Friday, November 25, 2011

On Gratitude - It's Not Just for Thanksgiving These Days!

Courtesy of
As we finish up the turkey leftovers and close the chapter on Thanksgiving for this year, I’d like to express my gratitude for discovering the practice and power of gratitude this past year – a practice that now brings joy into my life well beyond Thanksgiving.  

In the Awakening Joy course with James Baraz that I took this year (and the accompanying book), one of the key practices that we were taught to cultivate is Gratitude.   According to happiness experts like Rick Hanson, our brains are trained to focus extra attention on negative stimuli – a throwback to the days when we had to be primed each minute for potential dangers – after all, if we weren’t careful, giant Sabertooth tigers would chase us and eat us!  

Very useful back then – not so useful now in modern life.  Nowadays, all of that focus on the negative makes us depressed and anxious and unhappy.   We live longer and stay out of danger – but we carry our unhappy brains and moods with us all of our lives.

Before learning to focus on gratitude, my conversations with friends and family used to sound like competitions to see who would win the award for having the worst day - I’d grumble about the student I met with who was cranky or the bus that was late or whatever minor annoyance was highlighted in my consciousness.  My companions would complain about the bad weather,  the driver who cut them off and the friend who stood them up for dinner.

Since learning the power of gratitude, I am making a concerted effort to focus on what I am grateful for in my life and what has gone well in my day.  As a result, I feel more positive and am able to share the joy and happiness in my life with those around me.  

Here are some ways that I have worked gratitude into my life:

USF's Beautiful Campus!
When I walk back from lunch to head back in to work, I make a point to take in the beautiful campus surrounding me and cultivate a smile in my body and mind.  I also try to notice the positive atmosphere around me on the way into work in the morning, when I am walking home from the bus at night, and whenever I stop for a minute and take a breath.

When I am feeling anxious or frustrated, I’ve found that taking a minute to stop and run through a list in my mind of things that I am grateful for really helps me to break out of the cycle of samsara and get back to an open heart and mind – ideally before I tear the head off of my companion.

I also make a point to really stop and feel good feelings inside – to take in the good and soak it into my body and mind.  Happiness researchers like Rick Hanson say that by really emphasizing and noticing when we feel good, we can help to change our brains over time and discount the bad things that we notice day in and day out.   For instance, I had a really good phone conversation yesterday with my grandparents in Florida – who I am extremely grateful to still have alive and healthy in my life.  When I got off of the phone, I noticed that I felt really good – and I paused for a moment to feel that all the way through my body – and to remember how amazing it feels to be able to have them in my life to call on Thanksgiving.

My Mom and Me - An Old Favorite!
One practice that I am particularly grateful for is a gratitude email practice that my mom and I started earlier this year.  Each day, we trade emails back and forth sharing three things that we are grateful for in our life.   I look forward to reading my mom’s emails each day to find out what is adding happiness to her life; I find the practice of writing my own emails helpful to focus my attention on the good; and I am enjoying how this new exchange of gratitude lists has improved the flavor of our daily connection with one another.

I would be silly to claim that I bring the spirit of gratitude into my life all the time – after all, just like any of you, I have days and moments when I sound more like a whiny grouch than anything else.  Nevertheless, these past months of gratitude practice have been so worth it and so wonderful that I am convinced of its power.  Don’t believe me?  Try it for yourself – this year, instead of saving gratitude just for Thanksgiving, try keeping it in going in your life until next Thanksgiving – and see what you think!

As a parting gift, here are some videos on gratitude – to give you some ideas and get you started!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

On Surrendering Into Our Interconnectness

The past few weeks, I have been holding an intention to be more accepting of myself and others and reflecting on our interconnectedness with each other and everything around us.   Of course, doing so has been difficult for me to do because you can’t “will” yourself to do anything – approaching these qualities of compassion and lovingkindness with a desire for perfection is counterproductive.  

I had the opportunity to listen to a great talk by Tara Brach on Anxiety About Imperfection in October, and have also been reading her book Radical Acceptance during my lunch hours.  According to her, you can’t convince yourself not to be judgmental of yourself or others – just as you can’t convince yourself to change any habit through willpower alone.  Instead, by bringing gentle and loving awareness to your thoughts and actions and seeing how they resonate with your body and mind, you will begin to shift them naturally.  Also, by reminding ourselves of our loved ones and humanity, we become less likely to think in terms of me, my, and mine – and we are inspired to act with love and compassion.

