Category Archives: gratitude

Happy Birthday to Me, Indeed!

D’awwww… I feel like I’ve been adopted into this awesome loving family of brilliant creative jedis of compassion and light and change. Hearing their gratitude totally made me cry at our Lucidity​ marketing debrief meeting last night. My team is just so wonderful! And I’m a total sap.

As the marketing team discussed what worked and what didn’t about our work and Lucidity this year, it became apparent that I have really stumbled into something special here. It has been such an honor to work with you all and I have learned so much in so many ways from this experience.

Working at Lucidity: This is my job. Amazing!
Working at Lucidity: This is my job. Amazing!

I left my first Lucidity Festival feeling very proud of my involvement and my hard work the past few months, but also just simply awestruck and inspired and blissed out by the people, the stories, and the energy that create the event and the community surrounding it. Just WOW. I left saying “yeah, this is something I can feel good about promoting/selling/blabbing all over social media and to all my friends about/dedicating my time to/staying up late working on/etc.” and so very aligned with everything Lucidity is creating.

This is big for me, as this whole marketing / promotion thing is pretty new to me and I refuse to work with organizations I can’t align with and believe in. I invest myself very heavily into my work and everything I am involved in, my inner artist and workaholic just can’t help but pour every ounce of creative energy, heart, and soul into my projects and my work – especially when the project is particularly inspiring or meaningful to me. This one must have struck an artery…

Scenes of Lucidity 2015: Kindred Quest
Scenes of Lucidity 2015: Kindred Quest

I feel like I just went to jedi superhuman badass training camp or something. You are all AMAZING humans. Thank you for trusting me, pushing me, inspiring me, collaborating and sharing and welcoming me into your family. Thank you for your patience, your understanding, for reading all my unnecessarily wordy e-mails and for adapting along with me to new processes. Thank you for spoiling me rotten the moment I arrived on site, a warm place to work, cold pressed coffee on tap, sweet Lucidiswag, and OMG the FOOD!!! Thank you for making it possible for my sweetie to join me for the weekend at Lucidity – I felt like my life was utterly complete getting to spend time with him, some of my good friends, my amazing team, and so many new friends all at once in such a beautiful place. Wait, and I got paid for this?! I must be dreaming… oh wait, we all are… co-creating a stunningly beautiful future that I have only begun to glimpse and am SO excited to help reveal…

I must give a few shout outs in gratitude… Reuben Smith – THANK YOU for contacting me about openings in the marketing department at Lucidity the end of last year and recommending me for a position. I owe you a beer, a bottle of kombucha, and/or a really huge hug! Hope to see you at Once Upon a Festival!

To James ‘Jaymo’ Barnard, who I worked very closely with the past few months – you are a rock star and I’m not sure how you do it all! You were an absolute joy to work with, always easy to talk to, kind, supportive, and brilliant. To Jonah Haas, Noah Crowe, Wolfbear, Sabrina Calderon, Matt (Rodriguez and Rideout), Victory, Meow, and WAY too many other people to finish this list… Thank you for welcoming me into the fold, showing me the ropes, and being your amazingly badass, hard working, inspiring and superhuman selves! I am so impressed and awed by everyone I encountered at Lucidity. I have found a home in the transformational festival community and especially a few small, like-minded and inspiring events that I am lucky enough to work with on a regular basis now. Lucky me!!!

To my partner James, thank you for being so supportive, flexible, and for putting up with my utter failure to cook a proper meal for weeks on end and all my late nights of work and going to bed before me. And I am SO grateful that you got to join me for the weekend at Lucidity last minute and make my week even  more complete! And to all my friends who I have not seen much of these past few months, I miss you! My campmates at Lucidity also helped make it an amazing weekend I’ll never forget… so much gratitude!

Beautiful Lucidity Memories - So Much Love!
Beautiful Lucidity Memories – So Much Love!

I’m here as long as you’ll have me, Lucidity family, and that goes for the larger transformational festival community as well. I thought going to these events for a decade plus would change my life, but WOW does being part of the team producing them do so even more…

On the horizon for work (and play) is Once Upon a Festival in June, which is the same crew as Foreverland last year, with a few new additions and a new name. I will be assisting with the marketing team and doing some street team and media team management this year; I just got up to speed and activated for my new role! And then Northern Nights in July, a local festival in the redwoods on the Mendo/Humboldt county line that I am street teaming for. And my home sweet Mendo favorite, Enchanted Forest, will be returning to Mendocino county this year and I am thrilled to have been offered a position as a Production Assistant for this year. It’s gonna be a busy summer! Hope to see you at one of these stellar events!

As I close in on my 32nd birthday, I feel like this entire year, maybe this entire life, has been one great big beautiful birthday gift. I always was a late bloomer, and I feel like I’m finally starting to create a balance amidst the chaos and variety that is all of my jobs, my projects, my relationships and connections and my dreams. I have been blessed in countless ways over the years, but damn! Life is REALLY starting to get juicy as of late and I feel like I’m hitting my stride!

We are going out dancing Saturday night and meeting friends for brunch with a view on Sunday at Little River Inn to celebrate my birthday this year. I’m looking forward to keeping it simple and having fun with my Mendo friends and celebrating life this weekend. There is certainly much to celebrate this spring!

Boy is this getting good or what?! I can’t wait to see what’s around the next bend…

Endless Gratitude

This time of year makes me quite sappy. I am currently listening to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Pandora station, taking a break from making Christmas cookies. To my left is a small pile of colorfully wrapped gifts addressed to James and I, and behind me is a well-fed cat cuddling into a fuzzy blanket on the couch. I have a roof over my head, food in my fridge and cupboards, plenty of work to keep me busy and secure, and a life full of people I love. And I am wondering how it could be possible that I got so ridiculously lucky.

Holiday Cheer - our tiny tree for our tiny house.
Holiday Cheer – our tiny tree for our tiny house.

While enjoying a Thanksgiving weekend with extended family in the Portland area this year, I was struck by this deep sense of gratitude a few times. When my dad’s side of the family gets together (The Pru Crew, and then some) we top out at well over 30 people. I met three new babies in my own family and one belonging to a good friend from high school on my trip. I marveled as I shared food, games, small talk, and stories with my family how amazing it is that we all get along relatively well, enjoy seeing each other, and are all relatively healthy and happy functioning humans doing amazing things (like raising twins – holy cow, my cousin just had the second set of twins in the family and I thought one baby sounded like work; two at the same time of the same age?!?! Yeah, parents are superheroes, and parents of twins are super-duper heroes). I’m not sure what I ever did to deserve to be born into a happy, healthy family support system like this, but I sure am grateful. Call it privilege or an “original birthday gift” (in my sister’s words, more on that later), I am a very lucky girl. And I am very thankful that I have such a loving, supportive, and pretty damn functional family and family of friends.

Pru Crew assembling on Thanksgiving.
Pru Crew assembling on Thanksgiving.
Braxton and Koleson, my cousin's twins and two of the four new babies I got to meet on my trip.
Braxton and Koleson, my cousin’s twins and two of the four new babies I got to meet on my trip.

After being stuck in Portland waiting for car repairs (which VW ended up paying for due to it being a known issue – yet another reason to be grateful!) for four days longer than expected, I made the very long drive home. That night I put on my onesie footie pajamas and watched Adventure Time while snuggling with my man in his onesie and our cat on the couch in our cozy tiny house. I may feel like I am struggling at times, but it’s simple little moments of bliss like these that make me realize just how great life is, and how very blessed I am to have the life I do. Especially at this time of year, the warmth and goodness that fills my life seems at sharp contrast with those whose struggles are far more burdensome than mine. As hard as it is, I urge you to open your eyes and your hearts and do whatever you can to support the less fortunate, oppressed communities and those in poverty. We all have something we can give… like perhaps a donation that could help improve an orphan’s life in a third world country, or one that could give cold neglected dogs shelter this winter?

Onesie snuggles, pizza, and Adventure Time right after getting home. Ahhh this is home and it is SO GOOD.
Onesie snuggles, pizza, and Adventure Time right after getting home. Ahhh this is home and it is SO GOOD.

And on that note, I leave you with some very inspiring words from my sister, Rachel Prusynski, who may be my little sister but is also one of my heroines. I have always loved this speech (and admired her bravery for being able to deliver it so eloquently) that she gave at the high school graduation ceremony of the high school we both attended, only 5 years after she had graduated from there, in 2010. I re-read and remember these words whenever I am feeling the weight of my own problems that seem to eclipse the rest of the world. Reading this helps me to put things in perspective and realize just how lucky I am with what I already have in life.  I realized the only place I could find the text of this speech was on her Facebook page, so I am sharing the speech here to give this inspiring message a bit of a wider audience. Hope you don’t mind, sis, but I just have to share this brilliance with the world. <3

Rachel Prusynski’s Bishop Kelly High School Graduation speech 5/30/2010

Thank you and good afternoon. I feel very honored to be here.
But I do have a confession to make. When I was thinking about what I wanted to talk to you about today, I realized that I don’t remember the subject of the speech, or even who the speaker was, five years ago at my own graduation from BK. I apologize to whoever that person is, but I figure either I was too preoccupied by my itchy graduation gown to pay attention, or maybe the speaker just didn’t make enough of an impact on me. So I decided that while I can’t do anything about that horrible polyester tarp that you’re wearing, if nothing else, even if I can’t inspire you or change your life in my allotted 5-8 minutes, at least maybe I’ll say something that will strike you enough that you’ll remember it five years from now.

But first I have a second confession. I’m barely twenty-three years old, just graduated high school in 2005, and I have no idea what I’m doing here. What could I have possibly done in the five short years that are separating me from you that gives me enough infinite wisdom to qualify me to send you off to the next stage in your life? It could have something to do with the fact that Mr. Coulter sat in the audience when I spoke to my college graduating class and he liked what I had to say. But more likely it has to do with the fact that I’ve seen and lived through things in places around the world that not many twenty-three year olds have been fortunate enough, but also unlucky enough, to experience.

But here’s where I want to start with you. Guess what? High School is nothing like real life. No matter if that realization elicits feelings of excitement, gratitude, or remorse and panic, it’s true. Everything is about to change. Everything. Even the part of your brain, called your orbital gyrus, that determines your beliefs, personality, morality, and behavior hasn’t stopped developing. That fact may have just made some parents in the audience breathe a massive sigh of relief, but it’s true. Everything could change starting today, but only if you allow it to.

I know that the next four years, no matter where you’re headed, will offer a ridiculously overwhelming amount of options for you. But coming from the same seat you’re all sitting in, here’s one thing that I wish somebody had told me. No matter what your plans are, I encourage you to leave. Go. As far away as possible and as many times as possible. Leaving, going anywhere else at some point in college or the next stage of your life, is probably one of the best ways to allow all sorts of changes to happen. And don’t think that even if you’re headed out of state or across the country for college, that that necessarily counts. Realize that an idyllic ivy-covered college campus in New England can be just as sheltered of an environment as staying at home with your parents. Speaking of parents, when I asked my mom what she thought I should say today, she told me not to forget about speaking to the parents. Even though my own mom and dad almost lost me to a collapsed building in Haiti, my mother still said I needed to tell you to not be afraid to let your children leave. Because there are things in this world that just don’t exist here. And these things need to be witnessed firsthand, encountered at close range, for the true magnitude of the experience to be felt and any sort of real lesson to be learned.

So I want to share with you some of my own firsthand painfully close-up experiences that I allowed to change everything for me. As a disclaimer, I will mention that what I’m going to say is similar to what I spoke about last year at the University of Portland’s commencement ceremony. That’s not because I didn’t have time to write a new speech, but because even after the earthquake in Haiti changed everything; after it turned my world upside down; after it made me question some of the most fundamental beliefs I had carried with me, not only did what I am about to share with you survive the upheaval that Haiti brought to my life, but it was strengthened by it. The thoughts I shared with my own graduating class a year ago were fortified by my experience in Haiti, and when you can ride a seven-story building to the ground and be trapped under rubble and get evacuated by helicopter to Cuba because of injuries, and when your best friend who gave a year of her life to work with orphans and kids with mental disabilities dies in that same rubble you were pulled from, when all that can happen and you still believe in something, when that something is all you have left and you are able to rebuild off of that foundation and pick up the pieces and live on, you know the foundation is good.

My foundation is something I call the original birthday gift. And I’m about to tell you what that means.

I’ve spent some time in the two poorest countries in the western hemisphere; Haiti and Nicaragua. They are beautiful, but also terrible. Traveling to these types of places is not a vacation, it is not relaxing, it is not even pleasant half the time. But what I brought back with me, my foundation, was a million times worth it.

In Haiti I held babies that at three and a half months old were only about the size of a grapefruit, I hugged children born with AIDS who never knew the mothers that gave them their death sentence, I did physical therapy with kids stricken by entirely preventable diseases like meningitis and malnutrition. In Nicaragua I drove through a massive landfill called La Chureca and watched thousands of people dig through mountains of burning garbage looking for food or something valuable enough to sell. The young girls who lived in the dump would be sold as prostitutes to the garbage truck drivers so their families could eat. The little boy I saw climbing over a pile of trash would never have an education, much less a full stomach.

And that’s when I realized something. Something so important that if you have not listened to a word I have said so far, if you are like me and won’t remember this speech in five years, please listen now. Haiti and Nicaragua and all of my travel experiences have taught me one essential thing. I did nothing, absolutely nothing, to ensure that it wasn’t me that was born into that garbage dump or born with AIDS to a mother that abandoned me. None of us chose to be born into these lives where we have food and clean water and families that can afford to send us to BK and maybe to college. We did not earn this incredible blessing. It was a gift. An original birthday gift.

You are here through no fault or effort of your own. You are probably healthy and full from breakfast and you have a high school education and a future, all stemming from your original birthday gift.

But there’s a bit of a catch. It’s as if your original birthday gift made you start your life already in the red and in debt to the world. As potential future college students figuring out student loans and how to pay for school, you’re probably thinking “great, more debt. The last thing I need.” But original birthday gift debt isn’t monetary, it just comes with some responsibilities. All you have to do is try to start deserving your gift. And the great thing is, every morning you wake up, you have a new chance to do something extraordinary. And please don’t think that you have to be a valedictorian or a world traveler or someone rich and famous to do it. My friend Molly that died after deciding to move to Haiti to work with orphans had an average grade point average, slept til noon, ate copious amounts of Taco Bell, and had an unhealthy obsession with Diet Dr. Pepper and America’s Next Top Model. She is the perfect example that ordinary people can do extraordinary things. I can’t tell you how to give back, or which of your talents to use to pay back your debt. But I know you’ll find your way to give back to the world in exchange for your original birthday gift. But know that you have the power to turn your life into one big thank you note. But the last thing I want to say is that Molly is also the perfect example that you have to start writing that thank you note now because you never know what might happen, so please wake up tomorrow and start paying back your debt. Don’t let today be the best day of your life.

Thank you.

All I can think of to say after that is: Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you, for my original birthday gift. I strive to keep trying (and trying harder) to live my life as one long thank you note. I hope you’ll join me. 🙂

Don’t Wanna Be Just Another Gringa in Paradise

The best adventures challenge and change you, push your comfort levels and open your eyes, and this journey definitely accomplished that and more. Nicaragua presented harsh realities in contrast with beautiful glimmers of hope, the grit and the grime of third world poverty alongside gorgeous beach sunsets in a tourist’s paradise. Not to mention the contrasts between the polished and touristy Costa Rica we just visited, affluent and expensive compared to most of Nicaragua… To say the least, I have come home a different person than when I left. And that is precisely why I travel.

Hectic Managua Markets, Nicaragua 2014Tola at Magic Hour, Nicaragua 2014Touring Managua, Nicaragua 2014

During our last few days in Nicaragua, we hopped in a new friend’s car for a little day trip. Vera had gone with us to Playa Quizala and offered to take us on a tour of Granada and Laguna de Apoyo. First we stopped by her parents’ place on the outskirts of Managua. It was a beautiful gated complex full of well-tended fruit trees of every kind. We went crazy picking mangoes, avocados, guavas, starfruit, mint, tamarind pods, hibiscus flowers, limes, oranges, mandarins, grapefruit, bananas, and several fruits that were totally new to us. I will definitely miss the abundance of tropical fruit more than just about anything else in Central America.

