Month: March 2016

Forgiveness Starts With Panda Express

Written by Jennifer Sturgis, HOYH Co-Founder + Co-CEO

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“Mom, where are you? Are you here?” the voice of my fourteen year old son echoed into my phone. “Am I where?” I wondered, somewhat alarmed. “I’m on my way home from work. Where am I supposed to be?” Then the blood drained from my face – his spring choir concert. It was today! It was supposed to be at 7:00, but due to a conflict with scheduling the building it had to be changed to 4:15. Who schedules a choir concert for 4:15 on a Friday afternoon? I had completely forgotten. I would have had to miss work for the third time this week. But I had planned on going.

I heard him say, “Whatever! I’ll walk home!” then the audible click. It went straight to voicemail when I tried to call back. I could feel his disappointment, along with my own; heavy and hot, sink down to my stomach and settle like a pit. My face flushed. How could I forget? Just completely NOT remember that was today?

It had been a busy week, with counseling sessions, doctor appointments, parent/teacher conferences – all of which had eaten into my work schedule, causing me to leave early or come late three different days. Since the end of the school quarter was approaching, our nights had been taken up by homework and assignments to finish or make up. The single-mom-with-four-kids scenario is a real thing. A constant struggle. But today, as was more and more often the case, I refused to use that as a hall pass.

I have been working on being more forgiving with myself, but I found my mind filling with old negative self-talk. “How did I forget that? I can’t do anything right! My poor kids…all they have is ME and I’m a mess! I can’t do anything right! This is just one more instance where I’m a FAIL as a mother. Why did God give me these four children when so often I just disappoint and let them down? It feels like a week doesn’t go by where I don’t fail in some kind of major way! What is WRONG with me? What kind of mother does this?”

You know. Just the usual, brutal guilt trip that comes along with motherhood. As I often do, I willingly took the ride into familiar waters.

I pictured my son walking home from school in his white dress shirt and black pants, feeling angry, embarrassed, and abandoned. It’s not about the walk – it’s just that his friends were riding home with their parents, who actually attended the concert. And it’s not like choir is his favorite thing, anyway. He is more of an athlete and cares more about sports than singing. It’s just that he thought I was coming. He was counting on me to be there. And I wasn’t there. The heaviness of that last sentence weighed on my shoulders like the story of my single parent life…

His father wasn’t ever there for him. In fact, he was in jail again. Incarceration wasn’t a new thing, just an embarrassing detail that occasionally changed. Somehow, knowing their dad was in jail was more upsetting to the kids than him being homeless, which is what he is when he’s not in jail. And now his mother, the only person he had left to count on, forgot about his concert. So he had to walk home, alone.

During that painfully quiet drive home, I was vaguely aware of how much I was probably over-dramatizing this in my mind, but I also realized that this was how it probably felt to my fourteen year old son. Then, surprisingly, my mind did something different than what it usually often did. It stopped in the middle of my mental and emotional barrage of negativity, and allowed one forgiving thought to bubble up: “Jen, you are doing the best you can. Your son will forgive you. He knows you love him. You’ve shown him that a thousand times in a thousand ways.”

I let that thought linger for a moment. It felt like truth. It didn’t feel like an excuse. It resonated as reality. However, the truth of it didn’t make my mistake go away in an instant. Amends still needed to be made and some steps need to be taken to use technology to better manage my incredibly busy calendar. But it felt like forgiveness was possible, not just by my son, but by me, too. I took a deep breath, and felt some of the heaviness lift from my heart. I couldn’t control my son’s forgiveness, but I did have control over mine. I could continue to beat myself up over this, or I could find a thread of emotional realism and start from there. I smiled slightly as I realized that the progress I thought I’d been making was actually, maybe, real.

When I got home, I walked downstairs to his room, ignoring his short text that said “Just leave me alone.” I knew he was pretty upset. I sat next to him on his bed, where he wouldn’t look at me. I sat quietly for a moment. Then I said to him, “I have no excuse for forgetting about your concert today, honey. I had been looking forward to it all week, actually.” I paused, letting that truth linger in the air. Deep breath again. “I can’t go back in time and change it. I missed it, and I don’t get a re-do! There are two parts of this that I feel terrible about. One, the fact that I didn’t get to see you perform leaves a void for me. I hate missing anything that you do. Two, the fact that I wasn’t there for you, and then you had to walk home – leaves a void for you. I’m so very sorry that I created both of those voids by forgetting today.”