These ideas also work well for dealing with difficult emotions – like anger, anxiety, sadness, fear, etc.  For many years, my approach has been to feel ashamed and distressed when these feelings arise and to try and get rid of them as quickly as possible.   I come from a family where we try to focus on the good and put a happy face on things.  I do believe that focusing on the positive in life is a beneficial thing and much research and teachings support that idea – gratitude practice has been more and more helpful in my life.  

Invite the Monster for Tea!
Nevertheless, having aversion to difficult feelings rather than approaching them with gratitude and acceptance often makes them harder to cope with.  Many of the Buddhist teachings that I’ve come across encourage us to lean into discomfort and lean into difficult emotions – to welcome the monsters into the room when they arise rather than running away scared.  While suffering is never pleasant, when we truly look it in the eye and take it in, it opens our hearts and humbles us. 

These days, when I feel anxiety arising or feel sad or angered about something someone said to me, I try to focus in on the actual sensations in my body, the raw feelings underneath – not the story about whose fault it is or what I should do about it or why it is happening.  I try to feel my heart and throat tighten or feel the heaviness in my body or feel my flushed face and hold those sensations with a loving heart, like a mother would hold her crying child.   In surrendering to the feelings moving through me, I feel a great sense of release and I feel strangely held by the universe. 

Biodanza "Nest"
In Biodanza class recently, our teacher Clara did a vivencia class focused on the concept of the nest – feeling supported and nurtured by everything around us.  I had had a particularly stressful week at work and was feeling pretty wiped out – so wiped out that instead of trying to be the perfect student and do every exercise “right,” I just released into the moment – when we walked through the space, I sank my feet into the ground and felt it hold me up; when I danced with one of my classmates, I just gazed into her eyes and felt an authentic, open connection; and when we gathered into the equivalent of a big group hold, I just relaxed completely and felt all of the bodies of my comrades around me.  It was truly a wonderful class – and really made me feel connected with the earth and the community around me.   I didn’t feel such a compulsive need to hold myself up. 

The Vast Sea of Awareness
In that talk about Anxiety About Imperfection, Tara Brach shared an image / idea which I’ve found very powerful lately.  She said to picture ourselves and the entire universe as the great wide ocean.  So many waves of emotions and stories and egos and everything run through us, but in the end we are just a vast ocean of awareness – awareness that has been here since we were born and will be here when we die.   When I feel triggered and think about sinking into the great ocean of love and awareness, I feel a wonderful sense of wholeness and completeness. 

I was also working with sound last night at a Sound Healing meetup at the Globe Sound and Consciousness Institute that I went to in celebration of 11-11-11.   There were several musicians there and we spent a lot of time using singing bowls and toning in as a large group on particular sound frequencies.  If you ever have an opportunity to do that sort of activity or sing along with a toning CD or use toning forks, I encourage you to do so – it is amazing how much can communicated by sound.  I have a similar feeling in Kundalini Yoga when we chant various mantras together  - something about joining together in sound really cues me in to our joint energy and spirit – where my body starts and ends seems to blur.  

Walk Into the Light, Patrick!
I also like picturing our unitedness in terms of light – when I was at the Sound Healing meetup, I found myself picturing an image similar to the ending of the movie Ghost, where Patrick Swayze finally joins up with all of the other beings in heaven after he saves Demi Moore from the evil person who murdered him.  As I remember it, you see him stepping into a bath of light and at first you can see him and see the outlines of other beings, but eventually it all just blurs together into one big ball of light.  Other movies with death have used this image as well – of walking into the light, etc.

I’m not sure what your specific spiritual beliefs are and I’m not inclined to try to change them – I think all religions in the world have something beneficial to share.  Most of them at their heart encourage us to bring love into the world and share our light and compassion with others.  As we learn more and more about science, it seems that science supports the idea of us all being interconnectedof us all being part of a giant energy field.   There are so many neurons that fire and connect to help us conceive our place in the world that I think it is entirely conceivable that this idea of a body and a self separate from the rest of the universal energy field is simply something created by our brain to help us make sense of the world – otherwise it is too abstract to conceive. 

