Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Eyes Wide Open

Satisfying things that stave off uninvited waking nightmares:

The fake camera click on my cell phone each time I take a picture
Long conversations unpacking the nuances of writing craft and literature
Hats that cover the bandage that cover the scar of freshly removed stitches

It could have been worse. It could have been a lot worse.

Cracked open in Ubud. Healing in Amed.

I cling to the back of Wayan as he speeds over steep, mountain switchbacks and narrow, rocky, unpaved roads. No one would dare drive on these roads unless you grew up here--which I decide, is precisely why they've been left in this condition. The deeper I explore this island the more I realize it's not near as ruined as people like to think it is. The natives of Bali know exactly what they are doing. They know how to protect what is important to them, what is sacred.

We stop at the peak above the clouds to watch the sun dip below Mount Agung to the west. Family compounds and terraced rice fields cut into the mountain sides and nestle into the crevices. The silence is deafening. The air crisp. The colors sharp. I've never felt more alive.

When I first came to Amed back in 2016, a local told me that the last time Mount Agung erupted was 1963. The entire Amed coast was wiped out. Since my first visit, Mount Agung has erupted roughly 15 times, the last being June of this year. Like the natives to this land, the island knows how to protect itself.

We make our way down into one of the valleys, to Wayan's home. His three little girls study me like a strange new toy, and I show them the pictures that I had taken 3 years prior when I first met them--their eyes big with surprise. The twins were just babies then. His wife brings me a small glass of the strongest and sweetest coffee I've ever tasted. It takes me nearly an hour to drink.

I loop the compound snapping photos, inadvertently scaring the chickens and pigs. Night falls and it's time to head back to the coast.

The full moon rises, and I fall asleep listening to the waves lap the shore.

Only a week prior I was exploring the dusty roads of Labuhan Bajo on Flores, hiking the arid ridges of Padar Island, sinking my toes into the pastel sand of Pink Beach, and standing feet away from komodo dragons and manta rays in Komodo National Park. A surreal and magical experience. The kind I disappear into far too easily.  Little did I know what would happen the next day.

As I prepare to leave Bali, I tell myself won't return, but I always do. And each time, it reveals new layers of itself. Eyes wide open, it says to me this time. Not in a whisper, but a shout.

I drive south down the winding coast road--a steep cliff on one side, a scattering of small, coastal villages on the other. I rarely pass another driver. I stop and take in the raw landscape. Images forever imprinted in my mind, in my writing, in the pictures I take. My life a series of patchwork stories, stitched together with nothing but photographs and old journals.

Our past is always in flux, never fixed. Do you ever look back on old photos or writings or revisit a place and see new layers? Do they tell you new and different stories each time?

It's been a month since the accident. The waking nightmares have subsided. I'm overwhelmed with relieve and happiness and gratitude to be back in Thailand, to be back in my little hut on the island. But before I move forward with island life posts, I'll step back two weeks and tell you stories from Greece! 

Monday, September 16, 2019

The Play of Maya and Lila (Or Dancing with God)

"I see the game and the game it sees me, and we will dance until they bury me." ~the Devil Makes Three

I narrow my eyes to a point on the map and make it my destination. I drive north for what feels like hours. When I finally arrive, my body fills with awe at the scene all around me--the wide, expansive beach deserted except for the few fisherman scattered over the jagged rocks and the small group of Balinese holding ceremony. They walk slowly to the edge of the water where waves crash hard on the shore and make an offering.

I find my way to a small, cliff side warung overlooking the beach. I didn't know places like this still existed here, I say to the ladies minding the place. They look at each other and smile as though they'd been waiting on me to show up and unlock a secret only I could see.

Back in Canggu, I walk from Pererenan Beach as far north as I can and back again. Wading in and out of the water, I let the waves crash around my legs. One of the streams running to the ocean had risen so high since I'd first crossed now looks nearly impossible to cross back. I lift my bag over my head and put one foot in front of another.

Midway and up to my waist in water, a man in a mild panic runs out of a temple shouting at me in his own language. I smile and wave once I'm across letting him know I'm okay. He stands and stares at me for a long moment before turning around and walking back into the temple. Perhaps it was a foolish decision, a dangerous move. I'd probably not given it a second thought had no one else been there to witness it.

One day folds into the next. Same same, but different. I capture the environment around me and play with light. Snapshots of a world in motion. Turning waves into particles. I drive down the peninsula and stretch out on Bingin Beach and read about the quantum world, about qualia, about consciousness giving rise to the material world. As long as we are players in this divine play of life, there is only the subjective universe seen and felt through each of us.

