Friday, February 27, 2015

My 10 Day Silent Meditation Retreat

As many of you know, I have just finished my 10 day silent Vipassana meditation retreat. “Vipassana is an ancient technique of meditation that gives us the tools to liberate ourselves from the misery that is created in our own minds and find blissful freedom. It is the technique the Buddha used to enlighten himself 2500 years ago in India and is non-sectarian, and totally universal.” The retreat was run based on the Buddhist practice of dana, where teachings are given freely, and students make donations out of gratitude.

This meditation practice is not to be taken lightly. So this means 10 days of no talking, no eye contact, no gestures, no reading, no writing, no cell phones, and worst yet, no yoga. It’s about what is left without that company, cell phone, glass of concord grape wine, or your Labrador Retriever. Vipassana is learning to love what remains when all that you love is gone. 

We meditated for 11 hours a day with great yummy vegetarian meals for breakfast and lunch, and fruit and tea for dinner. We were allowed to speak to the teacher for a few minutes each day if we had any questions regarding the technique. We were also allowed to walk outside during our meal breaks. [I often wondered what the people in the houses next to us thought as they watch this girl lose herself to the beauty of the cloud formations in the vast sky overhead. What must they think of this girl who is only let out at certain times of the day, who spends this time staring up at trees, juggling snow balls, making snow angels, and drawing pictures in the snow with a stick?]

On our first day we made a vow that we would abstain from alcohol and all drugs (including aspirin). We also promised not to harm a single living thing in keeping with the Buddhist (and yogic) principle of nonviolence, or ahimsa. So that bug I watched at night peacefully crawl its way up the wall by my bed has found a very fortunate home inside that retreat center. 

This retreat was one of the most mentally, physically, and emotionally challenging things I ever went through. It was also the most beneficial and insightful experience of my life.

Now that I am finally able to write or talk about it, I find that I can’t. Experiential understanding always trumps over intellectual understanding. Our intellectual minds are too small to understand what is there waiting for us once we get beyond our minds and our senses. There is no language for it either. All I can say is that one has to experience it for themselves to fully understand as my words certainly will not suffice. 
Before the retreat, I thought, ‘how hard could sitting in silence for 10 days be?’ Well let me tell you meditation is hard work. It is more than just clearing your mind and imagining you are walking on a white sandy beach in the Caribbean.
The foremost lay teacher of Vipassana Meditation S.N. Goenka.
Our class was run on recordings by him with the help of an assistant teacher
For the first 3 days the only thing we were to do was to concentrate on the area in and around the nostrils; being aware of any sensations as the breath passes its way in and out of the body. Simple, right? Well, instead of this I spent the first few days reliving much of my childhood, singing songs, and replaying scenarios. For 3 days I relived my failures, regrets, and past events that I didn’t really want to deal with again, but I knew that I needed to. I forgave myself and others along the way.

It was days of this, and it was days of listening to, ‘you are worthless, you can’t do anything, just give up and walk out that door.’ There it was again; the voice of my other self; that ego that always tries to tell me I’m too anxious or too powerless. It is that false illusion of self that is always accompanying me like a shadow. If I’m going to think this way I will behave this way. I didn’t come here to listen to and fulfill this ‘anxious, weak, worthless’ character that the ego is telling me that I am right now. I didn’t come here to continue being the victim of my thoughts and to live by my ego. I came here to learn how to live by my true nature; turning my ego from my enemy into my roommate. Our minds are there for us to USE, not to be USED by them. 

I failed again and again and again. I continued to pick myself back up over and over and over. It was a lot of inner battle, but I had faith in the technique. Through much determination and perseverance "I" eventually slipped out of the grasp of my controlling ego. That inner bliss and light were waiting for me there far below the shadows of my false identity. 

On the fourth day we expanded our area of focus from that of the nose to the whole body. The main teaching of Vipassana is to remain “equanimous” (treating everything equally due to the impermanent nature of all things).  By going within we observe the sensations (gross and subtle) from head to toe, observing our bodies in a constant state of change, just like the outside universe. Through the meditation, we are assigned to simply be the observer of these sensations. Just accept them as they are, without reacting. (no judgment, no attachment, no expectations no adversity, no desire, no craving, etc.)

The other beautiful women in my course
We see firsthand the pervasive pulls of craving and aversion and to find out what happens when we literally sit these things out. Not reacting to the immense pain I felt in my legs from sitting cross-legged 11 hours a day eventually helped me realize that much of this pain was not actually physical pain, but the pain I created in my head.

