The Moment

It’s sunrise in Punta Mita, Mexico. I have been waiting for it for nearly thirty minutes already. The sun is rising slowly from behind the mountains, in what feels like it should be a big, climactic moment, but is instead just the casual repetition of what happens here everyday. It won’t be rushed to glory because we are here to watch it. The orange and pink colors gradually, painstakingly spread across the sky, illuminating the stand up paddle boarders in the ocean below, as they take deliberate and precise strokes away from the shore.

The roosters crow somewhere in the near distance, their calls immediately answered threefold by the seagulls flying over our heads. But otherwise, there is silence on this morning. Those who wake early seem to understand this sacred moment of the day beginning, respecting its quiet.

There is no smell here, surprising me, when smells are so often what ground me to a particular place, like the blooming tuberose we smelled each morning in Bali, or the unique earthy mixture of horses and dirt on a farm in Italy. No fishy saltwater smell wafts up from the bay, no floral aromas surround us and tell us that we are not at home. It is only when the coffee begins brewing that there is any scent recognition at all.

I’m sitting outside on our patio, sipping tea and writing while overlooking the waves on the shoreline below, the early morning mist still rising off the water. This outdoor area is partially covered by a wooden trellis, with vines hanging over the edge, framing our pictures with context, setting them apart from anywhere else we may have taken this sunrise photo over the sea. I sink deeper into the soft cushions on our wraparound couch, crossing my legs beneath me as if in meditation, as if I might close my eyes and begin a chant of OM to seal this moment in my memory forever.

 

I am 36.

 

There’s no birthday confession this year, no fighting against what my life is, or grappling for what it perhaps “should” be. There are no justifications of my choices, or resignations of what I must accept for myself. There is no fretting about the future, or tormenting myself about the past. Not this birthday morning, not right now, not in this moment.

 

There is just stillness.

 

For the next four days I am in Punta Mita, a tiny gated area situated on a bay north of Puerto Vallarta, with several girlfriends, to celebrate the passing of another year in my life. I asked them to join me, without worrying if it was too much to ask six women leave their jobs and their families and their lives to travel to another country with me. They simply asked what time to book their plane tickets and didn’t question it further. When we arrived at the airport in Mexico, we stepped into the arrivals area to find someone holding up a sign in front of her face, meant for me to read:

To Me, You Are Perfect

A tribute to my favorite movie, Love Actually, and to me, actually. One of my friends who had been unable to commit to the trip was suddenly there, surprising me outside of baggage claim in  what could have been a scene from a movie. The movie of my life.

 

It’s the scene in the movie where the soul-searching, fumbling-for-life’s-meaning girl finally feels how much she is loved.

 

And then, (I had almost forgotten it!), there it is! That moment of climax in our peaceful morning. The moment the sun finally emerges fully from behind the mountains. It shines brightly on our faces, heating them, and glistens in its reflection across the water below. The moment that feels like a reckoning, as if all of our sins are forgiven in the face of this beauty, as if we could do no wrong in this day. The moment that reaffirms our goodness, and our place in this world. The moment that reminds us who we truly are. The moment I have been waiting all morning to find.

 

The moment that is everything.

 

Early morning sun, Punta Mita

Early morning sun, Punta Mita

The sun finally emerges, an hour later

The sun emerges, an hour later…most definitely worth the wait

With love, and so, so much gratitude from Mexico,

Katie

Angels, Turtles and Magic: A Week in the Galápagos

My roommate sleeps with a smile on her face.

We are here, in the Galápagos Islands, for a weeklong retreat. The word “retreat” has never felt more fitting than it does here, where the main attractions are nature and animals and are so far removed from the constant traffic and smog and noise of Los Angeles. This is no City of Angels, but it seems to hold so many of them in the form of sea lions and blue-footed boobies and massive pre-historic looking turtles called tortugas.

My roommate, too. She is an angel. She sleeps in stillness while smiling, on her side, with her hands pressed together underneath her head as if in a silent prayer. She wakes languidly, smile still on her face, the physical embodiment of the lines from one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems:

“Good morning, good morning, good morning. Watch, now, how I wake in happiness, in kindness.”

I wake with the remnants of own night. Jaw sore from permanent clenching, teeth aching from grinding through a plastic mouth guard, muscles oddly tired from some unknown fight while I slept. I asked the dentist how I could stop grinding my teeth so badly, how I could sleep more peacefully. “Have less stress,” she tells me, as if stress were an object I could collect or discard at will, like souvenir t-shirts or expensive shoes. Just have less of them, and I will sleep better and my teeth won’t bite through plastic and my jaw will no longer lock. What if it were that easy? What if I could smile in my sleep too?

