Tag Archives: Art of Living

In Love with Oahu

1 Dec

Well I did it. I packed up my stuff. Got rid of some of it. Managed to fit way more essential oils and supplements into my suitcases than I imagined I could and hit the road. Only this time I didn’t quite hit the road…. because I couldn’t.  Instead I boarded an airplane and was island bound. I am in Hawaii.

Recently I hit a barren patch on my house sitting journey and was grateful to be nestled for a few weeks in the midwest in my mother’s home. In the midst of this limbo time I did what I have learned and continue to learn to do… take a step back and allow things to unfold. And unfold they did. Quite unexpectedly. As it sometimes happens on my journey, in the blink of an eye I had two new housesits on my plate which brought a quick redirection. First stop, a return to Austin for a month-long housesit. Second stop, a housesit on the island of Oahu.

I knew there was a possibility out there that a housesit could come together in Hawaii. I made a connection through an on-line gathering of a spiritual community I enjoy. They mentioned they may have a need for a housesitter in the coming months. As someone with experience with things ebbing and flowing, coming and going… I was grateful for the possibility, stayed open to it but also had no expectation or attachments that it would or wouldn’t work out.

And then one day it happened. I got the word. What do you do when someone invites you to housesit in Hawaii?  You say “Yes, please! Thank you!”

Don’t get me wrong…as much as my life has gone with the flow this past decade, I did run into my share of rough currents, resistance to change and sometimes in earnest just pure exhaustion from so much packing, unpacking and driving about. Despite the “inconvenience” of it all, my heartfelt yes quickly aligned my life in a new direction.

Also, notably so, this is my first housesitting departure where I didn’t drive my little SUV packed with the essentials of this life on the go.  As I would leave my wheels behind, I started the process of hmming and hawing over what to keep, what to leave behind and what to take along.  I was fortunate to find a spot to keep my car and remaining belongings while I am away and so now here I am!

With Hawaii’s new Safe Travels program, it was easier than I imagined to get here. I took a COVID test within 72 hours of my departing flight at an Austin Walgreens and got my negative results the same day.  From there I just needed to upload my results, complete the health survey 24 hours before departure and get my QR code.

I flew Delta airlines as I read they were tops in their COVID practices. They have updated their filter system and on my flight from Austin to LAX you could see the air from the filter circulating about like a sci-fi movie. Delta is also currently keeping the middle seat open and from LAX to Honolulu I had the whole row to myself. I slept most of the way, presented my QR code on arrival and as simple as pie I had arrived.

I met with my host and homeowner in Oahu before she left on her own flight the next morning.  She couldn’t be a more kind and generous host and I count myself lucky to be caring for her home and welcomed by her. She even left a few goodies for me to use including a great beach towel and snorkeling equipment.

Since I have arrived I have mostly been “getting my island legs,” tending to the basics and exploring some of the immediate area and territory. Even with all of my traveling experience, I still get nervous when landing in new territory. So I find I am well-served by taking my time and easing into new places.

I had the pleasure of connecting with a few folks at Unity Church of Hawaii and helped just a bit with their campus cleanup. Outdoors and masked up, it was great for even just a bit to see some new friendly faces and meet some locals. I am also fortunate to connect with the Oahu Art of Living Zoom group!  I have participated with Art of Living’s spiritual practices since I took their first course (now known as Sky Breath Meditation) back in 2007. There are regular meetups around the world for graduates and even though we can’t yet meet in person, being with the local group even on Zoom is a treat.

And just this morning… I made my first venture to the beach!  Where to go?  There are so many to choose from! As this is my first time in Hawaii, prior to my plans to come I didn’t realize that Oahu is quite small!  You can get to nearly anywhere on the island in 30 – 45 minutes! So that means, from where I am just a bit west of Honolulu, I have easy access to the whole island!

For my first beach visit I chose Kailua State Beach. Just a 30 minute drive from my current location, plus a lifeguard on duty and… it’s open! (a few locations are closed at this time), it seemed like the perfect place to start.  The drive there wound me through lush green mountains and when I arrived I felt like I landed in paradise. I mean no kidding. I have been to many places but I have never been or seen anyplace quite so lovely and naturally beautiful – from the sweet inlet of water and surrounding mountains and community to the breathtakingly blue water that enticed me like a dream.

The beach had a healthy speckling of beachgoers, enough to feel safe with others around but not so many that it felt crowded at all. There was plenty of room for and respect of social distancing in the backdrop of enchanted mountains, soft sand and welcoming waves.  I took a great walk on the beach, loaded up the sunscreen and just took it in… the unbelievableness, the unexpected oh-my of my current surroundings!

