Another Month Done

It’s amazing how the pages on the calendar keep flying by. I am due to move flats here in Cuenca tomorrow and just realized another month has passed since I last posted anything here. So I felt like offering a brief update, covering the month in a couple of broad strokes. My morning writing regimen carried along strongly for the first half of the month and I am making progress on this curious project of mine. Around mid-May, I had the pleasure of welcoming a friend to stay with me and my routines began shifting somewhat.

Many of my routines carry on; I continue to study Spanish slowly, attending formal class once a week; I continue to guide weekly meditations; and I enjoy sharing excerpts of my writing with my weekly writing group, grateful to walk away each time with a stronger piece of work. Also, I continue to keep up with my playoff basketball on many evenings. ūüėČ I thoroughly enjoyed the Toronto Raptors’ deep playoff run! That was a lot of fun.

I like the balance of getting a lot of work done in the mornings and feeling free to relax more in the evenings, dabbling in casual entertainment and good company. I am blessed with plenty of both around here and feel fortunate to be so well-provided for in life.

Last night, my friend, Sol, and I went downtown with some friends from my writing group to enjoy a dinner out and the excitement in the town square. Corpus Christi festival was winding down after a busy long-weekend and the city was alive with action. The streets were lined with various sweets sold in stands and as the sky grew dark, elaborate fireworks displays were set off in the main plaza. Several bamboo towers were outfitted with bright colours, spinning wheels and other bells and whistles, each setting off explosions in sequence (though not too rigidly sequenced), squealing alongside bands blowing their horns. Cuenca seems keen on celebrating anything with festivals in the streets.

The night before, after my friend, Sol, hosted a great singing workshop in town, we hosted our friends Zach and Kristen for a night of dinner and music. I love jamming with friends here, sharing our own songs and covering others, learning together, banging a drum or blowing a harmonica alongside our guitars and Venezuelan cuatro.

Last week, we joined a Sunday drum circle, which was great fun. About a dozen of us met in a big park and one guy brought a great variety of djembes, hand-drums and other percussive toys, opening the floor to any and all to join in. Many folks stopped to watch and some even joined in, staying for a while or soon wandering on. It was a great afternoon.

These sorts of opportunities to connect with folks in easy ways seem so plentiful here in Cuenca. I love so much about the life here, and can easily imagine returning in the future to spend more time enjoying the simple joys that seem so available here.

I only have one more full month here for now, though, that being June. I am moving from my great flat on the outskirts of town to a more central place tomorrow and will then make my way north for the flight home from Bogota.

As ever, here is a little taste of life in a photo mosaic. ūüôā

Keep enjoying life as best you can and being gentle with all you meet!

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! ūüôā 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… ūüėČ

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. ūüôā 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. ūüėČ

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.

ūüôā

Now, a few photos…

Never Too Busy to Sit Still

Time sure seems to be flying by down here in Cuenca. I was hoping to get a new post up a few days ago but my last week has been surprisingly busy. Even though my friend Keith is on his way over here for a movie night, I feel¬†like sharing news with all who care to hear of it. ¬†So I will rattle off¬†a quick update for the moment…

I am keeping up with my morning writing routine, of course, but my days have otherwise filled out with a variety of activities. There is no shortage of opportunity to meet people and get involved with various¬†groups around town. ¬†Some meet weekly, others monthly, and after dabbling in a number of different groups, I am even leading my own weekly event. ¬†I mentioned last time that I was planning to lead a meditation at my Spanish school…what I didn’t know then is that it would actually be IN Spanish!

Last Thursday came around and I learned that none of the people coming for the Friday meditation spoke English.  It ended up being a great opportunity to share in a new way.  I had a chance to get somewhat prepared, translating and writing down a few things I tend to mention when I lead a meditation.  Last night I led another meditation in Spanish and it went even better the second time around. We will be continuing them every Friday evening at my Spanish school.

After having joined a Gringo group for two weeks of meditation, I was invited to lead it this last week. We had about 22 or 23 there and the mood was very receptive. I have been blessed to connect with some special souls there.  I am beginning another weekly night of meditation this coming Monday, hosting one in English at my Spanish school. We will see if that also becomes a regular event.