Or what if I was a tortuga?

We went to visit them, where they gather in ponds and roam across open land covered in landscaping scraps that looked like perfect little grass and twig houses. It was a surreal place, like we had stumbled upon the Galápagos-themed section of Epcot rather than real life. An amusement park attraction that couldn’t possibly exist in nature. Except that it somehow does.

I crouched down before one of the turtles who was submerged halfway in the mud, his shell making suction-y noises when he tried to lift himself to a new vantage point, detaching himself from the sludge momentarily before sinking back down again. I stared at him silently for what seemed an eternity, the wariness in his eyes never lessening. He opened his mouth as if to talk to me, but remained mute. Instead he kept his eyes trained on me as he slowly retracted his head back into his shell, connection to me lost for good.

I know this turtle. I am this turtle.

I know how to pull my head back into my shell. I know how to disengage. I know how to retreat.

But this retreat is actually not about retreating. It’s not about escaping at all here. It’s about finding yourself in a place, in nature, in animals.

Besides, as Chris Cleave put it his novel Little Bee, “life is not inclined to let us escape.” There is no retreating from the iguana who crosses my path, causing me to pause and admire his vivid yellow coloring. Or from the sea lion cub who stops to sniff my clothing before he flops down on the sand to dry himself, and to rest from the exertion of climbing up the rocks to dry land. Or yet another enormous tortuga, who walks boldly and deliberately towards me, eyes never leaving mine, an unspoken challenge to let him really see me.

The beauty here is both undeniable and inescapable.

At Semilla Verde, the picturesque retreat center where we are staying, the sunrise shines through the trees at 5am, illuminating them the way the brighten button on my camera means to enhance my pictures, but that I can now see fails miserably. Nothing could re-create this filter, this real light that dances across the treetops and peeks through the green.

The yoga studio, with its perfectly smooth wood floors, and dramatic wall of windows, looks out onto the tortoise pond. One night as we are practicing, in the dusk with just a few candles lit, a tortuga crosses the yard, moving slowly towards the setting sun in the distance. We pause in our practice to admire this completely natural, and completely surreal moment.

At that instant, we all believe in magic.

I am trying, desperately, to remember it all, now that it’s over. I’m writing it down and cataloguing pictures and studying our itinerary, because how tragic would it be to experience magic and not remember it?

I hope I never forget the color of the water here, and the multitude of shades of aqua and cerulean and cobalt that I’ve never before seen together. I hope I never forget the vibrant red grass that covers the desert land during the dry season, or the exact shade of the blue-footed boobies’ startlingly blue feet. I hope I never forget the intensity of the gaze of the tortugas, who seemed to see right into my soul.

I hope I never forget the smell of sea lion poop and iguana poop sealed together in the salty air, a smell so vile and distinct that it seems forever burned in my nostrils. I hope I never forget the smell of burning paper in the huge stone fireplace, where we tossed in pages of our journals, newspapers and candy wrappers; everything we hoped to leave behind in the Galápagos: our fears, our flaws and our trash. I hope I never forget the smell of the afternoon rain that fell on Semilla Verde almost daily—cool and earthy and cleansing.

I hope I never forget the sound of the frigate birds flying overhead during mating season, or the sea lion “bull” calling out from the water to his harem of females. I hope I never forget the sound of a little boy giggling as he ran through the house, or the raspy voice of our tour guide Cheche, as he shared his love of Galápagos with us. I hope I never forget our laughter as we recounted tales to each other with catch phrases like “clamp-down”, “wine-in-a-box” and “chef-on-a-boat”.

I hope I never forget the tartness of tamarind sorbet, or the chalkiness of Ecuadorian dark chocolate. I hope I never forget the amazing combination of rice and cheese and corn, fried together to make the perfect breakfast delicacy.

I hope I never forget the softness of the white sand on the beaches beneath our feet, the fine crystals feeling like something else entirely, almost like liquid even. I hope I never forget the rocky terrain we traversed, and the way it felt solid yet sometimes shifted under our slow steps.

I hope to never forget standing in the rain, barefoot in the wet grass, eyes and hearts lifted to the sky in a circle gratitude, feeling so perfectly in the right place at the right time.

I hope I never forget any of it.

Because if I can allow myself to dream of this beauty, to dream of this magic, I, too, may wake up with my hands pressed together under my head, saying a prayer of gratitude. I, too, may stop retreating into my shell. I, too, may awaken as a smiling angel. I may remember it all.

Gracias por los recuerdos Galápagos. Gracias por todo.

