Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Karmic Battlefield

One year ago today, I worked my last shift at the job where I had spent the last six years of my life. I stayed late that solstice evening to tie up loose ends, to say some final goodbyes, and then I walked out and walked away without turning around or pausing or shedding a single tear. I was completely numb.

This job wasn't just a job though it started out as just that. Over the years, this job, this small local business morphed into what I can only describe as a karmic battlefield--a battlefield where karmic seeds sprouted vines that would follow me around into every area of my life choking me until all my karmic debt was paid.

It was karma that I needed to repay so I could move forward, so I could be free--free from my karmic ties, free from everything that had held me locked in place. I wasn't particularly unhappy, but I wanted more out of life than the life I had built in Santa Cruz.

It was time to start moving forward, but I hit a very big, thick, opaque wall in every direction I turned, in every move I made--looking for a door that simply wasn't there. Apparently, I had a lot of work to do first. And the Universe decided that I would do all that work at once and very quickly. And when the time is upon you...everything began to align.

Throughout 2012, 2013, and 2014, people and circumstances were put in front of me that challenged me or sometimes were out right shoved at me full force--forcing me into uncomfortable, and at times, dangerous situations, forcing me to make tough decisions, forcing me to learn how to forgive, to grow, to stand up for myself, to become strong, to fight for my survival in more ways than one.

This is not the place to go into those details, but I will say that what I experienced and witnessed over such a short span of time would have at best caused most people to give up or at worst break them. But I did not give up. I did not break. I survived. I walked into 2015 completely numb to the world around me and myself, but I survived. (You can read about many of my survival tools in my Bending Reality post).

And today, I celebrate that survival and freedom by honoring my battlefield and all those people and circumstances who presented themselves over those years, who helped streamline my life to where it is today--to this year of magic and travel and writing.

I now know what freedom feels like, what peace feels like, what it feels like to sleep well, what living without stress and anxiety are like. I now know what it feels like to put my purpose first and let everything else fall into place.

There is this saying: "Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about."

Move into the New Year and through the world with compassion and kindness and no judgement. Your co-worker or neighbor or relative or even your friends could be fighting a battle you know nothing about--or not as much as you think you know. Your kindness just might be enough light to save them.

"Travel light, live light, spread the light, be the light." ~Yogi Bhajan

Sat Nam

Friday, December 9, 2016

Tarot, Thai Islands, and the Inevitable Process of Transformation

I'm now in my 12th month of travel, of following my curiosity, and instead of reveling in this milestone to round out my year, I can't stop dwelling on what that Tarot card reader told me....wait. I'm having deja vu. Didn't this happen at the end of my first month of travel just before I left Amritapuri?

It did!

Only this time it wasn't an old French man with a weathered traditional deck giving me a reading at an Indian ashram. This time my reading was done by a most amazing magical faerie from Portland, Oregon also named Sarah. Her deck was crisp and new and full of angels and magical images. And we weren't in an Indian ashram--we were sitting on the floor of a small art gallery in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I had just led my first write-in at our weekly writing meetings at the gallery, and my brain was overloaded with too many questions and doubts and too much anxiety (hello old friend).

The overall reading was incredible--deep and intimate and positive. I've been guided down the right roads. I'm headed in the right direction. But...there is that inevitable but. My final card of the spread was one that showed disappointment and missed opportunities--ones that I will only recognize because of emotions that I'll experience from them--small ones, insignificant ones, afterthoughts in the larger scope of where my life is heading (according to my future outcome). Ones that I will need to experience in order for me to continue down this path toward that desired future outcome.

I have a feeling you'll experience them very soon, she told me. I'm thinking even as soon as your Krabi trip.

What did I experience on that trip? What did I feel?

