13 months later...

How does one condense the experience of 13 months on the road into one blog post?  I'll start with some fun and some numbers:

  • I saw 17 World Heritage Sites
  • I ate at four Michelin starred restaurants.
  • I visited four continents, 19 countries, eight islands, and had my feet in 11 different oceans/seas/gulfs
  • I used 24 different types of transport, flew on 34 airplanes, and took 32 trains.
  • I went to the emergency room three times and had surgery once.
  • I took part in eight retreats.
  • I worked with innumerable teachers and healers.
  • I learned to speak one new language and tried to speak several along the way.
  • I fell in love.

To piece it all into a set of numbers doesn't begin to scratch the surface of how this year has changed my life but it offers a glimpse into how I spent my 9240ish hours on the road.  Something I posted on facebook to my fellow travellers speaks to how this kind of travel can open your heart:

We have laughed - oh how we have laughed, we have cried, we have witnessed glorious sunsets and sunrises, we have run naked down beaches, we have howled at the moon. We have loved. Each of you has transformed the surface of my heart, the way I see the world, the way I move through my days. I will not soon forget the gift of looking into your eyes and realizing that we are all the same, we are all one, we are all simply trying to not just survive this crazy life but thrive and dream and stretch and grow. I carry each of you with me - each of the lessons that you taught will always be held dear. I will not forget the way the wind spun through your hair, the way your eyes lit up at the unexpected. I will not forget your courage, your hope, or your story. Thank you for your gift of companionship - even if it was just for an hour, a day, a week, a month. Whenever folks ask me about this year they always say in awe - OH - you traveled alone. No, no I was never alone on this journey. I had you. 

I'm sure as time passes I will be able to more fully digest what this journey has meant to my life but for now I can say that I am transformed.  I no longer live my life by shoulds or have to's, I no longer fear the possibility of myself.  I walk more softly but I laugh just as loud.  I see differently, I feel more, I cry easier, and love faster.  I embrace the crazy adventure that is this life and don't feel the need to explain myself or my choices.  I feel a freedom of self that I have never experienced before.  Really all of this to say that this trip taught me to lighten the fuck up and have some fun - and for now - that is enough.

Heart and Mind meld in Austria

I spent the month of July in a small town in the Austrian Alps called Hallein.  I went to study with a yoga teacher from Australia that I met in Thailand - makes perfect sense, right?  Well it does make perfect sense when you meet and practice with Peter.  His approach to life, yoga, and compassion just make sense - they resonate deep in the soul.  And while his teachings open the heart they are satisfying on a purely brain level as well based on his work with scientists from around the world.  I can only tell you that the month I spent with this group changed the way I approach my days, the way I approach relationships and the way I engage myself in thoughts and actions.  I learned patience,  self compassion, and kindness.  I opened my heart and then I opened it a little more.  Sometimes it was uncomfortable - I cried so hard in the garden one day after practice that I thought I would never stop.  It was like being washed clean.  Peter taught me a new practice called the five element form - a flowing form of yoga from the Assam region in India that feels like dancing with the world.  It is grounding, expanding, graceful, strong, and just plain beautiful.  I met people that will be a part of my life for years to come.  My month with Peter and my fellow students was simply one of the greatest gifts I gave myself during this year of travel and one that will sit in my heart always.

 

Esalen

I just spent a beautiful week at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California with 140 fellow writers and five generous and gifted teachers.  It was a great week!  We laughed a lot, wrote a bit, and ate a lot of damn good food.  And yes, I did soak naked in the hot tubs with strangers - it's just what you do there.  I highly recommend a visit to Esalen, a visit with the healers that work there, and books by any of these wonderful authors:  Cheryl Strayed, Alan Heathcock, Samantha Dunn, Steve Almond, & Pam Houston.  Here's a little taste of writing inspired by a prompt from Sam:

Change  is inescapable.  You must embrace change with equal parts fervent hope and resignation like an ancient tree, for example — without clinging to those parts of yourself that are falling away like leaves.  I mean change must be your entire existence.

I look forward to rounding out some of the work started this week but for now I'm off to Austria.

The Subway Ride

I rode next to an old man on the subway today.  Space is tight and I sat on the frayed edge of his blue jacket.  He held a book in his hands, it was closed with one index finger marking his place.  His hands were sprinkled with age spots as if someone had dusted them with cinnamon and his white hair sprung out in all directions from the crown of his head like a halo of carefree clouds.   The cover of the book was wrapped in old magazine pages carefully taped at the seams - the print worn off in patches.  When he opened the book I realized it was a bible - the pages whisper soft and creased like old tissue paper.  He would read for a few seconds, Psalms I believe, and then close the cover and his eyes for a few moments.  A juggler caught both of our attention.  He was halfway down the car bouncing three, five, then six balls off the ceiling - it made us both chuckle and the old man softly said something about practice under his breath.  We each pulled a few coins out, his from an old film canister in the pocket of his coat.  He slid the bible into a worn black briefcase that sat at his feet and pulled out an ad from the newspaper - it was for a shoe sale.  He checked it carefully, refolded it, and placed it in the pocket with the film canister.  Next, he retrieved a packet of papers and began to study them closely.  They were tucked into a clear plastic sleeve.  Near the bottom of the stack the papers were yellowed and the edges marked with folds and tiny tears.  The top sheet was fresh graph paper.  Stapled to the upper right corner was an aged rectangle of paper with a math equation several lines long and obviously typed on an old typewriter.  The fresh sheet of graph paper was crisscrossed with equations written in pencil. A puzzle, in the works for a few decades at least.  When he rose to exit the train, I noticed that his shoulders stooped forward like an autumn leaf curling into itself before blowing away in the wind.  His steps were certain but slow.  I wondered if his wife was at home, tending a pot of softly bubbling stew, and waiting to see his new shoes or if he would return to his apartment and place his new shoes in a half empty closet before settling in to work on the decades old puzzle.  I watched him slowly crossing the platform as the subway pulled away.