Tortuga

Tortuga

Sea Lion

Sea Lion Baby

Iguana

Iguana

Sea Turtle!

Sea Turtle!

View on South Plazas Island

View on South Plazas Island (sea lion and bird perched high above the water)

Sunset. Yoga. Tortuga. Bliss.

Sunset. Yoga. Tortuga. Bliss.

Katie

Confession: I Learn Most Of My Life Lessons In Airports

It happened again.

I’m sitting in the lounge at the airport in Panama City, Panama, waiting for my flight to Ecuador. It’s very hard for me to concentrate on writing, because my ears are straining to hear and understand every conversation going on around me. With my high school Spanish, I struggle to piece together stories. A couple traveling on to Brazil. A woman who works for Proctor & Gamble in Albany, Georgia. A group of businessmen who don’t care for Rihanna’s music. The cacophony of voices seems so much louder than usual, my sense of hearing heightened to a new level.

I realize how often I walk around hearing nothing.

When I travel within the US, it is so easy for me to tune out what people near me are saying. Their words altogether too familiar to me,  I just don’t pay any attention. Similarly, I can ignore the chatter in cities where I don’t have any knowledge of the language spoken. In Bangkok, or Brussels, the conversations become just a vague buzzing noise, like that of bees flying around nearby in a swarm, too far away to cause any alarm or require any action. I can stay in my head, alone; no one else makes their way in.

But toss in a few words I actually understand, followed by many, many more that I don’t, and my brain does not know how to proceed as planned. It allows everyone in, crowding out my thoughts and trying to process theirs instead. Suddenly I’m present in a way I didn’t realize that I hadn’t been before. And now I see it, my eyes functioning at once as well as my ears now do.

I learn many of my most valuable life lessons in airports.

In Los Angeles, I learned how to be less judgmental.

In Newark, I learned about how to pay attention, when I carelessly tied up a handicapped bathroom stall, changing my clothes, for five minutes, only to emerge and see a woman in a wheelchair being forced to wait because I had been on my phone, and not noticed the sign on the door. I also learned how important a genuine apology and a little humility are, when I was seated across the aisle from said woman minutes later for six hours on our cross-country flight.

In Vegas, I learned about love.

In Albuquerque, I learned about kindness and compassion when I watched a mother struggle to travel on her own with two young, ill children, and resisted the previously typical urge to pray that I would not be seated near them. I learned that offering to help rather than just saying, “not my problem” is one of the most rewarding things we can do.

In Ho Chi Minh City, I learned that asking for help (oh, and a little preparation), can aid you in being less terrified in the middle of the night outside a closed airport halfway across the world.

In Tokyo (well, in the air above Tokyo), I learned that a person can watch a flight map on their personal television for nearly ten hours straight. Okay, that’s not really the lesson. I learned that what makes us happy is a deeply personal choice, and sometimes involves staring at an image of a small virtual plane flying over a static map for hours.

And tonight, in Panama, I learned how to hear–rather, to listen–and be present.

As I make my way to the flight that will join me with my friends in Ecuador, before we head together to a week-long Thanksgiving adventure in the Galapagos Islands, I am grateful for this particularly timely lesson in Panama.

My ears are open, attuned to any language I may overhear. Ready to make sense of the symphony of sounds that nature and animals always provide–or to appreciate its beauty if I cannot really understand it. Excited at the music of laughter, and tears, and awe, and gratitude that awaits me.

Determined to stay present.

Signing off from Panama!

Katie

airplane_takeoff

525,600 Minutes

One year

525,600 minutes

This weekend marks the first anniversary of this blog. It was one year ago today that I made one of my biggest life changes to date, and celebrated my official “coming out” as a writer. The memory of hitting the ‘publish’ button that very first time comes back to me in a rush. It’s a memory of sweat and panic, of slamming my laptop closed immediately afterwards, as if by shutting down the computer I could shut down the reality of what just happened, and go back to before. But there was no before now; there was just after.

One week

10,080 minutes

One week ago, I attended the first ever Manifestation Yoga and Writing Retreat in Stowe, Vermont, created and led by the incomparable Jennifer Pastiloff, along with bestselling author, Emily Rapp. For the first time, fittingly it seemed on this almost-one-year writing anniversary, I would attend actual writing workshops, with an actual writer and teacher. Like all new things that I couldn’t prepare for in advance, I was riddled with anxiety in the weeks (okay, months) leading up to the trip. What if everyone else there had been writing for years? What if they were all published, and critically acclaimed, and I was a complete amateur, not a real writer at all, in their presence?

