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Reiki Giveaway

22 Nov

Do you know about Reiki?  Perhaps you are a friend or family member and have heard me talk about Reiki or received a treatment from me over the years. Maybe you’ve heard Reiki mentioned in the media, a movie, or casually mentioned by a friend.  Reiki has been a part of my life for over ten years now.  I stumbled upon it quite accidentally, but it’s now such an integral part of my world for me it’s akin to breathing.  I just can’t imagine life without it.

Reiki has been a big part of my international journey that has now expanded over nearly five years and seven countries.  My first big international leap was into the safe… yet unpredictable… haven in Wettenbostel, Germany where I was graciously met and supported by a team of Reiki Masters running a seminar house.  A Reiki Master from the Netherlands generously hosted me for a month at her home near Amsterdam. A Reiki connection introduced me to the wonderful work exchange site helpx.net.  Also, a Reiki friend made a connection which led me to spend 7 months in Vienna, Austria. Along the way I have given and received Reiki treatments and met new folks in the international Reiki community.flowers of thailand

My home base Reiki Master and teacher, Elizabeth Ohmer Pellegrin, has truly been my co-pilot on this journey endlessly giving of herself, her time and her wisdom to assist me on this twisty and at times challenging international odyssey.  And I can’t forget my committed network of Reiki friends in New Orleans and beyond, all of us united in Reiki and support for one another.

What is Reiki you might ask?  In its essence it is a simple and transformative tool that supports healing. It is my faithful companion after a long day or anxious moment.  It is my go-to place when I feel a little cold coming on. It is the first place I turn when a friend or family member is sick or challenged in some way.  And most of all, for me Reiki is a journey that I am learning to lean into… one day at a time… and (sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly) watch my life unfold from a deep and transformative place.

flowersofthailandHawayo Takata, the Japanese-American woman who spread Reiki beyond Japan is known for saying that she wanted Reiki to be as common as taking an aspirin.   Indeed, Reiki is the first place I turn when I have a headache (a rare thing for me with my regular Reiki practice).

Reiki healing takes on all shapes and sizes, from slow, quiet change and restoration to the more dramatic and “miraculous”.  I met a Reiki Master who rid herself of cancer through her Reiki journey.  I have felt a friend’s dislocated rib snap back into place under my hands during a Reiki treatment after a fall in a bathtub.  I have moved through a virus in two days time that had others down for weeks.  And I have quietly soothed, softened and nurtured my own panic and anxiety after a troubling day or moment.

With the healing path of Reiki, the best practice (and indeed an important part of the journey and its lessons) is to let go of expectations and simply… experience what is there for you…. whatever it may be.

Are you curious about Reiki?  If so, I would love to share it with you.  I am giving away two 60-minute distant Reiki treatments.  What is a distant treatment?  The practice of Reiki is traditionally offered in two ways, hands-on and distantly. A hands on treatment, learned in the First Degree Reiki class, includes the gentle laying on of hands and direct contact with the hands and the client’s body.  A distant treatment, learned in 2nd Degree Reiki, is a tool that allows the practitioner to send the Reiki energy anywhere regardless of time and space.

Curious?  Interested but skeptical?  Would you like to try it?  If you’d like to be considered, simply write me a note through the contact form on this blog.  Let me know, in just a sentence or two or at length if you are inspired, why you would like a Reiki treatment.  I will allow two weeks from the posting of this blog for people to write and then choose two folks to receive a distant Reiki treatment.  I will contact you via email if you are chosen and we can work out the details.

If you’d like to learn more about Reiki, you can visit my Reiki page with more details about Reiki treatments as well as some quality Reiki links.

Thanks for reading.  It would be my pleasure to share a little Reiki with you and in some way support your journey the way Reiki and the people of Reiki have supported mine.

 

Featured photos – the colors and flowers of Thailand.  I am amazed how color is popping everywhere no matter what time of year it is.  Here it is in November and while friends and family are starting to bundle up for the winter, we are here surrounded by sun and vibrant color.

 

My Big Lessons in Healthy Eating

30 Sep

It’s a quiet evening in my small on-campus abode. We are just days away from the end of the first semester and subsequent break. You can feel the winding down and impending relief from some time off or time away.   In earnest, I am relieved to have some down time to simply “be at home.”  In these past nearly 5 years of international exploration, I haven’t lost my appetite or need to cultivate time and space to be at home.

Some of my most important lessons from these recent traveling years have revolved around “home life” — working and cleaning rooms at the Seminar Haus in Germany and Les Battees in France, assisting with preparing and serving food for guests, and of course who could forget cleaning up the kitchen after Seminar Haus meals extraordinaire… an experience I will never forget.

I am grateful for all of it. Despite my recent nomadic tendencies, these experiences have helped me come home to me – learning to cultivate, care for and nurture myself in the many small and needed ways that foster feeling “at home.” I am most appreciative that these lessons took place in the context of the pristine French countryside and amongst the windmill sprinkled potato fields of Germany.


Healthy Eating Habits Have Changed My Life!

The biggest lesson I have learned and continue to learn is the importance of healthy eating habits for my health and well-being. It’s just undeniable. What I eat makes a HUGE difference in how I feel. And I am so grateful to have this lesson and experience.

I would like to share the healthy eating habits that make the biggest difference for me. These are things I learned from personal experience, my own reading and investigation, as well as guidance and information from a trusted mentor. Changing my diet literally changed my life and it’s information I want to pass on.

Of course I am not a doctor, so this is not professional advice, but honest to goodness experience from the front lines of my journey to wellness.

If you’re struggling with health, mood or anxiety issues or maybe you just want to feel better, I urge you to read below and consider for yourself how diet changes might change your life for the better.

