Following the Heart; Adventure Part Dos.

image6The Northern Lights as seen from Iceland.  Photo Credit: Eyal Saiet

As promised from my previous post, I am going to blog about my adventures overseas that I was blessed with throughout the last half of December and first part of January.  I am currently going on a third day of being cooped up inside after Portland’s worst snowstorm in decades, so it’s forcing me to finally write and I am loving that fact!  Who would of thought that one of the things that I dread most (snow) would bring me to finally working on one of my prized passions (writing)? I will take it. 🙂

 

So after playing around in the Redwoods for a few days and volunteering at a meditation course for ten days, I headed back to Portland for a quick reorganization of my backpacks before flying overseas to Iceland.  My friend Heather was gracious enough to let me crash at her place in Portland for the couple nights before my flight.  The day I was to fly out of Portland I decided that it would be a good idea to go on a long run at my most favorite park in Portland, Mount Tabor.  As soon as I left her house, my jogging shoes almost stepped on half a globe lying in the street.  I kid you not, how synchronous is that?  I took a picture of it for proof!  I took it as a good indicator that I was on the correct path.

image1-4Signs…

My flight to Reykjavik, Iceland was easygoing, I sat next to a sweet young couple that held hands the whole plane ride and excitedly told me about their plans to rent a car to drive around the whole country of Iceland for nine days of holiday.  The 7 1/2 hour flight from Portland to Reykjavik went incredibly fast as I filled it up with movies, music, reading, and a couple meditation sessions.  We had a smooth landing and arrived at around 8:00 in the morning.  As I embarked on the one hour bus ride from the airport to the main Reykjavik bus hub I noticed that the sun wasn’t even close to coming out.  It hit me that I arrived to a country that is notorious for short winter days and it happened to be December 21st, the shortest day of the year….yikes.

 

My sweet Air BNB host, Dia, picked me up from the bus terminal and navigated the snowy highways cautiously, she informed me that they hadn’t had any snow up until two days prior to my arrival.  I felt as if I was back in my homeland of Minnesota, the dark day mixed in with the fresh powder of snow was all too familiar.  After arriving at Dia’s house and stashing my stuff, the sun was just starting to come out, around 9:45am.  Dia explained to me how to get into town from her place with the city bus that had a bus stop directly in front of her apartment.  I had been up for almost 36 hours at that point, but I was so excited to explore that I definitely caught a second wind.

 

The city bus pulled up in front of Dia’s apartment pretty quick after I arrived, I greeted the driver and plopped down on the warm seat.  Hearing all of the Icelandic language being spoken around me along with the grey glow of light peaking through the city bus windows had me pinching the back off my hand to question if I wasn’t just actually dreaming.  To me, being sleep deprived upon entering a foreign land is one of the most surreal experiences ever.  It was really nice being on the bus and taking in the brand new views without having to worry about driving in the massive amounts of snow.

 

image2-2 A view of Reykjavik harbor in the distance

 

I got off the bus as soon as it entered the main Downtown area of Reykjavik.  I marveled at the cute European shops and art murals lining the streets.  After walking the streets and just taking in the new culture for about an hour, some hunger pangs hit me.  I realized I hadn’t ate a full meal since lunchtime in Portland the day prior.  My first stop was at an ATM which involved the ATM eating my Icelandic money back into the machine and there was no phone number anywhere listed on the machine.  I went into my head and spiraled a bit thinking, “Damn, it’s colder than Minnesota here and Iceland stole my $80 and I don’t know why I decided to come to Iceland in December, am I crazy?!”

 

Upon the mini-freak out, I decided to anchor in at a little convenience store and munched on a unique Icelandic cheese panini.  I wrote half a dozen post cards and watched the day-to-day workers and students passing by the front window.  After eating and calming down a bit, I decided to venture back out into the city.  I walked a lot for the rest of that day, getting lost a multitude of times and stopping in to warm up in stores every 20 minutes or so as it had been a while since I have had to deal with below freezing weather.

 

Anxiety hit me from time to time because it had been a while since I traveled a foreign country on my own.  I tend to have a bit of the good ol’ A.D.D. too and sometimes forget that I need to be paying attention to landmarks and street signs since I didn’t have another set of eyes with me.  At one point I got so in a trance taking pictures of the beautiful graffiti art that encompasses Reykjavik that I got lost, trying to find my bus stop.  It just so happened that a blizzard decided to start at the same time.  I didn’t end up bringing my warm winter jacket to Iceland because I knew I’d only be in Iceland 3 days and I didn’t want to trudge it around for the 2 ½ weeks that I’d be in Ireland.

image2-3image1-5 The trippy artwork that inspired me to get lost in Reykjavik :).

I brought out my paper map of Reykjavik from my backpack and after looking at the street signs, it hit me that I was completely turned around.  I asked a couple that walked past me in the desolate residential neighborhood I was in for directions and they informed me with broken English that they weren’t from Iceland either.  I started to head down what seemed like the correct direction, only to be brought into an even more desolate residential area. The snow was coming down so hard and it was becoming hard to see.  My clothes were completely cold and sopping wet.  I realized that if I were to have another mini-freak out it wouldn’t help me to get drier or find my way out of being lost.

 

The neighborhood that I found myself lost in was eerily quiet, I could only here the soft patter of snow landing on the ground and parked cars around me.  There wasn’t a store, person or car driving in sight.  It felt slightly as if I was in a nightmare that I had created all on my own.  Again, my inner child started freaking out in my head and that’s when it hit me that I was forgetting to breathe.  I practice meditation not to escape life, but to utilize it as a tool for when difficult situations (such as the one I was in) arise.  The breath centered me and I came back to the logical reasoning of heading back from the direction I came from before going further into the void.  I came back upon the street where I initially realized I was lost and ran into a human angel that stopped, looked at my map and pointed me into the correct streets to get back to the bus stop.

 

The bus stop had a warm store near it that I got a hot espresso from and warmed up my bone-chilled body the best I could.  I glanced at the clock in the store and it hit me that I had been up officially for 43 hours, instead of further exploring the city, I decided in my sleepless state of mind that would probably be best to head back to Dia’s place.  And it’s good I did because I got lost two more times realizing that I had taken two of the wrong bus transfers to get back to Dia’s place.  When I finally was on the right bus, my head kept nodding off as if I was a heroin junkie and I almost missed my stop because I was half asleep.

 

After sleeping for 12+ hours at Dia’s, I ended up sleeping through my alarm and missed catching the tour bus that I had signed up for the day prior that was to take off at 10:30 that morning to a few Icelandic nature spots at the famous Golden Circle.  My mind went into spiral mode again “oh mannnnnnnnn, an ATM stole $80 from me, the food has been crazy expensive here, and now they’re probably going to make me pay for a second ticket because I was a slacker that slept through my alarm.”  I came back to my breath yet again, “Chill Ilona!  Chill!  The girl that sold you the ticket yesterday was an absolute sweetheart and she will be a sweetheart about this situation too I’m sure.”  I was completely correct on that accord, the girl was super kind again when I got to the tour bus location and she booked me onto the next bus without any extra fee.

 

image5 Making peace with the bitter cold in front of Gullfoss waterfall.

The Golden Circle was beautiful and jaw-dropping despite the bitter cold.  The tour consisted of Gullfoss waterfall, Strokkur geyser and Thingvellir National Park, but it was a speed version of it as we only had four hours of daylight, it made me crave thoughts of coming back to Iceland in summer months and driving around on my own.  As we loaded back onto the bus to head back to Reykjavik, the stars looked amazing and the clouds had an other worldy color that for a split second I mistook for possible northern lights.  I realized that I had only one last night in Iceland and it would be spent in the city, so my chances of seeing the Northern Lights, I was told by many, was slim to none.  The tour bus driver informed us that some people come to Reykjavik for a whole week and never end up seeing the Northern Lights, it’s truly all about timing, clear skies, and luck.

image4 Strokkur Geyser doing it’s thang!  It goes off every 5-10 minutes.image3-2 Thingvellir National Park, where you get to walk between the American and Eurasian tectonic plates!  They are pulling apart at a rate of a few centimeters per year.

 

After the bus dropped us off, I walked the city streets unsure of what to do next or where to go, I stumbled upon a delicious Chinese buffet.  As I settled in with my Icelandic beer and first mouth-watering plate, I turned my almost-dead phone on, I had just a little bit of battery juice left.  I noticed a few messages from a fellow traveler that I met through an online traveling website and had been corresponding with the couple weeks leading up to my trip.  He had rented a car and was just coming back from the countryside into the city and wondered if I’d like to go find some hot springs with him?  PERFECT!  What an excellent last idea for my last night in Iceland, I thought to myself.  My new travel buddy, Eyal, arrived to the Chinese buffet at the speed of light and joined me for a drink.  After we talked and gained a rapport, I realized I was with a cool human and we started our hot springs hunting.

 

The first hot springs that we were trying to get to didn’t end up existing, or if it did it exist, it didn’t want us to find it.  The second hot springs we came about was in a first ring city right outside of Reykjavik and it turned out to be a foot-soaking hot springs.  As we headed back to his car we both looked up and spotted green skies.  Wait what?  Green skies?!!?!  The colors grew thicker and wider and stretched upon the sky as if it was an amusement park light show.  It danced and changed length or size.  Eyal broke out his camera and started taking time lapse photos.  The wind chill was hitting our bones, but at that point the light show above our heads was so wild that I didn’t care if I got frost bite.

 

By the time the natural light show was over, we attempted to go to one last hot springs, only to find that there was no water in it.  I was so completely elated that I got to see the Northern Lights that I was happy to head back to my air BNB without having a hot springs soak.  Eyal and I agreed to drive to the airport together the next morning since we both had flights around the same time, only his was to Norway and mine was to Ireland. My host and her husband were home and they let Eyal crash their floor impromptu and Dia packed my backpack with chocolate from an Icelandic chocolate factory that she works at, it was a lovely last night in their home.

 

Stay tuned for the Ireland adventures on my next blog post!  Thanks for reading 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following the Heart; Adventure Part Uno.

I woke up today with intentions to get all of my “adult” stuff in order.  There are certain forms that I need to fill out, emails that I need to respond to, and passwords that I need to remember.  Then it hit me that all of the paperwork that I need to do is in my car which is miles away from where I am and a record breaking snowstorm that hit Portland two days ago literally has me snowed in.  My egoic mind was very displeased with this “but you have to do that paperwork now, if you don’t get all of that in order now, your world will come crashing down.”  I laughed out loud when I heard that one and then a more gentle feeling came over me.  The knots in my stomach released and a soft voice said “write.”

 

I haven’t touched my blog in months and it has been painful not doing so.  Every time that I leave my writing hanging, it feels as if there is a gaping hole in my soul.  I journal pretty consistently which helps, but there is something about blogging that fulfills that feeling of emptiness that ensues every time I drift away from it for months.  So here I am, showing up to it and it is feeling great so far.

 

The last month and a half has been filled with many adventures that I have been blessed with.  My heart called me to a few different places that I didn’t think I would ever actually get around to going to.  In this was: The Redwoods of Northern California, volunteering at a 10-day meditation retreat, Iceland, Ireland, New York, New Jersey, New York once more and then back to home sweet Portland, Oregon.  All along the way trying to come back to the breath at every moment, despite how uncomfortable it felt at times to be completely out of routine and not knowing where I was going next.

