New Year, New Focus

Birthdays and deaths always remind me of the finite life span we have. Perhaps because it was just my birthday, and because I just lost someone, I’ve been focused on how I can make the most of my time. Time’s not a renewable resource, and we never know when our clocks about to run out. Yet we spend a majority of time mentally striving, reaching, wishing, yearning for somewhere other than here.

For longer than I can remember I’ve had rules for myself about career markers and what that meant. “I’ll be happen when [fill in the blank].” But the further into my career, and no matter the marker, that blank continuously changes and I’ve struggled celebrating the small victories along the way. There are things I’ve always wanted to do, but set aside as if I needed the permission of career success to allow me to pursue those dreams that weren’t necessarily tied to financial return. These self created restraints haven’t always been helpful. Yes, they’ve created productivity. But with wins came striving for bigger wins, and I didn’t necessarily take time to sit in a space of gratitude and reward myself with one of those dreams that weren’t directly tied to career.

I’ve slowly been trying to break the cycle of constant striving. Going to India for 3 weeks in December was eye-opening in terms of how difficult it was to experience my surroundings without feeling as though I should work. As I move into the new year, I’m shifting my focus away from career wins being an equation that leads to reward. The rewards are less and less, sometimes nonexistent, the busier I get.

Therefore, I want to restructure my mental rulebook. What I’ve categorized as rewards in the past, might actually be necessary activities that lead to inspiration directly tied to career. After all, I’m a writer. A writer needs experience. Blissful experiences, though seemingly outside the box of “work,” may lead to other work, whether through inspiration, serendipitous meetings, or by the very fact they allow the mind space to marinate on ideas.

With age comes experience and through experience, hopefully wisdom. But wisdom can only be integrated into life by diving into the present, and not missing the present because of incessant striving.

Whether it’s travel, restaurants I’ve always wanted to visit, time to listen and discover new music, diving into esoteric studies, or learning some new activity, I’m hoping to integrate these things I’ve so often pushed aside in the past, into my day-to-day, to allow for the balance between striving, gratitude, growth, and presence.

My three favorite discoveries of the week:

Song: Anything is Possible

Restaurant: Daniel

Spa: Sojo Spa

Filmmaking & Hikes

Taking last weeks post a step further and applying the practice of meditation to filmmaking…

I’m entering preproduction on my feature film Lez Bomb. The idea of making a movie seems monumental. Everything it entails becomes a monstrous to-do list that’s both overwhelming and off-putting. When we approach it as such, it looks like an impossible journey.

But let’s compare it to hiking. I have the tendency to look up a mountain and feel instantaneously overwhelmed. Yes, there’s a sense of adventure. But once that initial awe wears thin, I start thinking about the energy it requires, questioning if it’s the ideal temperature, I start question everything, I think about all the other things in life I need to attend to instead of this hike such as work, phone calls, etc. The story’s endless and it’s off running. Until – I bring the mind back to take the first step upwards. Then another step upwards with space to admire the surrounding scenery. With each step and each breathe, the journey continues and before I know it, I’m at the top of the mountain.

When we create space between our thoughts through a practice like meditation, we’re able able to identify when our minds gone off running. We’re empowered with the ability and control to pull it back to the present, where’s there’s a single task in front of us. All we need to do is conquer that single task.

Embarking on this movie once seemed impossible. Now I see it broken into tasks. I’ll attempt to tackle each task as they come, and deal with the ups and downs as they present themselves instead of mentally fabricating all the what-ifs around scenarios that aren’t reality. Step back and take cues from your surroundings. Like a hike, the path presents itself once we return to the present, look at what’s in front of us, and see the directions pointing us where we’re trying to go. What once seemed a monstrous feat becomes a slow climb upwards, step by step, and before you know it you’re at the foot of a waterfall.

Playlist I’m currently writing to: Writing Jams

Book I’m currently reading: The Hidden Messages in Water

Food I’m currently experimenting with: Vegan Sushi

 

Meditation & Clouds

A sequence of text messages from friends about “being present” got me thinking how that term’s thrown around often without tangible tools to help one arrive at a state in which you’re actually present and not talking about it.

If we take the “woo woo” out of the conversation and look at the practicality in our everyday lives, meditation’s an invaluable tool. Meditation provides the opportunity to clearly see the thoughts as they pass before the forefront of the mind, creating space to choose which thoughts are entertained. The majority of actions we take are determined by habits, not spontaneity or intellect. By creating space between thoughts, and choosing which thoughts to engage, we’re given time to carefully observe the thought and decide the most informed way to act.

When meditation has come up in conversation, I’ve often seen family, friends, acquaintances have tried it, it didn’t work, so they stopped. Instruction to “clear one’s head” isn’t necessarily useful. And approaching the mat with the expectation to experience something is set up to fail. The best instruction I was given was “go to the mat, practice every day and stop asking so many questions.” While questions are good, they’re often an excuse and procrastination masking itself as a question.

Go to the mat, sit in silence, watch thoughts as they pass. When you’ve found yourself latched to a thought and off on a tangent, return to the breath without judgement. “But what should happen?” Listen, if I told you the directions from my home to the Statue of Liberty – does that mean you wouldn’t go? Or would you go, probably notice different things, and have your own experience? We all arrive places a different route, with experiences shaded by the set of lens through which we perceive.

Playlist I’m currently writing to: Writing Jams.

Coffee drink I’m currently obsessed with: Mushroom Coffee.

Book I’m currently reading: The Obstacle is the Way.

