The Sun Also Sets: A Night Among the Shadows in Ubud

“There is strong shadow where there is much light.”

― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

If you’ve read anything about Bali, you’ve heard it likened to paradise or referred to as the Island of Gods, Island of Peace. It’s deserving of all of these comparisons and nicknames. You can’t help but be at your most pure here, your absolute lightest. Things naturally unfold that way here.

As such, one might feel compelled to behave accordingly. Although there are no requirements, there tends to be a set of general rules by which to abide, in order to really have the experience you’re supposed to have during your stay: Must eat healthily. Must meditate. Must practice yoga. Must have regular epiphanies. Must not need. Must remain peaceful.

In the past, I didn’t want to break any rules. I believed it was vital to do all of the above, as well as to keep my upper body completely covered; to never use my left hand in public (I’ll let you research that one, yourself); to be spiritual always.

But part of the spiritual experience involves not only the radiance, the glow, the luminescence, the gleam, but also the shadows cast by that light.

There is no avoiding it: Wherever light presses, so do its shadows, and the harder we press against them, the deeper we move into them.

I find this true with the children of every overbearing and absurdly strict parent I know. The story is always the same: You may never try [insert allegedly bad thing here]. Child secretly does a whole lot of trying [same allegedly bad thing], sometimes to the point of addiction.

Maybe it’s better, then, to let that shadow pour over you, like standing beneath a waterfall without trying to avoid getting wet.

After all, the unknown, itself, is first shadow before it is ever alit, right?

All of this is really just a setup to justify how much we shadowed out over the next 24 hours…

image

It was a Thursday evening. After a very long walk, we finally found California-style Mexican food deep in Ubud. We started with passionfruit margaritas and — oh my God — everything that touched our tongues for the next 30 minutes tasted amazing. Maybe the best flavors we’d had so far. And so we were on a mission.

We had met a friend earlier in the trip and invited her to join us at this most-glorious find, Taco Casa, but she was already at dinner with other friends; she’d find us later. So, after dinner, we started walking aimlessly through Ubud for exploration’s sake and, within just 10 minutes of this, Emily spotted our friend across the street.

This entire bustling city of Ubud, and we accidentally walked directly to the one friend we’d hoped to see: Welcome to Bali.

We strolled over and joined her and the friends she’d been traveling with and then: one cocktail, two cocktail, three cocktail — more? … um, yeah, sure, okay.

While watching one of the gals on her Tinder app, I asked her to sign me up for kicks, especially since I’d recently watched Conan’s Tinder episode with Dave Franco (I’d link you, but I’m not there yet). It’s a very fun game if you’re looking for some comic relief or just another Web-based time killer. Swipe swipe swipe.

My favorite was the guy who called himself “Cutthroat” — the kind of name that truly allures a single woman to go on a blind date in a foreign country. There were also many variations of the name “Shadie,” plus guys who’d write that they were married but looking for a good time and others whose only self-description was: “If you’re not going to respond to my text messages after a while, then don’t bother talking to me!” Tinderjected!

image

This would have been my favorite part of the evening, except that, although our friends headed home to prepare for their flight the next day, we carried on.

Loud music poured over the second story of a building we were passing on our way home, so we stopped. We made our way upstairs to find a full house and live reggae — neither of which are our favorites, but we went for it. The bartender handed us two giant, warm Bintangs when we asked for two small, cold ones. We went for that, too.

We pushed our way to what could be construed as the “front row” and started dancing, making fleeting friendships with the locals and even the band with our charm: weird dance moves and intentionally criss-crossed Bahasa Indonesia.

After a hilarious bathroom break, which I won’t go into for legal purposes, we kept moving.

And then it was all over (it wasn’t): We found a club playing hip-hop music. But not just any hip-hop — an eclectic mix of mid-90s pop rap and some current dubstep-gangsta rap mashup, depending on which room you were in. Unfortunately, the huge tent erected for dancing (which we affectionately referred to as “the hot box”) played the latter.

I asked for popcorn at the bar, as we’d been searching for this delectable snack since week one, and they actually delivered. One small cup of peanuts first, followed by one small cup of burnt popcorn. We each threw one cup down the gullet and then followed a staff member to the hot box with a couple of Bintangs for a dance-off.

Our dance-off is never competitive; we mostly just crack each other up with our best or newly invented moves, in between rolling our eyes at the music. Emily makes special requests to the DJ, which are always met in other countries like this with “Who is E-40?”

We were getting drunk by now. At some point, a young 20-something-year-old tried to really have a dance-off with Emily (thus, with herself) and immediately dropped her cocktail, shattering glass and spilling liquor everywhere.

Perfect timing for us to step out for a refresher beer before returning for just one more song.

image

Leaving the lounge, we realized how late it actually was. Had we really shut Ubud down, the cultural and spiritual hub of Bali? We had so far to walk home and the whole town was shadow-dark.

We were singing and laughing through the streets on our way back — sometimes getting echoed by other visitors in the same boat — and we were hungry. Like, ferociously hungry. We found a liquor store and each bought a whole can of Pringles (yes, on purpose) and a two-liter bottle of water.

On the three-mile walk home we still had before us, we nearly finished our entire cans while negotiating our way through unlit ricefield paths, large groups of curious young men, and barking dogs protecting their turf.

