Bali – Life in Technicolor!

 

When I practiced interior design, I told clients that their homes should reflect who they were (private persona) and how they wanted to be perceived by others (public persona). We spent significant time discussing this and often who they felt they were inside differed vastly from how they wished to be seen.

Personally, I wanted my home to tell the world how sophisticated I was. My mother modeled flawless manners: setting a proper table even for breakfast, insisting that I learn piano and listen to classical music when I much preferred playing guitar with my dad. Her need to look perfect to the world lodged in my psyche.

As an adult that ingrained training dictated appearances. The color palette in both the clothing I wore, and the furnishings I chose, blended a dazzling array of – you guessed it – neutrals. The absence of color was chic and classy. The only divergence from the black, white, beige theme was a red brocade jacket pulled out of mothballs at Christmastime.

I brought that aesthetic with me when I moved to Bali. The first thing I noticed after the two thousand shades of green, was the Balinese’ flagrant disregard for subtlety in their attire. Bali style was as far from neutral as Minnesota winter was from tropical paradise.

Layered patterns in bold, clashing colors challenged my tightly held conceptions of what worked and what most decidedly didn’t.

I searched the entire island to find quiet earth tones for accent pillows and cushion covers, but Bali would not be subdued. I settled for a dignified combo of black, rust, and avocado. Now, six years later, in response to a growing community of permanent Western customers, gray, taupe, and putty batiks and ikat fabrics abound, all those lifeless non-colors that no self-respecting Balinese person would ever want.

As the years passed I was unaware of my continental drift away from ‘safe.’ The change came so slowly I didn’t notice when the vanilla person hiding behind beige, went missing.

Upon reflection, blame settled on the Bali Blue Bed. When that precious antique handcrafted half a century ago by Ketut’s father for his growing family became my most cherished possession, my relationship with color began to expand.

Tentatively I added a little china to carry the emerging theme into the kitchen.Not long after the new dishes brightened up the far end of my quarters, I discovered skirts. Until that time, capris had covered my lower half, white ones, black ones, and of course non-threatening beige. I don’t remember when the first flowy, legless clothing crept into my closet but I remember the color: hot coral!

I loved flouncing around Ubud with naked legs! Breezes reached all those previously confined areas and I was so much cooler underneath! Soon the mid-length pants occupied a drawer that never got opened and the closet was full of skirts: blue, green, some with birds, others with flowers. Loose-fitting tops were the natural accompaniment and they came in various shades of bright. So the wardrobe morphed along with the house.

On the way back from the supermarket one afternoon, the bead shop lady greeted me on the sidewalk. Next thing I knew I was the proud and somewhat surprised owner of an enormous beaded basket!I’d ordered one that was half the size but when I had gone to the shop a month later to pick it up, the dear lady apologized. “So sorry, Ibu, but no small now, only this kind.” Evidently the current shipment of imported rattan baskets from Java that the woman used as a base for her beadwork, had only come in large.

As so often happened to me here, the Universe conspired to give me my heart’s desire. I’d lusted after the monster baskets so why had I ordered a small one? I knew the answer to that as well as I knew the reflection in the mirror. It was a lie as old as I was, instilled in the subconscious where it reared it’s ugly head from time to time when I wasn’t vigilant.

Thankfully, the ‘you don’t deserve such abundance’ story was overridden. I hugged the prize to my heart as the happy woman gave me a lift home on the back of her motorbike.

Then the heron came home to roost on top of the bookshelf.
It was a similar story with an interesting twist. I’d passed the bird in a shop window, stopped to look, decided it was unrefined, folksy even, and continued on. I did that several times over the next few days. Curiosity finally forced me inside to ask the price. Expensive. I left. Several weeks went by. Upon rearranging a few things in my house, a space opened up where none had existed before. The memory of that colorful creature popped into mind. I can’t explain why or how, but by the time I arrived at the shop, desire burned in me with all the passion of first love! Now every time I look at the stately bird, I smile and wonder how I could possibly have thought him provincial.

When the pillows and mattress cover on the the Bali Blue Bed recently grew too faded to tolerate, I went shopping. It was a shocking pink batik boasting mythical birds with glorious chartreuse tails that captivated me first. There followed a shimmering array of metallics for accents and a purple, orange, red geometric weave for back pillows. Handwoven eggplant colored fabric became the grounded base for all that whimsy.

