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.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

a year of love

It has been a while--again. Unlike other lapses in writing, there hasn't been a lack of things to write, nor has there been a lack of inspiration, but rather a simple pull towards the moment. The processing of things, which often manifests in me bouncing back ideas to myself, many times through these blog entries, were seamlessly facilitated by months with my friend and mirror, Amy. Now, however, as I return to the "road" that is my life, to this my singular journey, I cannot help but feel that it is time to also return to the word. Pages need filling. Accounts need to be made. A story needs telling...

Manila, Philippines.

The officer at immigration asks, when did I last leave the Philippines? I realize it only as I answer, June 10, today, a year ago.

I did not mean to be away so long. A year was not a part of my plan, neither was teaching in Japan or Barcelona, nor was the second prolonged trip to Cairo. What I did have was a return ticket from London to Manila for early December 2013, an apartment reserved in Mysore, India for the end of that year till March and the delusion that the journey I was on was a trip made for two.

I am learning to not be so attached to plans, learning to accept that plans change, often for the better if one can manage to cease from resisting it.

Returning to the Philippines, to my place of origin, to where this particular journey started, "brings it all home"... I feel a little like a top, that's been spinning, spinning, spinning, moving, moving, moving. Coming home is like the top coming to a sudden and definite stop. It's startling this strange stillness; it's helping me recognize how much I've been moving, how much movement has been in my life. I am startled and amazed and in awe of it.

How much can happen in a year! How this time last year, life was actually kind of bleak, the ground--all that I thought I knew about my so-called-great-love--being pulled out from underneath me. And how for weeks I lived in a grey despairing cloud, crying on my yoga mat, crying in kirtan, crying in the kitchen, crying to Monte Perdido, the "Lost Mountain" in the Spanish Pyranees. It was a breakdown of epic proportions and I was stewing in it, unable to leave, unwilling to least, that's what it felt like at the time.

The crazy thing now is that while I recall--embarrassingly, all too well--what a heaving mess I was, I don't actually remember exactly what the sadness felt like, not the airless depths of it, though I recall how deeply it effected me. It is already a memory about someone I knew, who kind of resembled me, but wasn't really me or isn't really me now.

The heart is so resilient and wise and efficient; lack of love is actually just space in which true love can enter. One wee failed relationship gave birth to a year of falling in love with places, whole countries, and entire groups of people, with friends and with students, with the yoga practice, with freedom and wanderlust, and, most importantly, with myself.

It has been a year of love. The messiness, the crying, the frustration, the sadness, the excavation and exorcisms of old and new ghosts. The travel, the joy, the excitement and thrill of discovery and recognition, the adventure, the dancing, getting drunk of life, eating, the meeting of soul mates, the simplest acts of living, medicine. All love.

Things may not have gone according to plan, yet I could not have planned it better. I set off a year ago for love. I believed that I was in love then--and perhaps I was. All I know now is that I have returned home more In LOVE than ever before. There is no object to this love, it has no direction. It does not exist as a relationship status, it does not seek definition. It is a state of being, simple and uncomplicated.

Friday, March 21, 2014

search for home

Life on the road...

In the summer of 2011, I sorted through my belongings in Boracay Island where I had nested comfortably for nearly 5 years, selling half of my things and packing up the rest to place into storage in my father’s house in Manila. For me, it was a bold decision; I had plans to visit my sister and mom in the US for the summer and then India in the fall, but beyond that I had no idea, I just had this overwhelming sense that it was time to go, that moving forward also meant leaving the place that I had, for some time, called “home.”

It had occurred to me that in my adulthood I went where I was called, never with any clear intention to put down roots. Living in the Philippines seemed an accident. After university, I originally planned for a year of work and travel in the region, then I lingered, never thinking it was permanent. It took me a couple of years to cancel my health insurance in the US, for example, and nearly seven years to work on my residency in the country where I was born. I accept now that I had chosen to live in the Philippines, but I must admit I wasn’t totally conscious of it.

Where was I to live after studying yoga in India? I didn’t know. Though I love the Philippines, I wasn’t sure if that was where I really belonged. Traveling came with the idea that I was also in search of a home, a home of my deliberate choosing, a place where I could continue to grow and live the way I liked, that suited my needs, which had changed since first moving to the Philippines in my early twenties.

So, I have traveled. Not always to the places where one might expect. A couple of destinations, I have chosen for this purpose, with a real desire to try things out. Though mostly, I have played the “accidental tourist,” ending up in places through forces outside myself, herded here and there through some person or desire to study yoga or work opportunity.

Needless to say, the so-called “search” is still on--I write this while flying between Rome and Cairo.  I have just been in Barcelona for two months, Egypt previous to that, Japan before Egypt, largely driven by work, without forgetting this homeward intention.

At some point, I thought, I would find myself in a place that would click, a community I deeply resonated with, that I would instantly know by the measure of happiness I felt in the place.

