Indescribable India 

There’s simply no way I can put India into words. Countless writers have tried, succeeding only to degrees. I have enjoyed various reports – in poetry, prose, scripture, song and travelogue – but none can touch what is felt when you come here. And I’ve only been exploring for about a month. Many have immersed themselves for years and come up short of ‘getting it’. Fortunately I am not trying to figure out India. I am simply wandering along with an open eye, keeping my head, heart and hands as open as I am able. I am grateful that there is so much here to support this effort.

I am grateful for a culture that seems to prioritize a sort of ‘spiritual longview’ over shortsighted political whims. Although this also leaves a lot of projects on pause indefinitely – allowing considerable chaos, waste and decay – the general momentum is toward truth, a focus on that which doesn’t fade away.

I began this journey with nearly three weeks of group travel. Eighteen of us were guided from the southern tip of the subcontinent all the way up into the Himalayas, discovering some of the varieties and subtleties of Indian culture along the way. 

In Kerala we were hosted by a Christian family on the backwaters of a quiet fishing community outside of Cochin. 90% Christian, many in the local area were still practicing their faith as it had been introduced by the Apostle Thomas, others through the much later influence of the Dutch or Portuguese.

The weather was hot and humid as we visited churches, temples, mosques and even a synagogue. We were especially touched by our sharing with a Christian seniors group and an orphanage for young girls run by nuns. We shared songs, gifts and food, along with wide, heartfelt smiles. On one of our last nights there, we enjoyed a boat ride taking us through the ‘backyards’ of locals as we weaved our way towards the sea. Once out on the open water, we cut the motor and floated peacefully as the sun set, listening to our host’s story of his arranged marriage and how well it was working out (his wife and kids are incredible…and he’s pretty great too).

Staying with Ben and his family was a blessing. But even with our calm home base (Ben’s Homestay), it wasn’t hard to stumble into noisy crowds and blaring horns as we set out on the roads to various surrounding areas. One such adventure was a visit to a nearby elephant sanctuary, which we all deeply appreciated. It was a humbling feeling laying our hands on these mighty creatures.

Leaving Ben’s, we had a long and wild ride to Varkala Beach, getting caught at a pair of railway crossings for nearly an hour as vehicles lined up and jockeyed for position. Incredibly, heads remained cool. A major recurring theme throughout the journey was our amazement that there wasn’t any sign of road rage in India. Somehow traffic just kept flowing, however thick, as though there was a subtle understanding that we were all in it together. We eventually made it through the traffic and after spending a restful day at a cliffside resort, we flew up through Mumbai to Jaipur, in Rajasthan.

Suddenly I noticed a different India, with slightly lighter skin tones, more turbans and moustaches, some more piercing eyes and obviously more lavish architecture. This was the India many from the west would picture in their minds. The Muslim influence was unmistakeable. One of the major impressions I took from our time here was the inherently inviting nature of Hinduism. Throughout history it has generally welcomed visitors and invaders with similar generosity. Our guide, Sher Singh, told us about several pivotal Hindu intermarriages with Muslim rulers coming from the northwest, thus avoiding bloody conflict. The state of Rajasthan exemplifies this religious and cultural blend beautifully. I even learned that the Sikh faith was born of a blend of Hinduism and Islam.

There doesn’t seem to be much fear here that other cultures could weaken their own traditions or connection to the divine. This strikes me as a confidence that God can not be lost or watered down. Simple wisdom like this seems commonplace in India. I find it inspiring.

After a lot of shopping and checking out a few forts and palaces (even staying in an opulent hotel that was a former Raj Palace), we drove up into the madness of Delhi. My stomach was beginning to feel a bit tender and I ended up in bed with a full-blown case of ‘Delhi Belly’. I blasted through it in a day and was back on my feet early the next morning (thanks in part to the antibiotics I took half-reluctantly). Everyone told me I picked the best day to miss, as it was pure insanity on the roads. I’m sure I could have appreciated the experience, but I was grateful for the day of rest at the retreat centre. We then set out for our flight up into the Himalayas, heading for Dharamsala.

All of a sudden, the air was cool. What a change from only days before and the sticky heat of the south.  Four white van taxis and our new tour guide, Vikas, met us at the airport and drove us further up into the mountains to Mcleod Ganj. Apparently the British set up shop here to escape the hot summers down below. Especially the Scots among them found it a lot like their highlands, feeling right at home.

