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2016 – A Reflection

There is so much I could say about 2016. Yet when I try to encapsulate my adventures of the past year into words, I fail. The closest I’ve come to describing my sentiments is “Whoa.” Since February, I have not slept in the same bed for more than three weeks and sadly, not for reasons some people traditionally use beds. I’ve prayed and meditated in India, surfed in Sri Lanka, hiked amazing mountains in Colorado, and made connections all over the world with friends old and new. I completed a good portion of my book yet also come to find that as poignant and insightful as my tale may be, without the clout of millions of followers on social media, it likely will not get published and reach those I so hoped it would. Unfortunate for me as right now, the last thing I want to do is play this social media game. It’s been weeks since I’ve been active on Facebook and I can’t say that I miss it. Ironically, however, I’m sure I’ll make a post or two about this blog. Otherwise, how else will anyone know I even wrote it?
This year has forced me to question who I am and who I want to be. Likely, given the current events of the past month, I am not the only one. I’ve had moments where I’ve felt the most expansive and light I’ve ever felt yet weeks later, shrunk into a contraction until only a shell of the woman I used to know remained. It’s been a study in contrasts to say the least.
2016 delivered so many answers yet even more questions. And lessons too many to recount here. Just when I thought I was content and safe and had shit figured out – WHOP! Right upside the head. Not once have I been allowed to forget that I have shadows and darkness that require my attention, care, and love. Pieces of me that I have been ashamed of and condemned are demanding to be tended to  with kindness and acceptance. To be integrated into my whole being as opposed to being pushed away and neglected. I can no longer beat them back and command they go away. I must lay down my arms and surrender. One day, feeling particularly defeated, I wrote – I’m tired of trying. And seamlessly the next words flowed from my fingers through my pen and onto the page – Then stop trying. 
I am making yet another move to find a place that feels like home. A place that will honor where I’ve been and nurture where I want to go. In my clearest moments, I am certain Los Angeles is this place. Yet, I watch doubt creep in when others fire questions my way. Where are you going to live? Do you have a job? What are you going to do when you get there? Do you have savings? I sense my blood pressure shoot up simply writing them down. When I feel strong and stable my reply is a definitive I don’t know, full of trust and calm. But repeating these questions in my head (a scary place to be) and overthinking (one of my greatest gifts) instantaneously triggers at times a debilitating fear that convinces me I’m destined for a lackluster life plagued by depression. Where I want to be seems so very far far away from where I am. And no Google map will get me there. I’m not even sure where ‘there’ is.
I’ve taken to wearing a ring lately that I picked up some years ago. On it, unbeknownst to me at the time, is an Alcoholics Anonymous anthem: I promise to take it one day at a time. I’ve never had a dependency issue with drink or drugs aside from caffeine, yet something in those words resonate deep inside. Lately, it’s what prevents me from feeling completely overwhelmed and helpless. I don’t know what will happen next week, next month, and sure as shit not in 2017. Thinking about a master plan feels too daunting and riddles me with anxiety. I am not sure what’s right. I can only be certain of the next right thing. A day at a time. And I know if I continue to do the ‘next right thing’ life will continue as 2016 ensued – a grand adventure. No matter where I am. #adventureon

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A Home Away From Home

For as long as I can remember, I imagined that I would be happiest living at the beach. While I never frequented the ocean as much as I should have during my time in LA, no matter where I am, as soon as I lay eyes on blue water and sense sand through my toes, tension melts and I feel at peace. Swimming in salt water seems to ease my body and my mind better than any massage or therapy session ever could. There was no doubt in my mind, sooner rather than later, I would retire to the beach – my dream home within meters of crashing waves, tiny trails of sand leading to my front door and lingering through my living room.

My time at Ashburnham Estate in the tea country of Sri Lanka made me question that certainty. There, I was surrounded by hills of lush green tea plantations, mountains and fresh water. One of my favorite past times during my stay here was walking down to the 30 meter waterfall and cooling off in the freshwater pool. I loved the feeling of pulsating water pounding on my head and the sound of torrential sheets crashing to the pool below, magnified when I dunked my head under.

Amidst the union of earth and water, my vata was subdued and I found an ease living here that I haven’t felt in a while. For a week I couldn’t shake the feeling that this would be the perfect place to hang my hat for a bit and write my book. Long meditations melted into lazy morning breakfasts. From 9:30am to 12pm or so I indulge in toast with lots of butter (Gluten be damned. The local bread was amazing), drink coffee or tea or sometimes both, and either write or converse with other guests about our travels or my lovely hosts, Ollie and Laura, or my friend Max. Here, I am in no rush to respond to emails or even blog. Time seems to be soaked up in experience of the surrounding beauty.

