I was just 17 ½ and freshly out of high school. I was impressionable especially when encountering trailblazers, the weird ones the ones that thought and dressed out of the box. In my junior high school creative writing class, I met a girl, not just any girl but one that had a huge personality for her tiny 4’10” frame. She spoke four languages, was born in Panama and had traveled extensively. She was smart and curious and a free spirit. Her character was forged in cement, and she was sure of what she knew, sure of what she wanted and she had no qualms going after it. I wanted to have a life like hers, different from the norm. I drank her words like the finest of wines and aspired to be like her, courageous, worldly and totally autonomous.
One day during lunch break, she casually mentioned that she was heading to Europe for the summer holidays. I drilled her on how, where, with whom, etc. ”Alone.” was her only reply to my questions that fired at her like a machine gun. That was all I needed to hear. I went home that night and thought about it. Why not me? What is stopping me from doing the same thing? I had a small savings stashed under my mattress and could sell my only two valuable possessions, my racing bike and my Rossignols.
Between creative writing class and biology, I stopped by the local travel agent and secured an open-ended ticket to London. Why London? No other reason other than it seemed like a good place to begin. And so it was. With my backpack on my shoulder, my passport and $1000 in my pocket, I boarded the plane to London. I never gave it much thought how my adventure would transpire or what I would do once I arrived there. At the time, it didn’t seem to matter.
Despite the 17 hours in the air, the flight seemed short. I couldn’t sleep. I was too excited and spent hours walking up and down the aisles making new friends. I befriended an Englishman and learned that the Sterling Pound was the currency of the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom was the same as England. I think that he was a bit concerned about my naivety, so he took me under his wing and drove me to a decent neighborhood to find a cheap guesthouse which became my home for months.
I quickly learned the importance of looking right before crossing the street, keeping my eyes lowered while riding the tube and most helpful of all, understanding the enigmatic word ”the loo”. Day one, I enthusiastically I spanned the city far beyond its borders. At least, that’s what it felt like.
Dusk came quickly. I stopped in my tracks and looked around. At that moment, reality kicked in. I was alone, entirely alone in this faraway foreign country. I knew no one; no one knew me. Nothing looked familiar. I was lost. How did I let this happen? Fear embraced me and stole my senses. I looked up at the immensity of the sky and mapped the brilliance of the stars above. I heard a whisper from inside, ”It is O.K. You aren’t lost because you never knew where you were going in the first place. So allow yourself to wander, weave in and out of the cobblestone streets, get lost again and again and discover the novelty of the present moment.” This advice is some of the best that I have ever received.
Having a plan, following a map, gives direction and provides us with a stable framework that paves our path. If the moment is ripe, we can try out our sense of faith, spread our wings and strengthen our muscle of surrendering to what presents itself without attachment to the outcome. There is something inexcusably exciting about adventuring into newness and not knowing what you will find, or what will find you. It can be scary, and it can be exhilaratingly awesome.
One serendipitous moment after another became my reality for 14 months. I learned a lot about other cultures, people and above all myself. This expedition was one of personal growth and, like Pema Chödrön wisely points out, embarking on a journey, whether it be to Europe or some other faraway destination or one of personal transformation, is always thrilling until that precise moment when we realize that we are utterly alone.
This moment is when we lean in a bit more and remember, whether you are a pathfinder on the road of growth or trailblazing through South East Asia, you are never alone, and, you can’t get lost if you don’t know where you are in the first place. So my advice- if you have the time and a sense of adventure, get lost and enjoy the art of trailblazing without a map. You might just end up finding yourself.
ORANGE, LA COULEUR DE LA TRANSFORMATION
Près de 3 semaines se sont écoulées comme de l’encre. Goutte à goutte, la vie laotienne me bénit avec la rencontre de moi-même dans toute ma fragilité.
