LaRayia Gaston: Love Without Reason

March 16, 2021

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LaRayia Gaston is a former model, actress, and the founder of the nonprofit Lunch On Me, an organization dedicated to offering organic, healthy food and holistic healing to those experiencing homelessness. She’s also a regular public speaker, podcast guest, and activist. She filmed a documentary, 43 Days on Skid Row, which shows her time living with LA’s Skid Row residents and offers up a true picture of what life is really like in one of America’s largest homeless communities. In this podcast, Sounds True founder Tami Simon speaks with LaRayia about her new book, Love Without Reason. They discuss the superpower called “love”; why connection and empowerment are central to ending hunger; gratitude as an action, not just an attitude; transforming our “withholding” and scarcity mindsets; seeing humanity “on every corner, in every person”; and more. 

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LaRayia Gaston: Love Without Reason

LaRayia Gaston is a former model, actress, and the founder of the nonprofit Lunch On Me, an organization dedicated to offering organic, healthy food and holistic healing to those experiencing homelessness. She’s also a regular public speaker, podcast guest, and activist. She filmed a documentary, 43 Days on Skid Row, which shows her time living with LA’s Skid Row residents and offers up a true picture of what life is really like in one of America’s largest homeless communities. In this podcast, Sounds True founder Tami Simon speaks with LaRayia about her new book, Love Without Reason. They discuss the superpower called “love”; why connection and empowerment are central to ending hunger; gratitude as an action, not just an attitude; transforming our “withholding” and scarcity mindsets; seeing humanity “on every corner, in every person”; and more. 

Gratitude Is a Byproduct of Service

Among the lessons I’ve seen people embrace by performing their microgestures is the true meaning of gratitude. Gratitude has become a big idea in certain circles these days, and a lot has been written about research showing that a focus on gratitude has real benefits for people in terms of their mental and physical well-being.3 This is probably why the practice of gratitude journaling has become so popular. You can even buy gratitude journals at your local bookstore ready for you to fill in the blanks about what makes you feel lucky today.

I have to admit that I have a bit of a bone to pick with the gratitude journalers of the world. It’s not that I disagree with the research or the idea that gratitude can be a powerful force. It’s that I think the idea of gratitude, perhaps because it has become so popular, is too often misunderstood.

I don’t believe that gratitude is about sitting in your room and saying thanks so only your walls can hear you. I don’t believe it’s something that should remain in the pages of a journal. I don’t believe it’s something you can find on a bracelet or in an Instagram quote. These can be good ways to remind yourself to be thankful, but they’re not enough. That’s because gratitude isn’t meant to be passive. “God is a verb,” as Paulo Coelho once said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey about his bestselling book, The Alchemist.4 I believe that gratitude, too, needs to be treated as an action.

In fact, we used to talk about gratitude in terms of giving thanks, which makes it sound so much more active, instead of merely being thankful. Rightly so, because I believe gratitude is something you should do, not something you merely think or feel or write about. This means you can’t just read in the news about the hurricane that devastated a town or the drug problem that plagues a community and feel thankful that you’re removed from it and safe. You can’t just walk by people in need and feel sorry for their suffering and grateful that you’re not in the same position. True gratitude is more than just a feeling. It’s the expression of that feeling through action—the action of serving others. To truly be grateful, you have to act gratefully.

It’s a bit like that old philosophical question about whether, if a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, did it really fall? By the same token, if you love someone but you never express that love, either verbally or through your actions, can you really call it love? If you’re grateful for what you have but never extend that gratitude to others, then are you truly living a grateful life?

When we mindfully show our appreciation for what we have through the action of serving others, then gratitude is the result. It’s the byproduct of that service, and there’s really no other way to get it. We live in a world that loves shortcuts. If there’s a faster, easier, simpler way to get something done, then we’re all over it. People write about “life hacks” as if they’re going to save us, but some things can’t be hacked. I believe that gratitude is one of them.

In the energy exchange, there’s a dynamic between people made up of living, breathing energy that flows back and forth. When that energy stops moving, it dies. Gratitude has an energy behind it too, but I believe that energy dies, or at least atrophies, when we keep it confined to our thoughts and prayers or the pages of our journal. Even sharing grateful thoughts on social media—which I highly encourage as an antidote to all the complaints and judgments that tend to be put on display—is not the same as allowing our gratitude to inspire us to act on behalf of others. Because it’s so often relegated to contexts like these, gratitude is really in danger of losing its meaning.

