Tag Archives: Hurricane Katrina

Taking Time to Smell the Flowers

13 Apr

Its been another full week of teaching here at English Village in South Korea. Once again we have hosted hundreds of middle school S. Korean students. Once again we have spun in a maze of  English classes ranging from “Survival English” to Badminton (a favorite with Korean girl students, but not so much English taught here) to classes about Movies, Science, Drama, Culture.  I have handed out more stickers (a tool we use to increase student participation) than I can count.  And now it’s the weekend.

Teaching at English Village is a good challenge for me with the practice of being a good, interesting and compassionate teacher in the face of  many and varied new Korean students.  Some days, some classes I think… I am a pretty good teacher… and other classes with more challenging behavior… I feel less confident.

The volume dial of our work week has been turned up with the steady flow of hundreds of South Korean students. Generally we receive groups of good kids here at English Village but the fact remains that they are young adolescents (a phenomenon that has no cultural boundaries), they outnumber the teachers, we don’t speak the same language, and they are here at English Village as a field trip to have some fun… which is sometimes fun for the teachers, sometimes not.

As Friday drops in I find myself depleted from the week.  Once again, I find myself receiving the thank-you letters from the students at the end of the week which automatically lifts my spirits.  In the spin of so many students and the mixed behavior and challenges throughout the week, it makes a difference to be acknowledged and to be seen by the students as a “good and kind teacher.”

In the midst of the blessings and challenges of this week, I find it is important to return to the basics and take time to smell the metaphorical flowers.  For me that begins with gratitude. As I write from the chilly Winter-like Spring of Paju, South Korea pretty darn close to N. Korea, here is my ode to gratitude… and the simple things in life that I will now give my attention and thanks…  I am grateful for…

1.  Chocolate “pudding” made with greek yogurt.  This may sound a bit callous and overly simply, but as someone who is sensitive to sugar and must stay away from it, chocolate has typically been something I have to go without. Lately I have been purchasing homemade Greek yogurt from a local business in Seoul.  Their website is medfoodinkorea.com.  I recently acquired a new treasure from the local “foreigners” market… unsweetened Hershey’s cocoa for the bargain price of about 7.50 USD. The other night relaxing after work a new idea popped in… Greek yogurt, Hershey’s cocoa… Greek yogurt, Hershey’s cocoa… is it possible there is a place where the two can come harmoniously together?  And so I googled… and found a simple recipe of just Greek yogurt, cocoa, and a little natural sweetener (I used just a touch of honey).  Without hesitation, I went for it and easily created a simple and satisfying chocolate snack.  Did I mention I added fresh strawberries?  Ah, delish!

2.  Veggiehill.com.  I have mentioned them in my blog before.  They are a recent find that sources organic foods grown not far outside of Seoul.  What a treat it is to easily order my food online and have it shipped to my door.  Not only does this free up a little more time in my life, but it provides me with chemical-free vegetables that you just can’t find in the grocery store. The vegetables I receive look ten times better than what I see in the stores and taste great.  Hooray!!

3.  Quiet Relaxing Evenings.  I’m a sensitive soul and after the big energy of teaching dynamic middle school kids during the day it is highly needed and satisfying to have some quiet and private down time in the evenings.  I often treat myself to a good meal, an extended Reiki treatment, a little yoga.  Ah, just what the doctor ordered!  And before I go to bed?  Usually, a little shameless video watching… my recent pleasure is watching old episodes of House then some chanting before bed.  How grateful I am for this time and my spiritual practices to balance my being and my day and prepare me for the day to come.

4.  I am teaching a yoga class!  Wow, it is amazing to me that I am teaching a yoga class at English Village.  As someone who has practiced yoga for over 8 years, relying on it as a spiritual tool to move my body, mind and spirit through many challenging circumstances, it is a real treat to share it with others.  The situation sort of found me…it began with one of the head teachers at English Village asking if I would teach one yoga classes during the work week for teachers.  After that many teachers asked when the next yoga class would be… so we planned it.  Our first weekly yoga class was this past Monday evening.  We had a great turnout!  So many teachers were there that we almost need a bigger room.  Fabulous.

5.  I am at home.  This may sound overly simple, and isn’t necessarily referring to S. Korea or English Village… but it’s a growing sense in me that no matter where I am or what I am doing, I am at home.  Not that I don’t sometimes feel “homesick” or  long for a life that might be more rooted…  But the challenges and blessings of life – losing all of my belongings to Hurricane Katrina, being dramatically uprooted, deciding to travel and the challenges and blessings of that life, have supported the development of my home within. It’s a spiritual place really and even thought I still feel and experiences successes and challenges daily, it is ever apparent in my life.

And with that… gratitude in the midst of challenges, growth and new opportunities in South Korea, I will say good bye for now.

In the meantime I am curious, what are you grateful for in your life?  I’d love to hear from you!

Photo above is a snapshot taken in Seoul of a road barrier… that has planters on it  filled with flowers.  Finding beauty in the most unexpected of places.

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.

Birthday Eve

21 Nov

It’s about 10:30 pm Eastern Standard Time here in the US. I am (mostly) shamelessly listening to the Carpenters (among other tunes) on my Pandora radio.  I have my space heater cranking in my brisk third floor room and am reveling in the simple joys of some time alone… you know, organizing and throwing away old papers, doing a little yoga, drinking hot tea.  Ah, the good life!  In a few hours I will usher in the day of my birth, less formally known as my Birthday.  This year I celebrate 42 years of living.  I am thrilled.  It’s a good time to be alive.

