Last Days

Posted in Egypt on October 11, 2011 by Malkatshvah

Most of my life I have sought opportunities to escape a present that was never “good enough.”  I assumed confirmation of another day to create, so I didn’t fully appreciate that to which I already had access.  I justified my ambition and ungrateful attitude with the belief that I wished to do and be more so that I could produce something bigger and better (neither of which is synonymous) that will benefit life. While this perspective has cost me relationships, steady housing and placement in the status-quo, it has, also, brought me rewards in the form of ample savings and unique life experiences living and learning abroad.   

Since arriving in Egypt, my ambition level has not changed dramatically; however, I have begun to take steps to create different mental and practical habits that contribute towards me enjoying life now. For example, I have begun to practice living as if each moment was my last – an oxymoron considering that each moment could be my last.  This perspective manifests differently according to an individual’s fears and goals.  I interpret living fully as spending money and time with fewer restrictions than I, often, impose on myself in America.  So, in Egypt I have inhabited beautiful living spaces, taken up belly dancing, joined luxurious health spa/clubs, loved children, and eaten brunch at five-star hotels before the pool when I could have stayed home and studied.

Living fully is not synonymous with irresponsibility; instead it requires self-accountability and broadening my focus from realizing a particular goal to creating an environment that makes the process of accomplishing that goal pleasing.  This has involved altering my personal narrative and living out the changes – other people and things are not the cause of my (un)happiness, I am.  Since I have begun to live according to this pleasure principle, I calculate how confronting someone to prove a point may influence my comfort. If an act will put me in a place of long-lasting negativity of any kind, then I reorder my priorities and focus on the alternative that ensures my comfort. 

Focusing solely on accomplishing  a goal is burdensome.  No human knows when or how she will die nor does she have the power to prevent death (so, you might as well enjoy the process of living, at least). Within these conditions and considering that she lives through an entire day, a human has a daily credit of 24 hours.  If, after death, god charges you to defend your credit usage, then what kind of defense will you make?  If I stop breathing before I bring about better inter/intra-state and interpersonal relationships, then, at least, I will be able to say that I spent days appreciating god’s beauty, giving and receiving his love, and contributing value to his plan.  What can you do differently to experience and live a more pleasing life?  How could a change in your narrative about life and your place in it help you realize goals?

(The is the full-length version of the blog entry on http://www.michelleobrunch.com)

Installing …Time Remaining: 33 minutes

Posted in Egypt with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 20, 2011 by Malkatshvah

I am a human-in-progress.  I am not any one thing, but a number of factors subject to shift according to changes that occur in my internal and external environment. Being “in-progress” does not certify me as schizophrenic; instead, it confirms that I do not know everything; I am growing and consciously applying lessons learned to present experiences; I am an amalgam of many small pieces. Accepting that I am “in-progress” is liberating because it allows me to express patience with myself when I do not meet my own expectations and when I discover discomforting aspects of my character.  Also, embracing my development is a great way to resist guilt and long relapses into old habits that do not serve me well.  Best of all, “in-progress” status hikes the interest level of getting to know myself. When I interact with others and am conscious of being in development, social interaction is as fun as playing a challenging game. I connect thoughts to reactions, then consider whether I recognize that part of myself and if I want to keep or alter it. 

Still, living “in-progress” is challenging.  It requires that I be in-tune and accepting of the fact that other humans and life shifts, as well. Since writing my last post I have endured experiences that emphasize that my best self is still installing and that it might take a while to complete. For example, while dining with associates, it took everything in me not to punch a guy in the throat each time that he loudly sucked out food particles stuck in between his teeth and slurped his tea.  My internal response to interactions with various Egyptians who refuse to take responsibility for their actions and my thoughts about a person who expected to influence me despite his failure to display the intellectual, behavioral, and psychological characteristics required of a leader revealed a conservative and brutally judgmental side of me.  I viewed the people involved in these experiences (excluding myself) as unworthy of respect, lazy, and a threat and I refused to recognize their “in-progress” status. My violent thoughts and judgments did not match my ideal self and prove that “ultimate me” is still downloading.

 During this life you and I will advance and regress.  Perhaps the growth process becomes more pleasurable when we focus less on time and failed expectations and more on accepting ourselves when we err and on embracing our connection to the intangibly tangible divine change churning before, above, beneath, within, and between us.  The latter appears abstract, but progress simply consists of seconds, thoughts, experiences, and conflicts.  If each moment is as important as the result and if every moment contains a beginning and end, then at the close of every part of process blooms our latest and greatest self. 

