Liberated Living

Ten months ago I left Seattle with a very large backpack, an adventurous spirit, the intention to connect to myself and my partner, to find a greater sense of compassion for the world’s diverse peoples, and to let go. I let go, yet again, into liberated living. My practice over the last ten years has brought me to ever-increasing depths of surrender, starting with the first moment in a Bikram class where the Divine Consciousness very clearly told me to “let go, everything will be okay.” These words were repeated by a dear friend later that year at Kripalu as “Let go and Let God.” And this month as I finally overcame my lifelong fear of open water by scuba diving, I told myself over and over again to “Relax, breathe, and let go,” a mantra etched by hours and hours of japa repetition.

Often in practice we are looking for a state of consciousness beyond what we experience in everyday life. And while that has brought me more faith in my practice, the wider goal is bringing the experience of connectedness and Divinity into the waking world. In Tantra, the goal is not just to ascend and skip this worldly stuff. We aim to personally evolve, to be the best human being possible right here and now, to realize the divinity of body, mind, heart, and Spirit, and to live fully and freely. As said beautifully by Sia, “Welcome to the church of what’s happening Now.”

My last week in Koh Phangan, Thailand was marked with a Goddess Celebration hosted by Agama: three blissful days of self-transformation and worshiping Shakti, that aspect of the Divine which IS everything we see and experience. We were transformed into the Goddess – or better said, were able to see ourselves as the Goddesses we are and drop the masks which limit us from experiencing our wholeness every day. I will share many of these practices in the upcoming Transformative Women’s Journey.

With the transition back to American life this week, I take the time to learn and live the multitude of lessons life has thrown at me the last year around the world. I hold this year’s intention to appreciate, experience, and integrate life’s precious moments. The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali says, “All experience can either be for bondage or liberation.” May this summer solstice bring you the liberated living that you so deserve.

The Shadows of International Culture Shock

We’ve been here in the Philippines nearly 2 months and the last 2 weeks have gone by the fastest for me. Over the holidays, things really slowed to a crawl in terms of disaster support, both for our organization and the various gov and non-gov organizations on Bohol, the island in central Philippines where Circus and I find ourselves doing disaster relief work following the latest super typhoon. But January 2nd we all walked into the office and 2014 lit a fire under our collective spirits, in part because Rhonda, the full-time IDEA volunteer (International Deaf Education Association) who I was assisting, went home to be with her family, leaving me to become the housing liaison. Add to that the projects I’ve been trying to move along for the past 6 weeks and I’m a busy girl all of a sudden! It was a quick shift from doing very little to very busy days and long to do lists, often more than I can accomplish in a day. And then there’s the culture shock of adjusting to being any particular identity in Filipino culture.

My rajasic, workaholic nature is greatly pleased with this, and with feeling like I can really contribute to the houses and home repairs that IDEA is offering the long list of families in need. My more balanced, enjoy-life nature reminds me that I can only do so much and that life is not actually measured by how many things you do in a day. As many years as I’ve worked to re-route that samskāra (pattern), I’m still working on that. I still find myself becoming quickly overwhelmed, playing the martyr card (“Oh, I have so much to do!”) and even experiencing an inflated sense of ego and “my accomplishments.” Fortunately, I also get a regular dose, via personal or outside reminders, that I am not the doer of any of this. My morning meditations include a prayer of recognizing my emptiness, not being personally attached to outcome, and offering any “success” or “accomplishment” back to the source from which it came.

It’d be great to write a blog all about my yogic successes and how well I am doing at the yamas and niyamas (universal values). But I think there is far more value – for myself and my readers – in laying out the mistakes and continuous lessons learned. And remembering that, like the successes, I also have to let go of the fruits of my embarrassments and failures and not grasp or claim personal attachment to them.

Working in the IDEA office has become more enjoyable as I develop a personal relationship with many of the Filipino employees. For the first month, I felt very alienated as I really didn’t understand how to work with Filipino women. I started to read a book called Culture Shock Philippines from our housemate, Josh. Circus found a lot of poignant information on adjusting to the personal and professional idiosyncrasies of this culture and wrote this great blog about it a few weeks ago. One important thing we’ve learned is that direct communication between people is not tolerated here. I mean, really not tolerated. If someone needs to receive feedback, either positive or negative, it is NEVER delivered directly from the one giving the feedback. Instead, it’s spread like a gossip wheel, with person A telling person B, person B telling person C and person C eventually passing on the information to the right beneficiary.