In an instant, a month has passed, and I'm already in Ubud. Kundalini yoga, kirtan, singing bowl meditations, and classes on yogic philosophy and mysticism fill my days. Our teacher paces the shala and talks about Maya and Lila, the illusions of this world and the divine play. To become too enmeshed in the game, in the world, the matrix (call it what you will), the mind will conquer. Suffering will prevail in one form or another. Fine tuning discernment in order to navigate the game, the play of Lila, is key.

One day folds into the next. Same same, but different. Most days I hum at a place of peace, and it takes a lot to knock me out of this realm. Sometimes it takes a bike whizzing at me at top speed to knock me out of it. One minute I'm crossing a nearly deserted road. The next, I'm in a panic and being whisked away by an angel to the hospital with blood pouring from somewhere.

Lying back on the stretcher as the nurse carefully stitches my wound together, two thoughts go through my head. The first, why? The second, why can sometimes be the most pointless question to ever ask. Sometimes there are no answers to why? There is only the unfolding and our dance with it. I breathe deep. I allow my mind to rest, to not get involved. I allow the miracle of healing to take flight. And all I feel is grateful and at peace.

Some better why questions to ask: Why not dance with the divine? Why not become all? Why not live from a place of peace, of creation in motion? This is where we find miracles. This is where magic happens. But of course, I can only speak for myself.

What is your relationship with your reality? Do you see it as a dance with God? Or something else entirely? There are so many perspectives and stories. None are wrong, none are right. They just are. And I'd love to hear yours. 

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Dream Wandering

The ocean roars around me, and the black sky fills with more stars than I've ever seen at sea level. I drop to my knees and fall back onto the sand. Jupiter, Antares, Scorpio--the only identifiable objects I can see in any direction. I close my eyes and sink deeper and deeper into the sound, into space, into a void so empty and so dark all I sense is the mystery that is all around me and within me, always.

During my first week on Borneo, I lapsed into what I can only describe as a mix of separation anxiety from my little Thai island home and an out-of-body experience gone wrong in which I failed to fully exit or re-enter my body properly. In other words, I felt weird. And it didn't help that my bunk mate had gone missing.

Kota Kinabalu is a grungy little port town, an entry point to Sabah, Malaysia on Northeastern Borneo. It's not the sort of place you'd want to get stuck in too long. Before Carla had gone missing, she kept telling me these stories about Filipino pirate kidnappings and clandestine wanderers. With each passing day that first week, it was as though I was falling down a well of wicked illness and nightmares--one that you don't so much crawl out of, but just keep falling through until you end up somewhere else.

One foot in front of the other, I walk steadily across the narrow suspension bridge 43 meters (nearly 150 feet) up in the jungle canopy. I've never seen so many shades of green, all glistening from the sprinkling rain. I've never breathed such clean, clear air. Being in the thick of the jungle is like slipping through a portal to another world. Like stepping out of time, you simply don't exist anywhere anymore.

Mid-July, Yolande calls and gives me the weather report. I'm not one to put much faith into how astrological events impact my life. I'd like to think I have the power to override these celestial influences, but when she told me about the insanity happening in the July skies, I embraced it. That explains a lot, I heard my voice say. After we said our goodbyes, I closed my eyes and fell into a delirious, restless sleep.

The Klias River--where magic and mystery collide. The boat glides down the river and passes a half sunken ship and abandoned river huts. The sun sets and the sky darkens. Fireflies blink and a deafening silence fills the air. What is it about rivers that flow through jungles that is so eerily magical and unreal? Stories hide in the jungle, and if you listen close enough, they will tell you their secrets.

I re-watch part 4 of the Ring of Fire documentary--the one in which the Blair brothers trek 800 miles across Indonesian Borneo in search of a nomadic tribe no one was sure still existed. They took off into the jungle, into an area of the island unmarked on any map, that not even their native guides had covered. How exactly would they find a nomadic tribe trekking blindly into unknown, uncharted territory?

Dream wandering, one of the guides told them--the dream wanderer can travel beyond the body, see with different eyes the way to scattered members of their tribe. And sure enough, one morning the guide announced he'd found the tribe through his dream wandering and was able to lead their group straight to them in two days time. Something had happened to us...we could discard our useless chart and wander freely into the blank spaces beyond the known world.

One would think after my experience in Laos I wouldn't be too keen to hop on a motorbike and drive through a country I'm not familiar with at all. But I also know that my greatest experiences (for better or worse) come from flinging myself into the world wholeheartedly, following my curiosity, and never losing trust.

