One Choice at a Time

It’s January 3rd, a year in its infancy.  When thinking about resolutions and beginnings, it’s important to remember that these can happen at any time.  While the New Year is our cultural marker to renew, it can also stifle us from making different choices at any point in time and feel like a failure when those resolutions aren’t realized.  For example, I have a love-guilt relationship with yoga and meditation.  I love both and know my practices make me a more thoughtful, authentic, patient, and calm person.  However, somehow, I will go through periods where those practices diminish in time until I’ve forgotten when I last did a down dog or sat on the cushion for five minutes.  I find myself cranky, stressed, stiff, and fairly disgusted with my body.  At these points, it seems monumental to begin again, and every time I’ve set goals such as 30 minutes of yoga practice per day, I fail and feel guilty for not doing something I know is in my (and everyone else’s) best interest.  Throughout my life, though, I have begun to learn the lesson that a single choice makes a difference and many choices collectively make an impact.  Getting up five minutes early to sit in quiet is a simple, easy step.  Five minutes a day for a year is over 30 hours of reflection and sitting in peace.  Wow!

Choices in our lives are made throughout every day and night.  If I think about something as simple as taking a breath before I react negatively with my daughter when frustrated, I can affect the way in which the rest of the afternoon goes.  If I pause before making a snarky comment to my husband about him not doing the dishes, I can avoid a sullen atmosphere the rest of the evening.  If I take the time to compliment my son on his reading skills before he gets on the bus, I can encourage him throughout his school day.  Sometimes, choices aren’t conscious, and we must react because there is no time to do otherwise.  However, if our daily routine involves mindful choices, those reactions are likely to be guided by our habits.

We’ve all heard the quote from Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, found in the Tao Te Ching, but have we really taken it to heart?  The journey of a thousand miles really does begin with one step…and another step, and another step, and another.  I was once on a week-long backpacking trip with my husband, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and two family dogs that went very badly.  Although experienced backpackers, we encountered a great deal of snow and melted runoff for which we were unprepared and later in the week, I was incredibly ill, lost a lot of blood, and was very weak.  I needed to get out of the back country, and the fastest and safest way to help was by me walking with the group.  At one point, I recall stopping, crying, and telling my husband for the first time ever that I couldn’t go any further; the idea of hiking miles to the car seemed like a monumental obstacle.  He looked at me and said, “All you have to do is put one foot in front of the other.  Then, do it again.  You can do that.  You’ve been doing that.  Now, move!”  Needless to say, we made it, but it was because he broke down the giant task into what it really took–one step at a time.

I’d like to make this New Year, 2016, about mindful choices.  I don’t have goals, like losing weight, being more patient, or finishing those two articles, although these accomplishments would be great.  Instead, I will focus on daily, incremental steps that make me a happier person and others in my life happier as well though the conscious choices I make. I challenge you to do the same.

540_293_resize_20130401_ae2ef3c26d2ba8980d5c0623d339301f_jpg

Many Endings

On this New Year’s Eve, when many of us are thinking of new beginnings, I am thinking of the many endings encountered in 2015.  While the year has held many joys, we have experienced much tragedy and grief in our personal lives, as part of our community, in our nation, and throughout our world. Typically, I’m the type of person who is able to muster optimism and rally the troops, but I find that I am unable to summon hope right now.  What I am thinking about, instead, are family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and pets gone too soon–before we were ready.  But are we ever ready?  When should the last breath be?  Of what should the last conversation consist?  How should the last interaction go?

As humans, we are blessed and cursed with cognizance of our own mortality.  We know we have limited time on Earth, yet we blindly deceive ourselves into thinking that the time is unlimited.  We choose to ignore the possibility of our own demise and happily pretend that our loved ones are permanent fixtures in our lives.  While these attachments are certainly the stuff of life, and good ones at that, they also lull us into a lack of awareness of just how precious each interaction, conversation, and being is.  We don’t reflect on our carelessness in the grocery checkout line, lack of listening to our children, inaction in response to a homeless person in need, lack of interest in the education of girls in Afghanistan, or harsh words to our spouse; we assume we will have more time or someone else will take care of things.  Wake up!

Each moment is a gift.  Is the argument with your [fill_in_the_blank] worth spending the next few days fuming, or is it your pride that’s hurt?  Do you really need the extra five dollars in your purse, or could someone else really use it?  Must you really get that last parking space, or would it make someone’s day to have it offered up?  How do you want to spend your precious time on this planet?

