Lean In

(This post contains some facts about our current situation on Earth and what you can do to help.)

“Lean into the discomfort.”

This is one piece of advice I’ve gotten used to hearing over the last number of years. It seems to be a common theme among those looking to make a change in the world. As an artist and creative entrepreneur, this advice describes my job on a daily basis – I am to find the emotions and ideas that lie just beyond my comfort zone and venture into their territory. While I try to do this a little bit every day, I often find it’s easier said than done to push beyond the places I’ve been before.

How often do you lean into your discomfort?

If you’re like most people I know (myself included) the answer is not all that often. Deliberately finding the spaces that put us on edge is not generally something we like to do. Sure, there are those few adrenaline junkies out there who love the thrill of not knowing if they’re going to live or die today, but I think most of us can agree we prefer to do the exact opposite – we like to lean away from the things that make us uneasy. We like to walk very quickly glancing back over our shoulder with a smile plastered on our faces just to make sure no one is watching, then break out into an all-out sprint in the opposite direction.

Now, this isn’t entirely our fault. As humans, our brains are wired to run away at the first sign of danger, as fast as our two legs will carry us. It’s the very thing that kept us alive for so long in a world that saw us as dinner. Safety is one of the most basic human needs. But no matter what society would like to lead you to believe, safety is not the same thing as comfort. Sometimes remaining within our comfort zone is the most dangerous thing we can do.

I have been sitting with a lot of uncomfortable topics lately, topics that make me want to just look the other way. Of course, once you know the facts, it’s hard to do that. I know I find it extremely difficult to forget something once I learn the truth, especially within topics like these.

Topics like the fact that there is a prevalence of race and gender inequality, even in our seemingly progressive world today. How women who don’t look like me face challenges I will never know and how if I am not actively part of the solution, I am part of the problem; how there is so much more for me to know.

Topics like my own experiences of rejection and what I am doing to move through that pain. How that pain relates to everyone else’s, and the way in which I treat myself becomes the way in which I treat those closest to me, and I would never choose to be so hard on them.

Most of all, I have been taking a deeper look at the world around us, at this beautiful earth we call home. Global warming is real, people. If we don’t start making changes now, it will have catastrophic results.

I sometimes wish I were one of those people who could make light of a really serious topic, because I believe humour is disarming. I’m working on it, but in the mean time I’m just that person who feels things really, really deeply and wants to take on the world all at once.

The facts are shocking. Only one out of every ten people breathe safe air, according to WHO guidelines. Air pollution is responsible for one in three deaths related to stroke, chronic respiratory disease or lung cancer – including premature death among children. Rising temperatures create worse storms, droughts and heat waves, which in turn leads to an increase in food shortages and malnutrition in countries already struggling to make ends meet.

But the good news doesn’t stop there.  Each year, at least eight million tonnes of plastic leak into our oceans. The world’s largest floating collection of trash lives in the ocean between Hawaii and California in what is known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” Often described as larger than Texas, it is home to 79 000 metric tons of plastic. This waste is composed of the usual culprits: plastic bags, straws and bottle caps. What we’re not paying attention to? Fishing equipment. Abandoned fishing equipment makes up for 46% of the floating island, while a majority of the rest waste is fishing gear of a different kind. One in three fish caught never makes it to the plate, and one-third of all commercial fish species are overfished.

These facts are just the tip of the melting iceberg, but they are overwhelming nonetheless. So what does it mean for you? For me? For the seven billion people we share this planet with and the generations to come?

The more I learn, the more I see how everything is intricately, inextricably connected. An increase in air pollution means farmers will yield less food from their crops, thus increasing food shortage and malnutrition. When we breathe air that is filled with particles of black carbon that penetrate our bodies’ defences, we suffer from issues like asthma, lung cancer and stroke and must spend more on health care to solve issues that could be avoided in the first place. More plastic in our oceans means fish eat more plastic which means we, in turn, eat more plastic which could be not-so-good for our health. When we waste food, we produce more methane and further contribute to the issue of world hunger. And so the cycle continues.

