Hello all! Despite my little blogging break, I am excited to say that Offbeat Home posted one of my recent articles about Buddhism and cleaning.
Check out the Offbeat home article here!🙂
It’s Sunday morning at 7am and I’m up with unexpected energy. We were responsible last night instead of going upstairs for extra drinks with our neighbors. We went to bed at 11! We had plans for the morning, and look at me sticking to them! I start the coffee, write a bit, and head out for a walk. When I get back, the town is still waking up and I am ready for yoga. I am on it. I lay out my mat, sun salute to plank position – and this is when it happens. A tumbleweed of cat hair the size of a small muffin bounces maniacally past my face. My eyes come into focus with the ground and, horrified, I realize that the floor is covered in mini-tumbleweeds of cat hair and other mysteriously-produced dust. I lunge my body back into a child’s pose of despair and debate interrupting my practice to vacuum.
Last week, I signed up to water our school garden. The science department has a super impressive situation out back, with cherry tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, and about five planters of herbs. I don’t know a whole lot about gardening, the extent of my knowledge comes from helping my mom drop seeds into our backyard when I was 5 and asking if I could sit there and watch them grow. I also know how to get rid of slugs with beer. That’s about it.
Ben and I have just started our own small backyard garden, so we could use all the help we could get.
Signing up was one of the best choices I’ve made since starting here. Each morning, I got to go visit my little basil plants, chat with my lettuce, and prune my cherry tomatoes. The fact that they hadn’t all died over night was a huge accomplishment.
Luckily I had some helpers. One afternoon, a colleague of mine swung by with some scissors saying, “We need to eat all the lettuce tonight, the stems are going woody!” I stared at her and, for a moment, pretended I knew what she meant. “Not woody stems!…why don’t we want woody stems…”
Here’s the deal (and remember, I am still no expert), apparently leafy plants, as they get older, begin to harden off their stems, and when they do so, stop producing the edible leaves we harvest. Basil will turn into a beautiful large bush eventually, but you can only eat the young leaves. So to keep it from turning into a bush during the season, you pluck off its flowers and trim it down. Certain types of lettuce get super woody stems as they get older, and if you chop them down to the dirt, they will rise again – producing more delicious salad greens.
I got to thinking, as I do, and talked to Ben one night over a bottle of wine about the metaphor in lettuce and basil bushes. After this sentence, instead of calling me a lunatic, he said “Sounds like a blog post!” And that is why we’re married.
Woody Artist Stem
It takes a great deal of stamina to work past the late-twenties artist slump. I can only speak for this transition because that is what I am in right now, but I’m sure it applies to other ages. I have a lot of friends in this position, including myself, and the struggle comes down to much more than if you’ve had a “successful” career thus far. At least for me, the focus of my stressful expectations have shifted from “I’m supposed to be doing theatre all the time!” to “I thought I would have done so much more by now.” My present-tense panic has become a past-tense panic. And this one feels much more damaging.
The past-tense panic includes regret and self-pity, two things that easily lead to throwing in the towel, especially if financial realities of being an older adult (no longer able to live on Ramen) leaves you in a job that has nothing to do with your art. After spending a good deal of cuddling time with my friends Regret and Self-Pity, I discovered they ironically come from a place of pride. There is a lot of hemming and hawing in my mind – including “But I’ve studied acting for years”, “But I did shows one after another when I was a kid,” “But I’M PRETTY!” …and other BS entitlements.
It was hard to admit this was my major problem, because even if I was the most down-to-earth, trained, talented person on the planet, there’s a chance that I still wouldn’t be working consistently. There are so many factors out of our control in this business that blaming yourself is not progressive either. But since I can only change what is under my control, I decided to focus on this.
Back to Making Veggies
When we moved to Montclair, I cut back my stem a lot. Not only do I have more time away from the hustle and bustle of auditioning and temping, but I have also had some space to reassess what actually makes me happy as an actor. Writing to every Playbill and Backstage post that I would possibly be right for by some stretch of the imagination, even if I wasn’t that passionate about the project, was not helping. Taking classes to meet a Casting Director I felt I “needed” to prove myself to, was not helping. I spent so many years trying to prove how great I was that I didn’t leave time or money to train or grow. I also barely had a community.
So I went back to the drawing board. I took a class that did not require an audition and has no competitive energy. I emailed every local theatre company I could find and asked to help with ANYTHING, even if it was to hand out programs. I cut myself back a lot.
Suddenly, it’s like the floodgates of acting have opened. My class instantly brought me back into my old skin. It also brought me back to before the days I started ticking down my “biological acting clock”. Since I’ve begun focusing on my community and my personal growth, instead of my career, things have been making sense again.
I don’t believe that someone needs to move to the suburbs and start from scratch every time they get burned out. But I do foresee this concept helping me at different stages of my career. Even if things are going wonderfully, the moment these entitlements take over again, the moment that energy will show up on stage and in my auditions. And then I’m right back to frustration-land.
