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.

Letting Shakira Take Over

“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

My friend sent me the following link below of a comedian allowing the influence of Shakira to take over.  He imitates her insane dance moves in public spaces, while others look at him as if he deserves to be locked up.  Although the video is funny, it actually made me want to dance and download some Shakira. The clips of her dance moves are inspirational, who doesn’t want to dance like her?  Throughout the videos, the hilarious moments that stand out are when he is bolting out the lyrics to her various songs.  Nobody knows if he is just screaming, crying, or simply losing it.  The piece ends when people actually recognize what song he is singing and join along.  They could collectively could celebrate the lyrics of Shakira.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mf0xer3UYuQ

I probably look slightly loco as I type this. I am in the Philadelphia airport, with my headphones on jamming to Shakira.  My shoulders are swaying side to side, foot is tapping on the ground, and I have a feeling my fingertips are also moving to the beat.  But it doesn’t matter how other people are viewing me right now.   Can we carry the essence of music within us as we go about our world?

Shakira is multiracial. Her father is Lebanese and mother is Columbian.   Like so many of us today, she has navigated taking the influence of the heritage lineage from both of her parents into her music.   Her music combines music sung in Spanish and English, and I am sure most of is blasted in Zumba classes.  But in her music videos she also incorporates bellydance movements into the mix.  A previous song of her “Ojos Asi” also had some Arabic lyrics, and “Waka Waka (This time for Africa) was created for the previous 2010 Fifa World Cup.  Shakira, like dance, transcends culture.

Can we let the music take us over?  Can we find moments to dance each day?  Can we allow our bodies

to move despite what others may be thinking of us?

Allow the truth to move to the music, remember as Shakira says “hips don’t lie.”

“Dance is the hidden language of the soul”
― Martha Graham

Roast & Toast

“Make it a habit to tell people thank you. To express your appreciation, sincerely and without the expectation of anything in return. Truly appreciate those around you, and you’ll soon find many others around you. Truly appreciate life and you’ll find that you have more of it.”-Ralph Marston

Today at work we threw a surprise 50th birthday party to a colleague. It included balloons, bulgogi, cake, and roasts. We used to have this tiny tradition years ago to monthly roast our coworkers with jest and love. But over time, this practice dissipated. But today it was magically brought back.

Written roasts were read aloud in a hard bound journal with accompanying pictures. My colleague was completely shocked, “gobsmacked” was the word he used repeatedly throughout our lunch. “I feel like this has been my life here the last four years and this is my going away party.” He was right. The vibe actually felt reminiscent of a finite bon voyage party. People expressed their love through joking and teasing. It made me begin to wonder, why do we wait for a big moment to share how we care about someone?

What keeps us from expressing our gratitude and appreciation on a frequent basis with those we care deeply about? Why are we selfish with our emotions, and keep them to ourselves? Is it laziness, fear, or the lack of wondering if it will be reciprocated? Life is too short to keep our emotions towards each other quiet. It needs to be heard.

In this day and age of social media posts, we are becoming wired to search for our friends to “like” or “love” an image or statement we post. The number of likes or comments we receive serves as a quantifier of our popularity. But when we scroll, we are mindless. It’s a time killer or procrastination tool. It doesn’t take much to click “like” on an image. This is why actually take the time to spend having a meal with someone, or writing out a card, or comprising a witty roast seems so valuable. We are putting a pause on our automatic robotic task driven life to show someone we care.

“Life is too sweet and too short to express our affection with just our thumbs. Touch is meant for more than just a keyboard.”-Kristin Armstrong

A little Felicity in our lives

It’s been one month and without internet, I have had the pleasure to entertain myself with podcasts, books, and creative ventures (like my 3rd vision board of the year). I am taking out my expired dvd collection, which a colleague today called “vintage.” While many people have rid themselves of their dvds, I still have them, especially for moments like this. After the queue of rom coms have passed by, I landed on the pilot of the television show Felicity.

Felicity was an American television show on for four years from 1998-2002. It took place in the heart of NYC, although filmed in Los Angeles. The scene begins at high school graduation. We learn the lead character was set to initially follow in her father’s footsteps as she would go pre-med at Stanford in her hometown of Palo Alto. The character was robotic about this life planned out for her, she was following the motions.

“They say crash victims –people who lose a limb–that they can still feel their missing arm or leg, even after it’s gone. It’s called phantom pain, right? Well, suddenly, I had this horrible thought. What if high school went away but the feeling of it didn’t? I mean I didn’t feel joy… or sorrow… or anticipation. Things were going so well, but all I could feel was…. was dread.”

But shortly after this statement was made by the lead character, she asked her high school crush to sign her yearbook. Suddenly she felt life, passion, and excitement. She completely dropped the life that was paved out for her and forged to create her own. On the show, not only does she attend a school on the opposite side of the country from her parents, but she begins to major in Art.