I am back at home now, always happy to be out for a little adventure but equally happy to return to that feeling of home. I feel super safe in the lovely town home community where I am housesitting surrounded with an easy feel and lush greens and palm trees.  As the coming weeks unfold, I imagine I will navigate that balance between the need and desire for downtime, rest and relaxation and the joy of exploration.

So long for now from the island of Oahu – a new little leap in life and my housesitting journey.  My best in health and happiness to all of you!

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!

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.

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.

 

 

 

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!

Business as Usual

15 May

Well, it seems like it is back to business as usual here at Gyeonggi English Village.  Except that, for the most part… there is no business.  In the past weeks we have waded through questions of teachers going on paid or unpaid leave and the future of English Village. And now things have emerged with no major change… except that, for the most part, we don’t have students to teach.

While we whittle away our days away with no students, for the most part teachers are expected to spend their time preparing their lessons for August programs.  Additionally, there is a new emphasis on weekend programming for English Village visitors more in the vein of entertainment.  New responsibilities have a fun flavor and include things like face painting, mask making and English focused games.  Lately we find ourselves scheduled to work a few hours at our front gate welcoming visitors to English Village that are sometimes there… and sometimes not. Life is undoubtably strange… or stranger than usual as we adjust to new programming and dance an odd dance with our administration struggling to keep us busy during this mostly non-busy time.

This past week we had our first student programs in quite a while.  We hosted a group of university students visiting from Japan as well as an adult program.  While it was nice to have a little “life” here, this modest program hardly put a dent in our weekly schedule. In future weeks more students will arrive…. a group of Russian students here for 6 weeks among them.  As required by the local government, Korean students will not take student trips until after this semester ends which is in early July.  Even after that we are not quite sure if Korean students will return to their regular class trips at English Village.

Meandering in Seoul

This week during my regular week-day weekend I headed to Seoul for the day for a bit of an escape.  While I appreciate my home at English Village, the fresh air and quiet surrounding hills, it felt really great to get away.  I spent my day doing a little shopping, meandering the streets of a favorite neighborhood, and also getting a message.  At the end of the day I met up for the first time with the Seoul chapter of a spiritual group called The Art of Living.

I have been connected with the Art of Living since I took their first course in New Orleans about 8 years ago.  Led by Indian guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the group was in New Orleans to be of service to the community in the wake of the challenges from Hurricane Katrina.  As an organization they are committed to spiritual health, well-being and harmony through a unique set of practices and tools. They are also committed to being of service to humanity through good deeds and projects.  Their main teaching is something called the Sudarshan Kriya and is learned in the first course.  It is a series of hand movements and breathing techniques that support the mind and body in reducing stress, detoxing, and being more balanced. As an organization I have found them to be nothing short of lovely and inspiring and have benefitted from the continued use of their practices.

It was a real treat to connect with the group, meet some new people and take some time out for spiritual practice in community.  An Art of Living teacher was visiting Seoul this week, so she led the group in the Kriya as well as some yoga and chanting.  I came away from the evening with a renewed interest in my own practice and reminder of the simple joy that can be cultivated from the inside out.

As the sun begins to set and my weekend begins to wind down, I prepare for a new work week.  Returning to a new irregularity but still somehow business as usual here at Gyeonggi English Village.

Happy New Ear!

3 Jan

Well it seems all too easily 2013 has slipped away with the arrival of 2014.  As is typical here at English Village, we worked right through the holidays.  And so I shared my New Years with a very young assembly of party-goers, our students.  As I did my best in class to communicate about the New Year in very simple English, two of my youngest students liked saying “Happy New Ear”… instead of “Happy New Year”… and so, I pass their amusement on to you.

It continues to be a quiet winter season.  The snow is periodically melting giving way to dirty streets and icy patches.  English Village is currently entertaining a group of month-long visitors for a program called VIP.  This student body is generally around 11 – 14 years old.  The month of January is a winter holiday for Korean students.  As learning English and studying is a high priority here, around 200 lucky students are spending their winter holiday here.  I am not teaching these students as I am teaching the youngest students at English Village, a program where we read books, do simple english activities, play games and do crafts.  Truly a world apart from the busy adolescent body of VIP.

I continue to be aware of what an odd life I lead here in English Village.  Recently a friend from Germany wished me well in my current adventures in the UK.  “I am not in the UK…” I had to distinguish to him.  “I am at a place called English Village… it’s in South Korea.” True, the architecture of English Village is hardly reminiscent of South Korea… and it’s not intended to be.  This is a place where South Koreans can be immersed in the English language and something like western life… without leaving their country.  It’s the only place where I can feel like a rock stock just for smiling, saying hello and speaking English.

