Wednesday, November 27, 2013

a great need

Reading this Hafiz (translated by Ladinsky) poem made me think about Egypt and how wouldn't it be just amazing if the need were great enough to get people to hold hands and climb out of the difficulties together. (Aside: excited to tour around Cairo next week! On the program some great spiritual sights and Sufi ecstatic dance.)

A Great Need

Of a great need
We are all holding hands
And climbing.
Not loving is a letting go.
The terrain around here
Far too

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

shibuya crossing: another unlikely meeting place


Immortalized in many an artistic photograph and film moment, Tokyo’s iconic pedestrian crossing in Shibuya can amaze, thrill and mortify with its density of the pedestrians pounding through the 5-way crossing. I’ve been told that on one heavy crossing you could have a million people pass through there. Now, even to one so poor with numbers such as myself, that seems highly improbably, but seeing myself the thickness of the human traffic, I can imagine that it is possible. Regardless of the numbers, one cannot deny the fact that it’s a staggeringly large amount of people, all with a mission, all moving towards some destination and, for one moment in time, they converge to cross one of Japan’s busiest intersections, swift flowing rivers of human walking bodies.

This is the backdrop of my last jaw dropping coinkidink, so utterly random, so brilliant in its timing that I can’t help but smile at the universe’s continued blessings and good humor. Because this is where I met my friend Taeko, whilst crossing the street.

This might not sound very impressive at this point, so let me backtrack…

It’s Day One in Tokyo after a rather relaxed two months and a bit in Kansai region’s Osaka, a big city, but after sometime a manageable one--very orderly except for some “unruly” pedestrian and cyclists (I being one of them, for a brief period of time). If Osaka is a big city, then Tokyo is a monster one. Everything is amplified: the buildings, the subway system, the advertising, the business signage, the noise, the people…

I was feeling a bit jolted out of my comfort zones, I was missing the easy pace and wholesome energy of Kansai. Previously, I was in peaceful and green Kyoto, enjoying lovely bike rides in the city, visiting temples, gardens and shrines, eating healthy veg meals and chilling at gameboard hot spot, Cafe Meeple.

And now, I was on the move AGAIN and in overly vibrant hyper-driven Tokyo! I was feeling the intensity of it and was doubting my decision to leave Kyoto.

Here I was without a phone trying to meet friends at various meeting spots I had no previous experience with. Had managed ok through a lunch and an afternoon outing. But then there was a dinner meet-up set at the east exit door of the Shinjuku station. I thought, if all the signs fail me, I still had my compass.

There, I would meet Taeko, a new Tokyo resident, and our friend Andrea, who was coming in on the trains from Ibaraki, where he lives and works.  Wasn’t too worried about the meeting, though my friend Alona, who I was exploring Shibuya with, had her concerns. Shinjuku is a big station.

After crossing, Taeko is still on the phone with Andrea!
When we parted, I had a good 3 hours to kill before meeting, so I decided to return to the famous Shibuya pedestrian crossing and try my luck at trying to capture the hustle and bustle of the people with my camera.

In a way it was laughable, me crossing the streets a number of times, trying this crossing or that, the bumbling tourist. There was no capturing the scale of the human movement on these Tokyo streets, at least, not with my phone camera. But with so many people, so much action, I felt anonymous, another body moving with the flow, arm outstretched upwards, camera over my head, trying to snap up a little of that oh so special Shibuya energy. I must have been on my fourth or fifth round, in the middle of one of the crossings, when Taeko snuck up beside me to say hi and to tell me that she had Andrea on the phone just at that very moment and that they were just wondering how they would get a hold of me—then passes the phone to me and I hear Andrea on the line. Smack in the middle of the crossing. Seriously?! What were the possibilities?!

Taeko then walks me down several fabulous streets, where the energy and flavor of young, hip Tokyo is pumping, then we head to Shinjuku together, where we wait for Andrea at an exit door, which I must admit I would have had a difficult time finding.

