Being & Becoming

Cultivating Inspiration, Creativity, and a Life on Purpose


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A Tale of Two Solstices

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I’ve always craved warmth and sunlight-especially in times of need. On the summer solstice in 2014, I was studying with my favorite teacher, Shiva Rea, on the island of Santorini in Greece. On that day, we trekked up Skaros, a large rock formation on the west coast of the island, so that we’d have and unobstructed view of the sun for our solstice meditation. We set up facing west, Shiva gave us a mantra, and we began.

At this time, I was dealing with very difficult emotions and issues in my life.  The Grecian sun and Aegean sea had been very soothing to me the previous week as I wrested with these things, but it had reached a point where nothing could fully harbor my attention.

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I tried to stay just with the mantra, but my mind was unable to focus. I was sitting at a crossroad in my life, knowing that a decision I was wrestling with would change the entire trajectory of what I’d do, who I’d become, and my emotional landscape. With each breath, I bathed in increasingly golden light, softly chanting, hoping a concrete answer would come to me. In that moment of greatest light and highest energy, there was only a small seed of knowing the difficulty the coming darkness would bring, especially embarking on that journey alone for the first time in nearly a decade. At that time, being in the warmth and light made it easier to consider a risk, change, emotional pain. I made a choice. From day moment on, the light began to wane, and I embarked on an increasingly dim path.

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It has been a beautiful and terrifying jaunt into the shadows, which I, at times, resisted very strongly. This was often warranted, because I really wasn’t ready emotionally. But, more and more, I experimented with “the only way out is through”. And truly, I went through some things- but that’s another blog post entirely.

As the second summer solstice approached, I realized there was a part of me that wanted some coldness, that wanted some darkness. It was a transformative summer-the best one I’ve ever had. Yet I found myself craving coolness, turning inward, and finally embracing the dark.

A few days ago, a friend mentioned his interest in going into a sensory deprivation tank, as a new place had opened up nearby. I am claustrophobic, afraid of the dark, and don’t like being out of control. Or, rather, I’ve historically defined myself as being these things. In that moment, I was struck with a different understanding of what I am- without fear, speculation, or hesitation, I and called and booked an appointment. I was ready.

For those of you who don’t know, a sensory deprivation tank is literally a tank of super dense salt water (which allows one to float) with a lid to cut out all light. Earplugs are provided. It’s marketed as a very relaxing experience, but I’ve always been far more interested in what the mind might create with no external stimulation- a totally dark canvas, ready to be painted with the electricity of the mind. The thing is, what comes out is what’s there- one’s mindset affects what one sees. Here’s how I felt just before:

Upon arrival, the tank was much bigger than I anticipated, and had a light inside:

I disrobed, took a shower, and  placed my ear plugs in, which initially felt very jarring- I’m hyper attuned to sound, and felt less in control, but the shock quickly waned. I entered the tank and was surprised by how dense the water really was. The light was dim and soothing (Except for the three times I accidentally turned on the strobing function while trying to darken it a little more, and as a result, managed to get stinging salt water in my eyes. I’m terribly curious as to why that feature has not yet been disabled).

During this time, I let myself get accustomed to the sensation of floating, and I let the things in the forefront of my mind run rampant- I bought the ticket, took the ride, and let the damn thing run out of gas. My mind was slowing down, and moving in less predictable directions.  Gradually, much like the way the natural world shifts to shorter days, I closed the lid more and more. Finally, I all but shut it. I turned off the light.

I was surprised by how calm I felt- I really expected I’d have a more dramatic story to tell. The gentle transition made it feel like a womb- a safe place to incubate, to be held while on a journey, to explore. In this release, strange images started flickering in my mind. Questions arose. Some darker things began to come out of my mind and let me know they were still there. I stayed with it. It seems the real journey had just begun when music softly started to play, indicating that the 90 minutes was up.

I emerged slowly. Pressing the lid up gently, I let the blueish light pour in and bathe me.  I washed off the salty water; redressed; put on sunglasses. And then, I walked out into the bright sunlight, and smiled a little bit-I’m okay in the light, and I’m okay in the dark. There’s still a lot of darkness for me to explore and release into, but I honor and appreciate this further initiation of moving into, moving through, rather than pulling away.  Knowing that it can’t last forever, that it’s getting a little brighter, makes all of the difference.