Despite the strangeness of life in English Village, there are many things that I cannot help but be grateful for.  In the simplest of terms it has afforded me a safe and mostly gentle respite in life where I can live, develop and grow.  It is nestled in the un-busy hills of Paju City that always feels like a relief to me after returning home from a day in Seoul.  There are many friendly English-speaking faces here and a whole network of resources for surviving and navigating life in South Korea.  Plus, there is a whole world to discover not far outside our door and easy access to Seoul.

Recently I took myself on a little pre-New Years celebration/adventure to a traditional Korean bath, known as a jjimjibang.  I went to a bath in Seoul called Dragon Hill known for its friendliness and accessibility to foreigners (that’s me…).  It was only my second visit since arriving in Korea.  I have to admit it still takes a little “somethin'” for me to go to a public place where I will be walking around naked in front of strangers.  While it might seem unusual to some Americans, the practice is quite common in Korea. At the Dragon Hill spa, you take the elevator to the women’s sauna floor, find your locker, take off your clothes and you’re on your way!

The sauna itself is filled with a myriad of inviting, warm, herbal baths.  Ah, so nice and invigorating.  It’s sort of fun for me to go there as a foreigner who doesn’t speak or understand Korean.  In some ways I get to be almost invisible as I glide in and out of the tubs surrounded by many Korean faces and bodies.  It’s also a joy to share the innocence of unspoken communication… the simple things that are done to acknowledge someone else in a friendly way – a laugh, a smile when there is something to be said but no words to use.

While at Dragon Hill I gave myself a special New Years treat and signed up for a massage.  This was, as it turns out, no ordinary massage… but 90 minutes of full body acupressure, thai massage, foot massage, facial acupressure, head massage and facial treatment… whew!  Are you feeling relaxed yet?  It was, in fact, one of the most kind and loving things I have ever done for myself.  At one point I just laughed out loud in sheer joy as I had some sort of facial treatment on my face (that felt really cool and refreshing) while my body continued to be coaxed into release and relaxation.  Granted, it wasn’t quite the personal “massage therapist” experience you might have back in the States.  At one point I heard someone call the name of the man who was giving me my message. He responded to the call immediately and just dropped my leg on the table in mid-massage.  Nonetheless, he was very good at what he did and I was grateful.

As this year has come to an end, myself and others are looking to the New Year with some sort of intention or fresh energy. In honor of that I thought I would share a few of the things that really make a difference in my life.  If you know me or read my blog, you are already aware that Reiki and SGI Buddhism are both spiritual pillars in my life.  But here are a few others that I seldom mention that would enhance any New Year.  Enjoy!

  1. Dan Millman’s 4 Minute Workout
    You many know Dan Millman, the well-loved guru whose story is told in the movie Peaceful Warrior. I learned this sweet little workout during a cold, quiet winter in Germany.  It’s great because it moves and addresses every part of the body in only 4 minutes.  It’s a perfect way to bring some movement into your life on daily basis.
  2. Art of Living Sudarshan Kriya
    I stumbled upon the Art of Living in post-hurricane Katrina New Orleans.  Their was something about the organizational name that caught my attention.  I attended an informational session and felt inspired to take their first course which teaches the Sudharshan Kriya.  The Kriya is a simple sequence of breathing and movements.  I have done it regularly for about 7 years now. It’s something I can count on to ease stress, reduce anxiety, bring me back to my body, and help release any physical pains or discomforts.  Click here for more information and to find a course near you.
  3. Radiant Recovery
    Many of us know… on some level… you are what you eat.  For many people, myself included, eating a heathy and appropriate diet is the difference between day and night in health and feeling good.  A friend referred me to this program of eating.  It’s signature book is “Potatoes not Prozac” as part of the ensemble of new eating habits is eating a potato before bed.  It is targeted for people who are “sugar sensitive” and gently unfolds a program backed by science to support health and well-being. Do you think you might be sugar sensitive?  Read here to learn more!

How about you?  What are your plans and inspirations for the New Year?  Any cherished goodies to share to help launch me and others into the New Year?

Wishing you a powerful, happy and transformative New Year!  And as always, thanks for reading!

Photo on top, in class with the little ones we made party hats for our New Years celebration!