When I recount my story to my friend Alona after Monday yoga practice as we have coffee and breakfast at the fashionable Omotesando district, she points out that this is, in fact, something that happens to me all the time. And what’s more is that it seems to be happening with greater and greater frequency: these golden moments so fortuitous, so sublimely random and yet totally perfect. Some meetings and events may not have the grandiose effect or the same shock value of a chance encounter in Shibuya, but every encounter is a blessing.

I wrote about my last serendipitous meeting in Barcelona as the universe’s feedback system, confirming that all is perfect, that I am just at the right time, the right place. But I am starting to sense that these aren’t isolated events, that each encounter is part of a great trail, tasty morsels that mark this fantastic forward-moving journey.

love the idea or... love, the idea

We all want love. We dream of it. We crave it. We seek it out.

The very idea of it becomes a thing of epic proportions. And as we wait for it, the bigger and bigger the idea gets.  Sometimes, it is a thing we fear and run from, either way it cultivates the same energy. Elusive or prolific, it gives birth to more ideas of love.

And when we perceive it to come, how easily it moves us to distraction, how easily we get carried away, how easily our mind molds it into the thing we’ve been waiting so patiently for or we’ve built up so greatly. We are such visionaries, sometimes, seeing/creating only what we like to see.

So, how do we distinguish love that is real from that which we have, in part, made up?

When my last relationship ended, I couldn’t quite get past how one person could profess such a great love and then, after a lot of silent internal deliberation, take it back. Was it all a lie, I asked myself? Was what we experienced as love a false representation of one?

(I’ve also been on the other end of this human equation, and I can honestly say, neither end is easy or pleasant.)

And perhaps there are no easy answers to such questions.

Love itself is unanswerable. It is both the question and the answer; it is complete. It is accountable to no one. It exists everywhere and its power is immeasurable and mysterious. It is infinite and unending.

But when love “ends” and seems so disappointing, what is that? Where does that come from?

What I am learning is not to blame love--which is guileless, it is innocent. But, rather, to recognize that my experience of it is limited because I’m human, and that those who I love and who love me are human too, and in our limited being-ness we experience love in an imperfect and limited fashion.  Most of us do our best, and many times our best will fall short of the perfection that love is. We, as human beings, are inconsistent; we stumble, fall, make mistakes; we also get up, dust ourselves off, and try again.

Love is different from the idea of love. The idea of love is mind-born. If “love” is something that we think, then already there is something not quite right about it. 

Real love is much more subtle than that. It is not experienced with the mind but with the heart. And not even the physical beating heart, but the more subtle energetic heart center. Love is an energy, not a thought.  

Love is not what we think it is; it is what we feel it is. But when we seek to define it, this feeling, we use a language that is not the language of love, but the language of ideas, and many a time our ideas are based on the way we think things should be.

And a good friend pointed out just this last summer, as I was moaning about how I thought things “should be,” that there is, really, no such thing! Love, simply, is. Not an easy thing for the thinking heart to accept, but there it is.

And it’s a whole new challenge; this feeling love, experiencing it just as it is: in essence, it is great, always present but also changing and transforming because those around me, including myself, change and transform. I’m learning—sometimes with great difficulty--to just feel it, not to judge, not to discern, not to categorize, just being with it and, in turn, letting it be with me, another act of surrender, another way of being.      

Thursday, October 3, 2013

last days in osaka

The river runs through Osaka city. Nakanoshima park and island to the right. 

Two more teaching days in Osaka. Almost 9 weeks. How quickly time moves, it flows as if it were a river moving towards the sea. And for the two months here, I've been watching it go by, its source, somewhere upriver, a place of unending rainfall.

From here, though, there is no indication of weathering storminess, not anymore. Just steadily flowing time. There is no holding it, no way of pausing it just for, at least, a tiny little moment. All there is to do is to simply flow with it; move with it now, until it moors me into the next bit of shoreline. 

So these are my last days in this bustling urban metropolis, Japan’s second largest city. I meant to take a train today for sightseeing at near-ish Himeji, but in the end, I couldn’t leave the city, which I am already starting to miss.