I took a risk and touched his arm, continuing, “You don’t have to forgive me right now, but I hope you know that I am truly sorry and that I will try to find a calendar system that works on my phone with reminders to help me better manage everybody’s stuff. I can’t promise I’ll be perfect but that will help me, a lot. And I also hope you know how much I love you and how important you are to me!”

Silence again.

“I know this doesn’t change things, but why don’t you let me know what you want for dinner. I’ll let you choose whatever you want. You can stay mad, but you might as well get something out of this, right?” I half-joked, hoping to lighten things a little. Still no response.

Then I walked out of his room. I knew he would probably eventually forgive me, but I also knew it wouldn’t be right then. He likes to stay mad for a while. But I did accomplish what I wanted to, which was not make excuses by reading him the very valid reasons from my single-parent-hall-pass. Like, “There’s only one of me and four of you kids and I can’t be everywhere” or ”Look at all the things I do for you”.  And I didn’t try to manipulate him out of his feelings by cajoling or blaming anything or anyone else. I validated how it felt to him by respecting his feelings, took accountability for my mistake, and offered my sincere apology. Then I let him decide how to feel about it. Deep breath again.

All I have control over is my willingness to be accountable, to learn from my mistakes, and to teach my children to do the same. Maybe he’ll stay mad at me for years, maybe he’ll be scarred for life, (both of which I doubt) – but something positive can be found here. There is always something to learn and something to teach from every parenting screw up.

About ten minutes later, my phone beeped. His text simply said “Panda.” I smiled. I guess we’re having Panda Express tonight, I thought. That was either the first glimmer of forgiveness, or his hunger was now greater than his anger. Probably the latter.  Well, that’s a start.

I’ll take it.

Armor Off

Written by Monica Rai Silver, HOYH Founder + CEO. Excerpt taken from our Heartwork™ program; Heart2Heart (H2H): “The Tree of Your Heart: A Year Living in the Branches of Self-Love.” From the month of April, the branch of Vulnerability + Connection. Concept of “Arena” inspired by the Theodore Roosevelt poem and its reemergence by phenom Brené Brown, and her world changing research around shame and vulnerability. If you haven’t seen Brené’s famous TED talk, click here for a good time. #TruthBombsAwaitYou

Armor Off Blog Pic

There is a call that comes, at different points in our lives, to come to the arena. And inherently we each know this – and so, in fear, we gather pieces of protection; carrying unnecessary armor to bind us away from loss and vulnerability, failure, disappointment and pain. I heard another call, and this time I saw it: Looking back, the pieces of heavy metal shed as I’ve done the work. Felt what I needed to feel. Owned what I needed to own. But now, I’m here, I’ve been standing in the doorway – the bars down, wide open expanse of being seen before me; shivering in the rising dust, with no one but me calling my name: Armor off. Armor off. Armor off.

I walk in, without anything to hide…

“It is not the critic who counts; not the woman who points out how the strong woman stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the woman who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends herself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if she fails, at least fails while Daring Greatly, so that her place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” –Theodore Roosevelt, “Citizenship In A Republic” speech. Pronoun edits by Monica Rai Silver.

I revel in this bravery, this freedom! I soak it in; the relief, liberation and room to breathe around the truth of who I am. I laugh and spin circles in all this space, hearing the echoes bounce around the stone and then back to my happy ears: The sound of my own Voice. It sounds like a chorus of joy, like every part of me is in agreement, accord, and harmony. With my hands on my hips I survey what’s around me: bare, open, beautiful.

“It needs my touch,” I declare, and set about making it cozy, making it Home. I move easily, unencumbered by the heavy armor and rusted metal I worked so hard to shed. Comfortable furniture is brought in, art, music, color, a magnificent #Crownbed, nourishing food: all tools in my Heartwork™ arsenal. I settle in, safe, protected, vulnerable, powerful, authentic, enough. My worth courses through me in the air like a living shield, a boundary between my Heart and the world outside. It is beautiful, here. I am making it my Home.

