Easter in Santiago

Some of my favorite experiences on this trip so far have been the unplanned, yet calculated series of yes’s that lead to outings and interactions with locals. They are the deep, authentic moments of culture immersion that are near impossible to feel on the surface level that is being a tourist. They are the tastes, after all, that are the true makings of travel. They are the experiences that remind us to accept the interconnectedness of life using a broader perspective. The night before Easter was one of those times.

Part 1

A. and my intentions for that Saturday were to be productive: accomplish some reading, some writing and some financial planning. We had been in Santiago, Chile, for nearly two weeks- the longest we had been in a single place- and we were getting antsy. Though our Airbnb landlord, R., had invited us to a daytime electronic park party in the morning, he found us, hands grasping the barred gates, open-mouthed and wide-eyed, staring at the overly stimulating, yet very over, park darty at 9:30 p.m. that evening.

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Getting writing inspiration via coffee at Cafe Forestal in the Bellas Artes district in Santiago.
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A glowing bench display at the Lollapalooza Music Festival in Santiago on March 19-20.

Laughing, R. followed up his first invite with a second: did we want to join him and his friend at a house party in the “Beverly Hills” of Santiago? Eager not to miss a second shot at fun- whyyeswedid.

The Chilean hillside house was stunning. It was equipped with an in-ground pool and lounge area, a living tree growing through the ceiling in the shower, Buddha statues galore and other sprinkles of modern design.

A local couple approached us shortly after our arrival, offering a kind welcome and intriguing conversation. We hit it off instantly, discussing deep relationships and closeness with others, connectivity and mindfulness. The Chilean man told me that at once point in his life he felt anger and dislike toward certain individuals. How could I love a rapist or a thief?, he asked aloud. We concurred together an answer to be something like this: it is morally difficult, but possible when looking at the pixels that are the sameness in each of us.

Instead of getting caught up in the differences, dive into the deeper, shared qualities. It doesn’t mean malicious and unkind acts should be overlooked or justified. It does not make them right or change wrongdoing that has already happened. But remembering the oneness of humanity aids in the relief that is forgiveness and even further, love. At the end of the day, we are all human. It is much easier and deeper to find love for another person remembering that than it is to love, accept or evaluate someone solely for their actions.

It is both the tiny pixilations that compose us, and the magnificent web of oneness that encompasses us all. It is not the insignificant differences that lie in between. We humans share all of the same most magnificent and significant qualities: the universe inside.

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Venus visible in the night sky from Amantani Island on Lake Titicaca in Peru, March 6.

Before leaving the party of Chileans, swaying to the dj and having lounge chair conversations under the night sky, our friend left me with one more piece of wisdom: family is the most important.

“At the end of it all, they gave you life. They are humans just like the rest of us. They don’t know what they’re doing. But they brought you here. And without them, you are nothing.”

Part 2

I woke up feeling homesick on Easter morning, in part due to last night’s conversation with the stranger and to a dream I had about my grandparents and my aunt. But after calling my parents and speaking with some loved ones, and a short moment of condolence from the person who has spent the last 75 straight days with me, I was feeling better and was ready to celebrate Easter the way that I best knew how- like my family.

I pulled an Easter outfit out of my backpack to get me in the spirit: cue pink floral romper and pink lipstick. I compiled three Easter “bags” out of the $10 thousand Chilean pesos’ worth of chocolate I had bought the day before (not included in the backpacker budget): one for my favorite sweet-toothed partner, one for R. and the last for our roommate, T.

I let the three adult men search the house excitedly as I cooked Easter brunch for A. and me, smiling at how much I reminded myself of my mother.

A. helped set the backyard table, munching on his remaining peanut-butter-filled chocolate eggs while we waited for my frittata to finish (I really do need to stop eyeballing measurements- how do you do it, dad?!).

In some time, we moved outside to enjoy a delicious brunch of eggs, home fries, fruit salad and avocado, accompanied by the South American touches of fresh maracuya juice and Chilean red wine.

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A. and I enjoying Chilean wine at a park after brunch.

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We sat outside laughing and talking long after the food was finished. If the neighboring cat made an appearance, I might’ve thought I really was home. Or better yet, that my family was all here with me celebrating like we always do. I smiled again at A., feeling loved and full of love.

