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Turning Poison Into Medicine

20 Jul

It’s been a bit of an odd day. I have worn myself out with my share of emotional excavation. I am tired.

This time in my life partnered with a few situations that have me feeling all twisty inside is moving around my emotional furniture – and you know what a pain remodeling and redecorating can be. At times, it’s been an overwhelming day with situations that have me feeling bent for reasons I do not fully understand. But then while chanting today I remembered an important element of my Buddhist practice – turning poison into medicine.

I had almost forgotten about it. But as I sat chanting in front of my Gohonzon it came to mind. The idea behind turning poison into medicine is that any situation, no matter how painful, can be transformed into something that can be of use -helpful even. Remembering this set me free just a bit because it’s a reminder that in circumstances that are troubling to me I don’t have to be a victim. I can choose to transform it to something that will truly serve me and my life.

I appreciate bringing my challenges to the Gohonzon and being able to place all of it there. I don’t have to hold back or be embarrassed. I can bring all my troubles there no matter what they are. And I can begin to transform them.

In SGI Buddhism the way to change poison into medicine is by chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. I also chant chapters from the Lotus Sutra. How grateful I am to have a practice that opens a door to a little bit of freedom instead of feeling trapped in my circumstances. It’s like a powerful lantern when I feel I need to find my way out of the dark.

So just appreciating this access. It’s sort of like a trap door when you’re not sure how to get out. Turning poison into medicine gives us power in the big and small challenges of life’s journey.

 

Opening Doors in the New Year

1 Jan

Happy 2018!  Well, time is rolling along and I can hardly recall where 2017 has gone. It’s fun for me to remember that while it’s 2018 for many of us, in Thailand it’s the year 2561 with a calendar based on the Buddha!  That was one thing that traveling always offered me… just when you thought a thing was “so” – it gave you an opportunity or experience to see that it just wasn’t the case.

I am here in Hendersonville somewhat bundled up with the chilly air outside.  It’s been a satisfying and at times quiet holiday season for me. While in some ways I am used to spending the holidays on my own with my years of traveling abroad, I find I tend to approach this season a bit tenuously not always sure what to do with myself  and in some ways just doing my best to “make it through” until it comes around next year. This year it’s been a pretty nice balance of connection and independence and I am grateful for both.

Last week I took just a couple of days to visit the Art of Living Center in Boone, NC to spend some time with the head of the organization, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. I first stumbled upon the Art of Living in post-Katrina New Orleans as they were there offering courses to support the community in the aftermath of the storm. Something about the energy of the organization caught my attention. I attended an information session to learn more and when the wife of a favorite minister joined the session as an experienced participant with the group, I knew I was in the right place.

I took their foundation course called the The Art of Happiness and their practice called the Sudarshan Kriya quickly became part of my morning routine. In the craze and aftermath of life post-Katrina, I took a little refuge in the peaceful feeling of this organization and periodically attended their evening long Kriya’s, gatherings and service opportunities.

That was over ten years ago. Since then I’ve been fortunate to stay connected with the organization and the practice. I’ve connected and practiced with local groups while traveling including Vienna and Kansas City.  To my amazement and delight, I was also able to attend their World Culture Festival in Berlin in 2011 while I was staying in Wettenbostel, Germany.

Sri Sri has brought yoga, meditation and practical wisdom to millions of people in over 150 countries. I was encouraged by a trusted friend to take their second flagship course, Art of Silence, in their European Center in Bad Antogast, Germany in 2014.  This was an opportunity not just to grow further spiritually through the framework of this course, but also to meet and share a little space with Sri Sri who would be at the European Center for a few days of the course.

Since that experience in Germany, I keep in mind that it’s a good idea not to miss an opportunity to be in Sri Sri’s presence and that is why I headed for Boone over the holidays.

Sri Sri was in Boone teaching an advanced course to students who had taken at least eight Art of Silence Courses (I have taken one) and have practiced with him for many years. The evenings were open to the public for chanting and an address from Sri Sri and that is where I fit in.

When I first arrived, making my may up the windy roads to this somewhat secluded mountain escape, who do I see walking solo down the road but a small Indian man.  Is that….?  I thought… and sure enough it was… it was Sri Sri walking down the road apparently taking some respite from the intense teachings of the day. What do I do?  Uncertain… I slowed down, rolled down my window, waved and said “hello!”…

At first, it was a bit of culture shock seeing this tiny spiritual man dressed in robes coming straight from the throws of more regular American life. But it was a good reminder to shift… to turn the dial just a bit and take things in a little differently.

