"The worst thing you can say about others contains some truth about yourself," Deepak Chopra

I wanted to share Oprah's Life Class with Deepak Chopra a remarkable conversation about what it means to be spiritual. 

One surprising guest was gossip blogger Perez Hilton. Years ago, at the height of his fame and vile, I confess, I was a fan. I can't pinpoint exactly when it was when I stopped following him, but I am sure it had to do when I was working on my book three years ago. I spent a lot of time tuning in, and that nasty was not something that I wanted swirling inside my head. 

Gossip was never really my thing, but in the business of media I saw firsthand how gossip can make a company extremely wealthy. Trading secrets to embarrass and shame people is, sadly, a huge industry. And it made Perez, and many others wealthy. But it's not just the dishers, it's those who consume the dish... and there are millions of folks who thrive on consuming garbage about others. 

I came to a point in my life when I really understood it to my core and even if it was to keep up with my colleagues that it did not feel good reading him and other trashy magazines and papers. But, it's not just media, it's in our interpersonal relationships. I always say, each time we gossip about others, a little light leaves us... Gossip is poison and by allowing it inside your brain, or partaking in it actively you allow in and exhale toxicity. And really, who cares if X celebrity is gay, or of X star is banging another. Don't we have better things to do with our time... 

Part of taking care of yourself better, starts with how well you nourish your brain. Fill up your brain with garbage you create a nice little landfill in your head.  

When I cut out all the gossipy, reductive, and toxic TV, blogs and magazines,  I noticed a sweet change. Consuming media that inspired me and being surrounded by folks who would rather discuss an idea than a who is sleeping with whom has opened my heart and mind to live a sweeter version of myself each day.  It works people... try it.   

The last time I saw Perez, he was overweight and had blue hair. But, during the show, he was different and not just physically, the transformation was as Deepak said, transcendent. After the spate of gay teen suicides as a result of bullying, Perez looked into the mirror and realized he was also a bully of the worst kind-- with a huge platform. He realized that he was sending out nuclear energy to the world and it was not just hurting others but himself. Today he is a new man and his old mean nasty ways gone. 
Deepak's eloquence was touching and his compassion for Perez inspiring: "What you say about others is a mirror of how you see yourself," he told Perez. I think it's a lesson that all of us, not just those in the business of gossip, can mind.

It reminded me of another beautiful quote from David Simon: Before a word passes through your lips, ask yourself three questions: is it true, is it kind and is it necessary?

Create a life you love...

You have everything it takes inside and around you to see the life you want happen. Happy Sunday.

Can you have a negative mind & have a positive life?

During Bikram class this week my yoga instructor Otto Cedeno asked us to think about whether or not you can have a negative mind and have a positive life? If your head says I can't, do you think you will? He was referring to some poses that were challenging his small class. If you say to yourself, "this is hard, I won't do it," your brain is sending messages to your body about failure. Before you even try the posture, you've failed. So as we tried the pose again, I changed my internal dialogue. And for the first time since I starting practicing yoga, I was able to put my head to my knee. Was it perfection? Not by a long shot, but I did it.

Of course, this is not just applicable to yoga, it is truth in all aspects of life And this is not just Bikram, self-help mumbo jumbo or the The Secret stuff. It's physics, it's Netwon's Third Law of action and reaction. But even before Netwon and modern day physics, the ancient the Hindu texts spelled it out for us:

"You are what your deep, driving desire is. As your desire is, so is your will, As your will is, so is your deed, as your deed is, so is your destiny."

It's worth thinking about next time your negative thoughts take you down the rabbit hole whether in your yoga practice or other daily life endeavors.

Think about this: did you wake up with positive attitude and visualized a beautiful day based upon what you would consider a great day? Or, did you begin with complaints and deficient thinking? Are your sending out love to yourself and the world? What kind of energy are you radiating? What kind of energy you getting back?

