Author Archives: fiona

Surrender

A word we hear a lot in yoga is “surrender.” I’m fairly type-A: very driven, often ambitious, hard-working, frequently stubborn, and of the firm believe that if I work at it enough, I can have it all. Needless to say, “surrendering” is not an easy concept for me. But there are two sides to this dilemma, because there is a very fine line between surrendering what you cannot control and becoming complacent.

My background is in Ashtanga (one of the more physically intense forms of yoga, it was invented in Mysore to get raucous schoolboys to calm down) and the only type of “surrendering” we really do is at the end of a practice after we’ve expended all of our energy, and perhaps in a few downward dogs in between. In the past few months, I’ve been studying with a wider variety of teachers and experiencing different styles. I’ve also been reading a lot more Eastern philosophy. For some reason, the word “surrender” keeps coming back to me.

sur·ren·der
/səˈrendər/
Verb
Cease resistance to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority.

Continue reading

Certainty

Certainty is a fascinating notion because no matter how sure you are, there’s always a chance something else will happen simply due to the chaotic nature of the universe.  By definition, the most certainty you can ever have is the thing you control the most: I choose to define that as inner wisdom, essence, what makes us who we are. It will undoubtedly be questioned under duress but when cultivated, it’s the most reliable principle we have – even if you define yourself as the most chaotic factor in the equation you can at least be relied upon to be chaotic.  It’s no secret that I’m fairly erratic in my lifestyle, but I still find comfort in it. Continue reading

Why I Do Bizarre Things (Why Not)

snow feetI know I have already written about why I like to spend my life barefoot, but running around barefoot is only one of many things I do that the general public seems to find strange, closely followed by prolific tree-climbing and excessive marmite consumption.

It has never occurred to me not to do exactly what I want to.  I don’t ignore my responsibilities or run around pillaging – I just mean that if I think something looks fun or seems like a good idea, I do it.  Being barefoot is a good example because it’s something largely frowned upon by society.  As I’ve said before – I get mixed reactions including anything from thumbs-up to weird looks and occasional rudeness.  But that never really made me want to put on a pair of shoes.  I don’t like shoes, so I don’t wear them.  Fin.  Another example is my penchant for travel.  Most people I encounter in the US find me to be extraordinarily well-travelled, but to be honest I never really put much thought into it.  Really, what usually happens is a thought like “Wow, I would love to go to an awesome new place” closely followed by a visit to kayak.com and a few weeks later, another stamp on my passport.  Assuming you have some sort of income, don’t have to lug a bunch of kids with you, and aren’t trying to go somewhere with strict visa procedures, yes, travelling really is that easy. Continue reading

Why Skipping New Year’s Resolutions is a Great Decision

…And no, the answer is not “so I can keep making bad decisions all year.”

First of all, I love everything about resolutions.  Resolving to do something means you have made a decision to challenge yourself.  Being resolute means you believe in something strongly.  If you have resolved a problem, you have accomplished something.  All of these are wonderful, positive things.  

So why do we only do it once a year?  It’s not that I am opposed to deciding to change your life on the first of January each year.  I’m opposed to not trying to change your life for the better on every day of each year.  The implication of New Year’s resolutions is that you only make them once each year – and that will make for a very static 365.25 days. Continue reading

Working Backwards

I began my yoga teacher training (well, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that it actually began long ago, but now I am officially enrolled in a 200-hour course) at Starseed Yoga in September, and it has brought a great deal of sanity to my topsy-turvy life.  The teachers are knowledgable and supportive, and everyone in the studio is always so very friendly.  As a result of teacher training and in preparation for when I teach more classes on my own, I have found myself in a few beginner classes both at Starseed and at the studio nearer my home – and let me tell you, they are HARD. Continue reading

Mementos

I have a very strong aversion to clutter.  I frequently assess everything I own and chuck large portions of it into a charity bin.  Why I do this I couldn’t tell you; I admit that it is indeed a bizarre habit especially in an American culture where things define who you are and having more always seems to be better.  If I had to guess, I would say this proclivity is rooted in the notion that I like to be ready to flee the country or make a major life change at any given moment, and having to choose which things to bring would slow me down immensely.  I mean seriously, I have my passport with me at all times and if you say “let’s go to Ecuador right now” I would not hesitate to get on the next plane out of Newark- I’ve done it before and I wouldn’t think twice before doing it again. Continue reading

Marketing is Improving the Human Race

Wow, amazing how six weeks can fly by and still feel like an eternity- for better or for worse.  You’ve probably noticed I’ve been rather neglectful of this project; a main part of my job now is blogging every day so by the time I get home I’m a bit tired of staring at a computer putting thoughts together.

