For me, a woman with a free mind and an unconventional approach to life, working out is a powerful motivator toward a healthier life. Rather than clinging to the webs of uptightness that play an important role in Afghan culture, or wishing for better life without earning it, I set specific goals and formulate plans to navigate my mind, spiritually and emotionally.
I started Pilates thirteen years ago at home, unsure of how to achieve my ambition to become good at it. I felt the need to come out of my shell. I had a natural tendency to build a good habit of exercising and improving my physical and mental health, but still, I was skeptical about it. Since I did not have a specific strategy, guidance, and support to adhere to any exercise routine, I felt stressed and unmotivated. I undoubtedly knew that if I wanted to achieve something, I must take a step forward and face new challenges. But how? How to start a plan with no guidance? How to determine the importance and relevance of my ideas and ambitions? How can I approach my goals with no fear? How do I identify my talents and errors? How can I build and appraise my abilities?
Suddenly my heart sparkled with anticipation. From the core of my wisdom, ambition whispered in my ear: If you want to make a dream true, step forward and don’t hesitate! Once I decided to wake up and follow my goal, it helped regulate my mind and it boosted my energy to step toward the new tests of life. Slowly, with minor accomplishments, I was motivated purely by the result.
As time went by, I focused on my goal by increasing the amount of time I spent on the Pilates mat, and slowly I worked my way up—first to fifteen minutes, then to twenty-five, then to thirty-five…
Determined to break down the wall of fear and low self-esteem, I came to a realization that, when adding up the time and effort to my Pilates routine, not only had I crossed the bridge of fear, it also purified my mind and directed me to step out of my comfort zone.
As life is constantly changing, a strong person with a vigorous mindset takes life as it comes. For me, a self-reliant woman with no shoulder to lean on, changes can be overwhelming. Sometimes under the pressure of life, I could forget about my health and well-being. And as I carry the burden of responsibilities alone, sometimes I unwittingly neglect myself. Of course, the lack of care for myself leads to self-doubt, weakness, and a negative sense of inability and great aptitude for success.
In 2013, as I fell into the depth of depression, I stopped doing Pilates. With each passing day, I became more and more consumed with life events. With every new experience and problem, I was somehow altered.
Time was passing. Year after year, apart from my abusive marriage, life was unfolding. At the end of 2015, I moved to embrace a different approach to life, one where I saw my strength, abilities, and areas where there was room to grow. I knew if I eliminated fear, disruption, and personal weakness, I might achieve a healthy balance and take control of my life. With such understanding and acceptance, my mind started to open up more. My heart began moving faster within. My skin, hair, and body, previously neglected through carelessness, loneliness, regained my attention. Determined with certainty, I started to take care of myself. With proper planning and a positive attitude, I began simple steps toward a healthier me.
Day by day, struggling up my dream ladder, I realized the difference any change in daily routine can make. I realized any improvement over time is an astonishing achievement, an achievement founded on rationality and intelligence that secures our positive thinking, and makes us more driven in life.
Standing tall on the edge of my dream, my eyes opened to the depth of that goal. I could see myself as a shining example of courage and integrity. I could see a woman who never abandoned her dreams, a woman who fought for her goal. I could see a woman who moved through her life with difficulties, yet never lost her mind and self-worth.
By holding on to that aspiration, I felt free. My longing heart, thirsty for happiness and success, gave me a hand of boldness and confidence. With a heart full of courage, I went on with my dream.
It’s a new year. I am striving toward a better me. I would like to improve my workout routine. This year I want to add some positive reinforcement to my personal boundaries and reward myself by joining a personal training gym.
Keene is a good trainer. With her, I am progressing. She knows the level of my performance and she is eager to strategize a great plan for me. With Keena, I am myself. I’m able to formulate her ideas to start a positive journey toward betterment. With her experience, I craft a long-term workout plan that fits me. Even though I am sometimes overwhelmed by the intensity of workout routines, I won’t disappoint her or myself. I will give myself a chance to learn and develop a sense of purpose and consistency. I will learn to be patient, to nurture my body and mind. I will learn to be persistent and organize my time for exercise. I will learn to be a good listener and increase my motivation to achieve. I will learn to condition my body and mind against any fear and anxiety.
Nine months have passed from my training exercises. Yet, as the days go by I make a conscious effort to do better. I have learned to make level-headed decisions and feel more satisfied with my life activities. As I acknowledge my shortcomings and own up to my physical and mental flaws, I try to work on building my self-discipline and consistency. By picking up positive physical activity habits, I feel stronger. I feel like I’m ready to step up to the next level of exercise. I am ready to join an intense and more enjoyable gym.