What if I discovered that I wasn’t so special, after all?

Three days

4,320 minutes 

That revelation never had a shot at revealing itself on this magical three-day weekend with Jen and Emily. 

Instead, we banished our insecurities and focused our energy elsewhere: on wine and cheese introductions, and a video about Stowe that felt like one of those videos from a resort trying to sell you a timeshare (Snow! Horses! Nature! Come Visit Soon!!). We played with Chrissy, the yellow lab who loved to, with her poor displaced hips, inelegantly plop down on a yoga mat in the middle of the group, just wanting to be a part of it all, and perhaps catch a few falling pieces of food amidst the chaos. We moved our bodies together in our first Manifestation class, slowly at first, in the early morning chill, then more assuredly as the room and our muscles heated. We ignored our self-consciousness with a dance party, and pushed past our fears to do downward-facing dog atop a horse. We sang “Doe, a Deer, a Female Deer” in the Von Trapp family forest, and “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” while holding a Warrior Two pose for what felt like forever.

We had less than 5,000 minutes together, yet we connected, in that way that you do when you find yourself in another person. We found each other, and we found ourselves. We cried, and laughed, and sang, and shared, and made every one of those minutes mean something.

One year

525,600 minutes

It has taken me a year to get here. To understand what the writing is. It’s sharing our stories. It’s finding minutes, or even just moments, where we feel less alone.

One week

10,080 minutes

Time is so very fluid. Last week feels like both seconds and a lifetime ago. I almost can’t tell the difference anymore. Most of us have waited to share our stories, wanting instead to steep in the feeling, in the specialness, for just a little bit longer before sharing them with the world, with each other even.

I want to whisper to everyone, write it down. Write it all down now, because you will forget. The details are already starting to elude me, writing this just 10,000 minutes later. I remember the scent of the horse shit mixed with wet leaves and the caked mud that we tracked into the house. But is the smell of burning wood real, or just in my memory, constructed after conjuring up any New England fall day I could remember? I can still see the ominous clouds hovering over the hills in the distance, barely concealing a sun desperate to break through for a precious few, perfect minutes. But were the colors of the sunrise really so vivid? Were the oranges melting into reds melting into trees real, or just what I can see in the photograph, filtered and framed and frozen until they maybe became something else entirely?  

Does it matter what was real, and what was imagined? Or does it just matter that we were there, and that we are changed?

I remember this. A poem that Jen read on this retreat, like she had on so many others before that reverberated then, but this time becomes something completely new to me. This is the first time my ears have really heard it.

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

By Portia Nelson

I

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.

II

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

V

I walk down another street.

Three days

4,320 minutes

I am here, finally. On this, my fourth retreat, spending just 5,000 brief minutes amongst the rolling hills and multi-colored leaves and the smell of horse shit, my eyes finally open. I have reached the fourth chapter. I have stopped falling into the hole.

I will forget, of course. Isn’t that what we do, learn lessons over and over again? The ease of the writing in those exercises that Emily led us through won’t last forever, I know. The support we felt in this sacred space will wane, in our minds at least. Sometimes I will think again that I cannot do this, cannot possibly be a writer. But this time, I won’t go back to before. I will stay in the after. I will make new afters. 

One year ago

525,600 minutes ago

My first blog entry was titled “Confession: I Have No Idea What I’m Doing”. For everything I’ve learned over the past year, the last 525,600 minutes, I still have no idea what I am doing. But I am walking down the new street, anxious as always that I don’t know where it will go or what’s coming next, but certain that it is better than falling into the same hole on the same old street.

One weekend

One week

One Year

525,600 minutes

This is how I measure a year.

In endless gratitude,

Katie

Sunrise at Stowe Mountain Ranch Unfiltered and Perfect

Sunrise at Stowe Mountain Ranch
Unfiltered and Perfect

Confession: I Went To Canyon Ranch, And All I Brought Back Was The T-Shirt…And A Few Life Lessons

I just left the magical enclave known as Canyon Ranch, nestled in the middle of the Berkshires in Lenox, Massachusetts. It was my first visit; it will surely not be my last. One of my closest friends was invited to teach her famous Manifestation workshops there, having introduced them to the resort earlier this year. She was able to bring a guest with her, and I was the unbelievably lucky recipient of her generosity. It was a dream I’d never allowed myself to even have that actually came true. It was five days of relaxing, pampering, healthy-eating, centering bliss.

As I was sitting on the plane on Thursday night, delayed going back home to Los Angeles, a friend asked me what I learned in my time at Canyon Ranch. I was surprised at how quickly I was able to answer her, by how much I had learned in such a short time, by how profoundly I was touched by this place.

