Agates.

I can't tell you how many hours I've spent combing the Lake Superior shoreline through piles of smooth, tumbled stones. We were in search of small treasures -- fairy tears, colorful little buttons, mottled pieces of metal, beautiful bits of old ceramic. But the ultimate prize were agates: lovely little gems whose whispery white bands would peek through heaps of basalt and rhyolite. 
When it comes to finding agates, timing is everything. Ideally, always after a storm when the lake reveals its most precious stones. Agates are always difficult to come by but its a thrill when you're able to spot their luminescent stripes. It's like finding North Country gold.

Today was possibly my last opportunity of the year to search for agates. Something about dipping my toes in the clear, icy lake and running my fingers through heaps of smooth pebbles is cathartic. It's an opportunity for me to separate myself from my thoughts and feelings and focus on the simple task at hand. I guess you could say that for me it's like a form of meditation.
Meditation comes in all different forms. Mindful meditation involves paying precise attention to the details of our present experience -- to notice what you are noticing as you are noticing it. When I'm hunting for agates,  it involves focusing on the sensations from that very moment: sifting my fingers through pebbles, listening to the sound of waves gently tumbling little stones, keeping a keen eye for the agate's orthodox pattern amongst otherwise plain rocks.
I've found that meditation has been incredibly helpful for my overall well-being in so many different ways. I stress less over little things, especially when it comes to my work where focus is everything and tensions are high.

It helps build a real, solid happiness within me that I have never felt before. You know that overwhelming feeling you get after receiving incredible news, or seeing a really old friend after a long time, or when you're falling in love? It's like that, only the crazy thing is nothing is happening. I just feel pure, unsolicited happiness for no reason. The older I get the more I realize that I really only feel happiness when good things are about to happen or have just happened. I think it's important to feel happiness always -- even in the least positive of times.

But perhaps the most important benefit that I have noticed with mindful meditation is the fact that it aids in developing a stronger sense of self. When I am outside in nature (especially alone), I connect to an aspect of life that is so raw and refreshing. By sense of self, I mean a powerful inner strength that resounds from somewhere deep within me. It is the ability to know who you are exactly, what your boundaries are, having emotional independence, and finding confidence in yourself.

Nosce Te Ipsum.

Being Defined
Often times, we feel compelled to put labels on ourselves, on other people, or on situations. I think this is how we attempt to make sense of life -- categorizing things is human nature.

One should not just tolerate insults and harsh words, but also forgive with a peaceful mind.
- Radhanath Swami

I have learned that perhaps one of the most valuable things you can do for yourself is to learn how to deal with negativity and criticism calmly and with grace.

When we have a weak sense of self (you could find my post here on what I feel defines having a strong sense of self), we let ourselves be defined by others and let their projections of us ruin are lives. We let them write our destiny, to tell us how we are, and to tell us who we are. They may be right, but most of the time they are not.

Most of the time we let ourselves be defined by people who have no idea who they even are to begin with. The individuals who realize who they are would not be defining others. They would be able to see the utter pointlessness and ridiculousness of it.

We have to ask ourselves: is this how I wish to be seen? A bundle of other people's opinions? 
Your sense of self confidence should not come from what other people think of you. You should not seek self validation from others. Your sense of self should come from your own inner workings and how you live your life with integrity and love for all. 

I feel that our life's work is to learn how to be a joyful human being. In that, we must learn how to feel comfortable and natural with everyone. It doesn't matter if they feel it or not -- that's their problem and you cannot control that. But at the very least, you should be at ease, and that's all that matters.

I'd like to leave you with this final thought: 
Whatever labels you put on yourself will limit you.
Whatever labels you use for anyone or anything will become your prison.

Defining Yourself.
"To thine own self be true."
-William Shakespeare, Hamlet
Defining myself, as opposed to being defined by others, is one of the most difficult challenges that I face.

As I grow older, I find that in trying to figure out who you are, it can be difficult to hear our own voice -- the beat of our own drum. Our parents shape and mold us to a degree; our peers do the same. Most of us are raised to please others, to be considerate, to be polite, to practice self-restraint. 

Defining yourself puts restrictions on you because it makes you feel as if you always need to live a certain way to maintain these definitions and expectations. If you don't, you fail.
But we are not meant to live a life where we are expected to behave a certain way. 

Whatever definitions you put on yourself can be broken down by our peers in the blink of an eye. For instance, if you announce proudly that you are a “nice person," life will constantly put you to the test. One day you may act in a way that is perceived as “not nice” by someone. Your reputation is ruined in an instant. A new label has been attached to your name: “cruel.”
This will hurt you because you so meticulously picked out “nice’ to be defined by, and now someone thinks you are the complete opposite. 