The stranger was right. I am human, just like him and our families, and just like every other stranger besides him. What’s more, my family did give me this life. They have given me everything. And they are always a part of me.

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Easter brunch 2016: a product of having channeled my family members.

Bailando, Bailando

I am 100% a proponent of getting out of one’s comfort zone. I believe in the truth that is humbling oneself, and growing pains and expressing oneself and taking actions in ways that may be unfamiliar, but honorable to the higher self that is calling.

That being said, I have not always been the first in a group to do something outlandish, and I am, in my most natural state, a creature of comfort.

 

Malécon of Lima, Peru

 

The magic and at times, exhaust of traveling is that it pushes you endlessly further outside of your circle of “known.”

And on this continent of South America where I speak little of the official language(s) and dance even less of the local movements, there have been times where I’ve found myself feeling a bit out of place!

To counter these feelings of discomfort (paired with the mysterious, nearly constant feelings of light nausea- from brushing my teeth with faucet water?), I decided it was time to do something that really made me feel like me again. For any of you who have read this past post, you shan’t be surprised… I set my eye and heart on checking out the botanical gardens on my handy city map of Lima, Peru.

I grabbed my journal and a cold botella de agua and headed to my park, only to find that with my limited Spanish speaking skills, I could not confirm with the man at the information desk whether or not the gardens were still open and if they were indeed worth the 20-minute taxi ride.

Alas, my next move was simple: set up in Kennedy Square, a park full of bright scarlet sages and orange zinnias and- to my pleasure- stray cats and kittens!

Cats in Kennedy Square in the Miraflores District, Lima

 

Upon approaching the park I found a circle of people and some Latin music sounding. I was hoping to stumble upon a live concert, only to see pairs of elderly couples dancing salsa and meringue in a small rounded pit surrounded by the crowd! Feeling warmth in my heart, I decided to watch a few songs.

 

At the start of the third song, I was startled by a Spanish offer.

Granted, Spanish-speakers communicate ridiculously fast and my comprehension skills are below the average first grader’s, I could only assume that this man was asking me to willingly volunteer myself as token gringa in this dance party of wiser, older, more coordinated Latino hip-swingers.

While my own dear gringo man and world-adventure partner has been so kindly coaching me in meringue movements whenever we’re out (he’s a much better dancer than I am; I told him once and he’ll never let me forget it), I was by no means feeling confident enough to showcase my skills amongst these naturals.

“No, no, no,” I said in my best Spanish accent, shaking my head and gesturing at my full hands.

But whether it was my already existing cultural discomfort (what more do I have to lose!), the young Peruvian man’s incessant requests, the middle-aged woman grabbing the water bottle and journal out of my hands and waving me to go, or a combination of the three, what finally came out of my mouth was an exhaled, “Ok… Vamos!”

Into the pit I went, where I discovered the song required Cubana dance skills (which I also didn’t have) and I giggled half-nervously, half-without-inhibition for the next three and a half minutes, making smiley eye contact with other dancers and older folk who were sitting on the surrounding stairs.

Whether they thought I was crossing barriers of age, skin tone or dancing skills, or imposing on cultural traditions or merely a Sunday evening routine, we were all laughing.

Because, when honest with yourself, it is impossible to see someone throwing themselves humbly outside their comfort zone without it affecting you as well.

The good-natured heart in us all knows deep down the courage and strength that vulnerability takes, and the beauty of that alone is infectious.

I found that that song alone was enough to fuel me in my pursuit of comfort, which was really after all a need to feel the greatness that I have, and have had in me all along.

In doing something that felt a lot less of me, I felt a lot more of me, because I was feeding the parts of expansion, the parts of myself I didn’t yet know were there.

I thanked my partner and the kind woman who guarded my belongings and I walked across the park. I sat myself beside a bed of scarlet sages and cats, opened up my journal, and I smiled. Because I realized that no matter where I am in the world, I can find a little bit of me, and I can fall a little bit more in love with it every day.

Parque del Amor, Lima

 

Closer to My Dreams

  Day 10 está aquí! While the time is certainly flying by, it seems like we’ve been in blissful exploration for months. What was this life prior full of laundry machines, closets and iced coffee? 

