Monthly Archives: December 2011

THREEDEELIFER: JOVAN DAJKOVICH

And now for the last post of my three-part series of encounters at the Com Coracao event, featuring my new friend Jovan Dagkovich.  Our entire conversation lasted like 15 minutes, but was so totally right on that I want to share it.  (Take-away: watch out next time you have a 15 minute conversation with me…:))

Jovan is a filmmaker.  One of the first things I learned about him is that he generally thinks spiritual things, self-exploration, ect. is bullshit.  I think he was wearing black when I met him.  He definitely reminded me of New York.

Despite being a self-professed skeptic, Jovan had just had an awesome week where he learned something about himself.  So he was open.  And he was nice.  So I felt inspired to tell him that I was writing a blog on spirituality and everyday life.  As I felt the words leave my mouth, I thought–alright, well, here is the part where I lose him.

Shows how much I know.  Actually, what happened was that Jovan excitedly shared something that touched him.  And the thing that he connected with beauty… and passion…and spirituality… was the scene from American Beauty where the camera just follows the plastic bag blowing in the wind.  You can watch that scene here.

I just re-watched the scene, and I am so grateful and psyched that Jovan pointed this out to me.  The scene (and the fact that it inspired a skeptic like Jovan) is a validation of exactly why I am writing this blog.  Spirituality does not always find you in a church or require faith.  It can hit you during everyday mundane life.  In fact, if you do not go to church or believe in any dogma, then everyday life is the only time spirit is going to hit you.  And hit you it will (but you will feel no pain…).  If we just pay attention and let down our guards a bit, our hearts WILL be opened by even the seemingly smallest of things.  A freaking PLASTIC BAG can be a moving experience.

The narration of this American Beauty scene captures this idea perfectly.  In the movie, the narrator (Rickie Fitts) says:  “You want to see the most beautiful thing I’ve ever filmed? It was one of those days when it’s a minute away from snowing and there’s this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it. And this bag was, like, dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes.  And that’s the day I knew there was this entire life behind things, and… this incredibly benevolent force, that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever. Video’s a poor excuse, I know.  But it helps me remember… and I need to remember… Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in.”

God, I love that.  In fact, it reminded me of the famous Sufi poet Rumi, who wrote about how he was drunk with his love for the world as an expression of the Divine.   Rumi said:  “Observe the wonders as they occur around you.  Don’t claim them.  Feel the artistry moving through and be silent.” 

Here is to getting in touch with “the life behind things” and the “artistry moving through” our world.

With love,

N

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answering

these are all so close, yet i cant quite touch them.
the land is sold.
the oldest is gone.
and he no longer sleeps.i lay these broken truths down,
carefully place my body on the ground
and pray.

i ask to understand
that life is short.
and please, may i feel my fear so deeply,
scare it out of the shadows until i see its face,
in bold relief.

what i am given
is that life has no end

and for a second i perceive,
in sudden and bright clarity,
the obviousness of love.

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CHRISTMAS PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE

I want to take a quick break in the three-part series to wish everyone a very merry Christmas.  Christmas, leading into New Year’s, serves as my calendar’s axis, the central point around which my year swings.  Before rounding the corner, time slows down….allows me to rest…then picks up speed and thrusts me once again into another year.

In this pause, I reflect on Christmases past.  What I remember most vividly from my childhood is the hushed feeling of expectation the night before Christmas.  The tree full of ornaments, and smelling of pine.  Tons of presents underneath the changing colored lights (in my child’s memory, a mountain!).  Giving the tree one last glance before going up the stairs to my room.  Being happy deep inside about how pretty it was and how full of promise.  And then warm in my bed, completely unable to go to sleep.  Until I did, and then it was Christmas morning (7 am?) and I got to tear down the stairs and wait impatiently until everyone else had assembled for rip-the paper-open, breathless fun.

When I was a kid, I took it for granted that Christmas would continue on in the same way forever, a fixed magical feature of my year.  But the reality is that I haven’t had those kinds of Christmases for a while.  In high school I was content to wake up at 10 am and amble down to the tree.  It was nice, but it wasn’t the same.  I mean, for one thing, there is just no way as an adult I will ever get anything as completely awesome as Barbie’s Tropical Mansion.  To put it more bluntly, I grew up.  The tree grew small, and the lights less bright.

