Sunday, December 23, 2018

Being Car-Free AND Home-Free

I know many people who are car-free, and I adore the heck out of their lifestyles. I had aspired for years -- seven, to be exact -- to be car-free as well. But while being car-free was one thing, being car-free and home-free seemed like another. A much more massive other. I know very few role models I can aspire after who own neither car nor home.

My recent transition to car-free living was, surprisingly, the most intimidating lifestyle change for me. It was far more unnerving than quitting my job and getting rid of my home...combined! This intimidation stemmed from an even deeper commitment to minimalism and an even further dissociation from societal norms.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

I am Car-Free!

Hear me shout from the top of my lungs: I am car-free! And it feels so good!

I have owned two cars in my life. The first was a Saturn, which I bought when I moved to Arizona for grad school. The car was a valuable tool for establishing my identity as a young adult. I replaced the Saturn five years later, in 2005, with a Toyota Corolla. With a six CD-changer and a higher quality stereo system, my new car was more suitable for commuting the 40 miles to-and-fro my job in the Chicago suburbs.

Monday, November 12, 2018

My Mind is Blown

Below is a photo from my September 21st Facebook post:

The photo of me, posted on Facebook on September 21st.

The accompanying post reads:
Sometimes life is a little crazier than I prefer for it to be. It feels damn good to just sit still and read a book. I'm finally getting (ok, "making") the chance to devour Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Yeah for peace and quiet!! And year for a fantastic read!!
It is 52 days later. The above photo and post, for the most part, are still relevant. I happen to be wearing the same orange shirt, which may come as no surprise given that I am a minimalist. While I am currently donning neither hat nor sunglasses, I do have a Kindle on my lap and a cup of tea by my side. Just as in the photo, I am devouring a Yuval Noah Harari book. The title is different, though. At present, the words printed in eInk on my Kindle are from Harari's Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Happy 6th Re-Birthday to Me!

Happy 6th Re-Birthday to Me!

Six years ago today, I held my breath, crossed my fingers, and mixed together the ingredients of the early retirement elixir -- a dash of hope, a dash of crazy, and a whole lot of courage. Voila! All of the sudden, I found myself free of a job, free of the tedium of normalcy, and free of the confines of time.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

The Spider Totem

It's Wednesday, March 14, 2018. I'm one week into my month-long yoga training in India. It's the wee hours of the morning, and I gotta pee like a banshee.

I raise my hand to the light switch, just above the pillow. As I flick the switch, light disappears the darkness. I glance up towards my hand. All of a sudden, I'm awake. Very awake. Just inches from my fingers is this:


Ehhhhh, dear god almighty! That spider is bigger than my hand! That thing surely has gigantic teeth...and a deadly bite!

Monday, September 17, 2018

My Meditation Retreat at Tushita

During my visit to India earlier this year, I attended a ten-day Introduction to Buddhism & Meditation retreat at Tushita, a Tibetan Buddhist center in Dharamsala.

An assemblage of shoes outside the meditation hall.

As there would be no contact with the outside world for the ten days, the hours leading up to the retreat felt as though I was preparing for my impending death. There would be no connection with friends or family; we had to surrender our phones and laptops. In fact, we had to surrender all electronics -- cameras, eBook readers, iPods. All matters needed to be tidied up in advance; all final communications had to be made, and all final electronic pleasures had to be enjoyed.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Van of Valpo & Pussy Terror

After our two-month cycling trip through Patagonia in early 2016, El Mecánico and I spent six weeks living in Valparaíso. Though two years have since passed, it's time to tell you about The Van of Valpo & Pussy Terror.

During our weeks in Valparaíso, El Mecánico and I settled into a wonderful routine. In the mornings, we worked independently on our own projects. In the afternoons, we meandered together through the Chilean city's tangled cobblestone streets, staircases, and alleys.

Valparaíso's homes and buildings, cloaked in a patchwork quilt of colors and adorned with eye-inticing murals, are the epicenter of the city's Bohemian culture. As we walked through the city, we searched every wall and nook'n'cranny for our favorite murals. Our mutual awe of the city's abundant effervescence inspired a unique, creative energy between me and El Mecánico. (See Valparaíso: Murals #1 and Valparaíso: Murals #2 for photographs of our favorite murals.)

On one of our afternoon strolls, we came across a van whose windows were painted an opaque white. The van was parked at the base of a dense thicket of morning glories, reaching a hundred feet into the sky. A painting on the port of the van depicted the back side of a man in a horizontal position, his head resting atop a pillow. Along the top of the van were the words "Pussy Terror."

The notorious Van of Valpo.

What did it mean? Was the man sleeping? Was he dead? Why was there a gold crown floating inches above the man's head? What was "Pussy Terror"?

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Volunteering with the Tibetan Refugees in India

This globe sits on the table in the library at LHA Charitable Trust in Dharamsala:

Tibet was hand-drawn onto the globe.

This globe pretty much sums up the Tibetan situation.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Reflections on My Yoga Learnings

One thing I learned from my 200-hour yoga teacher training course is that the way an instructor understands and internalizes yoga is the way the instructor should teach yoga. Aside from an exception here-and-there (Bikram yoga comes to mind), there is no formula for how yoga should be taught. As students learning to teach yoga, we should therefore embrace what makes sense and feels right to us and leave the rest behind. I was exposed to a broad array of yogic knowledge in my month-long class. A lot of that knowledge I will take with me; some I will leave behind.

Tara diagrams how the mounds of the feet keep
us grounded while the arches of the feet lift us up.
[Photo: Katerina Zavarygina]

There are a few reasons I decided to do my teacher training in India. For one, India is well-regarded as the birthplace of yoga. The history of yoga in the United States, as is true for most things in the country, is relatively young. Plus, the yoga of the western world has been heavily modified to conform with western mentalities. I wanted to study yoga closer to its source, to better understand the essence of yoga.

Friday, April 6, 2018

An Unexpected Take-Away from My Yoga Course

My 200-hour yoga teacher training with Siddi Yoga is complete!

I finished!

I knew I wanted to do an intensive yoga teacher training -- taking a month-long course rather than spreading the training over multiple months of weekend and evening classes. And I knew I wanted to do the training in India, near the Himalayas, where trees and mountain views are abundant. When I saw that Siddhi Yoga offered a course near Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetan government, and when I saw that Siddi Yoga had a fantastic reputation, the decision of where to do my training had been made!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Kriya: Going Above & Beyond Downward Dog

I am two-thirds of the way through my month-long yoga course in India. I would like to finish the course before sharing my lessons learned. However, I am itching to write about our kriya class, in which we went above-and-beyond the downward dog.

In the western world, we often think of yoga merely as a means of fancy-dancy stretching. We think of these stretches as a form of physical exercise, improving flexibility, strength, and stamina. In the true essence of yoga, these stretches are called asanas. The asana postures serve to heighten awareness and prepare the body for concentration.

In reality, yoga is far more holistic than the mere mastery and performance of fancy-dancy asanas. Yoga is a science of well-being that influences all aspects of life: physical, mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. While yoga includes asanas, it also includes methods for meditation, breathing, self-purification, and a handful of other components.

Self-purification is an intriguing aspect of yoga. Called yogic kriya, self-purification consists of both internal and external cleansing. The idea is that in order to work towards spiritual enlightenment, one must first be squeaky clean, both inside and out.

External cleaning is accomplished by bathing -- something we all do on a daily basis. I assumed internal cleansing would be accomplished by purifying the mind and soul. The naive me didn't realize that internal cleansing also included purification of the internal gross body.

Me, doing a yogic kriya practice.

