A Month of Release

 

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need.

Tao Te Ching

My first three experiments were focused on cultivating my passions. I thought I was throwing myself softballs, choosing to double down on activities that I already enjoy. In reality, however, I ended up being disappointed because it never lived up to my lofty expectations. This disappointment morphed into guilt and resistance to doing the things that I love to do. My first month of doing yoga every day felt too long, while the second two months of music and philosophy felt way too short to accomplish even a sliver of what I had hoped. Life always seemed to interfere.

I have A LOT going on this month already, so in an effort to relinquish some of the control that has caused me suffering, this month I will be practicing the art of non-doing in doing--spring cleaning my life, as it were. I have been in a long period of transition, which has not come to an end, if there ever is such a thing. No dust is settling, but rather lifting into the air. But I will not be blinded by the dust bowl. Instead I will seek stillness and liberation amongst the dancing particles.

ALBUM RELEASE

This month I am finally releasing my debut LP Comets & other drifting bodies on April 12th. I started writing and recording these songs back in 2015 and had naively thought I would release it in 2016. Well here I am 4 years later, ready to let it go and share it!

Listen to the singles Upside Down and Losing Touch


JOB RELEASE

I am also releasing my job as the Grants and Foundations Coordinator at AGE of Central Texas, a nonprofit supporting older adults and their caregivers. I will miss my colleagues and the clients we serve, but this feels like the right move. I will be starting a new position as the Content Marketer at Alegion, a tech startup that offers supervised training data for machine learning projects. I am expecting a bit of a learning curve but am absolutely thrilled to begin this new challenge!

HOUSE RELEASE

My rental house is being sold and has become a revolving door of young hip couples and real-estate wheelers and dealers inspecting our home. I love this house, but it is time to move on and nest elsewhere.

In the process of letting go, you will lose many things from the past, but you will find yourself.

Deepak Chopra


Got any tips, tricks, or practices to help me through this transition? 😙

 

The Loving Struggle

 

Instead of musing about my experiment, I thought I would share a short excerpt from my master’s thesis on love as one of my favorite philosophers, Karl Jaspers, describes it.

The Thinker, Anthropological Museum of Luanda, Angola

The Thinker, Anthropological Museum of Luanda, Angola

What a man is, is a light in the eyes of the one who loves him; for true love is clear sighted and not blind. ~Karl Jaspers

The loving struggle is a non-violent, non-coercive form of relation with another person. Each must approach the other with an authentic attitude, solidarity, and support. Only once trust is established can two people engage in mutual critique necessary for growth.

Love is ‘not a simple pact of pleasant coexistence between two individuals; rather it is the radical experience, perhaps to the outermost point, of the existence of the Other’ ~Byung-Chul Han, The Agony of Eros

To engage in true communication, one must already have a sense of himself, so as not to be absorbed by the other, but one must also not perceive himself as finished, for then the contact will be just the association of two solipsistic creatures. When two complete beings meet, there is no potential for true communication and no consequence to self-being. One must be both self-possessed and open to the other making an impression in order to potentially develop. If one is too rigid, no impression can be made, and no growth can occur. These qualities of suppleness, open-mindedness, and variability are enabled by love. Fear on the other hand makes us rigid. Observe how a person’s body stiffens with fear. While love calms and softens us; it is driving at creating

‘space for the human nobility that takes solidarity to grow in, not an outward measuring but an inner unification in joint claims to equality of level, to candor, clarity, and readiness for self-restraint and service’ (Jaspers, Philosophy II, 336-337).

Human nobility needs space and support in order to develop. Only once one has matured, does one have the prosocial proclivities, such as self-restraint and desire for service, which are the foundation of society.

Cesar and Cat Stevens, my two loving roommates

Cesar and Cat Stevens, my two loving roommates

Love is the bedrock and wellspring that makes honest communication possible, because it creates a consonance of belonging. It lays the foundation of unconditionality which is requisite for the loving struggle. Jaspers does not go into how to support or nourish the wellspring of love, however, it seems that love and communication form a sort of feedback loop. Love, according to Jaspers, is not a steady eternal flame, which burns without sustenance and care. Duality and the friction created by two unique beings navigating the mundane keep love in motion.

‘Without mundane contents, existential communication has no phenomenal medium; without communication such contents are senseless and void’ (Jaspers, Philosophy II, 62-63).

