California, My Hippie Heart, and a Beachy Buddha

Being San Diego bred, my soul is naturally infused with those hippie, sea-salt-encrusted, save-the-whales, be-one-with-the-earth type of beliefs.

“You’re so Cali,” people in Texas tell me.

I cringe and stare down at my mint Vans or chocolate brown Rainbows. Never say Cali in my presence. It is truly not a real word, but it is the best indicator of who is not from California. I can just feel all of my California readers fervently nodding their heads along to the rhythm of this paragraph. Cali is a horrible, horrible word. But alas, we are all rooted to different corners of the Earth, and so things like this are forgivable (when I push my little California attitude aside).

I cannot, however, push my California soul aside.

I am a free spirit, a dreamer, and a happy soul seeker. I crave sunshine as others do richly hued wine. The ocean nourishes, recharges, and refreshes me; it is my medication and meditation. Wading to my knees or slicing through waves, the ocean is everything—a place for solitude, gathering, thinking, laughing. The ocean is core work, balance and breathing techniques, subtle scares of seaweed around the ankle, and melting layers of sunscreen. The water is liquid magic. It is like this icy radiance that swirls around my body, enveloping me in sloppy, lapping hugs and salty kisses. Navy water is stitched with white foam, spilling over from wave to wave.

Overcome by the brilliance of creation, I think of the artist Himself: “The Earth is full of His unfailing love. By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth. He gathers the waters of the sea into jars. He puts the deep into storehouses.” (Psalms 33:5-7)

I am (unabashedly) a Christian. I am also a religion major, and so it is my “job” to examine a multitude of religious traditions utilizing epoche, a way to bracket off personal biases. Being so firm in my faith and my adoration of Christ, I am able to see other people’s religious traditions as just that—other people’s religious traditions, which neither offend nor threaten me or my beliefs. There are certainly practices that I am uncomfortable with or don’t understand, but the beauty of Christ is that he loves everyone, so I strive to cultivate the same loving, open mindset when I explore these traditions. 

As a scholar of religion, I delight in drawing similarities between Buddha’s teachings (500 years before Jesus), and the teachings of Christ—my rock and salvation and gentle shepherd. One of the things I love about Buddhism is the Eightfold Path, as part of the Fourth Noble Truth (the path to the end of suffering). The Eightfold Path is divided into three sections:

-       Mindfulness: Meditation practice

-       Virtue: Morals and being a good little earthling and buddy to others

-       Wisdom: Learning, blooming, growing, and evolving every day

The other thing I love about Buddhism is the strong emphasis on the Earth—preserving it, loving it, nurturing it. Way back when (and potentially still in some areas), Buddhist monks and nuns were not allowed to travel during rainy season, for fear that they would accidentally step on insects and other creatures lodged in the mud (the same is true in Jainism; Jains believe all sentient beings have “jivas,” or living souls).

About a month ago, I was browsing through Mind Body Green and came across this explanation of why “om” (or “aum”) is significant to those who practice meditation and chanting.

“Everything in the universe is pulsating and vibrating – nothing is really standing still. The sound Om, when chanted, vibrates at the frequency of 432 Hz, which is the same vibrational frequency found throughout everything in nature. As such AUM is the basic sound of the universe; so by chanting it we are symbolically and physically tuning in to that sound and acknowledging our connection to all other living beings, nature and the universe.”

(Radical)

The way I see it, living beings, nature, and the universe are all created by God. This element of creation binds us in relationship with the Earth—just as God cares for us, he cares for how the lilies grow.

And so, in a sort of "Beach Buddha" manner, I leave you with this nugget of wisdom (let’s say crystal of wisdom, and make me even more of a hippie soul):

“With each inhale, lift your heart closer to the sun. With each exhale, root your feet more deeply in the ground (or perhaps... the sand).”

Be in this world, not of it. Believe in the magic of creation. Be gentle to the earth. And while you’re at it, eat wholesome and clean foods, seeds instead of grains, lots of leafy greens, and meet me at the beach.

Namaste.