About three hours ago I took my Reiki teacher, Elizabeth Ohmer Pellegrin, to the Philadelphia airport for her flight home to New Orleans.  She came to teach a First Degree Reiki class here in Philly and for a visit. Elizabeth first came to Philadelphia to teach about 6 month ago.  She has some family ties to the area.  She also has another Reiki student who lives full time in Philadelphia and coordinated a class for Elizabeth in June 2012.  She coordinated this most recent class as well.  There is now a budding community of Reiki students in the Usui Shiki Ryoho tradition initiated by Elizabeth blooming and growing in Philadelphia.

It was a real pleasure to have Elizabeth here.  It was like a wonderful burst of “home.” Much of our time together was spent in the Reiki class that she taught all day on Saturday and Sunday.  It is typical for me to sit on Elizabeth’s Reiki class.  Elizabeth is a wonderful teacher and after practicing Reiki for about 8 years, I always find it rewarding and beneficial to sit in on a class.  It’s also fun to be able to contribute in small ways… sharing my experience with Reiki, answering a few student’s questions, and giving assistance as they are learning to give treatments.  It is also a gift to be a in a Reiki class because I get to bathe in the healing energy of Reiki all weekend long.  It feels sort of like taking a vacation … without having to leave the city.  Also Elizabeth is a great caretaker and, when she is not busy teaching or tending to her new students, she always seems to have time to give a little extra TLC my way and make me feel like I am cared for, which is a lovely feeling.

Elizabeth has been my friend and mentor since I first became her student 8 years ago.  She has been there for me persistently and with great care.  We went through the great challenge and new adventures of hurricane Katrina when we were both uprooted from our home for an extended period of time. She has been there to support me through hundreds of big and little triumphs and challenges, including many of the joys and challenge of my latest adventures in travel.  As she went on her way back to New Orleans I felt grateful to have spent time with her and also strong in my on two feet to continue on my journey.

Elizabeth suggested once that I celebrate my birthday one day for each year I have been alive.  I have adopted that philosophy, exploring little ways to celebrate each day.  Tomorrow I will begin my birthday celebration by attending a yoga class and listening to my body and being and see what else my heart desires on this day.

Thanksgiving will likely be a quiet respite for me.  My host family here is traveling to be with their family in New York State.  I was wholeheartedly invited to join them but I have opted for a few juicy days with some time to myself.

And so, on this Birthday Eve and nearly Thanksgiving Eve, I will leave with the spirit of thanks and gratitude… for all the lessons I have learned on this amazing journey I have been on, all of the people I have met along the way and those who have loved and supported me in taking risks and having new experiences of myself… that I would have never had if I hadn’t taken a risk and bought a ticket to Europe a year and a half ago.  Yes I am grateful for the simplicity of living out of a suitcase, taking it one day at a time, and exploring the possibility of new adventures.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Photo of stunning Fall Colors in my Mt. Airy neighborhood.

Being at Home Anywhere in the World

18 Sep

It was recently the 7th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina as we were reminded with the arrival of Hurricane Isaac.  I lived in New Orleans for thirteen years and like so many others was uprooted by the flooding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  That was the beginning it seems of my Gypsy training.

I was in Houston, TX attending the Landmark Forum for “just the weekend” when Hurricane Katrina hit. From there I traveled to Austin, TX where I lived for about 18 months before returning home to New Orleans.  With my former apartment flooded and rents on the rise because of increased insurance costs for homeowners, I was lucky to find an affordable place to live when returning.  I rented out two private back rooms and a bathroom in a comfortable Mid-City home.  It wasn’t quite the “home” I imagined for myself, but I was grateful for an affordable place to land. Time flew and I was there for 3 years.  When my landlord’s daughter was to return home and she would need my space, it was my time to leave.  As I no longer had my affordable place to live, I started taking some creative leaps.

I stayed for one month in a private home that used to be a bed and breakfast in exchange for graphic design work.  Next a friend wanted me to house sit while he was out-of-town and his home was for sale.  Six months later I left that home when it sold and moved to another home for sale until, six months later it too sold.  It was from there that I flew the coop and headed to Europe.

These years of transition and travel have accentuated the necessity and importance of creating and cultivating an inner home.  I began to rely on and develop an inner sanctuary and place of respite.  This is a place I can turn to no matter where I am in the world and no matter what may be happening in my world, inside or out.  It isn’t always easy moving from place to place, in foreign environments with life handing unexpected twists and turns.  Here are some ways that I have come to rely on to support myself and the cultivation of an inner home as my world around me shifts and moves.

Spiritual Practice
For me, connection to spirit is a place that I go to for comfort and ease when life around me is constantly changing or when life seems chaotic.  A spiritual practice is like a daily (or more) taste of the divine.  It is like visiting that greater place we call home no matter where I am or what is up in the world.  I find the more I visit that place through daily practice, the more it surprises me with visits during my regular ordinary life.

Some of my favorite spiritual practices are:

Time in Nature.
There is nothing that satisfies my spirit or soothes my soul more than spending time in the outdoors.  The feel of a gentle cool breeze, the bright colors of a blossoming flower, or the warmth of the sun on my skin are core experiences that bring me joy and that I have come to rely on for peace and comfort like a tender, loving parent.  Every day, no matter where I am, I take a little time for nature.  Sometimes it’s been a stroll along a farmers road between potato fields in Germany.  Other times its been a walk along a near-by river or park.  I am usually alone and it is often quiet as I am greeted by whatever that day has to offer.

Dance.  I love to dance.  I am not a professional dancer or anything, but for me there is nothing like listening to some music that makes me want to shake my booty and just moving and dancing for a bit.  Nearly every day in the privacy of whatever room I might be in at the time, wherever I am in the world, I put on a little music from my iTunes on my computer and I dance!  Sometimes mellow, sometimes not.  But it always feels good to just move!

