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Whosawhatsit: developing a spiritual practice

It’s around 4am and I’m wide awake…feeling rested, mind you, because I went to bed insanely early after a long and wonderfully full day yesterday.  Staring off into the blackness, I’m wondering what to do with myself.  The first thing I’m thinking is I should get up… The body knows what it needs and it says we are awake now so I shouldn’t flagrantly ignore this – as I often have in the past. 

Alright, so we’re up… Too early to play words with friends less my “friends” think I’m a nut – although there’s a high probability they do already.  Too early to start blasting music and rehearsing new Zumba choreography – a downside of having neighbors on all sides.  Too early to call my Mom – nobody thinks chit chat is fun at 4am, even Mom, although knowing her she’s probably awake too.

Doodoo…dadoo…

I keep hearing the words ‘start a spiritual practice’ floating through my mind. Although, I’m trying to block them out because playing words with friends right now sounds so much easier, even if it’s the mest up board and I have no vowels. ‘Meditate’ says the voice. ‘Do some yoga.’ ‘Say a prayer.’ So full of ideas now, hunh?  Well, I have been trying to pass the mic to my inner voice more often these days… Alright, it’s time. Let’s see if early morning before the sun comes out really is the so called ‘sweet spot’ for meditation. Ugh wait…meditate…how do I do that?

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Creating 2012 – A Letter to My Life Coach & Mentor

Hi Eluise,

First of all Happy Holidays! I hope you’re having a wonderful season filled with love and warmth. I definitely am. My heart is bursting with love and my brain is bursting with revelations. This has been such a revelatory year! The irony is that I took this time to be still and to learn about myself and my connection to God, while having one of the most movement filled years of my life.

I have had a couple key revelations over this past year that have set me on my current path, but one main one this summer, around August, that has really helped me to understand more about my purpose on this Earth. One afternoon while washing dishes it came to me that I am a bearer of light, a keeper of love. I think I mentioned this to you before. That my purpose is to serve as a beacon of light and love even when things are grim so that it exists somewhere on this earth and can be found and shared. Arguably we all have this task, but I am awake to it and I acknowledge it as my purpose. Once I accepted this, it helped to explain many things about myself. Like why I am attracted to living and working in fragile environments where there has been conflict, poverty, and chronic injustice – essentially a lack of love. Why when I go to these places I am usually openly welcomed, a way is always made for me, people accept me into their homes even if we don’t speak the same language. Why people with dark / broken elements are attracted to me, with addictions, self destructive natures, chronic negative outlooks, paranoia, etc. We are attracted to each other because they are seeking a way to be healed and I am a healer. There is an immense healing power in just believing that something or someone can be changed, reborn, renewed. And in helping people believe this about themselves and their situations. I recently went to a workshop led by Michael Dove and he rightly pointed out that we all have within us a reset button. Simple but powerful. That is in fact what I have done with myself this year, pressed reset.

Thankfully I have become wiser and I realize that it does not serve me well or allow me to use my gifts well when I am constantly exposed to fragile environments and darkness. It drains me and depletes me to the point of being fragile myself. So this summer into the fall, when I was ready to start thinking about partnership again, I began asking for a different kind of partner. One who appreciates my role as a light bearer and keeper / beacon of love and who can offer me some protection, a safe space, peace and harmony in which to bring forth my gifts fulfill my purpose, someone who replenishes me instead of constantly depleting me. Would you believe, I think I have now manifested, with God’s help, this person into my life. It’s early days, but many synchronicities keep appearing that tell me I am on the right path.

