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Welcome aboard!

Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.

— Oscar Wilde.

I like simple. I like complicated too. But I definitely like to read ideas that are explained in a simple way. I would read something easy but so full of truth and meaning like this quote above. Such a truth in a simple sentence. I would write simple too and you decide what is true for you! And here you are on my train of mind! Welcome!

nor·mal·i·ty and grat·i·tude

“Learn to be thankful for what you already have, while you pursue all that you want.” —Jim Rohn

During this quarantine, I found myself agitated that I was stuck at home, and annoyed that there was not much to do around. It is too early for gardening, we do not have any kids, cannot really go into the mountains or see the friends. You know how it is… I got even bored when simply listing all the activities in my head I could do like reading a book, watching a show, working on my paint by numbers project, or cook something (or eat something). I was not really motivated to learn anything else like another language or another hobby or workout. I was in this lazy bored state of mind and of course, I started feeling guilty about that state…

Then, one evening when we were about to watch yet another YouTube video, a story came up as an ad. It was the one from Toyota about the girl who lost her legs and then became a para snowboarder (Amy Purdy). This motivational story just hit me.

It made me remember my severe depression I experienced six years ago, and the days of last year when my husband was at warzone. Gratitude overwhelmed; tears came up in my eyes. I felt grateful that I can feel normal, have a normal life, then I can just read a book or do my painting without any panic attacks or anxiety. I felt grateful that my husband came back from deployment right before all the protests happened in the Middle East and before the virus started spreading around. It hit me that I can do all my hobbies not to just get distracted from my aggravating devastating depressing thoughts but do what I love and make time pass. I was thankful that I have normality, a life without anxiety, life without regrets or reliving your past, life without panic attacks, life with good night sleep and having a purpose. That’s how normality is defined for me. However, I think that I got used to this normality to the point where I did not appreciate it.

Now, I do not feel guilty or bored because I do not have much to do. I do not need to constantly look for activities just to keep my mind still. Once this realization happened, I noticed that I gained more motivation in daily things, I started finding more joy in each day. Gratitude is powerful.

Yoga Thoughts

“Yoga is not a work-out. It is a work-in.”

I went to yoga class the other morning. I needed a good stretch after the whole day in a downhill mountain bike park. That morning I absolutely had to go because my shoulder/neck area had given me grief with a sharp shooting pain the whole night. Excessive amount of painkillers, a couple of hours of massaging, ice packing, cream applying and stretching really helped my sleep that night.

The yoga teacher opened up her class with a message that our inner selves are separate from our human body. She described our “selves” as passengers on the train and how this train takes us through various places until we reach our final destination. This opening definitely reminded me of my blog name (and the fact that I haven’t written anything for a while). We are all train passengers and we have an ability to observe our feelings, emotions, life and be in the moment. Things are not stagnant, they pass and we are observers. 

I like yoga classes of this kind. I was easily able to relay to this teacher’s message. However, one person stood up and left at the beginning of her class. And I felt for that person too.

I never really understood yoga and its meaning for awhile. I was looking at it from the physical point of you – stretching, strength, balance. I was avoiding any meditation yoga type classes because of the unknown and potential religion connection to it. I honestly thought that it was also dangerous in a way. Little did I know. 

I only experienced the spiritual side of yoga when I learnt about body energies and how important they are. Feeling your energy pass through your body and being able to control its flow was absolutely eye opening.

It is truly magical to feel energy flow to your toes and fingers, certain muscles. How simple but significant it is to let your breath expand your lungs and let that breathe go to the body parts that bother you.

That class reminded me of all the yoga powers out there. By bringing awareness to my shoulder and letting breath go there definitely helped me relax and listen. It is still a bizarre concept to “listen to your body”, separating it from your self. I had no clue how my shoulder was going to feel that night  but it was not tight any more when I woke up next morning.

I do not do yoga as often as I should. I definitely need to practice awareness and breathing exercise more on a daily basis. We do get so caught up with out jobs, lives, relationships, issues and daily matters, then we forget who we truly are and what our essence is. Living in the present, practicing gratitude and being an observer are the key to living a fulfilling, less stressful life. I just need to go to yoga classes more often to remind myself about that.

