“return to normal”

On trying (and sometimes failing) to take note, observe, and notice the simple things during times of uncertainty

Let me begin this long awaited post by saying: This is not yet another quarantine survival story.

I’m not here to make anyone feel better, stronger, or more secure. It has taken over 6 months to work up the courage to write after what has been a feeling of continuous arrested development, and coping with shock, disbelief and at times crippling anxiety. I’m not here to serve up top 10 solutions on how to cope with the constant uncertainty. We’ve all read enough of those for the ages, and there are plenty of credible resources run by professionals who provide much needed assistance to communities that absolutely need it. Part confession part realization, part self obsessions. I’m not here to make it any better or worse because for now, what we have is what we’ve got. Making the most of it, is down to personal conviction and willpower. No one knows what’s next. Those who do claim to know, are wildly guessing and trying not to look panicked in the process.

Everyone is trying desperately to make sense of the invisible, the intangible and the bizarre. The invisible and visible enemies are unpredictable and divisive.

The ills of society are boiling up (again) to the surface everywhere we turn and because of a forced pause we’re called upon to actually look up from our navel, and actually pay attention to what is really going on.

As the weeks and months creep by, we’ve all been hit with a bout of nostalgia for a life we thought we missed, yet don’t really; and while the chaos is unfolding, the promises, the reassurances, the convictions that life will return to normal, are starting to wear thin.

What the hell is normal anyway? (and do we really long for it ?)

Did it really work for us the way we thought? Or are we called upon to let go of a life that was ill fitting anyway. This quasi reality is forcing some to reevaluate, for others to get lost, and for even more to get found. This is the new normal. It keeps morphing, and mutating everything we have come in contact with. Just like a (this) virus. Our perceptions of what normality is, are becoming challenged not only by it’s reversal, but by our ability to adapt despite the odds.

I don’t know what comes next.

I’m working on being okay with that, despite the panic and crippling fear of the unknown that we’re faced with, I’ve learned to understand that what I can’t change, I have no control over, what I can change I’m working to understand better. What will change, has to. Like many I’ve spoken with and listened to during this shift of consciousness, the common consensus is that something is desperately needed. Self reflection and mental and physical self care are at the forefront of this pandemic. Underneath all this the most important “anchors” being used to combat these moments of doubt and fear are knowledge and observation.

The answers to the questions keep shifting. What was real a few days ago seems like fiction now and vice versa. This ebbing and flowing of daily reality, is what we must adapt to in order to survive and thrive.

And adapt we have.

For the first 9 weeks, during the initial “pause”, I was compelled; driven even, to tap into moments of inner calm and inner focus, more than any other time in my life. It was never needed as much as it is now. Truth be told I lost my shit. Let’s be honest. Panic, fear, uncertainty, and crippling doubt, all came to the party. So I looked for the tools that I already had in my arsenal to find some equilibrium We all have the ability to tap into our inner anchors. Only then can we truly stabilize in the face of an outer (shit) storm.

Every week, every month every season has been different. Once equilibrium was reached, another wave of information, panic, doubt, fear and uncertainty has rocked our proverbial boats and a new tactic had to be implemented. I’m not a good sailor, these constant tacks, direction and course changes have left me dizzy, but after every change, like everyone in New York, whose lives have been changed . I had to become a better sailor by listening, being quiet and not letting the myriad of voices confuse my course.

Now as I write, in the early weeks of October, as the fall colors take over the streets of New York; its very clear that yet another shift has taken place. Many months into what seemed like a crazy experiment in human behavior, I turn to the things that stabilize me while turning away from things that no longer serve the current status quo. Now doubt and fear and anxiety have been replaced with a larger dose of conviction, determination and focus. The anchors dig deeper into the sand, in anticipation of another shift. they have become more staple in their purpose…

Now we must focus on the greater good. Not just personal gain.

Now we must focus on eradicating hate and division

Now we must focus on the next step forward.

Now after all this change, unrest, division and fear, the anchors are here to bring us home.

Stay tuned….

Join me on the socials 🙂

Drop by, keep in touch send a note and keep connecting.

