Thursday, June 27, 2013

I find it quite amazing how bipolar this island is. It's almost comical how it is the prime example of all physical and metaphorical definitions of light and dark... On one end of the spectrum, there exists the yoga, wellness, detox, spiritual-life aspect. But when the sun goes down (three nights a week in my little corner, and every other type of moon in another corner), that's when the hedonistic fun begins, with parties, alcohol and an overwhelming plethora of hallucinogens.

Very Yin and Yang. Complete polar opposites. Which got me thinking about how all of life is basically a balancing game. And how the key to finding the harmonious balance is right under our noses.

See, in the traditional Indian way of teaching (I don't think it's limited to Vedic, because I experienced this growing up), you don't question anything you're taught by elders regarding religion and culture. You are to accept things as they are and just follow the leader. Kind of like "the blind leading the blind." This "eastern" way of thinking rejects the "western" need to rationalize thoughts and ideas. On the other hand, you've got the "western" way of thinking, which requires proof in order to believe in something as fact. And which rejects the "eastern" ways of life as outdated and superstitious.

I think people's heads may explode at my next thought. I truly believe that there is enough space in this world for opposites to exist harmoniously. Again, it's a balancing act. And the solution is extremely complicated, yet unbelievably simple. In balancing Yin and Yang, wellness and fun, east and west, the fulcrum is essentially the same. To have any polar opposites exist simultaneously, all you need is love. Complicated yet simple.

See, here on this island, everything exists in perfect harmony. Why? Because of love. When love is abundant, all the troubles and disagreements that exist on the physical plane seem so trivial because the interactions are being made on a spiritual level. Love is a language that all life understands. And it is untouched by judgment and jealousy. When you learn to let go of the ego completely and exude pure, unadulterated love, everything makes complete sense and absolutely no sense all at the same time. It's truly amazing and beautiful.

I wish you love.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Woke up feeling SO refreshed after over 24 hours of traveling. 

First thing upon awakening -- I searched my bag once again for that pesky cell phone charger and finally found it! Yes, I knew this was supposed to be a detox from the Western world, but I wasn't ready to quit cold turkey. Baby steps... Starting with the ladies room.

When you gotta go, you gotta go. There's no time to think about the logistics of anything. There's a toilet, I need to go, simple as that. Or so I thought. I freaked out momentarily after using the ladies room. I turned around, looked at the toilet and wondered, "How do I flush this thing..?" There was no valve or lever that would allow me to do so. “Is it just supposed to sit here and mellow? Eww…” I closed the lid and decided to shower, change, make my bed, and go outside to watch the sun rise. Did I mention that I got up at 4:45am? Jet lag definitely has its perks. As I watched the sun rise over Haad Yuan bay, my troubles from the previous day seemed so trivial. I could survive here! 

I set out to explore the neighboring beach and stretch my legs a bit. It wasn't just a sandy stroll down to Haad Tien. It was more like a trek through the jungle, up wood and dirt stairs, over large boulders, down rock stairs, across a concrete path, and down a series of narrow and uneven rocky stairs that twisted and turned in multiple directions while being littered with fermenting fruit that had fallen off the trees above. I finally landed down onto a pebbly beach. The resort located there was beautiful and offered a lot, by way of yoga classes and recreational activities, and their restaurant was renowned for offering tasty, healthy vegetarian and detox items. It was lively and fun and there was quite the spread of folks from all different backgrounds.

After downing a fresh juice, I continued on my way, through a coconut grove and up a winding pathway. Another resort was in the distance and I had a blast making the trek up and getting the blood flowing to my poor legs! I headed back over to Haad Yuan, this time through the jungle, and giggled at all the roosters and shongalolos (that's what my Namibian friend calls millipedes) while enjoying the background music, courtesy of the locusts. 

When I returned to my bungalow, I saw the place through a whole different set of eyes and immediately fell in love. How funny it is that your entire experience changes the minute you change your perspective. The second I began to practice acceptance of what is instead of trying to make it into what could be or what I had expected, the whole place began to feel like paradise. I started to notice things -- like how many different plants and flowers there are everywhere. There are butterflies fluttering about all over the place at any given moment (even on the sandy beach!), and it makes me feel like I live in a fairy tale.

I am a girl from Southern California, ne, Orange County, who has voluntarily entered a place where my access to western amenities is very limited. I am learning to accept and love the challenges I am facing and will ultimately overcome. I am extremely thankful to have WiFi available! Although it is limited to just the restaurant area (and cuts in and out throughout the day), it still allows me to connect to the western world when the silence becomes deafening.

