If there was one consistent thing that has helped me all throughout my life, it would be bibliotherapy.
Psychology Today defines bibliotherapy as “a therapeutic approach employing books and other forms of literature, typically alongside more traditional therapy modalities, to support a patient’s mental health.” It is based on the idea that reading stories stimulates the mind and helps people connect with the world through different narratives, other than the one they might strictly hold as the absolute and only truth.
Last week on June 12, I celebrated my 32nd year of living on this beautiful, broken planet—the phrase that I always like to use to describe my experience as a human being.
But for the majority of my life, I didn’t see the world through this dual, multifaceted, and complex interwoven lens. There were many great moments when my perception of the world was skewed, damaged, and altered by the childhood trauma I’ve endured—combined with environmental racism—which all have shaped my adolescent and adulthood view of reality.
My perception was haunted by the perpetual, long-held, and engrained beliefs that the world was not safe, people were unkind, and I did not deserve to live on this planet. I now understand that none of these were facts—none of them were truths. They were simply narratives that my own coping mechanisms of recurrent dissociation and withdrawal have built to shield me against the excruciating pain I felt, which made me believe I was alone in the world.
I cannot say I am entirely healed from these false identities. Intellectually knowing the stories of our trauma is different than feeling the reality of the pain that robbed us of joy, fulfillment, and real connections. After all, trauma is an embodied experience that lives in every fiber of our DNA. It festers into our bones, veins, arteries, tissues, muscles, heart, lungs, and soul and takes over until we decide to reclaim these stories. But over the years and, most recently, ever since I stepped away from my old environment, which I wrote a piece about on Elephant Journal, I have become more skillful at catching myself whenever I sink into my old patterns of self-destructive thoughts, such was the case this morning.
A day before my birthday, I received a long voice message from a dear friend who lives in Kuwait. She said so many things and wished me so much abundance. But what touched me the most is her saying, “I love you so much. I am so happy you were born.”
I don’t remember anyone ever telling me they’re happy I was born. I mean, people say so many things to me all the time—they say they admire my intelligence, resilience, strength, kindness, and empathy, which are all admirable qualities. But for some odd reason, sometimes, the weight of these words feel hollow as the void I carry inside.
Validating someone for their own life when all along, they felt they didn’t deserve to take up space on this planet because someone else kept telling them they were small, different, ugly, and insignificant—all while feeling unprotected—is the most cathartic experience anyone can offer another human being. It is an act of deep compassion, of holding space, and of seeing another human being as they are—with all their brokenness and resilience. It made me reflect on the unkind thoughts that often find their way into my subconscious mind.
Today was challenging. But instead of sinking and giving into the misery of my self-fulfilling prophecy, I’ve decided to make a list of all the quotes that have shaped me into the person that I am today. But most importantly, they represent all the years I lost hope, almost gave up, but eventually decided to stay.
They represent the resilience of my trauma…of our collective trauma.
May we always remember that wherever trauma lies, there’s always that untouched part of us that is innocent, brilliant, radiant, and loving.
These are 32 of my favorite and powerful quotes to celebrate every year I have lived, laughed, cried, and breathed on this planet:
“Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.” ~ Mary Oliver
“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it. My optimism, then, does not rest on the absence of evil, but on a glad belief in the preponderance of good and a willing effort always to cooperate with the good, that it may prevail.” ~ Helen Keller
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?” ~ Marianne Williamson
“This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.” ~ Rumi
“Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead, let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?” ~ Elif Shafak
“Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. It is both. Appreciating the gloriousness inspires us, encourages us, cheers us up, gives us a bigger perspective, energizes us. We feel connected. But if that’s all that’s happening, we get arrogant and start to look down on others, and there is a sense of making ourselves a big deal and being really serious about it, wanting it to be like that forever. The gloriousness becomes tinged by craving and addiction. On the other hand, wretchedness—life’s painful aspect—softens us up considerably. Knowing pain is a very important ingredient of being there for another person. When you are feeling a lot of grief, you can look right into somebody’s eyes because you feel you haven’t got anything to lose—you’re just there. The wretchedness humbles us and softens us, but if we were only wretched, we would all just go down the tubes. We’d be so depressed, discouraged, and hopeless that we wouldn’t have enough energy to eat an apple. Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together.” ~ Pema Chödrön
“May you walk in beauty. May all beings walk in beauty.” ~ Navajo Prayer
“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn
“Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality.” ~ Viktor Frankl
“Even after all this time
The Sun never says to the Earth,
‘You owe me.’
Look what happens with a love like that,
It lights the whole sky.” ~ Hafiz
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ~ Viktor Frankl
“You can choose courage or you can choose comfort. You cannot have both.” ~ Brené Brown
“It is a serious thing
Just to be alive
On this fresh morning
In the broken world.” ~ Mary Oliver
“Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.” ~ Maya Angelou
“What if I fall? Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?” ~ Erin Hanson
“A life without love is of no account. Don’t ask yourself what kind of love you should seek. Spiritual or material, divine or mundane, Eastern or Western…Divisions only lead to more divisions. Love has no labels, no definitions. It is what it is, pure and simple.” ~ Elif Shafak
“Love is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling comes and it may go. How can I judge that it will stay forever when my act does not involve judgment and decision.” ~ Erich Fromm
“Wherever you are, at any moment, try and find something beautiful. A face, a line out of a poem, the clouds out of a window, some graffiti, a wind farm. Beauty cleans the mind.” ~ Matt Haig
“It is worse to stay where one does not belong at all than to wander about lost for a while and looking for the psychic and soulful kinship one requires.” ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés
“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.” ~ Stephen Hawking
“Depression is also smaller than you. Always, it is smaller than you, even when it feels vast. It operates within you, you do not operate within it. It may be a dark cloud passing across the sky but— if that is the metaphor— you are the sky. You were there before it. And the cloud can’t exist without the sky, but the sky can exist without the cloud.” ~ Matt Haig
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” ~ Anaïs Nin
“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” ~ Rumi
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?” ~ Mary Oliver
“And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love: these are what we stay alive for.” ~ “Dead Poets Society”
“Write hard and clear about what hurts.” ~ Ernest Hemingway
“The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door.” ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés
“Everything tells me that I am about to make a wrong decision, but making mistakes is just part of life. What does the world want of me? Does it want me to take no risks, to go back to where I came from because I didn’t have the courage to say ‘yes’ to life?” ~ Paulo Coelho
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” ~ Nelson Mandela
“We’re all just walking each other home.” ~ Ram Dass
“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh