down over and over. It can challenging to keep an open heart to someone who you've continued to watch make destructive choices. Strangers are free of these transgressions.

You don't know them. They could be saints or swindlers but at the moment you meet them, those labels don't exist. And that's what makes it easy to love them. They are a perfect place to flex your compassion muscles. You don't have to overcome the barriers of judgment that get placed on those you know. That man that you may have helped recover a dropped bag of groceries scattered in the parking lot? He could have just said some very uncharitable remarks to his wife before he left the house. Experiencing a compassionate gesture from a stranger may change his attitude and he may return home with an apology. Someone else who knew this man may have avoided him and left him to help himself. This would have then become a negative experience, reinforcing in his mind that the world is full of hate. Also note that for some, because of previous poor life choices, compassion from a stranger may be the only place for them to remember what it feels like.

You have no idea how you may effect those you meet. And there is a pressure-free safety that comes with that too. There is no way to evaluate your impact. It could be monumental or slight. No one is going to follow up and critique you. As long as you act with love you cannot make a mistake. And I can tell you that I have made changes to my day because of a chance encounter with a stranger who changed my attitude for the better. And I have begun talking to people who started out standing alone with sour faces and left with smiles.

Also remember, strangers could end up being your new best friend, business contact, or the love of your life. They could even provide you with an answer to a problem you're having. Anything! It's limitless. The Universe is always aligning you with people and events that you need to grow so you need to pay attention.

So just try it. Maybe just a simple, "How's it going?" the next time you're in a long line. And be sure to smile and mean it. And try it when you are in a good mood. Some days, you just aren't in the right frame of mind. No need to stress over it. Lastly, remember you will experience life as you perceive it. If you expect the kindness of strangers, you will surely be met with exactly that.

Happy New Year everyone :-)