Some people are great about keeping their homes spic and span, but their brain is grimy with negativity, judgment and all around nasty. And negative thinking can become a dangerous habit, just like drugs, alcohol, shitty relationships and other bad habits. The more you think negative, the more patterns you create in your brain and this becomes a natural way of life for you.

But, the great news is that at any moment these patterns can be shifted. It starts first with self exploration. Catching yourself. Then being mindful, and slowly changing it. Curating your thoughts is hard work, but doable. It's estimated we have more that 60,000 thoughts a day. What percentage of these will be positive? Will you be held hostage by negative thinking?

I write about this in my book, The New Latina's Biblein the chapter on beauty where I share a some tips.

Walk barefoot on grass, sand, the warm earth & get right with yourself

If you are feeling a little out of balance--you might just need a walk in the park -- barefoot. Turns out that a growing body of research is showing the phenomenal healing effects of walking skin to skin on the earth. Not only does walking barefoot help you restore balance and muscles on your feet, but going shoeless protects your hips, back, knees and helps with your natural gait which may have been ruined by wearing the wrong shoes. (Hello stilettos!)

But now there is even a more urgent reason to go shoeless-- the earth protects us from the detrimental effects of electromagnetic radiation that is emitted by modern technology-- cell phones, laptops, television, radio and microwaves and beyond. You may not see these waves and radiation but trust, they are going through us and making many people very ill.  Modern day rubber shoes keep the energy from traveling up which is why its imperative to take them off and let your feet breathe in the earth's natural energy.

This new science is called earthing or grounding and if you haven't heard the terms, you will soon enough. Barefoot parks are popping up everywhere in Europe, especially in Germany and Austria. They are beautiful, just check out Barefoot Park, where there are miles of gorgeous landscapes where you can thoroughly sink your feet into. The US is very behind this new earthing movement. While there are barefoot hiking groups all over, there are no parks created to specifically enjoy shoeless. 

Walking barefoot has always felt extraordinarily right for me. I love to walk barefoot as much as possible and I found that whenever I spend a lot of time walk outside without shoes, I feel more energized. And connected. Understanding the science behind what I naturally experienced confirms my intuition.

The science behind earthing:
The ubiquitous electronic equipment in modern day society emits radiation that disrupts our bodies. Because the earth is a massive reservoir of negative charged free electrons connecting to it barefoot (without the rubber shoes that prevents connection) allows the earth's electromagnetic field to recharge, balance and as it turns out, protect us from the barrage of radiation. 

Dr Oz recently had an expert to discuss the new body of research and he seems convinced this is not quackery. There are books on the subject such as "Earthing: The Most Important Discovery Ever?"

If the thought of walking barefoot in the city grosses you out, no worries. Amazon carries earthing mats that plug into the earth or grounding hole - the third hole in the electrical outlet. Perfect for urbanites.

Call it crazy but do not mistake the power of the earth and natural healing. Nature has the medicine. We just need to pay attention.So go for a walk in the park and leave the shoes at home.

To heal yourself you must open your heart to healing others

Giving opens pathways to receiving, unlocks any clogs and allows the natural flow of exchange to take place. We can experience everyday gifts if we allow ourselves to give of ourselves.

A smile.
A silent blessing.
A compliment.

When we give of ourselves-- attention, time, money, effort, love --  wholeheartedly, we are happier. Social scientists continually show this human phenomena, the more people give, the happier people they say they are. Giving, studies show, strengthens the immune system, it reduces stress and anger among many other fantastic benefits. It's called the giver's high and when it comes from a space without preconditions, is a powerful healing antidote for both parties.

Giving and receiving is a dynamic exchange that is the essence of life. This flow of energy is all around us. The sun gives light, we receive life. Giving, if it comes without attachment for the outcome, from a sincere space and from an abundance mindset, confirms to the giver what the subconscious mind knows: nothing lacks. There is boundless love, warmth, joy and resources in the universe. Believe it. It's truth.