But even in that courage and determination, it is not long before I hear shouting from the stands, a cacophony of judgment, criticism and shame. And when I finally look out amongst the faces, the one I see most – is my own. A hundred different selves yell back at me, blaming, projecting, excuse-laden and unhappy. I feel the need to protect, to hide, to armor up. I shut down. The instant I do, I find myself in the stands, yelling back at an empty arena…

And I realize that I’ve left myself. I’ve abandoned me. No one’s done it to me, no matter the reasons my fingers are already ticking off, one by one. My muscles stiffen under the weight of the armor that automatically, like a faithful boomerang, magnetically re-attaches. With the darkness of apathy and self-pity sinking in, I sit heavily in my familiar, season-ticketed seat. The tears pool and I look around me. There are other people, here to be entertained by my imperfections, but not many. Far fewer than we (in the stands) want to believe. There are many more versions of myself, in various stages, ages, in their own pain and comfort zones. But more shockingly, are the weapons that wait in every single seat around my Arena. Weapons…to be picked up and used by whoever sits there.

I understand. I see. The gift shows itself and I am aware of where I am. I am aware that I have a choice. I am aware that I choose where I reside. So, I choose to remember Janette Grace’s stunning statement, “Surrender is putting down my weapons and picking up my tools.” Only weapons await me in the stands: judgment, criticism, hatred, projection, blame, victimhood, perfectionism, and codependency. But my tools await me in the Arena: Heartwork™, Connection, Vulnerability, Higher Power, Self-Love, Compassion, Rooting, Gardening, and so many more. These are my Super Powers. These, are my Heart. These, are Home.

My choice made, I heave myself up from the seat and lumber toward the aisle. I walk down the dirt pathway, one step at a time, remembering that the Path from the stands to the arena is the “path to the feeling of worthiness.”  -Brené Brown. To accepting the truth of my worthiness. To feeling my worthiness.

With each step I feel the emotions of the stands and the Arena, and I understand that I will make many trips back and forth as I journey through this life. I can accept this, knowing that the gift is in recognizing where I am, and choosing where to go from there. Knowing, I am enough. Knowing, it is my choice.

With one final, exhausting stride – I step back into the Arena. The armor is gone, and the subsequent fear of being vulnerable takes its place. But I breathe through it, settling my gaze on the safe space before me: Home. This time, when I hear the jeers from the crowd, I will choose to stay here. I will first root in myself before I look up. I’ll acknowledge the message if it contains wounds that need healing. I’ll feel through the feelings it brings up. I’ll give gratitude for the lessons they contain. And I’ll do it all from the safety, empowerment and protection, real protection of the Arena. The Arena of my Heart.

“Vulnerability is the only authentic state.

Being vulnerable means being open for wounding, but also for pleasure.

Being open to the wounds of life means also being open to the bounty and beauty.

Don’t mask or deny your vulnerability: it is your greatest asset.

Be vulnerable: quake and shake in your boots with it.

The new goodness that is coming to you, in the form of people, situations, and things

can only come to you when you are vulnerable and open.”

–Stephen Russell

The Great Wall Of Defeat

Written by Brittany Johansen, HOYH’s VP of Connection

The Great Wall of Defeat

Let’s start by saying this video is cute. Really and truly cute. Adorable even. I might go so far as to say it’s precious! But as I sit here (watching this little kid get his butt whooped by a giant wall that he’s apparently supposed to be able to jump over despite its towering position over his little body), I’ve got goosebumps all over. You know why? Because who doesn’t love a good rumble with fear? Or a head on collision with self doubt? Or a love story? I found this video to be a little of all three. So take a watch while I share the lessons I’ve learned in honor of this three minute heart-opening cuteness.

Six major lessons cleverly disguised in poor video quality and a tiny little human’s adventure of soaring to new heights:

1.) Failing is inevitable and happens far more often than our successes. We can benefit from learning to love our failures for what they teach us and what they prepare us for. I recently heard this line, “If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.” Failure isn’t comfortable or easy. But there’s nothing quite like the sweet taste of perseverance, success, and accomplishment when you refuse to give up.