We’re finally getting the hang of this lifestyle where our possessions are rollable and squeezable and transportable on our backs (#trapeziusqueen). We’ve started cooking our own meals, hand washing our clothes and even bargaining with locals for free tent-pitched-night’s sleeps behind hostels and hotels. 

Despite the Western luxuries from another life, I have been reminded in just this week and a half the humbling treasures of traveling. 

I am back to being surrounded by the new, the unfamiliar. I am forced to be alert and present. I am living life wide-eyed, soaking in every new word, custom and person.  

  

I think that this awareness is what draws humans to travel again and again. It is the complete immersion into a new world that reminds us how minuscule our personal problems and lives are in the grander scheme. It is the feeling of ego-deflation, the resetting of perspective and the stripped-down rawness of self, eyes wide and arms open, ready to embrace modestly and gratefully all that the world has to offer. 

This presence, awareness and alertness is what I was craving when I last mentioned feeling stuck; the feeling right before the acceleration. I’m starting to figure that people can only stay comfortably “stuck” for so long, lest the fear of change keep them from breaking habit. Perhaps it is different for everyone- once I started to feel that stagnation, I knew my truth was calling me to something more. 

There is no fearlessness without having fears; the courage comes in facing them. 

When I answered my truth’s calling, magical things happened. Not only did I have the courage to face my fears, I had the drive to go out searching for them myself. It was this newfound understanding of my capabilities and my strength that guided me. I wrote in my journal, “I’m feeling so fearless these days; so fully grasping my life by the horns and just living the way I want to live!” 

With that exciting, fulfilling understanding and appreciation about making my life my very own in all the ways I wanted to, I found the power to face down these fears. I found the key to fearlessness (“they don’t want you to live”🔑🔑🔑). I followed my truth and my calling and I dove right in. And I learned there is no fear of death or failure, so long as you’re living your life the way that you love to live it. There is nothing to regret, no “should have, would have, could have” and no unfinished business. 

Because you know that you listened, self-reflected, sought out and tried. You challenged yourself to be the best you, and only you, could be. And with the fulfillment of doing what you love for your truth and purpose comes no greater reward and unlimited possibilities. 

I am diving, head first into this passionate, truthful life of mine. I’m not stopping, giving in, and I’m never turning back. 

  For those of you who can’t decipher the typically my-eyes-only chicken scratch, it reads: “I jumped off the bridge. Who do I think I am! Who is this girl, fearless in her evolution and plight in discovering and striving toward and grasping her truth, smiling all the while?”

It is me. And it has always been me. Just how it is you, and has always been you. 

 

  The Puente San Francisco in Baños, Ecuador- 100 meters high.

For those of you who read this post thinking the truth and presence vernacular was more looney than transparent, I would love to share and reference two life-changing books that helped me understand: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle. Happy reading, and happy living. 🙂

The Revelation of Acceleration

Greetings, all, and happy 2016 from good & grateful! As some of you may know, I embark on the next chapter of my being come daylight. I have condensed my material possessions into 80 liters-worth (think this and this), made a conscious decision to wander off the corporate-career-crazed path (I promise I’ll get a 9-5 soon, Mom and Dad) and booked a one-way flight to South America with a golden soul with whom I share this very dream of seeing the world.

Like many of my peers who walked the stage this May, I returned home under my parents’ roof to reestablish my finances and my footing in the vastness that post-graduation life offered. Sweet summertime flew by, a high-energy, “work hard, play hard” period that certainly seemed to still embrace those college values and routines that we (I) were not yet eager to let go of.

By the time a slower autumn came around, I was feeling stagnant at home and out of school; I was itching for the next experience to learn and grow. The idea to backpack South America, formulating over playful breakfast talks, evolved to be just the adventure I was craving. But I was still feeling stuck where I was, counting my days away. I didn’t like this not-good-nor-grateful mentality one bit, but I couldn’t seem to break it.

That’s what deep talks with good friends are for, right?! A conversation with some close college friends regarding this plateaued post-grad life led me to a new understanding:

Just as it doesn’t serve one to dwell on the past, it is equally unfavorable to wish away the present.

I believe that the universe is alive and conscious and always taking care of me. The time given is presented in just the way and in just the right amount that is needed for each of us to do exactly what we need to do; whatever that may be.

 

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With deeper reflection I realized that there was a reason I was still here at home, and there were things that I had left unfinished that needed to be addressed for my further and future growth. We are always right where we need to be. As much as I wished for the day of my trip, I had unfinished business to see right here at home.

