5. Consumerism and the Art of Zen

I started formulating this theory last night, so I’m going to try to flesh it out more here. Essentially, my theory is that actually buying what you want to buy will decrease your consumer habits and give you more happiness. It seems so simple, right? So why does it seem like so few people actually do so?

Here’s a bit of background into why I started developing this idea last night. Yesterday, Ricardo and I were at IKEA buying the last pieces of furniture we needed for the apartment. As many of you might now, IKEA has literally everything. So we were walking through the store, and towards the front of the store there were those little wooden posable drawing models of humans. I’ve always wanted to get one of those, but I never have. I looked at it and right then and there decided I would get it. I’ve always wanted one but never have gotten one, so why not just get it right there and never have to think about wanting to get one again?

That little drawing model is one of the best purchases I made yesterday. (The other best purchase was an actual table that we can actually use.) I got home and was so happy to finally have it. And just like that, all the moments of desiring to have one of those little wooden models that have built up over the years vanished. It was, in a very strange way, such a relief.

I realized that for the rest of the IKEA trip I wasn’t wanting to buy any other random miscellaneous or cool item that tried to reach out to me; believe me, there certainly were enough of them. But after I decided at the very beginning to get that little model, that was enough for me. I was satisfied and didn’t want anything else.

I’ve noticed as a trend that oftentimes people deny themselves the things that they want most, and then make up for the lack of that one thing with buying a quantity of other things to fill the void. I honestly think that’s part of why consumerism has taken off so much. Delayed gratification doesn’t really work for stuff. You end up buying more and more and spending much more than you would have had you just got that one item you really wanted in the first place. Then, the moment you buy it, you can simply let that desire go and the desire for more stuff doesn’t consume you.

One of the major tenets of Zen is letting go of attachment. By letting go of attachment, you let go of the ability of other things, places, and persons in the world to control you. Of course, letting go of attachments is easier said than done. Nonetheless, there is definitely something to be said for being your own person uncontrolled by the trivialities around you. I myself am still working on this, but I think it’s something that can always be worked on.

Stuff – and by stuff, I mean material objects – has this weird ability to capture our attention. In some rare instances, we become obsessed with the idea of owning specific things that have particularly caught our imagination. For some reason, I think this consumerist society we live in has somehow given us the idea that consuming things and buying things we want is bad. If it is so bad, then we shouldn’t buy the things we actually want. Nonetheless, we will still go out and spend money on who knows what in the meanwhile. However, all that stuff in the meanwhile doesn’t actually fill that hole of what we actually want.

Strangely, the minute you actually go and buy what you want, the thing that will make you happy, not only do you get that bit of happiness that has been awaiting in the background for so long, but you also lose the desire to fill that hole. In other words, you lose desire and you lose the need for attachment to that thing or any things you get to replace that thing.

The point is if you actually just go buy the thing you want from the get-go, in the end you’re going to have less stuff, and the stuff you do have is going to be the things that actually make you happy and bring you happiness. It’s a way of actually living in the moment and avoiding attachment to physical items. That seems very Zen to me.

4. Snapshot of Transitions

Life moves so quickly. I’m currently 11 days post-finals and everything has changed while nothing has changed. Since 12 days ago, I have finished my 1L (first) year of law school, taught a 10-hour day, performed in my first ballet since moving to D.C., started my first legal internship, and moved in with my boyfriend into our first apartment together. Those are only the big events.

While so much has happened, it also feels like nothing has happened. The biggest changes I currently notice in my day-to-day life are really the little things. Our cat Rumple now gets more room to play and roam. Ricardo and I get to make breakfast together in the mornings and now have an entire cupboard dedicated to tea and coffee and mugs. I can read novels in my leisure time. And I can finally go to ballet class again.

These are all the small things that make the biggest differences in the world to me. They illuminate my life. Just the daily act of living is made so special and wondrous because of these moments; I wouldn’t have it any other way.