The Rescuing Hug
Science also supports the idea of our connection with others being crucial to our survival – I’m sure many of you have heard "The Rescuing Hug" story or read one of the articles that circulated around the Internet a year or so ago about the benefits of co-incubating twins that have been born prematurely and aren’t ready to survive in the world yet.  Or of allowing premature infants to be held and hugged by their parents.  Our science world would suggest to keeping the environment sterile and free of germs is the most important thing (and it’s definitely important) – but it seems that there is support for the idea that touch and human connection is extremely important to our survival.  I’ve also heard stories of babies in orphanages who died or had health difficulties even though they seemingly every need taken care of – they were feed, clothed, given shelter, etc. – but weren’t held on a regular basis, and we as humans depend on that touch and connection.

Have You Hugged Someone Today?
In the documentary movie, Connected, which I mentioned in my last blog entry, there is a part where the narrator mentions that hugging for at least six seconds releases oxytocin and helps with our over wellbeing.  I’ve also heard that things like Cuddle Parties – which are parties basically focused on giving space for hugs and affection without all of the complexities of dating, relationships, etc. – are extremely helpful for single people.  Hugging and sharing affection with another human bolsters our immune system and can even help people lose weight – many times we try to fill out need for love and affection and connection by buying things or stuffing ourselves with food or other material things – when all we really desire is a hug – or some sort of basic reminder that we are infinitely connected with source and everything around us.  

When is the last time that you hugged someone?  Hopefully not too long ago – if it has been awhile – go find someone and give them a hug – and – extra credit – try to hold the embrace for at least 6 seconds – or at least a full breath.  So many times when we give someone a hug, we tense up and hold our breath instead of just relaxing into the embrace and feeling our bodies and souls melt into one another.  I LOVE this picture of two kittens snuggling up to one another – I keep it posted on my fridge, and it warms my heart every time I look at it. 

Anyway, these are some thoughts that I’ve been working with lately related to working with anxiety, imperfection, and difficult emotions and about finding such expansive peace in surrendering to the connections and shared energy around us.  I just came from an acupuncture session earlier today, and as I was lying on the table, I felt such a deep sense of peace – as if I was sinking into and through the table and was swallowed up by the vast energy, love, and light around me.   The feeling was fleeting, but when it was there, it was so incredibly powerful.  

As you tackle these same demons in your life, I encourage you to embrace your suffering and feelings with compassion, give yourself or someone a hug, and seek out practices like Biodanza and Sound Healing that assist you to let go and float into the endless sea of awareness of which we are all part.

To finish - I leave you with an old favorite song of mine that I got from watching Grey's Anatomy - "Infinity" - by Merrick.  The images in this video are moving and beautiful - enjoy!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Staying Balanced Within the Eye of the Storm

It’s been a while since I have written on this blog…for those of you readers who may have been eagerly awaiting my next update – I apologize for the delay!  This summer I spent a lot more time by myself and the call to write felt especially strong.  Since that point, the academic year at school has started up, I have started a new relationship, and I’ve had many opportunities to join friends in growth enriching activities.  While I am still committed to this blog, finding the right rhythm to update it and maintain it moving forward will be my next challenge.

Neo from The Matrix
One big focus in my life lately has been finding a way to keep balanced in the midst of all of the stress and activity in daily life – to devote even attention to body, mind, heart, and spirit.  My goal is to cultivate an oasis of peace, love, and serenity in the eye of the storm around me – to respond in a Matrix-like fashion – sort of like when Neo fights the Bobs and he can see their movements so clearly and slowly and respond with grace and composure.  I don’t achieve that state with great frequency, but that is definitely my goal.

To me, focusing on my body means eating healthily, sleeping sufficiently, and finding time to move and exercise – I’ve started trying to do a little bit of Aharaj Yoga in the mornings in my apartment, I go to Dynamic Chakra Dance every time it is offered, and I try to work in walking and other forms of dance whenever I can.  One breakthrough that I’ve head in this area is feeling more empowered to take on movement – such as yoga or Pilates or swimming – on my own – to not feel quite so encumbered to go to a class in order to exercise.  While I still love going to classes whenever I can, it is great to know that I have that back-up form of activity – that a lot of the movements are right there when I need them.

