Sunday, September 21, 2014

Zen and the Art of Photography

Trees at the US National Arboretum

In an effort to cultivate expansiveness (my word for the year), I have created what I hope is a carefully cultivated list of workshops and training courses for myself for the year.  To match with our Zen Gypsies’ four pillar philosophy, I have chosen courses to expand my knowledge in mindfulness, creativity, movement and self-inquiry.  

Stones and winter berries

My most recent workshop was Zen Through the Lens at the US National Arboretum.  This workshop touched on the Zen Gypsies' pillars of mindfulness and creativity.  The instructor, Tuan Pham, is a lifelong meditation practitioner as well as an award winning amateur photographer.  We started and ended the session with meditation practices to help us sharpen our senses in order to enhance our "seeing"  when looking through the camera lenses.   The zen principles of mindfulness that we learned about photography can also be applied to everyday life.  

Bare branches against a stone wall

On the way back to the parking lot after the end of the workshop, I took a few photos to see if I could put any of the things I learned in the short workshop into practice.  I did find myself looking at things a little differently than I would have before.  My father was a professional photographer, so my training in the art has been by way of osmosis rather than anything formal.  We were always stopping to capture something that I probably would not have noticed otherwise.  I've never been interested in any of the technical side of photography so I am excited to be able to hone my abilities by exploring the incorporation of mindfulness practices into the process.  I am looking forward to diving deeper in the  upcoming in-depth four week hands-on session of Zen and The Art of Photography that will be coming up in the spring.  I look forward to sharing photos with you as the process unfolds.

"Art is not practiced solely for utilitarian purposes ... It is also meant to train the mind and bring it into contact with the ultimate reality."   D. T. Suzuki

Saturday, April 19, 2014

UPDATED Spring Workshop schedule at TPSS-U

Upcoming workshops

We have an updated schedule for the TPSS-U spring workshops.  We now have some Saturdays scheduled which will hopefully be more convenient.  So please come join us in some creative play at the new TPSS-U located at the Takoma Park Silver Spring Co-op in Takoma Park, MD. These courses will be hands-on so you'll get to dig in and give things a try and at the end of the workshop, you'll get to take your creations home with you.  There is something for everyone, and each workshop will feature a Zen Gypsies dose of mindfulness to round things out.

Updated Zen Gypsies spring class schedule at TPSS-U


Saturday April 26 - Natural Beauty  (handcraft natural beauty products)

Thursday, May 1 - Introduction to Belly Dance (put a shimmy in your step and a smile on your face)

Saturday, May 24 - Creating Vision Boards (representing your dreams and goals in pictures)

Saturday, May 31 - Vegetarian Tea Treats (quick, elegant finger foods for entertaining or lunch boxes)

Explore the full descriptions and find registration information on our events page.   

We hope to see you in class!

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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Spring workshop schedule at TPSS-U

Upcoming workshops

Finally! We're having a little preview of spring weather here in the DC area.  As the warmer weather entices you to venture out and explore, come join us in some workshops hosted at the new TPSS-U located at at the Takoma Park Silver Spring Co-op in Takoma Park, MD.  These courses will be hands-on so you'll get to dig in and give things a try and at the end of the workshop, you'll get to take your creations home with you.  There is something for everyone, and each workshop will feature a Zen Gypsies dose of mindfulness to round things out.

Zen Gypsies spring class schedule at TPSS-U

Thursday April 3 - Natural Beauty  (handcraft natural beauty products)

Thursday April 17 - Food in Jars (the ultimate way to make homemade healthy foods to-go)

Thursday May 1 - Introduction to Belly Dance (put a shimmy in your step and a smile on your face)

Thursday May 15 - Creating Vision Boards (representing your dreams and goals in pictures)

Thursday, May 29 - Vegetarian Tea Treats (quick, elegant finger foods for entertaining or lunch boxes)

Explore the full descriptions and find registration information on our events page.   

We hope to see you in class!

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Cultivating Love

“The Eskimos had fifty-two names for snow because it was important to them:
there ought to be as many for love.”  ~ Margaret Atwood

It’s now March and despite the icy snow storm blowing outside my window, I am still basking in the warm glow of February and the month’s connection with the emotion of love.  Ah, love… desire... passion… longing:  these are some words that immediately come to mind when I consider some of my experiences of love.  Yet, love has also felt committed, altruistic, comfortable, and abiding as well.  Love is an emotion so immense that it defies definition.  It lies at the crux of everything that we do, and informs who we are. 