(The is the full-length version of the blog entry on http://www.michelleobrunch.com)

Lost and Found

Posted in Egypt with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2011 by Malkatshvah

Getting lost is a holy experience.  When you are unsure yet have to continue moving, you are forced to trust intuition and the goodness of a divine plan – both of which are important in the process of relating to a power greater than yourself. 

I am an Aries woman and getting lost fills me with thrills, pleasure, and fear, simultaneously.  Today I feared that I would arrive to my belly dance class late. Under this circumstance, anyone else might have taken a taxi or walked a familiar route so as to increase her chance of arriving on time. But Aries BilQis did not do that. I had become bored with the familiar paths to the gym, so I walked a new route confident, only, in the direction of two major streets horizontal and perpendicular to my location.

People who are lost and wish to reconnect with familiarity are forced to live in the moment – their nerves won’t let them do otherwise, really.  While I wanted to take a more interesting route than usual, I did not want to arrive to class late. In this state of conflict and acute awareness, I noticed the detail of a concrete structure soon to be a villa, the unique and lovely architecture of windows, and the rich green hues of luscious and rare foliage. I noticed shady areas of the street and imagined living in a building with spacious balconies, friendly guards, and a marble lobby. I was too entranced by my new environment to scold myself, urge my feet to move faster, or imagine my teacher starting the class without me.  So, I enjoyed being lost in acute awareness of my environment. 

Today, I avoided getting lost in familiarity. I found and experienced life with an attentiveness that led me to develop a more intimate relationship with my physical environment, my “self”, and with the being that made us both. While walking and submitting to my curiosity, I didn’t judge or create stories about my observations. Instead, I accepted new information and released it as quickly as I entertained other images and stimuli.  Just as my eyes glazed the surface of an unfamiliar flower, I recognized the sign of a hotel, bushes and trees, and the street before me. Letting go resulted in my stumbling upon familiarity quicker than I expecte, plus I made it to class ten minutes early!  For sure, had I walked the familiar path I would have been preoccupied with thoughts about my pace and arriving to class so late that I not get my moneys’ worth of belly dancing.

When you feel vulnerable and unsure, keep in mind that being lost can be a powerful experience.  Complete awareness of your present internal or external environment is empowering.  Seeing the familiar from a new angle keeps you lighthearted and it might conjure new or forgotten ideas that may prove beneficial to realizing your goals. #knowmoreangles

(This is the full-length version of the blog entry on michelleobrunch.com)

The Help Repellent

Posted in Egypt with tags , , , , , , on August 24, 2011 by Malkatshvah

Today, I realized that I discriminate when I share information.  In most cases, I, only, share information with individuals who have already informed me of a need. Is it possible, even, to serve someone effectively without knowledge of their personal or professional desires?  

Some people do not ask for help because they wish to appear as if they have all the answers, already (also known as “having it all together”); this may appear as shallow behavior, but “having it together” can have a profound impact on one’s life.  Often, everyone from potential employers and mates to pedestrians are more receptive of individuals who appear to have everything under control than of individuals who are easily influenced by the inconsistent winds of life. Pay attention to the difference in your thoughts when you interact with someone who exhibits vulnerability in response to various matters and when you interact with someone who behaves in a controlled manner and doesn’t express a need for anything.  Frequently, she who “has it all together” (before her inevitable breakdown) wins in movies and in real life.  Appearing to have life under control all of the time has negative consequences.  Like, rarely do people offer to help and you may commit to maintaining your appearance at the expense of asking for and receiving much needed support – a self-defeating and lonely experience. 

I was devastated when the graduate programs to which I had applied denied me admittance.  I needed help in making sense of this event; after a while, I consulted a woman whom I admired. During our conversation I informed her of my discomfort with asking for help.  I remember her saying in response, “…I bet that your network is a lot bigger and stronger than you think. People love to help; they just don’t readily offer it to others who appear to have it together.” Grrr, so I have to reveal my weaknesses in order to get help? What if people don’t respect me afterward? …I can’t …I won’t …I mean that I want to but I don’t trust that after exposing my vulnerability I will remain whole. 

The obvious contradiction between the manner in which I share information, my fear of asking for help, and my desire to succeed influences me to admit that revealing a need is not a sign of weakness but of strength. One who seeks help is logical and resourceful, has a vision and, at least, the skeleton of a solid tactical plan.  A clear strategy, sense of purpose, realistic and flexible tactical plan, and a team is necessary to deploy the range of skills needed to realize the imaginary.  Only someone worthy of being your partner in success will recognize the power of asking for help and the honor in being asked to guide you through a challenge. 

Attract the things you want by articulating your needs to others. If your request is rejected, remember that god only uses what you have left to bless you, anyway. So, ask, receive, and flourish.

