Saturday, August 12, 2017

the kiss

When I was still a girl (a phase of life, in truth, that lasted an extraordinary long amount of time), I loved Gustav Klimt's iconic painting of two lovers. One year, it was the cover of one of my journals. Another year, a planner. I carried a postcard of it among other favorite art, which I blue tacked on my university dormitory wall, later it traveled with me abroad as an exchange student, then across the world to the Philippines, and still sits among the things I have there. My college roommate Kiní presented me with a 1000-piece puzzle of it, which took over our dining room table in Berkeley over the course of one semester. When it was done, I framed it and hung it on the wall. 

No painting moved me as much as The Kiss. It stirred in me something, reminded me of something I deeply desired. The colors and shapes, the two golden beings wrapped in each other's embrace came to mean, for me, the true meaning of love. Love was finding oneself in another, it was to surrender completely, to be lost in the ecstasy of being together. I was so full of such ideas about love; I wanted to "fall in love," to meet "the one." I found myself constantly preparing myself, constantly looking for my "soul mate." 

A few years ago, when I decided it was high time to be less a girl and more a woman--I was past the age of 30, at this point, and still identified with being the former--I started to examine these deeply ingrained ideas of love. I was a romantic, but this had come with some pitfalls. There would always be magical Kiss-like moments, those potent exchanges where time seems to stop and everything turns shimmery and golden. I remember one such moment, walking up one of the vistas near Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles with my first true love, when he stopped me suddenly, asked me to look around as he held my hand and said, as he looked deeply into my eyes, "I want us to remember this moment." Then we kissed. It was wonderful and, of course, I remember it. But where was he now? What of that love, ingrained in my memory but which passed all too quickly. 

Coming to Vienna, the home city of painter Gustav Klimpt meant making a visit to Belvedere Palace where the original painting is a part of the permanent collection. I knew I had to see it. 

To stand before a painting I had loved for nearly three whole decades since the moment I first saw it is a feeling I will never be able to properly express. So much is lost when a painting is reproduced on a flat surface, what is three dimensional becomes compressed into two. The textures and colors, the scale, is never the same. 

Seeing Picasso's "Guernica" or walking into Monet's actual garden in Giverny, were incredible art experiences that I'll never ever forget, but taking in the two lovers was deeply personal. I realized that no painting had been a part of my life like that, it reminded me of my youth, of my innocence, of my love stories and my patterns, and as my eyes traced Klimt's stroke marks I also recognized how much I had changed from that girl with all her funny and beautiful and somewhat convoluted ideas about love. The woman that stands before you now still believes in love but little desires to be lost in it, nor found in it either. Over the last few years, I have learned that love resides in me, no matter whether or not there is someone to enjoy, receive or witness it. 

As I looked on with a fresh perspective, I saw that the painting was also different from how I had first perceived it. I did not see the same reckless abandon, a woman absorbed into love. I could see, instead, the harmonious balance between the painter's symbols, the masculine rectangular shapes that make up the man's robes and the feminine circular shapes blooming in her gown. He holds her but does not contain her. She holds him lightly, but there is no clinging, no desperation. His strength and her softness  compliment each other, and through her and their union, golden love flows. It's subjective, of course, my reading of it, but this is how I experienced it over a week ago, standing in that gallery, mouth agape, eyes welling up with tears. 

I am grateful to experience my favorite painting, but also to feel it in a different way. It's wondrous how time and its opportunities and challenges have led me back to this work of art, just at this moment, just when my ideas about love are changing and growing--how a kiss can grow when we grow ourselves, how love expands when we ourselves expand. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

the stuff we forget, the things we remember and the memory of healing

Self Portrait against one of the Mnac (Muzeul National Arte Contamporal) video exhibits at the Palace of the Parliament, Bucharest.

Since arriving here in Bucharest, I am astounded at how little I remember the city. Mostly, I recall the inside of Anahata, the former yoga space of my host, friend, and fellow-ashtangi Irene Zaarour, and the warmth of the students I met there; I remember her compact dog, the larger-than-life Durga; I remember sitting in the back seat of her car, watching the tree line along one of city's main avenues and noting the weight and gravity of the Palace of the Parliament, the massive government building constructed by Caucescu, as it popped into view. I remember more the great Carpathian mountainside, where we will go to tomorrow, the rock faces cutting into the skyline; to them, I had cried and confessed my sorrows, only they knew--I felt--the scope of my broken-heartedness.