Joyfully in Christ-

(And happily en route to California for spring break)

Feeling Restless: The Monotony of Routine

"When I look at the galaxies on a clear night--when I look at the incredible brilliance of creation, and think that this is what God is like, instead of feeling intimidated and diminished by it, I am enlarged--I rejoice that I am part of it." - Madeleine L'Engle

I needed a change. I felt restless but rooted; each subsequent day overflowed with equal parts urgency and apathy. How had I let myself become so entangled in monotony? I was reluctant to unclench my palms, letting go of my familiar, comforting, dull, maddening routine.

I tried to push the feeling back down, but it kept sprouting up again. Tireless and consistent, the feeling that I needed to change something felt as if God were knocking on the caverns of my mind, shouting joyfully, “Wake up! Wake up, my daughter! Taste and see the world! I can give you a new perspective if you simply ask me. Wake up, sweet daughter!”

 

& so I got up.

 

I flung open the windows, and blasted John Mayer (the man of my dreams—that “beautiful, tortured soul”). I pulled a few pots and pans on tiptoe from the cupboard, and gathered ingredients. I brought water to a rolling boil, and added pasta. In another pan, I began making a humble, homemade sauce with thick diced tomatoes and little bunches of minced garlic. I moved all of the furniture in the adjacent living room to the edges of the walls, gifting me with luscious floor space. I piled blankets and pillows on the carpet, filled a glass with water and ice and lemon, and put on my favorite “playclothes.”

The breeze drifted through the wide-open windows, as the curtains snapped joyfully in the wind and the sauce bubbled deliciously on the stove. Something about the simple act of moving the furniture and letting in the Earth’s breath made me feel like my little cottage-y apartment was completely new. For a lingering moment, the ordinary—my little herb garden, the guitar jauntily propped against the wall, and the rollout piano stretched across the floor—was thrilling and novel and fresh.

It’s easy to drift into Tedium’s grasp; she gluttonously laps up every drop of novelty, and robs us of our happiness. It's especially easy for students to slip into routine--a huge chunk of our lives is scheduled out and penciled in, neglecting spontaneity.

We have our favorite spot in the library, that one food that we have at least 3 times a week, and the shirt we seem to wear every day. Even the Friday Night-ers are adamant in the order that they “hit the bars.” Routine is a college thing. We aren’t mindful about the food we consume, the conversations we have, or how long we sleep. This heedless “auto-pilot” mode leaves us flighty and distracted, or stressed when the test we were “meaning to study for” is suddenly staring maliciously up at us from the desk.

There is little time for real whimsy or exploration. We wake up—three or four alarms later—and roll over to check Facebook, Twitter, texts, email, and Instagram in tandem, a faithful servant to connectivity. We spend a few moments sitting on the bathroom counter and staring in shock at our reflection (raccoon eyes, knotted hair, a zit, a weird cheek indentation from sleeping strangely...).

Climbing back into my beddish, blankety ocean between classes is no longer a cozy treat. Naps don’t connote restfulness or relaxation, but exhaustion and negligence. Packing a snack to enjoy during long day of schooling no longer alludes to elementary school lunches (sandwich with the crust cut off, veggies in a baggie). Lipstick and perfume and a swipe of mascara no longer wink of date nights or dinners. I am thrilled by these things when they happen rarely; routine unpacks pleasure when small joys become daily actions. I’m extremely analytical and introspective, so when I began to dismantle my feelings of apathy (basically just a case of the “blah’s”), I realized how many other areas of my life echoed the same passive, lethargic, indifference (more “blah’s). The biggest one broke my heart—I'd forgotten the magic of creation.

When was the last time you looked up at the stars and thought, “God made those, in all of their fiery, interplanetary wonder, and he still made me”? Or when was the last time you even looked at the stars?

I am broken and sinful, easily discouraged, and self-indulgent. There are very few days when I feel quite as radiant as the celestial bodies, and even fewer days when I feel as significant or purposeful. Stars just know what to do—they are kindled, then burn and shine for trillions of years, illuminating our backyard campouts, guiding sailors home safely, and proclaiming the place of Christ’s birth. And me? I go to school. I eat lunch. I swim, run, or walk. I sleep. How can I even compare to God’s mighty creation?

