Monday, December 16, 2013

In which Dad and I discuss Eastern vs Western Spirituality

As some of you know, my dad is a preacher, and I'd venture to say a pretty good one. Ever since I was little sitting in the 3rd or 4th pew in the church on Sundays, it always made my ears perk up a little when I heard my name mentioned in a sermon. Same thing happened this morning when I read my dad's most recent sermon about sprituality which partially drew on a comment I made about Bali being the most spritual place in the world. (Disclaimer: I've never been to Jerusalem. I hear that place is pretty deep too.)

I think Dad got a lot of things right in that sermon, but I also believe he made a couple of mischaracterizations of Eastern spirituality. In the grand scheme of things, what does it matter if those views stand un-debated? Probably none. But Dad and I like to talk theology, and it IS my last morning in Bali, I've got a strong cup of coffee coming, so why not use this time to sum up a little of my experience with spirituality over here? (I say that even as I hear the voice of one of my teachers saying not to argue with people.)

First of all, Dad you are absolutely correct when you say (I'm paraphrasing) that you don't have to be some kind of zen master or nun to be spiritual. A member of PETA isn't necessarily more spiritual than a cattle rancher. And if the Alamo is where you get closer to God, then by all means continue cultivating that connection. That's the cool thing about what I've learned about what we're calling Eastern spirituality. It's flexible. It's also non-comptetitive. It doesn't require anyone to say, hey look, my religion is better than yours so you need to convert! You can be Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, etc, and still incorporate wisdom from the East to help you get closer to God.

When I said Bali was the most spiritual place on Earth, I didn't mean it was the most tranquil. In fact, Ubud, the town I lived in for 4 weeks, is anything but. You have to constantly look where you're walking because the sidewalks are cracked, have huge gaps in them, and sometimes move when you put your weight on them. There is constant noise. There is constant shouting from men sitting on sidewalks asking if you want a taxi ride, and if not today, maybe tomorrow? I got to my practice space at 6:15 every morning. By about 6:45, there was the grinding sound of a buzz saw slicing through tiles on the construction site right next door. There was also lots of hammering, and at one time what sounded like a brawl. There is also an elementary school next door. By about 8 am we could hear the sound of children at recess. A sweet sound, but not a peaceful one. There was one afternoon where those darling children were setting off firecrackers. I felt like I was on the set of Steel Magnolias when they were blasting birds out of the trees. Boom! Boom! KA-BOOM! Still, we carried on. Even though some of those sounds were annoying at the time, I am actually grateful that I got to practice meditation and yoga in those conditions, because if you can bring your mind to tranquility next to a buzz saw, than that must mean you're getting somewhere. It also shows that we spiritual seekers were very much in the world, not separated from it on some high hill. As one of my teachers jokingly said as the construction clanged on and as the smoke from burning trash permeated the studio, "We shall not let our meditation interfere with their work."

So why is Bali so spiritual? There isn't just one reason I can put my finger on. There are many reasons, and as Dad said, some have washed into the land over centuries from a culture that has a deep appreciation for the seen and unseen. Part of it is the sense of devotion of the people here. They make offerings to put outside their door, and outside every single hotel room too, every day, which they light with incense. These are an offering to their Hindu gods. It takes a lot of time to make these, and they do it every single day. Even though I don't believe the same way as most of the people here regarding their gods, I can't help but admire the time, love and effort they put into practicing their religion.

Another thing is that spirituality seems to be on the forefront of everyone's mind, and I don't just mean for us Western yogis. I mean everyone. I'd take a cab ride somewhere and 2 minutes in, the driver was talking to me about God. I walked by the same restaurant every day, and one day the manager asked me to come in for a cup of tea so he could explain to me more about Balinese beliefs. This was not in some pitch to convert me. This was just a genuine desire to share his views with someone who might be curious.

Another part is the deep connection with nature here. I'm not a huge fan of nature because I have found that nature can bite. But when you're on an island in the tropics, nature is all around you, even when you're inside. I've had a gecko for a roommate for at least 2 weeks. When the rains come, and when there's a rice field right outside your door, you can see the visible effects of rainwater on the agriculture. And the Balinese are completely in tune with the lunar cycles. They celebrate the full moon. They celebrate the new moon. And they seem so excited about it, as if this is something that DOESN'T happen every single month. And I think that's pretty cool. I can rarely see the moon from my house in Virginia, and there's no way I could see stars. So when I'm in a place where the moon is celebrated, it reminds me of how my ancestors might have felt when they needed that light to guide them on cattle drives or maybe on their journeys from the Old World to the New. You can't help but feel that there's something bigger than ourselves out there, and that He loves us.

The idea that practitioners of Eastern spirituality are trying to transcend into nothingness is a mischaracterization. Case in point: I'm at the tail end of a lifechanging spiritual journey where I'm the calmest, fullest and happiest I can remember being in a long time, yet I've still worked up the gumption to debate with my dad on a blog. Ommmmmmmm.

Back to the point, I would say that much like practitioners of religion in the West, Eastern followers are trying to get closer to God. When one is closer to God, perhaps one is more tranquil, less stressed, and less bothered by ordinary, mundane distractions. It does not mean that they all sit apart from the world in a blissed out state of complete detachment, though I have heard that some do, much like some Christian nuns or monks. I'm sure the Hindus here would love for someone in the West to come explain to them the values of hard work and the importance of being in the world. To do so, you'd need to roll up your pants to the knees, take off your shoes and wade into knee deep mud to talk to them as they work in the rice paddies, bending over each individual stalk of rice, then moving to the next, for hours at a time. I don't think they get to come home at 6 pm to have a beer, so you'd need to catch them while they're on the job. Or maybe you can chat with someone at such a cushy profession as a manicurist or massage therapist. Must be nice to get to sit inside a room for 10 hours a day, 6 days a week catering to flighty tourists who have more to spend on their hair, nails, and clothes in a day than that woman makes in a month. But yes, someone please tell her how hard we work in the States. She'd probably listen with a polite smile. Or you can talk to my driver, Wayan, about the virtues of labor. He'd love to hear your ideas because he's full of his own, including driving, opening a pork rib restaurant, and raising ducks, so that he can scrape together the money to send his oldest daughter to school to be a teacher. Wayan thinks teaching is the noblest of all professions, and he desperately wanted to be a teacher himself but his family didn't have the money to send him to college. He is determined to work hard enough so that his now 10-year-old will get that opportunity.

