Saturday, September 1, 2012

What is "real life?"

Well, I'm back in Colorado and decided to provide a little closure on this trip for my blog. First off, the final part of my trip in France was amazing! Those French folks really know how to do it right! Delicious breads, cheese, wines, stunning flower arrangements, exceptionally clean quaint villages, combining ancient ruins with modern buildings while maintaining the beautiful antiquated look, lack of modesty, and passionate personalities!
After taking the ferry from Ireland, we had a long scenic drive to Southern France where I then spent 10 days camping by a beautiful river with 9 amazing people for the Sangha Holiday event. It took place in a spectacular environment with space for cooking, playing, meditating, and deep relaxation. The facilitators Denis and Lydia were grace filled hosts and teachers! If I could afford it, I would return every year! I highly recommend checking it out if you are interested in a mindful, fun and relaxing holiday event.
Then I participated in the 10 day yatra or pilgrimage through the southern countryside of France. This was a combination of guided single file silent walks in the AM and PM, community building in coming together to build the camp sites on permitted farm land, for example, constructing the meditation hall, kitchen area, shower areas, and digging ditches for toileting, cooking together, and engaging in meaningful reflective conversations.  There were optional guided or individual meditations scheduled, small group sharing, workshops, time for sharing music and playfulness which culminated in a celebration of amazing talent on the final evening. It is very family friendly and it is really brilliant to see how the community comes together to support parents’ full participation by carrying their kids on their backs when someone got tiered, toting backpacks or supplies, staying back from a walk to provide child care, or distracting the children while the parents are attempting to pack up camp. Again, I highly suggest considering this consciousness building vacation as a family or individual if this format peaks your interest at all!
I ended my international journey in Paris visiting a long time friend from Colorado that is now in the diplomatic service there. Finally, I flew to Florida to visit family and then drove to NY with my parents and one of my nephews to visit more family and have now landed in Boulder!
Being home is a little bitter sweet. I am excited about seeing family and friends but am grieving the loss of the pace, sense of adventure, and lack of feeling pulled by responsibilities that being on the road offers.
I find myself already feeling a little struggle to stay centered and am noticing how my reactions to people’s suffering feels more suffocating and oppressive at home verses the suffering I witnessed abroad which included extreme poverty, street kids with drug addictions, traumatic stories of children in orphanages, people with crippling deformities from leprosy and other conditions with limited resource. All scenes which affected me deeply and caused reason to reflect!
And yet at home, hearing or witnessing friends and family’s stories about personal struggles I feel a little more overwhelmed and disempowered. Watching people in my inner circle in their daily lives, with real stress about money, health, and/or family strife has a slightly different feel than when there is a little separation.
Then on top of it, watching the news with repetitive images of  people in their extreme suffering feels even more traumatic. Such as, “N.J. Mother Who Decapitated Son, Committed Suicide, 2 Dead, 9 Wounded in Empire State Building Shootings, Maryland School Shooter Assembled Shotgun in School Before Attack.” And don’t even get me started about the political race… disgusting slander attacks with outright lies of one side against the other, radical agendas, women’s rights being assaulted and attacks on the most disenfranchised populations with continued support of putting our noses and causing a lot of damage where we don’t belong. A certain guilt or sense of responsibility comes with the political scene when I am home. Like, because I live here, I am personally responsible for what is happening on the news. I feel a little enmeshed in my country’s actions, as if my inertia in any given moment, the fact that I am not out picketing, writing scathing letters or even engaging in debate with people I am close with that support opposing agendas, that I am somehow contributing to the direction my country is moving in and the guilt grows. Somehow, I can watch in disbelief, like I am watching a bad movie and recognize how little control I have over the world’s dysfunction and distance myself from it more from afar. In India and Nepal, as there is anywhere, there were many stories about political corruption but somehow I find easy to disentangle without feeling any sense of overwhelming responsibility. And it is not an apathetic stance either… it is more of a perspective… Like there is a trajectory happening in the world that I can’t personally take on or change on a grand scale… but, it encourages me to figure out what I can do in my daily experience to promote my own inner peace and well being and reach out in manageable ways to things and people around me. Interesting to see how that feels more challenging on my own turf. And how I feel more sucked in to the drama.
I also find it interesting to pay attention to the boxes we appear to put ourselves in and how easy it is to feel stuck in the habits and routines even if they are causing us pain. As if the comfort of the familiarity wins over the dysfunction and finding creative solutions out. Again, much easier to avoid from afar when routine is not a common part of your current life style.
So here I am in "real life" attemtping to get back on health insurance, reinstating my car insurance and student loan, opening 10 months worth of mail, preparing to return to work while trying to maintain an expansive awareness and sense of calm that this journey sometimes gifted me. Wish me luck!!!!! Thanks again for following! I really appreciated all of your comments, support, and enthusiasm! Until the next time!!!!!!!!!

By the way, if any of these events interested you and you have more questions, feel free to inquire and I would be happy to provide more info... as well you can visit to get a comprehensive look at upcoming retreats and events mostly throughout Europe and India with the groups I have participated in and some others.

