Vinyasa: finding a new state of flow

Dandayamana-Dhanurasana (Standing Bow Pulling Pose), photo by unknown

Vinyasa (def. sanskrit):  Sequential movement that interlinks yoga postures to form a continuous flow. It creates a movement meditation that reveals all forms as being impermanent and for this reason are not held on to.  It demands setting an intention in practice and taking the necessary steps toward reaching that goal.

I experienced something profound in my hot yoga practice today.  I was so moved in fact, that I cried.  I reached a point between all the positions, transitions, tensions, and releases, where I no longer could decipher the oozing beads of sweat from rolling tears.

It began slowly.  Rather than acknowledging discomfort, I embraced the relentless heat.  I focused inward.  I found my breath.  Instead of pain, I completely surrendered; I dove anxiously into each tensed posture.  With every new challenging poise I reached deeper inside myself, and I discovered something new – maybe not new, but an unexplored medium for connecting to the divine, to the life flowing within and around me.  I stretched, compressed, I pulled, I pushed; I explored the space and air surrounding my body.  I am not a flexible person, but I truly surprised myself.   By relinquishing any hesitation or sense of displeasure, I indulged in the extremes of positions I had never reached.

No matter how old I may live to be, I truly believe that life will never cease to amaze me.  I could climb the same mountain a hundred times, and every summit would be a new experience.  Every time you establish that connection from your internal roots to flourish outside you, beyond the measure of your own being, it teaches you something – you learn something new about yourself.  You learn by letting go; by releasing your preconceived notions, by submitting to your curiosities, by overcoming your conditioned fears and yielding to a childlike wonder.

There are few precious moments in life where you get to live outside yourself; where motion frees the mind to wander and connect with everything surrounding your being.  Where your energy is released from the weight of all white noise, distractions, and pettiness, and is able to focus soley on the art of the activity at hand, leaving the soul to explore and examine the true essence of each joyous moment.  On a mountain, in the ocean, running toward the endless horizon, and yesterday, for the first time – in hot yoga.   My breath and my movements merged together and my body transformed into raw motion, a constant rhythm pushing towards a goal; a vessel of pure kinetic energy.  Heart, pounding.  Breath, expanding.  Blood, flowing.  I was fully engaged in a beautiful state of flow.  Flow – where life surges through every pore in your body and you are overcome by a divine rapture filling inside you, blossoming into every hollow space.  Where acuteness of the senses enhances each moment, and you become everything by focusing on nothing but the art that is engaging you.

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”                                                                                                        

                                                                                                              -Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 

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Filed under Self discovery, Travel, Yoga

An Underwater Wonder: The Blue Hole

An aerial shot of the Blue Hole, taken from National Geographic

Off the coast of Belize, within the stretching miles of crystal turquoise, lies an eerie pocket of darkness.  Its depths reaching 124 meters, the Blue Hole lures scuba divers into its marine cave as if it were a fascinating vacuum – the nautical black hole of the Caribbean Sea.  Centuries ago, just after the ice age, this limestone cave was flooded by the melting of massive ice formations which broke apart the rock particles to washout as a giant void, leaving a deep pool of water in its wake.

Today it is filled with fantastical lifeforms, ranging from exotic corals and sponges to angel fish, barracuda, and sharks.  For more information watch the clip from msnbc below.

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Discovering Your True Self

Photo by unknown

We never really know who we are until we strip away everything we thought defined us.  All that comprises our daily life; our home, the food we eat, the people we greet, the clothes we wear, the trivial material objects of our unearned affection.  When you leave all this behind in pursuit of a foreign land, in quest of that noble unattainable quality that makes one ‘worldly’ – the word we’re taught from childhood to revere as a synonym for ‘wise’ – life dumps you on your ass to start from scratch.  It’s as if the teacher of life wiped clear the blackboard and handed you a fresh piece of chalk, challenging all you have ever learned.  You begin again, you are free to be yourself with no strings attached, your spirit renewed.  When you travel, it’s as if the world is letting you be as you are, accepting your quirks and graces with open arms, saying “I embrace you, because I understand that you are you, and the accumulation of that is what makes me such an awesomely profound place.”

