Archive for the ‘ Life Principles ’ Category

This is What You Shall Do

This is what you shall do:
Love the earth and sun and the animals,
Despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks,
Stand up for the stupid and crazy,
Devote your income and labors to others,
Hate tyrants, argue not concerning God,
Have patience and indulgence toward the people,
Take off your hat to nothing known or unknown,
Or to any man or number of men,
Go freely with powerful uneducated persons,
And with the young and with the mothers of families,
Read these leaves in the open air,
Every season of every year of your life,
Reexamine all you have been told,
At school at church or in any book,
Dismiss whatever insults your own soul,
And your very flesh shall be a great poem,
And have the richest fluency not only in its words,
But in the silent lines of its lips and face,
And between the lashes of your eyes,
And in every motion and joint of your body.

Walt Whitman

Music for Today:  The Dog Days are Over, Florence & the Machine (Lungs, 2009)


Life is Poetry

‘My life is my message.’ – Gandhi

Our lives are made up of a multitude of interactions – from those with family, friends, significant others, colleagues, strangers…to those with our homes, offices, neighborhoods, communities…mother nature. We all have various sides of our lives ranging from personal to business to spiritual. However, it is not just where we live, where we work or who we spend time with that matters. It’s how we choose to enjoy those people, places and events.  It’s our style, grace and mindfulness that matters.

Gandhi’s message was his life, and yours is your life. It’s interesting to think about what message we are giving the world, through our actions, how we live, how we treat others, what we accomplish, how we choose to be, each moment of every day. Undoubtedly so, each of us lives a life that expresses who we are, reacts to the world around us, shows our passions and reflects our true selves.

So are you an angry rant? A ballad? An epic poem? Perhaps a sonnet, a limerick, a haiku?

Maybe it changes each day…

So how do we live a life that reflects our essence, that is, the message we want to convey? Instead of becoming tangled in finding your dharma, or purpose, I think remembering the notion of obliquity is important. Obliquity is the idea that complex goals are often best achieved indirectly. Perhaps we find out about the real nature of our purpose in life during the process of accomplishing life itself. Happy people who feel that they are living the life they truly desire achieve that happiness and sense of direction along the way too.

But do remember, the world needs you to do what you love and that putting energy towards finding that is important. Nothing else can create more change, or have a greater impact. Just also remember that how you get there, your style, matters even more.

Music for Today:  Labor of Love, Frente! (Marvin the Album, 1994)

Music for Today:  Bulletproof, La Roux (La Roux, 2009)

This will make you smile a little smile

“Your secret” is a movie about you.

Something quite different as compared to Jean-Sebastien Monzani’s other works, this short movie evokes a complicity between the spectator and the narrator. Something cheerful, something mysterious, something simple, something that hopefully maybe brightens your day.

Hope you like it.

Song of the Day: Lost Cause, Beck (Sea Change, 2002)

The Architecture of Happiness

The Architecture of Happiness is a dazzling and generously illustrated journey through the philosophy and psychology of architecture and the indelible connection between our identities and our locations. One of the great but often unmentioned causes of both happiness and misery is the quality of our environment: the kinds of walls, chairs, buildings and streets that surround us. And yet a concern for architecture is too often described as frivolous, even self-indulgent. Alain de Botton starts from the idea that where we are heavily influences who we can be, and argues that it is architecture’s task to stand as an eloquent reminder of our full potential.

He describes why style, a beautiful house or exquisitely designed teacup, can bring such joy and why a gloomy hotel room can make us question the meaning of life. In a collection of essays he challenges us to take a look at our surroundings to see how they shape us and how we shape them. Does a home filled with dolls and teddy bears, he wonders, reflect a wish to escape from a harsh and cruel world? Can a love of white, spare and minimal spaces be an attempt to fight a sense of chaos and disorder? He questions the notion that aesthetic issues are shallow and argues that if we look a little deeper, our furniture, our houses, and our public buildings will speak to us in distinct personalities.