Denis, Lydia and Lanza: Organizers/teachers of the Sangha Holiday

Food was mostly organic and locally grown with regular fresh bread and cheese delivered! Mmmmmmm!

Belting out Arethra Franklin while cooking!

My favorite spot to relax in the morning.

Aerial fabric practice

Rolling down the river...

Sangha member's yurt which can be used for self retreats.

The view from the yurt.

Some of the walks on the yatra

Arriving at one campsite

Kitchen area

Playing in the mud

Christopher Titmus, the lead teacher jamming out.

Group massage after a long day's walk.

Sneaking away for coffee and ice cream!

Bucket bath

The star of the evening performance!

The walled city of Carcassone

This is how the Parisians build their pyramids!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Not JUST rainy!

Most of you know that I left Nepal on June 28th to road trip with my friend Dave through Ireland, to end up in southern France to do a yatra (or spiritual walk) with teachers and several folks I know from India.

We started in England and Wales then took a ferry with Dave’s VW van over to Ireland.  As it turns out Dave and I are traveling through Ireland during the RAINIEST June in recorded history!!! Even the locals are a bit grumpy about this! But even cranky, Irish characters are among the friendliest, most laid back people I have ever met! Of course, one benefit of rain is that it brings beautiful lush green landscapes. We were told the human eye can detect 42 shades of green all of which can be observed throughout Ireland!  So the trip, as you can imagine, rain and all, has been stunning!

When we first started traveling, I was doing the typical North American thing, for example, I couldn’t stop saying, “Man, this is OLD!!!” And pointing out every ruin and old stone wall we passed. And they are EVERYWHERE! Visiting sites that are said to be 5,000 years old really puts our short term temporary status as individuals, as we tend to see ourselves, in perspective!!!

Because I haven’t had a chance to update my blog in a while it is going to be hard to try to summarize our amazing adventures but I will try! Traveling in England (starting South of London in Brighton and making our way to Wales) there are green rolling hills spotted with sheep, manicured farms and gardens, groomed hedges even along incredibly narrow, single lane, but two way country roads in which the van’s mirrors touch on both sides, small villages with beautiful stone cottages, churches and quaint local pubs.

Ireland is as beautiful and impressive as you likely imagine it. It has more undulating hills that evolve into rugged sometimes jagged mountains covered in thick green spongy grass (which they harvest into peat and burn as a fuel), dramatic cliffs against an ocean backdrop, picturesque fishing villages and numerous ruins explained by science alongside folk lore. There are charismatic people speaking English with brilliant accents that we often can’t understand. And, the music is out of this world!

As you have likely noticed following my blog, my greatest joy about traveling is interacting with the people and trying to learn more about the local culture. Our first day in Ireland my interest was piqued by an elderly man warning us not to hang out in town long or go to the local cemetery because there was an “Irish Traveler’s” funeral happening. We were told that Travelers have a nomadic life style, they mostly live in caravans and they don't care about the law. As I understood how it was explained to me, I would equate one prejudice (out of many) about them is having a reputation similar to Hells Angel members when they were most active and lawless.We were told that most towns will close down their bars when they know there is going to be a Traveler’s event. Of course Dave and I went directly to the cemetery after the funeral had ended. We were really taken aback first off by the ages on the tombstones; on average people had died very young including many children. And second, by the size, ornamentation and arrangements of the gravestones.

We were fascinated to learn that there is actually genetic evidence that indicates Irish Travelers' DNA is distinctive from the settled community in Ireland proving that they are a distinct Irish ethnic minority, who separated from the settled Irish community at least 1,000 years ago.

Confirming what Dave and I observed at the cemetery, appalling statistics show that 80% of Travelers die before the age of 65! It appears that average life spans tend to be short due to genetic defects, addiction concerns and an exorbitant amount of fatal motor vehicle accidents.

Culturally, there are said to be very strict moral guidelines and life style choices, for instance travelers characteristically marry young starting at age 14 within their community only, they like to stay to themselves and they have their own language, children tend to stop school at age 11, and women typically remain housewives.  And they have elaborate celebrations for their weddings and first communions. I could go on... but it is quite likely that you may not be as intrigued by this topic as I am! But just in case, there are web sites to go to in order to learn more about their fascinating history and culture and there is a reality show called “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding,” which one local referred to as  “porn” likely due to the sensationalized depiction of certain aspects of current Travelers’ culture. But to folks that are as intrigued as Dave and I became, it is an interesting way to glance at some of this culture’s customs.

On another note, a highlight very worth mentioning from this trip has included being in the right place at the right time and spotting, watching and eventually playing with Dusty, a wild dolphin that has taken to being with humans over hanging out with other dolphin friends. Be sure to watch the video Dave put together in the attached link at the beginning of my blog.

Out of laziness and ease, I will be using the photos and some of the descriptions that Dave posted in his blog, so I apologize to those of you that are following both.