During a few hikes, I also reflected how, in a small way, the environment at Ashburnham was similar to Austin. Albeit there are a lot less people hanging around these parts – the guesthouse is at full capacity with around 15 guests – the immediate access to nature, if I remember correctly, is also a main draw for many in the town I’ve called home for the past two years. Many people land in the ATX, as we like to call it, for its active and outdoorsy lifestyle, despite the heat and humidity – also found here in Sri Lanka. But like LA, I never took advantage of it as much as I could have. The cool dipping waters of Barton Springs and the trails and pools of the Greenbelt. The hikes of the hill country and of course, for the quick escape or walk, Town Lake.

Comparable to many moments I’ve had here in Sri Lanka, I surprised myself when I found myself bragging about how wonderful Austin is to Ollie, Laura and other guests. I unabashedly used ACL as a selling point and am lobbying fiercely for my new friends to head “West” to join the festivities this Fall.

Home is what we make it. Granted, I probably would be slightly displeased living in the middle of the desert or in a landlocked town with nothing but concrete sidewalks and overpasses, but despite its rapidly expanding population, ATX’s natural beauty has not been overrun by cars and metros. Not yet, anyway.

Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of perspective and remembrance. Sometimes we need to leave what we have to appreciate what we’ve got. And not forget it.

The Greatest Lesson Of All

I’ve done my fair share of bitching and moaning these past couple weeks. It’s right time I share some sunshine.

Through all of my frustrations and inner messy dialogues, it’s evident the biggest treasure of Sri Lanka is its people.

One moment I’m cursing the taxi driver for not knowing what, to me, should be a well known destination in the city. Not seconds later, the very same misdirected guide turns to me to thank me, tells me I’ve given him too much money, and places change in my palm. In that moment my hard “city girl” exterior melts and I continue to let this country soften me. And my expectations. (On that note, however, do not take your NYC and other metropolitan city cab drivers for granted – they may seem grumpy and disenchanted at times, but they know where to go and how to get you there. STAT.)

Once we finally arrive at my destination, the Sri Lankan post office, it seems no one is willing to help me send my package home. (For those of you who advised me to leave with an all but empty suitcase, you win. Lesson learned.) I get shuffled to another building down the road and then from there another office. And another. And another. Part of this is due to the language barrier and inability to communicate explicit directions making multiple questioning and directing attempts necessary. I am told the office closes at 3:30pm. It’s pushing 3:26 and the tough girl exterior returns, my impatience surges and I am, once again, exasperated.

Once I arrive at the right desk, a gentleman steps up and communicates very clearly the steps I need to relieve myself of this 10 pound load. Since I’m in no hurry to receive yet another pair of elephant plants and multiple sarongs I’ve collected in the past 7 weeks,to save $50, I decide to send my package via “sea mail” relinquishing any expectation of its return in Austin. At least in one piece. Until my mate starts securing this flimsy box of cardboard. He goes to town with some industrial packing tape and with every crisp tear of tape, my faith in the safe arrival of my contents blossoms. My trinkets and treasures are as secure as if they’d been locked in Fort Knox. The only reason I won’t see my treasured elephant pants again is if this box gets thrown overboard.

The kind sir doesn’t charge me a dime for tape, using a pen, or his explicit direction. The box itself was about $1.00. Try finding a USPS office that will offer free tape, much less that kind of service and assistance.

And then there’s the driver from the hotel to the train station this morning. I revert to my all to familiar panicked rushed travel behavior and am concerned about making it to Colombo Fort in time for a 7am departure. This guy asks me if I mind if he goes fast. Now we’re talking my language! As his foot accumulates lead and he weaves in and out of motor bikes, tut-tuts, and  busses, even the NYC girl in me gets a little concerned. I tell him to be safe above all and he assures me he is a great driver. He gets me there in less than 5 minutes and in that short time shares his dreams of coming to the US to open a restaurant. He tells me he is a great chef. I surprise myself and encourage him to establish a Sri Lankan eatery in the States. This after complaining about the food. My smile is proof I’m embracing this new culture. I hope his dreams become a reality.

I could go on and on with stories of generosity and graciousness during my almost three weeks in this country. But I trust any of my beneficiaries during my time in Sri Lanka know who they are if they read this. To you, I bow with gratitude. I need no visits to temples or shrines or tours to prove to me the divine resides in all of your hearts and to experience the best part of your country.