We both woke up hungover and pretty much lost the whole next day to headaches, upset stomachs, and lots of naps.

It wasn’t the kind of night you’d expect to have in Ubud, but we made some good memories. Fuzzy, but good. And some dance floor videos, which we have since erased, so you will never ever see them.

Yes, I think there is something to embracing the shadow once in a while. To enjoying the full spectrum of our human experience, even when the moments aren’t easily categorized as “contributors” to our personal evolution.

In the long run, maybe they actually are.


Worlds Apart and Together in the Same Boat: Friday On and Off Gili Air

The previous evening had provided all we needed with which to pack our bags and return to Bali, and so we were slow about our last moments before heading to the harbor. After a long breakfast, I caught up with friends and family via Skype, and Emily made her way back to the sun to gather what light she could before we departed.

I eventually joined her and we took turns dipping into the see-through pool that is the Java Sea.

We tied the whole thing up with gelato and walked leisurely to the harbor. Emily had our fastboat tickets, whose pretty damn good price she’d so impressively haggled for yesterday. We were sad to leave, but ready, satiated.

Only we couldn’t leave. There was some problem with the tickets she had handed the representative. After looking at them, he left his station and walked away from the dock to a group of Indonesian men to discuss something we couldn’t understand.

At the same time, a blonde man with a Dutch accent was walking alongside me, talking on his cell phone: “All my friends are dead. They were all killed. Yeah. Yeah. I’m heading there now.”

And the lens of doom suddenly colored the scene. We were surrounded by danger.

To my right:

This man was a criminal! His friends were criminals! They’d been in a gunfight with other criminals — no, with police!

Maybe they were in the military. A bomb had killed them all at once. How else do friends die all at once?!

Maybe he’d been in a war and was having an episode due to his post-traumatic stress disorder. He didn’t just say they died, he said they were killed.

Had they died on Gili Air? Did we miss something as we slept?

And to my left:

We were tricked, these tickets are fake. We paid a fake travel agent for fake tickets!

Wait a minute! These men are the culprits. This guy who has our tickets, he’s trying to send us somewhere other than Bali. What if we’re being sex trafficked?!

How could we be sex trafficked among all these non-residents, clearly waiting to board their boats off the island, too? Why are we being singled out?

He’s trying to sell our tickets and make some money off of them. That’s what’s happening. It’s all about the money. Somebody has to stop him.

What if the guy with killed friends and this harbor guy are running some scheme?!

I had barely opened my Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian language) book, had only learned a little bit. Like that Gili means small island. And that we could shout good-bye to this small island with “Selamat Tinggal!” as our fastboat departed, if it ever would.

“I think we’re overbooked,” assessed Emily through squinted eyes.

“Ohhhh…” I nodded, slipping out from my mental tornado.

At this point, I was completely uninvolved with when we’d get there, whether we would, as Emily was best at taking the reins in circumstances like these.

She returned to the dock and the harbor office. I followed her and found a seat. At the counter, she continued prying. “Where is our boat? When can we leave?”

Alongside her, two Canadian women around our age were asking the same questions and also making demands. But with much more intensity: “We have a plane to catch! This is your responsibility! We purchased tickets for 12:00! This is unacceptable! No, we are not going on a 3:00 boat!”

In front of me, I watched a couple with two toddlers — twins maybe — sitting in wait. And a young teenager in between them that looked a lot like the mother, nothing like the father, and only a little bit like the little ones climbing on her. When the little girl hit the teenager in the face, I watched her explode, spewing something in French. Frustrated, she stormed down the pier by herself.

“They overbooked our 30-passenger boat by 120 people,” Emily told me as she plopped down next to me. “He said we can’t leave until 3.”

image

In the meantime, the Dutch man was back on his phone, going over it again: “They’re dead. They’re all dead. It’s surreal.”

And then to a villager at a storefront, he demonstrated a gun shooting up to the sky: “They shot it down.”

He began a conversation with two Australians behind me, and I strained to catch what parts I could: “… coming here… killed them all… entire football team… Amsterdam… ceremony last night on the beach.” The women shifted uncomfortably, unsure of what to say.

Another hour of this, all of this — all of us. Each with our separate dramas, our respective pains, our festering needs, our pleas — each with a story we wore like orbs around us, blocking out everything and everyone beyond us, yet in concert with one another like many moving parts of a well-oiled, if overworked, machine.

But this man, this man with the friends — I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. I wanted to know it all. His story seemed make-believe, but I sensed it wasn’t. Nothing else at that harbor could possibly matter at that moment. He was there by himself and now sitting alone.

I wanted to go to him, to embrace him. To let him tell me everything as he’d been telling strangers throughout the afternoon, to have him pile all of his questions onto me, both of us knowing I had the answers to none.

Emily rested near me between trips to the counter, where she pushed against whatever obstructed us a little at a time until she found an opening —

— the arrival of our actual boat.

“That’s our boat,” she said, pointing to it as she made a final trip to the counter. She demanded our tickets back and seats on the boat we’d paid for yesterday. This had a domino effect. The harbor rep told Emily she’d have to take it up with the captain, and, hearing this, our entire cast tagged along to the 400% overbooked boat.

