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!

New Year’s in Dharamsala

It’s Friday and to be honest, I am exhausted from preparing for my impending recital and dealing with more responsibilities at work.  Today I am going to write a little bit about something fun and exciting: my trip to India!  I figure it’s about time since I’ve been back in the US for a month now.

This is the plane that took me from Delhi to Dharamsala. Cute, right?

So after about two days of travelling, I arrived in New Delhi.  Immigration gave me a really difficult time (probably because I look like a hobo) so I didn’t get through until about 3.30 AM.  The car to take me to my hotel was long gone, so I camped out in the airport for about eight hours (nothing compared to my fifteen hours in Lisbon last summer) until my flight to Dharamsala.  While I was in the airport, several people came and struck up conversations with me with very polite English- one lady even plopped her (adorable) toddler in my lap while she went off to the ladies’ room without even saying a word.  On the plane to Kangra, I sat next to a monk who was one of the Dalai Lama’s closest followers.  Definitely a great start to my adventure!

 

Those cars are about four inches from the side of a cliff with no guardrail. Everyone folds in their side mirrors and squeezes by with about 2 cm of space.Not kidding.

I arrived in the tiny Kangra airport in Dharamsala (one plane lands at a time and there are no gates- you just walk on the runway) and saw a cab driver who spoke no English, but he had a paper with my name on it so I figured it was as good an idea as any to just let him take me wherever I was supposed to be- at this point, it was still not clear where my volunteering position was.  So I hopped in his cab and braced myself for a ridiculous ride- not only are roads in India rarely maintained, but the idea of staying in one lane is fairly foreign to them.

So after about half an hour in the taxi, I got out and blindly followed some very friendly people into a house (dodging monkeys, water being splashed from balconies, and a cow on the way).  I had no clue where I was and there was no one who knew what to do with me, so I figured taking a nap was as good an idea as any, since I hadn’t had any sleep in three days other than a bit of wine-induced dozing on the flight over.

Spinning Tibetan prayer wheels in the Dalai Lama's monastery

 

I woke up to a well-dressed Tibetan man coming into the room- finally, someone who knew what was going on!  He walked me around Dharamsala- he took me to the Dalai Lama’s monastery and out for a traditional Tibetan dinner.  He asked what I wanted to do in the evening- I was still exhausted, but I figured I’d be damned if I went to bed early on New Year’s and told him I would absolutely be going out.

New Year's in town- just like Times Square, right?

So, I slept for about an hour before we went out again.  We sat in a tea-house for awhile, and when we left it was getting late.  The streets were mobbed, but only with men- women don’t really go out in the evenings in small towns like this.  Some other girls who had already been volunteering later told me that they had to go home long before midnight because the men were just too raucous.  Luckily, the coordinator had a few of his friends visiting, and I wasn’t bothered much since I was surrounded by them.  We went to a restaurant and drank lots of Kingfisher and listened to drunk guys singing folk songs, then we walked around town and met up with his friends.  Around midnight, we went to the roof of the restaurant and counted down, kissing everyone when the clock struck- apparently, some traditions are the same in many different cultures.  To be honest, the rest of the evening is a bit hazy from the combination of alcohol twice as strong as I expected, very high altitude, and sleep deprivation- but I woke up the next morning feeling refreshed and ready to go!

View from the house that I stayed in my first night

…That’s a lie.  I woke up with a splitting headache wearing jeans that were drenched (apparently we went to a lake), with a (fully clothed, don’t worry) new friend in my bed who seemed to think we were married, and having entirely forgotten where I was.  So I ate some curry, brushed my teeth, went back to sleep, and woke up an hour later- THEN I was refreshed and ready to go.

Construction on the main street

We left for Bir, the Tibetan settlement where I ended up spending most of my time, later that day.  The rest of the trip was (for the most part) much more of a spiritual life-changing experience than this first rather wild and irresponsible evening that I will write about later.

Was this part of my adventure entirely irresponsible, wild, and potentially dangerous?  Yes.  Yes it was.  But you’re only young once, and sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind!

For lots more photos of Dharamsala, check out my facebook photo album!

Leaving Negativity Behind

I used to have quite a nasty temper.  I just wrote it off as part of being a passionate, temperamental artist type with strong convictions. My dad always used to ask me “Why are you angry?  Anger is a pointless emotion.”  Of course, this just made me more angry- everyone knows not to tell a really pissed off person to “just calm down-” it feels very belittling.  I, like so many others, did not think that I had control of my emotions.