This giving and receiving cycle starts from the moment we are born. A mother gives birth, the baby receives life, the cycle continues. At the cellular level, cells cooperate with each other to give what the other lacks. Cells don't negotiate what they are gonna get fist, they just do what they are supposed to naturally do: give. Sometimes even with their own lives. In the material world, consider the word currency, which means money, but is also the root of current. Currents flow, so should money. 

There is a natural flow that is cut off when people hoard, when they have too much stuff, including too much money (and yes there is such a phenomena) too many shoes, cars, houses and just plain stuff. Consider that those people, social scientists show, are no happier than those with one pair of sneakers, one car and less money.

I am not making the case against affluence, just a case on behalf of the natural state of the universe: the constant flow and energetic exchange between giving and receiving. Having more material stuff does not correlate with being happier. But giving, both in material and spiritual form, does. It's like the ancient Chinese proverb that reminds us that a little of the fragrance of the flowers lingers on the hand that gives them. Or like Winston Churchill said, we make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.

Spring cleaning is not just for your closets, it's a great ritual for your mind, body & spirit

Spring is a perfect time to beckon more light and lightness not just to our homes and wardrobe, but also to our hearts, bodies and souls.

This is the season for cleaning closets and homes. We do this as a way to get rid of all the dust and dirt that accumulated during the wintry months when our doors and windows were closed to keep the cold air away. If you pay attention, you will notice that nature is also doing it's own version of spring cleaning.  Slowly, flowers pop up and bloom a little each day. Trees show their renewed selves one blossom at a time. Slow down a bit and you will experience this slow burst. Nature is doing its cleansing gently but with purpose and grace. As this is organically happening all around you can also join in on the ritual. An internal pruning from the inside out and the outside in can be a marvelous ritual.

Spring cleaning your mind body and soul is gentle work. Patient work. Good work. And ultimately, graceful work. I am on day nine of a month long spring cleaning for my body, mind and soul and I can share that it's been inspiring and at times, exhilarating. I've started to notice all these little bad habits I did not know I had. Being aware is the first step to removing and renewing.

You don't know who much stuff accumulates, bad habits that keep you from being happy, healthy, whole and all that good stuff I like to write about. You'd be surprised how we let people into our lives that are not so good for us, or negative and nasty thoughts about ourselves that keep us stagnant. Ugh. But if you don't go in and check and clear it out, sweep it out, you will never be aware enough to make the changes you need to make.

As you move toward the light and lightness of summer days you will see more clearly and live more lightly, just like the clothes that you will be wearing. Few things are guaranteed in life, but honest self exploration, with focus, everyday for a month is a sure way of building new pathways and habits to better living. Go in deep and clear out the grime. Let go of the toxins. Getting rid of the cobwebs that keep you from being radiant is what this time of year is about..

Tell you more... Here are some tips if you want to get started on your personal 30-day spring cleaning:

A bit of fragrance clings to the hand that gives you flowers, Chinese proverb

Give something of yourself -- a smile, a greeting, a compliment, a blessing, a cup of joe, anything -- to another or many others. Do this from a space of complete abundance. Then, watch the universe greet you back.The blessings that you will in turn receive are priceless.

When was the last time you danced like it was nobody's business?

I'm on the fourth day of a spring mind, body and mind renewal challenge -- think spring cleaning from the inside out. It involves among other things practicing Bikram yoga each day. Besides committing to practicing yoga each day, every morning my yoga teachers send a daily challenge.

Today's challenge is to dance. Dance to any music. Mambo, cha cha cha, tango, bomba y plena, belly dance, disco, techno, reggaeton, hip hop, rock n roll. Dance all day and night, as much as possible.

My Pandora station is on blast. Being born in Puerto Rico where music is in the air, and dancing is part of daily life, I went straight to salsa. Marc Anthony, Joe Arroyo, La India, Victor Manuelle, Eddie Santiago, among others. Don Omar was next. What a workout. Sweet. Belly dancing is next, then  Brazilian. When my son gets home from school, we will dance to Pitbull, his favorite.