I can’t help but still be moved by this show years later. Perhaps I am an idealistic naive romantic, but I think it’s beautiful we can shift the course of our life in a moment. If we think of our lives and the monumental decisions we have made, were they made with the brain or with the heart?

On reflecting how I have chosen various jobs or even internships during my graduate school years, many have surprised me. Logically I thought I would go for specific placements that look better on paper or are more prestigious to society, but how I chose was with my gut.

Can you think of a time you had made a decision using primarily your heart or gut? How did you feel afterwards?

I know for me there’s mixed emotions of excitement, fear, and heightened energy. Afterwards I may begin to question what came over me during that moment of choice? But I can’t always eloquently verbalize why that decision was made. In retrospect, these may have not been the best paths for me, but I owned them. The choices were mine.

A fellow graduate student used to lovingly call me “Felicity.” Perhaps this was because I was a fan of this show when we were in school together, and I was the youngest student in our cohort. But I would like to think he called me Felicity, because I tried to continue to follow my heart.

I think part of me still carries that Felicity flair. As I vacillate between various decisions in my life, I generally make lists of pros and cons in my journal. Logic, rationality, and societal expectations sometimes win out. But I know what’s truly necessary is to listen and hear the voices of that deeper gut wisdom. Be unapologetic about the choice and the potential outcomes. Our hearts shall win out in the end.

“It’s funny. Sometimes it’s the smallest decisions that can pretty much change your life forever.”-Felicity

Joie de Vivre

“A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life.”-Thomas Jefferson

As I type this, I am sitting in Les Deux Magots in the Latin Quarter of Paris.  It is a café that Hemingway and his friends would congregate in almost a century ago. This isn’t my first time here.  It continues to inspire me.  At this café sat the likes of Hemingway, Picasso, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Satre, Julia Child, James Joyce, and Oscar Wilde. I am in Paris for the 7thtime, and each time I can’t help but feel the essence of the city.  I am in an atmosphere that artists have gravitated towards for decades. There’s no surprise why Paris became an epicenter for writers and artists.  It makes one simply want to wander, dream, and create.

I can’t put my finger on why Paris exudes this romanticism.  I have yet to have a traditional “romantic weekend” in the City of Lights.  In the past “romance” for me equated with being attached to your love interest via kissing and holding hands.  The image of the love locks on the Pont de Artes bridge in Paris was romance for me.  Initials joined together, with keys thrown into the Seine binding one’s love forever. Romance needed a partner.

The older I get, my definition of romance is changing.  I realize you can have a romantic week in Paris alone.  What is romantic now is this sense of wanting to linger in a particular spot for hours. Romance is a state.  Generally, for me this had to be somewhere that must be exquisitely magical…the perfect cafe with the right amalgamation of atmosphere, people, background noise, and soothing music.  Yet in Paris, I have found numerous places where I have literally said aloud, “I can live here.”

The past several days the places I could linger in for hours have been The Shakespeare Bookstore, Salvador Dali Museum, Saint Chapelle, cafés in the Latin Quarter or Montmarte, anywhere overlooking the Eiffel Tower or Seine River, the back gardens of the Notre Dame, even the Jardin de Tuleries.  Everywhere you look, a romantic scene is taking place.  The mere act of strolling around the city seems to wind my sentimentality up like a music box. It’s as if I am remembering something I didn’t know I forgot.

As I leisurely walk the streets of architecture perfection, I can’t help but churn the boxes of my memory. Every moment I have experienced in life becomes appreciated: moments of depression, longing, joy, excitement, curiosity, love, and regret.  All are welcome.  People save money and wait their entire lives to come to a city like Paris, and this has become my annual excursion via the Eurostar. I can’t help but live in a state of gratitude when I am here.  How can you not?  Romance is appreciation of the present moment.  It’s mindfulness. A mind full of now-ness.

They say the French exude a joie de vivre, which translated means exuberant enjoyment of life.  This is hard to explain and solely should be experienced. It means embracing each aspect of your day.  Slow down the meal, glass of wine, or coffee you are drinking.  Taste the burst of flavors in the exquisite food you are biting into.  Enjoy the moments with those that are in your company.  Read tangible books.  Support local bookstores.  Don’t count each calorie, with the nibble of croissants or macaroons.  Maybe even splurge and have a cigarette.

Look at the city with a soft gaze, as if you are seeing an old lover who only visits you in your dreams.  Hum as you walk the streets living in this sense of wonder and passion.  Paris will never be an unrequited love.  It’s always there to love you back.  Open your heart and breathe in the romance this town has to offer. Don’t have expectations of how it must be.  Allow Paris to unfold and envelop you with it’s embrace.

Frida Kahlo once said to “take a lover that looks at you like magic.” Paris deserves the title of the city of romance. I think we can mutually gaze into each other’s eyes with mindfulness, mystery, and magic.