Practice being in the Present Moment
We all know the phrase… “wherever you go… there you are…” and so it is true that no matter what has happened or what is to happened what is always there is the present moment.  I am no different from anyone else… with my mind wandering at times hastily to what has been or to what will be.  But I take the time to practice… being where I am… in the moment.  Sometimes it may be as simple as calling my attention to my fingers and the feel of the iron and the sheets as I was ironing at Les Battees, feeling my feet in my shoes as they meet the ground.  Sometimes it is noticing my breath… sometimes breathing easily, sometimes not… When I remind myself to slow down and pay attention to just the present moment I am often awakened to expanded perception in that moment… and expanded joy.

Eating Well
A simple healthy diet is the cornerstone of well-being for me and makes a big difference in my well-being and feeling at “home”.  As lately I have been living in other peoples homes and kitchens, I do my best to be a fair and good communicator to ensure that my new home can provide the basic foods for my health and well-being.  This includes no refined sugar in anything that I eat and access to whole grains and fresh veggies and proteins.  A little good food goes a long way!

Reading from inspiring books and texts
Nearly daily I lean on and rely on books and texts that lift and inspire me.  For me these are often of a spiritual nature.  Even just a quote or paragraph that reminds me I am of something greater than myself gives me perspective on whatever opportunity or challenge I may be facing at the moment.  My favorite book to lean on is currently A Course in Miracles , but I also have enjoyed books by Catherine Ponder and Gary Renard’s Disappearance of the Universe.

Goofing Off
I also find it is important to have time just to goof off – to just do that silly unsophisticated thing for a little bit each day that nurtures the little child in me and brings me comfort.  Sometimes it may be reading a light novel or magazine.  Lately it has been watching old episodes of the show Medium on the internet.  Just a little something, often “brainless” and fun, to take a “break” from whatever I may need a break from that day!

These are my basics for cultivating my inner home, wherever I may be, whoever I am with.  I am grateful to have the time and experience of cultivating an inner home as I currently travel from place to place, some plans known… some still unfolding…

Photo from the gardens of Les Battees.

Nothing is Permanent

27 Feb

It is a quiet Monday with a morning-like feeling that has drifted into the early afternoon.  The business of the seminar weekend is over and so far today the only sound I hear around the seminar house is the birds chirping outside.

This past weekend we hosted a group that does Gestalt Therapy.  They are a regular group here at the Seminar Haus and long-time customers.  So, they were quite surprised when they received some news this weekend.  The Seminar Haus has decided to close.  I feel a sadness in me even as I write it, but after many long years of hard work and an unusually slow season the decision has been made.  It’s funny, even though I have only been here for a short while and understand the decision… I still find it hard to believe it is closing.  I guess as with everything, there is a time to stay or hang in there and there is a time to let go and move on.  Things come and go in our lives.  Nothing is permanent.

I have learned this lesson so well as much of my life and my world slipped through my fingers in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  Today my relationships and my life is very different from before Hurricane Katrina.  The remnants of my belongings are kept in a small closet-like storage unit just outside of New Orleans… and even that I am conspiring with local friends to be rid of as I plan for future travels beyond my one year adventure.  As my belongings and many friendships and relationships have changed or fell away like sand drifting through my fingers, here in the midst of the latest change at the Seminar Haus, it seems for me there is still more to let go of.  It is not always clear to me what that is, but they live now in my life in the form of ideas, old attachments and resentments, my identity – who I think I am or who I think I should be.  In the ebb and flow of change, it continues to give way.

This seminar weekend was a little crazy for me.  Like a car sitting in the cold of winter for months without use, I found myself a little slow as I attempted to start my engine to shift from the silent pace of my winter life to the quickening of preparing the house and then working this weekend at the seminar.  A quick shift from months of quiet days with time to myself, I found it a stretch for me to extend myself and my energy to the more intense pace of a typical seminar weekend – a busy house-filled with guests, earlier mornings, full days assisting with preparation of food and cleaning up after meals.

Even amidst feeling somewhat frantic and squirrel-like in the activity of the weekend, I noticed and felt a shift within myself and my relationship to the participants of the seminar world.  In the past working the seminars I was nearly unseen in kind of shadow in the kitchen.   I now take heart in seeing, feeling and being more connected to the returning and new participants.  As the guests left this weekend I was grateful to receives hugs in departure.  It felt so good to be appreciated and to hold onto another human being, even for a moment, as they left on their way.

One participant asked me this weekend, “how long will you be here in Wettenbostel?  are you planning to stay?”  “We will see”  I respond as I am still exploring new places to be and visit.  I have to trust what is next for me will unfold even when I am uncertain…

My only defense in my changing world when it feels that things are slipping away beneath my feet it is to continue to practice being present.  This weekend a seminar guest, also a fan of Dan Millman, shared that Dan says we are all peaceful warriors in training.  I appreciate the in training part as I often notice my feelings and emotions darting from side to side.  Lately I find I need to exercise, go take a run just to allow some of its intensity to leave my body.

The weekend seminar has come to a close and I take a little time to feel my feet walking on the soft ground around the Seminar Haus.  Connecting to the earth and  the golden fields, I do my best to return to the only place that is now home to me.  The quietness of the moment.  And noticing the tenderness and strength of my own heart… even amidst what feels like an instability.  Alas, I see it is true.  Nothing is permanent.  And I do my best to soak in the moment and allow what is gone or is leaving to be on its way.