It has been my experience here that people take their spiritual and religious beliefs far more seriously than we do in the West. It's interesting the effects that a belief in karma have on this island. (Which brings me to another point. The Balinese most certainly understand both good and bad. In fact they have a stronger understanding of it than people anywhere else I've been, as characterized by the yin and yang symbol. Darkness and light. They know full well that both exist in the world. I'd probably garble their true understanding if I tried to explain it because it's jarring from my own belief system, so I'll leave it at that.)

Back to karma. The best explanation for this I heard is that there are actions you can take that bring you farther down your spiritual path, and actions you can take that set you back. Hard to argue with that, isn't it? My experience in this one month is, it's GREAT to be in a place where people actually believe this. They're so nice. So nice.

So if I had to pick a beef I had with Western spirituality in light of what I've learned this month, it's not that our teachings aren't good, it's that we do not take the teachings seriously. We bend them to conform to our cultural ideals, and then argue with and denigrate anyone whose views don't match ours, all in the name of so-called faith. Our country would look a lot different if we as a nation actually took the 10 commandments seriously. We wouldn't glorify wars and warfighters the way we do. We wouldn't be completely out of sorts about ensuring that poor people have health care. (Jesus gave health care to the poor, no?) We wouldn't work ourselves up into a materialistic frenzy from the beginning of November to the end of December in a misguided attempt to fill the hole in our hearts because that hole would already be filled with love and peace if we truly followed the path of Jesus. We would take much better care of the environment. Perhaps we'd even have a sense of perspective and a lot of compassion for people from other countries who are not as fortunate as us, instead of doing everything we can to keep them and their languages, foods, and values out.

I leave you with this image: A hot tropical island where you can get a sunburn in December and where Hindu temples and offerings are visible from every single vantage point. Yet in the beginning of December, every single hotel and shop puts out a Christmas tree. Some shops even play Christmas carols. A cynic might say they're just trying to lure in Western consumers. But I say that it's a sweet, charitable example of tolerance for others that we can learn from. These Eastern spiritualists aren't over here saying to turn away from your Christian beliefs and chant mantras on a hill with us. They are saying something more like, so you've found God too? Cool, man.


Dad's sermon:

Balanced Spirituality
Luke 3: 1-6

God’s work for today re-introduces us to the haunting message and mission and person of John the Baptist. The message - “Prepare the way of the Lord.” The mission – a call to the lonely stark isolation of the wilderness along the Jordan. The person – a rough, weird, harsh individual, in every sense an outsider. John is the opposite of what we consider to be appealing, and yet thousands of people trudged for many miles to hear John speak. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, were so moved by John’s preaching that they accepted his baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

I am moved to reflect upon the message, mission and person of John the Baptist in the context of a remark our daughter Andi made about her visit to the far side of the globe. She described Bali, an ancient land in Southeast Asia, as the most spiritual place in the world. That caused me to do some thinking about the place where I have been most spiritually moved during my limited and provincial time on earth. For me, that place is the Alamo. My sense is that there is an extreme contrast, not just of place, but of definitions of spirituality, bound up in our choices. I am guessing that Bali is a tranquil place, made holy by centuries of profound meditation. The Alamo is a battleground, a site marked by the bowel-loosening terror and animal rage of combat; a place of blood and powder smoke, cannon fire and snarled curses; ultimately a place of death, where the blood of brave men on both sides mingled and soaked into the stony soil within and around the old fortress.

Let us keep both of those contrasting places and visions of spirituality in mind as we reflect further upon the message of John the Baptist, “Prepare the way of the Lord… Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough ways leveled.” All of that sounds like hard labor with pick and shovel, crowbar and
spade; a lot of sweat and blisters. John’s imagery is not what we usually associate with spirituality. John’s message is about something muscular, dynamic, difference-making and earthy. Normally we are inclined to think that real spirituality is quiet, meditative, peaceful, somewhat above and unmoved by the world’s pain, tears, calluses, filth and sweat.

I realize that I am very much in the minority in this regard, but I personally do not believe that a pacifist is necessarily more spiritual than a combat infantryman who endures the sacrifices and rigors of war to protect his country and his squad mates. I do not believe that a card-carrying member of PETA is necessarily more spiritual than a rancher who raises livestock to help feed a hungry world. I do not believe that a nun who gets up at 4 in the morning to pray is necessarily more spiritual than a mom who gets up at 4 in the morning to comfort her crying baby.

All of which could represent nothing more than the bitter grumblings and biased opinions of a disgruntled redneck. But here’s the thing. The odd, earthy call of John the Baptist to prepare the way of the Lord tips us off that the Messiah we are to prepare for does not fit conventional images of spirituality. Christians are agreed, or should be agreed, that Jesus of Nazareth is the model of true spirituality. For us, the example of Jesus supersedes all others. And the example of Jesus of Nazareth does not fit altogether neatly within modern suppositions of what spirituality is supposed to be.

On the one hand, Jesus is very much a man of deep contemplation and prayer. He frequently disappeared into the mountains to be alone with God. He entered into profound theological discussions with learned religious leaders in accord with ancient rabbinical custom. Most often He was addressed as “Rabbi”, or “Teacher.” And for the most part, Jesus was a pacifist, except for the day He made a whip out of rope and used it to physically drive the money-changers out of the Temple. Quiet, prayerful
contemplative, profound, pacifistic. That’s Jesus.
On the other hand, Jesus was a man who on most days worked from dawn until dark, healing, feeding the hungry, teaching and preaching among huge, swirling crowds of supplicants, onlookers and hecklers. Mark says there were lots of days when Jesus and the disciples didn’t have time to eat. Luke records a time when the crowds around Him were so rambunctious in their enthusiasm that the disciples put Him in a boat just off the lakeshore so He could speak to the people without being crushed by them. Some detractors once asked Jesus about His hectic, unspiritual-looking pace. He shrugged and replied, “My Father works, and I work.” The climax of Jesus life and ministry was His bloody, public execution on a wooden cross, condemned as a criminal.

It is not my intent to detract from or denigrate the noble spiritual traditions and practices of the ancient civilizations of the East; or of the tribal customs of Africa, Australia or our own Native American peoples. I would simply like to make room around the table of spirituality for our own cherished customs and practices of the Christian West. What characterizes our brand of spirituality is a restless, determined effort to change conditions which are unacceptable on God’s earth; to establish what is good and to combat what is evil. Eastern spirituality, if I understand it correctly, does not recognize the concepts of good and evil. The point of Eastern spirituality is to achieve a state of nothingness so that one transcends all of the petty concerns of life on earth. The epitome of Eastern spirituality is to walk across a bed of hot coals or along a sidewalk filled with diseased, starving persons with equal tranquility. For us, the call of spirituality would be to roll up sleeves and feed the hungry, tend the diseased, and even address the deeply-rooted social injustices which lead to so much illness and hunger.

What I’m laboring to say is that spirituality has gotten itself cloistered and separated from the joys and the work and the hurts of God’s world. But Jesus, our spiritual model, spent most of his earthly ministry engaged in the
joys and the work and the hurts of God’s world. Jesus taught that the first commandment is to love God with all your heart, and all your mind, and all your strength, and all your soul. Followers of Jesus since His time have regarded it as an acceptable outlet of spirituality to get dirty, sweaty, and back-sore in work which promotes God’s gracious purposes on the earth.

We ourselves are heirs of a Christian tradition called the Protestant work ethic. That ethic grows directly out of instructions from the Bible such as the teaching from John the Baptist – “Prepare the way of the Lord.” That tradition does not recognize a distinction between what is secular and what is spiritual. Our tradition teaches that all honest work is woven into the tapestry of God’s design for humanity and for His creation as a whole. We tend toward a spirituality that doesn’t mind getting some mud on its clothes while trying to boost the suffering world out of a ditch. Even more modest accomplishments of keeping a tidy home; building a straight, tight fence, or sharing a pleasant meal with neighbors fits within our understanding of what spirituality includes.

We have to admit, however, that the Western world, the culture we inhabit and which we have helped to form, has drifted from its spiritual roots. Many individuals in the Western world of our time do not see work as a means of preparing the way of the Lord; work is regarded simply as a means of making money, which is then used as a means of securing one’s own material comfort. We have to acknowledge that the Christmas season, a time meant to inspire our spirits, quite often drains and wearies our spirits. We have exchanged the world-embracing, world-redeeming message of our Christian heritage for the world-acquiring message of a godless society. We have forgotten that our Lord worked hard to help other people, to make this world a kinder, fairer, safer place, bearing witness to God’s love for the world. Our frenetic pace at Christmas is hard work to be sure, but it is work devoted to getting material possessions for persons who usually already have plenty of stuff. It is not work which prepares the way of the Lord, or which bears
witness to the Gospel truth that the Lord is with us.

I trust that I am much like you, approaching this Christmas season. I am looking for authentic ways to participate in preparing the way of the Lord. I am looking for ways to be more open to the Lord’s presence, so that I receive a measure of the joy, the hope, and the peace that comes from rightly celebrating our Lord’s birth. I am looking for ways to wake up on the morning of December 26th with a sense of goodwill and well-being, not with a nagging sense of emptiness and mild depression. What I’m looking for, guided by John’s preaching, is something I would call spiritual balance. I intend to try to achieve that balance by participating in work that benefits others and also by participating in worship through which I offer sincere praise to God. I intend to be active in caring activities which touch the lives of others in the world, and also in quiet prayer which connects my mortal self to eternal God in heaven. I intend to engage as deeply as I am able in precious occasions of fellowship with friends and with family, and also in some private moments of meditation and wonder at the amazing thing God has done in sending His Son to be born among us. What I hope for myself, I also hope for you, that each of us would be prepared in body, mind and soul, for the blessed and joyous coming of the Lord into our world. Amen.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Graduating Tomorrow

We graduate tomorrow. I can't believe that I am less than 12 hours away from being a certified yoga instructor! That makes me so giddy and happy and I think I'm as excited about this as I was about graduating from college. It feels like such a huge accomplishment that was years in the making and I'm optimistic about what lies ahead.

There are many things I will miss about being here in Bali. There were so many restaurants I was going to try and shops I was going to browse but somehow I didn't find time to do everything I wanted to. Time flies when you're in class 12 hours a day.

I'll miss the carefree feeling of walking to school or to some restaurant with my friends, especially my friend from Switzerland. I'll miss the deep conversations and even the shallow conversations about life, philosophy, Sanskrit, chakras, the mula bandha, karma, raw food vs. ayurvedic nutrition and how we feel in certain postures, among many other things. I'll miss looking at the beautiful rice fields every day. I'll miss the little geckos on all the walls. I'll miss going to breakfast every morning with my friends who are staying at the same hotel. Even though by the time breakfast rolls around we're usually so tired from our morning asana practice that we collapse in a heap on the breakfast benches, it's nice to have that familiarity and companionship. I'll miss being in such a supportive environment where it's ok to burst into tears in the middle of class for a reason that's explainable only to you but which everyone understands. Or to stifle laughter in the middle of class when the drill seargent-esque instructor yelled at someone for squishing an ant on her mat. I'll miss the break times when I'd go to a space by myself to practice a challenging posture only to have someone come up to me and help guide me through and and tell me I am going to get there soon. I'll miss being in a room full of people from all different places around the world who all understand each other so well because we know we are one.

There are some things I won't miss. Springing out of bed at 5:30 am, six days a week tops that list. Actually it went from springing (week 1) to plodding (week 2) to dragging (week 3) to flopping (week 4). I also won't miss sitting on the floor all day, or the unnecessary drama that has polluted our group this past week. (Yes, even yogis have issues. Or, as the joke goes, yogis have the most issues out of anyone and that's why we do yoga.) I won't miss the salamanders. I won't miss having to brush my teeth with bottled water. And on that note, I would kill (ok, maybe not kill, unless it was an ant) for a soak in a nice hot bath. It's liberating to wear yoga pants and no makeup every day, but it would be nice to not have my pants stuck to me with sweat by 8:00 am and remain that way for the rest of the day, and to be able to put on just a little makeup in the evening without it dripping off in 5 minutes.

My heart and my head are so full of the many lessons I've learned here. This training has been one of the highlights of my life.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Something Familiar, Something Different

My day off was great.

Ahhh, the beach.

The water was so warm and refreshing. Getting out of Ubud for a few hours was so cleansing. Feeling so grateful to be there, especially knowing that the continental US is under what looks like a huge block of ice, was so nice.

When I got back from the beach, I was completely exhausted. The sun and the heat really zapped me. I didn't want to spend my day off napping so I threw on some clothes and went to the one place I knew would revive me:

There is a lily pad pond and a Hindu temple next door. There was a large procession of worshipers dressed in white walking into the temple, some of whom were balancing elaborate platters of fruit on their heads. Men were playing drums and an Indonesian instrument that's kind of like a xylophone. It was beautiful but I kept walking to the big green sign. "You have your temple and I have mine," I thought.

I had my kindle and got to read more of the latest Stephanie Plum book, I had a delectable toffee nut latte with whipped cream and caramel chunks on top served in a ceramic mug. I curled up into a corner cushion and relaxed to the tunes of Christmas music coming from the speakers.

There's just something about going to a familiar place after being in an unfamiliar setting for so long that just feels so cozy.

