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Love Siren :: The Unknown

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Alessandra, Amanda, and I walked in silence to this natural pool, Devil’s Eye, also called the Piscina. It was 7am, our dedicated quiet time, and the sun was just waking up. It was the dawn of our second full day on the island and it already felt like we had journeyed through lifetimes of love and grief, and joy and rage.

We jumped from the ledge, one by one, still in awe of the beauty of the island. Ally whispered to us that from she the spot she jumped from, the pool looked like an inverted heart. I contemplated that imagery as I floated and started to feel tension ebb from my body. A heart. I felt like I was being held in Gaia's heart. Our earth mother's heart.

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With my ears just below the surface, I could hear a delicate crackling sound. It was coming from the underwater pebbles skipping across rocks as the tide gently eased in and out. I could feel Gaia holding me, whispering to me, "let go... let go... let go..." I felt my body soften just a little bit more, the water taking my pain, my grief, my anger, and dissolving it in its current.

The sun was still coming up and had only illuminated half the pool into brilliant turquoise. The other half was still a deep navy blue. As I drifted into the navy water, I felt my body tightening again. Needing to flee. Fear. I was afraid of the dark water. I was afraid of the dark crevices at the edges. I paddled myself back into the light again, feeling safer. But why? What was I afraid of?

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My breathe was loud with my ears beneath the surface. My body would float upward as I filled my lungs, and sink as the air reunited with the sky. What was I afraid of? I was afraid of something from the depths of the water that I couldn't see coming up to grab me. I knew there was nothing there except maybe a small school of silver fish. But the darkness. I was afraid of the darkness because I didn't know what was there.

The unknown. That was my fear. I've been through dark times and have no problems with diving deep into my past and my trauma. But the unknown. The future. The uncertainty. That's my biggest fear.

It was time to go. To be in our own thoughts and bodies as we walked back and got ready for our morning practice at the yoga shala. We walked into the unknown, trusting ourselves and trusting each other for the magic that was about to unfold.

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Love Siren :: An Invitation to Shine

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Walking up to the yoga shala for the first time, we waited in line as Camille greeted us at the entrance, one by one. It was our opening ceremony, and I was bursting with excitement. The music wafting from the shala was soothing and otherworldly. I knew that coming to this country and to this island, would be magical, but as I waited, I knew we were about to step into something else altogether. Time-stopping sacred and ancient magic.

It was my turn. My flip-flops slid off my feet and I stepped into our sacred temple. Camille and I gazed into each other's eyes. We were reuniting. We've been on a journey before in Costa Rica. I was looking into the eyes of one of my greatest teachers from this lifetime. I could see her ancient wisdom, and I knew that I would be coming home to myself throughout the week.

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We invoked each of the Goddesses that we would be journeying with. Gaia. Artemis. Persephone. Medusa. Athena. Hecate. Aphrodite. Hestia. We invited in the spirits of our ancestors, our spirit guides, angels. Anyone to guide us through this sacred rebirth.

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We danced. Eyes closed. Letting the music awaken the Shakti, the fluid and feminine energy within us. It wasn't me moving my body. My body was moving me. We started low and slow on the ground. We came to stand and felt deep into our bones- our spine, our hips, our knees. We stomped our feet. We moved faster. Stomping with the beat. Stomping all the rage and the anger that has been stored in my body. I let my head go and just shook my body, shaking out all the shit from a lifetime. Exhausted, panting, the music changed. We slowed down.

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The path was cleared for the joy, the bliss, the light to arise. She prompted us, shine, SHINE. And I started sobbing. I felt my heart and my body open, radiating light. Open. Expansive. I was sobbing for my past self, the little Mona who had to stay meek and quiet. The little girl who had to hide. The little girl who wasn't allowed to use her voice. I sobbed for my past self, the woman who was called stupid. The woman who had to keep herself small so that she wouldn't upset the people around her- the ones that weren't okay with her being happier, more successful, or outshining them.

So I let myself SHINE. Tears glistening, sobbing in gratitude for where I am now. Gratitude for the space and the permission to shine, to show up as my full self.

