Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Walk in Kronstadt

Belonging to the Swedes until 1703, this town serves as the seat of the Admiralty and St. Petersburg's main seaport.

I arrived by a 45 minute bus ride from St Petersburg.

View on the road to Kronstadt


The first thing I saw was this fountain, in the shape of the fortifications on the island

Kronstadt main fountain

Then I took a walk towards the cathedral. It was a very sunny, warm day and many people were strolling through the park.

A man relaxing with his dog




The remains of the fortifications

A monument to Krusenstern, a sailor 



After 15 minutes, I reached the cathedral.






The building is very beautiful, but there was too much buying and selling of souvenirs going on, it ruined the impression a bit. It felt more like a museum than a place of reflection and communion with God.  


For about five minutes, I went into the Museum of the History of Kronstadt, and was very disappointed, so I continued my walk exploring the city.


Makarovsky Bridge


Statue of Peter the Great

Main Embankment





Parts of it were blocked off by barbed wire and I saw sailors walking by on the other side


Continuing on my walk through the city, I found an abandoned apartment building. The doors were blocked by metal bars, so there was no safe way to get inside, unfortunately. After asking the locals, I found out that the plan on renovating and reopening this structure. 





On my way back toward the bus and fountains, I saw a Navy reunion celebration





Then, I had to bid farewell, because it is a long ride back to the city. Kronstadt is a very neat place to visit and explore, especially on a nice, sunny day.


Friday, May 22, 2015

Breakfast with Socrates

I recently finished the book Breakfast with Socrates, which I found to definitely be worth reading.


The author goes through an average Western person's normal day and explain what philosopher might have had to say about the happenings.

Some ideas I have taken away after reading this:

- Waking up each day is really a miraculous event. If we appreciate it as such, the new day will feel more like a gift than a dreary continuation of a mundane existence.

- If a fantasy or dream is something you can fulfill (provided it causes no harm), you should do it, but if it is unrealistic or unattainable, it will only make one more frustrated. The more our fantasies align with our reality, the happier we will be.

- Malls and most stores are designed to make consumers feel like they will be happier if they buy something, but.“let's remember you can still go shopping without buying, because where buying is a matter of need, shopping is a question of want.”. Make sure you are making a conscious, informed decision when buying, and what you buy is really something you want , will use, and can afford.

-  As in a casino, time flies when shopping, especially in a mall, so make sure this is something you really have chosen to do for the amount of time you are there.

- If you are going on vacation to 'escape', it might make more sense to ponder what you are trying to escape from and put resources into improving that situation, instead of spending them on the vacation.

- Books or conversations can never give us perfect information because they are by nature symbols, or 'stand ins' - code

I would definitely recommend this as a good read. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Experiment # 2: 10 Days of Adventure

In order to live a more memorable, fun life, adventure is an important component. Too much routine can cause one's life and relationships to feel stale, joyless. Therefore, I decided that I will make time to do something I haven't done in the past year for 10 days

Result: A very fun, enriching, unique ten days!

Day 1: Organized basement
Result: I found many things which I will be able to donate and use. Found slides from 1994, and it was quite a trip down memory lane. This gave me an idea to make a digital scrapbook and scan all of the slides. When looking though old family albums, I have always wished that there was more of a story to go with each picture. Who were all the people? Why were they in that particular place together? What were they like?

Day 2: 30 minute Bike Ride
Result Although I was out of breath, I felt extremely exhilarated and refreshed. Speeding down a hill at full speed on my bike on a warn spring day, I was truly, and deeply, happy. I was able to see more of my neighborhood, and see the beautiful blooming trees. Coming back up the hill was not quite as fun, but definitely a fulfilling experience.

Day 3: Apple fritters
Apple fritters.

Preparation time: 20 minutes
Servings: 4-6

You will need:

● 3-4 medium apples
● 1 egg
● 2-3 table spoons of sugar
● pinch of salt
● flour

How to make:

1. Clean the apple of its skin and pits. Grate on a coarse grater.

2. Add the egg and sugar, mix. Gradually enough flour so that the dough is thick enough (this depends on the juiciness of the apples)

3. Spread with a spoon on a heated pan and fry in vegetable oil.

Result: I improvised by using brown sugar and adding cinnamon and the fritters turned out marvelous. I was able to not only enjoy cooking them, but was able to share them with a friend over a cup of tea.

