Verona’s La Dolce Vita

In taking time to chill and write before I head to a silent retreat, I opt for Verona.  I’ve only been here once, but there’s something so relaxing about this town. It’s a smaller city, full of tourists- yes but every alley you turn through has beauty.  It’s the backdrop for Romeo and Juliet.  Shakespeare couldn’t choose a more romantic town.  Last year when I visited it rained the entire time, and today a surprisingly mid 70s Sunday afternoon in late October.

 

On the train from Vicenza to Verona, an Argentinian woman began speaks Italian to me after she used the bathroom.  Since my Italian is non-existent, she began speaking Spanish.  She was complaining of the lack of air conditioning in Italy on public transit.  The African immigrant next to me was laughing as he agreed. She flowed between Italian, Spanish, and English as I vacillated my Spanish and English.  Although she was connecting with us through commiserating, she offered how beautiful it was that someone from North America, South America, and Africa were momentarily intertwined on a train in Europe.  Bellisima.  Those tiny bursts of unexpected connection with strangers serve as a reminder of how small the world can be, and how similar we are at heart.

 

 

It’s easy to get sucked in to the fashion of the people, the beauty of the piazzas, and savoury cusine.  All your senses are overstimulated, and therefore it’s easy to be distracted.  So after the busy-ness and new-ness settles, I will slow down and write. Buzzed off enough from my second cappacino, post gelato, vino, and pasta, I can’t help but want to be further immersed and simply observe this typical Italian world.  I am trying to be productive in a café, but I can’t help just wanting to gaze and linger. Isn’t that the point of travelling to a place in the Mediterranean? Being productive is not La Dolce Vita.

 

My Sunday dichotomy endures…American drive versus la dolce vita.  Productivity in writing chapter summaries for my next book or the rich life of wandering and wondering.. And today La Dolce Vita wins.

Airport Time Affluence Versus Time Poverty

It’s become so common place when people ask us how we are doing to say “busy.”  It’s the norm that seems to be replacing “fine”, and actually is looked at with respect in our Western culture.  To be busy is to be productive.  Our wait time should be minimized or filled with entertainment. Never do we see this more than at an airport.

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Today I am at the airport flying to Italy for a silent retreat in several days (picture above is from Mandali retreat center last year). I allowed myself the luxury to take a later flight and not rush with bare minimum time to get to the gate. When we provide little space to arrive, everything is prone to irritate us.  Drivers on the freeway, checking in at the front desk, people cutting in front of line at security, loud children crying in their strollers.  All are occurrences that are bound to happen and push our buttons.  Our trip that “should” be an escape begins with irritability and stress.

 

It’s a different experience to know you can stroll in an airport versus rush. When I ate my lunch, I didn’t opt to look at a magazine or my phone.  I tasted all the ingredients in my spicy noodle chicken soup.  I looked at the people around me and wondered who here was happy.  The two cashiers were smiling and laughing jovially at an inside joke.  But everyone around me seemed miserable and disengaged. There was the married couple with two children, where nobody seemed to speak to each other or smile.  There was the man scrolling through his smart phone or a girl watching a television episode on here phone.  Were they hopeful for their trips?  Were they rushed?  Were they trying to let go of the nightmare of arriving at the airport?

 

There is a positive psychology concept of time affluence and time poverty.   Time poverty is where many of us seem to reside.   We are starved for time, and never satiated. Even if we have an evening or day off, we fill it with activities or binge watching television series.  This hardly leaves us feeling refreshed, reversely we may feel deprived.  But having the wealth of time can work wonders.  Time affluence.  It’s something many of us, with intentional work, can have the potential to be rich in.

 

Although we cannot control the events that will occur in our day.  We can provide space for everything to unfold. We can opt to be time affluent by arriving early to meetings, events, or airports and allow ourselves to arrive and be present versus be filled with worry and stress during the entire journey.  Explore where on the time economy you reside and how you can make a tiny shift towards affluence.