I experienced this yesterday morning from the teachers at the deaf high school where we live. I was assisting Scotti, the American volunteer teacher, with a new Saturday program and was also asked to share a few tips on creating Project-Based and Out-of-the-Box lessons. I had a short meeting with the principle at 8am where I was told that I was not really being asked to teach the teachers. An hour and a half later, while I was leading an activity to the deaf high school students, I was told by someone who told someone who told someone else that I was being asked to teach the teachers and could I please come, now. I was in the middle of teaching the students, however, so the students had to wait. No hard feelings, no problem, just a misunderstanding. Later in the afternoon I was informed by that same 3rd party “go-between,” as they are called, that the principle had misunderstood me (she is partially deaf and had misinterpreted a gesture I made) as saying that I was not going to teach the teachers. So, in Filipino style, all was worked out, no one was offended and the information eventually made it to the right person.

Here’s the rub: I have been working for nearly a decade to embody direct communication. Every fiber of my being wants to be given direct feedback and to equally communicate with others. I’ve experienced that direct communication is really the best way to work through hurt feelings, vulnerabilities, share a work environment and personal relationship, and to not let things fester or turn into complaining, politics or drama. If you are a westerner, and especially a person for whom awareness and consciousness are values, you probably appreciate direct communication just as much as me. So I’ve found myself wondering how to fit in so as to be able to contribute the best I can to the local environment but also not play into office politics and gossip.

Here is where not speaking Bisayan, the local language, is actually a plus because I don’t have to hear the gossip that others talk about most of the day. And they are free to say whatever they want about me without me understanding or having the chance to be embarrassed or take it personally.  Even seemingly little things like whether or not to accept food you are offered and to make small talk before diving into a work issue can really upset people if you don’t follow social protocol. And if you do make a mistake, which I do every day, no one will tell you. The same is true, by the way, for locals and foreigners. They’ll just talk amongst themselves and deny there is every a problem.


Perhaps the hardest part is watching my own judgments about how detrimental that is to a society and not just being able to say, “that’s just the way it is.” I think there can be a happy medium of not playing into what I perceive as destructive behavior, even if it is the cultural norm, while trying to stay away from judgments or thinking my way is better. To exaggerate the point, even if everyone around me were burning people at the stake, I wouldn’t do it just to fit in. I hope. Certainly, walking the self-seeking path has taught me that fitting in is not really important, but respecting people’s choices and values and supporting wherever people are on their own path/culture/personal expectations/faith/etc is important. It’s harder to change the world if you’ve alienated yourself beyond redemption and no one wants to support you.

And now an uplifting story: A few weeks ago Circus mentioned wanting to play Monopoly. We live in a little cottage with Josh, an American volunteer, and Scotti his girlfriend who lives in the school but spends most of her daylight hours at the cottage. So the four of us hang out in the mornings and evenings with not much to distract us. And sometimes distractions are nice. Circus started looking around online and found a downloadable and printable Monopoly game. He printed the game board and Chance/Community Chest cards, downloaded the property values, and we borrowed dice from Dennis, IDEA’s founder and our “boss.” We all found something around the house for a game piece. Circus used a Davy Crockett keychain that the Mother Superior of Bellefonte Parish gave him. I used a small Buddha figurine. Josh used a Centavo coin, and Scotti used the cap to a perfume bottle. We hand-wrote the real estate cards as we bought them and kept a running bank statement instead of printing paper money. And it was down-home American fun! This morning we played for the 3rd time and it has given us about 12 hours of enjoyment. We appreciate it more as we had to make it ourselves. Nothing comes easy here, which perhaps makes it easier to laugh together.

I’m really trying to separate work from home, but that is difficult when everyone you live with you also work with.  Circus and I find ourselves talking about work every evening, even when we try to create a boundary. We share about our day, which inevitably leads to a discussion about the events and people, which leads to conversations about other work events and people, which leads to talk about building shelter, meetings, progress at work, the great need and how slowly it’s being met, colleagues, politics, etc, etc. Creating those firm boundaries is important for me, and that is on my new list of goals, especially as I decided to stay here for another month. The organizational team for IDEA’s disaster relief shelter building is quite small, 6 people including us, and I personally feel like my contribution is beneficial and in line with my personal mission and that of IDEA. I can’t begin to go into detail about the challenges, trials, learning curve, moments of connection, frustration, appreciation, laughter and tears that I’ve experienced on Bohol, but I’ll just say that I’m in for at least another few weeks. It’s been an emotional roller coaster and, as I was reflecting during my morning practice today, as long as I can return to my center regularly, I can handle what life throws my way. Even in those moments when I say to myself, as I’m sure you do, “I cannot handle this,” there’s that little voice that whispers, “Yes, you can.”

My Lifelong Fear of Being Still

As my partner, Circus, and I sail down the coast toward San Francisco, stopping at ports for a few nights here and there, the transition of being “gone” is a strange one. Usually when I move away or take off for a long trip there is at least a time difference – if not a great distance – between where I’ve been and where I’m going. This “going” is the operative word, as it helps quell my lifelong fear of…simply being still.

Maybe I’m used to the buffer of comfort in being in a totally different culture with constant acclimation and newness to distract me from feelings of home- (or other place) -sickness. But with more than a week of bumming through coastal towns and minimal distractions on the boat, I allow myself no choice to be present with what is. And that is a mix of contentment, sadness, dull excitement, some residual sea-sickness and achy-ness from boat travel, and the hope that I’m headed down the right path.

Often when there are periods of quiet and introspection, little sprouts of doubt and fear creep in, trying to disguise themselves as caution and rationality. Fortunately I’ve learned to recognize their stories – which are based on distrust of the ability to flow with the waters of life and accept what is given – as just stories, and not listen hard enough to change my course. I think I still have some trouble with just enjoying life when it’s not directly benefiting a big community or working towards some life-changing goal. For all that I teach about finding balance and the necessary beauty of play, I apparently still have some negative self-talk! And for this and many other reasons, I still practice every day as diligently as travel allows. I find in my meditation more space to accept the places I am growing and integrating, and the clarity to see the small strides that I make every day. Those little negative voices tend to recede when I don’t feed them and my practice lays the tracks that I prefer to be my habitual mind-speak. Namely, presentness and a mind less distracted by negative talk and self-doubt.

I found a book called Money, Sex, War, Karma by David R. Loy at a bookshop before I left, and its relevance in my life right now makes me smile. It’s about how the spiritual path doesn’t give us permission to sit quietly and “be spiritual” but instead holds us accountable to our actions and our everyday impact. Rising consciousness hopefully inspires us to understand more macro-cosmically (on the large scale) how every thought, word, and deed has an impact on our community of human beings and our Mother Earth. We get to make moment-by-moment choices about how to relate to people, where to put our money and our energy, and how all this affects our circles at home and abroad. I guess one of the reasons I like traveling is the tangibility with which I see those effects. And the moment-to-moment impermanence that is living out of a backpack.

Lastly, I’ve been musing over my life-long discomfort with living in the place I was born. I don’t know where this seed came from, but I’ve always had a gnawing little voice that said if I stay in Seattle my whole life – or even come back there to live long-term – I am a failure. I know that is a big, fat lie and probably even hurtful to my friends and family in Seattle. It’s certainly not a judgement that I impose on anyone else. In my current musings, I identify this as my silly little ego. These past few years in my hometown have convinced me that a life in Seattle is just as noble as a life on the road or anywhere else and hopefully has laid to rest that voice of insecurity and personal judgment.

Today we sit in Newport to provision for the next leg, perhaps to Coos Bay and then to California. The rains have stopped and the skies are gray with touches of blue as I watch the rolling ocean waves outside the jetty that our boat is safely tucked behind. It’s nice to have times of calm mixed with days of excitement. The days of integration are important for me to process, be still, and communicate with you. And the days of excitement are awesome!. Gratitude for all of it and for my patient, kind and fun-loving travel companions.

Choosing Partnership Over Fear

Recently, I’ve begun to reexamine the question “Why Am I Here”? You probably know that I believe everything exists for a reason, all at the right moment, and I trust that I am being led…well…somewhere. What I continue to be surprised about is that it’s not leading me anywhere but here. This is one of those truths that, I think, we “know” but don’t really know. The path doesn’t lead us anywhere but where we are; it only awakens us to actually being where we are. Through the divine medium of Love, I’m still here, in Seattle, in America. As much time as I’ve spent trying to be most other places, I’m here.