Although it seems to manifest in different forms, with friends, lovers, parents, children, community, etc., love shares one common denominator:  relationship.  We understand and know love through relationship, and from that magic alchemy, we come to know ourselves.  It is through the mirror of relationship that we see our beauty, realize our fears and insecurities, and know our strengths and best attributes.  And if we are open to it, the power of relationship, in all of its wonder, glory, pain and sadness, can be a spiritual experience, expanding our hearts and minds in ways we never expected.  Each person we encounter, from the casual interaction at the grocery store or in an elevator, to a dear friend experiencing the death of a loved one, provides an opportunity to look into the heart of love.  Although we physically stand separate from others and can only experience the world through the lens of our individual perspectives and experiences, we share more in common than not.  We all want happiness, regardless of how that’s defined… we all want to feel safe… we all want to be seen and heard… we all want to matter… we all want to be loved.

Relationships with others, and in particular with oneself, when approached with mindfulness, can be very powerful.  Focusing deliberately in the moment, on others as well as on ourselves without judgment, may not only open the door to understanding and compassion, but also lead to profound healing.  When approached from this perspective, acceptance without expectations is possible, forgiveness replaces anger, kindness and appreciation are effortless, and trust and unconditional love arise because we see each other and ourselves in the only moment that matters… now.  In this moment of now, all things are possible, like choosing to be the best person one can be… fears of an anticipated future can fall away… miracles can happen.

“If you have your full attention in the moment, you will see only love.”  ~Deepak Chopra


Wishing that the miracle of love transforms your heart, mind and spirit today...

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Expansiveness: sources of zenspiration

Snowy scene from a winter walk 

This week was one that allowed plenty of time for reflection during some down time courtesy of some inclement weather.  I had time to take stock of some of the progress of some my mindfulness practices from the start of the new year.  Just as my Zen Gypsy partner, Aurora penned in her recent post on getting back into the flow of the new year, so too were some of my intentions tossed to the wayside after a tentative start.  Most were abandoned because they were just not the right tactic for me and others because I just took on more than I could comfortably tackle at one time.  So it's goodbye detailed food journal and hello to more raw and whole foods and those with 5 ingredients or fewer.  Also gone are any of my list of 21-day challenges that never quite got out of the gate because although they sounded quite appealing and "everyone" was joining the party, my heart wasn't really in them.

However, I am enjoying finding success in my renewed goal of adding more mindfulness, meditation and all manner of inspiration and new opportunities for learning to my daily routine.  This is all in support of my word for the new year - expansiveness.  I endeavor to expand my knowledge, my experiences and lifestyle in an effort to create more openness, compassion and understanding.  While on my journey, I am looking forward to continuing to grow my list of resources in the coming year and sharing them with you.  Here are a few to add to your virtual bookshelf:

The Shamash Alidina Daily - Paper li - a daily mindfulness e-newspaper filled with curated content including articles, blogs and photos from the author of Mindfulness for Dummies.

Headspace - online and mobile meditation app created by Andy Puddicomb, a former Buddhist monk.  I have been exploring the free 10-day Find Some Headspace program and am finding it a great tool to recommend to those who are new to meditation.

Brain Pickings -  "human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, a subjective lens on what matters in the world and why, bringing you things you didn’t know you were interested in — until you are."  A great way to tickle your intellectual curiosity.

A two minute mindful check-in led by Elisha Goldstein, PhD by way of Kimberly Wilson's recent Mindful Monday blog post which will give just the break you need to recharge during a busy day.

Jane Goodall on Spirit and Science in an interview with Bill Moyers. 

May your day be filled with new experiences and a dose of mindfulness to savor them fully.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Feeling ease and getting back into the flow…

“Life does not consist mainly, or even largely, of facts and happenings. It consists mainly of the storm of thought that is forever flowing through one's head.”
- Mark Twain

Snow Falling (image courtesy of
So I have to admit to dragging my feet about writing, waiting for inspiration on something positive to mention.  Don’t get me wrong, plenty of positive, noteworthy things are happening, but sometimes I just get stuck on what’s going wrong.  Does that ever happen to you?  And focusing too much on the things that aren’t working can suck the joy out of all of the things that ARE going well.

For example, this Zen Gypsies adventure has been such a revelation to me.  It embodies the highest aspirations Melinda and I have for our lives and what we hope to share with others:  optimal wellness, mindfulness, healing, passion, creativity and community.  The experiences I’ve had working with Melinda, collaborating on ideas, interacting with people, and exploring new things have all been life-affirming and fun.  However, at the same time, this focus has directed a high beam spotlight on areas in my life that need some serious work.  So as the New Year started, I created a whole list of resolutions that I intended to keep.  In addition to that, I created a vision board, read great advice about the most effective ways to change habits, and was aware of the statistics about the failure to keep New Years’ resolutions.  Despite being fully prepared (or so I thought), I dove in head first trying to change everything at once.  Yeah…

Among the things I started was not one, but four, 30-day fitness challenges.  Although I was successful for four days, perhaps it might have been a little easier to start with one to affect a real lasting habit change!  Here’s the app if you want to check it out, Thirty Day Fitness Challenges.  I intend to pick it up again soon but with a more reasonable approach given the other things on my schedule.