Day 0. Soup For the Soul

Communities built, sustained, and healed on the sharing of a bowl of soup

This is a little bit of a departure from the hunkering down of previous daily posts. I needed to revisit a post I had been planning on sharing for some time but tonight is as good a time as any to talk about how communities sustain and protect each other not only in times of joy but also in times of need. During these very uncertain times, some of the communities I’ve been and continue to be a part of, and who have sheltered me over the years here in New York; are coming together to support, connect and sustain each other when isolation and a global health crisis has brought us to a very poigniant reconing.

I’ve been living in New York for seven years now. More than I ever expected to last and fewer than most would accept for a person calling themselves a New Yorker, so in this eternal grey area of half existence I have picked my communities from very different parts of this city. Many of these communities have opened their hearts to embrace, assist, accompany and comfort during this very challenging and stressful time. Without them I’m sure we would all go a bit mad. I have only placed a small pebble in this vast web of support but we all have something to offer and contribute during these trying times.

This post has been hard to communicate since a feeling of helplessness has overtaken many of us during these past few weeks. We are all in a state of being and not being. Existing and not existing. Communities of all forms are even more important now and thankfully more and more of them are becoming a resource and a virtual meeting place for those who might need it. Yoga and meditation has become my guide in very uncharted waters, as more centers are using their vast network to become a compass in a very uncertain storm.

Yoga classes, lectures, live streaming, meditation and dance sessions and my own practice has been a life saving line and connection to the community that has in the past and even more now been a savior and peace of mind. Daily meditation sessions, breathwork, movement and walks, keep the body and mind connected. Now more than ever my old Ashtanga family is coming together to share, inspire and support. Without that I am sure my capacity to deal with the extra stress and feeling of uncertainty would inevitably become that much harder.

There are countless other resources out there that are being created on a daily basis. Art, dance, theater, music. These things matter, now more than ever. They are vital for all of us to become closer, kinder, and more productive. Writing on this blog daily brings me closer to those who might be feeling exactly as I am and I’m determined more than ever to keep going. Reaching out, connecting in these times of isolation ( self or otherwise) is key to weathering this dark storm. If you need to move move, if you need to breathe breathe if you need to read read. And if you need comfort, there is always a community available to you, no matter where you might be.

As I sit in my kitchen with a piping hot bowl of homemade vegetable soup, I can’t help but wonder how we build who we are when we find ourselves in between places, and in great uncertainty, things we have otherwise have taken for granted, just cement a community in the simplest ways.

In trying times like these, we are called to build families, connective tissue and communities in ways that are never clear cut, but always necessary for survival and healing.

Till tomorrow… stay strong.

Day 20 & 21 Springtime Poetry

Committing to the daily writing and posting challenge this year, more than any other year, has been of utmost importance. A sense of continuity for myself but also for you few but lovely loyal readers out there. It will probably continue to post thoughts, stories, poems, as I will not stop on the 27th of March; which was the original deadline for this daily posting challenge. Until then here’s a small catch up on the slightly interrupted flow.

This past week has undoubtedly been a strange, stressful and unexpected for us all. I’ve been remiss the last two posts so I am making a delayed submission with some extras before proceeding as scheduled with day 22.

March 20 marks the official day of spring. March 21 we celebrate world poetry day and in light of those two very special occasions I sat down and leafed through my favorites; to pick a poem that I love dearly and want to share with you all. Spring is when in Greece we dawn our march bracelets and count down the weeks and months till summertime approaches. March is known as a complicated month; unpredictable; precocious; unstable, and this time it’s reached a spectrum of unpredictability and fear of the unknown that has gripped me as I am sure many of you out there. Despite that I can’t not write and share and communicate that this is not just about fear. I took a walk in the park near my home today for what may be the last time before New York completely shuts down all non essential travel. There is a peaceful and eerie quiet in the streets. There are less people out than would have been on a sunny day but I captured some moments on my walk around the block and meditated on what I’m truly grateful for. What I felt more strongly than ever is the need to keep going.

March 20, 2020

We must encourage art and writing and story telling to continue and hold a place for creativity to flourish even through we’re all faced with these incredibly uncertain times. A daytime breeze is still beautiful, a walk in sun is healing, a beautiful song uplifting and a poem re-connects us all. I’ll keep posting and do hope to hear back from some of you wherever you might be.