But then I thought, I'm in Ubud! Why did I go to Starbucks? Ugh!

So when I saw something completely out of the ordinary, I decided to try it:

It felt so STRANGE! Hundreds of tiny fish were nibbling away at my feet. I am not a huge animal lover and it took me at least five minutes with my feet in the water to relax and stop squirming.

At first it felt like something out of Fear Factor. But then I slowly relaxed and soaked in the novelty of the experience. And the fishiness of the pedicure.

Fifteen minutes later, my feet were soft and the fishies were nourished.

I walked to an Italian place for a pizza. It's my day off so I wanted to treat myself to some junk food. The pizza came out with about a pound of fresh spinach on top, plus tomatoes and black olives. This is how Ubud does junk food, I guess. It was delicious!

I walked along the street and popped into shops that looked nice. I bought some new yoga clothes and new headbands. I ran into 3 different friends on the walk home.

It was a great day.

She Let Go - by Jennifer Eckert Bernau

Without a thought or a word, she let go. 

She let go of fear. 
She let go of judgments. 
She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head.She let go of the committee of indecision within her. 
She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons.Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go. 
She didn’t ask anyone for advice. 
She didn’t read a book on how to let go.She just let go.She let go of all the memories that held her back. 
She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward. 
She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right. 
She didn’t promise to let go. 
She didn’t journal about it.She didn’t write the projected date in her Day-Timer. 
She made no public announcement. 
She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope. She just let go. 
She didn’t analyze whether she should let go. 
She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter. 
She didn’t utter one word. She just let go. 
No one was around when it happened. There was no applause or congratulations.No one thanked her or praised her. No one noticed a thing.Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go. 
There was no effort. There was no struggle. 
It wasn’t good. It wasn’t bad.It was what it was, and it is just that.In the space of letting go, she let it all be. 
A small smile came over her face. A light breeze blew through her. 
And the sun and the moon shone forevermore. 
Here’s to giving ourselves the gift of letting go… 
There’s only one guru ~ you. - 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Daily Life In Bali

I'm often so inspired to write about the deeper issues that have crossed my mind while I've been in training that I sometimes forget about describing daily life here. I will remedy that today!

Without further ado, here's what an average day is like in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, for a yoga teacher trainee:

5:35 am: My alarm goes off. I grab my journal and write down my dream before I forget. My beautiful and wise friend Kelly of A Bridge Between Two Worlds was so right when she said my dreams would be more vivid here in Bali.

5:45 am: I stumble out of bed, turn on the hot water for a shower (it takes awhile to heat up) and start thinking about what to wear (these yoga pants or those yoga pants?) and start putting things into my bag for the day, like extra tea bags, my phone and my room key.

5:55 am: Post shower, I spray bug spray all over myself, throw my hair into a pony tail, put on my yoga pants and a semi-coordinating tank top, shove my feet into flip flops and walk out the door. We practice silence in the mornings because the early hours of the day are sacred. In the stillness of the morning can come wisdom and peace if we don't clutter it with unnecessary junk, like checking facebook, the news, small talk, etc. It is somewhat difficult to practice silence in Ubud because even at 6:00 am there are friendly Balinese around who always greet me with a cheerful hello. It's about a 7 minute walk from my hotel to our studio.

6:10 am: get to the practice space, spread out my mat, bolster, blanket and blocks. Fill my water bottle, make a cup of tea. I sit on the ledge overlooking the reeds and a buddha statue while I sip tea in silence.

6:30 am: We start meditation and then pranayama. The meditations are guided by a teacher, or in the past week, by a student. Pranayama is breathing techniques to calm the mind, gain energy and focus. Ask me about alternate nostril breathing!

7:15 or 7:30 am: The vinyasa practice starts. This is an hour and a half of yoga. By the 20 minute mark, we're sweating and don't stop till the end.

9:00 am: Break for breakfast. I come back to the hotel with two fellow students (Swiss and Australian) who are also staying here. Breakfast is included in our room rate. They don't have many vegan options on the menu so I bring my own granola and soy milk. I always order the fresh fruit platter and ginger tea as well.

10:30 am: Class starts again. There are a variety of lectures in the morning on things such as the origins of yoga, nutrition, ayurveda, energetics, the art of teaching, etc. During short breaks in the lecture we practice different poses. Today I practiced crow and headstands.

Me practicing crow as my long-legged friend does a handstand photo bomb behind me.

12:30 am: Break for lunch. Usually I go to the organic cafe on the Yoga Barn compound but I'm getting kind of tired of the same old things so I occasionally wander off to try some place else.

2:00 pm: Back to class for another few hours of lecture. The afternoon classes are usually but not always posture clinics where we spend a lot of time studying 2 or 3 postures in great detail. When it's not a posture clinic, it might be a yin yoga training. Throughout all of these classes we are sitting on the floor. The first day my back was killing me! I ached everywhere. Now I am much better at sitting on the ground for hours at a time. Getting to sit in a chair feels like a real luxury.

5:00 or 5:30 pm: Usually this is a yin yoga class, though sometimes it's not. Yesterday we had a kirtan, which is a type of spiritual singalong. The coolest part of the kirtan was when we got to do some Cherokee chanting.

6:30 pm: Finally! Twelve hours later, the day has ended! Time to grab a quick bite to eat at one of the many organic vegetarian restaurants here in Ubud or if I'm really tired I'll order delivery to my room. The other night I ordered in eggplant walnut enchiladas...delish! Most nights I have dinner with my friend from Switzerland, though sometimes we go out as a bigger group. Last Wednesday was my friend from Australia's birthday and we went out to a nice restaurant to celebrate. I ordered a raw vegan burrito and the raw brownie with vegan coconut ice cream on top for dessert.

8:30 - 9 pm: I'm back in bed. I read for about half an hour before lights out. I listen to the chirps and croaks of Balinese animals as I fall asleep.

I keep this schedule 6 days a week, though Saturdays we're done by 12:30. Last Sunday I went for a drive around the island on my day off. Tomorrow I'm going to the beach with two of my girl friends. I'm exhausted most of the time, sweaty most of the time, happy all of the time.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Where do you want to be?

I like to plan ahead. I like to know what I'm going to be doing months in advance and don't like to leave important details to the last minute. My head is always swimming with things that need to be done later that day, later that week, and later that month.

Yoga teaches us to be in the present moment. To focus on the time that we are in right now, because really and truly that's all we have. When I can actually get grounded and be present, it's such a great's a relief from all the hectic voices firing off in my brain telling me to keep pushing and planning.

The other day in our morning class, the teacher had us do an exercise that she thought was hard: have us pair up and talk about where we wanted to be one year, 5 years and 20 years from now, then think about at the end of our lives, what would we look back upon as our greatest accomplishment?

