Wednesday, June 29, 2016

On the Island of Fire and Rain

When I first arrived on Bali, it rained every afternoon. I'm not talking a drizzle or steady shower. I'm talking torrential rains that might break your umbrella. A solid deluge for a consistent hour or so.

The air would be sticky warm, the sky blue, the clouds big and billowy, and then without much warning, thunder would rumble, darkness would descend, and the sky would open and proceed to purge. And then as suddenly as it started, it would stop--and back to business as usual being blue and billowy and sunny.

Never mind these sudden purges of water--let's not forget that the entire Indonesian archipelago not only contains the largest chain of active volcanoes in the entire world (Bali alone has 3), but the most devastating eruptions in recorded history.

Water from the top, fire bubbling below--you never know what might happen on any given day. This is living life on the edge. I think I overheard someone say this in a cafe.

With all this purging, it's no wonder I was challenged so much here in Ubud these past 2 months--the water floating the buried junk to the surface, the fire exploding outward. Needless to say, I faced a few things head on that I thought were behind me, that I hadn't thought about since I left Santa Cruz-- allergies surfaced, anger surfaced, resistance surfaced, triggers surfaced.

This was not my Indian paradise, this was not my surreal Nepal. This was life on an island of fire and rain--a surreal paradise with ulterior motives. I wanted to leave within the first week I was here. I wanted to run to Bingin Beach or Amed or maybe another island altogether and stay as far away from this crowded, landlocked town full of intense energy as possible.

Instead, I chose to stay. Amidst all the challenges, I sought out those things about Ubud that I loved and I embraced them. I found solace in yoga classes and dance classes at an amazing little studio. I took long walks through the rice fields to the outer edges of town. I suffered through the allergies, I studied the anger, I pushed through the resistances, I sat with the triggers. I escaped to the beach a few times, but I always came back.

I have not doubted a moment that this is where I was suppose to be, to flush the residual junk buried in me. Is it gone? Who knows. But for now, I feel nothing but incredibly blessed and full of gratitude for having experienced everything I have in this town and on this island as I pack up and move forward.

Do you have a tendency to sit with what is uncomfortable or do you avoid it? How do you deal with those things that surface you thought you dealt with long ago?

I have absolutely loved my time here and got to do and see some amazing things--this island  just offered up its magic in a different kind of way. As Lawrence Blair (of Ring of Fire fame!) once stated in an interview later in life: I go on excursions often. There is no way I can live here on Bali full time--I would go absolutely mad.

Goodbye for now Bali! I'm looking forward to all the unexpected surprises and magic awaiting me in Cambodia.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Music and the Magic of Storytelling

This past week I wrote a song. I know! Weird, right?

Specifically, I wrote lyrics to the music my amazing and talented friend wrote. I'd never written song lyrics in my life, but I enthusiastically said yes. And I began. This is how stories start.

Stories are embedded in every song--lyrics or not--and we shape the music to our lives that resonate with us at various points in time. Music and memory swimming through each other over landscapes and people and situations.

Every country I travel to, every town I live in, every person I meet on this journey has a story that collides with my own. Every song I hear and every book I read becomes a part of it as well.

Stories lurk in the eyes of lonely expats in every seaside dive bar and in the souls of fishermen working the shore in the far northwest regions--the towering volcanoes of Eastern Java loom across the Bali Straight, hiding their own stories.

Stories hide behind the elaborate walls of family compounds and temples scattered over the island and echo down the busy streets of Ubud, the sleepy roads of Amed and Lovina, and the tucked away beaches of Bingin and Padang Padang and Canggu.

I have spent most of my life telling stories or writing stories or watching stories or listening to stories all the while living my own story--letting them all jumble together to create something of a surreal existence in my mind.

Stories permeate our lives--always walking in and out of the ones surrounding us while simultaneously living our own. We tend to fill in the gaps of what we don't see or hear with ideas we draw from our own stories--we do this with the songs we hear, the literature we read, and the lives we brush up against. There is always more to someone's story than what we see and read and hear.

I wrote some lyrics that tell a story, but when someone else reads or hears it, it will take on another meaning altogether--always morphing as it enters the periphery of the next person's story.

Do you tend to attach meaning to songs you hear and stories you read to reflect your own life? Do you tend to fill in the gaps when you cross paths with someone else's story? If you are reading this, most likely our lives have collided in one way or another--tell me a story about how our lives collided!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Secret of Surrender

There are few things in this world that terrify me more than doing a handstand in the middle of the floor with no wall to catch me if I start to topple backward. I have no fear when it comes to throwing myself into the world where there is no guarantee it will catch me with loving arms...but a handstand?

Our instructor will not let us use the wall. You'll never learn with a crutch, she tells us. Then she teaches us how to fall--which looks more like fancy gymnastics than falling when she demonstrates. Why do I have so much resistance? What exactly am I afraid of? Dying? No. Falling through the earth? No. Hurting myself beyond repair? Maybe, but that's unlikely. Hurting myself temporarily? Maybe, but that just sounds silly.

I have given up so called security. I have traveled and lived in countries some people wouldn't dream of going anywhere near. I have gotten lost (sometimes purposefully, sometimes not) in foreign villages and cities for hours. I have bounded into each of these situations with trust and love. I completely surrendered and I flew.

The secret was surrendering--letting go of that resistance to the unknown. To surrender into every moment creates an expansion and mindset where trust can grow and fear or resistance transforms into something else entirely. Another method of bending reality, perhaps.

