“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.”

“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.” (~ Michael Altshuler)

When I read this quote on a friend’s Facebook page, I immediately nodded in agreement. In the world of constant inspirational messaging, these pearls of wisdom are shared and consumed with gusto, and yes, I’m one guilty participant. High from the fix of yet another motivational quote, I saw myself as a butt-kicking pilot: Confident, strutting with purpose, in my aviator sunglasses that reflected the rising sun’s rays. In my mind, I even looked sharp: The creases on my uniform pants were so tightly pressed that a fly would cut its sorry butt should it mindlessly land on my leg.

The image faded as quickly as it popped up, however. I wondered: “Is it always bad that time flies?” I distinctly recall sitting next to a friend’s uncle at party. The table was big. The room was small. The guests resembled vertical lasagna layers, melting into each other presence. The food was abundant and deliciously looking but I had to be careful. Breathing was hazardous thanks to the stink of moth repellent, alcohol fumes, and belches (probably poisonous) coming from my neighbor’s generous belly. He wanted to make me laugh, while I wanted time to move at the speed of light. Never again do I take a corner seat at a table without an emergency exit path. Ever!

But I diverged, back to the quote. Is it always good that we’re the pilots? The problem is expectations. Once we’re up in the air, we’re expected to

  • Know the optimal route to the destination: Be a roaring success as a student, worker, parent, friend, lover, provider, and a plethora of other social roles we are to play throughout our lives;
  • Be mindful of the passengers’ comfort: Otherwise, those around us will eagerly remind us with shame, anger, guilt, and exclusion that their needs aren’t met; and,
  • Not forget that the fuel tank isn’t unlimited: The clock—biological, social, mental—is ticking and every single count takes us closer to the imminent hard landing.

An autopilot can take us only up to a certain point. The thing is we don’t arrive to this world trained to be ace pilots, not even mediocre ones. Did you get a manual on how-to-be that roaring success??? I haven’t! We get on a plane that’s already in motion. But it’s quite scary to acknowledge that we’re just students with a “pilot-in-training” permit in a shaky hand. The permit with a message buried in the fine print: “Expect major and minor fuckups” — or “life lessons” in the language of inspiration. And it’s up to us to do something about them and to choose to chart our own course–however imperfect. And, perhaps, this is the good news.

Photo credit: raymondclarkeimages.

Thoughts on love and relationships

Since primordial times we are eager to hear a good story, especially if it’s about love. Stories have the power to transform and inspire and, for sure, they teach us lessons. One such story – “The Gift: A Different Love Story” – is a Chilean short animation that portrays an ordinary couple that falls in love. Here’s the plot:

To prove his feelings, the man gives his love interest the gift of his heart. The woman cherishes it, and she is the center of the man’s attention. Their days pass in dancing, serenading, and eye-gazing. But as the magic of “falling in love” fades away, the couple goes back to business as usual: he chases skirts and she obsesses over him not paying attention to her. Both are getting frustrated and they toy with each other’s feelings. Eventually, the woman walks away taking the man’s heart with her. The man is now heart-broken, or more precise, with no heart in his empty chest. He’s sends electromagnetic waves of misery out to the world. Until one day, another woman comes along and saves him by splitting her own heart in two. They are now happy again, each having a piece of her heart.

[A collective Aww.. may or may not follow here]

The animation, screened at 101 festivals and with awards or nominations from 20 of them, has been described as a “beautiful film teaching us about relationships and love.” But what exactly does it teach us? Here’s my (unconventional) take:

  1. To love someone, you have to give up your own heart/soul/self as a proof.
  2. Falling in love is a passing stage, followed by the business as usual.
  3. Men are just destined to look at other women; plus, they need no attention from their partners to feel good about themselves.
  4. Women only care about their appearance and rely on men for their worth.
  5. Someone has to save you from your broken heart, while you have no role in your healing.

Yikes!

