Voyage to Verona

Are we more willing to see kindness when we travel? I believe so, because when we travel our doppelgänger arises. We are more carefree, open, appreciative, and maybe even smile more. Yesterday I travelled from London to Verona Italy. I noticed the warm heart that strangers offered me.

The weather began shifting yesterday to cooler deeper autumn temperatures. As my nose began to get runny, I searched for tissues in my airplane seat. I couldn’t find any, and therefore sitting next to the window I just accepted my fate. The woman next to me saw my struggle, and offered to take several tissues from her new pack. We hadn’t spoken the entire flight, but she was compassionate enough to feel my pain.

Eventually I ended up in Verona. After dropping my bags at the hotel, I went straight to the house of Juliet. Since the 1200s this was the home to the Del Cappello family, which is where the name Capuleti derives. People have pilgrimaged here since the 1800s, including Charles Dickens. My pilgrimage brought me here. I entered the museum and took my turn taking selfies on the balcony. You had to wait in line to have your solo time on the balcony. Some had friends taking photos outside of the home, looking up at the balcony. Other people had friends taking photos of them from the home itself with both cell phones and dslr cameras. Selfies were an added bonus to the numerous other photos people had taken. Once again, I accepted my fate that selfies would have to do. As I was taking a selfie, from a further part in the Capulet home, a tourist asked if I wanted my picture taken on the balcony again. I agreed because she offered. She waited with me in line so she could take photos. I know English and Italian weren’t her primary language, therefore my communication with her was limited. She not only took several photos but tried to take them from the most flattering angles, and asked if it was okay.

Over the years, people have written left letters to Juliet seeking advice. She has become a mythological saint for the romantic. A group of women have formed to answer these letters, known as the Juliet Club. Now you can even choose to email Juliet, and expect a response back in the near future. At the museum, computer stations are available to write emails to Juliet. I took the time to pour out my heart, we will see what arises when the club members write back.

Later, I walked into a tiny church that once was a convent. I was moved by the simplistic beauty of the church. It was one of the first churches I saw that had the image of the crucifixion on the side of the church versus being centered. The statues that graced the front were either of Mary, St. Rita, or the Holy Family. The feminine aspect of the divine filled the church. As I prayed, momentary tears arose. When leaving the church, the priest who had observed my tears offered a kind comforting smile as I exited.

These experiences involved the smallest acts of kindness from strangers, but they were memorable. They are things we would do for our friends, coworkers, or family without thinking. Yet, we withhold offering these acts to people we do not know. Why? Do we lose anything when we give tiny moments to strangers? None of these opportunities involved money or a vast amount of time. They were small, but the impact of these acts will continue to reside with me throughout the week.

Thank you to those who have helped. Think how you can offer something to a stranger this week, even if it is simply a consoling smile.

Dance is My Religion

This evening I watched a show in Cairo performed by the El-Tanoura Troupe which moved my soul and heart to the point where tears arose. This troupe is made of Sufi dancers, which are similar to the Whirling Dervish in Turkey. I have seen performances of the Dervish in Istanbul, but this was on another level.

Initially members of the Sufi band came out and played music, many taking solos to highlight their skills and talents. For those who are unaware, Sufis traditionally were a sect of Islamic mysticism who experience their love and yearning for Allah through their relationship with him. Poets such as Rumi and Hafiz are well known Sufis. Now on a recent Oprah podcast, Sufism was recently described As being about love , “having direct connection to God through love,” regardless of one’s specific religion. It was also verbalised that “everything In the world as God.”

When we are children, spinning in circles come naturally. We twirl and giggle at the chaotic state we enter into. It’s natural for us during youth to practice this. And then we stop. Earlier in the day, the tour group I am traveling with engaged in belly dance workshops. We rehearsed doing six twirls in a row repeatedly. Dizziness was inevitable for me, who rarely spins. Therefore I could not help but be in awe as I watched this one particular dancer twirl for 30 minutes continuously. No breaks were taken.