Luang Prabang, cette petite péninsule prise en sandwich entre deux grands fleuves est un endroit hors du commun. Comme une pièce d’un puzzle qui a retrouvé son unique place, le lien qui me relie avec Luang Prabang n’est pas un hasard. Dès la première fois, j’étais heurtée en plein cœur sans comprendre ce qui m’arrivait. Au début, c’était comme un murmure au fond de moi. Il me titillait sans répit. Il me réveillait en pleine nuit en me suppliant de me mettre à nu, de me lâcher, de grandir. C’était viscéral, fort, hors de tout raisonnement et de tout contrôle. L’envie de transformation était sous-jacente à toute mon existence.
Sans le savoir, la vie a rendu la relation entre moi, la petite laotienne comme on m’appelle là-bas, et ce minuscule point sur terre, aussi dure que l’acier. Même après autant de séjours, 9 au total, et l’instauration d’une certaine habitude, je reste toujours loin de toute zone de confort, que ce soit par rapport aux traditions, à la culture, à la langue et au rythme de vie. Je m’en imbibe intentionnellement, la tête sous l’eau, afin de me trouver là, vulnérable, dénuée de mes points de repère et de toute sécurité.
L’invitation délibérée de la vulnérabilité est le feu qui allume le processus de la transformation en moi. N’ayant plus de vrais points de repère, chaque instant se vit intentionnellement dans la pleine conscience et s’allie avec l’observation de Soi. Tout semble être au ralenti, comme si les moments passaient sous l’eau. Cette lenteur me permet de voir mes insécurités, mes peurs et mes attachements comme des bulles d’oxygène qui remontent à la surface, là, complètement exposés, fragiles et crus. Encore là, intentionnellement, je les accueille, les reçois comme mes meilleurs amis, échange avec eux aussi longtemps qu’ils souhaitent rester. Petit à petit, ils perdent leur force et leur présence ; et comme l’impermanence est inévitable, je les observe disparaître, petites bulles éclatant à la chaleur du soleil.
Peu importe le nombre de jours, mes escales à Luang Prabang sont une parenthèse dans l’ici et le maintenant toujours marquées par une énorme renaissance et libération, une transformation évolutive, parfois douloureuse comme une naissance, parfois tout en douceur. La transformation est toujours au menu du jour de tous les cafés laotiens.
Le changement est inévitable. On le sait, mais il nous est difficile de l’accepter ainsi. La vie est en perpétuelle mutation et l’envie de rendre les moments solides vient de notre grande peur de perdre ce que nous avons. Nous nous y agrippons fermement en nous persuadant que grâce à notre force et à notre contrôle tout restera tel quel pour toujours. Hélas, en dépit de notre volonté féroce, la vie nous démontre que malgré notre détermination tout se transforme à chaque Nano seconde. Tant que l’on ignore cette réalité fondamentale de la vie, on se sent largué et déconnecté.
Alors nagez dans le courant du changement, adaptez-vous à l’instant même, soyez intensivement présents et ouverts à recevoir les fruits de chaque rencontre afin d’inviter le changement et donc la transformation en vous-même.
Matthieu Ricard, le confident du Dalai Lama, a écrit que ‘’nous sommes sur terre pour grandir et pour aimer.’’ Pour vraiment aimer, il faut accueillir la vulnérabilité dans toutes ses formes, dans tous ses états. Elle est la graine du grandissement car sans elle on n’est pas totalement réceptif et prêt à lâcher hier pour accueillir aujourd’hui dans sa totalité.
Comme tout a un début, un milieu et une fin pour se renouveler encore et encore d’une manière incognito, ce texte aussi touche à sa fin et je vous laisse avec cette réflexion :
‘’Le changement est inévitable, le grandissement de soi est intentionnel. Et si l’on grandissait inévitablement en apportant des changements intentionnels ?’’
