Category Archives: life

ped

Learning to Drive

Dear Friends,

Rough Road Ahead:

rr

The other day I received an email from a friend which stated that I seem depressed, because of the tone of my latest blog.  My first thought was “Am I depressed?” followed by, “It be like that sometimes,” then,”It’s okay if I’m a bit down, because these rainy days are just a bump in the road.” I ran through a whole justification in my head of my supposed or real depression, who knows? Euphoria, joy, sadness, darkness are all emotions on the same scale and none should be suppressed.

Coming back to Tokyo from Ubud was as hard as my friend Hanna and I had discussed it would be. We were living in what seemed like a fantasy in Ubud; we were well. We ate plateloads of organic vegetables and fruit everyday; we went to yoga two or three times a day where we were reaffirmed and led into silence; we met friends for meals where we spent hours talking about subjects we were all trying to understand– a lot of “Whys?” We were all seeking, and holes were being patched within us making us whole. Wouldn’t you be sad to leave too? Who leaves paradise? But, there were responsibilities that needed to be addressed.

Detour: 

detr

When I entered high school, I was at least a year and a half younger than most of my classmates. I had been given such a hard time in junior school being about two years younger than my classmates, that I vowed to lie about my age in high school. It was easy to fool my peers, because though I had a young face and was quite immature, I was tall. In the ninth grade I was 5’5″ and by twelfth grade, I had reached 5’10”, so there was no reason to suspect my deception. Yet, the lie held me back.

When it was time to take drivers’ ed in eleventh grade, I couldn’t take the class with my friends, because I was fourteen and a half. Eventually, all my friends learned to drive, yet I had to feign disinterest. When I could legally learn in my senior year, I didn’t want to be the only senior in drivers ed, so as a result of pride, I didn’t take the class.  I was being foolish, in hindsight, but you couldn’t tell me anything then. I went to college in D.C where it wasn’t necessary to drive, moved back to Long Island where it was necessary, but I didn’t learn and my brother allowed me to depend on him, moved to NYC, and the years went on. Then, I really did lose interest in something that I know is necessary. I still don’t know how to drive; that’s the story of how a small lie can build and lead down a ridiculous path.

No U-Turns:

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You’re not supposed to turn back on a one-way road, right? Yet, I’m living in a shared house again, saving money for the future,  imagining that this time saving in Tokyo will be different. Sharing a living space is okay, because I know it’s temporary. If I were to live here, in this fifth floor box for a prolonged period of time, all semblances of sanity would be lost. It’s amazing how my flatmates and I live in such a small space and keep our own private spaces. It’s surprisingly easier than I’d imagined. I continue to look for the silver linings: it’s great that I can walk to work; it’s convenient; it’s cheap.

Stop:

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My friend’s email touched on something, because I wasn’t depressed, but having depressing thoughts. I was filling myself with worry about things I can’t change right now, like aging, my relationship status, my bank account, and more than one “What should have beens.” Thankfully, it came to me that worrying needlessly needed to stop. I don’t have to entertain discouraging thoughts for longer than necessary.  And, I don’t need to talk about them either, no matter who’s doing the asking.

Yield:

yield

“I proclaim to the universe, ‘ I love life. I love love. I appreciate where I am. I appreciate what I’ve been through. I appreciate knowing what I know. I appreciate being who I be. I appreciate the path that I’ve been on….I appreciate the fun I’m going to have. I appreciate the fun I’m having even now. I appreciate standing on the cusp of what is to come.”– Abraham Hicks

Yes, acceptance of the now is what’s important. The fact is that I’m on the metallic streets of Tokyo now, not on a tropical beach or overcast mountainside. It bothered me for a week, but it’s time to be grateful for the now, what I’ve been given, what’s yet to come.