Focusing on my mind signifies to me my professional development, learning opportunities, and my work pursuits.  I finished my Career Development Facilitator training in early September, attended the annual NACADA (National Academic Advising Association) conference in early October, and am involved in several working groups helping to create a new centralized advising center on campus – the Center for Academic and Student Achievement (CASA).   I also continue to go to lots of retreats and trainings in my personal life and read books at lunch – I’ve gotten into watching TED videos and continue try to see the world in new and different ways.   I’ve seen two independent movies that I really enjoyed this year – Happy and Connected – both gave me excellent perspective on life and our human experience – I recommend seeing them if they come your way.

Focusing on my heart to me signifies trying to approach my new 
Collage I Made at NACADA Conference!
relationship with love and compassion and care – to really create a healthy partnership and develop new patterns that come from a place of confidence and comfort with myself – that will sustain and grow connection over a long period of time.  It also signifies developing and sustaining friendships – truly authentic friendships where I feel comfortable being uniquely me.  This past year, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know some great new people – from the Biodanza community, from the Hanuman Center, and from SF Insight and other meditation groups.  I cherish their company and am enjoying the process of seeing those friendships grow.   I also continue to cherish the friends that I already have and enjoying getting together with those people as much as I can.  Finally, focusing on my heart to me signifies maintaining joyful connections with my family – even when many of them live halfway across the country – those connections are very dear to me and hope to maintain a healthy family life for years to come – someday adding a child (or children of my own) to the mix.

Awakening Joy Book
Focusing on my spirit to me means continuing to still my mind and feel the basic love and awareness deep inside – to strengthen my connection to source.  I try to go to SF Insight on Sunday nights whenever I can – and often alternate a seated meditation with my yoga in the mornings – I’m finding that it is hard to work both into a daily routine – so I figure if I’m at least doing a little bit of each within the week, that’s good.  Many of my movement activities such as Dynamic Chakra Trance dance and Biodanza also help tremendously to bring me into the present moment and help me feel part of the larger community of life.  I’ve really enjoyed the Awakening Joy class that I am finishing up this next month (it’s a 10-11 month course on 10 practices that bring joy and wellbeing into your life).  I’ve had the opportunity to go to several daylong retreats up at Spirit Rock – and I’ve also recently starting exploring with chanting and toning and other forms of Sound Healing – excellent forms for me.  I still haven’t done a lot in a church context, but I did attend a service at Glide Memorial Church this summer, and I’ve had some recent conversations with people about commonalities between Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Science, and other Religious forms.

All in all, I feel that I am starting to achieve some balance with these four areas – but it is a constant challenge.  Some weeks I feel particularly charged on mind and body to the detriment of heart and spirit and vice versa – it seems impossible to hit perfectly on all four in any given week.  Which brings me to another element that I’ve been playing with – basically a foundation of loving-kindness and acceptance and sourcing from my inner awesomeness.  So many times, I catch myself being critical of myself and or telling myself that I “should be a certain way” – I can be very hard on myself, and I’m trying to move away from that as best I can – to accept where I am and what I am feeling in any given moment.  It’s not easy – I am very good at finding fault with myself.   But – that’s okay – the point isn’t to achieve each of these qualities that I am trying to cultivate instantly – I suspect trying to do so will be a lifelong journey.  It is also important that I accept each moment as it comes – each change and bump in the road.  This morning I felt rather sad about something – that’s ok.  Right this minute I feel some peace about it – that’s ok too.  Who knows what I’ll feel two hours from now – life is full of surprises.

At a workshop that I went to recently by David Richo at Spirit Rock on his book How to Be An Adult in Relationships, he asserted that all humans basically need and hunger for the following five A’s in both childhood and adulthood:

Allowing (i.e. being given the freedom to grow and be who you want to be)

Ideally, in an adult relationship, each partner will provide these A’s the other – all the while knowing that it is important to get them fully from any given source.   Adults will know that they can get these A’s from themselves, from their source, from their friends, from their job, etc. 

One of His Many Books!
I’ve been relatively lucky in my life to have had many of these A’s provided for me by my parents, but I still struggle a bit with Acceptance and Allowing – for whatever reason, I am endlessly seeking complete acceptance and freedom to be who I want to be – in my relationships and also in my work life.   Each of us has some blocks around these A’s – either we received too much of them as a child and we expect them from every around us or we didn’t get them as a child and we have a bottomless craving for them in adulthood.  In his talk and in his book, he gave some ideas for working with our problem needs – I’m only partly through the book, so I’m still a bit rusty on that part. 