The good news (the real good news, this time) is this: we, as individuals, can and do make a difference with the choices we make every day. If we reduce the amount of pollution we create by driving less and making a conscious effort with our trash, we will be able to breathe easier and produce more food in the long run.

Of course, these are extremely complex issues. But there are a few things you can start doing, today.

You can say no to straws, bring your own reusable bags and a water bottle wherever you go. You can take the metro or bike to work instead of driving your car and enjoy a little extra sunshine along the way. You can buy food that requires less packaging or no packing at all. You can reach out to your community leaders and bring awareness to the issues at stake.

These are little things, but they are important nonetheless. Start with these. If you’re willing to dive a little deeper, do some research. The truest answers are often the ones we don’t want to hear.

According to the Drawdown, a comprehensive list of the top 100 things we can do to reduce climate change, the single greatest thing we can do as individuals is this: reduce food waste. Food waste accounts for approximates 8% of emissions worldwide. In higher income countries, we waste an average of 35% of the food we buy each year. THAT IS A LOT OF FOOD for such a simple solution. All we need to do is plan a little better, and eat what’s in the fridge.

Related to this: compost. Natural waste produced methane, a pollutant 80 times more powerful than CO2 when it comes to heating our atmosphere. Regular landfills are not equipt to deal with such a potent compound, but proper composting facilities are. Composted food gets a second life – it can be put to use instead of rotting in a landfill somewhere. Ew.

Now, I say these things, but I AM NOT A SAINT. I am only working on them myself. I am working on them one day, one step at a time. Honestly, I find composting gross. I’ve avoided it like a slimy sock until recently. I’ve realized how much of a difference it can make.

There is one thing I have found that collectively could have the most significant impact of all, but it’s something of a taboo subject. Are you ready for it? My third and final suggestion is this: move towards a plant-based diet.

GASP. Did I just say what you think I just said? Did I just imply the “v” word?

Calm down a minute. Please don’t leave this article because I might have just said something you might possibly disagree with. When I say going into uncomfortable spaces, the space of food is one of the tensest spaces, second only to any debates relating to politics. Food is deeply personal. Food is family and friends and good times and memories. Food is the thing that sustains us. Food is something different to every person on earth, but the basic fact is this: food is life. We cannot live without it, at least, not for very long.

I’m not saying you have to stop eating animal products. I’m not telling you to abandon meat. I am not here to bore you with the vices of the modern diet and virtues of veganism, there are plenty of sites out there to do that. But the one thing I will tell you is this: if you are serious about having an impact on our planet, consider adding more plants to your plate. Just think about it. When you do consume animal products, be a little more mindful of where they’re coming from. Maybe choose free-reign and local over the cheapest option out there. Maybe bulk up that meal with baked veggies and sauteed beans.

Food has been a touchy topic for me for several years. I am learning a new way to be mindful of what I eat. I am digging into the things that make me uncomfortable and why I feel that way. I am learning how I can give back to this planet that has already given me so much.

I am always learning. If you go through life with open eyes, you can too. Let these words give you the courage you need to look at something that makes you uncomfortable. Just a little.

Take one step today.

***

Intrigued? Check out these links:

Drawdown.org to learn about the top solutions to climate change.

BreatheLife to learn about air pollution and what you can do.

Deliciously Ella for plant-based recipes even carnivores will love.

Be You

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.

Alright, I’ll admit it: I have a great appreciation for quotes. I began collecting them when I was young. I spent hours flipping through inspirational books, folding over corners on pages I loved and highlighting ideas that struck me as true. They were things I wanted to remember. When I grew a little older, this time was spent on the computer, which I learned can be a bit of a rabbit hole in of itself. It’s funny, I began to realize, after a time many quotes began to say the same things, just in a different way.