Slow Down:

slow down

The years go faster than I ever imagined they would. I went from lying and saying that I was two years older to never saying my age out loud at all. I just read in Bonjour, Happiness (a fun read) that French women never say their age– ever. (I knew I had an affinity for that country.)  My friends now range from at least a decade younger to over a decade older, and there’s a connection with them all. An eighteen year old that I met recently said to me that she never wants to “get old.” Ha! We spoke about that for a little while, and I tried to impress upon her how quickly time goes. However, I’m aware that no one at eighteen can really understand that youth is fleeting. Before you know it, you’re the age that you thought was “old.” Before you know it, you’re your mother or father thinking how they did, turning off lights; saying what they did, “Oh, it’s time to get things done;” feeling how they did, “Don’t rush, it’ll be here before you know it;” loving how they did, for no reason at all; noticing hair gradually losing it’s pigment,  and knowing this is it. This is really it, so slow down and enjoy it.

Go: 

go

Hope you’re well; hope you understand that life has as many downs as ups, and a smile certainly isn’t always on my face; you don’t have to smile everyday either, but try to find something to smile about today. Go take a walk; go read a book; go sit in a room alone in silence for ten minutes; go watch a comedy; go kiss someone; go eat your favorite meal; go indulge in a piece of chocolate; go dance; go forgive someone; go forgive yourself; go ride your bicycle; go call your mother; go write in your journal; go feel good. (I’m going now.)

Take care,

Val

“Remember my friend, the world will change again.”

Dear Friend,

I read today that the human body can be anywhere from 45 to 75% water. Yet, I’m convinced that I’m 90% water today; waves are rising in me. My body’s vibrating noticeably; the water’s rioting.

I’m nervous. 

Maybe, I should collect myself, gather my streams,  go outside and race haphazardly down paved streets. Maybe, I should flow with the rivers that are joining and taking over the sidewalks. A horizontal typhoon realized. Maybe, I could mist your face, and you wouldn’t know if you were crying or if it was me lightly touching you.

 What’s happening?

There are so many reassurances that everything will be fine; there are so many words that carry weight; there are so many wells continuously filling. When the water runs low, “the world will change again.” It’s never over.

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning. (Stevie Smith, Not Waving but Drowning)

There’s a full moon tonight. You know this means new energy, new beginnings, new ideas: “The world will change again.” I heard love’s the answer–“To love and be loved in return…” I hope that’s true.

So what happens next?

Yours,

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

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.

photo (19)

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)

 

Let Go: You Will Start to Feel Free

Dear Friends,

It’s Sunday morning, the day of rest and rejuvenation for many in the West. The Balinese never seem to rest. On Sunday mornings, they still wake up at six am or before to set up the marketplace; they sweep the streets methodically; they hawk goods on the sidewalk. Just like every other day of the week, local men call out, “Taxi? Maybe tomorrow?” to every foreigner that walks by. They maintain a constant state of movement, albeit at a very easygoing pace.

For the foreigners I’ve met here, Sunday is a rest day; though to be honest, most days are “rest” days. For example, this morning, I went to Gentle Flow yoga, ohm-ed and breathed deliberately, then stopped at Ganesha bookstore, where an eclectic array of books and exquisite jewelry are sold, made my way to Anomalie coffee shop, where the creamiest cappuccino can be bought for US$3, and then… Here, the “then” is full of openness which could be filled with a long walk, meeting someone for a conversation, eating lunch at a warung (local, cheap restaurant), reading Paulo Coelho’s Aleph, which my friend gave me yesterday, listening to nature continue to awaken, or listening to Michael Jackson, inhaling the scent of sandalwood incense on the streets, or drinking water from a coconut on my terrace, and writing you. All the “thens” are pleasing.

Bali is much like Jamaica, and I find myself comparing the two often. In my comparisons, Kingston comes out ahead in regard to its beaches, electric energy, fruit and food; and Ubud surpasses with its safety, customer service, and spiritual energy. In both islands, people move slowly, and have a general, “Take it easy; soon come” attitude. Time means nothing. “Meet me at 1″ could mean anything from, “Meet me around one-ish” to “See you in a few hours, or tomorrow, or whenever, but let’s say 1 for now.” Both islands are bathed in sunshine; filled with open, gregarious people; blessed with natural beauty that can be exhausting on the eyes– how can one perceive it all?