  1. I feel my best when I eat some protein, healthy carbs and healthy fat at every meal, three meals a day. For me often this means a little meat, perhaps some organic brown rice, some fresh veggies cooked in organic coconut oil. Recently I am exploring non-grain carbohydrates including root veggies as a part of my diet. I look for whole healthy fats including (when available) organic butter and ghee, olive oil, nuts. I try to eat about 20 grams of protein per meal as recommended by one of my favorite resources, Potatoes Not Prozac by Kathleen DesMaisons.
  1. Hydrate.  This one is so powerful. So many days have been turned around for me simply because I stopped and took some time to drink water. Drinking water is my super-power and one of the first places I turn when I feel off. When I feel bad, even if I “think” I already drank enough water… I drink some more.
  1. Sugar is not an option. If you read my blog you know that sugar just doesn’t work for me. But the truth is, I didn’t know this until I cut sugar out of my diet. Once my system was clean and sugar free I got clear just how severely sugar was affecting my body, mind and mood. Thank God I understand that now! It is a challenge to stay sugar free while traveling, but for me it’s just non-negotiable. Life with sugar doesn’t work for me and I am not willing to “do that to myself”. I have been sugar free for over ten years now. Over the years I have experimented with natural sweet options like honey and agave nectar. I have come to understand that even those natural sweets tilt my mind, body and mood in a negative direction and I am better without them. That goes for dried fruits as well as some super-sweet fruits. I eat fruits in moderation and pay attention to what’s working for my body. I also stay away from foods that turn into sugar as I have learned these make me feel awful as well. This includes potatoes and white rice. Sweet potatoes aren’t great for me either. No alcohol as well.
  1. Absolutely no processed foods or artificial ingredients. Really. I mean it. I have learned this the hard way, trying foods that have just a little bit of this or a little bit of that and then feeling awful. If it isn’t natural or I don’t recognize it, I don’t buy or consume it. If it’s not natural it just doesn’t work for me. Incidentally, this includes citric acid. Despite its friendly “natural sounding” name, most citric acid is not sourced from citrus and is sketchy at best.
  1. Quality matters. Wow, I have learned this lesson big time here in Chiang Mai. Living in Thailand and other places internationally, there is often not access to the same quality organic products we know and love in the States. To save a little money and also sheer lack of access, I have purchased food items here that are typically not a problem for me only to end up feeling terrible afterwards. Items like almond butter, peanut butter, black beans, nuts, oils, spices.  While the ingredient list looks innocent enough there is one big difference…quality. If it’s not high quality, I just don’t feel well. After this experience I am more committed than ever to eating organic EVERYTHING because… it matters. Eating organic has nothing at all to do with being trendy, extravagant or picky and has everything to do with not putting genetically altered, poisoned or low quality foods in your body. Bottom line.
  1. Listen to your body. I have received a lot of great information from my mentor, books and blogs that have served as a great starting point for food health. Information is the beginning. But from there I have had to learn to pay attention to my body. Hmmm… I feel weird, what did I eat? I feel a little off today, what might make me feel better or balanced? Listening to my body is the refinement of my roadmap to health.
  1. Are you “Hangry?” I love this word. Do you know what I’m talking about?   Those times when you get irrationally angry but really you just need a little food in your body? This is the lesson I learned most clearly on the road. If I don’t eat quality food regularly, say every 5 hours or so, my blood sugar drops and I get ANGRY. I have also learned that really… it’s not my fault, it’s a physiological reaction and I just need to get some protein in my body. This was a challenge for me when I was in France as we wouldn’t eat dinner until later. My body and mood would fling off the charts and I am thinking “what is WRONG with me!” With the wise advice from my mentor, I tried simply getting a little protein a few hours before dinner. This dramatically helped me to more happily make it until meal-time. A spoonful of almond butter, a handful of almonds, pre-made mini-quiches… just a little simple hit of protein makes a big difference.
  1. I eat meat. I tried eating vegetarian for a few years and still remember the day that came to and end. I was in the kitchen of the Seminar Haus in Germany, apparently with my cheeks sunken in looking a little gaunt, and my host there (a vegetarian by the way) said “I think you need to eat some meat.” I did and… I felt a lot better. While I don’t knock vegetarian diet and lifestyle, my body feels so much better when I have meat in my diet. I have since learned from a vegan friend of a high quality B vitamin recommended for folks not eating meat… and perhaps that would make a difference for me. But for now, for my health, I am sticking with meat in my diet.
  1. Protein rich veggies. That doesn’t mean I want to eat meat all the time. But I still need to get my 20 grams of protein at mealtime, not an easy feat without meat. As lately I have been reacting to legumes I buy here in Chiang Mai, I am looking into protein rich veggies. The tops I have found so far include peas, mushrooms, leafy greens, and broccoli.
  1. No Caffeine. I kicked the caffeine habit over ten years ago. I was a coffee-a-day girl and a regular at the local coffee house. I was at the beginning of my health metamorphosis and tried cutting out caffeine. While I felt a little crazy at first, after I got past the “withdrawal” phase I learned that… caffeine makes me crazy! Really, I feel just awful when I get even a little caffeine. So we are happily and likely eternally parted.
  1. Gluten Free. I feel better when I don’t eat wheat. It makes sense when you read that wheat today is very different from its original genetic make-up. For the most part, I eat organic brown rice products (rice and pasta), quinoa and millet. Watch out for “Gluten Free” products as most of them are filled with nasty cheap products that won’t do your body any good. Read the labels! I don’t eat bread. And lately I am exploring cutting out or reducing my grain intake by replacing it with veggies high in carbohydrates. All of these choices are because I feel better when I don’t eat these things. How about you?

