Tuesday, October 30, 2012


I am not afraid of much. I embrace change. I have lived in more states than some visit. I have kayaked during a deluge, zip lined over a rain forest, and hiked down a mountain after dark. There is something, however, that can make my heart race, cause me to break out into a sweat, and turn my stomach. The physiological response I get from the mere thought of it has influenced my relationships and halted my growth. I would rather jump out of an airplane or ride in a race car during the Indy 500 than be vulnerable.

Being vulnerable is frightening. Sharing your life and experiences makes you feel as if you’ve handed over an arsenal of how to hurt you in the worst way imaginable. The thought of being emotionally open with others releases a floodgate of tormenting questions. Will they use this information against me? Will they share it with someone? Will they minimize my hurt? Will this change their perception of me? Will they think my story is too sordid and painful and walk away? Will this change our relationship?

Experiencing anxiety at the thought of being vulnerable is normal. It is scary to allow someone into your intimate, emotional space. However, being vulnerable—in healthy circumstances—is beneficial and ultimately, necessary to your growth. Vulnerability can show you beauty and peace in their most sincere forms. It can strengthen relationships and provide a much-needed sense of community and support. In addition to forging a trust- and love-filled bond with others, being vulnerable leads you one step closer to freedom. The painful, emotional associations you've clutched are released. Hurts and fears no longer control your life and boss you around. Sharing your stories can give you the boost of power and confidence needed to move forward.

Vulnerability is not simple. It’s uncomfortable and scary. Yet, when you have loving people in your life who are committed to your well-being and truly value your relationship, it is far more advantageous to take that leap. Give yourself permission to release what has held you back. Invest in your relationships by trusting. Allow yourself to be wrapped in the support that you need, but have refused to accept. Step out of your own way, let go, and become one step closer to being completely free.

Even though I would still prefer jumping out of a plane or going 200 mph on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I made a promise to press through my temporary heart racing, outbreak of sweat, and turning stomach to invest in myself enough to be vulnerable. I made this promise because being healthy has become much more important to me than being comfortable. In order to live a life of freedom I have to do what is required to be free.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Spiritual Freedom

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco
As Semester At Sea celebrates Founder’s Day this week, I remain grateful for my first experience with the program in February of 1999. Thirteen years later, I’ve seen the world, but it’s my world that has changed. There are countless ways that I’ve grown, but one in particular has been achieving a more authentic and free spiritual life.

Growing up I spent many, many, many hours in church and had a love-hate relationship with our family’s level of commitment. I thoroughly enjoyed the sense of community and I needed to believe in something greater than what my life had to offer at the time. On the other hand, in addition to questioning the relevancy and purpose of the many hours I attended, I started to question how we were applying the teachings of love. We loved people through certain challenges, ignored others, and condemned the rest. The more I traveled, the more I rejected that framework, along with a few other inconsistencies.

It is impossible to travel internationally and not feel your foundation shake. Being in Morocco during calls to prayer, listening to Archbishop Desmond Tutu deliver a compelling address in South Africa, and seeing the emotional impact of a belief system in India taught me more about spirituality than all of my years in buildings on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. Standing on the back deck of a ship and seeing nothing but the sun reflecting off of a seemingly endless ocean swaddled me in peace. Having a conversation with someone I’d been taught would spend an afterlife in an undesired place illustrated another possible ending to the story. If I could treasure a religious practice different than my own, be inspired by teachings that drastically differed from what I'd heard year after year, feel tangible peace on the back of a ship, and sense inner contentment radiating from those practicing beliefs I was taught to fear then I had to question everything and that was unnerving. How could I interrogate my foundation? Did I have the courage to walk this through? What if everything I knew was untrue?

What I learned is that tradition is not synonymous with spirituality. True spirituality comes from within. Following protocol and engaging in busyness by way of services and revivals to avoid life is not healthy nor a reputable sign of growth. True spirituality comes from an authentic desire to connect. I saw and felt a genuine desire for spiritual contentment in the lives of many people, in many countries, in different ways. None were inferior nor forged. How did my spiritual life change? I learned the invaluable lesson that my spiritual connection was not dependent on a physical location or someone’s else standard’s. It was only after I freed myself from performing traditional behaviors and expectations that I could engage in seeking truth and peace and be a living example of love.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Challenge

Most days I wake up jovial. I wake up thankful to see another day so I view everything else as extra. The sun rise is extra. The roof over my head is extra. The clothes to choose from, job to go to, good morning text messages—all extra. There are other days that require more effort. I am still grateful, but in the midst of my gratitude something else tugs on me. Years ago I ignored the tugging. I ignored it because I felt guilty for being anything less than grateful. Yet it didn’t stop tugging, or go hide in a corner, or quietly leave the room. It would sit there tapping its foot, folding and unfolding its arms, impatiently waiting me out. I would try to cover it with more declarations of gratitude and it would clear its throat, shift its weight and eventually, throw a chair across the room and knock me over.

For many years I struggled with the concept of conflicting emotions. I thought it was impossible for me to be grateful and feel sad or be strong, but have bouts with weakness. As you can imagine, this didn’t bring me genuine gratitude or true strength. I was more confused than grateful and more oblivious than strong. I was defenseless because I couldn’t fight what I failed to acknowledge. I had to learn that a scuffle with sadness or weakness did not negate my being optimistic and strong. An occasional struggle is not a reflection of character—how you handle your struggle is a reflection of character.

Here’s the awesome part. I felt the tug of sadness and discontent because I had grown. I was more conscious of the instability and could no longer ignore what had been in my space the entire time. Previously I was not perceptive enough to sense its presence. As I grew, my level of awareness increased. The more I matured, the more I could discern sadness until finally, it felt large enough to knock me over. My sadness wasn’t growing, though, I was.