Let’s take a Yale Psychology Class Together

On listening to a Jay Shetty podcast recently, he interviewed Yale Professor Laura Santos.  She created a psychology class with 1200 people enrolled every semester.  It’s called Psychology and The Good Life.  It’s gone viral and almost half a million people have taken a version of it online for free.

It’s amazing to see so many people that are interested in creating a better version of themselves.  All of us want to be happy, but have been guided to paths that led to false starts.  We believe that happiness will be found with the amount of degrees we have, money made, items purchased,  or countries travelled to.

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Psychological research has shown that happiness is in the daily habits we practice versus the journey. It’s interesting as a psychologist myself, I have found the path toward living a disciplined life which is inclusive of meditation, gratitude, and presence more through my spiritual and yogic training than through the doctorate I attained in psychology.  But now the fields are converging are pointing both towards the same thing.

As I look at the past several weeks of who is logging on and reading this blog it’s people from all over the world: UK, USA, France, Mexico, Germany, Jordan, Philippines.  And this is in the past weeks.

So many times we want to start a revolution to change the world, but perhaps being part of an ongoing global conversation can be enough.  Happiness has the capacity to be contagious.  We cannot demand a change from others, but we cans start to alter how we live and interact in the world.  If you are intrigued, take a peak into the free Yale class or podcast to dip your feet into living the good life.

 

To sign up follow this link

https://www.coursera.org/learn/the-science-of-well-being?fbclid=IwAR2U4XNZuaWZ4t7-idv6mcJ6_hqXV6kwrP3F0ZNipgz1nbYdNigcU_mlvBI

or to catch a peak of the interview check out

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/on-purpose-with-jay-shetty/id1450994021?i=1000452612917&fbclid=IwAR0JRrVoHJMSQa-1TN9lLPYChYI1aeBGVDuYTrV5WqADdk_SgX9QK3sKEVM

 

Paws for Reflection

Today as I was driving 60mph on a back road to work in the UK, I stumbled upon a cow that seemed to be walking leisurely down the road.  I slowed down, the cow veered to the left and kept going.  I felt as if I was transformed to India, a place I have never visited, but seen images of cows amongst the streets and city life. I hoped the cow was okay, he/she had tags on it’s ears.  Farms were close by.  I am sure there is some form of symbolism to this, which may reveal itself.  But it’s been an interesting time with me and animals these past several weeks.

 

Two weeks ago, after a one week holiday to Greece, I walked onto the second floor of my home and heard a noise.  I saw two eyes staring at me.  It was an intruder, but not a burglar.  It was a pigeon who flew into my home and was stuck, flapping it’s wings in distress.  Who knows how long the bird was there for?  Bird poop was all over the room.  After being shocked and frozen, I was able to find ease and guide the bird onto my hand and out the window.  If a bird pooping on your shoulder was good luck, perhaps a bird flying through your chimney, and pooping dozens of times in your home was a dozen blessings.

 

And then there are my two dogs, who are now 10 and 12 years old.  One has had numerous visits to the vets recently, but luckily has been healing with grace.  I am revering every moment I have with them and have residual guilt when leaving for work. The more time I spend with them, they simply seem to request more with their sad eyes, growls, or touch.  Eckhart Tolle calls pets “guardians of our presence.”  They truly are the protectors of our sacred attention.

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We are inhabiting the world with all these animals.  And although we, as humans, are kings and queens of the Earth kingdom, these tiny unexpected interactions with animals ground and humble us. They take us out of our busy technological world to remind us to slow down and share the space with them. There’s still a wildness to be found in our modern world.  I’ve observed foxes crossing the parks in London, a hedgehog that hopped into my yard, deers that wander, and dragonflies that dance by my post office.

 

Pause to observe the beauty of all living things around you.  And perhaps allow your paws to bring you away from the electronic screen and to those that share your atmosphere.