As time went on, I began to think less, and feel more of everything inside and out; pulsing, tingling, energy, vibration, etc. The only sound being that of my breath and my heartbeat. There were moments of complete and utter bliss, where I couldn’t even feel my body, mixed in with the struggle. At times I had to open my eyes just to make sure I was still grounded on the floor because I felt like I was flying.  How nice it felt naturally to get this high (without anyone, anything, or a mind altering chemical). However, it wasn’t all about the sensations, the epiphanies, or the trippy visualizations. It was about feeling so purposeful, alive, and empowered. I am not in this universe. I am the universe. There is an infinite light that connects us all.  There is a strong divine energy that flows through the hearts of every being; where eternal love, peace and happiness reside. This is not sectarian. This is life. This is universal. There is meaning, purpose, energy, force, and something too large for our intellectually minds to wrap our heads around. It can only be felt.

It was 10 days of reversing patterns of thinking. As the days went on, I learned more and more how to differentiate between living by my true self and living by my ego.  I am not these emotions or thoughts; I am the awareness behind them that transcends the ego. 

This retreat was about letting go, burning my ignorance, freeing the chains of delusion, removing identities, and overcoming obstacles. It was about breaking down the walls of my mind so that I could soar through to the depths of my infinite being. It was about finding support from something bigger than my own desires and aversions. It was about detaching from this false sense of self, and opening myself to a magnificent grace that lies within.

I know what I need to do to apply Vipassana to my everyday life; it means stop trying to control things that are beyond my control.  Stop worrying so much about something that hasn’t happened yet, or stressing out about something that has already happened. The truth resides in the present moment. It is about living the reality of the moment AS IT IS and not how we want it to be. Our journeys are one of constant transformation. In order to grow one must give up the struggle to remain the same, and learn to embrace change at all times. So when you have a nice enjoyable experience you don’t cling or become attached to. Likewise, with bad experiences, you do not avert them. It is accepting all outcomes be it good or bad. The strong flow of energy builds up inside our beings when our intellectual minds come in to play too much; by our reactions, cravings, aversions, desires, attachments, etc. 

The important thing is to ride this wave, because when you try to fight the current, things could get bumpy. When you go with the flow and force of the universe, the magic reveals itself, and everything falls into place around us. Just let things be how they are meant to be.  

Everything is in a constant state of change. The only constant in this ever so constantly changing world is the truth. I find the more I can embrace these truths, the easier my life becomes. It is not the object or the person that is creating my envy, jealousy, or happiness. It is me. Life is not perfect, nor is it meant to be; but when you stop trying to control or change these imperfections, then you can't help but see a world of perfection.

 Our thoughts influence our feelings. Our feelings influence our actions. And our actions influence our results; how we treat others and see the world around us. The more I go within myself, the more I want to live outside of myself. Your interests are linked with my interests. Your happiness is my happiness. The god that is in you is the same within me. We are all one.

Vipassana meditation is a very important tool that I can take wherever I go. All I need is my body and breath. All it takes is attention, intention, and some self-discipline of getting my ass out of bed every morning at 5:30 to practice.  Meditation and yoga help me better create the world around me; helping me to live more mindfully in the present moment so those moments of ‘losing myself to the magic of the world around me’ come more often. I’m on a path to achieve a more disciplined mind and compassionate heart.  I’m being led by that infinite wisdom within that clearly knows a lot more than “I” do.

I've searched awhile for something that promotes optimal living only to find that everything that I've been searching for is also the same thing I've been running from; Me.

Would I do this retreat again? Yes, absolutely in a heartbeat. 

I hope you have the chance to have a wonderful opportunity like this. It is the greatest gift you can give yourself. The greatest teacher you’ll ever know is in there waiting for you when you are ready….

Change your thoughts. Change your world. 
May the truth set you free.

Monday, February 9, 2015

My Yoga Mat is My Church

Traveling has started out as a way for me to know the unknown; to be blown away by the beauty of the world’s jungles, deserts, canyons, and mountains. My journey across three continents has turned more and more into a journey into the self. My motive for traveling went from wanting to know the unknown to wanting to know the knower. Who are we?  What is the meaning to this strange, bizarre yet fascinating existence? 

Rishikesh - along the banks of the Ganges
All of my paths have led me to India; a place that took my idea of self, consciousness, and ‘our true human potential’ to another level. It was there where I was sent to a place to the depths of my being; far beyond my mind, my senses, and my current understanding of the world.

India; a land full of extremes; inspiring and frustrating, clear and confusing, holy and unreliable, calm and disorderly, chaotic and peaceful, mysterious and familiar. All you can do is 'go with the flow' and embrace India's unpredictability. And when you least expect it you are placed in moments full of power to alter the way you view the world and your place in it.

A man selling flowers for the Ganga Aarti - the nightly act of placing prayer candles  in the river as part of the worship
In the resurrection of my memory I often find myself along the banks of the Ganges River sipping a cup of chai. It is there I sit, admiring the people that have all gathered to this holy river.
People all around;
     Washing away their sins.
     Filling their empty jugs with drops of salvation
     Rinsing impurities out of their colorful saris.
     Splashing innocence on to each other
I sit back and watch dead bodies cremate over an open fire; the smell of burnt flesh lingering in the air.
Streets are shared by both the people and the cows. Barefooted children with their arms outstretched begging for change. Monkeys jump from rooftop to rooftop taking my bag of bananas with them. Hari Krishna, Hari Hari … the sound of the flute filling people’s hearts with love, peace, and joy.  Swamis are joined together chanting in the ashrams  Ohm namah shivaya… Monks sit cross-legged in a temple; prayer beads in one hand…

All of these sights and sounds are slowing fading…
   But of course, a part of India will always remain embedded in my heart.