To choose pain or love?

I keep waking up in the mornings with thoughts running through my mind about love, pain, friendship, family and life.  The thoughts haven’t surfaced in an organized manner and I find all of these ideas to be evolving and a bit of a work in progress but here goes:

Being in relation to others is maybe the hardest thing about being human - it also has the potential to be the most beautiful and fulfilling.  It is through relationships that we experience the highest highs and the lowest lows especially within the most sacred of relationships - parent and child, life partners, spouses, and close friends.  These relationships can flourish or they can die. I believe it’s in the way we choose to relate to our shared experiences that determines how relationships evolve.  I’m talking about the experiences we are currently living, the ones we have lived, and the ones we imagine are coming.  I believe that we have a bit of a choice in the way our relationships evolve.  A choice that has to do with how we relate to our past, engage in the present moment, and what we believe about those walking beside us.  A choice based on where we put our focus and what we choose to hold close to our hearts. 

Close your eyes and take a deep breath, open a space and then think about this…  

I believe that relationships die when we choose to live in a place of lasting pain.  I believe that lasting pain is perpetuated through the repetition or reliving of memories and stories that we tell ourselves.  This constant revisiting of painful moments is a choice.  A choice that for some reason we humans can’t seem to avoid.  We find it necessary to relive our greatest failures or the greatest hurts that we believe others have visited upon us.  It’s a little bit like pushing on a bruise over and over just to see if it’s still there and if it still hurts.  This allows us to be victims.  It allows us to not take responsibility for how we treat others and it allows us to dishonor our relationships.  It allows us to rationalize the anger, hate, and hurt that we put out into the world.  In other words - reliving past pain means we are keeping it alive and creating new pain each and every day. 

I believe we can choose a different path - a path away from lasting pain towards lasting love.  It’s a path rooted in acceptance and forgiveness.  It’s about accepting what was and what is without passing judgement.  It’s also about accepting those that walk beside us as whole human beings.  Whole people made up of light and dark, strong and weak, beautiful and terrifying.  What if we could accept ourselves and others as imperfect?  What if we could accept that we each have our own issues, demons, and things that have shaped our souls?  I think that it’s an amazing gift that we can live through each others great glories and great failures.  I think it’s important to openly witness the good and the bad in each other.  This witnessing without judgement is simply a lesson in what it means to be human.  It allows us to understand that life is not about being perfect just as it is not about being imperfect.  It is about not losing hope or faith in ourselves and each other when we are not our best selves.  It is about acceptance.  It is about forgiveness. It is about hope.

What if we stop counting the wrongs and start counting the rights?  What if we stop reliving every rough moment that has popped up in this life?  What if we stop pointing out each others greatest failures?  What if we stop being afraid of each others dark?  What if we stop looking backwards and projecting our fear into the future?  I believe we can choose to not judge each others dark moments or perceived failures.  I believe we can choose to honor our strengths and our light and to do the same for those around us.  I believe we can choose to believe that each of us is trying our best.  I believe that we can choose to forgive and embrace ourselves and those around us.

I believe all of this takes great courage.  The courage to love ourselves as whole people and the courage to love those around us as whole people.  I think each of us can choose to see, accept and love through whatever arises.  Please understand that I am not saying we should allow others to mistreat us but I do believe we can face these challenges with compassion.  I think we can choose what is healthy for ourselves without placing judgement, shaming, or becoming self righteousness.  We are each no better or worse - more right or wrong than the person walking beside us.  In each moment we are each simply choosing to “see, acknowledge, and forgive” or to “see, judge, and hate”.  We each have a choice whether we come into relationship from a place of grace and love or a place of anger and hate.  In every moment and in every interaction we have a choice.  

I believe that in order to be fully alive we have to experience all that life has to offer.  I think that our most joyful moments are as important as our most painful.  It is how we learn and grow.  It is how we break open so that we can experience life more fully - so that we can evolve.  I believe we all need to work hard to stay in the present moment and not journey backwards into our pain and not project fear about the future.  I believe we can all choose compassion, forgiveness, and love.  I believe we can end our cycles of pain if we so choose.  What will you choose?