Friday, January 29, 2016

ubud: creative medicine

On my last day in Ubud, I planned to visit Pura Gunung Lebah, a temple I'd passed nearly every day as I shuffled between the village where I was staying and the heart of town. The temple seemed to call from its mysterious perch, on a small hill below the Campuhan Bridge, nestled in dense forest, where two rivers below meet. 

Although I usually love playing tourist, particularly visiting old sacred sites whether they are temples, churches or mosques, I had put off the excursion as temple visits in Bali require donning the traditional temple clothes: Balinese sarong, a modest blouse adorned with local crafted lace, and a bright sash, wrapped around the waist. Just that extra little effort, not to mention the tropical warm climate, seemed to deter me from executing a plan of action, even though I had already borrowed the necessary traditional dress from my friend Clara with whom I was visiting.

Getting to the end of my three weeks in Ubud, I wanted to honor my time here by going to temple, giving thanks to the Balinese gods for their graciousness. 

It had been a profoundly soft time of healing. Ubud is known for that, everywhere there seems to be some opportunity for healing--with raw or cooked plant-based cuisine, with treatments of varying degrees and depths, with the specialists from all over the world who peddle a variety of healing modalities, new and old, along with a slew of local healers, also of the traditional and non-traditional ilk. 

It turns out that this particular temple site played a role in the settling of the area. Early settlers were drawn to this small hill where two rivers crossed, there they built a temple, 8th century thereabouts, the forest surrounding was full of medicinal plants. "Ubad" means medicine, from which the name Ubud draws its origin. The energy of healing has been growing here ever since.

Having been through a beautiful and intense time of healing over the last year, I pretty much thought that my visit to Bali would be reconnecting with a dear friend/sister Clara. In my head, we were to have fun, she was going to show me her Bali, we had some work to discuss, but there was no healing, at present, to do. 

The truth about purification is that there are levels upon levels of it. And true optimum health is a great harmony between the body, mind and heart. 

What I've learned over the years of working towards a healthy equilibrium is that once I get through one level of healing or purification, I find that there is another deeper level to address, a deeper sense of wellness that now has the space to be established. 

My friend, despite being of robust health, actually got Dengue fever during this time, and half of our time together centered around the house where we drank healthy fresh juices, ate good live food along with raw vegan ice cream and lounged around her couch, talking about life. When her feverishness abated, we returned to creative exercises and exchanging ideas on our project. On our last day together she said that the illness had been a great lesson in accepting weakness, yet another phase of healing.

The great task of flushing something out means to also bring the things that lurk in darkness to light. This process is not so easy, most of the time it's uncomfortable, other times, it can be painful.

For me, this time was about addressing my own creative demons. The one thing that I wanted to do ever since I was a young girl of 8 was to write. It can take a lifetime for someone to know what they want to be doing. I knew at age 8. The crazy and sad thing is that I did little to make anything of it. 

To meet my friend now, decades later, beautifully derailed by various stages of life, to speak about collaborating, well, at first I was very excited. But during the height of her fever I felt a sort of paralysis, I was so overwhelmed, I didn't know where to begin. Our neat little project had grown into a bit of a monster. Some things still came easy but most of it was like climbing up a mountain, it was toilsome, I felt incredibly heavy. 

Over the last year I had embarked on a journey in which I had to acknowledge that my inability to commit in the past, whether it was to one place, to one job, to the right conditions for a healthy relationship, had a lot to do with a fear of failure, I was afraid of not being good enough (an old issue that I have seriously had enough of and am very much done with, thank you very much). Although, I continued to long for these things, I seemed to be making decisions that allowed me to circumvent the possibility of failure, it was easier to avoid, rather than to face it all. 

And so here I was, triggered, facing my oldest unfinished dream. It seemed to me I had been here before, my poems coming out of Berkeley, were publishable but I did not put the hard work in to getting more than a couple published. I had built a small reputation for being a lifestyle writer and a spoken work performer in Manila, but I never followed through. I kind of hated the publishing rat race and performing in public made me so nervous. To go deeper, I needed to put myself out there, but instead I found myself backing off, and in this way nothing ever happened, no failures but also no successes. Eventually, the "dream deferred", as Langston Hughes so aptly put it, exhausted me, I opted to not make a living as a writer anymore, I went into teaching and, eventually, teaching yoga. 