Then, I had felt like I was going through one of the toughest periods of my life. I was in a love story that was unraveling and instead of walking away like two reasonable adults, we stubbornly went on with our travel plans together. By the time we arrived in Romania, where my former partner was teaching, we were only half way through our summer itinerary and I was a quiet, open-wound, rather unsuccessfully trying to accept the whole situation.

These days, I remember feeling the feelings but I can't actually remember the feelings of the feelings themselves. Does that make sense? I can name them, still, of course. I got to know myself pretty well through them: attachment, disappointment, hurt pride, loss, rejection, and, most insidiously, the feeling of not being good enough, which rattled around my head through that whole summer, that whole relationship, a sad, howling ghost that clung to me--and to which I likewise desperately held on to.

Generally, I am a feeling person, the kind that likes to get-up-close-and-personal with all my emotions. There are plenty of healthy ways to engage with one’s stories, usually with a fair amount of distance. Me, I like to cuddle with mine, winding myself around them, making it difficult, later on, to distinguish between myself and my storytelling, with each story usually a shadow of another, more entrenched, more complex than the one before. And so, I am surprised at my current lack of sentimentality. It’s been over a week now in Bucharest and there hasn’t been a trace of sadness or hurt or anger or any nostalgia to do with the past—and it’s kind of amazing! Is this what it means to really get over something? Is this what it’s like when one really lets go?

When I arrived, Irene and I were speaking about how we pretty much get what we ask for, pray for, manifest, whatever you call your mode or intention-making—that the universe, given this opportunity, is dead-set to accommodate. While it didn’t seem so at the time, I recognize how the summer of 2012 was among the first phases of a big purification. 

Had I asked plainly for love, the whole thing might have turned out differently, I might not even have made it to Romania at all. What I actually wanted was to be more in my essence. I had expressed my willingness to separate myself from my stories, those pesky ideas that define me and yet aren’t me at all. In my experience, these are the kinds of requests that the universe often fast tracks. The moment you show any inclination for serious change, an unseen force pulls and pushes, facilitating the toppling down of walls, the breaking down of barriers.  

These days, I am in awe and wonder at how time, change, and healing all come together. I realize how much I have used my writing in the past to process some heavy stuff, to help myself work out my own head and heart. Though there have been moments of quiet introspection or silences due to things being too much, too fresh (I didn't write about Romania the first time at all); so many things I've written have been about delving into my shadows or shining a much-needed light for myself. And I am slightly reveling in just being ok at present, there’s no drama to tease out, no demons to exercise, no old baggage to unpack. It’s a little odd and funny to get on this blog just to say: “hey, all’s well, not much to see here.”

As I have not been so busy reliving the past, there has been much more space to be present. I feel that I will remember more of Bucharest this time because I was more in it than I was before. I will remember the soft textures of the morning light as it streams into Asociatia Ashtanga’s śala before the morning mysore. I will remember the week of me teaching here, the generosity of the community here who took time to be with me and to show me me the city. I will remember the mix of the new and old in the city streets, the side walk café’s, delicious cappuccinos, and crumbling monuments. I will remember four-legged Durga and now her little squat friend Sham too, and, of course, so many precious exchanges with Irene about life and yoga. Most of all, I think I will remember who I am now, and how much I have become what I was looking for, and that whatever pain or difficulties it took to get here, they don’t really matter anymore. What matters is that I am clearer, more aware, more straightforward, braver, more self-assured, and more myself than I’ve ever been.

Tomorrow, I return to the mountains; I look forward to sitting with them again, like old friends who I haven’t seen for a long time, but who are never far from my mind. This time I will tell them of my open-heartedness, how wonderful it all is, and also how scary it is in so many other ways. And like before, they will surely listen, quietly reminding me that even mountains change over time.

Monday, July 10, 2017

the passport

After nearly seven years of traveling pretty continuously--a journey that I started chronicling in this very blog--and priding myself on having the whole life-on-the-road thing down, my bag was stolen and with it my valid ID, including my passport, and most of my credit cards. With about 16 days before my departure date from Cairo, I hit a new level of pre-travel stress.

I was bummed about the expense and, most of all, the inconvenience: the hours of dealing with local police, the US embassy, Philippine call centers to cancel and reorder credit cards which I had just recently activated, and chaotic Egyptian government offices to secure an entry stamp for a fresh US passport. I skipped practice and found myself irritable with those tasked to help me, I ran around the last couple of weeks in the hot Cairean summer using up all my stored-up yoga cool. I was upset and, then, upset about being upset.