The burst of color thrilled me. I loved to nestle deep in those delicious hues and absorb their intensity, to be cradled in the very essence of myself. Then it struck me: in my non-stop, stressed-out, U.S. workaholic life, I had to surround myself with boring neutrals. It was survival.

But in my laid-back, joyful Bali life, my nervous system has re-calibrated. I thrive in an atmosphere of visual stimulation, no longer living a schizophrenic existence. Who I am is on display for all to see in bold designs and brilliant hues. My house validates me the way insipid neutrals never could.

I’ve even ratcheted up the intensity in my clothing. The new temple outfit for the ultra important Hindu ceremonies I’m frequently invited to, is a hunting-jacket-orange kebaya with a fuschia sash over a hot pink-yellow-blue-etc. etc. sarong! And it just feels right.

Why did it take so long to come to this, to embrace the complex, colorful person hidden  somewhere inside? The answers have to do with fear, with the need to fit in, with concern about the perceptions of others, with self-denial, with…nevermind. Needless to say, the list of reasons is long. But the realization that all are now in past tense is sheer delight! I’ve burst the confines of conformity and traded suffocating sophistication for my technicolor Bali life.

The life-or-death importance of how to properly eat an egg

The cover of The Lilliputians Newspaper April 25, 2016

My world is Lilliputian. The reality sinks in a little more each day. It’s an adventure to go from my door down the steps to the garden with my parcel of compost, heave it into the bin, pick up the few leaves that have fallen during the night, and back upstairs again. If I were a citizen of Lilliput and only six inches tall, that would be a herculean undertaking. I’d have a hero’s welcome when I returned. If I returned.

Last night, however, there was real excitement.

In the morning the monkeys came as usual. When I caught one trying to crack open a coconut on the ceramic tiles at the entrance to my door, I grabbed a stick and made loud, threatening sounds. He ran but I could hear him pounding again somewhere on the roof.

Out of sight, out of mind. Eventually the pounding stopped.

During the day I made my famous spicy sweet potato dip and bribed my neighbor. If she would do a Tarot reading for me, I’d ply her with rice crackers and dip. It doesn’t take much to lure either one of us from our separate isolation quarters.

It was a fabulous reading. I got the answers I needed. Then we did hers, paying no attention as a storm rolled in and rain pummeled the roof. Deep in spicy dip and Tarot, nothing could distract us.

Around eight p.m. she took her leave. The rain had stopped. Five minutes later my phone dinged. It was a WhatsApp message from my neighbor. There’s water pouring out of the light fixtures.

I rushed downstairs.

It was a flood of epic proportions. The kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom floors were wading pools. Half of her thick foam mattress topper was soaked. Rivulets of water trailed down the walls and streamed from can lights in the ceiling. She’d gotten a shock when she touched the light switch.

It was no mystery what had happened. The monkey, in his attempt to crack open the coconut, had broken fragile terracotta roof tiles. From the amount of water I seriously doubted there was any roof left.

It had only been eight days since I sent faithful household manager Ketut, home and told him to stay there and stay safe for the month of April. In a panic I called and relayed the story.

This morning he arrived, his perpetual sunny smile in place, and by noon the broken roof was fixed.

To revisit the Lilliputian reference, remember Gulliver’s Travels, the political satire written by Jonathan Swift in 1726?

When the small boat Gulliver was traveling in ran upon rocks, he swam to the island of Lilliput where he walked ashore and fell asleep. When he awoke he was surrounded by people less than six inches tall. They had tied him to the ground with hundreds of tiny ropes. He could easily break free, but he didn’t want to frighten them so allowed himself to be restrained until he’d gained their trust.

Gulliver learned that the Lilliputians were at war with a neighboring country. The source of their conflict was a disagreement over the proper way to eat an egg. He agreed to help them.

In Bali and elsewhere, people are being encouraged to shelter in place. But those of us doing so are a bit like Gulliver. We’re allowing ourselves to be restrained.