If this is indeed the case, guess what would “The Gift 2” be about? Exactly! And why wouldn’t it? As Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” [Meanwhile, I transform into a tomato ninja deflecting rotten tomatoes thrown at me by the fans. Phew, dodged that stinky, fat one!]

I wish that the film with the subtitle “A Different Love Story” picked cues from ancient philosophers to modern philosophers and from fiction to positive psychology to portray a truly different way of loving and connecting:

I trust – and maybe even challenge – the director Julio Pot and his creative team to unleash their creativity, which is clearly abundant, to empower us to be different from the oh-so typical romance story.

Kiai!!!

 

Photo credit: Natalie Lucier.

Finding “The Sweet One” (excerpt)

Enjoy an excerpt from Finding “The Sweet One”, a story from my new book Spiritual Hottie’s Diary: Tantalizing Tales of Steamy Self-Discovery inspired by my grandmother.

The bells of Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence’s crown jewel, chime eight times. I have just finished doing my sun salutation on the balcony of a charming B&B not far from the Basilica. The small garden under my balcony is in full bloom with red and yellow tulips. I close my eyes and stretch my arms toward the morning sun, offering my embrace to its warm rays. Today will be gorgeous. I’m so happy I came here. I can dance. In fact, I should dance!

With my eyes still closed, I join The Village People to act out a spirited rendition of the chorus from “YMCA.” As I open my eyes to see if anyone has been watching, I see that I have an audience, a guy in dark blue jeans and a green T-shirt standing in the middle of the garden, staring at me. Oops. I stare back, caught in the act. He adjusts his glasses, and then he smiles in a most disarming way and claps. But I am not a grateful performer in this moment. I don’t repeat any of my splendid moves. Neither do I bow to my appreciating audience of one. No. Instead, I stick out my tongue and sneak back into my room.

Well done, Yvonne! Show your tongue to strangers. All right, let’s leave the balcony performance behind and get dressed, grab a bite, and hit the streets. Botticelli’s Venus and Michelangelo’s David are waiting!

I think of my maternal grandma, Catherine. Every time she and her gray-haired lady friends took off on yet another road trip, she told me and my Mom the same thing right before she left: “Yvy, Cindy, do the world a favor. Find what you’re passionate about and share your passions with others.”

Ever since they graduated high school back in the early 1950s, my grandma and her three friends—no matter what twists and turns they were facing in their respective lives—fulfilled their passions by visiting one new state together. It was amazing to see my grandma each time she returned from one of those trips, looking and sounding 10 years younger.

“How does she do this?” I wondered. “What’s her secret?”

Grandma always sent postcards, complete with a story—where imagination tangoed with truth—scribbled in her tiny, cursive handwriting. Her last one remains my most precious. It shows a seagull flying over the ocean waves, and it came just before she passed away from diabetes a decade ago.

“May you stay forever inspired, lighthearted, and passionate, Yvy, as you are. And, remember, spontaneity is your best companion, no matter where you go, even if the destination is Heaven.”

I may not have inherited her beauty, but I will always treasure grandma’s adventurous spirit—along with her postcard collection. Thanks to them, ever since childhood I have been hooked on reading books that travel through space and time.

I recently became similarly entranced by a book that my college friend Olivia sent me for my birthday three weeks ago: The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie, an epic tale of an incredibly beautiful and mysterious princess who commanded power over the men she loved. The interconnected fates of these people in Italy and India teased me with magic and intrigue, tragedy, triumph, and passionate lovemaking.

So I followed my grandma’s advice. With a week off before my summer internship starts, I take the money I’ve saved working part-time as a paralegal and as soon as my last exam at Georgetown Law School is over I’m on a plane to Italy. And here I am, making a fool of myself on my very first day.

Guess who I bump into in the breakfast room? The stranger from the tulip garden, that’s who. Now he’s wearing a tall, white chef hat and a white apron with a nametag that says Ratul. Sounds like an Indian name, but this guy is fair-skinned and light brown. He doesn’t look like he is from India. Odd…

~

For the rest of this story and nine more, please buy my book “Spiritual Hottie’s Diary: Tantalizing Tales of Steamy Self-Discovery” at http://bit.ly/SHDiaryAmazon.