Graduation Part 1

16 Feb

Well, the snow is beginning to melt in Wettenbostel, although this morning the green grass is coated with a layer of frost.  Is this the beginning of the end of winter hibernation?  While there has been joy and satisfaction in my snowy, isolated winter escape, I must admit this extended period of time alone is starting to rattle me a bit.  I am exploring new places to be.  My inner voice reminds me to be patient even though I feel a sense of urgency within me.   Ah.  I breath in and out.  I try to ground myself in my body, feeling my feet in my slippers as I walk across the cold house floors.

I watched the movie Peaceful Warrior last night.  It is a film based on the book and true story of Dan Millman.  I was drawn to it as I am taking an on-line class of his through dailyom.com called the 4 minute workout.  What I like about the workout  so far is its careful attention to stretching and moving all parts of the body – even parts I had forgotten about!  The movie is based on the story of Dan, a talented college gymnast, who meets an unexpected spiritual teacher at a local gas station who can do things Dan can’t understand or even imagine.  After shattering his leg in a motorcycle accident, Dan relies on this teacher to help him reshape his thinking and his world.  The film is a good reminder of the art of being present.  A concept I will employ as I continue here in the quiet halls of the seminar haus.  As my Reiki teacher Elizabeth and Mr. Miyagi say, “wax on, wax off.”

The other day on Facebook I noticed a quote from spiritual teacher Iyanla Vanzant that caught my attention.  She said “There are times when we do not recognize it is the time to move forward.  When life is ready for us to move and we resist, life will move us by any means necessary.  What may feel like a disaster is actually a graduation.  Remain open to being guided, supported and protected by the universe.”  I really appreciated that in the face of the “disasters” in my life.  Reframing those situations, feeling them in my body and mind as a graduation feels like a useful shift in perception.

One of my life’s graduations happened about 6 years ago now… known by many of you as Hurricane Katrina.  When I was writing my last blog entry I described getting off of the drug Paxil as one of the hardest things I have ever had to go through… As I wrote that, there standing in the background begging for attention was yet another challenging time..the experience of Hurricane Katrina.

I was living in a ground floor apartment in New Orleans at the time.  On Carrollton Ave.  I had been off of Paxil for about 2 years and was still a little daunted from the journey.  I clung to the safety of my apartment and had just a small handful of people I allowed into my life.  I had recently taken my first degree Reiki class.  With it came development in my healing and a new  community of support.  I was living a very “bohemian” lifestyle.  I had no car and rode my bicycle everywhere, I read tarot cards in Jackson Square and had a part-time job selling kites at a local store in the French Quarter.  While there was much about this colorful and simple lifestyle that were dear to me, I screamed out for something that felt more secure.  Money was scarce.  I sometimes found myself digging for ten or twenty cents so I could buy myself a banana or two. I yearned for something that felt more stable.  “I want to live more civilized!”  I cried out to the universe.  And I guess she heard….

It was August 2005 and I was preparing to attend the Landmark Forum, a weekend seminar designed to help you transform your life.  I was inspired to attend by my friend Christian.  He invited me to an introduction to the Landmark Forum, and after attending I felt a little spark in my eyes that had long been in the shadows.  The only things that seemed to be in the way was… the money.  In the Landmark Forum, when registering you are encouraged to look at what is “stopping” you… as likely that same issue stops you in other areas of your life.  And they say that is when your Landmark Forum begins… during registration and the issues and challenges you face.  So there it was.  $400.  It looked like a mountain to me, someone who had been collecting change to buy bananas.  My friend Christian had contributed the initial $100 for me to register.  Now I needed the remaining $300.

It was mid-August and my Landmark weekend was just around the corner. The new owner of the home where I rented my apartment was an old friend of my Reiki teacher, Elizabeth.  And, as fate would have it, she used to be a seminar leader for Landmark Education.  Elizabeth suggested that I call her for advice.  Nervous and shy to reach out to others, I mustered a little courage and gave her a call.  And here is what she said.  She told me to make a list of all of the people I could borrow money from and then pick the last person I would ever ask and start with them.  I told her that I did not yet have my money for the next months rent and I was concerned about doing the Forum and coming up with rent.  That she advised me was my risk, my decision to make and she wished me good luck.  While we were still talking, my sister called in on the other line.  There she was, the last person I would ask for money.  I answered the line and took a leap and asked her for the money.  She and her husband responded in a most generous way and agreed to give me the total amount I needed to attend the seminar.  We made an agreement for me to do a little design work for her husband’s business in exchange.  Still not knowing how I would pay for my rent, I threw some caution to the wind, completed my registration and I was on my way!

The night before I was to leave for the Forum, Elizabeth, her husband Bob, Christian and my friend Mark gathered in the living room of my little apartment to see me off.  I was surprised at how nervous and emotional I was.  “I am just going away for the weekend” I thought.

The next day I rode in the carpool of folks driving from New Orleans to Houston, about a 6 hour drive.  I stayed in Houston with a Landmark Forum graduate, a friend of Christian’s.  Her name was Kess.  A sweet tender-hearted woman, her little apartment was the perfect place to stay.  It felt friendly and welcoming.

Attending the Landmark Forum was kind of an “outing” for me back into a more mainstream American society.  Tucked in the bohemian world of New Orleans, I had not been in high-rise buildings, intense central air-conditioning, flourescent lights, and square rooms with beige walls in at least two or three years.  I had not been in rooms filled with professionally dressed people and women wearing make-up and neatly done hair-dos.  It was a little startling at first, but little by little, I made my way.

It was Saturday of the Landmark Forum when they made the announcement that there was a category 5 hurricane heading straight for New Orleans.  In the context of the Landmark Forum they teach that we are “meaning making machines” and the stories of our lives have only the meaning that we assign to them.  So within the context of the course, I did my best to view the news in a positive light.  And the weekend course continued.