I was so inspired that I was taking notes during the performance in my journal of the numerous thoughts going through my head. It seemed as if all of life was expressed in the span of this one dance. The dance is a devotion to God, a celebration of all that enters our life. We welcome the triumphs, the times people are supporting us, or when we are alone, when we are wealthy, poor, the calm moments, and the chaos. All are welcome and rejoiced in this dance. At various points fellow dancers would join in during the twirls, or they would kneel down and pay homage to the solo dancer. The Spanish word “ole” repeated in my head, as I was reminded of how this phrase stemmed from people in Southern Spain shouting “Allah” when they watched particular dancers become transported during performances. They saw God in the beauty of the dancer’s movements. Tonight was ole worthy.

Memories arose of the most exuberant moments of joy in my life that involved losing myself in dance with either family, friends, or even strangers. It reminded me how we feel sparks of the Divine in all expressions of art to include paintings, sculptures, film, music, dance, and song. The tribal percussion that reverberated in the background paired with watching a dancer twirl for 30 minutes can assist the audience to enter into this hypnotic trance like state. His devotion brought us to these other dimensions, as individuals and momentarily a community.

As I watched this musical prayer performance, with a flood of thoughts running through my head, I tried to keep myself in the present moment. I was so grateful to be here right now and be a witness to this. The most beautiful, precious, and dream like moments in life are when we are totally immersed into all that is happening in real time. God and spiritual experiences are in the observation of now. Our busy monkey mind pulls us in other directions, but the twirling assisted the audience to also return to now. Our gazes were mesmerized, as we didn’t know when the dance would end. We didn’t want to miss a thing.

When the main dancer stopped twirling after thirty minutes had passed, he found his center sharply. A smile graced his face, and he surprisingly he appeared centered and full of love. As the show ended, the audience applauded, the dancers left the stage. Children from the audience were quick to jump onto the stage and begin spinning. They hoped to instantly replicate what they just had witnessed.

I know my words are not giving justice to this performance. There is nothing like it, and one must simply experience it. I wish I could package and offer this overwhelming experience as a healing opportunity to everyone. If we had momentary bliss like this, could we contain and return to it when times are low? Could moments of divine flow be harvested for the inevitable periods that loneliness and depression prevail? I hope so.

And therefore I had to write this for you, I hope you have the opportunity to catch this troupe in action. If not, take the opportunity to immerse yourself in witnessing an artistic spiritual devotion that is outside your comfort zone. When you do this hopefully this will be outside your religious scope. Connect to the moment. Breathe it in. Observe what arises in you. Harvest it like a squirrel. And then share it with others who need a spiritual boost. Perhaps even your future self will thank you.

For more information, check out this link below:

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/egypt/cairo/entertainment/al-tannoura-egyptian-heritage-dance-troupe/a/poi-ent/406444/355225

Recent Oprah podcast exploring Sufism

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/oprahs-supersoul-conversations/id1264843400?mt=2&i=1000418698839

Frida Fanatic

“I am my own muse. I am the subject I know best. The subject I want to better.”― Frida Kahlo

Over the past couple of months, I have been having an increased obsession with Frida Kahlo.  The Frida exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum has fueled a surplus in her images being sold throughout London via clothing, pillowcases, books, and other paraphernalia.  Since the spring, I have purchased two Frida shirts, two books, and a box set of posters. What is it about Frida that is so fascinating?

Making Her Self Up is the title of the exhibit.  We know and love Frida for how she embraced her looks… the eyebrows, moustache, dark hair, culture.  Her art work which usually contained images of herself is recognizable, and I feel she is one of the few women in the art world who was known as an icon.  This was not just for her paintings, but how she presented herself.  Digging a little deeper below the surface, she encompassed so much more.

Frida struggled with physical ailments such as a polio diagnosis in her youth, a horrendous traffic accident that kept her bed ridden for one year, numerous miscarriages, and eventually she had her foot amputated.  Despite the struggles she physically faced in her life, she prevailed.  In fact, her interest in art and creating self-portraits may have been ignited during that year of being bed ridden.  Her mother did not want her to be alone, therefore she propped a mirror above her bed so she could always be aware of the company she had within herself.