From Amazon reviewers:

Kirin: “I’ve loved reading this on my mobile phone instead of checking email or Facebook, the time waiting in line or for the bus passes too fast! It’s a good thing no one reads over my shoulder as there are some very steamy, fun scenes that quickly sweep you away from any drudgery in your daily life. And it’s easy and oh-so-much fun to pick up where you left off :)”

Karl: “For a brief moment I was tempted to write that I enjoyed reading the book “even though I am a man”, but then it occurred to me that Janna (and Yvonne) may have succeeded in blurring that line of separation as well. So, instead, I will simply say that the book is wonderfully creative, daring, intelligent, fun, and also a little naughty. Well done & highly recommended!”

 

Photo credit: simpleinsomnia.

Spiritual Hottie’s Diary

Hey, you, Spiritual Hottie!

My new spiritual erotica book Spiritual Hottie’s Diary: Tantalizing Tales of Steamy Self-Discovery will be out in fewer than 5 days. It was a loooong, hard at times, fun for most of the time, journey to get to this point, but here we are 😉

Spiritual Hottie’s Diary introduces readers to Yvonne, a young woman we can all relate to, as she learns to rise above life’s challenges and embrace a fuller, richer life overflowing with amazing spirituality and sizzling sexuality. Think about this collection of ten stories as a happy hour thrown by Deepak Chopra and Samantha Jones from Sex and the City. Not as unlikely a duo as you might think.

Inspired by some of the world’s best masters of self-discovery and seasoned with sensual pleasures, Yvonne’s whimsical adventures will inspire you to begin discovering your own inner knowledge, radiance, and sensuality.

The book will be released on February 26, 2015. Here are two reviews about my book:

“When was the last time you put spiritual and sexual in the same sentence? Spiritual Hottie’s Diary offers a unique and unforgettable view of the journey to bodacious enlightenment.”
~ Marci Shimoff, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author of Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out and Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul

“Women’s erotica is rarely portrayed in such a fun and enlightening way. Spiritual Hottie’s Diary is the book that every spiritual, sexual woman wishes had been written about her!”
~ EM Richter, Author of The Secret of the Storyteller and Founder of BraveEcstaticWoman.com

Interested? Then, give me a chance to entertain and empower you! Please buy my book by clicking on your country of residence:

And please write a review either on Amazon or on Goodreads; each reviewer will get a cool prize 😉

Xoxoxo,

Janna & Yvonne

P.S. You don’t need to have Kindle to read an e-book; simply get a free Kindle app by clicking here. This can go on your phone, laptop, iPad, etc.

 

 

Forgiveness is a way to a free heart

I could write pages and pages on what others have said or done to me that wasn’t fair. Or haven’t said or done for me, even if I deserved it. Can you relate? For a long time, I held a grudge against a girl whose name was also Janna. She transferred into my high school in our junior year. Not only did she mess up my one-of-a-kind-name-status in my class by becoming the “other Janna,” she also became the “other woman” in the life of my high school sweetheart, who eventually married her. A double blow for a teenager’s fragile heart!

Years later I chose to forgive her, along with another woman who had an affair with my ex-husband. I chose to forgive these women, my exes, and many others even before they ask me for forgiveness. Seriously, we may never cross each other’s paths again. We may not be able to find the right words even if we do. So now what? Shall I be caught forever between yesterday and tomorrow, waiting for an apology? Shall I be stuck in a neutral position not being able to reverse or drive forward? Who’s the driver of my life, after all?

Let’s be clear, I am not doing this for their benefit or on their behalf. I have my own life to live. But now, looking at these people and experiences, I’m immensely grateful for where I am, where I am not, and for what they enabled me to learn, including the capacity to forgive.

Do you have someone to forgive too? Do it. We all do the best from where we are in life at any given moment. And sometimes it’s not our best moment either.

A happiness journal, jar, box — whatever works!

