When I heard the news about the 8.9 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, I was lounging in my cozy animal print pajamas in an oceanfront hotel in Laguna Beach.

My beau and I were in town on a quest. We’d driven down the coast from San Francisco so Ian could meet with my amazing life coach, Rich German. Rich had agreed to an unusual kind of coaching session — one that combined a water sport (paddle boarding) and life direction.

So there we were, Ian and I, in Laguna Beach, the morning of Ian’s paddle boarding-for-life-direction session. It was 7am and we were watching the glorious morning unfold from our hotel room, excited about whatever adventure lay ahead for Ian.  The water looked somewhat rougher than expected, but we thought nothing of it. It was early yet and it would probably calm down by 10am, when we were meeting up with Rich.

Then I got a short text from Rich: “Did you hear?” And within minutes, Ian and I were online, looking at photos of the devastation and tragedy of what was unfolding thousands of miles away in Japan. We found out that there were tsunami advisories in Laguna Beach. Obviously the paddle boarding adventure we’d driven down for would have to be cancelled.

The two of us sat there, watching the crashing waves, talking about the horror of what was happening so far away, but yet connected to us by this ocean in front of us. We tried to imagine what people were going through and how in the world we could help. What had seemed like such a big deal to us just minutes before — our drive to Laguna Beach and Ian’s longing for direction and my excitement over getting to meet my coach in person — now seemed tiny and insignificant in comparison to what was happening in Japan.

In fact, in light of that kind of loss and terror, my whole life began to feel insignificant. I recalled a note from a friend, that I’d read the night before I left for the trip, in which she’d suggested it was selfish of me to pursue Simply Celebrate. She had her own reasons for saying that, but I started to extrapolate from there and build out an even bigger case. The idea of living an extraordinary life is so very American, so of our privileged culture. I’m well aware that so many people in the world struggle daily just to survive — just to put food on the table and care for their kids and health. Who am I to talk about living an extraordinary life? Why aren’t I doing “real” work in the world — helping the underprivileged and destitute or working for justice and equality?

But then I heard myself saying, “I’m not called to do that right now.” What I feel called to do is to help people see that we are incredibly fortunate to live where we do, with the opportunities that are available to us and the privilege we’ve been given. I’ve always had food to eat and people who love me. I’ve had a good education. I live in a country that allows me great freedom and opportunity. I’ve been given so much — and yet I don’t always see how lucky I am. I don’t always feel grateful for what I have. I don’t always feel free.

In fact, much of my life I’ve suffered with depression and anxiety. I’ve struggled with daily dissatisfaction and a weighted sense of “not enough.” For a long time, it was so severe that I was suicidal. I just wanted out.

I’m not proud of this. But I also know that I am not alone in this.

Our culture of riches is also one that perpetuates a great perception of lack. We’re bombarded from every angle with images of the perfect relationship, perfect home, perfect car, perfect body, perfect job, and perfect friendships. Like hungry ghosts, we keep reaching for more, more, more. Better, better, better. Something else. Someone else.

I could easily have spent a lifetime, swimming in my anxiety and dissatisfaction, despite everything I was given in my life. Or, worse, I could have gotten so swallowed up in it, that I listened to the voices in my head telling me to kill myself. But that didn’t happen. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to a series of compassionate and brilliant teachers who helped me make the decision to stay here on earth. And from there, to begin a practice of finding simple things to celebrate, one moment at a time, which led to a deliberate practice of living in the riches that are all around (and in) me.

There is nothing “wrong” with depression, anxiety, or dissatisfaction. However, it wasn’t much fun— and it was often scary— for me or the people around me. And what I feel called to do is to help myself wake up — at every moment possible — to this great life I’ve been given. I want to help myself see the beauty of the crashing waves and to really hear my son play the piano and to feel the warmth of Ian’s hand on my back while we’re driving. I want to savor the sound of my mother’s laughter, the breeze rustling through the trees, the taste of a fresh strawberry. Despite all that I’ve been given, there are times when I am so lost in my own conditioned fear and dissatisfaction, that I can’t see the fortune I hold in my own hands. THIS is the work I am called to do.

And then, like a door blown open, I saw that my fortune is not just living such a privileged American life, my fortune is really truly being human and having access to the experiences — all of them— of being human.

When I am “awake” in a way that allows me to be fully alive and expressive — whether that looks like joy, confusion, despair, bliss, or grief— when I allow myself to have and be the full range of human experiences, THAT is the real celebration. That is the place from which I am authentically available to others and I can access a well of generosity that I forgot was there. This is the place from which I can be most helpful to others.

So what I really want to say is that Simply Celebrate is not just about lilies and eucalyptus. It’s not just sparkles and gleam.

It is also the poem of sorrow we write when our lover has left us. It is also the quiet cup of tea we share with friend who had a miscarriage. It is sitting on the pier alone, in the thick fog, not knowing what to do next. Simply Celebrate is about holding in our pocket the brassy truth that our days on earth are limited, nothing is guaranteed, and at any moment everything we know could change in an instant. And in spite of all of that, and because of all of that, we choose to stay out of mind talk and story, and instead plant ourselves firmly in the moment, holding every experience with as much presence is possible in that moment. That is the real celebration.

Simply Celebrate is not a selfish pursuit by a spoiled American girl, as my monkey mind would want me to believe. What it is, is a practice of coming to life. Embracing whatever extraordinary moment is unfolding in front of me. And every moment is extraordinary, whether I like it or now. Whether I would prefer something else or not. Whether I think something else would have made for a better life experience for me or not.

The Buddha said, “We are each responsible for our own salvation.” Some people see this as a selfish pursuit. But in my own experience, I know that when I am alive, awake, and free, that is when I am the most kind, compassionate, and giving. It is when I walk down the street and offer genuine joy to others. It is when I reach into my heart or wallet without thinking, and give to others. It is when I am least judgmental and most accepting.

I don’t know what effect this might have on the world. But I do know from my own experience, that the more available I am to myself, the more available I can be to the people I love, to everyone I meet, and even to those who are thousands of miles away. Waking up in this way feels like the greatest opportunity I have to be of generous and authentic service to others.

Simply Celebrate saved my life. It is what I want to give back.

And as I sat that morning, looking out at the waves, reaching across to Japan, I thought: who knows how far the ripple effects can reach?



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