With over 1000 students attending this course, I joined the busy dining hall for a modest meal of Indian fare, rice and dessert.  I sat with a few folks participating in the class who have been long-time students of Sri Sri.  They talked of spending time with him over 25 years ago at the simple Ashram in India and noting the many differences and shifts in their life since then.  I also met a woman who lives in Asheville, also a long-time student of Sri Sri, and a great reminder of some of the benefits of these practices in the long-term including a youthful spirit and demeanor.

Then I headed to the large meditation hall where I joined the 1000 plus participants as well as other guests, friends and family. Sri Sri eventually came and took his place seated on the stage up front. He didn’t speak for long, but his simple and refreshing words were a great reminder to me about this whole thing called life. He started by asking us to imagine all of the conversations we’ve had, thought, participated in, watched on tv… and then to imagine that we were separate from that.  And to consider that all of that, this changing world of conversation, beliefs and opinions, can distract us from experiencing the unfathomable joy and beauty found in our inner depths. He encouraged meditation as an important tool on this journey. All in all, he just reminded me that half the things I was worried about, considering, trying to figure out were in many ways distractions from the very opportunity he was talking about.

I left from my time there reminded of this. Of course I still think too much, still need to make life decisions and don’t always know what to do… but this simple message and his presence reminded me to continue to explore opening a door just beyond on all that… and that journey is always available to me no matter what I may or may not choose to do in this life…

And so, here I am, trying to enter a bit more gently and mindfully into 2018.  Sometimes gracefully, sometimes less so. Trying to not take all the conversations in my head and with others too seriously.  And just taking it from there.

Here’s wishing you a little extra dose of peace, happiness and well-being this New Year!  And may we all find that little door within us, in our own time and own way, that opens us up to greater gifts of joy, wisdom, peace, freedom and happiness!

Learning to Dream Again

19 Jul

Well, I didn’t mean for it to happen… After five years of travel, big leaps, amazing challenges and opportunities, when I came back to the US all I wanted to do was rest. While elated by my journey, I really wanted a big taste of life that seemed more “normal” to me.  Thankfully, that’s exactly what I got. As a little more time passed, my time and energy went into getting some of the basics going in my life… work, a place to live. This was all good, but after nearly a year of a lot of hard work, focusing on the practicalities of life, and a big dose of “normal,” something started to happen… my capacity to dream was shrinking away.

I wasn’t quite sure what to do… I lived for five years on a healthy appetite and desire for gobbling up new destinations. Despite the obstacles and challenges that came with it, year after year each new international travel opportunity roused excitement in my soul and gleamed inspiration in my eyes. But in the end, after five years, two continents and six countries I found myself in a deep need of restoration and something different… and I wasn’t quite sure what that was.

The Dreamer Card from Doreen Virtue’s Angel Tarot

Here I am over a year down the road, and where does that leave me?  I have found myself lately feeling the need for a new dream but also feeling depleted, at a true loss for it and no inspiration in sight.

So recently I have been taking small steps to get myself into some new space. Ignite a new light. Perhaps open a tiny little door.

Last night I attended a Meet-Up group in Asheville called “Being in Business.” The idea behind it is folks who are interested in exploring and cultivating a spiritual element in the way and how they do and develop their work.  Last night our featured speaker was Lauren Foster, a “happiness coach.” As she told her story, I could really relate to her journey of overcoming many obstacles to reach her dream but also needing support, a new vision and assistance to continue to cultivate new possibilities in her life.

She had us do a simple exercise where we imagined our lives 3 years down the road and wrote down our dream in the area of joyful work. She encouraged us to let go of limitations. As I sat to do the exercise, it was almost as if my dreamer was dead.  She had been down this road before. My dreamer had been on high gear and worked over so hard for so long, it was hard to get her cookin’ again.

Poem by Shel Silverstein

Author Elizabeth Gilbert tells the story first offered by Mark Manson that each creative dream comes with a “shit sandwich.” And that if you really want something you have to be willing to live with the shit sandwich that comes with it. And the truth was, after five years of travel, I had grown beyond belief, had done things unimaginable to me… but was also fully aware of the downsides of it as well as my own personal challenges and limitations.

