Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Cheer!!!!

About a month ago, I gave notice to the African orphanage that I would not be sponsoring my two children for school anymore. It was a brutal, guilt-ridden decision, but I knew it was time. In just over two years, I’ve sent close to $3,000 and don’t even know if the children are doing well, let alone speaking english. If you recall this blog, you’ll remember there’s been trouble since the beginning :(.  I’ve since found out Mwajuma was walking 5+ miles to school even though I’d paid for transportation, and never did get verification for the ‘increase’ in school fees.  I haven’t had a photo since early 2013 :(. I was able to stomach it for a while because there are children involved, but it really just didn’t feel good. 

Luckily I’d found and contacted some other volunteers who’ve been there, and I heard at least they were actually IN school. I also learned that all the other children there had sponsors then, so the orphanage seemed to be having luck on that front. 

One thing I know and have accepted about myself, is that I like to give/get/see and feel results.  I like to build, to create, to express gratitude and appreciation loudly. I’m a very verbal and visual person, but also very visceral, and none of those needs were being met with this charity. :(.  I have to stop guilting myself, and just know that the two years of private school I provided for Mwajuma and Rogati has helped them immensely. Whether they go back to public school, or another sponsor comes along, they are ahead of where they were for sure.  I will hope and pray that I’ll get to actually have contact with them someday. 

One day, I hope we meet again :). Much love M&R! 

As for me now, I need a new way to give! One that I can feel great and happy and proud and SURE of! One that I can see and hear and feel  like it’s making a difference! 

My personal style of giving is typically non-monetary. I like to HELP. I’ll help you move, I’ll help you paint, I’ll help whatever. I’ll give you my time if we can do something productive with it. I’d rather help you wash your car than just go to lunch anyday! Volunteering is RADDDD! I even once won an award for a project about it!  It’s in my blood to DO :) 

BUT, I understand that money is where it’s at for most people in need.  As time becomes more and more precious and fleeting (seems like daily it’s flying faster), I can find the happy medium between giving money and time :).

SOOOOOOOO. yesterday, I was GIVEN multiple hundred dollars worth of goods and services all for simply kindness and goodness!!! Merry Christmas eve it was indeed!! I cried both different times I was so pleased/touched/honored. 

But the best part of it was, it got me thinkingggg!!!!! (surprise, surprise!)  I cried tears of joys for so long after my eyes are still swollen and barely open nearly 12 hrs later! 

What I realized is that I want to keep giving, but to someone closer to me, that I can see,  know and feel the positive change! Maybe this could be a tipping point to refocus someone down a positivity path that I want nothing more than to share!!!! It only takes a moment to shake things up :) 

Here’s my plan!  In this particular Christmas blog, I want to give someone special a one-time $500 Very Merry Season Cheer up check!!!  I’m not going to advertise this beyond the standard blog post because certainly I don’t want to get bombarded with requests...... and all the better if it’s a staple reader or good friend of mine going thru some financial struggles!  There will only be ONE recipient though, so please don’t think of me as money tree! Here’s what I’ve come up with to make it most fair, fun and thoughtful: 

  1. Please only inquire if you are having a significant financial need. You know what this means people... not to fund a purse or latte addiction. :) 
  2. Please write me a letter answering these five questions found here and Bonus question #6: What you think you can do (or already do) to help others in your own unique way? Yup, this is write-about-what’s-awesome, not-what-is-sucky essay :).  If you’re following #1 above, I’ll know you have a need and don’t need to hear about it. Instead rather, reflect on what you have, what you love, what you give, and what you are working towards!!  
  3. Please enjoy the process of doing this!!!! Since there will only be one recipient, I’d rather you feel good about writing and exploring your deep self, with hope but not expectation.

That’s it! Send it by Sunday night to my email, I’ll pick on Monday!  THANKS!!

Whyyy?? Why don’t I just keep the extra money I will have  since I’ll not be sending it to Africa anymore (especially with the expenses i’ve got coming up verrryyy sooonnnnn-- stay tuned!!!!)?  Because a million reasons, like those quotes above!!! 

... but there's one reason that is most profoundly stuck in my head, especially of late.  It's that my mother, with all her financial troubles and debt, is the most generous person on earth and my father, doing pretty dang nicely monetarily in recent years, is generous in his own way but certainly not financially.  I love my dad. He’s a RAD guy. He’s a stud, he’s a badass, good golly he still holds athletic records at his high school!! He’s smart, he’s motivating, he’s got a good heart, he’s playful, fun, he talks to everyone, he’s charming, he’s an all-around great guy. He’s willing to help with just about any projects (like father- like daughter). I’m super proud he’s my dad. But he’s got a pretty tight fist. Not clenched, but tight for sure.   

Mom on the other hand gives almost too much. Since pretty early, I’ve taken on this self-seated role of ‘protector’ over her because I feel people take advantage of that rare pure generosity.  It’s only been recently I have cracked the door of realization that she doesn’t want a protector. She likes to give, and she likes to give in bountiful, beautiful, unconditional ways.  It’s pure magic her soul.

So, my reason to give?  I find that I am 50% of both my parents' financial standpoints.  I can be suuupper generous, but I’ve also been a super saver my whole life (see my $ blog!). The reason I have money is because I don’t spend money without dang good reason and usually an exhausting internal debate (that is very likely the reason I don’t even like to shop). And as awesome as both my parents are, I can clearly see that I want to emulate the generosity. 

I know deep in my soul that to give is the greatest gift you can give yourself, yet I also really like to have a good reason!  Thus, I’ll just create a good reason, and for me, that is getting people to consider the beauty of life, and explore all of their potential :). 