I vacillated between being hard on myself for carelessly leaving my bag just lying around in an apartment and being spitefully angry at the thief who must've seen it through the open window while the flat was unattended.

Ultimately, I was having difficulty with loosing control—and, I know I’m not alone with this being a biggie. I was pulled out of a safe and steady rhythm. I was out of my comfort zone--and hadn't been challenged in this way for a very long time. As much as I would love to be all Zen about it, I have not been blessed with that uncanny ability to relax into difficult situations, finding receptivity towards calm and peace loving solutions the way we might expect a good yogi to. The truth is situations like these put me on the defensive, my fists tightly closed, arms close to the body, ready to block any more punches.

Also, I was attached to the passport itself. It had been my companion, my gateway (eternally grateful for the ease of travel that comes with an American passport) and witness.

Accidents and thefts, they are determined by so many factors. Still, I blamed myself for being so casual with such precious cargo, shouldn't I have known better? Haven't I been traveling for some time? The truth, however, is that since I'd arrived in Egypt at the end of last year, I wasn't exactly traveling but I wasn't settled either. I was in my own limbo, going from month to month with an idea of moving on but with little initiative to do so. Each month, students asked if it would be my last. Offers to teach elsewhere came and went, but I wasn't actually budging. 

Since packing up my life in the Philippines, I started to seriously travel in 2011. After my first Mysore trip, my life turned fluid. My lost passport, issued that same year, was a testament of it. I went where I was invited because the truth is I didn't know where to go myself. I only knew that I didn't feel right living where I was last living. But as to where I belonged, I didn't have the slightest clue. I felt like I was looking for a home but the more I traveled the more conceptual "home" became. When my father went to visit my sister in NY, I tagged along. When a boyfriend went to teach in Europe, I followed. Once the yoga school opened in Mysore, I would go there to study with my teacher. When it was time, I'd go home to the Philippines, usually when I was tired or broken-hearted, because, as it turns out, we cannot live in other people. And, when I started to teach, I went where I was asked, wherever there was work, wherever there were students. 

After some time of not having a home of my own, I started working on making peace with myself, so that I could be at home with myself--an amazing but difficult process. I even tried to put down roots in the Bay Area during this time. By that point, it was already 2015 and I was travel weary, often getting sick while transitioning from one country to the next.  Living in one place turned out to not be so easy for me, either. After the years of movement, I couldn't quite stomach the stillness. It put me in such close contact with my own loneliness, my longing, and my fears of failure that after only 8 months (the longest I'd been stationary in the last 7 years), I jumped right back into my comfort zone with absolute gusto: I packed my bags, freed myself up to go to Mysore and then spent the next year studying and teaching and wholeheartedly filling my passport with stamps.

There is a part of me that grieves for the stolen passport with its worn cover and its bulk of extension pages. It chronicled my life, a collection of entry and exit stamps, it was a story of movement, adventure, discovery and healing—some of it sad, it’s true, but much of it incredibly soft and gracious. But I also recognize the symbolic significance of these fresh unmarked pages—that it is time for something different, to let go of those old stories, which I have been so attached to. I will most likely always be a traveler but I would like to identify less with where my life is lived and more with how I am living it. Sometimes, we need to loose who we believe ourselves to be in order to make room for who we are becoming, that way a new journey can begin.

A couple of weeks before loosing my passport, I decided I would return to Cairo at the end of the summer to continue to grow the program that I haphazardly started over a year ago, to also grow my relationships with the people I love there and, in tandem, to grow myself too. It's a mighty frightening thing for one so fluid to chose a clear and determined path, but it's definitely time.

As much as I would have liked to avoid the inconvenience of loosing my old passport, the new clean passport reminds me to not fall into old patterns, to not retreat into the allure of travel and adventure, that the most precious sights are to be found inside, and, that for me, right now, that means planting roots.

So I go now, with my new passport, to satisfy my still-unwavering wanderlust and likewise my need for inspiration and learning. I travel now to teach, to visit with friends, to plug into the vibrant ashtanga community in Europe and at the end of the two months to see my teacher in his workshop in London. And then I will go back to my own life where I will work to find all those things (wanderlust, inspiration, learning) in the everyday interactions with my relations there and the places that I daily inhabit. I have heard that this is how it goes, when one returns home.