So where to go now? In doing the exercise at the Meet-Up, I couldn’t bring myself to imagine a specific goal… but I did allow myself to gently explore how I’d like to feel in joyful work in three years. Some images came to mind. Ideas. We then shared our dream with a partner and that made it even better!  What great feedback I received as well as my partner’s additional thoughts regarding my fledgling images, notions and inspirations.

One of the participants in the evening it turns out is international best selling spiritual author, Tori Hartman, who has just released a new book. How satisfying it was to meet someone who had cultivated that level of success in her own life.

I returned from the evening a little… inspired and more at ease. What a relief it was to meet my dreamer again. My dreamer was grateful that I wasn’t going to force her in the road ahead or insist that she live life this way or that way but instead make space for just a glimmer of a softer, gentler notion.

So for now, I am glad to merely have wooed the dreamer back in.  No big expectations. No harsh realities. Just a little tender dreaming that feels good and satisfying instead of just a more harsh routine that was trying to dominate me. Plus, a few concrete ideas of new stepping stones to take…. to keep the dreamer alive.

How about you? How has your relationship with your dreamer been lately? Have you taken just a moment to invite the dreamer in?  Sit him or her down for tea? I wonder what they might have to say. If you have a dream to share, even just a glimmer, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to share them in the comments below or even send me a private message.

Reflections

29 Apr

It’s a quiet Saturday morning in Asheville.  I am enjoying a morning of just feeling more at ease and good in my bones and can’t help but think of the long journey that brought me here.

I have to say, it is good to be in the United States for now and in some ways I am starting to feel at home and appreciating the many fortunate simple things I presently have in my life.  But I am also aware that it was my epic journey around the globe that brought me to this point.

I have always loved travel and been drawn to it.  A child of the midwest in a community with little interest in international exploration, looking beyond our borders and having an adventure were always things that excited me.  If you’ve followed my blog you may know that my 20s brought some unexpected challenges my way and I ended up on the anti-depressant Paxil for over ten years.  When I went off of it the withdrawal/discontinuation symptoms nearly flattened me and it took me years to get some small semblance of “I’m alright.”

A few years after this when I began my international journey,  I was thrilled to consider something that brought excitement back into my life and truly lit me up and inspired me.  At the same time, I was still just a shell of myself and experienced many persistent issues that made daily living and “normal life” hard for me.

So here comes the benefit of my journey.  While traveling – my unexpected epic five-year adventure to Germany, France South Korea, Austria & Thailand – lit me up and brought me to life in ways I can hardly express, it was also extremely challenging for me.  Daily I was pushed in small and large ways.  The beauty of this journey and experience is it forced me to grow and develop in ways that I NEEDED to do to begin to get my life back after the impact of Paxil and also the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The scared, limited, wounded shadow person that I was after the impact of Paxil withdrawal and other life challenges slowly began to chisel away, shift, develop and take new shape.

And so with my gratitude for a bit of ease and restoration on “home” territory also comes my appreciation for all the excitement, struggles and challenges along the way that brought me to where I am now.  A new plateau.  I am aware that while I still have my challenges, my abilities and capacities that are serving me now are the fruit of my journey.  This growth could have only happened in foreign territory.  A life abroad helped me to drop my “regular” paradigm and demanded that I adapt and grow to new ways of being. This ultimately brought me some freedom and allowed me to drop some of the limiting patterns and behaviors locked into and stuck in my more familiar environment.

So if you are someone who wants to travel, should travel, needs to travel but hasn’t for a whole assortment of reasons… just know that it’s possible to travel, no matter what your circumstances.  Surround yourself with good grounded people who will support you in this idea.  And know that challenges don’t mean travel (or whatever it is you want) is not for you, it just means that overcoming those challenges will be part of the equation.  And that’s okay.

Not long before I left on my epic journey I had just begun chanting with the Buddhist organization SGI.  I was chanting for true change and growth in my life and that is exactly what I got. Through the excitement and inspiration of my travels as well as facing and working through the MANY challenges I experienced daily, I grew.

Admittedly, I am still under development and my life is still a work in progress.  But I am aware that I am in a better place today as a result of my journey.

I appreciate my current location and being back in the US, but I also look forward to cultivating a life where adventure and international life are again a part of the landscape… in my own time, in my own way.