This is the magnificent part—we need not be intimidated. We can rejoice simply because we are a part of it (Madeleine L'Engle). Neither tedium nor apathy can erase the marvel of creation. Nothing can wipe away my astonishment that we are special elements of a macrocosmic masterpiece. Routine will still attempt to steal my joy and hamper my productivity. Monotony will still seek to blanket my purpose, but just knowing that I am a small (yet meaningful) part of the brilliance of creation is enough for today.

» Instead of Waiting for Someone to Bring You Flowers: Romance, God, & A Very Messy Heart

“And so you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul, instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.” | V. Shoffstall, After a While

I’ve always loved February 14th. I like pink and chocolate (& pink chocolate), flowers and stacks of love-laden cards.

I loved Valentine’s Day in elementary school. It was so exciting and so sweetly innocent. We would all cover little shoeboxes with wrapping paper and carry them proudly in the crook of our elbows, other arm lugging candy-stuffed valentines (one for everyone in the class—that was the rule) in a giant plastic baggie. The teacher would give us an entire afternoon to parade around the classroom, dropping candy into each other’s boxes, simultaneously nibbling heart-shaped cookies and giggling over “who likes who.”

The best was the first grade. My mom sewed me a beautiful dress with a swishy hemline to wear to school on Valentine’s Day. There were puffy sleeves, white pearl buttons and little white hearts peppered on the red cotton. There was a special assembly that day, where the police came to talk about “fighting bad guys,” and I was privileged enough to be picked to sit in the police car (as an envious crowd looked on). It really was the best day ever.

In later years, when my perfect little dress was passed onto a neighbor or folded neatly in a box, I still wore pink or red to school on February 14th, bringing with me a bulging bag of valentines and a huge smile.

I am a romantic when it comes to life, and unabashedly so. I have a soft and sensitive heart and a curious mind. I love making small moments special, and delighting in the little things—sunshine on the pavement, fresh-cut tulips, a sandwich wrapped in wax paper and tied with baker’s twine. If I could paint the interiors of my mind, it would be saturated with a happy and sunny yellow, with touches of seafoam green and big, joyful splashes of pink.

I love loving others and making small efforts to bring them joy. I love loving the little things in life. I love loving God because He is so gentle with me, and the Holy Spirit because it/He (let’s get theological, friends!) is what fills me with peace and joy and a zest for life when I make the conscious effort to both pray and praise. I love my parents and friends, professors and major. I love my beachy home and Texas sweet tea.

There are little pieces of my heart all over the world; I love a lot of people and places and things...but I don’t love romantic love.

I’ve always been comfortable being independent. I’ve dated, but never seriously, and singleness has always brought a genuine sense of relief. Once I settled into college life and had close friends and sorority sisters who were, gulp, engaged, my glorification of independence started to chip and crumble. Did I need someone else? I was, for the first time in a long time, questioning whether or not I was behind in the rat race of romance. My soft heart, once rooted in self-reliance, and saturated with patience, confidence, and trust in God’s plan, began to feel a little bit bruised and a lot a bit sad.

Once in college, wearing pink on Valentine’s Day didn’t bring me the same joy. While neighbors in the dorms received elaborate rose bouquets from loving boyfriends near and far, I had a brown paper box from my mom filled with treats and bits of home, and my family’s comforting words to cling to. I remember wondering how in the world everyone got so...grown up. Did I miss some crucial step in the aging process that would fashion me into an adult, stripping me of my pink-wearing, valentine-making, mom-loving nature?

The feeling lingered, drifting into the following year and colonizing the present moment. I already made valentines, and I still plan on wearing pink, but I have been dreading Friday’s festivities—or lack of festivities—for the past two weeks. My heart has been a little glum and (always) anxious. While I have always taken comfort in giving my other anxieties to God, turning to Him about romantic love felt unimportant and just embarrassing. Where would I begin?