In time, cooped up in tight quarters, even if it’s done willingly, patience grows short, tempers flare, and something as ridiculous as the proper way to eat an egg can become the most important priority of life. Be on the lookout for such silliness and take a step back to consider before you engage.

If the enemy is external, say monkeys for instance…

I also had to take a step back and remember they were here first. I’m the shipwrecked giant washed up on their shores, the scary stranger who consumes their food and ruins their environment. The issue isn’t the proper way to eat an egg. It’s domination. Who gets to be here and what price do we pay to stay?

Right now we’re paying the price of our massive consumption of wilderness at the expense of the animal life it supports. If winning this war against disease means going back to the way things were, we’ve lost. That reality is unsustainable. That’s what got us where we are.

If losing means learning how to eat an egg their way, we’ve won. But nobody knows what that looks like. And nobody knows who ‘they’ are.

Lockdown – an Introvert’s Dream

Before the c-virus I was happiest spending long stretches of time at home entertaining myself with no distractions. My writers group met weekly and I’d usually have coffee or lunch with friends at least once a week. That was the extent of my social life. If too many dates on the calendar registered upcoming events or get-togethers, a cloud of mild anxiety hovered around me.

It’s not that I don’t like people. I do. I can play nicely in the sandbox with others. I expect to be liked and I think I usually am. That may be delusional, but if it is please don’t burst my bubble.

That was when I had freedom to choose when I went out or when I stayed home.

This is very different. There’s an unseen enemy that could be hiding anywhere, on packaging, in grocery stores, on door handles or money. And suddenly my options have shrunk to zero. I’m seventy years old. If I value my life, if I want to continue to see the sun rise and set for many more years, I have to stay home.

So of course what I want more than anything else right now is to socialize. Isn’t that human nature at it’s worst: always wanting most what we can’t (or shouldn’t) have?

You’ve heard the saying, Be careful what you wish for? I was wishing I could host a small party. There are dear friends I haven’t seen since I returned from Italy. I went immediately into self-quarantine for fourteen days. I was so looking forward to the end of my two-week isolation.

Due to government regulation and self- isolation, those two weeks have stretched to over a month with no end in sight. But today my wish for a party manifested. It wasn’t quite what I’d envisioned, but I definitely had guests.

They were a pugnacious bunch. A fight broke out on my roof and tiles went flying. My Bali expat friends can be rowdy but they aren’t that agile. My roof tiles would have been safe.

The monkey invasion squelched my desire for a party. It reminded me that I really do love being alone. I have vast fields of time to gaze at the sky and daydream. I can write – or not – as the mood dictates.

But there’s an underlying thread that I can’t quite access. It’s a feeling – a sense of divine purpose – that this had to happen. This. Nothing else. And despite the alarming death toll, despite financial ruin, despite a world thrown into chaos, despite the uncertainty, and fear, and hardship, and untold suffering, there’s a place for gratitude. For thankfulness.

In my hours of solitude, that’s what I want to access. Gratefulness, without needing to know why. Thankfulness, trusting that this time is necessary. And acceptance of what is, knowing there’s no other choice.

Guilty as charged!

There’s a guava tree in my garden. I’m not a fan. The fruit is loaded with disagreeable little seeds. On the way to the compost bin I glanced up at its branches bending under the weight of ripe abundance and felt judged. In these strange times, why wasn’t I utilizing a natural source of nutrition that required nothing more than the energy to pluck it?

So pluck I did, out of guilt, then probed the internet for a recipe that would turn it into something edible. And there it was. Guava cheese.

In regard to cheese, I’m a solid thumbs down on Velveeta and varieties that fail the ‘smell’ test. Otherwise I’ll try anything. Guava cheese piqued my curiosity.

The instructions called for two ingredients, guava pulp and sugar, in almost equal amounts.

I wavered. Some people are sweets addicts. Some prefer salty treats. I’m the latter. But in the dark recesses of my refrigerator were two atrophying lumps of palm sugar left over from a brunch buffet (a year ago?) when it had been sprinkled atop banana fritters. Getting rid of the sugar while assuaging my guilt over the garden guavas had the intriguing potential of making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

The entire process took an hour – that’s when I decided to quit stirring. But when I poured the hot sticky mess into a buttered pan to harden I had doubts. At 93% humidity, a temperature hovering upwards of 85 degrees (29.4 Celsius) and a 90% chance of rain in Ubud, the so-called cheese was a long way from solid with little hope of achieving the desired outcome.