Anyway, I was thinking about my job recently, as one is prone to do when spending 40+ hours a week in any given place, and I was trying to reason with myself about working in marketing.  As someone who routinely goes through phases of moderate asceticism and hates mindless consumption, trying to convince people that they need to go out and buy things isn’t really aligned with my values.  But then I realised that marketing really isn’t about that anymore-yes, I know this sounds like denial- but bear with me. Continue reading

I’m back!

Hello!  First of all, my apologies for just taking off.  I do that sometimes, particularly when faced with major life changes like finishing university. Perhaps my last post about travelling foreshadowed that it was about to happen again, but it was a fairly spur of the moment decision.  Anyway, I am back now.  In case anyone is interested, I thought I’d include a brief update on my life before I resume my usual blogging habits.

Graduation photo

Yes, I graduated barefoot.

First, I finished up my last coursework and graduated from Syracuse!  I now have a music degree with focus on voice and piano, a minor in marketing, and a minor in IT.  Managed to scrape by Magna cum Laude as well!

Right after graduating I moved out of my place, donated about half of my belongings to charity, and send the rest back to New Jersey with my family.  Two days later, I got on a plane to England.  I stayed with some family before taking off for Prague, Croatia, Switzerland, and making another stop in England, and then I made it back stateside. Continue reading

Travelling

I have always loved travelling.  Recently, however, my wanderlust has been particularly strong.  Since 2009, my international travels have included the Bahamas, India twice (Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Shekhawati, Dharamsala, and Bir), Scotland (Edinburgh, Loch Lomond), the Netherlands, Spain (Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona),  Italy, France, England (London, Rye, Kent, Wadhurst), Austria (Vienna, Salzburg), and the Dominican Republic.  In less than 2 weeks I graduate, and two days afterwards I will be off again- starting in London and then most likely heading to Greece (Mykonos or Kos), Morocco (Fez), and the Czech Republic (Prague).

Whew.  Considering I’ve done all that while being a full-time student and also holding jobs, that’s not too shabby.

Edinburgh

Climbing the mountain by Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh

Most people want to travel, I don’t think I’m any different in that respect.  The difference is that with me it’s a borderline compulsion.  I find a way to do it even if it means not buying groceries or textbooks or selling half my possessions on Ebay.

Why?  Good question.  I have had many conversations with many people about why I have a constant need to travel.  I think a large part of it is that I feel as though I am a citizen of the world, not any one place. Continue reading

Decisions

I’m at a point in my life where I can sense that a cosmic shift is going to happen soon.  Obviously I’m not clairvoyant- I’m graduating, I’m travelling to Europe for a few weeks, I’m taking a full-time day job- anyone would sense that a lot of major changes are coming very soon.  Hopefully I’m simultaneously continuing my yoga teacher training and picking up cocktail gigs, but either way it’s going to be a massive change for me to be working in an office instead of running around performing and rehearsing and going to classes.  So I’ve been thinking about everything that I’m doing and wondering if any of it is relevant.  I know that all of the above is going to happen regardless of what I do now.  But is this because of the decisions that I’ve made and the things that I’ve done up to this point, or is it because or something else? Continue reading

Grief

They say there are seven stages of grief.  Do you buy it?

Shock, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, hope.

I don’t.  I think that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If you are expecting to feel a certain way, there’s a pretty good chance that that emotion will manifest itself- but the fact is, everyone copes with loss differently.  There are ways that are healthy and there are ways that are less healthy, but not everyone goes through all of those emotions.

Buddhists believe that grief and suffering are inevitable parts of the physical world, and the only way to escape is by maintaining a certain level of distance from attachments.  By recognising that life and everything it entails is effervescent, it makes it that much easier to let go when an unexpected loss makes it necessary.  This uncertainty also makes it vital to savor every moment, because you truly don’t know which breath will be your last.  Your world as you know it can come to a screeching halt in the blink of an eye.