I do find it an interesting way of looking at the world, though – many of the issues I encounter relate back to these A’s in some way.  It’s also a helpful barometer to use in measuring the health of any given relationship – if I’m giving and receiving a reasonable amount of these A’s, I think that’s a very good sign.  David Richo also suggested when we feel angry or triggered by something, to use the SEE method to gauge – i.e. is this related to my shadow self, my ego, or my early childhood?  If so, it might not have much to do at all with the person whom I think I am angry with?  He has a helpful free guide (which I haven't read all the way through available at the following link:

In my case, I think I have a difficult time dealing with judgmental or critical people because I myself am so judgmental and critical of myself and maybe of others as well – because I can’t accept that part of me, I have a hard time accepting it in others.  Also – it goes back to my early childhood and relationship with acceptance.  Don’t get me wrong – I have definitely experienced significant acceptance in my life – I think a part of me deep down just wonders what would happen if I gained 40 pounds, quit my job and had to go on welfare, and never sent any cards or greetings to anyone.  Would I still be accepted then?  Would I even accept myself?

Anyway, as you all continue on in your lives this next month or so – I encourage you to use these frameworks in your life – i.e. to think how you are balancing your body, mind, heart, and spirit – what that means for you.  Also, what is your relationship with the five A’s?  Are there any A’s that you need to work on?  

Wave Photo by Chris Little
In my case – I plan to continue striving for balance – especially as we get into the holidays and the start of winter.   I’d like to bring in more movement-oriented dance-like activity (to complement that yoga I’m doing), handle a stressful stretch at work with grace and composure, to continue cultivating my relationships with friends, family, and my partner – particularly as I start to intermingle them more, and to find more consistent time for stillness in my life – by going more consistently to SF Insight and by someday going to a silent retreat – perhaps in the new year.   I’m also continually striving (and struggling) to maintain order in my life – to keep paperwork under control, maintain a clean and organized household, and keep track of my finances – I still haven’t figured out which part of body, mind, heart, and spirit those fit into – but they seem to be important as well!

Anyway, as I leave you for now – I’m including a recent song by ModeSelector that I really enjoy – it’s instrumental and a bit long (don't feel obligated to listen to the whole thing!) but to me the tone of the music speaks to the quality of clear seeing and calm that I would like to have in my life.  

 Modeselektor - My Anthem

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

On Taking Risks – and Not Being Afraid to Make Mistakes

As a recovering perfectionist, I sometimes have a tendency to fear the unknown and succumb to decision paralysis – risk-taking and spontaneity are not natural impulses for me, although I cherish new adventures and opportunities.

The Cowardly Lion = Me :)
Since getting divorced a few years ago, I find that I am more risk averse than I was in my early 20’s.  The thought of branching out in a new career direction or someday opening my own business seems scary because as a single woman I am fully responsible for supporting myself in the world.  If I jump ship or make a move unwisely, I might find myself without a roof over my head or scrambling to find my next meal – at the very least, I might end up needing to leave California and beg my parents to let me stay with them in Chicago for a little while.  Luckily, I am pleased with the direction that my current position is going in at USF – I just wonder if it will someday fit with my lifestyle if I have kids and want to spend more time with them – or if I someday want to advance to higher level positions.

On the romance front, I am even more unsure of myself – after all, I’ve now seen two serious relationships disintegrate from love and promise and potential to criticism, contempt and disappointment. 

How am I to trust when someone professes their affection and admiration for me that they will still be doing so months or years down the line when the honeymoon fades and the work of relationship begins?  Will they roll up their sleeves and fight with me to find middle ground and make a partnership work?  Could I someday trust them enough to have kids and raise a family with them?  Would I be making a mistake by opening my heart to yet another person?  These are the thoughts that now run through my head when I meet a new dating prospect.  Sexy, right?

I wonder if some of you reading this blog have experienced similar fears about making a mistake…on either the career or the romance front.   If so, what has been helpful for you?  How have you let yourself be paralyzed by fear or have you found a way to cope with these doubts?

One thing that I have found very helpful lately is the work of John Krumboltz and Al Levin on Career Happenstance – most notably featured in the book, Luck is No Accident: Making the Most of Happenstance in Your Life and Career.   This theory focuses on the idea that unplanned events, or chance occurrences lead to unexpected life directions and career choices and often have more influence on our lives than all of our careful planning efforts.  This theory suggests that there are no mistakes – just opportunities to learn from experiences and move in new directions – and says that it is never too late to change directions – and there is no need to stick with a plan that is no longer working with you. 

