Embracing ephemera

The other day I was writing in my journal at a local wine tasting room and I overheard this British couple talking about their plans around town and Carmel. We eventually struck up a conversation and they asked me for some recommendations for local wineries, restaurants, and things to do.

Fast-forward to the next day when I was cleaning the house and wondering if the charming couple ever went to the places I had suggested. And if they had, what they had thought? And then I let my mind wander, as it does, and I thought how cool is it that I will never know? How beautiful that we shared a moment over a glass of wine and an unwritten journal page so I could share some of my restaurant preferences in my hometown. Maybe they lost the paper they had jotted my recommendations down on and never made it to those places? Maybe they went to them all and had bad experiences? Or perhaps, they tried some and discovered others on their own.

And then I got to thinking about how we oughtn’t control things or expect things. Buddhism teaches that suffering comes from the attachment to expectations. And also to embrace and live in the present. My recommendation-giving was yesterday…and I gave them those recommendations without expectations that they would like or dislike them or report back to me. Now it is with me as a nice memory as I dust my bookshelf.

I let my mind wander some more and I began looking up words and found that the word ephemeral–which means lasting for a very short time–comes from the Greek ephēmeros which means “lasting only one day.” I can think of many things in my life that lasted only one day or even less and that they were beautiful just in their short lifespan. A meal with a friend or a lover. A swim in a creek. A deep conversation. A movie. Blackberry picking in the summer.

A daylily, so called because it is only in bloom for about a day
Photo by Bradley Howington on Unsplash

If only I can remind myself to let events in life be ephemeral. To not attach expectation to them and maybe I can find myself a little more liberated. To embrace a moment, a conversation, a relationship for its lifespan…whatever that may be. And then to let it go.

Balance

This morning—as I enjoy my spiced cafe au lait with the front door wide open so I can watch the rain and the classical music playing softly in the background—I contemplate balance.

They say everything in moderation, even moderation. Which is to say sometimes it’s OK to splurge, whether it be by listening to your favorite song on repeat or having more than once slice of cake. But that’s not what I am talking about, I am mentally asking myself what is the healthy level of emotional and personal balance?

The other day at church the priest was talking about being humble and this started my mental musing. I value being humble and I try to be modest but as an aspiring writer, whose success lies on promoting myself and publicizing myself, there is a bit of a grey zone. Is it self-aggrandizing to make cards with my name on them and pass them out at every opportunity? Is it self-effacing to say “oh my writing is not that good…”

I believe you can have both, be humble, modest, and kind and still promote yourself and recognize the value and skill you bring to the world. I don’t think it is shameful to have a dream and want to pursue it.

Both sides of this balance beam will, undoubtedly, illicit criticism. I can see how, when trying to promote my writing or handing out my cards a certain group of people will think—or even say—who do you think you are? Stephen King? And I can hear the other end of the spectrum of people giving me a mental, if not physical, nudge to pass out my cards, pursue freelance gigs, and tell people about my writing.

My conclusion (which is the same as my philosophy about life) is to face ever opportunity honestly and with an open heart. Sometimes this results in hurt but that’s OK, it’s foolish to think we could go through life without ever getting hurt, it comes with the territory of loving other people and putting ourselves out there. I have to recognize that the people who criticize are coming from a place of their own self-doubt or criticism or are indeed afraid for my failure. But as Paulo Coelho says, in one of my all-time favorite books The Alchemist, “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” Which reminds me of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address, where he stated, the “only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

While FDR and I are talking about very different things, the common theme is that fear is crippling and fear itself is what causes failure. We cannot be afraid. We cannot be afraid of the other, he or she whom we do not know and we cannot be afraid of failing because if we fully believe that we will succeed and that we are willing to give it everything we can, we will not fail.

I wish you balance. And I wish that you not be afraid to pursue your dreams—whether they be learning to scuba dive or publishing a book.

 

 

Mean people

I have never understood mean people. Not only do I not understand mean people but they frustrate me. I have had a few interactions with people lately that were not very positive and writing is my way of making sense of the world. (Interesting choice of words, Sally, in a recent interview I did with a professional singer, he said music was his way of making sense of the world.)

I don’t understand why a person needs to be mean to another. I don’t know how people can live with themselves when they damage others with their words? Do we not realize that humans are sensitive and how easy sweet, kind words are? Why do we not seek to uplift others with our actions and our words?