Thank God for God. He saw me wrestling with my thoughts. “My daughter,” he said fondly, holding my hand. “I will love you more than any man—any boy­—ever can. Run to my arms. If you let me, I can be all you need.” We talked for a while. It wasn’t pretty at first—there were frustrated prayers and anxious tears. When I no longer had words for the overflowing, overwhelming feelings that were bubbling up, I took pen to paper.

The ink became thread, stitching together letters to explain the feelings I couldn’t verbalize. The words became a sea, swirling around my knees. The pen became my avenue to God. The page became His invitation to the wild soiree in my heart.

 

And then He hugged me. My entire body felt like it had been soaked in a warm lavender bath, or enveloped by a blanket from the dryer, warmth still lingering.  I no longer had to—have to—limp along alone. Since Sunday school, I’ve known he is “with” me, as He is omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient. What I didn’t grasp was that he is actually with me, a coalescence of the compassionate King and his humble servant. He is with me because his spirit fills me. It’s this radical, boundless love that reminds me I don’t need to be independent or romantically linked. I don’t have to be anything but His daughter. I am the daughter of a King who is not moved by the world. For my God is with me and goes before me. I do not fear because I am His.

 

“Dance with God and He'll let the perfect man cut in.”

Happy Valentine's Day (week?), friend.

...And now I feel like wearing pink.

 

Regressing to Happiness

The other day, out of curiosity, I logged into my old Twitter account that I used freshman year of college.

I suppose by regular standards, my account isn’t particularly “old,” since I utilized it last year, yet I feel like I change so frequently that even my journal entries from last week are old news.

Scrolling and scrolling and scrolling through my tweets (illustrating a definite addiction to those 140 little characters), I had the strangest feeling that I was reading the tweets of a sweet and happy friend, or an optimistic mentor, rather than reading tweets of my own creation. I spoke to the world (in concise, twitterlike fashion) about the importance of attitude, the joys of Mondays, and the sweetness of random rainstorms. I rewind in my mind to this morning, trudging back to my apartment from class in the sticky heat and pouring rain—did I find that joyful? I used to.

I used to unearth the sweet and simple joys of life around me. I used to actively search for the good in chaos and conflict and confrontation, rather than quickly surrendering and moping. I used to smile a lot. I used to laugh so loudly that I would surprise others around me with my zeal and lightheartedness. I used to be adventurous and determined to live a life of “oh well’s” than “what if’s.” I want to return to this genuine, optimistic me. I miss my happy heart and light, cheerful attitude. I miss my sweetness that somehow has given way to extreme anxiety and stress that is often coupled with sophomore year (they call it the "sophomore slump").

I miss putting on a summer dress for class just because it was a sunshiney day.

What Looms Ahead...

Ahead looms my greatest adventure yet. It taunts me with its speed; it possesses the ability to fast forward time. I can faintly hear little clock hands spinning frantically, vehemently forward, as the days grow shorter and the impending adventure advances. I can feel it on the horizon; I can feel it in the vicinage.

Tomorrow marks the bittersweet beginning of a four-year journey: college. I feel as though it was merely moments ago when I thought to myself half relieved and half anxious that I had 4 months… 3 months… 2 weeks… a few days… and then suddenly the day could no longer be avoided. No longer do I have the luxury of imagining what college would be like while wrapped safely in my big white bed (friends have titled it “the cloud” after it’s deliciously similar look and feel to the cotton candy condensation studding the skies). No longer do daydreams or “what if’s” suffice—now it’s time to live it.

More than anything, I feel numb. Coming from a family of (over) analysts, I’ve spent the entirety of the day (while driving 10 hours to the halfway point of New Mexico) trying to scrutinize, subdivide, catalog and classify everything I’m feeling. My conclusion, while simplistic in nature, is honest: I feel numb. I am faintly aware of a whispering excitement. I am excessively aware of my fears and anxieties. Somehow the antipodal two weave themselves together with such intricacy that I feel lost navigating through my contradicting appetite for what is new and equally overwhelming craving for familiarity.

