Are you content? BE TERRIFIED!

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Sometimes we get stuck in our lives. No matter how gorgeous, titillating, and inspired they may be, eventually it all becomes normal; still really really good, but normal. That state of complacency, cruise-control I call it, is often confused with contentment. “Oh everything’s great. I’m content with my life.” If that’s you, be terrified.

I’ve lived in Bali for five years. From day one I was awestruck. Everything was like nothing I’d ever known, done, seen, heard, believed, before. I was drinking from the fire hydrant of life at just about the same gushing flow. Joy was my perpetual state followed close on its heels by deep, soul-satisfying gratitude. I dreamed big and the dreams that manifested were bigger. Bali met me on every plane of existence with abundance above and beyond imagining.

But like many romances, infatuation becomes lust, becomes admiration, becomes love, becomes commitment…and then if the fire is left untended it wanes to coals and burns out to cold, dead, ash.

I woke up one morning and felt the chill.

Bali was still Bali. I knew that. But something inside me had shifted and I didn’t feel her the way I had before. I’d become content, but in the wake of the intensity of joy, discovery, and amazement, contentment was a colorless place emitting the low-level hum of boredom.

There was nothing wrong. It’s very difficult to sort out what’s not right when there’s nothing wrong. I journaled, meditated, yoga’d, did everything I knew to do. But I was metaphorically at sea in a magnificent sailboat without a breath of wind. My father died. My first grandchild was born. Life crested and dipped like waves around me but I remained stagnant in their midst.

Then one day by divine chance, I stumbled upon a book with the dreadful title, A Happy Pocket Full of Money, by David Cameron Gikandi. Truth be told, I would have never picked that book off the shelf. But because of the serendipitous way it crossed my path, I read it. Buried in a paragraph on page 85, was the key that broke the code. Paraphrased it went something like this: A major reason why people lose their joy is because they cease to dream. Sometimes this happens when comfort is finally achieved, which isn’t a bad thing. But if you find yourself going down, re-examine your goals and mental images, for life is images of the mind expressed.

Bingo! Sirens went off. Five years ago my head had been filled with images: the kind of life I desired, the books I would write, the home I would live in, the friends I would have. Five years later, I HAD IT ALL. I had achieved comfort. But the place in my mind once filled with fantastic visions and outrageous dreams was now empty space and I was going down.

The author didn’t stop there. He went on to make the remarkable claim that 5000 dreams are better than 500. His premise is that you want to give Source plenty to work with.

So I’m imagining my list of 5000 dreams. I have three so far but they’re big ones. Meanwhile, I’ve recognized that in the wake of so much blessing an old belief system had crept back in, one that suggested I’d been given so much more than I deserved, how dare I dream of anything else? Where do these idiotic lies come from? And why was I paying so little attention? I knew better!