Ask and You will Receive
In the lull of life, transition running rampant, I find myself, head down, heart squeezed, aimlessly following the deserted path of the Mesa that cradles the Big Blue. I no longer trust my mind. It is playing tricks on me. It is closing in on my heart, suffocating the life out of me. Drops of tears form in the corners of my eyes clouding my view of the shimmering sparkles of Divinity that dance upon the oil- like canvas. I see nothing. I feel nothing. Maybe none of this ever existed.
My chest is tight. I am barely breathing. My lifeline feels as if it has been severed forever. I am empty, unguided, like a ship that has lost its wind that devotedly guides her home. The contrast of my inner and outer world is painfully before me. Silence prevails. At my deepest moment of misery, I humbly look up at the infinite heavens and surrender. ‘’I just can’t do this any more. I need a sign, a tangible sign, that I am still tethered, connected to my Soul, my Divine Source that has always been my deepest companion.’’
My bare feet feel the burning heat of the harsh pavement. I stop to put on my flip-flops. At my feet lay a printed brochure folded in three. Revealed, was an image of an opened winged angel. I can’t see the message but only the ‘’why’’ would someone litter in such a pristine place. I reach down with the intent to throw the brochure in the nearest bin but something catches my eye. A beautifully calligraphic inscription graces the image of the angel, ‘’ May the beholder receive endless joy.’’ I am startled. I look suspiciously around for its owner. ‘’Was this some kind of a prank, a candid camera farce that life was playing on me?’’ There was no one in sight. This was no prank, yet I was the fool.
At that auspicious moment I realize that it was always there, Life, that Divine Connection. It was just me who was blinded and chose to remain in my grey tainted world of disconnect. They say that we are always connected, supported and guided. As spiritual beings at our essence, our presence makes up the grandeur of that of the Universe. In fact, we are the sum total of the Divine Universe and the Divine Universe is the sum total of each and every one of us. There is nothing to disconnect from because it is impossible to separate from what we already are. Disconnect can only exist within the limiting confines of the mind. The more we surrender to the subtitle yet profound certitude that connection is who we are at our core, even when the skies are at their grayest, the briefer the span needed to realign with her; until one day, this forgetting of our unshakable connection will become obsolete and we will know, truly know, connection in every breath we breathe.
Thank you for your comments. Sending you all love !
THE WINDOW TO MY SOUL
My grandfather, my most inspirational mentor, used to say, ‘’work hard and then you can play hard.’’ He was a master at his own life’s philosophy and I admired him unconditionally. For me, his words were gold, so I would spend concentrated hours clearing out unwanted toys, games and trinkets from my bedroom, rearranging the posters on my walls and making space. Space was important to me. It offered me room to feel and ‘’just be.’’ Then, once there was nothing more to get rid of or rearrange, I would spend endless idle hours riding my bike, hands in the air, feeling the wind whipping through my hair and the thrill of being free.
As a college student, I studied hard, making the library my second home, rewriting my notes, highlighting the already highlighted and beginning my research papers the moment the assignment slipped from the professor’s tongue. I liked to be ahead of the game. Then, and only then, could I enjoy the freedom of being lazy on the beach with friends and going out till all hours of the night.
As an adult, I became an expert at making lists of ‘’things to do.’’ The sheer pleasure of eliminating one thing after another with an old fashion pencil classified me as an archaic purest. Unlike most of my friends who needed 3 or 4 days to settle into vacation mode, I was fully present the moment I stepped foot on the plane; only because I had just crossed off my last ‘’thing to do.’’ It was rare that I would find myself in the trawls of pure uninhibited pleasure before my list was completed because the pain of lingering monsters of ‘’things to do’’ would haunt me and fill that space of freedom.
But life goes on and as we grow older life can become just ‘’one big thing to do.’’ There was a husband, a baby, a house to clean, endless piles of laundry to wash, bills to be paid, a yoga center to manage, classes to be taught and then just more laundry and more bills and then 2 cats and then more cleaning and finally my list ‘’to do’’ became taller and larger than my 5’2’’ frame. I was submerged in ‘’doing’’ and had so little time to play hard. There was no more balance; there was no more space, no more freedom to ‘’just be.’’ Life squeezed all the juice out of me and I was nose-diving toward the bottom. No matter how much I meditated nothing could counter balance the imbalance of my ‘’doing’’ except, not doing, but the laundry kept piling up and my anxiety became too much to handle. Burnout and breakdown filled my space. I had hit rock bottom.