India, and all of my prior paths in life have all led me back home; to that of my true nature.
India may have helped show me this place, but I don’t need to go 7,000 miles away to get back there.

   The truth is not found along the banks of the Ganges River.
   Eternal love isn’t just a concept in the holy books.
   The wisdom isn’t only in the words spoken from the Dalai Lama
   The answers aren’t inside the Golden Temple.
  The divine isn’t buried under the heaps of snow in the depths of those towering snowcapped Himalayans.

Yeah, it’s there. But it’s here too.
It’s everywhere you go and in everything you see.
It’s the only constant in this ever so constantly changing world.
It's the divine energy that flows through the hearts of every being on this planet. 

The place that was once so brightly lit in India is slowly beginning to dim as I enter back into a busy society. A society that is always about quick satisfaction, instant relief, and distractions. A place that has people constantly looking outward for something that can only be found inward. All it takes is attention and intention. All it takes is body and breath.

Since returning home, I have begun going to church every day…
On my yoga mat; a place where I’m not just told to be a good person, but a place that turns me into one.  Through the practice of yoga, the mind, body and self are stilled.  Each movement sheds a layer of your egocentric existence allowing you to soar in to the depths of your being.  It opens the doors for you to return to you true nature; Yoga is, by definition, a ‘communion with God.’

Each breath in spirals me inward
Closer to my true source
With each breath out, I shed a layer;
A layer of what life has piled on top of me through the years
Layers of distractions, expectations, judgments, and attachments
Bit by bit.
Layer by layer
I’m pulled in closer…

Religion has never told me to empty the mind or to see the human body as a means of connecting to and coming to know the divine; Therefore, I have moved my church from that of inside an institution to that on my yoga mat; Why must I listen to someone else’s experiences, when I can have my own?

At the end of each practice,
I pray. Or rather, I listen. I meditate. I go within and I wait for the answers.
Because how can you talk to something that is already inside of you?
My ego always tries to interfere,
     Thoughts always try to interrupt
That relentless chattering of thoughts
I’m not them. I’m the awareness behind them
Those thoughts are not judged, changed, or suppressed
They are observed and I allow for them to continue on their journey in this universe.
Anxiety slips out of my body
Fear is replaced by love.
I free myself from imaginary needs and desires
I’m cut loose from those identifications I have made of myself
And those that others have made for me.
I’m not an American. I’m not a teacher. I’m not 30.
I’m not Jamie.
I’m not that.
I’m not my thoughts, or my identities.
I’m an illumined soul;
A being of light.
I am that.

The chains that have kept me tied to this physical world are now set free allowing me to soar to the depths of this magical, enchanted place of constant bliss and eternal love that lies deep within.
A place more magnificent and gigantic than our small minds can comprehend.

I am that. You are too.
     Eternal magnificent light beings
     Omnipresent souls floating about in this interconnected web in an infinite universe
Yoga helps define myself internally with a higher entity. We are all just manifestations. We don't know it with our rational mind but we can feel it intuitively. It’s about disciplining the mind, so you feel more in tune.   Yoga helps me remove layers of my egocentric existence so there is more space for the world around me; other people, animals, plants, and of course God.

This is what yoga and meditation mean to me.

 It is not turning the temperature up to 100 degrees while listening to some new age spirituality music. It is not about pushing your body so it can stretch further than the girl next to you.  It is not about holding on. You have to let go to receive it all.

I drink kale smoothies
I’m a vegetarian… 90% of the time.
I recite mantras to my favorite Hindu deity.
I can’t shut the hell up about India.
I wear mantra beads
And I have a lotus flower tattoo.

On the outside I’m that stereotypical ‘spiritual’ kind of person
On the inside I am you. You are me.

What spirituality means to me is that…. it’s not about me. 
It’s about you.  I do what I do for you. I am what I am for you.
Because the deeper my spirituality, the brighter that light, the stronger the energy is that connects my souls to yours. Your interests are linked with my interests. Your happiness and suffering I take on as my own.

Life is a series of trials and errors.  I never imagined I’d be this ‘yogini’ kind of gal, but it’s the best lifestyle I have found that has worked for me to bring the most amount of inner peace so that I have more tolerance, patience, and compassion for the world around me.