This past Monday I went to an Open Mic, having missed it the previous week. I met some interesting characters and felt very welcome, enjoying a number of nice conversations, but I didn’t fall in love with the atmosphere. I ducked out early and doubt I will return..but you never know. There is another Open Mic on Wednesdays and I think I will check it out after meditation this coming week.

***

In the midst of these various meditations, I managed to secure my Visa extension this last week. After reading about potential delays and various hurdles others had encountered, I was surprised that the process opened up so effortlessly for me. I had built it up to be more than it was. There was a lot of paperwork to do, which I had to wade through slowly, but it was over in a matter of days. Now I can legally stay in Ecuador until early August. Having overstayed previous visas (once by nearly a year), I am feeling good about respecting the process this time around.

I found out that the writing group I sat in on a couple of weeks ago is hosting a Spoken Word event this Thursday and I have been invited to share an excerpt from my book. I chose a portion of the introduction and I look forward to letting it out into the air. I imagine it will be a fun evening.

In the interest of ‘keeping it real’, I will share that I am also dealing with a case of Montezuma’s Revenge…or as my buddy Keith is calling it, ‘The Aztec Two-Step’. I have been through a round of antibiotics (something I am not fond of doing) and I am hoping it will resolve itself shortly. It seems to be a normal part of life here…nothing too serious. And it is surely worth it as a trade-off for all the other joys of life here.

***

Beneath all these details of daily events is the more important undercurrent of silence that gives rise to everything. I have been bathing in this silence more deeply than ever before (so to speak) and it continues to blossom forth from my heart. I am learning to stop and honour it more consistently, always grateful that its invitation is endlessly available.

I sincerely hope that all of you can take a moment to give yourself the gift of your own silence. Even an apparently noisy mind can’t stop this inner quiet. It is almost like a sense of ‘seeing’ that resides deep beneath everything else buzzing about. We are closer to it than we can know. Indeed this ‘seeing’ – this space, this silence, this being of ours – holds all ‘knowing’, along with all other passing phenomenon. Relax. Pay attention.

***

Here is a bit more street art from around town:

And one night we happened upon a traditional Quechua dance (and human tower):

IMG_20160213_174338

Ciao for now everyone!

ūüôā

First Full Week in the Rhythm

The week has passed swiftly and I am developing a decent work routine. ¬†Instead of the 5 AM wake-up call which I held to firmly during my previous longer stint of work on this project, I have been getting up at 6 AM. ¬†That seems to be working well. ¬†I drink a big bottle of water and then do roughly half an hour of yoga (starting slowly). ¬†Then I sit still for half an hour and watch my body and thoughts do what they do (AKA meditation). ¬†And by about 7 AM it is time to sit down and write. ¬†This involves a lot of reading, in fact. ¬†I am in editing mode and trying to thin the crop of words I gathered in my earlier work. ¬†Some days move quickly, others a bit more slowly. ¬†I get to laugh at some of the terrible garbage I wrote earlier (in some cases nearly as long as five years ago!), which makes for easy cutting. ¬†I do at least three hours each morning, usually more. ¬†Then I tend to check my email and get some oatmeal started. ¬†I add some banana, raisins, chia and flax seeds to sweeten the mix…occasionally even some strawberries. ūüôā

I have been keeping an eye online for local Gringo gatherings, keen to see what the city has on offer. ¬†On Tuesday I attended a local writer’s group. ¬†It was basically a little writing workshop, with about 15-20 different writers there. ¬†We talked about writing great beginnings. ¬†I shared a bit about my story and made some good contacts. ¬†I look forward to continued involvement with this group. ¬†I am hoping to share an excerpt of my current work at an upcoming evening of ‘Spoken Word’ where various kinds of writing are being shared.

