Amanda Quraishi writes...

While I do think it’s important not to give in to despair, my experience tells me that when it comes to the hard stuff in life — difficult relationships, mental health struggles, money problems, addiction, questions of faith, and political action — the only way out is THROUGH.

This means accepting and acknowledging that we’re not going to feel good all the time. Some of us may not even feel good most of the time. And that’s just the way it is.

Feeling bad isn’t actually a bad thing. Assigning morality to our human emotions penalizes us for simply being who we are. Feeling bad is part of life — and I would argue that it’s even a beneficial because if we don’t feel bad, we feel no impetus to change; and if we feel no impetus to change, we stagnate. Our full potential is reached through a dance between wins and losses, achievements and failures, teaching and learning.

The most powerful thing you can do for another person is to witness and affirm their pain. This is also the most powerful thing you can do for yourself.

On the other hand, one of the most abusive things you can do to another person is to refuse to acknowledge their pain. To try to compete with their pain. Or to make them feel like they are morally/spiritually inferior because of their pain.

Affirmation isn’t approval. Acknowledging that you feel shitty, or that you’re struggling with something big and awful and scary isn’t weakness — nor does it mean you’re willing to stop trying. As Susan David said in her talk, “courage isn’t the absence of fear, it’s fear walking”.

To expect people — to expect YOURSELF — to show up constantly as an inhuman source of positivity to guide others isn’t realistic. It’s also sort of taking away from the role of The Divine (if you subscribe to that kind of thing). Even history’s most beloved prophets and gurus were not free from the hardship of life and or from their own internal demons.

I am here to tell you: you can learn to appreciate the pain. You can learn to embrace the difficulties, and recognize that they are part of the rich emotional tapestry of your life. You can reset your expectations for yourself and others and make room for the natural, normal human responses to life’s challenges — and you can do it without getting stuck down there forever.

When you embrace the struggle and really feel the discomfort, that is when you know you’re growing.


When I was a little girl, I’d look at the faces of older people and wonder why they grew so serious during long moments of quiet reflection. Why the corners of their mouths turned down, and their brows wrinkled, and their eyes drooped. Some very old people looked downright angry, though I came to understand that it was just the canyons of lines across their faces that gave them that appearance. Even the older folks who I knew were usually jolly would look too serious at times.

Not that I didn’t understand sadness or anger as a child. But this look was about something more than these. This seriousness I saw in their faces was a weight, a heaviness that comes from bearing a load. It was the look of someone who was resolved, but never fully surrendered to difficulties.

Life is hard, people. It’s really hard. For all of us.

We’re all struggling with some things internally and externally that eat away at our ability to maintain a sense of optimism and joy in our lives. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think it’s a real thing.

I also think a lot of us are expending a lot of energy in a society that favors youthful verve and carefree smiles, trying to pretend that the load that we’re carrying isn’t carving canyons of worry and stress into our faces and our souls.

Because after all, the only thing worse than struggling is looking like you don’t have your shit together, isn’t it?

Yesterday afternoon I caught a glimpse of my face in the mirror. I looked like I felt — heavy, tired and worried. And older. I quickly smoothed my face and went about my day, hiding my concerns with a smile and a joke, as we do. Until, of course, we can’t hide it anymore. And it becomes our face to the world. And young children look at us and wonder why we’re so serious in our long moments of quiet reflection.

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Popular opinion is oppressive. That is why the best thinking, art, music, writing and self-expression always happens on the margins of society and/or within spaces away from which ‘just anyone’ is allowed to participate.

Some mistake this for elitism. It certainly can be if it’s being done by people who sincerely believe they are inherently better than others. But mostly, I think, it’s a form of artistic and creative self-preservation.

Those who have produced truly great things almost always find enclaves of like-souls with whom they can express themselves freely, and without judgement — engaging throughout their imperfect processes and without the burden of having to perform for the fickle, intolerant or unfulfilled masses who are simply looking for, at best a diversion; at worst, things to criticize in order to relive their own existential discomfort.

I think many people who lack this kind of community, or who are yet to find their enclave have made a decision to simply walk alone. It’s better to be lonely than to be oppressed, creatively or otherwise.

Society almost always views creativity in terms of product. True creatives understand it as process. And process is something that requires time, experimentation, mess and confusion.