These two college buds helped me reach another revelation in that talk around a bumper pool table in Pittsburgh, Penn., that weekend. I had written once about my developing mindset away from life as a linear, single path of progression to reach an ultimate destination, and more toward something inclusive and encompassing of twists and turns and unpredictability. The second revelation: maybe life is like a roller coaster after all.

Just when you’ve nearly stopped at the top of a loop and you’re plateaued, hanging upside down, feeling stuck? Everything is only just about to begin. It’s all about to accelerate.

With a flight to Quito, Ecuador, at 5 a.m., I think it’s safe to say it’s all beginning. In just the right time and in just the right way it needed to.

We’ve got some serious plans to be immersed in our travels, but I’ll do my best to steal his Kindle every once in a while to post some blog updates! Stay good & grateful amigos! Adiós! (I’m working on it).

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(A sneak peak at my life in 80-or-so liters)

How To Be Simple, Not Basic

There is a new female identity emerging in American pop culture. She attends all the local Zumba™ classes, drinks Pumpkin Spice Lattes from Starbucks, and lives vicariously through “Sex and the City” reruns, all while wearing her leggings as pants. She shares all unoriginal interests and characteristics of her best friends. She is, according to mainstream society, the “basic b**ch.”

Urban Dictionary, the online cultural dictionary, defines basic as, “… someone devoid of defining characteristics that might make a person interesting, extraordinary, or just simply worth devoting time or attention to.”

A simple Google search will equip one fully with, well, the basics. Blogs define the term, BuzzFeed entices readers with quizzes to implore their own basic qualities, and Cosmopolitan encourages full identity conformity with articles addressing, “The Best Things About Basic B**ches.” Accompanied with the humor and slight truths common to all stereotypes, the Basic B**ch identity’s sweeping coverage proves difficult to escape. The following are a few simple alternatives to being a basic that aim to relieve the pressure on females today. Isn’t it time to stop being basic and start being individuals free of inhibitions? It’s as simple as that.

Basic: Dressing as a sexy             for Halloween
A primary showcasing of basic b**ches undeniably occurs at the end of October. As early as high school, basics all around sip their Pumpkin Spice Lattes and brainstorm their Halloween costumes- the more sex appeal, the better. Around this time of the year, one sees the irony of unoriginal creativity that underlies all of the artificial hair and facial products. Sexy nurse, sexy police officer, sexy… lobster?

Simple:
It may seem difficult to escape the conundrum. The matter at hand becomes whether to partake in spooky festivities the way the society expects, or feeling confident meeting a new partner in a non-sexualized costume. The simple female’s solution: dressing however one wants, regardless of sexual appeal. There are many resources to finding alternative, non-sexualized costumes.

Sure, a silent film actress may not be loud enough to capture the attention of the male in the SWAT Team gear, but sparing oneself wasted time with a partner whose primary interest is superficial physicality has its rewards- more airtime for a non-basic partner. Plus, one has more opportunity and accessibility to tear up the dance floor without tearing the little fabric covering the body. Of course, if a sexy lobster is one’s true spirit animal Halloween costume, that’s allowed too.


Basic:
Selfie Taking
Paralleling the basic b**ch identity, the masses have undertaken the selfie as their primary means of self-definition. Social media platforms of all kinds are teeming with kissy faces and staged bathroom pictures alike.

Simple:
This alternative is a little less posed and a lot more generous. Instead of taking a selfie, the simple girl’s alternative is to take pictures of others. Whether it’s of friends, family or strangers, everyone benefits. Focusing the lens to the outside world allows for the capture of genuine moments rather than staged ideals. The photo blog, Humans of New York, is a predominant example. Ironically, if everyone is taking pictures of others instead, one is still bound to get a great new Facebook default picture. Perhaps this alternative’s most appealing aspect- the new default picture will get even more “likes” because someone caught in their natural, unsuspecting existence is much more beautiful than posing in the bathroom mirror with a kissy face.