Much later, the Indian government gave a hefty chunk of this land to Tibetan Buddhists escaping Chinese oppression. This continues to anger the Chinese, but Tibetan culture is thriving in this setting very similar to their own homeland. I liked the feeling of life up in the mountains. The air was crisp and people seemed quick to smile. We thoroughly embraced the Tibetan cuisine, enjoying warm soups and momos, and plenty of honey, lemon & ginger teas.

We even had the great timing to witness Tibetan Uprising Day (the national holiday) and the great honour to see the Dalai Lama speaking on some Buddhist precepts. He has such a warm, affable nature, even in the midst of his deep contemplations. Our days sped by up in Dharamsala and it was soon time to return to Delhi and head our own ways.

A few of us were keen to come up to Rishikesh, where one of my favourite spiritual teachers (Mooji) was giving one more week of Satsang before finishing the five-week season. It was a true blessing to be with him and to have his very direct pointings towards what is important in life. He is here to remind us that we’re already free, loosening the apparent grip our minds have on our lives. The whole Ashram was continually permeated with very subtle and supportive energy, two-thousand people squeezing in daily for his teachings, which were live-translated into more than a dozen languages and broadcast around the world.

Rishikesh is undoubtedly an auspicious place. There are countless Ashrams and yoga schools here. There is a great tradition of people coming here to live by the River Ganges and centre their lives more deeply in spirit. I could imagine staying a while.

So that brings me up to the moment. 🙂 Here in Rishikesh, freshly settled into an Ashram after a week sleeping in a hostel dorm, meeting good folks. I’ve got some months ahead here and no rush to get anywhere. I’ll keep on taking it all in one breath at a time.

Sending love to all my family and friends all over the world…and anyone else stumbling across this post.

Keep it simple, friends. We’re not here to figure it all out, just enjoy as best we can day to day…and try our best to share whatever good comes our way.

How the Time Flies…

It’s hard to imagine that a month has passed since Easter, when I moved into my new flat. I kicked into gear as soon as I got here and have been putting in 30-hour writing weeks since. That may explain my recent online silence. I notice I am doing less writing ‘on the side’ after I put in my daily hours, even simple e-mail correspondence.

But life continues to open up in beautiful and mysterious ways. Even in the midst of what I might have previously called ‘mundane routine’, the stunning gift of simply being here is so clear. It’s crazy that we ever pull ourselves away from this simplest of truths, our very presence. We can never acquire more, nor accomplish anything greater than our own being. It’s already here – the true ‘juice’ of life. It’s completely free. Unencumbered. Unimpressed with our efforts and successes. Yet ever-willing to hold our ‘failures’, softening our hearts into their natural openness.

***

Last week I felt the earth move. Within the relatively small South American nation of Ecuador, I was about as far as possible from the epicentre of the earthquake, but it still shook my home and my body. I scurried about my second-storey apartment wondering where the safest place to stand was. I pulled on some pants and ran outside. By the time I got out, it was done. But it was a humbling experience. A valuable reminder of our tender place on this planet. I can’t imagine how intense the earthquake must have been for those closest to it.

Many people have died. Others have had dreams, plans and properties ruined. But life carries on. The support effort is in full swing throughout Ecuador. All around I see people collecting supplies and others heading for the coast in an attempt to rebuild. I see, once again, the gift of life at work in this. At once subtle and stunningly obvious – the connective fabric of love is driving everything, stirring each of us from the very heart of life. We want to help others in pain. It’s so natural. We want to help others survive, to rekindle their health and hope.

I suppose this is what drives my writing, too. Certainly at the depth level – just love expressing itself. But as it filters through my heart and my life experience, I want to support people on their journey through the mystery of existence. Having trudged through incredible density and darkness (all self-created), I want people to see that we can become free again (realizing we never left) and that we can dance anew in the land of our birth – pure levity and light. There are no lasting walls – they are all imagined.

By entering our softer spaces, by honouring our uncertainty, we can open into ourselves more honestly, seeing this ground to be firmer than all the concrete on earth. This is where life arises from. But we cannot hold it in the way we are used to clutching our ideas and experiences. This ground calls for a continual opening, a blossoming, stretching us out through our hearts.

I am grateful for the freedom to express my heart so casually here. As I move through my daily writing, I am often brushing aside these more ‘esoteric’ stretches, keeping things more ‘grounded’. But even this ‘grounded’ work is only a bridge into the spacious mystery of the heart.

It sometimes feels funny to be pouring myself so earnestly and with such discipline into something that I know doesn’t matter in itself. Like anything else in existence, my story is a vessel at best. Perhaps its lone purpose is growth – a snake-skin to be shed once exhausted. I simply don’t know. But the freedom from any need to know spurs such trust and peace that I can continue pouring love into the project daily without worry.

***

I also feel grateful for friendship here in Cuenca. Since I have been ‘working harder’ and writing more consistently, it has been important to be out and about around town, bumping into friends here and there. I appreciate my weekly writing group. I am grateful to have had the chance to share yet again at the Spoken Word event last week, and another chance to sing songs with friends at Open Mic. And I am grateful for the full house I had here at my place last night…hosting ten for a meal, six of us staying for games night. Cranium was so much fun! 🙂 And of course, lots of music carrying the evening along.

My dear friends, Zach and Kristen, are a wonderful couple that have connected me with countless other good people around town and I am especially grateful for their friendship. And there are always fun people passing through town for a month or a couple of weeks, and it is great to connect with them too! I love the community life here in Cuenca, even as I continue to value my solitude, mining it for its own treasures.

On a semi-related note, I think I can admit (with sufficient humility) that my guacamole is getting pretty darn good. I am looking forward to taking my recipe and patient approach home to Canada in the summer and sharing it with family and friends! Keep your eyes peeled for me, and have your taste-buds ready!

***

I guess that’s about it for today…  As ever, here are some more photos from around town, and out my window, and one from the couch upon stirring from a siesta just about an hour ago… 😉

Panorama from my flat...

Panorama from my flat…

Only Truth Lasts

All I want to do is serve truth. It’s the only thing worth putting my life into. And it’s a complete mystery. It isn’t objective. It can’t be held in any shape or displayed in any singular way. It can’t be figured out ahead of time. This mysterious truth pours through us only when we’re open, when we’re being ourselves. In the end, it isn’t complicated at all…only when we want to figure it out, or try to explain it.

Trusting it is free. I’m still talking about truth. This is trusting yourself, ultimately. The very heart of life itself. Anyone can try it. It will show you how worthy it is of trust. But you can’t taste it beforehand. You can only lean out and give it a shot. No strategy can follow you into this space, even if it brought you to the door. Everything must be dropped.

I have no idea what I’m talking about. Really. 🙂 It can’t be conceived. It is conceiving. These words just tumble out. And I feel so lucky to be so deeply HERE. Nothing else exists. The rest is just memory or projection. These ideas still pop up here and there, but the host is this moment. Always now. Everything rests on this. This is what all the true sages and saints and saviours are pointing to. Right here. Right now. Don’t miss it. (Don’t worry, you can’t…not for long.)

This truth is what Easter is about at it’s heart, too. Conquering death by accepting it. We can be born to something that doesn’t die. It’s who we already are. There are many paths to the pathless present. No need to worry about finding ‘the right one’. It will find you. Just take a step.

Surrender to yourself. Your true self. Not the story. Not the habits and concepts. Your mind is not the doorway…don’t be fooled by passing thoughts. (And don’t get stuck on terminology…catch the drift.) Only the heart truly knows. But it won’t show you any more than the first step. Again and again.

***

I attended Easter worship this morning in a beautiful community of locals and ex-pats. The pastor spoke passionately and the energy was warm and inviting. The music was uplifting. The smiles were authentic…as were a few tears.

The pastor had us hanging on a valuable question from the scripture: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” The angels had asked this of the women coming to Jesus’ tomb. I had never focused on this phrase before, but it struck me today with considerable force. It got me thinking about where I invest my life. I want to invest it right back into life itself.

I feel that what is destined to die is already as good as dead. We are wasting our lives by feeding death so much attention. Death can be a vessel at best. Let’s not confuse what is truly alive. Why cling so desperately to what will inevitably be taken? Let go and see what is realer.

Some come to the cross still hung up on death. Others rightly see the cross as an opportunity to come back to truth, to serve life from a deeper space of our being. Let’s invest in this truth, this life, unfolding in this mysterious moment.

It’s hard to talk about this stuff. The subject doesn’t lend itself to inspection and intellectual clarity. The path of truth is unique for all. It’s usually obscure. We can’t seize it as we do normal objects and ideas. We are pointing back to ourselves, in THIS moment, right now – never to be captured. But we can allow ourselves to be who we are, to unravel a bit more, to explore our own hearts. This is where we grow.

***

I won’t go on much more now. The last few weeks have been beautiful, even when challenging. My writing routine has fluctuated a bit, but I keep coming back to the desk and chipping away at my work.

I have shared my writing at another Spoken Word event this past week, which went well. And I sang some songs at an Open Mic the night before. I have been connecting with new friends regularly, and seeing my path open up naturally…sometimes despite my best efforts. 😉

I am now sitting back where I was two years ago at Easter, looking out upon the green hills of Cuenca while writing. My then couch-hosts and now friends have left the flat to me for the next two months as they travel the world.

I just felt like sending some love and encouragement to anyone who may see this. That means YOU! Life is so deeply worthy of our whole hearts, our complete trust. Dare to lean out into the raw winds of change and let yourself grow. Become who you are.

🙂

Now, a few photos…

Ever Unfolding, Life Carries On…

It has been almost two weeks since I last posted and I am feeling like whipping through some of what I have been up to. Folks seem to enjoy hearing that sort of thing and I am happy to share of the life I am living down here. But as interesting as any of the events or connections may be, I feel it is important to honour the silence and spacious emptiness at their heart. These experiences call for no greater investment than a simple passing smile.

Similarly, we need not aspire to be more than we are nor acquire any more than we have. We are already maximal, both in terms of experience and stuff. Our lives are spilling abundance, usually in unseen ways. To simply honour our hearts and be fully ourselves is the highest good. The ‘joy of being’ spreads effortlessly, igniting others. We need not manage or manipulate it.

***

I had the pleasure of sharing a small portion of my memoir with a group of writers and other keen listeners at a Spoken Word event a couple of Thursdays back. I met some great people there and I was happy that my work was so well-received. I was invited to another writer’s group (which meets weekly) where we share feedback on whatever we may be working on at the moment. I enjoyed my first session with this group and look forward to attending regularly while I am down here.

A young couple I met at the Spoken Word event invited me for dinner last night to their gorgeous property just outside of town. They live on a small farm-like patch of land by the mighty river and we enjoyed good company and food mostly plucked from their garden. Zach and Kristen, both from the United States, are living on the property with a few good friends. I look forward to future visits with them.

It was great to connect with them at just the same time as my friend, Keith, headed south for Vilcabamba. We had been running mates for the month of February (which was wonderful) and I have been spreading my social wings a bit more widely since he wandered on.

I promptly moved into the charming (and very affordable) flat where Keith had been living atop our Spanish school. I found out a day later that Zach had lived here for about 6 weeks a couple of years ago. Another curious alignment. 😉

I have been invited out for a variety of lunches and tea visits over the past weeks, connecting one-on-one with various folks from writer’s groups or meditation circles. My hosted meditations continue to move along smoothly and quietly. I will host another one in English here at the school tomorrow evening.

Living where I study and work is certainly convenient. And it is absolutely quiet in the mornings and evenings, allowing me to write in peace. The work carries along steadily, pleasantly uneventful. I am grateful for the beautiful view here, always able to glance up from my writing to the surrounding green mountains. It is a big step up from my last flat which was essentially a basement with no windows to the world. Of course, there’s always a window within… 😉

***

After posting an ad offering at-home-meditations, I have had three private sessions and I am enjoying sharing in this new way, taking the practice of group circles and personalizing it as best I am able in each context.

I also attended my first free symphony this week and I was rather impressed with the quality of the musicianship. Apparently there is a free symphony nearly weekly here in Cuenca. I am looking forward to attending this Friday at a theatre very near my flat.

A young Chilean traveler named Rodolfo was welcomed into the spare room here at the Spanish Institute, my teacher (and the manager of the school) Mariana, taking him in off the street where he had been performing circus tricks for a few coins. He is a pleasant young fellow and we enjoyed a film night together on Friday (we watched The Revenant), first making some delicious guacamole to enjoy with locally-made organic corn chips. They are so crispy! Rodolfo will be on his way to Peru tomorrow.

I am settling nicely into my new flat and I am enjoying better Internet access also. After a chat with my Nanny earlier in the week, I was able to Skype my parents earlier in the week. We had a lovely face-to-face visit. It felt great to see and hear my folks (as well as my Grandma and Aunt Lynne).