 

The Redwoods of Northern California was a welcome bliss after having worked for the last year in Portland and taking classes simultaneously.  I packed up my car, jetted down south from Portland and arrived at the cutest little Air BNB  in Crescent City.  My first full day was spent at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park hiking the beautiful Boy Scout Tree Trail, a 5.6 mile jaunt through peaceful and quiet Redwoods.  I found the most perfect tree to sit in and meditate halfway through the hike.  Afterwards I opened my eyes to pinch myself and double check to see if I was dreaming up this amazing solitude in the trees, but the pain of the pinch reminded me that this was indeed the material world.

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Two full days were spent hiking different trails in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and Tolowa Dunes State Park.  I also had a brief stop into the city of Arcata where I picked up some delicious coffee and some new thrift store threads for the coming winter months.  Between Crescent City and Arcata, as I was speeding along Highway 101, I came across a herd of wild elk that were peacefully gazing to the side of the highway, reminding me to slow down and enjoy the journey.  I had never seen anything like it, it was pure beauty with the sun setting behind them.

 

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After giving a gigantic hug to my Crescent City, amazing Air BNB  host, it was back to the road again to embark on a four hour drive to where a 10-day meditation retreat was awaiting me.  I arrived to the location a bit earlier than everyone else, I set my giant backpack down in the quiet home where us volunteers would sleep.  I had initially signed up to sit the course as a student and not volunteer at it, but I had a sudden inspiration to change my registration to volunteer instead one week prior.  Even though I knew that the next 10 days was going to be a lot of strenuous work, mentally and physically, I had the feeling that I was exactly where I needed to be.

 

This would be my third time at a 10-day silent retreat, my second time as a volunteer.  After sitting quietly and meditating with my fellow bodhisattvas the next morning after my arrival, down to the kitchen we went to unload the first delivery of fresh produce.  We started cooking up the meal that the students would get upon their arrival.  Having had worked the kitchen at that location the year before, everything came back to me with ease and I was able to assist the new volunteers instead of standing around looking confused as I had the first day I ever started.

 

It was intense work as I had remembered before, waking up between 4:30 and 5:30am to get breakfast ready for the students and being on our feet for the whole day besides the three group meditation sits that we sat in with the students.  Despite the madness that can go on in the kitchen, my practice was always in effect at every moment,  always coming back to my breath and centering myself.  We started to get into a groove in the kitchen, with all of us volunteers seemingly floating through all the tasks that needed to get done.  Hiccups came up, of course, but the fact that every single volunteer there had sat a 10-day meditation retreat created an empathy in the kitchen like no other.

 

Halfway through the meditation course, the course female manager/assistant to the meditation teacher fell and had a concussion.  This threw things of course, quite literally as I was catapulted into the position never having done it before.  All of sudden, instead of sitting up front meditating with my fellow volunteers in from of 70 pairs of eyes, I was to keep track of 32 of those 70 pairs of eyes.  Anytime a female meditator cried, made significant noise or walked out of the building I was to open my eyes and get direction from the female meditation teacher on how to comfort the meditator or track down where they went.

 

“A new female manager halfway into a 10-day silent meditation course, there really is no other worse thing that I can think of to happen.  Every student is such in a difficult spot, I really can’t think of a more challenging situation occurring than this” the kitchen female manager stated to me as I walked into the kitchen on my first “official” day of being the female students manager.  I took a deep breath and realized that my meditation practice had prepped me for that exact kind of situation to arise.  And from that moment forward I stayed present with every single situation that arose, including assisting with five ladies over the next few days that made the difficult decision to leave the 10-day retreat early.  I was constantly on my feet and always alert during the group meditation to make sure I wasn’t missing any direction from the meditation teacher.

 

Before I knew it, the last morning of the meditation retreat arrived and I decided to go AWOL as soon as the last group meditation was over.  When the ladies at the retreat were able to talk on the previous day, I graciously accepted a few compliments from them, but I decided I wanted to take off before any more compliments could be said.  It hit me that I completely followed my heart correctly with that retreat, coming in to volunteer instead of being a student was exactly what was needed.  In the spirit of modesty though, I didn’t want to hear any more compliments.

 

Into the foggy clouds I went back up to Portland where I reorganized my backpacks and tied up a few loose ends before taking a flight out to Reykjavik, Iceland.  The flight was booked rather impulsively months prior when a friend invited me to travel with her and her husband throughout Ireland, Reykjavik was a relatively cheap stop-over flight to Ireland.  Reykjavik had been on my radar for a while as some friends had recently told me about how amazing it was and it was a quick stop over flight before Ireland.  I figured that it would be great to have some solo travel before joining them.

 

Cutting this short and will make a part two about Iceland and Ireland, so I hope that you stay tuned :)!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Synchronicity

I planned on doing a solo, dinner hike this evening after I got out of work.  It is quite lovely that even though I don’t get home from work past 6pm, I still have three hours to get a good hike in at the Columbia River Gorge, with the sunset not happening until a little past 9pm.  As I took the train home from work, I had my head buried in my Smart Phone investigating a new sunset hike in the Gorge that I haven’t tried yet.  I decided on Latourell Falls, a beautiful waterfall hike that I have done in years past, but have never done at sunset.

 

After I got home to my apartment from work, I rushed things.  I dropped out of my scrubs into hiking threads, whipped up a quick dinner on the stove and tossed it into a plastic container.  I grabbed my headlamp, water bottle, notebook, pen, pack and rushed out the door.  I cruised along I-84, took the exit to the historic highway and must have took a wrong turn because after driving for miles, Latourell Falls didn’t show up, but the Wahkeena Falls trail head did.  I didn’t fight it, I turned my vehicle into the lot.  It was nearing 8pm and I was hungry, drooling as I thought about the stove cooked meal still steaming in the plastic container I packed away.