While I may not have experienced deep epiphanies here in Sri Lanka, I have seen the kindness and compassion of the human spirit.

There is no greater teaching than that.

Oh, Fear.

Today in the cab the fear set in. I believe it took its familiar seat in my heart in the morning but during my cab ride into town, sans connectivity to the electronic world to distract me, it made itself known and continued to expand like a ferocious virus. Inside the solitary confinement of a vehicle fear gripped my mind and ran with it. The cycle of thoughts that have been plaguing me since my arrival in Sri Lanka dominated any faith I had in the future to the point of tears. I couldn’t sit in traffic another moment. For ten minutes which seemed like 10 days, that cab was my personal prison.

A kind soul had granted me access to an amazing hotel to sit poolside and stare at the ocean, swim in the lap worthy salt pool and relax. That’s where I was headed. Instead of feeling giddy with excitement at this generous invitation, I was sad. What was wrong with me?

Almost eight weeks after I departed Austin, this trip can no longer be considered an escape or vacation. While I didn’t feel like I was running from anything in particular back home, maybe I was. From my fear of the unknown. The answer to “what’s next”?

Coming to a pool and chilling by the Indian Ocean felt like a luxury I couldn’t afford. Figuratively and literally. I have no job right now. No consistent source of income. And yet I know I can’t go back to doing the same thing I was doing.

While I can see what lies before me, as I mentioned in my last post, I have no clue how to get there. Or, like a mirage in the middle of the desert, if it’s even a real.

I don’t want to struggle any more. Even though I know these past three months will be remembered as nothing less than priceless treasures and, logistically, everything has gone relatively smoothly (i.e. No major medical catastrophes other than a minor tooth procedure) I’ve wrestled with enough struggle in the past 7 weeks to last me a while. Both internally and externally.

While money may not buy happiness it sure can make a bumpy ride a bit more comfortable. It can buy conveniences. Things like air conditioning. A nice hotel. Taking a cab wherever, whenever I feel like it no matter the cost. Good clean healthy food. Turns out, not unlike the States, vegetables are more expensive than rice and carbs here but to such an extent that they are not found on any menu in abundance. A premise I have that is confirmed when I receive lunch. I order ceviche – a “Tower of avocado, fresh seafood ceviche, micro greens, mango and pineapple”. It arrives and I see no “tower”. Just a tiny scoop of some sort of tasteless fish with mayo and an inch of diced avocado. All to the tune of $12. Not a grand sum of money I understand but considering it would have required I eat no less than five of them to fill the tank, it could have been considered a $50 meal. I request cucumber and carrot sticks, something even a local bar in the states can accommodate for relatively cheap and I get handful of cabbage with small slivers of carrot and cuke. I’m starved so I gobble my seafood sampler and resort to something I’ve gotten used to taking more than I’d like – bread and butter.

I re-read this well aware I sound like a whiney five year old stomping her feet because she wanted chocolate and all they had was vanilla. But when you are wrestling with fear and worry and anxiety and hunger and constipation, the struggles feel real. You crave ease, comfort and access to a small trust fund.

The crashing waves offered a small respite from my mind –  assurance that everything will be just fine.

But as I pay my bill, the saltwater pouring from my eyes is a not too subtle reminder that no amount of external comfort or beauty will offer me peace today. It is something I have to find for myself.

Money may buy comfort and assurance. However, usually, such ease comes at the sacrifice of growth and learning. I try to remember this today and every day here on the road.

Courage

Leaving the past is hard. All the pain and the hurt. The ideals we professed as truth that have proven themselves to be oh-so-false. The image of who we convinced ourselves was real. We begin to notice self perception can be a lethal liar as it slowly but surely reveals its true identity as a crumbling facade. 

We know there is a better way. A way to be happier, more free and loving. More successful and prosperous. Yet we cling to the past like an old lover no matter how much we want to move forward because it’s what we know. It’s familiar. What’s to come is unknown. Even if we get the hunch it’s so much better than we could imagine it can seem daunting. How do we begin to get from here to there?

Some people are of the opinion I’m brave to embark upon the adventure that I have. Leaving for India with nothing more than a one way ticket. A journey unplanned. While I acknowledge this can certainly seem daring and bold, I’ve never struggled with those two traits. Just ask my mother.

