Being & Becoming

Cultivating Inspiration, Creativity, and a Life on Purpose


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Being Afraid, but Doing it Anyway- Anxiety, Love, Music, and Mindfulness

Me, playing guitar with my new friend, Eiffel Tower in the distance.

Me, playing guitar with my new friend, with the Eiffel Tower in the distance.

A couple of weeks ago, I had an exciting and terrifying rendez-vous with one of my goals.  My boyfriend and I had seen a concert in Pigalle (the neighborhood that houses Moulin Rouge), and then walked up to the highest point in the city (Monmartre), where the famous Sacre Coeur church presides over the city.  Many other people had the same idea, and were gazing off into the city lights, drinking beer, or making out by the telescopes.  There was a group of people surrounding two guys playing flamenco guitar on the church steps.  I listened for a few minutes, and really dug it.  A little later, as I was looking out into the city, I heard the guitarists (now finished) speaking in English.  I approached them, thanked them for playing, and we began chatting about flamenco.  At one point, one of the guys asked me if I played; I paused, and boyfriend immediately shared that I did.  The guitarist smiled, pulled out his guitar, and told me to play with them.  I stared blankly at it, smiled, said “no, no, I couldn’t…”, but he insisted, and enthusiastically shoved it into my hands.

For a moment, I stood frozen as a wave of anxiety washed over me. I had been practicing a lot, but I was not ready to play with seasoned, professional flamencos.  But, I knew in that moment that it it was extremely important for me to play, no matter how I felt.  Predictably, the complex rumba strumming patterns I’d spent hours practicing fled from my memory, and my cold hands couldn’t move fast enough. I could have panicked, but I didn’t. I decided not to be formulaic or fancy- i just soloed along with what they were playing.  I let go of ideas of how I should sound.  I just stayed in the moment, listened to the sounds, and focused on my guitar.   I connected, I stayed in key, and kept with the mood of the song.

I knew I did not do my best, but I f*****g did it.  I played flamenco with professional musicians in front of a beautiful landmark overlooking the entire city of Paris.  A few years ago, I would not have gone through with it.  Just the act of playing- even though I felt nervous and not ready- was a huge step.  I embraced the role I didn’t believe belonged to me, in a city I never thought I’d ever see.  What else could I do if I really felt confident and owned the idea?

I told my guitar teacher about the experience, asked him what I could do to prevent myself from “freezing”, and we spent the entire lesson talking about  living a meaningful life.  “Be a flower, not a weed,” he told me.  “The secret to playing music is love.  All you need is love.  You must give love away.  It can’t be about you. Weeds take and take.  Flowers open up for the word, give pollen to bees, they share.”

Anxiety and fear are always, by nature, about trying to protect the self (even if this anxiety is directed toward other people.  More on this in another post).  If I’m worried about the act of “screwing up”, I’m, by default, not putting my all into what I’m doing.  I’m not helping anyone by being closed-off- I’m taking shelter, holding the beautiful things I’ve learned in in an act of self-preservation.  I’m not giving my love; I’m locking it away.  Anxiety is a complex and tangled weed to get rid of, and even when you think you’ve totally trimmed it, little bits of it find a way to grow back and continue draining attention from something else.  Sometimes it makes me feel like a weed, too.

The Bhagavad Gita talks a bit about attachment to goals and anxiety.  Arjuna, the subject of the story, is pretty freaked out about an impending war and paralyzed by indecision and his anxiety. Krishna, his charioteer (and also; secret god) engages him in a discussion about dharma (right action, or that which one is meant to do). He says,

“You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself – without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat.”

Easier said than done, Krishna.  But, that’s why yoga is a practice and not a performance.  On and off the mat, we have opportunities to practice non-attachment to our goals.  This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have goals, dreams, and aspirations.  It means we should honor exactly where we are, and be totally present to the process.  Being present to the task and not worrying about the outcome of action seems to be the key to truly connecting, understanding, fully-engaging with, and mastering our work.  Paradoxically, it also seems to be the most direct path to reaching the goal we are no longer fixated on.

Next time someone asks me to play guitar atop a city, I’ll slow down and connect to my yoga practice.  I’ll take a few deep breaths and remind myself why I play- because the sound and the act of playing makes me feel more alive than anything, and I want others to feel it too.  Then, I might just be able to be like a flower.

What about you, readers?  Do you ever feel held back by fear or attachment? Have you let love overcome fear?  How did you do it?


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Intuitive Painting Class Give-away!

Painting by Flora Bowley.

Painting by Flora Bowley.