Tampat Do Aman means place of peace, I was told when I arrived at my destination, the northern most tip of Borneo. And like in the jungle canopy, I slipped out of time and place. The longhouses and huts, the preservation of the land, the clear sea, the breathable air, the otherworldly magic shrouded in mystery. The roaring ocean, the dark, empty void, my body lying in the sand staring at the star filled sky. Like the Blair brothers, I found something I didn't think still existed. I found it by wandering into the blank spaces beyond the known world.

Look around you and within you--what do you see, what do you sense? Are you able to tap into the mystery, those blank spaces beyond the known world? Tell me your stories.

Oh, and as for Carla....turns out she wasn't missing after all. We just kept missing each other coming and going. On her last full day, we island hopped. We ziplined from Gaya to Sapi and swam about the shallow waters of Mamutik. But when it came time to catch the last boat back to Borneo for the day, she was no where to be found...

Monday, July 8, 2019

Impossible Things

"I asked you to believe in impossible things, and you never once looked at me like I was crazy." ~the OA

In an attempt to retrace our steps, I was startled to see a fork in the road. Do you remember passing a fork in the road? I asked Yolande who stood several meters behind me. The poorly maintained dirt road shot off in 2 paths, a scattering of coconut husks lay at our feet, the jungle of palms thick in every direction.

I glanced over my shoulder. Everything looks the same, she said, voice full of pain. Her knee was giving out, and I'd thoroughly gotten us lost. Somewhere on the quick 15 minute hike between Haad Yuan and Haad Tien, we'd somehow wandered off into the jungle.

Just past noon, hot and humid, lost in the jungle on a Southeast Asian island. Perhaps I should have forewarned my friend that following me to a remote part of the island with intent to hike across the tri-bay could lead to unexpected strangeness. Perhaps I should have some sort of business card made explaining that being within 3 feet of me could cause a rip in space-time.

I pace my bungalow and read my manuscript aloud until I lose my voice. Sinking into the world of imagination until all lines are blurred. I convince myself I should probably get out more. Beach walks. Yoga class. Write night. Weeks go by.

Teresa and I grasped the vines and pulled ourselves over the ridge. Flip flops and sundresses, scratched knees and dirt crusted hands. We must have looked like we crawled out of a portal from elsewhere, Alice in Wonderland style. An untouched and pristine scene--turquoise lagoon and gushing waterfall, smoothed rocks and cascading stream. The cool, clear water engulfed our ankles. From one reality into another.

I lie in my hammock and binge watch all my favorite Gigi Young videos. To imagine is to be a magician, she says. To use the power of imagination is a way to connect to higher realms. Connect and pull them to earth.

Where do my characters come from? Where do these stories exist? I close my eyes and travel there. I pull stories from other places and bring them here. Scene by scene, I wield magic, I create, I bring impossible things to life. It is an incredibly slow, and at times, tedious process--crawling back over the same terrain again and again in search of all the missing pieces, never knowing for sure if anyone will see the same story I do.

Will these books ever see the light of day outside of those I choose to share them with? Who knows. And honestly, it's best I don't think about it too hard. What matters is that I show up and do my part.

Faith that we took the correct path, Yolande and I did finally find our way to Haad Tien. We stopped by the Tea Temple at the Sanctuary to write and rest before heading on to Why Nam--a place you might not believe exists unless you've been there. We ran to the water and swam out to the raft floating in the center of the bay. I can't remember how long we were there or what we talked about, but lying on the raft surrounded by water with our faces to the sun, I imagined impossible things.

It comes up a lot in this blog--the idea of cultivating magic, bending reality, and believing in a world in which anything and everything is possible. It all starts with imagination and bringing the seemingly impossible into the world of possibility. What is your relationship with your imagination? How do you use it to bring magic into your life?

Well friends, after 2 months of immersing myself in imagination and writing, I'm off again for more adventures! Diving into familiar as well as completely new territory, I'm excited to find out what's in store for me over these next 3 months. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Pinnacle of Existence

I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to capture the scene I saw when I stepped onto the balcony. An endless view of crystal blue ocean, sandy beach, and rocky islands lay beyond the stretch of palms and huts below me. I'd seen scenes like this before. Why was I struggling to make sense of this one?

I had spent the past hour in the jungle blindfolded--erratically breathing, screaming, and jumping around--so maybe, on the other side of this madness, what I saw couldn't be captured. Sarah, collector of surreal images and strange experiences. Perhaps this is what my life has accumulated to. Perhaps I have finally arrived at some sort of singularity where everything breaks down to uncapturable images and moments. There could be worse existences.