There is magic in this world and that magic is found in the joyful moments of everyday life. Yes, the big moments – like finishing a year of school or the moment you first open the door to your first shared apartment – are moments worth living for. But those types of events don’t come around every day or week or even year. Sometimes they’re once-in-a-lifetime moments. I’m never again going to finish my first year of law school or move in for the first time with my significant other. But that’s alright. Moments that are just as magical are building furniture with Ricardo as we realize half-way through that we put in one of the sides backwards, or getting to watch Rumple frolic through the piles of empty boxes piling up.

Magical moments also include getting to go take ballet class and finally realizing you can actually do a step you’ve always been scared of, or executing a perfectly balanced double fuette into a pique arabesque. Magical moments come in all shapes, sizes, and varieties.

One of the themes of life that I have been continually reminded of over the past few weeks is that change is the only constant. Life changes. Life is constantly changing and the best thing to do is take it in stride and embrace every moment before letting it go.

There’s a danger in holding onto the past. There is also a danger in living too much in the future. I have lived both existences. These past few months have been the first time in my life that I am truly happy to live in the current moment, with this person, and with this life. I never thought such a thing would be possible. I am so happy to be proven wrong.

3. Being Present

“Do external things distract you? Then make time for yourself to learn something worthwhile; stop letting yourself be pulled in all directions.” – Marcus Aurelius

Distractions are prevalent in this world. They come in all forms. They distract from all things. Lately, the internet and the myriad of ways you can connect with people has been distracting me more than I would like. I’m tired of being pulled in all directions. I’m happy here, right here in my life. I want to focus my attention on the here and now. And I will.

I’ve come across more than one book lately that essentially say that in order to live a happy life you should cut out all the extraneous things. Whether those things be obligations, people, whatever, those are distractions that take your time away from the things that really matter to you. It’s somewhat difficult to cut out things while in law school – since most of my obligations are in fact required to graduate – but I am trying to keep a more careful mental inventory of what is truly important to me in my life.

Whenever I find myself becoming distracted again, whether it’s with games on my phone or browsing on Facebook, I don’t realize it until it’s been going on for a few days. However, I think (and I hope) that I am becoming better at recognizing when I am growing distracted in my life. I realize that I’m simply waiting impatiently for the next moment to get away to my phone… for what? So I can go check Instagram or look on Snapchat to see if anyone has added to their stories. But in realizing so, I’m getting better and better at pulling myself away from all those extraneous distractions and back into the present.

Currently, I’m sitting in the library with my love while he studies for an exam tomorrow and I’m taking a break from studying for my last exam in a few days. I’ve been on Facebook all evening. Honestly, I don’t really care about what’s going on through Facebook. A superficial part of me cares, but deeper down I know that when I look back on this evening, I’d much rather have read more of the three books sitting here next to me or have written a blog post. I want to have done so much more than simply being another anonymous face on this anonymous, soul-sucking social media existence that we have all embraced.

Whenever I think about or hear people talking about the great geniuses through history, the people who accomplished great things, the great thinkers,  and the great artists, I marvel at their ability to dedicate themselves so fully to their passions. But then my mind turns a corner and I stop marveling. These Greats throughout history didn’t have social media. They didn’t have the distractions of the internet; we have every bit of information and every connection with another individual we could possibly want at the tips of our fingers as our fingers lay poised over a keyboard.

But what if we stopped being online so much? What if we only used the internet when really necessary? These days, I feel like whenever I start paying more attention to Facebook there are so many voices from so many people that I somewhat know that they start crowding out the few voices that really do matter to me. My in-person relationships mean to much more to me than this or that random friend on Facebook. The relationships that matter to me are the ones I should actually focus on. There’s absolutely no excuse for me to ignore the people that matter the most to me just because I’m distracted by all the many other faces I scroll past every day.

This doesn’t mean I don’t value people. I do. I value other people a great deal. But you have to choose your priorities, and I want my priorities to be where my heart is. We can’t all be torn every which way at every moment of the day.

I guess I really have multiple points here all related to distractions.
(1) Prioritize your time.
(2) Prioritize the people in your life that really matter to you.
(3) Prioritize what accomplishments you want to have achieved at the end of the day.