“Often, the fear of not knowing what to do or the fear of doing something wrong stops us in our tracks and keeps us from starting.  If we let go of this fear, we can open ourselves up to a much larger world of expression, a world where anything is possible.  I believe that there are no mistakes in the creative process.  Everything that happens along the way- every dab of paint, every emotion that arises, every brave new choice- is an important ingredient in the final offering.  Working from this perspective leaves no room for fear to slip in… there is no wrong way.  There are no mistakes.  There is only a wide-open playground beckoning your artistic muse to come out and play”- Flora Bowley

On February 10th, I’m beginning artist Flora Bowley’s “Bloom True” online painting course.  You may recognize her art on Papaya products (especially if you’re from Philly and shop at El Quetzal).  I would love for you to join me in this course!  I’m giving away a voucher to take the class FOR FREEEEEE (worth $273USD).  All you have to do is comment on this post and share why you would like to take it, and how you think it could help you live your passion.  Those who respond will have their name (literally) placed in a hat, from which my boyfriend will pick the winner.

It’s all online, and you can do the exercises on your own time, at your own pace.  Check out http://braveintuitiveyou.com/offerings-workshops/e-course/f-a-q/ for more information on the course itself.  I’ll be selecting the winner on Saturday, February 8th, sometime in the afternoon (so there’s still time to pick up painting supplies if you need ’em), so submit ASAP!

I’ve done something similar to this before- below, I’ve shared my experience.

My first time intuitive painting was with Damini Celebre, who holds intuitive painting classes in the Philadelphia area.  This was during a time in my life filled with big, challenging changes and tons of uncertainty.  I was working at a very high-stress job where I had to maintain emotional stability for the sake of my clients, and wasn’t really allowing myself to think about my troubles, let alone feel what was going on internally.   Damini had us lay on the floor before painting, and she began to play a drum while leading us through a meditation to connect to our intuition.  She encouraged us to listen to intuition, not the mind, and pick colors based on impulse, not detailed planning. The first round of painting was channeling water, and the second was air.  I found myself making very conscious decisions, deciding that it had to be “tree-like” and working to “correct mistakes”.

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I can’t remember exactly what Damini said to me, but something made me realize I was being way too disconnected from my instincts.  For the next element, fire, I left go more, let myself feel the colors I wanted to bring forth.  After painting for a while, she came up to me and asked, “Does it feel complete?”  In my mind, there was a resounding, “no”! I took a big paint brush, dunked it in black paint, and began to streak it on the canvas, blending some, but letting some drip down. I began to fling paint on.  I felt extremely satisfied by this.

Feeling fire.

Feeling fire.

The final element, earth, was where I really connected.  As I was painting, my motions became very rhythmic, my brush flowing, blending waves of different color together.  Damini asked me what I was doing, and I told her, “I have to make it blend”.  She smiled, and asked me why they had to blend, and what part of my life that might reflect.  I then had a “HOLY SHIT!” realization moment- my life was so uncertain and chaotic, that I desperately wanted to smooth out anything that I could control-I wanted everything to be in sync, and harmonious.  I was trying to correct it: the colors, and my life. I then began flinging more paint of varying colors at the canvas, diving into the experience of chaos.  I ended, however, by painting a big, black line vertically on the paper.  Everything was nuts all around it, but this big, stable pillar was holding something up.  My mind? My sanity? The stripe was, and is, incredibly soothing to me.  I realized I needed more grounding in my life, and made an intention to make time to take better care of myself.

Grounding in chaos.

Grounding in chaos.

I don’t know that I would have come to this realization through words.  Color and spontaneous allowed for a much more unconscious discovery; it brought forth things that my conscious, verbal mind was very good at encrypting.  We ended with a closing ceremony honoring ourselves and our innate wisdom.  I’m very excited to begin the intuitive painting process again, and I hope you’ll join me!

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Montreux and the Swiss Alps

Glion, Switzerland.

Glion, Switzerland.

I vividly remember the first time I laid my eyes upon the Alps. It was my first time out of the US- I was in Nice, France, in January, and it was the first and only fully radiant sunny day of the trip.  The Mediterranean sea had set something in my heart aflame, and I wanted to travel along it the entire day.  My guy and I decided to rent bikes, and head east toward Monaco on a coastal road.  The entire time, I was overcome by the glistening turquoise water.  I didn’t think it could get more beautiful, until we rounded a corner and saw snow-capped mountains in the distance.  I braked, stopped, and stared in awe- I had never been so close to a mountain before.  I was so absorbed that it didn’t occur to me to take photo.  It was one of the best days of my life.

I hadn’t thought of the Alps in a long time, but last month as my guy and I went back and forth for weeks about where to take our first European vacation (we are terribly indecisive), something clicked inside, and I abruptly declared that we should take a train through the Alps to the closest country we’d never visited- Switzerland. We promptly booked tickets to Geneva.

