Exploring Life’s Randomness with ‘Figuring’ by Maria Popova

Exploring Life’s Randomness with ‘Figuring’ by Maria Popova

Figure (verb): to calculate or work out (an amount or value) arithmetically

What is the true measure of a meaningful life? Is it prestige? It is love? In Figuring, author and cultural critic Maria Popova seeks to answer this complex question by exploring the interconnected lives of history’s most celebrated writers, artists, and scientists. While men such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Darwin, and Johannes Kepler make appearances, the narrative is primarily focused on women – starting with Maria Mitchell, who paved the way for women in science, and ending with the beloved biologist Rachel Carson, who catalyzed the environmental movement. Written in near-poetic prose reminiscent of Rebecca Solnit, Popova’s debut book is a nexus spanning four centuries and connecting the dots between women who defied cultural norms to leave their mark on the world. While the likes of Margaret Fuller, Emily Dickinson, and Harriet Hosmer are staples in art and literature classrooms around the world, this book breathes life into the personal anecdotes you won’t find in textbooks, humanizing historical figures we laud as “great” or even “genius.” The book elicits a somewhat somber overtone in telling these women’s stories, which often include unconventional relationships and unimaginable heartbreak. Popova’s soulful excavation into their lives demonstrates how personal experiences often shape not only the way we perceive the world, but also the way we contribute to it.

My interpretation of Figuring is difficult for me to articulate, partly because it’s impossible to summarize 545 pages of eloquently-written insight, and partly because I am still wrapping my head around its meaning. The book is not a quick or easy ready, and as I finished the final pages this weekend, I initially found myself filled with a despondent sense of emptiness. At first glance, the final chapter seemed to imply that no matter what impact we make on the world, on society, or even individuals that we love, our stories are a mere drop in the ocean. The universe existed long before we did and will continue to exist long after we are gone. So why does living a fulfilling life even matter? 

But then I started to think about the general theme of interconnectedness and realized that while the universe is both inconceivably random and inconceivably infinite, there is a thread that ties the tapestry of it all together, and that thread is beauty. Throughout history, the interconnected disciplines of art and science has helped humans make sense of chance, create an illusion of permanence, and ultimately search for meaning. Furthermore, you could argue that all prominent figures in science were driven by an awestruck appreciation for the beauty of our natural world – from Maria Mitchell’s youthful fascination for the night sky to Rachel Carson’s infatuation with the Maine coast. And while I sat reading this book on a California beach 3,000 miles and more than five decades away from Carson’s existence, I realized that our lives – like all lives – are inextricably and beautifully linked. Perhaps it is this interplay of all human lives that give us meaning in an endlessly random universe, because “nothing once created ever fully leaves us.”

I applaud Maria Popova for following in these women’s footsteps by using literature to expand our understanding of the universe. I highly recommend this book, as well as her blog of the same format, Brainpickings.

“Comets–icy clumps of soot and stardust shed by the eternal as emissaries of the ephemeral–serve as anchors of periodicity by which to moor ourselves to the uncertain flow of existence and space out segments of being along the fleeting interlude of life…As birthdays temper the delicious illusion of our own inevitability with the hard fact that we were once inconceivable, so comets remind us that the life of the universe operates on cycles independent of and far grander than our own lifespans.”

Catamaran Life: Exploring Mexico’s Marieta Islands

Catamaran Life: Exploring Mexico’s Marieta Islands

When most people vacation in Mexico, they don’t stray far from their all-inclusive resort. While there’s nothing wrong with sipping margs at a swim-up bar, nomads seeking a more authentic Mexican experience will love the hippy-chic town of Sayulita.

Just 30 minutes away from well-trodden Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita was once a secret destination for surf bums, offering palm-fringed beaches and barrelling waves. While the once sleepy town is no longer off the beaten path – it’s even the filming location of the cheeky Bachelor spinoff, Bachelor in Paradise – Sayulita has still managed to maintain its low-key, small-town charm, brought to life with colorful papel picado banners and vibrant street art.

Deemed “the Bali of Mexico,” Sayulita is a place where worlds collide – taco shops and cantinas sit beside health cafes and yoga studios, while high-end bohemian boutiques coexist with surf rental shacks and souvenir shops. When you’re not beach-bumming, there are plenty of upmarket art galleries to explore, not to mention the best street tacos and churros you’ll ever have.

Hidden Treasures of the Pacific

While we couldn’t get enough of Sayulife, the best day of our trip was spent at sea, sailing the nearby Marieta Islands with Ally Cat Sailing Adventures. Known as “Mexico’s Galapagos,” the Marietas are uninhabited volcanic islands made famous by the “hidden beach,” which was created as the result of bomb tests from the Mexican military. In fact, most of the Marietas’ rock formations and caves were formed by test bombs. In the 1960s, Jacques Cousteau took it upon himself to save the islands, which eventually led to the area being declared a UNESCO reserve.

Today, humans are not allowed to step foot on the islands, so the best place to soak in their beauty is aboard a luxury catamaran. Our 60-footer had it all: daybeds, bean bags, a fully-stocked Tiki bar, and slides straight into the ocean. We boarded in the morning but the sun was shining and the crew was already in party mode, serving up breakfast beers and blasting music through the boat’s surround sound. It seemed to set the tone for the entire day.

As soon as we lost sight of the shore, a crew member yelled ¡ballena! – and we spotted the majestic fluke of a humpback whale. It was just the first of more than 20 whales we saw from the catamaran that day, in addition to pods of dolphins that trailed in our wake.