I’m not saying everyone should meditate and do yoga (although it would solve a lot of issues we have with ourselves and others) It’s about finding what works for you; to help you be the best person that you can be. It’s about finding a path of passion and authenticity to help connect you and remember where you came from.  Take a walk in the woods; with the only sound being that of your own breath and the twigs crunching below your feet. Play in your garden. Walk barefoot in the grass. Watch a sunset. Dance. Take time for yourself to help you feel more centered and grounded so that you can live more outside of yourself. Do whatever it is to help you live more fully in the present moment. This is where the truth resides.

Be good to one another. It’s not just about being kind, but being genuinely interested in one another’s life. Be open to listen with an open mind and an open heart to what the other has to say about their philosophies, ideas, dreams, and interests.

If you do want to give yoga and meditation a try- begin by treating these ancient practices with an open mind and open heart. Most importantly; don’t focus on the end result. Be here now. Don’t expect your mind to be disciplined overnight. You certainly aren’t going to get anywhere if you think life is meant to be perfect. If you think happiness is the goal then you are in for a disaster as well. It’s about going with the flow of the universe. Ride the wave where it takes you (Thank you Pearl Jam)
The minute you stop looking for something and slowdown is when you will receive it. Slow down and simplify. Overcome your fear of self & go inward :)

Life’s been a journey. I will still continue to fight those demons, dance with the devil, and fail many more times than I’d like.  I will continue to take loads of risk and set myself up for some serious challenges.  Because I know all of that is what makes you grow.  What I have learned most about life, I have learned through my challenges, my struggles, my pain, my failures, and my own intuition.

On that note, Next week, I will be participating in a 10 day silent meditation retreat.
Ah, wish me luck!!

“What you are, the world is. Without your transformation, there is no transformation of the world.”
-        Jiddu Krishnamurti

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Return to Innocence

Enter life. Go to school. Join a church. Be told what to think and how to behave. Get married. Have children. Build a white picket fence. Retire. Move to Florida. Die. Lather, rinse, repeat.

This boy was different and he didn't believe in this lifestyle. The belief in himself was all that would matter in the end. He thought there to be more to life than this, so he embarked on a journey alone as far as he could in search of answers, meaning, and truth. Years spent traveling and finding inspiration in everything and everyone around him.

His nonconformist, imaginative lifestyle often took him off the beaten path, many of which have led him to some of the most beautiful places on earth. It was a journey of ups, downs, and failures. But with each struggle and failure came an opportunity for self growth. His journey led him deep into the Himalayan mountains. Along the banks of the Ganges river, he watched bodies being cremated as the smell of burnt flesh lingered in the air.

Weeks and weeks spent climbing up and down those towering mountains. The deeper he trekked in those mountains, the deeper he went inside himself, to his real Self. Step by step he shed pieces of his egoistic, false self and stepped more into the depths of his beautiful spirit. He spent most of his days in silence. No phone. No computer. No TV. No distractions.

At the peak, he felt an instant kinship with those snow capped jagged peaks which surrounded him. An unfamiliar place so full of familiarity, making him feel alive. He sat back and reflected on life while losing himself in the beauty of those abstract, majestic mountains. Through his deep meditative state he detached himself from his thoughts and looked at them as a separate identity to his true self. He absorbed into inner bliss and was returned to his true nature - that of divine ecstasy.The boy sat down and began to cry, not tears of happiness, nor those of sorrow, but those of self realization.

It was an intense moment of perfection in this enchanted universe. The clouds forming overhead, creating formations of familiar faces. The warmth of the sun's rays connecting with the warmth emitted from his heart, melting him into the earth below. The veins of his body entangling with the tree roots below the earth. The leaves of the whispering trees moving in sync with his breath. He felt unity with all around; the trees, the animals, the water, the land, and the air. He felt like he had died and had gone to heaven. The boy begun to think about this all and became fearful; fearful only of his Self. This fear resisted the moment of surrender; the moment of the truth he holds within. Soon, he felt a presence and turned around to see an old man with a walking stick. The boy quickly tried to hide his tears.

They engaged in small talk for awhile, then the old man asked him, “What is your purpose of being here? Are you on a spiritual retreat like most others that come here from the West?”

"Well, yes, sort of I guess." the boy replied. "I'm a constant seeker of knowledge. This world absolutely fascinates me, and I especially enjoy coming to far away lands because I love learning from ancient culture and mystical traditions. I didn't come here to see. I came to feel – to feel the healing power of those Himalayan Mountains that many talk of. I came to learn about the Self- to learn ancient wisdom to help me live a more rewarding, fulfilling, and enlightened life." 