I am dancing like it's nobody's business in between writing. Can you feel the happy? I feel even better and more awake than I did this morning after my yoga class. I can see why my sweet yoga teachers Corinne and Olivia have suggested that we take the time to dance, every day.  Dancing feels awesome. I forgot how extraordinary it is.  I forgot how happy dancing makes me.

When we dance, we not only burn calories, but align our bodies, relieve stress and connect to our inner world. Dancing makes us joyful, something deep and raw is awakened. Now science is catching up to what Latinos have known forever -- dancing is good for the soul and overall health. In labs, they are finding the many, many benefits to dancing. (It even helps ward off Alzheimer's!)

We are all born to dance and there is no such thing as three left feet or no rhythm. Dance like nobody is watching. And tap into happy.

Emotional vulnerability sucks, but it seems to be ground zero for personal greatness, or a great work of art...

Researcher Brene Brown's insight into vulnerability is as the French would say, jolie-laide or ugly beautiful. She argues something that I, and so, so, so many of us resist: living with vulnerability.

After years of delving into the issue, and a personal breakdown, Brown discovered that to allow yourself to be seen is ground zero for personal greatness and freedom. Live nakedly, she argues, and you get your life back.

The thought of living emotionally naked is horrifying and it is especially frightening to those who grew up struggling to feel safe. But during her six-year study the Texan researcher discovered that there are people, she calls them, the wholehearted, who live in vulnerability. And the payoff for those people, she claims, is that they live feeling connected, loved and being loved--a winning recipe for a good, happy life.

These folks live each day knowing that they are enough. They are the first to say I love you for example. They love deeply, unconditionally, knowing that there are no guarantees. They embrace their imperfection and know that they are worthy of love. These folks - the wholehearted - don't need the two car garage for the BMV and Lexus, the perfect life, perfect kids, husband, wife, or house, or perfect body and fabulous title or great new shoes. Nope, these folks know, at the core, that none of those externals makes them any more or less worthy of love and connection. That they are worthy... period. Check out her brilliant Ted.com, talk.

Portrait of his beloved by Ruben Toledo

"The act of creation is always born from love: a love of doing and forming something that will transmit love. An artist must never be afraid to let love loose on the world, no matter what form that takes."-- Isabel Toledo

Here is a sweet recipe for those healing a broken heart...

Yesterday, I walked past one of my favorite bookstores in the City and a book literally fell onto my hands. For a mere two bucks I purchased, Herbs for Health and Healing. So far, the book is living up to it promise: a thorough resource guide for safe herbal treatments for most anything that troubles your body, mind and heart. This treasure trove has dozens of herbal recipes and formulas to treat everything from insomnia, to fibroids, from nausea to migraines. There's even a recipe to heal a broken heart, which you can check out after the jump.  The one thing that kept coming up for me as I read the book were the home remedies and herbal teas and concoctions that my mom, aunts, and grandma prepared to alleviate the girls from menstrual cramps, to help heal the kids when we got scratches, bumps, bruises, tummy aches or just needed a good night's sleep.

In our kitchen and cupboard growing up I remember seeing linden flower, chamomile, anise, cloves, cinnamon, ginger root, yerba buena, and many other fresh or dried herbs that depending on what was needed, a special tea was brewed. In fact, rather than running to a pharmacy when we were burned, mom would cut a slab of aloe plant and put the gelatinous gooey flesh on the burned skin, and yes, pain would go away.  Our home was typical of many Latin American homes when it came to understanding the power that herbs and plants possessed for healing.

But over the years, these same remedies were ridiculed by modern day science as old wives tales and sadly, many of this ancient plant wisdom has been lost. Since it's true that what we pay attention to grows, and our eyes were cast on pills and pharmaceuticals, the result has been that herbalists are rare, even in our families. So today, instead of drinking valerian tea to help regulate sleep, we take Ambien or any other pharmaceutical sleep aids available over the counter. Besides the costly side effect of addiction, many of these pharmaceuticals have side effects that break down other perfectly healthy organs. By the way, it's rare to overdose when using plants to heal.

