The (not so) little things…

I feel I reached a milestone in my journey today worth sharing, for those who continue to follow these scattered ramblings of personal exploration. We have crossed the Cambodian border into the southern tip of Laos, and arrived in a small slice of paradise called Si Phan Don, or the 4000 Islands, a series of brilliant green islands and islets scattered across a vast swath of the Mekong River. We spent our first evening lazing in hammocks on the veranda of our $6 bungalow, watching the dry season’s blood-red sun dipping behind the opposite side of the river. We followed this with a day of cycling around two of the larger islands, Don Dhet and Don Khon, chasing more waterfalls and exploring the maze of jungle paths that connect them.

Then, last night admittedly failed to meet my expectations: we have found ourselves in the one place in southern Laos with any sort of party scene, and while the first night we got in we avoided the crowd on the ‘Khaosan-esque’ strip of Don Dhet, last night I was feeling like socializing and seeing what the advertised “jungle party” was all about down the west side of the island. We instead ate two plates of tasty food, drank a few Beer Laos, and fell asleep around 8:45pm. I awoke at midnight, disappointed that we were missing out on what may have been a great night of dancing and socializing with other travelers. My mind raced to contemplations of aging and how my 30 year old body feels after a day of relatively minimal physical activity compared to how it felt at 20. These thoughts kept me awake until 3am, when I finally fell into a troublingly dream-full sleep…

I awoke again just before sunrise, watching the mist roll across the river out our window. I felt myself to be on the wrong side of the bed, so to speak. I felt anger and frustration creeping in, felt myself getting annoyed with passing sounds of crying babies and polluting long-tail fishing boats, watched as my mind raced with worries about finances and began to deeply entangle myself with those thoughts, and to top it all off, I was especially perturbed when my Headspace app wouldn’t load on my phone to guide me through the last of my ‘anger pack’. I was convinced that today was to be a “bad day” where my anger would get the best of me.

Normally, I would accept that today was a wash and brood in my frustration, taking it out on my partner and those with whom I interacted throughout the day. This would typically culminate in my digging into past annoyances and blowing them out of proportion, drawing drastic conclusions about where my future was heading, and just generally being a bit of an asshole to the world.

Today I didn’t let that happen.

Instead, I put my phone and dysfunctional Headspace app away, unfurled my yoga mat on a nearby terrace, guided myself through a practice followed by a truly magnificent chakra meditation, scanning my energetic centers and pulling the wisdom of the water before me into each one. When I was finished with these healing exercises, the real test lay before me: carrying that feeling of calm and patience into the rest of the day, starting with my first interaction of the morning with my loving partner…and here’s the really interesting part that perhaps some of you can relate to: when I have mornings like this, even if I’m able to bring myself to a healthy space while on my own, as soon as I interact with those closest to me, I will somehow stubbornly default back to an air of “everything is not okay and I’m going to make that abundantly clear right now.” I’ve never understood this process, but through meditation I’ve gained a great understanding for how our minds are prone to desperately cling to emotional energies even once we think we’ve parted ways with them. For me, this manifests through these immediate interactions after I find a sort of temporary inner-peace in the company of myself alone.

Today, the remedy was simple in theory, but can be a colossal challenge for those of us who understand this process of the egoic mind holding tight to anger, sadness or general dis-ease. I committed to greeting everyone I encountered with a smile and a “good morning!” In a rare feat of self-discipline, I was able to do exactly this, and as a result, the calm and positivity inculcated through my morning meditation and practice were carried into the remainder of my day.

This may all seem a bit trivial, but it is these ostensibly small milestones that build up to the larger advances in our personal journeys, and they should be celebrated and recorded so we may solidify their significance. Whatever your journey may be, don’t be modest about your own achievements – shout them out to the world and, most importantly, to yourself, so that the rewards of each one continue to fuel your commitment to your own personal growth, even if it’s just as simple as smiling and saying hello.

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Sacred Science

I try to stay off email list-serves unless they serve me particularly well. The Sacred Science never fails to send just the right message to my inbox at just the right moment. I highly recommend signing up! Here’s today’s nugget of wisdom, an ancient text from an unknown author…

“You are beginning to understand, aren’t you?
That the whole world is inside you –
in your perspectives and in your heart.
That to be able to find peace,
you must be at peace with yourself first;
and to truly enjoy life,
you must enjoy who you are.
Once you learn how to master this,
you will be protected from everything
that makes you feel like you cannot go on.
With this gift of recognizing yourself,
even when you are alone,
you will never be lonely.”

What’s your sign?