I came across this passage in Paulo Coelho’s book The Winner Stands Alone. If you are not familiar with Coelho’s work, he is a novelist who typically writes magic realism stories. His most popular book is The Alchemist and I highly recommend it. Anyhow, he says,

“How people treat other people is a direct reflection of how they feel about themselves.” -Paulo Coelho

We hear this notion often, people who are mean are intimidated, threatened, insecure, etc. But I really struggle with believing that this many people can suffer from those things. Maybe so. But I still can’t get over it. Is being mean a defense mechanism? Do some people know how to be polite because they were raised to be that way?

Can we please not be mean? Can we use our words to convey our emotions—hurt, anger, frustration, happiness, excitement, anticipation—rather than react without thinking and hurt those we love and even those we don’t know?

Solitude

It is easy to forget about giving ourselves time alone. Even time alone from our own busy, worrying minds.  I guess this is the point of meditation, contemplation, and prayer.  It is in those moments of solitude and contemplation that we grow mentally.  It is just like recovery from physical activity to allow the muscles to heal and develop or sleep to allow our cells to regenerate and our bodies to rest.  We experience so much in this life and we need time to process to evaluate our actions and behavior and often our reactions to the behavior of others.

I came across this quote:

“Cherish your solitude. Take trains by yourself to places you have never been. Sleep out alone under the stars. Learn how to drive a stick shift. Go so far away that you stop being afraid of not coming back. Say no when you don’t want to do something. Say yes if your instincts are strong, even if everyone around you disagrees. Decide whether you want to be liked or admired. Decide if fitting in is more important than finding out what you’re doing here. Believe in kissing.”

Eve Ensler 

My thoughts: it begins with the notion of cherishing alone time.  Adventuring solo, challenging oneself (alone) and to appreciate nature.  Challenging oneself to learn to drive a stick shift (a skill worthy of acquiring), getting out of your comfort zone, following your heart, being true to yourself.  Having integrity.  Looking to the depths of your heart and understanding what life is about.  And lastly…to believe in kissing which to me is really saying to believe in the intimacy between two people.

While this quote overarchingly talks about the individual and the self, it culminates with the beauty and importance of believing in love and the intimacy two people can share.  While there is power in solitude as an individual, there is also power in the solitude that a couple of souls can share.  What two people can share alone (together) is a unique kind of solitude worthy of exploring.  The intimacy of knowing another soul so well is amazing, fulfilling, and in my opinion, the purpose of life.  To know when your partner/soulmate/lover is distressed, eating less or more than normal, out of sorts, or to simply anticipate his or her next action/thought.  It is amazing and I wish that you experience this type of solitude in your life.  A silence and solitude while in the company of another being, but not just any being, a being with whom you are so deeply connected.  A being with whom you don’t have to explain a thing, you can just be yourself, just as you would be while you were alone but better yet, more fulfilled.

I am not advocating for codependence or claiming that one is incomplete if single but taking your heart to the next level of love and intimacy with another soul is simply divine.  I wish that for everyone (who wants it).  I do after all believe that there is no right way to live life and we all must follow our own paths and hearts.  It just so happens that humans love to love and so I will advocate for the lovers out there.

xx

Letting go of fear

In his 1933 inaugural speech, FDR famously said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  While his words were aimed at political and socioeconomic woes, and external threats, I find those words to ring true to all fear in life.  We may be afraid to apply for another job, being comfortable in what we know.  We may be afraid to do what we love as society or our circle of people may not approve, or we fear that they may not approve.  We may fear what other people say or think about us.  We may be afraid of something really good in our lives for the silly fear that there is an ulterior motive to our own happiness.

This is where Roosevelt’s words really strike a chord…that fear is what we ought to fear, not anything else, not taking a chance, being vulnerable, or seeking our own happiness.  It is the fear that keeps us from thriving and becoming the person we are meant to be.  It is that very fear that acts as a speed bump (or road block, for some) in the path to our destiny.  It is the fear that squashes our courage and paralyzes us from acting.

Today, I want to focus on letting go of fear.  What drives me is faith in a bigger picture. Having faith is just the opposite of being afraid.  Faith means letting go of fear.  Faith means believing that things will all work out.  Faith is trusting one’s own gut, heart, and soul, to move in the direction she is meant to move in, to fulfill her destiny.

