The Gift That Changed My Life

It was the worst Christmas of my life.

I remember getting out of the cab with my luggage and seeing my husband.  I had just flown back from a six week contract doing A Christmas Carol out at the Pioneer Theatre in Salt Lake City, Utah, and was still reeling from his Thanksgiving proclamation he no longer loved me anymore.

He had basically refused to go into it over the phone, so here I was back home….praying this could be saved.

He greeted me at the cab, and every muscle in my body tensed.  As he helped me with my bags, I thought…could there be a miracle?

When I walked into our home and saw he had actually decorated, a surge of hope came up in me, but underneath was something far darker.

This may look like Christmas from the outside, but it was not reflective of our truth. Yes, there were lights and a tree….but they were covering up immense pain.

Actually, this was the real reflection……pretty lights covering up something that was, and had been broken for years.

I went into the bedroom, and curled up into a ball and began to cry.


With everything falling apart, we didn’t travel to see family, so on Christmas morning, we woke to each other, from separate beds.

Christmas day had always been a day of great celebration.

As a child, my parents would have my brother and I wait while the lights were turned on, and we would rush down the stairs to see what Santa brought.

There would be music playing, my parents standing by the tree with arms open, and Santa hats on their heads.

Christmas morning was always filled with LOVE.

This Christmas I woke up in great fear, anxiety and pain.  I prayed for a miracle.  I prayed that the day would end this nightmare, and we would have a happy home again.

Everything felt upside down.  We were exchanging gifts and all I wanted to scream out was,
Why are you giving me this if you don’t love me anymore??

My stomach turned with confusion and anger with everything he gave me.

Thankfully, there were other gifts there.

I opened one from my parents, and soon was holding in my hands beautiful black binoculars.

For years, I had gone on hikes with my parents and borrowed theirs when we were bird watching, so they had finally bought me my own pair.

So that I could see on my own.

I held them for a moment, feeling something very different building in me. A different view.  Turning them over in my hands and bringing them to my eyes, I realized I could see farther.

Farther than my small living room in Queens, and my immense pain.


Have you ever been in a really challenging situation in your Art?

Have you felt the dark cold of rejection, and loss?

What’s more, has this happened during a time when everything and everyone around you is celebrating?

It can be so difficult to put on a “show” or a happy face when inside everything is falling apart.

And we feel this deeply as Artists.

In fact, it affects our art directly, and our ability to attract our audience.

The holidays can be especially challenging as there is a pressure to be celebratory ALL the time.  So, what tends to occur is two extremes….
Extreme Jingle Bell Cheer
Silent Night Shut Down

Neither one is sustainable.  It’s the roller coaster. 

So, what do we do in these moments when our hearts are breaking? How do we continue in our work that is so personal and means so much?


This past week, I led my clients through a powerful Native American Medicine Wheel.

We began with our Successes, then made our way around the wheel to our Surprises, our Failures, and finally our Wisdom.

The wisdom was crucial, because it gave all of my clients the deep a-ha as to their next steps.  They left the call feeling empowered and excited for 2018.

What was most fascinating, was on the wheel, the wisdom comes OUT of the Failures.

We can only SEE the wisdom, when we take the time and space to see what didn’t work.

What is most key to this process, is a space free of judgement.

A space of love.

Do you have this?
Do you know how to create this for your Art?
Is anyone helping you with this?

That Christmas day, I had asked for a miracle, and it came.  It didn’t come in the form I expected, but as I turned over the binoculars in my hand, I was being given a new gift…one that had been sorely missing in my life.

The gift of sight.

Maybe there was a way to view this devastation and gain wisdom.  Wisdom that could lead me to action.  Lead me to a VERY different life… that wasn’t covering up pain.

In this life, the lights would illuminate everything.


OH MY GOSH!!!  He’s SO Beautiful!!

Staring in disbelief at a stunning Cooper’s Hawk just sitting in the tree above my head, I raise my binoculars to my eyes.

Taking in his long feathers, and golden stripes, I smile ear to ear.

Here, honey, take a look!

I hand my binoculars off to my man, watching his mouth open in wonder. I take in his beauty and form, and am overcome with gratitude for his presence and the love he has brought to my life.  Love I prayed for.  And my heart bursts with gratitude for this journey.

