Gifts of the Unfamiliar

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I’ve been writing a lot about India lately. I’ll be going back in less than two months and it’s been on my mind.

As I’ve mentioned before, India is not for everyone. But I don’t think you can know if it’s for you or not unless you visit. I have a few friends who have gone and their sentiment is, “I went, I’m glad I went, but I don’t need to go back.” I get it.

Others I know who have visited India are as perplexed as I am about why they want to keep going back.

Maybe it’s a particular city or town that draws them in. Or the food. Or the temples and architecture.

For me it’s a feeling. I am simultaneously lost and home. I am removed from the familiar and insanely present to my current surroundings.

Perhaps that’s the gift of traveling anywhere unfamiliar. You have to find your way. You cannot be the same you that sits on your back porch sipping coffee every morning. Or the same you that runs up to the grocery store for a forgotten item. You’re starting over, building who you are here – wherever here is.

India is kind in that way. Most Indians speak English. Most will smile and nod as you tantrum about the way it should be. Most will accept you as you are.

Visiting India can never be as simple as shopping in Jaipur, staying on a house boat in Goa or walking the grounds of the Taj Mahal.

That’s simply the first sentence.

I would love to take everyone I know to India. Its gifts are rare and unique and not always obvious and quick.

India takes its time with you. It’s in no hurry.

As I prepare to go back I work on letting go of expectations. Even though I’ve been to the same places many times there is always some nugget of wisdom waiting for me.

I wonder what it will be this time.

An Adventure in Being

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I’m not in it for the adventure.

Travel seems to be at the top of all the lists these days. It is always at the top of mine and always on my mind.

But it is not always adventure I am seeking.

I have no need to prove anything to anyone or myself. I’m beyond the stage when I need to walk a literal precipice to show that I can. Or to get my adrenaline pumping by jumping off a bridge tethered to a rope. I’m at that stage where I want deep experiences, rich soul-shining experiences.

I want to walk. A lot. All over. I want to consciously wander.

I want to sit in front of swamis, gurus, comedians, authors and even charlatans. I want to wander the streets of vibrant cities, take public transportation and interrogate locals on their favorite places to eat.

I want to sit in nature in a foreign country and remark – to myself – how nature is nature and no matter where in nature I find myself it’s healing. Nature has its own universal language.

I want to sit on rooftops sipping chai, coffee, wine, ouzo.

These are my adventures. Being in other places. Being wherever I am. Being. Observing. Noticing. Absorbing.

These are the adventures I want to share. I want to take others to all the magical corners of the planet and allow them to be. To notice. To create their own shift.

It really doesn’t matter where. The park 2 miles from my home can be as impactful as meditating on the banks of the Ganges. Probably. Although there is something mighty powerful about the Ganga Ma.

It’s not about accumulating. It’s not about becoming an experience junky. It is simply about immersion in this great adventure called life.

Our next adventure is coming fast – Rishikesh, India for 10 days in March. If India is calling, take a look at the details here. It’s an intentionally small group of soulful travelers.

Care to join me for a cup of chai on a rooftop overlooking the Taj Mahal?

India is Medicine

Did you wake up this year with a burning desire to become something different? To take more risks? To let go of fear? Did you decide to uncover your purpose?

If you said yes to any of that, then travel you must. You don’t have to go half way around the world, a day trip to a totally different sort of locale could help. The beach, the mountains, a park, some place you don’t regularly access.

But, if a trip half way around the world sounds just like exactly what you need, I can take you there.

Travel can be the balm that helps heal dissatisfaction, unrest or even a broken body or tired soul.

In just two and a half months we will be going to India. This is a country profoundly poor but intensely spiritually rich. Because it is so different from the United States or Canada or even Europe, it affords you the opportunity to get to go know yourself on an intimate level. You get to see all your tendencies, habits and choices up close and personal. With guidance and support, you can learn a tremendous amount and choose where to make changes and what to let go of. You have the ability to immerse in you and transform on a deeply spiritual level.

In India it’s as if the volume and vibrancy of have been turned up and I am aware.

India for me has been a place to reconnect with my spiritual home – the internal one. I can connect here on American soil too, but in India it’s as if the volume and vibrancy have been turned up and I am suddenly aware.

Each time for me is different; some parts are easy, some more difficult, but it’s all magic. It all does its work on me. With every departure from India I leave a bit of myself behind. I give the broken bits and the old beliefs and judgments to India to transmute into something greater. I never leave unchanged.

My partner in this upcoming adventure is Karin; she and I have been to India three times together and she feels as strongly about its depth as I do. It is a passion of both of ours to share this magical place. The magic you find will be very personal, just for you and it’s there waiting for you if you’re ready.