Job Search Contemplation

The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.

M. Scott Peck

This thought passed my brain a couple of times recently.  I do not like my job. I am bored. I am frustrated. 

I remember how I felt when I got this job. I was so happy. I was so excited that finally after several years of working in the retail industry, I found something in my field. I would be working with people all over the world! I could finally apply my linguistic and international relations skills!

I used to be a retail store manager selling paint. Yep. That’s right. I was working 50-60 hours a week. People were constantly quitting, I was constantly short staffed, the customers were constantly rude and complaining. I mean, there were some satisfying parts of that job but overall I was ready to get out of that hell. Well, technically this “hell” built my resume quite a bit, hmm…most of it. And paid for my PMP certification. I am trying to be grateful here, OK? 

Nonetheless, when I got my current position, I was on the seventh cloud of happiness. I remember how nervous I was during the whole interview process which lasted about two months. It seemed so unreal. Working in a real office? Have my own space and computer? Get a nice cup of latte from a modern looking kitchen? Yes, I will take that! 

And now, I hate it. It has been two years. My managers have a promising future for me with the company as my revenue is the highest of the team and I am “liked by the right people”. And I just got my first raise! OK, OK… Time to be grateful here again. I got a raise! 3K is better than nothing. I am recognized for my hard work. I am still doing the best I can and only sometimes I take an hour lunch. I am attentive to detail and a great multitasker. I promise, I am not trying to sell myself. 

Honestly, when I get into my best graceful mood, my job does not sound bad at all. I work my regular 40 hours. My hour long commute has amazing mountain views and it gives me a chance to call my family back home. I have a promising career. I make a decent salary. I have good benefits. But I just want more. Better. More challenges and more learning. 

But what am I going to do with myself if I do quit? Who is going to pay for my bills? Sounds like not a responsible thing to do. I am trying to apply for other positions now but then, what if it is the same thing there?  I am casually looking. I do not want to get yet another job. I want it to be a step up for me. I am thoroughly reading job descriptions, checking out the companies’ websites and their LinkedIn page, scrolling through their Glassdoor reviews.

I am also trying to think how my hobbies can become a source of income. I was encouraged by my good friend to start writing children’s stories and I wrote one. Now I want to do more research about that field and work on improving my writing. I want to get more involved into writers community. I have many ideas but I need more time to write and do these things I want to do.. In addition to my full time job, 2 hour commute a day, my dog and house responsibilities plus multiple outdoor hobbies, it is not easy to make time. 

I thought about becoming one of these Instagram influencers. But I don’t feel like being a promoter or be in marketing/advertising field. I thought about becoming a photographer. In my opinion, people who shoot other people and portraits do well, I like nature photography more. 

I will just stay positive and keep casually looking for another job and writing my blog and children’s stories and who knows, maybe one day I will become a published author (When I typed that last part, it sounded very unrealistic, but hey it is all about belief, right?)

You do you

“Being alone is better than being with people who don’t care or make an effort to be with you and encourage you…” 
― Nourhan Mamdouh

When I was invited to go on a biking trip and could not make it because I had visitors in town, my friend said: “OK! You do you”. Well…I was expecting to hear something like – “OK, when are you available so that we can make this trip together?” 

That response made me upset and I honestly considered it rude. Only after being immersed in the American culture for some time, I was able to embrace the individualism concept. I come from the collectivist society where individualism is not understood. It is considered weird and boring to do things on your own. Your plans evolve around a group or a friend. “We and us” stand before “I and me”.

Five years ago, I couldn’t even imagine doing anything solo. Don’t take me wrong, I have friends (or people to do activities with). It is that one day I just got tired of constantly relying on other people’s schedules to do things with me. I found myself constantly stressed searching for a human being to go on bike rides, trips and hikes with. Another issue I had was that other people were not willing to change their plans to involve me because what mattered most is that the timing suited them and “you just have to do you”.

