There is so much mental reconciliation and emotional strength that goes into creating a finished piece of art. So many drafts and sketches and swatches of color that people often never see. So many moments of doubt, so many instances that challenge me to take a deep breath and try something I'm not entirely sure will work. It's far easier to give up than it is to try
Trying matters so, so much.
Trying builds heart.
I don't think this perceived struggle is unique to my work, or even to this art form. I feel it when I rock climb, when I go backpacking, when I walk into a room full of people who I don't know, about to participate in or teach a new activity.
I believe that pursuing one's curiosity (and note how I didn't use the word "passion") inherently comes with some level of facing a fear of the unknown. In a day and age where we are bombarded with images of perfection and other people's successes, normalizing the shadow side of this process feels important to honor and share with others.
There is a quote that I had on my mirror all throughout highschool that I found in one of those 365-inspiration calendars. I believe it helped me develop the attitude and ethic I needed to create a portfolio that got me into college on a full tuition scholarship. I've recently returned back to it:
"Don’t wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect.
Stop waiting for that perfect moment to start pursuing your curiosity - just start somewhere. Jump in and get your hair wet. Get some dirt under your nails and sweat on your back. You won't regret it.
I'm so excited to share the footage below from my recent creative adventures with Aurora Collaborative!
Up until this point, I had never painted to live music or in front of an audience, and yet something about exploring this unknown territory had an inexplicable pull on me. In fact, this very concept had been calling me for over a decade! You can read more about my decade-long journey with silk painting and the inspiration for the project here.
It felt awe-inspiring and humbling to be in a position where my artistry was lending its own unique contribution to the collective experience, just as our conductor, Sam Hollister, and each of our 13 musicians, served the work through their own individual expressions.
I learned quickly that this type of artistry requires a special attunement to the intuitive wisdom of the heart; to the practice of listening and responding, to serving the work in a way that extends beyond the individual self.
To know when to hold back, and to know when to burst forth in color. To understand the potency of simplicity. And to discover how, just as Time is the great Sculptor of mountains and rivers and the great Healer of broken hearts, it is also what gives form, structure, and feeling to music.
Art was my instrument. My brush and dyes were the bow and strings. The hot wax created form and structure for the mountains to contain the fluid, fleeting dye colors; flooded at first with the glowing dawn of first light, and later gaining volume and contrast as the music unfolded the love story of Copland's Appalachian Spring.
This live painting experience marked the beginning of a deeper devotion to my love for what inspires me as an adventure-driven, heart-led artist. I'm so excited for what's to come in the year ahead!
Interested in collaborating on a live painting event?
I'd love to connect with you! Please email me!
”Courage is the measure of our heartfelt participation with life, with another, with a community, a work; a future. To be courageous is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except to make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences.
I took this photo with our Driftwood Adventure Treks group during our descent back down the Lukla Valley from 18,500'.
I remember gazing at these mountains for hours on end, softly placing one foot in front of the other, breathing deeply and steadily; face and fingers tingling, feeling invigoratingly alive as cold, thin air was warmed by lungs.
It was a privilege and a gift to take in the Himalayas with all of my senses.
I promised these sacred mountains that I would do everything I could to express the sense of humility, awe, and wonder it filled me with to immerse myself in them. I remember taking this photo as a seal to that promise.
And in that moment, something hit me: after all of the time I had invested in training for the ascent, this was the first time I was really considering the emotional and spiritual implications of the descent, the reintegration.
Coming to this realization in the midst of such a stunning backdrop, with a heart fully open and unguarded, brought me to my knees. I remember hugging my group and letting out a cry as if it were to be echoed back from the mountains, and my fellow trekkers holding me up as my knees gave way from underneath me. It probably only lasted a few seconds, yet it felt like an entire lifetime flooded through me in this moment. .
After spending my first four years of learning to navigate the outdoors as a lone wolf, it was here where I really began to understand how much more enriching it could be to experience the mountains in the companionship of friends across cultures, old and new. This newfound perspective of experiencing mountains seemed to echo the totality of life itself.
