Archives for posts with tag: meditation
Swayambhunath Temple, Kathmandu

Swayambhunath Temple, Kathmandu

(Two weeks have passed and I finally feel as if my brain cells are lining up again. At least, in a more American, Pacific Standard Time, conventional way. I have been feeling as if I were driving in the fast lane with everyone shooting past at 75mph, my gear shift broken off in second and I’m left maxing out at 30mph. After stumbling around wondering what day it was, and mumbling “amazing” over and over again like a mantra, I am starting to feel as if I am rising from the depths of another world, still somewhat floating and disconnected, but surfacing back into familiar territory. 

This is my attempt to put into words what there may be no words for. This is my leap at calling back a part of myself that will always remain behind.)

Along the Way, Kathmandu, Nepal

Along the Way, Kathmandu, Nepal

 

Maybe it was for the best that the trip started out in the most populated and crushingly chaotic city in Nepal. Maybe it was no accident that after a red-eye flight to NY, three non-stop swirling days of intense emotions and conversations with the ghosts of my childhood while I helped bury my grandmother, followed by a layover in a surreal landscape with red chalky dust sprinkled over sparkling silver buildings and a lashing Arabic tongue, that I am dropped onto the bustling streets of Kathmandu. I am met with a city piled high with neatly stacked textiles and copper pots, rows of marigold necklaces and strewn rotting garbage.

 

Roadside View, Kathmandu, Nepal

Roadside View, Kathmandu, Nepal

The air is thick with diesel fumes, alluring spices, burning garbage and the occasional assaulting whiff of sewage. Any residual melancholic thoughts that I have are shoved to the back of my being as car horns, the melodic caterwauling of music and police whistles jab their way in. It is the morning of our first day in Nepal and tomorrow is Dipawali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. In addition to the standard flood of tourists, shopkeepers, schoolchildren, cows, dogs, monkeys (monkeys?!?) and chickens making their way along the streets, extended family members are returning home, and everyone must stop to pick up festival supplies. Colors bleed out of the stalls and doorways. Rickshaws, scooters and mopeds ding, beep and honk as they whiz past close enough for me to feel a breeze on my skin. Kathmandu is a white water stream of demented consciousness and I am riding its mind.

8:00am Kathmandu Bazaar, Kathmandu, Nepal

8:00am Kathmandu Bazaar, Kathmandu, Nepal

We start at the Bazaar in the center of Kathmandu in order to get the full-frontal of what a city enmeshed in festival furor looks like. Movement in this city, whether it is the constant parade of people on the streets and in the alleys, or the transports that cough their way around town, is a study in controlled chaos. As far as I can tell there are no street signs, no traffic lights and yet everyone makes their way to their destination. It reminds me of standing on a bridge as a child and tossing sticks and leaves into the torrent of a bursting springtime creek below. Unseen currents carry the objects here and there, with some getting caught in invisible whirlpools in the center, but eventually everything makes its way downstream.

Diwali Necklaces, Kathmandu, Nepal

Diwali Necklaces, Kathmandu, Nepal

Storefront Symphony of Color, Kathmandu, Nepal

Storefront Symphony of Color, Kathmandu, Nepal

Bazaar Colors, Kathmandu, Nepal

Bazaar Colors, Kathmandu, Nepal

We meander and pick our way past open stalls that spill out wares, as shopkeepers cautiously eye the passersby. Some sellers are engrossed in stitching together flower necklaces for the festival, while others are hawking their best deals. Saris and traditional Nepali menswear hang from intricately carved entranceways, along with fleece pants decorated in Western world cartoon characters, t-shirts that say ‘I (heart) Nepal’ and hilariously misspelled American knockoffs such as “Galvin Klein.”  I try my best to pay attention to my group so that I don’t get lost, but I can’t help but wander around gaping wide-mouthed at the spectacle before me.

