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!

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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.

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 =)

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!

How to Be Alone

One of my close friends shared this video on Facebook recently, and I thought it was a beautiful and poignant expression of the human condition.  Allowing yourself to be alone is sort of like allowing yourself to be quiet and keep excess noise from your life.

Being alone is definitely something that scares a lot of people, because it really does force you to be yourself- you have no one left to impress, you have no need for conscience, and it is really the only time when you are free to be yourself in your purest form.  I would venture to say that a lot of people don’t really know themselves because they do not spend time alone.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course- human beings are adaptable by nature.  It’s no secret that people act differently depending on their surroundings- I can be irritatingly cheerful if it’s sunny outside and I’m enjoying a nice walk, but catch me off guard in a practice room and I will most likely be nearly unapproachable.  This applies to the people you’re with as well- when I’m around my brother, we’re probably planning mischief or perhaps already in the midst of blowing something up, but when I’m at work I am (believe it or not) entirely capable of being serious.

But who am I when I am alone?  I’ve never had to explain it, really.  And why would I?  As long as who you are when you are alone is somebody that you are comfortable with, that’s what matters.  It’s really helpful in the process of finding out who you are to spend time alone, free from distractions and ego, because when you know who you are everything else really becomes a lot easier.  Decisions, enjoying life, knowing what you like and don’t like- even being far more confident.  When you’re alone enough to stop worrying about others judging you, then eventually you’ll stop worrying about it even when you’re not alone.

I’m not saying to be a hermit by any means.  But I feel that humans in general get so caught up in specific relationships and people and connections that we lose sight of the individual.  We all need to learn to be at peace with ourselves before we can be at peace with others.

Anyway, I hope you all find some time in your hectic lives to get to know yourselves a bit more.  You deserve it!

Attachments

I saw this NPR article the other day about how attached people get to their sofas.  I thought it was an incredibly bizarre thing to write about because I’ve never felt a profound attachment to my sofa.  I was thinking about it, though, and I am a bit attached to some of my other possessions.  I really like my yoga mat and my teapot.  I’m probably most attached to my handbag though, because I’ve had it for years and it has been with to so many corners of the world.  Many people have suggested that I get a new bag- my aunt even begs me to let her buy one for me.  Instead, I sit and sew patches over patches every time a new hole appears because it feels like an old friend, not just an object.

I try very hard not to get attached to things, because all things are temporary (people are temporary too, but they tend to get their feelings hurt when you explain that you’re not attached to them).  Monks and priests of all sorts of different denominations understand the idea of remaining unattached to worldly things, and I think it’s a noble goal.  On the one hand, it’s not good to be wasteful as a result of being unattached, but on the other hand, it’s important to be able to let go and move on- both in terms of things that are too broken to fix and people you’ve outgrown.

At the same time, the world isn’t as much fun if you don’t get attached to things once in awhile.  It would be a boring place if you only had utilitarian objects that didn’t make you smile once in awhile- I like getting up in the morning to use my bright green tea kettle and I like to see my frog-shaped humidifier in the corner of my room.  I like having friends and getting to know people.  I understand that these are not essential on the path to ultimate enlightenment, but as long as they don’t get in the way I don’t think it’s a problem to enjoy things like this.  I don’t advocate frivolous consumerism by any means, but we’re going to be around in this world for awhile before we move on to the next one, so why not keep around a few things and people to make it more exciting?

You can get as attached to them as you want, as long as you recognise that nothing is permanent and you are prepared to one day let go.  As you continue your quest for happiness, your mindsets will change and you might find some of your friends drifting away and others moving closer- perhaps it’s time to let them go their way while you go yours.  Maybe that old hobo bag you really love just isn’t efficient anymore because of all the time it takes to mend the holes.

Enjoy attachment to possessions and people while they’re around, but do not depend on them for your happiness.  Be prepared to one day let everything go when you move on to an exciting new phase!

Love (and science)

As much as I detest Valentine’s Day, it seems as good a time as any to write about love.  It’s rather a bizarre concept, since it encapsulates so many different ideas.  Most other languages actually have dozens of words for “love” to describe its many incarnations.

I think that it is important to point out the distinction between feeling love and showing love in a “romantic” way.  Showing love includes gestures like flowers and chocolate and often even saying “I love you.”  Feeling love is a much deeper thing- it’s liking how something or someone makes you feel or act.  It’s not even quite the feeling of being “attracted” to someone  because we all know that following attraction isn’t always in our best interest (Fatal Attraction, anyone?  If that’s love, be very afraid this evening).  Love really is the most pure element on earth because in its truest form, it causes us as humans to feel the most positive power there is.

How?  Science, my friends.  It is science.  The reason for these positive powers are not only good vibes you send into the universe, but also oxytocin hormones- the opposite of cortisol (stress) hormones.  But good news for you single ladies and gentlemen out there: you can generate oxytocin in many ways and reap the same benefits of love without having to put on a fancy dress or pay for an expensive dinner!

Love is not just something for two people to share.  I am very wary of the concept of bestowing it all upon one person- it’s a bit selfish, and also potentially extremely destructive (putting the proverbial eggs all in one basket, so to speak).  If you are in a genuine, healthy relationship with someone and you feel real feelings of love toward that person, great!  But don’t keep it all for yourselves- the rest of the world is just as deserving of love as your S.O. is!

Don’t focus all of your positive energy on one person; send it into the world for everyone.  This sounds airy-fairy and sort of nonsensical, but the power of positivity is frequently underestimated.  Karma is a real thing- but hey, even if you’re a skeptic what do you have to lose by being kind and pleasant to people?

Here are some ways that you can increase your oxytocin to generate more love to share with the world:

  • Appreciation:  In the same way that you appreciate things about a person you love, you can appreciate things about the world and get the same or even more enjoyment from it- just from enjoying things like a warm cup of tea or a nice walk.
  • Give Back: Just help someone who needs help- carrying boxes, cooking dinner, whatever.
  • Puppies: Well, it doesn’t have to be puppies.  Positive contact with any living thing generates oxytocin!
  • Meditation and mantrasKeep your thinking positive!
  • Chocolate and mud: It’s true, they both have lecithin- a chemical used by many homeopathic practitioners to boost your mood.  So eat a few truffles or run around barefoot for awhile!
  • Sex:  Hey, it is the #1 oxytocin-generating activity.  Just throwing it out there.
  • Anything that makes you truly happy: If you’re happy, you’re more likely to exude honesty, generosity and empathy, which are similar effects to those of oxytocin anyway!
Hopefully all you single ladies and gentlemen are having a splendid day despite all of the “romance” in the air- remember, you don’t need to be dating someone to feel love!  I am sending lots of love to all of you today and every other day as well =)