On our way to Granada, we stopped at a viewpoint above Laguna de Apoyo, a crater lake formed by a volcano, and had a nice view and a quesillo from a street vendor. A bit later we were in the colorful cobblestone streets of Granada, which was colonial and a bit European looking and reminded me a lot of Arequipa, Peru. We drove through the town, which was flanked by a volcano and the enormous Lago de Nicaragua. We stopped for delicious Mediterranean food and walked around the town square, which was in a state of awkward celebration since it was St. Patrick’s Day. There were lots of people in the streets, large dancing puppets on display and music playing, so we had a beer, haggled with street vendors and enjoyed the absurdity of Americans celebrating an Irish holiday in Central America. We all agreed that it sure beat the drunken shitshows going on in most North American cities.

Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua 2014 Artisans Near Masaya, Nicaragua 2014 Evening in Granada, Nicaragua 2014 Evening in Granada, Nicaragua 2014

On our way back to Managua, we stopped in Laguna de Apoyo in hopes of finding a place to stay for the night, but the hostels were all full. We got drinks at a hostel instead, with a nice bar overlooking the lagoon. The full moon was shining over the deep crater lake, and we decided to go skinny dipping in the lagoon to cool off. The water was perfect and we swam out to a dock to dive in and actually got a bit chilly in the water. It was a perfect night for a moonlit swim.

Full Moon at Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua 2014

The next day, we took a bus to Masaya, a bustling artisan town with big markets. We headed to the market that more locals shop at with better prices first, it was much busier, grittier, and more chaotic, but the prices were great. We got dried hibiscus flowers and cacao beans, gifts to take home and a snack. The market sold everything from hammocks to cheesy souvenirs to kitchen items to machetes to shoes. It was full of young kids who were weaving items out of palm fronds, then attempting to hand them to passers by so they could ask for money. They would literally force things into your hand or hang them on you, then come back and ask for money later. They were very creative and talented, but it broke my heart to see young kids that should be in school persistently selling useless gimmicks for pennies while they huffed glue hidden in their shirts outside the markets. The shop keepers were also very persistent and outgoing, trying to lure us into their shops with a few English words and colorful decorations. We didn’t have much money to spend, but James got a bag, I got some gifts and locally made souvenirs, and Genevieve and Ruben each got colorful duffel bags full of gifts and goodies.

Humorous Handicrafts at a Masaya Market, Nicaragua 2014

After the busy first market and some food, we decided to check out the other market on the other side of town and took a tuk-tuk over to it. This market was quite upscale compared to the last one. It was inside a castle-like fortress and had neat, organized stalls full of mostly touristy handicrafts and souvenirs. The prices were at least double what they were in the local market and it felt a lot less “real” but it was interesting to see the contrast. We shopped a bit and had a smoothie before catching a bus back to Managua.

On our last night in Managua, James’s dad threw us a going away party, and lots of friends we had met in Nicaragua came to say goodbye and convince us even more heartily to come back soon. We made veggie kebabs and meat on the grill and had lots of mojitos and local beer. It was a great reminder of all we’d gotten to do on our short trip: making connections by performing for people, volunteering, and exploring a few epic spots as we talked with some of the new friends we had made.

At the party I talked a woman who ran a children’s center for street kids, and she mentioned how easy it is to plug in and find a way to help down there, especially with skills and money from North America. People there want to work with Americans, and there are SO MANY opportunities to get involved and make a difference.

Everywhere we went, I noticed lots of litter and a lack of recycling facilities, tiny pregnant kittens and an abundance of skinny street dogs because spaying and neutering programs are nonexistent, kids living off of nothing and selling stuff on the street who should be learning in school, not to mention people begging, sleeping in the streets, and living in squalor. But I also saw so many signs of promise, creative solutions being put into practice, resourceful people willing to learn and wonderful organizations doing great work to better the lives of Nicaraguans. And I was so impressed with the people, who are in general curious, welcoming, open-minded, politically and historically aware, worldly, conscious, spirited, resourceful, creative and hard-working. As soon as I stepped on the plane home, I wanted to go back. I need to go back. I’m not done with Nicaragua yet.

