What my favorite knight taught me about sand castles

The joys of summer! The sun, the warmth, the lazy days, the sound of the waves, your feet in the sand, a good book on your lap. This is accurate as long as you don’t have a small child with you. In that case, the book never makes it out of your beach bag, the sound of the waves get filtered and you don’t only have your feet in the sand, but part of your body while you are digging for shells and rocks.

I am sure there is a saying out there that mentions that "once an artist, always an artist.” So when I am trying to suck up the beauty of summer at the beach with my youngest child, the artist in me takes over. I delight on the colors and the shape of the waves, I feel the air on my face and the roughness of the sand on my skin. I also feel the itch to do something with my hands; that irresistible and unavoidable call to create. First I want to sketch but I know my son’s idea of fun does not include that. Then I start seeing the pendants that I could make out of shells, but practicality takes over and I abandon the idea soon after. However, there is an activity that satisfies my creativity appetite, helps me build memories with my boy and gives us both hours -who I am kidding? minutes- of entertainment. Let me introduce you to the ancient art of building sand castles.

I take my job seriously and so our castles not only have towers. They have dams on one side, underground rivers of the other, flanked by forts and mountains. A road of shells, flags made out of seaweed. I invest a lot of time and effort into our sand castles as if my life depends on it. They have taught me about gravity and how to take in consideration the tide changes when finding the perfect spot for construction. Of course, I do want to pass the love for the activity on to my youngest son.

Without falling of the stereotypical gender roles, I have to say that my son has a lot more of the physical need to express his energy than his older sisters. My girls, although active and curious girls, would be contained drawing, writing, playing in the sand. Maybe it has nothing to do with their gender but with their birth order, or the fact that he arrived when we were more tired (thanks age gap!) or it might just the way he is. The fact is that invariably of the amount of effort we put into building our sand castles under my proud look of famous architect, every time I look at what we have created with certain sense of achievement, my son comes with a smile on his face and mischievous eyes and says the dreadful words: destroy, destroy! He steps on our castle, fills the dams with sand and levels each tower. Certainly, our definition of fun differs slightly.

Beyond my trying to understand why he finds so much pleasure in destroying our castles while trying to deter him from doing it so early on the game, I decided recently to step on his shoes and see why he finds that part as fun as the building.

Whenever I have brought this topic to discussion among other parents, the often answer (given positively by parents of boys, coincidentally) is a laugh followed by the words “boys, boys, boys....”

I summoned the most analytical side of my artistic being to scrutiny the subject. I soon realized that one of the concepts we tend to forget as we grow older and stop being spontaneous and fresh is that as in anything else in life, in order to create we also need to destroy. In order to create something new, we need to know down the original essence of a material. The canvas needs to be altered, the clay molded. When building a song, there is a group of notes that repeat every so often, very likely in a particular order, until you alter that order to generate a new melody. Otherwise, we fall in the trap of monotony.

Creating implies not only that we say hello to something new, but also that we say goodbye to something old. The problem is that our human nature rejects change as if it is the plague, and creating actually calls us to embrace it. No wonder so many people are afraid of creating something new and prefer to stay anchored to old ideas, relationships that have ran their curses, jobs that do not offer any growth, dull lives where everything seems predictable as the most monotonous melody.

I also thing that our egos are constantly obsessed with the idea of accumulating achievements. We love to build, we love to see the accumulation of the steps we have taken previously. Call them diplomas, called them workout sessions or job promotions. We like to see that each step we take takes us closer to our goals. In building a sand castle, I was doing exactly that. But life is rather more like the game I play with my son, where I construct and he destroys, than what I though the game should be: building wonderful structures that we will be able to admire as we step out of the beach, maybe leaving it for others to enjoy and play with.

My son, with his fierce bottomless source of energy and his mischievous giggle taught me a big lesson that day. As an artist and as human being, wouldn’t life be a lot easier if I start seeing my existence as a creation/destruction cycle? If I stop being so attached to the final products and enjoy the process more? if I take courage to knock down the structures that have served its course? If I accept that part of my nature that occasionally just wants to throw some old dishes on the floor?

Among sand castles and dams, that day iI discover that if I want to be a true artist I need to conciliate both side of the creation cycle. I am not sure if that would make me a better artist, in fact, but I am sure somewhere there must be a Harvard study to demonstrate that. What I know is that when I master the subtle of art of detaching from my careful finished products, may it be be a painting or a sand castle, I might find some kind of holy grail called freedom.