Communication, the result of the loving struggle, brings meaning to the mundane phenomenal world. The centrality of the mundane is important in Jaspers’ conceptualization of love and communication, because it is those dull elements that are usually left out of the more romantic depictions. Love is not flights of idealization as portrayed in Hollywood’s latest chick-flick or gushes of public affection, but situated squarely in the realm of everyday life and takes place through discussions and disagreements about values like punctuality and attitudes toward money.

Love is fierce and bold and challenging and delicious. Take your loving relationships seriously. Foster that beautiful trust with those who love you. Love them. Love yourself. Love the little animals who love you unconditionally!

 

A Month of Philosophy: Seeking out the Good Life

 

“Change, Thoreau reminds us, begins when we finally choose to critically examine and then recalibrate the ill-serving codes and conventions handed down to us, often unquestioned, by the past and its power structures. It is essentially an act of the imagination first.” ~Maria Popova, brain pickings

Bronze sculpture "Denkpartner" by Hans-Jörg Limbach, 1980, in front of the Friedrichsbau Varieté in Stuttgart, Germany

Bronze sculpture "Denkpartner" by Hans-Jörg Limbach, 1980, in front of the Friedrichsbau Varieté in Stuttgart, Germany

This experiment will continue in the vein of the first two as a re-embracing of former passions.  I consider myself a philosopher and a lover of wisdom. Last year I submitted an almost-one-hundred-page master’s thesis on philosophy, and very much burned myself out in the process. Far from what some of my peers wanted to do - diving straight into a PhD - I knew I needed a break. And now one year later, I find myself finally dusting off some of these big old books.

This month will be about reading and writing again. At some point I want to condense my thesis into something geared toward a general audience, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself. I’d like for this month to simply consist of an effort toward getting back into shape. Much like with yoga, music, or any other practice, philosophical contemplation takes an incredible amount of concentration and focus. And when I come home from work - having stared into a computer all day - my mind wants to skip, hop, and meander rather than staying on yet another task. But this specific task is one of my loves. And I know that only with a bit of discipline can I explore becoming through becoming.

Last month’s experiment, I realize now, was not necessarily bound by SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.

With that in mind, my goal for this month will be very smart: I intend to read and write about a philosophical idea or work, for at least an hour, 3 days/week.  In my experience it takes at least an hour to melt into contemplation. The process is especially slow because I often have to read passages over and over again in order to begin to glean their depth. I do not yet know what role philosophy will play in my life, but through this work I have come to understand some of the fundamental principles and values by which I live. And I’m so excited to share some of these bits of wisdom with you all throughout the month!

 

Reflections on a Month of Music

 
Photo by  Thomas Allison

Well, I knew this day would come. I think I kinda sorta failed at this month’s experiment.  However, an emerging lesson of my year so far has been that new intentions aren’t always enough to conquer old patterns, self-criticism, or general malaise. Not yet at least, but I’m learning.

I intended to use this experiment to take more time to sing and play music. I even created a cute little corner in my office to hole up and experiment, which I utilized exactly once this month (last night).  I’m trying not to feel bummed or guilty, or that I “wasted” the opportunity, but to view it as a growth exercise. Much like Thomas Edison simply found 1,000 ways that wouldn’t work, I’m learning every time I try an approach to creativity that doesn’t manage to inspire me. And while I may not have found the proper approach to devoting myself to my passion and craft yet, I did accomplish a lot on the social media/marketing side of the process. This usually manages to either feed or bruise my ego without being any fun creatively, but I recognize its importance.

In this realm, the personal practice I’ve been working on is to focus my attention on the positive feedback I receive rather than the criticisms or rejections. This has been an excellent practice in gratitude: be thankful for what it is rather than disappointed about what it is not. And as I’ve focused on positivity, I’ve started singing in the shower again. I’ve even started singing in the car during my commute to work.


And stepping back from my disappointment on the creative side, I can appreciate the things I was able to accomplish this month:

  • Was invited to play a live acoustic set on a local radio station in April

  • Released a new single, Losing Touch

  • Asked my friend and talented designer Caitlin Cook to design the album art for my upcoming album

  • Have submitted music to blogs like crazy (with limited success, but I’m trying)

  • Developed a nice thank you message to send to new Instagram followers. My day job is in development and I realized that I didn’t have a stewardship plan for new fans. Your support does not go unnoticed! I am grateful for each like, repost, share, and follow.

