Being & Becoming

Cultivating Inspiration, Creativity, and a Life on Purpose


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Street Art in Paris

It’s common knowledge that Paris is a city of art.  Some of the world’s most regarded and beloved pieces of art (the Mona Lisa, etc.) in the world reside in Paris’ 150+ museums.  But, the creative pulse of the city can’t seem to be contained solely within buildings; it flows onto them and around them.  Over the past few months, I’ve photographed a bunch of street art that has caught my eye.  Below, you’ll find just a few of the strange and beautiful pieces that the canvas of Paris hosts.


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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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This Week in Paris, Part 1- King Cake

King cakes for all!

This week was the celebration of “Le Galette de Rois”, or The King’s Cake.

The tradition has roots going all the way back to the ancient Roman celebration of Saturnalia, which began at the end of December and ended in early January.  Saturnalia was kind of like opposites day, and things that were normally forbidden were allowed.  One of the main role reversals was between a master and a slave, with the slave becoming king for the day.  This slave was determined by a piece of cake- a large one was baked, with a bean hidden inside- whichever slave received the bean would be crowned king.  The tradition survived throughout tumultuous French history (during the French revolution, it became the “Equality Cake”, as all things royal were despised), and eventually became associated with the Epiphany, occurring on January 6th.  For more information, check out my source, which also includes a recipe, which you might want upon finishing this post.

Now, in northern France, the King’s Cake is often a delicious croissant-y, round puff pastry with an almond (frangipane) filling. Inside, a tiny trinket is baked in, and whomever finds it gets to be king for the day- parents will usually rig it so that a child gets the honor.  This tradition has made it to America (especially in New Orleans, but as a Mardi Gras cake), but the cake is often of a different style.

Of course, I absolutely had to try it.  Thankfully, the bakery I went to had a two-person version- many cakes were huge!

Cutting our petit cake.

Cutting our petit cake.

I ended up finding the trinket.  There was a paper crown, too, but it did not fit on my head.

It looks like a stamp.

It looks like a stamp.

Also; the cake was insanely delicious.  The French are really, really good at this.

The aftermath.

The aftermath.

We celebrated on January 5th, and missed the crazy lines on the 6th- almost every bakery had a line out of the door.

Everyone wants a King Cake.

Everyone wants a King Cake.

Now, there are many leftover cakes at a discount, and I’m very much considering a second round.


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Why am I Doing This? / The Art of Becoming

 Aside from the obvious reasons why one might want to move to Paris (beauty, chocolate, art, poodles, functional public transportation), I’ve come here to perform a giant experiment.  It’s pretty simple- I’m going to see if devoting my life to the things that matter most (and make me feel most alive) will help me become the person I want to be.

Many of these things I write about below absolutely could have done at home. But, as a perfectionistic procrastinator, I recognized the opportunity to move to Europe as an opportunity to eliminate my recurring distractions and excuses for my avoidant behavior. Here, I have the time to do the things that matter most to me. Now that I’m settled in, I could not successfully argue otherwise.

I do not want to waste this opportunity; So, I’ve written down exactly what I want to do while abroad- . How I will live, what I will do, and what I want to become. This is my plan to live my passions.

In the next year, I plan to…

4) Take advantage of my location and explore the world. My wanderlust and desire for new experiences has been steadily rising for years. I want to wander through the markets of Marrakech, get bundled up and see the Northern Lights, dip my feet in the Mediterranean from multiple different countries’ coast lines. I want to find new inspiration and ideas.

The very first time I stepped into the Mediterranean sea. January, 2011.

The very first time I stepped into the Mediterranean sea. January, 2011.

3) Research and experiment with ways to cultivate creativity through different media. I want to become an expert on ways to unleash creativity. In my work as a clinician, I always felt that unleashing creativity and using creative endeavors as a way to facilitate sublimation could help people in pain find agency, accomplishment, and emotional freedom. I often wish I studied art therapy. This will be my independent study. I will be the guinea pig, but I invite you, the reader, to experiment along with me.

How could painting make you a better writer?  How could dancing make you a better musician?

How could painting make you a better writer? How could dancing make you a better musician?

2)Deepen my understanding of yoga through practice, reading, and reflection. I also want to integrate more creative development into my teaching.

Photo by the talented Joe Longo.

Photo by the talented Joe Longo.

1) Devote time EVERY SINGLE DAY to practicing music, and become proficient enough to play on stage without issue. This is the single most important reason I’ve left everything I’ve established;this means so much to me, that in the past, it was easier to not devote time to it than devote a smaller amount of time and risk failure. Though I have a larger goal, the main emphasis will be to do it every day- to be with it, with out attachment to the outcome. 

It's flamenco and/or psych-rock time.

It’s flamenco and/or psych-rock time.


So, readers, I invite you to publicly state the dreams and passions closest to your heart- to put it out there, to allow your vision into the mind and hearts of others, and we collectively witness and support one another as we move into action. I would be honored and excited to read what you would like to become.


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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? 


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Le Café des Chats

Today, I visited “Le Café des Chats”, a cafe filled with cats.

The outside of the café.

The outside of the café.

The concept of a coffee house and kitty petting zoo originated in Japan, and has only recently opened in Paris.  I had heard of it long before I moved abroad, which proved important, as reservations must be made weeks in advance.  The café has a food menu, as well as a biography for each of the twelve cats that live there.

Some of the kitty bios.

Some of the kitty bios.

Initially, the cats presented as very Parisian, uninterested in our (literal) catcalls, and appeared to be trained to turn away whenever one attempted to take a picture.

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However, as time went on and the cats noticed I was wearing a beret, they began to hang out with us and let us hold them in our laps.  I was struck by how light they felt in comparison to my bowling ball of a cat at home, but also saddened that I didn’t have have his big warm body to hug.

Even though it’s not my cat, I’m clearly still pretty happy about holding it.

 

All in all, it was a great experience, I will absolutely return to “Le Café des Chats“.


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Expat Life; Day Une

Yesterday was my first day living in France!  Years ago, I might have imagined getting off of my plane, dropping my luggage at my hotel, rushing to a pâtisserie to have a café & macaroons, followed by intense exploration of boutiques and cobbled streets, and maybe even stumbling upon a small gallery and admiring art for hours.  Basically, the big, sexy, bohemian life I’ve always wanted. In actuality, I ended up sleeping the day away in a corporate hotel, and ate a tuna sandwich (from a vending machine) in bed.   And it was exactly what I needed. 

This is my "bed".

This is my “bed”.

Later in the evening, I attended a wine tasting party in the cafe of our hotel, which made it painfully clear that smiling, nodding, and uttering one or two words in French whilst gesturing wildly will be my primary means of communicating with others until I figure out why my Rosetta Stone disc stopped working.

At least this guy was able to understand me.

At least this guy was able to understand me.

Today, we venture out to find our new home.  After that, the bohemian life is sure to follow.