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

-  "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?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Leonardo, Egypt, and Knights in Armor

Since I am fan of Game of Thrones I thought it would be fun to go see some real swords and knight armor at the Hermitage! On the way, I went though the Egyptian section, then some Greek and Roman sculptures. I also saw two paintings by Leonardo Da Vinci, which are a bit overrated, in my opinion, but still wonderful works of art.

First painting by Leonardo
Second painting by Da Vinci - I guess he liked the Madonna and child
And now the knights!

Hunting boar without clothes or weapons might not be the best idea

In a week I will be returning to the States. I am sad to  leave one of my favorite cities, but also excited to see all my friends from Ohio and experience all the adventures which Cincinnati has to offer.

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
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.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Anna Akhmatova and Joseph Brodsky

"In human closeness there is a secret edge,
Not love nor passion can pass it above,
Let lips with lips be joined in silent rage,
And hearts be burst asunder with the love.

And friendship, too, is powerless plot,
And so years of bliss with noble tends,
When your heart is free and known not,
The slow languor of the earthy sense.

And they who strive to reach this edge are mad,
But they who reached are shocked with anguish hard --
Now you know why beneath your hand
You do not feel the beating of my heart."

This is a poem of Anna Akhmatova, a Russian poet whose apartment/museum I 
visited today.  She lived June 23 1889 – March 5, 1966 and had quite an 
interesting llife. Read more about her here.

Some more of her other poems (translated to English)

Her coat and purse - I guess that was un style back in the day

A telephone - I remember having a rotary phone in the early 90's - it took forever to dial a number
A samovar in the kitchen

Skis, sleds, and other useful things
Some documents
Books, letters, and photos of Akhmatova
This shows the various wallpapers which were used in the apartment -underneath there are many Pravda newspapers
Silhouettes of various people Akhmatova knew, along with her fan and a photograph
Photo of Akhmatova with her husband Gumilev and another person
Her writing desk

A really big mirror with pictures of Akhmatova's friends and colleagues 
The Dining Roon 

An old record player

I also found this poem of hers, which I thought was quite creepy

When someone dies
Their portraits change.
The eyes gaze at you otherwise.
The lips smile a different smile.
I noticed this returning
From a certain poet’s funeral.
Since then I’ve seen it frequently,
And my theory’s proved true.
I have never had anyone die whose portrait I had, but if it happens I will be sure to check whether something changes.

In the bulding there happened to also be a room dedicated to  Joseph Brodsky, another poet. Read about him here

Friday, March 1, 2013

101 Wishes Challenge

I was talking to my friend about my future, that I wasn't sure what I should do. And she offered some amazingly wise, and simple advice. To write down 101 wishes. I was surprised by how difficult this was, especially towards the end. This really did help me to put things in perspective, and to think about what I REALLY want out of life. I challenge you to make your own wish list! Here is what I came up with, just off the top of my head (I omitted some of the more personal ones):

Have a horse
Have a cow
Have a Siberian husky
Have a goat
Have several chickens
Vegetable garden
Pumpkin pie
A big house with lots of light
A big kitchen
Have laser eye surgery = no glasses
To uncover something new and extraordinary
A wooden front porch swing
 Visit Paris
visit Rome,
visit Pompeii
See real mountains
Hug a llama
Have a beautiful flower garden
Have a cat
Have a man who loves me genuinely and dearly for who I am
Visit Scotland
Have at least one good friend in addition to family whom I can always rely on
Have a motorcycle
Have a big beautiful library full of books
Have a plane
Be able to fly that plane
Have a boat
Travel to the Taj Mahal
Hug a wolf
Have a cat
To have a telescope
To snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef
To have my fingernails decorated with drawings of pandas.
To be a better artist
To be better at the organ/piano
To be better at the guitar
To be a better poet/writer
To be able to truly change someone’s life for the better
To be able to cook a greater variety of dishes
 To have my own pool and sauna room
 To have a junk free house/apartment
To visit Kiev
To learn Spanish
To be better at sewing
To have ice skates
To be better at Latin
To understand the meaning of life
To understand physics better
To have deep-thinking people around me
To ride on an elephant
To ride on a camel
To have real Indian curry
To find a beautiful sari which fits me
To find/make a pretty kimono which fits me
Visit Japan
Swim with a dolphin
Swim with a manatee
To have hardwood floors
To  make baklava
Have my own wine cellar with vintage wine
A toy remote control helicopter
To learn how to use eyeliner better (my eyes are really sensitive so it's difficult)
To have a Roman coin
To ride a hot air balloon
To tour the Cincinnati subway
To learn how to play ‘GO’
To have a banjo
To have a job which I love
Meet the Avett Brothers
To be better at yoga
Be a better public speaker
Be better at math
To not fear anything
To forgive everyone, including myself
To find an old photograph I used to have of my great-great aunt and uncle
To have big windows with cushions on  which people can sit and look outside
To have more patience
To be better at chess
To be better at bowling
To be happy