Krumboltz and Levin encourage readers to be aware of their surroundings for possible opportunities, take risks even when rejection is a possible outcome, and be adaptable and open-minded – basically go with the flow of what life throws at you.  They encourage people to try out possible career opportunities through job shadows, internships, night classes and other means before making a final decision and not to be afraid to turn back if those experiences turn out to be less enjoyable than anticipated.

While most of the examples in the book are career-oriented, I think the ideas of the theory have applications for love as well – after all, how many people talk about meeting their sweetheart while on a business trip or in a new workout class or on some chance occasion? 

In reassuring readers to take risks and try things even without knowing the outcome, Krumboltz shares this passage in the book that I find particularly encouraging:

“If you try something new, you may succeed or you may fail, you may like it or you may hate it, you may make new friends or even enemies, and you may produce consequences that you never expected – including some that you may never even know about.  Trying something new is a risk.  You don’t know in advance what the result will be…However, if you want to be absolutely sure about your results, there is one thing you can do – nothing!  When you do nothing, you can be sure that nothing will result.”

I love that idea – no matter what you do, there is a chance that you will fail – you could fail or you could succeed beyond your wildest dreams.  As Pema Chodron often reminds us, we have no idea what is going to happen in life – we don’t know what the results of our actions will be.  But…if you lock yourself in your apartment and do nothing… it is pretty certain that nothing is going to happen. 

This perspective gives me encouragement to get out there in the world…try new hobbies…take new classes…learn new skills…meet new people personally and professionally.  Visit new places – after all, I just visited Madison, Wisconsin this week and met some cool new people – who knows, maybe I will someday end up living in Madison – then again, maybe not?  It is good to have it as an option, though…and I believe I’m better off for having had a new adventure rather than sticking only to the familiar and comfortable.

Even if you do “make a mistake,” as long as you keep a learning perspective, it is not a lost opportunity.  While I do regret getting divorced in my 20’s and having had a recent relationship break-up, I can also attest that some of my greatest life lessons have come from those experiences, and I am a better, stronger person for having had them. 

So, if you are considering taking a risk and jumping in to a new adventure – in love, career, or any other area of your life – I say go for it – give life a chance to deliver you the opportunity of your dreams and continue your path of lifelong learning.  You never know what will happen but you do not if you give in to your doubts and hold yourself back, what will happen – nothing!

In closing, I am including one of my favorite quotes from growing up that relates to this idea and a link to the video for “I Hope You Dance” an old favorite of mine from Lee Ann Womack – Enjoy!

"Dance like no one is watching, love like you'll never be hurt, sing like no one is listening, and live like it's heaven on earth."- William Purkey

I Hope You Dance lyrics
Songwriters: Sanders, Mark D.; Sillers, Tia;

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty-handed

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance
I hope you dance

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Living might mean taking chances but they're worth taking
Lovin' might be a mistake but it's worth making

Don't let some hell-bent heart leave you bitter
When you come close to selling out reconsider
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
[| From: |]

I hope you dance
(Time is a wheel in constant motion always)
I hope you dance
(Rolling us along)
I hope you dance
(Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder)
I hope you dance
(Where those years have gone)

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance
I hope you dance
(Time is a wheel in constant motion always)
I hope you dance
(Rolling us along)
I hope you dance
(Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder)
I hope you dance
(Where those years have gone)

Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder
Where those years have gone

Thursday, July 21, 2011

On Opening Up Your Heart – and Living Wholeheartedly

The Dance of Human Connection
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a wonderful Biodanza weekend retreat up at Harbin Hot Springs called “Heaven On Earth” – basically it was a workshop about affectivity and sensuality/sexuality, two of the key themes that Biodanza works with.  

When I first signed up for the weekend, I did not think very consciously about the topic that it was about – I was just eager to center my life more around activities that bring me joy – and Biodanza brings an overflowing amount of joy and connection into my life.  Since November 2010, I’ve been regularly attending my Biodanza circle every Thursday night in the same safe space, with mostly the same group of people, the same fantastic teacher – my little nest.  