Merry Merry Merry Christmas or whatever Holiday you may be celebrating this season!!! 
I LOVE YOU!  :) 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

I must be a mermaid :)

October 28th, 2011. Three years ago today I worked my last day at the Weber Studio. Seven magnificent years of architecture concluded with one fantastic going-away party, and a giant faithful leap towards who-knew-what at that time.  

What did I want? What did I need? What was missing in my life?? What was that little voice saying that persuaded me to leave such a ideal life??

I didn’t have a clue what it was saying, just that it was talking. Telling me Miami wasn’t for me. Telling me there was something else, somewhere else, and that maybe even I was someone else.

Every fabulous moment since then has led me here, to the middle of the earth Ecuador; to this extraordinary place, this powerful, beautiful, spiritual, transformational place perched on the hillside of the Volcano Ilalo.  Let me tell you about Casa Kiliku.  It's a hotel, a home, an ashram, a yoga school... it's a paradise :).

I came here to throw myself back into health: of body, mind, heart, and soul. It's working beautifully :). Ultimately, we are here getting our certification to be tantric yoga teachers.  The reputation of the word 'tantra' in the western world is almost totally known for it's sexual means, but that's only the tip of the iceberg. Tantra itself is a rich Yogic Tradition of personal and spiritual transformation, easier felt than explained ;). "The optimal achievement is utmost happiness simply with being alive and in a state of ecstasy to access our full potential as individuals."  Tantric yoga is the most ancient of all yogas. It is slow, relaxed, drawn out, building patience and awareness. A full tantra yoga class is 2.5 hours, of which over half is total relaxation, laying motionless (savasana) between every active position. The asanas (the poses), although deliberate and essential, are less important than your the state of mind. We don’t correct our student’s bodies, at all. We aren’t even learning the meticulous positioning ourselves. Almost all of the series can be completed with eyes closed, so there is no pressure to 'perform perfectly' … it's all about the relaxation. Tantric yoga’s objective is to create a habit of taking your moment of relaxation before you begin the action; and this can be transferred to everyday life. Breathe. Relax. Calm. Then act with purpose and intention.

Yes we are here to become teachers, but in same way that a tantra yoga class is more than physical, this entire experience is soooo much more than gaining a certificate.

Everyday (and all day) we do our yoga, but it feels like a small percentage of our very full days. More-so we do meditations, we learn mantras and mudras, we have classes about chakras, our energy channels, shamanism, ayurveda, our prana (life force). We are learning about the elements and energies in relation to our bodies and the universe. Which organs produce with emotions, which movements move our energy, which foods work with our strengths and areas of improvement in relation to our Doshas. We are learning tantric massages and greetings, foot reflexology, facial shiatsu, tools to communicate effectively in all relationships, carnal or platonic. We are learning how to dance within ourselves.

One day we learned a fabulous tantric dance, which was nothing more than moving intuitively to the loud, pounding music. Up, down, around, smooth, fast, slow, laying, standing, crawling... No shame, no correction, no right way, no wrong way. You must stay in your body. You must always be present and aware of what you are feeling and wanting and needing. You can’t always try to give and do.  Once you love yourself, then you can love others. It was incredible. Everything here is incredible, seriously! 

There was Ayurveda day-- 4 hour class by a swiss doctor, passionate about holistic living. “You must stop putting shit in your body. You can do all the work you want, but if you are full of garbage you do nothing. Food is medicine. You must do good in the world. You must find your purpose and share it with the world. When you gain knowledge, you must share it or else you are a thief. Don’t eat meat...animal treatment is horrible and must stop. Practice non-violence to the self, to others, and to animals. Get rid of your ego. Be humble. Serving is the easiest path to gratitude.” 
Whoa. whoa. whoa. Everything I have learned in the last 3 years and bits throughout my whole life, all came rushing back in this intense and powerful presentation, capped off by a ridiculously amazing fire ceremony of singing and offering and bonding.

We had a rad visualization where we envisioned our bodies as a tree, our feet were grounded. We imagined roots sprouting from the soles going deep deep into the core of the earth, where we found the red hot magma. From there we pulled it back up our roots and into our 1st chakra, the root of our being. We visualized pulling the sky down in through our crown, filling every cell of our body with light. It was awesome. Felt so real, so intense.

There was an amazing kundalini yoga session (well, many), with a kriya that is meant ‘to break bad habits and allow new improved ones to enter’. You hold your arms up and out, stretched, flexed, without moving for 11 minutes... you ‘think’ you are dying, that you can’t hold them anymore....but you use your breathe, your prana, and your willpower to keep them up and keep going. Wow... I can see why it’s meant to ‘break’ habits. It’s clear that the physically challenge is but a tool to prepare for the mental challenge. Yes, yes yes, it did make me feel like I can conquer whatever challenge!    

We learned a tantric greeting, sitting knee to knee in diamond pose, hands in pranama mudra (prayer). You lean forward to touch foreheads, and while staring into the eyes of the other, stay there and sing three Om’s.  Then you sit back and say, “I accept you just as you are in my life.”  It’s simple and beautiful. 

Another dance: first with eyes open, looking at nothing in particular, but able to see everyone. As we danced, the idea was to simply react to what you saw without really seeing it. Full freedom yet similar movements. Then we changed to extended full eye contact with another as you whirled around the room. A powerful exercise, discussing that when we looked directly at someone, it would bring up insecurities (am I doing it right? does it look okay? what will be next? will I be able to follow?) whereas the big picture view, without eye contact, had much less pressure. This is amazing, relating to how easy it is to just go through the world without ever looking into people’s eyes to avoid the uncertainty. But, if you stay within yourself, focusing on your center and feeling love for self and the other, what an strong connection you can share; as well as growing your own confidence. 

Once we just sat across from each other, and simply looked into each others eyes for 5 minutes, no talking. What you see is what you get. Here I am, there you are, we are both perfectly imperfect. I love these exercises, looking into others eyes really feels like a window to their soul, and bearing mine is one of my favorite things :). 

We started one class by re-familiarizing with the anatomy of the body, an introduction to the Alexander Technique:  Learning how and where our bones attach and how they want to move.  From there we lay on our backs and are walked through a birth, to crawl, to walk dance, always aware of every movement and every bone, aware of it’s own intuition.  Wow!  For me it felt like a great first dance lesson: focus on your body, forget what you ‘should’ be doing. 

Then there was the Temazcal!!! Better know to most as a Sweat Lodge, but soooo much more; an ancient art of expelling old and inviting new, of purification. Wow, powerful! It was a very small dirt hut, a half dome, dug into the ground such that you had to crawl in. When closed, it was completely dark aside from the embers of the fiery rocks. It was very ritualistic, with a certain way to enter, certain things to say. Christian, the calm and peaceful facilitator, would periodically sprinkle herbs on the volcanic rock. It would sparkle and dazzle before smoking into an aromatic vapor, almost instantly turning our small space into a sweat machine. I was dripping, like full-on-body-dripping, but I wasn’t miserable. It was beautiful. We chanted and prayed and rubbed special herbs all over our soaking bodies.  I untied my shawl and just let it pour out of my naked and unmasked me.  It felt as if there was a clear signboard in front of me: This is the path I want to be on... this one of unique and powerful experiences: with open mind and heart and spirit.... and a whole lot of sweat. Ohhh, I do love to sweat :).

Fancy photography… the grass was not really red ;)

We learned a RAD interaction, where we sit face to face, knee to knee, and each take 10 minutes to monologue about what we are feeling. No interruptions, no talking, only listening to the other. We do it twice each, with no reply except to thank each other for sharing and for listening.  Wow, this. This!!! It’s such an honor to be confided in, to be the recipient of such honestly, such vulnerability, such real pain and fears.  It’s a relief to share mine as well, without judgement or advice, just listening. 

We learn another interaction, similar, but where we actually lay next to each other, side by side as if we were in bed! ;) The mere act of being in this position actually does provoke a closeness. There we experience two types, a dialogue, talking back and forth for ten minutes, and then again a monologue, no responding or interrupting at all. The dialogue vs the monologue is very interesting... When in a dialogue, it’s so easy to reply, to put advice, to console, to advise, to think about what you will say, to turn the story back to yourself... but when you aren’t ‘allowed’ to respond at all, there is a huge pressure released, for both parties. As the speaker because you know you won’t be judged or given advice, and as the listener because you just listen! No need to come up with a reply, or think at all really. Just listen. I love this!  I dare you to try this with your loved ones :). 

We learn an incredible Shiva/Shakti interaction dance. Shiva (the male part) is the intention, the stimulus; and Shakti (the female part) is the response, the movement. Acting as Shiva, I would touch or shift a part of the other’s body (acting as Shakti), and with the touch, she then translates that touch into some dance movement, whatever it feels like it should be. Then we switched and I receive some small touch or beginning of a movement and transform it as I felt. Ohhhhhhh, soooooo sensational!!!

We learned a tantalizing tantric massage, which of course is great to use with your partner, but can be used between anyone you want to connect with. We’re urged as the receiver to sigh, make sounds to affirm that it feels good, to let the giver know you are enjoying.  Giving, not just receiving, a massage is a gift. I remember hearing this years ago. The gift of making someone feel fabulous: YES. 

After all of these exercises and interactions we always discuss how it felt, what was our experience.  In doing so we are not only practicing our communication, practicing being vulnerable, but seeing how experiences can be so different or so similar in the same space, growing our empathy, our hearts, our horizons. 

There was a Full moon, red moon, female uterus healing ceremony.  There was an evening of ethnic music from Ruben Silva, a shaman who played at last 15 different native instruments in a dream-like state. Of course there was the life-changing San Pedro Medicinal Ceremony-- which was so powerful it got it’s own blog (here!). I’m still marveling about that, and feeling it’s everlasting impact.  

Full moon celebration 

All of this has happened in just over three weeks here at Casa Kiliku. It was built 20-some years ago by Iris Disse, a visionary woman from Germany. She is a tantric master,  an author, an ambassador for the indigenous people, a filmmaker, a changemaker. She is a woman of humble wisdom, awareness, authenticity, enthusiasm and ambition.  I loooveee her :) 

There’s Daniella, the main manager, petite but powerful, honest and hardworking and a true pleasure to communicate with. She is extraordinarily gifted in Chinese medicine and shiatzu massage, and shares her knowledge freely and thoroughly. I loooooveee her! 

There is Satya, the elegant beauty of Kundalini yoga and shakti dance. She is Italian/Croatian, a walking goddess whose every movement is graceful, peaceful and full of compassion.  I loooovveee her!!!

There’s Jackie and Erika, Caridad, Nuria, Monica, Shadia, Valentina, Nancy, Fanny, Mercy, and Catty. Each of the women (and two girls-11 and 10!!!) have talents and fears and a beauty that deserves tribute. Isn’t it true that everyone you meet has a story worth knowing?? A true pleasure of life is getting to know someone beyond the superficial layer, and it’s a place like this that creates a catalyst for connection. 

Always a good time w/ these ladies :) 

Satya and I in hammocktime:) 

Always tea time :)

"Dia de Los Muertos" celebration

Karma Yoga- trash clean up fun! 

Karma yoga--- New Garden!!

How and why did I end up here? Fate. Destiny. The guiding hand. Karma. The universe... all of these and more. The exact path of my future from here is deliciously unknown, but what’s been clearly and perfectly revealed is that I adore a life of wide-openness. My heart beats for this intangible but incredibly real sense of connectedness,  tenderness, benevolence, authenticity.

I get that a lot of these things that are happening here may seem way out-there for some people; that’s cool, I still love you and won’t press it on you :). Too eccentric, too hippy, too spiritual... but I am in love, and I think all of life is about finding where you can be in love, where you can thrive.  Being here has attuned me to that inner voice.  It started talking to me long ago, whispering to me since my first semester of college in Miami 2000. It got louder in 2011, finally convincing me to leave what many would consider a perfect life in Florida. It lead me subconsciously to my first ashram experience in Australia, then to India to delve into the spiritual world. It lead me to the commune in California, gave me doubts as I started fine tuning the Bloom Woods too rigidly last winter, exposed me to the fast-paced falseness of this summer that I absolutely don’t want, and it has lead me here to Ecuador, to this magic place, to seal the deal.  The more unconventional,  the better :). 

Three years ago today I started the journey of a lifetime, which has only just begun!!!!!  Slowly, slowly, bit by bit, I am finding my way, and it's soooooo EXCITING!!! Tantric yoga is an apt analogy for my life:  Slow down, relax, rejuvenate; profoundly enjoy the simple, the small, the quiet... and then, the action!!!  Deep, powerful, meaningful action!!!

Balancing the extremes, making them work in harmony... this is me in a nutshell :) 

When I think back over the last three years, all of my favorite memories, of many forms, have the common thread of great depth. Whether that was via chanting, dancing, silence, climbing, hiking, connecting, creating, writing, loving, appreciating, bonding, persevering, overcoming… the vehicle doesn’t much matter...

 ...  clearly though:

Hehe :) xoxo

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

La medicina de San Pedro: Living in Love

Last Saturday night I participated in one of the most amazing experiences of my life.  Forget an introduction, let’s just get right to it :)

The whole thing started at 6pm, or well, it was supposed to anyways. Shamans, like Miamians, seem to enjoy being fashionably late... they arrived at 8:30pm ;). haaaah!

I had been warned this was to be expected though, and we prepared in kind. At 6pm I went to Satya’s apartment, where she and Dani were preparing the offerings of herbs and amaranth and chocolate and tobacco and such, drinking mate.  How'd you learn about these things? I ask. Over time and exposure. Ahh, such is life :). Satya had her tarot cards out, and we all decided to pick one.  Mine was “el tierra”, the earth, and it said “concreto sus deseos”, specify your desires.  Ahhh yes, I'm working on it :).

We set up the studio with large mats, pillows and blankets. This ceremony will be all night they say, so make it comfortable :). Upstairs, we also prepared a huge banquet of fruits and breads and cheese for the morning. This ceremony will end with a feast :). 

The night before, 5 of us girls had gone out salsa dancing in Quito (so fun!), so I was running on only about 5 hours of sleep.  By the time people started arriving, 13 in total, I was struggling to keep my eyes open.  Ummmpphhh.   I could barely muster up the desire to introduce myself, let alone converse in spanish, so I stayed quiet at first, not knowing what to do anyways since this whole medicinal ceremony was so new.

All I knew beforehand was that we shouldn’t eat, we were going to drink the medicine of the San Pedro cactus, and that I should have an intention, or a prayer, that I wanted to concentrate on. That would be what I would be asking the grand spirit, the mother earth to help me with. 'Specifying my desires' is pretty dang close :). 

The first hour after they arrived was just preparing. The shamans readied their altar, complete with all sorts of bottles and stones and flowers and feathers and carvings. Ruben, the shaman wife, then meticulously prepared a flower alter around the center fire that would burn all night.  It was upon this fire they would ritually throw herbal offerings, and from which we all would wave the smoke upon our heads and our hearts. 

I think we officially started around 10pm. With a beautiful introduction by Bladi, the shaman. He explained to us all the expectations: we weren’t allowed to have water. If you needed to go to the bathroom you had to walk there in a certain direction. If you had to puke you needed to ask for a bag and not do it in the toilet (so it could be given back to the earth). If any woman had her period, she had to receive a special ritual before beginning. He made clear that from that moment on, we were a family unit, and should anyone have to leave, we would be incomplete until they returned. It may seem extreme, but it didn't feel that way. Especially when he also explained to us what this was: a true ceremony. We were here to get in contact with our Mother Earth, to thank her, to appreciate her, to feel her, and to connect with her. We were here to understand what our subconscious already knows, that we are all connected, all of us and everything and everyone on earth. Then we passed around a sacred cigarette, and with our 4 smokes each, expressed our gratitude and also our prayer for the night. This section alone took around 90+ minutes, everyone in the room really expressing so much love and gratitude. It was beautiful. 

Then, the first round of the medicine. We came one by one in order of our seating arrangement to the altar, receiving the cup from Ruben. Before partaking, we offered it always to the center fire first, and made a little request. Mine was always for my heart to be open always. The taste was bitter, but not brutal, and followed with an irrepressible shudder from top to bottom ;).

Early in the night, the feelings were simple as the medicine started to kick in: light, airy, dreamy, happy. There were times I thought I would fall asleep, but then a new song would enliven me. This shaman family seriously produced the most beautiful music I have ever heard.  Bladi, the father, or Miguel, his spitting image son, would play the guitar and both would sing in perfect harmony. At times they would chant incredibly fast, incomprehensibly, and I was amazed at how precisely perfect they could stay together. Ohhh and then the mother---the most flawless, high pitched, soft, smooth, profound voice, rounding out the family band in the most precise moments. The Shaman informed us this is the most important part, that we must sing along. Shortly into it, Bladi calls me out, noticing I was half in/half out because of the spanish lyrics and my musical impediment. He says I must sing!  I’ve learned a lot about mantras and chanting over the past two weeks, the vibrations of the sounds seeping into your subconscious; relaxing, calming, connecting with the frequencies of nature and the universe. Ok, "voy a cantar", I will sing :).

Throughout the night, we have 4-5 rounds of the medicine. Every time was optional, because the chance of vomiting is real, but for me there was an insatiable desire to have more, to get the most from this experience. Between rounds there was singing and chanting and hilarious comedy mixed with sincere teachings. Bladi is a true joker, teasing Jose, our Spaniard, about his accent.  Poking fun about this and that, going back and forth with his son. Often he would ask about ‘our family’, how are we doing.  He tells us different ways we can appreciate and agree with each other, by saying: ah-ho, ah-hey, yaaaaaa, neeeeeyy, all in his own funny way. There is much laughing, and multiple times more love.

I’m not sure at what point it happened, but soon my chest felt like double it’s size, the beat of my heart loud and obvious. The true understanding of what this ceremony is about hails down upon you: Love is all there is :). 

I was sitting next to Satya. We had spoken about sitting near each other so that she could translate for me (remember this is all in spanish!), but after the first hour or so I didn’t need it. I understood everything. It’s very interesting, when you stop trying to capture every single word, and instead capture the essense, the reactions of others, the understanding within you. With all inhibitions dropped, and this amazing feeling of non-judgement, I was pretty impressed with my comprehension :). 

But the best reason for sitting next to Satya, was because we were able to share all this love that was so unmistakable in the room.  Many times we would lean on each other, hold hands, just acknowledge each other.

Her ex-boyfriend happened to be there, and let me tell you, it was ammmmazzzzing to feel their love for each other, even despite their separation.  Like nothing else, this medicine opens your eyes and heart to feel everything wonderful in the world, and every look these two had with each other was magic. Satya and I had this great unspoken language, where we would look at each other and thru our eyes were talking about this magic that was happening between she and he.  I started rooting silently for their reuniting :).

To my left side was an Ecuadorian guy named Victor. He has done a ceremony like this about 5 times, and was excited for it being my first.  In the beginning we were perfect strangers, but it didn’t take long for our friendship to solidify.  I found this quote that is absolutely dead-on: 

"If we could sniff or swallow something that would, for five or six hours each day, abolish our solitude as individuals, atone us with our fellows in a glowing exaltation of affection and make life in all its aspects seem not only worth living, but divinely beautiful and significant, .... it seems to me, all our problems (and not merely the one small problem of discovering a novel pleasure) would be wholly solved and earth would become paradise."

Yep, exactly. It must have been about 5am when we took our last sips of the medicine. By this time there was no doubt we were all in it, really feeling like we were under the guidance and direction of something incredibly spiritual. From there we started our closing ceremony.  I believe the idea was to pass around the sacred cigarette again, taking turns again expressing gratitude and your feelings. But Miguel (the ex-bf of Satya) was having an amazingly beautiful moment, and continued his gratitude for probably an hour. It was amazing, I was crying! Ohhhh these two!! So fantastic are both of their souls!  

Finally we just went around the circle to express ourselves (because the cigarette was smoked!) When it came to me, I started with an english “Wow” :).  How grateful I was to have been able to be a part of this, to have had all the cards of my life to unfold just as they had to put me there at that moment, and to remember how amazing love is. Love really is the answer to everything.

As the sun came up and the ceremony ended, we all became much less formal, and much more bonded. We laid about, some people swayed to the music. Someone went and got the fruit from upstairs and that was the best idea ever. Every bite of mango, papaya, banana, apple, bread, cheese--- oh it was heaven :).  The shamans played amazing music, and made hilarious jokes. Victor and I tried some Acro yoga, Satya and Miguel had reunited in this blissfully amazing love story and couldn't help but gaze at each other. All the talk was incredibly positive, powerful, enlightened. I laid on Iris, the director here, and Dani, and we joked about how I had been so resistant to the fact that I can understand spanish... and here was the great proof :).  We hugged and squeezed and smiled so much my jaw was beginning to hurt :). 

About 10 ish we finally started the clean up, and the walk up to the main building. There was the partaking of soup, and then long drawn out goodbyes, a million true big bear hugs (the best kind!).  At 11:30am, I retreated to my room. I took the most wonderful shower of all time. I laid in my bed for quite a while just euphoric. Wow :).

I’ve written many times about love. I love love. It is the root of my happiness :).  When I first left the country for my big travels back in late 2011, I was madly madly passionately in love with my ex.  We talked a bit about staying together, but we did not. Amazingly, that didn’t diminish my love one bit.  I have said many times that I think the success of my international travels that 2012 came from the fact that everyday I was so in-love, and even when it became clear our future was not together, my in-love status stayed.  That was the beginning of my real understanding of life and love.  You can live in-love, regardless of whether or not there is a specific person accepting that love. By loving every moment, every thing, every place, every experience, every lesson, every challenge, every stranger (who is simply a friend you haven’t met yet;) you can create that wonderful giddiness similar to that of young love. 