I carefully constructed my last ‘’to do’’ list before leaving and crossed off the last item as I boarded the train. Ahead of me, lay 14 days of silence and sitting at a Buddhist meditation centre, nestled somewhere faraway from the piles of laundry and the bills to be paid. It was a strict regime. Awake at 5 am, alternating every hour from seated meditation to walking meditation, with 90 minutes of daily karma yoga, two simple meals and an hour of dharma talks.
Upon my arrival, I was assigned the karma yoga task of cleaning the windows. There were forty of them in total and they were large, very large but as of day one I had already calculated that if I worked quickly I could have them all cleaned by day 10 and then I could have 90 minutes a day to enjoy the rolling emerald hillsides cupped within the jagged snow capped Alps. Freedom! Ahh! By day 8, my right wrist was sore but my mantra in the tune of that old song, ‘’100 bottles of beer on the wall’’ became ‘’just 2 more days to go, 6 windows and 180 minutes before space and freedom could be mine.’’
As calculated, on day 10, I silently handed the head director my bucket, sponge and squeegee. He looked at me with a kind and compassionate smile that most Buddhist have, as he handed me back the bucket and pointed me towards window one. He explained that doing karma yoga wasn’t something to do and check off as a final destination but it was more the art of being fully present within the journey that was pleasurable. I just didn’t get it! They were clean, all 40 of them!
I let go. I didn’t have a choice. I returned to window one and did as he said. I slowed down; I watched I observed, I allowed myself to feel. I allowed my hand to move slowly feeling the sensation of the water trickle down my wrist, the sound of the sponge against the glass like swishing waves against the shores, and enjoying the idea that there was no where to go, nothing to accomplish and nothing, absolutely nothing, to cross off but ‘’just be’’ fully present in this sacred moment.
Sensitive and intuitive opened me up to a world of vulnerability and emotional instability synonymous to being tossed and turned on the cusp of violent waves. I was easily affected by the humours of others, even those that I had little affinity with but especially with those that I loved dearly. And thus, at a very young age I journeyed on an outward quest to find the missing link to a life of serenity where I could remain unaffected by the ups and downs of others so as to no longer lose my ground and question my worth. It was fatiguing to be at odds with the violent crashing of the relentless waves. Between you and I, I suffered.
All great explorers keep their eyes glued to their ultimate destination but often like the eye of the seer, they are swayed, tempted and often blinded by there own inner landscape of illusionary clouds. I was no exception. I was determined to find the answer, that missing link, maybe some kind of genetic or anatomical mishap at birth that forgot to add this essential component to my DNA makeup. I threw myself into libraries of self- help books, courses on personal development and psychology. I submersed myself in vision quests, hours with therapists and gurus, as well as retreats only to move farther and father from my truth. Yoga offered me many analogies, epiphanies and ah ha moments, Tantra and Buddhism too. As I continued to take part in the game of ‘’am I getting warmer’’, I ended up getting colder and colder.
I travelled to faraway destinations in hopes that the answer lay like the Holy Grail waiting to be uncovered. Then, on one random day there was an encounter, a life transforming one that began a colossal shift in my way of being. It was just a beginning, a Big beginning to my journey to the truth. I had been misreading my compass all along. An exchange of email addresses and then endless questions about life became the turning point and then, the tipping point that shattered what I thought was my reality.
How does a monastic monk weather the storms of life? With unwavering grace and constant non-reactivity. I wanted this to be my reply more than anything in the world. I believed at that moment, or at least I thought I did, that a monastic lifestyle was the answer that I yearned for and that my life long quest could finally come to an end. I wanted to believe, I needed to. I just had to figure out how a modern day mother and wife could manifest an unnumbered day refuge in a faraway monastery.