This is not to say that we only derive happiness from physical objects or settings. However, we cannot forget that we are physical beings. We react, relate to and engage with physical objects, people and environments on a daily basis. I think the point is that our physical environments influence us on more than just a physical level. They influence emotions, mindsets and they influence how we choose to engage with ourselves and others on a daily basis – whether in a positive, negative or even neutral way.

For example, think about religious buildings. These buildings really teach us a very basic lesson, which is that we don’t think the same way wherever we are, that there are certain buildings that put us in certain frames of mind. A well-decorated, a beautiful church will put us into a mindset where we’re more receptive to dwelling on certain issues. And a grocery store will direct our thoughts in other ways. And that’s why religions have, perhaps more than any other entity, been very aware of the power of architecture – because we’re not the same people wherever we are.

Having said this, I do not believe that we can architect our happiness entirely with physical objects – at least in the sense that achieving an end goal of some sort is the definition of happiness or if we put the “right furniture” or “right people” in our life that we will achieve happiness – but I do believe we can gain more clarity about ourselves by understanding how we react in our physical environment. I can’t help but stumble onto the idea of obliquity.

Obliquity is the notion that complex goals are often best achieved indirectly. Happiness is the product of fulfillment in work and private life, not the repetition of pleasurable actions; therefore, happiness is not achieved only by pursuing it. We find out about the real nature of our goals and complexities of personal relationships in the process of accomplishing them. We not only do not know what the future will hold but cannot anticipate even the range of possible events which might occur. Yes, the physical world in which we operate changes partly as a result of our actions, but happy people achieve happiness along the way. The paradox of obliquity is all around us.

So finding happiness is more than just designing physical environments that are pleasing to us. It’s more than surrounding ourselves with people we enjoy. It’s more about the process of taking the time to think about how we react in different environments and why we react in certain ways – whether positive, negative or neutral. At a certain point, it may not be the environment that needs to change – we may need to take a deeper look at why we act in a certain way and decide whether the environment needs to change or if we are the ones who need adjusting.

The process of learning and understanding is key. Maybe the gloomy hotel room is temporarily a necessity in the process of understanding. Maybe you just like white, spare and minimal spaces without it being a larger symbol of your mental state. Maybe it’s less about trying to understand what to change or how to change and purely more about cultivating a higher level of awareness of our surroundings and how they influence us and how in turn, we influence them.

In essence, what works of design and architecture talk to us about is the kind of life that would most appropriately unfold within and around them. They tell us of certain moods that they seek to encourage and sustain in their inhabitants. While keeping us warm and helping us in mechanical ways, they simultaneously hold out an invitation for us to be specific sorts of people. They speak of visions of happiness.

Music for Today:  Fresh Feeling, Eels (Souljacker, 2002)

Making Wine the Green Way

Through lifestyle and consumer choices, we each play a significant role in determining the state of our environment. Breaking away from the notion that bigger, faster, newer and more is always better can help us reconsider what constitutes “wealth” and to balance our personal well-being with the health of the environment. So what does balancing our own well-being with the environment or being “green” even mean?

Being GreenBeing “green” does not necessarily mean you have to give up meat or live “off the grid” if you don’t wish to. My advice is to start making small changes and slowly build in other sustainable living techniques and habits into your life. As many of us know, these habits can include using reusable grocery bags, recycling, conserving energy, watching our water use, etc. In addition, this can include enjoying local and/or organic food and beverage.

So what is one the most delicious products to buy organic? Wine! At least in my opinion…

I am learning more and more about how many winemakers are following the green path creating wines that truly show their unique characteristics by virtue of sustainable farming. Taking its queue from the practice of eco-conscious farming, winemakers are taking advantage of all the different green measures available to them such as solar and biofuel power as well as reverting back to farming practices that have been around for thousands of years.

Check out this video on one vineyard’s story behind its biodynamic methods. Huffington Post

There is just something about hearing the story behind the vineyard. I love that the Benziger Family Winery follows biodynamic principles but I also love how much the vineyard expands its techniques and improves its product while maintaining a commitment to its core values. Such an impressive balance to strike.