2.) It takes practice. If you’ve tried something new or even something you’ve done a thousand times and are somehow perfect at it – you are an anomaly. We should study your unicorn magic. The reality is, perfection isn’t real. It’s made up, fabricated by people who want to prey off your feelings of unworthiness and self doubt. What is real? Progress. Progress is tangible, measurable, and attainable. Aim for progress, not perfection.

3.) Tears are part of the process. They come after our hearts are broken, when we are ashamed or embarrassed, when our fears creep to the surface, or when we feel defeat. Let them come. Feel them. Allow your needs and vulnerable heart to be seen. Give permission for the emotions to build, crest, and then crash down like ocean waves – because the quickest way through is straight across. And then take a deep breath, stand up, wash your face, and recommence the major ass kicking you have to do. You’ll be strengthened by the small act of compassion of allowing your body to release the frustration in the most natural way you’re designed to. Tears aren’t the enemy. They do NOT mean you are weak. They’re a sign you need a small break; regroup, realign, rest. Then get back out there and hurdle those walls with renewed determination.

4.) Everyone, and I do mean every human being on this earth, needs a tribe. Your journey, your practice, your road is yours alone, but it is imperative you surround yourself with people who cheer you on, sit in the passenger seat and help you navigate, and comfort you when times get rough. Find your tribe and love them hard. And let them help you when shit hits the fan.

5.) Attributes like pride, encouragement, honor, fortitude, friendship, curiosity, teaching, diligence, patience, resiliency, fear, love, excitement, anticipation, and passion are not unique to any one religion, race, gender, culture, or sub group of people. Neither is heartbreak, rejection, shame, vulnerability, frustration, anger, humility, loneliness, sadness and fear. It is exactly these human emotions and feelings that help us relate to one another. We learn that others have experienced what we have, and in that discovery we feel less alone, we connect with shared story, and we find the grace in accepting one another as we accept ourselves. Close the distance and bridge the gap instead of building walls to support separation and segregation. It’s time to live in love, together. We were made to.

6.) Allow others the right to live their own journey. One of the sweetest things about this video is the quiet patience with which the audience, fellow participants and coach patiently waited for this pint-sized athlete to accomplish his goal. It was his turn in the spotlight, and no one tried to take that from him. No one tried to shame or belittle him, and most importantly – no one tried to do it for him. Let us remember that to honor the boundaries of others experiences is to exhibit real, authentic love. Even and especially when their experiences and choices cause us discomfort, fear, hurt, anxiety and even pain. Be a genuine, caring witness. Stay in your seat when it’s not your show. Give them the respect they deserve for the lessons they need to learn.

I began by saying this video was cute. Precious, even. And it is. But it is so much more, now. I am reminded that the simplest things often hold the deepest truths, if I’m willing to look for them. I am reminded that in sharing the human experience with my billions of sisters and brothers, I am not alone in my struggle to find balance, success and peace in this life. Across all divides; countries, languages, cultures, religions, and even time – we are all united in our need for connection, empowerment and hope. I’m grateful for this little boy who reminded me that no matter how high the wall, or how many times we fail…

we got this.

Am I Buddhist?

Written by Brittany Johansen, HOYH’s VP of Connection


At my new haunt in Austin this morning, sipping coffee and sifting through posts from friends. The place is basically empty. Over the two or so hours I spent there, roughly a dozen people came and went, most just grabbing some caffeine to go. The two giant great danes I like to bring everywhere with me are generally a conversation starter so I am used to meeting new folks, and I enjoy it too. This particular morning, though, varied greatly from the norm. Not sure if it was dumb luck or fate, but I only crossed paths with women. Women of all kinds and ones I will forever keep in the highest regard. There was the cop from Houston – animal lover and devoted sister. She travels to Austin and other cities once a week to deliver wine to various venues. She tells stories with confidence and finesse. I’d like to meet her parrots one day.