Till tomorrow: A poem by one of my favorites E.E Cummings

Day 19. It’s the simple things.

It’s day 7 of voluntary social distancing here in New York and staying at home has been a challenge and a blessing. Now we have all the time in the world to focus on the things that we could never catch up on before. Time has become a loose and fluid entity these past few days. Hence why I’ve taken a couple of days off the daily challenge to just reflect and connect with my breath and my thoughts and write something different.

I’ve slowed down so much from my previous rhythms, that I’ve had so much more time to reflect on what really matters here and what doesn’t. There are opportunities in this global health crisis we can’t afford to miss. We’ve been either forced to stop what we were doing before but also take stalk of what the hell we’ve been doing to our planet to each other and ultimately our own health. We’re nothing next to this enemy within.

We’ve been told to stay home, help the collective good for once instead of the personal gain. We’re going stir crazy in our forced solitude, and all of a sudden it’s become a reflection on the little things. That is all that truly is on my mind these days. The grind has stopped and sharing a cherished moment talking to a loved one has taken ultimate priority over anything else.

I ( hope) know this too shall pass but we’re at a pivotal point in our existence and the space we inhabit and no amount of analysis will change it. Here’s a few things I’ve taken from the past

In the past week, I’ve cooked a home made meal for me and my housemate every night. I’ve listen to music and read a book with so much attention I forgot to stop at 2 am. I’ve stretched and moved with my friends in Athens who are also cooped up in their homes without any clear idea of when this will end. And all that I am craving is the little things that make life worth living.

The delicate and personal, the memories and the things we share with those we most cherish. The beauty of this planet and the connections we build. The smell of a home cooked meal and the clink of a glass of wine with friends in a shared tavern table just at the foot of the Agean sea. The crisp folding of a page from a book I can’t put down and the feeling of clean air against my face. Quiet mornings sipping a cup of coffee with my family before the day unfolds. No amount of technology can replace it although taking to friends and family daily is of utmost importance. The list of little things is like a treasure trove that we nibble at when all the supplies have been depleted. And here we are cherishing all that we took for granted. Living what we thought was a given and saying all we thought was understood.

Let’s hope we share on those small joys more often.

Onwards to day 20.

Day 16. Closeness and Distance

Isn’t it ironic, that it takes tragedy, horrific global events, and forced isolation to make us understand how much closer we are and should be with each other. Day 4 of self quarantine in what is reported to be a deeply unpredictable sweeping Pandemic, and I have sought and received more contact, communication and connection with the people that are far away; more than any other time in the seven years I’ve lived in New York. Suddenly we’ve been given the gift of time.

We have no where to go but be at home. Some are alone, some with their families, forced to spend more time together in a week than we’ve spent in months and how delicate, beautiful and strange that balance is. I’ve read more than I’ve done in years, I’ve cooked more beautiful, meals than I’ve prepared in a long time, I’ve dedicated to sharing my Yoga and strength training practice more often than any other time simply because we all crave connection, reciprocity and a deep wanting to feel like we’re not alone in this.

Technology however faceless has become a useful tool to bring us together when we simply cannot. Social distancing, despite its ominous tone, has given me the chance to reflect on who I truly care to spend time with and how we all take that for granted. All of a sudden we can’t go outside and all we want is to do just that. All of a sudden we have all the time in the world to write, meditate, sit in silence, and figure out the next step without the cacophony of constant planning.

Finding connection through distance is the secret weapon we’ve been gifted in these trying times. I for one am scared much like the rest of us. These are not normal circumstances we find ourselves in. Yet ( always a yet) here we are. Connecting, through forced distance and finding the beauty in taking one day at a time. Stay safe out there and here’s a quote from my new favorite read

Andre Aciman’s new novel : Find Me

“None of us may want to claim to live life in two parallel lanes but all have many lives, one tucked beneath or right alongside the other. Some lives wait their turn because they haven’t been lived at all, while others die before they’ve lived out their time, and some are waiting to be relived because they haven’t been lived enough.”

Till tomorrow Day 17 and 18 with a twist. Drink up it’s just another day.

Day 3. – The deep unhappiness of being a Greek

How to explain a complex culture to those who only want to see its post card version.