I was once in a yoga class that was winding down on a hot day when I witnessed a missed opportunity to really live gratitude. We were all sitting in Lotus Position with the lights dimmed and the door open so the breeze could flow through the studio. Soft music was playing in the background and our hands were pressed together at our hearts as we whispered our “namastes.” Just then a man, who appeared to be suffering from mental illness, walked in through the open door to say hello and ask, “What are you all doing in here?” He was friendly

enough, but the reaction was immediate. The people closest to him scattered while others turned away or shook their heads. No one answered him. I meant to, but I didn’t gather my thoughts quickly enough. The teacher rushed over to tell him to leave, pushing him out the door and closing it behind him.

It was as if everyone in the room had forgotten what they’d been doing right before the man walked in. Yoga classes often end with the students saying namaste as an expression of gratitude for the experience they just had, the teacher who guided them through it, and the fellow students they shared it with. But it’s also generally considered to have spiritual connotations, to be a conscious acknowledgment of another person’s soul, of the divine light that resides in all of us. Some literally translate namaste from Sanskrit to mean: “The light in me acknowledges the light in you.”

I guess my fellow classmates decided that not everyone was worthy of a namaste. I don’t mean to be overly harsh. I get why people were frightened, as they often are by mental illness, or turned off by the disruption when they were in the midst of a peaceful moment. But if we’d all taken a moment to simply notice this man (an act of non-resistance), I think it would have quickly become clear that he meant us no harm. He was just curious and, I think, lonely. It seemed like what he wanted most of all was someone to talk to, and here he’d found a group of people expressing gratitude in a tranquil place. We can perhaps forgive him for thinking we were the kind of people who might be receptive to his attempt to connect.

We live in an amazing time. Being part of the Information Age gives us exposure to all kinds of wisdom and ancient teachings along with all the new. Yoga has been practiced for hundreds of years. Verses on gratitude can be found in the Bible. There is truth and power in these old ways, but let’s make sure we’re getting the most out of them. These ancient concepts should be more than just things you think to yourself or utter on autopilot. If we really want the benefits, we need to learn how to live them.

If you are grateful for something in your life, you have to find a way to put some of that grateful energy back into the world instead of holding onto it. That’s the only way to keep it flowing. That’s the only way gratitude can come back to you. If you have your antenna up while you perform your microgestures, you’ll start to notice the flow and you’ll start to better appreciate when some of it flows back your way.

❤ HEARTWORK

Ask yourself: How can I do more than just think grateful thoughts? How can I act gratefully in the world today?

If you keep a gratitude journal, consider recording not just what you’re thankful for, but the full energy exchange: what you’re grateful for and what you gave gratefully in return.

Notes:

  1. Colby Itkowitz, “The Science Behind Why You Shouldn’t Stop Giving Thanks After Thanksgiving,” The Washington Post (November 24, 2016).
  2. Paulo Coelho, “What if the Universe Conspired in Your Favor?” Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations (August 9, 2017). 

This is an excerpt from Love Without Reason: The Lost Art of Giving a F*ck by LaRayia Gaston.

 

larayia gaston author photoLARAYIA GASTON is a former model, actress, and founder of the nonprofit Lunch On Me, an organization dedicated to bringing organic, healthy food and holistic healing to those experiencing homelessness. She’s also a regular public speaker, podcast guest, and activist. She resides in Los Angeles. For more, visit lunchonme.org.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Trauma-Trigger Cycle

When you are stuck with old unprocessed experiences living inside you, they can create what I call a trauma-trigger cycle because they are still very much alive in our systems.

Here’s my analogy to help you understand how this works and why it causes so much trouble. Imagine that you have a very difficult experience, for example, having to say goodbye to a sick pet. All of the details in the form of individual feelings, smells, images, sounds, and more get bundled up and deposited into a metaphorical glass trauma capsule—which gets stored in the body. It sits there with all of the old feelings we experienced at the time the event happened. While you might not be aware of it constantly, you are likely feeling those emotions at a low level all the time. When any current situation reminds you of any of those details hanging out in the capsule—either consciously or subconsciously—the old trauma gets “poked,” or reactivated. This is how we get triggered. Being triggered can bring up flashes of those memories, including images, feelings, and any sensory stimuli.