I suppose to someone who has taught yoga for more than 10 years and is so used to inhabiting the present moment, this question would be hard. I think for most Americans this question is almost laughably easy, on the surface anyway.

I was in 3rd grade the first time this series of questions was posed, and it's been posed at least two dozen times since in various high school classes, college classes, grad school classes, career workshops, etc. From the time we're very little we're conditioned to plan ahead, set goals, aim high. We're told that if we're to succeed in life, this is the only way to get started. Inherent in this mindset is, of course, a certain cultural definition of success. Even though these questions are posed in such a way that imply that they are to get you think broadly, in the American context there is a right answer and a wrong answer. Even in 3rd grade, these questions were aiming to get us to think about college, then a career and a family. In the decades since, same thing.

The right answers are:
Make good grades so I can....
....get into college so I can...
...excel in college so I can...
....get a good job so I can....
...get promoted x times in x years so I can... a manager so I can...
afford a house in the suburbs so I can...
...have x kids and a dog and a car.

If you give anything different than these answers you will be told, subtly or matter of factly, that you're not planning right.

Here's the thing about how it was asked in my yoga class:
You're actually supposed to look into your heart and see what you *truly* want.

My automatic reflex answer was something about advancing my so-called prestigious career. (Cultural conditioning is tough to shake.)

My heart's answer was something completely different.

The thought of me on my deathbed at 80, looking back on what I was most proud of in life?

My heart's answer:
Following my own path, no matter the flack I get from outside voices telling me to fall in line, and staying true to myself even if it takes great strength and courage.

What's yours?


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Flying and Falling

Today we got to try acro yoga: a form of yoga that you do with a partner that involves acrobatics such as balancing a person on top of you. For example, take plank pose. That's your basic push up position. One person gets in plank, then the other person wraps her hands around the first person's ankles, climbs on top, and balances her ankles on the first person's shoulders and also rises into plank. I did this pose both on the top  and on the bottom and it was fun and really empowering.  I didn't think I'd be strong enough to hold someone on my back but if you get the alignment right, it works! It really fires up the core muscles and forces you to concentrate and to communicate with your partner.

Another fun pose we did was handstand. I didn't think I would be able to do it but thanks to the help of 2 spotters, I did! It felt great! I was so excited that I was able to do it.

Our last pose of the day was a fairly complicated "flying" pose, meaning one person is on the ground as a base and one person is in the air while another person spots. The base is on her back with her feet straight up in the air, perpendicular, while the flyer balances on her butt on the base's feet, her back arched, completely off the ground. At the end of the pose, she plants her hands behind her and flips her legs over her head in a back walkover.

Everything seemed to be going fine till it was my turn to spot. The person I was spotting was doing fine in the air, she planted her hands and I thought all was well. However, when she flipped, she somehow lost her balance and came down hard on her knee. The sound of it was awful. The feeling of guilt I felt was worse. I felt like it was all my fault that it went wrong and I wished so badly I could transfer the pain from her knee to mine. She was so gracious about the whole thing and even though I kept apologizing she said it was ok. I could apologize 100 times more and I think I would still feel awful about letting her down when she needed me.

I have tried to think of what lessons I can learn from this. I know that as a team we should have communicated better. I know that I can't break my concentration for even half a second when I'm spotting. I know that causing someone pain is as horrible as the physical pain itself. And I think this experience also speaks to the cycles of real life: sometimes we fly high, sometimes we fall. Sometimes the feeling of happiness and gratitude comes so easily that we think it will stay forever, sometimes we're just in a funk. These cycles are a normal part of the human existence and I suppose instead of resisting them we can learn to accept them.

That doesn't mean we don't appreciate the good days or strive to pull ourselves out of the doldrums, but it does mean we shouldn't beat ourselves up when life happens and when accidents happen. We observe it all, learn what we can, and move on, knowing that the cycle of life, of light and dark, sunshine and rain, sunny and freezing, will keep churning on and it takes the bad experiences to appreciate the good.

If there were never any darkness, we'd never see the fireflies, right?

Friday, November 29, 2013

Catching a cold

If you're going to get sick, a yoga training is the place to do it. I've never been around a more supportive, helpful, caring bunch of people while I've been sick and they're all full of knowledge of herbal remedies and natural treatments.

In the past 3 days since my cold hit, I've had:

- a shot of oregano oil. this will burn your lips, fire up your insides, and clear your congestion instantly. unfortunately it does wear off after a few hours

- a shot of wheatgrass. this is full of all sorts of good vitamins

- a clove and a half of raw garlic. this is a natural anti-biotic. I was gnawing my way through one, hating the way it tasted when someone suggested I cut it into smaller pieces and take it with water like a pill. that worked much better.

- copious amounts of ginger lime honey tea. they serve it at the organic cafe next to our practice space. Yesterday one of my classmates gave me a big spoonful of powdered greens to stir in, and my teacher gave me cayenne pepper as well.

- grapeseed oil extract. apparently this is some kind of cure all. how did I not know this??

- 2 green juices

- 4+ bowls of soup

- fresh pressed orange juice

- green tea

- a raw chocolate truffle. don't judge.

- a lymphatic drainage massage and cranio sacral therapy. Bali is THE place to come if you've got anything at all wrong with you, physically or emotionally. Somebody WILL help get you balanced in a natural, healthy way. The lymphatic drainage was interesting because the touch was so light it didn't really feel like he was doing anything except gently touching different spots on my face and neck. An hour and a capsule of more oregano oil later, my nose is completely clear.

- an entire 2 hour yoga practice in savasana, aka corpse pose, aka lying flat on my back. I got out of bed and got there by 6:15 this morning but just couldn't sit up straight.

- copious amounts of sympathy and well-wishes from my classmates and teachers

I'm going to bed early tonight.

Goodnight from Ubud,

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Birds, Bugs and Gecko Poop

Navigating daily life in Bali means encountering all kinds of critters. I'm not really a critter person so at first this seemed daunting,  Now I'm starting to get used to the milder of the beasties in my midst and am beginning to really enjoy the animal sounds all around me from first thing in the morning to the dead of night.

One of my favorite creatures is this rooster. He is kept in a pen in the field that's on the walk to my practice space. He crows throughout the day and to me his crow sounds like he's laughing. It's kind of a "rrr rrr RRR cackle guffaw rrr rrr tee hee." Then again for all I know that might be Balinese for shove off, but it's a really welcome sound when I get to hear it.