Pretty much as soon as we arrived in Managua, James and I were convinced we would be back as soon as we could afford to. His dad has a nice home set up with room to spare, and connections with all sorts of forward-thinking people who are involved with exciting projects. He also got us a gig performing with glow toys at a benefit, and even though our impromptu show was awkward and last-minute, we have been invited to come back for more performances and to teach flow arts workshops. The next time we return, we hope to come armed with props to give out to Nicaraguan students, or at least supplies to make props and then teach people how to use them. Which means we both need to learn the art of teaching, a lot more spinning practice, and to brush up on our Spanish skills. We spun fire on the beach twice while in Nicaragua, and everyone who saw it was really interested and excited to learn more. We met a couple fellow spinners and even showed a few random street kids and some new friends a bit about spinning poi and flow wand. Flow arts provided a way for us to instantly connect with people there, and everyone was eager to learn more, which is a wonderful sign and gives us a lot to work on for our next trip! Of course we will get more involved with existing organizations doing good work in Nicaragua, but we can also work on bringing a little something of our own to people who could use a creative outlet and a unique set of new skills.

It is good to be back home, sleeping in my own comfy bed where cuddling doesn’t instantly mean being too sweaty to sleep and I can actually flush toilet paper down the toilet. We may still be in drought and have very little water pressure, but we have hot water and it’s available on demand, 24/7. I have internet, my own computer, my new iPhone replaced with insurance, and work to return to. I have Mendocino rain, my garden and friends…

But as I unpack and sift through the memories from my month abroad, I am filled with a deep need to U-turn and book the next flight back to Managua. I understand even more now why my sister returns to Haiti every year. Being in the third world opens your eyes to the myriad ways we can help our fellow earthlings and make a difference. It also forces you to stare your privilege in the face and leaves you feeling intensely grateful for everything you have in life. I came home so full of gratitude and very inspired. It’s an amazing elated feeling, especially considering how broke I am after that long trip!

I hope to return to Nicaragua for an extended period in the future. Perhaps I can bring my computer and work from there for a few months. We can teach flow arts, get involved with local organizations, and become immersed in Spanish and a completely different culture. I wouldn’t mind a bigger dose of the humility that comes from doing without the comforts I am used to, adjusting to a new environment and being an outsider looking in on how different cultures live. I can see why James calls Nicaragua his second home, and it has more to do with how the place feels than the fact that he went to fourth and fifth grade there. I feel the magnetism of home in Nicaragua, and it will definitely pull me back.

Nothing compares to immersing yourself in the culture of a foreign place, coming out of the shell of your day to day routine to intertwine your life with those of others in different far-away places. The thrill of the road, the chaos of chicken buses and bustling markets and chatter in a language you barely understand, swallowing a bit of salt water after getting tossed by ocean waves, jumping off a waterfall into a cold pool, not knowing where you’ll sleep the next night or where the road will take you is incomparable and essential to the evolution and fulfillment of a well-rounded life. I would not be the person I am today had it not been for travel, for tales of adventure heard and read, for road trips and Girl Scout camp, for National Parks and backpacking, for long flights to Europe and hooping at Machu Picchu. To travel and see new things is to experience life to the fullest, and inspired by my recent journey, I go back home and back to work as my recent experiences percolate through my mind and remain near to my heart…

Adios, Central America. I will return. Next time with more Spanish skills, hula hoops, poi, the ability to teach flow arts in Spanish, money, and more time to spend there. Gracias por todo, mis nuevos amigos. <3

Check out more photos from our trip on Flickr.

Attitude of Gratitude

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday (as long as you ignore its homicidal historical roots) and a great reminder for us to be thankful for everything we have. It’s been nice seeing people share things they are grateful for online rather than complaints, but unfortunately it’s often the only time many people even think to count their blessings or focus on what they’re grateful for. The fact that it’s followed immediately by “Black Friday” which has become an increasingly dangerous and disgusting display of rampant consumerism gone wrong makes it seem all the more trivial – how ironic is it that people are trampling each other to get into mega-stores to buy more useless crap the day after giving thanks for everything they already have?

So keep counting your blessings at Thanksgiving, but having and expressing gratitude is most beneficial when it’s done every day and is part of your lifestyle. In fact, having what I like to call an “attitude of gratitude” and expressing gratitude regularly has been proven to increase happiness. Sweet!

