Unsolicited Compassion (from others and to myself)

One of the hardest things to do when you’re traveling alone is to stay motivated. I’m a natural introvert, even though I do a lot of things that may seem counter to that characteristic. One of the hardest things for me to do is actually put myself out there into the thick of it. It takes motivation and sacrificing my own comfort level to make myself available to new experiences and people.

Take for instance my current situation. I moved from the US to India on Monday. Well, really Tuesday. Tuesday was my first full day in Chennai. From the moment I landed I would have to do a number of things to keep myself legally in the country and also figure out where I’d need to be at a specific time. Not to mention I had to navigate a new city with a different culture and language from my own. It’s been difficult negotiating my way around and not knowing names of places, people, or even names for common things. It’s been tough not even having a consistent way of communicating with people. I’ve been relying on my own instincts, being patient, and probably one of the toughest things— trusting things will work out. Part of that trust is accepting help when you get it, and asking for it when you need it. Both of those things are hard for me regularly in my everyday life in the states.

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 My room at the guesthouse. Nice quiet street and surrounded by a garden. Feels comfortable.

Luckily I’ve had a lot of really wonderful people help me out this week. People have really been patient when I’ve been tired and fumbling around. They weren’t angry or short with me, they were compassionate as they waited for me to figure it out…or helped me out.

The Frangi House has been an excellent way to start out. I didn’t have to worry about accommodations right off the airplane. I was fortunate enough to have the Fulbright reserve a guesthouse with a feeling of home. Because of the comfortable environment, I’ve had a lot of really pleasant and helpful conversations with other visitors and locals who are staying or working in the guesthouse. Numerous times I’ve asked the house manager to help me get a taxi or water. It’s also been really nice to have some conversations with actual people face to face instead of being cooped up in a room attached to the computer and virtually talking to someone via messaging or texts (although…don’t get me wrong, they’re helpful too—and that’s a whole other blog post).

One of the biggest helps to this transition was finally connecting with my affiliation. I’m working with a non-profit organization called NalandaWay. I knew from the get-go that this was the right fit for me. I immediately felt welcome by the director and my mentor. They made it clear to me that they were there to help me to get settled if I needed it. And I really did need it. They helped connect me to people for my housing need, and also lent me a phone so I could speak to those contacts. So thankful for that. Mostly, I’m just so very happy I get to go work with the whole team of people for the next four months. It’s a group of very motivated and dynamic people, who clearly are energized by their work. It’s a pleasure to just be able to show up there everyday.

I’m touched by the strangers who’ve lent a helping hand in my housing search. They don’t even know me, and they were willing to reach out and offer to help with whatever I needed. Even if they couldn’t totally do it themselves they offered to find someone else who could. I wouldn’t even call these people strangers anymore. I would call them friends, because I would do the same for them.

And the Fulbright! There is a community out there, and we should remind ourselves to connect with them. Having that connection can really help when you are feeling the ups and downs of living some place new by yourself, culture shock, or just want to have a conversation in your first language. It’s good to reach out and connect with these folks.

This transition could have been difficult, and it is challenging. But, I think my motivation is that I’m passionate about what I’m doing and why I’m here. I’ve been given a chance to come to India, work with an amazing group of people, participate and be immersed in another culture, grow as a person, find new ways of doing things and problem solve in ways I never even dreamed of. I know that there will be moments that won’t be great (and I promise to reveal those times too).   And even though I am currently feeling anxious because I don’t yet have a new and more permanent address, I know it will work out.

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A nice cafe around the corner, yet a world away.  Just in case you need something familiar.  I needed a coffee and some snacks.

Art and communication

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Chesapeake Bay, 2013

I didn’t have a chance to go to a museum or gallery this week, but I had a really nice conversation with a five year old about art.  He lives next door and just started kindergarten this year.  He’s really into maps! It’s great, because my art is made of maps.

I showed him the painting that is pictured above and I couldn’t believe how inquisitive he was about it.  He asked me all sorts of questions about how I made it and why I did this or that.  It was the first time in a long time that I really talked about my art work– with anyone.  It was such a fun experience, but at the same time I was thinking– Wow! How amazing is this little boy?  How can he be giving me such good insight about my own work?

It just goes to show you that anyone can see something in your artwork that you may not have even noticed before.  That is why it’s good to think about why and how you make your own artwork.  I know the reasons why I think I make my art, but this little guy actually gave me a few more reasons.