In ancient times, I can understand why the celebration of the winter solstice had so much gravitas- sure, you could light some candles, but there were no guarantees,  and the scope of illumination was much more limited on a non-festival day.  I had to work to find true darkness, and was able to ease into it.  I can only imagine the joy and hope that came into understanding that the light would begin to return for people who experienced continued  darkness.

 

 

So, today, and for the winter as a whole, I ask you, dear reader-

What does darkness feel like for you?

How do you embrace it?

How do you celebrate the solstice?


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Taking Flight Amidst Uncertainty; or, Morocco, Part 1

 

Helping one another open our hearts to the journey. Photo by Heidi Roland http://www.heidirolandphotography.com/site/

About a year ago, my friend Meghan, yoga teacher and owner of Aluna Adventures, asked me to co-lead a yoga adventure to Morocco. At that particular moment in time, I had believed my traveling days were over due to some drastic shifts in my life. I was feeling lost and unsure in my path, but immediately felt this was something I was called to do. We spent months envisioning and crafting our trip. My anxious mind kept manufacturing things to fear; anything from no one signing up, to the Ebola outbreak spreading north, to surges in the saharan scorpion population. Thankfully, none of my wild speculations were correct, and on March 27th, I found myself at JFK International, with the intent to fly to North Africa.

Trying to get grounded by going upside down.  Photo by Heidi Roland.

Trying to get grounded by going upside down. Photo by Heidi Roland.

I was excited; I was hopeful. I met up with Meg and our group, and we snacked together by our gate. Everyone was buzzing with energy and anticipation.

Our wonderful group.

Our wonderful group.

I fed off of their energy, but as time went on, my excitement became peppered with a flavor of fear I hadn’t expected to experience.

For half a decade prior, I had been in a loving and supportive relationship, during which my love of travel was born. Though I had returned home from afar by myself before, I never embarked “on my own”, and had zero experience going to place as foreign as Morocco. Traveling with a partner was an emotional security blanket that I no longer had.  I was surrounded by wonderful people I trusted,  yet the fear swelled up in me. Could I be a good leader? Could I be there for others without having someone who loved me unconditionally at my side? In my every day life, I had dealt with this and become stronger and independent. With the new catalysts of international travel and leadership, my insecurity emerged once again. When we were called to board, my stomach dropped. In that moment, I didn’t actually know if I could go.

But, I did. We all did. One step at a time, we boarded the plane. Meg gave me a reassuring, loving look as we went to our respective seats in different aisles.

The cabin itself felt like a foreign country. An Arabic song with a haunting, wailing, minor melody played as we shuffled into our seats.

On the plane, there was an option to add Mecca to one's flight map- a clear indication that we weren't in Kansas anymore.

On the plane, there was an option to add Mecca to one’s flight map- a clear indication that we weren’t in Kansas anymore.

In English, the pilot proclaimed the plane would arrive in Casablanca at 7am. The Arabic translation was a bit different. Though I don’t speak the language, I was able to ascertain this much: “Inshallah (God willing), the plane will land in Casablanca at 7am”.

“Jesus Christ,” I thought, “That’s not particularly reassuring”. Everything felt up in the air. Everything was up in the air, as it was supposed to be, and the flight was quite uneventful. I spoke to an American man of Moroccan descent who gave me some insight into the country, and eventually faded into some strange twilight state until our breakfast was served.

The descent into Morocco.  Photo by Heidi Roland.

The descent into Morocco. Photo by Heidi Roland.

When we touched down, Casablanca was enveloped in a thick fog. At the airport, there was no jetway- one walks down the stairs directly to the tarmac.

Exiting Royal Air Maroc Flight 200.  Photo by Heidi Roland

Exiting Royal Air Maroc Flight 200. Photo by Heidi Roland

In my exhausted state, something shifted. I smiled at the pathetic fallacy as I emerged from the plane, and let the misty, humid air surround me like a cocoon. I wasn’t supposed to see what was ahead, and even more, I didn’t need to. I just had to respond to what was directly in front of me. It wasn’t necessary for someone to hold my hand to do it; I just needed to be present. As I’d soon discover, Morocco all but commands one’s full attention. I steadily descended off of the last step, on my own, and into the mist.

Follow my blog for more tales of Morocco to come!

Have you traveled or faced something difficult despite fear or insecurity?  Feel free to share your experience in a comment, on Instagram @purefire, or on Facebook at Being and Becoming Blog.

 


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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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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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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.