Or it can come in very handy when I face a dilemma such as flushing my toilet. I had totally forgotten that was on my very short to-do list for the day. Turns out I am supposed to fill the bucket with water and use the scoop to pour it into the toilet. Thank you, Google! I managed to find an adapter for my laptop plug at a gift shop on the beach. This day just kept getting better! 

When I was ready to retire for the evening (quite early once again), I stopped at the sun deck to look up at the sky. I had a beautiful view of the moon and the aura around it. Unfortunately my iPhone was unable to capture the details of what I saw, but it was stunning to look at. I stared at the moon, the water, my surroundings for a few minutes before I mustered up the strength to get up and drag my tired self to bed. I quickly showered, changed, set up my mosquito net, and hopped into bed. It had been a good day and I was glad that I was here.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The First 24

My first 24 hours in Thailand were a real wave of emotions. I experienced a lot of freak-out moments as I grew more aware of what my life would be like here. My final plane touched down on the Thai island of Koh Samui just after noon yesterday. I was exhausted after over 24 hours of travel and shuddered at the idea that there were hours more to go still. I somehow managed to claim my baggage and get to the tourist desk 15 minutes before the ferry left for Koh Phangan (the next one would be leaving 4 hours later), and I was rushed onto a van that would take me there. We reached Big Buddha Pier, which really should have been named, "Big Scary, Rickety, Unkept Wooden Pier That You Feel Will Fall Apart At Any Given Moment," and I prayed for my life as I wheeled my 2 suitcases across it.

As I hopped onto the ferry, my bags were snatched from me and tossed into one of two giant mountains of backpacks and bags. I looked around for a place to sit and giggled a little at the looks of "I hate my life..." on the faces of the teenage and early-twentysomething passengers packed in like sardines. They were all clearly hung over from partying the night before. They were soon to forget this feeling, as they were all on their way to Koh Phangan for the upcoming Full Moon Party -- a night of amazing drunken times (under an insanely gorgeous view of the super moon) that are likely to be forgotten or puked out before the sun rose the next morning. 

We reached Haad Rin, where I hopped onto a taxi boat to Haad Yuan. The ride along the coast had the most spectacular view. Amazing greenery and beautiful giant rocks decorated the island. When we pulled into Haad Yuan bay, the taxi boat driver shouted something at me in his Thai accent while he pointed at the shore. I looked at him and smiled, wondering if he was telling me that where I was staying was up ahead. 

The gentleman I was sharing the taxi boat with turned to me and asked, "What did he say?" I laughed and replied, "I have no idea, but I guess I'll figure it out when I get there..."

Maybe I should have asked the driver to clarify. There was no pier on which I could hop off the boat... And the sandy beach up ahead would have made rolling my baggage impossible. We veered right and started slowing down as we got closer and closer to a collection of large boulders that popped up out of the water. The driver hopped out of the boat, pulled it as close up onto the rocks at he could, and yelled up the rock hill. I was being dropped off on the side of a giant rock that popped out of the ocean, which I would have to climb in order to reach my new home. I laughed. There was nothing else I could do! 

Two boys came running down the hill, grabbed my bags and started to head up. My tired body struggled to keep up with them. I am in pretty excellent shape, but the climb up was quite difficult. I think the air is a bit thinner out here, actually. Plus my legs were a bit swollen and sore from sitting down on the plane for so long. We passed by a restaurant area and a man inside saw the yoga mat bag hanging off my shoulder and shouted, “Lily yoga?” at me. I replied, “Yes!” He shouted something in Thai at the kids, who then led me through a jungle-like garden to my bungalow. “Do I not need to check in?” I wondered. We finally reached my front door. They put my suitcases inside, pointed to a small door at the back and said “Toilet,” handed me a padlock and key, and left. 

I took a moment to look around the room and that’s when I realized things just got real. I knew to expect a very basic room with basic amenities, but my expectations were still set too high. I chalk it up to being spoiled by the western world. I didn't know quite how to react to my bungalow. It was a simple 10x10 space with a hard, white bed, two pillows, a white terry cloth blanket and a mosquito hanging from above it. In one corner sat an armoire with two hangers. In front of it was a small wooden table. The windows didn’t have any glass; they were just open, screen-less squares with unsealed wooden shutters to keep the inside separate from the outside. There was one electrical outlet with three sockets. And a very dim light on the wall provided barely enough light to navigate my way around the room. I was almost afraid of opening the door to the restroom. But I did. There I saw a toilet with a bucket next to it, a sink, and a hand-held showerhead. No shower pan or tub; just a hole in the ground that the water drained down. Simple. Basic. Uncomplicated.

