I am no stranger to tough times. The road to personal growth and success is often paved with hardships, tragedies and lessons. There have been times I’ve deluded myself into believing because of my holistic training and support network I can ‘handle’ anything with ease and grace. Time and time again however, I am reminded I cannot control what life has in store and I’M HUMAN which means I WILL experience fear, grief, outrage, love, jealousy and joy just like every other human on the planet. I have surrendered to this long ago but the past three weeks have truly tested me in many ways. Yes, there have been times of excruciating pain and complete chaos but there has also been times of immense peace and quiet serenity. I am learning to love all moments as they are part of the deal. The good, the bad and even the really ugly.
It all started harmlessly enough as I prepared to serve on another mission with my Viridian family, the Sustainable Lifestyle Company I have been with for 8 years. It was the last of Viridian’s 7 Continent’s in 7 years initiative and I have been blessed to be on nearly all of them. To check out some great footage and come around the world with us, click on the picture. These are earned rewards trips for leaders in Viridian, but unlike most companies our reward trips have a service component since we are mission based. We travel to different Continents and partner with organizations working in the local area to improve life for people or serve the planet. We have traveled to Brazil, Africa, Indonesia, Fiji, Nicaragua, Albania and most recently to New Mexico. While some of these locations sound incredible, let me assure you the work was laborious and most areas difficult to access. We have traveled by plane, boat, donkey and on foot through all kinds of terrain and conditions to reach these remote locations. Our projects have included building a library, reforestation & replanting projects, bringing clean water to villages, installing solar panels on homes and community centers completely cut off from the grid and even building a soccer field for children. The work is challenging but extremely rewarding and I have been humbled by the unbelievable perspective I have gained. To be fully transparent it’s not ALL back breaking work as the second part of these trips are a rewarding in a different way. I’ve been on Safari, celebrated and taken part in rituals of indigenous people and pampered at some of the most exclusive resorts in the world. Work hard, play hard!
I knew what I was getting into and was VERY excited about the upcoming trip! The only thing tempering my excitement was my 93 Grandfather, Papa as I call him, was in the hospital and I hated leaving while he was in that condition. To some this might not seem unusual, a 93 year old in the hospital, but understand this is a man who had his full mental faculties. He was driving himself to church, was often found dancing in the kitchen to songs he was delighted to have ‘Alexa’ play him and was so full of life it was hard to believe his age. Also we are a CLOSE Italian family, well close doesn’t quite describe our family as it’s said we only travel in a packs. I was born in a home next to Papa, grew up learning his beautiful life lessons and enjoyed holidays, regular days and everything in between with him and our loving family. I am the oldest of his 14 grandchildren and ALL my cousins feel more like siblings. This summer my Husband Matt and I spent days on end in the sunshine soaking up Papa’s wisdom and laughing at his silly jokes while we cooled off in the pool. He was one of my favorite people on the planet, the patriarch of our family and a pillar of the community. Before I left I prayed, talked to my family and decided it was best I go. It was a VERY difficult decision but I felt this trip was somehow connected to my Grandfather who was a man of service and taught us to help those less fortunate. He LIVED his teachings and served everyone and everything (animals & plants included) he ever came across, was active in conservation and human rights before they were trendy and had a heart large enough to spread his unconditional love far and wide. On this upcoming trip our goal was to provide running water to families and coincidentally Papa discovered a natural spring in our town with his father where fresh spring water still runs for many people to enjoy. I’ve heard that people travel from over 2 hours away just to get this spring water!