Below are some of the quotes I have collected about this love:

You can’t escape the past in Paris, and yet what’s so wonderful about it is that the past and present intermingle so intangibly that it doesn’t seem to burden. -Allen Ginsberg

When good Americans die, they go to Paris. -Oscar Wilde

Paris is a place in which we can forget ourselves, reinvent, expunge the dead weight of our past. -Michael Simkins

The whole of Paris is a vast university of Art, Literature and Music… it is worth anyone’s while to dally here for years. Paris is a seminar, a post-graduate course in everything. -James Thurber

 

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast. -Ernest Hemingway

“You know, I sometimes think, how is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city. You can’t. Because you look around and every street, every boulevard, is its own special art form and when you think that in the cold, violent, meaningless universe that Paris exists, these lights. I mean come on, there’s nothing happening on Jupiter or Neptune, but from way out in space you can see these lights, the cafés, people drinking and singing. For all we know, Paris is the hottest spot in the universe.” – Midnight in Paris

Your Artistic Fairy Godmother Grants You Permission

“Dream and give yourself permission to envision a You that you choose to be.”

-Joy Page

This past week, I have been devouring Elizabeth Gilbert’s Podcast Magic Lessons. Although there have been no new episodes since 2016, I easily have listened to half of them in the past week. What is interesting about these episodes, is artisits of all sorts contact Liz with their creative dilemmas. Poets, comedians, writers, dancers, graphic designers all inquire her with their current stuck points in their creativity.

Godmother Liz will listen with an empathic heart. Often times she has felt their pain, because their issues are universal. How do you have the courage to share your work with a bigger audience with the possibility of not being embraced? How do you shift your creativity with age to bring you pleasure versus a paid audience? Can we welcome rejection and failure with open arms? Is it possible to quiet our own inner critic (or as Liz calls him inner terrorist) to allow creativity to flow ? Can we allow ourselves to make bad art?

Liz then offers personalized homework for them to accomplish in a span of weeks or months. In between the follow up conversation, Liz contacts leaders in the field to pick their brains about solutions to their creative struggles along the way. Dissecting creativity is so interesting to me. Not just the method of how to create art, but how to continue creating art despite barriers we or society place on ourselves. What is offered to these callers, is wisdom gained through years of experience, mishaps, and pain.

There was one particular episode (Episode 208 Leap Into the Fire), which stood out for me. The caller’s name was Hope, a poet from Ohio. Perhaps I have a kindred link to her, because that is my hometown state. Hope has begun performing her poems at open mic nights, but have not yet branched out to poetry slams or sent her poetry to journals for publication. What was stopping her was fear of failure. The expert Liz called in was infamous life coach Martha Beck.

Stepping into our fear was made parallel to the metaphor of stepping into the fire. Beck stated, “Go into a fire, if it celebrates you or warms you, more power to you. Find the next step that’s frightening and go into it. If it scorches you or burns you or it consumes you utterly, then you find a kindness that is so great that it can encompass the burning and from that kindness your poetry will start to ring to other people’s suffering and that’s art.”

Beck discussed with Gilbert the low and difficult times we face as humans. Sometimes it is at our most darkest moments, we are “left crying in a fetal position on the bathroom floor.” It is from this dark point that we start to unravel the self love and kindness, which is necessary to step into this next phase of our lives. If you are willing to walk toward what you fear, you will gain strength even in failure. And if that raw suffering and bravery is expressed through your art, people will relate.

We all have been there at those darkest moments, and people forget this. People believe they are suffering solo on their misery. But artists remind us, we are not alone. They help lift us up through their wings of song, dance, books, poems, paintings, jokes, or whatever the modality may be.

The metaphor was explored even deeper. We fear the fire because we feel it will not only deeply wound us but kill is. Beck adds, “Everytime you go into the fire, you come out with a new life. And it’s better than the last one.” We must die to give birth to a more fierce, courageous, and creative self. This happens continuously, if you are willing to take the chance.

What Liz and her creative gang are doing are giving people permission to walk into the fire. Take the chance to create.

Liz reminded Hope of the freedom she has to share her poetry with the world. For generations, the women in Hope’s family didn’t have a voice due to their role of being overburdened with having numerous children to care for or due to a lineage of slavery. Liz stated she reminds herself frequently to take the chance for the women in her family who never had the opportunity or voice to have a presence in the world. “That’s a tax I am willing to pay to be a woman who presents her soul’s work into the world. In honor of those who never could and those who still can’t. “

I highly encourage you to listen to the entirety of the podcast. Reflect on what your fears are currently, whether creatively or simply in your life at this point in time. What’s stopping you from taking that step?

And now here’s your chance, leap into the fire.

Link to podcast episode :

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/magic-lessons-with-elizabeth-gilbert/id1138081319?mt=2&i=1000375383843

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