 

(The is the full-length version of the blog entry on http://www.michelleobrunch.com

Explaining Life

Posted in Egypt with tags , , , , on August 15, 2011 by Malkatshvah

Once, I read a *book in which the author claimed that one is more likely to develop an optimistic perspective if you attribute negative experiences with temporary factors and positive experiences with permanent factors. Being mindful of my thoughts helps me control my perspective.  In spite of this positive effect of meditation and spending time alone, significant focus on my “self” makes me feel distant from others. This distance coupled with frustration with the “slow” pace of my spiritual progress provokes me to imagine that I am the only one who thinks and feels certain things. A few days ago, I grew tired of being alone and thinking.  I was hungry to connect with another human and find out if she entertained thoughts similar to those that pass through my mind.  So, after my belly dance class, I conversed with my classmate, **NadiaNadia informed me that she had traveled abroad in search of clarity and she learned that clarity is neither tangible nor static; “instead,” Nadia asserted, “it comes and goes over time.”  Then, she emphasized the importance of not festering in frustration about the process of transforming and instead reminding yourself daily of what you wish to do with your life and how your actions, today, aid in the realization of your goals, tomorrow.

I felt empowered by Nadia’s reminder that no one is left behind in the quest for clarity and that there are practical ways to avoid getting caught up in fantasies of who I should be while giving myself and the universe credit for that which I have accomplished already.  Recognizing my accomplishments boosts my self-esteem, which is necessary when in the face of Goliath size obstacles that break weaker humans. Within the context of the influence of explanatory styles, Buddhist teachings of mindfulness, and my classmate’s life lesson, I am learning that associating disappointments with permanent explanations is unrealistic because everything in the universe is fluid.  Every day, both, tangibles and intangibles transform: the earth is positioned at a different angle, storms turn into typhoons, typhoons turn into overcast skies and humidity, perspectives change, feelings deepen, and alliances form or dissolve.  Change over which I have no control occurs daily, whether I like it or not.  This information discomforts me, yet I feel secure knowing that change is natural and that if I cease resisting the different manifestations of this phenomenon, then I am more likely to recognize opportunities in circumstances that appear unpromising.  From experience, I attest that resisting change produces a hellish, pessimistic state and this perspective inhibits clarity.

I felt new after connecting with my classmate; her remarks reminded me that spiritual sophistication is a covering of various textures.  My willingness to view Nadia as a teacher has resulted in my learning that I can create a more pleasurable life by receiving someone else’s story so that during challenging times I consider that moment as temporary and not unique to me, and that after it passes I will be whole. 

*”Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life,” by Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D.

**Nadia is a fictitious name used to protect the identity of my classmate.

(This blog is the full length version of that which appears on michelleobrunch.com)

Open At Closing

Posted in Egypt with tags , , , , on August 9, 2011 by Malkatshvah


Doing something different is likely to disturb the ordinary.  Usually, living beings shut down to protect themselves when their familiar is confronted with new matter.  While living in Egypt, I have, both, closed myself off to and embraced new experiences. In between these two reactions, I have become reacquainted with myself.

Back in New York, I felt incomplete because managing projects and television production work didn’t use all of my skills.  Since I was single, without children, and armed with a savings account, I decided to move to Egypt to create an opportunity for professional development. I had never before traveled to Africa and I did not have contacts in Egypt.  I had no idea what to expect, so I erred on the side of precaution by leaving behind my bikini panties, tight jeans, and heels and packing two large suitcases full of bloomies, flats and hope that despite not having gone to school in ten years, I would successfully grasp the Arabic language and develop fluency by the end of my stay.

Remembering and properly using numerous and complex Arabic grammar rules is stressful and evokes a deep sense of humility. There are times when I speak Arabic well and there are times when it appears as if I have never before taken an Arabic class.  In the latter circumstance I feel like a vulnerable child and I have temper tantrums.  In retrospect, I notice that I enjoy the learning process, experience milder tantrums, and recognize improvements when I refrain from judging myself and the Arabic language then submit to the jagged-edged process of learning, making mistakes, and learning again.  There are numerous references to the greatness of god in the Arabic language, particularly the phrase “insha allah” (if god wants); using this expression helps me remember, both, my individual limits and my power as a result of my connection to god.  Now, when I make a plan and preface my intention with “insha allah”, I feel less disappointed and critical when I am unable to complete the task as I had made the intention submitting myself and the outcome to god’s mercy. The Arabic language enforces humility. I loosen my grip on self-imposed ideals and open up to the divine process.