So we packed our bags and Matt and I flew to New Mexico. From the moment I stepped on the reservation I knew this experience was striking a deep chord. It’s difficult to compare one trip to the next as the locations, people and communities have been vastly different but I couldn’t believe this level of poverty not only exists but is being IGNORED in our own Nation. It’s not a remote community in the middle of the jungle or on top of a mountain where you could justify or distance yourself somehow, we are in the richest Country in the world and 20 minutes away from a large town where Walmart’s, gas stations and restaurants line the streets. Unfortunately, Native America’s don’t have access to the resources or kind of life they are so painfully forced to see every day. They are one of the most underserved, unnoticed and discriminated against people in the United States, yet we rarely hear about their struggle. It seems there is no room in mainstream media for their voice. It’s tragic enough that most of them were slaughtered when America was settled and marched to live on desolate barren land, but now they are forced to live in inhumane conditions with little to NO access to the basic necessities the rest of us take for granted. Imagine a family of 7 living in two small rooms with no running water or electricity. We were shocked by the living conditions but not surprised AT ALL by the huge hearts, wise words, love of family and stoic pride of these incredible people who have been through so much.
The first home I worked on was Herman’s. He is a 77 year Navajo man who lives alone, has never had running water and uses an outhouse far from his home. He is looking very stoic in this picture but we got lot’s of smiles from Herman all day as he stoked the fire to keep us warm from the pouring rain.
Below is the home of Art, Sheila and their 5 children. This is their ENITRE home, outhouse and water system they were using before we arrived. The blue barrels got refilled every 2 WEEKS and they were forced to supplement any way they could. Can you imagine a house of 7 living off of that much water for weeks in these conditions??? It’s LESS than most americans use in 1 day. From what I’ve heard from the rest of our group this was one of the nicer homes on the reservation. Here is a video of that day if you’re interested: CLICK HERE
I was equally moved by the commitment of Our Partner Organization Dig Deep- http://www.digdeep.org/ that was founded by an incredible visionary George. He realized the need in our own country and now his life’s work is to bring water to Native Americans. I was so impressed by his team, especially Emma the American Projects director, for opening our eyes and allowing us to be part of the solution. She is Navajo and gave me some incredible insight into the history, culture and hearts of the people. My hope is to raise awareness for this organization and many like it to inspire more people to take action and stand up for the rights of the FIRST people! I know this is a cause I will personally be a part of for many years to come and TOGETHER WE CAN fix this and ensure EVERY citizen of the richest country in the world has access to the basic necessities. I am personally committed to this organization and their mission to improve the lives of Indigenous people. This is the first of many times you will hear about this issue. This trip ignited a fire so deep within that it’s difficult to express. I WILL NOT rest until the wrongs against these Earth Keepers, Shamans, Medicine Men and Women, Artists and Visionaries are made right. It might not impact you like it did me, but if nothing else let’s all be a bit more grateful each time we shower, wash a dish or flush a toilet as it’s a luxury so many around the globe and in the US don’t have.
As fate would have it just as we finished the work portion of the trip and headed to Sedona, Arizona for the relaxation part of the trip, I got the devastating news that Papa left this Earth to begin his Eternal Life. I was shattered, far from home yet knew it was exactly where I was supposed to be. My brain knew this was coming but the sense of loss was sharp, deep, and left me feeling empty. Luckily Sedona is known for it’s healing properties and the majestic, mighty red rocks surrounded me and absorbed the brunt of my pain. I was asked to speak Papa’s Eulogy and coincidentally the wake and Funeral fell on my Wedding Anniversary and Birthday. My human self was nervous, I knew the crowd would be huge to honor him and I doubted my ability to give reverence to a man SO important to SO many. However, at the same time I trusted my family chose me for a reason and my Divine self knew it was meant to be. For this task I truly had to ‘Dig Deeper’ than ever and sat for hours in Sedona with a journal, my thoughts and my memories. I wrote, cried, wrote, laughed, face timed with family and cried some more. It was hard being far from my family but they were there in spirit and quite literally on my phone screen thanks to technology. I was also grateful to be with my husband and my Generation V family who were there to provide me the love and comfort I was desperately craving. The trip home and his services were a blur filled with family, food, hugs, Happy Birthday’s and stories of an incredible man from hundreds and hundreds who showed up to honor his life. I will forever celebrate my birth into this world with his birth into the afterlife. I do have to say Italians know how to grieve; we eat, cry, laugh and stay in one big group for days until the pain lessens a bit. Grief is too big for just one person and is best when shared by many. Just as I was beginning to feel peace I was thrown another tragic curve ball the day after Papa’s funeral when I found out a member of our Generation V family was in so much pain he took his own life. In recent months I hadn’t spoken to him much as his path took him in a different direction, but he was someone I traveled around the world with, respected, had lot’s of great times with and considered a friend. This loss is rocking his family, friends and our Gen V family to the core. If he only knew how loved he was, how important his life was to so many and how things can always improve… But who am I to judge the actions of another, I simply pray he is experiencing the peace he wasn’t able to feel on Earth.
NONE of this is easy and I’m NOT an expert but I do have experience both personally and professionally, dealing with grief and other intense emotions. The best advice I have for ANYONE STRUGGLING (including myself) is although we cannot control the things that happen in life we CAN learn to better deal with them. Intense emotions are like waves in the Ocean, if you are in the wrong place (state of mind) or aren’t paying attention they can knock you down, suck you under and continue pummeling you until you are left almost lifeless. Luckily you can learn yourself, study your emotions and get comfortable so you can ride the crests and breaks with your head above water. During tough times there are two main strategies that can make all the difference.
WATCH YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THE SITUATION
DO NOT FIGHT WHAT IS HAPPENING, IT IS REALITY
Watch your thought’s about the situation. It’s not the thing itself that causes the most pain, it’s your THOUGHT’S about the thing. Here is an example; My friend committed suicide and here are thoughts that I may have about it. “Wow this is tough, how could he do that, maybe I could have done something, was there any signs I missed, It’s so awful, I hope no one else I know is thinking of doing this, Oh no it’s just like when I lost so and so, Life is so tragic just like all the fires, floods and terrorism, What if something happens to me and my family” etc… and the downward spiral of negative thoughts begins. One negative thought can lead to a whole new set of painful thoughts and memories and you can strengthen pain by focusing on or talking to everyone around you about it. I call this following the pain down the rabbit hole. If you aren’t aware of this tendency it feel’s like you have no choice but trust me YOU DO. You are not a victim of your thoughts and an event only has the power you give it. If you can recognize when it’s happening, you can REACH FOR A HIGHER THOUGHT. Here are some other thoughts I may choose about the exact same situation.“Wow this is tough, I am sad and miss him. I am sending his family so much love and light. I miss him. I pray he is at peace. I will never understand why he did it but it’s not my place to. I will think of all the good memories. I am lucky I knew him. I will send myself love for my loss as it’s hard losing some one I care about.” Can you FEEL the difference in those two thought processes? It takes time and when you first start practicing this you will simply be aware you are going down the rabbit hole. AWESOME. Awareness is the first step and as you practice it becomes easier until events and emotions that used to take you down for days will be over in hours and the pain will be less. I wish I could tell you it will fix everything, it won’t. Terrible things WILL happen but your ability to deal with them will improve markedly. You can use this strategy anytime you feel an unpleasant emotion. ‘I feel scared about terrorism, I’m sad about my Divorce…’ Know in advance you are going to FEEL THE EMOTION no matter what but the thoughts you attach to it are ultimately your choice.
Do not fight what is happening, it IS reality and the pain of trying to deny or change it will add immensely to your suffering. As adults we tend to have a bad feeling, judge and beat ourselves up for having it and then let it bring up all the other times we have felt something similar. In the long run this will snowball so that each time you feel fear, for example, it’s wrapped up with ALL THE OTHER TIMES YOU FELT FEAR and that will take you down. The best role model for how to handle this is children. They feel an emotion, experience it in the present and move on. Poof it’s gone like magic and they are back to playing or laughing. It’s not magic they just haven’t learned to hold on to things yet or judge themselves for feeling something and I pray they never do. There is also an AMAZING book “Loving What Is” by Byron Katie where I learned and practiced both of these concept for years.
So today I am still grieving for the Native American’s, missing my Papa terribly and sad for my friend Anthony, but I woke up with air in my lungs and a heart that beats and for that miracle I am grateful. Life is a gift and I will reach for higher thoughts, allow myself to feel when the wave of emotion crests and lean on the amazing people I am surrounded by. Thank you ALL for being there for me during this difficult time.