 

As I walked up the beginning of the trailhead, my ego still fought the fact that we weren’t walking up the Latourell Falls trailhead.  “But this hike is laaaaaammmmeeee, it is half the hike that Latourell is and there are tourists every where….look!” My ego whined, but I didn’t acknowledge it, I just kept walking up hill.  Wahkeena Falls showed up in my vision ten minutes later.  I sat down on a bench kitty-corner to it, pulled out my newest book about lucid dreaming (given to me as a birthday present recently 😊) along with my stove cooked dinner and chilled out on the bench, smiling hello at a few passersby that walked by waving at me.

image3 (1)*Wahkeena Falls*

I filled my tummy up, read a few pages of my book, and then continued on.  I decided that I would follow the trail past Wahkeena Falls for at least half an hour, so that I could get a full hour-long hike in.  It turned out that twenty minutes past Wahkeena, one of my favorite view points was up ahead, I didn’t remember the name of it. I just remembered it vividly from when a friend and I meditated on a couple large boulders by it a few years prior, with rain pouring down on us.  I then realized that I wasn’t too far from another set of falls because I remembered that my friend and I were embarking on a hike to Fairy Falls on that day that we meditated.  My ego started to get happy that we would do a longer hike than just Wahkeena Falls.

image1 (3).JPG*The majestic Fairy Falls*

After reaching the majestic Fairy Falls, on my way back down, I kept thinking “I need to write down the name of that viewpoint that is on the way to these falls.”  Earlier on I had noticed that there was a plaque on one of the boulders that my friend and I had meditated on years ago, but I had never read it.  I just felt that it would be something good to know, especially when my fellow kindred hiker-co-worker would inevitably ask me where my most recent hike was. Also, on the way back from Fairy Falls, my monkey-mind was all over the place and a thought came to me about how when I was five years old, I announced that when I grew up, I wanted to be either a “writer or a teacher.”

 

That particular thought came to me because pretty soon I will be taking TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) courses in Portland and there have been lots of worries in my mind about how it will manifest…such as which country I will end up in?  I thought about how when I was a kid, I truly did know my soul path…as writing is something I have always done, pretty much daily since I was able to figure out how to put a pen to paper.  This teaching thing though, this will be coming to fruition, but not in the typical teaching way that I would have envisioned.  My monkey-mind went to all sorts of thoughts, lots of fears came up…about relocating to a whole new country to teach and what not, but then a thought popped into my mind, it hit my mind so abruptly that it was as if it wasn’t my own.

 

“Yeah, but Ilona!  If you are passionate about something, you will do it regardless of fear or danger–think about firefighters for an example–they do it all the time!!”

 

And then I got back to the viewpoint.  The sunset had the sky looking as if it were on fire.  I sat on the same boulder that I sat on with my friend in years prior.  I decided to meditate there again.  A few minutes into meditating, it felt as if I were surrounded in light, I felt so peaceful and at one with all of the sounds around me.  I opened my eyes, jumped off of the boulder and sat in front of it to finally read the plaque in front of it that I never read years prior.

In memory of Keith L. Lemmons.  Firefighter, who lost his life fighting fire August 1983.  As a native Oregonian, he was proud of the beauty of his state and was dedicated to the protection and preservation of this area for future generations.”

Chills ran up and down my body.  Many argue on the subject of signs and synchronicities. Many chalk it up to coincidences,  but the “woo-woo” in me can’t help but to think there is something more.  We are all SO MUCH MORE CONNECTED THAN WE THINK> what do you say?  I want to hear your stories on synchronicities, if you have some….please do share!!

 

image2 (1)*View from Lemmon’s Viewpoint on the way to Fairy Falls*

Upping the Ante

 

meditation

 

I was sick of always feeling rushed.  Of the rat race.  Of feeling as if I were just going through the motions of life as if it were meaningless and pointless, just something to get done with.  Meditation helped me with this.  Meditation helped me to actually stop and observe, to giggle at the baby that was trying to wear a Tupperware lid as a hat or to actually taste the casserole that I rushed through my evening to make.  Meditation helped me to look at life in a different way, each breath created a whole new rich moment to feel.

 

In starting this blog and my original challenge of dedicating twenty minutes of my morning to meditation, I wanted to see what kind of changes would come about within me.  And what a glorious four years of change it has been. In the first couple years of my 20-minute per day meditation, my life was smooth sails and all of the people, situations and stories that came to me were all amazingly synchronous and magical.  I was able to feel situations out more with my heart than my head, making things come about effortlessly and without force.

 

But something interesting (and frustrating, grrrr) has happened.  I have reached some sort of plateau.  I’m resorting back to old habits, to old anxious ways, and old patterns.  In the last year I have noticed something, I have become stuck.  And everything within my life, my world right now seems to be at a standstill.  Life for me lately has felt as if I am a hamster in a cage just spinning on a wheel, popping off it a few times for maybe a nibble of food or sip of water.  I have been trying to control things that are completely out of my control.  I have most definitely been more in my head, scheming out how I can create the exact life that I want instead of being more open to letting things move in and out of my world as they ought to.

 

I named it “Ilona’s Meditation Challenge” for a reason, I wanted to document the challenge I was giving myself in meditating for 20 minutes daily.  But I think it is time to up the challenge, I am going to challenge myself for the next 30 days, 6/28-7/28 to meditate for 40 minutes daily.  Once in the morning for 20 minutes and once in the evening for 20 minutes and we shall see how it will go.  Coming from working in the medical field for nine years, I am doing exactly as a doctor would with a patient’s medication after they have built a tolerance, I am upping the dose!