If you woke up this year wanting clarity, peace and purpose, India might just hold the answer.

 

 

It’s a Wander-full Life

This year has taken me to some amazing places. Some new, some familiar but all ever-changing. So grateful for this amazing ride called life. Can’t wait to see what explorations are in store for 2017. Join me, won’t you?

JANUARY was spent quietly at home, plotting, planning and preparing for my next big trip, India. I did take the time to wander my neighborhood trails. There’s nothing quite like a crisp Florida winter morning to energize!

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Oviedo, Florida

FEBRUARY sent me back to India. This time I immersed myself in the culture and magic of just one place – Rishikesh. I had been before but just for a few days, this time I spent nearly two weeks living on the banks of the Ganges. I’ll be going back this March and this time I’m taking people with me.

Rishikesh, India

MARCH – After India, I stopped over in Croatia and Slovenia for a week. It was still chilly but the air was so refreshing and invigorating. Zagreb was a bustling city, but it was the entire country of Slovenia that stole my heart on this trip. Going back later in 2017 to both places, exploring more of the Croatian coast and, of course, wandering back into that gem of a country nestled between Austria and Italy.

Zagreb, Croatia

Lake Bled and Ljubljana, Slovenia

APRIL Back home but not for long! Time to take a road trip across the state to Cedar Key for an uber relaxing natural Florida experience. Then a quick one day wander through Rainbow Springs.

Cedar Key and Rainbow Springs, FL

MAY A day trip or two a month often satisfies my inner-wanderer. Lucky for me I live in a beautiful, lush state. My own little town of Oviedo, working hard to maintain its small town feel with 30,000 people, then two hours west to St. Petersburg and an hour east to Indian Harbour Beach.

Oviedo, St. Petersburg and Indian Harbour Beach, Florida

JUNE A few days away in the beautiful mountains of North Georgia to check out an amazing retreat and spa. Dahlonega GA

Beautiful Dahlonega and Kitschy Cool Helen, Georgia

JULY An out-of-town friend wondered how far the Kennedy Space Center was so I took him there. The answer is about 45 minutes. Science is a whole different kind of wandering.

Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida

AUGUST  LA in August for some fabulous friends and food and a little scoping out of retreat potential.

Marina del Rey and Pacific Palisades, California

SEPTEMBER Then on to Sequoia National Park to be mesmerized by the stately ancient redwoods. Then later in the month up north to explore all of New Hampshire, bits of Massachusetts and a few seaport towns in Maine.

Sequoia National Park, California | Rye and Portsmouth, New Hampshire |Rocky Neck, Newburyport, and Gloucester, Massachusetts | Cape Elizabeth, Maine

OCTOBER  Back to the north Georgia mountains to take a lovely group to explore the mountains and do some yoga. Straddled the coast of Florida again with a quick trip to New Smyrna Beach to scout locations for a beach retreat and St. Pete to visit family.

Roswell, Amicalola Falls and Blairsville, Georgia | New Smyrna Beach, Florida

NOVEMBER Can’t get enough of California. Wandered the trails of Fullerton on an almost daily basis. Trekked into the cold hard streets of Hollywood to watch a friend play at a dive bar.

Fullerton, Hollywood and Brea, California

DECEMBER Ended the year much as it began, quiet and close to home. Spent an evening at a beautiful barn in Geneva all decked out for the holidays then meandered amongst the alligators, otters and birds at the Orlando Wetlands.

Geneva and Christmas, Florida

Reviewing this past year in photos and trips fills me with such gratitude for this life that is unfolding before me. I have always wanted to travel and once I consciously made the decision to make that a huge part of my life, opportunities began dropping into my lap. Thanks for coming along here and I hope you’ll join me along the path soon this coming year.

2017 promises a few new passport stamps in preparation of more fantastic retreats and adventures ahead. Stay tuned…

Ganga Ma

Each morning, we walk the short distance to the banks of the Ganges to sit in meditation for nearly an hour. Along the way we pass the sleeping shirtless man, in his makeshift permanent tent, with his dogs; an open manhole cover; and a giant mama pig rooting for breakfast as her pile of 5 babies sleeps protected beneath the dusty bushes.

There is a tender breeze that becomes gustier as we ascend the steps up to the promenade, then even more pronounced as we cross it to descend down the other side toward the water. We are seated 9 steps up from the Ganga Ma – the mother Ganges. Before arranging ourselves to sit, we carefully take the steps that lead into the water to receive her blessing. Bending into a squat we each begin to create our own rituals. Mine is to place my right hand into the cold rushing water, to feel it, experience it, then scoop enough water to wash both hands, finally placing my fingertips on my forehead, as if to begin my day and my mediation with a clear mind.