Hipster haven: Brooklyn Roasting Company, Osaka branch.
So today, I’m on my borrowed bicycle, riding around in my borrowed city, navigating with surprising ease between districts to eat, chill, and run crucial final errands.

Now, I’m in my favorite hipster hang out, Brooklyn Roasting Company, having a much needed free-trade iced soy latte (I did say it was hip!) and feeling quite at home with the Japanese cool kids. This is just one of the many places I’d like to make one last stop at.  Taking a moment to write and recap the last two months before I get on the road again, before the thought gets lost in the whirling wonder of life at play.

I meant to write more--story of my life really, this meaning to write business—about Osaka, about the adventure of being in Japan, about this new phase of my life teaching on the road, about the everyday blessings and the surprising gifts of manifestation.  And while there were a number of things and events that undermined that, I also know that this time has been more about “being.”

And Osaka has been an incredible filling station.

Mysore class in Spirit Yoga School where I've been teaching.
If the village of Vio in the Monte Perdido (or Lost Mountain) National Park in the Araganese Pyranees—where I spent 8 weeks prior to Japan—was a place of feeling the deep chasms and caves, the peaks and the valleys of myself, then Osaka is where I filled up these great empty spaces with fulfilling work, with wonderful students, with new experiences, with yoga practice, with good food, with steady loving friendships, with good cheerful fun and doing things that I enjoy doing, and with—and this has been most key—simply being myself.

It took a little bit of time to get off the old train of thought, the tracks leading to nowhere, to arrive and be present in Osaka. But this subtle city eased me slowly into the now. Day by day, as I cycled around its streets, as I sampled its delicious delicacies, as I was awed by the strangeness and uniqueness that is Japan and as I was met with the reserved sweetness of the local people, I found a deep sense of happiness. 

Goofy post-practice
self portrait. 
Without any of the old stories, old characters, in a whole new job in a whole country, I got to ask myself that crucial question: who the heck am I?

I won't go into the answers to the question, none of which really matters anyway, what matters is that things do shift. Negative feelings dissipate. Shadows fade in the light. 

Osaka, known as the food capital of Japan, lives up to its reputation. It nourished me so exquisitely in Japanese fashion, with remarkable efficiency and orderliness, with quality ingredients, with its own kind of quirkiness and aesthetics.

It’s been a very special time of self-recovery and self-recognition, of surrendering into the great what is.  The Big O has facilitated this recent bit of transformation. I recognize that this is just one stop in a long journey.  And how things, myself included, fall apart only so that they can be put back together--hopefully, each time it happens--better than ever.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

master maneuvering

My makeshift altar to Swami Lakshmanjoo.
There are some days when you know that you are more or less in control. That your destiny is in your hands--or so you think.

Then there are the other days when you know all is totally out of your hands, that it might have been there in your palms at some point, but then things change. Most of the time, we resist this. And struggle. Other times we surrender and allow ourselves to be softly moved and guided.

I feel an expert at the former. Of finding myself suddenly out of control and digging my soles in because by-golly I don't want to be moved in another direction. I have chosen my path and intend to walk it by any means necessary!

The days, however, when I don't struggle, these days are so very different. So very soft. And while it is easier to surrender to the lighter things in life, when I do, it's still surprising how things flow into one direction, even if it is not the way I meant it to be.

Today feels like I've been maneuvered gently back into a space that I'd been avoiding. For certain reasons, my meditation practice has been less than regular.  I hadn't performed puja since I left the Pyranees. My spiritual practices have been overshadowed by the simple act of surviving--which I think is acceptable, and most probably necessary.

Today, it was time to come back, the universe seemed intent to herd me back into the fold with the mahasamadhi celebration of Swami Lakshmanjoo, a Kashmiri saint with whom I have felt a strong resonance with.