I would be remiss if I didn’t also send a quick little ‘shout out’ of love to my dear (great) Aunt Irene and all of her nearest and dearest. Aunt Irene was set free from her wonderful journey on earth this week, now mingling with the stars and other loved ones in the great beyond. I don’t know how ‘beyond’ it is…as I sense everything is so deeply connected. Either way, I have a lot of love for my ‘wacky’ Aunt and all of her immediate family. I hold them all in my heart! 🙂

And, come to think of it, that goes for all of you, too!

Keep breathing and enjoying life, appreciating that all the friction is a necessary component of growth. Life just wants to blossom, and it needs to do so through you! So let go and embrace the mad mystery of it all…be torn open if need be…let the love flow.

***

And, as usual, here are some photos from the past days…including more street art!

The Journey Continues…

Three weeks ago today I flew home from Rome. Now I am in Ecuador, having spent a wonderful Christmas holiday with my family and the past week in New Orleans with good friends. I arrived to Quito a bit wired, not having slept much during my ten-hour layover at the Fort Lauderdale airport. I stirred from wakeful rest on a bench by the luggage belt at about 5:30 AM to learn that David Bowie had died. I am just now listening to his last album, released only four days ago on his 69th birthday. He was a true artist. His video for the song Lazarus is hauntingly beautiful. It seems even his death was a conscious (and brilliant) work of art. Starting my blurry travel day to the news of his death was quite a shock. I listened to his 1971 album, Hunky Dory, on the flight here to Quito. It spoke to me in ways it never had before, as great art will.

I received a very warm welcome to the city of Quito. I promptly pulled my sweater off as I walked out of the airport and hopped on a local bus headed for the heart of the city. I dropped my bags in my cheap (but clean) hostal and set out for a stroll. After observing some of the old city I bumped into three interesting and friendly people crossing a street – one bald guy carrying a guitar; one girl with glasses and a small percussion instrument; and another girl with a Ukelele on her back and the Ziggy Stardust lightning bolt painted on her face.

I instinctively said, “Sad news today,” to the girl sporting the bright red Ziggy bolt. I mimed a tear falling down my cheek and turned to be on my way. But the bald guy carried on the conversation and in no time at all we were on our way together to a nearby friend’s house to play some music. We ended up hanging out for more than five hours, including an interlude where Zuro and Sol had to slip away for a radio interview and performance. They are currently on tour with AhoFest. This is somehow connected with GuruDeva and some Hare Krishna folks. (The evening proceeded mostly in Spanish and various details were lost on me…though I held up pretty well for my first day back into it…) These artists were very free and loving souls. We shared food and song, laughter and dance, and many stories. At one point one of us realized that we were a completely mixed bag of nations gathered: a Canadian, Mexican, Venezuelan, Argentinian, Colombian, Ecuadorian and one other girl that popped in briefly…but I cannot recall where she was from. I thought that was pretty cool. Meanwhile, I was totally sapped. My body was done in from a full day of traveling and very little sleep.

I tried to get up to leave a time or two but it never really took. As we got into singing some songs and dancing I found myself lifted up. Energy emerged from the mysterious depths. It reminded me of the amazing week of music I had been wading through in New Orleans. Occasionally my feet were tired from good days of walking around the Big Easy, but the music always lifted me. It literally blew my mind how much talent was simmering there, mixing and mashing up together. Aside from the ridiculous Las Vegas-y side of life, the vibrant heart of New Orleans came blistering to the surface. It was almost immediately palpable to me and steeping in it for a week with good friends only accentuated it.

But all songs come to an end at some point, if only for a moment of rest. And our New Orleans adventure did so along with David Bowie and eventually the great evening with new friends in Quito. As my new musical friends headed off to set up shop for the night in a dental office (arranged by the girlfriend of our host, Luis, who works there) I hopped a bus (for 25 cents!) back to my hostal. I showered up and crashed, sleeping nearly ten hours.

Today has been a day of orienting. I have been to a few different parts of town and have begun to acquaint myself a bit. I even found myself in a few familiar areas, having passed through here briefly about two years ago. I will begin looking more earnestly for long-term lodging in the next days and perhaps soon head south to Cuenca. One lodging prospect has already fallen through (due to a high ‘lowest possible price’), which simplifies the selection process. I trust it will all unfold as it needs to. I will keep following my heart as best I am able moment to moment.