You face new challenges as you grow because your emotional state becomes more sensitive to instability. Whether your primary challenge is sadness, anger, disappointment, loneliness, grief, guilt, shame, or fear, as you grow, it will become impossible for you to ignore it. Over time what was a quiet nagging will start to ring in your ears. What was once slightly annoying will become intolerable. That’s the bad news. The good news, though, is that your challenge isn’t growing, you are. You are the one that is getting stronger. You are the one that has more influence. You are the one that will have the last word. Appreciate the growth. Stand up to the challenge. It is time.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Change of Plans

Hoi An, Vietnam
When I was in sixth grade I pictured a future based on expectation. I pictured the husband, the smiling kids, the family pet, the house, and the cars and equated all of that to the good life. Even before I knew much of anything, I was certain that checking off marriage, motherhood, and material trappings meant I had arrived. As I grew older, reality rocked my expectations and set me on a path outside of what I thought was possible.

As I moved past the years of writing out kids’ names, I entered phases of writing out college, rental, and job applications. The life I envisioned in junior high school seemed far from where I was headed. My plans to marry that perfect man and have those smiling children faded. He—perfect husband—and they—smiling children—didn’t exist. What I was going to do with my life until they arrived turned into what I was going to do with my life even if they never arrived.

For some, the mere thought that they—the spouse and children—might never come ushers in uncomfortable and even painful emotions. For some, the disappointment feels tangible, something that embraces them and weighs heavily on their shoulders. To make matters worse, there are reminders everywhere. Go to the grocery store, the movies, the mall, the gym, an airport, or anywhere else besides your own residence and you’re sure to find couples and children reminding you of your singleness.

The reality is that not everyone will live out life the way the world—including self—expects. Not every little girl will grow up to get married, have children, and bake. Not every little boy will grow up to marry his college sweetheart, drive a convertible, and become the CEO of a company. Not everyone is in a loving relationship. Not every marriage will result in children. We have to create acceptable space for everyone because they represent people—people with challenges, heartache, emotions, and voids. People who deserve to be accepted, cared for, embraced, and loved. People who already have the difficult task of reconciling their lives for themselves. When we collectively exercise more tolerance and compassion for those not playing out societal or gender standards then we individually learn not to be unhealthily attached to those expectations.

I am not cloaked in disappointment. My life has flourished in ways that sixth grade Myla couldn’t fathom. Although I am fulfilled, I have had others try to place their expectations on me. Had I given them the power, I could have taken on that pressure and felt disappointed for not living differently. I could have allowed their lack of vision to cause me confusion and displeasure. Instead, I am grateful for all of my life stories. Those things that I didn’t plan for are the very ones that have given me the most. It was my unexpected freedom that has given me access to the most fulfilling, memorable, and life-changing experiences.

Even if life isn’t exactly how you perceived or envisioned, it’s not over. If you are still here, there is still more to do, see, experience, appreciate, and love. When we stop focusing on what hasn't happened, we can fully walk in the gratitude of what has. I may not have a husband or kids, but I can’t imagine my life being any better than it is right at this moment. I have seen sights most only see from afar. I laugh daily—and a lot! I have joy. I have peace. I have love. This may not be the life I planned, but it is the life I own, appreciate, take responsibility for, adore, and wouldn’t change. This isn’t the life I envisioned and I am so grateful because it is richer and fuller than my mind had the capacity to imagine. Instead of living according to the expectations of this world, I have been gifted with the opportunity to experience it.

Paris, France
Chennai, India

Langkawi Island, Malaysia

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Doodle Again

I remember being in sixth grade writing out the names of the son and daughter I would have. Christian Jeremiah. Lauren Taylor. Christian Jeremiah. Lauren Taylor. Christian Jeremiah. Lauren Taylor. I didn’t consider it abnormal. The notebooks of many junior high school students were filled with doodles and notes that distracted us from class. Young girls wrote out our children’s names, carefully constructed our crush’s name with hearts around it, and if our crush lasted for more than three weeks, we combined our first name with his last name to see them together. While it’s extremely amusing, it’s also admirable. Back then, before doubt and disbelief dictated our actions, we put our dreams on paper. We wrote out our wishes and mediated on them. We weren’t ashamed to dream nor embarrassed to be excited. As we grew older, reality intruded, choked out some of our enthusiasm, and we stopped having the confidence and nerve to write out the names of our dreams.
Decades past my days in middle school you might be surprised to know that I still doodle. I still write out names repeatedly. You will not find me drawing hearts or combining my first name with someone else’s last name, but I do write out the names of those I carry with me—those who don’t exist somewhere in the future, but who live in my every day. When I think of my loved ones, I write down their names and that simple, seemingly insignificant action reminds me to remain present. In the moment it takes me to write out their names I think of why they are important to me and am filled with gratitude. I am excited and energized because I have their love and merely seeing their names on paper fortifies those positive feelings. 
The lesson to be learned from our sixth grade doodling is that we can experience encouragement and excitement by naming our dreams. There is empowerment in repeatedly naming our dreams and writing and reading what is important to us. Start doodling again. You may not have the same experience I have by writing out the names of those I love, but there is a great benefit in seeing what has personal significance to you on paper. Name your dreams. Write your heart’s desires. Write out your goals. Write down the name of the country you’ve always wanted to visit. Write down the job title you would like to have. Write out a plan for improving your life. Simply write what immediately comes to your mind. Look at what you write. Focus on it. Allow yourself to get excited about it. Just give yourself the space and freedom to doodle again.