A few years ago, I was going through a rough breakup and a lot of life changes, in debt and broke, and felt truly alone for the first time in my life. Luckily I have always been an optimist, and I have a wonderful support network of family and friends, but it was a pretty dark time in my life when I wasn’t making great decisions or feeling good about much at all. One thing I did to help bring myself out of this slump, which I first heard about from a good friend who worked at Cafe Gratitude for a summer in Berkeley, was to start asking myself regularly, “What are you grateful for?” and keeping a gratitude journal where I write down something I am grateful for each day (or at least as often as I remember). I discovered over time that SO much of how I felt and how happy I was depended on where my focus and my thoughts were. When I made time to think about what I was grateful for, and express that gratitude by writing it down or sharing it with others, I realized just how many things I had to be thankful for in life, and I began seeing the positive in every situation. It became apparent to me that we really do create our own realities – and we have the power to shift our focus and perspective, which can truly shift our entire lives. Looking back now, that dark time in my life wasn’t a negative at all – it was a necessary and painful ending of my old life and a chance for me to forge ahead and create the new life I desired all on my own terms.

I am a much happier person now than I ever have been simply because I choose to notice and focus on the positive things that I am grateful for in life, rather than worrying about all the bad things that have happened or could happen, and seeking out or dwelling on negativity. Your thoughts and words have power, as do your actions and your choices. Why give the negative things in life MORE power by thinking of them incessantly, complaining about them to friends, and in general spending your energy generating this negativity? Why not focus on the positive and what you do like, count your blessings and tell yourself that you’re ok and things will get better? Staying positive can be difficult in tough situations, but it certainly can’t do any harm.

I think it was Buddha who said “What we think, we become,” and he’s right. Our thoughts inform our speech, our actions, our beliefs, and our lives. We have the power to manifest anything we put our minds to. Focusing on positivity leads to more positivity, while focusing on negativity leads to more negativity. It really is that simple. Being constantly down and dwelling on what’s wrong, comparing yourself to others and complaining about what you don’t have is only going to lead you to more of the same – negativity. Smiling through your tears, thinking of everything you do have to be grateful for, and focusing on the silver linings and celebrating small victories in life will bring more positivity and more happiness. Having an attitude of gratitude leads to living a happier, more fulfilling life. Or at least it’s working pretty damn well for me!

So, what are you grateful for?

Finding my Flow(mily)

Ever since Earthdance in September 2008 when I purchased my first hula hoop and began my journey into hooping, spinning, and the flow arts, I have been slowly connecting with and becoming a part of the wonderful flow arts community I call my “flowmily.” Flow arts is a relatively new art form that draws together influences from a variety of related movement art forms: martial arts, dance, juggling, circus arts, ancient cultural dance forms, and all kinds of object manipulation meld together and influence flow artists. We’re all seeking and sharing a love of the state of flow that comes from the concentration, movement, and discovery that learning the variety of forms of “movement meditation” provides.

Flow Temple beautifully describes the “flow state” that we can arrive at by many means, and which seems to come naturally with the flow and movement arts.

Flow is the state of relaxed responsive focus that you feel when you’re “in the zone” and ready for anything.  Flow is the state of optimal experience that occurs when your body, mind, and spirit are in dynamic balance. It’s what’s happening when the Now is so compelling that everything else fades away. Ego and fear dissolve in the perfect moment, time slows down, and whatever you are doing becomes a meditation. Flow tows the fine line between controlling your actions and obeying your commands.  You know when you’re in the flow, and flowing is half the battle. Where will and physics intersect, we hone our own flow.

My first introduction to fire spinning was seeing people spin fire at Okanogan Family Faire, a fall barter faire in northern Washington that I began going to in 2002. Seeing someone dance with fire was one of the coolest things my 19-year-old eyes had ever seen, but at that point, I never in a million years imagined that I would ever be able to do it! A few friends of mine were into hula hooping, but it was something I was never much good at until I finally bought a BIG, heavy rattan hula hoop from Holistic Hooping at Earthdance in 2008. I had always felt klutzy and uncoordinated, so hooping did not come naturally to me and I had to push through the awkwardness and keep spinning even though I didn’t feel graceful with it. I started practicing with that big hoop despite the bruised hips and failed attempts at grace, and soon was having hoop groups with my friends and exploring the world of hoopdance.