When I look back over the last year and wonder where the time went, I realize that my best moments were spent when I was present–talking, laughing, meditating, sharing, even doing chores, but in a mindful way.  While I’m not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions, there is something to be said for having a date that marks a clean start.  Thus, in 2016, I will endeavor to be more present and mindful, especially in my interactions with others.  In order to cultivate these relationships, I’ve decided to leave Facebook and Twitter.  While I find social media incredibly useful with many benefits, I also find that I waste far too much time that could be better spent in a more productive and fulfilling way.  It will be tough; I love to see status updates, family pictures, and funny videos, and my ego is stroked with “likes” and re-posts.  Instead, I’ll stick to the therapeutic effects of writing on the blog and connecting one-on-one with people.

In closing, I’d love to connect with you via email (dawn.corso@gmail.com), text, phone, snail mail, blog comments, or in person.  My wish for 2016 is that we all wake up moment-to-moment and savor each amazing experience.  Much love and hope to you for a year filled with beautiful beginnings!Hope-2-570x379

Can two weeks change your life?

imageSince my last post, I have…been offered an opera role in a summer program, discussed the possibility of teaching a course at a university and another two at local community colleges, and been considered for a conductor’s position in Tanzania for a recorded new composition.  (I am noting the irony that I mentioned Tanzania in my last post.) Holy cannoli! My last post was on March 15th, and it is now March 31st.  In the immortal words of the Stones, “Time is on my sIde.”

So the question of the day is, “Have you ever considered the power of time?” One moment, I’m ready to forsake opera entirely due to the ongoing rejections and lack of audition responses.  The next moment, I am offered a choice role. Similarly, one minute, I am considering going back to school for yet another degree, but the next minute, I am asked to teach those very classes.

I am amazed by people and life everyday.  I am also astounded by the connections made in the past that continually resurface.  Karma is not simply a spiritual or religious concept; it is the real, day-to-day, reaping-what-you-sow.  Did you work hard? You’re typically prepared. Are you friendly and helpful? Someone will pick you up when you need it.

Listen, this blog is simply someone rambling about life, but I hope it inspires you to think about what’s important and every person, experience, and moment that shapes who you are and how you fit in the world. My challenge to you is to ask yourself whether two weeks could change your life?  You might be surprised.

What Are You Looking For?

Image

It seems to me that (you lived your life like a candle in the wind…wait, where did that come from?)…anyway, stream of consciousness, it seems to me that we’re all looking for something in life.  Perhaps we end up accumulating things–cars, houses, clothes–or we count our “successes”–careers, exotic vacations, retirement plans, but it all boils down to your life is but one moment after another, one breath followed by the next, until it isn’t.

The thing is, we don’t like that.  Are we seriously so inconsequential on Earth that it would continue to exist without our presence?  Now, that’s a very cynical outlook, and I’m not typically that cynical, but the bottom line is that although people who love us would miss us dearly and every action that we make can cause innumerable chain reactions, each person must accept the inevitable impermanence of their own existence and its miniscule bearing on the universe as a whole.  This acceptance stinks worse than a vegetarian dog’s gas.

Rather than accept this fate, we cast about (as my Northern English husband is fond of saying) looking for ways to fill the void and answer the almighty question of what our Purpose (with a capital P) is.  So far, I’ve figured out that I should: graduate from college (not enough), go to grad school (not enough), get a doctorate (not enough), accumulate more certificates and licenses than any sane person should (clue: not…), get married, buy a home, have children, change careers (more than once…anthropologist, teacher, principal, writer, musician, conductor, yoga instructor…might even entertain outdoor wildlife expert and/or non-profit community roots project organizer), and, well, you get the idea.  Every new experience is destined to be THE ONE that will fulfill my hope and dream of making me feel complete.  Unfortunately, what I find is that I will stick with something long enough to somewhat master the skills and knowledge needed to function well enough or obtain some degree of proficiency.  I am comforted by the day-to-day routine; we humans crave ritual!  My life is nice, luxurious by most of the world’s standards.  Then, I realize that I’m bored and what I’m doing won’t fulfill my ultimate Purpose, and try to reconfigure a new direction to sample.

I have decided that a “gap year” is in order.  A sabbatical, if you will.  There is a reason why the Sabbath was observed and has continued to be commonplace within churches and institutions of education–one will eventually go crazy otherwise.  We can disguise it in any way–data collection, field experience, holy fast–but what it means is we need to sort ourselves out and think.  What a concept!  My biggest obstacle is ridiculous–pride.  A sabbatical would mean not working, well, at least not having a 9-to-5 job.  I’m sure I will find work that is meaningful (and likely desperately needed in our family).  However, having grown up in a family of coal mining men and women who did pretty much everything else, as well as sitting on a stack of college degrees, makes me feel very antsy at the notion of not bringing home a weekly paycheck.

On the flip side, on this Ides of March, I am sitting outside writing under an amazing moon with a breeze blowing the palm trees (yes, I’m so sorry to my family in the Midwest right now) looking at the constellations while I write, and I’m thinking, “This world is so incredible and huge. How can I possibly continue to get up and have the same routine every day? I must visit Tanzania, through hike the Appalachian Trail, and twirl prayer wheels!”