Monsieur le Rooster in his cage

There are always little geckos and sometimes bigger lizards climbing on every wall. The walls in the hotel restaurant, the walls in other restaurants, the walls in the lounge area, etc. Our practice space is an open air room with only one wall and a thatched roof. I have not seen the geckos that live in the roof but at certain times in the afternoon, tiny bits of gecko poop fall from the ceiling on unsuspecting yogis. Unfortunately it has happened that our meditation was interrupted by the scream of a participant who got beaned in the head with such an offering. Thankfully it hasn't happened to me yet, knock on wood, though since we are all one, maybe it has (yoga humor).

Little ants and big ants crawl all over the place on the practice space. At first I was squashing every one I saw but now I know they are harmless and don't bite. I think our class is fairly divided in the pro- and anti- bug squashing contingents. Some of us believe it's bad karma while others of us choose to let possible karmic implications of bug killing fall where the may. One of my friends finds it amusing that I have no qualms about killing the bug I can see but won't eat the cow, pig, or chicken that I can't see. I think it's funny that she shows non-violence to bugs but is a carnivore.

My practice space is in a huge compound called The Yoga Barn. Hundreds of visitors to Ubud take classes here every week, and we teacher trainers have a big room all to ourselves at the far end of the property. To get there we walk past the Ayurvedic center (where a spider once landed on my head), through the organic cafe, down some wooden stairs and underneath a grove of coconut trees, down more stairs to a huge wooden platform that is built over a gurgling stream, then down a dirt path past the aforementioned rooster. Along this last part of the trail, I have crossed paths with numerous salamanders wiggling their way across the road. It startles me every time.

The dirt path and my practice center in the background. The smaller thatched roof are the restrooms.

There are tall reeds that grow around the three exposed sides of the center that give us a little privacy from everything else going on near the compound. There's a school very close by and in the morning we hear little kids playing outside and they all yell HALLO! HALLO! to us as we walk up the dirt road after our first class. It's really sweet.

In the reeds are little white and black birds with yellow beaks and huge voices. It's not a QUACK, it's a QUOCK sound that they make. I don't know how something so little and cute can make a sound so big. Same goes for the cicadas which were out in full force today. When they're chirping it sounds like a buzz saw right next to your head.

Now I'm on my balcony and night has fallen. The daily rain has come and gone and I'm sipping a green tea feeling the heaviness of the air and listening to the sounds of animals in the rice paddy just beyond the hotel wall. I hear what I think is a frog croaking, insects chirping, and the occasional splash of fish from the hotel pond.

Bye from Bali,
Firefly Girl

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Precious human life

"Today I am fortunate to be alive.

I have a precious human life and I'm not going to waste it.

I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings.

I am going to have kind thoughts toward others. I am not going to get angry or think badly about others.

I am going to benefit others as much as I can.

For today, I am fortunate to be alive. I have a precious human life, and I'm not going to waste it."

His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Getting out from under the weight of expectation

A funny thing happened this week in class when one of the students used the word "control." The instructor turned into a snarling, yapping impression of a bulldog (that actually looked more like a chihuahua). It was hilarious. His point was, we have this idea that we need to control things but we actually can't control ANYTHING. Not even our minds with meditation. We can "prayerfully manage" as he says, but we can't ever ever ever control our minds.

So if we can't control our own minds, how could we control someone else? And if we can't control someone close to us, how could we control the interactions of other people in the world to try to create a favorable outcome?

The point is, we can't.

Shifting gears slightly, I find that some of the heaviest burdens I carry are the weights of expectation placed on me by myself and by other people. I expected that I should always make A's in high school, college and grad school. I expected that I should have a prestigious career that would allow me to give back, or serve my country, and a certain amount of income. I expected that I should live in a big city, take nice vacations and have a comfortable home. I have all of those things, yet I still felt an emptiness inside. I didn't understand why until something clicked with me this week. It's so simple, but so true.

You can't expect anything outside yourself to fulfill you.

Healthy relationships can bring joy, fun vacations can bring happiness, doing a job well can feel good for a time until that next bad day...but ultimately none of these match the feeling of deep gratitude and contentment that come from having a full heart. The way to get this? Know yourself, know what universal values you want to live by, sit quietly and reflect on how you want to live those values, then ~*~*~follow that path~*~*~*, even if you can't see more than one or two steps in front of you. Even if that involves radical change and letting go of some things you used to think were true. Release that which no longer serves you.

You (me/I) have to do the work of self-examination and self-love to become fulfilled in yourself (myself) and then and only then can you give from a full heart, not expecting any particular outcome and not expecting anything in return. The second part of that is key. My instructor said he knew a lot of people who hide behind professions that involve service to others, such as public service, aid organizations, mental health workers, etc, who think that doing such a profession will feel good because it fills you up. In fact, what can happen when coming to such a job with an expectation of being fulfilled is that you get burned out and disappointed and it's hard to figure out why. The reason is you were expecting others to fulfill your need instead of working on yourself to become full on your own.

Once you are full, love and energy radiates out from you, and THAT's what helps people, not a burned out husk of a person who has no energy and no zest for life.

And now, a plea: I say this with absolute love and a full heart to anyone who may have suggested that my husband and I should go ahead and start a family now that we've been married for 8 whole months: me having a baby will not fulfill you. Please stop asking because it hurts me to feel like I'm responsible for being the vessel for someone else's happiness and that my life isn't good enough just as it is. And a baby, if there is ever to be a baby, deserves to loved for its own unique being and not as a path to someone else's happiness.

This is me being happy:

From my heart to yours,
Firefly Girl

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Follow your intuition

If I had to distill everything I've learned from yoga, it would be this:

Listen to your intuition.

This is not always easy to do. In the modern world there are many distractions that strive to keep us from hearing our intuition and many pressures that strive to keep us from following it. Charting your own course can be unpopular, and when you first start tuning into your intuition you may ignore that little voice in your heart that's trying to talk to you because you don't believe it's actually happening.

Something about the past few days has turned my intuition into overdrive. Maybe it's the things I'm learning, maybe it's the place I'm in (they don't call Bali the island of the Gods for no reason...spirituality is thick here), maybe it's the supportive people I'm around who encourage each other to tune in to their inner voice, or probably it's a combination of all of the above.

Small example: Tonight a big group of fellow students is going out for one of my classmate's birthdays. It's a great group of people and I am enriched by knowing them, but I also know that I am drained by being in a group setting all day. I just need time to myself to recharge and process what I've learned and let my mind wander a little. At first I agreed to join the group for dinner because everyone was going and it seemed like the thing to do, but soon after I agreed I got this nagging feeling that a group dinner was really not what I needed tonight. I needed solitude and time to process some of the things I have experienced this week. (Next time I will try to tune into my intuition before I agree to do something so I don't flake on friends because that's just rude.) Despite pressure to go along with what everyone in the group was doing, I came to a really nice Thai restaurant in my neighborhood, which will heretofore be referred to as my happy place.

