Smile- You’re in Spain!

Returning to a city for the fourth time may be quite boring to the average traveler, who wants to count off as many cities as possible off their list.  But returning to a city is never dull.  There are always no adventures to be had.  For my 40thbirthday I returned to Barcelona, but I decided to do things differently.

GPTempDownload

I always visited the Sagrada Familia from the outside, but never paid the money to enter.  Either funding was limited or it was overbooked.  But this time, it was different.  Words cannot express the beauty that awaited for me inside.  This church is set to be complete by 2026, 100 years after architect’s Antoni Gaudi’s death.  It has been under construction for over 100 years.  Sitting in this church, my mouth was agape. I felt as if this was the first time I noticed art and spirituality merging as one. I couldn’t help but have tears emerge as I sat in one of the pews.  The colors of the stained glass were stunning and awe-inspiring.  It was as if the church was oozing with rainbows or bursting with the vitality of all our chakras being woken up, as the windows gently held various color schemes. I was so immersed by the beauty of this church, that I failed to listen to the accompanying audio guide.  One piece of advice that was offered when I first turned it on, was “You are to have your own experience of Sagrada Familia.” This was true, I turned off the headset. What else did I need to hear here? All I truly needed was to experience this moment, without any influence of what I should look at and notice?  My eyes would land on what is was nudged to see.

Prior to entering the church, I had offered an elder woman 50 cents.  She was just outside the church.  I did not think twice of this, until needing to enter the elevator for the towers.  I was required to put my bags in a locker, and needed either one euro or 50 cents.  I was out of coins as I had just given them away, and would have to leave my space in line, go to the downstairs gift shop in order to get a euro.  A fellow traveler heard this, and offered me 50 cents.  This was my experience of “La Sagrada Familia.”  Kindness from strangers that was unexpectedly reciprocal.

There is so much more I experienced on this trip, and will write in future blog posts.

IMG_8679

It is my last day, I only had several hours to spend before I headed to the airport. Each day included a tour excursion, except today.  I could awake at a leisurely stroll, without an alarm or plan.  The only plans I had needed to be altered, due to the fact the markets and shops were closed on a Sunday.  Why not take a 30 minute walk to the pier?  And that’s what I did…

To feel the sun on my face, drink freshly squeezed orange juice, have a latte waiting, eat a bikini (which is a toasted buttered ham and cheese sandwhich) as I look out at the pier.  This is the travel slow down that I have been waiting for.

 

IMG_8722

There’s a commercial for Spain I have once seen, the main catch phrase for visiting the country is “Smile, you’re in Spain.”  Simple.  There was no particular place to visit in the ad, or things you had to purchase as souvenirs. Just smile.  That’s all that is necessary to remember when I am here.

There’s so much to say about this trip to Barcelona, but now I am on pause. Maybe that is what travelling does, it pauses your life.  It mutes my thinking momentarily and brings me to right now, as I listen to fellow travelers around me.  As I sit for hours on bus rides from city to city each day, my mind wanders.  I don’t listen to any music.  I take tiny breaks for bursts of inspiration where I write in my journal, read my Paulo Coelho book, or nap.  But most of the time I look out the window at the Spanish natural surroundings and let my mind drift with the scenery.  How often does this happen anymore?  I generally feel I must be so productive during times of transportation.  I must listen to the latest podcast, catch up on phone calls, or struggle to see the directions on my phone gps to direct me to the right locale.  Infrequently do I let my mind take a break during moments of transport where I can view the landscape as it shifts from town to town. It reminds me of long car rides with my family, as I sat in the backseat.  I didn’t have the control of the wheel or didn’t know the direction we were headed.  My only job was to be along for the ride.  I would fall in and out of sleep, inspiration, reflection, and nothingness.

As I am at the airport, I try to remind myself the simplicity of the Spanish ad.  “Smile, you’re in Spain.”  As I head towards the terminal, and see people cueing up, I opt to take a seat. What’s the rush to return? Smile, I’m still in Spain.  Let me linger a little more.  Enjoy one last meal and a peak at the sun’s rays.

Take a Walk Through the Wild Side

As I walked my dogs today through the cemetery in Bury St. Edmunds, I noticed numerous other dog walkers there.  People were using it as a short cut to walk from one side of town to the other.  Family members were sitting on a bench and kids zipped by on their razor scooters.  Few people were visiting the graves, as some seem so old that they are almost illegible. This vibrant activity in the graveyard is the norm in this British town, but this was also the case when I lived in Cambridge.  In fact, in numerous European cities it seems that the locals use the cemeteries as parks. They are a place where people do not just visit dead ancestors, but also a community ground to relax and stroll in.