Two years ago tomorrow, I lost someone very close to me.  I haven’t cried about it.  Does that make me cold and callous, or mean that I didn’t love him?  Or does it mean that I’m at peace with the fact that like everything else in the world, people are impermanent?  Some people sobbed uncontrollably, some pretended nothing had happened, others didn’t speak at all.  All are perfectly valid coping mechanisms- for a little while.  I will admit that I didn’t eat for about two weeks and drank more than my fair share of the wine brought by sympathetic friends (which was probably not the healthiest thing), but I never really stopped moving at something close to my usual fast pace.

However, I still fully processed the major life change and cosmic shift that those around me underwent and I began adjusting to new habits.  I was not in denial, I never felt guilty about his death, and I never “bargained” (whatever that means).  Staying busy by planning a massive celebration and taking on other responsibilities to help fill the void helped me to realise quickly that my life would go on regardless of how I felt, so I might as well participate in it.  Having to go back to school for finals, concerts, and juries made that even more clear.  Life will not stop for you, and that is definitely not a bad thing.

Of course I miss my dad, especially at a time when my life is going in crazy directions that I couldn’t possibly have ever imagined.  But the thing is, grieving won’t solve anything.  The best solution is to live enough for both of us and to keep on going even though he’s not around to see what happens next.  I wish we could sit and watch The Daily Show and listen to Mozart’s Requiem on car rides to school.  I wish he were here so I could tell him about my travels, I wish he had been here to see my senior recital last month.  I wish he would come to my graduation in a few weeks and I wish he knew that despite everything, I am graduating summa cum laude after only three years with more credits than most graduate students.  I want him to know that we are all not only okay, but thriving.

Dad

The last words I spoke to him on the phone were “Thanks for the screwdriver.”  This sounds trivial, but anyone who knew my dad would find this incredibly fitting- he always helped everyone with anything they asked and things that they didn’t.  Fixing cars, plumbing, rides to the airport, pet-sitting, lending one of his hundreds of tools, just being a friend, you name it and he would be there- the 200+ people that showed up to his memorial service are a testament to how many lives he touched.

I have lots of great memories of my dad- watching the Life of Brian, visiting  England, dancing around the house to Sousa marches and ELO alike, his cooking triumphs (and disasters), his reckless driving, his funny faces and astonishing intelligence.

I remember the last time I saw him was outside of my freshman dorm, when he brought me back to school after spending Easter at home.  We were on the way back from the dining hall where we had gorged ourselves on cookies and ice cream and it was that fleeting time of day just before the sun begins to set, when the world is shadowy and getting a bit dozy but still has an aura of warmth.  We stood next to my bike to say goodbye and he grinned.  I indignantly asked why he was so happy to be leaving me, and he said, “It’s nice to see that you’re making a place for yourself in the world.”

Miss you, dad.  I hope your next life is just as thrilling and rich as this one was.

Asceticism and the Human Condition

I was watching The Buddha at the gym the other day, so naturally when I left I was thinking about Siddhartha’s journey to enlightenment.   The phase in particular that was on my mind was his time spent as an ascetic, depriving himself of all worldly  pleasures and experiences in order to achieve spiritual enlightenment.

I think there’s something to be said for this- there definitely appears to be a disconnect between people as spiritual creatures and humans as animals.  This isn’t only the case for humans, though- I think it applies to other creatures too.  All of us are simply souls residing inside our physical bodies- I believe C.S. Lewis said something about that in a far more eloquent way, actually.  Obviously this isn’t a novel idea, but its a dichotomy that any sentient being has to grapple with.  The world can be a dangerous place for a soul seeking enlightenment.

At the same time, it seems naive and a bit irresponsible to just abstain from all things worldly entirely.  Of course, we are defined by our souls more than we are as humans, but is it not relevant that our souls are living in bodies on this place called Earth?  Should we really spend all of our time here trying to escape?  The world is full of suffering, but it’s also full of wonder.  We can learn a lot about our souls from experiencing both.

Of course like all paradoxes that we deal with, a balance must be struck.  I would think it’s helpful to experience one or the other or both walks of life in order to realise that neither is spiritually ideal.  We can’t live like Siddhartha in his early years, lavishly and wastefully.  But we also needn’t constantly deprive ourselves constantly in order to cultivate the higher being residing within all of us.

How do you balance the experience of life with spiritual health?

Being Barefoot

In addition to my bizarre scheduling and sleeping habits, many people question my footwear preferences.  Today’s topic: deciding to give up shoes!