Prayers Over Incense, Kathmandu

Prayers Over Incense, Kathmandu

Pigeon Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal

Pigeon Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal

Our guide Sahadev (“Dave”) gathers us like the flock of chickens we are and directs us into a curved archway sandwiched between a mountain of copper pots and a curtain of spangly saris. We emerge through the darkened portal blinking with wonder at a spectacular hand-carved Buddhist pagoda-style temple looming above us, a handful of worshippers circling the sanctuary, and a stone-laid ground awash in the constant ebbing tide of a sea of pigeons.

Pigeon Square, Kathmandu

Pigeon Square, Kathmandu

Having lived in both Boston and NYC, I’ve strolled down many alleyways and through my fair share of random doorways, but this hidden celestial outpost was a shock to my urban consciousness. How can Buddha just pop up any old place? Just feet from a man prostrate before a statue of the Buddha is another hawking plastic necklaces. But isn’t that the lesson? Doesn’t The Divine exist everywhere and shouldn’t we be looking in all the old familiar places?

Buddha Celebrates Dipawali, Kathmandu, Nepal

Buddha Celebrates Dipawali, Kathmandu, Nepal

(‘What is the name of this magical temple?’ you must be wondering. And here we have the conundrum of the hosted overseas tour. I spent so much time trying to absorb and photograph, taking for granted the luxury of roaming place to place without having to research or map anything, that I barely ever took notes. Now, weeks later, I can remember the feel of the hand-carved prayer wheel beneath my fingers as I made my way in reflective circumference, but I have no name, no dates, nothing in terms of recorded knowledge that will help me share anything but the ethereal with you. And maybe that is the only way Nepal can be shared.)

Honoring Ma Durga, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Honoring Ma Durga, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Tourist Break, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Tourist Break, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square Courtyard, Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square Courtyard, Kathmandu, Nepal

 

From the Bazaar we move on to Durbar Square and Hanuman City, the location of the old royal palace and two large temples in tribute to Hindu deities, Durga and Hanuman. As we stop every few feet to discuss architecture, art or the reality TV-like history of the last royal family in power (disgruntled children, illicit love affairs, murderous family members… watch for it to hit cable soon), I notice well-dressed men on their knees in the square, digging out the cracked and crumbling mortar between tiles, their hands, resembling crows feet, curled around tiny sticks, work diligently, reverently to restore what was deteriorating. I try to remember when the last time was that I saw anyone using such crude tools to complete such an enormous task by hand. Or dressed so formally for such a dirty and unassuming chore. I cannot.

Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Balancing Work, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Balancing Work, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Tourists trickle into the square stumbling about like foreign and confused paparazzi. They mostly stare at the workmen dangling precariously on handmade bamboo scaffolding 30 feet up in the air. One woman, standing almost dead center in the square, digs out her recent purchase: a Nepali singing bowl, an instrument designed to produce vibrations meant to soothe and heal the human spirit. With the plastic shopping bag tucked under her arm, she cradles the bowl in one hand, the striking mallet in the other. Tapping the bowl over and over again, a look of wonder comes over her face and she becomes absorbed in the vibration. Despite the fact that she is standing in a public square, surrounded by a slew of people, this seems to be the most natural and expected thing to do. I stand as close to her as I can get without invading her privacy and seeming like I am about to mug her. I close my eyes and soak up the moment… the sound, the light, the energy of the square… like a sponge. (I’m grateful there is no picture of my face in that moment.)

Alchemy Meets Electricity, Kathmandu, Nepal

Alchemy Meets Electricity, Kathmandu, Nepal

From Durbar Square we move onwards to lunch in a restaurant and B&B tucked back off of some alleyway that I try to memorize but fear I shall never see again. At the head of the alley, a group of men of varying ages stand around a cascading tangle of electric wires, some with exposed ends, watching one individual as he picks up one and touches it to others. Rather than a property of science, electricity still seems to be a matter of alchemy in Nepal. Electric power is illusive. There is no system determining when it is available and when it is not, or even where it can be accessed regularly. In addition to a lack of consistency, there seems to be a prevailing attitude of “Why the Hell Not” as the configuration of wires about the city is reminiscent of abandoned ice picks on the side of Everest.