IMG_8553

In America, this does not seem to be our reality.  Perhaps it is only true in places like Los Angeles where they revitalized the Hollywood Cemetery to host concerts and film screenings.  People frequent the graves of celebrities in Los Angeles from Westwood’s forever home to Marilyn Monroe and Natalie Wood or Forest Lawn, home to Clark Gable and Walt Disney.  But what about the rest of the graveyards in America?  It appears the only times they are visited are lined up with the quintessential remembrance days: Memorial Day, Christmas, Mothers Day, and Father’s Day.  The rest of the year they are appear empty.

 

But why is it this way? Why do we not embrace graveyards in America?  Is it due to the fact that they are not in centralized locations where it is convenient to walk to? Are we not a walking culture and therefore have no need to stroll down places that house bones beneath our feet? Or is it something deeper?  Do we simply want to continue to immortalize youth, health, and life while not embracing the inevitable?  Our mortality.

 

In the Buddhist tradition, there’s acknowledgement that we as humans suffer due to old age, illness, and death.  Buddhists do not look away from this, but accept and turn towards it.  There’s a rehearsal to prepare for our own death. Traditionally five times a day, Buddhists may remind themselves that death is in their cards.   In fact, there is an app called “We Croak” that can do this for us.  If you purchase it, you will be notified five times a day with the statement “Remember you are going to die.”  As you click on the app when this message appears, a quote about death or inspiration will appear.  By continuing to keep death in the forefront of our brains, it serves as a tool to know we cannot escape this destiny.  Therefore, we have the opportunity of living an optimal life today.

 

I challenge you, wherever you live, to walk through a cemetery this week. Observe what you notice.   Read some of the tombstones.  How do you feel here?  Is anyone else there?  What is it like to linger here amongst those who have passed on and where we will inevitably be?  How does it put things in perspective?  Perhaps, you may notice that the problems you are facing today are minor to the values you are striving to live towards.  What shifts do you want to make in your life? Take action today.

Easter Egg Hunt

In the UK, Easter time generally equates with a full on four day weekend. In America, it appears that simply we send children on a hunt to find hidden eggs filled with either money, candy, or a combo for both.  Some people can finally indulge in whatever was given up for lent.  This may be meat, chocolate, alcohol, cursing, or whatever vice was in your life in March.  The forty days are over.  Rejoice! Perhaps some people go to church or have a nice brunch, but is our personal spirituality explored at all?

I wanted to offer you an Easter Egg Hunt. The search is for you to take the opportunity to allow the divine to unfold within you.  For you to discover the divine exists within.  This is the real treat, that is more satisfying than chocolate.

IMG_8224

For your Easter Egg Treats, I am offering you the gift of two forms of media that can assist with the hunt.  The first is a youtube clip with Tosha Silver, entitled Dying to Love.  Tosha is an astrologer, author, and spiritual teacher, and although was raised Jewish, she describes being polyamorous when it comes to her spirituality.  She takes knowledge and stories from various religions, and interweaves them in her own life.  In this piece, she shares the story of Jesus and the metaphor of how we can utilize this in our own lives.  It is our egos that must die to be resurrected to the higher self that exists within.  When we offer our deepest desires to the Divine, we are letting go of our attachments to results to allow the higher order to prevail.  I have listened to this youtube clip repeatedly the past couple of weeks. Going through difficult times, when we give it all up to a larger power, we can let go and know that what is for our highest good will prevail.

The other egg I am sharing is a podcast I listened to yesterday.  And then I listened to automatically again. It is from Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday with Reverend Michael Bernard Beckwith.  He explores the spiritual journey in four steps.  It’s completing amazing and transformative.  I couldn’t not help but share this. Below is a quote from this piece.

So as you have your Easter roast and eat that chocolate Cadbury egg, take time out to deepen your hunt for something richer.  Happy Easter.

“The spirit trusted you so much that it placed all of it’s power, all of it’s intelligence, all of it’s love, all of it’s beauty.  It placed everything within you.  The presence is everywhere.  It is fullness and it is places within you.  That in this presence may come into it as you own life. You will wake up with a sense of gratitude and thanksgiving for the existence itself and your existence. Asking what can I share today, what can I give, how can I be more of myself?  How can I be a magnificent change agent, bringing heaven to earth every single day?  You ask that question to the universe and it will be answered.”  -Michael Bernard Beckwith

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TeampDDtHIY&t=326s

https://podtail.com/en/podcast/oprah-s-supersoul-conversations/michael-bernard-beckwith-participate-in-your-unfol/

Finding a Fairy Drag-Mother

“Walking with your chest out and your head held high says you have earned the right to stomp and pummel this particular piece of real estate.”