Sand castles are only a least sophisticated version of the mandalas that represent the universe in intricate designs made out of sand. It is used as a meditation practice but the climax of the process comes in understanding those are designs meant to disappear, regardless of all the effort put into its creation. I can’t say building sand castles feels like a spiritual practice. But that hot summer day that my son insisted on knocking down the structure we have built in a matter of seconds I was reminded on the importance of detachment, the importance of focusing on the journey rather than the destination and the significance of traveling through this life as light as possible, without the need to carry every brick we have used in the past. After I helped him level down the last part of our castle, we moved down to the playground to keep building new memories together. I almost skipped back because I was so free...who am I kidding? I was just the same person, just a tiny bit more aware of my creative process. I wish all lessons were as easy to grasp, but then I also have to admit that any lesson is usually better served with feet on the sand and sun rays warming our skin.

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Of Hiding and Seeking and Finding Our Inner Voices

HIde-and-seek: the universal game where getting lost is only half  the fun.

You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.
— Alan Alda

Recently, my almost four-years old wanted to play hide-and-seek and of course, I obliged. We spent some time in the backyard, taking turns between counting to ten and finding good hiding places. Listening to his infectious laugh when he was either hiding or trying to find me was so adorable! The beauty of playing this game with a toddler is that there is no discretion on what constitutes a good hiding place. Anything would do, even if half your body is exposed. And then, his laugh is so loud that even if he found the perfect camouflage, the giggles would give him away.  To make it even cuter,  if I asked “where could Leo be?” he would scream “here!”  The innocence of children!

The importance of hide-and-seek is that is teaches kids the concept of object permanence. When they first discover the game, babies think that when they put their hands or a blanket over their eyes, things stop existing. By their toddler years, they learn that things or people still exist even when they cannot see them.

But I am not a teacher or a psychologist. I am not as concerned with this game’s developmental advantages other than those that interest me as a mother. However, yesterday in the midst of my son’s giggles and us practicing counting numbers and seeing how fast I could find a spot to hide I realize there is a big lesson for my spirit in this game.

Lately, the intention of my meditations has been concentrated towards connecting with my intuition. I have recently realized that when I stop paying attention to it, anxiety plants a flag in the cavernous terrain of my fears and insecurities. On the other hand, when I am alert to the predicaments of my intuition, I can maintain a very stable, peaceful state of mind.  Consequently, instead of trying to pursue peace, I am concentrating my efforts on cultivating my intuition. It has proven to be a more efficient, holistic and reliable source of calmness.

The other day, while seeing the way my son enjoyed our game, I realized how intuition is a soulful version of hide-and-seek. 

Intuition is seeking

Intuition asks us to seek deliberately, to have our eyes, ears, nose, mind and heart open. We may know what or who we are looking for, but the truth is that the reward is not only in what we find, but how we approach the quest. The fun starts in the hunt, and the reason is that we just don’t stumble into things, we search for them. In the game as in its spiritual counterpart, we have to own and want to participate in the quest.  People assume that intuition is some kind of divine information that comes to some chosen, privileged souls. But intuition is not given, is achieved by willingly embarking in the game. 

 

Intuition is taking action

When playing hide-and-seek, one of the players closes her eyes while counting aloud to give enough time to the other players to hide. Although I did not grow up with that tradition, I love when the seeker screams “ready or not, here i come.” What a powerful command! If we were to scream that to the universe, wouldn’t it make us feel powerful? Wouldn’t it make us feel as though we own the quest? This seems–to me–the best way to prepare for the search.

Intuition is patience

Intuition is also like the little kid hiding and waiting to be found. The thrill is knowing someone is looking for us. That is what makes a toddler giggle. It is knowing that even when we hide, the universe will find its way to us. Opportunities will come, and so will love and friendship and fulfillment. We don’t know how long it will take. It all depends on how well we have managed to hide. 

Intuition is trust

Intuition is the ultimate trial of trust. In the same way we are not sure where our playmates are but we are certain they are still part of the game, intuition implies a certainty that we will find something, that there are tons of information in the universe willing to come to our open arms (or eyes, ears, and hopefully hearts).  We don’t know where our knowledge comes from, but we trust it is real. It is knowing with certainty that whatever is hidden still exists even when we cannot see it at the moment or does not seem entirely rational. Intuition only thrives when we give it a safe environment to develop, and the seed of that is trust.