What others do is unknown to me, we are each in our own space.

I am drawn in by this ritual. Seated meditation does not come naturally to me, but I have learned it is the process, and the eventual progress, not the perfection of the practice that is the work.

The air is chilly and each gust of wind whips at the scarf covering my head.

I open my eyes. A lot. It’s part of the process for me. The huge ashram across the river, the Parmarth, is hosting the International Yoga Festival starting in the next day or so. It is glowing with preparation. To its left is the Ram Jhula bridge, lit with strands of green, white and red lights. And to its left, a few lights diminish into nothingness. The mountains rise up behind all of it – tiny lights high in the hills could easily be mistaken for stars.

The light cast from the promenade behind us illuminates the rocks in the river that split the water creating eddies and ripples. There is great power in the speed of its flow.  The sound mesmerizing. Swami Divyananda had said, “Sitting on the banks of the Ganges and meditating is like absorbing the prana (life force) of the river herself.” I agree.

Directly in front of me, close to the steps, there is a rock that catches the water and throws it onto the bottom step. I use this as my focus for meditation.

Time passes slowly. People are walking behind us, some chanting, some silent. I begin to identify them by their gait, their shoes. A family dips in the icy waters to our right, gasping and laughing. I catch the scent of sulfur as a match is struck to light the tiny flat disk of camphor, the size of my thumbnail, in the flower boat intended to send a blessing down the river.

I am caught too deeply in observation to actually be meditating, but I try. Eyes closed, eyes open, uncross legs, re-cross, shift feet, sigh. I am not struggling, just observing how I am handling the impatience of my mind, the distractions. I am straddling both worlds and content in that.

Our time in meditation has ended. We bow in appreciation to the river, to ourselves, to our practice, and stand up to walk back to yoga.

There will be no gap in thoughts today for me. No profound awareness of the silent presence. Yet I am left calmer and clearer for having made the attempt.

Or perhaps it is the power of the Ganga herself that leaves me more content.

Become a Noticer

One of my very favorite things to do is to find an area that I want to explore, block off some time, and get lost. Even in my own town.

When I travel it’s easy to find new and interesting things. I love architecture so buildings ancient and new captivate me and cause me to look up a lot. The graphics of signs and lettering, especially old faded advertising painted directly on old buildings, also curl my toes. People watching from an outdoor café or from the window of a gelateria is a guilty pleasure – because let’s be honest, they would also include a frothy hot drink or a dollop of something creamy and cold.

But perhaps the most effortless state of observation is outside in nature. I feel less compelled to categorize all that I see. I just allow any movement to capture my attention. A squirrel, the wind, a bird.

Noticing is more than just visual, it is a full sensory experience.

What does the air smell like? Cooking food, earth, exhaust from cars, the woman’s perfume who just passed you? What’s the texture of the building materials used to make the structures around you, the bark on the trees, the consistency of the soil or sidewalk you’re walking on? What do you hear? Can you parse the many sounds from the city down to their individual sources? What about in the woods; can you hear the leaves rustle or the the urgent nibbling of a squirrel?

Allowing yourself to be steadied by the activity around you can be a very powerful practice. If you can take slow, deep breaths, the experience is almost meditative – even in the city.

Get lost.

If that word creates some anxiety, take some of the guess work out of the equation for now. For now. Look on a map and find your edges. If you’re exploring a city, determine areas that may be unsafe and avoid them. Same goes for out in nature – don’t meander around the woods during hunting season without something brightly colored on. Or find a confined area like a park with lots of hidden treasures.

You’re not looking for new. Your seeking a new experience of the familiar.

How you notice is up to you. You can simply observe without any need to remember. Perhaps you’re a writer; a small notebook may be in order to record your experiences. Or maybe you want to capture these moments visually with photos or sketches.

But know that you need not record any of it. Simply allowing the experiences to be absorbed can be the best antidote for a stressful world.

You can’t do this wrong.

Wander. Notice. Be.

Training for Travel

Do you train for your vacation? For your cruises and other fun trips?

I’m not talking about starving yourself into your ideal beach body or spending hours in winter clothes and backpacks running during the hot summer months, but rather ensuring your body is fit for whatever you’re planning to experience.

It would be nearly impossible to enjoy the beauty of the Tuscan hill towns if you couldn’t walk up a few flights of stairs. Okay, many flights of stairs. Just as it would be difficult to follow an Indian swami as he or she called out yoga postures in Sanskrit if you’d never done a yoga class.

It’s fun to believe you could just grab your passport and hop a plane to Destination Anywhere and have a dandy time, but a little research and preparation can go a long way.