I had never liked wearing shoes, but I didn’t really have the freedom to choose not to while I was in high school.  During the summer and then at university, I was free to be basically as eccentric and strange as I wanted.  I started being barefoot at home, in class, walking around campus, performing, frolicking, pretty much always.  I would estimate that I spend about 98% of my time barefoot, since some restaurants give me a hard time and there’s one specific bus driver who seems to be out to get me and my poor bare feet.

Why be barefoot?  I’m a dirty hippie.  No but really- it’s more natural, it’s healthy, it’s more comfortable, it’s more relaxing, and most importantly it just makes me happy (fun fact: dirt has lecithin, a mood lifting chemical also found in chocolate- and it can be absorbed through your feet!).  I’m not the only one, either- there are lots of us out there!  One group is the Primal Foot Alliance- they are barefoot advocates who work hard to prove to the public that there’s nothing gross and unhealthy about feet.  Their website has resources explaining why being barefoot is awesome and there’s a great community there and on their Facebook page.  Barefooters.org is another great place to meet people close to your home who also choose not to wear shoes.

There are many stereotypes about people who are barefoot- that we’re dirty, poor, sick, unhygienic, socially handicapped, unprofessional- the list goes on.  I get all kinds of reactions to my bare feet- in the morning sometimes people think I’m doing the “walk of shame,”  sometimes people look at me like I walked out of a sewer, some find it amusing, and others are simply curious and strike up a conversation-usually they’re totally on board and on a few occasions, I got people to join me!

First of all, being barefoot is totally safe.  After being barefoot for awhile, you can step on glass without getting hurt- this took me a month or so of being entirely barefoot (some people wean themselves off of shoes gradually, but I never  do anything halfway so I just jumped right in).  Really, just look where you’re going.

Being barefoot is also far healthier and cleaner than shoes- foot fungus and other unsavory ailments come from sweat trapped around your feet by socks and shoes; they’re not inherently found on feet.  Wiggling your toes in the fresh air will eliminate smelliness and unwelcome bacteria!  Sure, occasionally you step on something gross- but it’s far easier to flick gum off of a bare foot than scrub if out of a pair of shoes.  Not to mention, all of the extra germs you expose your feet to boost your immune system- I haven’t been sick in years.

Humans are just animals- our bodies are engineered to work optimally without extra appendages like clothing and accessories (Coming up next week: why we should stop wearing pants…Just kidding).  Your feet will be stronger and more effective without footwear- why do you think people are inventing Barefoot shoes?

After you get used to it, being barefoot is far more comfortable than being shod.  Ladies in particular (or gentlemen, no judgment here) will appreciate the lack of pinching around the toes from cute flats and the searing knee pain brought on by dancing around in tall spikes.  Walking on gravel and rough surfaces hurts at first but once you get used to it, wandering barefoot through cool grass and on smooth warm dirt makes it worth it.  Being barefoot changes your entire mentality- I feel far more relaxed and connected with the world.  It’s like I can feel the earth spinning, vibrating, and breathing beneath my feet.

Would you ever go barefoot?  Maybe not in a professional environment, but at the park or around your own garden perhaps?  Maybe just for a little while?

Atmosphere and Ayurveda

It’s strange how the weather has such a powerful effect on our moods.  As much as I truly believe that we are in control of how we feel, sometimes it is a battle with external elements like deadlines, relationships, how comfortable we feel where we are, who we are with, and just the general atmosphere.  It’s hard to stay positive when you’re swamped at work, surrounded by negative people, or  in a place with toxic energy (library during finals week, anyone?), but I find it even more difficult to fight the weather.

Of course there are diagnoses like Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I think it goes deeper than that.  I was reading this article about how different people are affected by the weather, and it classifies people into four types- those people who are unaffected by the weather or seasons, people who love summer, people who hate summer and people who love rain.  I think this is a bit of an oversimplification, but I do agree that different types of people react differently to different types of weather.  Obviously it has something to do with personality, but I also think it has to do with prakruti and vikruti.  Prakruti and vikruti are Ayurvedic terms for your body’s constitution (long term and short term, respectively), or doshas (The Ayurvedic Institute has some great resources if you’re interested in learning more).

I am vata-pitta, slightly more pitta in the summer and more vata in the winter.  I find that the wind (air, an element of vata) energizes me in the winter but makes me a bit dozy in the summer.  Warmth and fire (pitta) give me energy in the summer but make me want curl up in bed when it’s cold outside.