Intuition is playful

As little kids in the playground, we need to remain open and curious in order to develop our intuition. When we take our intuition too seriously, our minds take over, bringing out our darkest fears. As profound as it seems, to be completely in tune with our most intuitive nature requires us to be light and fun, to giggle, to be free, to see life like a game rather than a strategy session.  As we start doing better at that thing called “adulting,”  we become more rigid and serious. In fact, we become so boring that intuition runs away from us in search of more entertaining partners.  

Intuition is a great GPS

When we embark on the search of our fellow playmates during a hide-and-seek game, we don’t know exactly where to look, unless your playmate is a toddler that loves the predictability of a repeat hideout, that is. Most of the time, we have to follow our inner voice while we search in different places. Sometimes, we do not succeed in our first attempt. If that is the case, just like a GPS, we need to recalculate our route to search somewhere else, but unlike a GPS, the whole point of the game is that we don’t know what our final destination is.  Intuition is like the bread crumbs that guide us to enlightenment and to the ultimate attainment of our inner voice, even when the route can take infinite detours.

Intuition brings enlightenment

Maybe, a more accurate name for my son’s favorite game should be “Hide-and-seek-and-you-will-find.” The game is over when we find who (or what) we are looking for. Equally, intuition relays on its findings, most of those getting us closer to enlightenment. By paying attention to our inner voice we take the express route to the small and big answers, to the ones that open our hearts, the ones that take us down new paths and strayed us from the ones that are not meant for us. Intuition is like having an inner voice that tells us where everyone is hiding.We just need to quite the noise so that we can listen to it.

So, if intuition is like a game, why do we stop playing?

As my son and I recently explored the limited amount of hidden places in our backyard, I realized that what made the game really fun is that I was playing with him. It did not matter if we bent the rules, if he skipped a number here and there, if he wanted me to always hide in the same place. Being present and fully aware was what made it such a special moment. An in the middle of our game, hidden behind a playhouse where I could’t even fit, a knowledge hit me as lighting. I heard the inner voice.

“Keep playing, keep looking, hold your place and you will be found.”

And I giggled as a three year old and looked at the cutest boy come up to me and I thought how lucky I was. There are tons of things and pieces of wisdoms that still remained hidden, but there was no doubt in my mind that with intuition as my north, as the bow to my boat, I will find them. So, universe, ready or not, here I come…

The art of setting free

Recently, I had a very interesting conversation with a woman from India. She is a very lively, entertaining person and the conversation, besides offering lots of opportunities for a good laugh, was filled with interesting and thought-provoking topics. At one point, she mentioned how her father died a couple of years ago from a chronic illness. I immediately said I was sorry, and I was, I am kind of familiar with that feeling. But she interrupted me with her incredible candor to say a word that was new for me but it resonated in my brain and my chest with the echo that important words carry…

“Moksha.”

Although my daughter makes fun of me because according to her I am buddhist-wannabe and for being a yoga aficionado, I had never heard that word.

The woman, with the same lightness she used when mentioning her kids’ anecdotes, explained the concept. She mentioned that her dad had moved on and in doing so he had been set free from his disease. At the same time, he had liberated his family of the responsibility of  taking care of him while he carried the chronic illness, something they did out of the immense love they professed him. They were bound to his disease because of love. He was set free, emancipated from pain and that was a good thing. Moksha…what a beautiful, complex and selfless concept.


I felt a door opening inside me, as if I had been thrown in a forest where there were lots of fruits to collect. I knew I had to revisit the subject and explore why it has made such an impression on me. I could not stop thinking about it. I guess the fact that there was a word for such a complex process surprised me. But there was also the fact that setting free can a painful and inevitable process that we usually resist. Giving it a name seemed like a call to action to remember that it is actually a very natural notion that sooner or later will require us to act on its premise.


The following day I was distracted with other novelties. I was attending my oldest daughter parent orientation at college.  It should have been an anxious day, after all it is not everyday that we send our first kid away for college. However, while sitting with the other parents I found myself like an outcast.  I am proud we have raised independent kids. I am definitely not a ‘mama-hen”, if anything, I am more of a lioness like in “don’t hurt-my-cubs-or-you-will-have-to-deal-with-me” kind of mom. In fact, my daughter did all the college applications on her own, chose the school that was right for her and after taking a gap year after high school where she has blossomed into a very resourceful, motivated young woman, I know she is more than ready to leave the nest, to experience life, to carve her path, to make choices on her own, to make mistakes, to recalculate her journey. The day of her orientation I was filled with excitement for her more than fear.