The man smiled and responded, “Well, you won't find anything here. You already are what you want to become. You are the universe. You are a manifestation of it all. Divinity. Nirvana. Happiness. Enlightenment. It's all you, and it's in everyone around you too. You can't search for something that is already there. All you have to do is awaken yourself to the power of your own mind. You can't change what happens to you but you can change the way you experience it. You are not your mind nor the attachments and emotions, but rather the awareness behind it all. Our thoughts are empty of form and they are only waves of energy, so we should treat them as such. When a thought arises, recognize it and let it go. If you try and stop it's flow, by avoiding it or changing it, then this energy has the ability to stop flowing and build up in negative form. The more mindfulness you apply to your thoughts and emotions the quicker they vanish from your mind and it's returned to it's natural clarity. It's this state of pure consciousness that holds the freedom that allow us to soar to the depths of our limitless being in this infinite universe. I know you already realize all of this as I saw you crying on top of the mountain. I knew what it was. You let go of everything and received it all; a moment of surrender and a glimpse into the truth.

The boy responded a little shocked that the man knew all this. “Yeah I did, but I completely lost that euphoric moment, once I started to think about it; where I am, how I got here, and questioning whether or not I was in heaven. I returned back to normal and then you came along.”

The man laughed. “Yes, of course. Well, my friend, that was your ego talking, your comfort zone. It's our mind and senses that we let define our world, when really they are only putting limits on the true potential of our being. You were resistant and fearful of discovering just how powerful your true being really is.”

The boy understood everything the man said. "I feel the more I detach myself from this false illusion of self, the more in tune I am with myself and the world around me too. I see myself as part of a collective whole and see how everything in life is interconnected."

The man agreed, "When people feel a strong sense of balance, peace, and calm on the inside they want the world around them to live like that too. They comprehend the world on a deeper level and see everything as one; no names, no religions, no nationalities, etc. Think of the potential if we all lived with a stronger sense of unity with all of life."

The boy nodded, "I agree. However, a calm state of mind and a sense of peace for all around is harder to achieve in the West. I'm from a place where success is measured in terms of financial gain and status, not on life values or compassion for others. Many of us are attached to our material possessions, distracted by technological advancements, and are brainwashed by the media. I live in a place focused around power, politics, and consumption. The more one consumes, the more one wants. It's like the more a society has, the more the people turn outward for their happiness and not inward. The busy society only piles layers upon layers onto one's soul, which is our source of love, peace, and compassion. It's like the more one has on the outside, the less they have on the inside. I used to live in a poor village in Central America, and have found all of this to be true. The people in my village have very little in terms of possessions, so therefore there is very little for their minds to hold on to. I feel that the people there are more kind, caring, and content than most people that I have met in the West that have everything they have ever wanted and more.

The man smiled. "Exactly. Living simply allows you to live more mindfully and enjoy more the simple pleasures of life. You appreciate what you do have instead of focusing so much on what you don't have. You are still very young, but it seems you have learned a lot through the years. Now it's your turn to take your experiences, insight and lessons to enpower others. Go back down this mountain and fulfill your life's purpose. Do what you can to make the world around you a better place. It doesn't matter what you do but how you do it. This can manifest by living a particular lifestyle or by exhibiting certain characteristics. It's in your choices, in your actions, and in how you make people feel.

There may be some people that judge your non-conventional lifestyle along the way but it is those people who will be your greatest inspiration. They will teach you that the only person you need to answer to is yourself. Embrace your individuality, instead of feeling guilty about it. You may see things differently than others, but treat that as the gift that it is.  Just in case you start to lose sight of yourself, take this to help you remember. Namaste.” The man handed the boy a crystal extracted deep within the Himalayan Mountains, and as quickly as he appeared he disappeared down the mountain.

The man's words vibrated throughout the boys entire body. He looked at his life as a series of paths that have led him here to this peak on the mountain, and this peak with himself. The moment on the mountain was powerful and it certainly helped the boy come to some heavy realizations. It was a beautiful place he had found; in the depths of himself and in the Himalayan Mountains. It is a very magical place on top of the world, but he knew that he couldn't stay any longer. This wasn't about him anymore, it was about his ability to help others achieve self-realization. In order to make any type of difference in the world it first has to start in the minds of people.

The following day, while waiting in line at the train station he felt a tug at his shirt. There he was again, the old man from the top of the mountain. Except this time he appeared in the body of an 8 year old girl. She didn't say anything, but enough was said in her dirty face, ripped clothes, and outstretched hands begging for change. Everywhere the boy looked, there the man was. His face in the crowd of strangers. His presence in those cows weaving in and out of traffic searching for food and eating trash instead. He's buried somewhere underneath that pile of trash, probably shaking his head and asking himself where he went wrong. He's stitched into the colorful saris wrapped around the bodies of the beautiful women. He's the laughter from those children flying a kite through their village. He's every single drop of that Ganges River. A river full of innocence, purity, and life that helps you understand why it has been worshiped for thousands of years. He is in everyone and everything.