So for today, I am just feeling grateful for and acknowledging the ride, the challenges and journey that brought me to where I am now.

Why I Chant

23 Apr

A little over 6 years ago I was introduced to the Nichiren Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai International and chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. When I lived in New Orleans I was first invited to come to a meeting by a member of my Reiki community. After attending a meeting, I wasn’t exactly sure what to think… but I walked away feeling the powerful presence of the chanting practice.

Not long after I attended an SGI New Years Day meeting and celebration in New Orleans.  It was here that a trusted friend shared that they had a major breakthrough in their life after becoming an SGI member and chanting.  As I was in the midst of some of my own challenges and had been moving through some thick life issues for some time, I wanted that too… so I took a leap and decided to become a member.

That was over 6 years ago and through the course of that time and living in many countries abroad, my practice and my life have continued to develop and grow.

Why do I chant?  Well, I imagine it’s an accumulation of many small and large reasons and experiences.  Here are some of them.

  1.  When I chant for something, sometimes things that seem “miraculous” happen.  I have a list of many small and large things that have worked out in amazing ways from chanting.  When I first started to chant I was selling shiitake mushrooms at the local farmers market.  The friend who introduced me to the practice suggested that I chant for my mushroom sales.  I did and without doing anything else differently, my mushroom sales doubled. When I was preparing for the first step of my international journey, going to Germany, I had purchased a ticket at a great price from US to London. It was important to me to have a place to stay in London for a day or two before flying on to Germany to give my mind and body a little time to rest and adjust before continuing.  As I was taking this journey with a great leap of faith but little money, it was necessary that I had a free or nearly free place to stay in London as hotels are quite expensive.  So I chanted fervently for a free place to stay in London. Amazingly, a few weeks before my departure I was at a local group I attend which had an out-of-town visitor. A friend who knew my London agenda said to me regarding our out-of-town guest “You know, his mom lives in London and sometimes she hosts guests.” She then proceeded to introduce the idea to him and after working out a few details, I had a free place to stay in London!
    This list goes on and on.  Often it’s simple things. For instance not long ago I was chanting for help voting in the past presidential election.  I had newly arrived in North Carolina, was not registered to vote in the state, had been out of the country for five years and wasn’t sure what I needed to do.  I chanted about it and shortly after I noticed a sign in a field near where I would go hiking that said “Do you need help voting?”  I laughed and thought… yes, as a matter of fact I do!  I called the number, the man was very helpful and with his recommendation I was able to register for early voting and easily voted in the last election.
  2. Chanting feels good.  This is pretty simple, I feel better when I chant.  Just the experience of chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is a positive thing for me and I walk away in a better space than when I started.  I remember one time when I was in South Korea, I met some SGI members at one of the SGI centers in Seoul.  We chanted together for hours.  When I left, everything looked shiny. Everything – the buildings, the cement, the trees.  It was like I was looking at life through a lighter, sparkly lens.
  3. Chanting with others and attending SGI meetings often shifts my mood and experience.  On more than one occasion, I have gone to a meeting in a certain place… maybe I feel anxious or overwhelmed or sad.  Often when I leave it’s like my plate has been polished and I just feel different in relationship to my life and life circumstances.  For example, not long ago I went to a meeting and I felt like I was in a “bad place.”  I had just started a new job and felt stressed out and overworked.  Plus the night before I had a “bad evening” and had gotten virtually no sleep.  So I showed up at the meeting stressed out and a bit freaked out from no sleep.  Plus I still had about four hours of work to do that day, a Sunday.  At the meeting I chanted to have the patience, ease and clarity to complete my work without struggle.  Amazingly, that afternoon I was able to stay in a good place and easily get all my work done feeling clear and alert.  A major shift for me and honestly a bit of a miracle as I am someone who easily gets overwhelmed and doesn’t do well without sleep.
  4. SGI is a great way to connect with others.  As much as I’ve traveled around and moved, SGI has been a great way to meet and connect with others. And not just any “others,” but people who are working to overcome their own obstacles and support “not giving up” and “anything is possible.” This is a good space to be in! And it’s helped me a lot in making new, positive and supportive connections out and about in the world and at home.

If you are curious about changing Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, SGI has some simple, helpful videos and are a great place to start exploring chanting.

Chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.  This is a short video that shows you how to chant and teaches chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.