Kahlo embraced all parts of her, the wounded and the blessed.  The images in her artwork contains flashbacks to the tragedies that ensued in her life.  The numerous affairs her husband had (which included sleeping with her sister), did not dissipate her sexuality.  She had her share of affairs as well.  But the love of Diego Rivera, her husband, stayed in her mind and thoughts. Initially as a wife to renowned muralist and artist Diego, she accompanied him to his work sites around the world.

Frida brought attention to the fashion her culture offered.  The beautiful traditional clothing of the Mexican world was displayed throughout each city she graced.  She wore long petticoats initially to hide her leg that was impacted by polio, but when she eventually ended up having her leg amputated, even her prosthetics were fashionable.  The medical corsets were beautified.  Frida would dress up at home, even if there were no visitors. She would adorn her body with necklaces, earrings, and flowers in her hair not for anyone else’s enjoyment but herself.

Eventually her art work began getting recognized in addition to the roles of being Diego’s wife and a fashion icon.  The Surrealists wanted to claim her as their own, but she verbalized she wasn’t a surrealist.  “I never painted dreams.  I painted my own reality.”

The reason Frida’s image is embraced by women throughout the world is not solely for her physical beauty.  It is for what she represents: confidence, resilience, courage, and strength.  Frida did not have an alter ego.  She was her alter ego.  It is no surprise the exhibit at Victoria & Albert Museum is a sold out hit.  This is why her image is on numerous purses, tee shirts, pins, and socks.  We admire her fury to be authentic, and live the totality of human existence.  Frida lived it loudly for the world to see and we shout back generations later “yes!”

Although the exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum is sold out, you can gain entry by becoming a member.  In addition, the exhibit has also been extended, please check the website for additional dates.  The collection contains photographs, jewelry, artwork, belongings, medical corsets and clothing that were hidden for 50 years.  This is the first time they are on display outside of Mexico City.  If you are Frida fanatic like I am, this is a must.

“Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?” – Frida Kahlo

 “You deserve the best, the very best, because you are one of the few people in this lousy world who are honest to themselves, and that is the only thing that really counts.” – Frida Kahlo

https://www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/frida-kahlo-making-her-self-up?gclid=Cj0KCQjw3ebdBRC1ARIsAD8U0V6ETW9bNYs-7jAY3NO9P-jp8W3f31WIjuoU-jKeyXkteVf73_bcZi8aAgbyEALw_wcB

Reminisce

I like digital cameras, because they enable you to reminisce immediately.-Demetri Martin

I walked around my old neighbourhood in Cambridge, which I have not visited in two years. And it initially made me quite sad.  I had lived here for three years and had so many amazing memories with a variety of friends.  All of them have since relocated to distant locations. This is what happens when you live in a transient town. I am at a crossroads to move back here to minimise my current commute. But do I dare create new memories in a place that is the storehouse of old ones?

How can locations become our hometowns even if we didn’t grow up in them? 

In Cambridge, I stepped into antique shops searching for a gramophone particularly.  I was hoping that finding it would be a sign on where to lead me next on my path. But as I explored the little nooks of these stores, holding old junk repackaged as treasures, I felt as if I was stepping back in time. 

Am I trying to recreate the past?  All these people and memories cannot be replaced, but in moving back to an old town am I simply regressing ?  All have since moved on , shouldn’t I?

Do people linger in these nostalgia stores, hoping to purchase a memory?  Perhaps we believe if we can own it, the moment will always be in our grasp.  But the fact that the only constant is change.  Those moments may not be recreated, but those people luckily are still alive sprinkled throughout this earth. Connections can be made via phone calls, visits, emails, and letters

Sentimentality can serve as a reminder of the values and people we hold dear. It’s a voice that silently nudges us to recall that life isn’t solely about work and achievement, but the friends and family that surround and serve in the ongoing backdrop of our world.

“Remember that the most valuable antiques are dear old friends. “-H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

The Mirrors to Our Lives

This week I have been reflecting on the concept of friendships: old and new.  This was triggered by phone conversations I had with friends from over a decade ago, having visited with a high school friend, and meeting up with newish friends. These friends have been witnesses to my life from my teens, twenties, and beyond.

I have made an intentional effort to take a pause and reach out to old friends.  If you have moved around as much as I have, it takes energy to maintain friendships that span decades.  We accumulate friends, but to nourish, maintain, and care about them is work. We must devote our energy, space, time, presence, and love to caring for or creating new friendships.

My high school friend Meg, who visited London this week, asked me if I had a journal in my rucksack to see if my hand writing matched the style it was when I was 15.  I pulled it out, she peeked at it.  “It is.  You always wrote so small to take advantage of the paper.”  I didn’t remember this, but she did.  I felt I just shifted to writing tiny because my journal is so beautiful I don’t want my time in it to end.  How can my friends remember qualities about me more than I can?

During a phone conversation, a friend from my Los Angeles days made the statement, “when we grew up together, I remember your type of guy was…”  I pondered, for some reason I only believed “growing up” constituted the period of your life up to age 18.  But we are always growing, and at this point I have known her for 17 years.  Friends are there to serve as additional memory banks, mirrors to who we are and were. They are witnesses to our lives.

Another friend offered to visit me if I wasn’t busy in November.  New friends and I connected over drinks and another set of friends we bonded over a hearty cooked meal.  My life was full this week, but I am trying to allow the space for friendships to be kneaded, molded, and sculpted.

As I connect with friends from the distant and recent past, or people who have recently popped in my life, I can’t help but appreciate their diversity.  This does not speak to just to their ethnic or geographic diversity, but also age, socioeconomic status, political party, and their careers.  My friends are helpers of the mind to include psychologists, social workers, and coaches, or of the body physicians, nurses, physical trainers and yoga instructors.  They are witty and intelligent, as writers, pilots, and educators.  They are creative as musicians, tech developers, chefs, photographers, actors, dancers, jewelry designers, public relation consultants, bloggers, or artists.  One is even starting up a pop band as I write this.  The list seems endless.  And I am so collectively proud of them.   I feel grateful to have or have had them in my life in whatever their capacity.  We support each others’ growth, dreams, failures, and shifts in the world.  The beauty of old friendships is you can continue to turn them through the years, and they can remind you of your baseline.  They remember the essence of your soul if you feel off track.  And we hopefully are there to return the favor.

There is a beautiful poem I heard by David Whyte earlier this week, and I am adding it in it’s entirety below. Read it to yourself as a reminder how you can continue to serve as a friend and what constitutes friendships.  He reminds us that friendships encircle family members, partners, unrequited loves, colleagues, and those we grow with. Being in a true friendship takes intentionality, time, and grit.  Share this poem for a friend you cherish.  Continue to serve as witnesses in each other’s lives.

FRIENDSHIP is a mirror to presence and a testament to forgiveness. Friendship not only helps us see ourselves through another’s eyes, but can be sustained over the years only with someone who has repeatedly forgiven us for our trespasses as we must find it in ourselves to forgive them in turn. A friend knows our difficulties and shadows and remains in sight, a companion to our vulnerabilities more than our triumphs, when we are under the strange illusion we do not need them. An undercurrent of real friendship is a blessing exactly because its elemental form is rediscovered again and again through understanding and mercy. All friendships of any length are based on a continued, mutual forgiveness. Without tolerance and mercy all friendships die…

Friendship is the great hidden transmuter of all relationship: it can transform a troubled marriage, make honorable a professional rivalry, make sense of heartbreak and unrequited love and become the newly discovered ground for a mature parent-child relationship.

The dynamic of friendship is almost always underestimated as a constant force in human life: a diminishing circle of friends is the first terrible diagnostic of a life in deep trouble: of overwork, of too much emphasis on a professional identity of forgetting who will be there when our armored personalities run into the inevitable natural disasters and vulnerabilities found in even the most average existence…

Friendship transcends disappearance: an enduring friendship goes on after death, the exchange only transmuted by absence, the relationship advancing and maturing in a silent internal conversational way even after one half of the bond has passed on.