By the end of the Landmark Forum, I saw someone new and yet familiar when I looked in the mirror.  It was me.  Only somehow, it was me that I had not seen in a very, very long time.  My eyes looked focused and clear and there was even a glimmer, dare I say a spark of light in them.

My friend Mark had called.  He at first thought he might stay in New Orleans and ride out the storm, but then late on Saturday night he had a strong gut feeling to get the hell out of there.  So he packed up a few things, and grabbed his cat and his neighbor.  Next he went by my apartment and grabbed three things – my laptop, my cat Sophie and my guitar.  They made their way together through the grueling traffic-ridden evacuation on his way to meet me in Houston.

Mark and I had been friends in New Orleans for quite some time.  In the wake of getting off of antidepressants he was the first person who I felt I could relax with… exhale. And one of the few people I felt could actually understand what I was going through.  To say that Mark was “my boyfriend” were never words that felt quite right coming out of my mouth.  But he was someone I was connected to and could count on.

Mark and company arrived in Houston after being on the road for some 22 hours or so.  Kess was generous enough to welcome everyone into her home.  Me, Mark, his neighbor and the two cats – we all camped out in the living room of Kess’s one-bedroom apartment.  The hurricane came and went and it seemed perhaps the worst was over.  But then the flood waters started to flow.  Levees had broken and the water from Lake Pontchartrain began to fill the city.

Living in New Orleans, prior to Hurricane Katrina, you hear and you read that the city is a bowl.  New Orleans is below sea level, and shaped bowl-like surrounded by water.  We were always told, when “the big one” came the city would fill up and be flooded.   It was just a matter of time.  Secretly I thought we were exempt from that.  That it would never happen.  And there it was.  It was happening.  I have to admit, as the waters began to roll into New Orleans, I silently hoped it would give me a way out of my life and life circumstances.  There were so many things that I just wanted to wash away with the storm.

When it became clear that New Orleans was in the midst of something of disastrous proportions, we all began to plan and explore our next step from the bunkers of Kess’s living room.  Cell phone reception for New Orleanians was down which made it difficult to be in touch with people.  Mark and I had decided to see our way through this together and his neighbor was seeking a new place to find refuge.  In the wake of the Landmark Forum, I suggested that we look at this as an opportunity to create something that we really wanted.  It was apparent that for at least the short term going back to New Orleans would not be an option.  We did not want to stay in Houston.   I called my parents and heard that a college friend from Austin, TX had been in touch.  Her message was, “I just have this feeling… I know that Nancie needs to come to Austin.”  Mark and I agreed, Austin seemed like a good place to be for a little bit.

Mark and I did our best to be responsible and handle as many details as we could up front.  We made the smart decision of calling FEMA right away and filing an early claim.

Elizabeth and Bob had evacuated to Houston and we met at a Starbucks.  We sat with one another in a state of shock and disbelief.  It was good to be connected  even in the foreign territory of Houston with  its big, busy modern ways and landscape.

I called my friend in Austin.  Her name is Rita, a powerful little Indian woman and a force to be reckoned with.  She armed us with phone numbers from craigslist of Apartment complexes offering deals to Katrina “evacuees”.  She and her husband generously offered to put us up for a week in a hotel in Austin while we found a more stable place to be.  By the end of the week we departed Houston and made our way to Austin.

We arrived in Austin, wounded and weary, and met up with Rita and her husband at a local taco place.  Welcomed into the bosom of Austin, the owner of the restaurant treated us to a complimentary meal that evening and gave us free t-shirts from his place.  We spent that week in a hotel considering what was next.  Amazed, we found ourselves looked for apartments as we needed a place to stay.  Neither Mark or I had any money.  But within the week, with the blessing of a “Hurricane Katrina” special and a free first months rent, we found ourselves signing a 6 month lease.

I called Elizabeth from the new place.  In a state of shock I said to her, “…I think I live in Austin…”

Words of Wisdom

6 Jan

Mmmm… content in the warmth of my room tonight in Wettenbostel.  The wind is blowing outside.  A little rough.  Some wind.  Some rain.  A door blown open now and then.  It is about 7:30pm, or should I say 19:30… and it is a time when generally and lately I have been at the Seminar Haus by myself.  The grounds itself are fairly big… enough to feel a little separate from the booming metropolis of Wettenbostel.. population I think 60 or something like that.  The wind blew in my hosts this evening with a little food.  Always a delight to see… my hosts… and the nourishment of course.  Some food for me.  Some food for our groups that is arriving sometime tomorrow evening.  I am told the group this weekend is a young Christian group… young as in 20 somethings.  A little different from the tone of seminars since I have been here… often intense groups and subjects.  Generally middle-aged and above diving through issues in Gestalt or couples therapy.  Sometimes yoga groups and then of course the is the Tantra group….but that is another story.  So this weekend should be a different tone from past seminars.

Tonight has been a pretty chill night.  My household chores are done and I have spent a little time musing on my computer.  I watched a little video on Ted.com by author Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the book Eat, Pray, Love.  I like her.  There is something about her as a writer, as a woman, that I find comforting.  Her presentation was on creativity.  It invited me in to consider… my own creativity.  And after that, I did a little chanting.  You know, my standard nam-myoho-regne-kyo plus the daily practice of reciting the Lotus Sutra.  These chants are the cornerstone of the practice of Nichiren Buddhism.