 

Also, to further the challenge, I am going to try my hardest to log in to this blog every week to write a little something about how the experience is going.  That was what my whole intention with this blog was from the get-go and I got so wrapped up in my mind chatter that I forgot.  I am excited to see where my mind goes next, hopefully I’ll lose more of it as I integrate more into the heart.  Thanks for joining me on the next leg of this journey, it will be a challenging adventure, but one that is calling for me.

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“Prayer, meditation and contemplation do more than just calm the mind or open the heart.  These also steady the body.  Many physicians now prescribe meditation and/or regular non-competitive exercise (like brisk walking, yoga, jogging or swimming) for patients suffering from hypertension, over-reactive nervous systems or digestive problems.  Even hyperactivity in children is now being treated with meditation rather than drugs.  There is no neat mind/body split.  What helps the mind gain rest from its constant seeking, grasping, worrying, must also help the body.  Many researchers have documented the physiological benefits of meditation.” –From the book Ordinary People a Monks and Mystics by Marsha Sinetar

 

No Cell Zone

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They’re everywhere.  They’re standing in the middle of walkways, at the grocery stores, at shopping malls, walking down city sidewalks, they are your own friends that you haven’t seen in months sitting across from you at the restaurant booth.  They are all doing that familiar thing, that incredibly common sight this day in age.  Come on…you know what I am talking about by now, right?  I am talking about that human with their head-down and far-off glaze in their eyes as they look down at a tiny screen on a gadget that fits ever so perfectly between their hands.

I’m guilty of it.  You’re guilty of it.  Anyone that owns a cell phone, whether or not it’s a “smart” phone is guilty of it.  I guarantee that in your time of owning a cell phone you have either tripped over uneven sidewalk, ignored your friend, or blocked someone’s way in a store aisle because of cell phone distraction.  I absolutely guarantee it, we are glued to them.  They hold the whole world inside of them.  We feel naked leaving the house without them.  With the push of a button we can find newer and better of anything: cars, houses, lovers.

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A few weekends ago, I decided to have a cell phone fast for one day.  The battery on my phone had died the Friday evening before and I decided that I would just not plug it into a charger until Sunday afternoon.  To my surprise, as soon as I set the cell phone fast as an intention, I felt incredibly at peace and had a sense of relief when I realized I wouldn’t have to respond to anyone or anything on a tiny screen until Sunday.  I became excited at thought of not having to feel guilty in not responding to someone.

I caught up on so many things that I had been putting off for so long.  I finished chores around the house, including the two loads of laundry and washing the pile of dishes stacked like a Jenga tower on my bedroom desk.  I finished a library book that had been racking up an over due fine for well over a month.  I went on a two-hour nature walk/jog and locked eyes or smiled with a few other passersby.  I caught up with two of my roommates who I have had more interaction with on Facebook messenger than in real life.

Call me crazy but, I imagine a world where we smile when we have low batteries
Cause that will mean we’ll be one bar closer – to humanity

–Prince Ea

I have realized that my addiction to my cell phone has become just as bad as any other addiction that I have ever had.  It is just another distraction keeping me from what I really want or should be doing.  It has become a way to numb my brain out from thinking about thoughts that I don’t want to face.  It is another way to avoid facing up to things that are hurting me or things that I need to heal.  There are so many options and possibilities of things to do on my cell phone, it’s like being at a virtual amusement park for adults.

I understand that there is the other side of the coin.  I know that cell phones are devices of convenience and helpful in many aspects.  I know that it is part of what is able to connect us to everyone and everything.  Someone in another country might be reading these very words I am typing out right now and that is absolutely amazing.  But what gets me, what really gets me is this: what if it were all to crash tomorrow?  I mean truly, everything changes and nothing stays the same.

I just want to be more alert and aware of when I reach down for my phone, what is it that is drawing me there?  What is it within me that is feeling so uncomfortable with my own thoughts that I need to distract my mind with external validation from technology?  I want to change my ways.  I think I want to dedicate a time to look at it, maybe instead of first thing in the morning, I can look at it briefly at my lunch hour and for a set time after work: thirty minutes or less and that’s it.  I just want more moment-to-moment awareness and connection, how about you?

Lucid Dreaming

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“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”

–Edgar Allan Poe

I have had a bit of time off of work, so I have finally gotten to catch up on one of my favorite past times: reading!  I have been holding onto this book, “Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming”, for almost two years since a friend so kindly lent it to me (I’m usually not that bad with borrowing stuff, but what can I say, he’s a nice friend….) I have been into all things metaphysical since I was a young child, lucid dreaming being on the top of my list.  I started jotting my dreams into journals when I was eight years old.  When I was a teenager, I would have piles upon piles of metaphysical books underneath my pillows and to the side of me.  I recently joked to my sister that my mom never had to worry about me sleeping with boys when I was in high school, however she maybe should have been worried that I had the book “Life After Life” by Raymond Moody tucked under the covers with me for the majority of my 17th year on this planet.

I would try to bring up metaphysical subjects with my mom or grandma growing up, but they would usually either leave the room or tell me that I “shouldn’t be thinking that way.”  That was when I started writing in dream journals, regular journals and then finally finding a few others with similar mind sets as me in junior high to discuss all things metaphysical with.  It was great to be able to find these kindred spirits and to not feel as if I had to hold back on discussing things that had bothered me since I was a child.  To be able to ask my friend “what if there was just absolute NOTHINGness, like….not even the color black or white because if it was true NOTHINGness there wouldn’t even be colors…” and to not be looked at as if I was crazy was just great to me.