I needed to go back to the restaurant to actually check in but was in desperate need of a shower. Besides, I really wanted OUT of my travel gear and IN to a tank top and shorts. I was met with another fun surprise! The shower only had one setting: cold. And there was a trail of ants for whom my bathroom wall served as part of their path home. Growing up in western society definitely does not prepare you for this kind of stuff... I’m used to busting out the Raid and nuking little critters that invade my territory. But here, I was living in their territory.

I quickly showered, changed into beach gear and headed down to the restaurant. I checked in with the staff and grabbed a bite to eat. Cashew veggies and tofu with rice. It tasted spectacular and totally hit the spot! I lounged around for a bit and just really took in everything around me. I couldn't make up my mind if I loved being here or hated it. Gorgeous surroundings, great weather, amazing water... Limited electricity, bugs in my room, a gross, little bathroom... Still deciding.

I knew what would open my mind a bit: a visit to the yoga shala. The trek up was through the jungle garden and along a winding path that started off as concrete and quickly became a dirt road. Little signs guided me the entire way and when I reached it, I immediately felt at ease. The space was designed very intentionally. The placement of everything inside the yoga shala was done so that the positive energy could collect and flow freely. After briefly meeting the teachers’ assistant (yes, we have two teachers: a beautiful yogi to teach us the Asanas, and a Vedic priest to teach us the history, philosophy, and other holistic aspects of yoga), I realized how sleepy I was and decided to make my way back to the bungalow.

I got ready to sleep, I had my next major panic attack. I couldn't charge my phone or laptop. On the plane, I had removed the wall outlet piece from my cell phone charger that the USB cord connects to and placed it in my carry-on purse. I emptied the purse out three times and frantically searched for it. Nothing! And I had forgotten the 2-pronged plug piece for my laptop at home, so there was no way my 3-prong plug laptop would be able to charge in a 2-prong hole. I knew this was a back-to-nature experience, but I didn’t think I would have to quit cold-turkey. So I did what any smart lady would do: I sacrificed my laptop for my phone: I plugged the phone into my laptop and drained its battery to give me a day to figure out the situation. I set up my mosquito net, hopped into bed, and passed out for the night. Did I mention this was all before 6:00 p.m.? 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Intention

My first steps into the world of yoga happened in January 2012. A complete yoga neophyte at the time, I remember walking into the yoga shala slightly anxious -- a bit contrary to the effect yoga can have on an individual. Nevertheless, I had no clue what to expect but I was also excited that I would finally have the opportunity to learn to silence my mind. One thing about me: my mind runs at warp speed -- about a million miles per second. My mouth usually runs almost as fast, and I end up tongue-tied the second it catches up. I needed to slow down this Speedy-Gonzales-meets-The-Road-Runner brain, or face the inevitable burnout I was headed towards.

See, I had begun 2012 on the verge of a mental breakdown. Since graduating from law school in 2009, I had been in and out of bad jobs with equally horrible bosses. My ability to trust others (or even myself) had been compromised due to a long-term emotionally abusive relationship. My health was not in the greatest state (stress really does take a toll on your body...). And the list could go on. Instead of trying to figure out what my problem was, I lashed out at the people who loved me most.

Alcohol numbed the pain, and anger gave me something else to focus on. Naturally, neither helped me to resolve my issues and three years later, I was in just as bad a state. So I started to look for answers. How fortunate I was to meet some amazingly inspiring, positive individuals who viewed the world through their golden aura lenses and helped guide me to the tool I needed to achieve mental clarity. Who would have guessed that almost immediately yoga would become the guiding force in my life.

I walked into my first "official" class not knowing what to expect. I had done a bit of reading online about the mind-body connection, yoga's ability to help one achieve inner peace, how I shouldn't eat at least an hour before class, yada yada... The usual mainstream stuff that everyone apparently knows. I unrolled my mat, sat on it cross-legged and observed the others in the room. Some sat in perfect stillness, others looked like they were mid-nap (Shavasana ~ later to become my favorite pose for a very special reason), and others were engaged in whispered conversations. Seemed easy enough...

The instructor had such a presence about her. It was almost as if she radiated calm, positive energy. (Until that day, I thought of energy and spirituality to be completely hokey ideas and fully rejected them.) As she started the class, she asked us to do something that threw me off guard and made me think. She asked each of us to set our intention for that night's class. Set my intention? I had no idea what on earth she meant. Set my intention? I intend to figure out what this yoga "stuff" is all about. Does that count as an intention? I intend to not giggle if she asks me to "spread my legs with dignity?" (That actually happened in a class I took in college. Needless to say, I didn't go back...).

I think she saw the confused look on the new girl's face because she went on to explain herself: What did I hope to gain from this class?

See, up until then, the only way I could silence my mind was by hitting the pavement; the music blaring in my headphones was often loud enough to interfere with my ability to think of anything other than the words "keep going..." Given how much adrenaline was already coursing through my system at any given hour, I needed an alternate way of quieting my mind. My intention..?