It can be difficult to pick yourself up when it’s clammy and cold, but if you know your body type and personality, it can be done.  Ayurvedic teachings tell us which flavors will complement our prakruti and vikruti (basically which foods suit your body type), and I think that on days when you may not be feeling your best it’s particularly important to eat well.  When I’m tending towards pitta in the summer, I do sometimes crave ice cream despite being nearly entirely vegan.  When it’s cold and I’m feeling more vata I go for cooked vegetables and beans.  This is also true on a day-to-day basis- knowing your body type and which foods complement it can make a huge difference in your mood- sort of like eating comfort food, but in a healthy way.

Of course, simply realising that the weather is causing you to feel a certain way is often a good first step.  It can be very easy to focus on negative thoughts while you’re sitting watching raindrops trickle down the window, or to forget about all of your problems while you’re laying in the sunshine.  If you acknowledge that you’re in a certain mindset largely because of the weather, it becomes a lot easier to change your perspective.

Home

Home is where the heart is.

Cliche, but true.  However, it is never taken literally enough.  Home is exactly where the heart is- it is your body.  You live nowhere else but inside your physical being.

The period in life between high school and finishing university involves lots of traveling for most people, whether it’s taking time off to see the world or going back and forth between “home” and school.  It’s a period of transition, and I know that I for one have never felt particularly settled in any one place (granted, I seem to have a crippling inability to stay in the country for more than three months at a time, but still), even the home where I grew up.  Life in general is constantly moving; sometimes it ebbs and flows but the waves are always there.  We are nomads.

This can be quite a crisis- it seems to be part of human nature to try to find one’s place in the world- a sort of niche where you fit in, a sense of belonging.  It’s what makes us travel and explore the world, and also try new things.  But at the same time, it can create a huge amount of angst.

I think that where you physically are has very little to do with how at “home” you feel.  To me, “home” is a sense of security and assuredness.  It’s typically associated with a place, but I don’t think it has to be.  I can feel at home anywhere from the mountains in north India to a tiny dorm room in Syracuse, and I think that sense of adaptability comes from a sense of security with who I am.

A sense of belonging isn’t something you need to find in a place, it’s something you need to find in yourself.  It’s a sense of self-reliance rather than dependence on a place that makes you comfortable.  Perhaps travelling the world and visiting new locations will help you discover who you are and find that self-assuredness, but ultimately your true home is nowhere else but your own body. Be comfortable in yourself and with yourself, friends.  Namaste!

A Technological Diet

On a note not entirely unrelated to my recent hiatus from all things internet, today’s post is about the damaging effect of excessive technology.  I haven’t been on the internet much for the last two weeks- the first was because the week before spring break is always hectic at school, and the second was because I took a spur of the moment trip to the Dominican Republic and there wasn’t much internet access.

Since essentially my entire job is based on the internet, I spent lots of time on my computer reading articles, tweeting, blogging, facebooking, and interacting with other organisations.  I obsessively read newsletters, try to keep up with all of the blogs that I follow, and bookmark interesting things to research and write about.  These aren’t the healthiest of things, but I still manage to set myself a limit (albeit a high one) of how much time I spend online.  I noticed a huge shift in my general well-being when I resolved to spend more time not staring at a computer screen.

I also noticed, however, that the amount of time spent around technology isn’t my only problem.  One effect of my self-imposed technology limit was that I was trying to cram everything I usually do into less time.  I was trying to rush through everything and absorb it all in far too little time.  I can control the quantity of my internet usage, but how efficiently I was using it proved much more difficult.  I think that technology itself isn’t what’s really to blame, but how we utilise it.  Instant communication and nearly unlimited information- how could it be a bad thing?  In reality, the availability of information is something that we don’t know how to deal with.  As humans, we just aren’t capable of processing all of the information we throw at ourselves.  Trying to keep track of hundreds of Facebook friends, reading cluttered Twitter feeds, watching viral videos and giggling at memes- though it all seems like mindless procrastination, it still takes brainpower.  Even right now you are processing information as you read this post about how damaging excessive information is.  Ironic.

Our technology is evolving faster than we are.  We’re a species with increasing health problems like carpal tunnel syndrome, twitching eyelids, and rapidly increasing ADD diagnoses.  We think this “progress” is helping us, but we’re not really sure how to deal with the information overload.  We’re losing analytical skills because we can look anything up instantly, our conversational abilities are diminishing with each tweet that we send, our memories are disintegrating, and interacting face-to-face is getting more and more difficult.