  • Bought a ticket for the DIY Musician Conference in August

  • Was invited to write a blog post about recording my album and filming my music video with dBs students in Berlin

  • Put my single, Upside Down, on all of the streaming platforms

I also spent several hours one day doing research (aka watching music videos and tiny desk concerts on Youtube) and discovered - and rediscovered - so many great songs and songwriters. I thought I would share the playlist with you all for your enjoyment.

It occurs to me that writing this blog post was what allowed me to see all of the things I had accomplished and not simply dwell on where I had fallen short. So thank you so much for reading it! I’m very excited for next month’s experiment: A Month of Philosophy.

 

On Depression, Suicide, and the Healing Power of Music

 
Photo by  Thomas Allison

I want the 12 experiments and by extension, this blog about them, to be lighthearted and fun. That being said, a post about my relationship with music would be incomplete without mentioning that from which my musical inspiration often springs. One simply cannot describe lightness without mentioning darkness. Please, bear with me.

French philosopher Albert Camus wrote, “There is only one really serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy. All other questions follow from that” (The Myth of Sisyphus, 3).  I’ve reflected on Camus’ words recently because in the last six months I’ve lost two former classmates to suicide. And in thinking about depression and suicide, I’m reminded of my own struggle with depression a few years ago, and the experience of “choosing life,” to use Camus’ words. Part of my choosing life involved writing the songs that comprise my upcoming album, Comets and Other Drifting Bodies. I’d like to talk a little about that experience in case it’s helpful for anyone who may find themselves in a similar situation.

I’ve always considered life a gift (thank you Mom).  In 2014, a series of events came one after another and before I knew it, I felt the bottom crumble out from under me and found myself in a months-long free fall.  I lost all mooring and orientation. The more I struggled to regain my composure, the more I felt lost, isolated, and terrified. Suddenly, everything was difficult. Basic tasks like eating, bathing, and leaving my apartment required great, sometimes insurmountable effort. I am so thankful that even in my lowest moments, I did not want to die. But I no longer knew how to live.

As I fumbled around in the abyss in search of something to hold on to - anything that would give me a sense of orientation - I found an old friend that has always brought me comfort and joy: music. Alone in my apartment, I sang what I thought and felt using lyrics and melodies either borrowed or of my own creation.  I trilled and chanted and screamed anger and guilt and despair. I belted with all of the life force I could muster and in doing so, I peopled my solitude. I found a way to tap into that morsel of my self that is not only my self—that which in the light I identify in all beings and things, the essence that webs the universe together.

And just as mysteriously as my depression had arrived, it eventually subsided. Music played a large role. The rest I owe to some combination of friends, family, therapy, and incremental small wins.  And from that painful place, the songs that I wrote went on to become a full length album, that has morphed and evolved over time and only just recently came to completion. It has been a difficult thing to release. Release, verb, to allow or enable to escape from confinement or servitude.  My hope is that these paltry few minutes of music which once meant life to me will offer something to those who hear it.While I am afraid of being misunderstood, or worse ignored, I cannot let fear call the shots and choose for me.  So, with much love and gratitude, here is my latest single, Losing Touch.

The rest of Comets and other drifting bodies is soon to follow!

If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. 1-800-273-8255

 

A Month of Music: Peopling My Solitude

In her 2014 book, Transformative Experience, Agnes Callard says living authentically requires occasionally leaving your old self behind ‘to create and discover a new self.’ The purpose of this year long experiment is to lean into the activities and practices that feel the most in tune with who I am and want to become. I want to fill my days with that which elevates and inspires my spirit and crowds out whatever doesn’t.

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Why A Month of Music?

Since I was a child, I have been singing to myself and making up lyrics and tunes. I grew up a free range kid in Chicago and - beginning in early elementary school - I took public transportation alone to get around the city and would often sing to myself.  Sometimes I would notice the people around me turning to listen and I would pipe up - singing whatever came to mind and sometimes holding the whole bus’ attention until my stop came and I departed. I never considered that I might be bothering anyone. As I got older, it was conveyed to me through various subtle ways that it was not only strange to walk around singing all the time but also rude. In boarding school, this was more explicitly communicated and eventually my song was sequestered to the practice room and rehearsal. I sang only the songs of others at the appropriate places and designated times.

My childhood was complicated and intermittently traumatic; I often lacked the safety and security of structure and routine. At some point, singing became more than just a fun thing to do; it evolved into a form of self-soothing with the wonderful byproduct of bringing people closer to me who wanted to help.