Recently, though, I’ve been realising more and more how right he was.  Directing negative energy at someone is a whole lot worse for you than it is for the recipient of your energy.  Stewing anger for someone does not magically cause that person to feel upset or have an anvil fall on his head; all it does it brew negativity inside of you.  Even expressing negative emotions towards someone is a waste of time, because it is still energy.  Think about it- isn’t it far worse to be ignored than to have someone scream at you?  Just to clarify, I do not advocate the silent treatment- if there is something that needs to be solved, you have to solve it.  But if there are people that you just don’t jive with, don’t dwell on it and don’t be unkind to them.  Just stay out of their way as much as you can- eventually, I bet you’ll find them less irritating and you may even become friends.  When you don’t waste energy thinking negative thoughts and bearing grudges, eventually they will start to wane and you might just forget them entirely.

This positive thinking also carries through to your inner feelings: you absolutely can control them.  The mindpower to do so comes from two things: knowing yourself very well and being logical.  This goes both ways- you can control how angry you are, and you can also control how happy you are.  It is definitely not an easy thing to do, but I guarantee you that no matter the situation, if you know yourself and you have developed a strong sense of logical thinking, you can tell yourself how to interpret and react to life events.

Feelings are instinctual, so you will always have an emotion that naturally happens.  The trick is to recognise it and change how you think about it.  Then, you have the choice whether or not to express it.  For example- someone being consistently unkind to you.  Your first feeling will probably be anger or sadness- if you recognise that, you can logically tell yourself “lashing out will solve nothing” and just walk away.  You can go have a nice cup of tea and think about something more pleasant, and then just avoid interacting with that person more than you have to.  It really is that easy.  Same thing with grief, like losing someone close to you.  Obviously you are going to be distraught, but that won’t really solve anything.  Some people think that they need to be miserable, and that’s okay for a little while- but if for some reason you need to jump back into the real world before you are ready, it’s entirely possible.  Just to be clear, I am not saying that we should all turn ourselves into emotionless robots.  But often, outside events and our subsequent emotions can affect our inner peace and our enjoyment of the world.  All I’m trying to do is show that you have the power to choose which emotions to feel a lot more than you think.  Sometimes you do absolutely need to feel a bit melancholy for awhile, but you can keep it under control.

Here are some steps you can take to better control your emotions and perception of the world:

  • Know yourself. If you know watching “The Notebook” makes you bawl, don’t watch it unless you want to cry your eyes out.  This also goes the other way- don’t watch a hilarious episode of “It’s Always Sunny” if you are about to go to a wake.
  • Be logical. This is very difficult.  Before you begin expressing anything, take a moment to think about what happened and how you can interpret it.  If someone lashes out at you, maybe he was just having a bad day; let it go.
  • Distract yourself.  It can be a lot easier to control your thoughts when you are busy- distract yourself completely with a good book, or just keep your hands busy with knitting.
  • Set aside time to emote.  If you are going something really tough, it can be hard to focus on being happy all the time and you run the risk of one day exploding into a huge gory mess.  If you give yourself a set ten or twenty minutes to vent and process whatever it is you’re coping with, it can really help during the other 23 hours and 40 minutes of the day.
  • Just let it go.  Honestly, the biggest trick is not to dwell on anything negative.  Like the previous idea- give yourself a few minutes to process, and move on.
  • Keep moving.  Life won’t stop for you, and that’s a good thing!  Let it sweep you up and leave negativity behind.  Say “yes” to opportunities you might come by, or “no” if you’re being overwhelmed.
  • Let it out.  Not in a venting session with some poor friend or even necessarily a therapist- but channel your negative energy into something positive.  I hit the gym for about two hours every single day without exception, and it’s not because I love the elliptical.
  • Find the positive.  Yeah, sometimes it really does seem like there’s no “silver lining.”  But I guarantee that if you look hard enough, you’ll find something to smile about.
Keep on keeping on, friends!

Slacking off is productive!

As far as I’m concerned, there are two types of being unproductive: trying to get stuff done when you’re not into it, and not getting stuff done when you’re on a roll.

There are times when I am so productive that I have cancelled plans (super lame, I know) to keep working.  I’ve blasted through tons of things on my to-do list and toiled for hours and felt really good about it.  I’m talking writing five-page papers in 45 minutes, learning a movement of a concerto in a few hours, and cleaning the entire kitchen with a smile on my face.