The days went by at lightening speed, but I was able to slow down time in my mind and linger in certain moments--boating around the Phi Phi Islands mesmerized at the rock formations jutting out of the Andaman Sea, imagining all the magic on all those seemingly deserted beaches with what looked to be make shift shacks clinging to cliff edges, gazing out at the majestic rock walls of Maya Bay, watching my roommate climb out onto our hotel window ledge to smoke a cigarette then attempt to pry the window back open from the outside...

The only thing that even came close to a disappointment or missed opportunity was the realization that the trip went by much too quickly and I'd have to return and linger longer in those places that I was only able to glimpse.

And in the weeks thereafter?

Ah, my friends. There it is. Something I was only able to truly feel the week after I returned to the city. As much as I love living here and working here, there are hints all around me that I need to be careful not to fall into a complacent existence and to trust that inner knowing that this isn't where I need to be long. But I will cherish my life here and everyone I come to know as long as it lasts.

My willingness to be open to the Universe showing me what it's needed to show me has made me aware that small disappointments aren't really disappointments at all, but noticeable guide posts redirecting me to where I'm meant to be.

How do you view disappointments in your life--as missed opportunities and regrets or as a guide posts redirecting you toward where you're meant to be? 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Reflections on Fireflies and Miracles

"These are the days of miracle and wonder, this is the long distance call, the way the camera follows us in slow mo, the way we look to a song, the way we look to a distant constellation that's dying in the corner of the sky, these are the days of miracle and wonder, don't cry, baby, don't cry." ~Paul Simon

I stand on the edge of the Ping River in downtown Chiang Mai and release my offering of banana leaves and incense and candles into the river. I gaze up at the full moon barely above the skyline and watch as lanterns are released as far as I can see in every direction. As they float up into the sky, they begin to morph into flying points of light, into fireflies, and as they drift further away and further apart, they look more like constellations moving across the sky.

This is Loy Krathong--the festival of letting go, of releasing any anger, hatred, resentments, and negative thoughts. You release these into the river and into the sky and set your life in a new direction. If we don't let these things go, they can turn into poison and slowly kill us. It doesn't just stop at the negative. If we hold too tightly to anything that no longer serves us (people, places, jobs, habits, beliefs, anything), it too can turn into poison and slowly kill us.

These points of light I chase, these fireflies, are not meant for me to catch and keep. Much like the fireflies I use to catch and put into jars on those warm, sticky mid-western summer nights--those glowing bodies in the dusk evenings, etheric and magical--are not meant to be kept. I had to let them go. And I must keep learning to let go so I can continue along this path of light. And on this path of letting go is where miracles occur.

My novel is both logical and magical. It is both grounded and etheric. It is both reliable and unreliable. McKenzie chases fireflies that she's sure are faeries. She believes her best friend is from another world. She believes in magic. Her life teeters on the edge of wonder and madness, on the edge of a singularity where dichotomies break down, where miracles are unearthed.

I believe we can live in a world that can be both logical and magical, where we can be both grounded and etheric, where we can choose to see the world through a lens of magic and wonder that may or may not have any foundation to it at all.

Sometimes people drop out of society, drop out of life because it took everything from them, and the only way back to freedom is to get out from under everything crushing them even if that means living on a junkyard spaceship out on the fringes of the planetary system--where the wild west meets the future.

This is Firefly--the story of Malcolm Reynolds, his firefly spaceship named Serenity, and his small crew who are a reflection of every aspect of himself that he's lost. And as they move through space, just getting by however they can, Malcolm slowly begins to find those parts of himself he's lost through his freedom and through those he chooses to keep close--his miracle.

I watched every episode of Firefly as well as the movie Serenity not long before I left Santa Cruz. Malcolm's story impacted me so much I decided to make it a piece of my journey as well.

Inspired by letting go of glowing bugs, one of my characters, and the idea behind an old tv show--they are embedded into my blog all in equal measure.