I’ve spent a lot of time alone throughout my life. From what I’ve gleaned, I’ve spent much more time in solitude than my peers. The poet Robert Browning said, ‘Who hears music, feels his solitude peopled at once.’ And so it has always been for me. I never felt totally alone as long as I sang.

The sensation of “peopling solitude” through music for me has always felt like an act of conjuring: of making something appear, seemingly from nowhere, as if by magic. Since I moved to Austin in 2016, my relationship with music has changed. I used to make music when I was alone. In Austin, I am rarely alone.  My world here is peopled, and without the solitude, I lack the space from which my creativity has always sprung.  I keep myself busy “working on music,” trying to get the music I’ve already made in front of more eyes and ears, but this part of the process is logistical. It lacks the magic and wonder that comes with the process of creation.

So, for this month, I want to reinfuse my days with singing. As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, ‘One should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.’

Thanks for reading! Click here to hear my tunes.

Month of Yoga Retrospective

 

The other night I thought, "I've done yoga every day, just like I said I would. I've got this in the bag!" Then I fell asleep reading on the couch. Upon waking up I realized I had not yet practiced, so I dragged myself off the couch and onto my mat. Each day presents a new challenge!

 
 
By Carolina Arevalo

By Carolina Arevalo

I have stayed true to my commitment and month of yoga has done exactly what I had hoped: I have strengthened my discipline to make time to do the things that foster joy, serenity, and confidence.

I was chatting with Sarah (check out her 12 Experiments) about how I often get distracted by the little things I have to do and don’t leave time for what inspires and adds value to my life. She replied that she has the opposite problem! She does the fun things and forgets to work. It is easy to convince yourself that you are having a universal experience. It is so important to share your experiences and points of view with others, because it is so easy to be swallowed up in the “that’s just the way it is” fallacy. There are somethings you can’t change, like the past, but you can always shift the way you feel about them, the gravity you give to them, and the impact you allow it to have on you as you move forward.

Yoga for me is an exercise in incremental shifts. I practice with my body, because it is my access point to my mental and spiritual dimension. On my mat I can practice what I want to become.

 

Doin' too much

 

“Yoga is not about tightening your ass.  It’s about getting your head out of it.”

~Eric Paskel

Sometimes I think I might be a little dense, whenever it feels like I’m learning the same lessons over and over again. As I continue to practice yoga everyday, and reflect on it, some of those recurring lessons are making themselves very apparent. For example:

I love to do too much: I know I told you all that this was my Month of Yoga experiment, but secretly I was also trying to do the majority of the other experiments on my list: singing and writing and decluttering and reading and cooking and digital detoxing and cutting spending and and and…. I’ve been tiring myself out in a lot of ways other than my main experiment. I want to use the 12 Experiments and the New Year as a catalyst for radical self improvement and reshaping my life. However, right out of the gate I became impatient and a little judgmental. How quickly I put aside self care and compassion to focus on discipline and achievement.

Which leads me to the next lesson: the physical practice of yoga is really just a sneaky access point to the mental, emotional, and spiritual practice of becoming, in a compassionate, kind, and intentional manner.

So this past week I slowed down a bit. I began alternating between public classes and less intense home practices. In the public classes I feel pulled by the intention and energy set by the teacher and the other students. At  home, on the other hand, I close my eyes and focus solely on my breath and whatever feels good in my body at that moment. Sometimes I fall out of time and feel the vastness of space. In a period of my life in which I often feel rushed and behind and impatient, these 15 or 20 minutes provide a much needed respite and reset.

Thank you all for reading!

If you want to join in the adventure, here is a step by step guide on how to start your own 12 Experiments.

 

Week 1: I'm flying...oh wait no, I'm crashing.

 

I froze my gym membership for the months of November and December because I was out of town a lot. I had told myself that this would be an opportunity to focus on my home practice. Instead, predictably, I fell off the wagon.  Leading up to this experiment, I began unrolling my mat at home and re-familiarizing myself a bit, but public classes are what really push me. I kept a log throughout my first week of this experiment:

Drinking Bird Pose

Day 1 -  4pm 75 minute Vin/Yin class

This was a perfect class to start the year.  45 minutes of flow and then 45 minutes of slow, juicy, deep tissue yin. This experiment will be easy because I am a golden goddess.