And only in the absence of our possessions and familiar beings do we begin to unravel the hidden jewel of our soul that has been buried in the pages of a self-written play, the predictable plot we have contrived for ourselves, acting the role of a character we thought to be the perfect part.  I wonder how many people I pass on the street are where they want to be in life…. I wonder if they are living the life they always wanted; if they find happiness in the roles they have assumed in this world.  Isn’t the thrilling rush of travel the notion that tomorrow could bring anything? – that the shackles of routine are tossed aside for a brief window of time where the world is your oyster and fate your only comrade.  Where skipping down the street between your two long lost friends – ‘spontaneity’ and ‘youthfulness’ – is your staple joy to pass the time, all that you need aside from your daily meals to find fulfillment.  It is the freedom of daily choice, of open possibilities, of approaching the unexpected bumps in the road just to see where it may lead, that fuels my incessant hunger for travel.

Some people travel for the allure of escape, of ‘leaving all their baggage behind’.  The reality is that this is rarely achieved; those who are running away seek sanctuary from themselves, and they will never find it traveling – for this is the medium that best unveils the fading fresco of the true self.  Traveling is a self portrait.  It is a voyage of self discovery. The experiences you have along the way are individual brushstrokes that depict a portion of your being.  If you are fraudulent with your interactions, your painting reflects that – your brushstrokes will quiver, distorting into a crooked wretched portrayal of something you thought you wanted people to see.  A person must approach life with an authenticity, explore the world with no parameters of who they think they should or should not be, engage in community unaffected by what people do or do not say about them.  They must act as they were naturally born to act; and that is how the masterpiece will be achieved.  I hope someday in my ripe old age, if someone were to see my portrait, the fresco of my life, they could say – “that person looks like they have seen a lot of action.”  I hope that it would look like someone who could be large by acting small, who could say a lot with few words; who knew the forest and children’s laughter, who showed kindness to others with subtle quiet gestures… like someone who believed in treading lightly upon this earth to fully hear its heartbeat, rather than the stomping of one’s own feet.

Have you found your true self?  How would your fresco look?

Photo by unknown

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Filed under Culture, People, Self discovery, Society, The Deliberate Life, Travel

Humanity Defined: The meaning of Ubuntu

As humans, we too often forget that our actions have  a cause and an effect.  We forget that we are all connected to the consequences of one another; that what we do – our actions, our words, our feelings, eventually manifest themselves out into the world.  We do not realize that our efforts at achieving isolation and independence are in vain, for we cannot escape the decisions and revolutions that affect the world in which we live.  Our hands reach out unknowingly, and spread like breath, a soft vapor touching the peripherals of our fellow beings.  We forget that to be our best, we must look for the best in each other; that to live in peace, we must strive for harmony inwardly and outwardly.  We cannot ignore the lives of those around us.

We must greet one another with Ubuntu.

I remember the day I learned this word.  It was a revelation.  I was eating lunch across from Mark Mathabane, (maw-tah-bah-knee) held captive by an excruciatingly heartbreaking tale.  I could hardly swallow my food as I listened to a story of growing up in poverty, of unendurable suffering, of innocence robbed.  This tale was Mark’s childhood.   It was life as he knew it, through the eyes of a young boy confronting the hardships of apartheid in South Africa.  Confronting thoughts of suicide at the age of 10, facing a future that appeared so bleak and hopeless – digging in garbage heaps for food, never knowing where his next meal would come from.  But what he did know, was that despite the weary destitution, Ubuntu held his people together.  He guarded his family’s love like a fragile blossom, its tendrils gingerly holding the fragments of his life in order.

Mark Mathabane (formerly Johannes), native South African tennis athlete, scholar, author, and former White House Fellow.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu explains the South African philosophy of Ubuntu as “the essence of being human”,

“A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.  

Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity.

We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”

As Mark told the story of his coming of age, I gained a new appreciation for the meaning of the words family … friends … community; Ubuntu.  I could feel, through subtle cracks in the constant strength of his voice, the pain he endured – all the struggles he fought to be here, sitting right in front of me.  I realized right then and there, that nothing in my life was to be taken for granted.  I realized that everything I am, all that I have, all that I will be, I owe to my roots – my foundation – my family.  I saw,  in the dark pools of his eyes, that pain and suffering can be overpowered – that man can prevail in the face of oppression, that if he stands beside his fellow man instead of against him, they both are stronger.  That to embrace each other with Ubuntu, is the light in the shadow of darkness.

I later read Mark’s autobiography and best seller, Kaffir Boy, followed by his sister’s biography, Miriam’s Song.  Both are controversial stories, strong staples in literature curriculum, challenged by narrow-minded parents yearly.  Reading his books, particularly Kaffir Boy, deeply moved me.  But nothing has struck me with such profound effect as the expression on Mark’s face the day I learned Ubuntu.

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Living the Dream: or have we already lost it?

