life

Last Letter from Rishikesh

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Dear Friends,

This is the last letter from Rishikesh, as I’ll be leaving tomorrow. It’s incredible that a month has flown by. image

This month has been about meetings and encounters. Unfortunately, I usually didn’t have my phone or camera, so few photos were taken of the fantastic people I met from all over the world: Australia, Denmark, The States, Germany, etc. Lasting friendships have begun here.

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In the month, I practiced yoga, meditated consistently, listened to swamis elaborate on ego and love; walked along the sandy shores of the Ganga; journeyed high into the mountains; ate ridiculously good paneer and pancakes when ashram food got too boring for words; learned and forgot Hindi words; evolved my wardrobe into one with more color; spent days in silence; and encountered the greatest energy in meditation, which blew my mind and heart wide open.

Sundays are our free day at the ashram, so today will be spent 1) washing some clothes and hanging them on the balcony’s clothesline 2) buying a few souvenirs 3) eating an hours-long lunch at The Beatles Cafe and watching the sunset 4) meeting friends for dessert (maybe carrot cake and butterscotch ice-cream) 5) going to the kirtan at Yoga Chakra Hall.

You see how quickly a day can pass– eating, laughing, talking, thinking, writing, laughing, listening?! Each day the same, each day new.

Love,

Val

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life

Listen Closely to the Blackbird

My dear friend,

You are the part of myself that I don’t yet know, so instead of asking “How are you?”, the question is “Who are you?” Please take your time in answering, since there are so many layers to the question.

You may laugh and say, “But V, you know me!”, to which I can only shake my head and disagree. There are aspects of you that I know, but I wish to know more than your name, age, first job, employment status and marital status. Those things have nothing to do with you,  and thus are meaningless.

So, tell me, who are you? What brings you joy? What excites you? What’s your definition of success unrelated to money? Where have you been in your dreams? Do you now recognize that your body is a sacred space, your chosen place? Do you see that we’re all leaves on one tree? If you were a color, which would it be– has the name been created for that color yet? If you could be anywhere in the world, would it be where you are now?

I stood on the balcony for a long time this afternoon, and looking down, I saw a boy on a scooter pull up next door. He parked and started walking– quick and sure. Then, he looked up at me, and I saw that he was in his fifties or thereabouts. He wasn’t a boy after all, but he is a boy to his mother, a middle-aged man to his wife, and an old man to his grandchild. I tell you this so that you know not to trust your eyes; they tell you only so much.

A blackbird stood cawing near me just now, looking east and west, ready to fly off. I have no idea where he’ll go next, but I asked him to give you a message. Listen closely to the next blackbird you see.

You’ve written that you miss me, but I must tell you that I don’t miss you. My heart holds you, so how can I miss you? Missing you would be like missing the hand I’m writing with now. Do you understand?

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All my love,

Val

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life

Be Still

I am England. I am Germany. I am Taiwan. I am Jamaica. I am New Zealand.  I am India. I am Brazil. I am Australia. I am Denmark. I am the Netherlands. I am Portugal. I am America. I am France. I am tribes. I am nations.

I am pilgrim. I am pilgrimage. I am destination. I am here.

I am darkness. I am light. I am beauty. I am ugliness. I am day. I am night. I am good. I am bad. I am sorrow. I am elation. I am contradiction. I am continuation.

I am songs on lips. I am lips. I am art. I am artist. I am creator. I am created. I am flashes of light in indigo sky. I am sky. I am witness. I am participant. I am serenity.  I am chaos.

I am mother. I am child. I am father. I am son. I am daughter. I am brother. I am sister. I am one. I am beloved.

I am seas. I am mountains. I am trees. I am rivers. I am elephants. I am ants. I am wind. I am horses racing in the plain. I am air. I am ocean. I am stars. I am dust. I am fire.

I am one word. I am all words. I am language. I am sound. I am silence.

I am no thing. I am every thing. I am everything.

I am one. I am multiple. I am one.

I am Krishna. I am Shiva. I am Jehovah. I am Allah. I am God. I am Hari. I am Brahma. I am.

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still.

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life

The Shape of Memory (A Love Letter)

Dear Friends,

There are hours of silence here, in which there’s ample time to sit under the tree of memory. Often in repose, memories shade me, and when I lean against the thickening trunk of the tree, a leaf of the past will drift onto my lap. When one can sit undisturbed, it’s wonderful how much one recalls.

There are incidents, places and names, I’d love to remember, but they are unreachable; other memories are shrouded and webbed; then, there are some, like those today, that are easily plucked and ready to be appreciated. I wouldn’t expect my memories to be of interest to anyone but myself, those who helped to create them, and the minority who ae interested in the past of another. Memories are personal and precious; yet (hopefully), we all share moments of riotous showerings that leave us amazed and happy or weeping from the impact, and those we must share. This letter contains such leaves.

As a girl of four, my safe place was under my mother’s dress, holding onto her legs. I remember my favorite dress of hers from that time was a long, green dress; she smelled of cocoa butter, perfume and cinnammon flesh; she was as warm as the sun outside her skin; and, she let me stand there in peace. For how long?– that detail is insignificant. Some memories– even the best ones– are incomplete and a bit fuzzy, but full of scent, warmth and shadowy light.

Memories are time-travel, which enable us to simultaneously live in the past and present. Looking closer at the same leaf of memory, I encounter my other mother, my godmother– the woman chosen by my parents to love me as her own. Aunt Yvonne. It’s all there: the long train ride on the #4 train to Moshulu Parkway, getting off the train and walking the block and a half to Tracey Towers, her apartment, 12J, pink and plush, three rooms with all the TVs tuned to NBC, the smell of Tone soap, her smooth hand holding a snifter of brandy and orange juice, eight gold bangles on her right wrist, eight silver bangles on her left, her small feet in satin Chinese slippers, the smell of toasted Eggo waffles, fruit cake with hard icing on the dining room table, and pictures of her nine godchildren on every surface. ( I was on her fridge, her TV, on her cabinet, in the den). I can clearly see my mother sitting on one of her kitchen stools drinking coffee, while she stood over the stove frying something. Both, vital, laughing and beautiful.

This isn’t a story– no turn of events, no plot, no conflict. This is simply a page of recollections that have fallen from my tree. When you ask me, “How’s the ashram? ” I’ll tell you that this letter reflects ashram life– a chance to feel your heart expand, everyday, and remember who you are, and from whence you came, in the quiet of the mountains. While the sun sits alongside me, I’ll close my eyes and reflect on those who have loved me with every thread in their heart, and of whom I’ve felt the same. Maybe, when you have free time, you can sit under your tree of memory and do the same?

“Of course I love you,” the flower said to him. “If you were not aware of it, it was my fault.” (The Little Prince, p.41)

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Love,

Val

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Rishikesh
life

Finding the “I” Amidst the Chaos of India

Dear Friends,

Over lunch, one of the German women at my ashram, who speaks 
little English, looking up, said, "Schmetterling!" After a 
moment, it was divined that the translation of schmetterling
in English is "butterfly." Schmetterlings kept reappearing 
throughout the day-- real ones dancing through leaves, 
the Butterfly pose in yoga class, a large, sequined one on 
the tee-shirt of a Dutch woman at the ashram, and two 
on the cover of the same woman's diary.
 
The German word for caterpillar was offered and quickly 
forgotten, which led to the realization that little 
attention is paid to the process,  the "unfinished" work. 
The journey from caterpillar to butterfly is important, 
just like the preparation for a feast, the writing of 
a novel, and the first brushstroke of a painting are 
important. I have been wondering, as many do, the 
questionof my purpose (dharma). It has dawned on me 
that I need to keep working on the "I," because when
this physical journey ends, one part of the process 
is over, but the becoming continues-- becoming dust, 
becoming a "loving memory," becoming evolved, 
becoming soil so that roses, hibiscuses and daisies
can bloom, becoming the next Self.
 
India. I couldn't have even begun to imagine India-- 
the noisiest, most colorful, dustiest, yet calmest place 
that engages all senses to their highest capacity. It is 
alive every second of the day-- dogs barking, car horns 
blasting, horses braying, vendors calling out,
"Buy vegetables." I was apprehensive to visit, 
because I was warned repeatedly about sexual 
assaults on women, the water on the digestive tract, 
and the mosquitoes. While those are Indian realities, 
they haven't been mine. 

Rishikesh is equal parts Indian women in bright 
orange, pink,red and green saris, beautiful girls 
and boys with the longest lashes imaginable, monks 
in orange, gurus in white, Western seekers, mostly 
from Western Europe (Germany and The Netherlands), 
numerous cows, black dogs, and scooters. It was my 
idea that I'd be at the base of the Himalayas 
experiencing the utmost silence and tranquility-- ha!--
an unstoppable commotion reigns.
 
Yet, I am at peace here. At the ashram, we wake at
5:30 for meditation, followed by yoga, breakfast and
free time; then, lunch, meditation and dinner. In our
free time, if we choose, we can do an Ayurvedic treatment
or yoga again.  A lot of free time. We have internet access
only once a week, though there is an internet cafe in
town, and no one misses it much; nor, do I miss the TV
shows that I thought I would, fish, or chocolate (anymore).
Today's the first day I've used the Internet in a week. 

For the first three days, I was craving chocolate, but 
I've moved past it. Each day through meditation, yoga and
healthy food, I'm feeling an internal quietness that drowns 
out the blaring chaos of the streets, one which I
hope to carry with me throughout my journeys. My search 
for I continues and will continue always in my two newly
found, but intense loves-- Indonesia and India.