I think that our true power and wisdom lies in not only being able to define ourselves, but in knowing who we are. 
Knowing yourself means that you are not just one thing -- you are a thousand different possibilities. You are able to recognize the fact that it is ridiculous trying to identify yourself deeply with just one of these possibilities.
Knowing yourself also means knowing your limitations -- to be able to acknowledge what you are, and what you are not. 

Only when we know who we are, we will know how we need to be in this world -- what our purpose is here. Only when we know who we are, we will know others. We will have real relationships. We will be real.

"All I can do is be me, whoever that is."
-Bob Dylan.

Christmas Wishlist.

When it comes to Christmas, I'll usually ask for things that are practical and that I know I'll use often. This year, my wishlist includes (starting in the upper left hand corner and going clockwise):

Duluth Pack is a local company based out of my beautiful little hometown, Duluth. Their bags are gorgeous and made by hand right here in Minnesota. I have a backpack and a duffle made by Duluth Pack, but I definitely wouldn't mind having a pack specifically for camping trips or canoeing excursions. The Wanderer pack is spacious, sturdy, and has a beautiful, simple design. I've had my eye on it for a long time. 

The Snooty Fox is a cute little tea shop also based out of Duluth. They have over 100 varieties of tea -- from loose leaf to kombucha to chai. They even have their own house blends and offer kombucha-making classes to perfect your art (which I also wouldn't mind receiving as a gift!)

Perfect for my morning tea or for when I'm traveling -- the Minnesota mug will always remind me of the place that I love most. 

With my new Nikon I need a new camera strap. I've been eyeing this particular one for a while now -- the inside is made from leather and the outside is made from a beautiful Indian blanket pattern. 

Every Minnesotan knows to always dress in layers. I love Patagonia for their warm, well-made clothing that's cute and can easily be layered.

I'm a huge Bob Dylan fan and I listen to a lot of vinyl. The Mono Vinyl Box set is probably the most unlikely gift on my wishlist (it's $200!), but a girl can dream. He's even from my home town -- the beautiful Duluth, Minnesota.

I need a good, sturdy pair of hiking boots -- something that is waterproof, has soles with a good grip, and will cover my ankles to give me extra support. Timberland is notorious for crafting beautiful footwear, and their 6-inch leather boot is everything I look for in a good pair of hiking boots.

I'd love to know what you've had your eye on for Christmas!

Tchotchkes (#2.)

Tchotchke (n.) choch-KEE: a small bauble or miscellaneous item.

My most recent thrift excursion has been very lucky. Every year my local Goodwill has its annual vintage sale where they pull out the most unique and unusual items from their mysterious back room. The Vintage Sale is for me what Black Friday is to everyone else. I sit outside of Goodwill well before the doors open (because believe it or not there's usually a huge line to get in) to make sure that I get first dibs on some of the best junk.
Unfortunately I wasn't able to find many things that really caught my eye this year, but I was still able to leave with a few beautiful things.
Every once in a while on my hunts I'll strike gold. I was able to find this gorgeous, vintage dress made from 100% Indian silk, which I still can't believe that I was able to snag for $5.99. Although the dress itself is very thin (as silk tends to be), I think it'll be perfect for the summer time. For a size medium it's still huge, but I'm sure it's nothing that a tailor can't fix. For now, wearing a leather belt around the middle will suffice.
This lovely little deer. He's found a comfortable home on my bookshelf, right next to Candide by Voltaire. I still haven't named him yet. Any suggestions?
A pretty blue tin.
I have a thing for finding/collecting vintage tins. Usually I end up keeping tea or other small things inside of them. I think it's a unique way of storing small things -- I have them all over my apartment.
A brass Chinese cricket jar. In Chinese culture, crickets are a symbol of good luck. Cricket jars were often made from different materials -- porcelain, clay, or woven bamboo. It's not very often that you'll find one made from brass. Although I don't plan on keeping crickets as a pet any time soon, I thought the jar was a perfect additional to my collection of brass tchotchkes. I'm sure I can use it for something else, like burning incense cones.
A Victorian/Victorian-style necklace. I have no idea as to whether or not this is actually valuable or if it's merely costume jewelry. The necklace itself is made from brass. Although I'm not 100% certain, the center stone looks like it could be malachite. Either way, it's still a gorgeous piece  -- even more so in person.
The Jamestown Princess: Pocahontas Legends (1907) by Anna Cunningham Cole and M. Louise Smith.
This book was another incredibly lucky find -- especially since it's an original print copy that was published in 1907. That makes this little book 108 years old, and it's almost entirely in perfect condition. It's beautiful to flip through, as it includes illustrations that detail the legend of Pocahontas in epic verse form. I can't believe that I was able to snag this for $3.

You can find my post detailing my previous thrifting adventure below: