Friday, December 30, 2011

merry happy everything

from my new piece in GOOD magazine:

The No-Resolution Resolution: How to Really Be Happy in 2012

In mid-December, I celebrated my 30th birthday at a little Scandanavian restaurant in a quickly-changing part of DC. I was surrounded by great artwork, brightly colored vats of aquavit, and the people I loved most. Throughout the cocktails and the courses of heavy winter food, I kept looking around to marvel at all I have to appreciate in my life. Professionally, I am a decently busy photographer and yoga teacher. I just marked a year and half with my boyfriend (we’re an OKCupid success story). I have lovely friends and a great home and opportunities to travel. Most importantly, though, I feel good in my own skin and confident in my ability to handle the hard times.

It wasn’t always this way. Five years ago, I was going through some serious soul-searching. I was just back in the States after living abroad. Confused about what I wanted to do, I took a job at a dysfunctional non-profit, where I soon felt trapped. I had been single for a while and thought this meant something big about me. I tried to be myself, but each date I went on only confirmed how far I was from having the kind of relationship I wanted. There was nothing really wrong in my life, but nothing felt like it fit.

It took a lot of change to get to where I am now. I got a therapist and a life coach. I got serious about my yoga practice, sat for 10 days on an intense meditation retreat, and took ayahuasca with a shaman in the Peruvian Amazon. I took a lot of risks and was super honest about what I wanted—and what I was willing to do to get there. These days, I still feel fear, anger, anxiety, and shame. But I see these as temporary moods within the larger framework of a life I love.

I want this for us all. Although I am skeptical about most New Year's resolutions—my brother says we just use them to make ourselves feel better after overindulging in the holidays—I think now is as good a time as any to make the changes you’ve been thinking about. These are five ideas that have helped me on my quest to be happier.

1. Put the cart before the horse. The most important—and at times perhaps the most annoying—piece of advice that I’ve gotten is just to straight out be happier. We get so caught up in trying to look perfect, get promoted, be cool, find a partner. All of that stuff is awesome, but it's not going to feel good for long without a certain base of personal contentment. You’re just going to want more and more. If you really think about it, we seek things because we think we will feel better once we have them. So why not just feel better and then see what comes?

2. Dream big and challenge yourself. To me, making a "resolution" feels like a punishment and a chore. I’ve always preferred to think of these goals as "dreams," which stirs up the feeling of possibility for me. There is a special energy and real power that comes from talking about your dreams, even when they sound totally crazy. Around this time of year, I like to make a list of what I really want to see happen in my life. I may not get to everything on that list this year (or even in my lifetime), but at least I can understand what direction I want to be moving in. (If you are interested in learning more about the art of dreaming, check out the online class Mondo Beyondo.) If dreams don't appeal to you, think about your change as more of a challenge. In 2011 I challenged myself to take and post a photograph every day. Taking 365 pictures was fun at times and annoying at others, but in the end I learned that living an artistic life is about doing a little work every day, not just the occasional inspiration.

3. Act small. "Micromovements" is a term used by the inspirational author and dreaming advocate SARK. Twenty-eight years ago she was an unemployed artist in San Francisco who suffered from chronic procrastination. What changed her into the author of 16 bestselling books was learning how to take the first step. Her advice is that if your dream is to write a novel, then your first micromovement could be to turn on your computer. After that you can decide whether or not you want to keep going. If you do, from there you can open and name a Word document. If you decide to go further, then you can write a bad sentence and then maybe another will come. I’ve also heard this used as a way to motivate yourself to exercise: If you don’t feel like going for a run, just put on your shoes and see what happens. The key is to alleviate any pressure to do everything at once. Every project is made up of dozens of small steps that are all pretty doable.

4. Practice. “Practice and all is coming.” This is my favorite quote from Patabi Jois, the father of Ashtanga Yoga. His students—who were mostly Western—would come to him seeking help to escape their neuroses and destructive behavior. He would flash his beatific smile and tell them to go do their practice and everything would be ok. Of course, your practice doesn't have to be yoga. It can be biking or painting or anything that challenges and centers you. My boyfriend spends his weekends experimenting with new baking recipes, pushing himself to get the right consistency and trying again when his cakes fall. The simple act of baking makes him feel good. So what is your practice? Once you figure out what that thing is for you, make a point of doing it a few times a week and notice how you feel within the consistency. Bigger goals and dramatic changes are very real, but I’ve come to see that daily routines are really what sustain me. The best creative work often happens within the stability of practice.

5. Take refuge in yourself. The most incredible practice I’ve found is free-writing for 30 minutes each morning. I learned this from The Artist's Way (another great tool for tapping into your creative talents). I’ve done "morning pages" as consistently for over two years, and they have made such a big difference in my attitude about life. I grew up in a family where I was discouraged from talking too much about myself, especially when I was complaining. To me, there is no comfort that can compare to the privilege of being able to sit down for 30 minutes to write about whatever is going on inside. This writing practice has made me my own best friend. It has shown me that I have infinite amounts of strength and humor if I look for it, and that I deserve all of all of good things that happen to me once I make the decision to get out of my own way. So I just do it. I wake up and write until I feel clear. Then I close my notebook and make a bowl of oatmeal and enjoy my day.

Monday, December 19, 2011

last night i took a much-need break from holiday parties and watched "Pearl Jam 20" on netflix. my first love of music was pearl jam and my first star crush was eddie vedder (such raw emotion! such beautiful bone structure!) and not surprisingly, i was totally into this documentary. twenty years is a long time for a band from that era to stay around and i was inspired by how much they put into stay creative and fresh. hearing their older songs felt like reading the diary of my angsty 13-year-old self and i was happy that i was old enough to have felt like a part of that movement, because i think there was something pretty amazing going in the music and culture of that time.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

We meet ourselves time and again in a thousand disguises on the path of life.
-Carl Jung

30 gifts of my life...

1. to have received a human birth--so miraculous when i really think about it
2. i live in a country where i am free to believe and practice as i wish
3. my supportive family
4. my amazing, inspiring friends
5. my boo adam! he's the best
6. my career as a pet photographer and yoga instructor--who would have ever thought that was workable?
7. komi on tuesday! spaworld today! domku tonight! it's a dream celebration
8. the gift of my yoga practice and how it will always be there
9. my awesome house and the best roommates i could ask for
10. that's it's been a really good year for business and it feels good to not worry about money
11. that i always get to learn new things (like my 300 hour training this fall)
12. my health--such a good thing to be grateful for
13. all of my teachers (amma, sai baba, abraham, ayahuasca, pantajali, shawn, chrissy and so many more)
14. my neighborhood! i never thought i could feel so tide into a community living in a city
15. that i teach at the two coolest yoga studios in dc
16. my awesome yoga students--you all inspire me!
17. all of my travels--those that have passed and continued to come
18. the wisdom of ayurveda and how it really helps me to stay balanced
19. good new music (i love kevin courtney's new yoga tunes)
20. family in many forms (my host family in peru, my soul family all over the place)
21. there is always more! and it continues to be so good
22. awesome modes of transportation (my bike and the prius and my two lovely feet)
23. having time to cook great food from affordable, local produce
24. my great photography clients
25. my friends--they deserve another shout-out because i love them so much
26. this blog and the beauty of the internet and how much information, connection and inspiration it brings
27. pachamama, mother i love thee, thank you for having me here
28. being able to teach outreach yoga
29. the hard times of my life that have grounded me and show me what is possible
30. the biggest gift is that 30 feels so dang good! i wasn't sure what to expect but i feel more like myself than i ever have and so happy with all the celebrations that have occured. i've had some birthday neurosis in the past and little smidges of it in the past week but from the bottom of my heart i am just so happy to be alive today and celebrate how amazing these past 30 years have been and to get to dream about the next 30 and then the 30 after that...

Friday, December 9, 2011

dog days

a waiter from the wagtime 10th anniversary party

the most beautiful bounty of tat soi that i picked up at the glut

the icivics crew

drew and bill, the team behind fathom creative (where we held the wagtime party--more on thats soon) and the owners of a very cute rescue named mia

wow, it's been so long since i've sat down to write a real post. i've missed it! i've had some thoughts running through my head about how to celebrate exactly where you are--even if where you are is messy and neurotic and the opposite of where you think you need to be. i believe that is where the really good growth and human connection can happen.

yet there isn't time to write all those thoughts down as i had hoped. i'll let them keep percolating and see when the perfect quiet hour to write arrives across the landscape. for now though, i am well and busy and marveling at just how productive i can be when i need to be. i guess that is why being self-employed works so well for me.

until then, here are a few things i have been enjoying these days: is a great ayurveda blog that makes it super accessible for us modern yogis. she has inspired me to be one of those people who wakes up before sunrise to meditate and i'm surprised by how much i like it.

"comfortable with uncertainty" the book of short essays by uber-wise pema chodron. it's the most real and accesible form of any spiritual philosophy that i have come across. i've been reading them in my classes this week and oh my how they have resonated.

alt-latino's best of 2011 breakdown podcast. they always turn me on to some cool new work. my favorite is the new album from helado negro, ecuador's electronica version of bon iver.