Still, I continued to collect new ones. Quotes would be written down, transferred to notebooks and sticky notes and plastered all over my walls. There were quotes that became like mantras written on the inside of my mind – I would repeat to myself over and over again, particularly during challenging times. This particular quote was first said by Dr. Seuss, and it’s one of my all-time favourites. There is something in those words I find so comforting, even if I’ve struggled to validate their truth.

I would like to tell you I’ve never struggled to be myself, but if I did, I would be lying. Simple doesn’t always mean easy, and I seem to like to make things a lot harder for myself than they actually need to be.

My brain is like a sponge. I am constantly amazed by the amount of information it can soak up and retain. Sometimes this skill can be an incredible asset – I have endless amounts of data filed away for the day it might be useful, studying was never that hard, and I can pick up on new dance choreography with relative ease, so long as I am actually paying attention.

That is the key – focus. Our brains are truly powerful machines that process tens of thousands of thoughts every single day. How do you spend your thoughts? With so much going on in my mind at all times, I know I am very good at entertaining myself. This also means I am at risk of checking out of the present moment if I am bored by what I am doing and losing track of time if I’m interested. This is only sometimes funny when a professor asks you a question and you realize you were actually a million miles away, what were we talking about again?

At other times, my sponginess can be incredibly annoying. I can pick up on the fears, habits and beliefs of the people around me easily, without a conscious thought. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with – we all are. I find I adapt and change in ways I don’t even notice until I do something completely out of character and someone calls me out.

I lose myself in others.

Speaking your truth and living by your values shouldn’t be difficult, but it often is. Not because these things aren’t important to us, but because we have an instinctual desire to be accepted by our tribe, by the people we surround ourselves with. The notion of stepping outside of that can be terrifying. Fear works real hard to get us to fit in, or at the very least do something sensible like following along some predetermined path, we can do that, right? Not always. There comes a point in any life where you have to leap without the assurance of what comes next. You have to live your own story.

It’s funny to look back on my goals from the last number of years, how they’ve changed and shifted course. I can see how the media I was consuming and the people I looked up to at any given point directly influenced the steps I thought I should take.

As a young gymnast, Nastia Liukin was my idol. I watched her fly to Olympic glory in 2008 and dreamed that I would do the same…one day. A little older, I watched acrobatic duos on Instagram attend one of the most prestigious schools for circus arts in the world and I wanted to be just like them…one day. When I discovered author Julie Kagawa’s series, The Iron Fey, I absolutely fell in love with the characters and the way her writing compelled me on a journey filled with romance and plot twists. For a while, my writing began to sound just like hers, but I never took note of this small fact. I would publish a novel and be successful just like her…one day.

I latched onto the dreams of others because admitting to my own dreams made me feel foolish. And vulnerable – too vulnerable. What if someone laughed at me or thought less of me because of what I aspired to become? It’s one way to live with your living, beating heart on your sleeve, and that my friends, is terrifying. So for many years when my dreams came knocking, I politely declined. I took steps on the paths others had laid down before me because, if it worked for them, why wouldn’t it work for me?

My own dreams do exist. They’re there. When I think about them, I can feel my face light up…but then there is the Fear.

I feared my dreams might seem selfish or stupid or insignificant in comparison to the aspirations of those around me. Even as recently as the last few months, I looked to the people who have inspired me to see how they reached their level of success. I considered going to regular university even though my gut told me otherwise. I tried on styles and patterns and platforms like one does hats – which one suited me best?

The answer, it turns out, was none of them. Often the road to our dreams can appear daunting – we see the goal looming over us on a snowcapped mountaintop, distant and far beyond our reach. We have no idea how we’ll get there. The path is unclear, riddled with fog and forks in the road. We are fully aware that some of these paths lead to dead ends while others will help us get further up the mountain. We just don’t know which one is which.

You could follow a path someone laid out before you. You could take every one of those steps and maybe you’ll find success…for a time. This option may seem logical or easy, but the truth is, life doesn’t work this way. The exact combination of steps that worked for others will not work for you because you are not them. You are your own person with your own experience, memories, circumstance and desires. Because you are your own person, you have your own journey to take. Yes, do listen to your elders and learn from those who have gone before you. But do not try to copy their story word for word because I can promise you this: it will not work.