Chanting excerpts from the Lotus Sutra.  Part of the daily practice of SGI is chanting excerpts from the Lotus Sutra.  This practice is called Gongyo.  This video is “karaoke-style” and takes you slowly through the practice.

Typically, SGI members do Gongyo and chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo in the morning and evening.  There is no right or wrong way to try it.  If you like, you can experiment with chanting 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening.

If you are curious about SGI or want to know more, feel free to reach out.  It’s really been a positive, growth supportive practice for me.  It supports me overcoming obstacles and not giving up in my life and often brings unexpected benefits and solutions to my life.  I am glad to have this practice in my spiritual tool box as I go along for this ride of life.

 

 

American Yogi

7 Mar

The new place I’ve landed is a private downstairs “suite” in the home of a couple in Asheville.  In addition to the quiet neighborhood and wooded lot, my stay here comes with an additional unexpected bonus.  My new landlords and house-sharers are filmmakers and have nearly completed their project, American Yogi (click here to view the trailer!).

It was a real treat when, a few weeks ago, they invited me to a private screening in their home, conveniently, just upstairs. All I knew about their film was it had a spiritual focus and was about India – both which sounded good to me. So I joined them in their living room surrounded by a few of their friends and happily took in the film.

Maharaj-ji

Maharaj-ji

The film was a real treat!  It was a light-hearted, fun and unfolding story of the spiritual journey of my upstairs neighbor, Steven Newmark, and highlights the presence, power and teachings of Indian Guru, Maharaj-ji.

So far on my spiritual journey, I feel like I’ve just dabbled my toe into the spiritual teachings of India.  Just recently I watched the documentary telling the story of Krishna Das called One Track Heart.  Some of you may know Krishna Das is an internationally known kirtan artist (a beautiful and inspirational style of call and response chanting).  

krishna-das

Krishna Das and Maharaj-ji

A big part of the Krishna Das story was his relationship to his Guru, Maharaj-ji. Honestly, I still feel a little new to the whole “Indian Guru” thing, but I was earnestly touched by Krishna Das’ relationship with him, his complete unbridled experience of unconditional love, and his magnificent healing experience in the face of many deep troubles and sorrows.

So, when watching American Yogi and being “reintroduced” to Maharaj-ji, in some ways it felt a bit like seeing an old friend. In its simplest form, this film was a reminder to me that I don’t have to take all the hassles and worries of this life so seriously or hold on so tightly.

American Yogi's Steven Newmark in the 60s

American Yogi’s Steven Newmark in the 60s

This spiritual tale is filled with mystical experiences, unexpected diversions, and enlightening stories all folded within the uncommon journey of a pretty regular guy. It is intertwined within the stories of Ram Dass, author of Be Here Now, and features the music of Krishna Das and Jai Uttal.  And there’s even a little love story!

It debuted in the prestigious International Film Fest of India.

Here’s what folks are saying about it:

American Yogi is an inspiration.” Ram Dass

“A deeply inspired film! About what the Western mind calls fiction–and the East calls reality.” — Shankar Mohan, Director of the International Film Festival of India

Are you curious?  Well, American Yogi will soon be accessible out in the world. But first they need to handle a few final housekeeping requirements to prepare the film for professional release.  Would you like to be a part of it?

American Yogi has just launched an Indigogo Campaign to raise funds for these final steps. Here are a few ways you can participate:

    1. Get a copy of American Yogi for Yourself! Visit is.gd/americanyogithemovie to view the trailer and learn how to get a downloaded copy of the film for yourself!
    2. americanyogifb1Share American Yogi on Facebook.
      Please include the link: is.gd/americanyogithemovie and if you like you can also use this groovy graphic (right click, save image as)
    3. Share American Yogi with your community, friends and connections. Anyway you like!  Email, Facebook, Twitter…we’d love your help in spreading the word of American Yogi!

Through my travels I’ve learned first hand – it’s amazing what can be accomplished when we take the leap to support each other in our creative endeavors.  Thanks for reading and your support of American Yogi!

The Truth About Citric Acid

5 Feb

It’s in many foods you may buy.  Citric Acid.  It sounds innocent enough but what is it really?….