I hoped to achieve at least a few minutes of peace and serenity, where the everyday stresses of the world remained on the other side of the door. I hoped to safe haven from all the negativity I had allowed to surround me. I hoped to find a place of sanctuary, where I could finally allow my exhausted self to let my guard down. This class was the first in the series of spiritual "hugs" I had been needing for years. It turned out to be the stepping stone to turning my life around and once-again becoming the positive, bubbly, happy-go-lucky woman I used to be. And I have been hooked ever since.

I am about to embark on a journey to Thailand, where I will be fully immersed in a yoga instructor program. I fell so head-over-heels, deeply in love with this ancient practice, that I can only see it playing a significant role in my life going forward. Here I sit, the night before I am about to begin my new adventure, and contemplate my intention. See, each day I enter the yoga shala I will set an intention for the day. It may be the same as the day before, it may be something different. However, my intention for the period I spend in Thailand will be much more encompassing than my daily intentions. It is not something that can be achieved in a day, week, or month. But as long as I remember my guiding intention throughout, each day will bring me closer to what I temporarily left the western world to achieve.


Pre-Intention #1: Empathy

A little bit about me: I am an extremely empathetic person. As a child, I was extremely concerned about how my words and actions would affect others, because I could immediately sense how they were perceived. Most people thought of me as shy or quiet (until they got to know me), as I usually tiptoed through social situations. I was not equipped with the tools or knowledge to use this in a manner that was simultaneously beneficial to others and myself. There were times that I became the emotional sponge that absorbed others' problems; they would walk away from a conversation feeling lighter and happier, while I was left to somehow dispose of the emotional overload that remained in my arms. After ending a relationship where this quality was used and manipulated, I began to ignore it or distract myself from it, which turned me into a cold, apathetic individual. Yoga has aided me in getting back in touch with my empathetic side; however, I find myself flipping the switch back to "ignore mode" the minute things get too heavy.

I intend to learn to stop fighting my empathetic nature -- and instead learn to see it for the gift it really is. I intend to learn to harness the power in empathy and use it to make a positive impact on the lives of everyone around me. Rather than allowing myself to be weighed down with others' pain, anger or suffering, I intend to learn how to shield myself from this backfire effect so that I can walk away feeling just as light as they do.

Pre-Intention #2: Awareness

The most prominent side effect of switching off one's empathy is its opposite-in-every-way-shape-and-form twin: apathy. I had completely lost touch with any semblance of caring -- for anyone or anything (with the exception of my 4-legged friend). The words I spoke, the way I dressed, the way I acted or looked -- none of it mattered. In my mind, I had spent way too much time caring about what others thought of me, or how anything I did would affect them. And with that, I lost the sense of class I was brought up with. Oops... Yoga has helped me to become more aware of my words and actions and I am more in-tune with how they are received; however I wish to achieve a mature sense of awareness that leads to my ultimate intention of mindfulness.

I intend to use my empathy to aid me in being aware of how I am received by others. Perception is reality. I intend to achieve awareness of my thoughts, and therefore my subsequent words and actions, so that I am putting forth the best version of myself in every interaction and situation. I intend to learn to quiet my ego, which grew louder when empathy was silenced, so that my inner and outer selves are more congruent. Furthermore, I intend to fine-tune my awareness so that I can immediately spot the warning signs of the past repeating itself and harmlessly remove myself from the situation.

Intention: Mindfulness

I intend to be more mindful in everything I do. In order to be perfectly mindful, I must achieve pre-intentions 1 and 2. But there is absolutely no harm in practicing mindfulness while on the path to achieving it! I intend to be more mindful of the fact that everyone is going through their own struggles, which can cause them to act out of fear, insecurity, anger, and a false sense of what actually is. As a result, whether or not another intends harm by way of their words or actions, I intend on shutting out the voice of judgment, which immediately causes me to construct a protective emotional wall and switch into to apathetic mode -- and instead pay more attention to the voices of compassion and reason, so that I switch back to empathetic mode and my actions are rooted in a place of "help this person." I intend to incorporate a "pause button" in my conversations and interactions so that instead of impulsively reacting, I can take a moment to reflect on the matter and act from a place of peace and love.

My intentions currently seem extremely complex, but I hope to find their inherent simplicity. I feel that the lack of western world distractions in Thailand will aid me in focusing on these intentions and bring them to fruition. My biggest challenge after achieving a sense of awareness and mindfulness is upon my return, being properly equipped to positively and gracefully navigate through any awkward, negative or uncomfortable situation thrown at me. I am confident that I will succeed.

Namaste.