The Road to South Korea Just Got Shorter

5 Dec

The scenery is starting to change.  The bright leaves of fall have given way to naked trees.  My laundry that has been scattered all over my room is now finding its way in an organized fashion to my suitcase.  And my Passport, previously mostly barren except for a stamp here are there from Germany and England, now has a Korean Visa in it.  Funny, it seems I am going to Korea…

I am in that busy hazy phase prior to making a life-altering shift.  You know the one, where you tend to the immediate details at hand preparing you for something that… hasn’t fully consciously hit you yet.  Yep, that’s me.  Although it’s starting to hit me… waves of excitement and anxiety are finding their way to my body.  I wake up before the sun rises, before the busy little bodies in the home where I stay rise.  I get up and I start to work… on whatever I can think of to do next to make sure I have everything cared for before I leave.

Bye the way, did I mention that I am leaving on Tuesday?  As in less than a week from today?  I was patiently riding on the slow visa train to Korea when all of a sudden, I switched tracks and landed on the express.  And here I am wandering in everything I want to make sure is complete and wondering about the little things I am not thinking about that still need to get done.

Last week it suddenly dawned on me… that I needed to buy a plane ticket.  I felt sort of like an expectant mother who had gotten so comfortable in the process of pregnancy that I almost forgot about giving birth.  And then one day, the alarms sounded… it is time!  It is time NOW!

So here I am bustling in the wake and energy of my plane ticket purchase preparing for my imminent trip to Korea.  My new place of employment, the Gyeonggi English Village (GEV),  is ready for me to arrive and to begin training for their new program.  I will be teaching English at a hands-on-learning campus created to immerse Korean and international students in the English Language.

Happily I will be making a brief stop in the mid-west to visit with my family – my parents and my sister and her family.  My gut says its important to spend some time with them before I leave, even for just a few days.  I will leave for Korea from there.

This is not something that happens for me every day – preparing to travel to Asia!  It’s my first time there.  I am grateful for a few little tokens of comfort like knowing that I will be picked up at the Seoul airport by a taxi driver sent just for me who will be holding a sign with my name on it.  It’s funny I have always seen that scene played out in the movies, but it has never happened in my own life… until now.  I get butterflies in my stomach just thinking about it!  From there I will be taken to my apartment on the GEV campus.  Yes, my own apartment – a luxury that I have not had the pleasure of since I have been traveling.

I am wrapping up my time here at the family residence in Philadelphia that I have called “home” for the past 3 months.  The youngest boy has been feeding me a steady diet of hand-made presents, since I won’t be here for Christmas.  Practically speaking, this home has been a perfect place for me to be at this time of transition and visa making.  I have been just a stones throw away from the post office, UPS office and other “city needs”.  Additionally I have been most fortunate to have use of a happy, thriving, macintosh laptop computer.  It’s a lovely toy, if even for the short-term, and especially with the expected death of my slow but well-loved PC laptop… hanging in there for now, but… it doesn’t look good.

I am trying to make the most of these last few days here… preparing the family as best as I can to transition to life without an extra set of hands.  I did my best to stock up on groceries and even cooked a few casseroles to put in the freezer for a little added comfort and joy when I leave.

And now, well,  I keep walking the walk of “what is there for me to do next?” on my road to South Korea… getting shorter and shorter as the days go by.  A busy and expectant time!

If you’d like to learn a bit more about my journey and trip to Korea, I invite you to view the video I created.  It’s on my Indiegogo campaign at www.indiegogo.com/southkorea.  And while you’re there please consider a contribution of any amount to support the continuation of this long lovely journey and big school of life.

Thanks for joining me from time to time on the road.  Much more to come!


Photo of Forbidden Road, my favorite “getaway” in near-bye Wissahickon Park in Philadelphia, PA.

My Next Big Step!

28 Nov

Well the time has come… I just can’t keep it a secret anymore!  I am ready to share the NEXT BIG STEP on my journey.  After taking the leap and buying a ticket to Europe over a year and half ago and recently returning to the States for a few months of preparation, it is nearing time for me to depart on my next adventure.

Where am I heading you ask?  Well…I will be traveling to South Korea to live and work for a year teaching English as a Second Language!

Here is how this NEXT BIG STEP came to be.
While traveling in Europe, as I am sure you can imagine, I was always open to, looking for and wondering how I could earn some income to support myself as I travel.  I lived very modestly and simply but as time went on I was nearing the edge of my finances.  I needed to find a way to earn money and travel.  It was suggested I look into teaching English as a Second Language (ESL).  I explored this in a light and curious way about 6 months into my journey.  I searched online for jobs and schools.  I read blogs of others who had traveled and done the same. I met other travelers who were preparing for jobs teaching English.