But what made me stop washing the dishes and sit down and write you this email this evening is another revelation I had – there’s something about washing dishes that apparently makes my mind work lol. I was listening to Dr. Wayne Dyer on HayHouse radio just now and he was talking about love and the power that we have to manifest change in our lives through a deep understanding of ourselves as loving giving creatures first and foremost, or as he likes to say spirits having a human experience. This made me think that it’s time for me to take this healing / life coaching gift further. And that actually, without specifically setting out to do so I have begun training for this actively all of this past year, speaking with you, listening to HayHouse, familiarizing myself with the canon, reading all sorts of things, going to church more often, learning how to pray including via dance and movement, starting to go to workshops, learning about nutrition to heal my body… I have been very much thinking about where to go / next steps for 2012. And I became very clear this evening that one of my goals for next year will be to deliberately study the art of healing – mind, body, and soul – the art of creating personal peace and harmony in order to bring forth ones gifts. So in 2012, I plan to attend more workshops where I can interact with some of these masters, read more, learn about the history of healing through love including people such as Peter Deunov and others that I may come across, learn to meditate and develop a regular practice, and journey inwardly a little more, even perhaps start writing loose fragments of a book (whose subject I really don’t know yet and probably won’t until I start writing it…)

I am glad to be able to share these thoughts with you. And welcome any guidance you have.

Love and light,

Elana

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Authenticity and the face of God

My life was going along fairly normally – or at least my new normal – and then I went to my first real professional level rehearsal at Ailey. It is only a workshop, i.e. no pressure, but it will culminate in a performance at City Center.  The first rehearsal tonight put everything – as in everything in my current life – in sharp perspective for me.

First of all I am angry with myself and sad bc I am deciding now that I want to dance when so much time has been lost in really seriously perfecting my craft. I have put myself in a position to have to play catch up and it’s hard and lonely and pretty humiliating at times, like tonight.

That said I am in awe of my own audacity and nerve. I’m absolutely certain I’ve lost my mind. I am also equally certain that I am growing more in this period as a human being and as an energy bound spirit than at many other phases in my life. And as such I have no patience for conventional thinking and people who feel the need to live by it.

The truth is I’ve really set out an incredible challenge for myself, of who’s exact shape and size I’m not even fully aware. I only know that it is rather all consuming. I am dedicated to something without knowing what the outcome is supposed to be, but who’s force is attracting me like a powerful magnet. It is both absolutely terrifying and terrifically liberating.

So what is this all about? Am I trying to prove to myself that I’ve still got it? Or am I trying to use the one gift that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I have. Many questions, not so many answers…

In a recent discussion with an acquaintance, the question came up of whether I am a good dancer. I could not say yay or nay as it’s really in the eye of the beholder. But what I did and can say is that of all the things I do, dancing is the one thing that brings me closest to seeing the face of God.

Good and bad are irrelevant. The only thing that matters is authenticity. Authenticity is the place where our inner guide speaks to us and the divine becomes material.

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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The 10th inning

Oh man, this week has been killer. Just real straight up gut busting hard.  If I didn’t know before, I now fully understand the meaning of manual labor.  I somehow agreed to teach 11 Zumba classes this week!  And Monday was a holiday, so we are talking about 11 full throttle high energy (the only way I know how to do it) Zumba classes in 5 days, including Saturday.  Who does that?!  …Ok, I guess people do it.  But rookie me – who just got licensed to teach in March, only 4 months ago – I have never done it before.

It sounded like such a good idea. I started out Tuesday morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed in Flushing and made my way to Whitestone by the end of the day where I taught a class with the most beautiful view, facing the Whitestone bridge as the sun was slowly setting over the water, it was breathtaking.  I felt so great and on top of things by the end of Tuesday that I treated myself to a sugar free Italian icy at the Lemon Ice King of Corona.  Wednesday morning I woke up knowing I was going to teach 3 classes, but by afternoon had a 4th one added, two back to back in Forest Hills in the morning and then another two back to back in Astoria in the evening.  But still, I was slinging it, hitting it hard!  Thursday morning found me a little exhausted but still positive, 3 classes to bring that live energy to, first in Bayside, then a free class in Forest Park (that was almost rained out but alas, the show went on!), then off to Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn.  By the time I was headed to Brooklyn I found myself saying a quiet prayer calling on the universe for strength and stamina.  And it worked!  We rocked through that last class.  Friday morning, a break, thank goodness!  Friday evening in Jamaica, we busted out Zumba despite the rain…

