Surrender

Hi everyone! Just a quick note, I am migrating my blog to my website, found at http://www.fionalandrews.info. You can still subscribe there, or follow me on Facebook/Twitter to stay in touch and up-to-date. Thanks for reading ūüôā

sur·ren·der
/s…ôňąrend…ôr/
Verb
Cease resistance to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority.

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…
This post has moved to my website!

Certainty

 

Certainty is a fascinating notion because no matter how sure you are, there‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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.

Most people who don’t have many certainties are early on the path of discovering who they really are, but we also encounter people who are overly certain – they don’t have many certainties, but they also don’t have many uncertainties (perhaps those who define certainty as having a job and other things in the world they feel they can rely upon).¬†Logically this would mean they are closing themselves off from becoming more evolved beings, but living on a single level with complete certainty of who they are is a perfectly valid choice.

We are born with characteristics to discover about ourselves Рif we don’t like them then we can endeavor to change them or we can learn to live with them.  We also have spaces which can be filled with certainties as we establish them.  Because certainties are consciously made decisions, they define us more than characteristics do.  But once we have answered one question with a certainty, we create spaces for many more Рso really, the people with the most certainties are also the people who are the least certain.

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.

I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why I don’t often find people who choose to live life in a similar fashion. ¬†Sure, I meet those who have similar interests or don’t mind being a bit outlandish – but it’s extremely rare to come across someone who will randomly do anything just because why not. ¬†

But Fiona,” they all say, “Why not is not a reason to do something.”

And then I ask, “Why not?”

And there’s no answer.

Because “Why not” is not a question. ¬†It is the answer.

Could you imagine if we only did things for which there is a specific reason? ¬†We would eat when we were hungry, sleep when we were tired, and do nothing else. ¬†If we assumed some sort of sentience, then perhaps we would also procreate when the need struck and occasionally seek out human companionship. ¬†Now I know we all have jobs and occasional doctor’s appointments, but think- when was the last time you did something that did not fall into one of those categories? ¬† Does it ever seem like you do other things like watch TV and go on the Internet just to waste time between doing those four things? ¬†That’s called complacency. ¬†And it’s killing us.

Look, I’m not some crazy hippie living in a tree with no job or cares in the world. ¬†I have a demanding full-time job and lots of little things going wrong in my life, just like we all do. ¬†I’m not saying we should all shirk our responsibilities and dance around in the meadows making daisy chains (but that is an open invitation, good for anyone who shows up on my doorstep). ¬†I’m just pointing out that we, as a human race, are pretty boring.

People often make pop culture references and upon seeing my blank stare, accuse me of living in a cave. ¬†But did you know there are flying machines that can take you to faraway places in just a few hours? ¬†Did you know that on the Internet, there are things to read and learn about in addition to cat videos and photos of your exes? ¬†Did you know that if you just go outside for a walk, you’ll learn something new about yourself? ¬†People seem so shocked to hear little things like “Oh, I went and got lost in the woods this weekend” ¬†or, “Yeah, I’ve been to India” that I definitely don’t think I am the one living in a cave. ¬†

So if there’s something you want to do, that you think will make you happy even just for an instant, why aren’t you doing it? ¬† You don’t have to take off for Mongolia – just do something that never occurred to you before. ¬†Jump in a puddle. ¬†Read a book that looks way too long. ¬†Try belly dancing. ¬†Fly by the seat of your pants; be spontaneous; do something just because you can’t think of a reason not to, and find energy in it. ¬†Don’t live outside your comfort zone – expand your comfort zone to include things that are exciting and unusual.¬† Get out of your cave and interact with the world. ¬†You don’t need a reason.

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. ¬†I don’t necessarily identify with any one culture, though there are some that I prefer to immerse myself in over others. ¬†I love to see how humans in different locations have built unique societies and have such diverse ways of life- I find it astonishing that one species can develop such different cultures based on their geographic locations. ¬†I also love seeing the natural world and all it has to offer.

Is there a deeper reason for my waywardness? ¬†Some say I’m running from something, others think I’m chasing it. ¬†I honestly don’t know. ¬†I’ve always wanted to travel and the only thing holding me back was lack of means. ¬†My mum will tell you that as soon as I got a job and had a car, I was never home. ¬†I don’t often feel a pull to any specific place, it’s more that I’m constantly fighting some sort of force that’s trying to pick me up and bring me somewhere, anywhere.