Just a heads-up: If you get easily grossed out, read no more. On the grossed-out scale, the photo above is pretty tame compared to what you're about to see.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

My Meeting with the Dalai Lama

Dharamsala, in the northern Indian Himalayas, is the home of the Tibetan government-in-exile. Word has it that if you stick around Dharamsala long enough, you're bound to see the Dalai Lama. Sure enough, within 48 hours of arriving in Dharamsala, I saw the Dalai Lama.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
(Photo: Screenshot from Interaction with Foreigners in Dharamsala video.)

I don't recall when I first learned of the Dalai Lama. Nor do I recall the origin of my fascination with the Tibetan people. I do know that the first thing I did when I moved to Washington in 2006 was attend the Tibetan Festival at the Seattle Center. And I do know that the first sketch I drew in My New Drawing Book in 2014 was of a Tibetan woman holding a photograph of the Dalai Lama.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A Year of Self-Love

We spend the majority of our childhood years in school. We learn about math, science, english, and history. Rarely does the curriculum include the skills necessary to function successfully in society and live fulfilling lives -- how to handle finances, how to have healthy relationships, how to communicate effectively, how to manage emotions, how to cope with failure. Most of us spend the majority of our adulthood acquiring these skills. Often we attain these skills by trial-and-error. Rarely do we master them.

I enjoyed school. I was fortunate to develop behaviors that helped me do well, such as typing my papers on a word processor and saying "yes" to opportunities that came my way. While these behaviors helped me ace my classes, they paved the way for the development of unhealthy habits later in life -- perfectionism and people-pleasing, to name a few. Eventually these habits, coupled with relentless societal stresses, became toxic.

I think often about my life story. I wonder how it might be different had I learned about self-love alongside my calculus and physics classes. I would have learned about identifying my personal values and setting priorities aligned with those values. I would have learned about focusing on the things that are important to me and letting other things go. I would have learned about self-awareness and being true to myself in my interactions with others. I would have learned about listening to my body.

What I've learned about self-love has mostly been acquired in the last few years. As I've been working to shake my bad habits, I've been realizing just how much I beat myself up all those years. I want to heal what those years of stress have done to my body. I know I can't unravel the damage that has been done, but I can decide to live my life differently moving forward.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Lip Incompetence on Dollar Street

I scheduled an appointment for a routine cleaning a few weeks ago with a new dentist. As this was the first visit, the appointment began with a one-on-one consultation in which the doctor and I discussed my dentistry goals. Seeing the dollar signs in her eyes light up when I flashed my tea-stained smile, I told her I was not interested in cosmetic dentistry. (I wanted to nip that puppy in the bud right away!) Rather, I am interested in the long-term health and functionality of my teeth and their supporting structures.

For the record, this is me.
You can't see my teeth, but that's not important.

After reviewing my xrays, the dentist handed me a five-page "Review of Findings." This felt more like a meeting with an attorney, but I digress. The dentist went over her findings with me -- I had healthy gums and bone, no tooth decay, yadda yadda. When we came to the section labeled Diagnosis, the dentist looked me straight in the eye, and said, "Sarah, you have incompetent lips."

Saturday, February 3, 2018

My Philosophy on Relationships

In my mid-20s, I enjoyed poring over the Chicago Tribune ever Sunday morning. My husband and I spread ourselves and the sections of the paper across the living room floor. As the rays of the sun, which shone through the patio doors, slowly inched their way from morning to afternoon, we read every word in every section of the paper. I remember those mornings fondly.

One Sunday -- I recall it being near Valentine's Day -- I opened a section of the paper to a two-page spread. The author had interviewed various Chicagoans asking "What does love mean to you?"

Abbreviated responses were encapsulated in speech balloons and suspended across the pages.

    "Love is patient."

    "Love is kind."

    "Love is all you need."

    "Love is looking in the same direction."

As I read the quotes, a warm'n'fuzzy feeling filled my traditional heart.

But that warm feeling quickly turned to repulsion when I read the balloon that had sunk deep into the crease at the foot of the page: "Love is not meant to be shared with the same person forever."