 


During lunch, parents had the opportunity to sit down with professors from our kids’  majors. Next to me was a couple who talk incessantly. The kind of couple who speak on stereo: one shutdowns to let the other continue their story, and vice versa. They never let anybody talk because they monopolized the conversation in an orchestrated rhythm of back and forth interruptions. I was observing mostly, somewhat listening and honestly, mildly annoyed with the fact that in the short time we had I would not have the opportunity to ask the questions I had in my mind. Helicopter parents, no doubt. They even chose each of their son’s classes. Me, on the other hand, had been informed by my daughter all of the classes she had enrolled on without my assistance. I had to make a big effort not to judge, reminding myself that every parent is different and there was no good or wrong way to parent. But my mind kept insisting to go there and I kept fighting it. After all, it was clear that time was running down and I would not get another chance to sit down with my daughter’s professors ever again.

Then the loud couple, with their constant worries and intent to kidnap every intent of lunch discussion, told their story. When the woman was pregnant with their son, they were told he was not built for life and if he in fact was born, he only had a 10% chance of surviving. He was born and shortly after he had to had one of his several open heart surgeries. The boy’s heart was in the right side of his body, a very rare condition, and his circulation was inverted as well. Now, at seventeen, he was about to start college and be on his own for the first time. My own heart dropped. I felt so terrible at first for even having judged those parents who had fought for their son’s life and all the after effects of his disease.  Then I felt my eyes filling with tears. What a miraculous and full of hope story! I put myself on their shoes. If you knew your kid had very  small statistically chance of surviving, would you let him go?  What would it take for you to set him free? They were bound to him and his disability  by the love they profess him. Both parents were probably gone through so much together that they became a team who could finish each other sentences. There was “MOKSHA” all over that conversation. Two parents were bound to set their son free. And when we hold something so tight it is very hard to let go.  

I went through my own moksha moment. I had to liberate myself from my bias. I had been through a lot of challenges as a mom and I have known first hand how it feels to suffer when seeing our kids go though terrible pain. I realized that those painful moments have only made my kids stronger and more mature. I did not want that to transform me into an anchor for them. I fought every instinct to become a helicopter parent, and I mostly achieved it. But having won that battle I forgot we are all different and our reactions differ. That moment, excited as I was to imagine my daughter starting her college career in a place where she could thrive, I realized that I am going to miss her terribly too: our conversations, she calling on my shit with her kindest words, challenging my beliefs, her constant efforts to make us all feel special. It is exciting to see her fly on her own but it will be sad too. As independent as she is, I still value our time when we can be together as mother and daughter and most of the time, as two adults.  Deep down, below all that excitement for her future is my need to set her free. And as in death, as in letting a disabled kid leave the nest for the first time, as in realizing our belief system and our biases sometimes need to be shaken and  let go of even when it is painful. Part of my propellers, the ones I was not even aware I had, fell down that day and in gaining that understanding I felt liberated.

On my way home that night,  I  became aware I might never become a moksha expert, but at least I was aware of it. Stuck in traffic coming back home  I felt a few teardrops coming down my cheeks. They weren’t tears of apprehension, but rather of happiness for seeing my oldest on her way to building her own life as an incredibly wholesome, profound, kind human being. Everything she is, she has done it on her own. She is free to be who she wants to be. I felt free, as if I was noticing for the first time I did not have shackles, although I never felt motherhood imposed any kind of limitation. The freedom came from inside and it was reinforced with the knowledge that even when I think I know the answers, the universe will always put people on my way to teach me the most beautiful concepts of liberation and expansion.

Moksha today and tomorrow, because the more we love the more we need to set free!

Of Kryptonite and Super Powers

I had never been into super heroes. In fact, I despise them. I don’t like the idea of a character who is invincible. Call it Spider Man, Batman, Jack Bauer, Jason Borne or Jon Snow, if they survive the unsurvivable many times in a row I loose interest on them (well, not in Jon Snow, but that is the exception). Of course, as life loves to play tricks on us and gives of us a double dose of of whatever we despise, I was blessed with a baby boy who loves super heroes. At three and a half he is obsessed with them. One day he is a super hero, next one he is the bad guy. 