I also played my part in this co-creation. The night before. I set up an altar, prepared my offerings, made the intention that I too would celebrate all on my own for the first time, here in Osaka. But I also wondered when there would be time. I would be practicing and teaching in the morning. Then lunch and tutoring some students English. Still, I knew the altar to Swamiji would be waiting at home.

Then I arrived early at the studio to practice only to find that the space was already in use for a private class. Instead of wasting a ride back home, I took my mat down by the nearby riverside. There, I sat and meditated in the shady outdoors. It felt like a gift from Swamiji. As if he were saying, now is the time to meditate, so sit, lady, sit!

Then my English lesson was cancelled and I could return home much earlier than anticipated. I thought, clever, Swamiji, you've even cleared my afternoon.

On the way home from the restaurant where I had quick lunch (not the lingering kind we often do) with students after class, I spotted, as we were walking down the shotangai, a shop I'd never seen before filled with little Japanese curiosities. What caught my eye was a large Zen Buddhist Daruma or dharma doll. I could not believe it, I had been looking for this doll since I arrived in Japan. And it's been two months! Today of all days, it appears.

A powerful talisman, it is also used as a tool for goal setting. I wanted to use it as a marker in which to set my new goal. Coincidence? Perhaps. But also another gift, an opportunity to set intentions. I bought one of the travel sized ones.

As I returned home I received a message that a package had arrived and would I like to pick it up from the studio? And then I was off, riding my bicycle in the mid-afternoon sun. Not too far from home, I asked myself what was the point of running after some old things that had just been sent to me? I turned, stopped by the neighborhood flower shop. I had forgotten the flowers. The package could wait, but flowers, it seemed, were definitely in order (or on order by Swamiji).

In the end I was able to chant several Kashmiri hymns and the temple verses with only a little prompting from recordings. It was an intense two and a half hours singing them on my own, but it was nonetheless special, perhaps more so because of it. I also sat and meditated three times during the entire day; they weren't long sits but they were a good start. After the post chant meditation, I felt exhausted. As I looked pathetically at Swamiji's picture, he seemed to say, well what did you expect, leaving it so long.

All in all, it was a quiet day. No homa, no fire ceremony. Only a little bit of burning incense, sage and palosanto. Just me and the likeness of this venerable saint. Some freshly cut flowers and washed fruit. But his spirit, I could feel, was with me too, moving from place to place, creating opportunities, removing obstacles that I would have gladly embraced, making me sit and watching me do it.

I'm not entirely proud of having fallen off the spiritual bandwagon. I know that I have been in tune in other ways, through teaching, for example, and that other things have taken priority for very good reasons, also having to do with my wellbeing. But what I realize about today is that when time comes, we will be led back into alignment (with whatever it is that we believe in), so long as we allow ourselves to be moved by the gentle, quiet grace of the master.

To Swamiji, with so much gratitude!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

preparing the altar, swamiji's mahasamadhi

Preparing the altar for puja. Fruits are washed.
Flowers will be bought and gently placed
before Swamiji.

Tomorrow, 22 September, will be Swami Lakshmanjoo's mahasamadhi. Timing once again seems incredibly perfect. I have not offered puja to Swamiji, the Kashmiri saint of the Kashmir Shivite tradition, since I left the Spanish Pyranees, two months ago. So many things have been in the way, most of it in my head. 

But this last week has been a week of openings, of gentle releases, of taking big expansive breaths. I am feeling more myself than I have felt in ages. This is a good state, I remind myself, as I prepare to meet with such a Master, though I am still a little nervous about it. 

In 2011, I was in Culver City, with devotees of Swami Lakshmanjoo, who told stories from memory, lessons from him given directly to them. Last year, I was in Romania, amidst the Carpathian mountains with friends, together we chanted the hymns to him.

This year, I am on my own. It will just be me and Swamiji. (Aside: I hope I don't freak out my share house mates in Osaka with the chanting!) I'm excited to meet with him like this, to humbly present myself--just as I am--along with the offerings, to chant as best as I can remember on my own. I will surely stumble through it. But it will be real, it will be honest. And as I was told two years ago, this day is not about me, it's about Swamiji. And for that, I am so totally ready.   