One of the things I could never quite grasp is the degree of separation between living, growing up and being an Athenian Greek, and the idea of what Greeks are to the majority of the American public. Most will only get to see Greece in the summer, on a all catered vacation or on a cruise, but for me and for most of my fellow countrymen and women, we are inexplicably burdened with the idea others have of us and the deep everyday sadness of being a Greek. To most we are a tourist destination, broken down into easy to digest pieces, for those not really interested in getting the see the full picture of what it means to live in, love, leave, long to return to, and navigate this crazy wonderful and deeply infuriating land. One thing is for certain, we’re far more than just a destination wedding, all expenses paid vacation spot. We are not just Greek Yogurt and Feta and breaking plates and sunsets off a glitzy resort hotel. We don’t use Windex and we don’t all live next to our families. These are stereotypes I’ve often had to fight against and have had some pretty crazy discussions over. Seeing a caricature version of our culture for entertainment; being the only thing most Americans can think to ask me about when I speak to them about Greece really drives me bonkers. I loath My Big Fat Greek Wedding (there I said it)

Being born and raised in Greece, and having grown up in the United States for most of my teenage years; I have been given a unique perspective, and license to sit on the outside looking in. When I was in my 20’s I returned to Athens, determined to reclaim my “Greekness”, because one thing Greeks have always been touchy about is how Greek you really are. I never wanted to feel like an outsider even thought in retrospect I’ve always been one. Instead of being stigmatized by it, I chose to use this outsider status to my advantage, because being on the outside looking in, gave me a competitive advantage to speak about my country through the eyes of a Greek who loves America and an American who will always and forever be in love with every morsel of Greece.

The burden we carry can never be understood by anyone other than a fellow Greek, or in the case of many expat Americans I grew up with (first and foremost my mother) a philhellene. Moving to Greece as a foreigner takes commitment, and a touch of crazy. Who the hell would want to leave their highly organized public service, guaranteed pensions, proper public transport, and clean roads to come life in Athens? Most of the foreign born Greeks I know would never tolerate such a madhouse, but the Americans, Germans, British, Egyptians, Nigerians, Turks, Albanians, French, Italians, Iranians, Lebanese, Israelis I know gave their whole heart to Greece, and quite simply fell in love forever. We know, they know, we don’t have to explain. This deeply routed pain of separation that we feel and the inexplicable frustration with the politics, the ingrained “backwardness”, the disorganization, the instability; that will never change, and quite frankly is something we can’t do without. We are bipolar. Anarchists and anti establishment, at heart with a longing for everything to work just like it does in Europe or the States, and all those countries where Greeks immigrated to from the beginning of time till now. We are also deeply proud, deeply wounded by our identity because it is the same thing that pushes us away and the exact same feeling, like a magnetic force calls us back, no matter how many years we’ve been away.

We crave discord and passion and messiness because life is messy and disorganized. Nothing can be too perfect, because perfect is simply not real. The mainframe of every Greek comes with a fatal flaw, an Achilles heal if you will. Every Greek is equal parts ashamed and equal parts fanatical about our heritage and our nationality. I for one hate the idea of Greek transplants recreating a life outside of Greece that can in no way be as authentic or real, and at the same time dream of the smell of the sea shore near the Saronic Golf and the view from the Temple of Poseidon on a moonlit night. But those things are not in your every day guidebooks and travel blogs because tourists aren’t interested in them. My secret Athens, Mykonos, Santorini, Thessaloniki, Crete, Naxos, Paros, Folegandros, Astypalaia, Chios, Mytilene, Serres, Konitsa, Meteora, Gavdos, Rodos, Chania, Rethymno, Hydra, Spetses, Patmos and the list goes on is in the everyday and uneventful but most importantly in the feeling that when you stop and listen, those places have something to tell you, a unique and heartbreaking story.

To be continued…

Day. 2 – Connected distance

How to be present and disconnected at the same time.

I often find myself getting lost in a story of me. I find that creating stories about myself is a creative coping mechanism, because sometimes it’s just easier than actually being yourself. Mind you dear reader, as you’re browsing the online version of you to see who liked it, ( as I am completely guilty of doing so as well) I see you.