Six hours later its consistency hadn’t changed. It seemed I’d made a batch of guava paste. I invited my neighbor for tea to sample my efforts.

We’re in isolation, me upstairs, her downstairs. We haven’t been off the property for many days. In a world where people eye each other suspiciously and pass giving wide berth, it’s a comfort having someone to interact with semi-normally knowing that neither of us carries the dreaded virus.

She accepted my invitation.

At the appointed time, Kaye arrived and seated herself at the table. “So this is guava cheese?” she said, poking suspiciously at the uncheese-like substance. “It looked different in the pictures you showed me. Like fudge – you could pick it up and…”

What could I say? She was right. “Yes, yes. Maybe think of it as guava butter and just taste it.” She spread a dollop on a cracker and took a tentative bite.

“What do you think?” I asked. She chewed thoughtfully and swallowed.

“Hmmm.”

Her hmmms can mean anything, hmmm good, hmmm bad, hmmm-I-don’t-want-to-disappoint-you-but…

“Well?”

A look of surprise crossed her face. “It’s really quite good, isn’t it?” she said.

We decided it resembled cranberry sauce and would be a tasty accompaniment to turkey – or spread on top of cheesecake – or with real cheese and crackers. Before she left we’d polished off the lot.

Even though my failed guava cheese was a hit, I don’t think I’ll be wasting my energy making it again anytime soon.

The only other edible growth in the garden is a chili plant.

There’s no guesswork involved with those little firecrackers. What you see is what you get, hot, hotter, and hottest in direct proportion to the amount added, no blending, straining or endless stirring required.

I’ll leave guavas to birds and squirrels. Going forward, chilies will be my guilt-assuaging choice.

Update re: ZOOM – As if there wasn’t enough drama and trauma!

Because of the late-breaking ZOOM news, anyone who wants to participate in the 75-minute Trauma-Sensitive Yoga session with Jessa Walters, please CLICK HERE, scroll to the bottom, click on the email icon, and request the private password directly from Jessa.

Thank you for your patience. More later … but remember to be grateful …

the sun still rises.

What happens when our freedom to choose is denied?

Trauma.

When I was five we moved from our farm to a town of 8,000 people thirty miles away. A year later I awoke to strange voices in the house. Mother was rushed to the hospital where she hovered near death for weeks. She didn’t die but her recovery took years.

As an adult I’ve had multiple marriages and an equal number of divorces. I’ve moved over forty times. But I would never have told you I was a victim of trauma. In my mind, trauma was for the physically abused or war damaged.

I was in my fifties before I read Waking the Tiger, by Peter Levine, and realized the negative patterns that kept repeating for me were trauma-based. I’d adopted those behaviors as survival mechanisms, but in fact they were creating more trauma.

I sought therapy from a brilliant practitioner, Thea Lee. About the same time I began a personal yoga practice that has kept me centered and sane through whatever circumstances have come my way.

We have a situation world-wide that is wreaking havoc on our nervous systems. “The scale of this outbreak as a traumatic event is almost beyond comprehension,” said one expert in an article published a week ago by CNBC. I would encourage you to read it.

I keep hearing the words, unprecedented, pandemic, apocalyptic to describe the chaos the entire world is experiencing. In conversations with friends and family there are other words: tough, depressing, grinding, boring, stir-crazy, frightening.

Right now I depend more than ever on my daily yoga habit. It works like nothing else to ground me in the morning and enables me to stay present with the reality of the moment rather than spiraling into the what-ifs that lead to fear and panic.

I’d like to make you aware of an opportunity coming up if you want to add yoga to your bag of survival tricks.

In 2013, my daughter, Jessa Walters, was hired by the University of Minnesota to teach trauma sensitive yoga. She’ll be doing a 75 minute session online.

Jessa Walters MA, E-RYT, TCTSY-F

Here’s what she says about the need for a practice that counteracts the effects of trauma on our body.