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

borrowed wisdom from Stevie Nicks

Song for the moment, Landslide:

I took my love and I took it down 
I climbed a mountain and I turned around 

And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills 
'Till the landslide brought me down 

Oh, mirror in the sky 
What is love? 
Can the child within my heart rise above? 
Can I sail thru the changing ocean tides? 
Can I handle the seasons of my life? 

Mmm Mmm... 

Well, I've been afraid of changing 
'Cause I've built my life around you 
But time makes you bolder 
Children get older 
I'm getting older too 

Well, I've been afraid of changing 
'Cause I, I built my life around you 
But time makes you bolder 
Children get older 
I'm getting older too 
I'm getting older too 

So, take my love, take it down 
Oh climb a mountain and turn around 
If you see my reflection in the snow covered hills 
Well the landslide will bring you down, down 

And If you see my reflection in the snow covered hills 
Well maybe the landslide will bring it down 
Oh oh, the landslide will bring it down

Monday, August 26, 2013

the visit

At the arrival's gate, Kansai airport...

In a few moments, I will be meeting my friend Deva at the Osaka airport. Airports have quite a significance for me, especially over the past couple of years having been in an epic, part-time, on-again-off-again long-distance relationship. Today feels like an opportunity to make a new kind of airport meeting memories. 

It is a treat for me to scoop this lovely young lady up. Deva is one of my earth angels. Almost two years ago, she fetched me from the Hong Kong airport. I was a little worse for wear then after an intensely burning summer and a wearily long flight from New York. And for the few days that I was there, she helped nurse me back into some sense of my self. We ate nourishingly good food, most of which she lovingly made, had some sweet walks with sublime vistas--even in such a crazy city as Hong Kong, and just had the kind of recharging time possible between good friends and fellow women folk.

She is going to be the first person to visit me in Japan. And with my time here quite limited, she'll possibly be the only one. 

Again, like so many of the serendipitous events that have dotted this time, Deva's visit is like manna from heaven. A couple of days ago I said my farewell to the one pre-existing friend in Osaka, who over the weeks got me settled in, oriented me to the city, ingrained in my memory a number of "good"--by his Italian standards--coffee shops, then packed up himself for rural Nippon.

For a short moment, I thought that my time to be truly solitary had come. That the Universe, in her great infinite wisdom, had decided it was time to be on my own.

It's true, I've an aversion to "being on my own." I admit, this needs some soulful investigation, but so long as the fates keep throwing loving and beautiful people my way, I'm certainly not going to deny such gifts and blessings. 

Plus, there is something so exciting about receiving a guest. Today, as I cleaned my kitchen cubbies, hoovered my sparse little room and prepared an extra sleeping mat, I felt excitement for my coming visitor. How delightful it was to have a space, however small, to offer to a friend. 

The visit itself I know will be a time of powerful sharing. I'm excited to share a bit of my adventure here and to make memories of Japan with a dear friend. Also, I look forward to being in the company of someone who's been there with me, in the trenches of life's crazy, even over long distances. 

obon and offering to the ancestors

Japanese cemetery at Arayashima, Kyoto.

This may be among my first real Japan posts. The last few may have been written in Osaka, where I've been based since the first of August, but most were written about a different time and a different place. Though I'm sure there's more to glean and excavate from the past months in Europe, I'm also feeling that I've expunged a crucial amount of emotional backlog and that there is a little more space to be in the present.

And at present, I'm in Japan. And everyday here feels a little like a miracle. Two months ago, just as my so-called-plans began to disintegrate and I was asking myself while sitting at a remote Pyranean village in Spain "what to do now?" one email came from Osaka where a mysore yoga program needed a substitute teacher and would I like to be that person?

Arashiyama, Kyoto.
So, here I am. Here and now present, teaching a mysore program at Spirit Yoga International School, where esteemed friends and fellow practitioners have taught before me, sharing a process which I love so deeply, which has moved me to no ends, which continues to push me to the edge and transform me whether I like it or not, a process which I ultimately like, look for, and invite on a daily basis.