From failure to wisdom to action.

Five years later.

As my Zen teacher said to me back in 2013,
You are in the same room you were always in, but now the lights are on.

For this Holiday, I wish you the gift of sight .

Raise your binoculars.

What do you see?

The Zen of Art

You Need Meditation

The voice was pretty clear and distinct.

I was in tech for a production of A Christmas Carol out in Salt Lake City, and my life was falling apart.  My husband had just flown out and told me he didn’t want to be married anymore. I thought we were going to spend the holiday trying to have a baby, not end our 19 year relationship.

You can imagine, I was in a LITTLE bit of shock.

I had been practicing yoga for a while, and it was at the end of my practice, that the voice came in.

I had never had a meditation practice, and honestly, wasn’t even sure what it really meant.

All I knew was I was in a ton of pain, and I needed something new.  Something was missing.

Clearly, something needed to change.  I felt like my whole world was spinning out of control.

Have you felt this?
What do you do when life seems to cut you off from your Art?

Somehow I was getting through my performances, but felt like I was moving through a terrible nightmare.  I didn’t feel connected to my art.

All I felt was fear.

You can imagine, my performance career came to a grinding halt.


Two months later, once I had returned to NYC, and the divorce was under way, I went and took my first yoga class.

The holidays had been the worst time of my life, opening presents with a man who didn’t love me anymore, and I hadn’t been on the mat in weeks.  Today, I was starting to take the reins back on my life and what I wanted moving forward.

I went to the library with the intention to buy a book on Meditation.  Here we go!

A title caught my eye, and I pulled it out and opened to randomly read.

It was as if every word was jumping off the page, saying,

The biggest surprise was I actually had picked up a book on Tibetan Buddhism, not meditation.

Wait….I came here today looking for meditation…

This simple book (which I devoured in days, underlining and dog earring) opened the door to a whole new search, and I began to explore different Buddhist centers in the city.

Who knew I was actually seeking Buddhism?  Apparently I did…I just hadn’t heard it until NOW.

I tried many of them, and while all were helpful in some way, none seemed to feel like HOME.

Something was still missing.

Until I took an intro to Zen Training weekend up at Zen Mountain Monastery. I woke before the sun to meditate with many others in this beautiful monastery, the ceiling rising high above me.

In the stillness and dark of the early morning, as I counted my breath, tears began to fall. Tears of recognition, and tears of sweet relief.  This is what my body had been calling for.  THIS is what was missing.

A way to work with my mind.
An experience of true space.
The ability to actually HEAR what is rising and falling.

And the tools to let go.

I had gone through a career of holding on for dear LIFE my expectations, my perfectionism, and comparing myself constantly to other performers. And now, as I had NO control of the immense loss of my marriage, I was being given the tools I needed to face it.

And actually they were the tools I needed all along.

I just wasn’t listening to my body’s messages.


What are you holding on to?

What is your body calling for to help you become the Artist you truly want to be?

Can you even hear it?

In that moment of absolute pain, there was NO denying what I needed. I certainly didn’t think it was going to turn into becoming a Zen practitioner, but once I found the practice, my whole life fell into place.

I had a complete resurgence in my performance career.
I found the work I REALLY wanted to be doing as an Artist, and launched ZenRedNYC.
I built a business from scratch, doing work I love that makes more money than ever before.

I now could HEAR what I needed.

In having a practice that connected me to my breath and the present moment, my whole outlook changed.

We can so often get caught in the static,

No one wants your work
Artists have to starve
Making money is selling out
Claiming the spotlight is selfish

There is so much JUNK out there that we take in, on a daily basis not only from fellow colleagues who want you to join their pity party, but from parents, society, and the news.

What’s the answer?


All that junk?  It’s just noise.  And it’s not helping you move forward and step into your full creative power. The junk is keeping you stuck and filling your airwaves with confusion.

If you are feeling something’s missing, then you haven’t had the clear open space to really hear what you need.

Today, you can begin to incorporate one of the most important tools as an Artist,

So, take a moment today, and sit down for 5 minutes. Close your eyes, and come into your body.

Place your attention on your breath.

And from this experience of SPACE, simply ask,

What is it I most need?

It’s all inside.

Create the space, so you can hear.



Photography: Caitlin Cannon Photography