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

 

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)

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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Loving Love Day

For too many, Valentine’s Day is a day to reflect on singlehood, unrequited feelings and lost lovers. It seems, according to my university’s (unaffiliated) Snapchat account and other various social media, the holiday has become a day of overconsumption for my generation. It’s become an equation of excess alcohol, chocolate and self-pity: one that yields for a dismal holiday if not a most regretful February 15th. In capitalizing on the negatives and the “have nots,” we have forgotten why Love Day is among the most beautiful days of the calendar.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved Valentine’s Day. Think something like this. Maybe it’s the pollen or the extra dopamine, but with the flowers and heart-shaped chocolates comes an energy that is unique to this day alone. Beyond love, the air is teeming with excitement, hope, nerves and courage. It’s Valentine’s Day that we hear of budding fairy-tale romances, valiant confessions of adoration and the fervent praising of present sweethearts.

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Perhaps the typical Millennial’s cynicism is due to such grand expectations of Valentine’s Day, and perhaps this is because mainstream media showcases nothing less than paramount chivalry.

Maintaining a love is a complex journey at any age, but especially so at a younger one. We are wide-eyed and confused, we’re still growing and exploring. We are cultivating our dreams, pursuing our passions and creating our own identities. We are undergoing crucial changes and testing different paths and searching for our purpose. Sometimes, we’re lucky enough to find something so beautiful so early in our lives. It’s the sweetest blessing of life, to love someone and be loved without restraint, fear or condition.

But for a mature, healthy, unconditional love to endure, both players need to love themselves maturely, healthily and unconditionally. At such a young age, we’re still learning these pivotal lessons. And yet, we are often the target for mainstream media’s cultural ideals and expectations of Valentine’s Day.

What mainstream media fails to convey is that romantic love is not the only kind of love. Love comes in many forms, to those who are willing enough to receive it and open enough to let it in. And love is humbling in all of its forms.

Perhaps most importantly, there is self-love. In the way that you cannot make another happy before you find contentment with yourself, you cannot love another truly until you possess self-love. As a dear friend of mine put simply, “know your magnificence.” You are a treasure: one-of-a-kind, unmatchable and perfectly imperfect. You are just as you should be; however you’d like.

Love also manifests itself in family and friends. In such a period of recklessness, personal growth and uncertainty that is life before entering the real world, friends become  family. They delight in being by your side when you’re all lost as hell, and the great ones will be by your side when you find yourselves, too.

How many of us were lucky to receive a love note, homemade cookies, or merely a call from family or friends on Valentine’s Day? I don’t think we’re underrepresented. And of course, a special shout-out goes here to the mothers of this world, who exemplify unconditional love for us all each day of the year. (You rock, mom).IMG_7608

With open eyes, we see that love is not limited to a romantic partner, or even to people. Perhaps the most outstanding expression of existing love is in nature.

Nature guides with graceful, unspoken lessons: the self-love of a flower growing without competing to those next to it; the affection between unexpected pairs and creatures; the ability of a consistent, flowing river to smooth over even the roughest surfaces over time. There is no better teacher of unconditional, accepting and persistent love than nature, nor is there a better teacher of living open-heartedly.

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I do believe that if you look, you’ll find that love is all-surrounding. Love manifests in ourselves, the people in our lives and the world that we live in.

I don’t love Valentine’s Day because of romantic love alone- but because for one day of the year, people are encouraged to live life with an open heart. If everyone were open to love and possessing such hope, optimism and kindness every day, the world would be a lot more good and a lot more grateful.

Allowing love to overcome means renouncing strength; it means feeling vulnerable, leaving the comfort zones and valuing something much greater than yourself. I believe there is nothing more rewarding in this life than to love and be loved. And to have a day meant solely for expressing it in various ways- how beautiful is that!?

Call me a romantic. Or maybe I’ve just been hit by Cupid every February 14th, and every day besides that. But if you can see it in your heart to find love everywhere you look, you will never feel lonely. Not on Valentine’s Day, and not on the other 364 days of the year.