So there it is.  Life is constantly changing, we cannot hold on.  As much as we want to join Tinkerbell and Peter, we don’t get a Never-Never Land (for all you Buddhists out there, yes, this is a meditation on impermanence.)  But that’s okay.  In fact, this is what gives makes me love and appreciate Christmas today.  Today, unlike when I was a kid, I get that I might not have another Christmas like this one.  I appreciate that I have been blessed with one more year with my parents, brother, family, and friends.  When I give thanks for what I have, the old magic and wonder is still there.  But today, it is deeper, more truly grateful, and somewhat bittersweet.

As for the Christmas to come, I have no idea what those will bring.  I just hope that there are more memories to be made, more life to be lived.  And I hope I appreciate every one.

Merry Christmas and love to all!

N

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THREEDEELIFER: ALLISON KUNATH

Part two of the series spotlight on threedeelifers from Sunday’s event . . . featuring Allison Kunath.  Allison is a blow-your-mind amazing graphic designer and artist.  You can check out some of her regular work at her personal website, or her professional portfolio.  She is also a total sweetheart, and a fashion maven to boot (side-swept, feminine mohawk, anyone?)

At the Com Coracao event, Allison was displaying her work next to Gary’s (these funky modern tribal/animalistic portraits).  Gary immediately told me I need to sit for one of Allison’s drawings.  Hmmmm…. sure!  No idea what was happening.  In under a minute, I was in a stool facing Allison while she whipped out her drawing journal.  She explained that she was going to do a single-line drawing of me, without once looking at the paper to see what results she was getting.  Instead, she gazed into my face and eyes as her hand moved across the page.   Very intimate, super cool.  You feel like she is studying and getting into every line of your face.

And you know me . . . I immediately went to the “heart” of what she was doing.  “Ah, you are practicing surrendering to the moment!”  Allison shot me a warm smile.  “Yes!”  She explained that her regular work was precise, polished, and very labor intensive (as you can tell from looking at her websites–wow!).  So this was her way of kicking back, giving up control, and seeing what emerged.  What came out was this lovely multi-perspective Picasso-esque rendering:

I wanted to blog about Allion’s practice because I thought it was a beautiful way for her to connect with an ever-present creative force, with her own heart, and with the spirit of the people in the chair in front of her.  I also think it is a great contrast to Gary’s work, because for him, he felt inspired to spend eight hours (and hour years) taking photos.  For Allison, she felt inspired to get out of her head and create spontaneous images.  The heart will finds what it needs to grow (its natural “counterpoint”) and to become more full.  We just have to be willing to let it do its work!   And it is so awe-some to see what each person contributes.

In fact, everyone was running around the event on Sunday talking about Allison’s drawing of themselves…and I have seen multiple re-postings of her work on Facebook.  No doubt–when you connect with your own heart, other people feel it, and it allows you to connect with them.   I have felt some of this with this blog.  My heart needed to start expressing itself in places other than my journal… and it has naturally and effortlessly given me a way to get closer to people.

Footnote:   The idea of finding your “heart-counterpoint” is a really cool one for businesses to consider.  If your normal product is somewhat rigid and perhaps upscale, what is a way to translate that product into a less rigid and relaxed format?  Or if your normal product is spur of the moment, what is a way to bring that into a more developed work?  It is all about finding the fullest expression of whatever you have to offer the world.

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THREEDEELIFER: GARY ALAN KRUEGER

My first post, I mentioned that one of the things I wanted to do with this blog was highlight the ways in which other people I meet are implementing their own version of daily spirituality.  This will be the first post along those lines, and it is going to be a three-part series highlighting three different “ThreeDeeLifers.”  !  I met all three people this past Sunday, at this very cool charity art event “Com Coracao” put on by Marilinda Rivera and TasteNation, feauturing artwork inspired by Brazil.  What better place for daily spirituality than Brazil, right?  If anyone mixes the streets with the divine, it is the Brasilieros.  Axe!!!