We unenthusiastically leave Ireland today to take a 20 hour ferry to France. I am sad about leaving Ireland, even though the weather has been “pants” (I believe that translates to “shitty” from proper British lingo), but look forward to the next part of this adventure as well. This could possibly be my last blog entry unless I take the opportunity to summarize the last leg of the trip upon returning home in August. So just in case... thanks again for following along and providing so much love and support during this journey!

I am thinking of all the folks in Colorado affected by the devastating fires and am sending loving thoughts and prayers your way! Please keep me updated on how you all are doing!

Much love to you all!

VIDEO!! Jen and Dusty the Dolphin. (Click below or here to play the video.)

Fishing from the high cliffs, County Clare. (Map)

Some of our angelic hosts, top-left and around: Jane (who was my roommate on  the meditation retreat) makes us dinner; Janie (who we met at the leprosy volunteer project this year) invited us to a village fest celebrating the Queen's 60th year in office; Keith (Dave's friend), and my friend Lynn's (who I know from Portland and now lives in Dublin, Ireland.) son Lucca.

Stonehenge! Really old standing rocks!

The famous 2,000 year-old Roman baths in Bath, England. (wiki article) We met lovely Rosie in line and she quickly invited us to visit her when we came to Ireland, which we did! She lives just south of Belfast on a farm.

Grave-diggers at the cemetery from the Traveler's funeral who we had an awesome conversation with. The man who died was 35 years old and died from a car crash after being chased by the police.

This grave, according to our sources, cost over $200,000.

The van is peeking out behind the trees. We spent the night at a beautiful abbey, and the caretaker took care of us, made us tea, and talked our ears off. Delightful.

These mounds are part of the 5,000 year-old Newgrange site, making it 500 years older the pyramids of Giza and 1,000 years older than Stonehenge.

This is the internal passage at the mound in Knowth, just next to Newgrange. Some of the original passages haven't been modified at all since they were built. Wow.

Rosie, who we met in Bath, took us to the local parade. We're now in Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., unlike the Republic of Ireland, which is decidedly not. Most of this area was in the grips of the "troubles" as they're called, the long fight between factions wanting to remain part of the U.K. and others (like the IRA) wanting a united Ireland. These bands are all Protestant (while the Republic is largely Catholic) and have a controversial history, which you can read about here. Rosie showed us buildings that had been bombed back in the day, and talked about the death threats her father received, both against him and his oldest son, who was expected to take over his businesses.

Near Giant's Causeway, this bridge was originally used by salmon fishermen.

The beautiful and rugged coastline near Giant's Causeway.

This lovely red-haired blue-eyed beauty was filming a music video at the Giant's Causeway. Unfortunately we didn't get her name.

Another view of the Causeway.

Further down the coast, a stunning ruin of a castle.

Dave and I never get tired of these rugged cliffs along the coast.

Drama! We took the ferry from here to small Arranmore island and spent a few hours poking around.

More rugged beauty on Arranmore.

The amazing Slieve League area, where we wild camped for the night.

Our first night of looking for Irish pub music - in the city of Galway, County Galway.

Famous houses in Galway.

This is called Poulnabrone dolmen, known as a portal tomb, and is 4,000 to 5,000 years old. More info here.

Near the portal tomb, and in this entire area, crazy rock formations have weathered over the millenia to leave this rocky landscape.

Dave and I home cooking! Note the difference in comfort! He is 17 inches taller!

Just a ruin. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along...

Hanging out over the Cliffs of Moher.

Sven, from Germany, and me are laying flat on a cliff that is literally straight down, about 700 feet. Sven rode his bike here from Germany, and is on his way, by bike, to Norway. He's already ridden on one trip to Pakistan, and another, for two years, through Africa to the Ivory Coast. Hard core.

You'd have time to think about it if you fell off. How long does it take to fall 700 feet??

More of Moher.

Dave and I camped about 100 yards from here. In the morning we were so excited to see a dolphin swimming in the little bay where the ferries dock, and it just got better. This wild dolphin, named Dusty, is a female that loves human contact. She only comes when people are around, and when there's different groups trying to get her attention, she makes sure everyone gets some of her time. She even plays with toys, including two bottles attached with a piece of rope that she'll retrieve like a Labrador Retriever. I took a video of Jen petting her and playing fetch with her. So cool!

These are all pictures of places we've wild camped in Ireland. In 1 month in Ireland, we've only stayed in campgrounds two nights. It is actually amazing how laid back people are about letting you camp wherever you want. It would never go over in the states! The cops would be moving you on in no time at all. We camped in gale winds at the beach, riverside parks, monuments, just above the cliffs, and down country roads where the road was wide enough. Some people stop, but just to ask, "are you enjoying your holidays," with authentic curiosity and cheerfulness! Once on the edge of a farmer's property, he came to check the scene out and shortly invited us to explore his many acres of land and stay as long as we would like.

Here's a rough map of what we've driven so far. You can click this link for the interactive map: (Since Dave posted this we have completed a full loop).

(The End)