Do you see these things reflected in my blog? What do fireflies and miracles mean to you? 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Happy Birthday Blog

One year ago today I made my first blog post here at Chasing Fireflies and Miracles. I was still about 2 months out from leaving the US, and I had no idea what I was doing with it. I knew I didn't want it to be a travel advice blog nor an inspirational change your life blog. I just wasn't intuitively compelled to take either of those routes. I attempted to write several posts over several months unhappy with all results--until that fateful new moon 11.11 day. And like a void suddenly lit by fireflies, I knew.

I decided to approach it with curiosity much like I was going to approach my travels. Read: I had no plan other than a series of questions that would ultimately lead me across 6 countries and more than a dozen cities and villages. I would take it one post at a time and let it unfold, let curiosity guide it. Approaching it this way left it open to being both personal and universal--not directed at any particular audience, but at the same time, an open letter to every individual who reads it. And maybe in the process, it might end up being informative and inspirational as well.

Settled now in Chiang Mai, life has slowed down in certain ways though my weeks fly by. I've fallen into a steady pattern somewhere between stability and a brief stop on this indefinite journey. My posts and pictures have slowed, but they certainly won't stop. There's still much curiosity to be found here in this pause. Let's see where it goes.

Have I succeeded in doing what I set out to do? Have I led you through doors of curiosity over these past 10 months? Have I been your firefly? Have you seen miracles?

Also, does anyone out there know the meaning and inspiration behind my blog name? There are a few answers to this. I'll be going into those in my next post.

And as always, "Travel light, live light, spread the light, be the light." ~ Yogi Bhajan 

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Beach

I clung to the back of the motorbike driver as we sped through the jungled hills of Koh Phangan from Thong Sala Pier to the infamous village of Haad Rin. There I would catch a taxi boat over to Haad Tien--a small, secluded area of beach etched into a craggy cove.

October being the low point of the low season as well as all moon parties cancelled due to the King's recent death it felt like I had landed in a deserted, unreal paradise much like when I arrived in Otres back in July.

I've spent most of my life being mysteriously drawn to certain places in the world--some of them strange and obscure, some not so much. I'm drawn to these places for no particular reason other than maybe a mention in a book, an overheard conversation, an unlikely chance meeting. I hear the name of a place and without knowing too much about it I cling to it with a desperation that I must get there. Since I've left Ohio, this is how I've ended up in every place I've lived and traveled to. This how I've chosen all the places I've landed on this journey.

I knew I wanted to get to a beach before the school term started, but I had no idea where to start. There are an overwhelming number of Thai islands and beaches to choose from. All of them each with a plethora of reasons to choose one over another with just as many reasons to stay as far from them all as possible. This made the decision process a nightmare. Something I'm incredibly bad at anyway.

I tend to go by way of mystical signs, a faulty intuition system, and taking the advice of fictional characters. What would Malcolm Reynolds do? What would Yoda do? This isn't the best method when, say, trying to manage a business or making responsible life decisions (though it has worked for me so far), but can be a lot of fun when trying to decide which Thai island to choose. Where would Richard from the Beach go? If you know anything about the story of the Beach, you'll know what a silly, impractical question that is. Not to mention dangerous.

My answer came from a You Tube suggestion. I had been attempting to look up interviews with Alex Garland (there are none that have anything to do with his books, by the way). I suppose that's how it came up. A group of folks decided to retrace Richard's steps from the book to find the island where the Beach is located, and they made a documentary of their journey.

Did they find it? Yes and no. They concluded that the beach isn't specific place, but a mashup of many places. Part of their trip led them to Haad Tien on Koh Phangan, and I immediately knew that was my island, that was my beach.

The community of people they found living on Haad Tien was the closest thing they found to the community of people in the book. The National Park and forbidden islands where the book actually takes place was the closest thing they found to it geographically--the walled in lagoon on one island, completely deserted beaches and jungles on others.

Haad Tien and it's even lesser known and more secluded neighbor Why Nam are full of healers and mystics, yogis and artists, travelers and expats. Some on a mission to heal and some on a mission to vanish, and some, like me, on a mission to find magic.