If you can see the whole path laid out before you, it isn’t your path.

For much of my life, I have struggled. I have felt this constant pull: I am simultaneously too much and never enough to fit in. I’m a little different than the people around me, but never quite different enough to be considered a freak. I am a creative but I am also an intellectual…but I am also a hand balancer and baker and entrepreneur and friend. I am passionate about so many things it makes it nearly impossible to become too obsessive about any particular one, because if I spent my time feeling guilty for the time I spent doing handstands or writing or researching all the ways we can help reduce pollution, I would never get anything done.

No, I’m not the right combination of just enough and not too much to fit in or be anyone that I’m not. But I AM the perfect blend of elements to create a very unique compound: I am perfectly me. And you are too.

I hereby declare that you have permission to stop being anyone you’re not.

So go be you.

Give and Take

Confession No. 3: I am not very good at asking for help.

Does anyone else ever feel this way? I have a feeling I am not alone.

In his recent book, Give and Take, bestselling author Adam Grant shares that there are three kinds of people in the world: givers, takers and matchers. We all show up in different ways in the world, falling at different points along the spectrum in different areas and at different points in our life. Our tendencies can change, but we tend to have a default setting we return to time and time again, evident in the way we approach our relationships and interactions every day.

The names for these categories are somewhat self-explanatory. Takers go through life with the goal of accumulating more than everyone else, winning at the expense of someone else. They have no issues putting their needs before someone else’s. Givers do just the opposite – they habitually put the needs of others before their own. Givers give without the expectation of getting anything in return, sometimes without a thought of their own well-being and oftentimes at their own expense.

Matchers are the most common among us, falling somewhere in between. This is the way many people go through life, simply following others’ lead. When matchers are surrounded by givers, they too will become givers. When they are surrounded by takers, they will match that level of stinginess and look out for themselves, because who else will? Matchers operate on a kind of transactional basis, looking to get out of a relationship exactly what they put in – nothing more, nothing less.

For most of my life, I have tended to lean towards the giver end of the spectrum, but like anyone else, my relationship with give and take has been a complicated one.

In elementary school, I remember cycling through a few best friends, never really secure in my social status in the hierarchy that we all know exists, even at that age. I was never like the other kids – I lived a life that was very much foreign to my peers, and they could never understand me for it. Even as a child, I lived a life of discipline. Training and spending time with my family were the most important things, and I often spent my free time writing. I was fairly gifted at a number of different things, but I also worked hard to achieve a level of skill with intention. Both creative and mathematically inclined, my education continued beyond the walls of the classroom. My dad and I would practice numbers in our basement, and I loved to do research on the topics that interested me.

My grades were always good and the teachers liked me, the quintessential “teacher’s pet.” I think this caused some jealousy and insecurity among my peers, who never seemed to stick around. One day I would look up, and the girl who I thought was my best friend had ditched me for someone else, leaving me alone once again.

There was never any explanation for this abandonment, and so I never really understood why they’d left. What had I done wrong? I thought I’d only been generous with my time and my energy and this was how they chose to respond?

As it turns out, many people don’t know what to do with this level of generosity. Receiving makes them uncomfortable when they don’t know what to give in return.

Things improved a little in high school. I still found myself in a number of friendships that didn’t work out, ones that would be there in the times that served them but chose to leave in the times that didn’t. For some friends, they found it easy to be around me when I was hurting but disappeared in the times I was going strong. Others turned to me when they needed a listening ear and left as soon as they’d figured everything out.

People will come and go as you go through life – only a few will really stick around. These are the true friends (I’m looking at you, Natasha!) who you can really count on, the ones you know have your back. But even within these friendships, I have always struggled to ask for help. I am much more comfortable being the helper than the one in need, much better at giving advice or holding space for someone to share their thoughts than I am receiving it. I don’t want to be a burden. I’ve always struggled to believe I deserve this love when in reality, we don’t have to do anything to deserve it. We all do, just the way we are.

