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Regina Zasadzinski moved from New Jersey to California for college, eventually settling in the Bay Area because of its historic roots in civil rights, human rights and social change in America. Since then, she’s melded the values she grew up with in New Jersey—respect, strength, and standing up for herself and the people she loves—with mindfulness, using her energy to be a force of good in the world. The result: a spiritual warrior, who visualized working with SIYLI the moment she learned about it—and lo, landed a position as the engage program manager one year later.

In what ways do your present and past align?
Growing up in the environment and culture in which I did, the adults around me were reactive and dramatic. My initial reaction to everything is full of fire. But now, because of my mindfulness practice, I tend to slow down in order to respond rather than react. My initial instinct is always to react, but I catch myself and calm myself much more quickly these days.

When did you start meditating and why?
I became interested in meditating when I was 18, but it took 10 years for me to actually be able to do it. I had monkey mind. Big time. I still do. Someone introduced me to an ancient Sufi sound meditation, and I was able to do that. I began meditating 20 minutes in the morning and at night. It was completely transformational. Once that became consistent, I then found books and classes on other types of meditation, like guided meditations and Zen. I love it all. I’ve had a solid practice of spirituality, mindfulness and meditation for nearly 20 years.

The foundation of your practice is love. Could you explain how that works?
My relationship with love became more fully formed while in my twenties. At that time, I became aware that all my decisions were based in fear, and I no longer wanted that. So I began to shift from a perspective of fear to love—not romantic love, but a higher love. I’ve always felt the field of love, the vibration of love, around us. I feel it as the most powerful energy in the universe. I read a line from A Course in Miracles many years ago that says, “when you want only love, you will see nothing else.” That sentence transformed my perspective. If I was experiencing any lack of love in my world, it was my responsibility to change that by changing my perspective. Since then, I’ve had a straight focus to love. As a result, my life is filled with an abundance of love.

What’s your daily practice like?
Upon waking, I do a brief meditation, just focusing on my breath for about 5 to 20 minutes. Then I read a mission statement that I created for myself. I then set my intention for the day and write in my gratitude journal. I try to list as many unique things to be grateful for each day. And finally, I get on the phone with my mom, who has dementia, and we read a daily lesson from A Course in Miracles together. Reading the daily lesson  together positively and strongly impacts her mental-emotional state and sets the tone for the day.

Why do you keep a gratitude journal, and what have your learned as a result?
Because it’s a tool that has brought me peace of mind and heart. One of my best friends has been so demonstrative with her gratitude practice that I think of her as the gratitude poster child. She had spent the past three years watching her husband decline and then pass away from cancer. Yet she expressed gratitude every single day and still does. It’s the only way she survived that chapter of life. When my life became stressful last year because of a family crisis, my girlfriend reminded me of gratitude. I made a commitment to this practice.

It has shifted the way I see the world. In the midst of seeing and experiencing suffering and pain, I still find blessings and beauty in life. It’s there every single moment, and I am aware of it, thanks to gratitude. There’s always so much to be grateful for in life.

What tips would you give to others?
If you want peace in your mind and heart, mindfulness and gratitude are paths to that end. Be persistent. Be patient. Use your strength for love. The journey is available to you if you want it.

*This is the fifth blog in a series that shares the stories of SIYLI staff and their mindfulness practices. Read the other blogs: “Loving Kindness: Two Years and Going Strong,” “Unexpected Rewards,” “Merging Mindfulness with Technology” and “Cultivating a Mind Where Ideas Find You.”