I could not keep doing that. I had to start making my own plans. My fear of missing out was totally not helping me either… And if noone is able to join, I just had to go on my own. I cannot believe the amount of opportunities that I missed. I had to learn how to do things on my own!

It started from one bike ride. It felt awful. It felt lonely.  Then, I did my first solo hike. The whole way, I was afraid that there was a mountain lion was going to attack me from behind. Then, I went on a ski trip on my own. I was actually proud of myself by then! Last spring, I went to England by myself.  And I had a great trip! Was it scary still? Yes! But practice makes it perfect!

if you cannot enjoy your solitude, then something is not right. I had to learn to enjoy to be with myself. I had to learn to do things on my own and at the end, it was very freeing to me. I felt ownership. I did not depend on anyone’s schedule. I became more self confident.

No, you cannot pet my dog

“When you say yes to others, make sure you are not saying no to yourself.” Paulo Coelho

Saying no to someone makes me feel so guilty, like I immediately offended another person’s feeling . I have lived on this earth for all most 30 years and I am just starting to learn now how to say no Without feeling guilty, and all the thanks to my pup (who is on the cover picture, by the way)!

I like to take my dog hiking with me all the time. He is a tall black lab/German shepherd mix and looks like a little horse. After my husband left for deployment, Altai started showing some aggression towards other people. So, imagine this little horse aggressively barking at you when you pass on the trail or lean over to pet him. I started feeling guilty about taking him out with me or be in crowded areas because I couldn’t let other people and their kids pet him or approach him in any way. 

When I took him to the training session last week (I would rather pay money to the trainer than in court), the trainer just blew my mind. She said: “You know that we cannot just come up and touch other people, it would make them feel uncomfortable, well it is the same with dogs. You are with your dog enjoying your hike, so why do other people feel the need and that you are obliged to let them pet your dog? Just say – sorry, you cannot pet him, he is in training.” That was like wow…I can actually make it about myself and my pup? She even said that someone called her a bitch for saying that and I immediately remembered this one mom’s look when I told her that her kid couldn’t pet my dog. 

Today was the first time since that training session when some kid asked me if they could pet Altai. I said, no, sorry, he is in training and the kid got upset. Well, too bad! At least, she asked! It felt good to say that and not feel guilty!

I would say that I definitely needed to differentiate guilt from being afraid to offend other people. We can throw low self esteem and high sensitivity here too which I am not going to touch upon here.

I was a very obliged kid with a very controlling mother. I didn’t even realize the whole effect of this over control until I became an adult and went to the therapist in my late twenties. She was able to connect all of my issues to my mother! I mean I heard that all of our problems come from our childhood before but I never realized the whole extent of it. An excessive feeling of guilt is definitely one of the consequences of my upbringing. I was always afraid to upset my mom and if I did, I was immediately receiving a cold shoulder. 

This feeling of guilt sucks. It does not just appear when I say no to someone, there are plenty of other scenarios, but I will get to them later. At least, for now I can say no to people who want to pet my dog.

Dark thoughts, are they though?

“Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.”

Haruki Murakami 

Once someone told me a story about a person who was struck by lightning while taking a shower.  The other day I came back from the camping trip and desperately needed to take one but it was storming really bad outside with lightning and thunder. I just had to rinse off, I couldn’t handle the idea of going to bed dusty and sweaty. I got in and was terrified the whole time that I was going to die. It was the fastest shower I ever took. Other times I experienced this fear while I was white water kayaking, backpacking and was riding on the back of the sports bike. All pretty adventurous activities. It makes me wonder if it is our fear of death that helps us survive in this world and makes us less reckless. I guess it all just depends on the degree of your fear. I would think that a rational amount of fear is only natural and can save a person’s life and it makes us more cautious. 

The truth is no one lives forever and we all die. Pretty simple. But everyone has to come to terms at one point or another with their own death coming up or their important people in life. Many people avoid this subject because it is associated with darkness, negativity, sadness. But is it really that dark? We have to think about death because you never know what it is going to happen tomorrow and we have to be prepared to die. 