Upon arrival home, the boy fell quickly right back into the world of illusions and distractions. Little by little, his visions became more distorted and he wonders if that time on the mountain was all just a dream. However, his uncertainties disappear whenever he looks deep into the eyes of his newborn nephew. Those eyes of innocence lead right through to the newborns soul; a soul free from attachment to worldly desires. The only thing seen through those pure eyes is a being in it's original form of peace, love and ecstasy. The energies of these two souls melt together into one, returning the boy back to his original state too. He had returned home again, to that of innocence. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Thank you Indonesia

I feel like it was just yesterday that I was painting a world map mural with the kids in my village in El Sal.  All of us questioning how to go about painting Indonesia. The few dots that we painted represent the archipelago compromising of over 13,000 islands. It’s hard to believe that these small specs on the world map make up the  4th most populous country in the world.

I found my way to Indonesia via the Philippines. There I had a wonderful visit in Manila and Bohol with my Peace Corps bestie, Amy. The people there are very friendly, always responding with “yes, mam” or “yes, sir.” Sometimes it was a bit much hearing them respond to every single yes or no question with "mam."

I guess I should just be happy that most people there speak English. Manila isn't anything like I thought it would be. A city full of some of the worst poverty that I have ever seen along side any "Western" restaurant, gym, or other franchise you can possible think of. 

We took a flight to an island in the south, Bohol, where we saw the chocolate hills, and tarsier monkeys, the world's smallest primate. These will only be images as memories in my own mind, since my camera battery was left on the wall still charging in Manila.

It was a much needed relaxing week at the beach catching up on the past few years of our lives and reminiscing about our time in El Sal. Thanks for a wonderful visit Amy.

 Being a budget backpacker will often involve uncomfortable situations; like a 13 hour layover between flights instead of a direct flight. Since it was nighttime, I decided to camp out in the airport. Lucky for me the floor of the Singapore airport is cleaner than most of the hostels I have been staying at, so I was able to catch up on some zzz’s there.  After a long few days of traveling and surviving off of crackers, oreos and water, I finally arrived in Ubud, Bali.
Hindu Temple in Ubud

This place is considered the cultural center of Bali. I wanted to stay away from the drunken bikini scene so I headed straight here.  Instantly I felt the wellbeing and spirituality  all around. However, as much as Elizabeth Gilbert depicted this in the book Eat, Pray, Love Ubud can’t necesarily guarantee a remedy for every mid-life crisis (hehe)

the rice fields outside of Ubud

Ubud will still turn out to be my favorite place in Indonesia.
A place full of yoga centers, vegetarian restaurants, coffee shops, and spas. Who could ask for more ;) Ubud is predominantly Hindu so I spent most of my days here visiting the temples and joining the dozens of others all dressed in colorful sarongs.

  Balinese Hinduism is much different than Hinduism in other parts of the world. It combines aspects of Animism, Ancestor worship, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

Monkey Forest
 For this, there is Monkey Forest.  It is a "sacred forest" that demonstrates the harmonist coexistence between humans and nature. Dear monkeys, we can live together in harmony, but please don't jump on me, unzip my bag and attempt to steal my shit.
 Goa Gajah, or Elephant Cave was built in the 9th century and was served as a sanctuary. The entrance suggests that people are entering an underworld as they venture into darkness.

Goa Gajah
Another important temple in Bali is Pura Tirta Empul (water temple). It is believed that this spring water is sacred and is supposed to have healing properties.

Pura Tirta Empul (Water temple)
Most nights in UBud I spent watching a nightly performance at one of the temples. Dancing is a huge part of their culture and religion. Most of the dances are connected to Hindu rituals that express a story.

Kecak Fire and Trance Dance

A short bus and ferry ride later, I landed on Gili Trawangan. The Gillis are a small group of islands off the coast of Lombok (the island east of Bali.) The best way to describe this island is… Spring break Cancun meets the Middle East.  Going to bed at night to Kanye West “gold digger,” or any other out of date rap song, and waking up to the sound of the mosque. Muslims beginning their day with a morning prayer rehearsed over the loud speaker with a sound so loud it carries throughout the entire island. Every morning at 4am. Then 5 more times a day after that.

Gili Trawangan

There are around 800 people living on this island with most of their incomes coming from tourists. These islands are full of dirt paths without any motor vehicles, only bicycles and horse and buggies.

clear water makes for incredible diving

This island itself wasn’t anything special for me; as it is your typical island scene you can find anywhere in the world; Bob Marley, bean bag chairs, hookah bars, "magic" smoothies, dreadlocks, etc.. I went for the diving…. And to reunite with an old friend, James (who I met in Colombia 3 years ago J )

the beautiful beaches in the Gilis

There we went on two dives together, and the experience was unreal.  You lose yourself in the colors, details and variety of the infinite number of coral and fish. With a visibility of over 40 feet, there is so much to see it's overwhelming. My weightless body allows the current to take me away with it and I feel free.

I lose my mind to what I see; Below me a purple starfish suctioned around a piece of coral. A sea turtle swimming next to me in the same direction, we make eye contact and share a moment. A shark below swimming in circles along the seafloor.

From Gili T, we embarked on a 4 day sailing trip to Flores.. 20 of us… starting as strangers and ending as friends.