On Wednesday evening I attended a group meditation and discussion about ‘spiritual growth’. ¬†It was hosted by a local Gringo couple. ¬†There were about 25 in attendance and the energy of the meditation was particularly potent. ¬†They are continuing this event weekly and I will surely be a regular attendee. ¬†The mood was beautiful and we gathered for snacks afterwards. ¬†The guacamole was perhaps the best I have ever had. ¬†(As it happens, guacamole has been a large part of my diet this week. ¬†The avocados are so fresh and cheap that it is hard to pass up…)

On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons I have Spanish class.  My teacher, Mariana, is one of the sweetest women I have ever met.  Her two sons usually come by during our lessons (nearer the end of her workday) and they wait patiently for us to finish up before they head home together.  Every day I try to read over some of the work I have done thus far in order to keep it fresh in my mind.  I practice fairly casually.  (I skipped the weekend.)

As I was speaking with Mariana (in Spanish) about my interest in sharing guided meditations, she invited me to host them at the school.  It looks like we will start this Friday afternoon and keep them going weekly.  This is a great opportunity and I love to share in this way.  I am grateful it is all unfolding so naturally.

We held off on starting the meditations last Friday as I had a dentist appointment. ¬†It went well. ¬†I still can’t believe it only cost $15. ¬†The dentist was very thorough, cleaning my 10-year build up of plaque. ¬†He says I have terrific teeth and great overall mouth health. ūüėÄ ¬†That was nice news. ¬†I have still never had a cavity…a bit surprising considering all the sugar I used to eat!

Before I sat down to write this little update I was on my way to an Open Mic night down in the old city centre. ¬†I found out (after waiting a while) that the buses are not running today. ¬†Fortunately the Open Mic is a weekly event, so I will likely be in attendance fairly regularly. ¬†It finally occurred to me as I waited for the bus that today is a holiday. ¬†Carnival season has officially kicked off and the streets are filled with the voices of kids running around instead of the regular rumbling of buses. ¬†Lots of water balloons are flying through the air, as well as bags of flour and plenty of foam spray. ¬†The kids seem to be enjoying themselves. ¬†I haven’t been too seriously attacked yet.

Throughout my week’s activities I have been hanging out a fair bit with a cool guy from New Jersey named Keith. ¬†We met in the first hostel I stayed at in town and then bumped into one another again in the last hostel I stayed at before moving to my flat. ¬†He is hanging around Cuanca for a while and we often grab a bite to eat together at Govinda’s¬†or walk to the market to shop for incredibly cheap (mostly organic) produce. ¬†We shared a meal and a movie on Friday night. ¬†(Trumbo was a pretty good flick…) ¬†It is nice to have a running mate as I acquaint myself with the city. ¬†We are planning a hike in the national park some day this week.

He and I both enjoy the local street art.  Some of it seems to be sanctioned by the city and most of it is more standard graffiti but I love it all.  Keith has been amassing a greater collection of photos than I but here is a peek at some of my harvest this week:

I guess that will be it for now.  I will keep you posted on how things unfold.

Hugs all around!  Enjoy yourselves!

ūüôā

 

Getting Settled in Cuenca

I cleaned my new apartment this afternoon and it feels great! I gave a thorough dusting and sweeping to just about every surface and then took the mop through every inch of the place. It is feeling especially fresh. I had a shower afterwards to top it all off. Now I think I will have a spinach and avocado salad (with some peppers and olive oil) and settle in for a relaxing evening.

But first I wanted to send a quick hello to anyone who might come upon this. ūüôā Hi! Life in Ecuador is unfolding fairly smoothly so far. Aside from a serious sunburn up at Cotopaxi (reminding me of the necessary respect for the sun at altitude) and a wee bout of Montezuma’s revenge, I have had rather good fortune.

Sunrise at Cotopaxi

On my first day here in Cuenca I not only found a great Spanish school but also the flat that I moved into. It was an unplanned day that opened up effortlessly. I walked from my hostel and dropped almost all of my laundry off to be cleaned (for $2.60!), wandered on and then bumped into The Spanish Institute of Cuenca where I was given an hour-and-a-half free lesson and put in touch with a woman who had a vacant flat. I met with her about an hour later and rode the city bus (for 25 cents!) up to her place to have a look. We are on the northeastern edge of Cuenca and it is rather quiet up here compared to downtown. There is a eucalyptus forest just behind my house and I tend to go out and sit there after my morning writing to enjoy a banana for breakfast. (Is a three-day sampling pool enough to indicate tendency?  Why not?) I saw some cattle grazing there this morning. It is a peaceful spot overlooking the city.