Yet I contest that my grandest acts of courage lie ahead. I’ve seen what is in front of me. I know what I’m capable of. I feel nothing is beyond my reach. But it’s much easier to walk on the beach, listen to waves crash, do yoga, and dream of a grand future than it is to return home and do something about my premonitions.

My mind runs its incessant, continual course like laps around a race track. What is the next step? How will I support myself? What if my visions prove to be false? Another mirage of lies? To me, overcoming these what at times, feel like insurmountable fears is much more formidable than haggling with a tuk-tuk driver. Enough to make me turn around and go back. 

Right now, 6 weeks into this world adventure, just shy of one month home (I’m not even sure where that is), this is what I’m up against.

Yes I’ve hit some moguls amidst my travels, but I know my biggest challenge is yet to come.  Upon my return I’ll be at the top of that black diamond trail, staring down at a long slope of fear wondering if I have the courage to let go and push off.

Live Like A Local

As much as I have loved the lessons and insights gleamed during my travels, not every day necessitates a spiritual teaching. Sometimes you just have to get shit done. Take today for example.

I don’t consider myself to be a vain person. While my daily personal hygiene skills are on the up and up and I am dedicated to daily cleansing practices guided by Ayurveda, my hair rarely sees a hair dryer and, often days, a brush. Nor have I put on much more than a few strokes of mascara and some lip balm on in the past five weeks. I enjoy a nice manicure, however, I often resist the bi-monthly pleasure as quite frankly, it takes too damn long. The process itself doesn’t put me out much, but the time I’m left incapacitated to ensure the polish remains smooth and glossy borders on unbearable. Nine times out of ten, I throw my nails up in frustration and proceed with normal functioning, resulting in a wasted $15 and nails that resemble nothing like they do when I walk out of Great Nails.

That being said, the past five weeks of travel have done a job on my hands and feet. The mani- pedi I did luxuriate in prior to my departure looked like it would had I been traveling through India. Oh wait. I have been. There was still dust under my nails from Auroville and dirt from who knows where.

Allow me to rewind a bit. Within the first two hours of arriving here in Sri Lanka, I found myself sitting in a lovely café in the city for a late lunch. Barefoot Cafe is a little oasis in the middle of the city. Inside there are individual little shops selling everything from kitchy stationary and cards to amazing linen pants (yes, I bought them), to beautiful home goods and designs. It reminded me of Fred Segal in Santa Monica, especially since the ocean is a few meters away. Down the steps and out the back is the lovely garden café with a menu similar to that of the trendy beach hotspot in Cali.

It didn’t take but one bite of papad to notice something rock hard between my teeth. That would be my crown. (I feel the need to let you know it’s the only cavity I’ve ever had.) Popped as effortlessly as an aspiring porn star’s cherry. Welcome to Sri Lanka.

I made a call to a dentist on the recommendation of a local family friend and he directed me to come to his office the next morning at 9am. On Good Friday, mind you. I’ll give you $100 if you can name me any dentist or doctor that will just slide you into his or her schedule on a normal day of the week, much less a holiday. Welcome to Sri Lanka.

And so it was that my Friday became about daily life as it looks in any city.

9am: Dentist. (Crown is securely back in place to the tune of about $25. Thank you Dr. Wimaladharma! I’m liking this place more and more.)
10:30am: Meet owners of Prana Lounge at the next door café. Grab a juice and get some work done.
12pm: Practice.
1:30pm: Quick bite for lunch.
2pm: Mani/pedi.
3:30pm: A bit of browsing at the local healthy market. (I had to wait for my darn nails to dry!)
5:00pm: Home. (Or temporary hotel home.) Shower, dress, quick meditation.
6:00pm: Stuck in rush hour traffic in tut-tut.
6:30pm: Arrive at friend’s home for some bubbly and conversation.
8:00pm: Lovely intimate dinner gathering at a new friend’s friends’ home. Beautiful backyard garden. Wonderful meal. Wonderful people. “Small world” connections made.
12pm: Home in bed.

When you’re on the road for this long, not every day needs to be a tourist event or sightseeing extravaganza. I’m enjoying finding a rhythm of daily life here in Sri Lanka. I’ve seen enough temples and made enough plans. I’ve stopped reviewing itineraries or scouring Google for what to see in Sri Lanka. For now, I’ve decided to sit back and see where life leads me. So far, it’s been the best non-plan plan I’ve made.

I don’t have a ticket out of here and until I’m sure I’m ready to move on, if I move on, I don’t plan on purchasing one.

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