Thứ Năm, 27 tháng 6, 2013


Souls First

“Thailand, huh? Did you smoke a lot of weed there?”

It is not every day that you turn to respond to this question at the Farmer’s Market and the eyes you come to meet are on the face of a cute little wrinkley grey-haired lady holding two arms full of recyclable bagged veges.

I was chatting it up with the Japanese guy who ran a little Asian market stand last Saturday, during my favorite shopping day of the the week (local produce and pesticide-free food really gets me going).

I had just recently returned from a 2 month stint in Thailand and of course I could effortlessly relate to each and every Asian due to my exposure of 2 south-eastern countries (sarcasm). However, we did have a lot to share about the use of ginger.

Anyways, Granny chirps up, uninvited, but largely welcomed and her un-granny-like story goes like this (nothing, and I mean nothing, has been edited or altered):

Hey, you liked Thailand? I just spend a few months in SE Asia with my husband. Wow, what a place. We loved it there. Did you smoke a lot of weed? Ya know we were on the islands and we heard there was a lot of marijuana so we said, hey why not. So we asked a guy at the restaurant.

He said, “No weed. But I have mushrooms.”

Granny is totally nonchalant telling me this story in front of half of the entire neighborhood I grew up with (by the way), most of which who are wondering what exactly I am doing with my life since bouncing between El Salvador, Thailand and Costa Rica. (I do have somewhat of a vision in mind, just so you know).

Anyways, Grams (I adopted her for 20 minutes) continues:

            Mushrooms, huh?......

Well you know what? My husband and I couldn’t get our @$$es out of those seats for 9 hours after those things. We couldn’t believe it.

Ohhh, we loved it that place. My husband and I.

But, you know what? You gotta be careful at those airports. They found 1 little weed leaf in my cigarette case and they had us searched for 4 hours. I tried to blame my son (he’s young and from New York and stuff). But they had us in that room for 4 hours.

And so went my 9am Saturday morning at the Farmer’s Market. You go looking for Collard Greens and you find yourself awkwardly trying to play it cool with a 72-year old pot-smoking grandma.
Moral of the story is NOT to do drugs. I don’t think that was Gram’s intention either.

That Saturday reminded me to smile. As it reminds me this morning as I wake up before the sun, preparing for a busy day full of papers and generally not the most exciting stuff.

You never know what the day is going to bring.

You never know what life is going to give you.

You never know who you are going to meet.

I feel so blessed to have been able to meet such interesting people wherever I go. It is through these interactions that we learn the most.

I get sad when I see so many people closed off.

I get sad when I see people treat our elder’s like “old people” because those who have lived the most have the most wisdom to share with us.

I talk and write a lot about this misconception of “separation”. We are all so connected. Everything we do affects one another. Most of those effects we don’t see.

For example, sometimes I write something, from my heart. I write it on this blog just to get it off my chest. This blog is my way of making sense of this thing in my head that we call a “mind” but which nobody really knows how to define. I write it and post it and then go to sleep, without thinking it has meant anything to anyone but me. And then a few weeks later, someone tells me “wow, your message really changed my day.”

Wow, that moment really makes my heart beat. I feel like I helped someone. And, honestly, I didn’t even try. I just shared my story.

Just like Granny did last Saturday. I don’t think she’ll ever even know that. (unless I stalk her down at the market this Saturday- which is highly possible).

What you do affects people. Whether you want it to or not.

We are not zombies. Maybe some of you are, but in that case, I don’t think you read blogs.

We have bodies, but we don’t walk aimlessly.

We are souls first, and humans second.

So maybe when you go out today, maybe you train your eyes to see beyond the crisp blue-business suits…beyond the plastic glove-wearing deli-man….beyond the smelly-loud begging-voice on the subway.

Maybe you see past the uniforms and past the conditions that brought these beings to their current state.

Maybe you can, instead, see the souls.

The beating hearts that we all share, and the desire for love and laughter.

It’s not so hard really.

And it’s not such a bad way to live.

Feeling connected, knowing what you do matters, has a special way of making you feel important in the world. Knowing that your words or your smile may be carried along as inspiration in the day of another has a special way of making you think more consciously about your day-to-day decisions. Feeling connected has a special way of making you care- bringing peace to others and peace to you.

It creates smiles and many times, laughter, which innately, we look to share with others. After all, what is the first thing you want to do when you have good news? Share it with someone. Happiness means little if it can’t be shared.

And, hey, every now and again you may run into a 72-year old pusher-lady. 

P.S. If you don't know the song, get with it:

Thứ Hai, 24 tháng 6, 2013

When You Can't Choose Happiness

I stare blankly out at the cars passing by the front of my house. The lights upstairs in the neighbor's house are on. A bird flies in and out of a nearby tree.

My mind feels numb. My stomach hurts. My heart feels as though it is drooping in my chest and my posture is uncorrectable.

I don't have tears. I don't even remember if I cried. My eyelids move slowly from exhaustion. Surrender.

I stare blankly out as the night creeps in and I don't remember if it has crept in slowly or was just upon me.

They say that happiness is a choice...

I have said that happiness is a choice.

But sometimes, things just happen and we cannot choose to tell our lips to part and rise and we cannot choose to tell our eyes to twinkle.

Sometimes, we wake up and the covers don't come down.

Sometimes, we toss and turn and we tell our mind "please sleep" but it dances with people and places that we don't want to dance.

Sometimes, a day that began vibrant and fruitful turns sour with the loud horn of an oncoming train set for collision just before it blasts a brick wall into pieces.

Sadness is a part of life.

And it does us no good to choose to be happy, in a moment when we are sad.

After all, if it were not for the desert we would not know how to appreciate the trees. It is part of our human nature.

Sadness is in me, as it is within all of you.

I have gotten pretty good at burying it down there, you know?

I put a lot of effort into finding the good; Genuinely. I wake up so grateful to see the sun, or my dog, or read a nice excerpt from one of my books. I feel so blessed that I always have nutritious food and to create a colorful plate each day; Sincerely. I wonder why I was chosen to have three awesome sister and so many interesting friends. People who support me in what I do and the sometimes weird life that I choose to live; Wholesomely.

I have gotten pretty good at saying "hey, bad things are happening out there. but there is hope." I have gotten pretty good at ignoring the "what ifs" and instead focusing on the "if you follow your heart". I have gotten pretty good at building my character, with meditation and yoga, with ethical choices and environmentally friendly practices. I have told myself that if I build a strong, peaceful me, if I take care of this land, if I show friendship and respect to others, I can have a truly happy life.

And, actually, in turn, things have gotten pretty good.

Or, maybe they haven't.

Maybe they have been pretty good all along, I just hadn't seen it that way.

Or, maybe they haven't.

Maybe, in reality, they have not been so good. And nothing has gotten any better. I have just gotten pretty good at things.

Because, today, my heart is heavy.

Today the sadness comes from a place where it hurts the most.

Today, I feel lost and in this moment; All I see is the dark sky in front of me and the neighbor's light on in their window. A neighbor I don't even know. A neighbor who works in their window, unknowingly lighting up my sorrow.

Sadness is not permanent. And I will not let it take so much of my day from me that I leave no room for the smile that may be awakened by my dog or the words of a sweet song.

But, I will let it stay for some time. I don't even know if that is my choice.

But I do know something.  It is trying to tell me something. And I am still getting better at listening.

Thứ Ba, 11 tháng 6, 2013

Want To Live

I fell in love many times over in the past 60 days.

Listening to my little sister speak Thai and watching her share smiles with the Thai people selling street food outside her apartment. The way she shares kindness and understanding with everyone. The way she eloquently speaks about her business classes and the passion I feel she shares with me for sustainability programs.

