Thursday, January 24, 2013

BAaaahhhhLI.

Deep breath in, deep breath out.

That's what this place is. Over and over and over again. Soul expanding, marrow loving, consciousness spinning, joy dancing lovefest. Bali.

I have to admit that after my not-even-very-long flights here from Cambodia, after clearing customs and sitting in a taxi for what seemed like an eternity in the now-dense Denpasar traffic, I thought, "This isn't worth it."

I thought, "I can't ask people to take a day and a half out of their lives just to get here for a restorative week this summer. It's too hard."I was thinking about my COME TO YOUR SENSES retreat in June. In my mind, it was a done deal. Find another spot. Mexico maybe. What the hell? Why not book it in Ohio? Same difference, really.

And then I got out of my taxi and walked down the lane to the sweet little Ubud Aura, a stone's throw away from the astounding Yoga Barn. Five minutes after I knew for sure I wasn't coming back, I became equally sure I didn't want to leave.

This. Place. Is. Magic.

For the last five days I have settled into a languid pace of living and breathing and connecting. I have had the cleanest more glorious food I have ever had. I have met inspiring new friends and a special tender soul.

The other day, I drank from a young coconut and had the feeling that I might never find the end of the quench. I kept drinking and drinking and drinking from the seemingly endless well of the fruit. A Bali minute later, I was settling deep deep deep into my joints in an open air Yin Yoga class, experiencing the same sense of endless wonder. After that, I sat in candlelight and watched a woman become ready to offer healing with the Tibetan bowls. It seemed an endless ritual and by the time she played the bowls directly above my head, I could see the stars in the deep space of my own consciousness.

Later I walked with a friend and we found a butterfly on the pavement, sprawled out in all its beauty. We took photos. A Balinese man joined us and we admired the beauty together. He held the butterfly and explained how he would place it in his taxi, an offering.

Happy birthday, indeed.

So for those of you who are thinking about joining me, do it. Your best self awaits you here. We will conspire to bring it out together but truth be told, you need only arrive. Bali will do the rest.

And know the journey to get here is just a metaphor for how long you have waited to feel this good.

Yoga studio view.

On the ground floor of the Yoga Barn.

Sweet Ubud Aura. Where I meet new traveling friends poolside over breakfast.

Sign for my weekend workshops!

Even my laptop gets a Frangipani offering.

Just an everyday thing of beauty right off the busy street.

The meditation spot, post massage.

The walkway to the rooms at the Ubud Bungalow - spot for COME TO YOUR SENSE in June.

Imagine. This is YOUR room.

This is your pool.

This is also your pool.
A day-old baby at a Maternal Health Clinic. We will bring supplies for the babies when we come.
Afternoon rain storm? Okay, I'll nap.

We find the butterfly.

A better photo will come soon.

An aside: I think I want a dog.

Random beauty. Just every darn place.

Close up! New baby. Held by healthy mom, thanks to the free clinic.






Monday, January 21, 2013

Yorn Chea's New School or How Travelers Support Travelers

It's a big, small world out there. Yorn Chea with map.

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to squeeze in a visit to Siem Reap (and a return to the serene RiverGarden!) to serve as courier for generous donations from Ohio-based friends to Yorn Chea's new school.

A bit of a background story first.

Many years ago, I went to visit one of my favorite travelers in the world in Columbus, Ohio. The inimitable Bruce French, activist, traveler, chef, was cooking for some rock band or another and I drove up to spend some time with him. We went to dinner with an old chum of his from grade school and his wife, Jamie Rhein. Jamie and I connected instantly. She is a bundle of hilarity and intelligence and goodwill. And she is also a lovely writer.

A couple of months ago, Bruce came back through Columbus while on the road as chef for the band Rush. So I went to visit again and we all had dinner again. I told Jamie of my upcoming trip and she rallied her Peace Corps Alum group in Columbus to donate $400 of their funds plus some cool maps to Yorn Chea in Cambodia. All of this happened with extraordinary ease and very little conversation.

I recounted the tale to Lisa Stegman who accompanied me last year on my Asia service trip. She gave me a sweet donation also to give to our mutual friend, Yorn Chea.

Fast forward to a week ago. I found out my brand new friend Tamara Duarte, whom I met NataRaj Yoga Studio in Phnom Penh, was going to be in Siem Reap. And then a few days later, we were wandering the back streets of Siem Reap with our monk friend to visit his new school. As it was a weekend, no students were there but we could just imagine the 150 children on the wooden benches working to learn English, French, math and computer skills.

I have had the opportunity to take on many different identities over the course of my life, but "traveler" is one that I treasure the most. I write this post from Bali, where I will enjoy a wander-about day with a new photographer friend I met at breakfast. Last night, at an open-air screening of a Spencer Tunick documentary, I ran into Sterling, a woman I met last year. And in a few days, I reconnect with Annie, another traveler and now Bali resident I also meet here last year.

There is an ease to the flow of connecting when you have not much of the familiar to ground you besides human contact. And once you have been out and about, particular in any sort of service capacity in developing countries, you feel compelled to either go back or give back.

So thanks to my fellow travelers and for those who work to make it easier for people like Yorn Chea to do his good work.

(And double special repeated thank you's to Jeff Syroney who made it possible for me to do my good work this year.)