I was introduced to Nichiren Buddhism a little over a year ago by a friend, Lilly, who I know through my New Orleans Reiki group.  And then I was invited to their New Years 2010 celebration by my friend and Reiki Master, Elizabeth Ohmer Pellegrin.  It was an afternoon celebration of Nicherin Buddhism, chanting, and a wonderful, warm and social buffet lunch afterwards.  It is then I learned that Elizabeth had become a member and received what is called her Gohonzon, a scroll with Chinese and Sanscrit characters on it and the object of devotion in the practice.  She said she felt pulled to become a member and accept the Gohonzon.  She added that it gave her a breakthrough in her life in an area where she had been stuck for years.  Really, I thought.  “Should I do it?” I asked her. Wide-eyed, she nodded yes.  Ready to jump in, I leapt ahead and made an agreement to become a member of SGI on New Years day 2011 and within weeks I received my Gohonzon.

I received a book with the Lotus Sutra and a practice CD and quickly began to learn to chant the Sutra.  It was fun and I enjoyed having some place to put my attention, devotion and energy on a daily basis.  Lilly, a long-time Buddhist, was thrilled and an avid supporter.  She and her husband updated an alter they had for my Gohonzon and in a whirl of energy they delivered it to my home and prepared me for my practice.

I was encouraged to chant for what I wanted and situations I wanted to change in my life.  At the time I was selling gourmet mushrooms at the local farmers market in New Orleans.  “Chant for your mushroom sales, ” Lilly said. “I guarantee they will grow!”  So sure, I did it… and I have to say… that my mushroom sales went up.  In fact the doubled from what I was selling at the time.  So I kept chanting.

Mostly I was chanting for my healing.  My moving through my “whatever it is” that has been challenging me… most notably since my senior year in college.  Healing from life after ten years of the anti-depressent Paxil, the challenges of life after the drug, and the I wasn’t so sure that was troubling me beneath the surface.  So I chanted for that.  And chanted.  And I still chant for that.

Months after becoming a member everything in my life shifted and left me racing to find my bearings.  So many changes all at once…which opened the door for me to leave New Orleans and visit for a while here in Germany.  So I leapt.  I leapt in a space of enthusiasm and joy.  And I leapt in a space of uncertainty and discomfort in the face of the many challenges I still felt with myself.

I chanted for specific things as I prepared for my journey to Germany, piecing it together on virtually no budget and  a “wing and a prayer”.  I had bought a ticket to London through an online sale.  From there I needed to make arrangements to travel to Germany… and I wanted a place to stay in London for the night before I headed out on the next limb of my travel.  So I began to chant.  Chant specifically… for a free place to stay in London.  Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.  And with Lilly’s insistence, I didn’t give up.  Didn’t give up as the trip was nearing just weeks away and still no place to stay.

And then it happened.  It was a Monday night and I was heading to the Tulane University campus for a Landmark Education seminar.  I was “assisting” or helping out with the seminar.  On my way in, I saw a familiar face in a unfamiliar environment.  He was a seminar leader who lived in Austin, TX.  I knew him from my time living there and participating in Landmark Seminars post-Hurricane Katrina.  I did a double take and confirmed it was him and learned that he and a few other folks were visiting the seminar from Austin.

I arrived in the seminar room and greeted my friend and  “boss” for the evening who was leading the logistics for the seminar.  She knew about my upcoming travels and desire for a place to stay in London.  “You know” she said, referring to my friend and seminar leader from Austin, ” his mom lives in London and she hosts people sometimes when they come to town…”  What?!  I thought.  No way.  You have got to be kidding me!  I was so amazed and delighted and the wildness of events coming together… and my possible relief at fitting another piece of the details of my “miracle” journey… that is how to go to Europe with virtually no money. Later that night he and I chatted and with a little good fortune, we were able to arrange for me to stay with his mom for the night in London.  I was glad to offer her and her husband a little Reiki in gratitude.  And, as it turns out, his mom had practiced Nichiren Buddhism for about 15 years herself.  Interesting…

Nichiren Buddhism has been a lovely segment of my time here in Europe so far.  It is an international organization with groups that meet in villages, cities and towns all over the world.  Here in Wettenbostel, I have connected with an SGI group in Hamburg.  I have met many people there, visited with them and chanted with them in their homes.  I also have connected with Nichiren Buddhists closer to Wettenbostel in near-bye Lüneburg.

While visiting the Black Forest I was able to connect with two SGI different groups.  One in the lovely city of Karlsruhe and the other, an intimate gathering at a home in a village not far from Karlsruhe.  Both places brought me a little… I don’t know… peace.  There was something in me that just felt at ease… much-needed respites on my journeys.  Some care, some comfort and hospitality.  And the comfort of community… no matter where I am in the world.

So I continue to chant.  I chant for my healing, my life and my journey.  I chant for my friends and my family.  In this Buddhism they say the most important thing is to be happy.  And that is why we chant.  And I am learning from my time and practice that being happy isn’t about blissfully eating bonbons on a cloud.  It is meeting the challenges of my life as the unfold, doing my best to take responsibility for them, and continuing to move forward in my life and face them.  And not ever giving up.  So I chant, I chant for courage to face the challenges and discomfort with myself and my life.  I chant for healing.  I chant for inspiration.  I chant for love.  Ah, it is so good.  Nam-myoho-renge kyo, which literally means “I devote myself to the Lous Sutra.”  For me, true words of wisdom.

River of the heart

13 Dec

It’s a cool rainy day in the village of Hilpartsau in the Black Forest of Germany.  Just days earlier we were driving up in the heights of the hills, covered with snow.  Now, snug back in the valley surrounded by the dampened green earth and the clouds hiding the winter sun.