It’s a losing battle, and not one that we can just walk away from.  After my four days with basically no internet, I came back to 297 emails.  Nothing catastrophic had happened while I was gone, but there were also dozens of things that required immediate attention and that I couldn’t just ignore.  We are all involved in the technological world and there’s really no way to avoid it entirely.

I’ve been mostly successful in preventing a complete media overload by avoiding live television and trying to stay away from overly commercial locations like shopping malls.  Keeping myself sane while working on my own computer has proven to be a lot more difficult though, especially given my current job as a content and social media manager.  I still feel the need to read everything that could possibly be relevant to my life or job and stay somewhat involved with online communities, and I do check Facebook more than I would care to admit.

I’m pretty good at problem-solving, but this one continues to confound me.  How do you avoid a technology overload?  Do you just learn to cope?

Bir

More about India!  This is a followup to my first post about Dharamsala.  Less Hangover-esque shenanigans, more monks and motorcycles.

After I woke up for the second time on New Year’s Day, I asked the coordinator exactly what was in store for me.  It was like a terrible rendition of “Who’s On First.”

Me (groggily): “So, where am I volunteering today?”

Him: “Beer.”

Me: “Oh god, no more beer.”

Him: “We are going to beer.”

Me: “No, we drank beer last night…shouldn’t I be in orientation or something?”

Him (insistently): “No, beer!”

Me: “…”

Him: “We are going to beer.”

Me: “Wait…spell that?”

Him: “B-I-R.”

Me:  ”Bir….is it a place?”

Him: “Yes, we will leave in one hour!”

The view from the home I stayed in

So, we piled into a taxi with one other girl who had just arrived from the US and four volunteers who had been visiting Dharamsala for the weekend and began our trip through the gorgeous Kangra valley.  It was about 2.5 hours of winding mountains and valleys with fields of rice and tea and small towns every so often.  We took the first day to recover from all of the travelling and get oriented with the small town.  Bir is a Tibetan colony so although it is in India, most of the locals are Tibetan.  Their primary language is Tibetan (much to the dismay of two girls who had been learning Hindi) and their culture is a bit more westernized than most of India.  The Tibetans are mostly businessmen that own shops in the center of town and the Indians tend to do the labor, such as building and making clay.  They seem to coexist very well, but there’s a very clear divide between the cultures that I found somewhat unnerving.

Nyingma

Nyingma

Chok Ling

Chok Ling

On the second day, we began to teach the monks.  We taught at two monasteries, Nyingma and Chok ling.  We had been told that we would be assisting teachers who were already following programs, but in reality we were introduced to about 20 incredibly polite but slightly confused boys between the ages of 6 and 17.  Many of the boys at Nyingma already spoke decent English, so it was very challenging to find new things to teach them.  I taught the more advanced group- by the end of my time there, they were beginning to understand how to arrange sentences into a cohesive story.

Tea Garden

Tea Garden

Bir is a very small town, so you see the same people every day.  I continuously ran into the same guys that I had spent New Years’ with, and nearly every night we went out driving, drinking, and dancing.  It’s funny because in the US, when someone asks you out for a drink you usually go to a bar.  In Bir, you literally go out for a drink- you go buy a bottle of something and sit on a mountain and drink.  I much prefer this, to be perfectly honest.  Sometimes we ordered food from a nearby Indian restaurant and they brought it out to us while we danced under the stars with music pumping from a car.  It was a bit chilly, so sometimes a bonfire was involved as well.  Sometimes the other volunteers and I would go for tea at the tea garden down the road.  It was beautiful- I can only imagine what it would be like in the summer.

Chok Ling

Chok Ling

One experience that I particularly enjoyed was going to morning prayer.  We went to our two monasteries as well as another one, also called Chok Ling.  The monks were very accommodating- they rolled out mats for us and brought us tea while we sat and listened to their chants.  It was wonderfully meditative, and they used some really interesting instruments.