Script Writing Lessons

 

I went off and got married, disappeared on a honeymoon, and haven’t blogged in forever. On the honeymoon, my wife and I had an amazing adventure in Bali. One of the days, we ventured off to visit a healer. Our driver took us to a village where we waited an hour for locals to chat with this healer, until it was finally our turn for a little divine intervention. One of the things he told me that’s chimed in my head since was – I need to make decisions and stick with them, and not get stuck in the chaos of “what ifs” and the crippling tangents our mind is so naturally inclined towards that create stagnation, and prevent action.

I’m in the middle of a rewrite on a script I’m developing with a company. While digesting the notes, I see my main character, my protagonist, doesn’t really know what she’s doing in all the scenes. Yes, the scenes and dialogue are funny. But she doesn’t always have a clear objective. She’s lacking the decisiveness I sometimes struggle with in my own life.

Story structure is a wonderful reminder that we’re all the hero of our own journey, and have the option to choose the narrative we want to tell. The problem is, we often find ourselves reactionary – life happens at us, and then we react, instead of us creating the space for life to happen, giving ourselves a moment to observe, and then actively choosing our next step on the narrative we long to tell. I loved choose-your-own-adventure-books as a child. It’s a mystery why I so often forget to choose my own adventure.

My biggest regret in life would be to be on my death bed and look back at my life as if it were a script and realize my protagonist didn’t always know her objective and didn’t always make clear decisions that would lead her on the journey she wanted to embark upon.

Instead of getting stuck in the stagnation of the world happening around us, lets gently reminder one another that habitually reacting to the chaos doesn’t give us the space and opportunity to give meaning to the chaos, and decisively choose our next step, in a way that helps us actively create the story we’d like to tell on this adventure of life.

Giving Thanks

 

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‘Tis the season! Being just a few weeks before Christmas and after Thanksgiving, I can’t help but fixate on giving thanks.  The word play is killing me – my ego that is.

After training for and running the Philadelphia half marathon I came to three realizations: 1. I could finish 2. I want to run a full marathon 3. When left to run for long periods of time I was struck by how often my mental state went negative when the running got difficult.

Life is just a series of hills and plateaus.  Without the challenges we’d grow complacent. Challenges give us the opportunity to transform – the only way to overcome a challenge is to go through it and within that journey is a personal transformation.

I was deeply inspired by the amount of people out in the streets cheering – mostly for the folk running the full marathon, but hey I’ll take it.  With our names pinned to our shirts, I got a few personal cheers.  And let me tell you – those cheers from perfect strangers meant the world.  I never knew just how powerful encouragement was until that run.  With that giving, I was eternally gratefully, and the running became about something outside myself.

When my mind went into bitching mode with an approaching hill, I caught myself and remembered gratitude – for beautiful weather, for enthusiastic cheers, and for my fiancé who pushed me into this new long-distance-running-territory.  My exhaustion and nagging mind fell to the wayside as I let my mental activity quite, and the presence of the moment inspire each stride with gratitude.

With every journey there are challenges, but gratitude’s the sip of inspiration that can help us get to the view on the other side.

Book of Life

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My inspiration for writing used to come largely out of volatile relationships and their drama — which I’d spin into comedy.  After being in a three year relationship thats led to engagement, I’ve had to look elsewhere to throw the wrench into the wheel for inspiration that comes from places outside my endless love (which people don’t need me to go on and on about).

Thankfully side tour, groupon, and all those other e-mails that assault my inbox sometimes provide an idea for an interesting activity that’s out-of-the-box and sparks my imagination.

This past weekend my fiancé and I attended a workshop in which our cards were read by your average playing cards.  I’m stressing “average playing cards” since tarot cards are so often linked with readings.  Alexander Dunlop was the host and card reader who’s traveled the world and playfully jokes how he’s spent time in India meditating for 8 hours a day, studied with Shamanic healers, went to school at Harvard, yet found the meaning of life at a party in Brooklyn through a deck of cards.

The 1.5 hour side tour event provided individual readings that were just long enough to dip your toe in the pool of knowledge he’s able to tap into via the cards, and it definitely leaves you wanting more time to converse — well done Alexander and side tour — but the overall experience was richly rewarding in that it was a beautiful reminder in the wealth of information that’s often right in front of you, and perhaps sitting in your game drawer at home?

Alexander refers to the deck of cards as the “book of life.”  The numbers, symbols, and interplay of the cards provide incite to your energetic make up you carry into the world and the implications of such.  Having that information unlocks the game you’re personally playing — which perhaps leads to a more playful approach to the game of life.  With knowledge comes power, right?  Being able to stand steady and sturdy in your energetic make up allows you to meet the world from an informed place giving deliberate direction to what may have been previously considered chaos.

A deck of cards will never be just a deck of cards again!  Then again, the mysteries of life are always swirling around us.  If an entire tree of potentiality is capable of growing from a tiny acorn, where else are we missing seeds of potentiality and the wisdom to water them into fruition?

Running & Meditating

My fiancé bamboozled me into a half marathon.  I’ve never been much of a “runner.” Sure, I’ll go on a 25 minute jog here and there for exercise, but the thought of running long distance has always sounded as appealing as washing my face with sandpaper.

To my surprise, I’m finding the long distance running to be an extension of my meditation practice which has turned the dreaded endeavor into a journey furthering my spiritual pursuit.  Each run brings me a little closer to myself, as I’m forced to sit with my thoughts for the length of the run and hopefully return to presence.

Throwing headphones on and distracting myself with music is only a separation of body and mind.  But taking in my surroundings and being present with each stride forces me to glide along the cloud of contentment between the passing storms of hope and fear we so often distract ourselves with by engaging in our minds ability to live in the past and future.

On my journey running towards freedom, I’ve found some wonderful lessons within Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s “Running with the Mind of Meditation.”

As the fall leaves change colors, I encourage a joyful jog taking in the spectrum of colors that mirror the spectrum of experience we’re able to enjoy when we open our eyes to the present.