I like my character with flaws. The good ones have a dark side, the bad ones never learned to deal with pain. And regardless of the side they identify most with, they will sometimes fail, many time they will succeed. Life is not a string of constant achievements because everyone eventually falls down, a few steps down, a whole wall or into the darkest abyss.


Regardless of our capacity to rise from our ashes, there in an universal feeling that will eventually stops us on our tracks: fear. You are waiting for a diagnosis, you experience a heartbreak, imminent change is approaching, there are more questions than answers, you don’t want to open a door that leads you to an unknown path. There are a million reasons to feel the paralyzing effect of panic. So many times we see ourselves as super heroes; we are in a constant battle to beat obstacles and if we have been lucky enough to be spared many times, we start believing we hold super powers that shields us from failure. We repeat constantly that if we we keep a positive mind, good things will happen. For some, it is the strength of their faith that becomes the safety net that protects them from an evil fall. For others, it is a constant planning that gives them a sense of control. Many others believe the universe always has a master plan.

It does not matter what our pillars are, fear will cripple inside our blanket eventually and hug us with the strength of a boa constrictor. In those moments it is so easy to question all our super powers, because if we were so courageous we would not be defeated by such a earthly kryptonite, right? But fear is natural. Fear is what protects us from great acts of stupidity. Fear is what makes us run when a threat is imminent. If you are attached to your super hero shield, just answer a question: have you ever love with all your heart? Because nothing guarantees that we will be stricken with fear more than love does. If you love somebody (or something) fear will always be present. Fear that that person will not be there one day, that he or she will suffer, that you will not be able to protect them. If we love with all our hearts, fear is always part of the equation. 

So if fear is the kryptonite, then what is the super power that defeats it? I know only one: vulnerability. I am sure I am not the only one that has gone through a lot of s…painful moments in my life. And when I have felt my weakest, there was no power (supernatural or earthly) to help me overcome adversity better than vulnerability. It is knowing that I can be broken, bruised, heavily injured, when I can be on my knees, when I can’t stop crying that I start building myself up. It is by knowing that fear is inevitable that we regain our power because fear constricts, like the boa, but when when we see it straight to the eyes and tell him “I know I am broken now, I know I can fail terribly, I know I can loose what I hold dearest to my heart but I will survive,” that is when fear looses its grip on us. It does not necessarily leave, it can be watching for afar. 

Vulnerability is in a way the anti-shield. It is like being naked of all protection. I always envision it as being dragged by a forceful river and suddenly deciding that we are not going to fight anymore and the moment we calm down is when we discover we can float to the shore. Years ago, my husband fell 35 feet down from a climbing wall. The fall was so quick that he did not even had time to panic. On his mind, somebody was going to stop his rope just moments before he hit the floor on the best The Matrix style (I know, boys and their super powers!) When he hit the floor his ligaments and tendons got injured and took years to heal, but he did not break a single bone. When the doctors x-rayed his whole body, they told him that what saved him was The Matrix image he was playing in his head. Because he trusted somebody was going to save him at the last minute we kept his body relaxed. If on the other hand he would have been (naturally) overcome by fear, his body would have tensed up as a board and he would have shattered many bones and probably not even survived. 

Some of my friends tend to tell me that I am very strong because even in the most difficult moments of my life I keep smiling. Those words actually make me smile because I do know I am as human as I can be. I live with fear and with pain, with love and with hope in the master plan. Fear debilitates me but does not break me. My super power: vulnerability. When I know I am weak, it is when I regain my strength back. So when my son wants me to read him his super heroes book and surprises me by knowing the name of every super hero and every villain with its particular power I imagine I could be in that book too. Not that I would make a very commercial super hero, but I know that no matter the kryptonite I will rise after I fall, and sometimes I would loose too, and that would be OK, and even then I will survive or how Maya Angelou would say…”I'll rise.” In the meantime, I will enjoy the way my son looks at me as if I was the real deal-maximum-invincible-super hero”. After all, that will change once he gets to be a teenager and notice everyone of my flaws. For now, all I have left is to pray that he does not make me dress as cat girl.