Meanwhile, in my personal life, since breaking up with my ex-boyfriend in mid-May, I’ve really been focusing a significant amount of energy on getting comfortable being by myself and on supercharging my personal growth journey – something I am still very committed to.  I’ve been putting more energy into my professional development and taking this new CareerDevelopment Facilitator training course that I’m enrolled in this summer.  I’ve been trying out new and old yoga, pilates, and dance classes – a process of experimentation that I am continuing to enjoy.  I’ve been getting more intensively into local Bay Area meditation groups and finding community among people who share that interest.  I’ve been reading inspirational and educational books and blogs and getting into writing on this blog more than I ever thought that I would.  I’ve been taking time that I never previously had to catch up on old and new Grey’s Anatomy episodes.  And, I’ve been making efforts to connect more with people from my Biodanza circle outside of class.  

Go See It!
These are all wonderful things that have given me a hope and reassurance that there is plenty of joy out there in the world as a single person – in fact, as a single person, the world is kind of your oyster.  I certainly haven’t been locking myself away in my room by any stretch – in fact, I am overjoyed to be growing closer with some wonderful new friends.  For example, I went to go see the fabulous Happy movie documentary which is slowly starting to circulate around the world with a big group of new friends on the 4th of July – a perfect way to spend the holiday in my opinion – I totally recommend seeing the movie if you have the chance.

Still, despite the fact that I’ve been growing and changing and connecting out in the world this past few months, “taking things on the road” to this Biodanza workshop and exploring the topics of affectivity and sensuality / sexuality made me realize that in my own way, I have been closing myself off and placing significant emphasis on having things be ‘safe’ – I’ve been avoiding my vulnerability in order to avoid getting hurt – in a way my trust in relationships and the inherent given and take in relationship with others has been shaken over the course of my past few romantic partnerships.  Now that I’ve seen how easy it is for me to lose myself in relationship, there is a part of me that is afraid to venture down that road again.  

It’s like I trust myself hitting a tennis ball against a wall and pat myself on the back for being a good “tennis player,” but the idea of actually playing a tennis match against another person seems way too complicated.  That brings up the question – can you really play tennis or play the game of life and love all by yourself?

For those of you who are wondering, affectivity is basically our emotional connectivity and solidarity with other people and sensuality / sexuality is basically our overall enjoyment of sensations and pleasure in the world.  For more information about it and Biodanza, I encourage you to read more here, watch the Biodanza videos, and check out a class if it ever comes to your area. 

A badge from Brene Brown's website
For me, exploring these themes of affectivity and sensuality / sexuality up at Harbin Hot Springs this past weekend really opened me up in a way that I haven’t been open for quite some time – certainly not since I embarked on this more celibate, solitary path.  It gave me excellent opportunities to test the new skills of standing my ground and speaking my truth that I’ve been working on and gave me many chances to let go, set my anxieties aside, and enjoy the present moment.  I did Biodanza in a new space, with new people, with a new teacher – and even outside in nature from time to time – a big departure for me.  

Excellent book!
This past weekend reminded me how vibrant and loving I can be while also giving me a chance to explore the topics of vulnerability which I’ve been exploring through the work of Brene Brown lately.  I don’t have enough time to discuss all of her ideas today, but I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this woman’s work since I stumbled onto it a few weeks ago – I think she could become one of my main sources of inspiration and teachings.  I’m partway through her book, The Gifts ofImperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who YouAre, and I am finding it really helpful – almost as if she has been reading my mind!  

A great initial introduction to Brene’s work is through her Ted Talk video available at this link or below – I encourage you to watch it.

In a nutshell, Brene has found that people who are “Wholehearted” (as I hope to be) believe inherently that they are deserving of love and open themselves up to it even though doing so requires them to be vulnerability – they love with their whole heart and aren’t afraid to be with whatever comes up in their lives as a result.  I also came across this quote of the week in her Blog archives recently, and I feel that it really speaks to some of the things I am reflecting on coming away from the workshop this past weekend.  I’m sure I will speak tons more about her work on this blog in the future!

Finally, I am including a link to a great song by Modest Mouse, “Float On,” that I seem to have running through my head this morning – I find it reassuring and a great reminder to just go with the flow! 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

On Mindful Vacationing - and the Joys of Traveling Alone

What an enchanting evening! 