Saturday Morning Meditations

I stayed at a friend’s apartment in Central London last night. She had a spare bedroom, and it was spare. Tiny but had what I needed for the night, fresh white sheets, duvet, and clean towels. It was pleasing to have a total blank space.  Nothing laid on the walls. There was no television, or even drawers, just a bed. As I laid down in the bed and looked out the window, there were two images. The rooftop of the next door building and the impressive Shard.  

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My eyes awoke gently at 530 am.  I gazed out the window and observed the pink hued sky offering softness to the nearby architectural wonder. I saw a single bird fly by, and even heard a nearby local whistling on his walk. There was a pattering of cars that passed, but silence again.  This was my meditation today.

As I got out of bed and moved to a different part of the room and looked out the window again, I saw St. Paul Cathedral.   What gems this tiny room had, if I allowed myself to settle in and appreciate it.  It was a beautiful site and simple, which many expensive hotels in the area lack this view from their bedroom windows.

I remembered how much I indulge in what a city has to offer in the wee hours of weekend mornings.  Residents allow themselves to sleep in from their work driven tight schedules. And as they dream or nurture their Friday night hangovers, I can indulge in the true luxuries the city has to offer.  I chose to start my day early to begin exploring the quiet adventures that may lay ahead, as the world slept.

This included watching for an extended amount of time a miniature bellagio dancing fountain. There were four rows of water being squirted in the air.  One particular row created a makeshift rainbow for seconds.  There were no children trying to scream and cool themselves off by running through it. Just morning joggers, street cleaners, and me.  I took off my shoes and socks, sat down just to observe, with the London Bridge at my back.  How do you capture a makeshift floating rainbow? It’s like trying to encapsulate a moment into words. The image of a rainbow lingers for a tiny amount of time after the water has stopped.  The mirage of what once was.

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A dog and his owner walk by the fountain, the dog observes the dancing water and engages in playtime. He laps up some water, it then disappears. The water the re-emerges taller than before. He runs away and barks.  The rainbow’s angle begins to shift.

Tourists walk by and briefly snap an image of the dancing fountains. But because they don’t linger, I doubt they see the rainbow.  It’s when you allow yourself to sit still and observe, that the secret beauty appears. I find true beauty in cities, is nature playing amongst and within the manmade environments.

How can you look at a rainbow and not believe in magic or possibilities?  I don’t need the scientific reasons why rainbows create these images to our vision.  I just need to see it, observe it’s wonder, and the impact on my heart.

You must loosen the grasp of your hands to allow the dancing moment to be held with wonder and without attachment.

 

 

Take Me To Church

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To be immersed in a tiny historical church watching your favorite musician perform equates with a sacred experience.  I didn’t know what to expect when purchasing tickets to see Rachael Yamagata at the St. Pancras Old Church.  I simply thought it was a renovated building repurposed as a performance space.  The hectic one hour drive, then one hour tube ride into Friday London afternoon rush hour kept my head in a frantic dizzy spell. I began to question if I made the right decision to see a musician perform one more time.  Was all this work of paying for my dogs to be cared for and stay overnight in a hotel worth it to see a concert?  My busy chattered mind ruminated this logic.

But then we stumbled onto St. Pancras Old Church, the doors were not open yet. And therefore, there was time to wander the graveyard that surrounded us.  This space was one of the earliest locations of Christian worship from the fourth century. It’s been written about by Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy.  The infamous Hardy tree stood here, that included numerous gravestones that were moved from their original location to the trunk of this tree, due to the building of a railroad.  The tree grew around the graves.  Early feminist writer from the 1800s Mary Wollstonecraft was buried here as well. In the midst of fast paced London was the luscious oasis of greenery.  It slowed the pace of my mind and body.  Before wandering into the church, you felt as if this was already a spiritual place, where people have gathered for hundreds of years gathered to worship.

