Today is Christmas Eve, and before I make the long journey on the 11 hour flight back to the states I went to church. But it was not any church, it was my gym swimming pool which exists in an old church. For a moment, it felt sacred. I was the only one in the large space. The pool was still, the room was dimly lit. It was magical, as if I stepped into a dream. But it lasted a mere 30 seconds. Then one by one people joined me in the pool. The staff came into the room , and the sacredness vanished.

This happens often, sacredness is in our midst but then it escapes us. Sacred moments do not just have to happen when we are alone. It is available at all times, we just have to work through the noise to see it. As I swam, change lanes, had people pass me, pass others, it’s easy to lose sight of the beauty of the pool. We are in a church swimming on Christmas Eve! I reminded myself to slow down and check out the stained glass each time I turned my head to take a breath. Breathe in during the midst of a workout. Sacredness exists here.

This past month I have been on a kick of listening to guided meditations by Sarah Blondin, they are truly exquisite. A link to her website is below. Without planning this theme for today, I listened to one of her guided meditations of making everything sacred. Perhaps her mantra of sacredness repeated in my head with each lap I swam.

These modern times of busy-ness, non-stop online activity, consumerism, and travel all are all heightened during the holiday season. Can we slow down and witness the sacred ?

I now sit on a plane full of vibrant chaos… crying babies, disgruntled passengers, arguing family members, and exasperated individuals. For me to take the fast track to zen, it includes zoning people out with headphones playing the Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong duet album. I’m not yet at the place to be calmed to zero without them. But some people are.

I read a book by Pico Iyer this week called The Art of Stillness, he mentioned a story of a woman sitting next to him while taking an extended international flight. They exchanged pleasantries initially, and after that she sat forward in her chair. She did not read, sleep, listen to music, or talk to anyone. She just sat there, comfortable with silence. Pico was mesmerized and it reminded him of a conversation he had with a spiritual leader regarding how to get over jet lag. This individual stated that he viewed flights as short retreats in the sky. This individual voiced “there’s nothing I can do, so it’s really quite liberating. There’s nowhere else I can be. Clouds and the blue sky. Everything is still and everything is moving its beautiful. “ Pico then added that think how Buddhists see our mind. The clouds are our thoughts, but underneath the passing clouds is always a blue sky. Be patient and clear skies will appear.

Wherever you are this holiday season, be it traveling via crowded airports, trains, cars, or in solitude – may you find the sacredness available in each moment. The path you take doesn’t matter (including the quick fix of old school jazz tunes). It doesn’t matter how you get there. Simply breathe and take it in. The blue sky exists, as long as you are patient enough to wait for the clouds to pass and dissipate. Sacredness will emerge if you are willing to see it.

May you have a sacred holiday season.

Unexpected Moments of Grace

I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us. -Anne Lamott

Sometimes we may wake up feeling irritable or negative, despite our desire to wake up with cheer and gratitude.  After an extended amount of time, we may begin to feel as if that the world is against us.  One thing after another goes wrong, and it’s as if we are on the perpetual defense. We are prepared for attack, and it seems we are the only ones fighting our battles.  We have an army of one, and it’s purely exhausting.

But if we stop to pause, perhaps we can begin to notice we are not alone. Those that care for us may reach out at unexpected times. The universe is sending us little nudges that we may actually have others on our team.

This is the case during this holiday season.   Various stressors contribute to feeling overwhelmed and on edge.  But simultaneously as this is occurring, numerous people have been reaching out and expressing their care and gratitude towards me.  It’s been quite a surprise and I realized I had a choice. I can remain angry and bitter, and opt to not see the joys people have been offering me.  Or I can turn towards the love, and allow myself to take it in.

The past several days, I began receiving cards, phone calls, gifts, emails, and texts from friends and family from various parts of the world.  When I let down my guard, I can see and feel acts of grace that are landing my way.

Just as I wrote that last sentence, a group of 20 something men dressed as Jim Carrey’s “The Mask” 90s character walk by the Starbucks window I am currently sitting in.  One noticed me as I observed them.  He knocked on the window, simply smiled and waved at me. They carried on walking. This is exactly what I mean.

Can we be present enough to catch the world showing you it’s warmth and care through loved ones and strangers?  Catch the ball. Shift perspective.  Perhaps life is not creating a war against you.  Maybe life is simply a game.  If you look around instead of hogging the ball, you can see that you have people who are on your team trying to help you score.

Earlier this week, I was listening to Liz Gilbert’s book Big Magic.  She discusses the concept of how we have a choice to be a martyr or a trickster in our path towards living a creative life.  We don’t have to view the world from suffering dark eyes, we can begin to see it as fun and delightful.

She says: “The trickster understands that all this world is temporary, all of it is shifting, all of it is nonsense, all of it is fair game for delight The trickster never dies a grim death in a walk-up tenement while suffering romantically from tuberculous. The trickster doesn’t compete, doesn’t compare, doesn’t beat his head against the wall, doesn’t wrestle demons, doesn’t try to dominate mysteries that were never meant to be dominated in the first place. The trickster just keeps on PLAYING. The trickster is slippery and sly, wry and wise, always looking for the secret door, the hidden stairway, the funhouse mirror, the sideways way of looking at things — and the trickster always endures.