On this overcast Sunday, as I sit overlooking the ocean between the moss-shrouded pine and oak trees of my parents’ house, drinking my coffee and pondering life, I will make it a daily meditation to—when those fearful thoughts infiltrate my mind—own them, understand them, and respect where they come from and then, let them go.  I refuse to be afraid of the negative voice of insecurity and fear itself.  I wish the same for you.

Know Thyself

I remember studying—both in highschool and when I was in Greece a few years back—the Greek aphorism, “know thyself.”  I always thought this was an interesting concept.  I figured everybody knew him/herself.

This evening at dinner (which was a lovely gathering of people I just adore, my Aunt Chris, my dear friend Laura, and my friends Pavitar and Aanmol, a couple I met at a local bar a few years ago and we have been friends every since.  Actually, it’s a really sweet story, I will save that for another time.)  We were talking about being true to oneself and I was passionately going off about always being true to oneself and Aanmol, who is a psychologist, calmly stated simply that some people don’t know themselves.  I was baffled.  It hadn’t occurred to me that people could not know themselves.

I guess people go through life behaving as they think they ought to.  As religion or their parents or society or Cosmo or the Real Housewives of whatever prescribes but they never actually know who they are, what makes their heart beat, what they are passionate about.  I felt so sad for these people.  I also don’t take ownership for their decisions but how sad that they not have the courage to seek out their own happiness.

Fun story of how I met Pavitar and Aanmol!! So I was at the bar, Post No Bills for a friend’s birthday party.  I was with this guy I was sort of dating at the time, Josh, but he was chatting with other people and I was mingling, myself.  The thing at Post No Bills is that they don’t serve food but they allow you to bring food from home/take out/etc.  I was wandering around chatting with people I saw 2 couples sitting at a table (not guests of the birthday party) and they had a big pot with ceramic bowls and real flatware.  If you know me, you know I love food and specifically home made food.  I went over to their table, “Hi, I’m Sally, what have you got in the pot?” I’m sure I said it more politely and charmingly but you get the gist.  They introduced themselves, we starting talking about what they all did professionally, what I did professionally, and of course, the contents of the pot, biriani.  If you are not familiar with this rice dish, you must try it.  I was so excited and I told them that one of my best friends from college’s mom made me biriani all the time and I loved it.  They invited me to joint them for dinner.  They asked if I was with someone (a guy) and I said I had come to the party with someone.  They insisted I invite him over for food.  I went and fetched Josh.  He was mortified that we would be eating these people’s food and that I had spoken to strangers.  (He didn’t last long.)  They served us both food and we had a lovely conversation.  They invited us over for dinner on Sunday evening at their house and we actually went.  They cooked us a lovely Indian meal (they are Indian) and Pavitar and I enjoyed rum-spiked fruit smoothies (Josh was DD).  Josh didn’t last long after that date but Pavi and Aanmol did, they are dear friends that I just so cherish.

I started off this post wanting to talk about knowing one’s self.  And then it morphed into how I met these friends of mine.  I guess the two converge at some point.  I know that I can make friends with good people who like good food.  After dinner, as Laura, Chris and I were doing dishes, Laura commented that I was a magnet for good people.  I thought that was sweet but I don’t quite think it’s a compliment.  My dad always says life is a mirror, and you get back what you put out there.  At the expense of sounding self-serving and conceited, I will say that I do seek out people who like good food.  Not good in the 3 Michelin star rated restaurants but the, cooked in a banged up pot using the recipe your mom told you over the phone for the 42nd time, kind of good food.  Because it’s in those little things that you can tell a lot about people.

First Day of School!

Today is my first day of school!  I am so excited.  I remember being a kid and jittery with anticipation and excitement the day before the first day of school.  I’d have my outfit picked out and my school bag packed.  Now that’s a daily routine before work but that’s besides the point.  Today I have those jitters.  I am excited to be back in the sterile university building that has come to feel so familiar.  I am so looking forward to being reunited with my dear, dear classmates.  It is time.

Today marks the turning of a chapter.  It’s a new year, I am starting my third semester as a graduate student. I am happy, fulfilled, and thrilled to be pursuing my ambitions. I have the faith that life works itself out and the universe beautifully lays out our path for us.  I feel free and am doing right by me.  I have passion racing through my veins, confident that I am fulfilling my destiny.