It didn’t take months, or weeks, or even days. Within hours of the juicy birth of new desires, the lights went on, the expectant sizzle of potential zinged through my veins, and lusty infatuation for everyone and everything made me giddy with joy. Never, ever again will I let my life get comfortably dreamless. Thank you, Mr. Gikandi.

~~~~~

“With our thoughts we make the world.”
– Buddha

“If you can dream it, you can do it.”
– Walt Disney

“The empires of the future are empires of the mind.”
– Winston Churchill

“Where there is no vision the people perish.”
– Proverbs 29:18

“You’ve got to think about big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.”
– Alvin Toffler

“Dreams are extremely important. You can’t do it unless you can imagine it.”
-George Lucas

“Cherish your visions and your dreams as they are the children of your soul, the blueprints of your ultimate achievements.”
– Napoleon Hill

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.”
– Henry David Thoreau 

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What to do about all that?

Awake before five this morning, the brightening sky lured me from bed. I slid open the wide doors, welcoming the light in the east and the soft breath of dawn. With steaming brew cupped warm in my hands I watched the fire at the horizon fade to blue and scribbled my musings.

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But the more I wrote, the less I knew, until my jumbled, tumbling thoughts spit out this question:  WHAT TO DO ABOUT ALL THAT?

Instantly the words came…

Get up early
Watch the sunrise
Hear the sounds
Smell the incense
Feel the caress
Taste the coffee
Receive the blessing
Give thanks

It’s being present and allowing my mind to rest, to let go of trying to ‘figure it all out.’ Don’t push the river, Dad used to tell me. Too often I rushed headlong into a solution of my own devising that brought suffering in the end. Older now, and somewhat wiser, my heart knows that the answers will appear when they’re ready if I give them the chance.

Tears Before 9 A.M.

Tears are easy for me. Sad movies, happy movies, a poignant story, a gesture of kindness…. It’s 9:00 a.m. and I’ve already had two good cries this morning. But first a note about meditation.

Ubud is a guru-abundant community crawling with yogis and healers. The streets are full of tourists, half of them are couples in matching his/hers outfits and the other half sport breathable but form-fitting, zen but trendy, yoga attire. They’re everywhere. But the ones I listen to are often seated at the next table in a café. Eavesdropping because it’s impossible not too, I’m soon aware that whatever else spirituality might be, here it’s big business. In what could easily become the spiritual seekers capital of the world, these enlightened beings self-promote shamelessly and one-up each other on daily hours of meditation, mastery of impossible poses, number of followers, DVD sales, podcasts, guest appearances, until I can’t help myself. I slow- swivel in my chair for a serupticious peek at the braggarts.

What happened to the student seeking the teacher in a cave on a lonely mountaintop somewhere in Tibet?

So when I sat down to tell the story about my tears and was about to mention meditation, discomfort squirmed around the word. My prejudice goes back to being raised Lutheran in the Scandinavian style. There were two subjects in our household that were taboo for discussion: politics and religion. They were seen as controversial, and controversy wasn’t tolerated. Kids, crops, and cooking, were acceptable topics.

Spirituality settles into the broadly defined religion category and I’m not surprised to note that prior programming still kicks in. So although it makes me uncomfortable to tell you that this morning I was meditating, it feels important in context, and in truth, I was.

It was at the end when, with prayer hands stretched high overhead in thanks for the unbelievable blessings of my life, that the first onslaught hit. Intense sobs from nowhere heaved in my chest and tears drooled down my cheeks. Gratitude feels like that sometimes when the bigness of it doesn’t fit the smallness of my expectation. I’m still incredulous that I’m here, in Bali, living in an apartment that dreams are made of, with a view of palm trees and red tiled rooftops and the overarching blue bowl of sky.

I collected myself, finished the meditation, and made coffee.

Sipping the thick, sludgy brew that I’ve come to love, and staring off into space imagining the day ahead, I didn’t hear Ketut come in. “Good morning.” His voice made me jump. He carried an armload of bags and deposited them on the kitchen counter. “Kue from Ngusabetegen,” he said and proceeded to remove fruits and cakes, and treats from the bags and place them on the countertop.

“So many, Ketut? All for me?”

“Oh ya, not so many. You keep in kulkas.” Kulkas is the Indonesian word for refrigerator and mine is a 2′ cube that sits beneath the counter. This abundance will max it out. Abundance. What he has brought me are not the 20 cent packets of fried dough or the over-ripe finger bananas that usually appear after ceremonies. Quite the opposite. I’ve watched his family make these confections over the days preceding an important ceremony like Ngusabetegen, and this gift represents more than just sharing leftovers. The gesture speaks to my heart with clarity. You are appreciated. You are respected. You are loved.