Our group on the 4 day boat trip - one of my favorite experiences in Indonesia
 Hours of traveling from island to island; through the day and night. Snorkeling with turtles, sharks, and fish.  Passing by dozens and dozens of islands... Wild monkeys roaming freely along the white sanded beaches. Serene sunrises and sunsets.. and best of all... komodo dragons!

Komodo dragons! eek

 We stopped at Komodo National Park and Rinca to “hunt” (as stated in the itinerary) komodos. These giant creepy (yet somewhat cute) lizards that are the size of a crocodile. An animal that could eat me whole in an instant if it wanted.

snorkel spot on Rinca Island
 After a day of swimming amongst many forms of life underneath me, night time comes revealing with it billions of stars. All of this naturally puts life into a different perspective, leaving me feel so small. 

where we slept

With the stillness in my mind and the calmness in my heart, I surrender myself to the magic of the colors & variety of life form below me in the sea. I surrender myself to that full bodied moon and the stars above shining on me.

dinner time on the boat

 Days and nights of sailing that seemed like forever's unbelievable to think the distance we covered is just a small spec on the world map.

sunset from the boat

Into the great wide open we go… not one of us knows anything about where we are going or what we will do when we get there.. but that’s all part of the fun and excitement about traveling.  You always find everything works out ...

Flores, here we come. 

school girls in Flores
After arriving at the harbor it took a few hours of walking around to find a place that would host 7 of us. Flores is a beautiful and fascinating island with loads of dive shops. I spent one day diving here and lost more of myself to that great vast sea one last time in Indonesia.  After spending weeks by the sea, I decided to switch it up for my last week in Indonesia and travel inland (in Flores, then in Java.)

a mosque in Flores
Based on a recommendation from a friend, I set out to try to find Wae Rebo, a traditional village. This would consist  of a 5 hour long, bumpy ride through the hill sides to Ruteng. From Ruteng it is another 4 hour ride on a motorcycle to the start of the 2 hour trek up the mountain to Wae Rebo.  The ride was a very nice one through the hillsides, along the beaches, and overlooking rice fields. Every time we passed through a village, all of the children would come running after me until I disappeared screaming, "hello, sir." or "good morning mister."

spiderweb rice fields outside of Ruteng

 Even their mothers, who sit on the doorstep, look up from their weaving to wave at me. Unfortunately, my time at Wae Rebo wasn't as good as expected. The scenery was nice and the houses were quite interesting to look at, but the experience wasn't as authentic as I would have liked it to be (considering the effort involved to get there.) The ride there was better.

Wae Rebo Traditional Village in Flores
It seemed all they wanted from us was our money and they didn't include us at all about sharing their culture. They said they would perform a ceremony for us, but each of us had to pay $25... We already paid $25 for the night to stay there. Unfortunately this is what happens when more and more tourists come to an area and it really does take away from the real, true, authentic feel of a place.

inside the houses
After spending a night in this village, I took the bus back to Labuan Bajo.  Another long, yet interesting bus ride with the locals. The man next to me, with both his finger and toe nails painted, is practically asleep on my shoulder. A hindu man in a sarong sits next to me and a muslim in front. Chickens at our feet. How could I almost forget to mention the twelve other people sitting on the roof of the bus.  Oh, and a pig is up there too.
cupping, Indonesian style.
We pass a number of villages on the way; the stores full of banners advertising Malboro cigarettes or Bintang (local beer.) On the side of the road a woman carries a  woven basket on her back and a pile of firewood on her head. Her barefooted child runs to catch up to her.  Teenagers pass by on their motorcycles with cigarettes hanging from their mouths. Stands of people selling gasoline along the side of the road.  Rice fields filled with water glistening in evening colors of the sun.

 Families working long days together in the fields for their dinner tonight. Volcanoes appear in a distance – so high that the top of it is hiding somewhere in the clouds. Women washing clothes in the river as their naked children splash water at each other. Tires screech and up ahead stands a cow standing in the middle of the street. Rows of colorful houses, many of which have a tombstone of a deceased ancestor next to their house.  
the crater at Mt. Bromo, Java
Long bus rides are a good time for reflection. Traveling takes you on an unexpected ride not only into the world, but in to the self as well– full of ups and downs – and always full of surprises. Always expect the unexpected.  Traveling isn't always easy, especially for a single female traveler who is on a tight budget who likes to get off the beaten path. You have to work for it, step out of your comfort zone, and push yourself.

Hindus walking to the temple

Days come when you think you are done, you’ve had enough, the exhaustion is killing you.  Days come where all you can do is look the other way … the slaughtering of a pig in front of your eyes, children pooping in the street, men catcalling you as you walk by, a woman with her arms outstretched begging for some change while her malnourished toddlers lies next to her playing with an empty medicine bottle and her infant wrapped tightly in a sling in front of her. 