Conversely, there are times when I have had so much to do but I just couldn’t get into it.  I’ve sat and watched twelve episodes of How I Met Your Mother the night before a term paper was due, avoided the practice room at all costs during the weekend of a concert, and sat on Stumbleupon while I was supposed to be paying bills.

This works, however, because they balance out.  There’s an equilibrium between doing nothing and doing too much.  It’s important to define which is happening, though.  It has to do with honouring your body’s natural cycles– sometimes you have tons of productive energy, and sometimes you just need to mellow out.  If you dishonour this, it’s entirely counter-productive.  I know that if I’m trying to read for class and I keep reading the same sentence over and over again, I’m just going to have to do it again later.  I’ll sit and get stressed about how I can’t focus, and that is entirely counter-productive.  If I’m trying to learn a new piano piece and I can’t make the fingerings come naturally, I’m just going to have to un-do all of the incorrect practicing I do later anyway, which is even harder than starting fresh.  At the same time, sitting playing Portal when I’ve got loads of energy is a waste of time as well.  I could be getting ahead in my work so that later when my energy dips or my friends want to hang out, I can just relax.

Of course, if you’re constantly in a rut you need to make a lifestyle change to get more energy but if you plan ahead and work as much as you can when you can, slacking off is an important part of being productive.  It’s just another one of the dichotomies that life throws at us.  Point is, work hard when you can so that you’re able to play hard when you can’t.

Vices

We all have one.  Or two.  Or seven.  But that’s what makes us human- if we all followed our diets religiously, never touched alcohol, avoided trashy TV, and always went to bed on time, we would be perfect.  And so ridiculously boring.

Generally speaking, I am a very healthy person and I don’t often even feel the need to indulge.  But once in awhile, something gives.  On my 21st birthday, I drank an entire bottle of champagne- before I even went out.  The thing is, what some people consider indulgences are things that many others engage in really frequently.  If you live a truly healthy lifestyle, occasionally drinking a ridiculous amount of alcohol or eating way too much sugar is not going to kill you (well, don’t get too ridiculous).  In fact if you restrain yourself for awhile, you will enjoy your “splurge” that much more.  And even better than that is what happens afterwards: the hangover.  Yes, I said better.

After I do something that I really wanted to do even though I knew it was a bad decision, I realise how much worse it actually made me feel.  Yes, I really enjoyed that bar of chocolate- but now I feel bloated and oily, and I remember why I don’t really eat them.  Or yeah, drinking way too much was fun at the time, but this morning my head is pounding and I am never doing it again.  Obviously it will happen again, but at least in the meantime at least I don’t feel like I’m missing out.

If you indulge every so often, you’re much less likely to go absolutely nuts- indulging in a bit of chocolate on a miserable monday will make you feel like you’re not depriving yourself and it will satisfy you for awhile.  Even if you splurge every week, hey- that’s six days of healthiness you have that you didn’t before.  If you go a year without eating chocolate and then walk into the grocery store the day after Valentine’s- well, I would not want to be between you and the candy aisle.

The moral of the story?  Embrace the fact that you’re human and you’re allowed to throw your body out of whack every once in awhile.  Don’t be irritatingly perfect because you will be secretly miserable, and one day you will crack.  If you’re healthy 95% of the time, don’t feel guilty for wanting to do something irresponsible, unhealthy, or just plain stupid.  You’ll bounce back!  But just in case, here are some tips for warding off cravings:

  • Exercise– even just a bit of a walk.  Endorphins are powerful!
  • Get outside- fresh air does wonders.
  • Have a glass of water- you might just be thirsty.  Our bodies often confuse hunger and thirst.
  • Have a conversation- connect with someone, or even just go on Facebook for a minute or two.
  •  Play a stupid online game- sometimes that feels like indulging, too.
  •  Substitute- if you want something sweet, go for fruit or yogurt.  Or have a handful of nuts instead of chips.
  • Do anything to distract yourself- check your email, organise your desk.
  • Wait ten minutes- most cravings pass in five.
  • Laugh- lots of cravings are emotional rather than physical.  You might just need a mood boost!
  • Just do it already- if you still want a bag of Skittles after going crazy trying to distract yourself, eat a fun-sized one.  If you had a rough couple of weeks and want to party all night, drink and be merry.  You’ll enjoy it, and then life will move on.