A Year of Grieving Our Losses and Celebrating Our Victories

A Year of Grieving Our Losses and Celebrating Our Victories

The one takeaway we can all learn from the pandemic.
Day2505/ Shutterstock
Day2505/ Shutterstock

A year ago, the pandemic was thrown onto us like a thief lurking in the corner on our way to a happy afternoon stroll: unexpectedly, uninvited, robbing us of our joy, enthusiasm and sense of control. In fact, if the pandemic were a Netflix series, each one of us could write an episode filled with drama, emotions, frustration, bereavement and shock. And now, one year later, we find ourselves ironically more connected to each other than ever before, more aware of our humanity and our sameness than ever before. We are more compassionate, more humble, and more resilient than we’ve ever been. We have learned lessons of awareness that people go to spiritual retreats to learn — lessons about love, acceptance, gratitude and connection to our center — the purification of the ego. All these things that spiritual teachers teach us, and people who seek enlightenment go out to monasteries or mountain tops to find, were thrusted upon us by the great spiritual teacher of the universe, of the mystery of the universe and all that we call the higher intelligence of life.

There is a song in Hamilton that is called “It’s Quiet Uptown”:

There are moments that the words don’t reach
There is suffering too terrible to name
You hold your child as tight as you can
And push away the unimaginable
The moments when you’re in so deep
It feels easier to just swim down


I walk alone to the store
And it’s quiet uptown
I never liked the quiet before
I take the children to church on Sunday
A sign of the cross at the door
And I pray
That never used to happen before


If you see him in the street, walking by
Himself, talking to himself, have pity


He is working through the unimaginable


There are moments that the words don’t reach
There is a grace too powerful to name
We push away what we can never understand
We push away the unimaginable


Forgiveness. Can you imagine?
Forgiveness. Can you imagine?

These lyrics resonated with me, as I had never faced so much of the suffering or the pain of missing all the things that had been normal in my life for so long: conversations with the barista at the coffee shop, interactions with waiters at restaurants or even chats with the receptionist at the doctor’s office. Those small moments of connection have always been engraved in my heart. And when the pandemic hit, we tried to create some sense of normalcy with Zoom calls, virtual classes, masked faces and listening to the news, trying to make sense of anything that’s been going on. We jumped into wondering if we could still become productive, and adjust and accept and find our resilience.

I started to become accustomed to getting my groceries from the curbside of a local shop, where I would sit in the car with the windows closed. I would have my coffee and my muffin and suddenly find myself crying, releasing the unimaginable. Then, I would proceed to do guided meditations to keep inspiring and helping others through this imprisonment that we were all feeling. I became completely aware of the human-encrusted part of myself that was up against these incredible restrictions. It felt like having a canvas in front of you and all the paints available, but your hands are suddenly tied, and someone is saying, “Well you can still paint.” For me, I experienced the intense deprivation of life.

And in the midst of all of that, I had a deadline to complete a book on the power of prayer, and I promised myself I would complete an hour to an hour-and-a-half a day. And every time I went to write, kicking and screaming, I felt like I was up against my walls of emotional upsetness, and every time I felt there was a bigger part of me, a larger presence, a deeper connection that would help me overcome the emotional disturbance and write. I felt that there were two different facets to my human nature. The first was the initial overwhelm, the distance, the missing, the grieving, the frustration, the anger, the unfairness of this whole thing. And on the other side, I felt the soulfulness, the peace, the calmness, the vast space inside of me that was completely accepting of this other part of myself — and that if I let myself surrender to that larger part in me, everything I thought was lost was suddenly found. There was an awareness that I was still breathing and I was well and, thank god, healthy, and the people I loved were healthy and well. In the moments of deprivation and disconnection, I would feel a profound connection to myself, to my soul and to my god.

So one year later, I have learned the greatest lessons that I could never have learned from any book, or spiritual retreat, or hours of meditation and yoga practices. The universe had now written a new script for me, and the title was, “Art of Letting Go.” In the midst of everything being taken away, another scene was able to take place.