Kate Mulgrew did a talk a few years ago at the SAG Foundation, and I never forgot what she said toward the end. To paraphrase, she said “It’s all about loving the work. Do the work and the rest of the shit with fade away.” Since I’ve stopped chasing my next job, a lot of the shit has indeed faded away.
You Are Not a Pointless Basil Bush
So here is where my metaphor could turn sour. There is nothing wrong with a beautiful bush that used to produce Basil. If you choose to take a different path in life, you are not a pointless bush. Nor do I condone putting yourself down to become a better artist, some acting teachers definitely latch onto that idea. What I do feel is that the rigid nature of our habits and expectations hold us back as artists. THAT is what will keep us from creating.
So whether things are rolling a long for you right now or not (and I hope they are), it’s comforting to know there is somewhere to go back to when if you hit a similar wall. A rigid plant does not mean a dead plant, it just needs some pruning.
Special thanks to Karen Braga, our Alexander Technique class at ESPA, for inspiring this post and teaching me where my feet are.
I fell over a lot as a kid. I think it’s pretty common when you’re little – sometimes your top half moves more quickly than your bottom half, you seem to slip on everything, or you just simply tip over all the time. It’s as if you haven’t quite figured out the whole “leg” thing yet. Here is what went through my mind when I fell over:
1. I am walking, enjoying being five, gee this is great!
2. Woh, that’s slippery, I think I will flail in all directions to keep this from happening.
3. I am suddenly on the ground and I do not like this! I have no idea if anything is broken or god forbid, my knee is scraped.
4. I think I’ll cry now. Someone else should asses the situation.
This was pretty standard. But one day in the school hallway, I want to say in about 1st grade, I was walking to the bathroom by myself when I slipped on some water. I totally wiped out and landed on my back on the linoleum floor, leaving me laying there by myself. I remember revving up to cry, but then realizing that because no one was around, it wouldn’t make a difference if I cried or not. So I took a big-girl-deep-breath, got up, and carried on with my day. From then on, tipping over was not the end of world.
The image of staring at the empty hallway as I sat on the floor, terribly confused, has been popping into my head a lot recently. Across the board, I have been trying to reassess the way I react to things. I’ve never enjoyed the phrase, “Choose to have a good day.” I think it’s crap, unrealistic, and clearly whoever made it up never dealt with anxiety. But about a month ago, I happened to come across a book called The Diamond Cutter, which delves into one of the oldest-known printed texts on Earth (which I think is pretty nifty), the Diamond Sutra. The text outlines a Buddhist approach to business and living your life as a generous, compassionate person. My biggest takeaway from the book is the concept of “mental imprints”, or essentially, the way we choose to code our view of the world.
Think about a rainstorm. My parents had an outdoor theatre company when I was in high school, and each summer we would obsessively stare at the radar to track any possible storms before the show. My teenage happiness was often contingent on being a part of these productions, and to me, a rainstorm was a complete tragedy. I was also 16, so things were very serious ALL THE TIME. I loved having all the feelings. I once sobbed to my dad when he cancelled the final performance of a show as a monsoon-strength storm rolled in over the stage. I still felt like was doing it to spite me.
On the other hand, the storm we got here last night practically sent me out dancing into the streets. The whole town was waiting for this storm to break the heat.
The point is, that at the end of the day, a rainstorm is just a rainstorm. It isn’t good or bad. It is really…just a damn rainstorm. An event is only colored by an emotion when someone assigns it one. Now this is not saying that either reaction, or an extreme emotion is wrong. There seems to be a lot of confusion about this when people are trying to understand the cause and effect portions of Buddhism. If someone is getting hurt in the process, the emotions we project on this happening are very real, and very important. The idea of imprints is not that our emotions are wrong, but more about how the coloring of an experience does indeed come from us. The event itself is neutral to begin with. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and that whole thing. It’s just figuring out with coloring will do the most good.
Lousy Imprint: Offices are bad, theatre is awesome
Office: I put a lot of energy into hating check requisitions. And why? I literally write a number on them, put the number in a spreadsheet, and put then in a mailbox. Then I never see them again. That is it. And yet every time one comes across my desk it’s as if someone has just dumped days of work on my plate, trapping me for all eternity in my office! No. It’s anxiety that I’m going to do it wrong and someone won’t get paid. Somewhere down the line, probably when I first got here, I was nervous about messing one up, and then never changed my mind about it.