Some of our most profound life lessons present themselves when we are least expecting. Life’s lessons don’t always show up exactly how we might imagine and are often disguised. Within less than a week, my monk, the seer and the keeper of unwavering quietude showed up with quite a different face. His perfectly imperfect humanness revealed itself through grasping, worry, guilt and despair. Although you might think that his display of contradictory truth would send me into a breakdown of depression and despair, it became the breakthrough that I could never have predicted.
For true perception, one needs a good dose of clarity and perspective. Witnessing from a higher ground, I came to realise how I constantly disempowered myself by aligning my humour with the humours of others. My quota of happiness was tossed about and definitely defined by others. I once read a quote that hit home but in a sweet yet sour kind of way. ‘’When you stop aligning yourself with the vibrational frequencies of others you begin to really live’’. I full circled back home, the home of my heart.
No matter who we are, an untouchable guru, a housewife, a wandering Yogini or a monastic monk, we are all doing our best to weather life’s ups and downs with as much humility and serenity that we can muster. Some days we do better, some days we find ourselves thrown about but we always resurface and just try again and again, making happiness our birthright. This is the path. Simply put, we are there showing up in our naked human humbleness every Nano second. We are humanly living our humanness the best we can. It is as simple as that.
An Affair of the Heart
Practice for Compassion
Luang Prabang, Laos
Doors open and close a hundred times throughout the day. Such is life. Curious and receptive attention is needed to know when a door has opened inviting you into the kingdom of the heart, potential change and deep connection. May it be an encounter, words of wisdom slipped in between mundane conversation, or even a dream. Each, in its own way, may be that door, that message, that one that offers a fresh new perspective or a creative explosion of the heart. There may be no logic or reason but your deepest gut tells you that it is right.
The wheel of our propellered 36 seater, touched down August 8th, 2010 on the fertile ground of Luang Prabang, Laos, an off-the-map destination to most, but a hidden treasure for those that have visited. It all happened so quickly. With no more than 32 minutes and 6 seconds, we were instructed to select a destination to literally drop in and drop out, enabling us to avoid being fined for overextending our Thai visa. It was a random, if that exists, pin-the-tail on the map, split second, decision. This was the beginning of an instantaneous love affair of hearts to heart, souls to Soul that would inevitably change the course of my life forever.
As my feet touched the ground, I felt the warm balmy air envelop my skin. There was something, what, I can’t explain. It wasn’t the beauty of the Nam Khan wrapping itself around the peninsula and spilling into the Mekong, nor the smell of sweet sticky rice, or the warm welcome of smiles, it was something much deeper, much closer to the Soul.
Thirty-three monasteries sandwiched together in approximately 2.5 square kilometers might have something to do with it. Here, we see red, there, in Luang Prabang, they see orange, infinite orange, the colour of intuition, inspiration, Divine Love, heightened awareness, passion and fire. ‘’They’’ say, that if a particular place or thing is prayed or mediated upon day in and day out that place or thing becomes sacred. This is what was felt the moment I stepped foot on this faraway land of Luang Prabang.
It is just 6am when we returned to our modest guesthouse along the Nam River. Carrying empty bowls that were once filled with benevolent offerings that were humbly slipped into the urns of an endless silent thread of burnt orange robes, my heart felt open and love poured in. The sun had just begun its ascent above the lush emerald hillsides as we made our way down a narrow alley à la queue leu-leu squished between a monastery and a strand of closely woven makeshift homes. Except for an occasional footstep, silence permeated the air. As I followed the steps in front of me, I wiped the remaining sleep from the corners of my eyes. For no apparent reason except for an inaudible whisper of intuition and that of the open door of destiny, my eyes gazed to the left and locked with those of one Buddhist monk among many. Time seemed to stand still, suspended like the full moon in the blackness of the night’s canvas. A large white brick wall separated us. Neither spoke, neither moved for what seemed like an eternity but I knew a door had just opened so I consciously stepped inside.