In some ways, I find it much easier to be vulnerable with people I barely know. Once I reach a level of closeness with a person, I find it nearly impossible to keep anything from them and yet I fear what they may say when I do share my thoughts. I am terrified of what they may think of me, that they may judge me for my fears or insecurities rather than support me as I know I would them.

We are all our own worst critics. What we don’t realize is that the closer we get to another person, the more we blur the lines of seperation between how we treat them and how we treat ourselves.

Susan Piver describes the phenomenon in this podcast and in her book, The Four Nobel Truths of Love. The easiest example can be found in romantic relationships. Once we have been in a relationship for a while and have surpassed the infatuation stage, discomfort and conflict can and will arise. We grow frustrated with our partner for the little things we do, and it becomes easy to focus on every little thing that annoys us. In the moments we find ourselves angry or irritated, the natural course of action is to lash out. In reality, we should do just the opposite: take a step back and observe the problem from a distance. A relationship a mirror that reflects back to us what is going on inside. If we cannot be accepting and gracious with ourselves, how can we expect to be understanding of others?

In this way, the biggest thing we can do to improve how we show up in the world is improve our relationship with our self. Where do you need healing? Where do you need help? Learn to view yourself through a lens of understanding: sometimes you are strong and awesome, sometimes you are in pain or tired or weak. Sometimes you are a pain in the ass and other times you are not – this is the way it should be.

We could all learn to be a little more understanding of ourselves and the people around us, especially givers. With their willingness to put the needs of others above their own, givers often end up suffering at work and in their personal lives. They are at an increased risk of developing depression and eating disorders and even take lower salaries at work.

On the contrary, givers who can learn to fill their own cup and give from a place of plenty, these are some of the most successful people in the world. They thrive in the midst of fulfilling lives because they are willing to give so much of themselves in a way takers and matchers do not. People may feel slighted when takers succeed but they celebrate the success of givers. The attitude of abundance is contagious – and the world needs it now more than ever.

I am learning that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but rather the acknowledgement that you can’t do everything on your own, which you can’t – trust me, I’ve tried. Being vulnerable enough to ask for help shows the people in your life you trust them. Relationships are a balance of give-and-take that, like all things, takes time to learn.

Each day when you go out into the world, you have a decision to make. You can operate from a place of scarcity – where there is never enough to go around – or you can operate from a place of abundance. What do you choose?

To fear or to trust?

WANTED: Hope

Hope? What is hope? How do some people maintain hope in the face of terrible circumstances, while others lose it and seem to never find it again?

Hope defies all the odds. In fact, Hope can be so elusive it leaves us speechless. I find it funny that, for something I am so passionate about, I am having a terribly hard time finding the words for what I want to say. When I look over to where Hope is sitting in the corner of my kitchen and ask her opinion on the matter, she just shrugs, turning her head to gaze out the window. The sky is this gorgeous, breathtaking blue today – there’s not a cloud in sight. I suppose the beauty of this day is far more interesting to her than my struggles to put words on a page. And maybe she’s right. Figures.

Our world can be such a loud place sometimes, it’s easy to forget about the gentler things in life. We’re force fed a stream of bad news all day long until there is little room left over for simple joys. We’re tricked into believing Hope has disappeared when really, she’s been walking beside us all along, hoping over cracks in the sidewalk while we have our eyes glued to our phones. Hope is unassuming and subtle – she doesn’t like to shove herself into places she isn’t wanted. But she’s always there, somewhere, waiting for us to look up for a second and take a breath of fresh air. You see, we all have something to live for, but this is something we tend to forget. Hope lives in that thing; it’s where she’s made her home and she ain’t leaving any time soon.

Is it foolish to have hope? That depends on what you believe.