Like a fish out of water...an into the frying pan

While on vacation, I stayed by the shore making sand castles with my son. The transparent water brushing our skin, the soft sand on our feet and the shade of a palm tree over us. Next to us, a british man, his fit body adorned with tattoos, was building sand castles with his daughters. We had not crossed words but they seem like a nice, loving family. Suddenly a flapping sound called our attention. About eight feet away from us and to the left of the British family there was a ten-inch white fish with blue stripes that had been (apparently miraculously) being brought out of the water by the mild waves. The fish was flipping and struggling in the sand. The British man used every inch of his fit body to run towards the fish. In the meantime, a local man who worked at the kayak rentals was running towards the fish from the opposite direction. The local man gets to the fish a few seconds before and the British man is obviously relieved. However, the man grabbed the fish and quickly ran away. The British man opened his arms in disbelief and turned to me. “Why did he do that?” he says with a sweet voice. I didn’t know. The truth was that I was kind of shocked as well. When I first saw the fish out of the water I felt bad for it, seeing it ran out of air. The British man repeated the question and shook his head. Suddenly a colleague of the “fish-stealer” was looking at us with a smile on his face. The British guy repeated the question. The man responded with a huge grin on his face, “he was going to make himself a fish sandwich for lunch.”

The British man looked sad and I was thinking the whole scene looked kind of funny. There is no doubt that everybody approaches every situation from a place that is very personal. Some people want to help, others want to fill a physical need. Some see the value of their altruistic nature and others in seizing the opportunities that life freely presents.

 

A fish that is brought to shore is found by a hungry man. Is that synchronicity? A man whose only present worry is to build a sand castle that makes his daughters happy sees a a fish that is drafted to his feet and the savior in him takes over. Sometimes, we have to choose what to do with the unexpected situations that appear in front of us. Usually, there is no wrong or right answer, only choices. However, there is no doubt that if we want to take action, sometimes it is useful to be the fastest runner because opportunities tend to have a fleeting window of success.

 

When I sat down on the beach chair later I saw the British man retelling the story to his family. He was saying how he tried to be a hero although he failed. Then I thought about the local man enjoying his fried fish in between two pieces of bread, sauce dripping on the sides and I smiled. I imagined the story he would be sharing with his friends about how a fish jumped out of the water and practically onto his plate.


I smiled and I thought on how many times I have been like each of the two men. Many other times I have been like the fish as well. And occasionally, I have discovered that when we relax and pay attention to the world around us, life throws coins of wisdom that look like comedy scenes and some time taste like fried fish by the beach.

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Coincidences

I love how the universe works and never leaves a thread loose....

While I have spent several hours in the studio lately trying to finish my latest painting, I have been going through several audiobooks. Today, half an hour before I had to put the brushes down I decided to start another one, “synchrodestiny” by Depak Chopra. I smiled when ten minutes into it I heard a quote that had appeared on the last chapter of the book I had just finished. Coincidence? Perhaps.


I left in a run to drop my daughter off. I soon realized I had 10 extra minutes before my yoga class and that I could stop by really quick and buy something I needed at a store I love but I haven’t visited in months.

  When I was done, proud of my efficiency, the cashier asked me for my last name, then my name. “Alfonsina,” I said. She stopped and then got away from the computer with watery eyes.

“You won’t believe this, but I don’t even know why your name came up on the system two hours ago. I know it is not the same, but my dad’d name was Alphonsus, and we have been going through several things in my family and I though that was a way for him to tell me he was around. I miss him so much!” she said trembling.


What is most surprising is that I have been thinking about my dad a lot lately too, wishing I could get his advise and ran a few ideas by him and just give him a hug, specially this week because tomorrow is the 13th anniversary since he left. I also left the store with watery eyes but a big smile on my face.


Synchronicities? Maybe. Whatever it is I take it because coincidences today made two girls who miss their dads really happy.

Thanks universe!

 

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Me and my dad a couple of years before he started his brave battle against cancer.

Things that happen in a gym’s locker room

Two young women stormed in the locker room. One of them, a tall girl who is contemplating herself in the mirror, is complaining about having to take her car to the shop among other things. The other one says empathically, “you are not having the best day, aren’t you?” The girl in the mirror turns around, walks to her friend and shares that there is more. She says in a not too shyly voice, “I am cheating.”

What a way to spark everyone’s curiosity!

I needed to get ready so I missed all the juicy details. I spent the next few minutes imagining how their conversation went, who was she cheating with, why, what was she going to do now, etc., until I get distracted by a reflection on my field of vision. A woman had a hairdryer in her hand. She was naked and proud of it. No judgement, I am used to it. We have been together in the sauna many times before and she is always like that, au naturale.