I’m a little bit anxious. Wearing my new sneakers, I step into the Orange Theory Fitness. I am here with a good mindset to accomplish something that I never thought was possible. Even though I feel a little under pressure and discouraged among the fit women and men (who look like they exercise every day), I am here to put aside the feeling of intimidation, to work hard, and wipe off my sweat with a smile.
Since the gym specializes in group fitness, it’s a very motivating environment for me. And I think I can adjust to this new exercise plan with speed and efficiency.
Two years have passed since my serious workout plan began. Now, I sense an inner calm. My mood stays almost the same all day. My body functions better. My skin is vivacious and clear. I have vibrant energy throughout the day. I’m happier, and the stress of life is under my control. The exercise showed me the importance of positive changes. With exercise, I can bounce back when things are going crazy. As soon as I learned how to dedicate a portion of my day solely for my benefit, I picked up good habits to pursue the object of my dedication and adjust my body and mind amid life’s unpredictability.
This year, I have an exhilarating goal in mind. A goal that I always wanted to achieve. Since my passion for tennis is strong, and I have always enjoyed watching tennis, positive mental energy is pulling me toward that game. Having not been born into an athletic family, I must admit my passion for tennis runs unnaturally deep—it’s always been a part of me. After serious consideration of all the aspects of playing tennis, I have decided to sign up with Yacht Club tennis lessons.
My tennis instructor, Joe, is knowledgeable. He communicates clearly and concisely. Regardless of the depth of my love for tennis, I need to learn proper techniques. As I am willing to practice and stay dedicated to my passion for tennis, I believe that with Joe’s professionalism, level of maturity, and good personality, I will climb the ladder of learning the sport. With a clear intention, I am willing to execute the skills of the game until I reach my full potential and ability.
To me, tennis is a form of art. Tennis is rich in elegance and beauty. When I am on the court, when I feel the touch of sun on my skin, when the wind blows my hair, when my heart beats with excitement, when I follow the ball with my gaze, when I hit the ball over the net, when I hear a compliment from my coach... Again and again, I feel free.
As I remain active and trying to reach a certain level of productivity, I become more aware of myself. Once buried under the clouds of despair and tiresome routines, now I feel happy and relaxed. I can see my days without darkness. I rely on my intellectual capacity to retain my sanity. I listen to my children without nagging or arguing constantly. And I look at myself without pity! As I am infusing my life with positive energy, I will not postpone any important and constructive plan for the future. I will concentrate on the present and enjoy every fall and rise. The expectations we set for ourselves will impact our mind and soul. Doing exercise, paying attention to myself, and following the path of progress and productivity gave me the push I needed to awaken my mind, body, and soul. As I stay with my workout plan and increase the time I spend doing it, I feel happier and more confident. Truly inspired by positive changes in my body and mind, I am optimistic for the road ahead and I’ll continue to excel in my goals and stay focused toward the things that matter most.
Long before I started reading Crime and Punishment, I was interested in the study of the minds of criminals. With a lot of research (reading, watching documentaries, etc.), I concluded that no human is meant to kill other humans. Some individuals are born with neurological weaknesses or imbalances that can drive them to murder others. People are also the result of their upbringings, and sometimes a harsh childhood may lead to a damaged mind.
From my understanding, cold-blooded murderers usually have an abusive childhood or a dark past. From the beginning, they are often suffocated internally under tough and unhappy circumstances and will develop into an adult who struggles with living an average life.
As I studied more into the depth of their psyche, I discovered that criminals are mainly thirsty for revenge and ignore any consequences for their actions so they can feed the hunger that has been built up by loneliness, pain, betrayals, and feelings of abandonment. Mostly as children and teens, these people were not able to express their inner fears, thoughts, or sources of pain to anyone. In many cases, they are victims of abuse and brutality themselves, or they might have witnessed harsh treatment as a child. In other cases, they have suffered at the hands of people they trusted the most.
On the other hand, sometimes, a well-nurtured young adult will commit a brutal crime for no real purpose. In these cases, there is no motive other than to feed their sinful desires. These people were only born with imbalances in their brains, which leads them to commit these cruel acts. In those cases, a flaw in their nature, not an abusive or dark past, usually creates the criminals. In any case, life has been unfair to them; any feelings of compassion and remorse are not within their hearts. Pain and depression have clouded their emotion.