― RuPaul

 Growing up and watching Disney’s Cinderella, I longed to have a fairy godmother to transform me. With the assistance of fairy godmothers, young lead females can morph from everyday frumps to gorgeous socialites. These women not only find their Prince Charming, but eventually find that their beauty, strength, or magic exists within and not from without.

In the annual British holiday pantomimes, one of the lead roles is generally played by a drag queen character. It doesn’t matter if the play is Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, or Beauty and The Beast. A lead is in drag. These are performances meant to entertain the entire family. It’s not looked at as peculiar, or even trendy. It’s actually simply the norm. People rejoice and sing along to the beloved plays that are splashed with familiar pop songs.

Drag Queens are fascinating and engaging. They carry this sense power in their over the top personalities. There are no apologies for having out of this world alter egos. All is embraced. We have so much to learn from exploring this world. And so I slowly dipped into it.

This year, I have caved in and began watching RuPaul’s Drag Race on Netflix. Although, the show is currently in it’s 11thseason, I haven’t watched it until now. What lured me in is one of the top contestants was a friend from high school. He was actually a date to one of my high school dances. I saw her once in our 20s perform in Nina’s adopted hometown of Columbus Ohio, and ever since then I’ve been watching Nina West from my social media updates, and I can’t help but burst with pride in seeing an old classmate glam it up with Lady Gaga, Adele, or to be given a shout out by Sia. And now she’s on RuPaul.

As I watch Nina and her colleagues compete it out each week, I can’t help but be fascinated by their confidence. They strut their stuff down the runways, blurt out how fabulous they are, and are completely theatrical in their clothes, makeup, and facial expressions. I had taken burlesque classes this past year, and what we are trying to exemplify are basically drag queens…alter egos, confident walks, free style dance moves, intoxicating gazes, creative and unique costumes. There’s one more similarity between these types of shows. The most beautiful part about going to both drag and burlesque shows is the supportive audience.

It takes vulnerability and courage to express yourself (even if it is your alter ego) on stage. All forms of beauty are appreciated. We want those onstage to succeed. Live it up for us. The bigger your confidence, the more intoxicating the performance. Watching a powerful queen on stage, acts as fairy dust for the audience. The show reminds us that we too have this fierce power and unencumbered beauty within. If they can access it, so can we.

I know I’m not the only one to make this claim. This year’s film Dumplin featured the lead character, Willowdean, as a slightly overweight, self-deflating high schooler whose mother was beauty pageant queen Jennifer Anniston. Willowdean learned to find power and strength from two particular aspects: Dolly Parton and Dolly Parton drag queens. They physically showed her to exude femininity, presence, and power through mentoring her during the film.

As I continue to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race season and root for Nina West, I am realizing perhaps the fairy drag-mother is not a fictional concept. She may actually exist. Through watching her perform, I know that the magic bottle of confidence, beauty, sass, and strength is available from within.

“If You Can’t Love Yourself How In The Hell Are You Gonna Love Somebody Else?”-RuPaul

55713761_413731539423167_8591144737690353664_n

56178661_399566080863432_9099458867405783040_n

 

 

The Frida Archetype

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

IMG_4615

Throughout the past several years the world has seen an increase of Frida Kahlo paraphernalia. This has been more than the Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, or Marilyn Monroe images that you see in the stores or on people’s walls.  Why is this?

Frida has shifted from being an ordinary person to becoming an archetype.  Her image stands for individuality, strength in diversity and color, beauty in authenticity, acceptance, power, and all encompassing woman-hood.  In addition to the touring exhibition of Frida Kahlo’s clothing, artwork, photography and belongings that has travelled from Mexico City to London and New York, there are works of art being created about her.  While in South Florida last week, an opera entitled Frida was being shown at the Broward Center of the Performing Arts.  In London, the English National Ballet is offering a piece entitled She Persisted, based on Frida.

Frida is famous for saying that she is her own muse, but over time she has become muses for numerous others.  Clothing, pillow cases, canvas bags, ballet pieces, opera, and in our own homes and offices.  I recently went into a medical staff member’s office on a military base.  This active duty member’s wall was lined with a Frida Kahlo fabric over her window.  Kahlo is contagious and is everywhere.