What surprised me was not the hairdryer. She was not drying her hair, she was drying her boobs, for a long time....has she realized she could use a towel? “All that heath,” I am thinking. Then she pointed the dryer to the middle of her chest and left it there at full speed. I was almost ready, and the hairdryer had not moved. Was that some kind of beauty routine I don’t know anything about? Maybe some form of heart chakra stimulation? I made plans to ask Alexa as soon as I got home.


As I was exciting the locker room I realized that was just a reflection of everyday life. So many different stories, so many different customs, so many people coinciding in one place and living parallel lives without talking, without learning any substantial information about each other. Some of those people we see several times a week. And we come and go, anonymously, without altering the space we inhabit. But then, sometimes, we say a word and we incite somebody’s curiosity, we become the reason’s of someone’s research, we become a nice story to share. If only we open our eyes and tune in our ears....

Threading the path to our North Star

There are women whose dream is to have a shoe closet like the one Mr. Big built for Carry Bradshaw: the shoe displays, the lights, an universe of heels and colors and tons of accessories that are more decorative than functional. Although I would not oppose to a closet like that (as long as shoes are arranged by color), there are other places that provoque my soul to vibrate at a much higher frequency.

A bookstore and its sister, the old-book section at a library; an art supply store  with tons of items to play with and create the mountain of work I will never get to actually produce. Lastly, and the strange thing is that this one does not connect with my career choices: a fabric store.

My heart always jumps when I see the rolls of fabric. As a kid in a candy store, the awe accumulates in my stomach and comes out in a sigh. Maybe it is  that sense of not knowing where to start, the physical need to rejoice in the different textures that caress the tips of my fingers, or perhaps the sensation of getting drunk on color overload and creative patterns. My soul gets greedy, I want them all! So like in a labyrinth I get lost comparing all the textiles, imagining what I would do with each of them: beautiful gowns that I don’t have an occasion to wear, summer dresses, swimsuits, handbags, upholstery for that piece of junk I found at a tag sale.

Creative juices are squeezed among the fabric rolls. If I have to come up with a statistic, I would say I usually buy about 40% more fabric than what I need because there is usually an indulgence for a project I might get to do that I wasn’t planning to. The leftovers (or should I say “potential materials for future projects”) go on bins that look more like treasure chests rather than a hoarder’s dump.

What is wrong with that? Everyone likes to collect something. Some people go for tattoos, wooden ducks, crystal clowns, tequila bottles, broken hearts....me? I like fabric.

The problem is I am a terrible seamstress. Well, my ideas are terrific, the execution, not so much. When my first daughter was born, I became a compulsive sawer. I would laid her on my lap to nurse while I was at the sewing machine making her dresses. I don’t know if I ever got baby blues, but if I did I cured it with threads and hems. I am glad nobody ever looked at the inside of those dresses. They were so terrible! What a great lesson on how things are not always what they seem.

Shortly after I realized that I could get her something  as pretty with better seams at half the cost, so the compulsive sewing weaned out naturally.

Lately, I have been indulging again with the excuse of creating the dresses that my models wear for my paintings. It has been an incredible experience. It escalated my connection to each image and has helped me find a narrative that works for me. The quality is questionable. I have beautiful, soft silks stapled and held with duct tape. I am not attached to the final product just to the ideas they inspire. As long as they are kept together while the model is posing, I am content.

That kept me thinking about the things we do because they get us closer to our North Star vs the things that lay in our true North.  What things lift our spirits and what things can only be achieved when our spirits are lifted. I am lucky that I do have tons of distractions that help me find joy: playing music, cooking, sewing, making floral arrangements, exercising, making dirty jokes, among others. The list is ample and varied. I need all of those to have my soul vibrating high, to feel at awe, to find content. None of those, however, fall in the category of my “absolutely-necessary-to-live.” It seems so natural to confuse our pleasurable pastimes with what we want to do with our lives, or rather what we were born to do. Sometimes we confuse our talents or interests with the passions that will not only enlighten our world but help us give back to the world our most elevated self.

Try getting paid by one of your hobbies. Sometimes it works, it gives you temporary joy. But that bliss evaporates quite easy. On the other hand, finding our true North Star, as Martha Beck calls it, feels like arriving home. It  makes us feel like we have traveled the world to realize the journey led us to the place where we feel safe and adventurous at the same time, where we have a warm nest to rest and to come back to when the fly gets long.