Day 2 - 6:30 am Vinyasa 2

Oh jeez. High intensity early morning class that felt like 2 classes crammed into one.  I felt simultaneously strong and out of shape, but I kept up. Afterwards, I felt inspired to practice some of the poses that I hate  *make me pretty uncomfortable*: Dolphin, crow, headstand, approaching handstand, humble warrior, fire logs... I felt great for a few hours, but by 9am I wanted to curl up under my desk to take a nap.

Day 3 - 8:30 am 15 minute home practice

My alarm didn’t go off this morning, so I missed the 7:30 am class. Even though I was running late to work, I did a few Sun Salutations, cat/cows, and a healthy amount of time in child’s pose. Nailed it.

Day 4 - 6:30 am Vinyasa 2 class

Woof. I did not want to get out from under my warm down cloud of a comforter to stretch out my still-sore body. It was pitch black and so peaceful as all of the sane people in my neighborhood lay sleeping. Walked in late and basically never caught up. While two days ago, I thought ‘I should really work on developing my inversion practice.” This morning I laid in child’s pose as everybody else flew upside down in impressive handstands. I left only vaguely glad I went, but mostly in a sour, withdrawn mood. I thought I could just throw myself back into the same level that I had been building toward with a year of consistent practice. Not so. I really felt those 2 months of languishing. This Month of Yoga is going to be a bit more challenging than I had expected.

Super Soldier Pose

Super Soldier Pose

Day 5 - 10 am 60 minute Vinyasa 2 at ABP

Dragged by patootie over there. Tried and epically failed my first attempt at Super Soldier Pose, but I had a good giggle experimenting.

Day 6 - 10:45 pm 15 minute home practice

Snuck it in under the wire.

Day 7 - 4pm 60 minute Yoga for Climbers at ABP

I got up at 5:45am to make a 6:30 am yoga class. After wedging myself out of bed, stomping around, and just staring angrily at my dresser, I finally thought, why am I doing this? I went back to sleep and went to the 4pm.


Lesson 1 : from this experiment so far: I am very unhappy waking up before sunrise during the winter. I am in hibernation mode, which means I sleep more, eat more heavy, hot meals, and don’t get up several hours before the crack of dawn to do a restorative practice. Plus I am stiff and cold in the mornings and need a couple of hours to warm up. Late morning to evening are the good times for me.

Lesson 2 : Never take a 2 month break from yoga again, duh.

Lesson 3 : For henceforth experiments I will only make myself do something 6 days a week, cause let’s be real, everybody needs a day off every once a week.

Lesson 4 : This post is too long! Write shorter posts, more often.

 

A Month of Yoga

 
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“Motivation waxes and wanes but discipline will carry you through those hard times”

~ Todd Cline

As I thought about what it would mean to give myself over to a year long experiment, I thought about something I read once about the benefits of “SMART goals:” Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. I chose A Month of Yoga as my first experiment because I want to start the year off cultivating discipline. If my larger goal is to seize 2019 and live more intentionally, I feel like I should start with the basics.

I have been practicing yoga for 12 years. It hasn’t been all beach yoga and handstands.  More often than not, I am the type of yogi who can be found weeping softly in half pigeon. Some of those years I barely looked at my mat while other years it was the one thing that could reliably bring me peace throughout the day. My practice has been patchy at times, but I keep coming back to the mat. I’ve found it is a practice that really works for me.

This past summer, after years of thinking about it, I finally did a 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training Certification. My nebulous goals for the course were to deepen my practice, master proper alignment, explore anatomy, delve into yoga philosophy, learn smart sequencing, lead confidently, and develop this as a hard skill I might be able to use as a side-hustle. I was all gung-ho about teaching privately and creating workshops when I landed a full-time job and my priorities began to shift. It was easier for me to prioritize my practice when I had the flexibility to go to class whenever I felt like it. My preference for mid-morning yoga didn’t exactly jive with my new 9-5 work schedule, and I fell off the wagon. So, my first challenge will revolve around sticking to my personal routines and prioritizing that which brings me peace.  If a happy and fulfilling life is the goal, I must routinely do that which makes me happy and feel fulfilled.

Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.

~Aristotle

Specific: Practice a whole lot of yoga

Measurable: I will keep a log of my practice

Achievable: At least 15 minutes a day. Not a huge time commitment, more is better, but focus on consistently achieving the goal.

Relevant: Having a daily yoga practice helps me to cultivate discipline, mindfulness, and intention. This will set the groundwork for the rest of my experiments.

Time-bound: 15 minutes per day for 31 days. How hard could it be?

Wish me luck!