Day 4: Listened to 5 new songs all the way through

Result: I did not like the random new songs picked for me my Spotify, but there were many other familiar ones in between which I greatly enjoyed

Day 5: Worked on an embroidery project which my great grandma started

Result: It was quite addictive and I ended up working on it for about 6 hours. I was surprised by how log it takes to fill in even a couple square inches





















Day 6: Went on a walk with my camera

Went for a nature walk with my camera.

Result: A great, relaxing time to be myself and enjoy the beauty of nature

Day 7: Planted flowers

Planted flowers in some planters that we have

Result: It was fun to dig in the dirt and the flowers look beautiful. I and anyone passing by will be able to appreciate them all summer

Day 8: Observed a bird feeding her chicks in a nest outside my window

A bird built a nest on a window ledge outside my window, so I decided to watch and observe how she interacted with her young

Result: The bird was very camera and people shy and would fly away whenever I attempted to peek at the next, so I only so the little babies with their peaks open asking for food. They were fun to watch but I was afraid their mom would not return so I stopped my observation.

Day 9: Went to the zoo

Went to the zoo on a warm Saturday

Result: It was a wonderful time - saw so many wonderful animals: playful lion cubs, a fast cheetah, colorful peacocks, and two Mexican wolves

Day 10: 30 Second Dance Party

Danced around my kitchen to 90's music

Result: I was in a much better mood the rest of the day and had a lot of energy

Friday, April 17, 2015

Experiment #1 : Weekly Review

This has been my 11th week of doing a review. I have found that it has become a fun part of my week - a time when I can look back on my accomplishments, failures, and goals.

In his book, "Getting Things Done",  David Allen recommends doing a weekly review - updating a project list, re-evaluating to do items. That way, one always has an idea of what still needs attention, same as right before going on vacation. One can more easily see the big picture and prioritize accordingly.

I tried this process for 11 weeks, including a weekly reflection of 750 words. I found it to be very beneficial, I noticed things I would have missed had I not taken time to look over the week - observations, moments of joy, gratitude.

I made sure that every week I was doing at least something small to make headway on my projects., so that they weren't forgotten. It made me use my time more wisely, since I could always look at my list to see what beneficial/productive thing might be done next. Also, it relieves stress to have everything written down. I noticed that many fresh, creative ideas came as I looked through my list of projects.

For keeping these lists organized and easily accessible, I used Evernote. The reflection helped me to process the week's events and to notice things I would have missed otherwise. This was also my space to vent, to purge anything which has been on my mind. I will certainly continue doing this process, and at the end of the year it will be fun to look back at how much I have grown.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Journaling as a tool for self-discovery and healing

Recently I have been reading a book - a guide to keeping a spiritual journal. It is written from a Christian perspective, but has many great ideas for anyone trying to become more mindful. Some benefits suggested are releasing emotions and gaining perspective, greater awareness, creativity and self-expression, clarifying beliefs and working through problems.

Some interesting prompts from the book:

- "If you could ask ... any ten questions and be guaranteed a clear answer, what would you
ask?"

-  "Five things for which I am especially grateful for today"

- "If you find yourself feeling fearful or anxious or depressed, explore that feeling in your journal. Express it in words. ...When we write about our feelings in a journal, we are doing two things: (1) We diffuse the feelings by expressing them in a harmless way, and (2) we can begin to see them objectively and perhaps discern their causes and solutions. "

- "Begin by writing what you already believe. Try to do this in your own words. If you limit yourself to theological or religious cliches, you may simply be repeating words that have no real meaning for you. Often a test of under- standing something is being able to put it into new words. If you can't say it another way, chances are you don't understand it yet. "

-  "Try writing about yourself in the third person ... Imagine you are a neutral observer. Write about your own present or your past. By writing as though you were an outsider, you may gain some objectivity you otherwise would not have. "

- List out your life in 5 year increments, and in each list any especially hurtful events/moments. Take one and write about it for 15 minutes for 4 days, and bring healing to it, and whenever you feel ready move on to the next one

I have found the suggestions in this book to be extremely helpful. The religious slant of the writing was somewhat distracting at times, but even for a completely secular, non-spiritual person, most of these prompts would be quite beneficial.  Another neat idea was to write a record of one's life to present, so that future generations might have a glimpse into  your life. I would love to be able to read what my great-great grandmother's life and personality was like.