Process is as much about the creator as it is about the creation.

Process is about the expansion and evolution of the self as an instrument of creativity. It can’t happen in spaces where we are forced to conform to the lowest common denominators of expression, morality, or identity.

It doesn’t require affirmation or the engines of affirmation that society provides for those who are lost, insecure or unable to resolve their creative impulses. The creative process affirms itself. It is recognizable on a cellular level and undeniable to anyone engaged with it.

In the same way that religious communities want to ‘own’ the spiritual lives of their adherents — placing each individual person under a yoke of dogma, controlling the unique spiritual impulses that are the birthright of every single human being — so does popular culture do with creativity.

But anyone with an authentic spirituality who has walked the path alone can tell you that no one has a goddamn thing to say about their beliefs or experiences in that realm. Same is true for creatives.

To have fully engaged with your creativity means owning a part of yourself that is untouchable by opinion. It is tantamount to personal spiritual realization. NOTHING and NO ONE can take it away from you.

Not that they won’t try. But when faced with the choice between meeting public approval and fully embodying the vivid, technicolor existence that you were born for, it becomes easy to shrug and walk away from other people’s demands for conformity, their litmus tests for belonging, or their controlling criticism.

It’s not always an easy path, and the truth is that you may never be popular. (At least, not in your lifetime.) But you will be truly living.

And honestly, what more do you want out of life?

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Periodically I take long breaks from drinking from the fire hose of social media, and it’s during these times that I realize with great poignancy how little value there is to be found in the constant drumbeat of self-analysis (personal and communal) that has come to dominate public online discourse.

As an enthusiastic consumer of all types of media it has started to feel as though we are drowning in egos; dissolving into a million fragments of artless navel-gazing and opinion. With every ‘think piece’ and ‘long read’ I feel less informed, and more assailed by someone else’s desperate need to be seen and heard.

Media and the personalities that define these spaces have devolved into an arms race for attention among creators with their constant cries for recognition, validation and confirmation of their deeply held beliefs. While it’s often dressed up in terms of critical thought and the pursuit of justice, this trend of personalizing every trial, tribulation and trauma in society feels like it’s just another reason to talk about ourselves in the most adolescent way.

The copious digital prophets of doom, splashing in their puddles of cynicism are more interested in having their personal fears read and shared than in doing anything productive about them. The reactive, hostile takes about who and what is wrong, and why everything is falling apart — not because of those who are most vulnerable by bad policy and politics — but because the author’s ideals are not embraced by others, over whom they wish to feel superior.

The desperate clinging to identity, and the insistence that suffering as a virtue entitles one to more and larger audiences resulting in digital pissing contests.

For me, the most compelling art, music, literature and journalism is that which removes the creator from the center of the work and treats any creative product as discovery.

True genius (which I’ve had a rare opportunity to encounter in my forty-seven years) tends to operate in a state of awe at their own ability to receive and convey creative energies in a unique way. That is the reward for engaging in the creative process.

It is an honor to stand as a lens through which pours universal truth and light.

Creative corruption, however, occurs when they begin to look at this as their own personal source of power, and one that they should command according to their desired ends. Yet, even if one enters the digital fray with this kind of creative purity, I think it becomes impossible not to sully it with the addictive pursuit of higher and higher scores in the game of online thought supremacy.

Today, we see the commodification of creativity now at its peak. We’ve captured the magnificent beast that is artistic inspiration and penned it up, letting it out only when we think we are able to fully control it, and only to produce something that serves a predetermined agenda — whether it be political, social or economic. We’ve sanctioned a handful of elite creatives to frame the public discourse — those who can create our respective authorities’ desired propaganda on demand — and given them a societal stage that they may occupy conditionally.

The creatives who have found respectability and a paid occupation in this modern world are more often than not as aware (subconsciously, at least) of their own enslavement to the guarantor of their incomes, and the opinion of a public which is itself increasingly focused on ego gratification. They are aware of the unwritten rules — lines that must not be transgressed — marketability, bourgeoisie sensibilities, popular moralizing and the need to never, ever be seen as a political liability.

Perhaps this adds to the anguished navel-gazing. The sense of being confined, of having their creative impulses forever at the mercy of some agenda that diminishes the power of their art.