We were grouped together at the back of the line for this already full boat, but we were diligent. The men herding us changed their tune with rolled eyes from Not enough room to Fine, then you have to sit up top.

image

There was no order to any of it, no pier from which to board the vessel. We had to hoist our own weight and that of our bags up — and now — blocked from the entrance, we were climbing to the roof where there were no seats, only a huge pile of all the other passengers’ luggage tied down with blankets and rope.

“Gili style!” shouted the Dutch guy, in strangely high spirits.

Once we integrated ourselves with the cargo, once the boat started moving, on high alert with our bulging eyes and raised eyebrows, there was nothing we could do but deflate with relief and laugh with one another — Emily and I, the Canadians with their waiting plane, the Dutch guy with his tragedy, and one of the boat’s crew members who had been half-rejecting/half-herding us minutes before and was now trying to sell us his taxi services.

Emily was making friends with the other women and the crew member while I had my conversation with the man from Amsterdam.

It was through this absurd seating arrangement that I learned that my new friend’s soccer team — all of his closest friends — were en route to visit him on Gili Air when their plane, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, was shot out of the sky.

His dad had been living in Bali the past seven years and he, after a very colorful life, decided he wasn’t cut out for any conventional way of living. Despite all the critics, he left his position as a social worker, left all of his friends, and moved to Gili Air just a few weeks back after years of visiting, where he hoped to eventually open his own bar and restaurant and become a master diver.

After the funeral in Amsterdam, his destination that day, he vowed he’d never go back: “Now, I have nothing left.”

We talked for the first half hour, and once we retreated back into the silence we were able to find even while speeding across the rough sea, he began singing “Let It Be,” arms sprawled open to the sky.

image

We couldn’t help but join him, and even managed to find a handful of other songs we all knew.

Whatever we were individually going through then, the coordinates of our separate lives were all located on the same expansive gray scale from joyful to unbearable, mundane to unbelievable. The teenager on the pier whose mother had betrayed her by starting a new family with a new husband who didn’t love this teen the way he loved his own children. The man who had to constantly recover from personal connections for the sake of potential sales. The women who would make their long flight home in the nick of time. And the man who lost almost every single person he loved — many who had shaken their heads at his risk-taking while clinging tightly to their own much safer lives — to one of the world’s most shocking news stories.

In Bahasa Indonesia, Gili means small island. Gili Air was indeed a small island, and so were we, each of us.

But, if you were to zoom way out for that one moment during our moment together on the very top of the passenger luggage on the roof of a fastboat aimed for Bali, you too might believe that we were all part of the same mass, one no different from the other.

 

Bottom two photos courtesy of Emily Silva.

Every Moment a Freshly Angled Mirror: Thursday on Gili Air

So, in the middle of tightrope walking across a beach on Gili Air last night, a thought crossed my mind: I wonder how much my FICO score has increased since I paid off and closed all those credit cards last month.

I said I was tightrope walking! On an island only a few square kilometers in size that I’d never even heard of before Emily decided we were going. That thought about my FICO score never came within arm’s length of my mind. Nothing else did in that moment.

Instead, my mind was like an empty bowl near some front door, ready for Ben — French tightrope owner and hand holder — to fill with what keys I’d need to make it even one millimeter across without falling: Breathe. Bend your knees. Look at a spot without movement. Only one foot at a time. Lean more to the side. The center line of balance is here.

image

The last two days have been full — packed with so much more than either of us had anticipated upon planning our excursion. What started as an indulgent trip to a nearby island to bathe in the sun with tropical cocktails for three straight days morphed into something neither of us can fully grasp yet. Only appreciate.

As such, it’s hard for me to really focus this post on one thing (there may be a theme forming here, I’m afraid).

Our last evening on Gili Air began with Emily suggesting we head to the West side of the island for our sunset-viewing ritual, cut through the village to explore a bit on the way.

She followed her intuition for where and when to turn and I followed her. We walked through dirt paths between land where trees were mostly cleared out, locals’ homes were generally dilapidated, and beautiful new bungalows, likely for Westerners with money to spend and to make on the island, were being built by villagers in the empty spaces.

Earlier that day, we heard someone say they stopped walking through the village because they always got lost. Note to that person and to many people: Follow the sun or find yourself an Emily and follow her.

Down the final narrow road through fine sand that painted our legs with evidence of our mischief, we were deposited out onto the opposite side of the island.

We washed off the dirt in the ocean and began walking barefoot, looking for soft spots to place our feet, dodging the rough debris of coral reefs. The moment I spotted it, I plunged my hand into the sand to pull out my buried treasure, whose corner had been sticking up just enough for me to notice.

Something deep inside me knew what I was stumbling upon before I dislodged it. I remember when I was here two years back, I was talking to my villa’s owner, Janny, about my experience with the manifestation of things in Bali — the way experiences, people, and objects would appear after I had spent time thinking or dreaming about them.

“It happens very quickly here; it’ll take you by surprise at first,” she said, without blinking at my claim of miracles and magic.

I held my Indonesian phrasebook and dictionary up into the sky like a torch: “I fucking knew it!” I shouted to Emily. She joy-laughed with me, mouth gaping with understanding.

image

I had spent the last two weeks dreaming of finding the perfect Indonesian language book to study with. Obsessing over it: something simple, something brief, something cheap. I had even been thinking about the book as recently as cutting through the village on our way to this beach. I had resolved to doing some Internet research when we returned to Bali to find which book had the best reviews, as I had seen many, but none seemed quite right.