There is a point when hope can become blind optimism and faith in the wrong thing, but that is a far cry from believing we have a reason to live. In the last few years, I’ve learned there are two fundamentally different ways to go through life: one looks at the world and says there is a reason I am here, and the other says this is meaningless. It is a difference in mentality that can lead a person to take their own life, or find a way to crawl themselves out of that black hole, whether with help or alone. It is a difference in what you believe resides at the core of every human being – are we broken, or are we whole? Meaningless, or meaningful?

Everyone struggles sometimes. Life can be unpredictable. Life can be hard. We do not choose much of what happens to us in life, but we do choose how we respond. We can choose to be a victim of the challenges we face, or collaborate with life to seek out solutions. I am not here to diminish your pain. There are some who have dealt with struggles I cannot begin to understand; the dark depths of the mind some wander into are undoubtably terrifying. We find Depression enters most of our lives at one point or another, whether in the form of a loved one, a colleague, or in ourselves. It has become a leading cause of disability and will continue to expand its domain, unless we do something about it. Depression stems from the belief that tomorrow will be no different from today, when we forget we have something to live for and tell Hope to go bother someone else, we’ve already pitched a tent and we’d rather be left alone with our suffering, please and thank you. In reality, this is the last thing we should do.

Under the threat of Depression’s oppressive reign, it’s our job to remind each other life is beautiful, and no one is ever alone – Hope is sitting right over there and there are plenty of people around.

Hope continues to baffle me. I’ve met privileged adolescents who are caught in the throws of Depression, and I’ve met people who’ve been through Hell and still see Hope exists. One of the most powerful examples I’ve encountered is the story of how circus changed the lives of people in two vastly different communities, one in the far north of Canada, the other in the heart of West Africa. The story began with two circus artists who met during their performing career. They found they shared the dream of making a difference in the community that had raised them, and quickly became friends.

Guillaume Saladin had spent his childhood divided between three places: a town in France, the lively city of Montreal, and the bitterly cold Igloolik in the far north of Canada. He had a love and appreciation for all three places and their people, but he had seen the sorrow of the North and longed to do something to help. In the summer of 1998, the town was struck by the suicides of two young people. It was not the first time, and it was a pattern that needed to stop. Guillaume returned to assist in a project aiming to give the youth an outlet for their emotions in order to prevent further suicides, and this led to the creation of Artcirq.

Yamoussa Bangoura had grown up in Guinea, West Africa, a country plagued by poverty. He was fortunate enough to have found circus at a young age, and the passion and drive with which he pursued the art enabled him opportunities far beyond the norm. He was able to travel the world, performing, while supporting himself and his family back home. Some time later, Yamoussa returned to teach circus to his siblings and community, later building a grassroots school to continue the initiative. In 2007, he created Kalabante with a few of his highest performing students. Some were related by blood, and some were not, but they became a family.

The two friends decided to do an exchange: the African-based circus would visit Igloolik, and Artcirq would visit Guinea. Circus Without Borders was born. (You can watch the film here or here.) The differences were shocking, but so were the similarities. Both communities embraced the other with warm, welcoming arms. Both had faced struggles of their own, but the ways in which they approached these struggles was astonishing. Yamoussa spoke of the culture he grew up in: you deal with struggles, maybe you deal with feelings of depression, but suicide is never an option because you are working to find a way to support yourself and your family. You see everything your family gave you and you want to give back, so you work until you can. Life is hard but there are things to live for, people to live for, joy to be felt and love to give.

Life is hard but it’s also worth it – that’s something we should never forget.

These days, Hope tags along wherever I go, and I’m glad. Things are a whole lot brighter with her around. Why should we keep Hope around? Because even in darkness, there is light to be found.

Love?

What is love?

This is a deeply rooted, fundamental question humans have been trying to answer for a long time. For centuries, philosophers, writers, scientists and psychologists have tried desperately to define love, to categorize it and stick it in a box. There are the four basic kinds of love and the five love love languages, Shakespeare and the Iliad and Grimm’s Brother’s fairy tales. People have done crazy things for love: they’ve died for love, murdered for love, searched the seven seas for love and given up when maybe it had been there, right in front of them, all along.

