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?