I do believe that we have an innate plant intelligence that can be activated at any moment. The trick is to decide to focus on it. So, focus we must. Because for whatever ails you, there is a plant that can help in your healing.

Don't swallow your fears, or for that matter, stop bottling up your emotions, it's unhealthy for the mind, body & soul

Reminder: don't swallow my fears any more
Talk therapy is one of my favorite stress management tools. In Latin America and the Caribbean, there were these old school healers who cured people through talking. They were called consejeras and as healer Elena Avila explained when I interviewed her for the spirituality chapter in my book, "The New Latinas Bible," these  old school healers allow people to "un-drown from soul to soul or heart to heart." During these sessions, the talk healers allow the person 'to speak until everything is released from the body, soul and heart." The ritual is beautiful too: while the patient is undrowning her emotions the healer rubs rosemary oil on her third eye. Incense fills the space with therapeutic scents.

I'm not really sure how to find a talking healer in the US and when I do, I will blog about her. However, I was inspired to write about this after a young college student asked me for advice on how to handle her fears.  

The young woman shared that she was feeling lost and the sting of feeling like an outcast because of her Mexican American heritage. Studying in a place where the majority does not look like her, and feeling the pain of living while brown in a country that doesn't appreciate diversity or the contributions of Mexican immigrants, was causing her stress. The young college student told me that each time she walked into a class, she felt she was wearing a mask and that all eyes were on her. She was living in fear and shame of being the other. This brave student also shared that me had asked for advice to an older Mexican American woman who told her to "swallow her fears and keep it moving."  I was outraged by the reckless advice. I told this young woman that as soon as she could she should go to a forest and scream for as long as she could. Cry if she must, then, she should find someone she trusts, a friend, therapist, spiritual healer and begin to talk about her fears.

Swallowing your emotions is one of the most fatal things you can do. Bottling up your feelings is like pretending that what you feel is fake. Pushing emotions back in when they want to come out will cause you physical illness. For starters, the chronic stress that happens when you are not dealing with these emotions needs a place to go and if you don't find ways to let it out, the stress will go live in different parts of your body. Those knots on your shoulders will get bigger and bigger, stomach, head and back aches will be more common, and, as some natural healers have cautioned, the stress caused by unprocessed emotions may cause cancer and other diseases. (Not to mention, unprocessed anger will lead to ugly violence.)  Recently, scientists have found a link between cancer and stress, confirming what healers of non Western traditions have said for centuries. Stress weakens the immune system allowing malignant cells to grow.

So, next time you got some strong emotion, be it fear, sadness, rage, name your emotion here, find a way to let it out that is not harmful to you and to others. It will do your body (and mind) good.

Things to do today if you have been holding it in for a while:

  • Accept that these feelings are real. Denying them is to deny that you exist.
  • Let it out. Cry,  (tears are a natural form of physical cleansing.) 
  • Scream in a forest, before an ocean lake. Let it out...  Holler. 
  • Call or visit a trusted friend and talk about your feelings.
  • If you don't have anyone (and you do, you may not be aware) sit by a lake, a body of water,  under a tree, go to a place of worship, or just sit at home alone, and talk to yourself. Some people call that a form of prayer, to yourself, to the universe, to your God. 
  • Meditate. Find stillness a few minutes a day. Tune in to the beauty and peace that resides inside.

Above all, please, don't swallow fears any more.

Open your mind to love and the rest will follow

Sometimes we are so closed off to experience life in all of its fullness and beauty that we fail to notice all the good things that surround us. You know that saying, all that you need you have, its true. And it's a matter of consciously opening our hearts to experience that universal truth. Trust, this is not too good to be true.

Take for instance, the elusive but constant human quest for happiness.