Theatre: I always walk into an audition or rehearsal full of hope. Maybe a little too much hope. Even if I am absolutely thrilled to be there, which I am, I tend to forget that there are parts theatre that get under my skin. I am very shy person most of the time, I have just trained myself to open my mouth to say something more than I’d prefer. A lot of the time in theatre, you are either surrounded by extroverts or people like me, who are desperately trying not be too much of an introvert. So when I leave rehearsal, I tend to feel completely exhausted, and terrified that I said something doofy. But again, why? Of all places for me to be doofy, it might as well be in a business full of proud oddballs. And also, just because #soblessed girl talks an hour about her 15th chance to play Juliet or how she privately meets with the ghost of Uta Hagen, it does not mean I need to buy into or be effected by that culture.
The point is that my brain has become pre-wired to like or hate certain experiences. Before I know it, I am unable to enjoy really lovely days in my office or feel frustrated when I don’t have a rehearsal full of sunshine. Somewhere in there is reality.
Let’s stop hating Mondays
I would like to challenge everyone here to try something out. The next time there is a wave of commiserating online about how much Monday sucks (because heaven forbid we like going to work), let’s stop and try to figure out what is bad about the experience. Would an “I love Mondays” hashtag be too obnoxious or sarcastic? This won’t only help getting up in the morning, but it will also significantly help with the Sunday night blues. Unless you have a root canal Monday morning, maybe we can reassess how much we dread leaving our weekend behind. If you’re upset, you’re upset. But what about? Might as well ask. Mondays may be the shared enemy we bond over, but what is this doing to us?
Let’s stop hating each other
I know that sounds harsh. But I catch myself glaring at almost every post on Facebook these days with a grumpy cat face. Someone gets in a show and I think they’re bragging, someone has a bad day and I think they’re whining, someone is a Republican, and I think they’re a moron. I have unfollowed so many people that my newsfeed is basically just cat pictures now.
Ben and I talked about this and how the process of blocking out the negativity has made us more negative. So instead of having the knee-jerk reaction to judge everyone’s post, Ben has suggested the hashtag #ibelieveinyou or something similar. So instead of flipping a table when someone books another broadway show, or instead of rolling our eyes when someone is screaming about another first world problem, maybe we send support instead. It makes the “likes” more personal, and Facebook more about celebrating each than comparing who is eating a prettier brunch.
Don’t just sit in the hallway
So I’m suggesting to just give this all a try. The next time you find yourself seeing something as a major problem (and you or someone else’s life or rights are not being threatened) consider when this became such negative aspect of your life. This way, instead of suppressing negative thoughts and slowly building up tension like a pressure cooker, you are simply trying to see reality more clearly. You may actually be able to get off your butt and walk to class.
The Grumpy Part of the Blog Post
I don’t know about anyone else, but I feel the city is struggling today. The 6 inches of slush aren’t helping and I’m assuming a good deal of us were up later lamenting or celebrating the Patriots catching a lucky interception.
Whatever it is though, the city is iced over, and so is my brain. Nonetheless, I rolled out of bed at the regular time thanks to an extra few nudgy pats from Viola who must have noticed I put my morning alarm on too low a volume to hear.
I grumpily heard my landlady stomping around outside our door, who for some reason, has decided recently she no longer wants to have tenants and has been a ball of joy since. I sit down to write my morning pages with Grumpy McGee slamming things in the hallway and my ear is pounding. My ears haven’t been a fan of cooperating with my body for a few years now and when they act up, the room spins and it makes an odd popping sound if someone speaks too loudly. So if I ever give you this face: this is why.
I haven’t found a doctor yet (or insurance that covers an ENT) that tells me anything other than, “You have an ear infection!” To this I say, “Yes, that’s clear. But I seem to get them every other week soooo…what’s that about?” *shrugs shoulders, carries on being a doctor* Good talk, Doc, here’s $200.
Anyway, ears are angry, landlord is angry, Ginny is grumpy.
10 Good Days for a Bad Day
And then I start writing, and because the universe is good, there is coffee. I convince myself to not ignore yoga today, so Tiber and I spend a little longer in child’s pose ignoring the impending walk in the snow before attempting anything else. As the part approaches when I normally try balance poses, I am considering skipping them altogether. I can’t seem to move my head without feeling dizzy, so standing on one leg sounds like a recipe for falling into the coffee table.
And yet…I get there. I put up one leg and I don’t go down like a drunk flamingo. I feel woozy but I stay up. I don’t know why, but my one leg under me decides to stay under me, and I actually hold the pose for a decent amount of time. Because after one month of this, that’s just where my leg goes, even when I feel like crap. The good days are starting to support the bad ones, much to my surprise.
Turns out, your brain likes to feel nice
I finished Dan Harris’ book this morning, the one I talked about on Saturday, and lo and behold, there was a relevant explanation. He talks a bit about your brain’s preference to settle into a healthier pattern. A Yale Doctor, Judson Brewer, is doing a study on Mindfulness and meditation, and their effects on the part of our brain which focuses on self-awareness. He claims that once the mind is given a taste of something calmer, it will gravitate toward it, the same way we avoid things we dislike (say, the 6 train). All you need to do is give your mind this option continuously. Meditation is just one path to get there.
