As we near the end of this year and the coming of another, many of us make resolutions for what we would like to improve upon the next time around. But it can be hard to make changes in our life when so many of our habit patterns are firmly rooted in years of repetition.

Last night the family and I watched Another Earth, an independent film that uses the backdrop of science fiction to provide a moving character drama about redemption and identity. There is a short (fictional) story that the main character tells that I thought really addressed this issue of changing our habits. Watch it below: (if you are a e-mail subscriber you must come to the main blog page to see the video)
My New Year's Resolution is to take the things I percieve as obstacles in my life and "fall in love with them" as the cosmonaut did. One of these obstacles is the anxiety I create about unknown situations. For instance, Neda and I are leaving for Thailand next week and we are both very excited about the trip. But even amidst the excitement, I have been stressing myself out trying to plan our itinerary and figure out all the logistics like appropriate visas, etc...

I know that planning is crucial to any trip, but I wish that I didn't cause myself that nervous pain in my stomach every time there is an issue I can't resolve ahead of time. Yet I also I know that to berate myself for my anxiety will actually just cause more anxiety. So like the cosmonaut in the film, I need to fall in love with this aspect of my personality so that there is room for it to change. Isn't it strange how just loving and accepting something can cause it to change when no amount of stern reprimands will do so?

I wish you all a Happy New Year! May your hindrances become your friends and your obstacles becoming your stepping stones. See you in Thailand!
 
 
Neda & I have been paying a lot of attention to the breath recently as we continue our study of yoga. Learning about the basic physiological mechanism of breath has been a spiritually revelatory process.  The main idea is that when we breathe in, the diaphragm (a muscle in our mid-section, connected to the rib cage) pushes down, expanding our chest capacity and lowering the pressure within our lungs. This open space within the lungs is quickly filled by air from the outside. Another way of looking at it is that inhalation is simply the process of making space with your lungs for the air to flow in. You don’t actually do anything – you just create space and let the universe do the rest. It begs the questions – are you breathing the air or is the air breathing you?
Picture
The diaphragm during inhalation and exhalation
As the holidays begin, the breath can be a useful reminder for all of us. The holidays are a time of high expectation as many of us come together to celebrate family and connection. Too often, however, we all try to do too much and tensions arise before we know it. What started as something we were so looking forward to can become disappointing and frustrating. This is where the analogy of the breath can be helpful. Because when we come together with family and friends over the holiday, we don’t have to do anything to make it work. We just simply need to make space for the love to flow in.

This same principle applies throughout our lives. Whenever you find yourself trying so hard for something to be right and feel like you’re just hitting your head against the wall, let a breath take you and remember that sometimes the solution is just waiting to flow in.

Here is wishing you and yours a wonderful Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Years!

 
 
As we traveled through Italy, it brought to mind for Neda & me how relatively “easy” it has been traveling through Bulgaria. Because Neda and her family speak Bulgarian as their native language, there is never really a miscommunication when dealing with others. With us only speaking a few word of Italian each, Italy was a completely different story. In San Miniato, the owner of our Bed & Breakfast, Anna, did not speak a single word of English. This led to many interesting “conversations” with Anna gesticulating, me pointing, and Neda frantically looking up words on her iPhone app.
 
These experiences brought to mind for both of us how difficult it is to communicate clearly even when speaking the same language. Everyday life is full of these little frustrations where either you feel misunderstood or make someone else feel this way. Instead of getting frustrated with each other, perhaps the solution is to metaphorically act like we are all speaking different languages even while at home. The response in a foreign country is to patiently try to uncover what the other person is saying using any creative means available (miming, pointing, finding common words). Wouldn’t it be wonderful if when misunderstanding arises between two friends, partners, or even strangers in your native country, the same patience was applied?  
Picture
The view from San Miniato
Despite some communication stumbles, we had no major falls on our “food tour” of Italy. San Miniato is a beautiful hilltop town overlooking Tuscan countryside. Our days consisted of waking up to a stunning view of the country in our little bed and breakfast before heading out on the cobblestone streets to peruse the numerous vendors lining the piazzas selling white truffles and products made with the white truffle. Lunch would be up at the top of the town, sitting with the Tower of Frederico while sharing a bottle of wine with truffle infused salami, porchetta, pecorino cheese, and chocolates. Dinner consisted of homemade tagliatelle (a pasta similar to linguini) topped with shredded truffles - delicious!

Picture
The Leaning Tower

Next our travels brought us to Pisa, where we stared in wonder at the leaning tower, a building that took over two centuries to build before taking on its famous slant. We stayed with a local friend we met through  couchsurfing.org and got to talk to him and his roommate about Italian politics (like the way the construction of fast train lines, called TAV, come at the cost of environmental destruction in Italy) and their involvement in an organization in Pisa that connects local farmers with urban residents directly to support local farming!

Picture
Duomo in Florence

Our next stop was Florence, which brought the architectural wonders of the renaissance masters along with the gustatory delights of fresh gelato and pasta! We celebrated Neda’s birthday our first night in Florence in a little family restaurant where we enjoyed hearing the locals argue about the best regions to get prosciutto and truffles (few people are more passionate about their food than Italians).

Now we are back in Bulgaria where the language sounds a little more familiar to me and a lot more familiar to Neda : ). But we hope to keep in mind the lessons of Italy, using patience when communicating with each other and realizing that words are only one aspect of how we can connect as people.
The pictures from Bologna were posted in the previous post, but to see the pics from San Miniato, Pisa, and Florence, click here. To see selected photos with captions, view the slideshow below!