Death is not Pain

Like a lot of my family, I have spent the last few days dreading April 20th. Wondering how am I going to get through, what am I going to do, how am I going to cope.

4x60000076AIt’s funny how we are conditioned to remember things. I will probably always remember this day as the day my dad died – but despite all my expectations, I have not yet felt any pain on this day. Even the first time three years ago there was no pain – just numbness (and alarm, as my mother’s black eye proved – sorry, mum). Last year I was lucky enough to be with someone who spent the entire day having fun with me. But this year, I was faced with spending the whole day at a yoga studio (meditative by nature) and then the evening in the empty house as my mum and my brother are at Penn State. I was expecting to wake up in a terrible mood, fumble through my teaching, come home, and binge on Indian food while watching Monty Python and old home videos…

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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…
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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.

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.

Twelve hours after landing in Newark, I began my full time position at Marketsmith.  I was there last summer and they offered me a full-time position- having a job waiting for me was a major factor in my decision to finish school a year early.  I manage social media for the company as well as the charity we sponsor, help out with creative and web design, and write many a blog post.

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, to say the least. ¬†I will write more about my travels once things have settled down-this is the first time I’ve been home for longer than two weeks since last summer, so it’s a bit of an adjustment! ¬†I still haven’t quite unpacked…might just give the rest of my things away and call it a day. ¬†We have too many objects anyway.

Other than that, I’m just trying to keep up my music (anyone need a cocktail pianist or jazz singer?), getting started on some reading for yoga teacher training, enjoying time with my family, and trying to spend some time in the sunshine. ¬†Decompressing after a long few years, deciding where I want my life to go.

Namaste, friends!

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?

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?

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?