Life Lessons from Canyon Ranch:

I cannot resist cookies. Even gluten-free ones, which I was cajoled into trying, and which were surprisingly tasty. I simply could not say no to this dessert after dinner. And after lunch. And after breakfast. Healthy, gourmet food never tasted so good.

I am not as open to new experiences as I would like to be. I really don’t enjoy exercising, if I know that I’m exercising. Disguise the workout in a yoga class, or a picturesque walk and I’m game. Anything with kettleballs, squats, or that dreaded word, cardio? No, thank you, I’ll pass. I’ve come to terms with it. What I did realize, however, while I was avoiding every non-yoga class that Canyon Ranch offered, was that sometimes I do need to push myself more, and to try more new things, or I may really be missing out on discovering something I love. Sometimes, I need to put myself out there and be open to whatever happens.

I am too cautious. I signed up for “Arial Adventures” on Wednesday (aka trying new things), which consisted of a short zip-line and the “giant swing” (essentially a harnessed leap and free-fall off a raised platform). I stood atop the platform, hesitating. I didn’t look over the edge, down to the ground, in fear. The hesitation was not rooted in fear of crashing to the ground. Instead, I stared off in the distance, eager to know what I was facing, struggling to see through to the end of the road before I embarked upon the journey. Watching others before I took my turn. The fear was in not knowing what to expect, in not being able to prepare before leaping. I do this everywhere, it turns out. I prefer to tiptoe into the unknown, so as not to be caught off guard. I prefer to have a map, and clear directions for every route I take. But life’s not like that, is it? There isn’t a map for every situation, there is no way to always be perfectly prepared, and sometimes you just have to take whatever knowledge you do have, and just jump without knowing precisely where you are going to land.

I am not as great at relaxing as I had previously thought. I watched women scuttling around all day, clad in their Lululemon Luon gear, schedules packed with classes, lectures, meals, activities. I thought that I was so much more relaxed, with all of my time spent in front of the fireplace, with a book in hand. But I noticed how much less reading I actually got done on this trip. I saw how distracted I’ve become. I acknowledged how reliant I am on my mobile devices. I understand how imperative it is for me to work on changing this, in getting back to a place where I can put down the phone, put down the tablet, put down the computer and just be.

Restorative yoga is a wonderful aide in being present. Allowing someone to guide you into relaxation is quite effective. Slow, sweet, gentle…you can actually measure your body opening, and relaxing. You can feel the space between the beats of your heart lengthening, and the depth of your breath expanding as it flows all the way down to your toes. You have nowhere else to be, no agenda other than listening to your body, and your breath, and allowing yourself to be present in the moment.

It’s astonishingly easy to be there for the people you love. My friend Jen, the one who brought me to Canyon Ranch, was suffering through the hell of an ectopic pregnancy while we were there. Beyond all of the emotional turmoil that this brought, she started experiencing severe physical pain as soon as she arrived in Massachusetts. Ultimately, she ended up in the emergency room at 5am on Tuesday, facing an insensitive nurse and the fear that her fallopian tube had burst.

I worried that I would not be able to help her. That I wouldn’t know what to do, or how to do it, or if it would be enough. But when it really counted, it was the easiest thing in the world to pick up the phone, to pull the car around, to show up. It meant not always knowing what to say, or what to do, or even if you’re helping at all. But showing up anyway. Because that’s the best of what we can offer each other: showing up.

Most people are searching for something. During one of my visits to the cozy library, I met Cindy. The same age as my mom, she was knitting furiously while whispering the steps to herself. Somehow we began talking. In under an hour, she confided that she wasn’t truly fulfilled or happy, that she didn’t know how to put herself first, and that she just felt there should be “something more” in her life. I could have echoed every sentiment, at half her age and with completely different life circumstances. We are all searching. We are all looking for something. Acknowledging and sharing our search makes us feel less alone, and more likely to make changes that lead to happiness.

There are some truly wonderful people in this world. Like the woman working at the café, who remembered how I like my tea, and snuck me extra cookies when I left. Or those who asked, every time they saw me, how Jen was feeling, or offered to bring her food or read to her. Or the ER Doctor who we called awesome, who told us he was just there to get the job done—but he’d take the awesome, too. Or my fellow Arial Adventurers, who encouraged each other to take that leap off the platform, who cheered as we all flew down the zip-line, strangers who had become a team. Fantastic people come to this special place.

From the fog rolling in over the distant lake, to the trees changing colors all around us, to the rain that blew sideways in the wind, it was an almost unreal time. There was a dreamlike quality to it all.