Her name is Kimberly, too!
Instead of going directly home after the career conference that I was at this past two days, I decided to stay in San Antonio and enjoy an afternoon and evening in the city.  While I have had many solo adventures in San Francisco the past few months and have tackled many airports and train stations by myself, this was the first time I can recall being a “solo vacationer,” particularly on a Saturday, prime weekend day and night - "date night" as it was once referred to in Sex and the City by Charlotte.  (Note - picture of Kimberly from the following link)

While traveling by yourself can at times make you feel isolated and somewhat sad, there are some remarkable things about it.  I’ve found this weekend that I have been so much more observant and aware of everything around me – and less concerned about the details of traveling.  It is fun to watch all of the people around me – families with their children, young adults out on dates, the staff diligently serving patrons, and groups of partiers living it up – it is neat to observe see the dynamics of their interactions unfold. 

Even better, I’m finding that if you can resist the temptation to bury yourself in a book or distract yourself with your smart phone (a hard thing to do), there are so many rich and delicious things to be mindful of while you are traveling.   This evening, I went down to the concierge station and bravely asked for a restaurant recommendation (something I ordinarily do not think to do) – and I ended up with the most delicious find – a delightful Tuscan Italian restaurant called Tre Trattoria overlooking a park and horse drawn carriage rides and beautiful rustic style buildings. 

Courtesy of Trip Advisor
As each course of my meal came, I made a real point to savor each and every bite – to smell each sip of the wine and let it ease down my throat, let the marinated Portobello mushrooms and gnocchi move around my mouth before swallowing, and enjoy every rich bit of the decadent nutella / molten chocolate cake that I had for dessert.  I interacted with the staff and the manager, listened to the soft classical and jazz music in the background, and watched the sun set slowly outside the window of the restaurant. 

Instead of being consumed by my conversation (or argument) with my dinner partner, I was instead consumed by the very experience of eating and enjoying delicate cuisine – it reminded me of the “Eat” part of Eat, Pray Love – and my own days studying abroad in Florence the summer after my freshman year in college and enjoying the rich wine and cuisine of Tuscany in abundance.  While I am very much in favor of meditation and a focus on the basics, I can definitely see how cultivating a genuine love and appreciation for the joy of eating can make one’s life more joyful.  One final plus of dining alone – I was able to double-dip my bread into the olive oil and no one cared!

Fiesta Noche del Rio
After dinner, I made my way down to the Riverwalk, and managed to stumble into Spanish singing / dancing Mariachi Band concert (Fiesta Noche del Rio) – in an outdoor amphitheater along the river –for $5 – donated to a children’s charity.  What an awesome find!  Rather than being consumed by pre-set expectations for the night, I bought my ticket and just went with it – the music was great, the performers were vibrant and colorful, and the environment was magical – it had a real historical, uniquely San Antonio feel.  (Note - picture from the following link)

Courtesy of Arellis49 on Flikr
Altogether, the evening was magical – it was such a treat to stroll along the Riverwalk in a skirt and tank top completely comfortable with a pleasant breeze coming off the water – the breeze felt truly enchanting.  Again, I probably would have noticed the breeze if I was traveling with a group, but not the degree that I was able to all on my own – I could feel it on my body, breathe it in my lungs, smell it in my nose – the degree to which I perceived the sensory details of the experience was notably more intense than it has been at other times in my life.

Of course, perhaps part of the reason I enjoyed the experience so much had less to do with the fact that I was by myself and more to do with the fact that I am becoming more mindful and making a point to “let go” and enjoy the experience of letting life unfold more – I am fully willing to admit that.  I’ve also noticed positive effects of my being more assertive these days in my hotel stay – I just called the front desk to ask when the omelette station opens up at the brunch (because it wasn’t available this morning) and without blinking an eye, they compensated me for $25 of my dining charges – basically about as much as my breakfast was this morning – amazing! 

Who knew all of these wonderful things could result from simply speaking up and honoring my experience – I didn’t get mean or make a big deal – I just asked some questions and stayed true to my desire to (ideally) have an omelet in the morning if I’m paying a significant amount for breakfast.

Anyway, whether or not the positive experiences I have had on this trip have been due to my traveling alone or whether they’ve been the result of my personal growth (or a combination of the two), I highly encourage each of you to travel by yourself at least once in your life if you haven’t yet had the opportunity – and I encourage you to practice mindful eating and mindful sightseeing the next time you are out and about in a city that it is not your own.

I’m curious, those of you reading this blog who feel inclined to comment – have any of you ever taken a vacation trip on your own?  Or made a point to be particularly mindful on a trip?  How did it go?  What did you learn from the experience?