The great irony is, of course, I have been happy just about everywhere, many places appealing to one aspect of my personality or the other.

In Japan, for example, I loved the sweetness and the diligence of the students. I liked how everything worked like clockwork, the trains were always on time, there was a certain ease in living. I enjoyed Kyoto particularly, the energy of the river running through the city, musician students practicing along it, hundreds of years-old shrines and temples raising the city’s vibration.

Like a madwoman, I liked Cairo for pretty much the opposite reasons. I struggled with the chaos, lack of infrastructure, and socio-political instability, but recognized that along with that came this incredible spontaneity, like anything can happen—contentiously, not always a good thing—but when it’s good, it’s indescribable. I admired the students for their vibrancy and outspokenness, their ability to revel in the crazy, their resilience amidst insanity. Cairo’s frenetic energy is intense, but I loved how it brought the practice to the everyday.   

And then there was Barcelona, its cool Mediterranean energy in the streets, in the culture, in the students’ practice, the natural warmth of its inhabitants, easy going and friendly, familiar and demonstrative. I loved the people, the opportunities for spiritual exploration and alternative living, the sense of community—it’s at once a big city and a small village. I loved its city landscape, its architecture sandwiched between beach and mountains. 

It seems sometimes that seeing more of the world hasn’t narrowed down my choices, but has alarmingly increased them.

What I’ve started to realize, however, is it’s not so much about searching for a home, but more about choosing one.

The last year of travel, staying at least two months in one place, has shown me that I can be happy pretty much anywhere, that truly "home is where the heart is" and that I can grow pretty much anywhere so long as I stop and relax long enough to lay down roots. That our humanity makes us a different kind of plant, we can grow regardless of the condition of the soil, so like as we like it.

And what of the search? This projection of some future home continues to echo in the recesses of my mind, but living not searching has become more and more important.

For now, I am happy wherever I land. When I arrived in London a week ago, I got a "welcome home" message from my friend of 20 years. When I returned to Barcelona, I was welcomed home by friends who picked me up at the train station. This evening, I landed in Cairo, where I entered my friend's flat, the one I lived in for two months last year, and felt at home. 

When people ask me, "Where do you live?" My answer is not always straightforward. Most of my things are in Manila. I'm from the Philippines. I also grew up in the US. Most of my heart is where I am standing at this very moment, but bits of my heart are also in other places that I've put energy into recently, where I loved, where I have been loved. 

At some point, I reckon, I will choose one place to plant myself, but for now: Where do I live? I guess my best answer, the most honest if not a little supercilious, is I live in the world--and yes, very happily.  

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

the barcelona weigh station

Barcelona: where so many elements meet for me.
View from above St. Joseph's--en route to Parque Guell.

Barcelona, the penultimate day.

Spain is a special place, figuring quite prominently at the start of this recent phase of life journey. My love for it grows with each meeting.

I came to Madrid nearly three years ago to perform poetry with my friend Catalan-Filipino creative and poet Clara Balaguer (who I am incidentally meeting tonight and for the first time in Barcelona), an event that was so surprisingly random, unbelievable and spectacular but that is nowadays also strangely, beautifully commonplace.

Over the last year and a half, it’s been about Barcelona, though. Passing through seven times over the last nine months, it seems to be a recurring layer in a great multi-layered-life experience-cake. The first was just a day. But since then, each time I’ve come through, I spend more and more time here. Each time, the experience becomes more and more expansive.

This city has drawn me in. I have my favorite cafes, favorite plazas where I like to sit, people watch, take in the scenery. I can navigate the streets on foot now. I have friends here-- dear, good friends. And I have memories, quite a few landmark ones, some really beautiful and comforting, some sad and pensive, and a growing number of the mind-blowing/heart-opening kind.

It is many things for me, I recognize. And if to go into it all, there would be no end to it.  What is clear is that it is an important weigh station, where I am able to come and stop and assess between comings and goings.

Each time, I can’t help but note how different I am from the last time I was here, how different I feel, how the weight of experience has worked on me, and, thus, how differently I am interacting with the city and with those around me. How much more trust I have, how much more confidence and openness.

I can feel how with each succeeding visit I have become lighter but also more grounded. I have dropped unnecessary weight: sadness, self-doubt, grief, expectations—though I am sure there is a lot more to let go off.

I have put on some good weight, too: nourishing food and friendships, experience teaching and learning a city.

The time here, this prolonged stop of 2 months and a bit, has had an incredible balancing effect. Barcelona is not just a scale; it is beyond measurement. I feel its magic, the gentle support of its easy and yet powerful Mediterranean energy, its eclectic local and adopted inhabitants, its music, its sunniness despite the winter, its positive healing touch.  It’s given me time and space to simply be: to be with friends, to be with my practice and with the teaching, to be with myself.

Now, I feel neither light, nor heavy.  I feel full, not just in weight, but also in spirit.

So…gratitude abounds! I look forward the next visit to the Barcelona weigh station.