Eucalyptus

Cuenca is a gorgeous city. It is very safe and quite friendly. I can see why there are so many ex-pats down here. The climate is ideal. It is usually about 22 degrees Celsius in the afternoon (occasionally a bit warmer, but not much) and things cool off at night. I can comfortably wear a sweater once the sun goes down, though I have survived without. The cost of life here is obviously a lot less than in North America, though I hear from some of the older ‘gringos’ that the prices have been climbing a lot in the last years as more retirees (both young and old) catch on to the place. The downtown is a UNESCO World Heritage site, the colonial architecture being a big draw for tourists. There are several incredible cathedrals and a handful of other impressive government buildings standing out from the already charming standard structures throughout the city. It certainly has character.

View from Spanish School

I have met a handful of folks already and joined many for meals here or there, whether connecting through hostels (before moving into my flat), buses, or Spanish school. It seems like a very social city. The other day I bumped into an American guy I had met at a country hostel near Cotopaxi Volcano a week before and we sat in the town square playing guitar and harmonica for a couple of hours, being joined by a few locals and passing the guitar around to share songs. It was a lot of fun and we moved through a lot of different styles. Pedro, one of the locals, had a hankering for Cat Stevens and John Denver. We obliged him.

I have arranged to get my teeth cleaned next week and I am actually rather keen. It has probably been nearly ten years since my last proper cleaning, ever since my insurance knocked off after graduating. I heard from a friend that they speak terrific English there (although my Spanish is progressing) and that it only costs $15 US. And it isn’t the hygienist who administers the cleaning but the actual dentist! Imagine that.

So, I am only just getting settled into a routine but things are moving along nicely and I imagine I will be down here until sometime in mid-summer. I hope to have mostly productive mornings and then enjoy the culture and life of the city and surroundings in my afternoons. I have already found a great vegetarian restaurant (Govinda’s) where I get a hearty and healthy lunch for $3 flat – soup, salad, rice, veggies, beans and juice!

There is a lot of interesting music and street art to be found here as well. Though I ¬†have yet to check it out, I hear there are a number of nice hikes in nearby Las Cajas National Park. I am told there are thermal baths not far away…and some Incan ruins to look through too. So I am sure I will have lots of exploring to do…

Curious Street Art

I guess that will do for now…enjoy life everyone! It’s free.

ūüôā

A Brief Reflection on Resilience

resilience

Meditation is a valuable tool to keep ourselves fresh. It can ready us for difficult tasks, calming our minds and bodies as we face life’s challenges. I am consistently amazed at the peace and perspective even twenty minutes on my cushion can offer. It doesn’t matter if I have been caught up in my mind chasing my tail for hours, when I sit down for a few quiet minutes everything can fall into place effortlessly. I am endlessly grateful for the resilience I have discovered through meditation. All it takes is a simple recognition to realize the benefits of this gift.

We all have access to this resilience, of course. Every second is a fresh start. But many of us so thoroughly busy ourselves that we seldom give our resilience a chance to ripen. We feel beaten down by life, too exhausted to do what we want. We hope to recover, at best, and usually just enough to make it through another onslaught of a day. But we need not feel deflated or defeated. All we ever have to do Рand indeed all we ever can do Рis start from right here. This is incredibly liberating in its utter simplicity.

Here we stand. We are free. We can choose how to live, how to express ourselves. We need not let our past dictate our actions today. There is no such thing as failure. We can step out to see for ourselves. Everything leads to further learning and growth. Believing in the finality of failure is only a limited view of the truth. In the long run it is only an idea.

So wipe the slate clean and have another crack at your dream. Work out the will of your heart. On this path you can only go right.

Be easy.

ūüôā