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?

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…

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.

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.

Wherever You Go, There You Are

 

I used to think this was a funny, silly saying – even obvious. But now I know it to be profound.  A universal truth.

No matter where you go, you neatly pack your beliefs, ideas about the world and expectations alongside your toothbrush and unmentionables. Physically they take up very little space and they won’t add weight to your suitcase, but be aware they can add a ton to your experience.

Or take everything away.

It is nearly impossible to be without expectation. We spend our entire lives constructing little boxes and columns in which to put everything. She’s white, mid-forties, married with 2 kids. He’s Hispanic, early 20’s, college student. Then we pepper in some details and judgments based on what we know about white women in their 40s and Hispanic men in their 20s.

We can’t really help it. Judgment of this sort keeps things neat for us. And if we’re flexible we’ll allow for the fact that the white woman is married to another white woman without a whole lot of feather ruffling. Did you think she was married to a man?

Travel, especially to another country remarkably different from home, allows many opportunities for growth. Having our beliefs challenged regularly can be exhausting and we either give up and trust or fight and scowl continuing to insist on the way things should be.

Those who travel often learn to trust the hand of the universe at their back to guide them to experiences of expansion. Edges are pushed, fears are brought up, magic is revealed.

It’s not easy, this giving up of (perceived) control. I know people who will not travel anywhere there is not the guarantee of a cup of coffee in the morning.

So is this:

A. An addiction

B. An excuse

C. Entitlement

D. A medical condition

Sorry, it’s not D, I’m pretty sure.

We put limitations and conditions on things to protect ourselves, our ego. Coffee is maybe a silly example, but it is true. I know real flesh and blood people who will deny themselves experiences because coffee may be unavailable. [Note to those folks: Starbucks now has tiny little travel-friendly packets, so you’re running out of excuses.]

I also know actual people who will go somewhere even if there is no real medical care available. I know people who climb rock faces just because, and swim in the Ganges to dip their toe in enlightenment, and travel without luggage, just for fun.

The magic happens where courage and desire intersect.

For some that is a weekend an hour away from the kids for the first time. For others it’s backpacking through Vietnam alone. Everyone’s edge is in a different place and it’s up to them to nudge it.

Travel can reveal the work that still needs to be done. It can crack open and fill up. It can break down and leave ruins to rebuild. But it always changes the traveler. Sometimes those changes are apparent right away, sometimes they reveal themselves in conversations months later. Most often, those changes take the form of compassion and empathy.

And those are two lovely items to pack. Always.

 

 

 

 

Island Time

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As the sun begins to set over turquoise seas, the energy at the outside bar begins to rise. A band sets up, red rum drinks decorated with slices of local tropical fruit occupy most hands and a breeze gently combs through the hair of visitors and curls around skirts causing them to dance without their owner’s involvement.

A night on Long Island in the Bahamas.

This island can only be reached by boat or small private plane – there is no runway adequate for a commercial flight. The island, as one may deduce from its name, is long. One main road runs it’s length with a few streets that branch off toward either shore.

There are no proper grocery stores or dress shops here. In our quest for a straw hat we drove the length of the island and stopped at various homes with pop up stores on the front lawns of the artist’s home.

What this island lacks in modern conveniences it makes up for in pristine sugar sand beaches and rocky white cliffs. A secluded cove invites us to swim its waters and meet the locals; sea turtles, brightly colored fish and corals alive with movement are visible from just below the surface. Near our house the remains of a poorly planned marina now forms a natural swimming pool fed by the sea itself, complete with tiny tropical fish.

A short drive – all drives are short on this long island – takes us to the rusty wreckage of a big ship, the remains of a wooden church and a monument to the aboriginal people.

On this island there is time to explore. There is time and a desire to listen to the stories of the locals about a recent hurricane that somehow slipped the notice of the news in the states. People here are neighbors, not strangers that happen to live next door. No one was lost, they took care of each other, moving those on lower ground up, helping each other rebuild when it was time. They took care of each other. They still do.

No matter where I travel, no matter what my experiences are or what I see, it’s the people that stick with me. The sunrises and sunsets are magnificent, the turquoise bellies of the seagulls as they reflect the water beneath, diving for conch and dancing with stingrays and starfish provided some truly magical moments, but it’s Miss Sue and the woman from whom I bought a hand-made hat that stay with me.

Miss Sue and I still email one another. She makes the most beautiful wedding cakes.

 

At Home in Ljubljana

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Old, historic downtown Ljubljana was the most pleasant surprise. I fell in love with it immediately.

We arrived at twilight. Our hotel was a short walk from the train station and easily found. We had the option of walking through the bar or taking the steps to the lobby. We took a moment to imagine the path of destruction we would likely leave with our coats and suitcases and opted for the stairs.

Once settled in our room we headed out on foot. Less than a mile, maybe even less than half a mile, we found the center of this welcoming city. Its fringes felt very urban and clean with modern office buildings and hotels, but these structures seemed to respect the ancient and medieval architecture just a block away by not towering over them, not stealing the spot light.

As we walked down a side street in the direction we hoped would lead us to some restaurant options, the city slowly came into view. Lights shimmered along the river,  artfully lighting the buildings on its banks. We took a moment to take in our surroundings. To take a breath. Then we set our sights on dinner. Our options seemed limited where we stood so we crossed one of the many bridge to investigate what options the other side may have.

A few steps over the river we found restaurant row. Every restaurant offered outdoor seating. It was early Spring in eastern Europe, just a stone’s throw from the Alps and the temperature on this evening was in the high 30s. Fahrenheit. Blankets are placed over each chair and some patios were warmed with torches, but mostly it was cold. We opted for an indoor table.

The next day we explored in earnest. Beginning with the famed Saturday morning market. It felt like a street festival. It was huge and bustling, full of music and dancing and life. There were sections of local crafts, clothing, flowers and especially food. Mostly it was produce from nearby farms, rows and rows of it, but there were also packaged goods, like local honey or butter. We learned the entire history of Slovenia from a very animated local goat’s milk butter and cream guy. Moving away from the center, we found a bank of food trucks for additional fortification, alongside the many cafes that flank the river.

There are many distinct bridges, each with their own personality and story, that cross the Ljubljanica River bisecting the city. Three of them exclusively pedestrian. But that hasn’t always been the case. About 8 years ago the new mayor closed the downtown area to vehicles. It apparently created a small uproar and some traffic snarls, but this city of 250,000 quickly adjusted and now the area is vibrant with commerce and entertainment.

The bridge or bridges we crossed the first night, known as the Triple Bridge, all had the same balustrades, creating an almost Venetian feel. The center bridge was much wider than the two adjacent; it was meant for cars when they were allowed. Aside from the Triple Bridge, there are two others meant for pedestrians: The Cobbler’s Bridge and a much more modern span whose name I can’t recall. The Cobbler’s Bridge, while nice, is relatively plain, but just a few steps away from it, at the top of an alley, sits an art installation of hanging shoes. The more modern bridge boasts railings made of cabled wires that are full of the padlocks of lovers. The edges of the bridge itself are made of glass  to view the river below as you walk.

The driving bridges are also quite beautiful. The Dragon Bridge is made spectacular by the giant verdigris bronze dragons that guard either side.

This is a country that celebrates its poets and writers. They love their wine and coffee – and are quite proud of their number three standing among coffee consuming nations – and hike for fun on the weekends. They are kind, open people who enjoy being outside with friends.

Geographically, Slovenia is nestled between Austria and Italy, whose influences can be felt in the architecture of old, historic Ljubljana. A touch of the contemporary can also be found in recent repairs or refurbishments. It has all been added with care, layered in a way to blend and appreciate the history without disrupting the past. Old gas lamps still post sentry from the buildings.

Did mention the castles and views of the Alps?

It would be easy to try to compare Ljubljana to another country or city, but it has a definite personality all its own. It is fresh, youthful and inviting. It is familiar enough to welcome the most timid traveler and unique enough to entice the most seasoned. I would go back tomorrow. It felt like home.

 

 

A Natural Friendship

Today I met an alligator. A new one.

A little over a week ago I had met a few others here at the Orlando Wetlands Park; a pile of babies, some smallish – maybe teenagers – at a safe distance and one a little larger and closer than I was comfortable with. I quickly took his picture then pretended to be invisible.

I came upon my new friend today peeking through the water grasses. He at me, me at him. When our eyes locked he asked if I had a minute. I said, sure, but I’m going to stay here on the land and I ask that you stay there in the water. He agreed.

He wanted to teach me a few things. He shared some information about himself and offered quite a bit of advice on his observations of me. Terribly talkative and opinionated, but I listened nonetheless.

About himself, he shared that he was perfectly happy sitting in the cool water with just bits of him visible to the world and the sun. He said during warmer times of the day he may meander onto the bank to soak in some solar energy but that often caused humans to run toward him or away from him. In any case, the ruckus unnerved him, causing him to whip his big tail around and head back into the water. So why not just stay here most of the time?

He also told me he wasn’t hungry and if he were there were certainly much smaller and less combative morsels than humans to be had. He was telling me, for the most part, I was safe. I think he rolled his eyes a little here, it was hard to tell.

He told me it was okay to take his picture, I could even get closer as long as I didn’t make fun of him or show any disrespect. His skin may be leather but he still has feelings.

And he shared quite a fantastical tale about the millenia his people have roamed the earth and what they’ve learned and THAT’S why I’m still lucky enough to see him. He could have come off quite condescending, but I found him almost charming in a-conversations-with-a-dragon sort of way.

Then he started telling me about me. I listened at first with resistance but what he had to say made some sense and ‘his people’ have survived a lot, so I listened.

First he told me I did not have to fear him. And by that he meant I simply did not have to have fear. I should quiet my mind enough to trust my gut, to use my senses rather than my ego and all its programming.

He also told me I should go slow, take my time. Be the turtle, gliding gently under nature’s radar instead of the hare that captures the attention of all her predators. In going slow I get to have conversations like this one. I can sit and observe and wait for critters to come in and out of my view, watch the changing colors of the sky and become acutely aware of every tiny movement. “It’s like that when you’re still,” he said. “When you’re not moving you notice everything else that is.”

He reminded me that I too am nature, that I have the ability to adapt to whatever surroundings I find myself in and to know the differences. He wanted me to know that I am not the alligator whisperer, nor is he the human whisperer. He said he often talks to others like me, but they don’t always hear. Instead they spend a lifetime avoiding that which is not coming toward them anyway. They spend so much time walking a wide berth around a perceived threat that they miss the magic it may show them. That seemed to make him a little sad. Me too.

But then with a sigh as if to let go of that thought, he invited me back. “Come often,” he said, “bring friends.”