I’ve always had a funny relationship with love, simultaneously fascinated and terrified by it’s ability to control our actions and yet fix so much of what I saw wrong in the world. I think I was eight or nine years old the first time I said, “I love you.” I remember my mother used to say those words to me on a daily basis, and one day, she told me that sometimes, she liked to hear those words too. It was a weird concept for me. I’d never really thought about it before. One day, not long after that, I was standing in our sunny kitchen and my mother told me she loved me, like always. This time, I felt the words sitting at the back of my throat, heavy and awkward like a stone. I wanted to say them, and so I did, my tongue nearly tripping over the syllables. My mother smiled and responded with a hug while I stood there, feeling slightly self conscious and uncomfortable, trying to figure out why that had been so hard for me to say.

For me, the words we use hold great power. Words can inspire a nation, or tear a country to shreds. They can destroy a person’s confidence or place it in the wrong source, manipulating and skewing the truth to fit one person’s twisted point of view. But words can also encourage trust and vulnerability, motivate a child to learn or make someone feel less alone. Words can be terrible. Words can be beautiful. For me, the words “I love you” are some of the most powerful words of all time.

Maya Angelou once explained how she believes words are things and we must take great care in how we use them. “You must be careful of the words you use, or the words you allow to be used in your house… Some day we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things – I think they get on the walls, they get in the wallpaper, they get in your rugs, in your upholstery, in your clothes and finally into you.” Words require trust.

I think love can be many things, but I know one thing it is not: judgement. Who am I to say that I’m right and you’re wrong? There are many different paths in life. Typically, it’s not so much a matter of what’s right and what’s wrong but a matter of what you believe in, what actions you chose to take and the consequences that go along with those actions.

Real love does not judge, and real love does not cause harm.

One of the things that angers me most in the world is when people argue over differences in opinion or belief. Far too many wars have been fought in the name of religion. If we take a closer look, the ancient religious are all built on the same foundation: the concept of love. If this is true, how can I tell you that just because you don’t follow my religion, just because you don’t believe what I believe, you’re going to Hell? How is that love?

I know Christians who are hypocrites and atheists who are some of the most caring people in my life. I know you probably don’t believe what I believe or see the world through my lens, but that’s okay – we’re all just trying to figure things out as we go, and we’re bound to encounter other opinions along the way. Who’s not to say that our beliefs can’t coexist, that different religions and theories and political parties connect with different people for a reason? Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and as long as that opinion doesn’t ask that you cause harm or initiate suffering, I will respect that. To love is to give others the space to sit with their opinions and questions. If you truly believe what you say you do, then someone else’s perspective shouldn’t change that.

It is one thing to say that love does not judge, and another to put it into practice.

It is something I am learning and striving for every single day. First, I must learn how to stop judging myself, to unlearn a decade’s worth of bad habits. It’s one of the hardest journeys I’ve been on yet – I don’t know how to love myself for who I am, to accept that I am already enough. I’m very good at seeing the good in others, but not so good at seeing it in myself.

I think I’m still a little scared of love; I think we all are. I think it’s one of the most powerful forces in the universe, something to be reckoned with, not to be taken lightly. You can say “I love you” all you want, but ultimately those words are so powerful because they’re a commitment that require action. You can say “I love you” all you want, but if your actions show something different it means nothing. It’s very easy for those words to become a refrain, something we say without thinking about it. So the next time you say those words, look the person in the eyes and make sure you really mean it.

So what is love?

I’m still trying to figure that one out. I think it remains one of life’s greatest mysteries. I know that right now, for me, love means being there for the people in my life. It means baking cookies and making memories. It means looking up at the sky every once in a while to appreciate the fact that I’m alive. It means listening, really listening to someone’s story, even if it’s the tenth time I’ve heard it or I could be watching an episode of Arrow right now or I’m really, really tired and I just want to go to bed.

It means acknowledging the people in your life who have helped make you who you are.

Thanks mom.