And although it may feel that your hands are still tied and that you cannot paint on the canvas in front of you, try to look closer and see that images can start to appear even where you cannot paint. This ultimate surrender is eventually what we all go through when we die. We suddenly cannot take everything with us, and the only thing we can do is let go and open our arms and our hearts and our minds to say, “Take me.” It is in that moment where we place the trust of our lives into a bigger plan. It is in that moment where we let go.

So for us, the journey continues, life unfolds, and the question remains: “How agile am I in letting go?” When we ask ourselves that question, we gain a greater understanding of what it is to be a human being. We slowly start to transform the pandemic of suffering into a pandemic of love. It is a transformation that none of us have been given a manual for, but each one of us just writes it, feels it, experiences it, speaks it and embodies it, and that can become a new manual for the 21st century.

For more from Agapi, please follow her on Instagram.

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How to Find Pleasure in the Ordinary

How to Find Pleasure in the Ordinary

This time is calling for us to look deeper and find a sense of joy and meaning in the simplest things.

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One of my favorite movies of all time — and definitely my favorite quote from a movie — is from Chariots of Fire. The protagonist, Eric Liddell, is a religious missionary who is training to run in the Olympics, while also preparing to go to China to do missionary work. His sister, who is joining him in the missionary work, admonishes him and says, “You have to throw away this silly running thing and do this really important work, God’s work.” She essentially reprimands him for not following God’s will. He just looks at her and he says, “But when I run, I feel his pleasure.”

The other day I was listening to a wonderful podcast by Tim Ferriss, who was interviewing Hugh Jackman and asked him when he first knew that he was meant for the stage. And Jackman answered by repeating that same quote from Chariots of Fire. He said it was his favorite line because it describes how he feels when he is performing, which is essentially the feeling of serving something larger than himself when he is on stage. I was so elated to be reminded of this phrase on feeling God’s pleasure, which, to me, is where the human part in us meets the indescribable spirit in us and we can experience a moment of conversion.

I think we’ve all felt it in some way or another. It could be dancing, singing, writing, or cooking, walking up a mountain, or walking on the beach watching a beautiful sunset, playing a sport, or even gardening. My mother would experience it on the beach, feeding the seagulls. They would all come flooding into her presence while she fed them breadcrumbs. We are all striving to feel this spirit-filled connection, where we go beyond our mind and sense of time, and we feel our thoughts stop, and we get filled with such an incredible sense of going beyond the physical self into a state of transcendence. As I was reconnecting with that wonderful line during the podcast, I realized how much I had missed that feeling during this COVID period, missing so many things about my life. I’ve had to fight very hard not to cave in and keep myself lifted. Even in the midst of writing this new book on the power of prayer, and during guided meditations, webinars, and Zoom calls teaching so many people about the awareness I have learned over the years, I myself have had to deal with the unhappiness of my human part missing my connection with people, which is when I feel “his pleasure.”

I, too, thrive in performing, and although I moved from acting into speaking and writing, I would experience this tremendous fulfillment as I went around the country speaking, inspiring, sharing the message of the open heart and the joy that’s innate in all of us; and it never failed that I would experience the magic of our oneness every time I spoke. In every event I did, strangers and I would bond, heart to heart, and reignite the spirit that lives in us. Every time I stood up to speak in front of people, there was no separation between me and them. I poured my heart out. I went beyond the script into the experience of being in the moment, speaking spontaneously from my heart and wisdom into the hearts and wisdom of others. So often at the end of events people would come up to me and say, “What you said was meant for me. I felt my heart burst open. I really let go of something.” I always felt the magical conversion of my human self and the larger spirit in me. I always left every event feeling fulfilled and blissful, in awe at the expansion of the human heart. It was beyond anything I could even describe. When I spoke, I felt his pleasure!

Cut to today, the quarantine, where there are no more events but endless Zoom calls, no human interaction but those through the internet. For some people it may work perfectly, and I’m happy for them; but for me, it felt like I had been moved out of my paradise, contracted and deprived of the very things I loved the most. I meditated, I prayed, and I tried to find ways to recreate some of the feelings that I’ve had when I’m speaking and connecting in real life. I knew my work was cut out for me. I now had to recreate that feeling knowing that it’s in me. It never leaves me, and I know I just need to find ways to keep igniting that conversion. I often think of the thousands and thousands of actors, dancers, musicians, and singers who feel that aliveness when they perform, and I am filled with such compassion and heartache when I think of what they are doing, day by day, to create that feeling of aliveness. For me, the answer is to try to find it every day through dancing, moving, loving, listening to music, walking on the beach, connecting with my friends, engaging in my work, and most of all through the gift of expanding in gratitude and reverence for the miracle of my life despite our circumstances.

