Thursday, March 27, 2014

La Dolce Vita

A few Sundays ago, as I rose in a sun-filled room, I noticed a familiar shadow of doubt.

Then I watched it float away.

I observed an internal readiness. I made a plea for evolution.

Am I ready to embrace my antagonist? To tenderly befriend the adversary of my perfectionism?

Not necessarily. But I need for us to meet. Enter:
La dolce far niente. 
The art or sweetness of doing nothing.

Admittedly extracted from the novel Eat, Pray, Love... but don't give up on reading just yet.

Many years ago, my father immigrated to Canada from Italy. He had fallen in love with my mother while she visited Europe. Only twenty years old, he turned his back on the handsome mountains of the North. He walked away, in heartache and in confidence, from an ancestral farmhouse within which he had grown. But what he did pack with him, in preparation for his journey, was an inspiring way of life. A mindset that has shaped his peace.

Similar to myself, my father is productive by nature (and fittingly, a successful entrepreneur). But he has never hesitated to remind me:
I do not need all that much. I am a simple man.
And he is a good man.

He holds within his heart a love of God. And he stores within his mind a provoking philosophy. It is one that our entire nation seems to have neglected to learn.

He pours a glass of red wine during lunch only to savour the flavour of each sip. He visits a neighbour (or stranger, or friend) only to voice a happy hello. He rests peacefully and without guilt, fully aware - and proud of - his labour endured. He forgives himself and others for all that cannot be altered, not a single apology required. He finds joy in nature, in stillness, and in the soft melody of a piano. He does not live in fear of the potential (personal shortcomings, external failures, fortune, or sickness). His truth will forever keep him safe.

He manifests the profound ability to enjoy the simplicity of life.

The appetite to redefine my identity and independence was inspired by a recent struggle. I am sad - but not ashamed - to admit that I recently arrived in a place where I feel overwhelmed.

If I wake naturally at 8 o'clock on Sunday morning, I am already behind schedule:
Sweat once a day. Walk outside. Read a book. Apply for a job. Create, create, create! Volunteer. Research that new company, important cause, upcoming event, or self-induced symptom. Visit friends and family. Learn a language. Plan a trip. Catch up on television shows. Read the news during commercials. Go back to school. Respond to a never-ending chain of text messages and e-mails. Practice yoga. Meditate. Blog, tweet, pin! Cook each meal from scratch. Eat clean. Indulge! Photo document it all. Find time for yourself and for God. 
All-consumed by what I believe I should do, but all the while losing sight of what I love to do. What is going on with me?!

My mom enjoys telling the story of a 3-year old Kristina, wobbling into her bedroom each and every Saturday morning only to ask:
"What are we going to do today?!"
Graham enjoys sharing a similar story, but a modern tale: 23-year old Kristina peeling open his eyelids each and every Saturday morning only to ask:
"What are we going to do today?!"
These accounts do indeed shed light on my undeniable enthusiasm and (at times) irritating efficiency. The notion of pleasant idleness is rather unknown to me. I enjoy "getting in over my head," and friends often poke fun at just how much I attempt to accomplish before breakfast. And in honesty, I love this about myself!

I cannot however claim that I am presently enjoying my current state of mind. I grow tense and timid at the prospect of starting my day. I live in fear of an approaching darkness. What if by sunset, I have not accomplished "enough"?

So when my parents visited me on a Sunday afternoon, looked at me and said:
Kris. You are a reed in the wind. When the wind blows, you shift with it (for better or for worse). Your identity is directly linked to external forces, and you are subsequently vulnerable to fluctuations within them. You need to rediscover your identity - your truth - outside of these forces. That way, no matter which way the wind blows, you will always be alright. (My mom actually forced me to google a picture of a reed in the wind during this speech.)
Was it true? Let's see:

If my identity is linked to my profession (for example) which is an external force, and I happen to lose my job...

I would crumble.

Point proven. I'm a reed. Damn it.

I finally grasped, beyond a shadow of doubt, the reason for why I feel so overpowered.  Crystal clear was the necessity for an immediate self-evaluation and purposeful solution.

This blog post is not dedicated to doing nothing. It does not owe itself to a planned vacation or an escape from responsibility. I do not wish to boycott social media, priorities, or goals.

We live in an age where information and technologies are admirably managing to meet the ever-burgeoning expectations of society. We demand greater access, higher standards, and easy usability! At once, all is granted. Or more impressively, there are times in which when we do not ask for anything at all. Yet we seem to find a world of opportunities at our doorstep. Naturally and instinctively, I wish to be a part of it all. I behold growth of this magnitude and recognize the potential for good, true good (in the form of helping others, sharing wealth, and spreading impactful knowledge).

But in trying to keep up with the information that surrounds me, have I lost sight of who I am? Why do I labour to stay grounded when something happens that is outside of my control?