Alright, first person up to bat is the person who invited me to this event, the wonderful Gary Alan Krueger.  One of the reasons why I think spirituality is so important (more on this later) is because it creates a sense of CURIOSITY about your world, and makes you PASSIONATE about living in that world and contributing to it in some fashion.

Gary’s story is a perfect example of this. Gary was presenting his photographs of Brazil at the event.  He has gone on two two-year trips around the world, through 23 countries, including Brazil.  As he started to travel, he began to take pictures.  You can see his work here. 

Now, plenty of people take photographs, and it is just that.  Taking photographs.  For Gary, it was a deeper practice.  His bio on his website is very heartfelt, but this one phrase really called to me:  “I am constantly humbled by an eternally deep and profound respect for nature.”  Wow, that really nails it.  When you are humbled, you are aware that you are in the presence of something greater than yourself.  I don’t care what your mind “labels” as that larger force–God, Nature, whatever it is.  It has touched your heart, and it has moved you.  That’s what I am talking about.

As he was showing me his photos, he was explaining how each one of these photos involved an incredible investment of time and energy.  This one… shows a place that took five hours to hike to.  That one…required time lapse photography that took hours to perfect.  This one…he had to lay on his back to capture the perfect shot that avoided the crowds.

But the one that affected him the most was a shot of Iguazu Falls, visible on his blog as the sixth photo in the oceanscapes category.  He told me that he spent two weeks at Iguazu Falls, and over eight hours trying to get this shot.  When it finally came got the shot he wanted, there was a cloud that looked like an angel overhead.  And this photo helped him celebrate and mourn his dear friend who had just passed.  What a beautiful story of curiosity, passion, and heart.

Recognizing spirit around us humbles us.  It makes us passionate.  It inspires us to invest hours of loving care into a practice that connects us more deeply with that spirit.  And ultimately, it can help us heal when there is pain, and find beauty around us even when we are alone.  This doesn’t happen in a church, it happens whenever and however we are willing to let it in.

Thank you for sharing Gary.

Love,

N

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What It Takes to Come Alive…

Yes, the title of this post is from the Rihanna song.  Sing it!

Today, I did two of my favorite things: meditating and surfing.  Even though one of them is externally very active and the other appears to be very still, the two have a shared flavor for me.  Both of them are a way to connect with a larger, moving, current of life.  In surfing, you have to tune into the rhythm and speed of the waves.  There is technical skill involved in getting  it right, but a lot of it is just connecting with the ocean and the moment.  When you get it right and harmonize with a waves, you fall into synch with this larger power and allow yourself to become part of its force.  I love watching really good surfers and seeing how quickly and naturally they drop into waves.  It hits me someplace deep in my heart and I feel a deep love for life and the total fucking amazingness of it.

Meditating is similar.  Most of the times, are minds are so full of chatter that we don’t drop down into the larger feeling of just being alive.  When you meditate, you pause for a bit and clear away enough room to connect with what it feels like to be…breathing…right now…right here….Sometimes when I meditate I notice myself pulling away from the experience.  That pulling away takes many forms:  I am bored.  I am not doing this right.  What time is it?  Hmm, I should be feeling “more.”  I have realized that the way to get back to the moment is not to push those feelings away.  Instead, I have to accept all of those and bring them into the meditative experience by saying yes to them.  I have to say, yup, that is part of being alive too.  Yes, this anxiety I feel, or restlessness is exactly what is going on with me right now.  You keep on widening and widening yourself to keep on accepting ANYTHING that comes up.  And after a while, you are surfing the moment, in synch with whatever arises and just feeling the power behind it.  The deep, insistent power of breath, and aliveness, and you realize that the initial anxiety has turned into kind of a thrill.

There are many ways to connect with this power of being alive…like singing along to Rihanna in your car for the hell of it.  Whatever it is, let that energy rip through you!  What it takes to come alive….Let me know in the comments what brings you alive.

Love,

N

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The Power of Naming

First, let me just say last night’s Black Star concert was unbelievable.  Tuesday night’s Watch the Throne concert was incredible for its brilliant production, both lyrically and visually.  But Black Star kept it simple–just Mos, Talib, and J. Rocc.  Instead of flash, they brought about 1000 watts of soul, heart, and beats.   It was full of SPIRIT, and the crowd was moved.   Good music opens your heart!