As much as the islands are similar, the cultures are markedly different. On my walk this morning, I observed, as before, that many of the Balinese men tuck flowers behind their ear. Many have tattoos on their arms, and frangipani flowers, which grow in abundance,  behind their right ear. The contrast strikes me as wonderful. There’s an air of ease that permeates the town. The Balinese and foreigners alike dress easily; men are often bare-chested on the streets (usually foreign men), button-downs are a remnant of the past, quite a few walk without shoes, and irons are a household item that we used to own, but can’t actually remember. In Tokyo, I would never leave the house without makeup, without ironing every item of clothing, without braiding or bunning my hair; in Ubud, I don’t care. I don’t own an iron, rarely wear makeup, and if I do, it’s eyeliner and mascara only; and my hair is free. A yogi uttered, “You will start to feel free,” a week ago, and she was right.

Practicing non-attachment can be the most difficult thing– I was attached to: ideas, being “neat,” people, my bicycle, outcomes of situations that only existed in my mind, etc.  Attachment stems from fear, and often things are held on to or grasped that aren’t at all beneficial or serving a purpose. We often read about “letting go,” but most of us know that letting go of something we’re afraid to lose couldn’t be more difficult. I read this Herman Hesse quote today that’s beneficial for all of us, “Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.”

Friends, start to let go of things that aren’t adding any value to your life. For example; let go of the destructive self-talk; let go of the excess weight that’s affecting your energy; let go of the idea that you should be “more” than you are– you are special; let go of the excessive smoking or drinking or any other behavior that’s harming your magnificent self. Sadly, you may even have to let go of someone, someone you’re attached to, but who’s more negative than positive and not giving you what you need. It won’t be easy to release something  that’s offering security, or superficial comfort, but release, and “You will start to feel free.”

Love,

Val

p.s I let go of my hair, and that was liberating on many levels. :)

lg

 

 

Transcendent Night, Transcendent Darkness

There was a time when all was night. Darkness reigned. We weren’t afraid of the dark; it was our comfort. Our eyes were open, but we couldn’t see, just smell, hear and touch. You might remember this: the night smelled like fallen frangipani flowers, deep and mellow; the night sounded like crickets on fire; it sounded like the call of a hundred beasts; it sounded like heavy water rolling over stones; it felt like a blanket; it felt like a small breeze on sticky skin. We weren’t afraid.

When it was dark, we didn’t judge things based on visuals. We had to trust our feelings, open our hearts and let our bodies direct us. We were safe. The sky–expanses of indigo; the earth– rolling fields of ink. We were cocooned, wrapped, blanketed, embraced, enveloped in darkness. We trusted the touch of ombre, the laugh of blackness, the stillness of shadows. We could breathe from the pits of our stomachs in the dark; we could imagine mountains covered in moss and green; we could hum our souls into our mouths. Why would we be afraid?

Yet, we weren’t satisfied. We wanted light. We wanted what we didn’t have, and could only imagine. What was there to gain? We were safe, we were sure, were warm, we were loved; yet, we longed for more. We prayed for light. And God said, “Let there be light, and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided light from the darkness. A devastating star broke the darkness. Oh yes, for a time, the light was good. We could see tranquil seas, rainbows arching over wet streets, gushing waterfalls, the four petals of the open white frangipani, and it’s deep yellow inside, red and black ladybugs, smiles on full curved lips, pale violet skies sinking behind the green mountains we’d only imagined. (I saw your eyes.)  The beauty was overwhelming. We saw more than we should have, and we stopped feeling.

How do we go back when we’ve seen too much? How do we get back to the darkness, to the core, to the shade? Close your eyes, lie on your back, breathe, feel, listen to the crackle of the night….feel. Close your eyes.

birds2

On Birds 2: Life in Ubud

I came to Ubud for the first time on November 7, 2013 to celebrate my birthday and escape the bustle of Tokyo. At the sight of Indigo Tree, surrounded by rice paddies, boys flying owl kites by the side of the road, red and yellow hibiscuses in full bloom, coconut trees, and a multitude of orange butterflies, I fell in love.