Then, there are times when I get so focused on getting things done, or rushing off somewhere that I forget basic self-care activities, like eating, until I notice that I’m running on empty.  In an effort to be more mindful of this tendency, I downloaded this helpful app, My Fitness Pal, to monitor food and water consumption as well as activity levels.  I did manage to keep that going for a couple of weeks…
Also, I joined a 30-day Hoop Challenge on Facebook.  It sounded really fun!  Thirty minutes of waist hooping for thirty days.  Sounded doable.  I have yet to start.  Hmmm.

And on the spirituality/wellness front, I entered the Find your Center: A 10 Day Challenge.  Uh, that lasted two days.

Let’s just say, I am not doing any of these specific things at the moment despite the fact that they are all great tools for working on areas that I’d like to improve.  One day soon, I fully intend on revisiting all of them. 

Unfortunately, after these wonderful resolutions dropped off the map, I fell into a funk, until I realized that I was over thinking a lot of this stuff and flailing about in a whole lot of action without connecting to why I wanted to achieve these particular goals in the first place.  Taking a step back, I remembered that I wanted to feel vital, empowered, clear, centered and grounded.  Simply put, I just wanted to feel better.

But focusing on “failure” was preventing me from appreciating the beauty of life and all of the good things that were happening.  And from that space, I was approaching life and myself from a place of lack and disconnection.  Not a good place to be at all!

After this epiphany and remembering that much anxiety and stress are self-created by the storm of thoughts running through one’s head, I quietly sat with the awareness of this observation.  Gently leaning into the present moment in mindfulness, I remembered there is only now.  And in quieting that storm, the endless loop of doubts, the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts,” I remembered that I choose my focus… I am the thinker of these thoughts.  And by logical extension, I can choose to feel better any time I want through the focus of those thoughts.  I can choose to feel better now, in this moment.  Reminding myself with compassion, is a moment by moment practice that sometimes requires more effort than at other times.  Choosing or reaching for better feeling thoughts makes the journey along the way definitely more pleasurable.  And isn’t that the point of life… to enjoy the journey as much as the destination?

The start of a new year, just like the start of the school year in September is always fertile with promise.  It’s as though the reset button has been pressed and one has a clean slate.  And while that’s certainly true of those particular times, it’s also true for every morning that you wake up, or for every time you enter awareness of the present moment.  Because the fact is, there is only now.  Every decision we make is in the now.  All of our power is in the now.  Right here.  This moment.  Right now.

"Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them - that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. "
- Lao-Tzu

A quiet moment in Melinda's garden last fall
If you're in the local area, February 1st, come join us as we celebrate longer days and the return of spring with a dance performance:

Return of the Light - A Dance Celebration

Date:   Saturday, February 1, 2014
Time:  8:30-10:30pm
Location: Blue Wind Gourmet, 22803 Gunston Drive, Lexington Park, MD  20653
Zen Gypsies Facebook Event

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Savory tea treats

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” 

― Virginia WoolfA Room of One's Own

Our Tea and Journaling Workshop featured an abundant array of tasty refreshments.  A few of them can be easily made at home in just a few moments with items you may already find in your cupboards and refrigerator. These make a nice way to nurture yourself when you are spending a little quality time with your journal or for when you have friends or family over and want make them feel special. These are also great to pull together if unexpected guests arrive.  They taste as good as they look and are healthier versions of some traditional offerings at high tea.

Sandwiches and nibbles

Almond butter and homemade raspberry/rhubarb jam 
This sophisticated version of the pb&j features plain almond butter and raspberry/rhubarb or your favorite jam on whole grain bread; cut into finger sized sandwiches

Cucumber and hummus 
Thinly sliced, peeled cucumber over hummus spiked with a little of Dottie's Dips all natural garlic dip seasoning (or chopped fresh garlic and parsley) and a dollop of yogurt (optional) on whole grain bread; cut into finger sized sandwiches

A slice of fresh mozzerella, tomato slices and pesto, homemade or store bought on a whole grain cracker

Fruit and chocolate
Take your favorite spice, ginger or graham cookie and spread with chocolate/hazelnut spread and top artfully with a few fresh berries

We rounded out the plate with some fruit and freshly baked scones and served with herbal tea and agua fresca (filtered water with sliced meyer lemons, clementines and strawberries).

We hope you take the time to nurture yourself with beautifully prepared food and mindfully savor every last bite.

Aurora and Melinda