Now that we are living in this huge technological era, I have discovered there is a plethora of people that think like me and have been questioning the same things.  It’s so wonderful in this blogging community to come across metaphysical subjects so readily and have long drawn out conversations with someone across the world about “why in the hell are we here?”  I feel that in general, the world is opening up to metaphysical lines of thinking.  I feel that five years ago I would have been way to shy to be writing about what I am about to write.  What I really want to do in writing this is to help someone, even if it’s just one person reading this right now, to let them know that they are not alone.

I opened up “Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming” last night, read the first chapter (which included one detailed exercise on becoming aware in the precise moment of wherever you are while reading the book) and fell asleep.  It was a shock to me, but I experienced a lucid dream immediately (I guess I have a knack for it?)  I had quite a few lucid dreams in the last few years, but this one in particular had both the lucidity and the feeling of a very thin veil between dimensions.  I wrote it down right away after I awoke and this is word for word from my journal:

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Okay, I am for SURE going to need to get a separate dream journal!  I only JUST started reading this lucid dream book last night and as soon as I fell asleep I already had an experience!  It started with me drifting off to sleep (having random thoughts) and then as clear as day, the song “Black” by Pearl Jam came into my head and then the White Stripes “Hardest Button to Button”, it was really rather goofy.  And then a strong awareness came over me, I realized that I was lying in my bed and that I was in my new studio apartment that I just moved into.  I got the sensation that, especially compared to my old apartment that I just moved from, I was in a space that has very good energy.  I felt wrapped up in a warming loving energetic embrace and realized I was up near the ceiling and saw my body in the bed below.  And then there was what felt like a shift (kind of when your ears pop when you’re rising in an airplane) in frequency and I felt incredibly light and free.  I felt as if I had a gigantic smile on my face, I felt so excited and then I darted across the room to pet my cat.  As I was petting him, I noticed that my arm was transparent and I realized it was just made of light.  I started to get so energetic and fascinated that I could roam free anywhere I wanted, but then a voice softly said as clear as day “we can hear you, but calm down, you’re going to wake people up” and then I darted awake.

So, take that as you will (yes I’m hearing voices, but at least it’s while I am asleep ;)) I just couldn’t stop thinking about it all throughout the next day.  It seemed so incredibly real to me and I know in the past lucid dreams had always been like this, it’s almost as if they feel more real than “real” life.  Now that I have all this time off for the next few weeks I am going to try a few more of the exercises.  As I have paged through the book, I have noticed that a lot of the exercises consist of meditations, so it will be interesting to see how deep I can go doing my regular 20-minute morning meditations along with the meditations in the book.

“I believe in everything until it’s disproved.  So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons.  It all exists,even if it’s in your mind.  Who’s to say that dreams and nightmares aren’t as real as the here and now?”

–John Lennon

The Meditation Continues…

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It has been a long time since I have written a post!  I never wanted this blog to become one of those stagnant websites you come across where you check to see when the last update was and it states it was years ago.  The only way I would let that happen is if I were to pass away, then it really will be a website locked in time.  Although, the website address might change if I were to pass, as I am paying $18 a year for my website name (let’s be brutally honest here hah…) So here it goes, I am feeling the inspiration and flow to get some words out again.

I have been a bit silent lately because I have been dealing with some life changes and anxiety (those two really go hand in hand don’t they?)  Old destructive thought patterns have been coming up for me again and I caught myself on the teeter totter of desiring past addictions, but fortunately as time passed the cravings vanished.  I kept remembering that just because in one moment I was craving a past addiction, it doesn’t have to become a big story.  It was just one moment, one passing thought, one passing craving and the next moment starts anew.

My meditation practice has been the same (20 minutes on most mornings), but with that I have felt that I reached a plateau and haven’t gotten as much out of it as when I started a few years ago.  I guess I had some fantasy when I first started practicing meditation that it would lift me up fast and that life would be like heaven every day.  While there has been some amazing transformation within me since first starting meditation, life as a human is still exactly that.  I have to feed this body, excrete stuff from this body and care for this body……honestly, it’s a lot of work!

The other fantasy that I had about starting a meditation practice was that I thought it would help me to elevate my consciousness to such a degree that all my dreams would come true and that everything would be happily ever after.  Hah!  Just typing that out makes me crack up, because in reality it did the complete opposite.  It shattered the idea of my dreams, it made me realize that a lot of my dreams were actually never even mine to begin with.  It ripped apart the idea of what I thought I was supposed to be and do in this life.

Meditation has quieted my mind and has helped me to focus in on what my true desires are.  It has helped me in becoming patient with what is in any given moment or situation, be it blessing or a curse occurring.  Meditation has shown me many things that I need to work on and many things that I have avoided for a good majority of my adult life.  It has made me realize that you can shift everything around in your outer life all you want to try to find happiness, but truly….everything is actually discovered when you go within.

I actually just made three major changes in the outer circumstances of my life, so I am being a little hypocritical with the above statement, haha.  However, I feel that meditation helped me to focus in on what I truly want to do with my life, so I have begun taking the steps and signs have come along with that informing me in a synchronous matter that this is the path that I need to be on right now.  I’m sure that some uncomfortable things will come up on this path too, but that will give me the experience I need to keep on my path of following my bliss.  I am excited for this new path and am going to try to post more frequently!

Mission Accomplished: My Experience with a 10-day Meditation Retreat

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This year, my holidays were spent like no other.  I spent my Christmas Eve agreeing to enter “noble silence” for ten days, this included no communicating through cell phone, laptops or any other technological gadgets and no speaking or gesturing to those around me.  No reading or writing was allowed either (my jaw dropped with that one too.)  My New Year’s Eve was spent meditating in a meditation hall with about 100 other people for an hour and a half before our bedtime (lights out were at 9:30pm.)  The only celebration was heard from the neighboring farm lands nearby in which the residents were lighting off fireworks as I laid my worn head to bed.