Whew! Thanks for sticking with me on this long but important feast of healthy eating habits. I share this so thoroughly because for me… it all really matters. If you are struggling with health issues in any way… whether emotional, physical or both… take a look at your diet. Over the years I am AMAZED at the impact the wrong food can have on my body and mood and I am so grateful for what I have learned along the way. And the journey continues!

While earnestly this way of eating can be a challenge when eating out and living abroad, it is 100% worth it to me. Caring for myself with quality food and sometimes simply finding the food…has become part of the adventure and the journey.

If this is new to you, such diet adjustments may seem limiting or daunting. But the truth is, so much of the food in our supermarkets and restaurants are filled with non-food things. In many ways I am grateful to my body because it’s given me a road map back to simple, clean healthy eating. And enjoyment wise – nothing beats lovely, well prepared, organic whole foods.

Well, night-time is approaching Chiang Mai. I am listening to the regularly scheduled evening howl of the free-roaming dogs found throughout Thailand. Every night about this time they unite in packs in a somewhat impressive howling chorus.

Good night from the land of Chiang Mai where I continue my journey of health, happiness and being at home.

How about you, how are you nurturing your health, well-being and “being at homeness” lately? Any stories or words of wisdom to share? Would love to hear from you!

Giving Up the Fever

20 Jun

givingupthefever2When I do things in life, I tend to do them in a frenzy. At times an urgency overcomes me and I can get lost in it.  The fever.  You know what I’m talking about. That feeling of “got to do it right, got to do it now” that shifts you from a basically happy centered person to something… less than that. Often, it’s not pretty. There is a lot of talk these days about following your passion. But recently I heard some advice that is worth reminding myself of… the importance of being dispassionate.

Shortly before coming to Thailand I headed to the hills of the Black Forest in Germany to attend the Art of Silence Retreat, one of the foundational courses of the Art of Living organization founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.  One of the many gems of the retreat was the presence of Sri Sri for one day at the Ashram.  The evening he was there all of us in the course and others at the Ashram gathered in song and celebration and then afterwards, as it seems is typical in his presence, he gave advice and answered questions.  One golden morsel he offered was “be dispassionate” and don’t be “feverish”.

I can think of things daily that fall into the feverish category for me.  Whether I’m feverishly rushing to prepare the next section of class in the midst of teaching, feverishly heading out the door in the morning, or feverishly writing my latest blog post.  Fever it seems is a regular visitor in my life. I am reminded to revisit my feverish ways and explore instead being dispassionate.

Being dispassionate isn’t about not caring or being lazy.  But it does allow for a certain healthy detachment and relinquishing the urgency and fever around the task or issue at hand.  It also supports giving up self-importance and creating a greater space of peace where “whatever” may be is okay.

Being dispassionate and giving up the fever isn’t like going on a diet or going Christmas shopping. You can’t check it off your “to do” list.  It does require paying more attention and bringing some mindfulness or awareness to our daily lives and beginning to notice when we are caught in the fever’s spell.

For me, bringing mindfulness to the fever looks something like this:  I happen to notice that I am feverishly in the midst of something.  I don’t try to change it or correct it. It is more like I simply observe it, notice it. “Hmmm… fever.  Yep, I’m being feverish.  That’s interesting.”  In my experience, simply bringing mindful attention to something dismantles its lock or hold in the moment.  Through persistent practice this pattern and behavior slowly begins to change its shape, like the earth slowly changing shape with the tide.

I will take this dispassionate crusade into my work this week.  Shine a little mindfulness on the frenzy and fever of the day and make way for some healthy dispassion. Dispassion gives us freedom to simply be with whatever we might encounter in the moment and indeed creates space to act in a more relaxed and conscious way.  Dispassion may even bring a little more fun into the situation (for those of us who tend to take things a little too seriously).

If you like, join me this week for a little dispassion exploration.  When you find yourself in a frenzy, bring some awareness to it and simply notice… “huh, frenzy.  Yes, there I go again” and see if you can laugh and smile at yourself a bit.

I imagine practiced dispassion can make for an easier week.  Simply adding a dash of attention in the spirit of giving up the fever.

Getting Around Chiang Mai

14 Jun

The conversation often starts something like this… as I approach the red truck, window rolling down and driver, still surprisingly to me, sitting on the right side of the truck… I offer my destination. “Dara” I say. I get a look of uncertainty. I try again, this time adjusting my pronunciation. “Da-RA?” Still a blank look. One more time, this time the “r” I say more like an “l”. “Dala” I offer. Hmmm… getting closer. The driver then says with a local accent the name of my destination… which to me doesn’t sound much different from what I attempted to say. With a still a hint of confusion but some confirmation I hop in the back of the truck to (hopefully) make my way home.

Dara is the name of the school where I teach, named after a Chiang Mai princess. When I leave the red gates of the Dara campus, I typically turn to the red trucks called songtao’s for my transportation. I am not yet ready to get on a scooter, the transportation of choice in Chiang Mai. So for now for me to get around town I rely on songtao’s and tuk-tuks. A tuk-tuk is essentially a motorbike with an open-air carriage for passengers and functions more like a taxi.  A songtao is less expensive than a tuk-tuk and may shuttle a handful of people typically taking you to your general destination if he is going your way.

Riding in a songtao is not your typical taxi ride. The journey often begins with a negotiation… how much? I am developing a sense of the ins and outs of the price of a songtao ride which in part seems to be determined by: How hot it is outside? Is it raining? Do you have groceries in your hand? Is it nighttime? And also quite simply does the driver feel like taking you?  All of which can increase the cost of the ride. But more often then not it is a simple 20 baht from my school to the center of town, less than a US dollar. After successful communication and negotiation, you hop in the covered back of the truck, typically with a bench on each side for seating, and relax and enjoy the diesel fumes. The other day I hopped in the back of the truck and met a friendly Thai woman transporting among other things her bird in a cage. And so is the colorful world of Chiang Mai.

scooterboyChiang Mai isn’t much of a walking town. Where I live just a few kilometers outside of the heart of the city, sidewalks are typically lined with food stands and goods for sale edging out any hope for pedestrians. I am frequently the lone walker navigating the wrinkled sidewalks. Other teachers tell me that people don’t like to walk in Chiang Mai and that they would take their scooters to go literally to the place next door. I have learned in the current heat of the day, on the edge of the hot season coming into the wet season, it is just a ridiculous idea to walk someplace. I mean it is just crazy hot. I have learned this from experience. Ugh.