I think that more of us, encircled (and at times, enclosed) by similar pressures and opportunities, ought to ask ourselves this question.

What good am I to any partner, friend, blog reader, or employer if I grow detached from my core truths (my optimism, my joy, and my intense, unwavering yearning to make a difference) the moment something goes wrong? Outside of perpetual connectivity, external pressures, seemingly critical opinions, and contingent-upon-blank (appearance, success, marketability) opportunities, who am I?

I am a faithful optimist. I am a happy person. I have an energetic learning spirit. I am on a mission to live a life of impact and fight my insecurity. I am an oak tree, strong and resilient to any storm. And I am certainly not a reed!

I have learned that there are times in life when we are called to do not nothing, but to do something for nothing more than the love of it. No ulterior motives. No multi-tasking. No planning. No producing ( intentional producing). It will make us better. 

With all of the time in the world at my disposal, should I choose to rest for an evening, sitting in stillness, listening to a forever favorite song and daydreaming while Graham reads this book (which is completely changing our lives), I will do so in gratitude and in absence of hesitation or doubt.

To find calm. To rest without guilt. To quiet harsh internal criticism. To purposefully forget a preconceived notion of the way I should be and what I should be doing. To stop launching a reinvention of Kristina bi-weekly. To do something kind for myself for the sole purpose of my own well-being. To grant myself permission for a natural growth based on my core beliefs. To stop caring about what I don't care about. To separate myself from external forces that are not a part of who I am. To continue striving for all that is good.

To find (and taste) for the first time the true sweetness of life:
 Trovare la dolce vita. 
Tasting sweetness.
Never give up your search.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Recipe: Zesty Quinoa Salad

We must nourish ourselves always.

Never deprive your body of what it rightly needs. Your mind will suffer. And a suffering mind does not grant self-acceptance.

Now on to the recipe...

To helplessly watch a creativity grow confined and ultimately halted is frustration at its finest. I have served as both the victim and the cause. 

My inner-optimist cautiously whispers, an enthusiasm bubbling and preparing for surface:  
"I am inspired to create a new recipe..."
 But my inner-perfectionist calmly enters and conquers, overcoming its opponent with superior power:
"If you wish to cook, choose a recipe that is well-known. Creator, you are not. Chef, you will never be."
Not long ago, as I returned home from Mass, I pondered balance. I resisted my inner-perfecionist and designed a recipe in my mind.

I firmly believe that balance is harmony of mind, body, and spirit.

Harmony of body, in my humble opinion, does not involve eating "perfectly" clean all of the time.

Some Saturdays and Sundays (... perhaps Mondays and Wednesdays) insist on doughy ring-shaped cake. Fried cake, at that.

Spoiler: in case you missed the title, this is not a doughnut recipe. I wish it were. Stay tuned.

But this form of harmony also involves feeding your physical body what it rightly needs (in addition to what it occasionally craves). It is for this reason that I opted to remain in healthy (but delicious!) territory for this first shared recipe.

Zesty Quinoa Salad 

serves 4

1 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 orange bell pepper, chopped
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved 
1 small red onion, diced  
1/2 cup cucumber, peeled and diced 
1 large avocado, chopped 
1 cup corn 
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons pepper
Cilantro, for garnish 

3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 limes, juiced
1 tablespoon honey 
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 clove garlic (fresh), minced 

Optional: Heat 1 tablespoon of Extra Virgin Olive Oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add quinoa and toast for 2-3 minutes. Set aside. This step helps expose the creamy, nutty flavour of the quinoa. 

Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Add quinoa and simmer covered for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow quinoa to rest covered for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. 

In a large serving bowl, combine quinoa, red and orange bell peppers, grape tomatoes, red onion, cucumber, and corn. Add avocado once ready to serve. 

For the dressing, in a small bowl, whisk together Extra Virgin Olive Oil, lime juice, honey, nutmeg, and garlic.

Toss well to mix. Add salt and pepper. Garnish with cilantro.

Voila! The delicate fluffiness of the quinoa, the refreshing crunch of the bell peppers, and the oh-so-creamy avocado (who can resist?) work wonderfully together!

Feel free to serve with spicy jerk chicken or lemony grilled tilapia for a complete meal.

Or do as I do: stand in the middle of the kitchen and enjoy large heaping tablespoons at your discretion.

Until the next time! Keep searching.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Wabi-Sabi: Explained

Blog posts entitled "Wabi-Sabi" will be dedicated to moments of self-acceptance and calm.

But first, let us explain... 

The term refers to a Japanese philosophy or aesthetic that is based on the acceptance of imperfection. Wabi-sabi is centered on three simple truths:
  1. Nothing lasts (beauty within the impermanent)
  2. Nothing is finished (beauty within the incomplete)
  3. Nothing is flawless (beauty within the imperfect) 
Each assembly of letters, separated by hyphen and rhyming in sound, has come to evolve in meaning by joining and over time. Wabi, once the loneliness of living in nature, has come to mean rustic simplicity. Sabi, once a synonym for "withered," has come to represent beauty with age. You see, as years passed, their separate meanings came under amendment. But later, in joining, they formed wisdom in simplicity and beauty that is flawed. Wabi-sabi is centered on accepting all that is transient, incomplete, and imperfect. 

At first, I felt overwhelmed at its discovery. How have I never heard of this before? A beautiful philosophy, so far from the life I live. Cue: self-doubt, subsequent self-criticism...

But with minimal contemplation came great understanding. Could this be the affirmation I have been dreaming of? 

This Japanese worldview, so remarkably symbolic of my deepest intentions, how can I learn to embody it?

The truth is that I already have; and you have too. 

Last Spring, I went to Veradero (Cuba) with Graham and two of our closest friends.

One morning Graham and I woke early. Hand-in-hand, we walked to the beach ever so quietly. The sand off of the path, almost warm, was jagged from seashells broken. Graham, steps away, carried my camera until no longer in sight. A salted breeze was softly whispering, the ocean current just barely rising. Single cups found scattered, once an evening rum and coke, now parting with the wind.

Natural existence all around me inspired a connection between myself and the world, free of all judgment. Finally I felt liberated from a place of material things. My skin, never to resemble porcelain or cream, felt delicate in the morning sun. The yearning to practice yoga began to consciously nag. Tree pose came naturally and with little thought. My posture, a little one-sided, did not matter. I found solace in recognizing a foundation of faith and love. I stood grounded. In the absence of a "but" or "because," I felt completely happy.

The beauty of this moment would not last: we, bellies grumbling, would shortly walk to breakfast. This moment would never be complete: no God I can see, touch, or hear. I, wavy-haired, unbalanced in posture, slightly blemished, would never be perfect.

Yet this moment served as the source of a serenity, a longing for God, and one of the simplest forms of happiness I have ever known. This moment was wabi-sabi. 
A moment of wabi-sabi (Veradero, Cuba).
This is not to say that wabi-sabi cannot materialize during an experience that is less aesthetically pleasing (in comparison to the ocean!). 

On odd Sunday afternoons, I drive home after Church. One particular instance in my recent past comes to mind. I rested, bedroom window slightly ajar, and turned my music on. Steaming coffee, my hands clasped around it, I watched the steam as it climbed. The scent of vanilla, infused in my oatmeal, modestly lingered but did not overpower. The cool winter air, almost blistering, seemed to sooth my tired skin. The delicate rhythm of Beth/Rest implied the end of a silent mourning. The sound of the wind, quiet and steady, learned to match my rise and fall. I lived this moment as it happened, so free of judgment of internal criticism. I transcended, as I had before, into simple happiness. 

This moment would not last forever: the melody of the piano coming to a calm, awaiting its finale. This moment would never be complete: no nature in sight, no others around me. This moment would never be perfect: and no moment ever will be. 

Each experience in this life is impermanent and incomplete. And, we, each and every one of us, are imperfect.

To fully accept impermanence (our lives), incompletion (our dreams), and imperfection (our being) even if only for an instant: that is wabi-sabi. 

This is why I wish to search. 


Saturday, March 22, 2014

The First Day

I am insecure. 

There. I said (wrote) it. Three words... so challenging; impossible! 

In my mind (an unpleasant place to be as of late), to admit that you suffer from low self-esteem is equivalent to accepting disastrous defeat. 

My life: the battle. My soul: the fighter. Insecurity... the victor? What a triumph... 
Cue: respond "I'm fine," to all questions... Forever.
But I caution: you will too arrive in a place where denial and dismissal no longer feel comforting. To renounce your self-doubt is less to protect your spirit, and more more to tarnish your soul. 

I can no longer handle (or stomach) to see-saw back and forth from jolly and light-hearted to wholly insecure. Why live a lie?

The knees on which I pray have grown battered and bruised. I beg:
God, won't you give me confidence? 
Yet as the words escape my lips, my thoughts do contradict:
I will never be enough! No God can change that.
I have profound dreams that have been deliberately ignored for as long as my psyche will allow me to recall. Their disregard by virtue of a foul, encroaching lie: You will never achieve your goals. You will never reach your dreams. You will never be enough.

And so, why try?

But as a university graduate - all studies completed in psychology - of this I am sure: we must change our thinking to change our behaviour. We must change our thoughts to change our lives.

And so I find my shaky self, in exhaustive vulnerability, sharing my inner-most thoughts and most sacred journey. An adventure towards a place I imagine is called self-acceptance.

This blog is dedicated to all those who search, in faith and in agony, for a truth that will set them free: that they, like all others, are enough. 

Join me and do not be afraid, for we are stronger together than we could ever be apart.