Thanks to the generosity of my host, Michael, we took a small adventure or escapade in the hills of the Black Forest on Sunday.  I participate in the programs of a spiritual organization called The Art of Living.  Lead by Indian guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the Art of Living hosts a variety of classes designed to reduce stress and connect with our higher or greater self or spirit.  The organization came to New Orleans not long after Hurricane Katrina to be of assistance to those of us living there impacted by the stress and trauma of the storm and life after the Hurricane.  I found my way to one of their classes and learned a technique called the Sudharshan Kriya.  It is a practice I do on my own at home nearly daily and used to do in community in New Orleans. The Art of Living European Center is here in Germany in the Black Hills.  Less than an hour away from here.  I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stop by for a visit.

So with Michael’s willingness and the children packed up in the car happily listening to an audio tape on the Ice age…we were off.  As we ascended the hills the landscape changed from the cool greens of winter in the valley, to hills of pines accented with white fluffy snow.  There were slopes for skiing and the occasional resort hotel.  As the journey continued the landscape became more and more remote.  Counting on the guidance of Michael’s GPS, it finally directed us to turn towards our destination – Bad Antogast.  The turn was likely about a 150 degrees angel and the road was snow-covered, towards the edge of a hill, with no guide rails going down.  Hmmm… unexpected to say the least.  Sensibly Michael chose not to take this route and the GPS adjusted our direction.  A few more turns… a bit more winding descending downhill this time and finally… our destination.  The remote location of Bad Antagast and the Art of Living European Center.

The center was quiet and we arrived just minutes before long Kriya was to begin.  I arrived thinking that perhaps  I could stay for a while and catch a ride home… but after trekking our way through the lonely roads it was apparent that I must stay close to Michael as I would need him to find my way back to Hilpartsau.  He was gracious enough to stay around with the kids for about an hour while I stayed and participated in long Kriya.

Long Kriya is the community version of the shorter Sudharshan Kriya I do everyday.  It is generally led by a teacher of the Art of Living courses.  I was graciously led to the room where it was held, found my place and waited to begin.  It has been probably about two years since I have done the long Kriya and I felt a little clumsy at first.  A series of breaths and hand placements, breathing, long and short, for about an hour and then finally… rest on the back at the end…feeling all the goodness and release of the breathing work completed.  A few minutes given to come back into “the world” and then people began to silently find their way out of the room.  I went back downstairs to find Michael and the kids by the fire seeming pretty happy.  We grabbed an apple to eat and then… we were off!  The quick but good adventure to Bad Antagast to visit the European Center.

At dinner the other night we chatted a little bit about Mardi Gras, in Germany called “Fasching”  After spending 13 years in New Orleans,  I was surprised and impressed to hear that Germany too has quite a big celebration as well…weeks of parades and large crowds in costume celebrating and partying.  Michael and Imke mentioned that Cologne’s celebration is a bit more of the extravagant party celebration.  But even here in the quiet village of Hilpartsau there are big celebrations to be seen with traditional wooden masks.  The legend here is that the carnival comes to blow the winter out of the black forest.  Crowds of as much as 100,000 people gather for the celebration… candy and treats being thrown from the floats.

And today, well the rain, wind have cold have suggested that I take it easy today.  I have spent some time reading from a book that Michael and Imke gifted me for St. Nicholas Day.  It is called Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. It’s a true story by a man who committed armed robbery, escaped from a high security prison in Australia, and moved to Bombay a fugitive… on the run.  I read a part today that really moved me… and thought I would share… “…the river of the heart, and the hearts desire.  It’s the pure, essential truth of what each one of us is.. and can achieve.  All my life I’d been a fighter… I became the expression of that fight and my real nature was hidden behind a mask of menace and hostility. The message of my face and body movements was, like that of a lot of other hard men, Don’t fuck with me.  In the end, I became so good at expressing the sentiment that my whole life became the message.  It didn’t work in the village (in India). No-one could read my body language.  They took me as a peaceful man.  I was a joker, someone who worked hard, played the fool for the children, sang with them, danced with them and laughed with an open heart…. Prabaker’s (his friend and Indian guide) mother called a meeting of the women of the village.  She’d decided to give me a new name, a Maharashtrian name…and because they judged my nature to be blessed with peaceful happiness, the women agreed with her choice for my first name. It was Shantaram, which means man of peace or man of God’s peace.  I don’t know if they found that name in the heart of the man they believed me to be, or if they planted it there, like a wishing tree, to bloom and grow.  Whatever the case…the truth is that the man I am was born in those moments… Shantaram.  The better man that slowly, and much to late, I began to be….”

Ah so beautiful and powerful!  That is all for now from the Black Forest…Until next time!  Namaste.


23 Nov

It is a brilliant cool evening in Wettenbostel.  After a busy seminar weekend, my hostess is away doing a little travel and my friend and regular resident of late, Jörn, is gathering himself for a few days in his apartment in nearby Lüneburg.  I am delighting in the juiciness of some time to myself.  I am warm, well-fed and listening to some music by German artist, Fjarill.  I don’t understand a word that she is singing, but her voice, the music and tone are satisfying.  It is truly dark outside except for the slightly distant light coming from the “Big Dojo” across the way still glowing with music and life as friend and  Seminar Haus electrician and general handyman is still at work.

It is already time to prepare for the next seminar.  A little different as with our hostess away I am tending to some new details in the rooms… placing towels, sheets and bedding.  I must say that when it comes to bedding at the Seminar Haus, my hostess here truly has it down to an art.  The colors and bright patterns of her bedding fill the rooms and it is always at least a little satisfying to leave a cleaned and prepared room… complete for whoever might be entering next. The other difference this time is that I will be attending the seminar this weekend.  So I am preparing space not only for our next guests, but ultimately for myself.