Today as we were cycling through the jungles of Si Phon Don in the southernmost reaches of Laos, trying to find a less trodden path to the famed Khone Pha Pheng Waterfall, we were met with a seemingly endless barrage of obstacles. The first was a collapsed bridge, which we could not pass with our bikes. We had seen this warning on maps.me, our offline map of choice in Southeast Asia, but with some clever maneuvering, we were able to find another crossing. Proud of ourselves for defying the mapped-out odds, we continued, only to have our path blocked by a potentially unfriendly water buffalo standing right in between us and the road ahead. We waited a few minutes, and eventually he lost interest and rambled into the bushes.

Undeterred, we continued yet again, only to find another, much larger and far more collapsed bridge, hovering precariously over a 5 meter drop to a dried up creek-bed below. Unable to find an alternative, we were forced to turn back.

Along the way back to the main bicycle path, we once again found the bull that had blocked our way, but this time, he was locked horn-in-horn with yet another massive bull. We watched their testosterone-fueled competition with slowly dwindling interest, soon realizing that we were trapped between a collapse bridge and two jacked-up buffalo in the middle of the jungle, with bikes too heavy to carry through the thick bush around us. Twenty minutes ticked by before they finally lost interest in their duel and disappeared into the trees, allowing us to pass.

We are not nearly as persuaded by astrological insights as we are by the push and pull of the lunar cycles that guide our journeys around the globe, but as two Tauruses dating and traveling the world together, we couldn’t help but wonder: what message is the Universe trying to tell us here?

I was reminded of my previous reflections on the two dogs who interrupted my meditation last week, of a never-ending reflection of the duality of self. This encounter could have different meanings for both of us, or it could be a message about our relationship with each other (we never fight, rarely disagree, but we are both admittedly stubborn as hell). Regardless, it is yet another addition to a pattern of encounters with the wild world, a series of moments the Universe passes on to us to learn from.

We’re listening! We promise!

The Year of the Dog(s)

In the spirit of commitment to personal growth, I have been chronicling my journey deeper into the daily practice of meditation, keeping records of thoughts that kept my mind busy during each meditation, challenges to my focus, and milestones along the journey. The experience I’ve just had during my morning session compelled me to share this publicly.

I have admittedly had great difficulty in the process of emptying, clearing, or bringing much stillness to my mind. I know that the first stages of the meditative journey do not require immediate stillness, but rather the key is to observe thoughts as the come and gently let them go. Each time I sit down for my daily guided meditation, I am instructed to get into a comfortable seated position, to breathe deeply in through the nose and out through the mouth, to close my eyes and begin to breathe normally, bringing my attention first to the sounds and sensations in my immediate sphere, then to the feeling of the weight of my body on the ground and my hands and arms resting on my legs, and finally to the breath. I generally sit for 15 minutes, twice per day, having worked my way up from a brief morning session of only five minutes since I began a Headspace pack focuses specifically on anger.

The ‘anger pack’ is part of my current journey to understand the feelings of anger that can sometimes rise up within me, feelings that recently became increasingly triggered during my life in the often hectic city of Kampala. For years, that anger was, to me, a sorry gift from an angry father, and throughout adolescence and much of my twenties I blamed the anger that I felt on him for passing it down to me through years of socialization. It took me a long time to forgive and move past these feelings of resentment and realize that, as an adult with full agency and ownership over my own emotions and mental states, that this anger was my own, and I rather than try to banish it forever into the depths of my past (which I never had the slightest idea how to do), it was better to understand my relationship with that anger, so that I might use it in a positive way to fuel my activism and give me the strength to fight for what I believe in, without letting the anger control my thought patterns, emotions or actions.

Nearing completion with the Headspace ‘anger pack’ before moving on to the ‘acceptance pack’, I sat down beneath a large mango tree after a rejuvenating morning vinyasa flow, and went through a twenty minute meditation. Shortly before the session wound down and I was free to cease focused attention on my breath and let my mind do whatever it wanted, my mind had already begun wandering to the fact that 2018 is the Year of the Dog, an idea that resonates deeply through past reflections on my “tenacious dog nature” discussed in Clarissa Pinkhola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves, as well as through ongoing discussions about the parable of the two wolves at war inside of all of us, one of which “represents things like kindness, bravery and love, the other…represents things like greed, hatred and fear.” The winner of this war depends, of course, on the wolf we choose to feed.