My book in hand, Emily and I continued walking until we found a perfect spot to nestle into for the sunset and a Bintang. In front of us, we watched a man walk in ankle-deep ocean 30 meters from the shoreline, an illusion that still made us do a double-take every time we saw it. Behind us, one-by-one, people were balancing on a makeshift tightrope strung between two trees.

“I want to do that,” we both expressed with urgency, referring to different things.

So, Emily went off to walk on water and I went off to walk across the tightrope, alongside my new, if temporary, friends. It was incredibly difficult, I was terrible at it, and I loved it for that.

As the sun began to set, the whole island seemed to pause in silence for its moment of glory, like bowing our heads in prayer before supper.

image

By the time we left, energy was coursing through me — the most I’d had in months. At our next stop, I couldn’t sit still, so I began doing handstands in the sand. Sometimes very poor handstands on the uneven ground. Sure, there were a few people around; yes, I probably seemed foolish, proper adult woman I was meant to be, twisting and tumbling and slipping. But I didn’t care. I needed more activity; I needed to feel alive on a very physical plane.

I was suddenly determined to land in a backbend — a move I hadn’t attempted for 20 years. “Place your hand on my lower back?” I asked Emily, explaining my plot. She indulged me, and after three handstands, I allowed my body to curve over, landing on my feet.

I was ecstatic and continued trying without her help, sometimes crumbling or crashing into the sand, but not dying, never dying.

The long-held fear of these small risks is like a mom seatbelt when the brakes are slammed — you know what I’m talking about: her whole right arm across your chest, pinning you — just some extra reinforcement when you were probably already safe and, even if you weren’t, the seatbelt/fear was never capable of saving you.

But none of this was killing me. I was very much living.

We were on a mission now. We headed to the next spot, and Janny’s it happens very quickly here echoed again as we stumbled upon the bonfire Emily had been wishing for aloud for the past few days — the first we’d seen, right on cue.

More Bintang, more laughing with strangers, more crystal clear night sky, more handstands and — oh, headstands — and now fire and music.

Emily was singing along to a barely audible song on her iPhone when the woman approached from the now-dark shoreline: “I’m sorry? Are you saying something to me?”

“No, I was just singing,” Emily assured her, head still swaying.

The woman was from Hungary and shared her recent travels after she sat near us, once we had all smoothed the surface of the sand between us with a few minutes of small talk.

Fruzsina knew she was searching for something, she told us as we dug into her story with our questions, but on the day she left, she still wasn’t sure for what.

“And now?” Emily asked, her voice like a shovel clinking against the bottom layer.

“I discovered I am afraid of being alone.”

Our heads slowly bobbed in a knowing nod, in synch with the fire before us.

After more conversation, I collected her contact information, as I’d be in Europe soon.

We were light-headed. Maybe from the beer, maybe from the encounters we had just had with our own manifestations, with people we didn’t know but understood, with the parts of ourselves we were completely out of touch with. Whatever it was, we needed to keep going.

And we needed to eat.

Heading back to pay for our Bintang, we noticed a group of attractive men already at the bar. Our new friend was immediately engaged in deep conversation with one of them and we were on the road again.

We knew she was going to be okay.

We had our dinner in a familiar place and returned to our room. We were grateful for this perfect evening, perfect ending, as we had no idea there was more in store for us before we’d leave the island. We couldn’t imagine that anything could top this, but it would…

Stay tuned.

 

Photos courtesy of Emily Silva.

The Title Comes at the End

“You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.”

— Ray Bradbury

Blogging is clearly still new for me; hence, the very few articles. At some point, maybe I’ll blog with ferocity. That’ll be my goal in the near future. Although, trust me, intensity goes into writing these posts. I want every word to be just right, which is difficult at times like today when I find the word “blogging,” itself, to be, frankly, grotesque.

I suppose I haven’t really committed to the blog since I started it, but I’m working on it, the way a very independent person eases into a serious relationship, gauging: Is this worth my time? and Can I devote the necessary parts of myself to really carry my weight?

At a minimum, I know it’s a good exercise to keep me reading this world and to keep me writing one of my own.

I’ve realized during these first 10 days in Bali — since I’ve left my entire life behind: job, house, friends, family, and phone number — that I’m afraid I will be forgotten. I’m afraid I won’t be relevant anymore. But, was I ever?

image

The people who have loved me will continue to, and those who often think of me probably still will. But whoever’s hearts and minds I rarely occupied then I will probably occupy even less now. And what difference does it make?

That life back there is no longer mine. I’ve moved on and, even if I were to return, things would never be the same.

Someday, maybe some stranger will read what I’ve written and will praise it. If and when that happens, will his or her words matter more than those from the people who have always been in my corner in every ring, reading every word with care?

This morning, I watched a small bird try to settle down on a giant, seemingly sturdy leaf and that giant leaf turn completely flaccid beneath its weight.

You see, I asked for direction today before sitting down to write this post. I had no idea where it would go, but the universe responds in all sorts of surprising ways, sometimes bootlegging the answers into the seemingly random thoughts and whims that arrive without notice.

The bird was a swallow. What more arrowlike creature could I ask for to deliver the news with one gesture that:

We are greater than we know,

We are meant for flight, and

Flit forward on your own unique path; change direction as needed

?