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Basic: Excessive use of artificial beauty products
Too often, women and girls are forgetting to leave the house without an overdose of makeup, hair spray and artificially bronzed skin. The beauty industry is booming, and girls are beginning to partake in it at increasingly younger ages. Women spend over $426 billion a year on beauty products and the average woman spends nearly an hour daily primping herself- time that amounts to 2 weeks per year, according to surveys conducted by The Huffington Post and NBC, respectively. Besides the alarmingly high costs of the beauty industry, the obsession over appearance can lead to mental health problems like depression, anxiety and eating disorders- what’s so simple about that?

Simple:
A simpler approach: ditching the foundation and applying a smile and a confident aura. These accessories match one’s natural pigmentation unfailingly and always make the eyes pop. This simple alternative may not be the easiest lifestyle change, but it outweighs the opportunity costs of participating in an industry that profits off one’s low self-worth. BuzzFeed staff writer, Erin La Rosa, shares her experience in an article about not wearing makeup for a week. Though she admits discomfort at first, she discovered she was more approachable, accepting of her flaws and respectful of the courageous women who renounce the artificial products every day.


Basic:
Living vicariously through reality TV, or other drama-inducing programs
One notable quality of a basic is their zeal for reality TV and dramatized programs as a whole. Including, but not limited to: “Keeping Up With the Kardashians”, “Real Housewives of [various locations]”, “Real Divas of [various locations]”, “Glee”, Lifetime movies, Oxygen Network movies, “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette”, it is a miracle these individuals make it out of the house into actual reality to express their newly acquired TV-based characteristics.

Simple:
Acknowledge the difference between reality TV and reality. According to a 2013 study published in the Psychology of Popular Media Culture, exposure to reality TV negatively affects viewers’ perceptions of the world, including increased acceptance of catty behavior and backstabbing. A survey by The Today Show says reality TV viewers are more neurotic and claim to have a lower self-esteem. Simply put, reality TV and other drama-inducing programs offer more drawbacks than benefits. Going out and living one’s own life is much more simple than the time and energy it takes to mirror a star- a star who is only “acting” like their real self to begin with.


Basic:
Calling other females basic
Lastly, one of the most degrading characteristics of the basic identity is in fact, labeling other females as basic. Perhaps it does feel good to dress up and apply some mascara every once in a while, and it’s possible that a hot, pumpkin flavored beverage is the perfect accomplice on a chilly autumn day. Can an individual be simply and accurately defined by their comparability to culturally determined standards- or by anything for that matter?

Simple:
The paradoxical solution may be that the only way to accurately comprehend an individual is in realizing the absurdity of attempting to do so. Isn’t this, after all, humanity’s defining challenge? Accepting that there is no universal way to define a person is one of the simplest challenges there is.

The female’s ultimate challenge to the basic identity is uniting under the practice of individuality, not a homogenous cultural category. Instead of embracing the trending interests, partake in a declaration that will never go out of style- being one’s true self. Conserve time, money and energy and live simply. Embrace the innate, uncanny qualities within and encourage others to do the same. The first step may just be taking a minute to appreciate the inspirational quotes that flood Pinterest. As nonconformist icon Maya Angelou stated simply,

“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”


The original article was written by Olivia Morrissey in October 2014 and has since been revised. She loves pumpkin-flavored-anything and leggings as much as the next individual.

Continue reading “How To Be Simple, Not Basic”

Planting Seeds

A few months have passed since my college graduation (woo!!) and like many of my fellow grads, I have returned to my parent’s nest to rebuild a savings account for my next life adventure. I was not originally pleased about this backtracking, as I tend to imagine life as an ever-progressing straight line, but now I’m thinking it’s more like this, and being home is okay for me at this point.

Regardless, I made it my goal to recreate what seems like a frozen-in-the-past lifestyle that I’ve fallen victim to each summer I return home. I slip back into child role under my parent’s tending to (who wouldn’t take it if it’s there?– thanks, ma), I go to the same bars night after night (ily omist), and I forget about all the positive growth I made by challenging myself while away at school.

So, as my undergraduate reminder of all I’ve overcome and all I’ve learned I’m capable of overcoming, I chopped off 11 inches of my hair on my last day in the city that became my home throughout college. The rationale for cutting my hair is true, though obscure to most, as it is with most of my decisions made, but that may have to be a blog post of its own.