Regardless of whether or not I’m fleeing or chasing, I still find travelling extremely neccessary. ¬†I think it’s important to be aware of other cultures, other people’s perceptions of the world, and just the phenomenal gift that is life. ¬†Think about it, though: self-awareness. ¬†What a concept. ¬†We are all a part of something greater, there is some sort of force that holds us here. ¬†Self-awareness isn’t just awareness of your own being, but also everyone else’s and how we’re all intertwined. ¬†There’s a sense of unity that I find when I’m outside of my comfort zone, whether it’s sitting in an airport for 15 hours watching all the people in transit or whether it’s walking ancient ruins that were build thousands of years ago by humans just like us. ¬†It makes me realise that deep down, we are all struggling with the same human issues and enjoying the same human pleasures- some things transcend culture and geography.

So maybe I am running from something. ¬†Maybe I am chasing something that I’ll never find. ¬†Regardless, I’m enjoying the trip!

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?

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!

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 =)

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.

Yoga in the News

Yoga’s been growing in popularity in the western world for awhile now, but it’s been a particularly hot topic lately with practitioners being accused of involvement in sex scandals and Wiccan cults, the New York Times writing about yoga wrecking the body, and now talks of it being an Olympic sport.

I find this incredibly disheartening. ¬†First of all, these news items do not take into account the other five branches of yoga. ¬†Yoga is not simply physical exercise; it’s not just contorting yourself into strange shapes. ¬†While exercise and physical health is a large part of yoga for many people (myself included), it’s really more of a guide for living a meaningful life. ¬†The branch of yoga that most think of when hearing the term is Hatha yoga- asanas, or postures, that are intended to clarify the body in order to calm the mind. ¬†This is definitely important, but there are also Bhatki (yoga of devotion, love and acceptance), Raja (yoga of self control), Jnana (yoga of the mind, intended to unify wisdom and intellect), Karma (yoga of selflessness), and Tantra (using rituals to experience the sacred). ¬†The idea is that a person can use a combination of any of these paths to travel towards enlightenment. ¬†Each branch is important in its own way, and the most optimal way to approach nirvana is to integrate all of them into your life.

I love that more people are integrating yoga into their lives.  I truly believe that everyone can benefit from following any one of its branches, even just a little bit.  Yoga is an ancient set of methods designed to try to help citizens of the world heal physically and mentally to reach a state of peace.  Yoga as an art should not be judged because a few people abuse its ideals for personal gain, and it should not be judged because those who are inexperienced and lack a proper teacher injure themselves.

Yes, Hatha yoga started as a branch of Tantra- but even Tantra isn’t exclusively about sex. ¬†It’s about experiencing the sacred, and while union between man and woman is part of it, it also includes many other aspects such as dedication, purity, and truthfulness.

You can injure yourself in any physical activity if you don’t know what you’re doing. ¬†Would you try pole vaulting without someone carefully explaining it to you and taking you through small steps to get there? ¬†Of course not. ¬†Just like you shouldn’t immediately try balancing on your head without a careful teacher guiding you through the steps preceding it. ¬†Yoga is entirely safe if you know your body’s limits and take it slowly.

This brings me to my last point: Yoga in the Olympics. ¬†As I mentioned before, yoga is not just postures. ¬†It’s a lifestyle. ¬†If you can do the most advanced and complicated postures, that’s great- but that doesn’t necessarily make you a better yogi than someone who can barely manage a down dog. ¬†Yoga is in the mind just as much as it is the body, and bring a competitive aspect to it is borderline sacrilegious. ¬†I absolutely appreciate watching graceful yogis move through asanas, but I would never consider judging them. ¬†There is no way to tell what a person is thinking, assess the flow of his prana, see how focused he is while he is practicing- and that is what yoga is about. ¬†Bringing yoga to the olympics cheapens the yogic experience to merely contortion and physical strength. ¬†I love the idea of accomplished yogis getting the attention and reverence that they deserve, but it shouldn’t be competitive and it shouldn’t be based solely upon asanas. ¬†All yogis and yoginis should be honored for their yogic accomplishments in life so far and their progress on their spiritual journeys.

Shanti, friends. Namaste!