My initial investigation was into jobs teaching English in Europe.  My inherent enthusiasm began to dwindle as I knocked on virtual door after door only to hear repeatedly that if I was not a citizen of the EU or did not have a permit to work in the EU, I would not be considered for a job.  This seemed like a catch 22 as the only way I knew for an American to get a work visa in Europe was to be sponsored by a company.  Alas, and so it goes…  I was sure there were Americans teaching English in Europe and that somewhere there were indeed jobs to be found, but how or where to find them was a mystery to me.

The next question that arose was certification.  I have a Master’s Degree in Education specializing in Higher Education, but with no experience teaching ESL. I wondered if I needed to get a certification in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).  The programs vary widely from quickie on-line courses to in-depth courses where you get your certification on-location.  The better courses come with a price tag which didn’t help my initial call which was – replenish the well and earn some income.

Unsure of where this would lead, I did my best to take in information and stay open to new possibilities.  Later into my journey a trusted friend urged me to more seriously consider teaching ESL.  At this point it seemed pretty unlikely that I would get a job teaching English in Europe, especially without a TEFL or TESOL certificate, so I expanded my outlook and began looking into teaching in other countries.

When I opened the ESL door wide open I started reading about and looking into the best places to teach English for Americans.  There are many countries that easily welcome Americans to teach English and many are willing to hire you without a TEFL or TESOL certificate.  Still I wanted to be mindful as I was seeking a quality experience.

I was referred to a website called Dave’s ESL Cafe by a fellow traveler.  This site lists jobs teaching English in Korea, Thailand, Japan, and all over the world and is well-known in the ESL community.  I found it to be a simple and straightforward website with plenty of job listings primarily in Asian countries.  I scanned through them regularly, curious and yet nervous about working and teaching English.

One day I found a job listing that peaked my interest.  It wasn’t a typical teaching job, but in a learning environment created to be like an English Village.   Children came to the Village for a week-long experience in speaking English.  Teachers were more like facilitators and learning was active and hands on.  With my background as a leader in experiential education and creating workshops where students learn by doing, the seemed it may be up my alley.  The job was in Paju City, South Korea, about an hour outside of Seoul.  I was interested, but I ignored it at first and continued on with my day.

Later that night as I was going to bed, my intuition whispered to me “take a leap!” and apply for the job at the English Village in South Korea.  So, excited but nervous I submitted my resume.  Time passed by and I heard nothing… but still in the back of my mind I had a “feeling” that something may come of it. Then one day, just a few weeks before my time commitment was to end at my helpx exchange in France, I got an email from the English Village in Korea asking if I was still interested in a position.  Yes!  Yes I was interested!  I was scheduled for a Skype interview at 4:00 in the morning my time…ugh…  All went well and I was offered the position.  That was the beginning of a long process in preparing to work and teach in South Korea.

This news changed my travel plans and redirected me to the States.  The process of obtaining all the documents needed for a work visa would be much easier in the US.  Presently, about three months into the process of obtaining a visa… I am getting closer and nearing the final steps.  Yippee!  And Oh my God!….

The BIG LEAP of my NEXT BIG STEP
I am really looking forward to being in a learning environment again and strengthening some teaching muscles I have not used in a bit.  I am also grateful to begin a travel opportunity that will support my financial needs. In the meantime… there is a bit of a financial gap… between now and when I receive my first paycheck.  My staff contact in Korea reminded me recently that I won’t actually receive a paycheck until I have been there for a month.  With my extended time in the States preparing my visa and the continued gap of working in exchange for room and board and no income, I have some unmet financial needs.  This is what inspired me to … TAKE A LEAP…. and create a campaign on Indiegogo, the on-line fundraising resource, to raise funds to support myself during this time of transition and the continuation of my journey.

Please visit my Indiegogo campaign. Preparing this campaign has been fun and inspiring.  I have invested some time and created a video/slide show presentation called “Gypsy Woman: an unexpected journey”.  I would love for you to check it out. If you’re inspired… make a little donation.  No amount is too small… really…or too large.  I am excited to share my story and my journey with you through this campaign. Also… if you’re inspired… please share my campaign with others… maybe someone you know who might enjoy my story and mission.

And for now… the path continues.  I am not sure of the exact date of my departure to South Korea as the visa process seems to have a mind of its own.  But likely I am about 4 weeks away from leaving for South Korea.  Wow…my next big step!

Photo of Gyeonggi English Village in Paju City, South Korea.

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