July hit yesterday as a second reminder, and I realized it was time to cultivate that healthy growth and newness I felt at school in this environment that seemed all too familiar.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with flowers. Mesmerized by their natural beauty, I’ve filled paper gardens of doodles, enhanced my tardy reputation inhaling their sweet aromas on my walk to class, taken countless pictures of sunlight striking them in different ways. I’ve learned some of my favorite life lessons from flowers.

A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it. It just blooms. — Sensei Ogui, Zen Shin Talks

I used to love receiving them on special occasions, such as graduations or birthdays, but I’m starting to see that having something beautiful of your own isn’t nearly as fulfilling as being beside something beautiful of its own. It’s that way with people, too, I’m learning.

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Source: http://9buz.com/content/uploads/images/August2014/0841e2ec91d3f13a12c5c1dc8f73fd28.jpg

I knew I loved everything about flowers, but it seemed silly that my admiration should stop at eyesight. When you’re passionate about something or someone, isn’t that the case? You yearn to know more about them. The way they like to be taken care of, what makes them tick, what makes them smile, what makes them live.

Thus, I discovered my new summer goal. I set out to invest in some tools and knowledge, and I’m well on my way in learning to identify the beautiful life that colors our earth and fills our air with sweet scents. The very same world can be so different when you’re seeing it in a new perspective lens. My backyard is much less just the space where I grew during high school than it is full of Sassafras trees and varieties of Rhododendron and Hosta.FullSizeRender

I also bought this beautiful little succulent called Hens and Chicks (named Suca) that marks the start of my future garden in my future adventure. I can’t be sure that its location will be here at home, but like my favorite little teachers, I know I’ll have the strength to soak in the sunshine with the rain, withstand uprooting and transplant myself away from toxic areas to those which will nourish my living to a greater extent. But most importantly, I’ll never forget that I am always capable of, and meant to grow. Now that’s some flower power.

A Break in the Gray

If I were to openly express a stereotype I’m working to overcome (in all of its unrighteousness), I would do it here for the purpose of this blog post and it would be about Mondays, in that they are typically and destined to be long, dull and gray. Thus was the case this week.

As expected of an all-inclusive Monday, a few things had gone not-so-ideally and I was fighting a case of the grumps by the time 5:30 p.m. had rolled around.

I had finally finished classes for the day and was met with a striking red traffic light, thwarting my timely trek to the library. I joined the crowd of other students waiting to cross the road, making extended (almost to the point of being awkward) eye contact with a fellow trekker before returning to the screen of my cell phone to address the gray-day’s remaining emails.

I was relieved to find this task consumed but few minutes, and I gratefully put my phone away to give my mind a break for the remainder of my stroll. At this point, I had managed to hit yet another red light and I realized I was still walking in sync with the man-bun student I had made eye contact with two lights ago.

“How’s your Monday going?” I asked. It was yet another one of those moments where I was reminded just how much faster my mouth works than my brain.

Unsurprised by a stranger’s grade-C conversation starter, my walking partner responded by telling me that as of this morning, Monday was his new favorite day. Delighted at this response, I inquired why- somewhat desperately- and allowed my mind and ears to unfold, ready to receive the beautiful insight that so often stems from serendipity.

He told me that he had learned the prefix, mon- in Monday, is the French word meaning ‘my’. Monday, to my new friend Nick, now meant ‘my‘ day, and was synonymous with the glorious carpe diem: seize the day.

Did the gray clouds really break at the sharing of this enchanting idea? I don’t know. But I thought about how accomplished I feel after I have a productive Monday, and how it sets the tone for the rest of my week. I thought about past Mondays and how they aren’t really all dull and gray, not when you have the right mindset. I thought about how grateful I was to have met my new friend Nick, and had a mentality-shifting 2-minute conversation with a stranger. But more than anything, I thought about how I can’t wait to make Monday mine next week.

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The Sweetness of Paying It Forward

It’s another beautiful day in the world, and I just had an experience with a stranger that deserved a mini blog post! I was just walking to class (in a delightful mood because I substituted some stress for some fun with friends last night) when I heard cheering from the sidewalk. A group of girls were selling popsicles for $1 and had caught the attention of another onlooker who, mid-walk, yelled excitedly, “Do you take debit cards?!”

The girls laughed, their faces contorting to exaggeratedly sad expressions, and called back that sorry, they do not, and the popsicle-craving passerby accepted defeat and proceeded. At this point we happened to be walking next to each other and before I knew it I had asked, “You really want a popsicle, huh?”