Not long ago I was out and about on the opposite side of town on a weekday evening. It wasn’t too late, but after a busy day of teaching it was time to head home. Then it started to rain. We caught a tuk-tuk for an easy ride home. After a bit of negotiation, we hopped in and our tuk-tuk driver put it into high gear and headed for the superhighway. I was in a bit of a shock to be thrust into high speed riding in the rain on this main thorough-way home. After I got over my initial shock and felt confident that I wasn’t going to fall out of the vehicle, I have to admit, it was a bit of a thrill.

chiangmaiToday I joined a “meet-up” group in a walking tour of the old town of Chiang Mai.  It was great to connect with new faces and get more familiar with the city. Afterwards, we had a little lunch at a local Thai eatery called Cooking Love.  Known for their healthy, clean food and recipes, it was a true delight when I mentioned I couldn’t have sugar and what could I eat on the menu his response was “anything.”  They would just leave it out.  Ah, happy Thai food eating for me!!

It is Sunday evening here and I am in the downstairs common area swatting away mosquitos and trying to suck up a little wifi that does not yet make it to my room. The daytime heat is fading away and it seems some rain is blowing in. The evening assortment of cackling insects and creatures have started their nightly serenade. I am here, still getting to know but enjoying the hot mess of Chiang Mai and her world of crazy contradictions.

Traveling the World with Anxiety

1 Jun

No, Anxiety is not the name of my spouse, best friend or significant other.  This is not the story of how Anxiety and I quit our corporate jobs and headed off happily into the sunset to see the world together.  But, in its own way, Anxiety has been a faithful companion.  When I first shared the idea of traveling the world, Anxiety was… well…hesitant to say the least.  Nevertheless, I put a few belonging in storage, packed up my bags, and Anxiety and I began an adventure together.

“Free spirits” come in all shapes, sizes and colors.  For me, my desire to have adventures and see the world is saddled with my own challenges with anxiety.  At its worst it’s been paralyzing, but in the daily rhythm and play of life it typically ranges from light to moderate.  Frequently present.  Notably there.  Anxiety.

The point is Anxiety (or fill in the blank with your personal flavor of challenge) doesn’t have to be the death sentence or curtain call on a life of travel and adventure.  I am not your typical traveler and I have learned to more peacefully make my way as I weave my life with new experiences, cultures, people, surroundings.  I take things more slowly, I plan things more carefully, and I allow plenty of time to be on my own.  I also make things like spiritual practice and healthy eating a priority no matter where I am in the world.

In truth takings risks and having experiences in new cultures is in itself an antidote for anxiety.  There is something healing about getting out of familiar waters and swimming in a world with a different syncopation from your own.  New and more liberating patterns begin to develop. The more I stretch myself, the more healthy risks I take and new successful experiences I have, the more peaceful this life with Anxiety becomes.

I can still remember my first major breakthrough I had traveling with Anxiety.  I was working and living at a seminar house in Germany.  Every weekend the house was filled with participants attending the workshop of the week.  Being surrounded by so many people on a daily basis sent Anxiety shooting through my spine.  Just the sound of their voices in the morning typically sent my body into intense nervous positioning.  Until one day.  One day I was lying in bed and when I heard the voices of the participants coming down the stairs, rather than be tangled with Anxiety I found I was… excited to hear them.  Glad they were there.  And so began the unfolding of transforming my life traveling with Anxiety.

Still today, four years later, Anxiety and I haven’t yet parted ways.  Anxiety hasn’t willfully gone its own way, packing its bags and going off to India or perhaps returning to the States. It’s still there, sharing my morning cup of tea, questioning my decision-making, planning the events for the week.  Undoubtedly our relationship has softened.  Life with Anxiety is easier, way easier than when we first left the States together four years ago.

There are some things I have learned to count on to soften the daily cry of Anxiety while I am roaming the world.  They are the first things that I pack and have become some of my new companions, ushering in more peace and comfort no matter where I am in the world.

1.  Reiki.  Reiki is one of my daily spiritual practices.  It is something I first discovered over ten years ago on a flier at a yoga studio in New Orleans.  Reiki is a very simple practice of connecting with a healing energy that is deeply relaxing and healing.  I am so grateful that after a nervous or challenging day or moment, I can simply lay my hands on myself and receive Reiki and much of that nervousness is just washed away.  If you’d like to know more about Reiki, you can visit my Reiki page or feel free to contact me.

2.  Art of Living Practices.  Ten years ago in New Orleans I took a class from an organization called the Art of Living founded by Indian Guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.  The organization came to New Orleans to assist the people with getting back to life after the impact of Hurricane Katrina.  I learned their foundational spiritual tool, the Sudarshan Kriya.  This is now a daily practice and how I nearly always start my day.  It melts away pain, discomfort and anxiety and puts me in a softer, better place.  Recently I attended their second course, The Art of Silence.  The course deepened my understanding and appreciation of their practices and also deepened my own spiritual reservoir creating a space for greater inner, unshakable peace.