 

Sunset in Bir

Sunset

Another thing I learned to love (in about four seconds) was motorcycles.  Drunk me had made particularly good friends with a local named Jigme on my first evening and he had promised me a ride.  Sober me did not remember this, but Jigme did and after my first day of volunteering he was waiting to whisk me off through the jungle.  We went for rides every day, sometimes to temples and sometimes just up in the mountains to watch the stunning sunsets.  In the evenings, we went to Chauntra, the next town over, where some of the other guys I had met my first evening lived.  They taught me to play a popular game called Shok, which is similar to Parcheesi but played with shells and coins and no board.  We unintentionally adopted the most adorable puppy, who accompanied us on our late-night dance parties in the mountains.

It’s strange how a culture so different from ours still has so many similarities- going out for dinner and drinking liquor in fields is also a favorite pastime in the small town that I grew up with.  We also like to hang around and play games at people’s houses, or just pile into cars and drive somewhere.  I think the main difference is how people treat each other.  Everyone in Bir was always friendly to everyone else, especially to travellers.  I don’t think new people would be welcomed nearly as quickly back home.  The Tibetans are also extremely lackadaisical about their business- one day I needed photocopies, and the machine at the shop I usually went to was broken.  Rather than just tell me so, the shopkeeper walked me down the street to his competitor and had him make me the copies.  Something like this would never happen in the US- but it’s like the idea of competition just doesn’t exist.  In any town there are always at least four stores selling the exact same things, but nobody tries to undercut each other or take business.  There’s just a really strong sense of community, which I really loved.

More photos from Bir

Appreciation

One of the most important mindsets to have is appreciation because it’s one of the easiest ways to stay positive.  Being appreciative can take many forms, from a simple “thank you” to someone who held the door open to an entire meditation devoted to a certain thought.

Appreciating other people not only makes them feel good, but you too.  Mother Teresa said that “in the simple act of giving, you receive” and it really couldn’t be more true.  The simple act of recognising when someone does something special for you not only makes the other person feel appreciated, but reinforces in yourself that someone did something nice.  How could this not set off a cycle of kind actions?

I try to take time as often as I can to express appreciation not only for people around me, but also for things.  It seems silly, but to me it is calming to honor everything’s purpose in life.  I like to appreciate a nice bed to sleep in or a hot cup of soup when it’s cold outside.  Perhaps a bed or a cup of soup can’t tell that I am saying “thank you,” but I find that I enjoy these things even more when I think about them with gratitude.

Appreciating serendipity and setbacks is something that I think is very underrated.  I don’t believe in luck as much as I do the power of positive thinking, but sometimes the smallest thing can cause a huge shift in your life.  I also don’t think that “everything happens for a reason,” but you usually can make the best of nearly any situation so that it turns out in your favor.  I had a bit of a negative experience with a particular professor once, and though initially I was angry and disillusioned, it caused me to really re-evaluate my plans at university which resulted in a decision to graduate a year early to take an incredible job opportunity.  It’s not true that “one door shuts, another one opens,” because that’s assuming that some higher power is just going to hand you an opportunity.  It’s more like “one door shuts, so you need to find yourself another way out of the room.”  Obviously initially, setbacks are unfortunate- but with the right mindset even they can turn into something worth appreciating.  Sometimes the universe has ways of nudging us in a direction that we may not have seen before.

Of course, the most important thing to appreciate is life in general.  Being able to wake up in the morning really is something amazing.  No matter what gets thrown at you on any given day, appreciate it and own it!

Namaste, and I appreciate you for reading my blog =)

Eating Organic Without Going (more) Broke

Eating organic is often included in the green and healthy lifestyle that many people are starting to adopt.  Obviously it’s healthier to eat foods that haven’t been doused in pesticides or injected with hormones, but it is definitely an expensive option.  My good friend is taking a class in which she has to eat not only organic, but also only entirely unprocessed foods for two days.  This is going to be very expensive for poor college students, which will quite possibly turn off the entire class from every trying to eat organic.  I think it’s very important to realise that eating healthy and organic isn’t an all-or-nothing decision.  You don’t have to throw away all of your prepared foods or shun cheese forever, because even just making small changes does help.

It’s important to know the differences in terminology before you go shopping.  ”Natural” means basically nothing- it is a term that is not really regulated by the FDA.  ”100% organic” clearly means that there are no synthetic ingredients in the food.  ”Organic” means that 95% of a food’s ingredients are organic.  ”Made with Organic Ingredients” means that 70% of the food’s ingredients must be organic- these three terms are regulated by the FDA.