In Ubud, I realized how I could continue to be fearful and inactive, but that I wouldn't be happy not doing anything about it either. The yoga practice has taught me so much about confronting fear, that I don't have to be so fearful of succeeding or of failing; that I don't have to be so goal oriented. I just need to show up for myself day after day, that is enough. 

The fear hasn't gone but I am less deterred by it. I intend to show up for myself, that to practice fully now includes making time to write everyday. 

So on that last day, I wanted to thank Bali. I put on the temple clothes with the help of lovely Nyoman, Clara's housekeeper. I had to take demure little steps in the tightly wound crisp sarong, moving with some difficulty as I climbed down the steep steps that led from the bridge down to the river and then up to the temple. As I walked, I expressed quietly my gratefulness and prayers. I felt the sanctity of the place, how below the hubbub of modern day Ubud, life was largely unchanged, the forest continues to flourish, the river continues to flow, and the faithful continue to make their pilgrimages, offerings, and prayers, that healing the old fashioned way continues. 

I arrived at the temple steps to find the gate shut and padlocked, which is odd for a temple that is supposed to be open 24 hours. I looked in, taking in the site, then turned around to look at the bridge above, the lush green all around. Everything looks so alive. 

It didn't matter that I didn't get to go inside the temple. What mattered more was the going, I realized, not the actually getting there. 

I do not know what this book will look like, when it will be completed, or whether it will even make it to print, what matters now is that I write, that I surrender to the creative process in the same way that I have done to my sadhana, to my practice. That I must try to do it without expectation, that I commit to it no matter whether I am feeling compelled to write or not, whether it is easy or hard, to accept that some days will feel better than others but to go on anyway because ultimately it makes me feel alive and happy. This is a new level of healing work for me, that to do and do again the thing that challenges me to grow and makes me feel full is mighty good medicine. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

love of driftwood

How many times does it feel like we are wandering adrift in the sea, little knowing where the tides and currents are taking us? Occasionally we are washed onto unknowable shores, moored beside some other being, with whom we share this precious moment, a sliver of time, in which we find solace--and when we're really lucky, joy--in another's company. Perhaps exchanging a lot or very little, but feeling deeply comforted that another exists before the tide rises again, drawing us back into our solitary journey.

Meeting. Loving. Parting. Sometimes it is like this: so very transitory, precious in its brevity. I remind myself, there are so many kinds of love. Short as it is, it is complete. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015


Giant flag that flies over the Castro here in San Francisco. 

Love. This is what I write for. Though I have taken some time to deeply examine and experience love--quietly, privately, taking it in, rather than pulsing it out. I wake today with two incredibly strong sensations worth sharing on the topic of my obsession:

1. Joy. A pure, joyful sense of celebration. Today, I will walk down from my current digs here in San Francisco into the Castro, where I will celebrate with thousands and thousands of other joyful people of all sorts of creeds and sexual orientations the Supreme Court ruling yesterday, which legalized the marriage of same-sex couples in all the states. Not only is it Gay Pride weekend, but it's one of historical proportions--it's going to be an epic party! As the hashtag that has been popularized the last two days says, love wins!

2. The second sensation is harder to qualify. Yes, I feel hopeful and positive from yesterday's ruling. As I said above, I feel like celebrating. But I'm also kind of flabbergasted that we continue to live in a world where the legality of love is questionable. That prior to yesterday, it was illegal for two people of the same sex to bind their lives together in marriage in the great United States. That today, this continues to be an issue for same-sex couples in most parts of the world. Yes, entering into marriage is a legal contract. Thus, all tax-paying citizen deserves this right. 

Moreover, love is love. It is transcendent; that two people could honestly love each other enough to want to marry, to spend their lives together, to take on each other's joys and fears and ills, to look into each other's eyes and allow that person to be a mirror into their souls--well, all I can say is this: that deserves our (meaning, human kind's) universal awe, respect, and support period

Monday, December 22, 2014

one love, one god

Meditating at the minaret at Ibn Tulin Mosque in Cairo, Egypt.

In Japan, I quietly walked up and down a Shinto mountain God barefoot, in thoughtful meditation. In Egypt, I chanted with ecstasy and enthusiasm to Allah in a Sufi zikr. Last night I went to simbang gabi ("evening mass", which is Christmas tradition among the Catholics here in the Philippines).