3.  Healthy Eating.  It is a priority for me to eat healthy and balanced meals no matter where I am in the world.  I have learned that for me life with Anxiety is exponentially better WITHOUT SUGAR AND CAFFEINE.  Additionally, I find I feel better without eating any added preservatives or chemicals.  I also eat Gluten Free.  This is not easy on the international road, but it makes a big difference and truly is part of what makes this international life “doable” for me.  When arriving to a new country, I do my best to get the lowdown on the food contents there, to sniff out a few healthy restaurants and groceries where I can shop, and then begin to build a healthy food base for myself.

4.  Taking time for myself.  There is so much pressure in life to go, go, go.  But the truth is I feel so much better when I have time for myself.  So I do my best to create and allow for generous portions of time on my own without much on the agenda.

5. Yoga.  I first began practicing yoga in New Orleans almost 15 years ago.  It was my first step in using spiritual practices to soften and heal my personal and physical challenges.  It is something I have taken on the road and try to work into my daily life.  Even just ten or 15 minutes on the mat makes a difference.  Whether I am doing yoga in the fields of France, or in my room in Thailand, yoga is a constant companion and a place I can always come home to. Yoga classes have not always been available on my journey, so I have relied on my own personal yoga practice.  I check out local studios when available.  From time to time, I have also done a yoga class on the web from sites like doyogawithme.com.  My friend Miss Amanda at Inner Lift Yoga also has a great online video.

6.  Chanting with SGI Buddhism.  I began chanting with SGI Buddhism about four years ago.  I was invited to a meeting and couldn’t help but notice the powerful current generated from their chanting.  I was encouraged to try chanting for myself and chant for things I wanted in my life.  Surprisingly they easily flowed into being.  I began a regular chanting practice and it’s as if the current of my life is flowing more abundantly and heartily.  My daily chanting practice brings positive attention to those thing that are on my mind or that I am concerned about.  It softens the edges of my fears and anxiety.  And often it connects me with powerful community as SGI Buddhism meets all over the world.  Whether I am living in Vienna, Austria or visiting family in small town Missouri, I have access to the much appreciated community and support of SGI Buddhism.

7.  Supporting Others.  Finally, I have learned that it’s healthy to take time daily to focus my attention on others.  I mostly do this through my spiritual practices including sending Reiki to others needs or chanting for others.  I also enjoy taking action to support friends and acquaintances on their own personal journeys and adventures in ways that work in my life.  Supporting others rounds out the well-being of my life.

Anxiety and I, we’re not perfect.  We still have our challenges and ups and downs.  But I am so grateful that I “took the leap” and was willing to say “yes” to my sense of adventure rather than just “yes” to Anxiety.  With the support of family, friends and mentors, I followed my delight and inspiration.  It’s not always the easy road.  Often the challenging road.  But traveling the world with Anxiety…well… it has made all the difference.

 

 

Highlights

26 Apr

Time is passing quickly in Vienna as we have finally fallen into spring.  I can’t believe it, but my time here is almost up.  In less than a week’s time I will be leaving Vienna and beginning a new adventure.

In the meantime, I have been doing my best to soak up Vienna and take in the sights and sounds I don’t want to miss.  Life has been full with preparation for my impending departure as well as exploring Vienna and beyond. Here are some of the highlights!

 

Donauturm (Danube Tower)DanubeTower

We visited the Donauturm as part of the celebration of the fair Anne Marie’s 7th birthday. In addition to a meal in a slowly rotating tower with panoramic views of the city, we got an unexpected bonus.  It turns out they have bungee jumping from the tower.  No… we didn’t go bungee jumping.  Just watching people lean backwards and fall off the tower was enough excitement for me.  Unbelievable.  If you look closely at the photo on the right you can see a faint black line to the left of the tower.  That is a bungee jumper dangling in mid-air after their descent.  After completing their jump they were slowly lowered down to the ground.

 

Wiener-Symphoniker Konzert

Upon the advice of my hostess, I headed to the Musikverein to see a classical Vienna concert, something not to be missed in Vienna.  As tickets sold out quickly, I was only able to purchase a general admission ticket.  I arrived a bit early to see if I could buy a better ticket informally outside of the concert house.  Lucky for me a kind older man had an extra ticket as his wife couldn’t attend.  He was an Austrian man who was generous with introducing me to the culture and tradition of the Musikverein.  Our seats were quite good even though we were a bit clumsily arranged in a tiny space, shuffling our seats this way and that way to fit comfortably.  My “ticket salesman” and host for the evening said, “Austrians may not be the most organized but we have a lot of heart.”  And indeed they do.  We continued to watch the passionate concert featuring the music of Richard Strauss and Franz Schubert.

musikverein

Wienersymphoniker

 

Art of Silence Course, Bad Antogast, GermanyArtofLivingEU

It was almost ten years ago that I discovered the Art of Living.  An international spiritual and humanitarian organization, they made their way to New Orleans not long after Hurricane Katrina.  Their intent, led by Indian guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, is to teach practical techniques to assist with managing stress and emotion.  Over the years I have found their techniques helpful and the organization and leader filled with nothing but integrity.  I simply couldn’t pass up an opportunity to attend one of their pillar courses, the Art of Silence, held at their European Center in Bad Antogast, Germany.retreattrees

Getting there (and back) was a windy tour through many of Germany’s train stations. The lengthy but leisurely train journey was certainly worth the while.  Nestled in the hills of the Black Forest, the Art of Living Ashram was the perfect location for my 5 day dive into the Art of Silence Retreat which included a 2.5 day period of silence.  With 25 other participants from an international array of countries, it was indeed a juicy journey.  The experience has left me altered in a deep way and connected with something within me that is unexpected and cannot be replaced.  It was one of the most profound, insightful and healing experiences I have ever had.  I have a renewed spirit for my daily spiritual practices and a new set of tools to assist me on this continued journey of being human.