What seems the most secure and tangible — a corporate career; large mortgage; reliable, if pricey, vehicle; and latest something or other to stay current — might only be as load-bearing as that oversized leaf on a tree with shallow roots.

Maybe I knew this somehow, although on a primal and instinctual level I can’t prove nor even explain here with data.

But I am coming to terms with having ventured out into the world, open-ended. It has required setting down an old and dusty lens in exchange for a new one, and my eyes are adjusting more and more each day. Although not without discomfort.

It helps that I’m meeting a very specific breed of people here in Bali. People who have all made the decision that travel is imperative. Most run their own businesses. Many are writers or musicians or artists. They each have a cause or purpose and all have some kind of belief system, even if it’s as simple as a handwritten list of tenets by which to live.

There is no better word for them but expansive. They believe that most of life is happening beyond the constructs we’ve each built for ourselves individually, the ones we often burrow into for long periods and forget to come up for fresh air.

They are confirming for me again and again that the only way we can expand is by stepping outward, into our discomfort. Why is that?

Comfort is comfortable because it fits perfectly, like an ugly ’80s turtleneck. You don’t notice it; it’s room temperature air when you’re very still. And if, in the meantime, you have grown wings that are bound in place by that snug garment, unfurling is both painful and necessary. Like working muscles after they’ve gone days — maybe even years — without use.

I’m at this stage again, as we all arrive here over and over throughout a lifetime. I feel it mostly, lately, whenever people ask me, “What will your book be about?”

It’s been a hard thing for me to answer and the fear of never writing anything of value or anything at all starts spinning its web in my head. I can’t even say yet what this post is about, but if I can make it to the end, I plan on titling it.

It’s not that I’m doing this whimsical gonna write a book type of thing, where there is no focus nor effort, only the hope that if I just show up, the book will write itself. That’s not what’s going on here, although I’m guilty of having such notions in the past.

Also, it’s not just the one book. Hopefully it’s bookwriting as a lifestyle and a livelihood.

I might start with a book on my transition from a messy childhood into an only slightly less messy adulthood, the climax of which is this journey I’m taking out into the big, wide world.

I might write a book entirely of the stories about my Nana’s life because she’s fascinating.

Perhaps I’ll begin by writing of a spiritual journey, lessons in personal growth — a shedding and rebirth of sorts.

Maybe I’ll try my hand at fiction.

image

I really don’t know which project I’ll start with just yet, but at my core I’m confident that discovering my direction is approximately a swallow weighing down a leaf away. That the answers will follow my actions, however arrowless they may seem right now.

Until then, I’ll just keep writing the wave.

P.S. Bali is swell.

 

Leap Now, Label Later


Shaken Apart and Set in the Slingshot

How four months have passed in a flash I can’t say. Why there hasn’t been a single word worth putting up on this blog site, I don’t know.

The truth, though, is that I do.

I have been in a sort of “figuring things out” stage for a while now. With this blog and with all of my life.

Last year I was so ruling the world I lived in. I owned it. I knew exactly who I was and where I was going. I had a plan and I had somehow managed to slow time down to a crawl. I was living in every moment. It was amazing. I was full of advice and wisdom for anyone who asked.

EV001382

During this period, I wrote 80 pages of a memoir in less than two months. I hired a phenomenal life and business coach. I started a business. I took on clients. I began this blog site. I was happily single, and I was generally unavailable to potential love interests, although I still had a full and fulfilling social life. Every day was packed with “wins” or small achievements I relished in. Life was brilliant.

At this time, I decided with utter confidence that I needed to travel and write for a living. I needed to become an author. I’d go to Bali and Ireland — I know, a strange pairing — and Thailand and Greece and Costa Rica and Spain. I’d sell my house, try to squeeze as much as possible out of the major remodeling investment it had turned out to be.

And it did turn out to be a gorgeous house in the end — I absolutely love it — but its place in my life had expired, and so did this period of co-ownership with an ex-boyfriend. This was the relationship that had the deepest impact on my life, and our time together was beyond tumultuous. Although we’re friends now and I’ll continue to hold him dearly in my heart for all the growing up we did together and apart because of each other, I needed to break the financial and, thus, energetic ties we shared through this home.

Things were blindingly clear for me.

And then in the fall, my great-grandmother, my nana, got sick. First, she fell in the middle of the night, wedging herself between her bed and dresser until her ride to church found her there after who-knows-how-many hours. She was taken to the hospital. Then she had a couple of “spells,” including one in which she thought she was having a stroke. Hospital. Then her gallbladder failed, and she was again rushed to the hospital, only to find out they couldn’t perform the necessary procedure to help her, as she likely wouldn’t survive it.

As a side note, my nana is my world. She’s my mommy. She’s my best friend. She’s my home.

After one very minor procedure, there at the hospital I watched her writhe in a pain I could neither fully grasp nor bear to see. This wasn’t the woman I knew. She was so full of morphine or whatever other kind of medication would kill this pain even if it meant killing her simultaneously.

During the next few days, I watched her decline. She mostly didn’t know we were there. She talked to entities we couldn’t see, reached for angels and light, and generally fashioned a blank stare as if her soul had already left her eyes. A doctor told us she didn’t look well and that we should prepare ourselves to say good-bye.

