It’s a new year. All that we have to be grateful for can be astounding. Let’s get into that headspace. Gratitude. Being present. Being open. But open to what? My wise client said recently that “culture is not what we say [we are] but instead what we tolerate.” I’ve been thinking a lot about what this means in practice for our day-to-day lives. Can we walk the walk or just talk the talk. Do we give lip service for how we want our lives to be better/easier/lovelier, or can we make concrete steps towards making it so? I recently returned from a trip to India and, as traveling does, I was able to really spend time exploring these ideas.

While I was in India I attended my first Pongal Celebration. Happy Pongal! Seemingly unplanned, my travel companions and I were sudden guests of honor at The Star Academy’s annual mid-January Pongal celebration.

The seeming randomness (our guides had an idea of what to expect) of this sudden beauty, the sense of openness and acceptance, the luscious textures, colors and tactile experiences reminded me of my friend’s quote: culture isn’t what we say, it’s what we tolerate. These days that idea feels, at base, like an admonishment. But I think instead it’s an opportunity to make things better: our culture should not only be defined by what we accept without comment but what we have the power to actively celebrate.

My experiences at the Pongal Festival felt like a sign of the possibilities. Of lessons that transcend culture by way of celebration. I am trying to bring these lessons back from the celebratory fields of South East India into the grey wilds of New York City, to apply these principles to my design and to my life – to bring more joy. To love where we all live. Here’s how:

Be open to new experiences.

Back in the city I am working on saying “yes” more. It is astounding what there is to be grateful for when we are open.

Celebrate each other.

We were greeted first by these gracious young women and a very warm welcome. They did not know us and yet we could be part of their family, there to be celebrated. I want to bring this energy to my creative community and I am scheduling weekly consultations with clients and peers to talk about what they are working on, what they’re gravitating towards, and what they’ve left behind. Maybe that’s looks like a trip, a project, a fresh idea, or even just new throw pillows. By discovering what they’re excited about and celebrating those stories, we can use passion to create more passion.

Celebrate caring.

A feast for the senses. The courtyard was alive with music, games and movement as everyone took part in the festivities. We were led to stand on stars where our feet were adorned with turmeric, saffron and flower petals and silk turbans were fashioned for each of us. We were then asked individually if we were happy. Yes, we all were. Are you happy? When was the last time anyone asked you that? The check-in and gift of true emotional caring can seem rarer and rarer. I have always felt that the gift of good design is that it speaks to our deepest and often unspoken needs. Do we need to feel more light? Do we need to feel less friction? How can we be happier in our spaces? I want to ask this question more directly in my work and will be integrating this practice into my 2019 projects. 

Celebrate Life.

Color. Dance. Music. Movement. The aliveness of time and space. NO WHITE WALLS. MORE BELLS. Life is a banquet and while I know that while everyday can’t be a giant annual festival, can’t we structure our lives more for the celebration of the living of it? A table you want to eat at. A kitchen you want to cook in. A space that allows for more time for what is truly important.

 

Culture is not just where we come from or what we say under our profile pictures, its how we spend our years and days. There is a space for joy and passion and openness in all of our loves (even if you don’t have a window in your bathroom), it’s knowing where to find it and making sure that there is space for it to take root when you do.