As I sang wholeheartedly the familiar “Kordero ng Diyos”, “Lamb of God”, I wondered whether my fellow churchgoers would consider me an infidel for being so very liberal in the ways I choose to worship the Divine. I know that I don’t see myself as such. Rather, I feel that along with the world opening up the way it has over the years--with the yoga practice and the travel that has magically come with it--so has my view of that which is absolute and complete.

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona.

I find that wherever I go, true devotees have the same kind of heart no matter what form, formlessness, or format they resonate with. And the rest, well, we have the same struggles--the same struggles of lack, of faith, of littleness and of separation. That somehow each version of God is a reflection of the culture that seeks to understand it. And while there is something to be said about how we create the God or Gods that we value, I continue to believe that the Divine is Everywhere, Everything, call It what you will, worship wherever it works for you. There is no limiting the unlimited, there is no naming that which goes beyond words.

Shinto moss shrine in Kyoto, Japan. 
In the New Year, I will be landing in India and there my acts of devotion will transform into sun salutations, pujas, and mantras. I will be bowing to a dynamic set of representations of the Divine, blue-faced Gods, many-armed Goddesses, magical beasts. Moreover, I would like to be more liberal, more open, I would like to make a practice of seeing the Divine in all people, in all things. I’d like to love the people I find most difficult. I’d like to look upon strangers as brothers and sisters. I’d like to treat the the land, the world we live in, the planet at large as sacred—because it really is. 

One love, one God.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

owning it

Right now I am sitting in a beautiful borrowed apartment in Cairo. Over the last few years, I have often sat in the eclectic homes of other people, surrounded by other people's things, other people's lives, simply enjoying it, little comparing my own life to theirs--which I realize is a big shift.

I am content. And happy--happy in a way I don't think I have ever felt. 

Truth is I have little property, mostly clothes and books and personal effects of sentimental value, some I carry with me, most are sitting in my family home in Manila, where I've spent the least amount of time in the last two years. I have a trunk in India, a collection of textiles and modest "India clothes" and a small but strange collection that includes a coffee maker, a salad spinner, a few bits and bobs that allow India to be home when I unpack them.

I don't have a plot of land or a space or a room all my own but wherever I find myself these days, I feel at home because my heart is simply there. I sleep well, and I can sleep practically anywhere, sharing a bed, couch surfing, laying a yoga mat on a floor--this, more than contorting myself into a pretzel-like position makes me feel truly flexible.

I don't have a car or a bicycle, but I have my own two feet and the courage to purchase one way online plane tickets which piece together these dots accross the world map, which is really my path, my life. 

do feel, more than ever, a strong sense of ownership. I own my life. I own my own heart and soul and that has given me plenty of room to grow, to be at home and at peace almost anywhere this crazy life has taken me. 

I own my principles, my good humor, my own yoga practice. I own my time, the hours I spend on the mat, how much I teach, how much I play; that the idea of fun and joy and responsibility exist simultaneously in so many actions. I own my struggles and my failures, as well as the great victories that come when I surpass such difficulties. I find a deep satisfaction in the little things: taking the hours before practice to drink a coffee or a tea as I write, self-practicing, attending talks, writing a blog post, spending time with friends and family, most of all, spending time with myself, singing to myself, cooking and feeding myself or walking myself down the road to do shopping or taking myself with my own two feet to work, taking that brief moment as I rest after an intense practice to simply say to myself, "hey, you, I'm still here, you are not alone, I love you deeply."

I own my choices. I have decreased the tendency to blame others or the universe for any misfortune, doing my best to take responsibility for my own actions and my own reactions. I choose where to go, where to work, what to eat (sometimes it's good, sometimes it's not so good, sometimes it's chocolate), I choose how to pray. I choose how to live. I choose to be light and to be free and to be happy. 