But no matter the medicinal virtues of being a true friend or sustaining a long close relationship with another, the ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the self nor of the other, the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.

To listen to David Whyte read several poems at a recent On Being Gathering, check out the podcast link below:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/on-being-with-krista-tippett/id150892556?mt=2&i=1000419468120

Wandering in a Royal Garden

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”-Marcus Tullius Cicero

Yesterday I took a day trip to the Sandrigham Estate and Gardens. It was my first time visiting the holiday grounds of the royal family. It’s been in the family since the 1800s, an area they retreat to at least every Christmas. The museum was full of old cars and golf carts the family have been driven in. The house includes old hunting rifles, gifts given from leaders of various nations, and other bits and bobs artifacts. Nobody was allowed to take photos in the home, or even allowed to have their phone on silent. The contents in the home were so precious that every opportunity to capture it electronically was seized.

I couldn’t help but think it’s great this is immortalized for us to see, but if all this is kept in our family it would be described as junk. We wouldn’t have the space to hold generations worth of stuff. Nor would we really want to? Why are we paying to look at other people’s stuff? Simply because they are royalty?

What was worth the trip was the beauty of the gardens. There were expansive grounds filled with a variety of trees, and people of all ages walking in peace and wonder. There were adults with developmental disabilities being pushed in wheelchairs, encouraged by their parents or caregivers to listen to the trees whistling in the wind or to spot the flowers blossoming as the weather shifts to autumn. Walkways led to a church on the grounds and even a jolly Buddha statue.

We journeyed in a van further down the road, where for a small price you can pick your own apples. Families and couples delighted in grabbing for apples or at the queue bottles of cider. People walked away with more bags of apples than they can eat or cook with in the next few weeks. People got carried away with the joy of picking their own fruit in nature versus a grocery store aisle.

The treasures the estate offer were not in the precious china the royal family eats from each Christmas, or the Rolls Royces that graced their bottoms. It was in the opportunity for all of us to experience the beauty nature has to offer in landscaped garden. Having a safe open space that people of all ages, races, and places can simply be and live in wonder of the moment.

“A garden must combine the poetic and mysterious with a feeling of serenity and joy.”-Luis Barragan

Immersion into Dance

I have slowly advanced to flamenco improvers course, my class and I have collectively moved forward together. The class is longer 1.5 hours per week, more detailed and complex footwork and arm movements. The instructor today even put us on the spot expecting us to perform a small piece of choreographed routine individually so she could dissect our pitfalls. Of course in the middle of it being my turn, i totally lost my count and messed up. Your brain and body has to totally be in the game or else it’s easy to lose track.

A fellow dancer in the class is hoping to attend two additional classes each week, therefore topping out at least of five hours of flamenco per week. Full on immersion. When she told me this, my mouth dropped. She said , “I know I love it, and I want to get better, so this is what I need to do.”

This is extremely admirable to me. I would love to do a full on immersion into flamenco, but my one night commute of an additional two hours (to my regular two hours for work) is my commitment. Also I have fallen in love with so many different types of dance. I plan to do a Bellydance travel trip next month and am involved in another 4 class dance workshop for a completely different style of dance. How can your just choose one style to commit to?

In addition to one’s job and family life, can we commit fully to an additional love and stay committed? I have heard Elizabeth Gilbert encourage an art teacher who no longer creates art to have an affair with her art. Cheat on being the perfect parent, spouse, and teacher. Let go of some of the expectations you place on yourself to allow space for this action to happen. She described that somehow people who have affairs find the smallest amounts of time to squeeze in a kiss or liaison with their lover. Can we do this with our art, writing, hobby, or of course dance?

But how long would one’s immersion last ? Is it confined to one month or a summer? Can it last a lifetime? We won’t know unless we try.

Is there anything in your life you are willing to immerse yourself in? Any activity or hobby that you are willing to have an affair with? Steal moments for things that really matter.

Previous Older Entries