Through one simple encounter on a very given day, a life- changing door cracked opened for only a brief moment on a sunny afternoon and began a chain of events never to be forgotten. The call of my heart manifested louder than any obstacle and naturally things fell wonderfully into place. This encounter became the beginning of an endearing transformational relationship between a searching yogini and a peaceful Buddhist monk. We spoke for hours, mostly question and response, politely taking turns and making the most of this auspicious encounter.
As all things must come to an end, this brief moment in Luang Prabang had its time numbered as well. Little did I know my Soul yearned for more, so much more that unexplainable sobs showered me at the airport as we boarded our plane back to Bangkok. Little did I know, the universe was magically weaving its web and had epic plans in the making. This pilgrimage would be one of many. Less than 6 months later, I found myself kneeling at the back of that same monastery amongst 16 monks robbed in orange. Chants in Pali of devotion moved me to unchartered dimensions. Thirteen days meditating day in and day out. Visions and epiphanies came flying at me as my heart cracked wide open and my mind grew softer and softer. Transformation was abounding.
This place has a way with me. Eight trips in total, 156 days to be exact, all in less than 4 years. My heart and Soul are always there and Luang Prabang and its people are infinitely present at the core of my heart. From just a random encounter in a far away land I have learned more about my true self, the meaning of love in it’s purest form and the epic-ness of mankind and of Life, than any book, class or teachings could ever offer.
The over spilling of my heart of gratitude and love sparked a dire need to humbly help where I could. So, I began where I could and with what I could, supporting one auspicious monk who dreamt of becoming a lawyer.
Profound relationships were forged through loving kindness and pure joy. From that one special monk who dreamt of studying law, 27 more orphaned teens chimed in as well as a year’s collect of overspill from the abundant wealth of Switzerland. A collection of schoolbooks, clothes, shoes, items of personal hygiene and bedding, totally one ton 200 kilos was sent and shared amongst 600 young orphaned children. Endless classes of yoga and mediation are taught for the Lao students, orphans and dear friends and family. But the most rewarding was what they offer me, love, deep love without attachment, inner joy, that ‘’bor pen nyang’’ attitude of no worries, everything will work out just fine, and endless smiles of the heart.
This past trip was unique and I even had a slight change of heart. I would be arriving empty handed, no money, no phones or computers, clothes, books or chocolate, just me at my rawest form. I had nothing to offer but my presence, and my love. I wondered, how would I be received, or even received at all? Making my way out into the balmy air from the newly constructed airport, my heart sank in humility. From all directions, by foot and bike, motorbike and tuk tuk, I was met at the airport by 14 friends/students/family with more love and hugs than anyone could possibly know what to do with, but cry in tears of deep heart connections of tender love.
Practice for Compassion was born out of love, a year to date from that first day I set foot on this life altering land. It is nothing more than a true grassroots, heartfelt, kind of makeshift foundation without a real foundation at all. I am in the field working my heart a lot and I LOVE it. I get by pretty well in pasa Lao (Lao language) and connect weekly, thanks to Face Book and email with my 98 friends and family from this tiny off- the –map-heart-exploding-sacred land. Community and love are at the root as well as passion and desire to follow the calling of my heart and my Soul.
I am forever grateful for all the abundant contributions from my family, friends, students, and anonymous donations that have helped these humble dream chasers manifest their dharma. Practice for Compassion has raised over $10’000 and helped 5 students attend university, 25 students through high school and extra-curricular classes, shipped 100 boxes (one ton 200 kilos) chalk full of golden goodness to a local orphanage, supplied 8 computers, 1500 toothbrushes to local villages and endless meals to those who want to share the goldenness of connection. Life is oh so sweet, especially in a place we can call home.
O2Yoga Breathe Life