Following that spellbinding moment, an eagle soared overhead, blessing us with the gift of perspective and effortless grace.
My heart was set free again.
Memory: From the Mountains to the Ocean, April-May, 2018
Over the last five years, I've accumulated two suitcases full of memories; spiral-bound, 5-subject journals, dating back to September 2013, filled with stream-of consciousness observations and real-time reflections on navigating my way through the world amidst a series of life-altering transitions.
During this time, I've grown increasingly interested in how journaling can offer insights into the ways in which memory is formed, and how interpretations of memory shape perception.
As a starting point, I recently transcribed all of my journal entries from my spring travels to Nepal and Portugal, running the raw text through a word cloud engine to identify predominant themes in my writing. (If you aren't familiar with word clouds, the premise is that the larger a word appears in a cloud, the higher its occurrence in a block of text.)
I was curious to identify common themes that were coming through in my stream of consciousness during my time in Nepal and Portugal as the energy was fresh, and how the themes aligned with my current memories and perceptions of these experiences. What was there to learn?
I was also curious to examine my travel journalling from a bigger picture perspective, combining both sets of journal entries for the word cloud shared at the top of this post.
As illuminating as it was for me to synthesize hundreds of pages of travel content into a handful of ideas, this exercise generated more questions than answers:
Seeking thought partners.
Pictured here is my beautiful friend May, who I met by chance on a spontaneous nationwide women's rock climbing meetup in Alabama with the Ladies Climbing Coalition. When May learned that I was traveling to Base Camp with Driftwood Adventures, she eagerly jumped at the opportunity to join us. Her presence brought such a radiant, bright, and peaceful energy to our group. I'm so grateful for the sisterly bond that we developed as roommates over the course of our 17-day trek.
What's special about this photo is May is seated by the beautiful bay window in the home of our sherpa, Tshering, and if you research trekking groups in Nepal, you'll soon understand how uncommon it is for tourists to be able to stay at the home of their sherpa, let alone spend the day at their local village school, receive cooking lessons in their kitchen, or sit around the dinner table with their local friends and family from the village and dance together - more on all of this soon.
We shared many memorable moments by this window, gazing at the mountains, sketching, writing poetry, drinking tea, and speaking of dreams. It was our home base before our departure to Everest, and it also welcomed us back upon returning from the mountains - all of us, inevitably changed from the people who we were when we first laid our heads to rest on the comfortable beds of our sherpa's guest rooms.
Tshering's home felt like a reflection of his heart: it offered a peaceful reprise for us to gather ourselves and be joyfully present in the moment.
I believe that one of the greatest strengths of Driftwood's programming is the level of trust and connection that founder Bri Gallo works so hard to seek and establish with all of her expedition leaders, as well as program participants. Bri has a gift for connecting with people across cultures and fostering a sense camaraderie within groups that is interwoven into every expedition she leads. Her lighthearted, gregarious, and deeply-caring energy seems to attract the kinds of guides and leaders who have a twinkle in their eye, an expert knowledge base, and are genuinely interested in offering guests authentic experiences that are full of connection and meaning.
I'm excited to share more about this in the weeks ahead.
While it's been over 7 months since my first trip to Nepal with Driftwood Adventures, I've only recently begun to revisit memories of this incredible journey from a place of quiet contemplation.
This might sound strange, but the trip was such a profound experience for me that I grew fearful to look back on my photos for quite a long time. I was afraid of the intensity memory, scared of the whelm of emotions it might stir up, and believed that touching back in with my longing to return might just possibly break my heart. I have to laugh now, as it's so obvious that these fears were all constructs of my imagination. In other words, my fears were all in my head.
This realization was perhaps Nepal's greatest gift for me. Simply being in Nepal and connecting with so many calm, heart-centered people helped me realize how much of my life I tend to live "in my head", rushing around, reacting, taking on too much too quickly, forcing things, living in fear, forgetting to trust my intuition, putting myself down.