We all have had the blues at one time or another. Can we completely avoid them? Maybe, but I’m not there to speak from the experience. Maybe one day, or not. What I can say is that when I feel blue, I turn to my happiness journal to read about and remind myself that I’ve had many joyful and fun moments too, and that another one is on its way. Below’s my very first entry from 2014. I wrote it after a yoga class that was held in a kindergarten, so there were a bunch of boisterous youngsters as well as adults:

The class just ended. I’m still on the mat with my eyes closed and body completely relaxed. And I’m at peace with life. The kids are now running around and in-between the yoga mats. They’re exercising their vocal cords. Loudly. A few balls are kicked around. I can hear them bouncing on the hardwood floor. The parents talk about the class, the weather, the kids running amok. These are the expressions of life, and they don’t bother or annoy me. Hmm… interesting…

I feel serene. I feel blissful. Is it how nirvana feels like? No matter how unleashed everything is around me, I’m at peace with life. Wow, what a feeling!

I read today a FB post by Elizabeth Gilbert who shared her own idea: “Get yourself a jar (or a box, or a vessel of any kind) and every day you grab a slip of paper and write down on it the happiest moment of the day…What continually amazes me is what ends up on the slip of paper every day. Not awesome events, not huge achievements — usually just a small and tiny thing, a moment of awareness…that moment when you step outside and between the house and the car you get hit on the top of the head with a beam of sunlight, and suddenly feel awash with gratitude simply for being alive, and you think, “Yes. This is it.””

Imagine how many records of happy and joyful insights we can collect over a year, two, a lifetime, which otherwise may slip away into oblivion to give space to more immediate experiences and events. My happiness journal is becoming my true treasure box.

How do you keep record of your happy moments? Maybe it’s time to start your own happiness journal or a jar? December 31st is a great day to start, don’t you think? Happy 2015!!!

Good-bye my Little Blueberry, or how to cope with loss through writing

Last Saturday my friend Lauren and I went to a one-woman show Loveland, a whimsical and authentic tragicomedy about family relationships and family loss. The show was funny and touching, and the writer/performer Ann Randolph was fantastic. As a bonus, she offered to lead a short writing workshop after the show. The workshop theme was how to cope with loss through writing. In a sense, the show itself was born as Ann was dealing with the death of her farther.

Ann gave a short intro from which I remembered three ideas:

1) Listen to the voice that speaks about your feelings and put everything down on paper;

2) Let go of result as there are no expectations for an outcome of such writing; and

3) If nothing comes to mind, keep writing “What’s next? What’s next? What’s next?” until words/sentences, however eloquent or disjointed, start flowing again.

Then she set the timer for seven minutes. With the topic of loss in my mind, here’s what I wrote:

Holding the little blueberry in my hand. It’s still not fully juicy, it still had patches of green in it, but it’s already round and had shape. It’s smaller than my thumbnail, but it’s perfect to me. How perfect my Little Blueberry was! It’s mine and I’m hers, and we were one. She was swimming inside me, growing one cell at a time, and I imagined it and marveled at the sight. And then, like a page torn from a notebook with loud, sharp, screeching sound, she got separated. My Little Blueberry. Why? Why to go? What was wrong? And, what’s next? What’s next? What’s next?

Next was loss, described to myself as medically and detached as I could do it at that time: “30% of all first pregnancies result in miscarriage. It happens.”

But I didn’t do anything to mis-carry! I didn’t miss my doctor appointments; I didn’t miss eating healthy food or taking prenatal vitamins; I didn’t miss-… whatever the verb should be. I did everything I could. Like I did everything I could – at that time and space – with my marriage… which also ended with the “miss”-prefix. Miscarriage. “50% of marriages end up in divorce.” Like a page torn by a careless hand, abruptly and forcefully, my Little Blueberry was gone, and so was my Love.

What’s next? What’s next? What’s next? Time will heal…

I was stunned about what came up. I hid it for too long. As Ann said earlier, it’s often the case that when we let ourselves to write about a tragic experience, a loss, a broken heart, the feelings we didn’t know existed or didn’t want to acknowledge, do come through. I need to speak up. And to trust that time will heal these losses, and writing is one way to help me in the process. 