“Adam Ruins Everything” series did an episode about death and how we can prepare for it and make it an ‘easy’ experience. Often, people find themselves at a loss about what to do, simple things like where the car title is, what some passwords are and how they want to be buried. If we provide them with all the necessary information beforehand, it would make their experience so much easier! I already told my husband that I want to be buried in the ground and ideally transported back to Mother Russia. Before my husband deployed, he shared with me all of his passwords and wrote a will (well the last one was kind of required). 

When it comes to thinking about someone else’s death, it is hard to grasp the overall concept for me. No one close to me died yet so I can only imagine what it is like to lose someone close to you. When I try to imagine, I do not get particularly sad and in my mind, it is some distant idea. I honestly have a hard time imagining. I don’t know if I am doing it on purpose not to get caught up with the idea or I just take it as is and it will hit me hard when it actually happens. I don’t know. 

My grandmother is however quite old and she has some health issues. These ramblings about death are connected to her recent disease. We have been very close since my early childhood and I have no idea how I am going to take her passing. I do believe in an afterlife and angels and souls getting free of physical bodies and so on. That helps. My logic understands that it is a natural life process and my heart? We will see. But I am glad that I am exploring these thoughts and acknowledging them. I do not judge them. I let them come and go.

Giving myself a break, literally.

“The grass is greener where you water it.”

Neil Barringham.

I was just about to walk out of the door to go to the gym and I felt my body ache. I contemplated what to do about that, turned around, took my snickers off and started cooking dinner.

I feel like a bag of sand. I feel very tired, weak, achy and sore. I am not sick though. The stupid allergies are there but I don’t care about them anymore.

I kind of feel bad that I didn’t ride my bike today or go to the gym. Actually, when my friend cancelled our biking plans on me, I still couldn’t have gone with other people and I chose not to. I am a little bit angry with my body and hope that it recovers fast before the weekend as I have another active trip planned. But honestly, I don’t have a right to be angry with my body. I think my body does not deserve the way I treat it. I don’t feed it properly, I don’t give it much rest and I don’t give it enough water. I feel that I exhausted it…

For the last couple of weeks (or maybe months), I have been running around like a crazy woman. I am planning my summer trips, fall trips, running errands all the time, trying to exercise between hiking, trail running and mountain biking, meeting friends, taking care of the dog, training the dog and dealing with his crap, keeping up with grocery essentials, guest visits, shit braking in the house, plus extra house projects and work. Wow. Oh and plus I have to go to the gym 8 times a week to keep my free memberships there (a perk of being a spouse of a deployed soldier)!

The thing is that half of all of that is on me. I am intentionally staying busy. I have no family here. My husband has been deployed for 8 months. I am actually really proud that I am handling things on my own and that I got my routine down. I am trying to stay busy. I do not want to feel lonely and want to be productive. But maybe it is too much for me even my body had to tell me to stop? But man, I cannot stop: I have a car oil appointment scheduled this week( itis 1000 miles past due.) And then I need to do my car registration thing as July is almost over and then I need to bike and go to the gym and meet with friends and do work happy hours. Stop! And slow down.

However, I don’t view my life as hectic. Only looking back after the fact I am like, wow, I have been busy! I feel like slow dog walks and park plays each morning and evening have been my sanity. It is quiet, I can hear the birds singing. I am enjoying the flowers, trees, mountains and fresh air.

I am also trying to figure out feeding myself situation as it is so related to my body state!

I hate cooking. I don’t remember when was the last time I cooked a proper meal. During a Camping trip two weeks ago?? The situation definitely worsened since the time my husband left. For a couple of months, I was consuming HelloFresh boxes while I had a nice discount with them. Oh boy, it was stressful. I had to make sure that I cooked three times a week otherwise the packages would go bad. But I was feeding myself well. Then there was a time I was doing meal prepping on Sundays. Meals would last me for a couple of days during the week. It was too much work and I couldn’t eat my creations for that long, they were not tasty enough and I would get tired of the same food. Then, I did salads for lunches but I would get hungry too fast and my spinach would always go bad by the time I finish it.