And everyday is an offering to moving forward.

Ironically, the present continues to link to the past. Perhaps this is one of the challenges of being me, I think too much. I process. A lot. I've been given a lot of advice too. To not think so much. Easier said than done--but rather than going against my own nature, I am trying to work with it, trying to get this thinking mind to get on my onward moving bandwagon.

What I am coming to realize more and more is that being present isn't about forgetting the past, or disregarding the past. Rather, it's about seeing the past as past, honoring it for what it is, taking the lessons that it has given, and then, finally, letting it go. 

One of the Dimonji at a distance.
A couple of Saturdays ago, I took my first trip out of Osaka to nearby Kyoto for Gozan no Okuribi, the culminating event for Obon festivities in the area, a sacred time to honor one's ancestors, to release them from suffering in the realm of hungry ghosts and to remember the offerings that these ancestors made. Traditionally, Okuribi bonfires are lit on the slopes of Kyoto's mountainsides to remember and release the spirits of the ancestors.

I loved the idea! I had my own spirits of the not so recent past to release, poor tortured souls in the realm of the hungry ghosts. But Obon also had me thinking about my ancestors too as we navigated the crowds along the river, many of whom were not in a good vantage point to see the bonfires.

In the Philippines, we have a similar but more Catholic tradition that falls on All Saints' and All Souls' Day, November 1 and 2 of every year where we go to visit departed family members in their grave sites. We spend some time there, we pray and eat--often it's a grave yard picnic sort of affair. Then we go. We don't recall so much the spirits of far off ancestors, but loved ones we remember, we miss. And for many like myself, the tradition triggers an automatic response, rather than one that sparks deep contemplation and real connection.

In Japan, I realize, Obon has a similar effect. It is widely observed, but the depth of which is not commonly touched by those who perceive it as archaic or those who practice it by rote. The tradition continues but some of the greater significance is a little lost. 

Kyoto: river flows, purifies...
The bonfires themselves were hard to see. We found twice, accidentally, spots in which to get a faint view from a particular angle. But the fires of intention have their moment and burn out quickly.

As I wandered the streets of Kyoto, my friend Andrea leading us to various spots where we might look upon one of the Dimonji, the giant characters burning into the mountain, I wondered about the significance of Obon in the context of my own life. As a tourist, I was looking for a sight-seeing opportunity. But as a life-explorer, however, a different way of seeing--a healthier way of understanding and connecting with my own ghosts, with my own ancestors.

My ghosts, those wily little creatures of my own making, I understood, would continue to shadow me for as long as I allowed them. I had breathed life into them. And I was solely responsible now to deconstruct them, to release them from my mind and to take away their power--or rather to take back my own.

As for my ancestors, I realized that I had none that I could recall directly. I know so little of my family's history. I didn't even get much of a chance to really know my own grandmothers while they were living and no opportunity at all to meet my grandfathers.

What I feel, however, is this: my ancestors are my forebearers, they are the ones who came before me, they are the countless men and women who grappled with their own ghosts; journeymen (and women too, women, especially) who courageously walked their path and those who struggled to do so; writers who wrote and writers who didn't; women who fought for their personal sovereignty and famously failed and those who with quiet grace claimed their own genuine femininity.

All those who have come before me are my ancestors, the steps I walk upon now have been laid down by them. It is them whom I acknowledge, whom I honor. It is to them that I supplicate, that I may learn from their struggles and their victories, that my missteps--because there will inevitably be more of them--be lessons in love rather than mistakes, that their blessings are like flowers strewn on this unpaved dirt road I've chosen, that their love which shines like a light from within me continue to help me banish my own shadows. That they can rest now, too, knowing that me and others like me will continue to walk their path.

The past is past--but there is a power to connecting with it, feeding a human need to honor and embrace it, allowing it to be the inspiration that it can be rather than the heavy weight we often carry.