All posts by letters from val

Living in gratitude,
hibiscus

And It Goes On…

Dis long time gal mi neva see you, come mek mi hol’ yuh hand.– (Long Time Gal, Jamaican folk song)

Dear Friends,

What a sunny day it is today! There’s a warm breeze blowing through the open window; as I sit here at the kitchen table, light graces the room. It certainly is a day to walk to the river, lie on the grass, look up at the cloudless sky, and daydream while eating chilled apple slices and bursting, blackish-purple grapes

First dream: .There’s a brown girl in the ring. Then you skip across the ocean….(Brown Girl in the Ring, Jamaican Folk Song)

This morning, I submitted my resignation notice. As you know, there’s been a back and forth going on in my head about what to do next, and the answers are all falling into place like Connect Four pieces. In a few short months, three to be exact, I’ll be skipping across oceans and seas and time zones to Jamaica for a few weeks– four to be exact. It’s been over three years since I’ve seen the green, brown and blue faces of Jamaica– the ragged mountains, the swaying hills, the open seas; hugged anyone in my family, been hugged by anyone in my family; seen flowers opening to meet the day; peeled and devoured plums and mangoes not found on this continent; woken up in a nest of pillows under the beating sun; been in rooms of chocolate, caramel, vanilla latte, peanut brittle, and pecan, smiling people; drunk a glass of sorrel served with the blackest cake; heard accents that I recognize as familiar– the falling and rising; the urgency of language; the patois, the sweet creole mix heard when my ears opened to this earth. Jamaica! (When I told my mother I was coming to Jamaica in early December, she reacted exactly as I would if I’d heard that Michael Jackson had risen from the dead and was performing at Tokyo Dome.) 

Second dream:

After the warmth of Jamaica, it’ll be time to descend into the winter of Dusseldorf, Germany where I’ve accepted a part-time job teaching English. Incredibly, it’s possible to obtain a visa for part-time work, but then what to do with the extra time– learn German, yoga teacher’s training, take a jewelry design class, study mento? See, the figuring what to do never ends. The thought of living on yet another continent (#4), meeting new people, living in a much bigger place (anyplace would be bigger than the living space I have in Tokyo), and being challenged puts a huge smile on my face. Ultimately, it’ll be the time to figure out a career path. Life is long, as much as it’s short.

Finga mash nuh cry, memba play we a play. — (Emmanuel Road, Jamaican folk song)

We were taught folk songs in elementary school, sometimes formally, and other times on the playground. It was important for our teachers to impart our culture and impress upon us the significance of our heritage. Though many of the Jamaican folk songs are upbeat, some are mournful– created for laborers to survive backbreaking conditions that didn’t break them. In short, the songs epitomize life– the soaring moments, the challenges, the triumphs, and the darkest days. However, every song teaches us that this life, as hard as it may be, and how persecuted we may seem at times, is just a game.

Third dream:

It amazes me that just when you thought you’re holding as much as love as you can handle, the heart expands. There’s always room to love more: more people, more places, more food, more books, more songs, etcetera, etcetera. The love never stops, never ends, but there’s a core to every heart that the love is built around. When the sun starts going down on my life, the wind slightly stirs the leaves, the trees lower their branches to meet me, a ska guitar is heard in the distance, there should be voices of love around me; someone’s hand should be on my cheek; it should be said, “Yes, that was a life well-lived,” and those words should rest in the tree in my view. So you see my friends, it’s time to start finding and truly living a life that one can be proud of.

Much love,

Val

Nothing is Permanent

“There was a man who had two sons.  The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.  After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 

Dear Friends,

I’m at a crossroads. Every three years or so I get a feeling where I know I can’t stay where I am anymore, but I’m not exactly certain where I should be. I’m not sure why the itch comes without fail, but it comes and rapidly spreads until I can’t think of anything but leaving. If my life were a parable, it would be time to return to home, rediscover or discover my roots, be surrounded by family and those who’ve known and loved me, and quell this insurgence in me. However, it’s not time yet to go home, wash the travel off myself, and be surrounded by the familiar. I wonder though how much of anything will be familiar after all this distance, prolonged time and separation. How long was the prodigal son gone? Maybe, it took him more time to squander his wealth than me?

