Friday, October 31, 2008

What’s In A Name?

The last week has felt a lot like work and I liked it. I have decided to lead my own yoga retreat here in Bali this coming spring and that requires a certain amount of diligence on my part. I spent lots of time on the computer building some marketing materials and generally just spreading the word. Somewhere in the planning it occurred to me that while I am in the land of super cheap printing I should have some cards made up to help more people find me and this site (read as: save me the trouble of writing out the web address six times a day).

This posed a bit of a dilemma for me. Generally when one has a business card made, it contains a title. But what title should I use? Over the last several months I have gained a few new monikers to be sure, World Traveler, Yoga Teacher, Single White Female. So as I sat there trying to layout a card I realized I had no idea what to call myself. Gypsy, Vagabond, Sunbather? Spa Critic, Novice Sailor, Narcissist?

Travel Agent, Leader, Event Planner?

About half my time recently has been dedicated to the retreat and the other half to trying to plot out my route through Thailand and India. So far the retreat planning has been a lot more successful. I seriously may end up just landing in Bangkok and seeing which way the wind blows for the four days I have before I head off for silent meditation. After which I have to make my way to the other end of the country in three days. For some reason, despite all my time spent surfing the Internet I have yet to finalize or reserve a single hotel or mode of transportation.

Busybody, User Interface Specialist, Children’s Yoga Teacher?

I taught my last kids’ class for the month on Sunday, a lesson all about how our actions affect the world at large. A story told through the elephant-headed God Ganesh and his mother Parvati. While I am uncertain of the success of instilling any morality into the kids, I did manage to wear them out, what with all the elephant/warrior, bow and arrow poses, so I chalk this up as a success.

Old habits and professions die hard which is how I found myself providing an unsolicited review of the website for the resort I teach at. As it turns out they were actually appreciative of this and I was treated to a free massage for my efforts - perhaps my favorite form of payment to date.

Daredevil, Risk Aversion Analyst, Motor Scooter Rally Driver?

I filled my tank yesterday at a real gas station, a first for me here in Bali. I had been using the corner store/Absolute bottle petrol stops because the gas station was, until recently, out of my kilometric ring of comfort. After filling up I realized that the markup on the Absolute bottles is about 100%. This would piss me off if it weren’t for the fact that at even double the station prices, it still only costs $3 to fill my tank.

Water Slide Enthusiast, Non-Denominational Theologian, Freeloader?

One of the things I have learned as a budget-minded traveler is that while I choose to not pay to stay at the highest of high-end Bali resorts, often I can still enjoy their finer points while still maintaining a healthy balance in my savings account. Most places here will allow you to rent a lounge chair for the day, sometimes for $5-10 dollars, sometimes just for buying a drink.

Yesterday I had no plans so I hopped a taxi for one of Bali’s main photo ops, a sea-side temple about a half hour from where I am staying. Next to the temple is a Le Meridian, a world-class golf resort with a fantastic pool. I strolled on over to the pool rented a ten dollar chair and settled in for the day.

The pool had a water slide and I couldn't resist. I came splashing out of the shoot at the feet of a lovely woman named Viviana. Upon seeing how much fun I was having she too hit the water slide and we became fast friends. She and I spent the day chatting, sliding and watching the sun set over the temple. It was a great day – and one that reminded me how easy it is to meet really wonderful, interesting people if you are open to it.

Viv: Gracias por cena. Espero que usted tuviera una visita maravillosa con su padre y su familia. Que le vaya bien amiga.



So bringing it home... the business cards. This decision seemed kinda big to me. I am living the realization that you can have whatever you want if you focus your energy in the right way. I felt like whatever words I put on the cards, whatever titles I chose, would be my way of telling the universe how I want to define myself. I gave it a few days thought, scrapped Olympic Curling Champion, Princess, Rocket Scientist, Vice President of the United States (unlike some, I know my limits) and Evening News Anchor from the list and settled on what I really want to be.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Namaste

As I was sipping champagne, dancing in fountains in Paris, and basking in the hot Bali sun a shift began to occur. Somewhere between Frankfurt and Borneo I changed. The Rachel of the last few years melded with the new improved Rachel. I went from being the one constantly seeking affirmation to the one who freely gives anticipating nothing in return. Went from being the one needing lots of shoulders to cry on to having broad shoulders available for the tears of my loved one.

In the last week or so I have sent five tome-length emails to friends and loved ones facing hard decisions. And as I lay on my porch writing to them, I know that really I am talking to myself. Sure, maybe I am addressing her when I say – live in the Now, and him when I say – let your joy be admirable not your suffering, but really I am telling these things to myself.

More impressive perhaps is the part where I am hearing myself and adhering to these tenants in daily life. I am living a joyful and calm life. Opportunity litters my path at every turn as if t affirm that I am making the right choices.

I feel a heightened sense of awareness, especially now that my time in Bali is winding down. A walk on the beach at sunset exposes colors in the sand I never noticed before, reflections of clouds in tidal pools or a stronger scent of salt water than the last time I took notice. During my walk to the front desk to order breakfast the other morning, I notice frogs as small as a lentils hopping amid the river rocks. And last night my heightened awareness lead my eyes to the scorpion next to my foot while I was showering, which in turn lead to a manic episode where I spent an hour shaking out everything I own.

Perhaps the biggest change is in my eyes. I look in the mirror and the woman looking back at me has these sparkling blue eyes – so full of wonder and curiosity. In those eyes I see a hint of an old friend, one who I lost track of a while back. The eyes I stared into the past few years were flat, lacked sparkle and seemed vapid. But these eyes are crystalline, deep, and vibrant, these eyes are seeing the world anew.

And then there is the promise of my impending Vipassana retreat. Everyone I know who has been to one tells me I won’t recognize myself when I complete it. I got news for ya… I hardly recognize myself now, not really sure what’s left to change.

Along with my outlook on life, my body has changed dramatically. In the height of my winter depression I managed to lose nearly 20 pounds. I was sickeningly thin and frail. But now I am back to my fighting weight and my seven yoga classes a week ensure that I am strong and can touch my toes with aplomb.

I have this amazing inner strength now that alone makes it hard for me to believe I am the same person. The other night my drunken neighbors mistook my bungalow for theirs. I awoke to someone yanking on my sliding door whole-heatedly trying to force it open and utterly confused by it’s stubbornness to acquiesce. In years past this would not only have sent me into a state of sheer terror during the act, but it would cause months of restless, fitful, nightmare-filled evenings and sleep would only come with the aid of pharmaceuticals. Instead, I got out of bed, opened the curtains and said – Piss off! Then I fell back asleep.
I had succumb to fear in many ways prior to this trip. I’d acquired a fear of heights, of being alone, of speed and roads without guardrails. Yet here, in three short months I have gone from fearful to hell on doughnut-sized wheels! Why just yesterday I rode my scooter all the way into Seminyak for a morning yoga class and then I rode it on the bypass home – averaging a whopping 50 kilometers per hour! I ride like a local now with complete disregard for any semblance of merging protocols, I regularly turn without using a blinker and if provoked, I will beep my horn repeatedly until stray dogs part a path for my chosen trajectory.
As it turns out my flight off of the Island of the Gods is set for November 4, Election Day.The US election has been a hot topic of conversation as of late. Barrack Obama lived in Indonesia when he was young, as a result it seems there is a sense of ‘rooting for the home team’ among all Indonesians. When I am asked where I am from and I reply – the US, the normal response is a chant of O-bama…O-bama…Obama, usually accompanied by a wide-toothed grin and a fist pump.
I assume that everyone who reads this site is intelligent and conscientious and that a reminder here to vote is unnecessary. But maybe someone just accidentally, misguidedly stumbled onto this site today. Perhaps some E-Harmony search for unemployed + mid-thirties + recent divorcees erroneously led you here and so to you, wayward soul searching for divorced 35 year-olds, I say VOTE, I say ROCK THE VOTE… I say BARACK THE VOTE!
And on the off chance some ex-pageant participating, non-magazine-reading, rape-victims-should-pay-for-rape-kits pronouncing Alaskan has mistakenly stumbled upon my little world... I say – Please leave. And by leave I mean not just this site but, this election and politics altogether, pretty please, before I have to resort to pharmaceuticals to keep the nightmares at bay again.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Cross Training

I’m leaving Bali.

My mind is already somewhere in northern Thailand, and it keeps drifting off to India. Not that I am wishing away a single second of the time I have left here, but I'm ready to get the momentum going again. I know I’ll come back to Bali, quite possibly very soon and for a long time.

Batu Belig has been a great home for me this month. My days are filled with yoga, seashell collecting and deepening my impressive tan – pretty much it is bliss. Last week I had two visitors, Elizabeth and Jason each came down from Singapore. Both attended my yoga classes and only one did so against his will.
Pande invited Jason and I to spend a day at his home. An addition to his house had just been completed and this required a ceremony before the guest room could be considered fit for occupancy. It was a really special day filled with friends, Pande’s wonderful family and roast suckling pig.

Bali is abuzz with ceremonies every day of the year it seems. There are temple ceremonies – celebrating a temple’s birthday, full moon ceremonies, Hindu holiday ceremonies, new house ceremonies - I’m not certain incense need not be burned if one buys a new pair of flip flops. Everything here is cause for celebration, warding off bad spirits and giving thanks – it really is a beautiful culture.

Wednesday night I taught a large class at Desa Seni as the full moon rose over the gardens in front of the shala. I had a wonderful time teaching and when it was over I was grinning from ear to ear. One of the students came up to me afterwards and told me how much she had enjoyed the class. She said that I reminded her of a teacher she'd had in California and since he moved away she hasn’t found another class she felt as connected to. We chatted for a bit and low and behold I came to learn that her teacher is MY teacher – Steve Roger.

The reminder of my beloved yogi and the enormous compliment that I could make someone feel as connected as he does, was enough to make my heart soar. I felt such a light and joy that night and any doubt I was still holding that this is the right and long-term path for me evaporated under the full moon.

My week continued like this, lots of reminders of home and signs/encounters pointing me down my path. I have this deck of spiritual guidance cards my friend Kristin turned me onto. They are frighteningly accurate. So while I am generally skeptical of a sheets of laminated paper with spiritual mumbo-jumbo printed on them… I have come to have some faith in this particular deck. Wednesday morning I pulled a card before sending them off to the boat for safe storage and to lighten my load in anticipation of trekking through Thailand. The card was all about being silent and meditating. Basically it said – be still and quiet now, go within.

That same evening I had dinner with Stephanie who is another instructor here in Bali. She is just about to return to the states after two years of traveling through yoga. Our paths are almost identical except that she has a 24-month head start on me. As it turns out she has been to all three of the retreat centers I have been thinking of attending.

Somewhere over appetizers she asked me if I have ever considered doing a silent retreat and told me about one she did in Thailand. She was very encouraging and as I listened to her the image of that card popped into my head. My spiritual mumbo-jumbo light bulb came on.

I came back home, hopped online and registered for a ten-day Vipassana silent meditation retreat. The idea to do this had been floating around my head since way back in the first week of yoga school, but I guess I wasn’t ready to take the leap until I was sitting at the dinner table with someone whose path is so parallel to my own. I am equal parts scared and anxious to do this meditation as everyone I know who has done one tells me how intense, life changing and mind altering it will be. There is a very real possibility that I won’t be able to complete it. Spending 10 days alone inside your own head is a scary place for most of us to go.

In my typical hot tub/cold plunge form…I will go straight from this retreat to the King’s Cup Yacht race in Phuket. Silent, pious, monk-like existence, to raucus, excessive, ridiculously fun yacht racing. This is my life, hope you are enjoying the ride.

One of the big jobs I am faced with on this path I have chosen is removing guilt from my life. I am a guilty kinda girl. For years guilt has been my constant companion… it was there over my morning latte, there when I cashed a check, cut a phone call short or when I bought a new pair of stupidly-expensive jeans. Guilt was never more palpable, then the wee hours of the night when I was lying in bed feeding it every drop of my soul I could spare. Marry a nice boy – feel guilty because some of your friends are as of yet unwed. Get a good job – feel guilty I didn’t have to suffer more to get it. Get divorced – feel guilty for being so selfish as to think there might be more for both of us.
Guilt still creeps in on me from time to time. Like when faced with the decision to eat roast suckling pig, or when I skip a day of asana practice or when I have many glasses of wine, but it is not a constant any more.

A friend here in Bali and I were discussing guilt the other night as it pertains to the yogic ideal and I said - it’s a balance and he said balance implies guilt. Balance conjures up the idea that there is some good and some bad, thus something to feel guilty about. He offered up ‘cross training’ as an alternative concept. And I gotta admit... I think he is on to something.

So here I go again, cross training my way around the world.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Batu Belig

My flight back to Bali was ridiculously early and I was far too tired for making big decisions. So I sent a text to Pande, had him meet me at the airport and deliver me to a bungalow I had spotted while house hunting last month. My intention was to crash there for a day or two since it was out of my long-term price range, and find something a bit less luxurious for the remainder of October.
Funny thing luxury… one you’ve tasted it, it’s hard to give up. So I did some rapid-fire rationalizing… decided I could afford the whopping, and heavily bargained for, 350,000 rupiah a night price tag and unpacked my bags. This place costs more than three times what my flat in Ubud did, but it has a few major selling points that Sunrise Villas lacked. Chief among the upgrades is proximity to the ocean, I am less than a block from the beach, in addition to my very nice enclosed bungalow, I have an open-aired palapa for lounging and practicing yoga, the pool is five steps from my front door, I have air conditioning, wireless Internet and TV for keeping tabs on politics back home. And, this place is located directly between my two jobs.
Once Pande dropped me off I fell promptly asleep, lulled by the air con and content in my high-thread count sheets. When I woke it was already dark out. I strolled down the road to the only warung (restaurant) I knew how to find from my place, and was unpleasantly surprised to see it packed. Apparently no one else in Batu Belig knows how to find any other warungs either. I asked for a table and quickly realized this place was a bit too popular for just strolling in at 8pm and expecting a seat. A nice looking man walked in behind me, he had been smart enough to make a reservation and was immediately seated.

Hunger took over and I resorted to desperate measures, I walked up to that man’s table and asked if I could join him. He smiled and granted me a seat. We exchanged pleasantries and each went about scribbling in our notebooks, he journaling about his day and me trying to layout a class plan for my first day of full-time teaching.

When our dinners arrived we chatted a bit, I learned that he is from France, Bordeaux to be more precise. He was a very nice man and I enjoyed the company. After we were done he asked to buy my dinner and I let him. Then we said our goodbyes and I went back to my luxury bungalow. That’s it… no kissing, no flirting, nada, just a nice man, who allowed me to join him and who bought me dinner. What a wonderful way to come back to Bali.

- Ludo, Merci du dîner. Très gentil de vous avoir rencontré
The next morning I rode my rented motor bike the five minutes to my new ‘office’ and taught my first of this month’s many classes. Desa Seni is a beautiful resort in the rice fields of Canngu. It caters to those looking to refresh, detox, and cleanse while basking in the Bali sun. My first class had five students and went very smoothly. I love teaching and really can’t believe that I am a yoga teacher in Bali.

Later, I visited my other job, where I took a class from the man I am alternating teaching with. It was a real treat to take a led class for the first time in almost a month. All together I am teaching seven classes a week, darn near full-time – if you consider an hour and a half a day full-time work.
Tuesday the rainy season arrived. I woke up at 6am to a steady downpour. By 8am the goldfish pond in front of my bungalow was flooding, by 9pm the edge of the pool was indiscernible from the rest of the flooded courtyard.

When I got out of my evening class the road in front of the studio had about a foot of water covering it, complete with current. The security guard, a big strong man, made me hold his arm while I crossed, lest I be washed away. My cab ride home was more like being in a hovercraft than a Nissan Altima, if the tires ever actually touched pavement you could have fooled me.

From my steamy window I could periodically see poncho-laden scooter riders parting the water with their tires. My newfound scooter bravery ends at riding in the rain – but I must applaud the pluck of someone who is willing to wade, waddle and float their bike during the rainy season here. In fact, I applaud all of the scooter riders of Bali – not rain, nor impossibly heavy, unbalanced loads, nor lack of skill can stop these unsung heroes from continuing on their chosen paths. These ingenious minions could really teach us a thing or two about bailing wire, sheer disregard for person safety and the futility of speed or weight restrictions on doughnut sized-tires.

With no reservation to guarantee me a meal, I ordered in delivery, watched some mindless American TV with Indonesian subtitles (my only hope for learning the language, I’ve decided) and fell asleep nice and early. It’s amazing how fast we can adapt when we are swaddled in Egyptian cotton.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

00.00.000 Latitude

The remainder of our sail was spectacular. The ocean calmed for the final days, most mornings it was so peaceful it looked like we should be water skiing rather than sailing, the company was unsurpassed and all in all it was pure bliss.
Our last morning in the southern hemisphere we were joined by a pod of dolphins who played off our bow for about twenty minutes.

When a sailor crosses the equator by boat for the first time it’s a big deal. There is a ritual to be performed and while I am sworn to secrecy on the details of this ancient rite of passage (and have concealed the faces of the practitioners), I will tell you that it bears great resemblance to other rituals I have been exposed to. Like the dance of Hatchmo the Desert Elephant, performed on the Grand Canyon the night after Lava Falls is run. Or any Pro Ski Patrol Convention/Party I have every attended. Basically, it is an excuse to dress in a costume and generally torment the previously uninitiated. Good clean fun.

How amazing that I, a landlubber from Ohio via Colorado, crossed the equator at 00.00.000 Latitude and 105 23.985 East Longitude at 10:00 pm via sailboat the third of October 2008. Another thing I never knew I had to do, but now that I have, check that one off the list too.

The following day we started cleaning and preparing the boat for it’s arrival in Singapore. I finally got to feel somewhat useful and found that I am capable when it comes to polishing brass fixtures and teak walls – tasks I can do while laying down and in a bikini. After a hard day of ‘work’ I requested that we go for a swim.

It was dusk, the water was beautifully calm and it seemed like a reasonable request, only no one really seemed as keen on the idea as I was. Jason got thrown in more of less to make sure I didn’t float away, but the others just humored me and watched from the deck. After I climbed back aboard I was informed that perhaps swimming in the middle of the South China Sea at feeding time was not advisable. Ahhh ignorance, sweet ignorance.

The next 24 hours were hectic as we entered a major shipping straight and pretty much had to slalom our way through tankers, cargo carriers, and various unidentifiable and yet deceptively buoyant crafts. We arrived in Singapore mid-day on October 4th. What a stark contrast to Bali and Borneo, what with the skyline of skyscrapers, the perfectly manicured gardens and litter-free, smoothly-paved streets.
I milked every minute I had left with my friends, staying up far past my bed time and too close to my departure time. While I was definitely sad to leave the boat and my dear friends, I can’t say I wasn’t a bit excited to get back ‘home’ to Bali. Not a bad place to return to by any means.

Special Note: Ed and Mary, I cannot thank you enough for this opportunity. You are lifelong friends and I love you both tremendously. See you in a little over a month. XO