That was written yesterday, I didn’t take my computer to school with me and what a liberating thing, not to mention the weight off my shoulder.  So here I sit with my tea, reflecting on last night’s class and my feelings after having a fitful night of sleep.

Frankly, I felt overwhelmed by the first class.  We went through the syllabus and there is so much reading.  And this is just one class, I am taking a second class that is going to be labor intensive as it is an applied research project requiring travel.  Not to mention that I work full time and fully value balance.  However, despite my feeling overwhelmed, as I re-read the words that I had written yesterday, I am overcome by a sense of calm.  I will get it done.  I will turn to my tried and true to do list method.  My scheduling of, well, just about everything.  And, this will be a drastic change for me especially after the holidays, but there will be a major cut back in my social life.  But as I said yesterday, I am ready and this is what must be done.  Sitting on the side lines is not my style, it may be difficult and saying no to that second drink or that invitation to happy hour might be difficult but I don’t even feel that it will because my desire to proceed down this path is greater than my desire to have a glass of wine with a friend after work.  I say that knowing very well that my friends understand and support my path.  And when it is time for me to relax, that wine will taste sweeter, the time with friends well earned.

So here’s to a new semester!  Here’s to fulfilling one’s destiny!  Here’s to knowing when to say yes and when to say no.

Living Life Right

I sometimes think I’m living my life all wrong.  This may sound strange because when you think of it, there is no “right” way to live life.  We do have socially and religiously imposed codes of conduct that vary by culture but every single one of those rules seems to have exceptions (like English grammar, but I digress).

Maybe it’s that every rule or “code of conduct” for living life is on a spectrum.  For example: killing is bad, except some people are OK with abortion, others not; killing during wartime is generally accepted, except for people who are complete pacifists (might I tell them about ISIS?); we have the death penalty, which is greatly contested all over the world.  So while we have these rules, there is a wide range of thoughts on how to live and opinions on them.  I don’t know if I can say what is right…who am I to impose my values and belief systems on people, all I do know is that I do indeed have my thoughts and beliefs and I have to be true to myself.  I also know that I cannot hurt others, I hope this to be a universal value but I’m afraid it is not.

Back to what inspires the thought of living life wrong.  I am a very reflective person.  I often look around and observe my life and the lives of those people around me.  While I can never fully understand what others are going through, I can learn from other peoples’ decisions and the route their life has taken consequently.  I also compare.  I have these degrees, experiences, life milestones (how we seem to measure success in our society) and while I may not have the traditional milestones that other women of my age do (husband, house, mortgage, etc), I do have my happiness, my experiences, my friends, my memories, and the peace of mind that I did it my way.  One of the song’s on the album of my life is Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” have a good listen to the lyrics:

 

At the expense of sounding incredibly religious and fatalistic, I ultimately believe that there is a rhyme and a reason for everything we do.  Maybe it’s a product of our personalities, the “cards we’re dealt,” our own desires, fears, limitations, etc. I don’t believe that our destiny is written in the stars but I do believe that every choice we make and decision we take is the fulfillment of our destiny.  How was I to know that by accepting a job, I would gain the experiences and meet the people who would perfectly set me up for the next chapter in my life?  I didn’t but that’s just it!  (This makes me think of the movie, “Butterfly Effect” from 2004.  If you haven’t seen it, you might want to check it out as it beautifully illustrates this concept, the idea that one decision takes us down a certain path but had we chosen a different option of the same decision, our life would be somewhere else entirely.)

So while I sometimes observe my friends, peers, etc. and accept that my life may be considered “non-traditional” by some, I am content with it and happy with my choices.  Because at the end of the day, I made the bed in which I sleep, I have the liberty and independence to make my own choices and if I’m unhappy with something, I can change it but I am happy and what more could a soul ask for?

Writing Workshop at Esalen

I spent this past weekend at a writing workshop at Esalen Institute in Big Sur.

Esalen is a retreat center on the beautiful coast of California, pools have been built around natural hot springs overlooking the coast.  You can sit in the warm, sulfury water, listen to the waves crash and look out to the horizon.

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View from my room

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Looking south down the coast. The area in the lower left hand corner of the photo is the hot spring pools.