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How I Paid Off Over $10,600 of Credit Card Debt in One Year

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How I Paid Off Over $10,600 of Credit Card Debt in One Year

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I got my first credit card in January 2013. It was my first year out of college and I was unemployed. My savings was dwindling dangerously low. I was able to pay off the balance each month for a while but eventually, as the due date approached each month, I worried if I would be able to pay the balance. It snowballed. My parents helped me out once. I transferred my balance to another card with a promotional 0% APR with great intentions of paying it all off before the interest started. But I found myself in the Fall of 2017 staring at a 5-figure number. It was bad. I felt hopeless about ever being able to pay it off and pursue my dreams.

This wild ride of paying off my credit card debt has an external part and an internal part. The money and mindset. The money: the practical bits, and what you'll read in most articles about getting out of debt. The mindset: the mental, emotional, and spiritual. The real stuff. The hard stuff. The most necessary. I tried to just follow the financial advice from my parents and online articles for years. When that didn't work, I had to make mindset shifts. That's when real change happened.


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The money

Budget

  • I evaluated how much I was spending and where I could cut back.

  • I worked with a free financial coach. If you're in Chicago, Next Door Cafe has financial coaches free of charge. If you work 9-5, it’s challenging to get an appointment time with them, but if you can, it is the one of the best things you can do for yourself.

  • I created a spreadsheet of my monthly expenses.

  • I created a spreadsheet to track all my purchases. It creates awareness on how and where I use my money. I've tried apps like Mint, but tracking this on my own created deeper understanding of my spending habits.

Bank Accounts

I created several accounts to separate my money. Chase Bank allows you to nickname accounts, so I named them something fun, positive, and encouraging.

  • Checking account for monthly automatic payments. This account is reserved for monthly purchases that I know are the same each time such as rent, utilities, health insurance, subscriptions (Spotify, Netflix, etc).

  • Checking account for flex spending (spending that varies). I allocate $250 a week to this account for purchases like groceries, Uber, eating out, personal care, home care. If it gets down to zero, that's it. No using the credit card. I could move money over from savings if I'm really in a pinch but I try not to do that. I call this account "Gratitude."

  • Savings account for short-term things like a fun night out, a new pair of shoes, or whatever I might want to buy that's not included in my budget. I set up automatic transfers to this account. I’ve changed the name of this one “Joy” to “Future Fun” to “I am Trustworthy.”

  • Savings account for longer-ish term goals. I'm currently using it to save for travel over the winter. I set up automatic transfers to this account. I call this one "Follow the Sun."

  • Savings account at a different bank for a “safety net.”

Safety Net

I struggled with the decision of savings first or paying off debt first. I did not like the idea of living without a financial cushion/safety net/emergency fund, whatever you want to call it. It caused so much anxiety, which in turn caused me to make unwise financial decisions out of fear. I recognized the importance of peace of mind so I went with the safety net savings account first. I opened an account through Ally Bank, which has pretty good interest rates (1.9%). The number that makes you feel safe will be different for everyone. For me, it was $800. I've heard others recommend 3 months of living expenses.

I set up automatic transfers to this account with each paycheck. While I was saving and creating this safety net, I was only paying the minimum on my credit cards and allocating the rest of my money to this Ally savings account. The rest of my accounts are at Chase but I purposely chose a different bank for this savings account because it takes several days for money to transfer over so I can't just make an impulsive buy.

Credit Card Payments

When I reached my Safety Net goal, I started to make payments to the credit cards. But this did not feel good. At all. It felt like my money was evaporating into thin air.

When I was saving, I realized that I enjoy saving money. So I decided to maintain those automatic transfers to the Ally saving account, and once a month, I took a portion of this money to pay my card.

Shopping Hiatus

I went on a shopping hiatus for 3 months. My rules were that I could only buy necessities and experiences (yoga workshops and concert tickets). If your debt is from buying experiences, a different type of purchasing hiatus might be for you. I knew that my brain would try to find a loophole so I added another rule: no tangible items or kindle books. I tried to consume what I already had before buying more.

