Popullution (…and Easter in India)

This place is absolutely crazy. I love it, but it may also be trying to kill me. So many people, so much garbage, set ablaze daily. Rushing through fumes to youthful tombs. Sewage flowing openly in the streets, often stalling, sitting in the sun baking, caking. Wild animals blocking traffic to nose through each other’s fresh faeces. Smiling men selling samosas and potato pancakes. Flies swooping relentlessly, spreading everything to everything else. Stylishly dressed women balancing heavy loads on top of their heads. Cars and trucks, buses and rickshaws, motorbikes and scooters blaring a steady staccato of horns. Bicycles ringing little bells. A small bearded man in orange robes, somehow untouched, chanting his mantra. I stop in awe to watch it all, breathing it in, then get choked up by a sudden stench and start coughing. My lungs suffer the brunt. I’m amazed they can take it. Some days, waking up is simply a chance to clear out whatever gunk has been cluttering them.

After sharing my first post from ‘Indescribable India‘, I have felt like showing another side of life here, a sort of balancing account. It’s a part of India I haven’t yet mentioned. Or maybe I just glossed over it.

My body seems to be deeply affected by the pollution here. In under two months, I have already burned through two courses of antibiotics. (And I’m the reluctant sort when it comes to that stuff.) It often feels like my body is at battle.

Aside from the quick bout of ‘Delhi Belly’ – succumbing to drugs for the sake of returning to work for our tour group – I have just recently been treated for pneumonia. Though I remain not entirely convinced, the doctor at the Christian hospital (trained in the west) told me that was the cause of my stabbing chest pains, mild fever and cough.

While my chest pains have significantly diminished, I still wonder if I simply tore some muscles doing yoga. That’s what a local ayurvedic doctor figures. Seems reasonable. We took a holistic approach and just finished a week of full-body detox; dietary adjustments, thorough daily massage (not that sort of thorough), oil therapy, steam treatment, ear, nose and throat cleaning, plenty of rest, and three days of warm oil and herbal enemas. I was simultaneously pampered and trampled. It was great. But I couldn’t trust farts for a few days.

Riding in cramped little rickshaws back and forth between my ashram and my treatments, it felt like I passed through dozens of worlds at once; chaotic markets, dusty streetside cafes and food carts, skinny kids rummaging through garbage, others begging for foodscraps or cash, shabby makeshift shacks packed with families, grimy auto garages, sudden palatial temples and freshly-painted ashrams, a father and four kids riding a single bicycle, traffic slowing to pass cattle in the middle of the road, sleepy fruit vendors trying to stay in the shade, wiry monkeys scavenging for anything they can grab, homeless folks with eyes full of life hanging begging bowls from missing limbs, boldly advertised adventure tour companies, a quick glimpse of the Ganges hosting rafts and bright flowers floating along, colourfully-dressed women carting large loads of who knows what, robed rununciates sitting calmly amidst the buzz. At once stunning and mundane, I continue to watch it all in passing.

As I move through my days here in India, I see how population amplifies every challenge facing the nation. And there are no shortage of areas for improvement. Pollution is an obvious one to focus on. Aside from the carpet of garbage casually laid out all over the country, waste is actually collected in some places. But most of it just ends up being burned. Once bins are full, they tend to be emptied where they stand and set aflame. A bit of pleasant incense is usually added to the mix for a more palatable blaze, but it all goes up in smoke just the same. I pass by several fires of various sizes every day. On cloudy days people seem even more keen to cushion the grey plumes gliding by in the sky. (Much like smoke stacks back home – notice they spew more waste on grey days, as though trying to go unnoticed.) One cloudy day last week, I could literally taste the waste in the air.

And yet amidst all this, life carries on. I am daily amazed to see real joy on the faces of impoverished children, living in conditions most of us would shudder at. Their joy is whole, if only in the moment. They don’t seem to be lacking anything. It’s so clear that the attitude of lack is learned, not naturally occurring.

I sense that the cultural belief in karma and reincarnation help people to bear difficult circumstances with a smile. Yet this value doesn’t seem limited to the Hindu faith; I see it also among the local Muslims, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs and Christians. It’s as though this sense of trusting one’s path is so deeply ingrained here, no matter how it manifests. I see people taking responsibility for their lives and working to address their highest calling. Everything else is secondary. I feel an inspiring depth of devotion in this attitude toward life.