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Alright, so to the point of today’s post.  I was en route to the concert last night with my friend (in the most amazing cargo van ever…just picture a van about 3 stories high, which 6 rows of seats.  Apologies to the environment, but it is a killer ride.)  My friend is hilarious, so I was trying to come up with some stories to tell him and keep the laughter going.   I decided to tell him about how my friend Matty and I have this really funny character we created…who is from Lowell…and has this funny accent…and who drunkenly berates inanimate objects and calls them “Skippy”….and….umm…..

About half-way through the story it becomes totally clear to me that this ship is sinking fast.   If I try and  finish this story, it is definitely going to require a:  “Guess you had to be there” disqualifier.   We would then both uncomfortably ignore the fact that the story was super lame, and then try and switch the conversation to something that actually made sense.   I hate those moments, although they happen to the best of us.

I decided to go Neo on it.  Instead of trying to force it, I was going to call it out for what it was.  “Ummm…I just realized in the middle of this story that it is actually not going to be funny at all and I have no idea why I even began telling it to you.”  And my friend breathed a sigh of relief and told me “Yeah, I was actually getting the sense it was going to be one of those horrible, ‘Guess you had to be there,’ stories.”  And then we had a whole conversation about how you have those moments in stories when you can tell they are not going to work out, and how you handle that, which was hilarious and oh-so-true.   (For those who find themselves in this situation, another fun tactic is to just randomly finish the story with: “And then I found $200 dollars on the sidewalk.”  Who doesn’t love stories about free money?  Or maybe you could go the Kanye route: “And then, I told her to run a bubble bath, and float in that motherfucker like a hovercraft….”  I mean, who says shit like that and doesn’t laugh?)

Well, it turns out that how we handle these small moments of uncomfortableness (or large ones) are an important part of spiritual practice.  The bottom line is that most people do not like to feel uncomfortable.   Make sense.  So what happens is that we tend to ignore anything that makes us feel ickey– or run away from it, or beat ourselves up about it in an effort to get rid of it, or blame another person for making us feel bad.  We do anything but just FEEL the bad stuff.   While logical, this actually has some pretty powerful consequences.  One of the consequences is that we are subtly teaching ourselves that these bad feelings have power over us.   And the truth is that, they don’t.  They are just feelings.  They come and go.  They are not the truth about ourselves.  They are smaller than us.   We can feel them AND remain connected to our hearts and to our center.

So it is important to stay present during these uncomfortable moments.  To stay present with them means that instead of trying to “fix” them or ignore them or push them away, you just notice them.  you investigate them.  You feel how they manifest in your body.  When you allow hidden fears to fully emerge in your conscious mind and physical body, you are taking them out of the dark into the light.  Once in the light, we have power over them.   Step by step, you are building your spiritual strength.  Shambhala Buddhism refers to this general idea of battling self-ignorance and self-delusion as the way of the “spiritual (or sacred) warrior.”

A big example of this practice, and my favorite, comes from an older Buddhist gentleman suffering from Parkinson’s.  The gentleman went to go give a lecture on Buddhism at this local center.  He sat down at the front of the room.  He opened his mouth.  And then he realized he had absolutely no idea what to say.  Total fear and embarrassment filled him.  Even a bit of terror.  So what does he do?   He does not gloss over the situation, and pretend like nothing is wrong.  He does not walk off in shame, or take a break to go cry in the bathroom.   He sits there with dignity and compassion.   And he begins to name exactly what is happening… “I have no idea why I am here.  I feel fear… embarrassment… confusion….”  He was totally vulnerable.  He was unbelievably brave.   His openness and humanity brought people in the audience to tears.  And as he sat there, he gradually remembered why he was there and was able to continue with the rest of his lecture.  Many people in the audience later said it was one of the most powerful teaching they had ever received.

So,  staying present to uncomfortable feelings through naming is a powerful practice.  It can shift an otherwise difficult situation, and allow you to stay connected to your own power even as you experience self-doubt.  Next time you feel something uncomfortable, try becoming aware of it.  What does it feel like?  Where is it coming from?  And then instead of denying it, see if you can acknowledge it.  Depending on the situation, you can just acknowledge it to yourself and give a little shout out to the feeling (OK, fear, I see you!).  Send it love.  Feel how, in the light, it is suddenly not as scary as your first thought.  Or you can even name it out loud and reveal yourself to the other person.  As both my story and the story with the old Buddhist shows (although to very different degrees), it can be a relief and a blessing when someone is willing to be vulnerable and real.  And even allow for some shared laughter or tears.