When I first arrived in Ubud, I had resistance. It was nothing like India or Nepal, and for some unknown, illogical reason, I resisted it. Whereas in India and Nepal you cannot escape the fact you are in India or Nepal, here in Ubud, it's easy to forget you are in Indonesia. I found every reason not to like it--too developed, too catered toward tourists, and it was taking me too long to find my niche. I needed to either surrender to my new environment or have a very irritating 6 weeks ahead of me.

Not too long ago while wandering down busy Palace Road, I followed an arrow and squeezed my way between the buildings and continued down the narrow, winding, never-ending path that cut through what I'm sure was private property. I kept pushing forward until it opened up into expansive rice fields on both sides of the path. Not knowing where I was being lead--I passed tiny local cafes and an art studio, rice field workers, and indescribable scenes of an utterly surreal world. This is what letting go of resistance is like. This is surrendering.

I began to give in and let myself surrender--around every turn I found hidden gems folded into the thick layers of Ubud, and it was there I found Indonesia. But it was riding a motorbike around the outskirts of town when the layers finally melted away and everything began to reveal magic.

All round me the intricately carved stone temple and homestay entrances popped out. Women in sarongs weaving small offering trays smiled at me as I walk by, others lit incense and recited prayers at their storefronts. Families gathered at the soccer field as kids played and the parents cooked rice over small fires on the sidelines. The more I softened to my environment, the more I saw what I loved about this town.

Each class I attended whether yoga or dance or sound healing, I dissolved more resistance. Where it typically takes me a few days to a week to settle into a new environment, it has taken me almost a month to let go of all my resistance and melt into something of a magical life here in Ubud.

Why was I so resistant? What was I afraid of? All I have found on the other side of that uncertainty, that resistance was the Indonesia I've been searching for. So why am I so resistant to crutch-less handstands? What am I afraid of? What will I find on the other side of that fear?

We all have our fears that we cling to, our crutches that prevent us from surrendering to the unknown--they are all illusions of our individual mindsets so why let them own us? And according to quantum mechanics, there is even a random chance that I will fall through the wall or earth. So why live in fear and resistance with so much uncertainty carousing throughout the universe anyway?

There you have it folks--I've just written my way into a crutch-less handstand. What crutch or resistances will you dissolve? What fears are you ready to release to allow yourself to surrender into uncertainty? You just might find expansive magic on the other side. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Life Upside Down

The fireball of a medicine woman stared into my palm and told me I had cloudy liver, bad circulation, and terrible anxiety from my monkey mind. But I had very good luck! She laid out an array of pills for me to take, had me chew and swallow a variety of bitter leaves, then proceeded to scrub my face with paste and a bunch of wet leaves. About halfway through the face scrub when it really started to burn, I began to wonder if tracking down this woman was the best idea.

It is one thing to attempt to track down the fictional, those places and people that will remain fuzzy on the ever distant horizon. It is quite another to track down the non-fictional, to come face to face with the real--as she shoves pills and leaves down your throat. But, this is why I'm here--to collect these stories and patch them together in that mysterious, unseen, unreliable place called memory.

Emily and I followed the steep and loosely etched path of volcanic rock by flashlight. We had left Ubud at 2am in order to reach the summit of Mt. Batur by sunrise, and we barely made it to the top in time--catching our breath as we watched the sky turn from deep red and orange to pastel pink and purple until there was nothing but golden light. Night to day, bottom to top. Volcano, summit, island, sunrise. I've been here before, on the other side of the world, Maui. My mind playing leapfrog on lily-pads of memory.

Steam rose from the inner edges and out of small hidden caves, and monkeys ran amok. It was suddenly cold. We warmed our hands between hot rocks then began our long, slow, sketchy decent. No wonder people hike up here before sunrise. If they could actually see what they were climbing, they'd turn back.

Canggu surfers, Bingin bliss, Padang rocks, Uluwatu sunset--I made my way down the southwest coast lingering just long enough to catch the vibe of each place. I squeezed myself between the narrow crevasse of the cliff and down the steep, winding, stone stairs that led to Padang Padang Beach. I sat in the sand drinking straight from a coconut and eating veggie fried rice from the only little food shack on the beach. This is how I want to remember Bali--fried rice, coconut, beach, sun.

In between island adventures and searching for the best gado-gado in all of Ubud, I spend my days upside down. I take yoga classes that focus on inversions and hanging from swings. In these upside down moments, I begin to see my life as an incohesive cluster of stories. Pull a memory every 5 years and you'd never know they were from the life of the same person.

I stitch together these memories, these incohesive stories and turn them right side up. My life is not a novel. It's a series of vignettes, a collection of short stories made of memories loosely bound by my natural inclination of curiosity and stubborn refusal to fall into bad habits and unhappy patterns.

Like the busy, relentless streets of Ubud--where you have to follow the narrow, seemingly dead end alleyways and unassuming business entrances to find mysterious never-ending jungle walkways and lush gardens and peaceful, quiet spaces--you need to fall between the words that trigger memories to find that big open space where the stories hide. Or maybe all you need to do is turn upside down and let them fall into place.

Do you see your life as a collection of short stories--a jumbled, patchwork of memories? Or a novel--a cohesive, unfolding story? Do you believe your memories are the sum of your life or do you see the sum of your life in other ways? Tell me about the lenses you see your life through.