Though she giggled “no” (presumably out of politeness), my hand was already reaching into my easily accessible lanyard-wallet (that my friends make fun of me for) to get her a dollar. She accepted my offer graciously, smiley and thankful, told me I was her spirit animal (is she a butterfly too?), and the two of us parted ways.

Of course, this all happened in a matter of 30 seconds, but the reverberating contentment I felt from this simple act of kindness set in motion the positive energy that would carry me through the rest of the day and perhaps longer. I probably won’t see this stranger again and I have one dollar less to my name, but contributing to her joy (AND supporting the very specific band service sorority!) gave me a feeling much sweeter than any popsicle.

As the stranger and I headed in opposite directions I had called back, “pay it forward!”, and she replied happily that of course, she will. And I believe her.

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Duties vs. Dreams: When Life Gets In the Way

Alas! As if it were a test from the universe, I have become so caught up in “obligations” a month and a half into good & grateful that I’ve forgotten to make time for the very passions that brought this space into fruition: writing, encouraging others and replenishing altruistic energy into this world, among the many. It’s as if identifying and vocalizing my passions wasn’t enough.

It’s easy to preach to others and to pass words without backing them up, hence the phrase, “easier said than done.” For me, writing to spread positivity comes as innate enjoyment- a fun and natural way to pass the time. But what about those instances when life just seems to get in the way? When we lose ourselves in that which mainstream society deems valuable- grades, meetings, work, money, expectations, to-do’s- that we forget to make time for the things that we find intimately worthy? It seems to be one of modern humanity’s defining battles, not to mention a great source of the unhappiness that exists today. Lately, I found myself wondering, how can I inspire others and restore truth and goodness if I allow my own passions and dreams to be swept aside by society’s demands?

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For a few weeks now, I’ve been taunted by an unshakable feeling. My courses picked up right after spring break, mandating my best-attempted nosedive into a whirlpool of responsibilities. As a senior in my final semester of college, I’m finally getting that “real world experience” we all think we’ve been craving. Trying to balance 6 courses, 4 clients, an internship, a part-time job and a (rapidly diminishing) social life, I am the busiest I’ve ever been. While I’m beyond appreciative of these opportunities, the long-awaited moments when my head hit the pillow in darkness were met with unsettlement: something felt wrong.

It was the feeling that I was straying from my true purpose, and spending my time and energy in ways that didn’t serve my soul.”

Though I have come so far in discovering my true self, passions and dreams, I’m realizing that it is an on-going journey, and one that requires discipline, direction and dedication. I was so busy and caught up in the hours and minutes of each day that I had no time to enjoy the present moment, never mind engage in something that fulfilled me. I was stressed, frustrated and overworked. I knew something wasn’t right but I didn’t know what to do about it; I needed a sign and a push in the right direction.

Today, amidst my speed-walk to class after a flustering client meeting, a flier caught my eye. It read “Dream Job Revolution,” noting a seminar by life coach, inspirational speaker and best-selling author, Mitch Matthews, that was to occur later that night. It was just what I was looking for, but disheartened, I told myself I didn’t have a whole 2 hours to spare on leisurely activities.

Later that evening when I parked to go to the library, I looked at the flier one last time. It suddenly hit me that I was being ridiculous, that I wanted to go to this presentation more than anything and that this was the nudge I needed and had been asking for to get back on the path of my dreams. So I followed the signs of the universe, and was rewarded.

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The event was incredible. Anonymously, each participant described one of their “BIG dreams” on a bright green dream sheet and hung it on the wall to be commented on and encouraged by others. Surrounding myself with other passionate individuals was the return to consciousness that I needed! Mitch Matthews’ presentation inspired me to get back on track with my passions, despite the pressing obligations that were distracting me from doing so.

I’m beginning to see that there will always be a “reason” to set your dreams aside. If you’re looking for an excuse, you’ll find it. Duties, expectations and obstacles are going to get in your way. Life is going to get in the way. Following your dreams isn’t a simple feat, but the most rewarding journeys aren’t. There will always be things that need to get done and things people need from you, and there will never be enough time to do it all. But sometimes you need to take a moment to say yes to the things that serve your truth and pass on those which do not. As Mr. Matthews said beautifully tonight: “crazy things happen when we allow ourselves to dream.”