But last week was the worst. I barely ate any lunches and was getting fast food dinners. My work was so slammed to go out for lunch, I didn’t have any food in the fridge to pack lunches, or I didn’t want to eat the stuff I would bring. The thing is that I like to eat but I don’t like to cook and I am too frugal to eat out all the time. And when I am stressed, I cannot eat.

I feel bad about complaining on this matter as I should be grateful for such an abundance of food around. There are so many fast food chains and the grocery stores have multiple options for food prep.

Maybe I should give myself a break and hire a cook? I think I can afford it and then I won’t die from malnutrition!

Anyway, I am going to bed early today. I am exhausted.

Finding my belief

A grateful heart is a beginning of greatness. It is an expression of humility. It is a foundation for the development of such virtues as prayer, faith, courage, contentment, happiness, love, and well-being.

James E. Faust 

I just wanted to start with saying that writing this post was hard. I started writing about one topic and then switched to another and somehow I ended up with religion. I had a general idea of my state, feelings and emotions surrounding this topic but it was hard to put it in the organized way. As a side note, I am so happy I started my blog, I wrote only a couple of posts but it has helped me tremendously, in an emotional and spiritual way.

I consider myself belonging to Russian Orthodox Church. Not to a particular church as a community/building but as a religion. As most people, I went through a journey of finding God in my life. Even though we follow Russian Orthodox traditions, have saints icons at home and talk about God from time to time, my family is not religious, my dad is agnostic. My grandmother started going to church on a regular basis when I was in middle school and she wanted me to go with her. I hated it. I had to wear a skirt and scarf on my head. It was unbearable to stand the whole time for 1.5 hr service and keep a good posture. It was always hot in the building and I couldn’t understand any of the singings. The priest looked very serious and was a little scary. There were many ready to scold you babushkas if you were not following the rules, like standing where you were supposed to stand, or putting the candles on during the time you were not supposed to put them and so on. When I grew older and was in college, I would join my grandmother for church from time to time.

Then there was a time I considered myself agnostic. It happened right around the time I met my husband who is an atheist.

Right around the time we got married, about 6 years ago, I had the most severe depression in my life. I couldn’t sleep, eat, sit still, or function as a normal person. It lasted for about a year. It was horrible. Nothing and no one could help – therapists, pills, herbal stuff, friends, family, self help books. Depression was eating me alive. It is so true that people turn to God/church when they have issues or something bad happens. That’s what I did, I was praying, I was going to church, I confessed, I talked to priests. It definitely helped me to get through dark times but the thing is that I don’t think that I was a true believer yet, in a spiritual sense of it. I was believing with my mind, not my soul. Eventually, I recovered from depression.

Only recently, I experienced that feeling Eckhart Tolle describes in his book “Power of Now”, feeling of stillness and connectedness. This feeling didn’t come to me the same way it came to him, all of a sudden during the night. I experienced that feeling back then during my depression when I started meditating but I couldn’t understand it and didn’t stick to it.

I only meditate when I start having depression and anxieties which happen about once a year. When I had my last anxiety attack in the beginning of this summer, I went back to listening to my favorite meditation site. https://www.fragrantheart.com/cms/free-audio-meditations. It was hard to recognize that feeling he was describing – quiet mind, inner piece, no outside noice. Oh, I did not trust that weird feeling of stillness at all. It was very new – how can I just not keep thinking about my problems, worry about stuff, be anxious? It is not normal not to have to think. I had to make myself embrace the feeling. Reading “Power of Now” made me believe in this feeling and trust it more.

Now, I seek it. I am more aware of my anxieties. I don’t judge my negative thoughts and I don’t let them eat me up. I go back to my personal safe space when I find myself in my negative states. I follow Ten Commandments more closely, I am working on becoming a better person every day. I want to earn having this feeling of peace and gratitude and I am learning not to sweat the small stuff.