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And the same view on a clear day 🙂
Well, clearer…

 

The grounds at Esalen are lovely, there’s a big garden where most of the produce is grown.  You walk through and smell rosemary, admire tomatoes, and listen to the buzz of bees and marvel at fluttering of butterflies.

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Marigolds in the garden

Mealtimes are wonderful at Esalen, it feels like summer camp!  The internet (wifi) is disconnected for mealtimes and real, live human interaction is encouraged.  The food is clean – think salad from the garden, pesto polenta, roasted carrots, hot cocoa, fresh baked rye bread (a slab of which is available all day long sitting on a cutting board, in front of a butter and jam bar).  People sit at long tables and talk, the murmur of conversation testament to the fact that humans are still able connect to one another without technology.

The writing workshop was hosted by The Sun magazine which is a literary magazine, self-described as “Personal.  Political.  Provocative.”  I love the writing they feature in the magazine as it’s real, no sugar coating of life, raw human experience on the page.

My experience was just that, pride and preconceived notions stripped away and just talking to people beyond the surface level and, of course, writing.  We attended various sessions and were given writing prompts and a limited time to write.  After, people would share their writing with the group which unfailingly prompted conversations.  One woman wrote about the death of two of her children in a car accident, after the session several parents went and spoke to her, overcome with compassion and sympathy.  Others wrote about professional experiences, personal failures, politics, poetry, you name it.  One gentleman stood up and read about his recent heartbreak, after I approached him and thanked him for sharing.  I told him I could relate to what he had described and we struck up a conversation.  It was a beautiful, unassuming connection and we shared our stories – there’s something healing about knowing you’re not alone in your experiences, in the world.

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The moon’s reflection over the ocean

 

No good deed ever goes unrewarded

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The Dead Sea, Jordan side

I woke up as the car rolled to a stop at the parking lot of Mount Nebo…in my half awake state, I thought I had heard somebody say that the site closed at 5pm.  It was 4:55.  Three police officers sat on plastic chairs near the entryway, “Is it open?” I called out to them. “Yes,” the middle one answered lazily, swinging his crossed leg back and forth.  “Do they close at 5?”  I asked, the tinges of irritation creeping into my head.  “Yes,” he responded in the same monotonic tone.  I chuckled away my irritation…he had answered my first question honestly.

At the front gate, we were told that the entry fee was 1 Jordanian Dinar.  We pulled out our wallets and paid.  “Doesn’t it close at 5?” I asked.  “Yella, 5:30.” (Alright fine, 5:30), the guard responded as if he had just acceded to a pleading toddler.  Still in my sleepy haze, I handed over a 1 JD piece and the guard looked surprised, “Miss, this is no longer used.” “Oh, I’m sorry,” I said and handed him another. “Where did you find this?”  I explained that I had found them in a box of currency at my parents’ house.  “These are no longer in circulation! Can I look at it?” He stared, inspecting every letter, every crease, starry-eyed at the out-dated currency with that juvenile glow of excitement.  After I paid – with effective currency – I told the guard he could keep the out-of-service piece.  He tucked it delicately into his uniform pocket.  I checked my wallet and found 1/2 and 1 JD notes that were no longer in circulation and took them out and handed them to him. “Here,” I said with a smile, “have these, too.”  “Allah yerda3 3allayki” (may God be kind to you) and he went on…wishing God would have favor on me, thanking me for my kindness.  He waved us through, despite our attempts for the last person in our party to pay, he insisted that it was unnecessary.  I felt like his blessings and well-wishes, although welcomed on my part, were a bit much for me giving him the equivalent of $2.50 in worthless currency.  But like they say, one woman’s trash is another man’s treasure.

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Cross sculpture at Mount Nebo (Moses’ serpent cross)

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Beautiful olive tree

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Mount Nebo, Jordan

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Looking out onto the Promised Land (Jericho is in the far distance and the Dead Sea to the far left)

On our way out, the same guard stopped us and handed each of us a Mount Nebo keychain as a token of his appreciation for our kindness.  I walked to the car with a skip in my step thinking that despite what we may hear, kindness and appreciation are not lost in our world.  As my dad says, “life is a mirror, if reflects back out at you who/what you are.”  So if you want to see more kindness in the world, put some kindness out there.