“A common dynamic in overwhelming/traumatic experience is the feeling that we have no choice in what is happening. David Emerson. founder of Trauma-Sensitive Yoga, defines trauma as an extreme lack of choice. My whole organism wanted one thing to happen and the other thing happened.

“Experiencing an embodied opportunity (in this case, through yoga) to make choices moment by moment can be a way to counter the impact of the choice-less nature of overwhelming/traumatic experience.

“If you’d like, please join me for a 75 minute Trauma-Sensitive Yoga session over Zoom this Saturday, April 4 @ 5pm Pacific Time (or Sunday 8am in Bali).

“This yoga practice will be slow-paced. All are welcome.

“TO JOIN THE ZOOM SESSION:
To join the Zoom session, you will need to have Zoom downloaded (free) on your phone, ipad or computer. Click on “Join” and enter the meeting ID: 545 061 526. Or click on this link:

https://us04web.zoom.us/j/545061526

“Donations for the yoga class are accepted via Venmo (Jessa Walters) or PayPal (paypal.me/jessawalters). Thank you.”

Just FYI – I downloaded ZOOM this morning. It was quick and painless.

For me, yoga works like a mood-altering drug. If I wake up agitated, anxious, distracted, fretful, I’ll ALWAYS try to talk myself out of getting on the mat.

I’m too tired.

I’ll do it tomorrow – twice.

I’ll walk later instead

Hopefully while this stupid mind-game is in process, I’m pulling on my leggings and sports bra because once I’m dressed for the practice I’ll do it.

It takes about one-and-a-half sun salutes for a major mental shift to take place. By the time I’m finished I’m an entirely different person, supercharged, happy, and ready to take on the challenges of the day.

If you already practice yoga, you may be curious to see how the trauma-sensitive approach differs. If you’re new to the game, this is the perfect opportunity to begin in the non-threatening, non-competitive privacy of your own home.

If someone in your circles would benefit, please feel free to pass along Jessa’s information.

Meanwhile, watch clouds, count birds, and let your mind/body slow…slow… slow down.

Do you agree with this quote?

“Changing is what people do when they have no options left.”
― Holly Black, Red Glove

Day 1 of the ‘New Normal’

Around eleven a.m. yesterday I heard the familiar laugh. Ketut came up the path lugging twice his weight in potatoes and squash. I slipped on my flipflops and hurried to help.

I’d photographed the grocery list the day before and WhatsApped it to him.


In five minutes I’d had his response.

“Ok.”

There’s a trait I’ve found that generally holds true. A man of action is a man of few words. Ketut’s no exception.

I knew he was familiar with most everything on the list, but the mei nasi vermicelli (which I spelled wrong) might have been a mystery so I added a photo.

A little later he sent this picture and told me he and his youngest, Komang, were stealing broccoli for me from his in-law’s garden.

As it turned out, it was both broccoli and cauliflower, perfectly formed bouquets.

After several trips back and forth to empty the minivan, I saw what my list looked like in real life. Food overflowed the bags on the table and the floor around it. We took inventory. There was one bunch of mystery leaves mixed in with the spinach.

“What’s this, Ketut? Not bayam.”

“Daun ketela. Like Padang food. Bayam in market finished.”

So the traditional market had sold out of spinach and Ketut had improvised. Good man.

I love Padang food, the cuisine of West Sumatra. I’d never cooked cassava leaves, but if that was the unique flavor in Sumatran veggie dishes, I was excited.

After Ketut demonstrated how to light the water heater and change the gas bottle…

after he asked for the umpteeth time if I was sure I wanted him to stay away for a month…

after he suggested he could come in the back way and work on making a new garden behind the house and I wouldn’t even know he was there…

I assured him again that a) he was due a good long paid vacation for all his years of faithful help, and b) if he even stopped for gas somewhere he might take the virus home to his village.

“Okay. But if any problem, you call me.”

I promised I would.

After separating the bounty with my downstairs neighbor, I Googled cassava leaf recipes. The easiest one had onion, tomato, and peanuts. I had those ingredients. Instructions said to chop everything, brown the onion, stir in tomatoes and leaves and cook for 30 minutes adding water when needed. Peanuts last.

While watching the water level on the simmering pot, I steamed broccoli, boiled eggs, and prepared dragon fruit for the freezer. It was four o’clock when all was completed and I realized I hadn’t had lunch. The experimental dish was tasty but daun ketela will probably never appear on my future grocery lists.

This morning I woke to Day One of the ‘New Normal.’ I’d been anticipating this, longing for the opportunity to fall into a routine, gain some modicum of control over my life. As I stared at the morning face in the mirror, I was transported back to my first full day in Italy. A storm raged, churning the ocean to white froth. Wind battered the shutters and rain pinged against the windows. I remembered thinking…thirty-two more days…

Of course the rain stopped and I had a fabulous time.

I found myself wishing I knew if this would be thirty-two days, or sixty, or a year. I suddenly missed my family, my grandchildren. I let sadness come, sobbing through yoga, tears dampening my meditation pillow. I hadn’t allowed grief. I’d been distracted by doing what needed to be done. And then, when there was nothing more to do, I’d spun out of the present and lost myself in an unknowable future.

Catherynne Valente said, Do not ruin today by mourning tomorrow.”

Like a cloud passing over the sun, sadness dissipated. The cathartic energy of sorrow left me feeling cleansed and strong once more. I moved back into the now with renewed resolve to stay there.

Do you notice when you’re spinning into the future? Perhaps you could tell yourself, “This is my body now. There is nothing to fear in this moment.”

Greetings Fellow Dystopians

I don’t recognize this new world we’ve awakened to.

Yesterday Ketut went home to spend two days with his family. This morning I got word that the island is preparing to lock down. Stock up, was the warning.

I’d already placed a big order with Indimete – it was delivered today.

I messaged Ketut a grocery list and requested enough fruits and veggies to last a month. It seemed safer for him to shop in his village and avoid the masses that flood Ubud market. After he brings my food supply tomorrow, I’ll send him back to his family to shelter in place for the rest of April.

Then my doors will close and I’ll hunker in.

Fortunately for me, a like-minded friend moved in downstairs this week. There’s a great deal of comfort having another virus-free human to interact with. I know myself well enough to realize I can do ‘alone’ if I must. The mental equipment for solitary survival is in place. But it would be harder. Much harder.

I don’t discount the connections I make with people who respond to my writing. They’re heartwarming. During my thirty-three-day ‘silent retreat’ in Italy (silent only because I didn’t speak the language) social media was my saving grace. But there’s nothing like a living, breathing, flesh-and-blood friend who recognizes the deer-in-headlights stare and pours a glass of wine!

A line in a book I’ve been reading, Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, struck me as having significance for the current situation. (A writer friend, Steve Castley, would tell me I need a transition between this paragraph and the one before, and he’s right. I beg forgiveness.) Here’s that inspirational line:

An abyss cannot be crossed in two steps.

It’s like my grocery order. I’m sure Ketut was surprised to get a Whatsapp list of twenty-six items in large quantities when my usual request is four in small amounts. And he was probably even more shocked to hear he gets a month’s paid vacation. But the time for hesitation has passed. I heeded the warning and leaped the abyss.

Too many leaders are doing the two-step maneuver with deadly results. Don’t take your cues from them. Be proactive with your own health and that of your family. This disease waits for no one.

Food for thought: Perhaps reflect on a time in the past when you’ve tried to cross the abyss in two steps. Then make a commitment to leap from now on.

Self-isolating in Bali

I live a charmed life. But I have to admit that last week in Italy was challenging. I wondered if my flight would be cancelled, or if I’d be denied entry into Indonesia – the country was closing its borders – or if I’d get too close to someone en-route who was already infected and…

None of the above happened. I arrived home to the humid, chewable air, the familiar scents, sounds, and sights, and went immediately into self-quarantine. It was easy to stay home, I was jet-lagged after all. I ate, slept, and read the news…and read the news…and read the news…

Fourteen days later when I ventured into the streets of Ubud it was hard to believe the world was in the grips of a raging pandemic. Tourists clustered in cafes. Locals sat in groups chatting. Drivers touted taxi services and practitioners offered massages to all who passed. Didn’t they know? Was nobody taking the threat of this rapidly spreading disease seriously?

I went home and didn’t emerge again.