So here I am, NOT falling over, and I start to believe that a better morning is possible. So I put on my big-girl rain boots, stomped my way through the slush, and made it to work in one piece.
I may not feel fantastic, but I am happy to see these slight manifestations on crappy days after giving my brain a chance on easier ones. The sunny ones are there to support the slushy ones.
Safe travels today, everyone:)
About a week before the wedding, I was using our paper cutter at work to slice the ceremony programs (which is why they were all a little crooked). I texted my bridesmaid Helen to ask to if I should order a bushel of dried lavender so I could glue a sprig on each program and make them look better. Because right now they looked pretty busted.
And the great friend that she is (who always promised to tell me if I went to far), she finally asked, “But why?” And all I could think was, “Because it isn’t enough! I haven’t done enough!”
The crazy didn’t end there, oh no. After my failure to construct a ribbon curtain for our outdoor ceremony, I stopped on the way to our venue at a garden center for some potted plants. Ben asked me why we needed them to which I responded, completely in zombie bride mode, “My ribbon curtain failed. We have no ceremony decorations! You have to have those!” Later, during the ceremony, I remember snorting at myself a bit when seeing the $40 potted plants I fought so hard for, tipping over in the front of the lawn where we got married. The ceremony was outside. Why did I need plants?
Now it wasn’t until the end of planning that the stress caught up with me. I was told otherwise I stayed surprisingly low key throughout the process. But now that I look back, I see how the crazy seed was planted: Pinterest, The Knot, and all those budget bride blogs that only show the good (and never the ugly) sides of DIY. They were like crack for a budgeting bride, and the lanterns and birdcages were how I got my fix.
Buddha to the rescue
A friend of mine recently lent me the book “10% Happier” by Dan Harris from ABC, who chronicles his discovery of Mindfulness while reporting on various religions. I was excited to find that a newer “convert” of Buddhism was writing on this topic since its a goal of mine as well; and I often feel unworthy since I’m NOT a retreat-attending, yoga-for-the-people card holding, non-meat eating Buddhist (yet?). In the scheme of things, I am very early in my Buddhist education, and was excited to find that Dan Harris’ cynical yet quirky tone is similar to the one I aspire for on this blog.
At one point, he mentions that during a retreat a teacher of his talked about the common misinterpretation of the Buddhist idea of Dukkha, aka “Life is Suffering.” Most people hear this and think, “Why would I want to follow a religion that sounds so miserable? I’m supposed to accept that life is terrible? Fun!”
Well, we’re all missing the boat a bit, but that’s okay. It’s an odd phrase and very confusing if you aren’t told the rest of the message. Turns out it’s poorly translated as well. Dukkha actually translates more closely into “Life is stressful.” Yes! Yes it is! And the rest of the main message is that the stress (or suffering) comes from attaching ourselves to the idea that A. Things or events will make us complete and B. Those things are going be around forever. The more we let go of these ideas, the closer we come to enlightenment (which in their terms is a jolly mix of understanding, compassion, clarity and contentment…in a nutshell).
Stress relief is actually just a lovely side-effect of seeing the world clearly. The idea of Buddhism is not the notion that life sucks and we should learn to deal with it. It’s understanding that there is good and bad, and neither is going to remain permanent. Whether it’s the most delicious tiramisu on the planet, a root canal, or say…a wedding day…
(Whenever I do this, I hear “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof start to play but with the word “Transitiiiiionnn, Transition!”)
When planning a wedding, in regard to my own and while helping friends, there is the inevitable feeling that your list will never end.
And it’s not only your things-to-do list, but also your shopping list. Now there are a million blogs out there about small budget weddings, glitzy weddings, hipster weddings, the whole thing, and all of them seem to have a similar thing in common: lots of things and lots of steps. Personal touches and ways to impress your guests are wonderful, but when do these things start to overshadow the marriage itself? And once you’ve bought into the idea that someone else managed to make their wedding “that cute” with little money and “little effort” a modern day pressure to craft grows into an obsession with obtaining a blog worthy wedding. At least this is what happened with me.
There is a Buddhist idea wrapped up in the lesson of impermanence that we are always waiting for the next thing to complete us. This is another idea that came up is Harris’ book. We are waiting for the next relationship, the end of the week, the next paycheck, the next cup of coffee. That thing will make us complete. And because of all this waiting, we are missing the fact that the last thing arrived, and it wasn’t enough.
This was how my wedding planning snowballed for me. I was on a budget, yes, but we also wanted to throw the majority of our budget into our guests being well-fed, well boozed-up, and comfortable. So once that was taken care of, the money for all the tchotchkes Pinterest tells you to buy was slim. And this is when this weird panic set in as a bride.