Getting blessing from Yorn Chea!


Yorn Chea tells us about the blessing.

Yorn Chea and Tamara Duarte in one of the classrooms.

Tamara and Yorn.

Better view classroom.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Dispatch from Phnom Penh

I tried to think of what to call this post to let you know in advance that it was not going to contain a cohesive narrative about my experiences thus far. This trip has been a particularly busy/wonderful/intense/thought-provoking/context-eluding/nurturing/depleting/heart-breaking/heart-warming mash up.

Dispatch implies I am sending this off with great speed, not enough time to process or fact-check the data. I can tell you some of the things I have done and seen and considered, but I sure can't tell you what any of it "means."

I have been in Phnom Penh for over a week now and am coming to the end of my time in this city. Today I spend the afternoon with the house moms and other direct care staff at Transitions, creating a restorative session for them. It is the last of my teaching/sharing encounters with clinical staff, girls, yoga teachers and new friends here this week. I move on to Siem Reap tomorrow and then on to Bali on Sunday. 

Here are some word illustrations of moments I do not want to forget, things I need to think about, and photo evidence of people, places and things. 

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Sitting on the floor of Transition's Dream House playing a high speed game of Uno with several of the Transitions girls, being instructed several times not to forget to say "You Know!" when I am down to one card or else I will have to pick up another one. One of the sweetest of sweet girls sits next to me and watches our game, all smiles and light. I know from my work before that she was beaten so severely that she has permanent brain injury and struggles mightily in school and with all cognitive concepts.

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Teaching ballet 101 to the girls (God I hope I got it right, ballet friends) plus a few hip hop show off moves (Gangnam style giddy-up maneuver can earn you major points, fyi) in order to get a return lesson of Khmer traditional dancing with its complicated hand gestures and strange off beat steps.

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Asking a girl who I know from all three years of my work here to demonstrate with me what happens when we put our palms out to each other, a foot or so apart, and begin to come closer so we can sense the other person's energy. She so badly wants to look at people and can't bear to be looked at so just making eye contact is hard for her. As we got close, the feeling of the energy combined with her hypersensitivity made her literally recoil, as though I had zapped her with my super powers. 

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Sitting in the Dream House kitchen, eating an incredible meal made specially for me by the house moms, watching the girls eat, while I was being watched by the house moms to make sure I loved the food. I did. 

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Spending 6 hours with the Cambodian staff of Transitions learning and sharing about how the body holds stress. This was an incredible give and take and one of my most gratifying teaching experiences to date.

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Working with the NataRaj teachers and junior teachers on a hot morning working on anatomy, posture, and movement concepts related to alignment and restoration related to stress and trauma. Leya's baby is sound asleep on a mat on the floor.


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So many new friends!! Private sessions with Ayumi and Ruth and Gillian and Caroline, women I met in my first few days of workshops. It is a thrill to learn about how lives meander and conspire to bring us to where we are.

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The past became present when an old friend messaged me that I should look up "Stony" if I am in Cambodia. I asked where he was. I was told "Equinox" - a club. I look it up. I am, literally, sitting next door to it. I walk over and voila, the 80s come full circle and we swap names and a few memories.

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Sitting with Caroline and her research assistant at Cheong Elk, also known as the Killing Fields, where Caroline is doing her field research for her PhD on cultural responses to mass grave sites. She is an anthropologist so I got to play as one for the day as we sat, watched and shared thoughts and ideas with her young Khmer assistant. It was a fascinating, tip-of-the-iceberg sort of experience in thinking about how our minds work to make sense of things, including what is and is not inviolable, from our own cultural and narrative perspective and how complex it is to truly understand life and death.

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Always, always, always: my mother on my mind. Thinking of the sanctity of bones, the in's and out's of life and death. Happy now to know she is with her sister sitting in the sun (well hopefully not IN the sun as it is not good cuz of the cancer treatments).

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Whew!! Dad's surgery went great and he got more massage this week than I did, I hear!


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I try to tell Cambodian pharmacist through my Pigeon English and miming movements: "My stomach hurts, need antacid." She hands me a pregnancy test."

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I sat on a porch swing in the enclosed garden of the Dream House. A girl gave me a bracelet she made and another one braided my hair. The house mother told me I was beautiful and outlined on her own face why she thought so, tracing her eyebrows, cheeks, chin. They tell me 52 is so young!!

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I share Reiki with so many this week, laying my hands on feet and heads and bellies and backs. I sense the energy of hope, of brokenness, and the broken hopeful. I feel courage and I give back my gratitude and love.


Early morning workshop on anatomy of stress and trauma with NataRaj teachers!

Leya's baby. This is the face you want to be looking at early on a Khmer Monday morning.

My host yoga studio in Phnom Penh.

My new pal Caroline and I at Cheong Elk.

Caroline and her assistant.

Bracelets left by visitors to one of the mass graves at the Killing Fields.

This tree was used for purposes of horror and brutality. Bracelets adorn it now.

Monks in morning on Street 278, Phnom Penh.

Color, symmetry, pretty things all in a row.

Small world story. I learn that "Stony", a  friend from the 80s (in case that nickname didn't give it away) works in Cambodia. I find out his club is a few feet away from where I am staying in Phnom Penh.