You can only reach Haad Tien by finding someone to take you by taxi boat or a crazy 2 hour trek through the jungle. And getting back to Haad just got to wait on someone with a boat who happens to be heading that way. I missed what I thought was the only boat leaving for Haad Rin the day I left, and of course, I began to think it was a sign.

I sat on the beach all packed and ready to head back to my life in Chiang Mai when I was struck with a urge to just not. I could simply melt into life on Koh Phangan and vanish. About that time another boat appeared. Sign. I spent the night in Thong Sala near the pier where I would be catching a ferry back to the mainland the next morning when I decided that maybe I would eventually make it back down here and stay. I immediately started researching schools around the island. Life twists and turns in the most magical ways. Stay tuned folks. Let's see where life in 2017 leads.

Have you ever been so mysteriously and mystically drawn to a place you had to get there without really understanding why? Tell me about your experiences. Did it become clear why you were led to a specific place once you were there? What did you learn? How did it change you?  

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Blurred Edges of Reality

It's late. I look out my window with its old time-y swinging shutters. I gaze over a narrow street lined with windows just like mine--guesthouses and hostels fill the top floors, small taverns, live music, and galleries of all types on the bottom.

It's like I'm in the old west, but I'm not. I'm on Love Lane in the heart of George Town on the island of Penang, Malaysia. Love Lane--depending on who you ask--was at one time either a street full of brothels turned guesthouses, or it was where all the sailors met their lovers when they sailed into Penang port. Possibly these were one in the same. Possibly this place only exists when one is here to witness it.

Bree and I walk a few blocks away from Love Lane, and we are in Little India--an area of the city that immediately transports me back to India--the smells, the sounds, the colors, the shops, the food, the people. In every direction, I'm back in India. But I'm not. I'm in the heart of George Town on the island of Penang, Malaysia. From colonial old west to India in a matter of blocks.

After an afternoon at the Thai Embassy getting our work visas processed, the taxi driver drops us off at a mall. Or what looks like a mall. It isn't. It's a time portal into the future complete with a science and technology dome, an observatory, a dinosaur exhibit/museum where kids can ride the dinosaurs, an herb garden, a restaurant where everything is made with or covered in chocolate, and apparently a pot of gold on the roof that we couldn't figure out how to access.

We spend hours and hours exploring, playing, and experimenting in the science and tech dome. Bree does a virtual autopsy on a corpse. I get strapped into a multi-axis chair and pretend I'm Ellie Arroway headed for Contact. They give us a private tour of the observatory. I nearly explode with excitement.

When we finally leave and step back into the city, we are zapped from the future to present time, and as we inch closer back to the old town, to Love Lane, we once again slip into the past.

Seventy-two hours after we arrive on Penang, we head back to Thailand. We land in Kuala Lumpur for an overnight layover, but something feels off. Everything about this airport is strange and different. I have been to this airport more than any other airport. I know this airport. But there are things out of place, structures are different--the escalator, the layout of coffee shops, little things.

Of course, there is always the Murakami factor. Like in 1Q84 when Aomame climbs down the side of the highway construction zone and ends up in a slightly altered reality. But I'm not currently reading Murakami. I'm reading Alex Garland. A book called the Coma where a man in a coma attempts to reconstruct his faulty, shifting landscape of memories so to wake himself up. It kind of feels like that. In fact, the past 72 hours has had a dreamlike, hallucinatory quality to it--slipping between time periods and cultures and places, shifting landscapes of memory, blurring edges of reality.

In two days time, I leave for the Thai island of Koh Phangan in the Gulf of Thailand where I will spend the week leading up to my birthday, leading up to the new school term. And if you are familiar with Alex Garland's books, you might know where I'm going with this. Things could get a lot more dreamlike, a lot more hallucinatory, a lot stranger.

Let's continue down this path. Let's see where it leads.

Have you ever experienced an ordinary, mundane period of life that felt inexplicably more dreamlike than real? Tell me your stories! What do you think triggered it? What snapped you back?