For the most part, except in certain cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from major life events, where sometimes the trigger is known, this trauma-trigger reaction actually happens at a subconscious level, outside of your awareness. Even in obvious situations, you may think you know what the trigger is, and try to avoid it, but it may be something totally different that got stuck in the metaphorical glass trauma capsule. Often, people come to me and say, “Nothing set this off,” “I’m depressed for no reason,” or “I suddenly started feeling terrible but nothing happened.” While this may seem true, I can bet on the fact that while the bad feelings might seem random, they are being triggered in some way that you simply haven’t yet identified. Triggers can be foods, colors, smells,sounds, weather, or anything, really! Finding and resolving triggers can become almost an entertaining game if you let it.

As you can imagine, this entire trauma-trigger dynamic is very unsettling and unpredictable—which can feel like danger to your system and keep you stuck in that freakout response. Not only that, but in this state, you can actually be excessively tuned in to your trauma, seeing reminders of it everywhere, which further traumatizes you.

I had an experience after going through a loved one’s difficult health crisis where every single place I looked, I saw reminders of the experience. And for someone who wonders if everything is some greater “sign from the Universe” (fact: not every single thing is) or my intuition is trying to get my attention because another loved one might be in danger (second fact: trauma and fear clouds intuition), it felt like torture to me. I kept meeting people who had the same illness that my loved one had had, saw posters and billboards advertising medications for the condition, and more. As a distraction while on vacation, I had deliberately picked out several seemingly lighthearted books to take—and it turned out a character in every single book had that same medical condition! I was constantly on edge and further traumatized by all of these things. This is a perfect example of what happens to us in a traumatized state: we become highly attuned to the world around us, perhaps subconsciously scanning for danger, but in the process, we see and get triggered by everyday things we’ve probably passed by a million times before. I realized that had I been tuned in to any other single thing out in the world, like peaches, I likely would have seen that everywhere. This recognition actually led to a funny mantra I used during that time to keep things light while I did the deeper healing work: Look for the peaches! But in all seriousness, what happened as I worked to release the trauma, just like you’ll be doing in this chapter, was that I stopped seeing reminders of it. I have to be honest in that this took months of using energy therapy in different ways to overcome the trauma I had experienced, like you’ll be learning soon—but it worked. Did all the people with this condition go away? Did all the billboards get taken down? No. The less traumatized I became, the less heightened my sensitivity to it was. This is a perfect example of why it’s essential to work with unprocessed experiences.

Emotional memory is stored throughout the entire body. Thanks to the work of Candace Pert, we know that “unexpressed emotions from experiences can get stuck in the body at the level of cellular memory.” This is such a simple explanation for why we feel bad when we haven’t resolved our past experiences. We are still quite literally feeling them. And even if it’s at a subtle level, it may only take a “trigger” from that metaphorical glass capsule to awaken it.

While your own unprocessed experiences may not disrupt your life in the way that clinically diagnosed PTSD does, you may relate to what it feels like to have PTSD, when one or a few memories from life takes over all of it. This is, again, why we must deal effectively and consistently with our emotions instead of suppressing them. Otherwise, we are at risk of our emotions becoming part of future unresolved experiences.

Even knowing all of this, there’s no need to panic. Again, not all experiences traumatize you. And, not all traumas will need to be dealt with in order to get you feeling better. But the ones that do need careful attention. I want you to understand that by working with trauma, we are not trying to force a positive perspective on it or make you be okay with something bad that happened to you. Not at all. What we want to do is release the stress it’s causing you, even if that stress is undetected consciously. We don’t want these traumas taking up space and energy in your body anymore or triggering you without your knowledge.

Working with unprocessed experiences will help empty the metaphorical glass trauma capsule so we stop becoming triggered by the world around us. In other words, you’ll be seeing peaches more easily instead of trauma triggers.

This is an excerpt from How to Heal Yourself From Depression When No One Else Can: A Self-Guided Program to Stop Feeling Like Sh*t by Amy B. Scher.