I am throwing the money into the food and experience, but not into things like a matching cake, disco lighting, 500 paper lanterns, and a mashed potato bar (which I’ll admit, I was pretty sad the day we cut it). But nonetheless, I still tried to keep up with the Pinterest pressure.
It wasn’t until I was spray painting 150 small handstamped tambourines with glitter paint that I asked myself, “What am I doing???” Here I am with the wind blowing paint all over my apartment door (it’s still sparkly) two weeks before my wedding. I’m making inside joke wedding-favors that most people will not even take home. All because I learned that you are supposed to get personalized favors. I was proving my worthiness through homemade dollar store props. And with each addition of things, I never felt that complete feeling I was searching for. Even after the wedding was over, I still stressed looking through the pictures that maybe I hadn’t done enough.
But what actually matters is that I had one of the best days of my life. Everyone was incredible loving and generous, no one cared when little things went wrong, the food was delicious, the crazy idea to DJ it ourselves worked out, people DANCED, our made-up cocktail was a hit, and Ben and I got married!
The part of the blog where I relate this to other parts of life…
This realization continued to help me past the days of hot gluing ribbons to mason jars. When it comes to my job, my artistic career, decorating the house, and even on our honeymoon, I remind myself a lot that our Pinterest idea of things in not going to bring happiness. When these blogs and Pinterest were invented, they were created to share ideas, which is dandy, and I still love to use it for that. But when it comes to things in our lives that we believe we are judged for (money, career, weddings), it can become a social peacocking site. And clearly I’m leaving out the pressure from the wedding business itself, that isn’t a walk in the park as far as pressure, but since I mainly approached things from a DIY standpoint, I can only speak of this side of things.
But to all my friends who are planning now, remember that the personal touches and projects that bring you joy are the ones to keep around. But there is no need to go past that. There are plenty of other logistical tasks to throw your energy into, including caring about your relationship and your guests, the whole original reason you’re planning all this craziness in the first place.
Either way, planning a huge event is never going to be “easy”, but the more we remember that it is all passing (the good and the bad), the more we can take a step back and realize that it is all enough, and pretty wonderful.
All wedding photos by and linked to Kim Craven Photography because she’s awesssooommme.
A couple months ago, I read Daily Rituals by Mason Currey, a book that many bloggers have been chatting about recently. Man did this collection make me feel better about myself as an artist. He has collected the daily routines of famous and historic writers, artists, scientists, and other great minds throughout history. By breaking down how each person spent their day, it is A.) a fantastic read for someone with a short attention span like me and B.) incredibly humbling and inspiring.
The most eye-opening part? They were all regular people, who ate meals and did chores, had crazy sleeping schedules, and errands to run. They’re like you and me!! Doing people things! So I tackled the whole “if they can do it, I can give it a go” mantra and broke it down.
These are some of the themes I spotted (The quotes are all pulled from Mason Currey’s Blog, also listed above.)
1. Consistency, even when life takes a turn: On Joseph Campbell: “So during the years of the Depression I had arranged a schedule for myself. When you don’t have a job or anyone to tell you what to do, you’ve got to fix one for yourself. ”
2. Drugs, drugs, drugs: On Paul Erdos: “Erdös first did mathematics at the age of three, but for the last twenty-five years of his life, since the death of his mother, he put in nineteen-hour days, keeping himself fortified with 10 to 20 milligrams of Benzedrine or Ritalin, strong espresso, and caffeine tablets. “A mathematician,” Erdos was fond of saying, “is a machine for turning coffee into theorems.”
2. Guilt: On Alaa Al Aswany: “I have a very firm schedule. I must wake up at six a.m. or I feel very guilty. I write from 6:30 to 10:30 six days a week, like a soldier—no interruptions.”
4. Above all, doing whatever the hell works for you: On Gary Panter: “Get up at 7:30 in the morning — feed cats, drive daughter to school, read the NY Times and drink chocolate milk.”
5. A wonderful amount of interestingly-timed whiskey.: On Winston Churchill: “At 11:00 a.m., he arose, bathed, and perhaps took a walk around the garden, and took a weak whisky and soda to his study.”
There wasn’t a single artist that was the same, thus disproving any self-help/success guru that claims there is one way to do things. But looking at this list, obviously there are some things I can do without. I need to go to work, so an 8 hour regimen is not possible yet. If I stayed home all day, I would probably start to go crazy. Drugs aren’t up my alley. I get nervous when I take too much Tylenol. So scratch that. Guilt? I was raised Catholic, so I am not in short supply of guilt. Consistency! Heeeey, there’s something I’ve never been great at, that may do! And whiskey. I can keep that part. I would be up for making Moscow Mules a brunch staple.
Literal Sun Salutation…
For the past four weeks (at least on weekdays, all bets are off on weekends), I have gotten up a little earlier than usual to write and do about 5 minutes of yoga before hopping in the shower and going to work. At first I thought:
This isn’t going to last, it will be like one of those Pinterest Yoga challenges I desert for sleeping in by day 4.