In the end, we all have a limited amount of time. While it seems like this time could go on forever, if we look back on the past day, week, month, or year, there is so much or so little we can accomplish in that time, just depending on our choices. If I choose to really accomplish something with my life and truly make the most out of my life, I have to prioritize my time and fill it with the actions I want and the people I love. I want to be able to look back at the end of the day and really feel like each day was worth living.

The past five months have been some of the best months of my life, and that because I felt like I’ve been actually achieving something every day. No, I haven’t made leaps and bounds in single days, even though some days have held a lot. But if every day I accomplish a little less of the extraneous and accomplish a little more of actually living life, looking back, those bits and pieces of time really add up to something so much more than it would seem.

So here’s to trying to live online a little less and live a little more.

P.S. Yes, I see the irony of posting this as a blog post.  No, I don’t regret it one bit.

2. Of Tutus and Chances

This past weekend marks the first time I have gotten to wear a tutu in over a year. It was also my third rehearsal at Baltimore Ballet for Swan Lake Act II, which we are performing in two weeks. For me, the highlight of the weekend was definitely getting to dance in a tutu though. It’s

I’ve always felt most comfortable and in my element in a ballet studio or theatre. Tutus are my version of every girl’s dream wedding dresses. If I can be a princess or sugarplum fairy or swan in a tutu, I would choose that over anything else any day. So, naturally, when I got to wear a tutu this past weekend, was thrilled. If you think about it, a tutu is a strange thing. But we associate it so much with this concept of beauty and regality that encompasses every aspect of classical ballet that a tutu becomes a symbol of the very thing we dancers work so hard for so many years to attain.

I’ve worked hard and I’ve been lucky enough to have that hard work pay off in the multitude of opportunities I have received over the years. Ballet is no exception. Since 2010, I’ve had the privilege of getting to dance the Sugarplum Fairy in The Nutcracker four different times in various forms. It has become a defining role for me. There’s a regality of character and a gracious beauty woven into the character. Of course, Sugarplum requires a tutu. The other defining role I’ve gotten the chance to dance that required a tutu was Aurora in Sleeping Beauty. I cannot tell you the absolute magic of getting to be on stage as a princess falling in love with her prince while every eye in the audience is on you. It’s a breathtaking moment that is simply unexplainable.

Saying goodbye to that world and that life was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I made my peace with it last December when I performed as Sugarplum for the last time. Well, I thought I made my peace with it but now I’m certain that that isn’t quite accurate.

How do you make yourself come to terms with the results of your life decisions? I made the best possible choice I could have made in coming to Georgetown Law. I don’t regret that decision one bit. I only regret that I can’t dance here the same way I could dance before. I regret not having tried harder to audition for companies. I thought I was okay with that, but over and over again I keep finding out that I’m not quite okay. Dancing is a piece of my soul and it feels like that little piece is missing. So how do I reconcile myself with the fact that I’m missing one of the parts that has been so intrinsic in my life for so long? Just teaching and taking the occasional ballet class doesn’t do it. I guess this is where Baltimore Ballet comes in.

I sent them my resume a few weeks back. Not four days later I got a call from them. They said they had a situation where one of their dancers had just dropped out and was not able to perform, and was there any possibility that I could come in on Sundays and fill in for her? I was delighted and instantly said yes; Sundays the one day I have off every week and I am more than happy to spend that one free day rehearsing for a ballet. Since then, every Sunday I’ve been driving up to Baltimore and rehearsing the second act of Swan Lake.

It worked out perfectly. So while I desperately miss dancing in an actual company, I’m slowly figuring out how to incorporate ballet into my life in more creative ways. Isn’t that one of the secrets to life though? Figuring out how to incorporate the things you love in a way that makes your life fuller and more rich in every possible way?

So how do we do that? How do we incorporate the things we love into our lives and fit everything in? I don’t have all the answers and I won’t even pretend to have it all figured out. But thus far what has worked for me, and what I’m hoping will bring about even more results in the near future, is to think creatively and think outside the box. How else would I have been able to find Baltimore Ballet? How else will we be able to attain the lives we want to be living?