Don’t bury your pain alive, write about it

Of all New Year Eve celebrations in my life, this year’s was the most remarkable: To meet and greet 2014 New Year, my friend and I went to a meditation retreat at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. Stay tuned on the five reasons why you might want to book a visit to the center soon! But for now, I’d like to share an exercise that we did in a writing workshop on December 31st.

At 10:30pm sharp, Lara, our writing instructor, asked everyone to sit in a large circle. Each of us, equipped with a writing pad and a pen, looked as studious as 30 adults could be at a workshop. Lara started our class by talking about how writing can be used not only to express our current feelings, ideas, and hopes, but also to help letting go of the past. She talked about sanskaras, which according to Hinduism are the imprints left on us by previous experiences. By the tone of her voice, I figured we wouldn’t be chatting about good experiences from the past. “Unresolved emotions are never buried dead,” Lara summed up, “but writing carries healing powers.”

Our first task was to spend five minutes to write down a list of painful and frustrating sanskaras. I came up with nine, and my laundry list would’ve been longer had I had more time. The first one, my strongest nemesis, had been buried alive a very long time ago. And as before, it sprang to life with the vengeance of a fresh fighter thrown into a seemingly never-ending battle between the guilt and self-forgiveness.

“Remember, you have karmic dues to pay for your awful judgment and shameful behavior!!! That man was not yours to desire.”

“Stop it!!! It happened more than 20 years ago. I know it was stupid. I was young and insecure. I already asked for forgiveness.”

The familiar dialog could’ve gone on and on. Suddenly, I felt sad and overwhelmed by a wave of the old emotions.

I quickly scanned the room. All I could see was frowned faces, tight jaws, and stiffened poses. The mood got gloomy. Some people had tears in their eyes. Others openly sobbed. A box of Kleenex, which was passed around, got lighter with every pass. I looked at our instructor and mentally asked her, “And where do we go from here?”

“Please, take the next five minutes and write about your first crush.”

“First crush? Really?” I was perplexed by the next task, but went along. Here’s what I jotted down:

Alex, my thirteen-year old neighbor, had blues eyes and brown hair, which put him in the category of Alain Delon, a French heart throb and film star whose movie “The Mask of Zorro” swept the female population of Europe off their feet. Alex wasn’t a Zorro with unmatched sword skills. Nor was he French. But it didn’t matter to my impressionable twelve-year-old self, because to me his shyness had a certain je ne sais quoi and his clumsy way of walking resulted from riding his black stallion all day long.

Besides, like any true Frenchman, Alex knew how to intrigue a woman. He ignored me the entire summer, but then showed up with an utterly romantic note that said:

1.       Burn this after reading.

2.       I’d like to be your friend. 

I promptly followed his first instruction. Though since I didn’t have any matches on me, I ate his note instead. I also had no idea what to do with him as a friend. But I knew that that summer Alex has stolen my heart.

When the timer went off after five minutes of writing, I emerged from this trip down memory lane as a new person. “Oh, Alex, you were so cute, and we were so innocent.” A big, dreamy smile spread across my face thanks to the memory of this sweet, heart-warming experience that I also had in my life.

When Lara asked for volunteers to share our stories, many people raised their hands. And so did I. The stories ranged in length and subject; some were funny, others were bitter sweet. I was impressed by how much a person (including me!) could write in just five minutes. I also noticed that the mood somehow shifted and became lighter. This was good because we ran out of Kleenex on the first round!

Now when we were asked to write more about our sanskaras, I approached the task from a different angle – from the place of strength that I gained from all of my experiences. I used writing for healing. In my much more uplifted state of mind, I wrote:

I can’t undo having a secret tryst with that man. Even if I wanted to undo it really-really badly. So holding to the guilt tight as if it’s my long-lost relative doesn’t do any good to him, his family, to the weather outside, etc.,… or to me. Mistakes are just that – mis-takes. Something that we think as fuck-ups later on when we grow up and wise up. I had fun writing a story about Alex and reading it out loud. Why did I read it to the group? Because I like seeing others laugh. I like it when they forget about their own sanskaras even for that moment. This is my strength and it comes from the heart. That’s where my sanskara resides as well. I found it and I practice self-forgiveness.