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The mindset

Get honest

Cultivating awareness is the first and most important step. I had to ask myself, "how did I get into debt?" and “why am I still in debt?” I had to get real and stop bullshitting myself here. Discovering the answers is its own journey.


Shopping addiction

I was researching shopping addiction for reasons unrelated to myself when I realized, "Oh shit. I do most of these things." I didn't think much of it then and kept living my life, making the same poor choices over and over again. My wake-up call was one glorious summer day. I work on State Street in Chicago, one of the biggest shopping districts in the city. I had an appointment after work that was canceled at the last minute, but I still had to be downtown for a while before meeting a friend for dinner. I could have passed the time by sunbathing at the park or journaling, but instead, my anxiety took over and I went to Anthropologie. As I stood in line, I thought to myself "I have no money in my bank account right now. I'm already $8,000 in debt. But I can't stop myself and I'm going to use my credit card." I hated myself in that moment of weakness, but it showed me how out of control my shopping compulsion had become.


Why did I shop?

It would still be a few more months before I got serious about getting out of debt but I started to notice the patterns.

  • I constantly felt like I was not enough and that this new shiny thing would make my life better.

  • It was one way that I bonded with my mom, some of my high school friends, and some of my college friends.

  • It was something to do.

  • The high from getting something new.

  • Fashion is a form of self-expression and I didn't know how else to tell the world "this is me!"

  • I wanted to be prepared for any and every situation and I felt that I had to buy things in order to feel prepared.

  • I tried to fix someone else's depression by buying them gifts.

I have anxiety most of the time and sometimes I get into these obsessive frenzies where the only thing I can think about is how I need a particular item. I'll research it to no end and it's as if the only way to pop that bubble of tension is to buy it. Great. Problem solved. For now. Until the next bout comes around. Each thing I bought caused massive amounts of guilt, anxiety about the growing amount of debt, helplessness, and hopelessness about ever getting out of debt. And the vicious cycle continues.

The inability to say NO

Between my people-pleasing tendencies and complete lack of boundaries, I did not know how to say NO. Whenever friends wanted to go out, I would say yes and end up spending money that I did not have. In addition to the people-pleasing and lack of boundaries, I was regularly being guilt-tripped and manipulated in my last relationship. I did not have the awareness, strength, or confidence to say NO so I ended up paying for nearly everything. This is a whole other crazy journey, a story for another day, but it contributed just as much to the debt as the shopping addiction.

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Take responsibility

Even if it was not your fault, it's your responsibility to heal from this. Will Smith gives a couple excellent examples in this video: "It's not somebody's fault if their father was an abusive alcoholic but it's for damn sure their responsibility to figure out how they're going to deal with those traumas and try to make make a life out of it. It's not your fault if your partner cheated and ruined your marriage but it's for sure damn sure your responsibility to figure out how to take that pain and overcome that and build a happy life for yourself."

By accepting full self-responsibility, we step into full self-empowerment.

I gave myself time to grieve, mourn, cry, yell, throw myself a pity party. Then, I stopped blaming (others, myself, the universe) and started taking action.


Heal and Trust

Healing my blocks around money

I had to let go of the belief that money is the root of all evil. I looked to people who are wealthy and are doing amazing things with their money. Examples: Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Gates. Money is energy and I get to choose how I use it. I can use it for good. I can trust myself enough to know that money will not make me greedy, or entitled, or any of the other criticisms I've heard about people who have money.



Healing my relationship with money

My life-coach, Lelia Christine, asked me to look at money as a person: if money were a person, how am I treating him/her/them? Would he want to be friends with me? Am I treating him nicely or am I pushing him away? Telling him I don't need/want him?

My relationship with Money was pretty bad. I was scared of him, I pushed him away, I didn't think I deserved him, I thought I was greedy for wanting him. I had to create a relationship with money that I would want to be in. One that's loving, safe, supportive, and honest.