Some foods are more important to eat organic than others.  For example, fruits with thick peels are more resistant to pesticides, so it’s not always imperative to buy those organic.  If you eat meat on the other hand, it’s pretty important to make sure it hasn’t been fed antibiotics or hormones.  Here’s a brief list of some of the most and least important foods to worry about.

Watch out for:

  • Apples, peaches, and other tree fruits
  • Celery
  • Berries
  • Leafy greens
  • Bell Peppers
  • Grapes, raisins, and wine
  • Potatoes
  • Meats, milk- the fat retains pesticides that the animals ingested
  • Coffee, chocolate- The beans are often grown in countries with few regulations
  • Rice
  • Green Beans
  • Cucumbers

Don’t worry about:

  • Sweet Corn
  • Pineapple
  • Sweet peas
  • Mango
  • Eggplant
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cabbage
  • Watermelon
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Grapefruit
  • Mushrooms
  • Papaya
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Bananas
  • Kiwi
  • Asparagus
  • Mango
  • Avocado
  • Onions

There are other ways to save money while trying to stay healthy and unprocessed as well.

  • Buying in bulk is always great if you know it won’t go bad and you have space to store it.
  • Take a page out of your granny’s book and use coupons- seriously, I LOVE coupons.  Sometimes I leave the store with them practically paying me.
  • Buying generic is a good idea- a store brand of plain organic vegetables is usually pretty indistinguishable from a fancy brand.
  • See if you can buy frozen- if you’re just making soup or smoothies, frozen fruits and vegetables are adequate.  Also, sometimes canned goods are great too.  The canning process actually sometimes gets rid of pesticides, but you do have to worry about BPA in the can linings.
  • Buy local and in season- obviously strawberries are going to be expensive in January when they have to come from some distant land.  Also, it’s more eco friendly since your food hasn’t travelled as far and healthier since they haven’t been treated with chemicals for the long journey.
  • Buy less processed food- not only is this far healthier, it will obviously save you money because you’re not paying for labor.  You’ll consume less sodium, oils, and chemicals with frighteningly long names.  Also, many foods lose nutritional value when they’re overcooked as they often are in prepared foods.  Make your own prepared foods by going on a cooking spree every few days and storing individual portions.

If you can’t find or afford organic goods, just make sure you do the best you can by washing food, peeling skins and outer leaves, and trimming fats.

Remember, it’s not an all-or-nothing approach.  Little efforts do add up!

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The Perfect Performance

In the past few weeks I have spent a lot of time surfing YouTube trying to find videos of pieces that I was going to perform on my recital.  This is a usual practice for any musician, to see how other artists interpret music, use the stage, and so on.  I had chosen a few pieces that had some tricky counting between the piano and the vocalist, and I could not for the life of me find a perfect performance to listen to to get the interaction between the vocalist and pianist into my head.  I would find something that sounded good, and then realise that the pianist skipped a triplet or the vocalist came in half a beat late; think that this recording of Nocturne in C# minor was great until he slipped over the run near the end.  Eventually, I realised that had I not been studying the music myself, I never would have known.  Furthermore, I realised that even though I knew the music and knew that the performer made a minor error, often I still enjoyed the performance.  Sure, the girl who sang Telephone messed up the bizarre triplets in the second half, but her staging and interaction with the pianist was so hysterical that I didn’t even mind.  The lady I watched performing a Ned Rorem piece switched the words around, but the performance was so gripping that it didn’t really detract from it.

I’m not by any means saying that you shouldn’t strive for perfection.  I think if you strive for something unattainable you may not achieve it, but you’ll be better off than if you do meet goals that aren’t high anyway.  At a certain point after two or three hours too many in a practice room, I realised that the successfulness of art isn’t really about perfection.  I know that this sounds sort of obvious, but I think that as classical musicians we often spend far too much time trying to flawlessly reproduce Bach’s exact counterpoint or perfectly execute a two octave run and not enough time focusing on what exactly our music means to us.  Technique is a valuable skill and obviously quite imperative to being a successful musician, but at a certain point it becomes entirely secondary to expression.

So anyway, my quest for the perfect performance was sort of in vain, but I did find something arguably better- I was able to be at peace with the fact that I wasn’t going to be perfect either, but at least I could have a really great time sharing music with everyone who heard.

Thanks so much to everyone who came out to support me!  Here are some selections from my recital in case you would like to hear. The first two pieces are in German, but everything else is in English.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLC3CE183403C0E083]