Then the wild Ogoh-Ogoh parade that ushers in the Balinese new year was cancelled and the traditional Day of Silence that follows was increased to two days. March 25th and 26th people were not allowed out of their homes. Police and regional security guards patrolled the streets to ensure there were no trespassers.

Following those days of absolute lockdown, the governor of Bali instructed residents to remain at home as much as possible, study at home, work from home, and only go out for groceries or emergencies. Authorities explained social distancing, an utterly foreign idea in this communal culture, and urged compliance.

Immigration posted a notice there would be no more visas issued in Indonesia. Anyone wishing to travel here must procure documents from the Indonesian Consulate in their own country with an attached certificate of good health. In the space of three days, the complexion of the island did an about-face.

Today the entire world shares a common crisis. If ever there was a chance to unify, this is it. At the community level, people are pulling together to help, often at immense personal risk. I’ve had many messages from friends, Do you need anything? Are you managing okay?

As days go by with no end in sight I find ways to busy myself. Then I came across a quote by the Dalai Lama that made me think:

The way through sadness and grief that comes from great loss is to use it as motivation and to generate a deeper sense of purpose.

The deaths of so many are a great loss. The restriction of freedom to move about is a great loss. The disappearance of jobs, of savings, of the fragile security that tomorrow will be a mirror of today, are great losses to name a few. How do I use sadness and grief as motivation? What can I do while confined in my home to generate a deeper sense of purpose?

In Italy I managed to write a post almost every day while exploring the length and breadth (and height!) of Praiano. When I stopped there were people who told me they missed reading about my adventures over their morning coffee. That was even before we were confined to our houses. Perhaps my deeper purpose is to continue entertaining my readers, to offer a moment’s distraction to laugh, or to ponder a different perspective.

I’ve found it difficult to write. It seems there’s so much content pouring forth – something for everyone – what could I possibly add? The answer that came was so obvious I hadn’t seen it. You do what you’ve always done. Tell the stories, your experience of these unprecedented times, your self-discovery. That alone is unique. It doesn’t matter if nobody cares. You do it for you.

So I’ll do just that, with huge gratitude for the internet that still connects us.

Question to ponder:

Is it possible for you to use this time of sadness and grief as motivation to discover a deeper purpose for your life?

How to maintain mental balance in the face of fear

After being sucked down the ever-deepening black hole of today’s news, I decided to look for something happier. It didn’t take long to find Sunny Skyz, an online media source with the tagline, Live. Laugh. Love. I scrolled past one happy tear-jerker after another unsure of what exactly I was looking for until this title grabbed me.

Stolen Therapy Goat Found, Reunited With Depressed Cow

I laughed out loud.

It’s about maintaining balance. Too much of anything tips me over. I don’t mind being toppled by an excess of joy, but when warning bells in my head signal an overabundance of darkness, it’s time to change course.

In my late fifties I had a teacher. Three times a month for fourteen months I sat with a group of six others to learn from this woman. I’ve never run into anyone else who talked about the things she did, or used the words she used. Every week she blew my mind.

As the world goes dark I remember her teaching on valences. A valence, in chemistry, is the power an element or atom has to combine and form molecules. She used the word to refer to the power of energy to attract like energy and our need to be aware of the affect that has on us.

She talked about valences over countries – collective energy from the thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors of the people and politics of a nation. The more powerful that energy becomes, whether positive or negative, the more deeply it impacts those living beneath it. It takes determination and a strong will to remain on an even keel when the overarching force is dark.

Her warning was for a country.

With the vast tentacles of the internet broadcasting doom on a daily basis, our entire world is blanketed in death-energy. The uncertainty of not knowing when or how this epidemic will end, doesn’t bode well for staying centered. It can send our thoughts spiraling into overwhelm and leave us feeling anxious, panicky, worried and afraid.

Those of us who are natural optimists fare better in times like these. We usually know what it takes to maintain a healthy state of mind when faced with difficult times. But even those blessed with eternal sunshine in their souls may be struggling with this one.

I’m grateful for having spent those months with my guru. She didn’t stop with the explanation of valences, she taught us how to work with them, physically and mentally. She showed us how taking just a few minutes to ground our bodies can make all the difference in how we deal with stress.