Thank you, Jen, for making this week possible. For pushing me to dream bigger. Thank you, Canyon Ranch, for far exceeding any expectation I could have imagined, and for bringing together everything and everyone to make this dream a reality. I am truly blessed and grateful.

CanyonRanch

PS-see the pictures and videos on my Facebook page for more insight into this incredible place!

https://www.facebook.com/katiedevinewriter

xx,

Katie 

Confession: A Yoga Retreat Changed My Life

I am so honored to be featured on The Travel Yogi’s blog today, describing my amazing and life changing experience on my first yoga retreat.

“I made the decision to go to Bali on a whim. An LA-based yoga teacher, Jen Pastiloff, whose class I had taken once or twice, mentioned she would be leading a weeklong trip there in November. I knew virtually nothing about Bali, except for the magical feeling evoked whenever I heard the word. She had probably announced it in those previous two classes as well, but this time I heard it. I took a flyer, exchanged a few “what can I expect” emails with The Travel Yogi, and was booked on my first yoga retreat one week later.

How do you prepare for a life-changing experience? You can’t, I guess. You can simply take the leap, open your heart, and allow it all in…”

Please click here to read the rest, and consider one of their upcoming retreats for yourself!

xx,

Katie

Sunrise at Soulshine

Sunrise at Soulshine

Lost & Found in Vietnam

Somewhere between Nha Trang and Phu Quoc, more than halfway into my trip to Vietnam, I lost my toothbrush. It was always packed snugly in my toiletries bag so I have no idea where it could have gone. It was no big deal, easily replaced by my hotel in Phu Quoc. But it amazed me how one second it was there, and the next it was gone, seemingly disappearing into thin air.

This could very well have been the theme of the trip: things that were lost and things that were found. Some of the lost items were done so deliberately. Most of the found were not. I tallied up everything I could remember leaving along the way, along with what was gained, in my solo journey to Vietnam.

LOST:

Various articles of clothing/accessories: left behind for housekeeping, or the next guest, or just the garbage, including but not limited to:

  • A striped bikini that I used to love but that was discolored from too many sunscreen applications
  • My favorite grey Miami Hurricanes long sleeve t-shirt with so many holes I stopped counting them
  • Sheer-bottomed cropped Lululemon pants, for the delight of whomever next stands behind them in yoga
  • Silver Havaianas with holes where their now-missing skull decals used to be
  • One gold earring, noticed around 5:30am in a tiny airplane bathroom, my remaining single earring looking like an ill-advised fashion statement
  • The “toos”: pajama pants that were too short, yoga pants that were too baggy, socks that were too dirty, a Panama Hat that was too misshapen
  • A white t-shirt,no longer white, that I just could not wash in the hotel sink one more time

Books: offered up with love to fellow travelers, not unlike the offerings my friends in Bali give to their Gods three times daily. I offered up Jeanette Winterson, Kate Atkinson and Gillian Flynn to the various lending libraries at my hotels, lightening my load and perhaps enlightening someone else’s with their lovely prose. Offering, at the very least, a literary alternative to the only other book I saw in English—50 Shades of Grey.

Vanity: with the lack of conditioner, 100 degree heat and 1000% humidity, and my three travel outfits, worrying about how I looked was wasted energy. Brushing my hair before swimming seemed pointless, makeup would have immediately melted off. Even my shiny manicure and pedicure that had seemed so important to squeeze in the day before I left seemed frivolous and unnecessarily vain amidst my wrinkled cotton Target dresses and sweaty ponytails.

My American accent: For the first four days of the trip, I was the only American in sight. It was something I have never experienced (or noticed) in my other travels. All around me I could hear Vietnamese and German being spoken loudly; occasionally I would catch some Australian- or South African-accented English. But no Americans. There was a Brit in a University of Kentucky shirt who almost fooled me until I saw him holding his telltale red passport. I found myself speaking slowly and softly, unintentionally mimicking the accented English I overheard. Phrases like “quite lovely” and “mucking around” passed effortlessly through my lips. When I arrived back in San Francisco, American English almost sounded foreign to me.

My reluctance to ask for help: released when I landed in the middle of night at a closed Ho Chi Minh City airport and realized I had nowhere to go and no idea how to stay safe for my five hour outdoor layover. Suddenly, “I’ll just do it myself” wasn’t an option. Suddenly, I couldn’t figure it out on my own. Suddenly, I needed to ask for help. And gradually, through countless conversations that consisted of me asking “where is this?” and “what do I do?”, it started to feel okay.

My Yoga Practice: I struggled to get through two (ok one and a half) classes this week, completely unmotivated and uninspired to do asanas that I typically rejoice in fives times a week. I wanted to want to practice…and still I didn’t. I lost my practice. It left me feeling a little off balance, a bit less grounded, surely less disciplined, and possibly a little more…well, imperfectly human.

My mind: clearly absent when I returned to the US to discover that my final flight, the one that would actually take me home, was not scheduled to depart until the following weekend. My first thought– “How could I have done that? It is so unlike me to make this kind of mistake?!?” My second thought, immediately following—“but I am just too tired to beat myself up about this right now. Find a new flight (ask for help!), get to the new gate, and let it go.” So in hindsight, this might have been one thing that was long overdue to be lost, replaced by a more forgiving and kinder mind.

My preconceived notions about traveling solo: Loneliness. Fear. Doubt. Regret. They weren’t there. If experienced at all, they were fleeting. Lost emotions that went the way of my toothbrush-without any thought, or fanfare, and not much missed.

FOUND:

Bug bites and a sunburn: Inexplicable with the amount of Deet and SPF 50 slathered on and time spent beneath an umbrella but they exist nonetheless.

Books: Oh, I had forgotten the true, unparalleled pleasure that comes from turning the pages of a treasured novel, being drawn in more with each passing chapter. Hours passed like minutes as engrossed as I was in these stories, with the soundtrack of waves the only other noise permeating my thoughts. Heaven, for me, is a beach and a book.

My sense of humor: for what else can you do but nervously giggle, and then actually laugh, on a four hour road trip with a cab driver who speaks absolutely no English and seems to have no idea where you are headed? Who offers to share his water with you, wanting to pass it to the backseat after he takes a swig? Who stops for bathroom breaks along the way…directly outside your window? Who nods yes to everything you ask, including questions abut the length of the drive, the weather, and the state of American healthcare (he nods twice when you mention Obama)? Who helps you develop your own language of gestures that finally gets you both to the right place? Laugh.

The $25 Vietnamese massage: I thought I had felt it all when it comes to massages. I learned that it’s a good idea to wear clothes to a Shiatsu massage, that a deep tissue Swedish massage can leave me bruised, and that a Balinese massage includes a full (ahem) chest massage. I will still unprepared for the Vietnamese massage. Between the punching and the slapping, the chopping and the cupping, and the tiny woman sitting on my back, I had no idea what was going on. But I was extremely relaxed afterwards, so something clearly worked.

New international friends: Tom and Barbara from Germany, currently living in Shanghai, and Susan and Mark from Australia, currently living in Kabul. I now know about the European ex-pat community in China, and the very real dangers of being a Westerner living in Afghanistan. I now know about the beauty of Laos and appeal of the Sunshine Coast, courtesy of my well-traveled friends. I now know that talking to strangers can add so much to your travel experience.

A quieted mind: Without yoga. Without meditation. Without even trying. Just…quieter.

Greater appreciation for the people in my life: the perspective that only comes from being away from them, my wonderful family and friends.

Greater appreciation for myself, and for what I am capable of: I did this. I traveled to Vietnam, by myself, with scarily little knowledge of the country or of what I would face there. I survived a closed airport and the scary bugs and the language barrier. I came, I saw, I conquered. And I loved it.

If this was a scorecard, the win is most definitely in the FOUND column.

No Bad Days. Sunset, Phu Quoc, Vietnam

No Bad Days.
Sunset, Phu Quoc, Vietnam

xx,

Katie

Confession: Shameless Self-Promotion Follows

“This preoccupation with what I think I see in the mirror threatens the joy in my practice, stuck as I am in my own selfish, torturous thoughts. 

And then, about 40 minutes into this 75 minute self-esteem annihilation, something in me shifts. I think, I can’t possibly do another vinyasa; I’m not even sure I can make it into child’s pose. I’m sweaty, I’m tired, I’m broken.
 
The beauty of yoga, for me, comes in the breakdown. 
 
When the ego finally surrenders and releases. When the heart moves forward, past the head, and opens. When it becomes about the unity and not the self. This is when the magic happens.”
 
This is an excerpt from my newest article on MindBodyGreen. Yes, I have now officially quoted myself. I am, however, so excited to be writing for MindBodyGreen that I don’t even care! 
 
Please visit their site for the rest of the essay “How I Learned To See Beauty When I Look In The Mirror” and comment, share, like, tweet if you feel compelled. I am so grateful for your support as I start branching out (scary!) into new places.
 
THANK YOU ALWAYS! 
 