Repelling down cliffsides with her. Bathing in waterfall pools, burning our toes in hot springs and holding my breath as we (or just she) maneuvres across narrow canyons. 5am walks to “Coffee Love” sunsets with a trail of puppies at our heels. Green-tea-cheesecake breakfast and Fried Morning Glory dinners for $1 a plate.

Danni #1 and the way he showed me through his hill-tribe village. The machete he used to design our bamboo chopsticks. Squatting over the fire with him as we created a curry pot for the group dinner. Rushing out of the river before he could join me for a bath...

Danni #2 and our chats over fresh fruit and fresher coffee. The way he taught Muay Thai to the little blonde kids and the glistening of his chiseled body in the light of his fire show.

Tai, his big afro, nose ring and tattooed body. Hopping on his bike for quick rides to the market. Singing Bob Marley, Matisyahu and Amy Winehouse together on the deck by the beach… Most memorable for his guitar and the lyrics he wrote contemplating life:

Music is meditation, from my mind and heart. It makes people understand you. Sometimes, I talk like this to you. But sometimes I cannot talk to everyone at the same time like I can with music.

Coffee (very slight chance I’m misspelling) and the way he educated me about the beauty of the Thai king- the longest serving royalty in the world- so very admired by the Thai people and countries everywhere. A king who cares about the people. A king who visits the villages where the drugs rug rampant and he plants fruits. A king who makes a trip back to Boston to thank the doctor who delivered him. A king who cares for the people and remembers what life is really about.

The chats we shared about Buddha, as we kayaked to a tiny, secluded cove, where nothing could be heard but our soft voices and the tiny splashes against the kayaks. In Buddhism, there is a no worship of one God. There is a belief in the awakening of our true selves. Do you trust yourself? Do you believe in yourself? Do you honor yourself? Do you know who you are and what you stand for?

I ask myself these questions so many times these days. It is okay. Does it scare you to think like this? And, why is that?

Live not from fear. Live awake.

Did you know that “Buddha” actually means awakened one?

Daniel and Jeenal and how they dedicated a month to making our lives as full of light as possible by passing along with us the virtuous teachings of traditional yoga from The Yoga Institute of Mumbai, India. How it became easy to see that the man who works at the gas station is not a man pumping gas, but a man who lives a life of service to others; the greatest life one can live.

We can all live that life. Your gifts are your service. Everyone has them…don’t be afraid to use them. Don’t be afraid to draw, or sing.  To rap or to organize books. Don’t be afraid to say no to meat or say yes to home gardens. Not taking pride in your gifts does no good to the world. You were given them for a reason. Please share.

If you need to start small. Smile. The greatest gift and the best service you can give is your smile. If we could only see the affects of our smiles I think we would do it more often- to our Moms, our waiters, to strangers on the subway and even those who blare their horns at us.

There was a monk who walked back and forth to the market one day. Every time he passed one house, a man would throw dirt at him. Time and time again as he passed, he got hit with dirt. But the monk never said anything. Finally, at the end of the day the man throwing the dirt realized it was a monk at whom he was harassing and he bowed his head in shame asking for forgiveness. “Why are you sorry?” said the monk. I had the fortune to be able to have 100 fresh baths today.

Smile at others. Because when you reach for a hot coal to throw in anger, you always burn yourself first.

On the boat rides, many times I thought of my father. As we approached the docks at the end of the trips, I saw my hand reaching for the bow line and heading over to the cleats. Going out to sea, I sat on the front of boat with the wind blowing in my hair, and I traveled back to my childhood. The summers we spent living on the Hudson River. The way my Dad taught me to feel the breeze on my face, instead of worrying about the mess that became my hair in the salty air. The way he taught me that I am strong enough and smart enough to scrub a 42foot yacht down. That we don’t need to pay others for things that benefit ourselves by using our own hands to do.