There is the calling to go deeper, the calling to have even deeper self-compassion to embrace the human part that is hurting and feels bereft — without judging it or making it seem wrong, but in the most loving and tender way saying to myself, “I understand. I hear you. I’m here for you” — and find the conversion in the stillness, in the gaze that glimpses into the soul of who I am and who others are. Maybe now I can find his pleasure in the deep quiet beyond my restless, impatient mind that asks, “When will this end?”. Maybe now I can find his pleasure in the simplest most ordinary things — feeling the breeze, watching the roses, cooking a meal, feeling the sun, hearing the voices of my family in the other room — and magnify the gratitude of every moment with the spirit that lives inside me, and inside all of us, regardless of the conditions. It takes more stillness to hear the subtle whisper of the voice of the spirit that says, “I am still here. I never left, I’m never going anywhere. And you can feel me and find me as you stop looking back to what was, and instead open up your heart to experience what is now.”

Suddenly everything settles and the waves meet the shore. Whether it’s a cloudy, sunny, rainy, or windy day, the waves will always meet the shore because that is the extraordinary, miraculous nature of all things. The only response, when we open our eyes and see who we truly are, is simply awe. When we are in awe, then we feel his pleasure with every breath and in every moment as we bear witness to our aliveness that connects us to all life everywhere.

For more from Agapi, please follow her on Instagram.

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How to Love Yourself Through It All

How to Love Yourself Through It All

When we take a moment to disconnect from the world outside and look inward, our inner compass will guide us in the right direction.
Baona/ Getty Images

I was recently doing a webinar for some wonderful educators, and I started by asking them to share with me in the chat if they had allowed themselves to cry during this pandemic. Over half of the group said that they had been crying at different times during the quarantine. Some people were crying in the shower, going to sleep, at the dinner table, with a friend over FaceTime, after a Zoom call with their students because they missed the kids and were concerned about what will happen in the fall, etc. I personally have found myself bursting into tears during my walks, while meditating, going to sleep, and speaking to my closest friends. I get hit with waves of missing my life the way it was; and although I am surrounded by love, blessings, and sunshine, the emotional rollercoaster is affecting me.

I am writing a book on the power of prayer, and when I would talk with one of my best friends she would say to me, “Why don’t you just pray,” and I would say, “I’m crying at the same time as I’m praying” (it’s allowed). Please by no means think that crying is a weakness. Our hearts feel the contraction of the conditions we are living under, and it can be very emotionally draining. Crying releases pent up emotions, and if you put words to your crying, it can carry you like a river into a new place, seeing with new eyes as you feel renewed.

It’s easy for those of us who are emotional beings to acutely feel the losses in our lives, and it’s important not to do a spiritual bypass. I know there are many people out there who are using this time to be extremely creative and productive, and might be writing their next new novel or their next symphony. But there are also those who feel extremely victorious just getting to the end of the day without completely losing it — at home with the kids or their partners, or over endless Zoom calls. Many have this feeling of “Groundhog Day,” waking up thinking “Oh my gosh here’s another day,” challenged by the monotony of the uncertainty, even if they are healthy and still have their jobs.

“The Lexicon for a Pandemic” by Jay Martel in The New Yorker puts a humorous spin on it all. He wrote, “COVID-30: Formerly COVID-15; the amount of weight gained by an average adult during quarantine,” and “Body Zoom-morphia: Finding your own image on a group video call so unappealing that you are unable to focus on anything else.” Another article I loved is “How Things Work in a Pandemic” by Kathryn Kvas and Mia Mercado. They wrote, “Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are no longer the designated meals of the day. Now there is ‘eating,’ ‘not eating,’ and ‘thinking about what to eat next.’ Sometimes ‘eating’ takes place from dawn until dusk. Other times, you will just go back and forth between ‘eating’ and ‘thinking about what to eat next’ until you pass out.” Sometimes it feels like you’re putting the key in the ignition but the car won’t start so you have to get out and push it to get it going and hop in once it starts rolling. If we were to take an M.R.I. of our nervous system and brain, we would probably find that every particle of us is at a state of alert and stuck in fight or flight.

But I do believe that with all that, if we take a moment to disconnect from the world outside and from the overwhelm inside, and connect to a place within us that is steady and peaceful, our inner compass will guide us in a clear direction where we can feel present and grateful for our lives. But we must be willing to take a moment to make the shift and go there. When we ask and pray to the higher self, we can shift into our enthusiasm, our joy, and our creativity; and in the midst of contraction we can absolutely move into a more expanded state of being. Everything in our physical world right now is pushing us to contract, and the fear of the unknown can overtake us. Then we cannot feel the expansion that is available to us in our own heart and spirit. And, of course, the judgments we impose on ourselves that we should be doing better, and the judgments we have on the circumstances around us. add more inner pressure. Be smart with yourself and tap into the inner mastery that is available to you. Take mental dominion over your thoughts and release yourself from the inner bondage of your fears.

The only way to do this is by evoking tremendous self-compassion. Amplify the whisper of your spirit saying to you, “I love you no matter what,” and take that gift into your very cells and see how much more grace is extended to your day. I have written a prayer that I encourage you to speak out loud, because our voice carries healing power. Add your own words to it so you can empower yourself to renew your enthusiasm.

Dear Beloved,

Today is not just another day that piles on from yesterday’s.

Today is a brand new day because I am breathing, I am alive, and I can tap into endless possibilities. And how grand is that!

Just like the weather is never the same, just like in nature things are always changing, and just like in the whole universe everything is moving, today I welcome this brand new day, and I ask that I may look at this day with brand new eyes, not assuming it will be like yesterday.

Rekindle my enthusiasm and let that spill over to everything I do, without taking for granted the little miracles of life or forgetting to be grateful for every little thing.

Help me make this day a brand new day so no matter the circumstances of my life, let me find the newness in myself and break down the walls that I have built between me, my heart, and others.

Let me drop any judgements about how I think my life should be and move into acceptance embracing everything that is, and, from that place, make new choices to bring the spirit of more kindness, more tenderness, more loving, and more laughter so that the spirit that makes all things move can also move in me right now and make this moment and the next one (and the next and the next) a brand new moment.

I turn my gaze inside to the lighter parts of me so that I can see how I might have forgotten and been blinded, so that I may reveal what lies before me.

Help me trust that I am one breath away from knowing that the conditions of my life can be transformed with more grace, more ease, more loving, and yes, more joy.

I dare to let my heart soften renew myself in your embrace.

Allow me to see the truth of who I am and not the habit of who I have become; a glimpse of the bigger scheme of all there is!!

For more from Agapi, please follow her on Instagram.

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How to Win the Discouragement Battle

How to Win the Discouragement Battle

In the midst of everything going on, we need to allow our hearts to stay open, forgiving, and loving.Evgeny Atamanenko/ Shutterstock
Evgeny Atamanenko/ Shutterstock

If you have been feeling a sense of discouragement, desperation or hopelessness; if you feel like you’ve hit a wall inside and out and think you can’t go on another day, and yet you do, but still there’s something pulling you way down into the abyss; I just wanted to let you know that you are definitely not alone! The waves of loss and grief — especially with all the deeper awakening and reckoning around the social injustice in our country — are hitting home in a big way, and it’s very easy to feel the weight of it all.

I was on a Zoom call with a group of friends the other day and many were sharing that they were going through a lot, experiencing overwhelm and lack of emotional control. However, one of my friends said, “I actually feel very calm, content, and trusting, and I just keep going on,” and another friend replied, “What are you made of, steel?”. He was taken aback and felt judged for expressing that he was doing OK, and he said, “Let me explain. I have found a deep place of acceptance in me with what’s been going on. It keeps me going in helping others in the ways that I can, and it gives me a sense of optimism that things won’t always be this way. There will be a dawn to a new day and a brighter tomorrow.” My other friend asked, “How do I know that?” To which he answered, “Humanity has always gone through horrific things and has come out the other side. That doesn’t mean I don’t have compassion for the people who are struggling so much, I just don’t want to feel that I have to apologize for feeling OK.” So if you are feeling OK, strong, optimistic, resilient, and are even able to keep your joy alive at this time, please don’t feel guilty about that, because we could use more people who are centered, strong, and solid in themselves. But for anyone who is feeling the wave of the downward spiral, I wanted to share a few tips on how to come out of it.

I personally see this challenging time of the coronavirus, the lockdown, uncertainty, and insecurity in our country, the racism and hatred, as an incredible battle for the human spirit. Anyone who’s withstood huge challenges, against-ness, injustice, and loss of everything can become a role model for the resilience of the human spirit. So ask yourself, what can you do to bring peace to yourself at this time? How can you exercise your wisdom? How can you bring forward your perspective on these unprecedented times? How can you listen to the wise voice in you that guides you to do the little things every day that can bring you into balance?

One of the biggest keys I use to shift is prayer — prayer from the part that feels loneliness, turmoil, and wants to give up and cave in, to calling forward the God part of me that stands tall, that is strong and fearless and can rise beyond the circumstances. One of my favorite sayings is, “God is not a being, but a state of being,” and at each moment of our lives and with each breath we have a choice to attune ourselves to that higher state of being which is available to us at any point. So I see prayer as a lifeline and a bridge between the part that feels discouraged, overwhelmed, hopeless, etc. to the higher part that is expanded and at peace right now. Through prayer, I start to feel embraced by it, and it becomes this bridge between the human part and the God part.

The emperor of Rome, Marcus Aurelius, withstood the plague for 14 years and, in his book Meditations, he shares the wisdom of his journey and talks about examining everything you encounter in your life and using it for your growth and advantage. He writes, “If you are troubled by external circumstances, it is not the circumstances that trouble you, but your own perception of them and they are in your power to change at any time.” So whenever you are feeling the downward spiral, consider this: that the negative voice in you is whispering toxic messages, saying, “There’s no meaning to this. You should give up. You can’t handle this. This is too much, it’s overwhelming. I’ll never come out of this. I’m all alone. I feel hopeless. I don’t know how to manage my life. I can’t take another day of this; etc., etc.” Take charge of that voice and choose messages and qualities that can empower, nurture, steady and ground you — qualities like courage, self-reliance, humor, generosity, compassion, reverence, humility, gratitude, and loving — and as Marcus Aurelius tells us, “This too comes from God and no matter what, I will treat everything remembering that it has no power to weaken me, to pay me harm unless I let it.” So give meaning to this time and find your purpose, and it will be easier to cross over to the other side.

But if you’re judging yourself, pressuring yourself to feel differently, and pushing against how the world is unfolding, those judgments are bound to lock you into the state of feeling like a victim. I believe that those who will rise in this battle of the human spirit are definitely the people who are not going to feel victimized by what’s happening, but are going to see this as a golden opportunity to use everything — their conditions and their inner emotional upheavals — as grist for the mill, and will hear the calling of their spirit that needs no compromise or defense, but is as flexible as the wind, light as a feather, and mighty and grounded as the strongest mountain.

What contributes to this state of mind and where we will win the battle is when we allow our hearts, in the midst of everything, to stay open, soft and tender, forgiving and loving. In choosing that over and over and over again, you can experience the power of the unbound heart and the sweetness of life in the midst of the crisis. Don’t let anyone rob you of your smile, your sweetness, and the twinkle of your eye; these will become your weapons against the harshness, the judgments, the despair and the discouragement that creep in and can run you over before you know it. Don’t let it happen. Don’t let the darkness in you win. Outsmart it with the power of your presence that lies in your peace, and trust that you don’t walk alone in this, but with the mighty force of the spirit that gives life to all things.

For more from Agapi, please follow her on Instagram.

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How to Talk and Listen to All Parts of You

Asking yourself these questions each day can help you tune in.

It’s so important to keep the channels of our communication with ourselves open, always, but especially in this time of challenging life changes that we are all going through, it’s imperative that we do so.

Let me explain what I mean by that.

We often operate on one modality from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep. We function on our familiar patterns, going automatically from one thing to the next, interacting, getting things done, engaging and trying to complete the things that our daily lives involve. But many feelings surface during the day, especially in these times. We may feel overwhelmed, upset, disconnected, worried, fearful, out of control. And addressing these parts of ourselves that feel all of these things, and finding ways to give them a voice, is so important if we want to experience our calm.

A friend of mine said to me the other day, “When I meditate, I experience a place of calm and centeredness, but as soon as I start to function in my life my calm slowly starts to disappear. I start to feel anxious and off balance.” This is a friend who’s been meditating for a while, and yet emotions can be very strong and unpredictable. But often because of our daily responsibilities we simply don’t make the time to address these feelings. As adults, we have learned to censor ourselves when we feel upset, disturbed, or hurt. On the other hand, some of us might vent it all out and project it onto other people, which is another way we can feel out of control. Basically, we can walk around getting many things done yet feeling disconnected from ourselves.

So what are we to do? Opening the conversation with these parts of ourselves, and not censoring them, is the best way to bring ourselves into balance. I keep a journal by my bedside, and at night I ask myself these questions:

What worked today? And I let myself write down the things that worked for me in the day. Sometimes they are very simple things; sometimes they are more specific. For example, the other day, when I asked myself, the answer was, “I liked that I worked out on my bike today with my favorite music and I sweated.” Feel free to add as many things as you wish to express, and get to know all the things that you would like more of. That starts to put everything that’s working in a positive light, creating a vortex of what we want more.

Then I ask myself, what would you like more of tomorrow? For me the answer to that question was, “I would like more of that.” The answers come very swiftly. Sometimes, a part of me wants things I cannot give myself at this time. If I say to myself I want to go to the movies with friends, I cannot do that, but I can listen to that part of me about what I need, and what the feeling is behind that — fun, enjoyment, entertainment — and see if there’s something else that I can provide. Very much like a loving mother to a child, you don’t say to the child, “Shut up, we don’t have time for that,” but if you lovingly listen to that part of yourself and give that voice an expression, a safe place, that part can start to feel like the pressure cooker is off. It can tell us how it feels and fully express its needs and wants; and although we might not be able to provide exactly what it wants, we can guide that part towards the wisdom of patience and grace, and see that there is grace to be found in the midst of not being able to give ourselves what we really want. How so? Because that’s where the greatest conversation can take place with the spirit that is always available to comfort us and guide us.

And this is the third question I ask myself, what does spirit have to say to me about this? And I ask a specific question. That’s when I stop, listen and I become very, very quiet, and the answer comes, not from my head, but from the deeper part of me — my wise voice — that gives me the guidance of the particular issue happening for me at this time in my life.

These are the three questions that I find bring me into awareness of what’s working and not working. It’s very simple and doable, and as wonderful as it is to have a therapist, coach, counselor, or loving friend, sometimes the most loving voice is available to us from within ourselves, if we are simply willing to open the door and ask. Build this practice daily of conversing with yourself. There is a vulnerability that can happen during that time. There is a feeling of being unveiled, where your guard falls down and you get into that deeper part of you, and sometimes we may resist that because the ego likes to have its position — even if it’s negative, our ego thrives in its position, pretending it knows everything. Well that’s too bad, because all our egos are now being uprooted and shaken. There is one thing we’re all now forced to do because of our current circumstances, and that is to give up our sense of how important we are. We are all being humbled. Whatever we thought was the way to do things, we no longer have a choice but to cooperate with the nonsensical things that are going on. We are finding new ways to cooperate with one another, asking for help, giving more of ourselves and more of what we have, opening up our hearts to deeper love and compassion, and experiencing neutrality.

I’m sure a lot of us are puzzled with what’s really going on and are pondering how this all even happened, but regardless, we are here now and we need to work with it, not against us, but for us. We need to switch the mindset from being against what’s happening to a deeper acceptance of it all. Allowing our wiser self to awaken, shining its light on our lives, giving us solutions, motivations, and new ways to function and create from that place we never knew before.

So let’s open the new door to our higher wisdom that we’ve been praying for, suspending all judgments and learning how to walk in our wholeness and fullness.

Agapi StassinopolousHow to Talk and Listen to All Parts of You
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