By studying Raskolnikov’s character in Crime and Punishment, I have categorized him as a victim of physiologic compromisation. Raskolnikov had a settled and normal childhood with loving parents, was surrounded by affection, and received a good education. He never suffered tremendously as a child or teen. He was cherished and surrounded by love and care. Unlike other cold-blooded murderers, however, Raskolnikov berated himself constantly. Also, unlike many killers, he was brilliant and intelligent with good looks and a promising future. When he went through an extended period of depression and poverty, he felt less human. He thought that he deserved better, and his mother and sister, who depended on his education and future, deserved better. He felt betrayed by life when it stole all joy and comfort from him. He felt ashamed that the unpredictable and cruel wheel of fortune had placed him on the lower part of existence. All of these factors made him desire more from life and led him to manifest dark intentions. However, he hated all the struggles that took place in his mind. He hated living for the sake of living and thought that was all that he was doing. But all along, a healthy, happy, and compassionate human being still resided deep inside him, beneath all his troubles, doubts, and darkness.
Raskolnikov was very kind to the poor. He continuously gave to the less fortunate. He felt their pain and saw himself in them. His humanity reached the souls of injured, needy, and betrayed with love and admiration. He was bright toward others, yet depressed inside; so alive, yet internally dead; so loving, yet felt betrayed by life; so compassionate, yet so willing to kill.
He committed the crime in such a planned and calculative manner that it even surprised himself. It was his remorse for what he did that shocked him more. His tender heart, which was full of love for humanity and kindness, couldn’t take the burden of such cruelty. In combination with his intellect, the weight of his conscience created a toxic feeling of remorse that sent him on a downward spiral. In the end, he was finally at peace. He knew that he had wronged others and deserved to suffer, but still wanted to live and love again. Unlike other killers, Raskolnikov was remorseful, and a ray of compassion still shined through him. He sought to better himself so he could atone for all the pain he caused.
By studying criminal minds and Raskolnikov’s character, I have become more compassionate and more aware of how our behavior and characteristics affect our children and their future. We give our children so little, yet we expect much in return. We get so caught up in the hardships of life that we do not pay attention to their feelings, needs, or emotional welfare. And unfortunately, sometimes these things can result in very disappointing outcomes and even heartbreak.
To me, red lipstick is symbolic of taste and beauty that brings out a woman’s boldness and independence. Red lipstick can overshadow any other feelings and adds to a woman’s beauty, merit, and appeal. It symbolizes the willingness of a woman who likes to take risks and sheds light on her courage.
While growing up in Kabul, Afghanistan, I never saw a woman wear a shade of red lipstick or nail polish. Unlike other women who hid their true feelings under the pressure of a conservative society, I had a mind of my own. I was able to verbalize my true opinion and feelings. Also, in a keenly expectant way, I loved to value the colors of light, beauty, and love.
One day I asked my mother: “Why does no one wear red lipstick or nail polish? Why do you always wear the same shades, without color?” With clear surprise in her eyes, my mother calmly answered, “Red is not a good color for a woman! Red does not comply with our virtues.”
For years that answer kept me wondering, why would a beautiful and vibrant color represent vice and iniquity? Why would a color that could transfer a smile to an unforgettable impression, a color that could boost energy, that could increase self-confidence be looked down upon?
Time passed. I grew up. My passion for red lipstick grew with me.
In college, I tried to maintain my modesty and self-effacement. Even though I started to wear lipstick, I stayed with neutral colors only. But as soon as my maturity kicked in, the boldness of my nature resurfaced, and I began to change. With my new-found attitude toward becoming an adult, I wanted to follow my taste and intuition. In trusting my instinct, I went for brighter-colored lipsticks. By wearing each, every day to match my dress or my blouse I felt invigorated. I felt my true self. I felt one of a kind.
But then, as a new bride with no concentration on myself, I lost the brighter side of my taste. I became colorless. My mood was like a shade of gray, it reflected deep despair.
In my early twenties, a time of social and family turbulence, I lost my direction for pursuing my interests among other important things. As much as I wanted to adapt to all the negative stress and life tension and unfairness, the pressure diminished my judgment. Slowly, I crumbled under the pressure, and one by one I found the senses of light, love, and happiness were leaving me behind. And the shade of my lipstick paralleled the color of my depressed mood.
By my mid-thirties, as my brain and body had shed their worries and blossomed again, I embraced the time and difficulties that did not change me, but rather unfolded me to who I was in the midst of all. With the joy of understanding and acceptance, my inner beauty and strength fully matured and I started to care about color and beauty again.
