Surrender

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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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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.

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. ¬†

New Year’s is a pretty arbitrary time to make a resolution – there’s no change in season, nothing exciting really happens for any time in the foreseeable future, and most cultures celebrate a New Year on day just as random as ours. ¬†Any psychologist, life coach, businessperson, or generally successful human will tell you that in order to successfully impact a change on your life, you need an incentive. ¬†Unless you really like the number 14, changing your calendar is a pretty poor one. ¬†Also, a year is a really long time to enact most resolutions – really, you’re setting yourself up to procrastinate. ¬†And lastly, making New Year’s resolutions is such a traditional thing to do that most people don’t even put any thought into it, much less a plan (another thing you need in order to succeed at just about anything, by the way). ¬†

I’m not saying New Year’s Eve isn’t a great time for some reflection – but any time is a great time for reflection, and ideally it would happen more than once each year. ¬†Like everyone else, I lead a busy life and often I need something to remind me to stop for a minute and think of how far I’ve come – and how far I still have to go. ¬†Usually that happens when someone asks me for my “professional opinion” (or I find myself on a plane towards New Jersey), but if looking at the calendar and noticing it’s the 31st December is your motivation then that’s great too. ¬†

Similarly, you should make resolutions any time you feel your life needs a change. I make resolutions on a daily basis, and I tend to be pretty successful with them. ¬†My most successful resolution was made a few years ago. ¬†On 8 February 2009 I decided I was going to go to the gym every day – and I kid you not, unless it was closed or I was off travelling the far corners of the world,¬†I have been to the gym every single day since then (even a gaping wound in my ankle didn’t stop me from a gentle yoga practice). ¬†Sure, the date is just as arbitrary as 1 January, but something that day got me to make that decision and stick with it. ¬†That is a resolution that happened to stay ¬†– ¬†but not all resolutions should. ¬†

As I mentioned before, sticking with one idea for 365 days would make for a static year. ¬†Making a decision with the intent of keeping it for a full year is setting yourself up for failure not only because a year is a long time, but because if your life changes and your resolution is no longer relevant, you will see it as a failure. ¬†I became a vegan about a year ago because I thought it would make my singing voice clearer – sort of important for someone studying to be a professional vocalist. ¬†It was great, and it worked while I was living alone and always cooking for myself. ¬†But now that my situation is different, it’s no longer conducive to my lifestyle. ¬†Had I said “I am never going to eat anything with milk ever again,” I would be feeling pretty down on myself. New Year’s resolutions simply do not allow for the flexibility we need in our lives.

On that note, I would like to wish you all a wonderful, prosperous year and beyond. ¬†I hope you skip the guilt-ridden New Year’s resolutions and instead choose to spend some time reflecting on everything you have and have yet to accomplish ūüôā

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!

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?

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!

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.