If you have a story with naming (when you used it, a time when you wished you had used it, when someone else used it), share it below!

With love,

N

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Thieves in the Night

Going to see Black Star tonight, so I figured I would riff off of Thieves in the Night (which they drew from a Toni Morrison novel).

Not strong, only aggressive/Not free, we only licensed/Not compassionate, only polite (now who the nicest?)/Not good but well-behaved/Chasin’ after death so we could call ourselves brave, still livin’ like mental slaves/Hiding like thieves in the night from life/Illusions of oasis making you look twice.

What is the difference between strength and aggression?  Between compassion and being polite?  Sometimes the truly strong move might look weak.  Or compassion will require not giving someone something that they think they need.  When we act from our minds, we force situations to fit expectations.  When we act from our center, we give up appearances to find a larger, deeper truth.

One of the most compassionate things I have done lately–for both myself and the other person involved–was leave someone I loved (yes, there will be more posts on this…)  It would have been safer and maybe more comfortable to cling to the life I thought we were building together.  But it wasn’t real.  There was a part of me saying, Wow Nicole, that was cold that you could just leave like that.  Maybe you do not know how to love.  But the truth was that the most caring move I could make was to be strong for both of us and speak the truth.  My decision didn’t come from a cold place at all…it did not come from anger…it did not come from fear.  It came from a place of deep sorrow and tenderness.  True compassion blows your mind’s idea of compassion out of the water.  And to get there, you have to stop hiding from life and own up to some uncomfortable truths.

P.S. Shout out to people who have obvious integrity but embody it in a way that challenges expectations about what it means to be good.  Good does not always mean well-behaved or polite. 🙂

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Wisdom From a Bartender

I have had a great week so far.   Major highlights: new friends, local dinner parties, and of course, attending the Watch the Throne Tour.  Nothing gets me excited and alive like dancing to some music that goes HAM.   And yes, musings about dance parties belong on this blog.  As do poems about walking home at night.  This is all about finding the light in the daily.

But I want to bring it back a bit to my post about Letting Go.  When I wrote that post I was in a local restaurant/bar down the street from my house called Fishbar.   While I was there, the bartender asked me what I was writing about.   Now, not only was this guy a bartender, he also had a striking resemblance to Paul Bunyon.  Full facial beard, stalwart disposition, tall, strapping.  So I had my misgivings as I took a leap of faith and told him I was blogging about spirituality and daily life, and described my post about Letting Go.  Turns out that beneath his mountain man exterior was an open heart.  When I finished, he nodded, and said, “Yup, that sounds about right.  But you also have to remember that it is okay to have that feeling of need in the first place.”

WHAT!  Bunyon the Bartender broke. it. down.   He actually hit on one of the key parts of Letting Go.  See, the thing is that you can not force yourself to Let Go.  Like, I cannot say, “Nicole, you are being stupid, how could you have been so foolish at to have these needs, stop it immediately.”  I am not a robot.  I am not trying to be hard.

We are vulnerable people who want love.  We have to love and forgive and have compassion for that part of us that wants connection.  And the moment we forgive ourselves for having those feelings, we actually see them for what they are: a very sweet part of ourselves that wants and needs our own love.  In loving ourselves, we stop demanding things from the outside world that are not realistic.  This is not a one-time deal.  When I am going through something where I have to let go, I sometimes feel like I am walking around just cradling my heart in my hands, going “It’s okay.  I love you.”  Over and over and over until I regain my power.

Alright people, that is it for this post.  And remember: don’t be afraid to get deep with your local bartender.   They might have some real-life wisdom to share.

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nighttime poem

lit by the full bloom moon

my night-self feels the end of another day.

the soft pad of my feet on the empty cement, echoes

as they carry me home.

the smell of fresh laundry from a thousand times before

then—the sudden ache of familiarity, from nowhere.

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