On paper it seems simple—choose happy. How difficult could it be to simply hone in on what is positive and optimistic? Why not ignore the misery, the homesickness, the anxiety, and the adversity? I almost want to laugh at how naïve that sounds, but then I realize I could be right. Why not ignore the anxiety? Why not control my thoughts, allowing only what is beneficial to take up residency in my mind? Why not choose happy?


So I am.

Hello College.

Bigger State, Bigger Happiness: My Happiness Journey in Texas

Well, I suppose tonight marks the bittersweet closing of my Pursuit of Happiness: Part 1.

After spending a week in Texas, I’ve realized that I am no longer fantasizing about sweet California summers, but instead of Texas’ comforting blanket of warm humidity in the evenings, the contagious camaraderie spread by going dancing with complete strangers, and the (overzealous) glowing southern sun, kissing bare shoulders and flip-flopped toes. There’s something special here. Although I don’t return for almost 2 months (wahhh), I am certain that the thoughts of purple will inhabit my mind, taking up a permanent residence until sweet Texas and I are reunited once again. This summer, I plan to proudly wear my purple camp bracelet daily (composed of a worn strip of bandana and plastic beads symbolizing my goals for the upcoming year). I plan to rock—absolutely, proudly, obsessively rock—my school gear to the gym. I plan to learn my way around campus via the online tour and the oversized map inhabiting half of my bedroom wall. I plan to continue to nurture the multitude of potentially fruitful friendships that have been planted this week.

One of the roommates I had in particular this week commented on how crazy it was that “we’re actually the same person.” After spending only one night together in a dorm room (which included staying up the entire night, and then groggily regretting our lack of sleep upon 7am breakfast with my family), we built the foundations for a really wonderful friendship—all from a random room assignment. This is comforting; before this week, I was relatively unaware of the ease that is meeting new people. Not only does this appease my often-anxious mind, it is yet another factor contributing to my rapidly growing excitement for the fall semester.

How thrilled I am to permanently unpack my high school trials and tribulations! They will be left behind on the Southern California coast as I embark on an adventure all my own. Although there are about 10 people from my area of Southern California attending my university, I am confident in my newfound ability to make friends. The familiar California faces will be comforting in a crowd, however I am more thrilled by the thousands of new faces in the mix. A stranger is a friend yet to be met.

Today I spent the morning with a cappuccino (on tap in the cafeteria!), poring over a 3-inch thick stack of paper, compiling my desired classes for the fall. I was giddy. Sifting through Italian, fashion, European history, religion, and literature courses instilled an evident spring in my step. I love the learning process. I love sitting in a new class with a fresh notebook in front of me (there may be a reoccurring theme here…check out my first ever post) Beyond the excitement of a new class is the sheer ecstasy of choosing my own new classes in a subject that I am passionate about.

See you in 54 days, my burning curiosity, my amazing new friends, my potential love interests (I swear they’re there, just waiting for me), and my inspiring future professors. 54 days.

Rejoice

It's just one of those times where I have this itching, burning, yearning to rejoice!

The Lord is so good! His ways are perfect and just. I don't deserve his love, and yet he envelops me with such rich love and kindness that I  am bursting with joy. I cannot even begin to comprehend his love, power, and sacrifice. I cannot even begin to make sense of the plethora of beautiful miracles he performs constantly--instead I will simply rejoice.

I rejoice because He is my stability. When the world seems to be spinning too quickly, when my plate of things to do is overflowing, when I have too many burdens weighing down upon me, the Lord is my stability.

I rejoice because he is my fortress. He keeps me safe. I know he will never give me more than I can handle--that's just one of his completely amazing, perfect ways. He is my sanctuary to run to where I can dwell in peace.

I rejoice because he is my inspiration. Everything I do is for him. My writing, art, photography, sports...they are all bound by a common factor that is my longing to please and glorify him.

I rejoice because he loves me. Unconditionally and wholeheartedly. And that in itself, is enough for me.

Psalm 98:4: Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song of praise!