At the same time, a man I had met two-and-a-half years before started up a conversation with me from afar. Amid this most tragic time in my life. He was a bit younger, but the conversation was exhilarating. And offered some fertile soil for me to burrow my head into during this otherwise devastating period.

Yes, my mind blossomed from it and through it. We exchanged amazing letters. Wrote stories together and worked on plays and other creative projects.

In the meantime, Nana came out OK. She had a successful procedure and they ultimately removed her gallbladder after realizing her age of 98 didn’t have much bearing on the outcome.

By then, although things were back in place, I was smitten with this younger, yonder man. Even though I had initially referred to the situation as playing with fire. From afar, our curiosity grew, our creativity flourished, a strong friendship developed, and a deep love interest arose. He would visit me in February — five months after we had begun our exchange.

I knew there was a good chance I’d idealized him. We always fill in the gaps of a love interest with how and who we want them to be, so I expected some amount of disappointment. And received none.

I fell in love with him immediately. Within four days, he expressed that he loved me and I could finally stop holding on to my own words. We got to know each other’s family a bit in those days together. We spent every moment together without feeling smothered by the other. We were wrapped up in each other, incredibly comfortable. We went out for dinners and drinks often, we played racquetball, we worked on music, we wrote, we read, we cried when it was time to cry, we laughed uncontrollably, and we stared dumbly at each other, in awe of each other, during the quiet moments in between it all. We talked of cutting out the distance between us, of getting an apartment together in the city. We extended his trip from 6 to 10 days so we could carry on with our inseparability for a little longer.

I began thinking, yes, this is what I want. I will travel alone sometimes; maybe he can join me here and there, but I’ll be primarily based with him. We will have this beautiful life together. I have finally met my long lost.

Fast-forward to my visit to him less than a month later. Something had drained from us. We had some lovely moments, but I felt more tolerated than received by him. His fear had set in. He wasn’t ready for this. And he may have developed an interest in someone more practical by then or shortly after, someone more local, maybe even someone more right.

There was a slow, awkward, and painful peeling away from one another over the next three weeks, and then that was it. It was done. As if it had never happened.

But it had. My life had expanded and made a large cavern to fill up with him. And then he was gone, and the cavern felt… well… cavernous.

EV006582

So, forgive me for the silence. I have been trying to find the silver lining in the gaping hole. Trying to fill up the overwhelming empty space with other activities and people and distractions, and finally and more appropriately, with my own sense of wonderment and exploration again.

Because I am still going. Everything is working out perfectly to support this endeavor. Escrow will close on the house in about a week. Exactly two weeks for proper two-week notice to work before my plane leaves for Indonesia. My boss already knows and even offered me work when I return, should I circle back to conventional living.

The lesson in it all (I should say the latest lesson) is that I can’t wait to figure things out before making this move. I may have known with every square inch of me one year ago that this was the right plan, but the free fall from the cliff off which I’m about to leap today feels much less mapped out.

We believe we can figure out the future in our heads, but as my brilliant coach, Lisa Wilder, has reminded me, time and time again: The only way to make the unknown known is by stepping (or, in my case, leaping) into it.

So, even if my confidence has lessened a bit, even if my sureness and my excitement have dissipated some and are only barely, slowly building up again, I am going. I am going without knowing. Readiness is a fairytale.

It’s just time.

EV001989


Remembering Your Passion, Remembering Yourself

I just remembered: I LOOOVVVVE TEACHING YOGA!

I feel childish getting so excited over it. Like I should hold back a bit, make sure not to seem overeager. But I do, I effing love it.

I had forgotten this for years. I was teaching off and on at a local studio in the small town in which I’ve resided since 2009. I have taught in a few locations here, but mostly at one gym in particular. The classes were never really very large, although I had some regulars, and during some periods I would get between zero and two attendees.

I began to doubt myself. I felt I had lost that spark that once made me a good teacher. I believed it was poor marketing on my part, that I wasn’t warm enough to students. Because of the low attendance, I started going to class reluctantly, staring at the clock as it would land on the hour, room utterly empty. Then I would pray that no one showed up late because I would anticipate being embarrassed when their apologies for being tardy would quickly turn into surprise that there were no other people there.

EV004441

And you know the rules of association.

So I quit a lot. I’d try a new style or format of a class for a few months and, if it hadn’t grown by then, I’d cancel. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was utterly disappointed.

But I got the itch again recently. At first, I thought about it in terms of a little side money. I’d teach out of my living room. And then I learned my first yoga instructor and dear friend, Mary Oom, had opened a new studio, and my desired timeframe would conflict with one of her classes. So, I stalled.

Until we bumped into each other a few weeks back, and she offered me a spot on another day. I agreed, and while it’s only been a few weeks, I have that old feeling back.

I had a great class last night. There were old faces and new ones. The pace seemed generally appropriate. That’s always a good thing: a shared energy in the room.

And speaking of energy, what a difference it makes in the space in which you choose to teach. It’s not just that I’ve had more people in class (because it’s not even by much really) — it’s the space. I think it’s beautiful. It’s filled with decorations and furniture from Mary’s life. It feels lighter and more open. Maybe it wasn’t me and my bad marketing and my crappy personality after all.

Maybe I needed a space I felt I fit into. I can’t really explain the difference with words. It’s instinctive.