Self-realization requires a tremendous amount of patience and wisdom based on experience, full growth, and strong work ethic. I know this now. I know that the vision and the boldness of a woman’s courage are born, nurtured, and consolidated in her from birth. No shade of lipstick or nail polish can identify her true nature and beauty. But again, the color is important. Every color is a composition of inner desires and mental stability toward meaningful dignity.
Now, in my forties, with all the uptightness of society under my feet, raw and bolder than ever, occasionally I enjoy the audacity of red. With every bit of my unique taste of fashion to symbolize the inner sense of my body, I do wear a shade of red. And now and then, with a feeling of deep pleasure, I look within myself and see the reflection of light, color, and beauty.
As humans, we all need love. We crave intimacy and comfort. We need a shoulder to lean on in the dark days and in the stormy nights. We need someone to consider a confidant, a friend, a helper, a lover, and a better half.
But what if this bond with another person is not as strong as we think? What if we live unfulfilled, and the person we love is unworthy of our devotion? What if we know the core of the problems that affect our bond, but we lack the courage or the knowledge to fix it? What if we are afraid to move forward alone? What if we feel entitled to stay, and we suffer silently inside?
As we grow, we gain wisdom. By committing mistakes, we build experience. And finally, we discover how meaningful life can be.
We have to know that a solid relationship needs more than love; it requires mutual respect, understanding, and loyalty to remain healthy. A relationship is doomed without any of these essentials.
We should be more cautious of how a relationship will progress by learning about our partner.
We all should know that by mutual respect and support, a trusting relationship will develop. To keep a relationship alive, we have to master how to communicate, how to show admiration and love for one another, and how to avoid shutting down emotionally.
Since no relationship can survive on its own, intimacy will triumph through emotional support and love. But if we feel oppressed, depressed, ignored, and shut down in a relationship, we must depend on our self-esteem and self-worth. We must be courageous enough to move forward in life without fear of the future.
At the tender age of fourteen, she felt old. Her small body couldn’t take it anymore. Her hands were tired of working all day. Her brain was bare of new thoughts. Her eyes missed the ray of happiness. As fair-minded as she was, she felt hopeless and depressed.
Even though she existed sheltered from the outside world, growing up reserved in an abandoned village, she was all emotions and intelligence. She had a vibe, a gift of nature that connected her to the other side of reality.
With all her life problems, her mind was locked up in a prison. Still, she never felt that she was missing anything in life, and she lived without feelings of regret. But she sensed the faintest flavor of abnormality in her surroundings. She couldn’t imagine why there was such a difference between her inner world and reality. In the back of her mind, there was always a vision, a dream of her heart. In her audacity, she contemplated that dream in her mind, wondering if things would or could ever change.
One cold winter night, the most wonderful thing happened: Her father, the only living creature she knew and loved, was asleep. The little mud house was dark and quiet. The moon was full.
Even though she loved her father, the lonely middle-aged man drowning in sorrow, she knew his intention was not to hurt her. He regarded her, his fourteen-year-old daughter, as his property, an idea she hated. She wished him to have a little bit of solitude, a little bit of peace.
After the death of her mother, her father ordered her to become the woman of the house. At first, she thought that was the only way to live. Lost in anger and resentment, she had to accept her mother was gone and that she had to fill her mother’s shoes. That was a great burden to bear.
Her father, a man in his forties, had a demanding personality. He never treated her mother as a human, and he looked at his child as an object. Every day, he spent his hours in the shack outside with his carpentering work.
He was a good carpenter. Using tree branches and stamps, he manufactured chairs and tables and other small accessories, selling them in the neighboring towns. To him, cutting, shaping, carving, and playing with wood was a great way to deal with his anger and frustration. He was a man with many dislikes, and he felt he had nothing to live for. He was strong and capable, but inside he was a broken man. A man who had seen the evil of the world.
When a person is hurt or has been used and damaged over time, and if she or he has no resources to get help, that person can never care for others. But her father, after the death of his wife, became a living soul. He realized the enormity of his sorrow and the fearful responsibility of a parent. As much as he felt strained by a sudden change, he was destined to do the right thing. He had to break the emotional boundary between himself and his daughter.
But he did not know what to say, how to start, and how to heal the deep wounds that formed a chasm between them. Although he considered himself damaged goods, somehow in the core of his being, at the essence of his soul, he was an innocent and terrified boy who took everyday beatings at the hands of his angry mother. Yet, who had a heart full of love and dreams.