This journey of mine has been about many things.  It’s been about new experiences and explorations, travel and adventure, and it’s also been about health and well-being.  For over ten years now I have been peeling back the layers of health and well-being and working on getting to the root of what helps me feel better.  While traveling it’s been particularly important to feel my best in the midst of new challenges and foreign territory.  So I’ve learned to pay close attention.

I’ve learned that what I put in my body really makes a big difference in how I feel. I’ve learned to take a closer look, read the labels, question what is in my food – and pay attention to the impact what I eat has on my mood and body.  Enter Citric Acid.

Citric acid doesn’t sound too bad and may not get our attention if we see it in a food item’s ingredient list.  I had always assumed it was “harmless” and of an “innocent nature” but one day I decided to take a closer look. Surely it comes from lemons or something like that?…  While citric acid is naturally found in citrus fruits, most modern-day citric acid comes from a chemical process involving… MOLD.

According to the website ethicalfoods.com and many other sites as well, “American food chemist, James Currie, discovered a process for making citric acid from mold in 1917. Pfizer started to produce citric acid from molds in 1919.”  The mold used is Aspergillus niger, a common black mold.  This far less expensive process is commonplace and typically what you will find when you read “citric acid” in your favorite food ingredients.

The website newhope.com tells us “more than 1.6 million tons of citric acid are produced annually in the United States, with roughly two-thirds used in foods and beverages and the rest used in detergents, pharmaceuticals and supplements.”

Mold?… is that something you want in your body?  This new information made sense to me.  All too often I would eat something with healthy ingredients except for citric acid and found after eating it that I just didn’t feel right.

I have to admit I have given up citric acid begrudgingly at times – looking through the ingredient list in a favorite healthy treat finding quality ingredients only to be bombarded at the end with the final ingredient… citric acid.  It’s used as a preservative so it’s common place in even healthy prepared selections.

Why avoid citric acid?  If you struggle with any health issues – pain, discomfort, disease or mood and anxiety concerns – what you eat is always a good place to start to feel better.  I have learned that paying attention to how I feel after I eat something is a big indicator for what works for me and what does not.  So aside from the fact that it just doesn’t seem like a good idea to eat something derived from black mold, pay attention to how you feel next time after you eat something with citric acid.

With so many food products containing mold derived citric acid, how do you avoid it? Well the simplest thing is to prepare your own healthy foods and snacks.  But I get it, sometimes we just want to grab something and go!  When that’s the case your best option is to check out healthy local brands with a shorter shelf life, fresher ingredients and more likely to be prepared without preservatives.

The next time you are shopping for your favorite food items, take a look at the ingredients and when you see “citric acid” don’t think – “ah, lemons” think…”mold.”

Thanks for joining me on the journey of adventure, healing, health and well-being!

What’s Cookin’ in Chiang Mai

31 Jan

Wow, it’s been quite a week here in Chiang Mai.  Earlier this week we had an unexpected “Chiang Mai version” of winter. The temperature dropped down to about 50 F.  This was quite a shock to the system after months of temperatures in the 80s and 90s.  I heard it was even recording-breaking cold! We had a few days of good “bundling-up”, some cold (and one wet) morning rides to work, and one day you could even see your breath (the kids at school of course loved this!). I even broke out a short down winter coat and my wool long underwear from Germany!  “What’s all the fuss?  That’s not that cold!” you might think?  It seems at least part of it is the tropical humid weather makes the cold even colder, an icy cold that shoots straight through you. Also, buildings here have no insulation and no heat.  Plus, your body is used to (at least somewhat on my part) hot weather! For a few days, there were many empty seats in classrooms and students bundled in fleece blankets and fuzzy animal hats.  As much as I complain about the heat, I am glad to have things back to “normal” today with pleasant blue skies and a comfortable 81 degrees.

Things are a bit crazy at work lately.  In part because we are preparing for the annual NP Fair, put on by the Native English Program at my school.  For the teachers this has us creating booths for the fair as well as preparing students for song and dance performance extravaganza.  As the end of the years is winding in, it is inevitable that teachers are a bit exhausted (I personally am…) and students are… well, let’s just say… less interested in paying attention and listening.  But like it or not, here it all comes and the crazy dance continues of life and teaching in Chiang Mai.

Tom Yum Soup

The beginnings of Tom Yum Soup

This weekend I treated myself to a Thai Cooking Class.  It was something I was hesitant to do with all of my food sensitivities. More and more it is challenging for me to eat here… but I thought perhaps if I cooked the food I could at least control what goes into it and learn a bit more about Thai food and culture.