Become familiar with the sound of your own truth- how whole you feel when you’re doing something you innately love- so you know when you have wandered from your path and you know how to get back on it.

Take a minute to reflect. Where are your time and energy being spent? Are they going toward that which fulfills you most, your passions and dreams? If the answer is no, think about why are you distracted by these other obligations. Who are you doing them for if not for yourself?

So yes, I do still have a 20-page paper to finish by the morning, and I still have to balance all of my responsibilities for the remainder of the semester. But tonight, I made a point to make time for myself and my passions, despite all of these distractions… and dang, my soul feels good & grateful for it.

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Me, Myself & I: mind, body & soul

Ironically enough, the final semester of my undergraduate experience has been leaving me feeling unfulfilled. I’ve fallen into a routine: a combination of draining schoolwork I don’t entirely love, and weekends attending the same campus bars we’ve all been attending since we were at least 18.

This isn’t about my dull day routine or meaningless nights at bars, however. Feeling empty from both, I decided Saturday was a great opportunity to take a personal night. I say personal night with a few connotations in mind. First, as in taking a personal day off from the robotic work that constitutes my passing weeks, and second, personal as in concerning the intimate needs of my mind, body and soul.

My roommate and I had already slept in, feng shui-ed our kitchen (by washing dishes) and rid ourselves of some toxins at the sauna earlier that day, so I was feeling wonderful about a night to myself.

Light on toxins, I decided to make some chocolate chip banana bread for dinner. Yes, you read correctly. We had four bad bananas and I was in the mood to test my creativity and face my domestic fears, so I went all in. And by all in, I mean substituting nearly everything that this recipe called for with other items- like avocado for butter- and the result was something SUPERB.

Boom! Another kitchen experience down. It felt great to challenge myself in something that lies beyond my comfort zone. It seems silly to feel insecure about following a recipe (there are high cooking standards in my family- it’s deliciously overwhelming) but it’s a fear of mine that I’m tackling bit(e) by bit(e).

But by identifying and confronting a fear of mine, I exercised my mind and my soul.

Just like the body and the brain, the soul needs exercise to stay fresh, healthy and ever-growing, too. When you acknowledge and address the things that make you uncomfortable, you keep your mind and soul flexible and in progression. If you don’t “practice,” the body, mind and soul all get stuck in their ways and become incapable of growth. So practice I did.

Part two of my personal night actually involved my cell phone, which I had turned off earlier as part of my me time. I had discovered a meditation app called, Stop, Breathe & Think, last week and it’s actually very lovely. The app asks you to assess your mental, physical and emotional well-being and then offers you various applicable podcast meditations. I don’t believe technology can ever supersede true meditation or mindfulness, but I do think this is an example of technology used in a beautiful way. You all should give it a try!

I spent the rest of my night in the company of a good friend, who showed me this wonderful site, Soul Pancake. It’s right up my alley, I’m surprised I had never explored it before. Anyway, another friend of mine, e.r., had actually sent me this video from the site over the winter and it’s a perfect fit for good & grateful 🙂

Whether it was an overdose of banana bread and soulpancakes or just the night’s happy energy, I remembered my positive affirmation cards for the first time in a while. (Lousie Hay, the creator, calls them power thought cards. They are fabulous).

A dear friend of mine introduced them to me a few years ago, and I loved them so much that she gave me her deck. I’ve been trying to pay her kindness forward since then, sharing my cards with others and letting them have one or two that they resonate most with.

All in all, it was just the night I needed. I had to take a break from that which was leaving me unfulfilled and spend my time doing the things that filled me up and made my life feel meaningful.

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The takeaway: do that which nourishes your individual soul. Do what feels good, what has value, what makes you feel like you have a purpose.

These days, it’s all too easy to get lost in the things that need to be done, the things we should do or have to do. What about the things that serve no purpose other than making you feel good?

Check in with yourself every once in a while. Part of being grateful and appreciative is being aware: aware of your own feelings and well-being; aware of other’s emotions and health, and aware of the environment and surroundings that encompass us all.

We all suffer from FOMO to an extent, and sometimes I feel that applies to me more than anyone. But I’m learning that taking care of myself and doing the things that are most fulfilling to my mind, body and soul is essential to any rewarding experience I can share with another person.