Learn how to receive

When someone gave me a compliment, I pushed it away and felt ashamed and guilty of saying “Thank you.” I believed that it made me vain or conceited or egotistical. I was pushing away loving words. I would do the same with gifts. It’s actually a part of etiquette in the Chinese culture to refuse a gift three times before it’s considered polite to accept. But I don’t live in China, nor are any of my friends Chinese. So I’ve been turning away kindness, compliments, gifts, and I used that same mentality to turn away money and abundance. It’s a practice to receive without guilt.



Gratitude

I write down what I am grateful for and remember how much I truly have and how abundant my life already is. I’ve experienced the power of gratitude in occasional doses, but I’m about to embark on a 28-day gratitude challenge where every day, I will write down 10 things I am grateful for and WHY. A practice gratitude on its own has the power to make dramatic changes.



Abundance Mentality

My mind automatically falls into old stories about how I don’t have any money (untrue) and I forget that more is coming in soon. I'm still working on this one. I'm still retraining my mind to believe that abundance is always flowing in.


I work with this mantra. I write it down whenever I’m feeling anxious about money. I breathe and repeat:

Abundance flows freely to me and I am well taken care of by my loved ones and the Universe.

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Are you ready to be free?

I don’t regret a single penny that got me into this debt because the life lessons learned and self-inquiry along the way are invaluable.

This journey has not been easy. I’ve worked with a life-coach, a financial coach, and completed online courses to change my mindset around money. I could dive so much deeper into each of these topics that I’ve listed.

This journey is not for the faint of heart. So much shit came up. But I was ready to face it all and by releasing the heavy bondage of debt, victimhood, and shame, I feel light, free, and full of possibilities and hope.


What is your story? What did you find to be helpful? Which topics would you like to read more about? How can I be of service to you on your journey to lightness and freedom?

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Body Image

Our retreat leader, Camille, asked the group who has ever felt self conscious about their body. And it looked like that scene from Mean Girls when they were asked to “raise your hand if you’ve been personally victimized by Regina George.” Every. single. hand went up.

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Go Live Your Life

What we see from other people’s social media pages are a highlight reel of their best or grandest moments, and comparison is the thief of joy. So take a L O N G deep breath, stop scrolling, and go live your life.

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Rest. Recharge. Revisit.

It’s time to turn within. People and lessons from the past may be returning for another opportunity for growth. Reflect on the past, reflect on yourself.

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Release the Struggle

I’ve watched my yoga practice change over the years.

When I started practicing Ashtanga primary series, which is an intense hour and a half sequence, I was determined on getting my body into all the poses and progressing on to second series. The poses were the goal.

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You Deserve Good Things

Do you ever feel suspicious or cautious when things are going well? Are you waiting for the other shoe to drop? Do you doubt that good things can happen to you?

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Waking Up From Winter

Seasonal affective disorder is no joke. The depression feels like a deep ache in the core of my being, a permeating sadness regardless of how good life is. 

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Jungle Goddess

My time in Costa Rica on the Jungle Goddess retreat was more amazing than I imagined it could be. I experienced love and connection at a whole new level. It was a week of love, connection, loving words, feeling like I belonged, feeling accepted, feeling safe and held and cared for.

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Core Desires

After all the excess is gone, what is truly important to me? They go hand in hand, but I were to condense it to 3 words, they would be Connection, Authenticity, and Health.

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Reminders of Gratitude and Joy

I was in a Yin Yoga training this weekend and our homework was to write down 11 things we are grateful for and 11 things that bring us joy. It helped to shift my perspective. We sat in a circle and shared 3 from each list. I got to hear 108 beautiful and heartwarming reminders of gratitude and joy.

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Hello World. I Am Here.

No more of this "means to an end" bullshit. What the hell is the "end" anyways? I resolve to stop putting my life on hold until I achieve this thing or that thing. I resolve to stop trying to fit my life into a plan. We all know how plans go.

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Zenevate

I'm making yoga videos!! I’m partnering with a new company called Zenevate that's working on a platform to bring yoga videos to practitioners from their favorite instructors!

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Freedom

Freedom. Authenticity. Connection. Awe. Love. Secure. Peace. Balance. Joy. Beauty. Abundance.

These are some of the feelings that guide me in my life.

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