My Teaching Travels

I’ve taught yoga off and on for almost seven years now. I began in one of the best ways possible: my own instructor then — yes, Mary — desperately needed a substitute for her class, which I religiously took, and she felt I’d be the most fitting person. My immediate responses were:

“No, no, I’m not that type of person.”

“I don’t like to be the center of attention.”

“Just because I know the poses doesn’t mean I can teach them.”

“I don’t know the first thing about leading a group”

… and on and on. But she was persistent, and another friend who was with me when Mary first brought it up added even more pressure. “I think you should do it. You have to. You’ll do great.”

I wanted nothing more than to back out of the building as quickly as possible. Or to hide under the table where we were having lunch. To disappear from the world.

I finally said “yes,” at odds with myself and my searing anxiety. Whenever I thought about teaching or began practicing for the class, I was all nerves all over again. And then the day came, and I felt so unready for it.

And the same usual students showed up and I performed my script. I stumbled over my words a tad, as I still do now here and there, but it went well. We went through the poses we always go through. The students responded well, and — just like that — I was beginning my journey toward becoming a teacher.

The gym where the classes were held wanted me to get a basic certification and to add my name to the sub list. So I did. An 18-hour level 1 weekend training. The people there were like me. And many with much less experience. I didn’t feel so out of my element.

I returned and served as a substitute often. I became more comfortable. When I moved to San Francisco, I asked if I could teach at the nearby YMCA. They had time available but no money, so I volunteered for seven months until they gave me a paid class. I just loved doing it.

I entered a 200-hour training at It’s Yoga in San Francisco and my life changed drastically. This was my first dose of a month without work. A month in meditation, in breath, in asana. And constant mental stimulation. Learning about the different types of joints, about myofascia, about the connections between ankles, knees, and hips, and the connections between inhaling and lengthening in a pose, exhaling and settling into one.

This poured into the other areas of my life. My intuition replaced much of my thinking. I was writing every single day, and I was bursting with great ideas. I couldn’t get them on paper fast enough. Things I wanted to make, classes I wanted to teach, places I wanted to go, businesses I wanted to run.

Around this time, I also made a list of things I wanted for my life over the next year. I was specific — and I achieved all but one of ten items, including: Teach a yoga workshop at the Lakeport Yoga Center with at least twelve people. Fourteen attended.

I was living, breathing creation.

EV004026

So, I’m glad it all came rushing back to me — all the reasons I love teaching yoga. Here are just a few:

  1. Teaching yoga, for me, is a powerful form of meditation.
  2. It requires so much focus from me to be able to improvise an entire class — to do so with the most precise words so that the steps make sense. This is an excellent practice for me in flirting with the unknown, of playing without a plan.
  3. As a natural introvert, who has the tendency to be nervous in front of crowds, leading a room is critical to my sense of self-confidence and my feelings of connectedness with others.

It’s not about the money. When it comes down to it, it never has been. And I think this is when you know you’re in your passion, your calling — when you love doing it whether it’s paying your bills. The same way I feel as I write this post to you today.

Although, if anyone’s asking, I do take traveler’s cheques, carnival tickets, and Finnish markka…

Are there any old passions you’ve let fall to the wayside? Do you have hangups about them that are maybe no longer relevant? What are some things you absolutely love doing, even when you’re not getting paid for them?

If something here sparked something in you, please like or share this post. Or, better yet, indulge me with your own thoughts in the comments section below.


A New Year, a New Excuse Not To

I love beginnings. I’m kinda Rain Man with the numbers. My favorite trick is to randomly repeat back friends’ social security numbers hours or days after hearing them share this information over the phone or face-to-face with some company’s representative. Especially newer friends. I’m symbolism-driven, symmetry obsessed. Small things, like raspberries, almonds, and M&Ms: I have to eat two at a time — one on each side of my mouth. Or when February begins on a Sunday outside of a leap year, I love the perfect block shape it makes on a calendar.

The year looks like this to me: A counterclockwise-moving Atari Centipede:

MAY  APR  MAR

JUN            FEB

JUL             JAN

AUG            DEC

SEP  OCT  NOV

These things may not all seem related, but they are. Put the 1st of a month on a Monday and I feel ready for anything. It shifts my approach to the entire month. The previous month ends with the weekend, and this one starts completely fresh. I long for it.

So, although the lovely January 1 begins on a Wednesday, you can imagine what a 1/1 does for the psyche of someone like me. I know I’m not alone here.

EV004464

We all need some kind of metaphor to begin to live the lives we mean to live.

We think we’ll be ready for it then. We expect that on [the day we plan to start], we will become different people, that we will suddenly love our most-hated exercise and get through it easily, naturally stop reacting to our family’s bad behavior, and magically feel motivated to be creating in some form every single day. Only, we won’t.

Monday or the 1st or whenever your start day is comes and it’s hard to get out of bed and hard to get off the couch and hard to not spend 30 minutes Facebook-stalking your ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend or your new boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend.

It’s a work in progress, which can make the start date a disappointing one because you’re not going to get it then. Eventually you just might, but you’re not going to get it all on that day.

And nobody really wants to do the work, we just want the work’s rewards.