I had first heard about this 10-day silent meditation retreat from classmates at a local meditation group that I attend in Portland, OR.  When I had heard about their experiences with it, I was fascinated.  One of my classmates compared it to a Native American Medicine Journey, a journey where you go completely within.  I stashed the idea of it away in my brain as something I ought to try sometime, maybe in a couple years when I could accrue that many hours off of work.  My meditation teacher kept discussing it at class as the weeks went by.  I found out that the 10-day silent meditation was free and they also offered it during the holidays so you don’t have to ask for as many days off of work as you might need to otherwise. I signed up in May 2014 to attend a 10-day silent meditation retreat from 12/24/14-1/4/15, that May I remember thinking how I wouldn’t have to worry about it for quite sometime, as it was more than seven months away.  As the months and weeks crept closer though, I started wondering if it was that good of a decision.  Everyone else would be spending the upcoming holidays with family and friends, while I would be falling off the radar.  As the week prior to leaving for the retreat came up, I received this text from my sister, who has attended a few retreats herself, but none longer than three days:  “Sad, it kinda feels like you’ll be crossing over to the other side for ten days.”  When I received that text, I took a deep breath, I really wasn’t sure what I had signed up for.

When I first pulled up into the land that the Northwest Vipassana Center is located on, the whole vibe of the land and the building was incredibly peaceful.  After registering inside and getting the itinerary booklet (see picture below) I made my way from the building to the women’s residential suites.  As I walked along the pebbled path towards what would be my home for the next ten days I saw a couple of deer eating alongside a marsh area with the peak of Mount Rainier in the back round.  I remember feeling elation and getting the sense that the next ten days were going to be very relaxing.

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I made my way back to the building after setting up my bed and meeting Kate, my new roommate whom I found out was also on her first 10-day retreat and had traveled down from Seattle with her best friend from high school.  I sat in the dining area of the building, sipping on hot tea and chatted with a few girls that were sitting near me.  I had found out that two of them had done a 10-day retreat before and the girl sitting across from me, Lacey, was at her first retreat.  Lacey and I interrogated the girls that were veterans of this retreat, asking them what we should expect, what had happened for them last time, and more.  One of the veteran girls seemed a little distraught as she mentioned “I don’t know if I’m ready to go through this work again….” with a far-off look in her eyes.

The last of the meditation-goers were checking in and trickling into the dining area.  We were provided a light dinner and instructed to get anything we needed from our cars afterwards, to make sure all of our technological gadgets were handed in to the staff and to meet at the meditation hall in about a half an hour for the first group meditation.  There was a frantic energy in the air, it seemed that people were gabbing just for the sake of noise because we all knew that the “vow of noble silence” would start after our first group meditation.  I used the time to meet a few more new people and to get acquainted with where everything was on the premises.

The time drew near 8pm, the big moment of our first group meditation and the official end to communication of any kind. We stood outside the meditation hall, awaiting the teachers to enter first.  I met two girls and spoke nervously with them, one had mentioned that she and her boyfriend decided to sign up together for this, the other girl mentioned that a friend in Portland had told her about the retreat.  We seemed to be talking just to talk, just to get the last words out we could, all of us knowing that in less than ten minutes we would have to be mute for a week and a half.  The teachers entered the building and close to forty of us followed them in.  We took off jackets and shoes and were instructed to grab any pillows, blankets or chairs that we would want to use as our meditation tools for the next ten days.  One of the assistant teachers started calling out names, and one by one people were directed to their assigned seats.  I remember a thought crossed my mind in which I felt that I was at Heaven’s gate or something–waiting for my name to be called to enter a whole other world.

We met in the meditation hall three times a day, at 8:00am, 2:30pm and 6:00pm.  Our days consisted of ten hours of focused vipassana meditation, the first three days we focused on the sensation of our breath and the area near where we could feel the breath the most–the area on or near the nostrils.  The middle of the ten days, days four through six we started doing focused meditation called “body scanning” which consisted of placing our awareness on each body part.  With body scanning, we would start at the top of our head and move down piece-by-piece (the forehead, the ears, the nose) just noticing any sensations, be it pain or tingling or anything.  We were instructed not to label anything, but to just be aware of it and notice it’s changing form.  The last three days we were taught of “free form” body scanning which consists of starting at the top of our head down to the bottoms of our feet, scanning up and down in more of a flowing fashion.  If we had troubles with this, we were instructed to go back to body scanning piece-by-piece.  We could also speak with the teachers after the evening group meditation or during lunch break if we were having any particular troubles with the meditating.

There were a couple major moments that stuck with me the most during my 10-day retreat.  On night three and five, I had incredible dreams and also visions as I tried to fall asleep.  On night three, every time I tried to close my eyes to get to sleep, there was a light show going on beneath my eyelids.  There were magnificent colors swirling and dancing, if I didn’t know any better, I might have thought someone had spiked my evening tea with magic mushrooms.  Then, on the fifth night I had what I can only describe as a deeply spiritual experience which I found to be extremely comforting.  On that particular night, I had some troubles initially falling asleep, but I finally did drift off at a relatively early hour–around 10:30 p.m. or so.  I had a very vivid dream (it seemed as real to me as me typing these words out and hearing the hum of the washing machine below my kitchen floor right now feels to me.)  In the dream, I headed to the group meditation hall, walking the pebbled path from my residential suite to the building, everything covered in dew from the damp weather that early morning.  I sat down in my assigned seat, wrapped my blanket around me and was aware of all the other meditators around me.  We all closed our eyes to start our meditation and immediately I got the sensation of no longer having a body, I felt so light and free.  It felt so completely right, as if this was what I have been longing for my whole life.  I then realized that I had dissolved into oneness with all of the other meditators.  I then darted awake in my bed and looked at my clock–it stated “12:30 a.m.”  I then fell asleep again and had this same exact dream three more times, always darting awake as my conscious mind realized the feeling of oneness, I awoke again at 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30 a.m.

