9. Afraid of Shadows

Are you afraid of your own shadow? Or do you embrace it?

Are you afraid of the person you’ve become? Do you reflect the darkness or the light?

Our intentions shine through in a multitude of ways, but whether or not those intentions become our actions is another matter altogether.

I’m ridiculously happy with who I’ve become and what my life has become. The shadow I cast behind me is one I am happy to see because it reflects exactly what I want it to. I feel that in and of itself is an accomplishment. When the map of your life is how you want it to look, you know you have been following the right path.

I know of at least a few people in my life who are currently in the process of reshaping their shadows. I think it can be done. To begin with, it depends on your light source. What kind of light and knowledge and spirit you surround yourself by is going to affect the quality of your shadow and how clearly you are able to cast it. If you surround yourself in darkness, inevitably your shadow is going to be marred in its form by the very lack of definition that surrounds its penumbra on all sides. The strongest inner light will create the best and strongest shadows, where the outlines of your life are clear and bold.

Of course, external circumstances also affect shadows. What material your shadow dances upon can greatly help or hurt it. If you are confident in the people in your life and the places you call your surroundings, it can only help. That’s not to say that uncertain surrounds can be bad materials for shadow casting. Sometimes, the most unknown circumstances can lead to the best results because they push your boundaries and push you to the very extentent of you who are. Regardless of what your surroundings are, just be aware that they can change the quality of your light. And if you don’t like the way your surroundings are changing your inner light, then change your surroundings or else guard close those things that are dear.

Beyond all else, you are the one who creates your shadow though. You are the one who influences it by controlling, or at least being aware, of all the factors that go into its very creation. If you know what kind of shadow you want to cast, you are the one with the tools to create the shadow you want.

So are you afraid of your own shadow? And if you are, how do you change it?


8. When Intentions Aren’t Enough

It’s harder and harder for me to feel like I’m keeping up with ballet and not falling far behind. Every day I don’t go to ballet class (even if that means I’m teaching or otherwise working) feels like a bit more of a failure to me. I’ve managed to get to the point where I almost detest going to easier classes because I take so few as it is that it feels like a waste to only take easy classes that don’t challenge me.

I want to perform so badly. I want to be dancing in a company and working hard in a studio so badly. If I’m not doing that, I don’t feel whole. I don’t feel like I’m accomplishing everything I’m capable of or everything I have the potential to do. That’s the life I love and am used to living and it’s too difficult to simply give that up.

Between law school and teaching ballet, my life has been taken over. I don’t really have many spare chunks of hours these days to go drive half an hour to a studio (they’re all half an hour away; I live in the epicenter of D.C. dance studios). I have a few such chunks of time that line up for when classes are offered, but that isn’t enough.

At this point, I’ve looked into so many options for continuing to dance with a company. I’m out of luck for a full, every-day company for this upcoming year but I do have a potential place or two where I will definitely be auditioning next year for their season. Otherwise, there is one place a city over where I could audition for their two shows a year, and I will definitely be doing that. They only have rehearsals on sundays so that is doable for me.

In general I can still do most everything I could before. But I can sense the places where I am getting weaker or less technical. It might be a small slip-up from not quite closing fifth at the barre or less consistent pirouettes. It doesn’t matter what that weakness is. What matters is I know it exists and I do my best to correct it but there is only so much you can do when you’re taking one or two classes a week. So much is muscle memory and stamina. Intention can only go so far.

This life I’m living is completely wonderful in so many ways. Actually dancing ballet is the one thing I’m missing. I’m doing my best to figure out how to incorporate that into schedules of law school classes and teaching and internships. But what if that intention to dance isn’t enough? It doesn’t feel like it’s enough right now. I’m just going to keep trying until it is enough to make that part of my life happen.

7. Oceans

Every now and then, the ocean draws me back to its very soul and I am reminded all over again why I had fallen in love with the seas in the first place. I feel, right now, embraced by the deep blue depths that both hide and reveal some of the greatest mysteries and wonders of this earth. What wondrous creatures lie below the waves most of us can only guess.

On days like today, all I want to do is run away to the edge of the ocean and never look back. I want to get scuba certified, which is something I have been dying to do for years now. I want to explore the sea and all its creatures. I want to spend my time below the waters’ edge, spending my time among the darting fish, silent gliding sharks, softly flowing kelp forests, and the vast array of strange and alien invertebrates that populate everywhere from the surface down to the ocean floor. I want to watch and observe in the stillness of movement from the invisible currents flowing past as animals go about their purposes in the ways they have evolved to perform.