I soon realized that the Alps didn’t start as far west as I thought, but on our ride from Paris to Geneva, we were still blown away by the Jura mountains as we sped by.  After some research in a cafe, we decided that we would take a day trip to Montreux, a town on the other side of lake Geneva, at the foot of the actual Alps.

Zooming past the Jura and a mountain highway.

Zooming past the Jura and a mountain highway en route to Geneva.

Montreux, it turns out, is a very musical place.  It’s known for its yearly jazz festival, but also as the place where Freddie Mercury and Queen recorded their last album, “Made in Heaven”.  There’s even a statue of him by the lake, and the first week of September of every year, the city of Montreux has a celebration honoring him.  Mercury allegedly once said, “If you want peace of soul, come to Montreux”.

Montreux is also where Deep Purple began recording their album “Machine Head” at the Montreux Casino. Their experience watching it burn down inspired the famous song “Smoke on the Water”.

Our train took a little less than an hour to arrive from Geneva-it was sunny and in the mid-fifties!  After staring at the lake for a few minutes, we began our ascent through the town, eventually discovering the hillside stairs, making our way onto roads in the town of Glion, which presides above Montreux.  We walked through windy roads until we reached a muddy trail toward the town of Caux, rushing to get a clear view of some mountains by sunset.  We made it just in time.

Mon Dieu.

Mon Dieu.

No picture can capture the sight we saw as the fog cleared, and we realized just how gargantuan the mountains really were.  I was humbled and awed. I found something very freeing about realizing how small I am.  It took away my thoughts, my hopes, my fears. We stood, we breathed, we stared.  Seeing something like this is a very quick way to experience what the practice of meditation and mindfulness is getting at- total immersion in the moment, and nothing else.  We then made our way down in the dark, using our iPhone flashlights, and eventually had an extremely well-deserved fondue meal before catching the train back.    Below, you’ll find more pictures of this beautiful place.

 

 


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Remembering to Breathe

One of the most difficult parts of my transition to Parisian life has been not being able to physically practice yoga asanas (poses). This is no fault of Paris; there are many yoga studios all throughout the city. The issue is with me; a few weeks before leaving, I underwent surgery to remove a dislocated bone in my thumb that was beginning to hamper my practice. I was under the impression that it would be a very minor procedure, and that I’d be back on my mat in two weeks. This was not the case. For the first few weeks, my thumb was completely immobilized and my left hand was mostly useless. This made getting dressed a challenge, let alone facilitating a complicated international move. Just before leaving, my surgeon removed my cast, and his team helped mold me a more functional plastic splint.

Cast on the left, splint on the right.

Cast on the left, splint on the right.

Once in France, I had to guard my newly-armored hand on the metro, and still struggled to go about daily tasks (imagine trying to wrestle a pair of skinny jeans over long underwear and tall socks single-handedly-it is an arduous process). Every gentle bump to my hand was painful. In short, it really sucked.

In this time of transition, I longed for the comforts of a yoga studio: the glow of candles, flowing through sun-salutations with others, hearing sanskrit words, and the feeling of oneness when everyone in the room chants “om” together. Yoga is everywhere; one metro stop in nearly any direction leads one to a class. The expression “Water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink” accurately describes what I felt. I was distracted from this much of the time by the new places and people we encountered everyday, but whenever I slowed down, I felt the sense of longing again. 


The weekend before I left, my good friend Maura invited me to come to a meditation class she was holding. It left me feeling calmer, and helped me sort through the noise my mind was creating. I also recalled how meditating by focusing on candles the night before my surgery prevented me from panicking   About a week and a half into my stay, I remembered this feeling, and decided I wanted to feel it again.

My meditation set-up the night before my surgery.

My meditation set-up the night before my surgery.

I found a comfortable seat and closed my eyes. I felt my stomach rise and fall with each breath. I watched my uncertain, angry, guilty, and fearful thoughts flow in rapid succession, but did not try to stop them, nor focus on them. I let go. I let the thoughts exist, and simply observed, as if they were people strolling by while I sat in a café gazing out into the street. They came, and they went, and I was still here. After a few minutes, I opened my eyes, and felt less fidgety and anxious. My mind felt clearer. My heart felt a little more free. I recognized that the yoga studios would still be here in a few weeks, and I’d still remember how to do a down dog. Most importantly, I reconnected with what I’ve always shared with students; that as long as one can breathe, one can practice and receive the benefits of yoga.  I just needed a little reminder, too. 

Readers- I would love to hear how you meditate.  I would love to hear what experiences and activities bring you to a more meditative state.  What is your favorite way to work toward inner peace?