I settled in with my laptop, a lychee martini and vegan stir fry and am listening to a live blues band. The first song they played was Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World." My eyes started tearing up because I knew my intuition had led me to right where I needed to be in that moment. It's a beautiful thing.

Want to learn more about how you can start to tune into your own intuition? Good, because you'll probably hear me gush about it for many weeks, months and years to come. Start with bringing conscious awareness to your actions throughout the day. Example: When you're eating, be aware of how the food looks on the plate, how it smells, how it feels in the mouth and how it tastes on the tongue. Chew slowly and deliberately.

Another example: When you're sitting at your desk/in your car/on the bus/wherever, take a minute to just bring your awareness to your breath, take deep inhales and deep exhales and notice how your breath feels as it enters your body and as it leaves. Focusing on the breath is one of the simplest meditations and also a simple way to bring awareness to the present moment. And being present is key to being able to tune into your intuition because you have to be aware of what you are experiencing in the moment to be able to tell how you feel about it and how your heart is telling you to act.

Another powerful (but at times difficult) tool is to cut down on my reliance on electronics and social networking. Everybody knows that Facebook and email bring distractions, clutter and at times unwelcome feelings of the need to compare yourself to others or prove something to others. In my opinion, constantly looking at facebook was crushing my ability to hear my own inner voice because I found myself thinking of things I could post (to try to impress people? and to connect with what was familiar back home instead of embracing the experience of being far away).  I would venture to say that my conscious effort to stay off facebook and to not email anyone except for my husband has really helped me to stay centered in myself.  Yes, I will get back on Facebook periodically because I love looking at pictures of my friends' and cousins' adorable kids and I want to have some way to maintain friendships back home but I don't want the daily intrusion into my rhythm. Blogging is a form of journaling for me and it helps me to write things far more that in helps anyone to read it.

And finally, one last thought:
Wow, blues music is really good! Now I know why people like it so much.

Far from blue,

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Becoming comfortable with discomfort

I’m sitting in the dark as I write this because the power has gone out at my hotel. It’s really hot inside with no a/c or ceiling fan so I came outside to the very dark deck with my computer. It’s an interesting feeling to not be able to see anything but to hear Balinese night noises all around me. There is a symphony of crickets, frogs, the occasional duck, the ubiquitous motorbike and car traffic and the chattering of hotel employees trying to deal with the power outage. This turns out to be an appropriate setting for the post I wanted to write (which will have to wait to go up until the wifi works again).

Our evening yoga class is yin style, meaning the movements are slower, deeper, and held for longer than in a regular vinyasa class. I love practicing yin yoga because I love the gentleness of it, but to do it, you have to be able to become comfortable with discomfort. It’s hard to stay in a posture for three minutes at a time. The natural inclination is to fidget, to think about all sorts of things that distract you from the moment, and the muscles you’re stretching start to complain even though you may have two more minutes to stay still.

In the course of this, thoughts and emotions rise up within you. This has been challenging because thoughts and feelings rising up within me have been rather unpleasant. My natural inclination is to want to fix the unpleasantness or just get rid of it, but unfortunately that’s not how things work. These thoughts are meant to be observed without judgement. They may stick around for awhile till I’m able to release them. I don't know how long that might take. I have to learn to accept that...without judgement.

One of the most beautiful metaphors in the yoga tradition (and also the Hindu and Buddhist traditions) is that of the lotus flower. You should see the kind of swampy, mucky, filthy pond where lotus flowers grow. There’s such a pond right outside our practice space and I would hate to accidentally slip and fall in. It’s gross. But out of that slimy mud grows  the most beautiful, big, pink flowers. The metaphor is that we are all like the lotus flower. We all have muck in our lives that we have to deal with. That’s just part of being human. But out of all that dirtiness, if we let it, comes growth and perhaps eventually the manifestation of beauty.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

6 things about me: the travel edition

We all know that facebook memes are so cheesy, but I am loving the one going around now where everyone writes a certain number of things about themselves. The posts I've seen are so touching and I feel like I've gotten to know people better through reading them and have also realized that even though many of us lead very different lives, we all share many of the same vulnerabilities, likes, and desires.

Having said that, I didn't think I was going to do that meme because I post so much on facebook already that everyone on my friends list has a pretty good idea about my interests, favorite foods, passions and views. Then I thought, what the heck, that would make a nice format for a travel blog entry, so here goes:

1. I get lonely and homesick every time I travel. Every single time. Furthermore, I believe that any traveler who tells you he or she doesn't is lying. The nice thing about having travel experience though is knowing that this feeling is normal and that it will pass. When I first started traveling I would get into crying jags not only at night but in the middle of the day (!) sometimes in public places, like by a telephone booth in the town square of Cuernavaca, Mexico, after talking to my mom on the phone. I've also been so homesick I couldn't eat, like when I was visiting such nice friends in Belgium (hiii Vanessa, if you're reading this!) and almost made myself sick. My first few days in China it was like my whole world flipped upside down and it felt like my stomach was in my feet. I've never felt so lost or disoriented or scared. My first few days in Alexandria, Egypt, were a total nightmare. I was terrified of everything and everyone. But then the things that seem so strange at first start to become familiar, and then I meet new people and make friends and that is the absolute best way to not only survive but thrive in an unfamiliar place. If you give yourself a chance and if you practice enough, the homesickness and loneliness will be short-lived.

2. I LOVE meeting people from other countries. Love it, absolutely love it. I love hearing their backgrounds and hearing their accents and learning how life is the same and different in other parts of the world. I used to have something like 17 penpals when I was younger and this is why. I met some of the nicest people today at the cafe at my new yoga training center today and feel so enriched and blessed just by those chance encounters. Here's what happened:

I set out of my hotel to explore a little on my own and to try to find my training center. I knew it was close but I couldn't find it and kept asking for directions only to have people send me different ways. After walking down two different wrong alleys I finally found the right one, then once I was at the training center I got turned around looking for the cafe. I finally found it and there were no open tables. I was feeling so out of place and exasperated and saw only one person sitting at a big table so I asked if she minded if I sat at the end. She was so open and friendly when she invited me to sit there and we started chatting and all my frustrations melted away. Two other people came up and joined her and I told them I would move if they were part of a group but they said no. Two were from Sweden and one was from Austria. They were all traveling by themselves too and had met at this yoga center. They sat with me while I had my tea and we talked and they were just so nice. The same thing happened later that day at the same cafe when I sat down at a fairly empty table. I had what I think was a 2 hour conversation with someone from Ireland. I will probably never see any of these people again but it was so nice to get to know them even for a short while.