The image of Frida means something to us.  We find we can harness our own power by observing how she conquered adversity in her life.  Throughout the tragedies that befell upon her such as miscarriages, infidelity, and numerous physical horrendous medical ailments, she prevailed.  She did not overcome one struggle after another quietly, she immersed herself by telling her story through her art work.  Her art was fueled by her strife.  Some of her work sends pain to our wombs solely by looking at it, without knowing the whole story.  Despite this, she did not wallow in misery.

When many of us are feeling down and self-loathing, we may opt to decrease care for ourselves. We wear frumpy clothes, no make-up, dark and muted colors to portray our moods.  In times of joy or strife, Frida turned up the diva dial, and beautified herself.  She graced her body with beautiful jewelry, her hair with bold bright flowers, flowing petticoats and traditional Mexican attire.  Even during the later years, when she was confined to staying home due to her medical illness, she still got dressed up. The medical corsets she was prescribed to wear by her doctors, were exemplified with artwork.  The shoes that she wore were beautiful and fabulous, even if it covered her one amputated leg.

The Victoria And Albert Museum labeled their recent exhibit of this artist as “Making Herself Up.”  And she did, and it was not for anyone else. The act of dolling up was for herself.   If I was going to use spiritual lingo for this, she cherished and honored herself by adorning the divine within.  She made herself up as a goddess to be revered, if only for her own pleasure and enjoyment.   Now in some ways she is worshipped as a goddess by others worldwide, decades after her death.

When we observe someone, who takes pride and solace in adorning themselves in the midst of pain, we know they are aligning with the highest part of themselves…the divine feminine. The divine within lifts us to emerge onto the other side stronger, wiser, and with more grace.  We turn to Frida, as she is a reminder that this is a possibility for us.  We too are capable of finding beauty, art, and dignity in the midst of whatever is arising in our everyday lives.

Therefore, the next time you see a Frida image, tell yourself that she is not just a symbol of an artist, feminist, or fashion icon.  She is an archetype of a strong female warrior.  Frida serves as a reminder of the divine feminine that exists within.  It’s available to you, all it takes is work to honor and adorn your own external temple in joy and sorrow.  Make yourself up.  You are worth it.

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

IMG_8468

Florida Grand Ballet

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwasg3ULORQ

 

English National Ballet

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=67&v=RFtuWuKIWVk

Saturday State of Mind

Today I chose to venture into London for a relaxing massage and rolfing appointments. In the past, my journey was quite simple: tube from Essex to London.  But since I have moved house,  it’s more complicated.  Do I choose to drive one hour away to my old home, park, and then take the hour tube ride? Or do I opt for the two hour costly train ride, with a transfer.

Since I was going for the relaxation and pamper effect today, I opted for the train. I was paying for the luxury of the train, I could write and read while having loads of space as I ventured into the city.  But as I got on board the second train, I wondered if I made the wrong decision. The coaches were extremely packed with people.   It was standing room only.  I questioned if this was the right decision, or if I should have even gone to London today.  Despite this, I would make the most of it.  I continued to read silently.

 

Luck entered my life, a woman next to me was getting off at the upcoming Cambridge stop.  She offered me her seat.  I gladly took it, and was filled with gratitude.  She didn’t have to mention it to me.  Me and the fellow passengers would have fought like vultures for her space. But I didn’t have to fight.  A spot was made available for me, and I accepted.  It’s interesting the smallest act of kindness can bring such joy into our lives.

 

I appreciated having somewhere to sit and a tiny bit of personal space, on the remaining hour long train ride.  It’s so often we take things for granted, but one act of warmth by a stranger can deeply impact the rest of our day.  In return, I offered her a gratitude card.

 

I listened on the train as somehow laughter emerged throughout the tight journey.  People could easily react with frustration for having to stand during an expensive long train ride, next to strangers, with little room to move.  The overcrowded train ride was unexpected for everyone, but somehow overall people’s spirits remained light.  Two more people were getting off the train, a nearby passenger voiced this aloud to the crowd.  He wasn’t going to take the seat, but it was available for anyone who needed it.  People joked of their competitiveness of wanting these seats, but nobody ran for them. Everyone seemed to enjoy the journey as much as they could.  It was Saturday after all.  Why not embrace the moment for what it is?

 

When we arrived at Kings Cross, someone shouted, “have a good day everyone.”  The crowd cheered.  Several others yelled have a good day.  And then we were all off on our own separate ways.