Why don't the children wear helmets? I don't know. It's Asia..
a place where I have learned to stop asking questions
 All of this certainly changes my perspective of my “rough days” of traveling. The nights of sleeping on a wooden plank. A bowl of white rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A 20 hour bus ride that turns into 35 hours. The bed bugs. The inescapable stomach problems from the food. These days don't seem too rough anymore.

the crater @ Mt. Bromo
It's the hard you learn to love. It's the challenges that help shape your character. Those lows in traveling make those highs that much higher. The small things that seem so huge.

They come to you right when you need them.  Reminders of why you travel are in those moments that inspire you, excite you, amaze you ... those moments, those people, those sights, those experiences that keep you going. It's these moments that happen almost daily. Each day is something new, and there is something exciting about not knowing where you are going from here..

It's in that feeling you get when you remind yourself where you are... and how it was once a dream of yours to be here. The gratifying feeling that makes you feel blessed with life; the bravery and courage you were given by your creator to do and see things that most people can only dream of.


 Traveling is the best way to expand your mind and soul.   It's the beautiful sites you see and the immersion into a new culture that gives you a better understanding of the world. It's the other travelers too. People from all over the world, with different stories and backgrounds; that have all come to this place at the same time as you. It's like you are traveling the world while still staying in one place.

sunrise over Mt. Bromo, Java
It's all of those incredible sights you see as a traveler that soothes your soul. Sights that are so breathtaking you almost can't believe that it's real.. The expansion of your mind and soul provide you with an energy that keeps you going and going.. leaving you always wanting more and more.

You may be far away from your comfort zone, but you are only rewarded with something remarkable in the end.

A Hindu Temple in Yogyakarta, most of it sadly destroyed by the earthquake

I don't want to sound like a cheesy inspirational speaker, but it's simple; if you can dream something you can do it. . If you are not happy with what you are doing then why are you doing it? If you have "always wanted to travel to Indonesia" or "climb Machu Picchu" then what is stopping you? Fear. Well guess what, that is only a concept you have created in your mind. . Take a risk... that leap of faith will take you places (into the world and into the self.)

 All it takes is that initial step out of your comfort zone, and things only get easier from there. It's simple ~ all you have to do is trust yourself, trust the universe, and trust the kindness of strangers (while still having a guard up and maintaining your street smarts.) 

To think that in a few weeks from now I will be in a place that I have dreamed of going to for over 10 years.  India, a place I truly never believed I would go to. A place that seemed impossible to my once small, closed, narrow 18 year old mind.
Lia (solo female traveler from Holland) and I on the becak

With it being my last day Indonesia, I spoil myself; a 2 hour massage ($9) , a pedicure ($3), pizza and a banana split. I deserve it :) 1 month in Indonesia - done and done. I'm ready to move on to a new country, and I can only hope I will be given the opportunity to come back to this amazing place.

Musical performance at the Kraton; Yogyakarta
If I had to choose the best experience I have had here it would be the hike up to Mt. Ijen. For the second day in a row a trek up an active volcano at 1am to watch the sunrise. Working your body up that steep mountain of sand, through the blue fire (created by the sulfur in the crater), passing by miners who risk their lives just for a few dollars a day.

miners carrying sulfur along the ridge
 Standing on the top of the crater under a  dark sky full of stars waiting for God to bless us with light and warmth. Waiting for the sun to reveal something magical before our eyes. There it is; below a sky full of blues, oranges, purples, and pinks appears a stunningly beautiful turquois color lake inside a volcano crater.

sunrise at Mt. Ijen
It's amazing what one month in one country can do for you and your soul. I'm leaving for Thailand tomorrow, but a part of me will stay behind in Indonesia.

Borobudur Temple; a 9th century Buddhist temple
A part of me will remain in that vast ocean; the schools of fish wiping away all my worries. Those sharks I saw while diving that ironically erased away all my fears. The sea turtle providing me with peace as we swim side by side together.  The 5 foot manta ray swimming into the infinite abyss taking with it all of my anxieties.

a few girls from Borneo

 Those relaxing nights on the beach… watching the tide wash up the phosphorous to the land, and pulling back into the ocean all of my concerns. The wind whispers to me, everything will be okay.
Borobudur is the world's largest Buddhist temple;
getting a tour of the school in Probolingo

A part of me remains in the sun that was given to it during those spectacular sunrises that burned away all of the negative and warmed me with positive.  I left behind something on the steps of the Hindu temple and in that Buddhist temple on top of the mountain. I lost myself in the eyes of those Balinese traditional dancers and in the hands of the school children who want nothing more than to shake my hand and take a picture with me.

 Thanks to the kindness of strangers- all those local people who helped me out along the way. Those who have shared their culture with me - who have helped me from getting from point A to point B.

 Thanks to the other travelers that I have met along the way, whether it was for a few hours, a few days, or a few weeks, it was nice meeting you all. Experiences are better when shared.

Thank you Indonesia. You treated me well..

On to…. Thailand … con mi amiga Laura ;)