But the real breakthrough came this morning in Astoria… Class number 10… At this point, my body, mind and soul all belong entirely to the Zumba gods for they are the ones getting me through.  There must have been at least 80 women in the room, all ready to get their Zumba on.  The music hits…and like Bob Marley says…I feel no pain.  And then IT happens!  There is a moment, during La Morena, when, in full on merengue swing, an energy just overtakes the room.  Everybody is in complete sync, the whole class of 80+ women are riding the same wave. I know it’s real cause I instantly get goosebumps all over and a chill – more like a thrill – runs through me.  This is it!  This is IT!!!  This is the feeling I’ve been looking for, this is why I do this!  It totally re-energized me and, I could see on the faces in the room, others were re-energized as well.

So here I go, off to class number 11!!!    \O/

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2011 in Zumba journey begins

 

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I love you but I love myself more

A friend of mine – a beautiful model friendfrom Kenya who now lives in Milan and has two gorgeous Kenyan

This flower, which I saw for the first time in Kenya at the coast, blossoms only at night. I call it the Moonflower.

Italian boys – recently asked me if I could recommend any inspirational books to her.  This got me thinking about books I’ve been reading recently and the fact that I haven’t finished a book in a long time.  Likely because I tend to read 4 or 5 books at once, like old friends visiting who you keep encouraging to stay longer because you like their company.  But when I really like a book – similar to when I really like a guy – velocity increases and all sense of time dissipates as I become more and more pulled into its (his) story.

I recommended to my friend two books that I came across a while back, neither of which I’ve actually finished (again, the old friends visiting philosophy), but both of which have managed to have a profound impact on me from just the portions I’ve read so far.  These are Taking Time for Your Life by the extraordinary life coach Cheryl Richardson and The Four Agreements by the clairvoyant  healer and teacher don Miguel Ruiz.  The first is about how the art of extreme self care and the idea that you have more to give others when you feel fulfilled.  The second is about how to establish and maintain relationships based on integrity and shared purpose.  Both contain messages that I really needed to hear at the time and still benefit from now.

But something really special happened recently while at my new fav Flushing bakery, sipping on taro bubble tea (my new fav obsession). I got that timeless feeling, went into autopilot and…wait for it…wait for it…finished a book.  It’s titled I Love You but I’m Leaving You Anyway by the hilarious and insightful Tracy McMillan.  There are many little (and big) gems sprinkled throughout this book, but one that spoke to me most is this one – I’ll let Tracy tell it:

…my view of men was essentially self-centered: I looked at them with my self in mind. And that self wanted the men in my life to talk more, emote more, chill out, stop trying to fix everything… But when it comes right down to it… trying to turn one into the other [men into women, all the guys I’ve ever dated into me] is a waste of time compared to devising artful combinations of the two…

Well that was a revelation for me.  Seriously.  I’ve always been looking for the super emotive guy who loves taking Zumba classes and making palak paneer with chapati from scratch as much as I do or who loves long walks on hot summer days in the botanical gardens and drinking bubble tea, essentially a male replica of myself.  While this is not only unrealistic, it would be utterly boring.  Thanks Tracy for shedding some light on this issue.  I look forward to going forth into the world with this clearer understanding.  Sometimes the simplest bit of down home truth can be so eyeopening.

Moonflower in full bloom

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2011 in Book recommendations

 

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Letting go: forgiveness

We all have people in our life we need to forgive and anger we need to release.  Ooh child, don’t even let me get started on mine… But don’t let it eat you alive.  Cause guess what, when you’re holding it in, that’s exactly what it’s doing.  Your body suffers. Little (and big) aches and pains creep up that you never had before, your skin becomes a hot mess, you always have headaches and dark circles under your eyes, you find it hard to catch your breath – I mean really catch your breath and breathe easy.  Sound familiar?  That’s the body trying to tell us something, trying to get our attention anyway it can.