I guess I will wrap it there for now. I just felt that it was a good moment to post a quick word to anyone curious to know how things are rolling down here.

And I will also share the last photo (of very few) I took in New Orleans. It ties in to Ecuador nicely as well, as the rainbow flag is also found in areas with Andean culture. Some simple advice: Be Yourself. I imagine Mr. Bowie would approve.

Taken near Frenchmen Street, New Orleans

Near Frenchmen Street, New Orleans

🙂

Christmas (markets) in the Air

As daylight fades behind the crisp outline of visibly distant snowy peaks, the twinkling lights of Munich’s Christmas markets draw us in. People gather together in circles, smiling and laughing, sharing good cheer. What better time for some hot wine and sausage…maybe some french fries and chocolate to follow? Big pretzels and beer always seem to be in season here. Sounds like a bit much, doesn’t it? Hot wine? Really? But everyone here seems to be eating it up. Drinking it in, too. 🙂

I have shared in it as well, of course, minus the beer and sausage. And I have to say that it is all rather charming, especially through tourist’s eyes. Almost everyone’s eyes are lit up, whether from the booze or the beauty. Hand-crafted Christmas trinkets seem to be available from every wooden hut that isn’t selling food or drink. Roasted nuts fill the air with a special scent. Folks are out shopping in droves. They seem to come from everywhere.

Munich has been hosting Christmas markets since 1310. That’s more than seven hundred years! The locals call it a Christkindlmarkt – Christ child market. And not all of them are crazy about it. My friend Robert was happy to break free of the crowds and head home after visiting two different markets with some of his friends. But even he would have to admit that we enjoyed ourselves. As we left the last market I was taken over by all the simple joy of communion, wonder and anticipation. I felt so much love as I looked around, being washed by this beautiful and fundamental feeling as we made our way out.

But there is a flipside, too. I woke up feeling pretty flat the next morning. I had eaten a lot of bready and cheesy foods and felt sluggish and heavy as I arose. I hadn’t even been able to finish my little mug of glühwein (hot spiced red wine) but I felt the glow…and its after-effects. An early taste of the Christmas hangover. It just feels like balance doing its job.

So maybe I won’t get too caught up in the Christmas chaos. I can enjoy the twinkling lights and excitement as it passes without investing in it all, hoping it will bring me something more than the joy that is already here. There is already a fullness here – this love feels maximal. Why hope for more? What if doing so plants a seed of lack in our minds?

Of course it is beautiful to share our gifts with one another and to enjoy the presence of our loved ones – and anticipation can surely be a part of that – but there is a risk of getting caught up in ‘want’ this season. I won’t point a finger specifically at the capitalist/consumerist model of Christmas, but it seems well wrapped up in it all. So perhaps just being aware of this element of the season is enough to not let it take us over. We don’t need to go over the top. We can just enjoy watching it all unfold.

And this ‘watching’ can include pain and struggle. We don’t need to look away from it. There is no shortage of pain to see in our world. Walking the streets of Munich I notice a lot more beggars than a few years ago. They seem mostly like recent immigrants or refugees. Their pain is our pain, too. And we need not avoid it, nor judge it. But we can grow simply by observing it. We need not despair. We can feel the feelings and let them pass. This can be a bigger hep than we will ever know.

The ‘good’ and the ‘bad’, the pleasurable and the painful, alternate in equal measure in this life. But this need not discourage us. It can inspire us to be more honest with ourselves and to share our hearts with those now in need. We can realign our lives with the natural lightness of being, even during what seem to be dark hours.

We can come to recognize that there is a bliss beyond all that changes. It is our very being. All true celebrations of spirit – of any path, any person, or any religion aimed at righteousness – are pointing us to this very being. This purity. It’s right here – even closer than in our hearts. Everything else is temporary.

Let the light of Christmas guide you back to yourself. Don’t get so caught up in what the light seems to shine on. See from where it shines.

***

I will be home in less than two weeks now, and happy to be with my family and friends there. I am off to Salzburg in a couple of days and then back to Italy, perhaps as far south as Naples. We shall see. I have been visiting several friends from the road here in (and around) Munich, including two cyclist buddies I first ran into in Spain…and here are a few more photos from the past days.

