Sunday, December 21, 2014

Finding What I Seek

I like using the natural tendencies of my mind to shape how I experience life.  Lately I’ve been toying with the idea of intentionally planting metaphorical seeds in my mind for things that I could use in my life right now.

Consciously thinking of something can trigger our minds to later notice it more frequently.  It may not be more prevalent, it’s just that we’ll notice it as a pattern.  I learned about this Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon last year, and sure enough I saw it mentioned in two other places within 24 hours.

A woman doing her daily shopping at the boulangerie
Synchronicity, serendipity, happenstance. I love all these words and meanings, and I’m delighted when I experience them.  Whether it’s a cosmic coincidence or just the natural tendency of our brains doesn’t matter to me.   Once we learn something, we may start finding it everywhere. And once it’s in the brain, it can shape our experiences and attitudes dramatically.

Shaping my experience: My assignments for France

Earlier this year I asked two dear friends what type of souvenir they would like me to bring them from France. I expected them to say scarves or some other object. I was surprised when they asked for things that required no expenditure, and I hadn’t anticipated how much richer my travels would be for the requests. One asked for photographs of strong women. Another asked for photographs of a certain popular graffiti artist. Both assignments shaped how I viewed and experienced my surroundings during my trip, and I noticed details that made my visit all the more unique and delightful.

Three Women at the Centre Pompidou Museum
I didn’t get photographs of all the strong women I saw because I was either too embarrassed to ask or couldn’t pull out my camera in time to get the shot. But those moments still linger in my memory of the trip.  The woman in a fabulous skirted ensemble riding her bike through the bustling streets of Paris. She passed cars in gridlock with ease and a fluidity exuding confidence and beauty.  The three aged women in the Centre Pompidou museum enjoying a leisurely conversation and laughter filled evening out together. I only took a photograph of them from behind because I was too embarrassed to ask to take their photograph. Their wide smiles on lined and joy filled faces are missing from the photographs, but I still light up at the memory of them. Just as I perceived them, I’m looking forward to being an old woman enjoying life and making time for my relationships, art, and the evening breeze.  Now I realize how special it could have been to connect with them and expand the experience. It might not have been an interruption to them, rather an opportunity to make the evening even more special and memorable for all of us.

Graffiti in the alley outside our apartment on Rue Mouffetard
The graffiti of the artist my friend mentioned is typically small and hidden.  Like finding a gem in a lawn, it pushed me to look at my surroundings in detail. We looked at cracks in building foundations, and we studied unfamiliar road signs wondering if they were standard or artistically modified. I’m not sure if I found any of his artwork, but we found many beautiful, clever, and vibrant paintings everywhere. We looked, and we found.
The Do Not Enter signs are usually just a red circle
with a horizontal white line.
We found clever modified signs throughout Paris.
The residual effect of these travel assignments is that I continue to seek and find everyday beauty in graffiti and strong women.  I delight in the beauty of street art and human creativity. I’m inspired and empowered by the interesting women all around me.

Not always finding exactly what I seek, but loving what I find

Naturally, I don’t look for things I don’t think I’ll find. I like the idea of putting something in my scope of attention and believing the universe will provide.  Setting aside the judgment of whether I’m likely to find it or not, only focusing on my interest in seeing it.

I find coins on the ground a lot. I’ve found a lot over the years, and I continue to look even though I don’t think about it much. I didn’t see any change on the ground in France in almost three weeks. It made me curious if they have a different relationship to change than Americans where they don’t accidentally drop it as often as we do. Or perhaps the custom of leaving spare change for servers after meals doesn’t facilitate carrying as much change around. Do French men put change in their pockets or in a zippered wallet? Or does the fact that they have coins worth a dollar or more increase their carefulness with their money? This is one case of not finding what I looked for. It wasn’t something I need, and it prompted a curiosity in my thoughts and discussion with my sister about the possible reasons why the difference. I didn’t find what I originally sought; I found something that satisfied my search in an even more interesting and fulfilling way.

Intentional seeking

As I look at my vision boards from a couple years ago, it amazes me how many of the things pictured I’ve learned to do, have done, or have in my life now! These experiences urge me to be more proactive about how I view my day. I’m tired, maybe I’ll think about looking for energy around me. If I’m feeling low, I can think about seeking joy and beauty. It'll be interesting to see how it works!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Music Is My Happy Place

For #GivingTuesday today I donated to  Music is my happy place through challenging times, and I hope my small donation will help someone else experience their happy place again.

In early 2013, I watched the movie, “The Music Never Stopped,” with fascination about a man with a brain tumor that affects his memory. Through listening to the music of his youth, he’s able to remember and connect with his family. Beyond the story and fabulous characters, it's also a toe tapping flick with tons of Greatful Dead songs.  After savoring the movie I scrutinized the credits to learn the movie was based on Oliver Sacks’ story, "The Last Hippie."  Searching for other books by Oliver Sacks, I found and read Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. This book is thought-provoking for the anecdotes and studies showing just how powerful, quirky, and surprising our brains and abilities can be with our relationship to music.
This past weekend I streamed Alive Inside on Netflix and was moved to tears again by the power of music on people’s lives. The documentary focuses on how the simple gift of an iPod with a playlist of music that’s meaningful to a person with dementia can transform their quality of life and allow them to connect with people around them.

In the United States we have 5 million people living with dementia and 10 million people caring for them. is an organization that helps bring music to people living with dementia in nursing homes. May we all enjoy our own personal musical playlist for the full extent of our time on earth.