There is a belief, or philosophy in art that it takes more than the art itself to exist.  Meaning, there’s the artist who makes the art, the art itself, and the viewer.  People who study this philosophy believe that if there is no one to view the art, then they question it’s existence.  I don’t really subscribe to that belief, because I think that if you make an object and called it art, then it’s art and it exists.  However, it’s interesting to think about how others could view my art.  I have some control over how they view it, but I have no control over how they think about it.  It’s a good lesson in letting go and acceptance.  If you have different ideas about your artwork than someone else you have to let the art reach them where they’re at.  A lot of artists stay stuck to one meaning, but the truth is the artwork can be interpreted as many ways as the people who see it! Or, none at all!

So the next time you view art, or meet an artist who is showing your their work ask questions.  Ask the tough questions!  Make them think and tell you why they make their art.  All the components of the art come together (the artists, the work, the viewer) that brings understanding about each other, the processes we use to create the work, and what we think.  It also allows us to be open to different interpretations,  explore further understanding of the art work, and to share our personal experiences alongside the artwork.  Talking about art builds community and tolerance of different ideas.  It eliminates right and wrong and focuses on what just is.

When I was talking with that little boy, the only thing that existed at that time was me, the painting and the boy.  We shared a connection through an artwork that was made out of objects we both like and understand.  I also showed him something new, what could be done with maps, and how I interpret maps. Maybe he will get some new ideas or make something new in his own way and share it with me!  Either way, art can be a gateway to communication, understanding, and building relationships.

Creative Connections Week 2

Winter Trees
Winter Trees, mixed media, 2015

Students began week two of my art and yoga program called “Creative Connections”.  The focus pose of the week was vrkasana, or tree pose.  It’s always a favorite, and everyone seems to know this pose no matter what.  This group was no exception and was very open to learning more about balance when we practiced yoga.

Why is vrkasana, or tree pose important?

Tree pose is a really good pose for a lot of reasons, but I think the main reason is because it allows us to practice a lot of different things within one pose.  We have to be patient, focused, and steady.  If we’re not, our body definitely lets us know because we may lose our balance.

Patience:  tolerance, acceptance, self-restraint.  Vrkasana requires a bit of determination. But it’s also about slowing down and being purposeful with your practice.  It’s not necessary to quickly pop up into tree. It’s important to slow down, notice what you feel, and adjust to make sure you’re not over doing it.  We may know how to do tree pose already and feel like we can balance, however, what knowledge do you lose by not taking your time and being mindful of how you got there?

Being patient also means accepting where you’re at.  Have you ever noticed how you feel when you do tree on the opposite leg?  Well, it may feel different, or you may not feel at ease on one side.  It’s ok, notice what you feel, accept that one side is different from the other and breathe.

Having tolerance is also an important part of vrkasana and all throughout yoga.  Yoga allows us to practice tolerance by being willing to participate.  There may be a time when your mind is sending you all kinds of messages to stop what you’re doing.  Coming back to your breath and realizing that it’s just tree pose, remind yourself it’s temporary, you will come out of the pose and move on to something else.  If you’re uncomfortable in tree pose, notice what you notice, be willing to adjust and practice what you can, knowing that the pose is there to teach you something about yourself.  Balancing is an action, and if you’re in the act of being in tree or falling out of it, it’s all part of the pose and the practice of yoga.

Focus:  centered attention.  Ok, I’ll admit it.  This is a hard one.  I like to look around the room and see what’s going on with everyone, just like the rest of us.  I get interested in what others are doing, I get distracted by noises and what’s going on in the environment.  It’s hard sometimes to be mindful only about yourself, because we care about so many other things.  Some of those things are even thoughts that keep us from focusing on our yoga.  So the next time you notice yourself looking or thinking, check yourself.  All you have to do is notice, call it what it is, and come back to the breath.  This focus can allow us to do really amazing stuff, not just balance on one foot on our mats.

Steady: stable, constant, unchanging.  When we first learned about steadiness, we talked about tadasana,”mountain pose”.  The reason why we started there was to use the simple act of standing to physically feel a connection with the surface beneath our feet.  We actively paid attention to how we were standing and grounded down through to bottoms of our feet so we could feel the whole foot on the floor.  In this way, we created a stable structure to build from.  When moving from your foundation of tadasana to vrkasana we still need to feel that constant to be able to balance on one foot.  To do that, we root down through our one foot, and actively pay attention from the ground up to the top of our head.  In any yoga pose you’re not only noticing your steadiness in the physical pose, but also your breath and in your thoughts.  Notice when your breath changes, or if thoughts come into your mind when you practice.  If it happens, just remind yourself to breathe, and come back to that.

At some point you may notice that practicing yoga mirrors what is going on in your life.  If you take some time to reflect on your practice you can use yoga as a tool to develop self awareness and to give yourself greater insight about the world around you.  Yoga has so many benefits, but the best benefit is that it’s for you.

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Ms. Fitz practicing vrkasana, tree pose.