It’s so dark out in the morning, this is depressing, I am in my dark living room doing yoga with my cat chirping at me.
But it’s wild: the more I did it, the more I couldn’t imagine not doing it before work. It’s still slow, I am not about to join a 6am yoga class or anything, but I have found that I am no longer an evil anxious human being while getting ready.
And what’s even more fascinating: without planning or following some sort of guide, my yoga and writing have been going a bit longer each morning. Thanks to my cat who wakes me up for food at 5:45am, I have a natural alarm clock.
The other wonderful thing about writing and yoga at this specific hour is watching the days get longer through the winter. When I first started, it was still dark by the time I headed off to the shower. Now, the sun is rising as I start yoga. I am so much more aware that Spring is on its way, no matter what this little asshole says next week.
The Cat Part of the Blog Post
Strangely enough, I didn’t expect the ritual to grow into something far more important than exercise and journaling. Of course this makes sense, if you do the same thing every day, you’re going to feel more comfortable with it. Right? But I honestly didn’t assume that 20 minutes out of my day would make much of a difference.
I recognized I had made a yogic breakthrough when I no longer wanted to smack my very loving cat the moment I rolled out my mat (Hey I rhymed!). Whenever I stretch down to floor level in a sun salutation, here comes Tiber, our overfed dog-like cat rolling, cooing, and running back and forth under my downward dog like I’m a playground bridge structure.
At the end of my practice, I meditate for a few minutes while Tiber purrs and occasionally makes his signature “chirping” noise that translates into, “Hhhey….Heeeey….Hey youuu.” With each chirp, he pats my knee with his claws half extended. It’s great. After many days of shooing him away, lightning struck. All of my Buddhism instruction talks about remaining in the moment while meditating, not closing your eyes and drifting off into philosophical la-la land, a common misconception. So Buddha Tiber (he has the belly for it) is the present moment saying, “Heeey…stop thinking about cleaning the floors. Hey, yes we still have cereal…heeeeeeeeeey, HEY.”
When I thought of this, I chuckled, gave him a pat, and he stopped chirping. He purred, which was way more calming than my spastic thoughts.
Cats: Better than Overpriced Yoga Props
Since I have learned to work with my furry yoga partner, I have been noticing other helpful things about his distractions. He is often standing exactly where I was about to put my foot, causing me to have to look where I am placing it. This was often mentioned in yoga classes I took anyway, but I never really understood its importance. When I look before I place, much like spotting in dance, I see where I am headed and have less of a chance of flailing around like a drunk person.
I am more present, because I don’t want to kick Tiber, and I feel more in control of the movements.
What does any of this have to do with a book about rituals?
What I loved most about the routine book is that each artist built upon their work, slowly but surely through some consistency. And because of this, they found a direction, however abstract. It’s hard to have direction as an artist when so much is out of your control. You can build it, but you don’t actually know if they will come. So I find setting a goal is tricky, and they often sound too abstract to act on. Building on the smaller things is actually in my control, and they just take time. I feel I have made some progress at the end of the day, however little, and this is invaluable.
Writing and exercising each morning is something I can act and build on, and I have already started to learn from it. So I tip my hat to you, Mason Currey. Thank you for showing me that accomplished artists live regular lives like the rest of us in the same world we know. It’s not on some magical wealthy creative cloud that we can’t reach, but usually in their living room, with dirty dishes in the sink, and maybe some whiskey.
Today I would like to tip my hat to Lodro Rinzler, the author of several books on how to be a modern Buddhist, or rather, how to live compassionately nowadays based on the teachings of the Buddha. I specify this because he’s wonderful at explaining that you don’t need to buy into everything about Buddhism to learn from its philosophy. It is so accessible that I recently passed the first book I bought on to a non-Buddhist friend. I love when any spiritual teacher achieves this, no matter what religion. We all have the same ideas after all.
I picked up his second book today after recently reading The Buddha Walks into a Bar…a Guide to Life for a New Generation. My new one is called Walk Like a Buddha: Even If Your Boss Sucks, Your Ex is Torturing You and You’re Hungover Again. Other than being fabulous with titles, I love the way he writes. He hits the nail on the head with how I’ve felt about Buddhism since I stumbled upon it in highschool. It is a welcoming, non-judgmental religion that was started by a guy in his 20s and 30s who was equally feeling odd about his spirituality in the world. That totally makes sense. Thanks, Siddhartha. I feel angsty too! Because of this connection, Lodro Rinzler lovingly refers to Siddhartha in his books as Sid. Not out of disrespect, but to remind us that people who lived twenty-six hundred years ago were people too.