3. I have an irrational (or perhaps rational) phobia of monkeys. I had suspected this for awhile but confirmed it today when I had a near panic attack at the monkey forest. I knew that I was suspicious of monkeys and I knew I didn't like their little claws and I knew I didn't like the way they grab things and I knew I didn't want any of them to touch me...but I went to the monkey forest anyway. At least I tried, until the hyperventilation started.

This was the first group event with a few fellow teacher-trainees in my program and I really wanted to meet them (the teacher trainees, not the monkeys) so I put my fears aside and met up at the designated time to go to the monkey forest. Even as we were walking along the trail to the forest and seeing all the statues of monkeys I started to get a bad feeling. All I could think was of those flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz and the sign saying "I'd turn back now if I were you." I thought, this fear is stupid and something I need to overcome so I pressed on. I bought my ticket, I tucked away all my shiny things as per instructions and I bravely went in. Then I saw all the monkeys. They were everywhere. They were climbing on walls, they were in the path ahead of us, they were in the trees overhead, and they were NOT shy. They will bite. They will grab at your things. They will sit on your shoulder. They have fangs. Some of them even have what looks like mohawks, as if they needed to look more intimidating. Everyone else wanted to get closer to them and take pictures and all I could think was I wanted to stay as far away from them as possible. I'd turn away from one and then there would be another behind me. I saw one rip open a lady's plastic bag that she was holding and everything in it spilled to the ground and the monkey started going through her things. The thing with the monkey forest is, it's their world and we're just living in it. Monkey rules rule.

I was about 50 yards in and I could feel the rising panic. My breaths started becoming short and shallow and my heart rate was accelerating. I froze in place and couldn't move. Everywhere I wanted to move was a monkey. My group kept walking calmly ahead, like normal people. Not me. I turned around and slowly started walking back out of the forest. I know both my group and the monkeys probably all think I'm some kind of lunatic (monkeys know too much) but I just had to get out of there. Fortunately I made it past all the monkeys and the poor lady with the contents of her bag on the ground. When someone in my group turned around I waved and kept backing away. I walked fast and didn't stop walking till I was off that road past all the monkey statues. I still feel slightly panicked just thinking about it. My personal version of hell is that monkey forest.

4. My husband is my hero. Everybody who knows him probably knows this already, because from 50 yards away he even looks like a hero. He's done amazing things in faraway place that probably make him a hero to a lot of people but not everyone really knows what a kind person he is.

Example: It was a HOT day in Cambodia and we went in to a little cafe for something cold to drink. Both of us were so miserable with the heat that we could barely even make conversation. All of a sudden, there was a crash behind us. A man at that table had accidentally knocked over his drink and the glass fell to the floor and shattered. Part of it cut his girlfriend's toe and it was bleeding like crazy. She said it wasn't a deep cut but it was just in a place that bled a lot. Most people would turn around and go back to their business, but not the man I was with. What does he do but pull a first aid kit out of his backpack (who keeps a first aid kit in their backpack??) and help to bandage up this poor woman's toe. I think the man who dropped his glass felt even worse because he was ashamed that he'd accidentally hurt his girlfriend, but my husband put him at ease telling him that the reason he carries a first aid kit is because he's usually the one hurting himself. It was so sweet. :) I was so proud of him.

5. A fellow teacher trainee invited me for Bintang tonight and I thought it was some kind of chant, like kirtan. I agreed to join (once again, I'm trying new things to get to know people) then found out Bintang is the local beer.  Even better.

6. I love eating vegan but I don't always stick to it. I love trying vegan recipes and I love the way my body feels when it's infused with vegetables but I don't want to give everyone the impression that I'm some sort of model foodie. I stress eat and I have a sweet tooth and when there's absolutely no non-dairy milk in sight I put real milk in my coffee (!!!!!!) I struggle with temptations and feelings of failure with food just like everyone else. I keep posting healthy recipes and I keep trying to eat vegan because that's what makes me feel good, not because I'm trying to feel superior to anyone else who might make different choices.

I'm late to my Bintang date so will stop with 6 things.

Bye bye from Bali!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Perspectives from a road trip

The ride from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh yesterday wasn't as much fun as I thought it would be. This is because I was fighting off waves of carsickness the entire time. I usually don't get carsick so this was unusual. I think yesterday's condition was brought on by riding in the back of a late model Nissan that felt like it lost its shocks about 70,000 miles ago over bumpy unpaved roads while constantly accelerating and braking to avoid bicycles, motorbikes, tuk tuks and other vehicular traffic while the driver honked his horn at least every 5 minutes. Not that this had any discernible effect on the traffic pattern, not that this deterred him from laying on the horn every single time he passed somebody or something. Did I mention this ride lasted 5 hours?

Usually I pass the time in a car reading, but since I couldn't look at words on a page for more than 10 seconds without feeling like I was going to lose my breakfast, I looked out the window instead. And promptly felt bad for feeling sorry for myself, because this is what I saw:

These pictures do little to show the scale of abject poverty and grueling manual labor I witnessed on the roadside for the entire 5 hour drive. These are ramshackle houses with ladders for access, with no electricity. I saw people sitting in the shade underneath their homes, I saw little kids chasing each other around the homes, I saw naked children standing outside and I saw men and women doing farmwork using equipment and methods from at least 100 years ago. (I'm not sure farmwork is the right way to describe wading through knee high water with water buffaloes, but it does capture hauling high piles of hay on carts, using scythes to cut some crop I couldn't identify, and putting hay into another machine I couldn't identify and waiting for it to shoot out the other end.) I also saw a lot of kids dressed in uniforms riding their bikes, presumably to school. I saw one such class in session. It was an open air building and it looked like they had very little in the way of classroom supplies. It was swelteringly hot outside and I can only imagine how hot it was in that classroom.

There were other, more captivating scenes than the ones above but I couldn't get good pictures because we were driving by them too fast. The only reason I got the pictures above is because we stopped the car, right in the middle of the highway, to help our driver's "brother" who also stopped his car in the middle of the highway because he had some car trouble. SMH.

There were also lots of nice looking cows:

Unfortunately that is the best picture I could get.

I have seen few animals with the elegance and grace of water buffaloes. I realize as I say that that it sounds odd, especially coming from me, but trust me, they're beautiful and move with such fluidity and ease. I wish I had a picture of them but I don't have a good one.

Instead, I will share with you my view this morning of my lovely breakfast and the beautiful garden right outside my hotel's cafe.