It dawned on me the other day, that people say this phrase so freely, yet seem to have no concept of what its value actually represents.  LTD…Living The Dream.   So simple, and still profound.  I saw it as a sticker slapped on a climbing helmet of a man I can’t help but admire.  And it made me stop and think…. Now THAT’S living the dream…..What is the dream?  Do I have the dream?

 First, what is the dream?

 To dream implies that one has a goal in mind, a fantasy, a vision of what could be possible.  Dreaming is what moves man forward, it inspires, it motivates, it allows us the freedom to imagine the unknown and to viciously pursue it; own it – conquer it.  It is the nature of being human, what sets us at the top of the foodchain.  It is creative.  It is intelligent.  It is brave.  But what have we collectively sucumbed to in our society as our standard of ‘the dream’?

Let’s take a closer look…..

Living the dream A:  Watching the superbowl on Tevo using a combination of 4 different remotes

Because is one ever really enough?

Living the dream B:  Books on tape, the I-pod/pad/broke, and kindles (because if Hitler can do it why can’t we?)

When you just can't turn the page

Living the dream C:  The KFC doubledown (610 calories, 37g fat, and 1990 mg sodium, um yeah…..)

Apparently buns are over rated, its a low carb thing

Living the dream D: Drinking beer in the shower

Not just a good idea anymore

Personally, I’d go with option D.  Nothing beats a tall cool one after a long run…. in the shower.  But that’s just me.  The point is, our ‘dreams’ have gone down the crapper and are replaced with completely asinine social norms.

Is it our culture?  Our generation?  Our geographic location that influences these weakened ideals?   Or is it because everything has already been done.  All the pinnacles have been reached.  All the books have been written.  All the discoveries have been made.  All the landscapes explored and named.  I frequently like to reflect back to a different time.  An era of the past, of the firsts.  The first men who where brave enough to dream, who first conquered their realm.

It’s refreshing.

I think about the pioneers of this land and how they dared to dream of a new tomorrow.  They had the courage to break away from the way things were, from everything that had been done before them; everything that brought them to where they were.  They picked up and left, to start a new way of life with a new way of thinking.  I imagine the first men who summitted mountains.  The first ascents.  The first true risks.  They had nothing; no gear, no equipment, no REI, dryfit, or nalgenes… they relied soley on courage and their own ingenuity for survival.  It hadn’t been done before, hammering the first pitons into a solid slab of granite to ascend to unreached heights.  I think of the first underwater explorers, the men who discovered that air could be channeled through tubing from a tank to a metal helmet.  They found untouched depths, an entire macrocosm undisturbed by the expanses of man.   It hadn’t been done.  And now it had.

Because they lived.  Because they dreamed.  Because they did.

Pioneers heading west on the Oregon trail in the early 1800's.

Sir Edmund Hillary with Tibetan sherpa, first to climb Mt Everest (Jomolungma)

King of the Cascades, Fred Beckey has made more 1st ascents than any other American climber

Emilio Comici, Italian alpinist who first summited Mont Blanc of the Alps

A diving bell, one of the first scuba suits created by August Siebe in 1837

They were the greats.  They were first.  Everything after them, is just walking in the footsteps of giants.

Nowadays we’re all just hanging out at Starbucks waiting to die.

So put down the skinny chai late, get off your ass, and go do something.  We may just be tracing footsteps, but we are re-living a dream worthwhile.  Chasing a pursuit already conquered, but we can at least glean from it the victory of accomplishment.

Life is too short to put off living the dream.

LTD……today, not tomorrow.

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The Cloud Forest of Mindo: A lesson in flying

For our weekend break from construction progress, the team favored my suggestion to head up north to Mindo for a day in the cloud forest. The elevation would give us a break from the relentless heat, and the 13 cable lines connecting the canopy would make for an exhilarating breeze through the trees.  Forgoing breakfast, we grabbed some bananas and headed for the bus – hopping from one to the next until arriving at our destination 3 hours later.

A glimpse through the Mindo canopy

Vibrant colors of the cloud forest

Before I get too excited re-living my superman flying experience, let me get off track for a moment to paint a clearer picture of the Ecuadorian bus situation.  Because…you really have to understand the details to fully appreciate the duration of these side trips.  From my last post concerning bus rides, we concluded that:

1.  The seats, aisle, (and sometimes roof) are completely jam packed.

2. The odor is ….unique, overpowering and unavoidable.

Now add to that equation, mariachi tassels adorning the curtains that wont stay shut or fully open, a completely reassuring Jesus sticker collection at the front of the bus – the shrine that is no doubt guiding the driver around the fatal corners while passing other buses and honking his clown car horn to valiantly deter any oncoming vehicles; and don’t forget, the traveling gypsy teens that forcefully ‘give’ you presents then demand payment for the Gordita Porn Disk 1 or repackaged Mani Candy at the next stop before they depart to other targets. Their gifts are always preceded with a drawn out well-recited story involving the deaths of their parents and the orphaned children they have to feed.  I have to give them credit, they’re much more creative and industrious than the panhandlers in Seattle. A man’s gotta eat.