It took us about an hour to reach the Marietas, which were surrounded by crystalline water, colorful reefs, and thriving marine life. The crew distributed snorkel gear and everyone on the boat jumped in with the hopes of spotting a whale shark, which have been known to grace the Marietas. Although we were not lucky enough to see one that day, we did swim with sea turtles and manta rays while exploring underwater caves.

Back on the catamaran, the crew spoiled us with a gourmet Mexican lunch and open bar. Blame it on the pina coladas, but it wasn’t long before the entire boat was livin’ la vida loca – costumes, conga lines, and dance parties took over the deck.

As the Marietas became smaller and smaller on the horizon, we knew it was a place we would never forget. Mexico, te amo mucho.

What is a Yoga Retreat Really Like?

What is a Yoga Retreat Really Like?

Watch: Bali Yoga Retreat

With new year’s resolutions at the top of mind, a yoga retreat may seem like the perfect way to work towards a healthier, happier you.

But what is a yoga retreat really like?

That’s the question I got asked repeatedly when I returned from my first retreat in Bali a few months ago. Do you do yoga all day? Are you restricted to a vegan diet? Are you shamed if you can’t do a headstand? This made me realize that while yoga retreats are growing in popularity, they remain as mystical as the practice of yoga itself.

After a week-long getaway led by Susan White, I discovered that yoga retreats are much more laid-back than you would think, while still enhancing your health and happiness in ways you could have never imagined. Instead of coming home from vacation with souvenirs and a sunburn, you come home with a fresh outlook on life and motivation to live in a way that honors your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.

Read on to learn why you and your Lorna Jane twinset should hop on the yoga retreat trend!

Downward dog all over the world.

In its most basic definition, yoga means achieving oneness with the universe, which is much easier to do when you’re soaking up the natural beauty of the Himalayas in the holy city of Rishikesh. India and Ubud are classic choices because they’re intimately linked to the ancient practice of yoga, but you can find a retreat pretty much anywhere. Like I needed another excuse to travel!

Breathe in, chill out.

We’ve all heard the phrase “I need a vacation from my vacation,” a depressing testament to the fact that most people don’t actually slow down when they’re on vacay. But yoga retreats are designed for deep, sustained relaxation, so that you actually go back to the real world feeling refreshed and recharged.

You don’t have to be a yoga expert.

Don’t know your baby grasshopper from your baby cobra? That’s okay! While yoga retreats are great for seasoned yogis who want to deepen their understanding of yoga, they also offer a focused, supportive environment for beginners to jump-start their practice. Retreats are welcoming by nature so there’s no need to be intimidated by headstands or side planks.

They’re not always as strict as you’d expect.

It’s not all health food and digital detoxes. Yoga retreats have varying levels of intensity, and some feel more like a vacation than a bootcamp. I even found myself pregaming for a restorative yoga session with a few glasses of rosé. But of course, you are welcome to take a more wholesome approach to kick your health into high gear.

You don’t spend all day doing yoga.

While they’re all structured differently, the average yoga retreat offers two to three yoga sessions a day, giving you plenty of down time to relax, explore, or hit up the spa for a reiki massage. Many retreats will also weave in things like meditation, crafts, full moon ceremonies, or organized group excursions.

Early to bed, early to rise.

No matter the intensity of your yoga retreat, you can expect one thing: early mornings. Even if you’re the kind of person who likes to hit their snooze button a few times, you’ll learn to love the peace you can only find at dawn. Plus, nothing beats starting your day with a sunrise flow!

You’ll form lifelong friends.

Travel is the ultimate bonding experience, but a yoga retreat takes connection to the next level as it brings together like-minded people on a transformational journey. That said, we recommend joining a retreat through a local studio so that you can maintain this community back home.

Mastering the mind-body connection.

Yoga retreats are not all physical. Yes, you will gain flexibility and master new poses, but the biggest transformation will happen in your mind. Without the distractions of daily life, a yoga retreat promotes mindfulness and introspection that can help you see the world with an enhanced sense of positivity and balance.

You get out what you put in.

Yoga is a deeply personal practice, which is honored in every retreat. Just like you set an intention at the beginning of a yoga class, you’ll want to go into a retreat with a purpose. This could be reducing stress, letting go of something that weighs heavy on you, meeting like-minded friends, or simply taking some time for yourself. Whatever it is, you have the power to make a yoga retreat your own. Just remember: where attention goes, energy flows.

A few things to consider before booking your retreat:

Budget. Retreats vary greatly from basic accommodation to all-inclusive service at a 5-star resort. No matter how much you spend, the key is to be comfortable so that you can focus on yourself and your practice – even if that means a little splurging.

Time. Can you jet off to the other side of the world for a 10-day pilgrimage, or is a weekend escape more realistic? If it’s your first retreat, you may want to test the waters at a shorter, more local retreat.

Intensity. Do you shudder at the idea of “no electronics” or do you want a lot of structure to keep you on track? Do your research to find the ideal level of scheduling and restrictions that works best for you.

Teacher. A retreat leader can make or break the experience. If possible, we recommend joining a retreat with a teacher you already know, so that you know are familiar with their style and vibe. At the very least, meet them in person and take a few classes prior to signing up for a retreat.

Yoga types. Vinyasa, bikram, hatha… every retreat offers a different mix of styles, so make sure the one you pick aligns with your preference. However, a retreat is also a great opportunity to revitalize your practice by trying new styles!

Company. Should you go alone, or bring a friend? While sharing the experience with a loved one is wonderful, a solo trip can open you up to opportunities and revelations that would not be possible if you’re balancing your needs with those of someone else.

Destination. The most important question of all – where in the world do you want to go? The possibilities are endless.

Follow @movement_lab_sue to hear about her upcoming retreats!