To ground energy, place both feet flat on the floor, take a deep breath and say your name out loud. You can do that anywhere. It takes about three seconds.

A three-minute grounding meditation can help you relax and bring your focus back into balance. I hear you groaning. Try it! It’s only three minutes.

Set a timer. Then…

  • Pause, take a deep breath and place your bare feet flat on the floor. (Wear stockings if the floor is cold!) Wiggle your toes. FEEL your feet in contact with the ground beneath them
  • Place your hands on your stomach. Take 3 breaths as deep as you can. Feel your stomach rise and fall with each breath.
  • When you’re ready, close your eyes.
  • Breathe deeply into your stomach while counting slowly to 5. Hold your breath for another count of 5. Breathe out while slowly counting to 5. Continue breathing in for 5, hold for 5, out for 5 until the timer buzzes.
  • With eyes still closed, notice how your body feels starting with y.our feet and working your way up your legs torso and arms, to your head. Really pay attention to how your body feels. Slowly open your eyes.

These are simple techniques to do on your own. They can be life-savers when time is short.

But…

If you have ten minutes and want to go to war with the valences, I challenge you to The Warriors Path Grounding Meditation. I love this one, but it’s not for the faint-hearted! You’ll see what I mean.

Image result for warriors path grounding images

When I’m grounded it’s easier to detach from the stories, turn off the news, and take care of myself.

Whether it’s Sunny Skyz and therapy-goat stories, or my guru’s guide to grounding, I hope this post has provided a respite from the daily grind of negative news. Better yet, I hope you’ll find these tools help you de-stress and maintain your mental balance.

Travel surprises in a COVID-19 world

Travel is stressful under the best circumstances. But add a global health crisis to the mix and intensity escalates.

Packed and ready for the long journey home.

Even though I couldn’t have been more isolated if I’d stayed in a monastery in Mongolia, the fact that I’d just spent a month in Praiano was like having ITALY tattooed on my forehead. I felt vulnerable.

So I was surprised to find how absent any mention of the caronavirus was in airports and on planes. If a person hadn’t read the news there would be little indication that anything was amiss with the world. No one employed by the airline industry wore a mask. Everyone was exceptionally engaging, smiley, and helpful.

On both flights seatmates offered me sterile wipes and we all dutifully wiped down our tray tables, movie screens, armrests, safety belts, etc. Convinced we’d disinfected our surroundings, we plugged in earphones and tuned each other out.

Usually I’m a serial movie-watcher on long flights. After the sanitizing ritual I selected Ford vs. Ferrari with Matt Damon and Christian Bale. I loved every minute of it, Then fell asleep and didn’t stir for seven hours.

That was a first. I’ve never been able to sleep on a plane. It was my shortest 12-hour flight to date.

The layover in Singapore was just long enough to stretch, check in with WhatsApp and Messenger, take my bags through security and board for the final leg. Nobody mentioned the C-word.

Once in the air, flight attendants distributed a yellow slip of paper from the Indonesian Ministry of Health. Anxiety prickled in my chest, what questions would it ask that I didn’t want to answer? The form was as basic as it could get: name, flight number, passport number… At the end were two boxes with this inscription: Is your present condition sick or healthy, check one.

Efficient. Maybe not terribly effective at detecting illness, but definitely efficient.

Upon landing in Bali, I joined all incoming passengers in line with our yellow forms. Here I assumed my temperature would be taken and they’d ask where I’d come from. As I approached the end I couldn’t see any of that happening. Then it was my turn. A person with a mask exchanged my declaration of ‘healthy’ for another slip of paper, also yellow, with COVID-19 stamped in bold block letters. In small print it said to keep this in my passport and if I got sick to contact the nearest health facility immediately and bring along this card.

That was it.

I proceeded through immigration, no questions asked, handed in my ‘nothing to declare’ form in the customs line, and sailed out into the chewable night air.

I breathed in the moist, incense-laden, warmth of Bali and tension left my body. The long journey was over. Ketut was at the airport to meet me with a bottle of water and his 2000 watt smile.

I’m home.

Thank you all for coming along on my 70th birthday adventure. You’ve been great travel companions and have made my experience even more enjoyable by sharing it with me!

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