I think about the song by Dido, “Always thought that I would love to live by the sea. Travel the world alone and live more simply.” And I wonder if that will be me one day as I close my eyes and I feel free.

I fell in love with Taro the dog and his sincere loyalty. How he slept everynight at the foot of our bungalow and not once did we even offer him a morsel of food. How he walked down the beach with us, but only until he reached the territory of another stray dog gang. But there he was, waiting for us by our beach-zone when we returned.

I fell in love with the sunsets. Every night a different painting. Every night an image that only the divine can create. Every night, watering my soul.

I fell in love with all the people I met at my yoga academy. My roommate from Spain and her calming presence. Stories of her travels and inspiration from her deep love. My free-loving neighbors from Germany and “Thailand”. Sweaty morning workouts followed by much needed laughter. The beautiful blondes from Norway and their insights about good food and farming practices- shared body art and a passionate birthday dinner. Soft souls from Mexico and Italy, accepting a challenge of language barriers with dedicate and positivity- teaching me about good cooking, Ayurveda and tranquility. My first friend from Luxenberg and some much-needed good humor and sarcasm. A little love from Korea, with a genuine nature that turned a-month-long-encounter into something that feels much more deep. And my travel mate from France and the ease with which we lived together for more than 5 weeks, most significantly our last 8 days on Koh Phangan- in a bungalow built for hippies. Sharing a bed that we often abandoned for hammocks. Spending mornings exploring the islands and evenings doing asanas in front of the sunsets. Learning through her experiences in life. Never feeling stressed or frustrated or unloving. Easy living.

I even fell in love with the ignorant travellers. The people who cursed our tour guide for “squeezing too many people in the back of a pickup truck”.  The people who did not return the “kap kun kas” and the people who ate at Burger King when there was real Pad Thai and fresh fruit on every corner. These people reminded me that every day is a challenge. A test of our patience. An opportunity to grow. A moment to  find strength to turn away from the dark side and thrive in the light. A reason to cultivate willpower. Because I have seen and felt such light so many times this month, but I know how easy it is to slip. So I ask for guidance in during these moments of temptation, so that I remember what I stand for. So that I get back up if I fall. And so that maybe others with walk with me.

There are so many things I do not know. And it is so easy to be scared. Or to give up. Or to live blind.

But easy isn’t always the most rewarding. Actually, it hardly ever is.

Many people have said to me, “Mexico, Thailand, Costa Rica…. You’re so lucky!”


I am blessed. I will say that. We all are. We’re all lucky, too, if that’s the word you wanna choose.

Because life is a choice. The way you live it is a choice. Nothing is harder or easier than anything else. Everything has it’s black and it’s white.

Do you think there weren’t days that I missed my family? Do you think I didn’t get sad looking at the photos of my friends laughing together all fancy at a wedding? Do you think I didn’t question my decision when I saw my cousins and aunts and ucles all together at my Grandma’s 94th birthday? Do you think I like the foot infections that come with adventures hikes and poor bathing conditions? Do you think I wasn’t scared to walk off the plane alone into dark, bustling Bangkok? Do you think sometimes I, too, wonder, “am I on the right path?”

Travel is a choice. Sometimes, I wonder if it’s time I give up on it though. It’d be nice to have my own apartment in one place. Buy some real furniture and decorations. Have enough stability to have a comfortable relationship instead of doing that thing where there’s whole seas between a boyfriend and I. Have a steady diet instead of searching foreign places for things that feel right for nourishment. Worry less about sanitation and travel disease...

It is a choice I make because it is what works for me. It is something I need to do to learn and to grow. I need to know the world. I know that it is part of me and part of my future. But it’s not as easy as you think. Actually, it can be quite scary sometimes to open your eyes that wide.

The point is that you choose what makes your heart beat. If it is holding hands with your lover at home with a dog at your feet- than that is perfect. If it is hiking through dirty hills and feeling the earth on your feet- than that is perfect, too.

Both are hard. And both are beautiful.