As I reflected on this idea and was instructed to open my eyes, I was immediately confronted by two dogs playing in the garden – one black, one white. They playfully flung themselves down on my yoga mat, one instantly began wrapping its mouth around my arm, the other biting at the rough bits of mat at my feet. I stopped listening to what the Headspace guide, Andy, was saying about anger and jumped to my feet in a brief fit of frustration and, yes, anger, as I scooped up my headphones out of one of the dogs’ mouths. My “surge” (the word I use to describe the rush of intense emotion and reactionary behavior that shoots up from within when faced with triggers) lasted only a few seconds, and once I was able to yank the yoga mat from under their feet and roll it up, I took a deep breath, watched the exhale leave my body, and sent the anger along with it.

I view moments like these as powerful messages from the Universe, regardless of whether or not I’m in a state of mind to listen very well. Understandably, this particular experience was impossible not to listen to.

My fascination with Estes’ discussion of the parable of manawee lies predominantly in the idea of the “tenacious dog nature” within some men that pushes us to better understand the women we love (for me, I feel this has far-reaching implications for the work I do as well). Through constant distraction, the dog in the parable is still able to discover what he needs in order to bring fulfillment to his master and best friend, a reminder that persistence and patience always pay off in the end. I’m equally fascinated by Estes’ observation that a dog’s life is filled with a never-ending cacophony of sound, representing for me the mind’s default state of being incessantly flooded with too many thoughts to make sense of, keep track of, or allow to pass, all while being a constant audience to the sublime language of the Universe.

These two dogs came to me this morning for a reason, as a reminder: our dual nature is not our enemy, it can be our friend, and we can play with it as much as these dogs tried to play with me. Although I perceived them as coming to me at an inopportune time, I think that’s a powerful part of the lesson – to accept and allow each moment in our day, no matter how out of place it may seem according to our expectations. The duality in me keeps me reflecting on how I can be – and feed – the best version of myself possible, and the persistence of the dog in the manawee parable reminds me to not let distractions get in the way of my ultimate journey.

Our relationship with anger can change, and I am seeing to it that mine does, each and every day. As my morning Headspace alarm reminded me today, “If everything is always changing, then that includes us too. There is no fixed identity, it’s an illusion – set it free.” What better time than The Year of the Dog to explore these ideas more deeply and maintain the patience, tenacity and love required to bring about radical growth.

As for now, I’m going to go play with those dogs.

Be like water…

wolfinthesea

I never put much thought into the philosophy of Bruce Lee (or Bruce Lee in general, I’m ashamed to say I’ve never seen Enter the Dragon, but am about to change that), until I read an article in The Unbounded Spirit this week. It discusses the wisdom of the martial arts master, the philosophies that he espoused throughout interviews and film scenes from his prolific career. The first idea presented: “be like water.”

Our quest across Southeast Asia has been intentionally replete with water energy. We have experience something akin to spiritual transformation in both the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea. We have swam in innumerable lakes and rivers, from the jade green waters of northern Vietnam to Cambodia’s Tonle Sap and on up the mighty Mekong. And through it all, we are always hunting for waterfalls. This corner of the globe is teeming with them, and renting a motorbike to drive to as many waterfalls as we can fit in a day is commonplace in our current journey across Asia. When we reach them, we watch as the water flows forth into a chasm of nothingness, and we bask in the wind that erupts as that water crashes into the deep emerald pools below. We climb rock-faces and vines up each tier, we bathe in the cool water, we let the pounding falls massage our tired bodies and we always make a point to meditate before the sacred mist of each and every one.

So when I read the article on Lee’s philosophy and he first advises to “be like water because it is soft, resilient, and formless. It can never be snapped,” I immediately brought this lesson into the next waterfall I saw. The next day at Katieng Waterfall in Ratanakiri Province of northeastern Cambodia, I paid special attention to the water’s journey down a peaceful river, swiftly swinging side to side around protruding boulders and outstretched tree branches from fallen trees, observed as the water rocketed towards an unforeseen precipice and tumbled to the pools that lie in wait below, filling up with every fallen drop and carrying downstream.

“Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water. Now, you put water into a cup it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle, you put water in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow, or it can crash…be water my friend.”

The water does not care whether it is drifting peacefully or barrelling into unseen depths. If we can train our minds to be like water, then no matter what unexpected circumstances come our way, no matter what obstacles we face and not matter how many times we may feel we are in an uncontrollable free-fall through life, we will maintain the resilience and flexibility to overcome adversity.

In my current journey of strengthening my meditative practice, inculcating the virtues of patience and acceptance into my life and my work, these wise words (from a pretty badass source) remind me to learn from each waterfall we visit, each time drawing from that energy and flowing through life. Formless, adaptable to any situation, flowing, crashing, becoming, being.