I’m all for spontaneity. All for going wherever the wind blows, but it would be foolish to allow the winds to sweep you to a place for which you are unprepared. So my motto, like my beloved Girl Scouts (Troop 654 National’s Capital) is BE PREPARED. For almost anything.

What does that mean exactly?

How to Train for Travel to Destination Anywhere (almost):

Strength: You may not think you need strength to meander the stone streets of Europe, but travel to foreign lands often means lugging your own suitcase up and down stairs and for long distances. Something as simple – I didn’t say easy – as a few push-ups a day can go a long way. Squats are great too for all those hills and rocky terrain. Can you say zip line? You’ll need a few muscles for that!

Stamina: Endurance may be one of the easiest activities to measure. Your phone probably has a step counter on it. If not, a Fitbit or similar device can help you determine your progress. Or, how about walking your neighborhood and going a little farther each time and then doing that even faster. No cash outlay. Don’t forget to incorporate hills, lots and lots of hills. If you don’t belong to a gym and live in the flatland, like me, stairs, lots and lots of stairs.

Lung Capacity: If you’re doing push ups and squats and taking your daily constitutional around the hood your lungs are working too. For more focus and even better results, consciously breathe. A yoga breath like Deerga Swasum is easy, portable and so good for you.

How to do Deerga Swasum

  • Sit or stand up nice and tall. Both inhalation and exhalation are through the nose.
  • Inhale deeply. Slowly. Fill the lower lungs expanding the belly, middle lungs expanding the ribcage and finally upper lobes of the lungs, lifting the collar bones.
  • Exhale, reverse. Collarbones drop, ribcage relaxes, then pull the navel all the way in toward the spine.
  • Repeat. For extra credit, do this while walking vigorously and see if you can maintain a slow steady breath. Breather level: expert.

In addition to becoming physically fit, consider your gut health as well. Travel to other countries usually means very different food options. Start yourself on a good probiotic a month or so out from your trip. Reduce caffeine, alcohol and sugar and ramp up raw veggies as much as possible.

I know this sounds like a total fitness plan and I guess it is. No matter where the globe stops when you spin it, you should be ready and pretty darn healthy. Here’s to a lifetime of fantastic voyages!

 

 

Grateful for the Journey

If you are open and curious, it is difficult to have a bad trip.

In the moment of distress or disappointment it may seem that your current circumstances could not possibly result in a good experience. On the contrary, it is the difficulties that create growth and the most profound memories.

None of us plan on falling into trouble when we travel, but when we are outside of our comfort zone nearly everything can feel challenging. And that can be rewarding or debilitating.

It is all about perception.

Think about your life’s journey for a moment. Where would you be without those left turns, speed bumps and cliffs? There is gold in every moment.

Life is happening FOR you, not to you. Every tiny incident, every nuanced moment, every thunderstorm and every sunrise is for you. It is a gift.

As thanksgiving approaches in the states, we are drawn toward the light of gratitude. Melody Beattie sums up this feeling of openness and joy better than anything I’ve ever read:

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

Happy Thanksgiving. Grateful for the journey.

 

 

 

Traveling as a Spiritual Practice

I do yoga. I meditate. I pray. I read uplifting inspirational books. But nothing connects me more to the Big Mystery than travel.

Traveling to a place like India or Mecca or the Vatican, of course, brings with it some spiritual or religious expectations. And I highly recommend you visit a powerful place that will fill your soul.

For the travel I’m referring to you don’t necessarily need a passport or plane ticket. You may not even need gas in your car.

Wandering in nature close to your home is all the farther you need to go. The travel part is more internal. The journey inward.

Here are some pointers for this short but potent trip:

  • Put your phone in your pocket and use only in case of an emergency or to capture a moment on the camera.
  • Sit or stand still for long moments.
  • Look around slowly. S l o w l y…
  • Notice everything. The butterfly, the leaves rustling. A bird. The sky.
  • Close your eyes and breathe.
  • Now, wander.

So much of travel – near or far – is clearing away the expectations and anticipations, including fear. This is the process of presence.

No matter how far you travel, BE in that space. Just BE.

Excuses are Anchors

I have friends who have no desire to travel. Some cite contentment right where they are, others a fear of foreign places and people and the rest, concern for their safety. To the first group, I say, “good on you.” But check to make sure you’re not confusing contentment with complacency.

To the rest, I say, fear is the doorway through which you find magic.

Excuses dressed up like perfectly logical reasons are tiny little anchors keeping you stuck.

One of the biggest gifts travel to another country has given me is the ability to have my prejudices and beliefs blasted to smithereens. The more my perceptions are deconstructed, the freer I become. Now, I step through the looking glass with wonder.

With wonder, there is little resistance, with little resistance there is freedom, with freedom there is joy.

Where will you go next?