That feeling of inner peace of his boyhood had never before resurfaced. He had kept all the good and the bad inside with no trace of hope and desire to heal.
Now, he stepped into the other side of reality.
At first, his mind swirled, overwhelmed with the idea of how to get close to his only child, to heal past transgressions. He was angry with himself. He hated the complexity of life. But he had to break the shell of self-unworthiness; he must forgive and forget his past to give the gift of a normal life to his only daughter.
As the power of good intentions can soothe pain, suddenly he felt at ease.
It was a starry night. Lying on the mattress, she thought of her mother, the ray of goodness that she kept in her heart. Every time she was feeling lonely, unwanted, and unloved, she found solace with good memories of her mother.
Tonight, her small body was weak, but her inner feelings were as vivid as the moonlight. Her imagination led her aching and feverish body to a beautiful dream.
As her heart beat with excitement, she saw herself in a green meadow far from home. The beauty and calming effect of the green scenery, a garden full of fruits. The brightness of the sun like she had never seen it before, the sound of water streaming, the chirping birds and the autumn breeze and colorful leaves all around gave her the energy of love and awareness of her surroundings.
In the midst of all things, she heard a soothing sound: a mixture of joy and laughter.
Intrigued, she moved closer, finding that the pain she carried on her small shoulders, all the insecurity she had faced in her short life, and all the bitterness she endured disappeared. Her keen mind had suffered loneliness and abandonment; her thoughts were always at the urge of giving up. Her demeanor was now shifting to the gentle way of life.
She saw children playing happily, and was captivated by their joyful sound alongside the blissful feeling of freedom, the warmth of the sun, and the green scenery filled with an infusion of peace and light. She felt relaxed, soaking up all the energy.
Panicky and breathless, she was overcome by the blend of excitement and steely desire to stay. She did not want to lose such a feeling of complete and unmitigated love. She didn’t want to be alone again. In the midst of all, she sensed her mother’s infectious smile upon her. She felt loved and wanted.
The wooden door of her small room opened. The room smelled fresh and alive, a glass full of fresh wildflowers on the old nightstand. A tiny window let in light.
The man walked into the room and saw his daughter wrapped in a blanket, deep in sleep. Suddenly, a noise: She was crying, murmuring in her dreams.
Confused, he didn’t know what to do. He had never been close to her as a father, never had been a shoulder for her to cry on. Three years without her mother around, the child grew in the dark all alone. And now that he wanted to be a father and make things right, he didn’t know what to do.
The young girl writhed in agony, burning up in a fever. She looked so fragile. Putting a hand on her damp forehead, the man noticed for the first time the similarities between him and his child. Her soft brown hair, her tanned fair skin, her straight and narrow nose, and her thin lips resembled his. He was astonished.
“How can I help her?” he asked himself, his heart breaking within his soul. He was afraid he wouldn’t be able to rescue his daughter; he thought of her fragile body slipping into the stream of pain and drifting away.
He felt hopeless. He blamed himself for the reason she was suffering.
All he ever wanted was to hide from the reality of their situation, but now, without the fear of what the future would hold, the only thing he wanted was for his daughter to wake up, to survive.
A wave of panic shook his heart. His hands were trembling, his mind flooded with fear. For the first time, he wanted to cry. There was no time to waste. His daughter needed him, needed his fatherly arms and confidence around her.
Yet he felt confused and hopeless. Rattled by his daughter’s distress, a single thought of bravery encapsulated his mind, forcing him to face the darkest demons. He left the room and hurried back with a jug of cold water and a small, wet towel. He stood in front of his ill child’s bed, simultaneously agitated and frozen with fear. In a sudden state of alertness, he moved closer to the bed, placed the towel on the nightstand, and reached for his daughter. His tears flowed like raindrops, but he did not care. All his pride, self-righteousness, shame, wrath, and vengeance had never deserted him, and now they were near the breaking point.
With a bittersweet smile on his face, he felt free of pain. For the first time, he wanted to be a father. He wanted to break the cycle of abuse and neglect. He wanted to make up for his past mistakes and regrets and look to the future. And he wanted his only child to accompany him on that journey. He wanted to see her happy and well. He wanted to make her laugh. He wanted her to blossom like a flower, and for her to never see sunrise with tearful eyes again.
With that powerful feeling of fatherly love, he tried to banish his fear. Suddenly he found contentment in the midst of loss and grief. And he knew by helping his only child, he was also helping the lost boy who had been living in sorrow for so long…