I don’t consciously try to be someone other than exactly who I am. Yet! ( yes there is always a yet) the “naked”, unfiltered, version of ourselves; if we are lucky, is seen by the very few, trusted people who deserve to REALLY know us. ( even more than we know ourselves). That version is most likely hidden under layers and layers of personalities, like layers of paint on doors that don’t shut properly after the 10th coating of acrylic. We therefore create personas that make a composite “acceptable” public image.

On this second day of my writing and personal challenge, I took it upon myself to be more self aware and more self accepting. Yes I know this sounds like some Goop article but bear with me. Spending time being focused on what is within rather than around me and on my phone, gave me an opportunity to quiet the chatter, the endless discussion, debates and arguments I have with myself and allowing for me to be just me, without a reflection of a self I aim to create.

Like many of us addicts weaning myself of this insane device and the image of myself I try to portray on it; is quite often a Herculean task at best. Hell I am on a daily open, very public vulnerable writing experiment on this blog for fucks’ sake! But as I pull back the curtain to my inner world; one of my current daily practices of mediation focuses on not sticking to any one narrative or version of myself, but rather allowing for all to coexist without explanation or refinement.

We should not have to owe anyone an explanation of why or who we are. We don’t have to be any certain way, and we certainly don’t have to show anyone else a version or versions ( public or private) of ourselves that are convenient, pleasing or comforting.

To be present is to be accepting of what is at any given time, because the present is our only certainty. Disconnecting from the story or narrative of who we are at any given time is never easy. Wife, best friend, teacher, student, political activist, girlfriend, woman. Experiment by taking moments away from your public life and see what you can discover in you that no one else knows.

More on the flip side.

March: 27 Day Challenge

What started as a daily commitment experiment for personal growth, self discovery, and a writing challenge, has now become a personal writing tradition. This year I’m hoping I can make this challenge a bit more vulnerable and personal. As done in my last challenges; during the month of March I will be writing a daily post; observation and reflection. This daily posting challenge is a way to push open personal boundaries and redefine my commitment to writing and sharing more of what I see, what I experience, what I am deeply moved by, and how I rediscover the similarities in the cultures I encounter including my own.

This year I will add one more element to the daily challenge that will accompany you; my few but loyal readers on this 27 day journey.

This element, especially in my rediscovery of what it means to be a yoga student, instructor, and a person who genuinely loves guiding people towards better and more self empowered health; is my most challenging. For the past two years I’ve been redefining my own personal practice, and in that light; I will be adding posts and thoughts about my personal physical, spiritual and wellness life, and how it is informed by daily yoga practice, unscripted kinesiology and movement exploration, crazy dance classes, food creation and wellness routines. As my body ages, I realize I’m capable of far more than I had ever tackled in my teens and twenties as a dancer and young yoga student. I invite you to place your own personal 27 day challenges and share them with your friends and loved ones. Motivation sometimes comes from inspiration and I hope this challenge will give opportunity for inspiration and discussion.

Day 1. The Peoples Park

Running on empty.

This past winter, both physically and mentally has been a bit of a challenge. Even though the winter was far less harsh than in previous years; I felt I had to work twice as hard to self motivate. Pulling myself by my bootstraps, as it is often passed around in the U.S, by those who feel the need to show off their unwavering personal resilience to failure. I challenged myself to a biweekly (no matter the weather) run in the park. My body in the last year has gone through some welcome and unwelcome transformations. This morning, as I had done last Sunday, I got out of my winter skin, and with a chilly sunny day, as a backdrop took a very slow run in my favorite park in New York : Prospect Park.

Some may argue that Central Park is better, fancier, more sophisticated, has more to see, and they might be right, but for me Prospect Park has been my sanctuary, my safe haven, my meditation spot, my writing spot, my open gym, my place for self reflection, and where I go jogging from April till November. It’s filled with little nooks, beautiful open lawns, nice shady spots, drum circles and open air concerts. It’s a back yard, a meeting spot, a quiet space and a gathering space. Unlike any park I know in Athens, New York parks are stuff of legends and many stories. Since I don’t have a garden to sit in anymore, the Park has provided a green haven away from everything that reminds you, that you live in a crowded city. Today was no exception. Gorgeous sun reflected off the lake shimmering the waters as people ran, biked, played music and took in a few late winter rays.