In the article/video, Benziger calls the methods they use “one of the most advanced forms of organic farming,” using plants and animals – instead of chemicals and fertilizers – to create a complete self-sustaining ecosystem. Benziger Family Vineyard was the first vineyard in the Napa area to earn the strict certification for biodynamic practices.

Colby Eierman, the winery’s Director of Gardens, says, “It’s interesting to even think about the concept of wine going green — it’s a natural agricultural product. It’s kind of amazing for me to think that we ever tried to go against that.”

To be clear, wine created biodynamically versus organically is closely related but there is definitely a difference. Biodynamics is in effect a supercharged system of organic winemaking. Simply put, where biodynamics differs significantly in practice from organics is in the use of these special preparations and the timing of their application—in other ways the techniques employed are quite similar.

In addition, the goal of biodynamic winemaking is to view the vineyard as a complete living system. It’s about the soil, insects and other vegetation and animals that inhabit space in the vineyard all working in harmony to bring you some incredible-tasting wines.

It has its roots in a series of lectures delivered by Austrian philosopher–scientist Rudolf Steiner in 1924. Steiner’s life mission was to bridge the gap between the material and spiritual worlds through the philosophical method. To this end, he created the ‘spiritual science of anthroposophy, which he used as the basis of the Waldorf school system that persists to this day.  Read those two sentences one more time – I may have just lost you somewhere between spiritual worlds and philosophical method…

Yes, to many this method sounds bizarre! From what I have read, Steiner was well aware that many people would find anthroposophy to be insane. I love his attitude! Not only did he come up with such a fascinating and beautiful method of working with the land but also realized that the spiritual side may not appeal to all – and took it in stride. Based on that, the modern biodynamic practice is built on top of Steiner-inspired theories, but it is important to emphasize that there are a number of growers who practice biodynamics but who would distance themselves from Steiner’s beliefs and teachings.

Biodynamics has made some high profile converts in recent years and is taken seriously by the wine industry purely on the evidence of the wines it produces. From my understanding, biodynamic winemaking is not just about following a set of established guidelines or learning some simple new growing tricks. Rather, it’s more about adopting a lifestyle and a set of beliefs – about listening to a particular piece of land and becoming tuned in to what it needs to thrive.

The more I’ve read about biodynamic winegrowers, one thing seems clear. While they tend to agree on the big details, each has developed biodynamics to suit his or her own particular situation. In the end, most wine producers have their eye on what it takes to make a great wine – taste and quality. With changing climates and an industry that is infinitely dependent on the weather, complementing the sun’s energy by means of sustainable practices, whether in the fields or on a building, are positive steps in maintaining the future of many a great wine.

So how can you find organic or biodynamic wine? Or what constitutes organic or biodynamic wine?

To start, here is a quick guide on what those terms mean on a wine label. I have tried to compile and synthesize the information I have found from various sources-definitely difficult to find one answer to what organic and/or biodynamic wine is. According to Organic Wine Journal:

  • Bottom line, organic wine is made from grapes that have been grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. Winemaking techniques should be organic as possible with little or no manipulation of wines by reverse osmosis, excessive filtration or flavor additives.
  • When a label says “organic,” it means the wine has met certain standards that are set by a government agency. What’s deemed “organic” in one country may not be organic in another because different countries have different standards. In the United States, wines labeled “organic” cannot contain added sulfites. Wines that have added sulfites, but are otherwise organic, are labeled “wine made from organic grapes.”

Some additional terms and their meanings:

  • 100% Organic carries the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic seal (the certifying agency must be listed) and indicates the wine is made from 100% organically grown ingredients and has been monitored throughout its entire production process. This wine can contain only naturally occurring sulfites (or sulfur dioxide, an antimicrobial substance) in less than 100 parts per million (ppm).
  • Organic also carries the USDA organic seal and indicates the wine has 95% organically grown ingredients (the other 5% must not be available organically). Again the certifying agency must be listed and the wine has the same sulfite requirements as 100% organic.
  • Made with Organic Grapes or Made with Organic Ingredients means the wine contains at least 70% organic ingredients. It can have artificial sulfites added, but it may not contain more than 100 ppm. (It does not have the USDA organic seal.)
  • Biodynamic is based on the precise observation and an attempt at balance of nature, a concept originated by the early 20th-century Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. So, biodynamic wine is not only 100% organic, in addition, the grower has gone beyond to try to bring the farming process more closely in tune with nature. For instance, biodynamic wine growers may make their own compost and/or watch the stars and planets to time what they do.