The founder of the Art of Living, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, made a one day appearance at the Ashram during the course.  An internationally respected spiritual leader who attracts audiences of 1000s, it was quite an opportunity to connect in a more private and intimate setting.  Just being in his presence felt like a gift and celebrating in a community with him was nothing less than pure joy.

 

Madame Butterfly, Wiener Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera)

Opera1I didn’t want to leave Vienna without going to the Opera.  I have never been before and it was an experience in Vienna I didn’t want to miss.  And now I have seen an Opera… well, mostly seen one.  It was the Friday night performance of Madame Butterfly and all tickets were sold out.  I went to the Opera House on the chance that I could buy a ticket on the street before the performance.  I found an eager if not slightly crafty group of gentlemen selling tickets outside the entrance. I took a leap and bought a ticket from them and found my way in.  I was relieved at least the ticket got me in the door without anyone batting an eye.  I was disappointed in part when I was led to my seat.  The location was great, the second level not far from the stage.  The problem lie in the position of my seat.  I was in one of the small rooms that encircled the opera house.  It was filled with 6 seats, all quiet good except, unfortunately… my seat.  From sitting relaxed in my chair I could only see 3/4 of the stage at best.  How frustrating!  But in truth I took a risk in buying the ticket and the costs was not that expensive.  So, all in all, I was happy to be inside watching instead of not.

Vienna State Opera

Throughout the performance, if I leaned to the left… and on occasion stood up and leaned far to the right I could catch most of what was going on.  Not quite the relaxing trip to the opera I was hoping for.  But still the beauty of the opera, the music and the opera house itself were well worth the visit.  Unforgettable.

 

What’s Next?

And so, for now, I remain in Vienna grateful for a few more days here, but earnestly preparing for my next stop.  And while I am not yet going to share my next destination, it won’t be long before you will be hearing from me from my new location.

Bye for now from the warm spring days in Vienna as I prepare for a new adventure.

 

 

 

Impossible Thoughts

29 Mar

I began my day today with a brief stroll to a nearby hotel in Vienna.  A package was left for me and friends via a connection traveling to Vienna from New Orleans.  It’s a grey dismal morning.  As I walked through the drizzle to get my package, my thoughts began to wander.11088093_10206605264910259_504198258_n

I thought back to a conversation I had last night with friend and Reiki teacher, Elizabeth, and had to chuckle in remembering.  Her advice to me was “remember what the queen said to Alice.”  “What?” I asked.  She reminded me, in Alice in Wonderland, that Alice said “There’s no use trying, one can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

As I exited the U-Bahn in search of my destination, I couldn’t help but consider these words… and take note of my own tendency towards fixed thinking. Although I have thought many impossible thoughts that have led me on journeys that seemed impossible indeed, I still have to be careful not to get lost in fixed thinking.  That is, when I come to what seems like a dead end and feel stuck there… to be careful not to allow myself to indeed believe that is true. Enter… impossible thoughts.

So today I am going to lighten the load of my heavy thinking and allow for some impossible thoughts to come in.  Experience tells me, that doesn’t mean they will happen.  But indeed it doesn’t mean that they won’t.  Impossible thinking can create a window for action that allows things that seem impossible… to indeed come to be.

Earlier this week I took a brief escape to the near-bye Stadtpark.  I have found recently with the lingering cold and demands on my time that I haven’t taken the time to just be in nature.  While I love the city of Vienna, without time in nature I feel starved for something and indeed disconnected from myself.  So I took a little break in my day and just wandered around the trees and communed with the pigeons.  It was a relief to me just to have some time to be, taking it in and snapping photos.

How about you, any impossible thoughts or ideas brimming in your world?  It’s always great to hear from you!

It is a quiet Sunday morning here.  There seems to be a hush in the city as if it has not yet woken up.  A solitary bird sings outside despite the gloomy skies. Good-bye for now from Vienna!

Making Friends with Uncertainty

15 Mar

It’s a beautiful Monday morning in Vienna.  There is still a chill in the air, but the sun has come out for a peak after a cold, wintry weekend.  It is my first Monday since the completion of my German course last week.  While I have much on my mind and much to do, I find myself shuffling about.

Sunny St. Ulrich Church.  A familiar sight just outside my front door.

Sunny St. Ulrich Church, just outside my front door.

I began my day running a few simple errands. I have come to enjoy meandering the streets and the comfy stores and markets of Vienna.  As I am walking around getting this and that, my brain is flooded with thoughts. With my unstructured Monday morning and no more German class, I find myself unsettled with what to do first with my time and energy.

I am doing a little shoe shopping and considering this… my relationship with uncertainty.  It’s that place that we all face in one way or another.  That space and time of not knowing.  It may be something small, or something large, or a combination of all of the above.  But no matter who we are, it is there to greet us.

I am currently exploring and orchestrating some new things in my life and I can’t help but notice my tendency with uncertainty.  I try to “nip it in the bud” or try to eliminate it as soon as possible. And if I can’t eliminate it, I sometimes find myself on a feverish journey to eradicate it as soon as possible.  As I am perusing the summer sandals I consider… there must be another way.

It dawns on me that I could make friends with uncertainty.  Give it a little room to breathe and be instead of seeing it as the enemy to be resolved and transformed to certainty at the soonest possible moment.  I have a few new areas of uncertainty cropping in my life lately, and I can’t help but notice how in that space I have filled my life and my mind with fervent action and constant thoughts.  It occurred to me today that instead, I could practice just letting uncertainty be.  And consider (once again), that it is okay to not know.  It is okay to be uncertain… about whatever it is, large or small.  And, that given a little time and air and chance to breathe, some great things can be birthed out of uncertainty.