He sees my delight and hears my thanks. The Balinese culture is one of controlled emotions but Ketut has become accustomed to my hand-clapping, squealing excitement. He grins and beats a hasty retreat. As soon as he’s gone the dam bursts again and remnants of the earlier overwhelm wash over me. I dab at tears while unwrapping each precious offering.

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In the front are hairy, pink, rambutan. Behind them are the cutest fruits on the planet, mangosteen, with its round purple body, perky green cap, and six-petaled brown flowerette at the base. In the back at the left is bulu. It reminds me of a bundt cake or a very large donut with a hole in the middle. The bon-bons in palm leaf wrappers sit directly in front of the bulu. These are dodol and they contain a sticky-sweet black rice paste with a mildly smoky flavor. Unusual. The red and green grapes are red and green grapes, anggur merah and anggur hijau. In front of the grapes is an orange but it tastes and peels more like a tangerine. Jeruk. A giant pink and white cookie that is made only for Ngusabetegen in this village is simbar. Behind it are pink and white rice crispy cakes, jaja gina. The white satuh balls remind me of Mexican Wedding Cake cookies, but these have no moisture. The moment you bite into them they decompose into a pile of sticky dust in your lap. Notice the green leafy thing at the right-hand edge. It’s called tape beras. My first encounter produced the gag reflex, but I’ve acquired a taste. Inside this banana leaf packet is watery, fermented rice. Yum!  Oh! I forgot to put the lycee in the basket! There were 8-10 of those fruits in my gift as well.

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But the granddaddy of them all, the sweet snack that took me to Ketut’s family home for a stay of four nights so his mother could show me how it’s made, is jaja uli. Brown rice, black rice, and white rice are the basis for this delicacy. Pounded and pulverized first, then mixed with palm sugar, or in the case of the white, left plain, they are packed into forms to get the round shape, then wrapped in coconut leaves to preserve them. To serve, thinly slice and saute in coconut oil until crisp. The flavor is exquisite. But the time…and the labor…? This is enough to feed the entire village and it’s now in my kulkas.

So like I said, I cried twice today, and all before 9 a.m. Can a heart break with happiness? If it can, mine does every single day. And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have a little nibble of dodol while I fry up some jaja uli!

My Village, My Tribe

 

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I woke up the other morning to emailed photos of the annual Family Picnic. It’s an institution, an every year reunion of all living members of my father’s large family of origin. There were twelve children who had children who in turn had children, and those children are currently having more children.  So they gather, those who aren’t feuding or living far away, at the home place, to eat, reminisce, play softball, and marvel at how they all look the same, never change, don’t age, and isn’t cousin Charley’s little girl a handful!

I puzzled over the photo for a long time and then took a walk. My injured foot felt ready at last.

The past six weeks I’ve been immobilized due to an injury. During that time I became aware of a different world. On the best days it was vacant, void of feeling, a long tunnel of boredom. On the worst days a sodden blanket descended over everything and the atmosphere darkened with anxiety, foreboding, and fear. It was a place empty of gratitude. In my small room, day after day, foot propped on pillows, construction noise hammering around me, there were times when I sank into that other world.

But today marked the end of solitary confinement. I set out under paintbrush blue skies washed with sunlight and expectation. The taxi drivers in the street welcomed me back. Where had I gone? Had I been in America? I met an Australian friend for lunch and mailed a letter at the post office. Out of nowhere gratitude spilled over me. In gratitude anything is possible. The air sizzles with potential. People smile and instant bonds form. It’s a world of generosity and heart wholeness.

At the end of my outing, giddy and joyful I approached home. The shaggy grass in the yard had been trimmed by my neighbor. I drew closer and saw Ketut’s head in the kitchen window. I could hear Lake Batur fish sizzling in the pan. “How did you know I’d come home now and be starving?” His uncanny intuition is unnerving. “Did you read my mind?” I’ve accused him of that before.

“You long walk, maybe hungry,” he said as he piled mounds of stir-fried vegetables, steamed rice with chunks of sweet potato, and the crisp body of a whole fish on a plate and handed it to me.

“Yes,” I thought, “A very long walk, right out of one world into another.” I had created them both by what I allowed my mind to dwell upon. Ketut is always kind and thoughtful. The sun in Bali is always shining. I have no more or no less money today that I did yesterday. But for six weeks my stony little heart lacked gratitude.

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And then it hit me. What seemed odd about that picture was that all those people have white skin. Of course they do. They’re Norwegian with a smattering of other European genes. My family here is Indonesian, mostly brown, and sometimes I forget that I’m not.

But it isn’t skin color that makes a village, or shared history that creates a tribe. It’s the condition of the heart, the bonds of love and service, the willingness to be vulnerable and accessible to one another. That can happen anywhere.