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Now we would worship in a different way. Entering in, I was quite surprised they sold alcohol.  This is still a functioning church.  To have a beer next to Jesus felt sacrilegious for the Catholic school girl in me. When I told a friend this, he offered.  “Why is that? Jesus transformed water into wine?”  This led me to further question why we must fit spirituality into the confines of a traditional box.  The performances of the opening act Worry Dolls and Rachael Yamagata felt like a holy experience.

Musicians, as well as all of us, have the capacity to connect with the Divine or Universal Energy in order to create.  The Worry Dolls talked of being vessels for particular songs, and even had a song titled “Let the Light Shine Through.”  The song reminds us of the light children are born with, but we all seem to have the capacity to lose as we maneuver throughout the world.  At one point they had joked about something on stage, and there was a loud startling noise that erupted from an amp.  The performers joked, “Is that you God?”  We all laughed, but there was an awareness that the spirit was present. Let me remind you that these performers are not Christian Singer Songwriters.  They are indie artists, but their spirituality emanated through their performance.

Then Rachael Yamagata performed and it actually stopped my breath.  I observed that I unconsciously held my breath as she sang, and played the piano. It was as if I wanted to minimize everything occurring in my body, to allow the space for her performance to awaken. Rachael has been a staple in my life from the time I was 25.  For over 15 years through the circle of crush, heartbreak, marriage, divorce, and repeat she has consistently been there for me. Her music and lyrics at times seem to be the words wanting to be expressed from my soul. The rough passion that emerges from her as she sings will pause any heart in the room, and re-awaken tears that have been immersed in locked boxes for years to emerge.  She also has been a source of familiarity for me, as I have seen her almost every year I have been living in the U.K.  To see a favorite musician from the U.S. reminds me that home isn’t too far away.

Although so much of her music can be quite depressing, she alluded that it could heighten levels of suicidality if it was simply one depressing song after another.  But she was playful about it, in how she revealed the stories behind the inspiration of these songs. One song in particular was written about a love she had an obsession for joking that it was “restraining order obsession.” Yamagata continued that since this person has since married and has children, she is dedicating the song to her new obsession: her cats.  As she sang the lyrics, “I want you, and no one. No one else will do…” images of her cats were projected in the background behind her.  Rachael plays and molds her once depressive state into art that we can all relate with and enjoy. At other times, she brought in upbeat melodies and audience interaction.

Rachael told stories throughout the show, which is a necessary skill for a true musician.  One involved her first open mic experience 20 years ago and the horrors that arose from it, but it was necessary on her musical journey.  She invited anyone in the audience who was a musician or wanting to be a musician to join her onstage to sing a song. Several people opted to take the offer, and the audience cheered them on throughout the entire performance.  It was a beautiful experience to watch this artist offering an opportunity to upcoming artists with a supportive audience in a church.

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One of the most spiritual moments of the evening was this song Duet that had an interlude, and the entire audience filled with strangers hummed to the tune in unison.  This was a church experience.  Loneliness transformed to community, if only for one night through the shared appreciation of music from this artist.  Her old love wounds had the light shine on them, which sparked the lanterns in all of our hearts to collectively be lit as well.  To be in the presence of an artist’s work, whether music, painting, dance, garden, poem, or elegant building is transformative.  It stirs our souls, reminds us to appreciate the vicissitudes of life, and perhaps has the capacity to ignite our creative genius.

Therefore if you ever question going to see your favorite musician perform one more time, take the chance.  Your pace of life may be momentarily transformed.  You won’t regret the spiritual experience that is at hand. You will be taken to church.

For more on the amazing-ness of Rachael check her out on https://rachaelyamagata.com

The Happiness Scavenger Hunt

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The Happiness Scavenger Hunt

 

If we are grasping onto a memory,

We are not living in reality.

If we are clinging to the path we had planned,

Our feet are not standing on fertile land.

 

Turn your attention to this now

Potential is here if allowed

Lift your gaze to right here

Contentment is oh so near

 

Did you find it yet?

It’s standing there I bet

Why search outside for bliss?

It’s unfolding now in life’s kiss

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