Just make sure you are living.

Be true to yourself and what makes your soul blossom. And don’t choose another path just because someone else is doing it.

Really live.

Not in the mechanical way where the media determines your outfit and your neighbors determine your income and a magazine determines what your body is supposed to look like.

Want to live.

In the way that makes your heart beat, echoing the drums of the world.

Thứ Hai, 10 tháng 6, 2013

Dear World

You are here.

I didn't have to read any further when I saw the book with that title.

You are here. I felt at peace and I smiled. 

The wind blows my hair across my face and I’m grateful no one can see my tears as I look out across the water at the place that felt like home, even after a mere 8 days. Ah, Koh Phangan. What an endearing ending after the perfect 7 weeks in Chiang Mai...

The ferry ride is bitter sweet.

Where am I going?

I’m not so sure.

But my heart is full.

It’s so full that it feels like bursting. It’s so full that I start to wonder if it’s right. How can my heart be this full, when I see so many others in sadness, in anger, in frustration?

But, no. I promised myself I would no longer live from a place of doubt.

Although, I have to be honest with you…as I flip through photos on my phone from the past 2 months in Thailand… I feel spoiled.

I feel undeserving.

I think, “why me? How did I get so lucky?”

Painted sky sunsets. Crystal clear waters. Smiling faces…from France, from Germany, from Korea…

 Each photo brings a thousand stories to mind.

Lucky. What a silly word.

I know that I am here for a reason. Thailand is not a place where I laid in the sand and forgot about my worries with a cold beer in hand. Thailand is not a Full Moon Party. Thailand is not a jungle of wonders, nor a backpackers haven.

Thailand is a place where I met Danni and Tai and they shared stories with me about their lives growing up on a tiny island. Thailand is a place where I sang songs at the top of my lungs to the strumming of a guitar with my feet stuck in the sand. Thailand is a place where I realized that I was home.

It is a place where I sat and I thought about life. Sometimes for many hours. Most times with tears in my eyes and an affectionate smile on my face.

It is a place where somestimes I sat and I didn’t think. I just felt the breeze fluttering my eyelashes... Where I noticed a bird picking berries out of the trees silently. Where I breathed salty sea air and I felt my body smile.

It is a place where I made a promise to myself to live more virtuously. It is a place where I said my home is my soul and my body dutifiully carries this soul that I share with the Universe and I need to know and remember that.

"Lucky. Undeserving. Spoiled."

What kind of thoughts are these? Whom does it serve to feel this way?

Today, I promise myself something knew: that I will live to serve this planet. Because I will be forever indebted to the beauty it has showed me.

Fortunate is the word. Fortunate to have perfect health. Fortunate to have inspiration, courage and support. Fortunate to be.

And so I promise you, world, that I will live the rest of my life serving you. I will live each moment with content. Smiling at my food the loving hands that brought it to my plate. Giving thanks to the beautiful company I have around me at all times. Bowing to the crimson sunsets and bright green leaves.

I will not litter. I will not steal food by eating more than I need to nourish me. I will love my brother animals and my sister fish, by not accepting a plate that was created in violence or dishonor.

I will offer a gift to everyone I meet, and that gift will be this smile.

Because I will remember Kaife, and how he taught me about Buddhism and the Thai king and how a life of service is a life worth living.

Because I will remember Vanessa, and how we made a bungalow our home and we shared deep conversation over fresh fruit breakfasts and light laughter over late nights.

I’ll remember the first time Danni said “no sugar? But why would there be sugar in a fresh coconut?”

And I’ll remember Tai and how he wrote songs about the lost souls, wandering his beach in search of something they’ll never find until they can learn to see themselves.

And so my first duty everyday will be friendliness, because I owe the world a thousand times over, for all the love that has been given to me by these Thai people. By my travel mates. By my family. By my friends at home. By my teachers, my gurus, my sacred books, my whole livelihood.

I look up from my computer screen as I swallow back tears and I take a deep breath, drinking in this most sweetest elixir of life.

Blue water, bright sky, innocent planet- I owe to you my existence. Please forgive me for all those times I harmed you with my unconscious decisions to walk in fear, stress and anxiety- printing dirty footprints on your green lands.

Lord, awaken me each day with light and love in my soul, so that I may remember to live more mindfully. Guide me in nonviolence, cultivating self-confidence so that my insecurities may not harm myself and others. Let me treat every living being with respect- if it shall be my parents, my peers, a stranger, a pig, a cow,  a chicken or a plate full of good energy.

World, have faith in us. We have created boundaries and separation, violence and pollution, fear and misunderstandings. But have faith in us. Because we are a race that is still learning and there are good people here who walk around reaching for hands to hold so that one day we can all come together again. Have faith in us, like I do in you.

I feel you in me.

And as I get ready to transport back to the other side of the globe, I am happy you are here.

Thứ Sáu, 31 tháng 5, 2013

To Be...Or Inter-Be: That Is The Question

To Be Or Inter-Be...

That Is The Question

Who are you? Who is Michelle? Adam? Michael? Laura?

What comes to mind?

Are you an accountant? A nurse?

A brother? A friend?

Are you a runner? An activist? An atheist? An artist?

Who are you?

Are you this body?

Or are you this mind?

Who are you? Are you sure of it?

I slept and I had a dream. I was the only person on the whole planet. It was just earth and I. The land was vibrant green, and the water aqua blue, there were trees and fish, free animals and vibrant sunlight. There were no buildings, no pollution, no factories, no roads. There were no others.

Everyday I would wake up early with the sun. And I would sit comfortably with my legs crossed and do nothing but breathe in the air Earth would feed me. When I would begin to feel the vibrations of the sunlight energy in my soul, I would then stretch and start my day.

It was just me and the earth.

For a moment, I was a bird and I looked down on myself, alone in the world. My footprints were but one matching pair. For a moment, I looked down on myself; so alone.

But then I looked down and the earth held my footprints and I knew she was there with me.

Later on in the dream I ran into another human being. At first I was nervous. At first I was unsure. At first, I hesitated. I almost turned away.

When I saw her digging in the ground with her shovel, I cringed and I put my hands on the earth and I said “but you are mind. And she is hurting you.”

But the next day I saw a flower where the girl had dug her hole and we began to talk and I was not afraid anymore. She, too, loved earth and I knelt beside her and dirtied my hands.

Many days we then spent together. And if there was ever a time I needed to share something, I looked for her footprints and I found her and together we walked on earth, sharing and laughing.

And then I said to her “I hope you never go. For without your footprints, I would be lost.”

But as the years passed, more humans beings came to planet earth. They spread across the countryside. They settled on different landforms. They planted bigger plants. And then homes. And then buildings. And then walls.

And I didn’t need my friend so much because of beings there were many and, anyways, I couldn’t find her footprints anymore.

At the end of the dream I found myself alone. I felt troubled by something in the pit of my stomach. Maybe I missed my friend. And so I knelt on planet earth, my eldest and truest friend, and she said to me, “Thee who carries in them, a bit of my light, in this time of trouble, ask yourself who you are.”

And now I am awake from my dream and I am sitting on a flattened pillow on the balcony of my hostel, writing this blog and I ask you all to be with me.

I would not be where I am today without each and every one of you.

I hope it would not take the world coming down to just 2 people, for us to realize and appreciate that we live in one another. We feed off each other’s energy. We share our eyes with our mother, who received them from our grandparents, and their faces would be what without those of our great grand-parents?

We carry another man’s labor on the shirts we wear on our backs. We wear a smile that we borrowed from a dog rolling around the floor on his back. We live in a body that is nourished by the fruits of our land.

So, who are you?

To be… Or inter-be. A bit of me lives in you, and you within me.