If you are lucky enough to have found that safe place, continue your journey. But if you haven’t, then give yourself permission to explore every passion that makes your soul vibrate. Go to the fabric store, visit the bookstore, grab that instrument, finish that puzzle, learn how to tango, memorize the pi digits, write, upgrade your wine palate, run. No time spent doing something we enjoy is wasted. When our souls are vibrating it is so much easier to see the things we need to loose and the things we need to gain in order to get closer to our North Star. When our souls are vibrating, every experience accumulated gets sewn in the quilt of our existence, keeping us warm when we need to and serving as a beautiful magic carpet when the call is to fly away. In our obsessed-with-productivity society, we tend to feel guilty of indulging of life’s smallest pleasures. It seems to me that nothing enhances productivity better than being aligned with the true desires of our souls because who would not want to do more of what we truly love? 

I do need to warn you that some of the things we enjoy to do might look ugly (e.g. the inside stitches of my dresses or plenty of songs in a karaoke bar) but who cares? Did it make us smile broadly and brightly? That is enough then.  That is a good step on the right path. Just make sure to remember that there are things meant to bring joy, there are things meant to bring money, and there are only a very few where we can get both. Learning the difference can save us a lot of time.

Go indulge!!! Nothing is more generous than a satisfied soul! And if  you can go open your closet and grab the fancier shoes, delight on the fabric of your jacket while you hum your favorite tune, the better. Feel the sloppy stitches inside your pocket and smile, you are on for a crazy ride.

 

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 Career miracles happen when you’re so in love with your life that pushing yourself is actually easier than stopping, when you “do without doing.” Joyful activity adds real value to the world, and adding value is the heart and soul of a successful career.

Martha N. Beck, Finding Your Own North Star:

Flexibility vs Balance

About eighteen years ago I went to my first yoga class. At that time, the instructor was a very wise woman in her seventies. She would read very inspiring stories during savasana. One day she made a comment that has stuck with me for years. She said that we are either flexible or have good balance but it is difficult to have both. 

I have since raised the question many times of what I am. Without a doubt I incline more towards flexibility. I am not Elastic Girl, but I do notice that I tend  to be able to stretch more than I would expect was normal for someone with my lack of experience. However I am that student that in more difficult poses always falls.  As I am trying to improve my practice I have been questioning what I could do to at least not fall as much, provoked by a low-key sense of embarrassment and annoyance (the ego, the ego, I know!)

The answer hit me recently while I was on top of my mat. Because I can stretch relatively easy I tend to overreach to a point where the pose is unsustainable for my level of training. The enlightenment moment came when I realize that is no different than what I do in my everyday life. I try to do too much, thinking that I can reach any goal I want, that I can extend time and my energy reserves to utopical levels.  How am I supposed to being able to find the equilibrium in a yoga studio when I am oblivious to what I am doing outside of it? 

When we overstretch, we fall, we get injured. Now, I am not afraid of a little fall. I have done it way too many times and so far I have a perfect record of getting up, sometimes bruised and injured, but I can live with that. The floor is not my enemy, but I do recognize that fearlessness can sometimes takes me into forced recovery time. That is the story that loops in the record of my life. 

Isn’t it time to change that pattern?

The advantage with hyper-flexibility is that it makes it easier to force ourselves out of our comfort zone. It is really useful when we want to adapt to change, when we don’t accept the status quo.  We always want more.  Stability, on the other hand, is about learning to be still regardless of the external forces. It’s being content in our space. In yoga the gift comes when you accept both. Isn’t that what we are supposed to do in our lives?  How do we remain strong and pliable? Resilient and energetic? How do we find the right balance between flexibility and well…balance itself?

Maybe the answers lies in the intent to embrace both, to not get comfortable with any of them, to remain active in our search for the two of them. Maybe it is in the understanding that our happy place lies in having both flexibility and stability compliment themselves, like fraternal twins that fight all day but love each other tremendously. It also means learning what our boundaries are, trying to see outside of them, but only cross those boundaries when we are ready.  

As for my life outside the yoga studio that translates into finding a balance between what comes naturally and what I have to force myself to learn. Maybe my next goal is simply learning how to rest, that definitely does not come naturally. I am confident, though, that balance and me can become friends soon, and so is rest and all the things that I need to work extra hard for.  And even if that seems really difficult now, and even if I fall a thousand times while trying to master those things that are really hard, I might eventually do it. The equilibrium between flexibility and balance can only be found in the active pursuit of both, not in the act of giving up to what is easier and that, it seems to me, it is really, really hard, but also really, really good. I am going after you, balance!