Not tolerance for other people (that’s a different blog post all together), but tolerance for our own discomfort. For being stuck, waiting for news, feeling uninspired. It’s about those periods in our lives when we don’t know what to do, and we feel like we might go mad because there’s nothing productive we can do to relieve our existential angst.

Most of the time we try to address this feeling by distracting ourselves or hitting the lever on the dopamine machine in whatever ways we prefer — food, sex, alcohol, drugs, Netflix — pick your poison.

And when the drug of choice wears off, or when we get sick of our own escapism and we still don’t have a way out, we get mean. Or self-obsessed. Or passive-aggressive.

Most of us are living in a state of intolerance for the discomfort we feel about not knowing, or doing, or being everything for which we inherently know we have the potential.

And instead of waiting patiently, working methodically toward opportunities or goals — we writhe and scream and stamp our feet and throw our cosmic tantrums and then settle in with an XL pizza and a remote control and try to ignore it. Or jump on the internet and talk shit about people who we feel it is safe to criticize.

But I’m thinking there’s a better way, and that way involves the least fun thing we can think of: tolerance.


Over the past few weeks I’ve been limiting my engagement with other people (as I periodically do) in order to focus on personal projects, and to give my heart a rest from the non-stop, 24/7 shit-show that makes for public discourse these days.

Unlike my previous social sabbaticals, though, I am struggling to use this time to myself productively.

Granted, for someone like me struggling to be productive means *only* reading four books at a time; listening to a podcast series; doing The Artist’s Way 12-week program; volunteering; taking tai chi; and writing the story of my religious life (in addition to my home and family responsibilities). But still. I haven’t found a new job yet, and time has stretched out before me in a way that has removed the urgency from my efforts.

It is sobering.

Sobering because it has finally begun to dawn on me that my life is actually purposeless. Or rather, that my purpose is to just be the best version of myself that I can; and then, die. (Not unlike literally everything and everyone else in the universe.)

Sobering because it means that I’ll never again be able to fill my days with busyness in order to distract myself into believing I’m doing something cosmically important with my own little turn at sentient being.

Sobering because the implication of not having some grand purpose for my life means that there is no other priority for me besides what I can do right now. I don’t have the excuse of something more important that needs my attention, or some lofty pursuit that excuses me from seeing what needs to be done in my closest spheres of influence. There is no great destiny — aside from the great destiny of being, as I am.

In Zen, the idea of aimlessness (apranahita) is considered one of the three doors to liberation. What does this mean for those of us who have spent our lives trying to solve problems ‘out there’ and ‘fix the world’?

It means that we’ve been going about it the wrong way.

Aimlessness doesn’t mean ‘being lazy or ineffectual’. Rather, in the Zen tradition, it’s about effacing specific ideologies, solutions, or outcomes so that I can be fully engaged with the world around me; doing what I must, without the benefit of believing in a ‘higher purpose’ for myself.

But how, you may ask, can the human race get anything done this way? If everyone is just wandering around aimlessly, how do we actually solve problems?

The key, of course, is to allow ourselves to be guided by our moral and ethical commitments to attend to what is happening in each moment, and to the best of our limited abilities. We know that the world is full of pain, suffering and despair. Our responsibility to ourselves (and to one another) is to address the suffering over which we can actually have a direct impact.

How bizarre is it that I’ve spent so much time and money working on theoretical problems, trying to solve problems for people I’ve never met, while the people living across the street from us may be suffering and in need of help? How often have I ignored the homeless person on the side of the road because I had to get somewhere and do something important?

Imagine a world where we all met each moment and every circumstance with openness to helping the people right next to us; abandoning our dogmas, embracing wisdom — the ability to read the specific needs and context of the moment — and then choosing our response in a way that serves the unique needs of the time and place in which we stand.

The truth is, the challenges facing humankind are limitless. Solving them will never come from a single approach or system or dogma or theory. The world will become whole when flexibility, creativity, humility and compromise become our modus operandi, allowing us to meet one another in the moment to address THIS problem. The one that is right in front of us. And then the next one. And the next.

It’s impossible to know the future. It’s impossible to see what is coming next. The duration of our time here is uncertain. Understanding this means abandoning hope that we will remake the world in our image and solve the very problems that may have caused us immense personal pain and loss.