How do you resolve your sanskara? Do you have any left? 😉

Who leads your life’s orchestra?

*** Watch a video blog ***

About two weeks ago, I woke up on a beautiful Sunday morning in a great mood. The sun was shining through my big windows. The birds were chirping outside. I slept well, feel refreshed, and was eager to get up because my friend and I were going blueberry picking. Let the summer burst in colors and flavors!

To keep this positive energy flowing, I got up swiftly and danced my way to the kitchen to get some good breakfast. As I was doing my disco dance moves, I sang a long-forgotten song from a summer camp about the river, the boat, and sailing with friends. So I walked into my kitchen, and

Whoa! What the heck?         

A big chunk of the wall right above the dishwasher was swollen like the sail in the wind. That’s not the type of sail I was singing about!

With foreboding, I poked the paint with the knife, and sure enough, the water squeezed through.

Darn!

I started my investigation of what has happened, but I couldn’t figure out if it was my pipe or if the water seeped through the wall from upstairs. I realized that, as the first-time home owner, I had no idea whom to call, and how quickly, in cases like this. I had water dripping and I couldn’t stop it. In fact, I was totally lost.

To make a long story short, two weeks later after countless phone calls and visits from our building’s mechanic, the water leak was found and stopped. By now, I resembled Edvard Munch’s The Scream, while my kitchen wall looked like a forged watercolor painting with blurry circles and a few moss-looking patches that the mechanic swore wasn’t mold. His team was supposed to come tomorrow to start fixing the wall, etc.

On the way from the office home, I felt tired, frustrated, and sorry for myself. I boarded the metro train and plopped on the chair. After a while, I noticed a tall man dressed in a gray suit and a burgundy bow tie who is standing across the aisle.

He looks like a conductor. Maybe is going to the Kennedy Center to perform at a concert. Interesting…

The guy had a soft smile lingering on his face. He breathed deeply as if with a deliberate effort. In my mind, he was about to raise his baton to lead his musicians through an amazing, uplifting piece. I wondered how the audience would respond.

Suddenly, I noticed a thin, white tube coming out from a small handbag he held that went under his shirt.

Wow! The guy is walking around with a tube stuck in his body, and he is content as if he won a prestigious music award!

It dawned on me that he was just happy to be alive. This thought put my kitchen problems in a very different light. Some say: “Change your attitude change your life.” How true! My dream to have my own place did come true. And now I have a home that I can take care of. Water leaks and other life challenges will come and go. I cannot completely avoid them. But I can choose to play my own music: I can get a few phone numbers of reliable contractors from friends and colleagues; I can get the building manager involved right away, not on day 10; and I can coordinate my efforts with other affected neighbors.

Like this man, I can choose to be the conductor of my own life’s orchestra.

What kind of music do you choose to play?

 

Photo credit: Corey Seeman.

Is this a path with a heart?

Some decisions are hard. Others — like saying good-bye to a boyfriend who is loving and caring but with whom you are not in love — are almost impossible to make. The fear of the uncertain future is overwhelming. The realization that a breakup will hurt both persons’ feelings comes along with an oppressive sense of guilt and regret.

Yet, how else do we stay true to ourselves? “Anything is one of a million paths. Therefore, a warrior must always keep in mind that a path is only a path; if he feels that he should not follow it, he must not stay with it under any conditions. His decision to keep on that path or to leave it must be free of fear or ambition. He must look at every path closely and deliberately. There is a question that a warrior has to ask, mandatorily: ‘Does this path have a heart?'” By Carlos Castaneda (“The Teachings of Don Juan”)

(Photo courtesy of Flickr user frenchdoc)