This is the sign of a Self that is in tune with the good of the Universe. A sign of a being free of the tumult of the egoic mind. This is the real Self, and it is waiting for all of us once we are ready to let go and flow into it.

In life, what more can you ask for than to be real? To fulfill one’s potential instead of wasting energy on [attempting to] actualize one’s dissipating image, which is not real and an expenditure of one’s vital energy. We have great work ahead of us, and it needs devotion and much, much energy. To grow, to discover, we need involvement, which is something I experience every day — sometimes good, sometimes frustrating. No matter what, you must let your inner light guide you out of the darkness.”

Thanks Master Lee.

wolfinawaterfall
*This blog was written to an unexpected and unplanned soundtrack of Gregory Porter’s “Liquid Spirit” that came on poolside, and lakeside, here at our guesthouse in Ban Lung, Cambodia. Synchronicity. 

 

The Difference between You and I

I’ve been journaling since I was a kid. I still have every single notebook, from those covered in Star Wars stickers to those covered in Ugandan kitenge fabric, from my very first square notebook decorated in cartoon images of the Easter Bunny to the ongoing journal file I keep with me on my computer when public blogging just doesn’t seem like the best idea for the idea at hand.

When I visit my childhood home in Sacramento, I will generally pick one at random, or with intention, and read from selected portions to observe the challenges I faced at the time and the thought patterns and tools with which I handled them. Sometimes as I’m journaling, I will make note of points in my past I want to revisit next time I have my growing library at my disposal.

Today as I wrote about my current explorations of meditation in the journal I keep on my laptop, I made note of the language I use while writing in a space that will only be seen by me, paying particular attention to my use of pronouns. I found that I use the pronouns “you” and “your” as much as I use the pronouns “I” and “my.” This struck me as odd. While speaking of myself in public spaces such as this blog, I will never refer to myself as “you” but always as “I.” When processing thoughts and ideas, this duality becomes very apparent, as I often use the 1st person for describing experiences, feelings, or thoughts about a particular subject, and use the 2nd person more for motivating myself, scolding myself, or trying to explain patterns in the way that I think, feel, act or behave.

This duality echoes the dual-self that Eckhart Tolle discusses in The Power of Now, wherein he describes a past experience of descent into a pit of despair. He writes of a memory of saying to himself, “I cannot live with myself any longer,” a statement which led him to a profound realisation and exploration of the dual nature of the egoic mind and a sort of higher Self. The ego is in stark opposition to the true Self, that which realises the infinite and eternal nature of existence and frees itself from the “drama” of the egoic mind. Looking back at my own writings, this is somewhat consistent with what I observed: I use the 1st person to describe both egoic perceptions as well as higher-level thinking, but I only seem to use the 2nd person when the Self that is reflecting from a higher space of consciousness needs to remind the ego-influenced mind that it is being manipulated and must break free of need, want, and resistance to the now.

It may all sound abstract or fluffy, particularly to those who have not read this book or have not discovered this school of thought through any number of teachers, both historic and contemporary, but this duality resonates with my incredibly overactive mind. Through meditation and increasingly dedicated personal spiritual practice (more on that in a blog soon to have its “now”), I am delving deeply into my own duality, beyond the incredible relatable parable of the feeding the right wolf. These mental and emotional excavations into the chronicling of my own past are helping me in that process, and I encourage all who dedicate themselves to the profound and transformational process of journaling to revisit their old selves, not to dwell in past pain or lament an ostensible lack of progress along certain personal goals, but to learn from our own history. On a macro and micro scale, it is an undeniable truth that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and each of us must actively fight against such cyclical self-destruction.

For those who find themselves only scolding in the 2nd person a separate version of themselves, don’t forget to send that self some words of inspiration as well.

We do love our sunsets…

Looking down on the main road overlooking Boeung Kan Seng Lake from Banlung Balcony Guesthouse, It’s rather troubling to think that Cambodians, and peoples all over the world, have been looking up at Westerners sitting atop such balconies with drinks in hand for hundreds of years. Just one of the many ways colonialism still manifests itself in so many corners of the globe…

These observations disturb us, stick in our minds and dominate our conversations. I don’t want to do a travel blog, but we travel with a critical, social justice oriented and historically informed lens, and it’s interesting to put some of it out there. More reflections to come on this blog, really must blow off the dust, and what better place to do it than the dustiest town in Cambodia, before we bus off to our next former French protectorate.

History does have a sort of repetitive feel to it don’t you think?