But we are not helpless, nor hopeless.

What is required is courage to give up on our delusions of grandeur and stop hoarding our love, creativity, money, time and compassion as if the world will someday become more worthy to receive our gifts than it is today.

In the words of one of my teachers:

Plunge into it all Open to it all Forgive it all Offer it all

After all, we’ve nothing to lose.

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There is no greater joy.

There is no greater responsibility.

There is no greater fear.

There is no greater pride.

Motherhood is hard. Done right, it takes everything out of you.

It changes you, pushes and pulls you in to a shape that feels familiar and alien all at the same time.

Having watched my mom and my mother-in-law in action, however, I realize that each mother gets to make the role their own. So despite the fact that I regularly have no idea what the hell I’m doing, I’ve embraced it and done my best.

That said, I don’t always recognize myself as a mother. Sometimes I’m shocked to realize that these young people living in my house look at me that way.

I’m often delighted to discover that, even as adults, they still want me to hold them, pamper them and give them silly little encouragements that I know they don’t *really* need.

But I’m so very happy to do it. Always and forever.

I regularly talk about my mom and mother-in-law online, but I don’t often discuss my own adventures in motherhood or my relationship with my children. It feels too precious for public display.

But I want to make it clear this fine Mother’s Day that my children are the single most important thing that has happened in my life. I love them more than I love myself — or anything else, really.

Nevertheless, I’m acutely aware (and have been since the very beginning) that my kids aren’t *mine*. I don’t own them — no matter how much time, energy and money I have invested in their care. I’ve had the enormous privilege of bearing them and nursing them and supporting their growth; but these two are their own people — and they have been since they popped out of my irreparably stretched-out belly.

The choice to become a mother is a sacred, inalienable right that every person capable of bearing a child deserves to exercise when, where, and how is best for them and the child.

The work is great, the load is heavy; it alters you physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Each child comes to the world with their own set of needs and demands, requiring us as mothers (still the overwhelming majority of primary caretakers of infants and young children) to educate ourselves and adapt quickly — regardless of who we are and how qualified we feel.

Motherhood is not a choice anyone else can make for you.

It is a sacred decision to allow one or more other humans to use your body, mind and heart for the rest of your life; as needed, often without warning.

I love being a mother.

I love that I was able to choose motherhood when I was in the best position to give my kids what they needed to thrive.

I love that I’m able to know and understand myself better through the rigors of motherhood.

I love that my children surprise me daily with their awesomeness in every stage of their growth and development.

I love that I learn more about how to love and appreciate my own mother through my children.

Please understand, I’m not using words like “sacred” and “choice” in any hyperbolic sense.

What I am saying is this:

The government of the United States of America doesn’t factor into any of this.

The Motherfucking End.

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As I’m coming out of the darkest depressive episode I’ve had in a decade, I’m starting to reflect on my despair. I spent a long time staring out of windows and curling up in the fetal position this year.

For months I thought that perhaps I was going to be lost for good. I was frustrated with myself because I couldn’t make myself feel “hopeful”.

You see, most of my life I’ve been operating with an idea of hope based on cultural and religious ideals which are simply not mine — where anything can be overcome with enough positive thinking and inspirational quotes. Where Someone is coming to save you (if you pray hard enough); and where hope is an indicator of the strength of your faith.

I’d been indoctrinated from birth with the idea that hope is the one thing that can make you feel better when everything is at its worst. That hope is an emotion– uplifting and full of power.

A Shepard Fairey poster with Obama’s face staring ‘hopefully’ to the future; a greeting card featuring a scripture and an illustration of light breaking through the clouds; a shelter to rest in when you need to hide from the evil that you encounter in your life.

I thought I was hopeless, because for most of this year, I had no assurance that anything was going to improve. No reason to believe that I was going to come back out of the hole. I was sad. I was angry. I was desperate; and the weeks crept by, with no end in sight.

Was I hopeless? Turns out, I was not.

Hope, you see, is not a good feeling. Not for me, anyway.

Instead, I found that my hope comes in ugly, cracked and weird packages. It’s dreadfully imperfect (though is often exactly what I need in the moment) and it feels like hell.

My hope is not a reason. It’s the thing that keeps me going despite feeling like there is no reason to keep going.