Oh, I’ve been prodigal. Do you remember the excitement I hardly contained when  moving to Tokyo? I imagined working hard, and saving a sizable amount of money. From watching an episode of House Hunters International, I was under the impression that I could teach in Tokyo and save enough money to invest in something; buy something of value; start to build a life for myself somewhere else. The couple on House Hunters International worked in Tokyo for a few years and managed to save enough money to buy a bright, spacious house in Central America. Three years later, I’m here with not much saved, and still the need to go.

As I sit here, I think of how much I’ve depended on my family. If there’s a problem, I usually think I need to solve it myself, which, in hindsight, has led to pain that could’ve been released, lessened, or avoided.  If the problem is financial, I look first at myself, then to my mother, then brother, then father in turn– even at this age, but who else would I turn to? JP Morgan Chase? If the problem is emotional, again, I look to myself first. It has been difficult to turn to friends for advice, input in my life processes, and even sometimes as an ear or shoulder to lean on. However, I’ve found with time that what I perceived as weakness would’ve been strength. Holding my thoughts  to my chest and hiding my feelings has done more harm than good. In Ubud, I felt down on one particular day, so I put on my pink floral dress, did my makeup and twisted my hair nicely, because I remembered hearing and internalizing that the worse you feel, the better you should look. “The world doesn’t have to know that you’re having a bad day.” (You know what, it’s okay if the world knows you’re having a bad day, because pretending everything’s great’s not going to help anyone, least of all you.)

So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.  He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!”

When I was 24, on a trip to Jamaica, I visited my uncle and his wife on a Sunday morning for brunch. His wife was worried about the way my life was shaping up, and expressed that, to which he replied, “It doesn’t matter. You can do anything you want, and if you don’t like what you’re doing, do something else. Nothing is permanent.” His words have stayed with me ever since, and I don’t know if they’ve been a blessing or a curse, because those words underlie the feeling of non-urgency behind most of my decisions. Contrarily, his brother, my father’s words usually contained the phrase, “Valerie, get your act together.” They’re both right.

And, here I am “starving to death” for an answer of what to do and where to go and who to meet and why I am?

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

There’s something that I’m looking for; I went to the yoga mat, and I came to the computer. I went inside and practiced silence, and now I’ve come here talking to you.  If this life were a parable, after this long journey, I would put my bag down at the door…no, I’d put my bag down in the driveway. The day would be hot, but there would be a slight breeze; my eyes would be closed, but my arms would be open. I would hug, be hugged, and there would be tears of joy. But, this life isn’t a parable, and I’m still in a foreign land trying to figure out what to do.

Take care,

Val

photo (25)

Appreciating the Air

When the sun falls behind the distant trees on the neighboring island, leaving the sky streaked magenta and violet in Gili Air, is your locale illuminated? Is the death of my day the birth of yours? What a magnificent circle!

When I’m gazing at a sky dotted with too many stars to count, and the Milky Way throws a net over falling stars, are you shielding your eyes from the beating sun?

Dear Friends,

Last Saturday, I boarded a bus with eight other passengers, drove one hour to the  Padangbai harbor, then hopped on a ferry to the island of Gili Air. Gili Air, an island of less than two thousand people, is two and a half hours away from Ubud, and worlds away from anything that could’ve been imagined.

It’s tiny! There are no cars or scooters on the island, so instead of blaring horns, we listen to steady waves, roosters, persistent breeze rustling the straw roofs on seaside huts, reggae music issuing from speakers at the numerous beach bars, and many languages rolling into one, especially French, English and German. The only modes of transportation are feet, bicycles, and horse-drawn taxis.

Internet can be found on the island, but not in most places. At the moment, I’m writing you from a beachfront restaurant where I managed to connect. Being without the internet for most hours of the day has been a blessing. It’s a quiet island, and it forces quiet from it visitors too.