In addition, here are a few links to sites that list biodyamic and/or organic wine. Not all-inclusive, but it’s a start. My site will be updated with some more information as well – not only about wine, but also craft beer, organic food and green living.  Stay tuned!

Music for Today:  The Universe is Laughing, Guggenheim Grotto (The Universe is Laughing, 2010)

PS: Guggenheim Grotto closed the concert I saw playing Radiohead’s “Creep” on the ukulele – one of my top 5 encores ever.

What does being “home” mean?

I have been thinking about the idea of “home” a lot recently. Writers, particularly novelists, are linked to place – or “home”. It’s impossible to think of Charles Dickens and not to think of Dickens’ London; impossible to think of James Joyce and not to think of Joyce’s Dublin; and so with Thomas Hardy, D.H. Lawrence, Willa Cather, William Faulkner— each is inextricably linked to a region, as to a language-dialect of particular sharpness, vividness or idiosyncrasy. We are all regionalists in our origins, however “universal” our themes and characters, and without our cherished hometowns and childhood landscapes to nourish us, we would be like plants set in shallow soil. Our souls must take root — almost literally.

For this reason, “home” isn’t a street address or a residence, or, in Robert Frost’s cryptic words, the place where, “when you go there, they have to let you in” — but home is where you find your most cherished relationships. Anyone’s idea of home takes a beating when he or she moves, disconnects with people or changes careers. But anyone’s home is also beautifully defined by the relationships he or she sustains with family and friends. These loving relationships are home. Therefore, home is not a location or physical space but a commitment to the ones you love.

Thinking of being “home” brings definitive happiness to me. And to me, happiness is a product of the sustained practice of love – that is, demonstrating love in all intimate relationships whether familial, friendly or romantic.

Instead of trying to summarize, I am pulling straight from a book I have currently been reading by Georg Feuerstein.  The following passage speaks to how achieving happiness is a product of a sustained practice of love – and in my eyes, sustaining a practice of love with those we cherish is what cultivates the state of being that is “feeling at home”.

Love is not a temporary high or feeling of elation. It must be cultivated as a continuous disposition. As tough as it may be, we must love even when we feel slighted, hurt, angered, bored or depressed. Happiness is a steady application of our capacity in all life situations. Even in our worst moments we must extend our love, or fundamental respect, to others. Even though life consists of peaks and valleys, our overall commitment must be to what is revealed in our brief spells on the peaks. This is not to say that that we cannot feel sorrow – because we can. Even in sorrow there is an undercurrent of bliss and happiness that is accessible if we so choose to be aware of it.

So how do we extend love at all times to achieve happiness and to feel at home? Well, Love is not merely benign or a kind thought. Love is demonstrated in action. We have every right to distrust a person who continually assures us of his or her love but fails to express or manifest it to us and to others. To distrust someone, however, does not mean to reject him or her or to be otherwise unloving to ourselves.

Yes, love is demonstrated in action.  But more than being demonstrated in action, love is action. We can sit in our room for an entire lifetime and think loving thoughts about other people but if we never express our love to them, if we never actively share our love with them, we will not have loved.

The fact is that we are not incapable of love but are only afraid to love. For our love not to crumble under the onslaught of the lovelessness around us, it must be in surplus and it must be a steady force. Who can deny the lovelessness that surrounds us? It shows itself in a thoughtless remark, an inappropriate silence, a tasteless joke, an aggressive move, turning away from another’s pain, the failure to really listen, the pursuit of orgasm at the expense of caring – all the many ways we hurt one another out of ignorance, inattention or sheer unwillingness to make a relational gesture.