As we pass, a couple of the members of our traveling group, specifically a retired engineer and a retired director of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), briefly pause to watch… fascinated and horrified.

Lunch is an assortment of traditional Nepali light fare—momos (similar to Japanese shumai or Chinese potstickers, are stuffed with a ground chicken, heavy on the cilantro and a ‘momo masala spice’, served with a tomato-based sauce featuring cumin and ginger), noodles with vegetables and a sampler platter of tastes of Nepal, including a vegetable curry, rice and a mint sauce.

This is the first real exposure to a Nepali meal for my lifelong friend and now foreign traveling companion Elena and myself. The Cliff Bars and tea the night before and the 12′ resort breakfast buffet that morning (featuring everything from yak cheese to waffles) really didn’t count. Prior to that we’d had a questionable experience with lamb wraps on our Fly Dubai flight into Kathmandu (Eating lamb should have been my first warning sign for how out of my mind I was. For a woman who barely eats anything that walks, especially if she hasn’t vetted the farmer first, this was a bold move on my part. Something about the cardboard standup signs set on the seats of the first row of the plane charging $35 to ride in their “first class” section said to me, “You go right ahead and enjoy that tasty adventure!”) and were now ready to take on some authentic food. So, we did what any overzealous and excessive American would do… we order it all.

Lunch is an awkward hour of trying to consume an irrational amount of food for two people in a land where food is lacking, while simultaneously presenting ourselves to our trip-mates, none of whom grossly over-ordered as we had. Faced with the notion of wasting food in a developing country, we force ourselves to finish it all (damn those lamb wraps!) and even sample the bowls of red condiment left on our table. (We quickly realize that this was ketchup and completely irrelevant to any of the food that has been served. The only reason it is there? We’re Americans.)

The whirl of recent events, moving physically across space and time to get to the other side of the globe, the frenetic nature of my surroundings and now the unreasonable amount of food in my stomach is getting to me. I’m losing the ability to move logically from one moment to the next. Our guide gathers us again. Time to go to Patan City.

 

puckescape

I’m sitting here, envisioning brain cells popping like bubble wrap under a 6 year old’s thumb, as I breathe in the sickeningly sweet aroma of an insecticide impersonating as Febreeze. I have won the battle against my cat’s fleas, and in that victory, I have lost.

Not really sure how in the Hell this got so out of control. We had an outdoor cat, who amongst other nefarious parasites, probably had a flea or two in her lifetime. But then, she was in the woods more than out, so really who could tell? We treated her for the gamut that any wild creature naturally carries about, but needs to leave at the door before cuddling with me on the couch, and never really had any issue with it.

Then we were moving to California. No longer on a 14 acre stretch of wilderness, we were going to be boxed in by neighbors on all sides, complete with their ark of pets, not to mention a whole new variety of wildlife.

“But the cat has to come with us!,” my children begged.

“But we would have to keep her indoors,” I explained.

“But it would break the children’s heart,” my husband countered.

“But she craps in the houseplants, finds the spotless litter box beneath her, and we’re moving into wall-to-wall white carpeting!,” I growled.

“But she is a part of our family,” he reminded me.

And that was that.

So Puck, appropriately named for her wandering out of the wilderness and into our lives, creating much midsummer’s mischief by disemboweling many a woodland sprite on our doorstep, became a west coast house cat.

We all learned to adapt. After two weeks of sleepless nights, we finally realized that playing with her during the day would help her sleep at night. (Yeah, I know, “Well, duh!” Clearly, we had never been real cat owners. We were more like an alternate food source for a feral beast.) We treated her to toys and special attention. It was bumpy, but we all seemed to be getting along.

But then she started scratching. And my kids started scratching. And my husband started scratching. I tried to convince myself that the state that barely sells bug spray has more insects than upstate NY in the summertime. Reality wasn’t postponed for long.

We have fleas. I say ‘we’ because fleas, like the joy of sexually transmitted diseases and foot fungus, is a community experience.Trying to contain fleas is like trying to contain a sneeze two seconds after it has already happened. A much more likely proposition when the host animal lives a majority of the time out of doors and rolls about in dust on an hourly basis. However more like Mission Impossible when said same host now lives on your bed 12 hours out of the day, and when not snoozing, is rolling about on the wall-to-wall carpeting.

I work all of the natural angles that I can muster. I vacuum so much that my biceps are bulging. Everything is a little smaller now because it has spent multiple cycles in the dryer on high. Our house smells like an exotic lemongrass tart, as I was dousing everything with the most natural and pleasant weapon in my arsenal.

And none of it is working.

I am coming apart. Shit like this never really got to me, but now I feel as if I’m peeling apart at the core and running up under my skin – like an inside out onion. Fears, frustration and utter exhaustion is just bubbling up to my surface; blind panic when I recall our past lice infestation, angst that I’ve thrown at others when they’ve had similar situations, rage against being forced to bring a cat against my wishes and never feeling heard in the first place, guilt for wanting my cat to disappear, even though all she ever does is want to cuddle with me – it is an ocean of negative waves, each one washing over me and it is all I can do to remain upright at the surface.

I find myself standing in the insecticide aisle at the store. The colors of the boxes and cans are bright and cheerful. They make promises that I’ll find the peace that I’m searching for. I don’t have to wait that long, either. In just a few quick steps, it will be all over.

When I get home, I light a candle and sit to meditate. I let the sadness and despair wash over me, through me.  I sit with it, just letting it take hold and hoping it will move on. I sit as long as I can before my mind is too filled to ignore.

I put my meditation cushion away, and pull out the insecticide.

Image

I catch myself just staring out into space throughout the day, no real conscious thoughts going through my head.  My husband must ask at least 10 times a day if everything is ok.  “Sure,” I tell him, “I’m fine.”

I feel like I have the iconic Apple rainbow wheel spinning on my forehead.

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I wonder if everyone feels energy in the way that I do.  (Hang tight because we’re going to get cosmic here.)  There are many layers of what I feel, sort of like diving in the ocean… the pressure changes, the temperature changes, the sense of space above and below you changes… but you just sense it all, never really consciously noting it all down.  For the most part, my daily existence is rather like surface swimming… having conversations, participating in activities, moving from task to task … none of these things generally involves a deeper sense of energy awareness, unless of course there is a conflict, or an emotional exchange that generally takes things to the next level.

Underneath this surface level, much like a current, there is an energetic layer where I can feel the energy of others as they mingle with mine. (Told you, cosmic.)  Like when you dive beneath a wave and the water temperature drops, you didn’t necessarily notice it on the surface, but now the coolness is running from head to toe. Within this place of awareness, I can feel when others are spinning in some sort of emotion… anger, fear, sadness, anxiety… and it has taken me a long time to understand how this impacts me and how to remain neutral.

Sure there are other layers of awareness, not anything I’ll get into right now since it would be nice to live out a full two weeks in our new home without being committed, but lately, as my rainbow wheel spins, there is an overarching awareness, as if I’m suddenly swimming in that ocean, with all it’s layers and temperatures and currents, and now I’m also aware that I’m on a moving planet.  It is as if I’m literally processing, at an epic level, all that has happened in my life up until this point, and downloading new data to run the program that is “California”.  But none of it is conscious, and I couldn’t possibly begin to put words to what parts of me are leaving and what new parts I’m gaining.  All I know is that just staring off into space feels really good right now.  Sure, it is freaking the shit out of my husband, but the good news is he is a computer guy.  When he asks for the 11th time if I’m okay, I’ll just tell him…

“Yeah.  I’m just processing.”

 

So, I’m sitting here trying to squeeze witty and inspirational drops of my brain out onto the keyboard and a friend emails me. Thank GOD! A distraction!! I read the email and she wants to know how I am… so I begin to tell her. I tell her I’m trying to squeeze witty and inspirational drops of my brain out like orange juice, with pulp, and how writing is my force majeure. Now, to be honest, I initially typed ‘force de major’ just hearing the words in my head. Not really understanding what it meant, I had to go look it up. This is what I found…

DEFINITION OF FORCE MAJEURE
1
: superior or irresistible force
2
: an event or effect that cannot be reasonably anticipated or controlled — compare Act of God

And that is how it happens. This is how I write. I hear it in my head and it boils out of my fingers, usually faster than I can type it, and it makes something. I can plan a piece in my head, lay it out so that the 2’s follow the 1’s and it is a lovely little jigsaw puzzle that lays flat and formatted… but then I get to the keyboard. I start to type what I planned and something else entirely takes over. Most of the time, I had no idea that I even have these thoughts or opinions, but they make sense and deeply connect once I see them in print. Other times, the writing is shining a light into the darkness that I had no idea was even there anymore, something way back in the corner, underneath the bed and stuffed behind boxes of outgrown clothes and balls of cat fur, never really decomposing, just creating a stain on the floor.

Writing, for me anyway, is about getting out of the way. Truth be told (and bear with me because I’m figuring this out as my fingers find the letters on the pad) it is the same as meditation for me – pulling the constant chatter of my to do lists, popping up emails, status updates, piles of unfolded laundry out of the IN YOUR FACE part of my brain, sitting back and just letting the deeper, bigger part come forward. And this Other part, it is wiser, funnier and quieter. It is a whispering voice that is easily missed if not actively tuned into. It is kind and gentle and guiding. And it isn’t solely a voice in my head (Yeah, see what I mean? NEVER thought I was going to sit down and write about the voice in my head this morning. Hang on, this will hopefully get better.) Once the awareness is turned on (fighting the urge now to capitalize Awareness), there are moments and messages leading me toward what it is that I’m supposed to be doing, who I actually am, coming forward all of the time. The spontaneous use of ‘force majeure’ is an example. I have no idea when I ever heard that term (guessing I have heard the term… because if I never have… then how did it get in my head?) and yet, here it is to not only accurately describe how I feel about my writing, but it also delivers the clear message to me that yes, indeed, the act of writing can be compared to an Act of God (I’m only capitalizing here because it did so on the Merriam-Webster website).

I have subscribed to The Daily Prompt, a service of WordPress to inspire us bloggers to write by giving us a topic. Today’s is ‘What change, big or small, would you like your blog to make in the world?’ I want people to wake up and become aware as I have. I want them to recognize that perhaps all of the ways that we tune into the world – email, Facebook, smartphones, Twitter, television, Pinterest, even blogs – can actually tune us OUT of the bigger, wiser, funnier, even dire messages that we get from a bigger, truer source (again, fighting the urge to capitalize Source). I’m not condemning those services, those distractions, but rather encouraging everyone to recognize that perhaps those things take a certain priority that they shouldn’t. Paradoxically, (See? Just over here working it out as it comes again.) they also offer opportunities for us to wake up to the signposts all around us, indicating the Way to Go. (Seriously, tired of fighting the capitalization urge that is clearly being dictated by something other than the standard comprehension of the rules of grammar.)

And if this blog, if Riding The Margin never accomplishes this goal, this mission of illumination, that is okay too. Because ultimately, while it may simply entertain a few (who clearly all now think I’m an undiagnosed schizophrenic), it will continue to be my vessel that keeps me awake, aware and listening to that bigger part of myself where Truth lives.

My margin seat