I choose the path of the trickster, not the path of the martyr. I choose it for my artistic life, and I choose it for my real life. It has made all the difference, believe me.”

I concur with Liz.  I choose to see the world as full of grace, love, and a little trickery.  The world is offering me support, and the Mask reminded me this evening to lighten up and smile.  We got this.

“But what we can do, as flawed as we are, is still see God in other people, and do our best to help them find their own grace. That’s what I strive to do, that’s what I pray to do every day. “-Barack Obama

For further reading, check out below:

Christmas Socks Deux

It’s been difficult to get into the holiday spirit this year, but I forced myself to wear a holiday jumper yesterday on national xmas jumper day. I have tried to squeeze in some holiday tunes on my commute home. One would think people are kinder and make more effort during the holidays. Yet this isn’t always the case.

I am in the process of selling my home with an unruly tenant that has made things difficult. Without getting immersed in the story, it’s been quite strenuous to see the good in humanity when these tenants can treat people in such a selfish and manipulative manner. Automatically I know I needed to shift energy, I tried to read something uplifting last night after receiving upsetting news. Then I went to bed.

But today is different. I slowly put up my minuscule Christmas tree. And I decided to return the tradition of Christmas socks from last year. Prior to my yoga class in London this afternoon, I would get off one tube stop earlier at Kings Cross and deliver these presents. There tends to be a higher amount of homeless in this area. My brother started this tradition last year instead of being lonely and sad, buy Xmas socks with snacks and hand them to the homeless.

As I journeyed down, I repeated my intentions for the day as “service and hope.” I began this morning and after I handed my first sock package to someone and greeted them merry Xmas, I wanted to cry. These people today are striving to survive in 3 degree Celsius weather (36 Fahrenheit), what have I been complaining about? I have so much to be thankful for in my life. It’s full of luxury, opportunity, and all I am giving these people is socks and snacks?

But I realise I momentarily did offer more.

I am treating these individuals like human beings I am interested in. Throughout their struggles, society has turned their gaze the opposite direction. We are not responsible. It is not my problem. I am not turning away in disgust, shame, or ignorance. I am turning towards them and seeking them out.

I know it seems quite simplistic this lesson of kindness and care towards others is the real Xmas gift to be shared. But I need to continually remind myself that. How can I show others I interact with that they are not alone? The world cares for them. Sometimes it’s a smile, sincere eye contact, or a word of gratitude, sometimes it’s food, and sometimes it’s socks.

Half read books no more

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”
― Marcus Tullius Cicero

The first week of December is coming to a close, and I recently was reminded of my list of goals for this past year.  One goal was to read 48 books, doubled from last year’s number.  When I looked of my list of books read in my journal, I realized it it was only 31.  I have less than one month to go.  A fire ignited staring at that measly number.  A new plan shaped into action.. I may not be able to read 17 new books by the end of this month, but I could begin to finish many of my half read books this year.

You know how this works.  You begin to read a book, it’s exciting, but somehow your interest wanes.  Life limits the amount of reading time available with either less time commuting on a train, more time talking on the phone, or longer work schedules with less mental capacity to read.   What generally is the case, is another book may come along that seems more fitting in your life.  This latter fact has been true for both of the modalities I choose to read:audible and tangible books.  But this week, I am determined to at least finish those that are nearing completion. In the past two days, I have finished four books and am adding two more to the list.  I expect to complete these by tomorrow evening.  Nothing makes me feel more accomplished than completing a book that has been sitting bookmarked for months.

These unfinished books tend to taunt and haunt me.  I like to view myself as an educated, cultured, and curious individual.  Half read books are a reminder of the lack of discipline to achieve my goals and dive deeper into a subject.  I’m a shopaholic when it comes to purchasing books, but it doesn’t seem right at this moment to buy more if there are so many that remain incomplete on my shelf.  A friend of mine faces a similar disorder.  He states that his ADD is only apparent when he seems to be simultaneously reading five books concurrently, and cannot focus on one.

The solution is finish reading books in their entirety.

I know it has been suggested by some individuals, that it is okay to not complete reading books.  Why waste your time on something that doesn’t interest you? Although this may hold true on occasion, don’t let this lesson rule your extended reading lists.  Read a book until the last page (yes it’s okay if you skip the acknowledgements section.)  Track the books you read each year, including author and title.  Re-reading books count.  It’s a luxury to dive into a favorite, most likely we may get more out of it the second and third time around.

What I have noticed with focusing on reading these incomplete books, is I have been spending less time online.  I am not seeking out as much useless facts or questions I temporarily have, and sinking deeper into the exploration of these various authors’ well researched knowledge.

Read books to completion. Take note of what you have read this year. And then slowly allow the sense of accomplishment to exude from your being.

How many titles have you completed this year? What do you most recommend?

“Reading was my escape and my comfort, my consolation, my stimulant of choice: reading for the pure pleasure of it, for the beautiful stillness that surrounds you when you hear an author’s words reverberating in your head.”
― Paul Auster, The Brooklyn Follies

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:

Recent Oprah podcast exploring Sufism

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

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