Then there was the brave and bold woman about to embark on a brand new adventure, out of her comfort zone and into something entirely new. It could have been easy for me to get lost in her sharp blue eyes and perfect jaw line, I admit I drooled a little at her flawless physical beauty – but her story was equally captivating. Listening to her big dreams was just as caffeinating as my cup of coffee. What was in the water this morning? Such heart-forward, powerful women. But it was my connection with one woman in particular that really set the tone for my entire day. To meet someone for the first time and be changed; this is magic.

Pearl. On top of her wonderfully vibrant and magnetic soul, her name was freaking Pearl. She was a gem, too. Not sure how the conversation started, but it flowed effortlessly. Time passed without notice. The tone of the exchange glided quickly from superficial to deep – another mermaid, I see. This was going to be good.

She told me she was Buddhist and I immediately needed to know more. Was she always? Her mother is devoutly Buddhist and lives a peaceful, equanimous life. Pearl laughed, “When your mom talks to ants you believe she is crazy. When they listen you think she might be on to something.” Apparently, believing that all life is equal (none greater than the other including humans and ants), Pearl’s mother was overheard trying to reason with the ants that had taken up residence in her kitchen. With all the sincerity in her heart, she encouraged them to leave and dwell elsewhere – she couldn’t keep them safe from those who did not believe they were creatures worthy of love, respect, and peace.

Is it just me or do you also want to hug her mom right now? The second story Pearl shared was the moment she realized that it all made sense; this oneness with nature, with animals, with all life. She had traveled home to visit her mom, and buzzing around her were two large bees as she entered the house. She yelled for her mother and begged her to get them out of the house. With all the majesty that she is, Pearl’s mother came into the room with a plastic shopping bag and asked the bees to leave because they were frightening her daughter. Included in her request was, “You’re scaring my daughter. I know you don’t mean her harm. Please come into this bag and I will bring you away.” And so the bees buzzed right into the bag and she carried them gently outside to set them free, where also, no doubt, she thanked them for their understanding.

As Pearl continued to discuss her beliefs with me, I thought about how the immense beauty in all religions makes it hard to limit to just one, but she does claim her one to be Buddhism. I understood this. Depth in a person demands diversity, acceptance, and our own truth that has been developed through countless curiosity and soul searching. Our insignificance in the grand scheme of all the greatness in the world keeps her humble and she said to me simply, beautifully, “I am nothing, so I am everything.”

This effervescent woman continued to educate me on her life as a child, a young adult, and finally as a married woman living thousands of miles away from her family. How she went to religious schools just to learn more about them, and how she traveled from her home country of Taiwan to the States bravely and courageously fulfilling her dream of working with children. Several stories later, I realized that I was in awe of this woman before me. She spoke with such intention, but it wasn’t too much – just enough to make it clear and thoughtful, but never uncomfortable.

As the wind picked up and distracts us from our mesmerizing interaction, my waitress (Pearl was my waitress, did I mention that?), turns to leave. Since I am not sure if we’ll another opportunity to speak before I leave, I decided to tell her how incredible she is because women need to celebrate other women for more than their outward appearance. Women need to be telling other women that they are smart, capable, and enough just as they are. I believe that Pearl, like every other woman on this earth, deserved to know all the things that make her special, that drew her so effortlessly to others. I told her she was fascinating, beauty beyond measure. She replied, “Then you must be too. We only see in the world what we have inside us.”

Honestly?! How does she do this, how is she this profound? I’m in love with her magic heart and profound truths. Is polygamy legal in Texas? Would she marry me if I asked nicely? Am I Buddhist? Am I all religions? Am I none?  (#curiosity and #soulsearching, see!)

The equanimity, peace and love she exuded brought out a side of myself that I could really get used to. There is beauty everywhere in this world, if you choose to see it. Pearl said, “Some people see with their eyes when they should be looking with their hearts.” Truth, my new friend. When you open your heart you will get hurt, yes. But you will also get love. You will also be found. You will also find acceptance, not just from others, but more importantly, yourself. Even if for just a moment, I urge you to find what is beautiful about your surroundings and soak it up as long as you can. Rinse. Repeat. Go digging for Pearls. Because sometimes you can walk into a restaurant and meet someone life-changing if you are open to it.

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