 

It may be normal to send out to the world negative internal vibes of frustration, particularly during moments of traffic or rush hour during the week.  One can generally sense hurriedness, excess hyped up energy, and pushiness.  Yet in this same manner, we can send out blessings to fellow passengers on our journeys.  We can make the most of right now.

 

Perhaps it’s simply a Saturday vibe mentality, which is not too far off that vacation state of mind.  Since we are free from work responsibilities and expectations, we can let loose, slow down, and find joy.  I appreciate everyone who rode on the train with me today for making it a pleasant and memorable journey.  Kindness and warmth is truly contagious…

Contributors to anxiety economy

I had just written this piece for thrive global and wanted to share it with you.

A colleague asked me the other day if I believed that people today truly have more anxiety today or is it simply the next “it” diagnosis that has become part of the vernacular.  She wondered aloud, if this replaced the diagnosis the previous popular ADHD that was in fashion not too long ago.

            Although part of me feels we may be more comfortable and open in society with saying we are “anxious” and stressed, there does seem to be validity.  What are the top culprits?  

            #1 Busyness  

            When people ask us how we are doing, our quick response now is “busy.”  This perhaps shows others how important we are.  Our jobs, families, friends, hobbies, and travel fill our days.  It seems we exhibit to the world our worth in acts of busyness.  This is not only acceptable, but it has become the norm.  But when our days are so full of appointments, tasks, and to do’s, we are never fully present and appreciative of what’s in front of us.

            #2  Technology

            It is said that when we hear a notification on our phone or text, there is a slight dopamine rush.  It becomes a rush and drug to feed this addiction to get more likes on social media for the photos and posts that we put up.  We look at our phones repeatedly to see who has responded to us. 

We expect automatic responses from others, and it is expected from us in return.  

            When we arrive early for an appointment, waiting in line at the grocery store, or riding the subway we check our phones. It’s rare to wait without distractions.  We need to perpetually be entertained by videos, news updates, or social media streams. After an extended amount of time on my phone, I do feel a sense of unease and anxiety.  But the contributing factor was my finger and eager eyes to soak in more than is needed. 

            #3  Information Overload

            I have heard that we currently have over 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day.  Many of these are repetitive thoughts, and a majority of these are negative.  Our mind has become a computer, focusing on the next solution.  Trying to find things to worry about or problems to solve.  We have access to knowing what is going on throughout the world, and get frequent news updates reminders sent to us on our phones.  We are alerted on social media to what our friends have eaten for dinner, countries they have travelled to, or the latest political disaster.  Even when we are physically present with friends, but we find we do not know the answer to a particular question that comes up in the conversation, we search it up on our phones.  I notice I will go off on an endless search to nowhere seeking out mindless things, finding answers to any question that arises in my head.   But with all these facts, there is little I truly know.

            #4  Immediate Gratification

            I am not the first to say that this has become the time of immediate gratification.  We want something, we go online and purchase it on Amazon.  For those in the dating world, swipe right and left, and there’s a quick fix to your libidinal urges.  We have become a culture that does not see the value in patience, desire, and appreciation.   It’s too uncomfortable for us to sit in stillness with our longing.  The need must be filled now.

            These are just a few of the contributing factors. The only true solution to all of this is to simply slow down and be.  This is the essence of mindfulness and meditation.  The topic of mindfulness is everywhere today, in yoga studios, hospitals, schools, and our places of employment.  I have always favored Jon Kabat Zinn’s definition of mindfulness which is “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” 

            We can do this with almost anything in our lives: walking, drinking a cup of coffee, driving, spending time with our pets, watching a sunset, putting on makeup, or eating a savory piece of chocolate. Start slow, vow to try this for at least one activity for five minutes a day.  Notice the impact. Your mind will drift, but bring it back to the activity at hand.  Begin to observe the impact in your life. 

  Many of us may not realize we are continually present when we are traveling. It’s easy to be in awe with the world during vacation. But we can bring these principles home. In my new book The Fragrance of Wanderlust: How to Capture the Essence of Travel in Our Everyday Lives, I offer tips and homework exercises on how to keep this mindful practice going while you are at home. You can try it as a staycation project, as I did. The solution to our anxious economy doesn’t have to be drugs, homeopathic remedies, or apps.  The solution can be in simply be-ing, and living your life through the eyes of a tourist.  

“In an age of speed, I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still. You” 
― Pico Iyer, The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere

Previous Older Entries Next Newer Entries