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Love,
Val
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life

Thank You Tokyo, Thank You Tomodachi

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Tokyo is like a dream. In the early morning, on the quiet streets, when no one is stirring, and the river is calm, Tokyo slowly flutters her eyes. It’s breathtaking, and for a city of over 13 million people, very quiet. Before seven o’clock, there are faint tremblings, and one can follow one’s thoughts undisturbed on waves of energy from Toyosu to Nihonbashi.

It’s not an original idea that it’s the people, not the place, that make a moment in time special. There’s no denying that Tokyo is special– how often have I spoken about its magical sunlight; its streets strung with lights; its charming citizens; its efficiency; its proximity to rivers, mountains, hot springs and seas; its festivals; its culinary delights; its deep, lingering sunsets? There will never be another Tokyo, but my dear friends, more importantly, without you, there never would’ve been the Tokyo I enjoyed and will cherish. How can I say thank you?

It’s true that three years ago I came here with no expectations, so it was almost impossible to foretell what the future would hold. Here we are– I’m sorry that I didn’t give more; listen more; try harder; be better, in all the ways I could have and should have been. It’s not an excuse, but I’ll tell you that this was all a new experience, and hindsight is always 20/20. Going forward, I’ll change more nos to yeses; give as well as you’ve allowed me to receive; take the time to be more patient and kind. I’ll also take the time to sit by rivers and reflect on how many times we sat side by side– on the beach, on a tatami mat floor, in the izakaya, in the restaurant, in the park, in the coffee-shop, in the school, in my apartment, in the shared house, in the deep dark night in the playground. Let’s remember how we looked at our present moment, and wondered over our future, and here we are– in the future we discussed.

You never know how much you love a person or a place until you’re ready to say goodbye, do you? Know that I was always appreciative. Recently, I listened to a talk given by Osho at one of his retreats where he said the reason couples are in so much anguish after a break-up is because they were “strangers, then friends, then strangers again. That’s what hurts.” Though time and distance will separate us, my dear friend, (and my dear Tokyo), let’s never be strangers to each other.

Love,

Val

….it was a very good year for city girls who lived up the stairs with all that perfumed hair…and it came undone

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life, travel

Kyushu: What A Difference A Year Makes!

Dear Friends,

This morning I woke up to a lovely email from my dear friend Nigel which closed with the words, “Do you know what you were doing this day, last year? Yes, it was the start of our Kyushu trip!”

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 When Nige proposed that we take a plane to Kyushu, and do a roadtrip from Fukuoka to Kagoshima, with stops in Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Oita and Miyazaki, I jumped at the suggestion. Last October, I had been in Japan for two years, and hadn’t strayed very far from Tokyo. Life at that point was work, eating and drinking in izakayas with friends, occasional onsen vacations to nearby Gunma, Hakone, Atami, and Izu, and way too much shopping. In essence, Tokyo life. It had fleetingly passed my mind that I should take trips to Hokkaido, Okinawa, or elsewhere, but it never happened. Unfortunately, Nige’s imminent departure from Japan, and his desire to tour Kyushu, made “someday,” that day.

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 To tell you the truth, I was nervous about spending a week, 24/7, in a car, in hotel rooms, all around town, with a close friend. In the past, there were trips, that changed relationships from “friends” to “former” friends. Turns out, there was nothing to be nervous about– it was amazing. We left for the airport at 5:00am, didn’t part for seven whole days, and had nothing but good times– ate fantastic bowls of tonkotsu ramen, shabu shabu, sushi and sashimi…even KFC, upon my request; soaked for long periods in various hot springs, some with ash, some at night, some in caves; viewed erupting and non-erupting volcanos; accepted candy from strangers on mountaintops; hiked gorgeous mountains and saw deers hiding; drove through a town called Obama; visited temples, shrines, and lakes; drank hot sake and ate meals in rooms where only we were served; had our feet nibbled on by fish of all sizes in fish pools; dropped all inhibitions, and talked about adventures.
Nagasaki

Nagasaki

It’s wonderful how a friend can allow you to do and see things, you’d never thought of before. It’s amazing how your life opens up, when you embrace the world, others– when you step out of your comfort zone. And, Japan– what a breathtaking, spectacular country filled with kind, ever courteous, gracious people. Last year at this time, Nigel and I were in a fish market in Fukuoka sampling fried fish cakes, and now it’s almost the end of my stint in this country. What a difference a year makes.
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private onsen in Beppu

private onsen in Beppu

enjoying tonkotsu by the roadside in Tenjin

enjoying tonkotsu by the roadside in Tenjin

volcanic lakes in Miyazaki

volcanic lakes in Miyazaki

Yufuin, peace and light

Yufuin, peace and light

Sakurajima

Sakurajima

Ciao,
Val
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