 

amy b scherAmy B. Scher is an energy therapist, expert in mind-body healing, and the bestselling author of How to Heal Yourself When No One Else Can and How to Heal Yourself from Anxiety When No One Else Can. She has been featured in the Times of India, CNN, HuffPost, CBS, the Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Curve magazine, and San Francisco Book Review. Scher was also named one of the Advocate’s “40 Under 40.” She lives in New York City. For more, visit amybscher.com.

 

 

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The Importance of Being Vulnerable

Emotions are the primary way we connect with others. In fact, for all the ways we perceive that sharing our emotions causes trouble, it’s actually worse for us not to. Sharing our truest, most vulnerable selves actually prevents us from the isolation that occurs when we miss out on the deep connection that only comes from this type of transparency. While social media can be a place of great support, it’s also caused a huge challenge. Because we’ve created a world in which we are addicted to showing our curated emotions, social media posts rarely tell the entire story. We’ve gotten accustomed to holding back our real selves—so much, in fact, that we have a totally distorted view of what’s “real.”

On a wet fall day as I was researching the negative effects of social media for this book, I noticed that a heavy sense of melancholy had fallen over me. Pushing myself to go out for a short walk in my beloved Central Park, only a block away, took every ounce of energy I had. When I was out, my sadness didn’t fade, but astounded by the colorful change of leaves, I felt inspired to take a handful of photos. They were the kind that Instagram is made of. When I got home, I decided to post them on social media. But earlier that day I had read something that was still with me: what happened when Tracy Clayton, host of the BuzzFeed podcast Another Round, asked people to repost photos they’d previously shared on social media, but this time, with the “real story” behind them. The photos that most of us would have longed for had painful stories behind them. One woman admitted to a terrible anxiety attack that took her all day to overcome, someone else shared the grief over a loss of a loved one stuffed under their smile at a party, and so on. What this shows us is that we are all running after a farce. But what’s worse, it shows that we’re all co-creating it.

So after a brief pause, I posted my gorgeous fall photos from the park with this: Full disclosure: Inspired by research for my next book about how social media posts screw us up by making everything and everyone seem OK even when they are not, I’m adding the truth here. These pictures were taken on a walk I dragged myself on because I felt sad today for no particular reason (except for that life is a lot sometimes).

I am typically not a sad person, nor am I one who shares it on social media when I am. I am very transparent on my author account, but for some reason, I am less so on my personal page. The response that day when I shared how I really felt took me by great surprise. Dozens of people I rarely heard from came out of the blue with comments, texts, and private messages. And what most of them were saying was, “I feel that way too.” In our technological age, we are more connected than ever before, but also lonelier and more isolated than ever before. I wondered that day, What if everyone stopped staying so busy pretending everything was perfect? What if instead of hiding our vulnerabilities to prevent the isolation we fear, we are driving it?

The bottom line is that, over and over again, I’ve learned that emotions are better in every way when they aren’t kept inside and to myself. 

This is an excerpt from How to Heal Yourself From Depression When No One Else Can: A Self-Guided Program to Stop Feeling Like Sh*t by Amy B. Scher.

 

amy scherAmy B. Scher is an energy therapist, expert in mind-body healing, and the bestselling author of How to Heal Yourself When No One Else Can and How to Heal Yourself from Anxiety When No One Else Can. She has been featured in the Times of India, CNN, HuffPost, CBS, the Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Curve magazine, and San Francisco Book Review. Scher was also named one of the Advocate’s “40 Under 40.” She lives in New York City. For more, visit amybscher.com.

 

 

Learn More

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Bookshop

LaRayia Gaston: Love Without Reason

LaRayia Gaston is a former model, actress, and the founder of the nonprofit Lunch On Me, an organization dedicated to offering organic, healthy food and holistic healing to those experiencing homelessness. She’s also a regular public speaker, podcast guest, and activist. She filmed a documentary, 43 Days on Skid Row, which shows her time living with LA’s Skid Row residents and offers up a true picture of what life is really like in one of America’s largest homeless communities. In this podcast, Sounds True founder Tami Simon speaks with LaRayia about her new book, Love Without Reason. They discuss the superpower called “love”; why connection and empowerment are central to ending hunger; gratitude as an action, not just an attitude; transforming our “withholding” and scarcity mindsets; seeing humanity “on every corner, in every person”; and more. 

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