I recall during my first week here, down in the south of India, seeing streams of people pass by my window early on the morning of Ash Wednesday. I was impressed to hear that almost the entire village attended church that morning before starting their day. ‘Incredible‘, I thought to myself, ‘so many people living with such commitment‘. I have been moved again and again by the level of devotion I see in India. Whatever the faith, people here are living it deeply.

*****

Having enjoyed a variety of Hindu gatherings here in Rishikesh, I was curious if I might also find a church to visit this Holy Week. I have encountered several Christian communities throughout India so far, though they don’t seem as common up here in Rishikesh. I asked around and walked around, not having much luck.

I did recently hear, however, that Christ himself apparently spent time in the north of India. He was known here as St. Issa. (Obviously not all historians agree on this.) During the so-called ‘lost years’ of Christ’s life, it is believed that he traveled east and studied with Buddhist monks and Hindu sages. And why not? After all, the wise men from the east had followed the stars to Jesus’ birth. These wise men, themselves, may well have been Buddhist or Hindu sages. Clearly the trade routes were well established between Nazareth and the near east. Why wouldn’t the young Christ want to explore other cultures and spiritual paths? It seems so natural to me. It even has a poetic sort of balance to it, Christ eventually journeying east, perhaps to see what the lands of these wise men had to offer.

It’s exciting to consider Christ having traveled here. It actually makes a lot of sense to me. His words echo a lot of what the Buddha taught, values also long held in Hinduism. If he were still here today (in person) I think it’s obvious that Jesus would continue to foster interfaith relations. He would challenge the walls we place between communities. The more I marinate in Jesus’ teachings, the more I see the unity of earnest followers of any faith. Beyond that, even the faithless are held in this wholeness Jesus points us to. He wouldn’t care about the mountain of petty distinctions we draw. He didn’t come here to convince or convert anyone. Jesus came to shine light and help us see that we’re already free. Heaven is in our midst. Let’s not miss it.

So, after a good bit of searching around town (online resources proving a bit thin), I ended up finding the only church in Rishikesh just in time for Easter Sunday worship. It was an Indian Catholic church and the whole service proceeded in Hindi, with only a word or two of English. It was quite an experience. We all sat on the floor on little mats, old folks and young alike, men on the left, women on the right, and the priest sat at a small altar at the front of the sanctuary. There was incense burning and candlelight being shaken by oscillating fans. There was a good amount of responsive singing and prayer, and some hand drumming. The communion was classic Catholic. There was even a baptism. I followed along as best I could, focussing mostly on the energy of the space.

I felt lifted to picture a nation full of souls connecting with the divinity within, each in their own way. And instead of seeing the massive population as an obstacle of any kind, I realized that there are simply more doors here for love to come through. And the countless challenges of life in India give everyone a chance to help out. It’s no accident that, despite the apparent insanity, there is such a special energy here. It calls us back to our hearts.

I came to Rishikesh about a month ago with a spiritual focus. After sitting in the powerful presence of Mooji – a teacher doing the same work today as Christ did in his time – I feel like wrapping up this ‘Rishikesh chapter’ with two short excerpts from a book of his teachings (White Fire):

“Many have long believed in the second coming of Christ, but why only second? Why not the third, the fourth, the thousandth, the ten thousandth coming? For each one who trusts in his words and is absorbed in his spirit becomes a door through which he comes.”

“You are not here to cope. You are not here to survive. You are here to bear witness to and shine as the glory of God.”

I guess that will do for now, friends. ūüôā I’m feeling about ready to press on, after a decent stretch here in Rishikesh. Except for a few days visiting a nearby friend and his wife up in the mountains (just outside of Mussoorie), I’ve been laying low here, healing, resting and meditating. Rishikesh has been a fine host. My simple Ashram home has beautifully supported this quiet time of recovery and continuing discovery.

I think I’ll hop on a train tomorrow and cast a slightly wider glance around northern India. First I’ll try my luck in Lucknow and then probably check out Varanasi. It may be a brief stop as I hear it’s getting pretty hot. I’ll likely continue east from there to visit Bodh Gaya (where the Buddha ‘achieved’ enlightenment). I may even slip up into Nepal. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll keep you posted once in a while…

In the meantime, keep breathing. I’ll do my best. ‚ô° And moment to moment, as life dances all around us, let’s see if we can notice what doesn’t fade away.

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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. ūüôā 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.

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