Since first coming to this small, tropical island in the Gulf of Thailand, I told myself I'd return to stay longer than a week or two. And now 4 visits and 3 years later, I'm here to stay a while longer. I have a small hut on a hillside in the jungle not far from the beach--where dinosaur sized plants and bugs overtake everything, where the tropical heat surges up from the earth and the gentle sea breeze feel like magic.

Settling in. Letting go. One foot in front of the other until I collapse in my hammock each evening. Warm nights. Starry skies. The vibrant greens and blues. It's too easy to un-ground and forget about everything. I tether myself with daily practices and press my feet into the sandy earth. Still so much to explore here and mysteries to uncover. Breath. Trust. Be.

Not too many nights ago a fierce and intense storm blew through. Thunder and lightning and crashing waves. The normally calm Gulf now alive with electric energy. The power went out at the seaside cafe where I was writing, and for a moment, I was engulfed in darkness and the sound of nature, an unstoppable force. And I thought: this is where I belong--here and now, in this time and place. There is no where else I want to be. There is no where else I'm meant to be.

Tropical paradise where creativity flows and I find everything I need. It feels like I've reached some sort of pinnacle of existence, but I know that it's not. Only fleeting moments that rise and fall. When I left the US January 2016, I told myself I would ride this wave as long as I could. There seems to be no end in sight. When it's time to stop for a bit, I stop. When it's time to move on again, I do. I feel guided in all my decisions. There is no wrong way to exist or live or be.

How do you ground into those high moments where everything becomes surreal and inexplicable? How do you ride the waves of your life?

Friday, April 19, 2019

Path of the Sacred

From the corner of my eye, I saw her raise her hand apprehensively. Can I...? I'm sorry. Her voice trailed off, and she lowered her head. Go on. He nodded in her direction. Can I ask about your religion? A silence spread over the Taos Pueblo. We all held our breath and leaned in.

He smiled and shook his head. I absolutely cannot. It's the one thing I can't talk about. He paused. You see, when something is shared freely and then in turn is freely shared again, it becomes diluted. It becomes...something else. Hold what is sacred close to your heart so it stays potent. He pointed up, piercing the crisp, cool air. It keeps the stars moving across the sky. 

Out beyond Socorro and Magdalena on the plains of San Agustin, I waited along the eastern edge of the VLA property and watched the night slowly devour the day until I could see nothing but the Milky Way arched over my head. I'd once written in an old story that you can't really comprehend how many stars there really are until you see a Wyoming sky on a clear, moonless night. I could say the same about the sky here in the high desert of New Mexico. The light of the stars engulfing the darkness.

In these wide open spaces I can feel my soul expand and touch the stars. So far, yet so close. So vast, yet so sacred. Perhaps the most sacred things can never be shared because they are inexplicable. So we weave words and make art and music, but how close does it get to the raw experience?

I stood in the backyard of my grandfather's house and closed my eyes. In an instant, all the images and sensations transported me in time--the taste of concord grapes directly off the grapevine, chasing fireflies around the yard on warm, sticky evenings, the brilliant yellow of the giant sunflowers lining the garden, the cool spray from the water sprinkler, the gentle sway of the tree swing. When I opened my eyes again, the yard was barren--no grapevine, no fireflies, no sunflowers, no water sprinkler, no tree swing. Just me on a frigid winter day in Ohio.

Jen and I walked the Wilder Trail along the surreal, cliff-edged coast that separates Santa Cruz proper from Davenport. We talked about the manifestation meetups we use to hold. Four of us would meet every 3 weeks and meditate and share our insights about the world unseen and how to work with it and play with it. The knowledge shared between us was kept sacred and potent. It was one of my last lessons before I left for India.

The inexplicable seems to slip into stories, the ones I read and write and watch--once removed because the sacred always finds a way to stay protected. And in this way, it's safely shared and received by those who it is meant for. I'd like to think it's something akin to telepathy.

With knowledge and information overload at our finger tips, it's easy to question if anything is sacred anymore. Yet everything is if you shift your perspective. What you are meant to know and understand in this life will find you. It will find you in dreams and books and conversations with friends and strangers. It will find you through social media and meditation. The Universe is far more mysterious than we realize. Out there is never as far as it seems. Ask questions often. Someone, somewhere will receive the answer.

What is your relationship with the sacred and the inexplicable? Do you hold it close to your heart? Or freely share knowledge? Do you believe the sacred protects itself and finds its way to those it's meant for regardless? I'd love to hear your thoughts!