The bungalow where I’ve rested my head at night is on the beach, serves breakfast, and costs US$15 per night. Is it any wonder that I extended my four days to eight? When you visit, book nothing in advance, the island is populated with bungalows with clean rooms and owners willing to negotiate. Don’t worry about being far from the beach, because nowhere on Gili Air is more than ten minutes from the beach.

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What’s there to do here you may wonder? Well, you can: practice yoga at H2O (the only yoga studio on the island), snorkel, take a kundalini class at Hotel Gili Air, rent a bicycle for US$4 a day, befriend people on the beach (Dutch guys are particularly friendly).Or how about a movie on the beach after sunset for US$5, a mushroom drink (mushroom drinks are on offer everywhere– no police on the island), meditation (try chanting Om  Mani Pedme Om to increase your feelings of well-being). You could count the shells on the beach, the stars in the Universe, eat fresh seafood caught a few moments before. Or, you can ignore those suggestions and just sit in silent appreciation of the gift of being in Gili Air. While here, I haven’t met a person yet who isn’t aware that they’re in paradise.

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What have you given thanks for today? For me, happiness lies in the air that’s carrying the vibrations of new ideas; the exciting now;  another day in the sun.

 

Love,

Val

 

 

cle

Making Moves

Freedom is mine and I know how I feel.– Nina Simone (Feeling Good)

Dear Friends,

The guys across the street, in front of the Bisma Mini-Market,  play chess from afternoon to late evening. Everyday I walk by, and there are four men around the table, two of them in deep concentration. They sometimes pause a moment to say hello, then they continue playing. For the past two days, I’ve had breakfast and lunch at Kopi Bisma, which is directly across from them, so I have been watching their deliberate moves and steady hands for two days.

chess

Chess is a complicated game that I haven’t learned to play yet. I say yet, because I’d like to learn to sit for hours at a time and control a kingdom. Watching those men has peaked my interest in the game, so I wikipedia’d the rules of the game and read this: Chess strategy is concerned with evaluation of chess positions and with setting up goals and long-term plans for the future play. It’s often said that the game of  chess is like life, and the voice in my head has signaled that it’s time to consider future plays and make some moves. It’s clear that what must happen will happen, and it’s best to accept what unfolds; however, I know that I must be an active participant in this game of life, set intentions, and place myself in the right situations to realize my goals.

I will never reach my goal by staying in the same place all the time. I can speak to my soul only when the two of us are off exploring deserts or cities or mountains or roads. – Paulo Coelho

Thus, the time draws nearer and nearer to leave Ubud, a most paradisiacal place. Yes, it’s heaven: overhead fans whir all day; girls have flowers dangling in their hair, secured by long, black strands; many smile their greetings; men wear their flowers tucked behind their ears; shoes are optional; the sunshine and rain play constant games with each other; yoga mats, like prayer mats, connect us to the universal energy source; receptive eyes see nature in bloom and in flight; the ground vibrates with life, and the air smells like jasmine. Perhaps, it’s heaven, because we all behave heavenly here. Yet, it’s soon time to go.

Perhaps, Ubud is to be a personal refuge, not the place to live for a lengthy period, at this time in my life. In regards to Tokyo, though it’s comfortable, safe, convenient, and a million other adjectives,  it’s time to move on from there as well. In September, it will have been three years in Japan, and though we’ve served each other well, it no longer holds the same charm.  Three days ago, I woke up at 4 am thinking, “What next?” A voice in my head answered that question, and told me that I’m free, that anything and anywhere is next. There’s nothing more exciting than realizing that I’m not only the hand, but the chess piece ready to be placed somewhere new. Early in the morning, in the dark, cool room, the lyrics of my sixth-grade graduation song floated to the forefront of my mind, “It is better to light just one little candle than to stumble in the dark.”

Here comes the flame: my days are going to change again soon, and it will be time to learn a new language (spoken and unspoken), meet new people, see new sights, settle into a new way of life, sit by new rivers. It will all be new, and simultaneously very familiar and right, because I chose it. (Things don’t happen to us, we create them if we’re acting consciously.)

Here and now, lushness surrounds me. Who was it that built this village in the middle of a riotous garden? The trees, animals and flowers grow around us, and our souls grow to meet them. We live in the garden; we spread our arms to the sun; we are rooted in peace. Life’s a chess game, and the freedom to choose how and when to play surely feels good.

See you soon,

Val

p.s This is exactly how I feel:

happiness

Meditate On A Love Like This

Even after all these years, the Sun never says to the Earth, “You owe me.” Look what happens with a love like that. Look…Hafiz

Dear Friends,

After days of on and off again rain, it seems the sun’s ready to stick around for awhile. The locals in Bali say that we’re now in winter, which by my estimation is the kindest winter one could endure. The early mornings and evenings are cool, though our perception of cool has been skewed. We draw for sweaters and light scarves when it’s 23 degrees Celsius.

All whom I’ve met here know that what we’re experiencing is a gift, and we don’t take the days for granted. We attend workshops about transformational breath; workshops about the ego and love; detoxification sessions; and, yoga classes multiple times a day. We frequent cafes where singing birds fly on the ledge beside us; sit in restaurants that produce only the freshest, healthiest food; listen to evening play readings; browse at small shops that showcase books by Osho, Tolle, Gibran, Neale Donald Walsch, et al; and, lounge at local restaurants that seem to be tree houses, because their rooftops are nestled among branches. We read on cushions, in bed, in cafes, books on all subjects, some for light fun, others for enlightenment.

Our lives have dramatically slowed down. We wear nothing but yoga clothes day and night or the most comfortable options available. No one has worked in several weeks, and a few of us haven’t worked in months. We wonder how we’ll re-enter the “real” world, yet we realize that though our bodies have slowed down, our minds and spirits are stronger, so we can face anything. Every day in Ubud is a life class, and the lessons will be taken to Tokyo, Oslo, Sydney, Hamburg, Geneva, New York, Paris, San Francisco, Antwerp, Zürich, Montreal, etc. We’ve been taught how to change our moods by changing our breathing; how to go into the pain and heal ourselves; how not to go too deep too fast; how to eat healthily, slowly and consciously; how to reunite our bodies and souls; how to hug meaningfully; how to flow as a river moving gently downstream; how to detach and let go. We are students who realize that these lessons don’t come easily, but with time, commitment, and practice, they will be mastered.

There are “awakenings” each day. Blinking slowly, then gazing inward, I’ve become aware that:

1) Life is simple. All the “what ifs,” “whys,” and “if onlys” only create disharmony and discontent. It may seem trite to say that things happen as they should, but they do. If it seems simple, it is because it is simple.When there is an acceptance of what is, and not one wishes it could be or could have been, then the mind and the spirit will find peace.

2) Choose happiness. For a few days, my mood was gray like the clouds that gathered overhead. I was feeling inordinately sad about the disintegration of a relationship that worked on some levels, but not on others, and my friend H said, “Val, choose happiness.” Her words, spoken from a place of serenity, nudged me out of the darkness I was stepping into. If “choose happiness” seems simple, it’s because (again) life is simple. (Thus, please understand and respect that I don’t want to talk about negative, unhappy, or miserable things.)

3) What’s Yours Will Always Be Yours. The other day pangs of jealousy came over me; I felt like I was losing something that I felt should be mine, and I struggled to get to the root of it. Then, it dawned on me that if that thing could be taken away from me so easily, then it was never really mine. For example; Suppose I had a precious ring, that I treasured and was pleased to own, and someone came to my house, admired it, and complimented it. Suppose that visitor to my house came to covet my ring; then one day, without me noticing, took it from me. Though I would no longer own the ring, it would still be mine, and never the visitor’s.

*No one can steal what’s yours: your joy, your spirit, your strength, your values, your consciousness, your smile, your mind– they are yours and forever will be. If you give something away, and it hurts because you miss it, don’t blame the visitor. In regards to a guy or girl, no one belongs to you, and thus, they can’t be “taken” from you. If you’re meant to be with someone, you will be. It’s that simple, because life is simple.