I realize that this struggle is central to Buddhism and yogic philosophy and is pretty much core to most religions, but somehow, I’ve still not figured it out.  I’m also incredibly aware that one might interpret this as a crisis plaguing those in their mid-life years, but I assure you that 27 is far too young for that.  (That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it until my younger sister’s “age” leapfrogs over mine.)

What Is Important?

It occurs to me that I care far too much about what others think of me.  I recently spent a week on a wilderness spring break, not necessarily roughing it as I’ve done when backpacking, but definitely away from people, technology, Internet and cell phone coverage, and cozy amenities, like hot water for a shower.  I wasn’t using the orange shovel, but you get the idea.  I realized that while I was gone, my best moments were sitting under the stars in silence, explaining to my son why backpacking with his father for the first time was one of my fondest memories, encouraging my daughter to never say, “I can’t,” and having her dad respond with, “Your mom never says, ‘I can’t,'” beaching and anchoring a giant houseboat as a team with my husband, and thinking I was beautiful despite, or perhaps because of, the lack of mirrors, make-up, hair products, and social media.

When I’m in my usual routine, I worry myself with whether I’m measuring up–working enough, mothering enough, producing enough, looking good enough, etc.  For what?  For whom?  In nature, all you have to concern yourself with is food, clothing, shelter, and, perhaps if there’s time and energy, some entertainment.  This absolute need to take care of yourself and those with you drives your focus and makes anything else not only peripheral, but entirely irrelevant.

But what do I do when necessity isn’t driving every decision?  I obsess over details that are utterly ridiculous–son missed practicing spelling words last night, car has tree sap on the hood that needs cleaned, daughter likes playing with pretend makeup, I’m having a bad hair day, dog needs a bath, kids had too many chips this weekend, garage is in desperate need of organizing, and on and on and on.  WHO CARES?!?!

While the title of this post might indicate the importance of love, family, friends, and other top-tiered concepts in Maslow’s hierarchy, I’m talking about the foundation of that hierarchy.  It’s incredibly important for us as humans, if we are so fortunate to not be in need of basic human needs, to make ourselves in need every once in awhile.  Go camping.  Don’t use hot water.  Only cook with whole foods over a fire.  Get someplace by your own means–walk, run, swim, bike, or paddle (unless you can flap).  You get the idea.  Then, reflect on your attention.  I guarantee that it has changed.

While I am passionate by nature and tend to wax and wane depending upon the circumstance, I can tell you that every time I return to nature, I suddenly realize my insignificance in the world and my desperate need to simply take it all in and stop wasting my time on minutiae, like whether I missed a meeting or was turned down by an audition.

You owe it to yourself to get out of your everyday routine and experience life.  It is amazing.Image

 

Enough

Aparigraha, the yogic concept of non-possessiveness, similar to the Christian notion of charity or the opposite of greed, is a struggle for me. If you think about it in a larger sense, non-possessiveness can apply to everything from not buying a pair of shoes that you don’t need to not eating an extra helping of dessert. Having enough or being satisfied with enough is simply not part of the Western cultural mindset. We learn that more is better from media and hope to become “more” than our immigrant forebears (assuming you have them). In many ways, the notion of progress is bound to this constant yearning, and who doesn’t want to make progress? But, if we take a moment to reflect on the abundance of our lives, aparigraha becomes easy. Do I truly own eight pairs of jeans?! Four of which don’t actually wear?! Am I actually hungry for a second helping of spaghetti, or am I eating more to be social at the table? Must I go to a yoga class three times a week, or can I practice at home just as well? The list is endless. Being content with what we have right now is one of the most difficult, but most enlightening, practices that leads to happiness. May you always have enough.

I Am Here

I’m astounded that so many months have flown by since I last blogged.  I’m not sure how that happened, except that life continues.  I will endeavor to post again soon.

I’m currently mulling over the fine line between truly enjoying a musical experience and getting bogged down in the minutiae of a “perfect” performance.  (This is one of those logic puzzles of which my professor of philsophy was so fond.)  If music is meant to be enjoyed, both as a listener and as a performer, then it would stand to reason that it be approached as such.  However, if music isn’t beautiful unless it is “sonorous,” then it would make sense that technique and expression are honed.  What happens when these two aspects aren’t at equilibrium?  I’m thinking, for example, of people playing in a community band or orchestra.  Members participate in order to have fun and make beautiful music together. However, socializing can’t be the driving force in participation because it would come at the cost of musicianship.  On the other hand, if musical skill and performance are overly stressed, then the experience isn’t enjoyable.

I’m trying to find the balance for myself and for those I work with and teach.  Anyone have any comments on your discoveries here or in other areas with a similar issue of balance?