Friday, September 30, 2016

The Queen Bee of Weird and Other Side Effects of Novel Writing

I sit half asleep in the back of the class. The teacher steps out of the room for just a moment, but in that moment, the class goes nuts. A girl squiggles by me on her belly.

"I betch wanna know what I'm doing?" she says.

"I sure do," I say.

"I'm being strange and crazy," she says.

The teacher walks back into the room and everyone calms down by maybe one degree. The girl stands up, and as she passes me on her way back to her seat, she says, "I'm the Queen Bee of Weird."

This is my new life here in Chiang Mai, Thailand. In less than a month, these third graders will be all mine. How did I get here?

How did I get here? I followed my curiosity here. Over the past 9 months, I've explored ashram life, mountain life, city life, beach bum life, and island life across 4 countries and over a dozen villages and cities, and now here in this new country, this new city, I'll explore a more grounded life teaching at an elementary school.

And, of course, as soon as I arrived in Chiang Mai, the most curious thing happened--I began to see the side effects of being so focused on novel writing these past several months. For example, one of my main characters teaches astronomy, and the book starts when he is in 3rd grade. So, when I am asked to teach a demo to a 3rd grade class, I teach an astronomy lesson on the planets.

As magic is weaved through my story, magic is also weaved into my life here.

Within my first week, everything fell into place like an easy game of tetras--my job, my apartment, my niches--the markets, the bookshops, the yoga studios, the writing community, all the amazing people who have whisked me around this city or have given me the best advice. Life before traveling was rarely this easy.

Since stepping onto that airplane in San Francisco, I've opened up and tapped into something vast and magical. Always letting go, always allowing, always understanding I was never not meant to be here. Mountains and the Mekong to the north, Bangkok and beaches to the south. So much to explore in-between teaching and editing.

After 9 months of travel, I am settled here--my job and apartment to seal the deal on this grounded life I've come full circle to find on the other side of the world. Maybe I'll be off again in six months time or maybe I'll stay and linger longer. But here in this present moment, I'll embrace this magical, nomadic life I've co-created with the Universe.

Circle the point in your life at this moment and think: How did I get here? How did you get here? Did you open up to allowing? Did you let go? Or are you still hanging on too tight to those things that no longer serve you?

You guys! Magic lurks! Chiang Mai is completely surrounded by a moat because dragons, obviously. And I wouldn't doubt there are faeries and aliens and goddesses lurking here too.  

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Seasons of Yin and Yang

To say Amed is a sleepy fishing village might be an understatement. A stillness and calm permeates this short stretch of land along the east coast of Bali--encapsulating it and folding into every aspect of it. Cut off from the rest of Bali by Mount Agung, the largest volcano on the island, Amed sits between fire and water, living in a state of perpetual equilibrium.

My first six months of travel were very active, very yang, very external. I saw a lot, I did a lot, I met a lot of people. At the six month mark, it all came to an abrupt halt when I landed in Otres Beach, Cambodia. Life suddenly became very still, very yin, very introspective. Not to mention I became very productive on my manuscript which I have savored and loved.

Things will be changing again very soon. If all goes smoothly, I will be planting myself in Chiang Mai, Thailand for the next six months teaching, living, and writing--where I will hopefully find my tribe of writers and yogis and miracles workers.

Perhaps these past three months are the the calm before the storm. Or maybe I'm sitting in the eye of a hurricane about to hit the other wall. I don't mean a chaotic, destructive storm or hurricane--just a more active and involved-in-things-around-me kind of life. And as I move into this more active, yang state of being, I will hang on to some of this yin where I'm able to stand still and see clearly as life swirls around me--so to be able to maneuver my way around all the flying cows and trees if they happen to be heading right toward me. Maybe I'm thinking of tornadoes. But you get the idea. 

Today I will linger in this incredible hidden Balinese gem called Amed before I begin to slowly transition to an altogether different reality.