And gratitude is the gate between worlds.

A High Holy No-No

I’m writing my story, a memoir of sorts, and I’m at a difficult part. In one sense there’s a feeling of release when I make my way through something that I’ve stuffed so far down it’s hard to even bring it back.
*
That happened today.
*
Then a Balinese friend stopped by. He blew my mind with kindness and I dissolved into tears. There was a mixed group around us and they absolutely did not know what to do. His random act was so complete and so unexpected it overwhelmed me. Then, just to make matters even more unacceptable (crying is frowned upon here) I hugged him. That is, of course, a high holy no-no in Bali!
*
His friends laughed, whether in nervous embarrassment for him, or for me, or for some unrelated reason I don’t know, but it accomplished what was needed. I disappeared until I could muster up a little decorum.

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When I tried to sit down and write again after all that, it was impossible. Enough emotion for today. I made a cup of coffee, found a quiet spot and allowed myself a few more grateful tears.

One thing is certain, and writing makes that clearer every day. I wouldn’t trade this crazy life for anything. Not for anything!

The Way Things Work-Manifesting 101

A dream isn’t necessarily what you might think. Maybe it’s an idea that feels like a longing. It could be a memory of something beautiful that happened once, or a wish you make when you blow out your birthday candles. A dream can be innocent like that, unassuming, sneaky. It can be so low-key and camouflaged that you don’t recognize it for what it really is.

Here’s what I know about manifesting. You need a dream. So to begin, sift through your storehouse of longings, memories, and wishes. Find one that feels important, that resonates, and flesh it out. Give it life. In every possible way make it prominent so you feel it, look at it, think about it, and talk about it every day, many times a day. Focus. As you do this, you create a different reality for yourself, a reality that puts you in the middle of that dream.

Next is gratitude. How grateful will you be when what you imagine comes true? Feel it. Take yourself mentally into the place where your dream has materialized and experience the joy of it in your body. Express thankfulness. Accept no contrary thoughts, doubts, or pooh-pooh’s.

Easier said than done, you say? Of course. But you can control your babbling mind. If you don’t yet meditate, now would be a good time to start. Think of it as daydreaming. We all know how to daydream. It’s about that simple. For down-to-earth guidelines, read this very short but excellent book, Buddha in Blue Jeans, by Tai Sheridan. It takes the myth and mystery out of meditation.

Here’s what you’re doing. You’re creating energy. Powerful, positive energy. Ideas will begin to occur to you. They’re like stepping stones. As you act on those prompts new avenues of opportunity appear. Doors open. What looked impossible begins to sweep you along in a current, as if you’ve caught the jet-stream to Wonderland. And what often ends up happening is that the little dream you began with becomes something far bigger and more beautiful than anything you could have imagined.

Today at two p.m. I was thinking about my kitchen. The dark brown cabinets looked gloomy. I wanted a brighter space. Ketut happened to pop in just then. “I think I want to paint these shelves white,” I said.

“Do now,” he suggested. By three p.m. we were at the paint shop. They had one white. I briefly thought of my Benjamin Moore fan deck that had about 200 variations of that color, then decided this particular shade of Bali white was perfect. “Need oil, mix-mix.” Ketut said, and held up a suspicious looking blue can void of any listing of ingredients. By four p.m. he had mixed the oil (which turned out to be paint thinner that smelled like a cross between gasoline and turpentine) with the high gloss white enamel. And by five-thirty, the job was finished.

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I’ve been living with the dark kitchen for months. Until today, I hadn’t taken time to dream something different. As soon as I did, it materialized.

Manifesting has become my favorite pastime. It’s like a muscle that gets stronger with exercise. You may think my kitchen story is lame, a poor example. But that’s part of the secret. Recognizing blessing and honoring it, no matter how large or small it may seem, is the key to abundance. And manifesting dreams is no more and no less than an outpouring of blessing that fulfills the desires of our hearts.

Kitchen Ballet

It started early this morning. Joy posted the schedule for Thanksgiving preparations on the refrigerator and we went to work. There would be four of us for dinner, and the plan was to have the first course, French onion soup, at 1:00. Joy was poetry in motion, chopping, basting, sauteing and maintaining a steady stream of conversation all the while keeping one eye on her spreadsheets and the other on the clock.

The kitchen is not large and counter space is limited. I was assigned the task of chief dish and bottle washer throughout the morning, keeping the counters clear while Joy did what appeared to be kitchen ballet. Gracefully pivoting and pirouetting from oven to stove top to cutting board, she worked her magic. The mouth-watering aromas must have driven the other residents on the 21st floor crazy!

When Kellen came in from his morning run I was re-assigned. I happily moved on to table decor. He joined Joy in the kitchen and the two of them functioned together like a well-oiled machine. It was as though he read her mind, anticipating her next move then supplying what she needed before she asked.

Karen  arrived and the soup was ready. A gastronomical journey of impressive proportions began!

Oh that soup…!

I’ve eaten a lot of French onion soups in my time, but Joy’s was far and away the most delicious concoction I’ve yet encountered. The delicate rich flavor of the broth was complemented by a thick slice of sourdough bread topped with the creamy gruyere. Oh bliss! The soup alone should have been enough, would have been if this were not Thanksgiving. But as soon as our bowls were empty, out came the rest of the feast.

We had the ubiquitous turkey, a 20# bird that Joy soaked in a spicy brine for 16 hours prior to roasting. She crafted her dressing from French bread that she cubed, toasted, and lovingly seasoned to perfection. The Brussels sprouts were tossed with olive oil, lemon zest and black pepper. She did a side dish of made-from-scratch macaroni and cheese with sharp cheddar and cream. Her cranberry sauce started with real cranberries and an unexpected addition of jalepeno peppers. The garlic mashed potatoes and giblet gravy were just as mouth-watering as everything else on her amazing menu.

I haven’t eaten that much at one sitting for many, many years. But I couldn’t resist the flavors of that beautiful meal prepared with such skill and love. And then…dessert. Karen brought apple pie and cheesecake that she had also made from scratch. Of course there was no way to choose one or the other. So slowly, very slowly, I ate apple pie and vanilla bean ice cream. Then even more slowly, I ate New York cheesecake with strawberries and chocolate sauce.

Some things are just worth it.

Now the day is done. The house is quiet. Neighbors in the condos across the street, those who don’t pull the draperies, are one by one turning off their TV’s and going to bed. I’m wide awake and still far too full to fall asleep. But it isn’t just my over-stuffed stomach, my heart is overflowing as well. The blessings of family, of friends, of love and acceptance, of a life filled to capacity with immeasurable goodness scroll through my consciousness like scenes in a movie. Thanksgiving. Giving thanks.

May I never grow so accustomed to plenty that I forget what a gift it is.

Romeo Declares His Love From My Garden

I am sitting on my balcony at the little desk listening to night noises…a frog with a voice 2000 times his size is making himself heard. It must be a mating call, nothing else would be so raucous and urgent! Wherever you are, lady frog, put this poor guy out of his misery! And somewhere there is music, dreamy, mellow music that I can hear when the frog takes a breath. It is an otherwise lovely evening.

My House Frog

Ancient Hindus believed that frogs cast the world into orbit in space and symbolize darkness. In other cultures frogs represent transformation and rebirth, similar to the butterfly. It is fitting that I should have monsieur frog as my constant companion here at Rumah Kita. (However, I much prefer the strong, silent type in the photo to the raunchy fellow in the garden!) If I could describe in words the sound my Garden Romeo makes, it is similar to incessant loud hammering on a hollow wooden box. Try that sometime and know my suffering! He goes on for hours! I have threatened to personally transport him to someone else’s garden far, far away from his lady if he doesn’t quit. My menacing words go unheeded.

But, as I said, it is fitting that my life has abundant frog energy right now. Part of the journey toward awakening is facing and embracing the darkness. I like to call it ‘owning the shadow.’ For someone who spent 3/4 of her life fleeing the shadows this is no small task! How cleverly I disguised the stormy wasteland of my broken self! I took a lot of credit for being strong, capable, efficient, independent, and in need of nothing. That’s a lonely place. Oddly enough, the thing I most feared was being alone.

Enter monsieur frog (figuratively speaking….) I like to think of the tadpole not as a baby frog, but as preparation for the mature frog. It is all a process of growth and change. When I became willing to look at who I really am, alone, clothes off, makeup off, hair gnarly and askew, and all cleverness aside, that’s when the tadpole legs began to shrink and my mature frog-body started to take shape. (I do love metaphor!) As I looked at the real woman, stripped of all trappings, I felt such tenderness and compassion for that person who held herself so tightly, tried to be so perfect, and had failed so miserably! “That’s me,” I thought. “Valiant effort!” I told myself. “But time to let go. Time to just be.” And that was the beginning of this joyous wild ride.

There is no more fulfilling mission than the search for the lost self. Bits of all of us have gone missing over the years. Do you ever answer a question with, “Oh, I used to but….?” That was me. I used to sing. I used to paint. I used to play guitar, and flute, and ukelele, and piano. I used to write…. What happened to all that creativity? I exchanged it for the trappings of sophistication and success. I exchanged it for an empty, soul-less life. My throat goes tight and tears sting beneath my eyelids as my heart expands with gratitude. I was spared. I caught myself in time. I started, again, to write…

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