4) Set Your Intention. As you know, each day it’s good to set an intention for yourself. My daily intention for a few weeks now has been peace. My mind has a tendency to be hypervigilant and overactive, thus it has helped to practice peacefulness. Try any intention, and see if it doesn’t set the tone for the rest of the day better than a few cups of coffee. I am peacefulness; I am joyousness; I am kindness; I am generosity; I am_____ (fill in your divinity). Every thought we have creates our world, and by extension, that of others. Your energy affects mine, while my energy is affecting yours, so let’s work together to create positive things. Let’s love like this.

As you quiet your mind, you begin to see the nature of your own resistance more clearly, struggles, inner dialogues, the way in which you procrastinate and develop passive resistance against life. As you cultivate the witness, things change. You don’t have to change them. Things just change.Ram Dass Much love, Val

p.s  Give this a listen:

108 Steps to Home

As we travel on, we are constantly destroying and rebuilding ourselves and who we are.- Paulo Coellho

Dear Friends,

1) Yesterday evening, my friend H and I went to Bar Luna on Main Street for an evening of play readings by Australian playwrights. Four plays were read, but the one that really stood out to me was about two expat men living in France who are having a conversation about their  lives as strangers in a foreign land. In their conversation, the younger of the two laments about how much he misses home, and the elder replies that though he will adjust, he will forever be a “permanent stranger.” The older man points out that the green of the leaves in France are not the same shade of green as the leaves back home; the shadows the sun creates are different; everything is different, because the men, themselves, are different in this new land.

The conversation about “home”, (in a play in which I can’t remember the name), struck a chord. Immediately, I thought about life in Japan, and how despite having lived there for almost three years, it hasn’t felt like home. I think I could live there for thirty more years, and it would be a place that I appreciated for many reasons, but it wouldn’t be my mine. As a permanent stranger in Japan, the questions would continue to be: When did you come to Japan? Why did you choose Japan? Do you like Japan? What do you think of Japan? And, to all those questions, I would have no clear-cut answers. So, the question of home hovers in the air. On a previous blog, three years ago, I wrote that home was Jamaica; but, that reality has changed.

2) In Ubud, incense smokes all day. The smoke never clears, but drifts and spices the air. Nature abounds and flourishes; one never looks up without seeing a tree, flowers, birds, mosquitos, swaying branches. Occasionally Balinese men have pointed out that my skin is brown like theirs; they have told me that they like my face and my “strong” hair. They speak to me like a  family member. Thus, sinking into Ubud is like sinking into a cushioned couch after a grueling day at work; but here, as in Japan, I’m a stranger. Even if I learned Balinese and Bahasa, wore a flower behind my ear, filed my canine teeth down to the perfect smile, and bought a beautiful sarong and wore it to ceremony days at the temple, I would still be a stranger, just a more acclimated one.

Though I say this now, I know “home” isn’t about nationality or ethnicity, but where one feels loved, safe, and comfortable. Home is the place where the cloak of Otherness must naturally be discarded. The place where not only the heart is, but where one is. And, I question is home even a place?

3) K, the man who took care of my visa extension, told me the other day that he thinks yoga is bs. He doesn’t understand why people go to a class to do things that we all do naturally (and for free)–i.e, breathing, moving, etc., and though I disagree with his overall assessment of the practice, I do agree with his final conclusion that, “Heaven is here.” His words perfectly align with Alan Watts’s that “we already have what we want.” Imagine–we already have what we want. If heaven is here, and I have what I want, it’s true that within each of us rests (or burns) love, peace, happiness, harmony– every message on the stones presented to me daily at the studio. Having what we already want within us also means that we’re not only atoms of one whole, but also the whole– this idea has been the hardest thing to understand and accept.

4) When you’re ready to wake up, you’re going to wake up. And, if you’re not ready, you’re going to stay pretending that you’re just a poor little me.”. – Alan Watts    

Bali’s midday sun is relentless. Often I stop into cafes to shelter myself from the rays, and likewise I escape unpleasant thoughts by seeking refuge in the most shaded areas of my mind. A guy recently told me that I need to be more honest with myself, and “do the work.” He’s right. The work: to accept. The work: to be vulnerable. The work: to release. The work: to not say everything is “okay,” or “fine,” when feelings are otherwise. It’s great to feel wonderful, but it’s also fine to say, “I’m not okay.” The work: to trust others. The work: to know I am the world, and not of it.  The work: to stop looking for home, and realize I am home. Like a baby chick, it’s time to chip away from the old shell, and stand awake, without expectations, gleaming and ready for what lies ahead. There are 108 prayer beads on my chain, and with each bead, with each chant, home becomes closer.