Does your life move through seasons of yin and yang, of stillness and motion? How do you handle the transition?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Logical Song (or the Art of Divine Timing)

I attempted to go to a yoga class a few days ago. I had been here in Amed for almost a week--it was time. I arrived at the studio to find the class had been cancelled because a group on retreat was using the space, and since I was already there, I was invited to join the group for their class. Great!

Turns out this retreat group was from Spain and very few of them spoke English. And it was a Vipassana inspired meditation class that particular night. I stayed because why not. During the introduction, which was entirely in Spanish, the group leader whipped out a selfie-stick and began to wave it about wildly as he spoke. I have no idea what he was saying, but the group looked a little terrified. He then briefed me in English that the meditation would be approximately 45 minutes, and he would clap 3 times to indicate the end. He did not wave the selfie-stick at me.

About 10 minutes into the meditation, I felt a solid bop on the head and my eyes flew open. The leader was walking around bopping folks on the head with his selfie-stick. He made his rounds every 10 minutes or so--in order to bring us back to the present moment, he later told us.

Later that evening something happened. I opened my manuscript file and a few aspects of the story I had been struggling with miraculously began to fall into place. Most surprising was a fifth character--someone who simply did not exist until now mysteriously appeared tying a big sloppy bow on my story. This was not the first time this has happened. Let me rewind.

About 5 or 6 years ago, I was driving home from somewhere when a CD fell out of my car sun visor and hit me in the head. It was a Supertramp CD. I have no idea where it came from. It wasn't my CD. I'd never seen it before. I popped it into my CD player and proceeded to drive around my block 10 times listening to the first song on repeat: The Logical Song. Something was happening.

As soon as I parked, I flew into my house and began writing. Four characters introduced themselves to me and begged me to tell their story. Well, what is your story? I asked. They took their time telling me in bits and pieces over the next few years. Then one day I stopped writing. For about 2 years or so, I would open this manuscript and cry. It was a mess. It made no sense to me at all. In retrospect, a complete reflection of what had become of my life.

About a month after I left California, I was able to start wrapping my mind around the story in a new way, but it wasn't until I was in Cambodia that I really began to focus on it and write. But there were problems. Yes, life is messy and sometimes does not make sense, but I am not Murakami--I cannot get away with leading you down surreal paths of strange and leave you dangling there.

And then the selfie-stick bop on the head. And then the fifth character. And the realization that my four original characters never left me. More often times than not I hear stories of people who put a manuscript to the side for various reasons, and when they go back to revisit it, the inspiration is no longer there.

This did not happen to me. My characters stuck with me through it all. They chose me to tell their story and didn't abandon me to find someone else! I am incredibly grateful and honored. I have no idea if anyone else will even like this story or if it will even make sense to anyone else. But I love this story. I love these characters. They are not always the most likable bunch, but they are mine.

Divine timing has always played a huge part of my life. For reasons I can only speculate, I don't think this story was meant to be told until now. I don't think I was mentally ready to tell this story until now.

We wake up each day and can see the world as logical or illogical as we please. We have the power to change our perception. We have the power to invent our universe. We are made of star stuff! It doesn't get much more miraculous or magical or beautiful than that. Why in the world would we let anyone convince us otherwise?

The Logical Song still fits (and in my mind, will always be entwined with this story and these characters). The Vipassana class congealed it. Here in this small stretch of Balinese fishing villages called Amed, I found a stillness that allowed this story to finish unfolding.

Do you feel divine timing has played a role in how your life has unfolded? Have you ever felt like life was withholding something from you until the perfect moment? I want to hear your stories!

This is the second book I've written, but it was the most challenging. I typically tend to write short stories or essays from personal experience and about people I've met. This story is completely fictional. And it's a novel. I'm still filling in gaps and editing, but I feel ridiculously good about it!

What creative projects are you currently working on (if any)? Do you feel divine timing has played a part in it?