I have no debts. But I owe a lot--to the strangers, friends and family who continue who to open their hearts and their homes to me; to the teachers and studio owners who entrust me with their spaces, students and visions; to the students who entrust me with their bodies, their emotional well being and their peace of mind, even if it's just for an hour and a half; to the meditation practice that has significantly quieted down my speed-driven brain; to the Ashtanga yoga practice that has taught me how to be in my body, how to balance strength and flexibility, how to be vulnerable and how to "be." I owe a lot to all those who love me unconditionally, who support me, mostly from untold distances. I owe a lot to my teachers and guides and guardian angels, all of whom come just at the right moment. I owe a lot to the great challenges and great challengers who have been among my greatest teachers. I owe a lot to God, which I also call the Universe, which I also call Love, which one day I would like to call Everyone, but, honestly, I think that will take a lot more yoga. And all of this owing actually creates this unbelievable surpluss, abundance. Every moment filled with potential, with opportunity, with openings. 

I am starting to wake up to a world where anything can happen, where there are infinite possibilities. That I can live anywhere, do anything. And I'm surprised because I'm not scared, surprised because for so long living, truly living on the limb actually frightened me to the point of paralysis. I feel excited--perhaps with a healthy amount of anxiety still, but mostly, I feel excited because I am realizing that I am wealthy beyond my imagination. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

nyc: drawing circles

Full Moon tonight over Brooklyn, NYC.

Returning to Japan after a year was an incredible experience, showing me how much I can change and grow between summers. How incredibly resilient the heart is, how it strengthens and expands with struggle—and, of course, love. How we are built to overcome such struggles and from them heal. How self-confidence and self-belief can bloom from such small seeds. 

What a year it has been, full of blessings, full of incredible travels and adventures, amazing new connections, and most of all the opportunities to share what I love so dearly, and through teaching learn so much myself.

So, here I am finding myself drawing circles, leaving Japan for New York to attend my sister’s wedding--a landmark visit filled with celebration as she marks a new phase of her life.

Moreover, New York is where I started this blog, just a little over 3 years ago. 

It was my first stop after pulling out my roots from my idyllic tropical island home in the Philippines and deciding that, for the time being, I would live in the world. Little did I know that I would still be on the road, that the simple desire to seek out love would turn into the biggest romantic adventure—with myself!; that the act of humbly surrendering as a yoga student would turn me into a teacher; that by letting go of that I knew, of all that made me feel secure, I would feel more myself, more comfortable in my own skin and in the world around me.

So, Hello, New York City!, one of the first places I ever traveled to by myself in my teens, one of the first places to truly thrill me, that ignited my thirst for adventure and living. Here I am back in New York. A beautiful full moon evening. Here I am once again drawing circles, discovering that each end is a beginning...

Monday, September 8, 2014

the bamboo path

Before I left Japan, I wanted to return to Arashiyama in Kyoto. The bamboo forest there seemed to call to me. Even though I have been blessed to see it a number of times now, and even though there are plenty of sights and treasures that I have not yet tasted in Kyoto and in Kansai, I felt it was somehow important for me to make the trip.  And so on my last full day in Kyoto, I squeezed in a late afternoon visit, just as the famous path cleared out of tourists.

There, I walked alone, in the quiet, scant light bending around the clusters of bamboo, thinking about life’s journey, and my very own especially.

Preparing to set off again, to take to the road, which has been my home—a very good one—these recent years, I felt much excitement, freedom and joy but also a degree of sadness. Returning to Japan had been an unexpected heart opening; in many ways it was a return to love. It was an unfastening of windows and doors, an airing out of stuffy old rooms, and a letting in of the summer, sunshine, warm breezes. It can be hard to see such a season pass and not feel like it is an end of something.

I felt deeply comforted walking between the two walls of bamboo. I felt how very strong they were, how well rooted, and also flexible. This path reminded me that we are all on this life’s journey, all seeking sunshine, all wanting to grow, to be strong, to be flexible, to find balance.

The bamboo does not mourn the end of summer, it simply adapts and continues to live, to grow, to, at times, struggle, other times, flourish. The seasons, too, will also not stop one from walking the path, each step an opportunity to learn, to grow, to expand. And while the distance between Japan and myself increases, I feel that I am still walking the bamboo path.

Even now, while on a plane, somewhere between Shanghai and New York City. The way could not be less clear for me; all I know is that I am once again on the move—drawing lines in air, a trail of smoke between point A and point B. Still, I know with a great certainly in my cells and in my bones, that the path is still right here, slowly, gracefully unwinding, for me and my fellow bamboo.