What does it mean to forgive? How do we actually do this?  For me it means looking at a situation and deciding the person or people who brought the situation about are human.  They are struggling with their humanity and purpose on this earth just as much as I am (even if they don’t know it) and they are fallible, they will make mistakes (even if they don’t accept them).  The point of forgiving is not about the other person acknowledging and accepting what they did wrong – not to say it isn’t great when that happens, but you could be waiting until camels shake maracas and who wants to be stuck waiting?  No, the point of forgiving is that you acknowledge the humanity and imperfection in the offending person, because you yourself are also imperfect, and you release the anger you are holding in yourself towards them.  Forgiveness is about you.

Well this is all fine and dandy, but how to implement this so that we actually achieve forgiveness and the peace that follows?  That one is a really personal matter and individual to each of our own styles. Last year, I was in serious need of accessing my ability to forgive and I resurrected, with the help of my awesome youngest brother, a tool I’d used several years before: letting go and giving it back to nature.

Some years back, in undergrad, I had fallen hard for one of my best friends, who was also coincidentally the first person I’d ever kissed (in middle school).  When I went out to visit him – as a friend, of course, cause that seemed like a good idea at the time – in London where he was studying, turns out he had a girlfriend.  I spent 99% of that trip heartbroken and the perpetual rain of January in London did not help.  The other 1% was spent getting sloshed as only Brits know how.  It wasn’t until I was in Argentina later that Spring on a study abroad that I was actually able to let go of the whole experience.  An amazing thing happened.  I took a trip to some gorges near Buenos Aires and while standing at the edge (there were barriers) looking out over the beautiful scene of waterfalls and greenery, a bird with a significant wingspan caught my eye.  It was flying so powerfully up and out of the ravine, my eyes were magnetized by it.  In that moment, I let all my sorrow and heartbreak rest on it’s capable wings and as it flew away I felt my heart lifting and knew that I would now be able to forgive and move on.

Similarly, this past year I was going through another moment of heartbreak – it never seems to get easier – and was in desperate need of some way to let it go, to unstick myself and move on.  And surprisingly, packing up and leaving the continent did not do the trick.  I returned to Kenya for a short consultancy, this time with my brother in tow so that he could see the country before I officially left “for good.”  We decided to go down to the coast for about a week or so and one beautiful evening in Mombasa at dusk while we are having dinner at the oceanfront at my favorite little restaurant Il Covo, my bro comes up with a great idea.  We were discussing how we both believe in Yemanja, the goddess of the sea, stemming from Yoruba tradition, and he suggested that I make a list of exes I need to forgive and release them into the sea.  So I wrote down a few names on a small sheet of paper, including the two people I had dated for three years each while in Kenya and walked down to the water’s edge.  Knee deep in the gloriously warm water of the Indian Ocean with the moon high in the sky lighting my way and the waves inviting me with their ebb and flow to let go, I laid my list down and released it to Yemanja asking her to take it from me and help me heal.

The truth is we sometimes get comfortable with our pain, like an old friend. But I’ve learned to take the power out of a thing by forgiving and thereby reducing it’s ability to keep hurting me.  After a while, I start to see these things as if on a movie screen of my life.  Yes it happened, no I have not forgotten it, but it is at a far enough distance that it no longer hurts me because I have released it.  I let it go.

 

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Where are you from?

Queens. No, I mean where are you from from? America.  I mean, like, where is your family from? Oh, you wanna know my chemical makeup…

Lamu, Kenya

In my lifetime so far, I have been african american, afro caribbean, black latina, boriqueña/dominicana, butter rican pecan/brazilian.  I have been all those things and many more, including my personal favorite: the check box on government forms that reads ‘african american (non hispanic),’ after which I proceed to also check the hispanic box on the same form, take that Uncle Sam!  I have called myself many things and tried to fit, more and less comfortably, into many boxes depending on my personal politics at given moments.  But who am I really?

I was recently in a workshop called writing through asanas (yoga postures) with the amazing Michele Medina.  And after 10 minutes of down dog (yes, we held each posture for 10 minutes), she asked us to consider the question: where are you from? In my notebook I wrote:

I am from a place of love.  I was born out of love, light, hope, laughter. I am from a hollowed out place in an old beautiful tree, protected by the earth and the spirits.  I am from a continuum of energy, love and light, which I neither created nor destroyed, neither began nor ended. I exist within it and it contains me perfectly, provides all my sustenance.  I am complete within it.