A few days ago a picture caught my eye on Facebook.  It was a painting by a woman who calls herself an energy artist. For some reason it pulled me in so I clicked through to see what was there.  It turns out connected to this image was a message that I have to admit was well suited for me.  It said… “If you feel full of worry or apprehension, remember that 99% of what you worry about never happens, and the 1% never is as bad as you thought…. So that you will never return to dark places, it is very important that you teach your mind to gravitate to the good that can happen, and already exists around you, not the bad that might happen.  Once you are able to do this, your world will change forever for the better.”

Wow, what a message.  I can’t deny that lately I have been watching my thoughts furiously gravitate towards what might go wrong or what bad could happen.  It seems they do that automatically, like water running through grooves in the cement.  I notice this especially when I am in the space of uncertainty… enter uncertainty and there my thoughts go like wildfire.

But today I am considering making friends with uncertainty… to just be with it and not run away with it or furiously trying to fill it with something more certain.  And I am paying attention to my thoughts and choosing new ones like, “everything will go fine” and “it will be okay.”

As I was having my epiphany amidst the brown leather flats, I couldn’t help but laugh as I heard the music overhead… it went, “You don’t have to be scared baby… you don’t need a plan of what you want to do…” And there we have it.

sunnycourtyard

The courtyard where I live taking a much needed drink of sun.

Here’s a little update on life in Vienna.  For those of you who have been cheering me on, I passed my German final exams!  And not only passed, but did quite well.  Hooray!  I was earnestly more than nervous about taking this exam. There is something about facing a test in a language that is still unfamiliar (i.e. uncertainty…) that rattles my bones a bit. But after a solid weekend of studying, pouring German words, rules and information into my brain until I thought it might break, I am happy to report all went well. What a relief and a true feeling of accomplishment.

How is my German out in the world you might ask?  Well, that… is a different story.  In my world of A1-2 German I still live in the land of basics, still don’t understand more than I do.  But I have noticed some changes. Sometimes, I think a little bit in German.  A few times I have caught myself considering how to say something in German BEFORE I think of it in English.  At lunch yesterday with a group of mostly German speakers, I was pleased to find that I understood the exchange of simple requests and conversation.  It felt almost easy to make my request of the waitress in German.  And as for the rest of the conversation and content that I don’t understand (which is still quite extensive)… now some of it sounds… familiar.  Words are beginning to form in my listening that were once just sounds, although I still don’t know what most of them mean.  And so it goes.

How is life in your world?  Surfing through any uncertainty of your own?  It’s always good to hear from you!

Good-bye for now from the hope of spring in Vienna.  As we speak the sun is leaking into the courtyard where I live.  A foreign sight lately.  But ah, so good to see!

German Learnin’ and Gross National Happiness

25 Jan

It’s a sleepy Sunday morning in Vienna.  I woke up to the early morning sound of snow shoveling.  I peeked out my window and there it was.  A fresh blanket of snow.  It is a rare sight this winter in Vienna. It is funny how a little snow still evokes a child-like happiness in me.  While is it a quiet, gray day…the snow covered streets brought a bit of brightness into the morning.

I have been tucked in bed sorting through some of my German lessons for the week.  Our new trimester started a few weeks ago.  Beginning the new term, it was as if our German course went through a metamorphosis over the Christmas holiday.  The course, content and speed of learning has all increased.  With the new term comes a fresh new array of faces. Students from Italy, Vietnam, South Korea among other places.  All of us swimming together in the often foggy waters of learning German.

WebsterUnivVienna

As part of my New Years enthusiasm, I joined a few expat groups to get my year started.  The AWA (American Women’s Organization), Inter Nations, as well as a group on meet-up.com called Internationals in Wien.  These groups have given a jump-start to my new year with a fresh array of faces and activities.

Earlier this week I joined the AWA on a tour of Webster University, an American University with a satellite campus in Vienna, among other locations. As a native of St. Louis, MO, I knew Webster University well. It’s main campus is based in a tree-lined neighborhood of St. Louis called Webster Groves. I went to high school just down the street. Months ago when I discovered Webster had a campus here it peaked my interest.  So when the opportunity to take a tour came about, I jumped at the chance.

WebsterCourtyardIt was great to be at the tour, see the beautiful building and reconnect a bit with the lively energy and intellect of Universities and all that comes with that.  Also great was to meet many of the women who attended.  I had the pleasure of connecting with American women who’s travels were rich and unexpected.  One lived four years in Cambodia.  Another was moving to Tokyo in a few weeks.  While in some ways I do long for a life and place that feels more like “home”, I can’t deny the stories of life in foreign lands still inspires me to the core.

While visiting Webster I learned they had a guest speaker that night.  It was Dr. Tho Ha Vinh, Program Director at the Center for Gross National Happiness in the small Asian country of Bhutan.  It turns out the Dr. Vinh grew up in part in Vienna and has ties with Austria.  His topic caught my attention, a theme in general of interest to me, and nicely in line with the book I am reading, What Happy People Know.  This was an opportunity not to be missed, so I returned later that evening to attend.

vinh_thoI first heard of Bhutan and their Gross National Happiness project while watching a documentary called Happy. It explores
human happiness through interviews with people from all walks of life in 14 different countries, weaving in the newest findings of positive psychology.  Bhutan and their GNH initiative was featured and it peaked my interest.

The general idea of Gross National Happiness is to take into consideration a wider, yet still specific and measurable, range of values and use this as a guide and tool for decision-making for the country. Bhutan is indeed a tiny little country with a total population of about 750,000 people.  As mentioned by Dr. Vinh, up until the 1970s they still had primarily a bartering economy. And while since then it has developed in more modern ways, the aim and priority is still to serve the people in a more balanced and complete way rather than being completely driven by financial gain and the GNP or GDP.

Dr. Vinh shared there are specific and measurable way that they define happiness.  Here are their qualifications:

  • Happiness cannot exist while others suffer.
  • It can come only from serving others, living in harmony with nature, and realization of our own inner wisdom.