We must try to understand the robotic ways in which we block out love. We must become sensitive to our own habitual lovelessness so that love can become an attractive force in our lives. We must love concretely. That is to say that we must give our love to specific beings. And we might as well start with those closest to us. What we will find is that loving them is easy and at other times it is the hardest thing imaginable. To really love is a great discipline because we must love stably and consistently and regardless of whether or not our love is returned. In other words, we must love despite or likes and dislikes. We must simply allow love to be a transformative force in our lives. Allowing is the key.

Love is not something we can “do”. Love, much like feeling at “home”, is a state of being. By dedicating ourselves to loving experiences and relationships we not only achieve happiness but we also establish a sense of place, or “home”.  Ultimately, we create a framework from which everything revolved (past), revolves (present) or will revolve (future). In essence, sustaining love, or at least genuinely dedicating ourselves to attempting to do so, creates the personal reference point of an individual’s existence.

Since I’m in a loving mood, Twofer Tuesdays for the Song of the Day

Music for Today: Home, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (Up from Below, 2009)

Music for Today:  Fire, Augustana (Can’t Love, Can’t Hurt, 2008)

Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do… but how much love we put in that action. – Mother Teresa

Home is the one place in all this world where hearts are sure of each other.  It is the place of confidence.  It is the place where we tear off that mask of guarded and suspicious coldness which the world forces us to wear in self-defense, and where we pour out the unreserved communications of full and confiding hearts.  It is the spot where expressions of tenderness gush out without any sensation of awkwardness and without any dread of ridicule. – Frederick W. Robertson

Simply Start Where You Are

One of the fundamental principles of yoga is that you simply start where you are. How easily that principle extends to life. Or at least how easily it can if we so choose.

In the first Yoga Sutra, I.1, Patanjali begins with the word atha. Often translated as “now,” atha can also mean a blessing, turning point, or commitment. It implies that regardless of what we were doing before, now we are making a decision to practice – or maybe to proceed in life in a certain way. Practicing yoga or making a decision to proceed can meet us and serve us right where we are, whatever our age, interest, situation or perceived ability.

So once we choose to practice yoga or to proceed in a certain direction in life, how do we evolve? How do we start from where we are but actually go somewhere? How do we make the decision to practice or proceed a prudent one?

Imagination—our ability to create images not available to the sensory system—is arguably our greatest faculty for evolving human consciousness. Maybe in order to transform ourselves, we need to be able to leap out of the familiar and into the unknown. Find a way to imagine a future different from the past, a self-sense different from the one we have now. Of course, we are shaped by our memories, our karma and the patterns woven into our bodies. Undeniably, we’re also influenced by culture and physical circumstances. Some of these factors are hard to change. But the imagination can help us begin to replace our internal patterns, especially the ones that keep us limited and stuck. If we can reimagine our sense of who we are, we can change our experience of life. Yoga (and life) is all about what happens when we recognize this truth. If you can imagine yourself, say, free of suffering, you’ve taken the first step toward that freedom.

In The Biology of Transcendence, Joseph Chilton Pearce writes: “Rather than the senses impacting the mind with imagery, as in ordinary seeing, through imagination the mind impacts the senses with imagery.” Acts of imagination can connect us to that place where insight and inspiration arrive unbidden—as an out-of-the-box idea, the first line of a poem, or a direct recognition of who we are beyond our ordinary self-definition. Imagination links us to infinite possibility, the realm from which all genuine creative insights arise. Imaginative constructions work because they encourage us to identify ourselves with a higher truth, and then to feel how that affects our inner experience, our body, and our sense of self.

Yoga at its heart is a practice for evolutionary spiritual growth—growth into our own highest possibilities. Imagination lets us find our way into those possibilities. By training the imagination, harnessing its power, we can use it for creating beauty and truth. Then our acts of transformative imagination become genuine acts of power. They can change our inner state, influence how we extend ourselves to one another and enable us to evolve in a genuine way.

Imagine that. 😉

Inspiration from articles found on Yoga Journal by Sally Kempton and Kate Holcombe.

Music for Today:  Into Dust, Mazzy Star (So Tonight that I Might See, 2009)