I chose the Thai Farm Cooking School in part because they use organic ingredients they grow at their farm and also because of their popularity and high rating.  Plus you they pick you up, take you to their farm out of the city – always nice to have a little break from Chiang Mai and some new scenery for the day.  You cook I think… six different dishes… and get a selection to choose from.

curry paste

Curry Paste

Overall, it was a great day! The other folks in the class were all really personable and it was fun to spend some time and talk with an assortment of people with their own travel experiences and stories to tell.  And I learned a lot about Thai Food!  I was able to make most of the foods with some adjustments.  With these adjustments (mostly no adding anything that included sugar), some dishes tasted okay… and some in earnest were completely flat.  This class helped me to get clear that most Thai dishes simply rely on the MANY sugary sauces for their good taste.  A bit of a bummer for me, but also an eye-opener to the extent of the high sugar content of the food here.

curry

Chicken Curry

One of the highlights of the day was making our own curry paste.  We each had our own impressive mortar bowl and pestle. We added the curry ingredients and pounded away for a considerable amount of time until our paste looked like “peanut butter” as we were told. This was the basis for the curry we made later, a dish that still tasted pretty good even though I left out all of the sugary sauces used to complete the dish.

Overall they did a great job of being patient with me and adapting to my food needs and requests.  I would recommend them for someone with food sensitivities as they seem pretty adept to it.  However, the inevitable truth is that many of the dishes just don’t taste that great when you have to leave out some of the main ingredients…

That said, I now know what many of the “foreign” veggies are that I see in the supermarket and also know what they are used for – which is great!!  And I feel more informed about some basic Thai food and dishes.

Today at the JJs Organic Market, one of the regular weekly markets here in Chiang Mai, I ran into an American woman who has lived in Chiang Mai for ten years and also happens to be an organic growing expert.  One of my concerns here in Chiang Mai is that you don’t REALLY know what is organic and what isn’t – even at an “organic” market.  It was such a relief to chat with her a bit about finding organic food in Chiang Mai.  One of the challenges here, as she pointed out, is that it’s hard to really get the truth about things.  Someone may say something has no pesticides but you can’t count on the fact that they are telling the truth… which makes it difficult to eat healthy.  She pointed me towards some growers at the market she worked with personally who she could confirm are organic growers.  She also gave me some simple tips like if the veggies look kind of “bad” that is a good sign that they are grown organically.  Bug bites, for example, she suggests are a good sign when looking for organic food.

She also warned that many street markets use harsh pesticides including formaldehyde!  I do my best to stay away from traditionally grown veggies here as I know harsh pesticides are used… but had no idea about the formaldehyde!  And so the adventure of healthy eating on the international landscape continues!

I have just a little sunny day weekend left and look forward to a Thai Massage later today as the weekend sneaks away and a new workweek soon begins.

How are things in your neck of the woods?  It’s always great to hear from you!

 

Cool Times in Chiang Mai

17 Jan

It’s been a busy, good week here in Chiang Mai.  Our final quarter of school is in full uproar and the craziness and shenanigans of teaching life in Thailand continue.  It’s been great to have some time in Chiang Mai with wonderful cooler weather and I am doing my best to soak it all up while it’s here!

My school has its annual English fair coming up in February which has me playing a new role with my students and in the classroom – singer and choreographer.  Yes, that’s right.  Each of our classes will sing and perform a song in English at the fair.  It’s a bit of a big deal with professional microphones, a giant stage and music. My class will be performing “Ain’t no mountain high enough!” which is fun.  We’ve started learning the words this week, no small task for 10 year-old Thai speakers.  As the recorded music was too fast for them at first, I found myself turning off the stereo and singing to my students.  It was a trip… and… kind of fun, too.  This coming week we begin… the dancing which in earnest will be nothing too fancy as they are still simply learning the song and time is ticking away.

It’s been a much needed good chill weekend. Lately, with just the buzz of teaching and my upcoming transitions on my mind I am requiring more down time just to come back to neutral.  I did a little exploring in Chiang Mai yesterday and found my way to Wat Sri Suphan also known as “The Silver Temple.”  It was a casual peruse.  I arrived late morning and couldn’t help but feel the eyes on me as I walked around.  I was one of just a few visitors at the time and noticeably felt my “farang-ness” (the word for foreigner here) as I explored the temple.  The highlight is the silver temple which I admired, but only from the outside as I wasn’t allowed to go in because… no women were allowed (there was a sign there stating this).