I also liked the idea of starting a journal group. The group gets together and discusses a writing/journaling prompt/technique/focus point for the week, then meets to discuss what worked and what didn't, and any difficulties along the way.

A suggestion of the author
"Be honest. Write how you really feel and not how you think you should feel. Record what you re-
ally think, not what you believe you ought to think. Even if you feel you can't be honest with some people in other situations in life, for your own benefit be honest in your journal."

This reminded me of a quote from The Brothers Karamazov:
“Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

This is sometimes difficult, but so important.
What has been your experience with journaling? Have you found it to be helpful?

Dostoyevsky, F. (n.d.). The Brothers Karamazov. A.p.

Klug, R. (1993). How to keep a spiritual journal: A guide to journal keeping for inner growth and personal Discovery (Augsburg books ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress Press.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Money,Vitality, and Approval

A while back, I came across the following photo. I disagree with this woman, for the most part. In order to leave a legacy of spirit, great art and kindness, one must have at least the basics - food, water, shelter, and medical care. Those cost time and money, which might take away from art in the short- term , but in the long-term will help create a more enduring life.

Money gives more opportunities for self-expression and sharing one's spirit. Traveling, meeting different people, taking part in various projects can help one gain a new perspective and inspiration.

But to do these , one must have a (somewhat) healthy body and financial resources. Therefore, I would say these things are not petty at all, but a foundation which must be there before investing one's energy in art and self-expression. 

Seeking others' approval certainly should not be a goal in life, but when three different people independently give a certain opinion, one should probably give the topic some thought. If you are spending gobs of time making art and it does not resonate with most people, maybe a change is needed.

















Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Spiritual Sleepwalking

Recently when reading a book I came across a term - spiritual sleepwalking - when the person is present physically in their life, but not in any other way. They are elsewhere, thinking about tomorrow, or how their last meeting went - anything but being in the moment. They are not truly alive, not connected to what is going on around them.

There is a way meditating where a person just makes sure they are present for a certain amount of time. They sit and tell themselves "I am here, in the moment. I am present". It is more challenging than I had at first supposed, but very helpful in today's world of information overload, to stop, look around and really notice one's surroundings, as well as clearing one's mind.

The following article from Psychology today suggests paying attention to the breath when trying to stay present in the moment  This is a good strategy, unless one is trying to accomplish a cerebral task.

"Drink a glass of water to be back in the present", is Yoko Ono's advice.

I have found that when I am doing something non-cerebral that I really enjoy, such as gardening, horseback riding, photography, yoga, or talking with a good friend, it tends to bring me back into the present.

What are some times you have felt truly alive? Why do you think this was?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Let It Go - Minimalism

Minimalism is only focusing on what is really needed, and used, on a regular basis, or brings joy or value to one's life. Several weeks ago, I began to throw away papers and other things I no longer needed. After getting rid of the clutter, I was shocked by how much more light, more free, I felt. I was suddenly full of creative energy and excitement about my life.

The same applies to out old negative habits, time-wasters, fears, prejudices, grudges against others, and self-negativity. Holding on to stale friendships, watching low-quality television programming, and constant social media are very easy ways to let one's time and energy slip away, Worrying about the future and living in the past are not constructive.

In order to change habits and succeed, take baby steps in the right direction. A giant leap, such as suddenly quitting coffee, is less likely to bring lasting results that gradually cutting back,.

I have found that with fears, it helps to have a change in perspective. If one is scared of rejection, thinking about how relatively small the risk is (being told no) when compared to the potential a reward (a great new friendship or relationship) helps.

For overcoming prejudices, , it helps to be exposed to all kinds of different people, opinions and situations. Every time we are in a new environment, we re-examine our viewpoints, our pre-conceptions. If one's beliefs cannot stand up to a good open-minded debate, they are not worth keeping.

For overcoming grudges, I try to put myself in the person's shoes. What were they thinking? Feeling? Would I have acted any differently in their place? For any other emotional turbulence, talking to a friend, freewriting and meditating has helped to overcome the challenge.

What are some other things you have found which sap your time/energy? How can you lessen their impact on your life? What makes you truly happy? How can you increase the presence of that in your life?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Speed of Time and Diverse Experiences

Since, seventh grade, I and many of my peers have noticed an alarming phenomenon: every year seems to go by a bit faster. Why is this, and what can we do to be more in control of how quickly time slips away? I think a lot of it is that every passing year is a smaller chuck of one's life, and we are not encountering as many novel situations.