Anywho, I am taking on this second book as a study to guide me in my own writing. One thing that stuck out to me in the introduction is the phrase he uses “I’m a mess and I’m also okay.” Yes! Thank you! Something so simple takes the pressure off that weird dark 20-something cloud (and I’m sure it happens in other ages as well, as much as we love to be self-deprecating 20-somethings). There is a lot of pressure to decide if you are in a good place or a bad place at this given moment. But I do believe it’s possible, and perfectly normal to be grateful, in a comfortable lifestyle, and trying your damndest in your career while still feeling anxiety. Or your life could be a hot mess right now, but you’re feeling rather peaceful and under control. I often find when I’m in one mood, the opposing voice try to remind me of why I should feel otherwise.
The other thing Rinzler brings up is Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s quote, “Live your life as an experiment.” I love it. Suddenly the thirty temp jobs, mish-mash liberal arts education, and wandering lifestyle we lead feels a little bit more justified. My experiment today is tagging an author I look up to in my post. I will continue to share some of his messages throughout my wedding and life ramblings.
If you happen to see this, thanks for the fabulous books, Lodro Rinzler! And your notes about reaching out after reading your material is just the coolest. Way to stay humble as a very talented writer.
Also, unrelated! Fall equinox is tonight! Break out the mulled wine!
It has taken some time to figure out how to express our wedding planning experience. It’s like going on a life changing trip and then having people ask, “Well, how’d it go?” You have too much to say, and yet nothing you can think of seems to do it justice.
To begin though, it helps to clear up some reasons I was hesitant to share my thoughts for a while…
One of the thousands of messages sent my way via the online wedding industry was: “Don’t write about your wedding, it’s uncouth, and people may see you as an ungrateful or disorganized bride.” And Lord help us if people pass judgements on us based on old traditions and their own insecurities.
So I am slowly beginning to lay out what I learned in hopes to mold my ideas into a Buddhist-inspired wedding planning guide. I use guide loosely…how about: Suggestions on How to Not Lose Your Mind While Planning the Largest Party of Your Life While Still Remembering That You Are Focusing on the Beginning of Your Amazing Marriage. And Buddhism is Pretty Neat Too. I’ll work on that.
Here are some general ideas that I found did NOT aid us in planning our wedding. They will not make sense for everyone. You and I are different people, we have different relationships, so we’re going to have different wedding traditions. Take what you like, and ignore the rest. I LOVE feedback, but please don’t go all rainbow cake on me:) (What I mean by rainbow cake.)
Suggestions I didn’t care for…
1. The Proposal must always be a surprise, and if it isn’t, paint your nails.
Here is the approach Ben and I took: through some alcohol-inspired conversations, and a night where I stumbled upon the ring while looking for some wires for the Wii, I knew Ben was going to propose. Did that make it any less special? Of course not. Knowing ahead of time gave me the proper time-frame to process the idea of getting engaged. As Ben admitted later, the person proposing has months or years to process this giant idea and the person getting proposed to better decide in under ten seconds, or shit gets awkward. In the end, it still surprised me, and I was in good shape to say “absolutely”.
Now, many magazines told me that the benefit of knowing is the chance to paint my nails, hire a spy/photographer, and arrange all my friends to stalk us in the bushes for instant party time! My advice? Even if you know about it, you will be so full of adrenaline that you will forget what words you said, what the hell your nails looked like, and basically how to stand up (and we were on ice skates to top it off). All I wanted afterwards to was to be around Ben. I knew celebrating with friends would follow soon enough. Oddly enough, both our phone batteries died minutes after he proposed. So we couldn’t post anything or text anyone, and we were able to walk down Madison Avenue in blissful solitude.
I completely understand why someone would want to capture the moment or hug friends afterwards, I totally get it, and have seen some beautiful photos of friends’ proposals. And that depends on your personality. But I definitely don’t think fashion or your nail color will be the first thing on your mind. And all you really need is the person you just got engaged to.
Document everything, because it’s better to look back on it later than live in the moment. Oh and look pretty in pictures, damnit.
I learned pretty quickly that most advice online or in magazines is for presenting your engagement/wedding to the rest of the world and your future self, not for you and your significant other while it is happening.
This is not to say that I don’t believe in photography. I am super grateful for our gorgeous wedding photos from Kim. She and Dan were a huge part of our experience. It’s the other stuff that gets a bit questionable…
Here are some scary gems:
-Don’t wear a weird dress, you’ll think you look dumb in 20 years
-Photograph every moment and always look your best, people love how pretty brides are. Oh, and learn to smile in photos, no one wants to see that double chin.
-Spending money shows that you care about your wedding and your guests.
-Never get tense or stressed around family or bridesmaids, people will think you’re a Bridezilla.
-Be respectful of talking about your wedding too much (or at all to those not invited), it may upset people.
-Choose a date that’s best for every guest, and make sure they have endless information on how to get from point A to point B.
And my least favorite?