Imagine giving that answer to someone who really wants to know why your hair is curly like that (and no, it’s not a weave, and please stop putting fingers in my head to check for tracks) even though you “look black.” And why your hips seem to know that salsa rhythm so well.  And why you speak Spanish with such a “good accent.”  I should try giving that response just for tiffs and giggles.

But seriously, we – my brothers and I – are from so many places that it does boggle the mind and makes it very difficult to give a simple and concise answer in passing conversation.  With us, you have to really want to know and then dedicate the time to listen to the full answer.  My wonderful Dad was born in Puerto Rico to my Puerto Rican abuelita and my Brazilian avô (he may have actually been from Surinam, directly north of Brazil, we’re not a hundred percent sure).  My amazing Mom was born in Aruba and raised in Trinidad by her St. Vincent mom and Dominican father.  When I went to Aruba, a Dutch colony, with my grandmother to celebrate her 80th birthday a couple years back, I met my oldest living relative on that side of the family.  You would think she’d be speaking in Papiamento, the mix of Dutch, Portuguese and English with vocabulary influences from African and Arawak languages, preferred by the locals.  But no, she only wanted to speak in Spanish from her native Dominican Republic, although she did do all her own translation into English for those in the room who couldn’t understand, pretty impressive for a 93-year-old.

So, that’s the skinny.  We’re from all over.  And there haven’t been any boxes created yet that actually fit us, so in the meantime we’re busy creating our own.  I wonder what I will come up with next… Someone dear to me recently suggested morena as a possibility.  I am also loosely considering human, maybe even superhuman =)

Loíza, Puerto Rico

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2011 in Identity

 

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Fighting my way back to fabulous…and beyond


I would like to introduce a term I call “crispy”.  This is what I term the experience of getting older and neglecting the body or really just letting life come in and make us forget the magical connection we have to our bodies and thereby losing limberness and flexibility.  It’s the experience of hearing things go snap-crackle-pop when we reach over to touch our toes or, for those of us who do, raise our leg to put it up on the ballet barre.  These are just a couple of the ways I recognized I was becoming “crispy”.  And folks let me tell you, if at any point in your life you were used to going down into full splits or kicking your leg high in the air or even bending all the way over and easily touching your toes , it is a very jarring experience to wake up and realize you can’t do these things with the same ease or at all.

But the good news is now you are awake.  And you have decided whatever it was in your life that made you neglect your star player – that brilliant person staring back at you in the mirror – you are not going to let it come between you and your fabulousness ever again.  I am here to tell you that “crispiness” can be reversed and you can fight your way back to fabulous.  I am in the process of doing this, working on it little by little everyday, and I am absolutely flabbergasted and amazed at how the body can be retrained to stretch and bend even after years of neglect.  It is truly an awe-inspiring thing to witness and experience.

As much as it feels like it, we did not get this way overnight.  This is good news because it means that the way we slowly ate, drank, stressed, cried, screamed, bored ourselves into rigidness, we can actually gradually breathe, love, yoga, zumba, pilates (you get the idea…) our way out.  With each day that I feel myself getting stronger, my stamina increasing, my balance improving, my knees whining less, my cellulite disappearing (keeping it all the way real y’all), I realize not only will I become fabulous again, but I just might get into the best shape of my life.


 
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Posted by on May 12, 2011 in Fighting Back to Fab

 

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Landscaping your path

In this world, it seems we are often buried under so many expectations imposed by others and by ourselves that it’s easy to lose sight of who we really are and what really makes us tick in the effort to be responsible bill-paying law-abiding adults.  I breathed a deep sigh of relief recently – a sigh I had been holding in for many years – when I finally openly accepted my reality, which is that I am passionate about international development and dance, that I am both an aid worker and an artist, and that these realities do not have to compete inside of me, but can actually exist in harmony and reinforce each other.  One big hurdle crossed, phew!