Take care,

Val

 

 

Indigo Tree, Ubud

The Walk to Jembawan, no.3

Dear Friends,

Most mornings, I wake up early and walk from Bisma Street to Jembawan Street, which takes approximately fifteen minutes. Along the way, there is a rice field, a school, the outdoor market where vendors sell fresh fruits and vegetables, restaurants, gelaterias, cafes, small boutiques, and stray dogs that are strangely quiet. Today is a ceremony day, as almost everyday seems to be in Bali, and some men are decorating  bamboo poles with colorful flags.

Wayan, the caretaker of the villa, in which I reside, is always up and sweeping at 6:30am. “Good morning, ” he smiles; “Yoga now?” I walk down a narrow, unpaved path to Bisma Street, where Guday (pronounce Good Day), who is Wayan’s cousin, greets me with a warm “Good morning.” In Japan, I acquired the habit of bowing, which is unconsciously done to all along the way. I bow to the elderly man in the sarong, who walks down Bisma Street every morning at the same time; I bow to the schoolgirl on the scooter in the brown uniform, who’s just driven herself to school, though she can’t be more than twelve; I bow to the man sitting on the sidewalk enjoying the morning breeze. I bow to them to respect their divinity, as much as my own.

When I lived in Cacapava many years ago, I walked daily– a longer journey physically, but the same distance inward as this walk to Jembawan. The walk in Cacapava would encompass pastures, cows, horses, a few houses, butterflies, stretches of cloudless sky, solitary pilgrims (on occasion), questions from within and when lucky, answers. Walking was a meditation, and with each step, seeds were planted in my mind and heart that are now beginning to flower.

Though Cacapava and Ubud are more than fifteen thousand kilometers apart, when I walk in Ubud, I’m also in Cacapava. Technically this experience is new, but it’s all familiar: the way the sun  holds my face up, the way the window frames the trees, the way the ceiling fan chases mosquitos away, the way strangers say, “Sister,” the way the airs sizzles and palpitates, the way the sweet, ripe banana tastes, the incredible beauty of strangers, the awareness of what “is” combined with the struggle to accept the “now.” In Ubud, as in Cacapava, a smile given is a smile returned.

Being in Ubud is no accident. It took years of travel along an invisible current to reach here from Cacapava, and the journey was challenging and worthwhile. On the journey, there were: new cities to live in and explore, interesting people to meet and love, awesome accomplishments, stunning failures to learn from, romances to get lost in, failed relationships to glean wisdom from, boring jobs to get through, resolutions to make (break and ignore), pain to endure, awareness and ignorance. The thread that ties Cacapava to Ubud forces me to examine the question to myself (and you), which stems from the then and relates to now, “What would it take?”

What would it take?

1) What would it take for you to realize that you, and only you, are responsible for your happiness?

2) What would it take for you to stop looking for approval outside of yourself and draw strength from self-love?

3) What would it take for you to understand that you are as responsible for the well-being of others as you are for yourself? (You are your “brother’s” keeper– The joy of others is your joy.)

4) What would it take for you to accept yourself; to look at yourself as your own creator? (To look at yourself, and think, “Yes! That’s just how I wanted it.”)

5) What would it take for you to give more than you receive today?

6) What would it take for you to claim your divinity; to acknowledge your god self?

7) What would it take for you give yourself what you need– a kind word, a nap, a hug, a vacation, a fantastic meal, a hug, a moment of silence?

The walk to Jembawan, no.3  filled me with many questions, which will take many journeys to answer.

My friends, be well.

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Love,

Val

p.s  I love to see when you’re dancing from within. It gives great joy to feel such sweet togetherness. Everyone’s doing, and they’re doing their best. –Bob Marley (Jump Nyahbinghi)