-Join a gym. Being in great physical shape will make you happier with your photos.
One of the ideas I want to primarily focus on in my writing, with the help of some Buddhist teachings, is the idea of living presently and compassionately. This is both to yourself and others. I have always loved the idea of “help yourself to help others and help others to help yourself.” It’s the version of the Golden Rule that makes more sense to me.
In wedding terms, being yourself and taking care of your health and mind will make people naturally celebrate with you. You want to work out? Great! Exercise is wonderful for you. You want to stop eating anything but green beans so you don’t have arm fat? Maybe rethink your priorities.
And being grateful and respectful to your friends, family, vendors, and guests (the same way you were to them before you were engaged) is all they need to feel appreciated during your special day. They don’t need their hand held, they don’t need proof that you’re pretty and organized, and they won’t judge you. If they are, that’s their own deal, not yours. They love you, which is why you are inviting them to your wedding. Your wedding is to give people a glimpse of the world you have created as a couple. And to eat a lot.
My wedding party has signed up to be indentured servants
Oh Lordy. Why why why? These people are your closest friends, the ones you want IN THE ROOM WITH YOU before you go take your wedding vows. They have agreed to spend money on a dress (or suit) they wear once, several expensive trips, and parties they are expected to plan. These are fabulous people.
I realized early on that having a bridal party was an excuse to get together with five very close ladies in my life and celebrate each other. They have cried with me on bathroom floors, gotten me home in one piece after parties, and celebrated each step of my relationship with Ben. You are blending your life with someone else’s life, and these people are a part of that. So have a drink, and don’t boss them around. Think of them as an extension of your constant party that is planning a wedding. Otherwise, the wedding will end, and you will feel stinky about being a jerk.
My goals was to make sure they were always a little bit tipsy on champange.
Everything has to be “Perfect”
I snort a little when I think of this word. A. Because I’m not sure what it means and B. It’s dumb. Life is never “perfect” and I prefer it that way. If life had been how I was planning it, I wouldn’t have been living with my parents the night I forced myself out of my moping stupor to go to Jenn’s party. I wouldn’t have met Ben, and wouldn’t be planning this wedding in the first place.
Stuff will happen on your wedding day and leading up to it. Money for your dream budget will not come through, your wedding craft project may look a little wonky (sometimes the wind blows when you’re spray painting tambourines and leaves get stuck on them), a guest you love has to back out, or something really hard happens, like losing a family member or friend.
Life keeps moving even while you’re planning, and it can be hard when your emotions are understandably in la-la land.
My advice? (And the basic theme of my book that will theoretically be written?)
Dream about how your want to feel on the day of your wedding, everything else (how it will look, who will be there, how everyone else feels) will fall into place. Figure out together how your thoughts differ, and find a happy balance.
I knew that when I imagined a “perfect” party, people would be so comfortable in their surroundings that they never want to leave. It was that feeling of nostalgia you get on a peaceful vacation. I’ve always had that feeling at the Jersey Shore, so that’s how we found Cape May.
Ben always wanted a Bar Mitsvah-like atmosphere of celebration, where everyone knew they could let loose, eat good food, and celebrate how much they love each other. And this is how we found the Chalfonte (they had famous fried chicken, we were sold).
All of the other options: colors, fabrics, flowers, clothing, were then flexible. If we didn’t have $500 centerpieces as high as the ceiling, would we be able to feel the way we hoped on our day? Yes. So screw it, we’ll make our own centerpieces.
I knew that physical distractions drive me crazy. So I didn’t get a corseted dress and I put flip-flops under our dinner table.
Also, since we are both in theatre, I expressed that I didn’t want our wedding to feel like a flashy production. We have enough of that. So we chose The Chalfonte backyard and made almost everything by hand.
It amazed me how all the ideas made sense by the end, and they all had a story behind them. We made friends with most of our vendors, and we want to return to the Chalfonte every year now. What more could you ask for?
Things did fall apart: my nails were totally chipped from arranging flowers, my body decided to shut down the week before, and it was 50 degrees days leading up to it. None of this ever mattered, and we still got married. And still felt nostalgic, relaxed, and ready to party the whole time.
So that’s a start for now!
My goal for writing down all my ideas in some sort of organized manner is to help any couples that feel the way we did about the wedding industry. There’s a lot of crap out there, and a lot of wonderful traditions as well. It’s all about finding what works for you as a couple, and enjoying the adventure of planning. At the end of the night, you want to be pleasantly buzzed, exhausted from hugging everyone and dancing, and ready to continue celebrating how awesome marriage is.
Clearly more wedding posts to come. This is just a start to get my mind rolling and write something down. Thanks for reading:)
Thank you to Helen for the awesome blog title idea. She is a thinker!
And all of the photos from the wedding day are by Kimberly Craven Photography. Check them all out at kimcraven.com!!