Well…as it turns out, finding your path is a very good start, but it doesn’t end there.  Apparently, that’s when the real work begins.  For starters, the twin demons of fear and doubt must be slayed.  And the path must be groomed in order to maintain it’s luster and shine.  I’d like to share with you a wonderful how-to guide for landscaping your path, from Paulo Coelho, that has been extremely useful to me:

1] The path begins with a crossroads. There you can stop and think what direction to follow. But don’t spend too much time thinking or you’ll never leave the spot. Reflect a lot on the choices that lie ahead, but once you have taken the first step, forget the crossroads for ever or else you will always torture yourself with the useless question: “did I take the right path?”

2] The path doesn’t last for ever. It is a blessing to travel the path for some time, but one day it will come to an end, so always be prepared to take leave of it at any moment. However enraptured you may be at certain landscapes, or scared whenever you have to make a great effort to go ahead, don’t get too used to anything. Neither to the hours of euphoria, nor to the endless days when everything seems so difficult and progress is so slow. Don’t forget that sooner or later an angel will appear and your journey will reach an end.

3] Honor your path. It was your choice, your decision, and just as you respect the ground you step on, that ground will respect your feet. Always do what is best to conserve and keep your path and it will do the same for you.

4] Be well equipped. Carry a small rake, a spade, a penknife. Understand that penknives are no use for dry leaves, and rakes are useless for herbs that are deep-rooted. Know also what tool to use at each moment. And take care of them, because they are your best allies.

5] The path goes forward and backward. At times you have to go back because something was lost, or else a message to be delivered was forgotten in your pocket. A well tended path enables you to go back without any great problems.

6] Take care of the path before you take care of what is around you. Attention and concentration are fundamental. Don’t be distracted by the dry leaves at the edges or by the way that others are looking after their paths. Use your energy to tend and conserve the ground that accepts your steps.

7] Be patient. Sometimes the same tasks have to be repeated, like tearing up weeds or closing holes that appear after unexpected rain. Don’t let that annoy you – that is part of the journey. Even though you are tired, even though certain tasks are repeated so often, be patient.

8] Paths cross. People can tell what the weather is like. Listen to advice, and make your own decisions. You alone are responsible for the path that was entrusted to you.

9] Nature follows its own rules. In this way, you have to be prepared for sudden changes in the fall, slippery ice in winter, the temptations of flowers in spring, thirst and showers in the summer. Make the most of each of these seasons, and don’t complain about their characteristics.

10] Make your path a mirror of yourself. By no means let yourself be influenced by the way that others care for their paths. You have your soul to listen to, and the birds to tell what your soul is saying. Let your stories be beautiful and pleasant to everything around you. Above all, let the stories that your soul tells during the journey be echoed at each and every second of the path.

11] Love your path. Without this, nothing makes any sense.

 
 

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Little gifts

One Saturday morning, I was rushing out of my apartment, a bit wound up by the intense weekend of ballet and Zumba that was ahead of me, wondering how I was going to make it through. On the elevator with me was a father and his daughter, a girl of about six or seven years old. She pulled a small piece of what appeared to be crumpled red paper out of her pocket. Her dad, seeing the paper, assumed it was trash and took it from her lovingly, as one would take a snotty tissue from a child figuring they don’t need to be burdened with garbage.

The little girl looked up at her dad and, saying something in a language I didn’t understand, reached out her hand asking for the crumpled paper back. She pulled on one end of it and flapped the wings on the world’s tiniest and most carefully made origami crane. I could feel her dad smiling in his heart at the sight of this little piece of beauty in his daughter’s hand that he had initially mistaken as trash, which she then safely tucked back into her pocket.

That was a beautiful reminder for me at the beginning of what was going to be a very challenging weekend of dance and movement to be observant and mindful of the everyday little moments of joy that we often overlook in our hectic schedules and to seek the inner beauty in what may at first appear to be nothing but a bit of trash. There are lots of little gifts like this out there in our day to day just waiting for us to claim by simply noticing them…

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2011 in Zumba journey begins

 

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