Each passing day in Ubud deepened my love. My thoughts were: Did the sun always set this pink across the sky? Were kittens always so affectionate? Did others always smile this widely when smiled at? Were birds always this chatty? Did roosters always crow this loudly, and this long? Were women always so devoted to God, preparing offerings and lighting incense this way? Did children always scream in such delight when at play? Did humans and earth always come together in such harmony? I was in love; I was love.

boys

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I joined the yoga studio, Radiantly Alive. where I met many people who wanted to get not only their bodies in shape, but their minds and hearts as well. The name Ubud means medicine, and most people I met were in Ubud to be healed on some level. Yoga practice was about more than just body movements, but quieting the mind, and bringing oneself the full spectrum of well-being. It was my first time in a studio practicing with others, and the energy, community, and rhythm, even as individuals on separate maroon mats, inspired a sense of joy. After yoga, which at times was a rigorous undertaking, my new friends and I would buy a fresh coconut for US$1, drink the clear water, and revel in the beginning of our awakenings. The roosters, even at 10 am, 11 am, 12 pm, would still be crowing.

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At the end of two weeks (16 days to be exact), I wasn’t ready to leave. Though Ubud may have tired of me, pounding her uneven sidewalks; frequenting her cozy cafes, casual boutiques, eateries with live music, and local health food market, I was in no way finished with her. Upon my return to Tokyo, I put up and sold all of my belongings on Craigslist (everything, but my clothes, shoes and laptop), released myself  from my apartment contract in the  expensive neighborhood of Kabutocho, moved into a shared house, and vowed to save enough money, so that I could spend more time in a sacred space– mentally and physically.When I sent my brother, David, an email telling how much I adored Ubud and what it meant to me, he replied, “Uh oh. I see another move in your future.” As an adult woman, I’ve lived in the U.S, Jamaica, Brazil, and Japan, and I felt that Indonesia would very likely be my fifth home.

cle

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In April, I returned to Ubud for eleven days, and the experience wasn’t the same, it was better. Coming back to Ubud felt like returning home: the greetings were warm and enthusiastic, arms were opened wide, incense continued to burn, and streets shifted with the beat of a hundred soles. Ubud wasn’t the same, it was better. My body was more flexible, it had retained the memory of the yoga poses. My mind was more receptive to new teachings and philosophies. My heart even more ready to love. The teachings of the yogis, Rusty and Noga, in particular, resonated and I cradled their words throughout the day: Let go; Center yourself; Be grateful ; Hug yourself; give to yourself; Don’t judge yourself on the mat; take these feelings of self-acceptance into the world.

Twice, I took ninety-minute trips to Candidasa Beach, with friends and alone; enjoyed an Indonesian concert; watched a traditional Kecak dance performance; visited a local nightclub with my friend Danielle, and the hotel’s cool driver, Kordro; played games with two precious girls and four rambunctious kittens; swam in the pool; and, observed the natural world ungathering above, around and beyond me. I was in love; I was love.

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Upon returning to Tokyo, and working for one week, I realized that I couldn’t stay. I had to get back to Ubud. Amazingly enough, approval was granted for a leave of absence, and on June 1, I arrived for the third time in seven months in Ubud.

I currently live in a cozy flat on Bisma Street, where I sit on my terrace everyday and watch the birds play on the slanting roof opposite. They never seem to tire of fluttering around each other, calling out to each other, flying away and coming back. (When I was a child, my mother always wanted a bird bath, and was  always buying birdseed. I never understood then, but I do now.) My landlady buys me fresh fruit from the local market every morning, for which I pay US$3 for a bunch of bananas, a bag of oranges, a papaya, and a local Balinese fruit called snakeskin fruit. Every morning, I wake up at 6:30 for yoga practice at 7:30, and walk to the studio, which is fifteen minutes from my place. In yoga, each day, I salute the sun, my feet, this blessed life. In the afternoons, I dine with others, talk about next steps, plays card games, eat fresh, organic food, rest and listen to the birds.

When you come to Ubud, you will find me waiting and sitting with my knees up, shoes off, a bottle of water in one hand, a snakeskin seed in my mouth, listening to the children in the distance, and the sounds of birds ringing above them.

Snakeskin fruit
Snakeskin fruit

Open your eyes and look within, are you satisfied, with the life you’re living?– Bob Marley (Exodus)