I’ve had this feeling so many times: I set a goal, hit the goal, celebrate the goal. And then, when the met goal is no longer ahead of me but just a regular part of my life, I become almost deflated. Or I at least slide back to the baseline and need something to look forward to again. Something to salivate over — what I may never have but desperately want: a new goal, a new driver.

But what are we trying to achieve, really? The perfect physique? Published book? I say not really. Again, these are just temporary rewards. What we’re really trying to achieve are better habits: regular exercise, regular writing. We’re trying to achieve identity: I am someone who exercises regularly, I am a writer. We’re trying to achieve experience: I am becoming stronger / better at this move or that, I am coming up with great ideas / becoming sharper.

I know most of you, like me, look at the approaching year as an opportunity, a chance to really do something, to really be someone, and this is nothing short of commendable.

But what if we restructure things a bit to make our goals actually achievable and to make the processes through which we meet them feel like the real rewards? What if we put emphasis on habits, identity, experience versus the desired outcome?

What if we don’t set ourselves up for failure but instead make our aspirations fail-proof?

What if we build flexibility into our routines?

As an example, one of my best friends plans to run five miles per week as opposed to a set distance per day. She likes to stay in good shape, but rather than working on a weight or inches goal, she works on keeping up her running, knowing it makes her feel great and fit. If she gets to Friday night and still hasn’t made it out the door that week, trust me: She’s running a few miles both Saturday and Sunday. Or if she’s traveling for work one week and can’t seem to get much of her run in, she pushes those five miles or their remaining portion into the next week. Things all even out eventually. And it’s not like these deviations happen the most often, but by giving herself the flexibility, she can never fail. Five miles per week equals about 22 miles per month and she’s likely to hit that milestone over and over by having a backup plan and a backup plan for her backup plan.

Dare to be nonlinear. Dare to deviate.

What if we start small and build slowly?

Back to the running: How does one mile per week sound? How about one mile per week walking or running or a combination? It’s almost laughable. But, it’s such an effective trick to feel that sense of achievement and its ease will likely propel you to do more than you’d planned. And then you can take on another half-mile or mile or miles.

What if we designate someone as our accountability partner?

There are so many ways to do this, and it can be very engaging. Sure, journaling can be a useful exercise, but most of us were born into a culture and even into families and then processed through an education system that sets us up to be obedient employees. So, self-discipline can be challenging. Our self-worth often doesn’t motivate us as much as anticipating “getting into trouble” by a boss or some other authority figure. So, OK, then let’s play into that.

EV003775

Find a close friend who also has goals to achieve. Write out a plan and check in with each other at set times to make sure the other is meeting his / her milestones along the way. Some other good tricks for accountability: If you’re the only one working toward a goal, write a contract detailing all you plan to accomplish and how, sign it, and give it to someone you trust to hold you to it. Set up some kind of reward for achieving it (in addition to the reward of the goal itself) and some sort of punishment for not. Don’t let designated contract holder let you bat your eyelashes and giggle your way out of such punishment when time is up. Or, even worse, go to http://www.stikK.com.

What if we started planning our goals from the perspective of already having achieved them?

The most common approach to reaching a goal is to set one, often with a specific date or timeframe in mind, and then begin working toward it. In other words, we put the goal on the top of a three-month mountain, and then start climbing. Exhausting. Let’s try something else: Start from the end point.

So what if you were able to start at the top of the mountain and, with a rope, slowly lower yourself down, stuffing some kind of peg into the mountain side every so often to aid you on your way back up. You’ve mapped it out and you know in order to get to the 10th and last step, you have to get to the ninth, which requires getting to the eighth, and so on and so forth — do you see where I’m going with this?

If you can sit and think about where you need to be by the time you reach the top, you can start setting microgoals or milestones.

A very elementary example: You want to save $500 for a long weekend trip in three months. Which means each month you have to put money away. March 31 is the date and you don’t have a ton of disposable income, but could manage to save up to $200 per month with effort. which means by month 2, because you could never save more than $200 in a month, you need to make sure you are no more than $200 short of your goal. In other words, by February 28, you need to have at least $300 saved. However, we want to build in some cushion (flexibility), so let’s make that $350. That’s our first milestone from the end point.

In order to save $350 by then, since you could never save more than $200 per month, you will have to have saved at least $150 by the previous month end, January 31. For some cushion on both sides, we can make that $175. Second milestone from the end.

Now, how does one go about saving $175 in one month? if you can only save $50 per week (x 4 = $200), then by week 3, you’ll need to have saved at least $125, by week 2 $75, and by week 1 $25.

Then we get down into the details. What we have to sacrifice, what effort we have to put in and at what rate. We write this into the plan.

With an accountability partner, there’s someone to check up on us to make sure we’re putting away a little bit of money at a time.  

By starting small, we only have to save $50 per week, and that seems much more feasible than $500 total.

With flexibility, we’re allowed to occasionally save less than $50 since our maximum potential for three months is $600 and we only need $500.

EV004489

Changing the ways in which we look at and approach our goals can mean the difference between repeating old habits again and really living what we once only dreamed.

Happy Happy New Year!

What have been some of your snags when not meeting goals you’ve set? Can you pinpoint exactly where you’ve gotten hung up in the past? What are some of the tricks you personally use or have seen others use to achieve goals with success? What could you do differently this year?

If something here sparked something in you, please like or share this post. Or, better yet, indulge me with your own thoughts in the comments section below.