🙂

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Life in Transition (Up in the Trees)

It has been another beautiful week here on the farm. The weather has returned to ideal conditions, favourable for olive picking. It has been a pleasure to be back up in the trees. We were loaned two machines to help us pick, along with some better nets. The machines are like long, gyrating forks that jostle the branches and knock the olives to the nets below. A friendly farmer, Michele, offered us his tools while he caught up on a variety of other chores on the nearby land he tends. He even loaned us a worker, Federico, a young shepherd. I had never met a shepherd before – not knowingly at least. He was a nice young guy. Fresh-faced and wide-eyed. He stayed a few nights here in the ‘worker house’, joining us for meals as well as a few days of olive picking.

We were very productive this week. We have already been enjoying the spoils of our labour. The freshly pressed olive oil is so delicious, with such a crisp and clear flavour, and a deep green colour. Apparently the leaves that mix in with the pressing process add to the green. The chlorophyll is still so fresh that it will take a few months before the green fades into the yellowish colour we tend to expect of olive oil. Whatever the colour, it is perfect for dipping fresh bread into at the moment.

I have found myself smiling and laughing quite a bit this week. Sometimes quietly to myself and at other times howling with my friends here. As I work in the trees the peace of the countryside mingles with the peace within (ultimately blurring any distinction) and I find it so easy to breathe. I can feel peace and express it so effortlessly. It just comes bubbling up to the surface. Joy seems so natural. It is strange to me that so many of us let joy become so obscured in our lives, and so rare. So caught up in our ‘serious’ stories. We seem to have forgotten that we can be earnest without being serious. It feels to me like joy is the ground floor. It’s right here. I wonder what we are chasing up in the penthouse that is any better than this?

I admit a view from up top is nice. I’ve been enjoying climbing the trees and looking around for a few moments at the rolling hills and golden light, the Cyprus trees and linear vineyards standing out in sharp relief. The trees are often fullest at the top, olives bunched together in great masses, and the picking is highly satisfying. The machines make quick work of it but I prefer to pick by hand up in the higher reaches of the trees, the branches supporting me with surprising strength.

Sun setting on another day of olive picking.

Sun setting on another day of olive picking.

But things are shifting again on the farm. My friend, Franz, who has been running the farm for the past fifteen years, has gone off to Cuba with his wife, Molly, to organize a few yoga retreats there. They will be gone for about a month. Franz’s mother, Nirdosh, who owns the farm, is slowly taking the reigns back. She has a very different vision for this space than her son has implemented over the past decade and a half. It is a tender energy at times, here, as life moves through the friction of transition. Some of the other workers (one live-in and a few who come and go) are wondering what their place will be here moving forward. All parties are wondering about where loyalties lie, and where they should. I feel like a free agent here, my only loyalty to love (which is also truth, or presence), and I sense I am serving as something of a bridge between others here, supporting open communication and any necessary airing of concerns. Perhaps I am here to be a witness. I don’t need to know, though.

Transition can be tough. That seems to be why so many of us hold on so tightly to our various life rafts. I see it at work in myself, every day. But I also have developed such a strong commitment to truth, through presence, that I am constantly leaping from my own ‘safety’ (or insulation) into the mysterious heart of life’s uncertainty. It is very raw and vulnerable out here. But unmistakably real. That is the attraction. No more hiding. Yet quick forgiveness when old patterns pop up. Breathe in and recommit. Release.

Life, when allowed, is a natural disentangler. But it first forces us to face our entanglements, not an altogether enjoyable ride. But it is ever-so worthwhile. And ultimately unavoidable. This is the process of liberation. This is how we become free of our limitations, by recognizing them for what they are. Perspective comes through the clear sight of all we are afraid of, all we are avoiding. We are nudged (or jolted) back to our true ground, seeing the impermanence of all we had attached ourselves to. The very ‘act’ (or ‘experience’) of truly clear sight implies that everything seen cannot be who we are. Consider this. There is a gap here – perception itself. It feels paradoxical. Can a tongue taste itself?

No need to figure any of it out. It is not to be ‘understood’, not in the way we often try to ‘understand’ things, anyhow. But it can knock the cloud from under us and see us fall back to the ground of reality. This ground cannot be conceptualized. It seems to be ever-unfolding. It allows no pause, and yet invites full rest. So come back to yourself and rest a moment. Take a breath. See where it may take you.

I guess I’ll come back to myself now and wrap it up for this week. 😉 I plan to check in again in about another week. I will likely still be here on the farm. But who knows?

Lots of love to all…keep it flowing. 🙂