Digging through some pretty big barriers of fear, I decided to forgo my plans to return to South Korea and instead stay with my new partner, Circus, in Seattle. Together, we plan to go back out into the wild to experience whatever Life calls us to experience. Together. Together isn’t something I thought I wanted or recall asking for, explicitly. And yet, many of my teachings are based around surrendering to the divine through Love. What I perhaps forgot is that we are always offered exactly what we need and get to make a choice if we are ready to really take it, or not. I choose yes. I choose yes.

I wish I could say it’s been all bliss and roses since. When we are in the bliss of union, trust, limitless love and surrender, it is certainly bliss. But we live in everyday life, too. And in that everyday life I have habits and patterns I am less than proud of. (And letting go of that shame is high on my list of priorities, I assure you.) You could call it karma, too; ways of living that have been imprinted on my mind from countless previous relationships and experiences.

When you are doing what you are used to, things don’t “come up” all that much. And that was my happy, single, spiritual life. I have surely wrestled with the spiritual teachings of celibacy and isolation and have come out the other side knowing that connecting with another soul, or other souls, is a valid and beautiful path to realizing the union of yoga or whatever you want to call it. And it can rock your very foundation, crack apart what you think you know about life and love and expectations, and leave you falling into the abyss of surrender. But isn’t that the point? Aren’t we going for the “Beginner’s Mind” as the Buddha calls it? To see every moment as the first time, without expectations? Aren’t we trying to rid ourselves of patterns, habits, ego-grasping, etc., etc.? Maybe, maybe not. For me, I am reminded every day that connection – or reconnection as I experience it – is a way to see and recall the Divine in every moment.

They say Tantra is the highway to discovering the Truth – Tantra meaning the interconnected web of life, samsara, Shakti, experiential existence, as opposed to the pristine isolation of the soul. And it’s messy and sometimes chaotic. It doesn’t always feel good and calm and perfect. What I continue to learn from the amazing love I experience every day – from so many people – is that life isn’t supposed to be any one way and I’m not supposed to know how to “navigate” it. Truly living in the moment means letting go of what we think the moment should look like or feel like and just experiencing it as is, for the first time. Because every moment is the first time. No two moments are the same and nothing can be recreated or experienced again.

So I unpack what I think life is supposed to look like, what a spiritual teacher is supposed to do, and ask myself “Why Am I Here”? And when I let go of my own expectation, I come back to simply trust that I don’t know and I don’t need to know. Well, in a way, I do know. I feel when I am in line with my truth, when I am doing things that feed my soul and surrounding myself with people who challenge me to be the most compassionate and honest person I can be. I am here to experience and awaken and to share that with you. What I don’t know is exactly what that is going to look like. And that is certainly okay.

One of my favorite teachings is that the amazingness of life comes from its unknowable and unpredictable nature. Even on that day when we wake up and really realize that we are of the same stuff as all of creation, we still get to be surprised at what is around every corner, the beautiful people we run across, the lives we will affect in ways we will never know. And for all of that and more, I must thank you for encouraging me to grow more into myself, just by us knowing one another.

What spurred this topic is having to cancel some really incredible things that I had planned to do today – some of my favorite things in fact – because of a physical injury. So I am lying on the couch in the house I share with my partner, in a bathrobe, trying desperately not to feel guilty, and wondering how I can be what I am supposed to be, how and what I can really give to the world lying on this couch and feeling sad and hurt. This is what I came up with: to continue to share my journey with you, one day at a time and one story at a time. And trust that it’s all enough.

Is Non-attachment Turning Our Back on the World?

Non-attachment is a big part of what I’m working on right now. In yoga, non-attachment (sometimes called dispassion) is a very pivotal point. Does that mean complete detachment from life? From loved ones? From daily conveniences?

In my experience, it’s two things. The first is learning to be detached from the desires of the ego, the part of our mind that is constantly being driven by attachments and aversions, likes and dislikes, wanting and avoiding. The second is becoming detached from the fruits (results, outcomes) of action. It’s okay to have a preference for the outcome, but being non-attached means staying calm no matter the result. In the bigger picture, this means being open to what life presents and trusting that your steps are always being led in the best direction. It also means being aware of every moment and of why our mind is leading us this way and that: is it because the ego craves/avoids something or because we’re in line with the true nature of our Self? To figure out the difference, one needs to cultivate an awareness of every moment, every breath, and the turning of the mind. You can start with this breath and this thought right now.