I am already getting ready a little bit for my upcoming departure from Wettenbostel.  I leave on a train Tuesday morning for a small town in an area in the South of Germany called the Black Forest.  It is known to be a beautiful area.  I connected with a family there through an on-line resource called helpx.  Helpx connects travelers with people in countries throughout the world interested in hosting travelers in exchange for a little work.  I will be staying with a family, parents about my age with two children for a month.  They have a beautiful home and from my connection to them already I feel they have warmth, experience and comfort to offer.  What comes next after that… is still to be determined.

I started getting myself a little organized, going through my purse throwing out all old train itineraries and tickets so that I can find what I need as I travel.  I had to laugh as when I was going through my wallet I found the American 20 dollar bill I stashed away as my emergency money for when I return to the States.  It was funny to me how foreign it seemed… like my connection to it is disappearing a little somehow… my wallet now filled with Euros… well, maybe not FILLED… but supplied nonetheless….

Things shifting and changing always tugs at something inside of me.  Uncertainty.  There is a beauty in it.  A richness that pulls me on to something… new.  Like a dance.  One of the requirements for dealing with uncertainty I find is exploring that balance of surrender and attending to what needs to be done.  In the midst of it find I am often compelled to reach for little pieces of certainty in the present moment.  Organizing my socks.  Sorting my clothes and putting them in nice little piles.  Sometimes getting lost in my mind as I find the things and ideas I may have been attached to.  Not wanting get lost in the space of uncertainty.  Thinking today about my little storage closet of personal belongings back in Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans.  My current mailing address…a post office box at a New Orleans neighborhood store.

Tonight’s call for dealing with uncertainty… I think a hot bath is the ticket.  My body and my spirit want to rest.  Let it go!  Ah!

So all is well.  I am well fed tonight and grateful.  A yummy meal of some sautéed veggies and tofu with a little salad.  I am warm in my wool clothes and comforted by the light in my room and the light I feel brewing within me.  Another day.  Another night.  And some things are changing.  There is some… uncertainty…

Photo by Gypsy Woman.  A little color remains in the cold gardens at Wettenbostel.


21 Nov

Well, it is November 21… my birthday… even though there is a mix up on my birth certificate that says it’s November 22.  But my mother assures me that I was born on the 21st.  She says she knows…she was there.

This birth certificate thing was actually a little area of concern for me when getting my passport to begin this journey to Europe.  I was moving quickly, planning the trip and shifting my world with just a months time to prepare.  When I first went to get my passport… the birth certificate was not valid as it did not have the official state seal on it.  So with just weeks to go I had to order a new birth certificate.  After I ordered it, I thought… oh no!  it says my birthday is November 22… and my driver’s license says my birthday is November 21!  Is that okay? Now just weeks away, I could no longer get my passport through the expedited service… but luckily there was an express center in New Orleans where you could get passports in just a matter of days… immediately if needed.  The only hitch was that you could go there no sooner than 2 weeks before your travel.  So there I was, two weeks before my travel with my mismatched birth certificate and drivers license.  And alas… it all worked!  But, they did put the date that was on my birth certificate.  So according to my passport, my birthday is November 22!

The other day I was thinking about a situation in my life that has been a bit of a challenge for me.  And the image that popped into my mind’s eye was one that I saw on the desk where I was house sitting in Hamburg back in July.  It is a picture of a little kitty looking into a mirror… and the reflection in the mirror is a lion.  That image to me speaks to the idea of … courage.  Courage when I think or feel that I am just a little kitty to see the truth of myself… the strength of the lion that is really there…  And that being said, it also reminds me of the strength card in the Tarot.  It is a picture of a lion and a maiden… The meaning of strength in this card is a little different from how may typically think of it.  It is a strength that comes from a higher power… and strength that can come from softness and surrender… balanced with the power of the lion.

This weekend was experience and an experiment for me… in courage.  Working at the Seminar Haus this weekend… we hosted a group of 50 people in a space that is typically suited for about 20-25.  Much work was demanded… of everyone!  We all had to go all out and give everything that we had… and then a little more… to make this weekend work.  Our busy four-day weekend began for me with 6:30am wake up calls… me grabbing a little bit of chanting or Reiki before I went out into the world of the kitchen.  Set up for breakfast.  Sometimes fun… sometimes a little confusion… “where are the eggs… are we out of eggs?  no worries… we can just chop up some fruit instead…” and so it goes.  With so many guests the business of breakfast bled into lunch.  Our host and chef, cook and creative extraordinaire spun us around  chopping and stirring and mixing and serving.  Learning to pay attention to the little things of chopping and the larger things like… did you get that out of the oven?  We set up two dining rooms for serving instead of our typical one as there were more guests that usual.  After lunch, the endless dishes of clean up… and then… ah dinner and clean up again.  Plus a few other surprises along the way.  Somewhere in the spinning and mixing and serving and preparing at the Seminar Haus there is a creative energy that gets stirred up.  Bleeding from one experience to the next.

So wow!  We did it!  And I did it… beyond my comfort zone and typical experience.  And today, the morning after and birthday morn, I am soaking in the quiet and comfort of my bed and some tunes from New Orleans yoga teacher and musician, Sean Johnson.  My friend Jörn just stopped in offering birthday greetings and the good spirited intention of preparing for me a little birthday breakfast egg… but alas, the kitchen is stripped and we are out of eggs.  And my lovely hosts surprised me this morning knocking at my door with a lit candle and some wonderful gifts… constantly surprising me and touching me with their generosity!

So for now, enjoying a little relaxation and comfort and a luxurious long morning to enjoy all the little things I love.  And the beginning of a new year for me.  A time of change, new experiences… and… whew, courage!

Photograph of  tree blossoming in the frost in the gardens of Wettenbostel.

%d bloggers like this: