Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I Heart N-ZED!

Update: I am in the US through July 10 and then headed off on the road again. Lots to post, but due to a computer failure, time with friends and family and real-life administrative tasks, I am woefully far behind. Will work to post here very soon. Until then... be well, be wise and be joyful :)
Things took a decided turn for the better my last few days in Australia. I had some beautiful practices at the local Ashtanga studio, shared some amazing meals with friends and marveled at the speed and efficiency of DHL and Visa. Once I was solvent again I began relax into the flow of Sydney.
After a really special farewell dinner with Tors overlooking the Sydney Opera house it was time to venture on to New Zealand, likely the last country before my return to America. Somewhere over the Tazman Sea I realized things were really starting to look up. A clerical error had botched my request for a vegetarian meal and the crew felt so badly that I might not eat that I was treated to first class, where the meal was tuna tartar and a selection of fine cheeses.

Upon landing in New Zealand I sauntered up to the rental car agent with great trepidation. My whole plan, what little of it there was, hinged on me getting a rental car. I filled out the paper work and waited for the agent to ask for my license… when she did I figured my goose was cooked, but in New Zealand they will accept a copy of your license if you are unable to produce the original and because I used to be smarter… I had stored a copy of it on my computer for just such an occasion. I have access to money and a car, there is no stopping me!
Now, as I write this entry I am sitting in my rented Campa (actual NZ spelling) van (traded for the original rental car and $5 more per day) which is parked in the most beautiful campground I have ever been to. I am meters away from the beach. Between the ocean and me is an estuary teaming with native birds and small fish, followed by sand dunes and a barrier of seashells, many as big as my hand.
All day it had been absolutely pouring down rain (or ‘pissing’ rain as they say here), but when I got here, the skies parted for the sun to set. The light when I took my first stroll on the beach could not have been more perfect. It was the kind of light you wish you could live your whole life in and that savvy clothiers should use for their dressing rooms.

After the clouds reclaimed the sky I headed into the very small nearby town to get some dinner. The only place open on Monday nights is an Asian/European/Fresh Fish combo joint. I had my choice between Cambodian curry, Indonesian Nasi Gorang, a choice of items served on French baguettes or any fresh seafood delight, golden dipped and deep fat fried, that I could imagine. It was like an edible outline of this last year’s journey.

I opted for a variety of fried delicacies, fish, crab, oysters and green-lipped muscles which I am intermittently snacking on as my greasy fingers type away. Estoy contento!

Today was my first day truly alone in a really long time. I know no one here and while I stopped many times in the few miles I covered today, I was decidedly non-engaging to those whom I encountered.
Between here and my origin, a mere 60 kilometers away, I visited a cheese shop, a tea house, a winery and a sheep farm where I bought the softest and most beautiful sheep-skin throw which will forever remind me of this gorgeous day.

Since I am in New Zealand in the winter, the off-season, I am blissfully alone on the roads, campgrounds and at what might otherwise be bustling tourist stops. This is the perfect place and time for me to spend a week in solitary meditation – my kind of meditation, the kind where I am surrounded by beauty and safely all alone. I am in solitary nirvana.
Prior to this blissful reality I enjoyed three days of guided touring through another part of New Zealand’s north island. At the teacher training I did in Bali this past March, I met a lovely woman named Nicky who graciously introduced me to her friend Owen. Owen lives in Auckland and is a fellow Ashtangi and he offered to show me around.

My first night in Auckland, Owen picked me up and took me to his weekly African Drumming class where I got to play for the first time in my life. It was fantastic! The drumming circle meets in the sanctuary of an old brick church, the acoustics and energy of the place are really beautiful, but I must admit I was a bit distracted by how cold it was. No worries, I thought, it is just an old church, that’s why there is no heating.

Afterwards we went out for a fantastic Indian dinner and again no heat so I relied on the curry and chai to keep me warm. During dinner I jokingly commented on the lack of heating and asked what New Zealand had against ductwork, Owen informed me that most places don’t have indoor heat. A fact further proven to me when I returned to my hotel to find that the staff had kindly put a space heater in my room. Having spent most of the last year in tropical clinates, my cold weather gear was limited to one pair of jeans, one wool shirt and a couple pairs of socks.
The next morning I bought a fleece jacket, then Owen and I headed east to the Coromandel Peninsula. We drove past gorgeous beaches with fishermen coming back from their day’s labor, through mountains given added depth by low-lying clouds and past field after field of cows and sheep. That first night we stayed with Owen’s sister Ruth, her husband Ben and their two lovely daughters. They were so kind and inviting that I really couldn’t help but fall instantly in love with them all.
The next day we headed south stopping at Cathedral Cove Marine Reserve, a series of teal blue bays bordered by blonde rocks intricately carved out by the ocean. Then we ventured on to Hot Water Bay.
If you surf this might be your idea of Nirvana – a beautiful right break coming into a mile-long white sand beach and if you get cold while surfing, no bother, just come ashore and dig a hole in the sand where hot natural spring water gurgles up and fills the hole for you to bathe in. Sadly our timing was a bit off and the high-tide prevented us from getting to experience the soaking part, but the view more than made up for it.
We spent the night at Prana, a private retreat center near Ohui that features rustic accommodations in old campers. We are talking 1950-60’s campers, complete with real faux-wood paneling and 50 years of mildew build up. It was so very ME! The next morning Owen and I each found a perch overlooking the ocean and had our own meditations enhanced by a steady stream of dolphins swimming past us. After that, we had an Ashtanga practice together on the retreat center’s stage before heading back to Auckland.
Once back in the city Owen saw me off and I hit the road solo. Having this camper is such a treat for me. In case you didn’t know, I traveled once before for more than a year in a truck camper and it was the happiest year of my life up to that point. That time though I was with my best friend/ex-husband and his spirit is with me very strongly now as I sit in this camper, half a world away.
This time alone in the ‘campa’, I am acutely aware of the changes that have happened for me in this last year. Eleven months into traveling the world through yoga and I am different. I am stronger, less self-conscious, more whole and I'm filled with unending gratitude.

I am well, I am wiser and I am joyful!
Lokah Samasthah Sukhino Bhavantu – May All Beings Everywhere Attain Happiness & Freedom

The past few days have been so photo worthy that I offer up these additional images.
My private beach at Waipu Cove
The Waipu Cove Estuary
Lang's Beach
Prana's Beach
Cathedral Bay's Cathedral
Indian prayer offered at the Prana beach.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

House of Cards

It started with Mr. Sunny, or maybe it started with the healer I kept visiting but somewhere about a month ago I lost my footing. Things went from smooth sailing along a well-paved path, to literally and figuratively stumbling at every turn. There was the passport debacle, which was quickly followed by my debit card deciding to leave me, rendering me without access to money.

This proved to be quite a nuisance for both me and my Mom who had to Fed Ex me a new card, but all in all it was manageable and I decided it was the universe telling me to stop spending so quickly. I would have preferred a more subtle message, say like losing $5, but who am I to argue?

Then my lovely Mysore sister Cary arrived and we made plans to trek around Ubud and spend some time at the beach. The second night Cary was there a huge rainstorm hit, it flooded the apartment and made the tiles floors turn to slip-n-slides. I slipped and slid right into the door jam and broke two toes – one on each foot.

All right, I guess the universe wants me to slow down, start to ground myself or something along those lines. Dear universe: I am working to decipher these not-so-subtle messages, but come on, cut a girl some slack I think one tow would have hit home just fine.

Then four of us Bali Spirit girls headed over to the Gili islands for a few days of bad behavior and tanning. I think it best to not disclose all my bad habits here but sufficed to say, I made a few poor decisions on Gili one of which left me quite ill and seriously questioning my decision making processes.

I returned to Ubud and began packing up. Another two months had just flown by and the time had come for me to leave my Bali home. My replacement debit card had still not arrived so when Claude offered to partially pay me for my retreats in cash it seemed like a very good way to ensure I could keep traveling.

This is how I came to have $450 US dollars in my wallet – something I never do. I have a few self-imposed rules for traveling: never have my drivers license and passport in the same place, never have my debit card and my credit card in the same place and never carry more than $200 cash. I broke those rules in Australia.

My last two days in Bali were productive but scattered. I just kept thinking, Rachel, pull your sh*t together. I had to repack my bag about ten times because I just couldn’t make it all fit, I missed appointments, and basically just struggled with every tiny task.

Two days before I left Bali my bankcard arrived. Alright, I am whole again I thought, I can use an ATM. In the hopes that none of you will ever have to experience this, let me tell you it is a real pain in the arse to not have a bankcard when you are half a world away from your nearest local bank branch. Requisite shout-out to my beautiful mother for her proximity to speaker phones and Fed Ex outlets.

Pande my friend and trusty driver picked me up to take me to the Denpasar airport. I was still a completely scattered mess and I was coming down with a cold which was not helping to unfog my head. Pande dropped me off, I gathered up all my various bags and trotted off to test the validity of my visa extension. About an hour later I realized I had forgotten to pay Pande and he had been too kind to yell at me across the sea of passengers.

At immigration it quickly became obvious that Mr. Sunny’s visa was less than legit. The pit in my belly reserved for times of impending prosecution flared up and I am pretty sure all the tan left my body as my face turned white in those panicked five to ten minutes. In the end I ‘repaid’ the departure tax to the immigration officer – a bribe of 150,000 rupiah – which allowed me to leave and soothed the digestive fire ravishing my gut.
Next stop Melbourne, Australia. Once I got to Australia I felt like the tides were changing, I was functioning at a relatively high level again. I had a few truly beautiful days in Daylesford, Vicotria getting to experience a country-side autumn and not having to make any plans or decisions as my friend led me around his home turf.

Getting to see fall was really such a treat for me. I love seasons, I don’t think I can ever settle in the tropics because I love chilly autumn nights, the first buds of spring popping up through the frozen ground, and snow, I love snow. Daylesford was a pallet of blaze reds, pumpkin oranges and blonde grain fields. The highlight of that trip for me was a visit to a lavender farm.

That may be my new happy place. A manageable sized farm of lavender fields and olive groves surrounded by Australian bush lands and herds of Kangaroos. For two days all was well again.


Then I headed off for Sydney. One of the serious trials of the global nomad is how much crap you have to tote along with you. I try to get away with as little as possible but this still means that when I fly anywhere I am trudging along with one giant suitcase, a yoga mat, a backpack, a purse and a computer bag. Myself and all my belongings made it into a cab from the airport to my friends’, Brad and Tors, house, but only myself and my luggage made it out of the cab. My purse decided to stay behind.

As a result, I have spent the last 48 hours in a flat out panic, cancelling this, calling them, waiting by the phone, the inbox the door… This morning my emergency credit card arrived via DHL courier, tick that one off the list.

Perhaps the biggest issue to arise from this lapse, aside from the $450 US that went missing too, is that I now have no drivers license, and while most Asian motorbike renters don’t seem to require such frivolities, New Zealand car hire shops do. What little plan I had for New Zealand hinged entirely around hiring a car to stow all my luggage in while I traipsed around the countryside, crashing at quaint B&B’s and stopping as I like to take photos.
It hasn’t all been trial and tribulation however. Brad and Tors have seen to it that I got to sail in a weekend yacht race on Sunday and yesterday we cruised the Sydney harbor.

In the afternoon, I met up with Gai, one of the Escape the World retreat yogis and she kindly took me in ,for which I am forever in her debt as my time with her was the height of my flightiness and scatterbrained status. I cried, I drank wine I left my bag at the coffee shop we went to, affectively losing my wallet all over again – thankfully this was only a momentary lapse.

And through it all I couldn’t put my finger on why I was so frazzled, why I felt so ungrounded, so lost. I am having a hard time figuring out this stage, but come on universe… let me keep some money on me – whatever lesson we are working on here on can’t really require me to be penniless can it?

However, even in the midst of the storm I managed to have some really lovely moments. Sailing, walking around Sydney and sharing meals with friends I have met along the way.
Today, the tide really is turning, because I am making it so! Enough of the scatterbrained girl I have been lately.

Proverbial ducks … time to get in your proverbial rows!

Universe, while I am still not 100% clear on which lesson I am learning here, unattachment, responsibility, stability, frugality... I promise I am working on it, so you can take it easy on me for a while...

Footnote: After writing this I learned that yesterday Guruji, Sri. K. Patabbhi Jois passed away in Myspre, India. Guruji is the father of my kind of yoga and the gifts that he left during his time here are immeasurable. I honor him tonight with a Mysore practice and by paying puja to him and for all of us who love him and the path he followed.
Om Shanit Guruji, Om Shanti Ashtangis.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

So Hum - I am

I planned this trip to Bali around three events, my retreat, Shiva Rea’s teacher training and the Bali Spirit Festival. Due to the Indonesian elections and a swiftly imposed rule that in the weeks leading up to Election Day, no large groups could assemble, the Spirit Festival was forced to switch dates. While I know this caused innumerable headaches to the event organizers, it resulted in a boon of yogi culture in Bali for more than a month.

Many teachers and performers who had planned to be here for the festival in early April were unable to make it for the new late-April dates, but chose to come to Bali anyway. New teachers and performers were brought in to fill the festival’s calendar and so I sort of got a two-for-one of the cream of the yogic crop.

Tuesday I completed my last day of 'work' in Bali by participating in a reality TV shoot at Kumara Sakti. Oh the things I do... seriously sometimes I really wonder. A Dutch-based show is filming a series in Bali, bringing famous people here for restorative vacations. This one featured Denny de Munk attending a yoga class. If you live in Europe look for my backside or possibly my left foot's TV debut this November.

I bought a Bali Spirit Festival pass and volunteered my services writing the daily press releases. This job suited me quite well since a requirement for writing about the workshops and concerts is attending them. In order to fulfill my duties, I am up at 6 a.m., attending my morning asana class by 8:00 and I usually get home around 10 p.m.
My days are chockablock full of asana, ayurveda, tantric chanting, movement meditations, trance dance, poi play and Kirtans. It is like a yogic Lalopalooza has come to town and I have a media pass! The event is still in its infancy, this is only its second year. But what it lacks in age it more than makes up for in the breadth of workshops and the spirit of the festivalgoers. The ‘stars’ of the show hold no pretences, they mingle freely with the yogis, and take each others’ workshops with the rest of us.

I took classes from Katy Appleton, a very beautiful UK-based yogini, who teaches Prana Flow in a way that allows for each student to experience their own vinyasa. Rarely were two of us in the same posture at the same time, but with Katy’s guidance we all worked on the same muscle groups, just in our own authentic ways.
I was treated to a workshop by Mark Witwell who teaches from such a space of love and compassion that you cannot help but to fall instantly head over heals for the man. At the end of his class he individually thanked each of the 60-some odd students for the chance to share the teachings of his teacher with them. I was so moved by his gratitude that immediately set a goal for myself to get to study with him in the future.

Throughout the week I learned so much that I can fold into my personal practice as well as into my teaching style and my love for the global yoga community was confirmed time and time again in the beautiful faces I saw and conversations I had. In the middle of this week of bliss I got an email from my Mysore friend Cary and a day later she had booked a ticket to Bali. Cary arrived in time for the last day of the festival.
During the week I did two full Yoga Malas, 108 sun salutations. For those of you unfamiliar, a sun salutation is a flow of nine or so postures including forward bends, back bends, arm strengthening poses and extensions. All together about 1000 asanas make up a Yoga Mala. It is an amazing experience, and what better place to practice one than Bali alongside 100 other yogis.

As the festival wound down I had some time to reflect on just how amazing this yoga path continues to be for me. I get to meet the most beautiful people, normal and thus extraordinary people, who are living yoga off the mat. People who have found their path and are secure enough to help bring others along for the ride.
Last night I attended the festival wrap party and I sat conversing the universe, the changing combined consciousness and the viral spread of curiosity with the beautiful Rocky Dawuni (who I mention here by way of introducing you to his music if you don't already know him) and my dear friends Tia and Cary, I realized that I can affect change, that I can virally spread hope and a new perspective. We are living in a transformational time. I now see the challenges in life as the opportunities they truly are. Change is so beautiful; nothing provides opportunity like change.

What a beautiful way to live. I invite you to find the curiosity and opportunity in your day.

So Hum.