Yes, even as a yoga teacher and coach, I go through phrases where I struggle and get caught up with these things, and it tends to happen when I fall out of daily mindfulness practices. I think this is only natural, given the pace, pressures, and demands of today's society.
Immersing myself in the energy of the Himalayas, connecting with with friends who grew to become family, and taking in the calm energy of the Nepali people, all served as powerful reminders for me to slow down, and connect back in with my heart, with greater frequency and intention.
Nepal didn't just feel like a reboot - it felt like a system upgrade.
I feel privileged to offer my best attempt at lending words to describe more experiences from Nepal that moved me in the weeks ahead, as well as giving voice to what makes the Driftwood trekking experience so unique.
I am pleased to now offer my Himalayan Dreamscape pen & ink drawing as a sticker. Put it on your water bottle, journal, even add to your bike or car bumper.
10% of all sales from this image will be donated to the LRI School in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Scroll down to read more about this incredible school, and click here to purchase a sticker.
Curious to travel to Nepal? Click here to learn how you can trek the Annapurna with me this April with Driftwood Adventures.
Created over the course of a 17 day trek in the Kombu valley of Nepal to Everest Base Camp with Driftwood Adventure Treks, this piece began as a plein air sketch (meaning, drawn on location) of mount Thamserku, a mountain in the Himalayas of eastern Nepal.
I outlined an initial impression of the mountain range a few days in to our trek, and every evening, following a long day of moving meditation, I'd return back to the drawing as we would gather with our Nepali guides and warm our bodies around the stove. There was a tingling sensation in my fingertips from the altitude that I have never before experienced, and by the time the drawing was nearly finished, I could barely feel my hands connect with the page anymore as they grew colder and colder from the ascension.
My dreams were impressionably vivid during this time, and tears would burst forth from my eyes every single day on the trip, to the point where it became a running joke in our group that something quite powerful was moving within and through me, and indeed, it was. Something about immersing myself in these mountains and connecting with the people here felt like a direct pathway to the Heart, in all its radiant purity.
I worked with Tshering, our kind, wise, and compassionate sherpa, a man with the strength and endurance of a seasoned mountaineer balanced with a childlike levity of spirit, to add the Nepalese spelling of the mountain peaks, as well as "Shanti", or Peace, in Nepali script, in the lower right corner.
This image is as near and dear to my heart as the landscape and people of Nepal, and I'm thrilled to offer this as a sticker as well as an archival print.
Click here to learn how you can join us in Nepal this April.
The LRI School
During my visit to Nepal with Driftwood Adventure Treks, I had the honor of visiting the LRI School in Kathmandu and offering the Shri Yoga Curriculum, following in the footsteps of another Shri teacher who did her graduate residency at the school and offered mindfulness and trauma recovery skills to students and staff after the devastating earthquake of 2015.
On my final day in Kathmandu, the leadership team, including the founder of the school, Yashodhara Pant, welcomed me with generosity and kindness, and I spent the entire day working with the students, building community between Nepalese and US students from the Boys & Girls Club of Pawtucket, as well as connecting with the founders, development director, principal, and teachers, learning more about LRI's mission, and seeing the school's values in action.
I was blown away with the level of engagement I felt from the staff as well as from the students. LRI is equipping young people in Nepal to become actively engaged global citizens who lead with empathy, compassion, and a deep-rooted sense of social responsibility. I'm excited to find ways to bring more of LRI's mission and values to school and after-school curricula right here in Rhode Island.
Additionally, LRI also offers sponsorship programs for students whose families otherwise could not otherwise afford to send them to school, an also acts as a boarding school for children from rural villages to access education by living and studying in Kathmandu. Please stay tuned for more information on how you can sponsor a Nepali student's education from across the ocean.
I'll never forget Yashodhara's eyes light up as she shared with me,
"We may not be rich in money, but we are rich in heart, and in community."
This couldn't have been more apparent to me by the generosity, kindness, and enthusiasm that I felt flowing through everyone who I connected with - students, teachers, and leadership team.