Now I go to church to church once in a while – on major holidays or when I need to get Holy Water. There’s only one Russian Orphodox Church where I live. But when I do go, I love being there during service: the singing, the atmosphere, the candles, the smell captivate me, bring me peace and make me feel closer to God. But I always know that I can find that peace in my soul.

Recognizing the change

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
― Albert Einstein

Everyone has a certain image of herself/himself. I have an actual picture in my head when I think about myself. And to be honest, I think that this picture has been out of date for awhile, stuck somewhere when I was in college. I am in my late twenties now and just until recently I used that image in certain situations. Now when I am doing a lot of self analysis, self reflection and exploration, I realize that this girl is long gone. In this post, I wanted to talk about accepting changes in yourself.

I would have never called myself a procrastinator. Ever. I even had a title of Overachiever. My school papers were always written way before the deadline. All of my payments would be done manually before the due date. For any event or presentation, I would be always very well prepared in advance. Any little thing would be a list item in my head with a plan how to accomlish it. I would show up to any meetings 5 min earlier.

Well, it occurred to me the other day that things changed. I am always 5-10 min late, everywhere. It is almost the middle of July and my car registration sticker still says 6… I have friends coming to visit tomorrow and I just cleaned my house and my car. I don’t know when I am supposed to take my dog to the vet next time (I used to!). At work, I am cutting close to internal deadlines for writing assessments, completing tasks and so on. What happened to me? Where is responsible me? Great panic comes when I start just thinking about it.

But is it really that bad? I am still a list maker and item cross checker and things get done. Thanks to modern technology, there are so many helpful tools available! I don’t have to keep things in my head anymore. I love GoogleKeep, phone calendar, making reminders by voice on my phone. Eventually, I moved all my payments to auto. I know that there is forgiveness period for car registration, the vet people would usually call me to remind about the appointment. If I complete something right by deadline, I end up saving myself more time because I am more concentrated and proactive, versus giving myself an opportunity to rethink, rewrite, reanalyze. I tend to do small things immediately when they come up so that they are out of my way. And at the end of the day, I am so much less stressed out.

I still don’t call myself procrastinator. I am just more flexible. I give myself a slack. This is one part of me that changed and I am accepting this change (or at least I am trying as I tend to be hard on myself and be a control freak – different topic). Observe changes in yourself. Most likely these changes made you a better person!

Who are you, my friend?

“I don’t need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod; my shadow does that much better”. Plutarch

When I commute to work every morning, I like to be in silence. I do not listen to music. Sometimes, I listen to NPR. I do not really like podcasts either. However, I was scrolling through the episodes of this podcast http://livingexperiment.com/ on Castbox the other day and one caught my attention – Episode 77: Friends.

This episode was a good reminder of my understanding about friendship and who a friend is – someone you rely on, someone you trust, someone who is there for you, you feel comfortable around them, they laugh at your jokes and don’t get offended by your sarcasm. Pretty simple, right? But I could not believe that I had to be reminded about it as things got shifted since I moved to the US.

Acquaintances are considered friends here. People you go biking with – you call them friends, people you go to their house for drinks/barbecue – you call them friends. But they are really not unless you have a true connection with these people and you can allow yourself to be vulnerable. I do not recall the last time, I have heard these “friends” share their problems.

I knew that my husbands deployment was going to show me who my true friends are. And it did. I gained some friends, I lost some friends (or acquaintances, I guess).

The true realization hit when I asked my biking buddies to go out for drinks with me one Friday night. I was feeling lonely and did not want to spend the evening on my own. I could have been vulnerable and admitted to them that I was lonely but I did not want people to feel sorry for me. Noone came out that night, one of the excuses was “wanting to snuggle with their hubby”. Well, that’s why they are just biking buddies.

I allow the relationship nourish and grow when I feel excited to be with a person, when they are not afraid to share their feelings and thoughts and I know that I won’t be judged for sharing mine. I am loosening the ties with people are the other way around. It makes me free, it makes me happy.

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