My hope isn’t the erasure of fear, or sadness, or anger. Nor is it a safe space. It’s the little talisman I hold in my sweaty palm as I traverse unsafe spaces, and accept realities that terrify me.

My hope is a tiny foothold on the sheer face of a cliff— providing just enough room to risk taking another step.

Hope is a shitty little life raft that I cling to— the thing that keeps me afloat just long enough to send up a flare for the help I need.

Oh, I have hope. It doesn’t belong on inspirational posters, and it won’t give me strength and courage and the ability to defeat the armies of darkness.

What it will do, however, is keep me alive.

Despair isn’t a moral failing. Nor does it mean you have no real hope left in you. It means that you’re no longer placated with ideas and easy answers that have no basis in reality. It means you’re ready to work through some of the hard questions, and that you’re more interested in truth than comfort.

It may not sound that great, but in retrospect, I’ll take the harsh reality and function of true hope over the greeting-card-scripture-quote-fantasy-kind any day.

I hope you understand.

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This morning I woke up at 5:45am to the sound of rain. I then drove down to the sweet little house that belongs to my zen community and sat in meditation for an hour. After which I joined several of these lovely folks for tea and conversation at a comfy coffee shop down the street. After that, I met a dear friend for breakfast and had one of the most nourishing, affirming, and loving conversations I’ve had in years.

If you know me, you know I’ve struggled with the ideas of community and belonging for my entire adult life. I’ve been in dysfunctional and abusive communities; I’ve also been without community for long periods, wandering in the wilderness, talking shit to the lizards, and doubting I could ever really belong anywhere.

I allowed myself to be indoctrinated into ‘Community, Inc.’ – the industry that employ tactics and levers of professional community-building – because I desperately wanted to be part of things that ultimately didn’t want me.

Not everyone belongs in every community. Just like we can’t all personally be in a healthy relationship with just anyone – we have individual needs, values, priorities and gifts that belong among those who understand and share them.

This isn’t about judging communities as good or bad. (Though certainly all communities have challenges, and are at different stages of health and usefulness.) It’s about realizing that part of your life’s work is finding where you belong and can be the best version of yourself.

What I now refer to as ‘my community’ is an amorphous web of individuals and groups which have congealed around my true self (as opposed to my ego), and who reflect my heart. It doesn’t fit into a tidy box, and it’s not institutionalized. It’s an organic network of loving kindness and genuine care.

It’s taken me years – decades – to find ‘my people’ and I’m happy to report that I have, and they are an assortment of beautiful, scarred, simple and kind folk. Also, they love me – the real me!

So how did I arrive at this place of abundant kindness and joyful humanity?


In the same way that dehumanization paves the way for every kind of atrocity against humanity, I think much of the cruelty and abuse we inflict on our living planet and it’s non-human inhabitants is the result of detachment – fostered by our collective ego and the egocentric trappings of modernity.

I also believe that many so-called ‘spiritual’ belief systems we depend on for our existential comfort contribute to this by creating a false duality between our current lives and some ‘afterworld’ – indoctrinating us to believe that our priority as humans is to pursue an existence completely separate from this planet. In other words, Heaven is a pipe dream and…something, something… opiate of the masses.

Unlike many non-theists, however, I do believe there is a profoundly spiritual element to our existence. You can find it in almost any tradition if you read between the lines of human aspirations for power masquerading as religious dogma. These traditions tell stories in ways that allow us to visualize concepts that aren’t easy to describe. (Some people like to take these as literal and turn them into idols – but that’s a different discussion for another time.)

My budding Zen practice has helped me recenter and reorient my whole self – physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual – around the idea that we are not some separate, special creation made in the image of some male-centric, authority figure modeled on patriarchal, tribal cultures.

Instead, each of us are a particularly beautiful, inextricably connected manifestation of the natural world with infinite potential; born to fully inhabit each perfect moment during the cosmically short time we are alive.

Living well means our engagement with other humans, the planet, and the billions of non-human life forms that live alongside us, is a symbiotic dance in which we take our cues from one another (both subtle and gross), and respond in ways that demonstrate the truth that we are, all, one.

The Golden Rule, in its simplest and most elegant form; extended to all things, at all times.


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