Please consider purchasing a print or sticker of my Himalayan Dreamscape image and help support equal access to innovative education for the next generation of global citizens.
Join me next week at Denali for my first lecture on Breaking Into the Outdoors!
Check out this video from our annual Shri Yoga fundraiser on Sunday. It was such a deep honor to represent Shri in Nepal this April. Sharing the Shri curriculum with two international schools while engaging with new cultures and education systems, and even getting paid for doing it, was an ultimate dream come true!!
I continue to process layers of the experience of engaging with the people and land of this extraordinarily resilient country, and continue to search for words that fully express my gratitude and appreciation to photo philanthropist Bri Gallo for making this opportunity possible for me.
Coming to me at a time when I was struggling with so much fear of uncertainty about my future, traveling to this awe-inspiring, deeply felt, spiritual country felt nothing short of miraculous. To feel such a heartfelt welcome from the soulfully beautiful people of Nepal including Tshering Tendi Sherpa, and to experience the incredible magnitude and altitude of the Himalayas? I cannot think of a more potent or powerful balm for a weary soul.
My involvement with Shri International was made entirely possible by Bri, who offered me the chance of a lifetime to collaborate with her through Driftwood Adventure Treks. When the team at Shri learned I'd be trekking to Everest, they offered me the honorable opportunity of sharing the curriculum with two local schools.
My dear friend Tomasz Krawczak captured the amazing drone footage of the school in the Lukla Valley where I taught a few days after visiting Base Camp, and was assisted by my friend May Kaewken. It's included in this amazing recap that Shri supporter Dave Mongeau made for our big fundraiser this weekend, which was a big success. How energizing it was to be in sold-out room of people who believe in the work that Alison and the whole Shri community is doing. I LOVED seeing two of my mentors Coral Brown and Stephanie Marisca show up, as well.
I really and truly mean it in the video that I would not have had this opportunity if it weren't for an incredibly supportive community back home. Out of what has felt like the darkest and scariest period I've experienced in this life, I've come to feel brighter and more supported than ever, thanks to the people who have believed in me and given me such incredible opportunities to fan my wings out and soar.
I feel so incredibly lucky to be able to write these words.
I hope with all my heart that you will consider joining me on August 19 at the Dunes Club for an evening of live music and dancing under starry skies and luminarias in support of organization that is lighting up so much hope and potential in our community, Shri Yoga.
Just yesterday I was teaching mindfulness to a group of 25 5th graders at the Boys & Girls Club of Pawtucket. Even though we're just a few weeks in to our summer program, I'm already seeing a level of trust, respect, and rapport being established, allowing me to connect with them on deeper level. As I led them through a guided meditation at the end of class, it brought tears to my eyes to see their fidgeting and chit-chat subside as they focused on the rise and fall of their breath.
Along with my Pawtucket kids, I also witnessed inspiring growth with my transition students at North Providence High School over the past year. The increase in their self-confidence was visibly and audibly apparent in many of the kids, and it was a humbling honor to earn their trust, and to be a part of their growth as well as their joy.
My Monday night class of men from The Fogarty Center and Venture Community Services never fails to lift my faith in the power of community. The students and social workers in this class carry my spirits week after week.
I've seen the power of Shri programming in every organization I've worked with, from The Learning Community to Girls Leadership Collaborative, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ocean State, Woonsocket Head Start, and more.... even as far as the LRI school in Nepal!
I'm learning how it truly takes a community to support this kind of work, and we are grateful for every dollar invested in our programming. Additionally, the 6PM Wednesday night open class I'm beginning next week at Shri will support our mission, and I hope you'll consider attending a class and bringing a friend or two :)
I'm deeply honored to represent Shri, and grateful to Heather Bryant and Alison Bologna for creating a pathway for me to channel my passion into service while also also keeping the rent paid in what's grown to be the home art/yoga studio of my DREAMS here in East Providence, RI :)
We hope to see you on August 19th!