There are days where I question my life’s choices that have led me to law school. Yes, my whole reason for being here is to save the oceans. My goal in life is to work on ocean conservation. I chose law school because lawyers are powerful; they can enact great amounts of changes and can influence issues far down the road and into the future. I want to be able to influence and make such changes for good. The oceans need protection from enemies on all sides and from indifferent parties who don’t know what harms they are causing through their indifference.

At the same time, by saving the seas from afar, I’m denying myself the opportunity to get to experience their vastness for myself. I thus far haven’t gotten the opportunity to get to explore even just the seaside for more than a few stolen weeks at a time.

I guess one of my goals over the next few years should be to figure out how to incorporate the actual oceans and their creatures into my life other than just reading about them and filling my apartment with shark posters and octopus salt and pepper shakers. How do you fit the whole ocean in? I already feel that I’m juggling so much at my baseload capacity that adding any interest or passion on top of it all simply seems suicidal.

At the same time, I can see a life full of the oceans. I just don’t know how to make that possible right now. I should clarify: I don’t know how to make an ocean-filled life possible right now while at the same time keep the rest of my life somehow balanced with all that I’m already trying to fit in.

Did you know certain jellyfish can rejuvenate in a sort of immortality? Did you know that sharks can’t develop cancer? Did you know that giant squid can only surface in colder waters, because otherwise they’ll suffocate? There are so many more mysteries to the oceans than just these. I want to be able to explore those mysteries for myself.

I did apply at one point for a position as an aquarist. Just to be around marine creatures every day, up close and in person, would be a dream come true. Sometimes I still think about that. I do have a bachelor’s degree in biology. What if, after law school, I apply for a master’s program in marine biology? Where would that put me, other than in a lot more student loan debt? What would that entail for my future and my life? On the other hand, how could I instead directly incorporate the oceans or marine life into my life without dropping everything I’ve lined up so carefully? Could I just travel to the ocean on diving trips once a year? What other options are out there for me to explore?

The deep blue-green soul of the world is mesmerizing. It’s captivating. There is so much wonder to be found as long as we humans don’t end up killing it all. We are well on the way to doing so, unfortunately. Between ocean acidification and warming and vast amounts of overfishing and polluting, we are already doing immense amounts of harm that are leading to almost-imminent desertification of the oceans. I think one of the main reasons for such harm is that it is very difficult to educate people on what harms their actions are directly causing. Because ocean ecosystems are all hidden below glassy, mirrored surfaces, they – and everything that impacts them – are hidden from the general public.

If we can just show humanity what beauty lies in the sea, I think we can make a world of difference. The ocean is now calling to everyone, individually and collectively, to see it and to save it.

6. Of Shadows and Substance

How many shadows can one person have?

A shadow is proof that one is made of matter and substance. A shadow is proof that one exists and that one creates a space in this world that would otherwise be a void, an empty place of air and nothingness. Shadows prove existence.

The problem with existence is that no one has just one single existence. We exist in various capacities and forms, with different dreams, and on different paths, all at once in a simultaneousness that combines to form our single essence of existence. Right at this very moment, I can think of at least three completely alternate futures for myself. The shadows each of these futures cast are weakened or strengthened form day to day, simply depending on how heavily that specific path weights on you on any given day.

Existence can be a funny thing. Sometimes, existence consists of boldly striving after your dreams – at least on a path or direction of dreams – while at other times existence is simply the mundane drudgery of spending your day at work. At the same time, who you are and what kind of shadow you cast can depend so much on something as simple and basic as your surrounding environment.

I know I have multiple shadows. Some of these shadows are short enough that they really barely seem to exist at all, while others are long enough to cause quite a swatch of space to be covered.  These shadows correspond directly with how much my being and presence in any given place matters or gives weight to both the place and to how important and how much bearing that environment has to me personally.

Shadows are strange. Sometimes they look exactly the way you would expect them to appear. Other times, you wouldn’t even recognize it as your own shadow. Outlines blur and become more distinct, depending on the time of day. Appearances waver as you seamlessly slide into another personality for another experience. Your shadow even changes depending on the people you’re around and what shadow they’re used to seeing. That is sometimes the most challenging: when you have to adapt yourself to casting a specific shadow for the benefit of people around you.

Honestly I think that was the most refreshing thing about moving to D.C. and starting all over again. I was able to see with fresh eyes what people actually saw of my shadow. I was no longer bound by my former shadows’ appearances. Instead, I was free to make my shadows with complete freedom and see the truth of who I have become over the years. I really like the person I’ve become. I like the shadows I cast. And I think that’s as much as anyone can strive for.

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.