When we separated from the crowd of the buses, the air was invigorating.  It had a fresher, cleaner feel to it.  At 5,000ft we were all a bit chilly riding up to the canopy in the bed of a sup’d up pickup.  We clung to the roll bars and peered out into the brush to spot some of the rare bird species.  Colorful flickers darted through the drizzly haze into the palm leaves, chirping as if to mock our delayed sightings.

A bird sighting, blurring by in the truck

At the top of the park awaited the entrance to the zipline insanity.  We geared up in helmets, harnesses, and gloves while listening to a mundane safety speech  “..Please do not let go of the cable…. This is a dangerous activity…. can be life threatening… yadda yadda yadda.”

We lined up on the first platform, it was a short jaunt of cable to the next staging area – just enough to get the heart rate elevated and break you in before having the crap scared out of you.  The second line was a screaming blur.  A rush of wind.  A collision with air. A green landscape wizzing by.  A leaping cry, like a tickle from the lungs. Hair whipped back, feet flailing, hands clinging for dear life.  What seemed like 1,000 ft off the ground, made reaching each platform a successful victory of prevailing life.

Erin:2, death:0. 

Getting geared up for the zipline tour

Soaring across the Mindo canopy

The rest of the cables became easier.  In fact, there was even the sound of laughter blended with the crying as we made our way through the canopy.  I found myself giggling uncontrollably while flying in superman position across the longest cable span.  This involved the aid of a tandem instructor to achieve maximum flying capacity.  It was almost surreal, looking down at the rain forest passing below me, free as a bird and enjoying the view.

Flying superman style across the longest cable line

Solid ground never felt so great

As we came around to the last 2 cables the mist we had been flying through had accumulated into a substantial rain shower.  The rain hit our faces like pellets of stinging ice as we zipped across the finish line.  The weather had certainly taken an unexpected turn for the worst.  By the time we reached the kiosk we had missed the last ride back down, forcing us to hop in another truck.  For the first 5 minutes of spastic bouncing I felt like I was on an improved Indiana Jones meets Splash Mountain ride at Disneyland, the perfect way to end our day of adventure!  Those sentiments quickly dissolved.  The rest of the ride back left us sopping wet, shivering, beat-up, bruised, and not to mention starving (and you can ask anyone in my family, you don’t want to be around me when I am hungry – It’s just not what you would call a pleasant experience).

By the time we reached the Mindo bus station we looked like a bunch of drowned rats.  Carrying only our day packs with water bottles and cameras, we were foolishly caught in the element without any spare clothing.  Just when we had abandoned hope of being remotely comfortable, our heavy hearts nearly jumped out of our chest at the sight of the giant glowing sign reading ‘se sirve pizza.’  We had 15 minutes till departure time.  We bolted for the door and ordered 2 of the largest ‘jamón con piña’ we could get.  They came out of the oven right as our bus was leaving – we grabbed our precious cardboard boxes and ran through the puddles to get on our bus with mere seconds to spare.  We plopped down in our seats, water puddling all around us, and scarfed down every glorious mouthful of the chewy fake cheese and saltine cracker crust.

Throughout my travels, there seems to permeate a repeated reminder that pizza is one of the few culinary treats we have mastered in America.  We do it right.  But in that moment, in those circumstances, Ecuador managed to do it better.

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Filed under Extreme adventure, Food, Transportation, Travel, Zip-lining

It takes a village to raise a child

As our team adapted to the construction constraints of our limited materials, the project slowly creeped to life.  With the addition of two local construction workers to help with the concrete and rebar placement, we were off to a solid recovery.  In a short amount of time I began to see the depth of strength that held the Tsachila community together.  All those hundreds of bricks had been moved and laid out for us in advance by the ‘Padres de la Familia’, the parent group of the local school.  Their pride for their family and educational system radiated from concerned faces as we passed by the locals on the street, growing more familiar each day.   It was very apparent that this was a community that loved their children, valued their friendships, and trusted their neighbors.  Children gathered in the road to kick a ball around, they chased each other between dwellings, crossing imaginary fences we would have built.  How foreign this open sense of space seemed to me, was truly a reflection on the values for boundaries and ownership instilled in me at a young age.  The village was linked together, almost seamlessly, joining one home to the next with laundry lines and banana trees as the only barrier.

We were different in many ways.  We were pale.  We were tall.  We laughed loudly. We wore funny hats.  We were the village spectacle, and our morning runs were just icing on the cake:  colorful spandex, sneakers, bandannas, and for god sake why would you ever want to run unless something was chasing you?

Well, most of the time there WAS something chasing us.

Earlier that week one of the Yanapuma volunteers had spent a day in the hospital getting a rabies vaccine after an unsettling canine attack. We elected to carry rocks in our hand during these outings, to whack at the perros that came too close.  Most mornings we rose early to fit in our run before the heat set in, a failed attempt at dodging the guard dogs.

As an avid runner, I had become fairly dependent on my music.  But traveling with only the bare essentials, sans headphones, I reverted back to a pre-technological era of athleticism.  I dove inward, and honed in on a sharpened state of being – the state one acquires from complete abandonment into subconscious concentration.  Energy is expended solely on forward motion, focus aimed on the air entering and leaving the lungs.  One knows only the burning of the legs, the timing of the foot striking the uneven ground.  The rhythm bridged between pace and exhale.  The capacity for prolonged momentum – the body a constant vector driving forward.   The earth blurring below a steady gate, escaping my view as I tilt my head upwards to enjoy the new taste of a different morning air.

Returning for a quick swim in the knee high water of the Pucta was quite refreshing – after the initial shock of the tickling minnows escaped your calves.  You never really get dry in Bua, sweat becomes a state of being, comfort – a state of mind.  With our limited backpacking garments in constant rotation, we learned to wear our clothes in shifts.  There was the morning variety – light shorts, dryfit tee or tank, and bandana, which transitioned into long hiking pants and a light fleece to fend off the evening mosquitoes.  Even 2 days after being washed in the river with our magic hippie soap, all fabrics remained damp on the line.

Getting to and from the school grounds everyday was… like a box of chocolates – ‘you never know what you’re gonna get’.  There was your standard reliable flavor, a basic bus ride described in an earlier post.  Then, there were the more daring varieties – the ones with nuts. Truly.  The first time we set foot on a Chiva, was like getting on a rickety carnival ride with no seat belt and a drunk operator at the helm.  Let’s just say Ecuadorians are resourceful.  They manage to cram every square inch of those things – top to bottom and side to side.  After every bench seat gets full (no door style, like a jeep-bus, but without all the cool jeep-like qualities), they start to cram people on the roof – don’t worry, there’s a convenient ladder to climb up on the back…..but most of the time this task must be accomplished with 2 bags in each hand, wearing flip flops, all while the bus takes off bouncing down the pothole filled road.

A very empty looking Chiva, the roof fills up fast.

A typical pickup truck - hauling families, food supplies, & livestock.

For the more daring folk, there’s the pick-up truck flavor – hopping up in the truck bed and clinging to the roll bar as the mildly intoxicated driver swerves potholes.  And lastly, the method I avoided, hoping on the back of a Moto – and trying not to scream as you wrap your arms around the stranger in front of you to keep from falling off the back.  Most locals managed a whole family on one bike with the kids sandwiched between Dad and Mom. No helmet required.

Our meals typically involved rice, bananas, fried platanos (plantain chips), yucca, and occasionally a portion of meat.  My favorite was the fresh caught Tallapia, wrapped in palm leaves whole and cooked on coals.  The cheeks were particularly delectable, but the eyeballs I could have gone without.  Dinner was our favorite time of day, the heat fading off to relax in the company of our gracious hosts.  The slow evenings were a comfortable way to get better acquainted with Alfonso’s family.  Entertainment by candlelight gave us the opportunity for a lazy hammock session, catching up in our logs, and learning more about the Tsachila culture.  I made it a habit to sneak back to the kitchen to look for the sloth, and help Isabel with the dishes.

There are some things that seem to transcend all cultural barriers; women working collectively in the kitchen and chatting about the men, is definitely one of them. I felt more a part of their way of life during that time of the day than any other.  I saw how they stored their food, where they put their dishes, what they told their children to get them to bed.  I saw how they invited visitors into their home, unannounced neighbors stopping by to chat; and how their children were treated by others, as if they were their own.  I saw, through the Tsachila way, that it really does takes a village to raise a child.

Tsachila boys playing around.


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