PS I am also writing for a wonderful site Greenster…check out some of my articles there too!
 
xx,
Katie

Confession: I Wasn’t Paying Attention

I drive home from work
Left on Crescent Heights, past all of the stop signs
Get on the freeway, move to the left lane
Traffic, start and stop, I can do this in my sleep
Am I asleep?
 
I’m not paying attention.
 
I get off at Lincoln
Head to the grocery store
Pick up spinach, milk, chicken, Diet Dr. Brown’s cream soda
It’s always the same
Does it ever change?
 
I’m not paying attention.
 
I stop at the dry cleaners, hand in my ticket
I’m on the phone, I don’t look up
I don’t make eye contact
I’m going through the motions 
Isn’t there more than this?
 
I want to pay attention.
 
I drive down my street
Then I turn again, onto another street
I’m going the wrong way, this isn’t the way home
I don’t know how I got here
Why do I do this?
 
I need to pay attention.
 
I turn around to drive home, it’s ok, I know where to go now
The sun is setting, I can see its spectacular glow
The air is thick, I can smell its ocean salt and its blooming flowers
A bird is chirping, I can hear its beautiful melody
Can I feel it?
 
I am paying attention.
 
I am not asleep
It does change
There is more
I can feel it
Will you too?
 
 
I will pay attention.

Confession: I Am In Love With The World

Commuting to work early this morning, driving east, driving almost into the rising sun it seemed, one of my favorite pieces of music started playing, a remnant of my beloved choir days.  Water Night, a complex and stunning choral piece that, 15 years after first hearing and singing it, can still bring tears to my eyes.  The chords squeeze my heart, rhythmically, matching the beat of the song, leaving behind a memory that never fades.  Most of my memories do fade, or never form in the first place, but this song leaves its mark.  The voices are woven together so tightly, sometimes 20 different, cacophonic notes held at once, in the most haunting way.  They don’t blend, but they do.  They don’t go together, but I can’t imagine them apart.  There is almost a palpable tension in that lack of melody, the lack of harmony amongst the voices.  The tension builds and recedes, drives forward, striving for rare moments of melodic bliss within the dissonance.

 

Isn’t that a little what it’s like for us in our lives as well?  Moving through our dissonant moments, aching to get back to harmony, wanting to hear the melody we know (we think) is coming.  We try to rush them, thinking that if we can just get through this work week, or this holiday month, or this birthday, we will be so happy once it is over.  Once the consonance has been restored.  The suffering during the tumultuous times can seem endless, unendurable, if not for that release we expect to eventually experience.

What is so lovely about this song is that even in the discord, you can hear, you can FEEL the beauty.  There is no rush, just movement, each movement as beautiful and deliberate as the next, as the one before.

Can we learn how to find this beauty throughout our lives, especially during the inharmoniousness?  Can we stop wishing away the tough days, and instead go deeper into them, finding what they are meant to teach us, and walking away even stronger, with more purpose AND more love?  

I stumbled across a gorgeously written blog yesterday by Jo Knowles, titled “Live Your Life: A Theme And Challenge for 2013”.  In it, she references and plays a last interview between author Maurice Sendak and NPR.  He is aging, and speaks with sadness about the losses he has faced.  He has learned his lessons late in life.  He cries while talking about being happy.  

He says, “There’s something I’m finding out as I’m aging.  That I am in love with the world.

The call to action in this blog is to not wait until you are at the end of your life, but to live your life NOW.  No more wishing away the difficulties and only appreciating what comes easily.  It is beautifully and simply articulated by Jo Knowles:

“In order to live your life, you have to love your life.  And sometimes, that is very hard.”

This week I have been traveling west, to the ocean, to watch the sun set each night.  “Chasing sunsets” as my friend Jen might say.  That same sun, always rising and always setting each day.  The sameness of it soothes my soul.  It wouldn’t be enough though, all of that sameness without change, without discord.  Without sometimes being hidden, without being orange some days and pink on others, without rain and wind and snow and traffic and all of the other things that can stand in the way of our perfect sunset photo in our minds.  We would never feel so alive, so thoroughly blessed, if that sunset didn’t disappear sometimes.  It’s always there, even when hidden to us.

Says Mr. Sendak, “Live your life. Live your life. Live your life.”

That eternal push towards melody may always be within us.  But maybe if we can tread slowly and mindfully through the dissonance, the world will expand to show us the beauty that surrounds us at all times, whether we can hear the harmony or not.  And open us up to more love than we have ever imagined.

Sunset in Santa Monica 1.8.13

Sunset in Santa Monica 1.8.13

xx,

Katie