Let’s take, for example, hot showers. What I’ve found out about myself is that I can remain perfectly fine with no hot showers** for, say, 4 weeks, but after a while I realize that my preference would be for a hot shower. This morning I asked a friend to shower in their room so that I could have a hot shower. Needless to say, it was divine. So in this situation, non-attachment means being okay with not having a hot shower and cultivating equanimity for my current situation but at the same time realizing that my preference would be for a hot shower and doing what I can to make it a reality. I love being in India and traveling in general, and I realize that there are sacrifices to be made in certain situations. However, if I can have a hot shower I will take full advantage, knowing how happy it makes me.

**Note: I have had hot water by the bucketful in many places and cold showers from a shower head, just not the combination of hot water from a shower head. It’s not that I haven’t showered in a month. And I wash my feet twice daily, which is a necessity in most of India.

Why I Quit Shoulding On Myself… And You Can Too

I’m trying to stop using the word “should”. I really shouldn’t do anything. If I want to do something or I have to do something, I will. If I don’t want to or I don’t have to, I won’t.

I’ve had 2 realizations as of late, as my time in Jeju comes to an end, goodbyes abound, and many travel plans await. The first is that I should really take advantage of every minute of being in Jeju and the second is that I should let myself relax more and not feel so much obligation. The realization I have not had is how to balance those two. Being present, or being “in the moment” is always my goal, but, naturally, it’s difficult when there is so much to plan and prepare and I’m constantly thinking about one thing or another. I’m sure this sounds familiar to you, dear readers, as it’s something we all struggle with.

Case in point: I had decided about a month ago that I would stop studying Korean at the beginning of July because it takes up time I could be doing other things. Plus I don’t really need to learn any more Korean since I’m leaving. However, last week I was introducing an American friend to my Korean study friends to match-make a new language exchange, and we all had such a great time hanging out and studying together that I’ve decided to continue studying. It’s not that I feel I should, I’ve let that go. I just want to because I enjoy being around my friends and I enjoy speaking Korean. Once I let go of the notion that I “should” be studying, I no longer felt guilty making the decision one way or another.

The harder case: not feeling obligated by Korean yoga standards. Every time I think about going to a yoga class, I immediately think I “should” go. Not that I want to go or it would make me happy. The particular style of yoga that I practice here is centrally focused on back bending. I like back bending, but it puts a lot of stress on my shoulders and neck and I’m still healing those areas. The unique Korean cultural view says we should all be able to do the same things, which makes it difficult to say to a teacher, “I can’t”, and the language barrier makes that all the more difficult. Sometimes I leave the practice feeling refreshed and relaxed, and sometimes I leave feeling horrible, judgmental, and upset. But I just can’t let go of the notion that I “should” be going to classes because of the unique experience of these teachers in Jeju and the fact that I’d like to be doing yoga every day, especially now that I’m not teaching anymore. There is the fact that I’m headed into 7 months of introspection and yoga study, which might make me feel better about not practicing now. But this is all based around the notion of what I feel I should or should not be doing.

This is such a good example of one of the fundamental Buddhist concepts: suffering. Buddhists and Yogis believe that suffering is something we create in our minds. Suffering is not what happens to us but our reactions to it. The way another person treats me does not create suffering; how I feel about it and how I react is what makes me unhappy. My feelings and reactions exist because of all my past interactions and relationships. Suffering is not something that happens to us but it is a choice we (usually unconsciously) make. The first step to eliminating this suffering is simply being aware of what our mind is doing. So that’s where I am, seeing what’s happening and trying to accept that I’m making myself feel bad (without making myself feel worse by judging myself!) Acceptance. That will be my goal for the remainder of my Jeju life.

I’d love to give you a recap of events in the last 2 months, but I honestly can’t remember what I’ve been doing. Working a lot, teaching yoga, hiking oreums, drinking tea with friends, going to the beach. The biggie was the 2nd Women’s Yoga Retreat (click here for pictures) that I led a few weekends ago. We had 22 beautiful participants, and we all worked hard, endured the monsoon weather, and did a lot of yoga. And now I’m looking ahead, but still trying to stay in the moment, each moment.