In N.Y.C., I experienced stress daily. Being ambitious and sharing an apartment helped me limit time alone with my thoughts and the universe. I worked multiple jobs, volunteered with various organizations, participated in multiple professional and intellectually stimulating gatherings, and I attended numerous cultural and networking events.  I was rarely still.  While in Egypt, though, my only job has been to learn Arabic.  Upon moving into an apartment on my own I committed to living differently so as to yield better results than the past. I envisioned living differently as praying and mediating daily, expressing more gratitude and kindness, and listening to god more than making requests.  After two months of practicing mindfulness and loving-kindness, I am becoming more aware of my thoughts and habits and I am practicing being more loving and kind toward myself and in response to life. In silence I have become aware that I talk to and think of others no differently than the way I talk to and think of myself.  Within this context of similarity, I recognize that I am the stage on which I perfect my relationships with others and life. For example, once I cease worrying about what isn’t and relish that which is – valuing its pluses and minuses – I am less likely to experience anger when other people fall short of my expectations and more capable of expressing genuine empathy. I close in order to open.  

Living alone and meditating allows me the space to shut out external narratives of who I am supposed to be and embrace who and where I am now.  I hesitated to travel to Egypt because I feared that future employers would view me as fickle.  Sometimes, I fear speaking Arabic in public because I think that I sound like a child instead of like a knowledgeable woman.  Until now, I didn’t like living alone because I feared that I would become “weird” and anti-social.  With unwavering focus, discipline, and sacrifice I have lived in Egypt and studied Arabic for one year and a half. Now, I speak more Arabic than when I first arrived. I do, in fact, sound like a novice when I speak Arabic; still, I garner respect from other Modern Standard Arabic speakers because they are aware of the difficulty of the language and applaud my courage and intelligence.  I enjoy living alone,now, and I choose to be in my own company rather than that of others often. If “fickle”, “child” and “weird” mean different from the norm and more in touch with BilQis, then I embrace those words and the transformation associated with each.  Deciding to move to Egypt to learn Arabic; living through humbling language learning experiences; being still and present reminds me that closing off passageways leading to the external familiar can open doors to experience the miraculous in otherwise mundane moments. I open at closing.  

(This is the full length version of the shorter blog posted on michelleobrunch.com)

The Power of Soap, Jabon, Sabonete, Saboon

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on June 29, 2010 by Malkatshvah

Some people develop an intimate relationship with a foreign country by going on a safari, visiting a museum, sunbathing on a beautiful beach, socializing with locals, or hiring a tour guide; however, I have developed the habit of discovering the best soap to bathe the body, clean clothing, and wash dishes.  I do not know how or why I developed this custom, but it brings me great joy to discover a good bar of soap and share this information with others.

I prefer spotless and lightly scented clothing, so I determine the quality of a good textile cleanser by its ability to brighten whites and eliminate odors and stains of all varieties.  Jabon de Cuaba and Omo soap reign in the Dominican Republic.  A bar of blue soap – whose name I cannot recall – is effective in Jamaica.  Zote soap in Mexico will make you want to slap your mother – it is that good!  Duru glycerin soap, which is identical to Jabon de Cuaba in Santo Domingo, is good – you can find this product in both Egypt and Turkey.  Duru and Jabon de Cuaba receive extra points because they are mild enough to use to bathe the body.  Use the Jabon de Cuaba with honey as it does not dry the skin as much as does the regular Jabon de Cuaba.  Duru and Jabon de Cuaba are glycerin soap, so they are easy to grate and deposit into the wash.  While this soap forms few suds in the washing machine, it suds a great deal in the shower.  Zote soap, which comes in bar form in white and pink – the pink color does not bleed onto the clothing – shreds easily, as well.  The aforementioned bars of soap eliminate blood stains effectively.  In Egypt, Ariel with Downy is an excellent clothing detergent as it suds well, eliminates stains and bad odors, and leaves a faint Downy scent in the fabric of your clothing.

I judge the quality of dish soap based on the amount of suds it forms and its ability to eliminate grease from plastic containers during the first wash.   In Brazil, there is an excellent dish soap that has a medium firm, glycerin-like pasty texture and comes in a golden-yellow and red container, similar to the product on the right.  I do not remember the exact name, but it is excellent and lasts a long time.

Curiosity and an appetite for risk has led me to discover, benefit from, and celebrate many wonderful cleaning products.  I value these items because they make me feel more equipped to deal with unexpected circumstances and closer to the country in which I found the product.  Soap is not just a cleaning agent, often its smell and texture also conjures memories of home, security, childhood, and family.  My familiarity with items representative of various cultures include me in the collective memory of a larger community of people. My diverse interests and experiences – including collecting soaps – allow me to squeeze past emotional barriers, connect with people, learn about their needs, and influence their life (and vice verse).   How can you use a seemingly unimaginative interest to produce positive change in your world?