Not the typical driving forces of a country!  He went on to describe their Four Guiding Pillars.

  1. Good Governance
  2. Preservation of the Environment
  3. Preservation of Culture
  4. Fair and Sustainable Socio-economic Development

It was a breath of fresh air to hear Dr. Vinh share Bhutan’s exploration.  Admittedly, he acknowledged this country is not without challenges.  He shared that as Bhutan continues to develop in modern ways, their challenges grow and increase.  But as a nation they are committed to decision-making based on a different set of values. Listening to his talk was a good reminder to consider a wider set of guiding pillars in my own life and decision making.

And so now my snowy Vienna morning continues.  My fabulous host family busily prepares today for their impending departure. The whole family will have an adventure together for a few weeks in the fine city of New Orleans, my former home. I will remain here and enjoy the progression of my life and German Learning in Vienna.

Bye for now from wintry Vienna!

Unleashing Happiness in the New Year

17 Jan

UNLEASHING-HAPPINESSIt’s a New Year, and like many I am doing the checks and balances of my life — tending to new things and seeking to sustain, grow and develop myself and my life.  Recently on Facebook a friend posted a book that inspired him, What Happy People Know. Impressed by his testimony, I took a leap and ordered the book for myself. A friend and mentor suggested to him that he write his own book on happiness.  I thought that was good advice and I spent some time considering the lessons I have learned in the world of happiness.

I have had my share of blessings and challenges on the sometimes rocky road of happiness.  As I step back and take a moment to consider, these are the lessons and ideas foremost on my mind in the New Year as I continue to forge my way.

1.  The Happiness Exercise.  Recently I reviewed a course that I initially took several years ago offered by the organization The Art of Living. They had us do a simple exercise… write down the answer to this statement: I would be happy if only________. You fill in the blank. Of course I had my own list of answers. Then they invited us to consider, what was on this list 3 months ago? 6 months ago?  And once/if you got those things, were you then happy or was there something ELSE to put on the list as a condition for your happiness?

I couldn’t help but take note of some specific things that I was wanting in order to be happy in my life.  Some of these things have been fulfilled in the past couple of years.  And the truth is, without much thought or effort, a new set of criteria has sneakily made its way on the list.

The lesson for me is to continue to explore having access to happiness without a set of criteria.  That happiness is our nature. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have goals and dreams and pursue and develop them… but I am exploring the well of happiness that is available independent of all that.

2.  Life has times that are enduring and times to be endured.  This again is wisdom from the Art of Living organization.  It was a quote read recently at a regular gathering I attend.  We had just completed the Sudarshan Kriya, their cornerstone spiritual practice.  I thought it was wise advice and have kept the notion with me to usher in a greater flow of happiness.  Rather than being frustrated with hard times or expecting it should be different, I am practicing simply noticing it… and letting it be what it is… not expecting all times to be enduring, and allowing for times that are to be endured.  And also practicing detaching a bit from it all, bringing a little more grace to the whole ride.

3.  Everyone is doing the best they can.  And everyone makes mistakes.  This is one of my key lessons for the New Year.  I became clear recently just how little space I had for other people (and myself) to make mistakes and that I was carrying a big pile of shoulds around with me (he should do this, she should know that…).  I got clear how these shoulds are not serving me at all and it serves me much better to consider instead that everyone is doing the best they can and that everyone makes mistakes.  I am practicing in the face of this lesson responding with something like, “Oh, a mistake…” instead of anger.  I am getting clear that the shoulds and the anger are hurting me most of all and don’t do anything to foster relationships in my life.  In truth this is a big lesson for me and definitely a solid block in the foundation of my happiness.

4.  What sustains you when all falls away?  This question was asked of me during a particularly challenging time.  For me, the answer was simple — taking walks and feeling the sun on my face. I was encouraged to lean on this whenever I needed it… and truly to allow the simple good of it to be enough.  I have walked myself through the most challenging of times from losing all my personal belongings and my city being destroyed by hurricane Katrina, to dealing with at times unescapable anxiety. Discovering the answer to this for me gave me a place to gently lean.  And in leaning on that, it actually provided a space for all that I no longer needed to continue to fall away.

5.  The Gifts of Spiritual Practice.  I love spiritual practice.  For me, it is like having a home here on earth that allows me connect with myself and who I fully am… and to visit that on a regular business. There are many spiritual practices that are a regular part of my life.  Chanting with the Soka Gakkai International, practicing Sudharsan Kriya with The Art of Living, Reiki, Yoga. How wonderful that I can take these practices with me no matter where I am in the world and feel at home. When visited regularly, spiritual practice feels to me like building a foundation of unshakable strength.

Just the other day after chanting for a bit, I felt a distinct feeling in my gut, in my belly.  I checked in to see what that feeling was … and there it was, it was happiness.  I was there in my simple room with not much happening.  That feeling was the fruit of spiritual practice, independent of what was or wasn’t happening in my life.

6.  It’s important to feel good emotionally/physically and to take the time to tend to those things.  With traveling and frequent change in my life, it is easy to disregard or let important things go a little to the way side.  In the New Year, I am renewing my effort to care for myself in ways that support my physical and emotional happiness.  It doesn’t take much effort, but it does take my intention and action.  For me, this can include taking hot baths, getting a massage, regularly going to a yoga class, finding and connecting with friends.  These things are important… but also require my attention in order to happen.  They are not things to be disregarded or put on that back burner.  What are they for you?  How do you tend to your health and well-being?

Those are my top 6 thoughts on happiness for the New Year, a tiny dent in my book of happiness.  I am sure there is an infinite list, but those are the ideas that most have my attention at this time.

What about you?  What is in your book of happiness?  Please share, it’s always great to hear from you!

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