Deepak Chopra, in his delicious book, "The Book of Secrets: unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Life," likens happiness to the humidity that exists in the air waiting for the appropriate climatological conditions to make rain happen. Happiness is like that humidity that at any point could be rain... it's always there, you have to allow it in. And, in that sense, the catalyst or conditions that have to exist for happiness to show itself is simple: having an open mind to allow it in or to experience it in all of its dimensions and expressions.

A mind closed off to love, Chopra writes, will look out on a loveless world and be immune to any evidence of love, while an open mind will look out that same world and find infinite expressions of love.

Beware of holy images that don't look like you...they steal your divinity & annihilate your self esteem

Yesterday morning my young son went to church with his grandma. It was Palm Sunday for the millions of Catholics around the world. I was moved by the fact that my son was going to the same church that, as a little boy, his father had visited with her. More than a religious outing, I saw this as a celebration of tradition. Rituals are important for connection to the tribe. To belong to something ancient or larger than you is a beautiful lesson at any age. The last thing I was thinking about was the danger that he would encounter when he visited a place of worship where everywhere he looked divinity hardly resembled him.

Hours after his first Catholic church outing my 9 yr. old son called over to show me his latest digital drawing done on one of his electronic game consoles.  "Look, mom," he said, "I drew God." And when I looked, I was horrified. God was a white man, sporting long blond hair with a thin nose and lips. I asked him what made him think that God looked like that and he said that he saw statues and pictures of him at the church he'd just prayed in with his grandmother.

I immediately took my son to the mirror and asked him to look at his beautiful brown glory. And said, pointing to him, "now that is God.  You are God. God resides in you and looks like you, your daddy, brother, cousins, uncles and grandfathers." Then I said, "look at me, I am the Goddess. And so are your aunties and grandmothers." He said, but mom, "those pictures in grandma's church didn't look like us."  "I know," I told him, "and they got it all wrong."

Now I should add that this is a church in Spanish Harlem, one of the mecca of the Latin New York and a stone's thrown from Harlem, mecca for African American life. Images in that church look nothing like the residents of that neighborhood. I suspect that this church is no different than millions of churches around the world. And why would they? Could that explain the low self esteem of many people of color?

How is my young boy to know that he is divine, sacred, a reflection of Godly if, when he looks at pictures and statues of holy and they don't look like him? It's not just media images we need to protect our black and brown selves from, this also includes religious iconography. I saw the clear connection between robbing someone of their sense of self and sacred that looks nothing like you.

In media, particularly feminist and queer theory, there's a term called symbolic annihilation.
I just heard it over the weekend when I screened the film, "Miss Representation." Even if you don't know the term you know the feeling if you ever felt invisible when you look at media and images that resemble you are absent. Or when you do find images, they are distorted. In the social sciences this term is used to describe a tool of maintaining social inequality.  While the term is usually used in media criticism to describe a way in which media promotes stereotypes and denies identity, I saw it in it' full glory with religious iconography.

I am not the first to write about how religion and lack of representation of you in holy images is linked to low self esteem. The absence robs you of your power and beauty. Marta Moreno Vega talked about this when I interviewed her for the film, "The Latino List." Her questioning these white images of the Catholic church that she was raised in led her to the African religion of Lucumi.

Like Dr Moreno Vega I too questioned the same invisibility, not to mention the outright hypocrisy and chauvinism of the Pentecostal Christian church that I was raised in. The quest  led me to seek divinity elsewhere. And I found it inside me. And that truth that I discovered decades ago was a profound find and one that I know empowered me in ways that I still am discovering.

Last night, I saw how even giving in a tiny inch to an idea that God is a white blond male was dangerous for my young son's sense of self, so I stopped it as soon as I saw it creeping in. And I suspect this will not be the last conversation on the topic. I am vigilant of the images he consumes. I will continue to remind my young boy of his divinity.

So it's worth asking: is the God or Goddess you pray to a reflection of you?  And if it isn't, what does that say about your sense of holy.