Through festivals like barter fairesFireDrums , Burning Man, and in my local community in my new home on the Mendocino Coast, I began seeing more and more hoopers and spinners. I haven’t always had the time to make regular practice a big part of my life, but the more I have gotten into it, the more amazing, inspirational, open-hearted and brilliant people I have met through the flow arts. A few of my good friends and I began hooping on the beaches and the bluffs regularly, and we all encouraged each other and shared as we learned. One of those hooper friends, Kelsie, started making hoops, and she now runs a hoop company, Sacred Shape. We launched her web site in fall 2013!

I have made and deepened so many friendships through spinning. Some of my fondest flow memories brought me full circle back to OFF barter faire, when 5 friends and I performed together as Kushi Tala and spun fire for our barter faire family in 2010. We were asked to come back again in 2011 and performed both Friday and Saturday nights to an even bigger, more enthusiastic crowd. I had only been spinning fire for a year in 2010 (my virgin burn with a fire hoop was at the same barter faire in 2009) but I was with friends who had been spinning for years and with their support, I felt ready to share my newfound love of this art form with the world. I have had the opportunity to perform at several small events since then, and though I don’t consider myself a professional performer yet by any means, it is always really rewarding seeing people’s response to the flow arts. It has even become a tradition for me to spin fire for my family when everyone is gathered for the holidays.

At FireDrums in 2011, my first fire spinning focused festival, I expanded my object manipulation universe past the hoop and began picking up fire fans and flow wand (or levitation wand). Flow wand has quickly become my favorite prop to dance with. It feels so natural to me that even though hooping will always be my first love, I feel that flow wand is my “native prop” – it is truly an extension of myself and it’s a very accessible way to reach the flow state. My first wand was just a simple practice wand from the wonderful company my friend Erik works for, FlowToys. When I got their LED flowlight wand for Christmas, it became my constant companion, and it’s still my favorite flow toy to take to shows or concerts or anywhere I may not have the space to hoop.

Flow has brought so many wonderful experiences, insights, and people into my life, and I am eternally grateful for the inspiring community I am becoming a part of. But there is one connection that stands out in my mind as the greatest gift the flow arts has ever brought me… and that is my sexy poi-spinning sweetie, James (Flicker). Around Halloween in 2012, James and I were asked by a mutual friend to spin fire at the Fuzzy Nights Halloween party at The Caspar Inn. We’d known of each other via Facebook (and it’s a very small spinning community in Mendo) but we hadn’t really spun together or hung out until that night. We had a little impromptu fire jam outside the party that night and became friends pretty much immediately. I was excited to find someone locally who was as excited about spinning as I was, and it helped that he was a DJ who happened to have very similar tastes in music as me, so our paths continued to cross and intertwine and out of our friendship blossomed the most beautiful love I’ve ever experienced.

After local hoopers spotted me LED hooping on Halloween, I began going to a hoop group at a dance studio that fall, and soon we had opened it up to other forms of spinning and flow arts and I began helping to organize weekly spin jams. Of course I invited James to come spin, and despite being the only guy and the only poi spinner for the first few months as we generated interest, he stuck it out and helped recruit people, and we now organize spin jams twice a week together. Having a partner in flow that helps me nurture and grow our local flow community has been amazing, and this is just the beginning! We make a wonderful team and I am so grateful that circus arts and playing with fire brought us together and gives us something to continue growing and learning in.

Flicker and Twisty Gypsy Spinning Fire

I am grateful for many many things in life, but especially for the gifts that flow arts and my beautiful flowmily have given me. One of my new life missions has become learning and absorbing everything I can about circus arts, practicing and tuning my body, mind, and spirit so that I can best express myself and share the love of flow arts with others. It has truly transformed my life and I’ll always love the world of flow.

I close this long rambling love letter to the flow arts in my life with a beautiful video FlowToys released wrapping up their 2013 festival season. There are many familiar faces in this video and fellow flow ninja Jonathan Alvarez put it together. Let it be the first of many inspiring flow videos I share here!