It’s a little bit of magic. You will see everyone from the surrounding neighborhoods come together. Kids running through and playing with trees, cyclists whizzing by; re-construction on the old gazebo in the lower end of the park. Today I ran so slowly, even an old grandmother passed me by, but I pay no mind as my feet slowly got used to the rhythm of my heart rate. The Park transports you to places of the past as the trees have secrets only they will ever know. After cutting through the lower half of the park; the wind started to cut through both my hoodies as I walked home. It’s still too cold for me but I’ve pushed through today’s first satisfied with my progress but mostly exhausted and sore.

This for sure will be an interesting month.

Stay tuned…

How to be resolute in your New Years Resolutions

Resolutions: We know where they go after the first month of the new year. They are promises kept or not kept. They end up being reminders of our commitment or lack there of to ourselves.

My list for 2020 starts with one idea:

Commitment.

Commitment was never my strong suit. I’ve been in relationships where the exit plan was laid out from day one. I’ve started projects I’ve never finished and promised myself better and never followed through.

So if I’m going to boldly enter this new decade. No bullshit, is a necessary ingredient of the recipe for success. Primarily no bull shit towards the things that matter. I’ve often seen how a lack of commitment is the ever dragging on of promises, bold statements and grand ideas that fizzle out all too quickly in the second month of the year because let’s face it, we mean well and then we fail, we forget, we get caught up in our own dramas, we promise and then we default on our own promises to ourselves.

This year, I’m not making any promises or bold statements. Life happens regardless of our intent, so keeping our commitments to ourselves and knowing that if we default on them, it’s our own self we let down. So here is my short list for 2020:

1. Eat well- whatever that means. Including sharing a meal with people you don’t usually eat with.

2. Protect and care for the body and mind. If we are preaching to the world how to live better ( including myself) doing the same for ourselves is basically imperative.

3. Worry less. far less.

4. Love more. Even those that can’t accept, understand or comprehend what that means. ( including ourselves)

5. Give less fucks. Period.

6. Forgive, move on, get over it and let go.

7. See more of the world, because life is way too short and way too precious, to be stuck in one place wondering how amazing the rest of the world is.

8. Be more vulnerable and honest even though it might hurt.

9. Dance. Alone, with others, to music and in silence.

10. Create, something, however small and insignificant it might seem at the time.

Promises are best kept when we accept we might not keep them. Resolutions change, life happens and we try our best to stay committed to ourselves. Happy Fucking New Year.

Gotham Soul- Standing

Lower Manhattan Christmas Eve

She stands tall. Gotham dreams of a place unknown and known. A legacy thrown into turmoil, she breathes.

Her. guts scream.

Her power unseen.

She grapples with the visitors and the takers of her streets.

A queen, taken from her throne and thrown about like a beggar in her own neighborhood.

She stood tall, and she will again. The threading of her story is still in the making. Patterns left unfinished and long forgotten, will rise like a falcon over a clear sky. Triumphant, confronting, scrutinizing our every move.

This lady is still about liberty underneath the layers of depravity. She’s my sanctuary.

Nothing is more iconic and telling of New York life than during the holiday season. Rockefeller center and Macy’s light display, the skating rink in Bryant Park. Landmarks, and points of interest. Many more tourists come during Christmas and New Year’s eve than any other time of year. What I’ve always been drawn to and notice is the other side of the spectrum. Noticing the loneliness, the isolation and the art of the Christmas hustle. What makes this city especially harsh during the holidays; is that they are treated as a commodity, and everyone who does work during them is part of that mechanism.

This year I chose to ( was forced ) spend the holidays in the city. Work kept me here so I used the opportunity to take this unavoidable staycation and treat myself to a little bit of a tourist viewpoint.

New York has two ( at least) worlds; one of opulence and tourist attractions and one of familiar locality. Small local joints, people who know each other and greet you on the street, and an absence of frivolity and pretense.

Real New Yorkers however they might be depicted in movies and television; are a caring, loving people and the heartbeat of this city, and when you get to know them, some of the kindest people you will ever meet. Staying here during the holidays in what seemed an almost empty metropolis, gave me a chance to meet and actually talk to many more people I otherwise would have overlooked. Stay open to possibilities in the year to come, you never know where they will take you.

Happy Fucking New Year.