One group that researched this topic came to the conclusion that once one stops continuously learning, the brain goes into a different mode, and this causes time to seem like it is flying by. From what I have read, the key to slowing time down (and having a richer life) is to have novel, first-time experiences more often.

One of my favorite authors is SARK , who encourages one to keep trying new things, to keep having adventures. Learning new skills, visiting new places, meeting new people are all ways to make one's life more diverse and meaningful.

A thought provoking film or book or a good video game can also give one an experience without any of the risk or lasting consequences, except perhaps emotional turmoil for a relatively short time, such as crying when Mufasa dies during The Lion King or the dogs die in Where the Red Fern Grows. Sadly, many books, films, and video games follow a certain formula, so that once you read one, often you gain very little from reading/playing another of the same genre. It is much easier to copy than to be an original.

That is why I don't consider many performers whose music is popular today to be artists. They simply reiterate what another person has expressed previously. This year I can think of only one new song I heard which was truly original, Hozier, "Take me to Church". The others were trite topics which have been gone over so many times. Is this because we as a society have become more limited in what we think about and discuss, in our scope of interests?

As a kid in the USSR, I remember hearing songs about how to tell if a person is a true friend, about plagiarism, about mountain climbing, about singing, There were probably many songs which were censored from being on the radio at that time, but it made for more diverse entertainment rather than just appealing to one's base instincts.

In today's world of free information and the internet, one would think that people would know about, and be interested in, many more topics than before the arrival of the interwebs. On the whole, the opposite seems to be happening. Why?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Buddhist Temple and Staying Present


Yesterday while I was skiing I tried to see how long I could actually stay present in the moment without my mind drifting off to other matters. It's actually very difficult, for me, in any case, to stay completely in the now. I tend to daydream, to think about what happened yesterday or the week before, or to imagine what will happen tomorrow. As a result, I sometimes do not notice the beauty all around me, do not fully appreciate the joys of today.

At Camp Ernst, where I was a camper and councelor we had a song which went like this:

Today, while the blossoms still cling to the vine
I'll taste your strawberries, I'll drink your sweet wine
A million tomorrows shall all pass away
Ere I forget all the joys that are mine...today
I can't be contended with yesterday's glory
I can't live on promises winter to spring
Today is my moment and now is my story
I'll laugh and I'll cry and I'll sing.


But so often we are too busy, too distracted, or too worried to notice how delicious the strawberries are, how vibrantly colored, and how fragrant.

Daydreaming has its uses, of course, it's how I have gotten some of my best ideas, but staying in the now, the present, most of the time is , I think, essential to enjoying life to the fullest.

I visited a Buddhist  Temple today. It was quite a beautiful building, on the inside and outside, but I just didn't feel comfortable there, and I didn't feel the elation, the 'high' which comes to me when praying in an Orthodox Church or in a Mosque. Maybe I was tired from the long trip, maybe something else, but I just didn't feel the spirit there.


When walking into the main chapel room,it was very colorful and there were several people sitting on cushions and meditating. One long-haired man in a long white robe was performing some kind of ceremony with a kettle. Other than that I saw photographs of the Dalai Lama in the room and was a bit disappointed. I admire the man immensely, but am uncomfortable meditating or praying in front of his portrait. When I left the room, I noticed a sign which had escaped my attention earlier, it said that headwear was strictly forbidden inside the chapel room. Being used to Russian Orthodox churches, where women always cover their heads, I had not taken off my hat and felt a bit embarassed what these people must think of me, blatantly disobeying their rules.

Something which looks like bells outside the temple
There was a long line of people waiting to talk to the Lama who is the main leader in the building. They come to him seeking advice and help. He begins seeing people every morning at 11 and does not stop until 8 at night. It must be an exhausting day, listening to people talk about their sorrows, their problems. For me it would certainly become depressing, but since he can (supposedly) do something to help them, maybe it is not so difficult.

Some flags on the tree outside the temple
Gate in front of the temple (yes everything is melting right now)
Fierce-looking statue in front of the temple
After leaving the building, I didn't feel well at all. I had a headache and was not in a good mood. I didn't get much sleep the night, so that is probably the cause.