There is much on my mind lately considering what is next along with my typical on-set of anxiety in the face of uncertainty.  Timely enough, I am participating in a positive, invigorating 12-Day Challenge led by Reiki Master and Intuitive Guide, Maureen O’Shaughnessy.  Maureen is really a feel good person and her coaching and interactions leave me feeling better. The challenge is all about refocusing our lens and changing our perspective.  She offers tips and wise guidance that provide a daily pick-me up.  After just a few days, I already feel better, more relaxed and at ease.  She offered some wisdom in response to my concerns with anxiety and what is next for me.  She said that safety and security exist within us and not our circumstances and to shift from anxiety about the future to curiosity.  I thought this was a really powerful and freeing perspective and am letting this soak in a bit as I navigate the waters of “what is next for me.”

Sunday evening has sunk in and the weekend is slipping away.  Good night for now and as always feel free to write.  It’s always good to hear from you!

Happy, Healthy New Year

9 Jan

I can feel it.  It’s a whole new year.  It may be 2016 to many of us, but here in Thailand the year is 2559 (that’s in Buddha years). It’s hard to believe that it’s January as I sit comfortably warm in my apartment with the golden sun and shiny blue sky making its regular appearance.  Yes, it’s the best time of year to be in Chiang Mai.  The cool mornings do a world of good to cool off bodies and buildings before the still steady heat of the afternoon makes its arrival.  This time of year is called “cold season.” I am surprised at the temperature range that happens now from day to day… lately morning lows are about 13 degrees C (mid-50s F) and afternoon highs nearing 30C/86F.  Because this is a tropical climate, the humidity shoots the damp cold right through you.  I understand now why the markets have been selling gloves, scarves and winter coats… it’s for those chilly morning scooter rides.  You won’t get frostbite here but in the mornings it does feel… cold…ish… in it’s own kind of way.

It feels like it’s been a busy time for me lately.  The holiday break passed by quickly.  It was a good time of personal exploration as well as some healthy R&R and sightseeing around Chiang Mai.

School has started back up again in full swing filled with the final quarter lessons and the standard assortment of extra activities.  Upon returning to school reality hit me like a brick wall, now fully realizing that this school year is slipping away in just a few short months (along with my Thai Visa…).  As I plan to depart at the end of the school year, I am now more diligently focused on tending to what might be next.

Children's Day

Children’s Day

I have also been focused intently on handling quite a variety of health-related issues.  I have felt a “push” lately to pay deeper attention to some new and long-term health issues and kick it up a notch.  I am learning more day to day about tending to the details important for me in truly sowing a life of good health. It isn’t always easy doing this in a foreign country – with different practices, customs and expectations.  It can take some extra effort and patience but I am finding that with a little creativity and some persistence, I can care for my health using natural methods at a high standard.

Recently I made a move away from grains and have been eating grain-free. The good news of this exploration is it has invited more vegetables into my life. Veggies for breakfast, veggies for lunch, veggies for dinner. The truth is, without gluten, sugar and grains… veggies are just about the best thing going.  I have enjoyed integrating more vegetables as both a source of protein and carbohydrates.  It’s an adjustment but it’s been fun expanding my veggie regiment and trying some new things… new recipes, trips to the Sunday Organic Market at JJs

"TLT" - Tempeh, lettuce and tomato

“TLT” – Tempeh, lettuce and tomato

Of course I love food, so it is truly one of my favorite past-times having healthy, simple food that works for me.  I am often collecting new healthy recipes on pinterest.  If this strikes your fancy, you can check it out here.  Just today I tried a new simple combination inspired by the BLT… it’s a lettuce wrap with organic tempeh (from the local farmers market,wrapped in banana leaves), tomato, avacado, and quinoa.  I fried up the tempeh in a little organic coconut oil, assembled the goodies and topped it off with a simple sauce I made from yogurt, a dab of organic salsa and a squirt of lime.  Not a bad easy treat for a lazy Saturday afternoon lunch.

How about your New Year?  How is life unfolding?  Any great discoveries or healthy adventures to share?  It’s always great to hear from you!

 

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