This experience with the San Pedro cactus reminded me of that. There are millions of things I love right now, it's only to necessary to acknowledge and appreciate them.  This experience was definitely one of them :) 

And no, I don’t think of it as just a trip on a recreational drug.  Technically, yes, this ‘medicine’ of the San Pedro cactus produces mescaline, which for me had very similar sensations to that of twice-taken Molly (ecstasy).  But, aside from the super loving state, it didn’t feel like those times, it didn’t feel like a party. It was different, it was guided, it was intentional, it was a gratitude celebration, a ceremony entirely devoted to connect, grow, learn, awaken, to open your eyes and heart. I felt a connection with the world, with the earth, with everyone and everything, rather than just my bf. The juice of this cactus has a long history in Andean medicine, has been used by shamans and healers for religious, therapeutic and restorative ceremonies favorably for over 3,000 years! They call it the teacher plant, and oh what a master teacher it is! You’ve more than liken heard or read that ‘we are all one’.  To actually experience this oneness is an incredible gift. 

What are we here on this earth for it not to make it a little better for all of mankind? What easier way to do that then by simply loving :).


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Adventure & Ashram Magic :)

Wow wow wow wow wow... oh what magic a good adventure, good connections, and good rest can do for me!! 

Our bodies, our minds, our spirits... they cannot be fooled.  They know what they want, and when they get it, they react instinctively to let us know we're onto something :).  For me, mine reacts in pronounced jubilation and genuine glee!!! 

After a somewhat lackluster summer,  my soul just got reignited by hanging off the side of Rucu Pichincha, a stratovolcano here in Ecuador :). It was an adrenaline-pumping, focus- frenzied, totally present, physically-draining, spirit-enlivening adventure! 

Take a look:

Please excuse that it’s sometimes dizzying in fast forward mode! 
The best clips are right around 2:00 and 4:15 if it’s too much to watch the whole thing :) 

Holyyyy shit, eh?? It was sooooo rad, so so so so so rad.  There were definitely a few spine-chilling moments. The wind was strong, the clouds were moving in, it was getting cold, the path was often unclear, oxygen was low, my water was running out, what was coming ahead was totally unknown and there was no going back the way I had come. I love these moments; when the faith in myself rises up, and I just have to trust I'll find the way and be able to make it.  One of my favorite reason I love nature, it's always a great analogy to life!  :) 

The day started at breakfast with my three roomies: French Canadians Mathieu and Marco, and Jillian from Philadelphia. We were all staying with a local Ecuadorian family, a ‘professional mother’ who has been taking in foreign students from the local spanish schools for over 30 YEARS!!  She was a wonderful, sprightly woman, always offering you food and a big ol' smile:). 

Olga and I after church on Sunday. 


We four took a couple local buses, to a short walk up the hill to the TereferiQo, one of the highest gondola lift’s in the World. It takes you up the east side of Quito, itself already 9,350’ ASL, and drops you off at a mere 13,451’. Holyyyyy elevation. If you’re not up on your height data.... that’s as high as the tallest mountain in Utah. Dang. At that height and diminishing oxygen, even the slightest of hills causes shortness of breathe.

Riding up was a marvel already. It’s a worthy tourist attraction:). Quito is a huge city tucked down into a valley, surrounded by mountains and volcanos. It’s gorgeous. Upon arrival, we took the obligatory tourist photos, and started our hike at 11:11am. I made sure to point this out, and we all made a wish for each 1 :).   

After an hour of slow and steady trekking, through phenomenal views and landscapes, we came across Wayne, a friendly expat who has lived in Ecuador about 10 years (retired there). He’s climbed this mountain at least 70 times, and was eager to give advice, for which I am so happy, because he’s the one who told us about the ‘alternate ridge route’. 

He, originally for Leavenworth, WA (therefore a fellow rock climber) says, ‘when you get to the first set of rocks, if you go to the left you can scale the rocks and eventually get to the peak.’ To the right is the easy path he says.  He points out there is a tricky part to the left, but if you are a rock climber, it’s not a problem, around a 5.3 (in rock climb talk that’s nothing). 

We hike on, me at the very back of the four, my heart pounding! I’ve been upwards of 18,000’ a few times, but this is not something you get used to! I was a turtle, because it was hard but also because it was amazing. Every step up revealed something new... in the rocks/ fields/ flowers/ drop-offs around us, as well as a bigger glimpse of the city below. Amazing. After a lunch break, and more ooh’ing and ahh’ing, we arrived to referenced rock portion. Where, I might add, mountain bikers had carried their bikes up and were cruising from there alllllll the way down to Quito... a 5000’ descent. Rad! (planning my chance to get at that for sure!)

Amazing :) 

This bird came to say hello! 

Necessary Nap time :) 

When we came to what vaguely looked like the split, I was quite a ways behind the others. They had gone to the right. It took only a moment to decide I wouldn’t follow. I yelled that I would go left and see them at the top. They yelled and asked if I was sure i wanted to go alone. No doubt! “Don’t worry", I yelled... "I’m a mountain goat” :) haha

And I was off. Best decision ever :)

That was around 1pm. From there on, DANG Wayne! Either he’s a professional exaggerator, or I went the wrong way, because 5.3 my ass!!! The next two hours of my life were pure heaven: meaning packed with adrenaline and giant cliffs and massive views and overcoming fear!  A number of times I was totally free-soloing (which means rock climbing without ropes).  The climbs were easy in terms of rock climbing, maybe like 5.5, 5.6 because the holds were excellent... but hanging on the edge of giant windy cliff drops without ropes makes one check and double check each hold!!! WEEEEEE!!!!! 

I fucking LOVEDDDD IT (excuse my language;)! Good lord, I was sooooo high on life.  When I got to the top of the first ridge I saw there were many peaks to go, meaning it was going to take me a lot longer than expected to get to the summit. I felt bad that my roomies might be worried or wait for me... but I couldn’t let that get to me because there was too much amazingness to be felt and nothing I could do about it then (plus I think they could tell I was quite the independent from our prior days chatter :).

It’s really incredible how pure and amazing my happiness is when I’m out in nature, especially when it’s freaking bomb-ass-ridiculously amazing nature :). Every cell in my body was alive and jumping and celebrating (despite not being able to breathe fully)!

For the last hour, I was climbing mostly in clouds. That happens at such heights :). At times there were amazing peeks of blue sky and getting to see the city below that I paused to take in, but at the same time it was also becoming freezing and my hands were getting immobile. Better hustle up because it looked like it could rain any moment. 

When I finally got to the top, I yelled and yipped and was so stoked I’d made it!!!! I was giddy as all get out, making it easy to quick make friends with the only other person on top, a woman named Monica that had passed us during our lunch break earlier. 

She took my picture for me, and a minute later both my phone and go-pro died. Always I feel a moment of sorrow, and then relief when that happens :).  

4,696m/15,407' Summit! 

Then something super wonderful happened, Monica and I bonded in a really remarkable way. We sat together in silence and just took it all in, then decided that my little spanish and her little english were perfect to practice together. We started to descend, down the “standard path” and I quickly realized that not only it wasn’t easy at all (the main hike itself is still a feat) but there would have been slim to ZERO chance I would have found the way without her.

She led me down what was more lie a ‘non’ path (because it’s all rocks at that height, so no real path). She has been to the summit 5 times in her life, and it’s always hard to find the way back, so this time, she had put little white chalk marks and arrows on strategic rocks.  Smart woman!! With the clouds as they were, you could barely see 10’ in front of you. I kept blowing on my hands to warm them and she insisted I take one of her gloves.  Awww :) 

After about 10 minutes of navigating only by her marks, I realized she was my angel. She had been sitting at the top for quite a while, just sitting there taking it in. Interesting :). Our bond was fast and furious and we somehow managed to chat like were were long lost best friends. By the time we got down the deal was sealed, I love her! We took this ridiculous gondola photo, ate some traditional Ecuadorian food, and waited 45 mins to take the teleferiqo back down. We happened to be seated with 4 Columbian singers, who sang (I prefer to think they were serenading us) the whole way down with their amazing voices. 

Monica saved me for fun.. but also for real! 

The standard schedule at my homestay is dinner at seven.  I was getting really nervous that they were going to be so worried that I wasn’t there.  Nightfall had come, so we decided to take a taxi.  We were both so tired on the drive home I put my head on her shoulder and she held my hand. It was so amazing. I bought two copies of the funny photo so we’d both have the memory together, and we each wrote letters to each other on the back. Both letters so full of love and gratitude for each other. What a fabulous connection, again without even perfect verbal connection (reminds me of my Italian gpa in Austria!).

I arrived home at 7:05pm :).  Gained this crazy burst of energy to reconnect with all my roomies and swap experiences and how sorry I was if they had worried! Turns out they didn’t even make it to the top because of the cold and clouds so I was extra happy I had went my own way! Ahhhhhhhhhh, a most fabbbbbuuullooouuusss day!!!  

Such is the amazingness of the mountain and the connection of souls. What a day, what an experience. I feel like I needed that day so much, and didn’t even realize it until it was there. Just this amazing reminder of doing what feeds you, and how powerful a good connection can be. That’s another thing my soul craves: real, honest, quality connections. Where open emotions, soulful conversation, high vulnerability, and non-judgmental communication lead to that fabulous intuitive surety that you’ve met an incredible person. 

Monica and I have since exchanged other endearing emails. Turns out she needed that day in her life as I much as I had.  Fate I call that :). 

The next morning I was ablaze with joyfulness. I went to church with Olga, mi madre Ecuadoriana, and then hit the old town with a new roomie, Hannas from German. We explored el centro historico for a wonderful couple hours. This feels like my regular mojo.  I broke down and finally bought myself some new shoes. It was sad to say goodbye to the awesome old ones :)  

They did me well ;) 

Then it was off to my ashram. OH MY GOSH. I took the local buses (an hour worth of travel for .55 cents!) and arrived at a little past 4.  I met Daniela and Satya, two instructors-- beautiful souls. They showed me my room and I was delighted beyond delight to unpack and know I would be there for a month without having to pack again!!!!

I explored the grounds and just had this wonnndderful feeling of YES YES YES.  It took me back to my other ashram experiences. It’s so amazing how a place can give a vibe, an amazingly welcoming and peaceful and home vibe :). The Bloom Woods shall have this vibe :) 

My room! So bright :) 

The outside wall and balcony
Balcony view :) 

Sweet Staircase

Mi casa from the outside
Hammock time :) 

The Studio


At 6:30pm I went to help prepare dinner. The others were starting to arrive, and it became quite clear I was the only 1st language english speaker.  My spanish really must be better than I’ve given myself credit because the entire dinner and all the chatting that happens at any introductory meeting/party was in spanish!  By the end of this month... man, mi espanol va a estar bien (is going to be good)!!!! YAY!! 

Then we went down for our introductory meditation session. Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, is all I can say. Home. Peace. Love. Powerful. Energy. Beauty. Patience. :)

There were 9 of us. We went around first and introduced ourselves and a bit about ourselves. Very personal and significant talk. It was all in spanish and I wasn’t able to understand everything. I started to weep silently. When it was my turn I was so open and honest and just admitted that I was feeling a bit sad because I knew I was missing some beautiful vulnerability, and that I was the only one who would need translations and was feeling bad/guilty/pressure about that. But the other reason for the tears, that struck me in the most wonderful way, making me soooo happy, was that one of my irritating qualities could very likely be solved here: 

I have a terrible habit of listening to someone’s story, but hearing some trigger that starts me to think about what I’m going to say next, before they are actually done talking. Only one ear still listening :(.  I’ve been trying very hard to break this habit, but it’s somehow deep engrained and not as easy as it should be or as i want it to be to shake.  What I realized sitting around and listening to the spanish testimonies, was that when the others are speaking in another language, if I stopped concentrating intently on what they were saying for even a moment, I would miss it. 

Wow, what an opportunity I have here then! To practice my spanish so deeply, that it also makes me a better listener and person :).  Ahhhh wonderful.

As I cried and expressed myself, the love and sensitivity in the room was as grand as grand can be.  It’s not a problem, they say. They will translate everything just to make sure i have it, and it’s a good way for the others to practice their english anyways. This was already the way it was supposed to be (all our correspondence was in english, as is their website... it just so happens that this time I am the only one :).   It's a wonderful moment of love and acknowledgement from everyone. 

Then we do this aaammmmaaazinngggg meditation dance. We pull the energy from the ground and from the womb up to our hearts and out to the world. We push it forward, to the side, and to the back. Its about an hour of just breathing and dancing this simple dance, but it is soooo powerful for me.  Pushing love forward to those I haven’t met yet, pushing it to the side, those with me now, and pushing it to the back, for those from my past. I am overwhelmed with so much love and peace in my soul. Ahhh I loveee my hippy free-spirit side :) 

One of my beautiful teachers, Satya :) 
We come together into a circle and engage in all sorts of positions to connect ourselves, hands, legs, massages. It finishes with child’s pose, and then it’s time for bed. I can only just say thank you from the bottom of my heart for such an amazing introductory session and evening.  

This last week has been wonderful.  I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. Doing rad things doesn’t matter if you are doing them out of sync with your soul. A good indicator for me was the sudden burning desire I had to write again this week!!!  All summer I felt I should write, but the tiny small moments of time I had, there was no inspiration. Instead I took to drinking and eating crap and seducing my way across America.  Soooo much fun, but so unfulfilling in the long run. 

The week here is very busy being relaxed ;). We have hours upon hours of slow tantric yoga and meditation and theory.  My wonderful new friends here invited me for all sorts of events and suggestions for our free weekend, but all I wanted to do was stay in and write 
(and rest my brain from spanish for a bit)!!  ahhhh, I am so happy with my view and my warm tea and getting my thoughts onto paper again :).

Certainly I love excitement, but that ingredient alone isn’t enough. This summer highlighted that for me.  I had adventure! I had challenge! I had experience upon experience. I had insight, I had change, I had growth.  I loooovvveeee this summer for that. I learned soooo much. But I didn’t have peace and I didn’t have sufficient rejuvenation time and I didn’t have authenticity :(. I was the leader, I was supposed to know it all. Do it all. Be it all. I was supposed to know every answers and have all the plans set. There are plenty of leaders out there that can do this perfectly... but not me!  I love uturns too much :).

Ironically, I still want to guide tours, but in a very different manner. ‘Facilitate a journey’ seems more appropriate :). More about that later, but the most valuable thing I took away from this summer, is that I prefer not to be the “leader”, but the student.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m highly aware that every person, place, thing, or animal can teach us something. I am always a student, no matter what role. 

The difference in what I’m saying is that my hobbies, my spark of life, comes from learning, experiencing, changing, growing. And for this, I like to be surrounded by those that inspire me, push me, teach me, challenge me: physically, mentally, spiritually, intellectually. 

I have taken a liking to asking people if they prefer to be be the best student, strongest athlete, highest ranked professional, fastest runner,  etc... or if they like to have someone ‘better’ around (or at least equivalent) someone that pushes them, motivates them. A simple hike is a good example and analogy for many situations. Often when unmatched physical (emotional/intellectual/spiritual) talents exist, there is a pressure with one or the other.  As the slower one, some people will not like it, feeling like they are holding the other one back. Others, in my case me, love to be the slower one because it makes me want to work harder, get better, thank them and be impressed by the work they have done already to get so good.  When I am the best, I feel the need to slow down and make sure I am not making the other feel inferior, and that doesn’t do much for either of us. 

There will never be a ‘done’ for me.  There is always room for improvement. 

The manifestation of that for me is the Bloom Woods. Not so I can have a place to showcase myself, but rather to create a space where amazing human beings will want to come and live and work, so I can be surrounded by them:).  Where we can share our knowledge and skills and talents without pressure or resentment.   There we can then bring in others who want to be inspired, who will appreciate and take advantage of such knowledge and wisdom and not covet it, or be jealous of it, or find ways to break down the successes of others. And where we can push ourselves to amazing physical limits! 

It's a somewhat odd combination, extreme adventure and the peaceful ashram. But it works amazingly for me, this merging.  I believe a lot of great creations come from someone's own experience so powerful they want to share it :)