I went into the ten day retreat with expectations that it was going to be easy for me since I have been practicing daily meditation for two and a half years, but it was far from easy.  When I came back to Portland and was asked multiple times about my experience, the best way that I could describe it to people was that it was tormenting, yet transformative.  I didn’t have too much trouble with the no-talking rule as I am an introvert, but I did miss my phone a lot and not being able to write or read was excruciating for me.  The retreat really instilled into me the changing nature of reality: physical pain, emotional pain, food, people, circumstances, ideas, locations–all of this is coming and going continuously.  The retreat got me more comfortable with the idea of impermanence and it also reminded me that we can start over at any moment by focusing on our breath.

I highly recommend these types of retreats for anyone, it is not affiliated with any religious sect and accepts everyone from every back round.  The facilities are run off of donations, but no one is turned away for lack of funds.  The way that I am going to donate and give back is to be of service at future retreats.  One thing that I have mentioned to friends or family members that have expressed interest in this retreat is to realize that when you attend one of these, you are not going for the purpose of rest and relaxation (I had that wrong estimation myself.)  What these types of meditation sits truly do is break down a ton of barriers within you and can create profound healing.  It brings you into acceptance of what is, as the itinerary booklet states, “Vipassana means seeing things as they really are.”

Freak Alley

On a recent solo road trip I took to visit a friend in Salt Lake City, I stopped in Boise as an interval to break up the long drive. I had never been to Boise, I honestly wasn’t quite sure what to expect except for maybe a lot of potato references. There was actually no mention of potatoes my whole time there. Instead, I met a handful of joyful and friendly residents of Boise, some of who showed me the beautiful culture of the city. One friend brought me down a road called “Freak Alley” which is a whole alleyway dedicated to graffiti art drawn by local residents. As we strolled down the alleyway, I got absolute chills (it helped that a group of three young men were in a circle in the middle of the alleyway serenading us with jazz tunes–one on drums, one on guitar and one on the trumpet.)

I went back the next afternoon to snap shots of all the art that moved me. I had been feeling pretty lonely during a lot of my solo road trip and this art work I came across touched me in a way that I needed it to the most at that time. I realized that this is the beauty of art–these artists, who knows where they are right now, but they were with me that night and day that I viewed their work. Kindred spirits, all of them. Check out their amazing work below:

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Transformation Does Occur

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A volunteer acquaintance and I quietly strolled up and down the streets scanning the sidewalk for cigarette butts to clean up and I went into a quiet introspection. It was hard to believe that the road trip my friend and I had embarked on to Portland, OR was ten years ago to the day. Ten years ago, I was a shy, nineteen-year-old gas station clerk that had been living in Minnesota since I was five-years-old. Back then, I smoked cigarettes as if they were going out of style. I had started at sixteen-years-old on clove cigarettes, then moved my way to Marlboro Reds, then to Marlboro Mediums, tried tasting Camel Turkish brands for a bit, then finally settled on Marlboro Lights. I smoked about a pack of Marlboro Lights per day up until I was twenty-four-years old, panicking if I was down to only five cigarettes in a pack. That old familiar panic happened so often that when I think of it now, I still get anxiety in my upper belly and sternum area.

Now here I was, ten years later volunteering with a project called “SOLVE”, cleaning up cigarette butts off the sidewalks in the Old town-Chinatown portion of Portland. The organizer of the volunteer group started the organization because he got the idea to recycle cigarette butts by using the material of the filter to make cigarette receptacles. He said he came up with the idea while disc golfing with a friend who was a smoker and he kept noticing that his friend would just toss the cigarette butt in the grass or pavement. His friend’s bad habit gave him the inspiring idea to do something with the wasted butts.

I had been chatting with a fellow volunteer named Eileen all morning. We were both new to volunteering with the organization and we instantly connected when we both shared to each other that we weren’t originally from Oregon. She was in her 70s, had white-grayish short hair and wrinkles that beautifully defined her tan face. She had just told me her whole history of stumbling upon Oregon herself, how when she was in her 20s she packed up her car and moved out to San Francisco from Ohio, not knowing a single soul. Soon after, she met her husband in the Haight and Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. They decided on a change a few years later, moving to Southern Oregon with their one and only child, living there for seven years and then up to Portland.

“So let’s hear your ‘falling in love with Portland’ story,” she smiled to me.

“So basically, I was 19 and wanted to do a random road trip adventure with my best friend. For weeks we had been planning on New Orleans, but then in about a three-day period, about three different people told me stories about Portland. A couple of days after that, I saw the movie Drugstore Cowboy, which takes place in Portland. I called my friend and told her that my heart was directing us to change the destination to Portland. My friend didn’t care, just as long as we were leaving Minnesota for a week. As soon as we entered Oregon, I received one of the most profound feelings of deja vu that I had ever had in my life and I looked over to my friend ‘Devona, I am pretty sure I have lived here before.’ There was just something so familiar about the state to me and anytime that I had the sensation of deja vu in the past I had the feeling that it was the universe’s way of telling me I was on the right path. Soon after that, we entered the Columbia River Gorge and I had chills up and down my body, flabbergasted by the beauty. We were both slightly bothered by the fact that no one had ever told us that the Columbia River Gorge exists in our country.”

“Yes, that’s a common occurrence, it’s one of America’s best kept secrets, although…not so much anymore,” my new volunteer buddy stated, with her head turned to the side making sure she didn’t miss any cigarette butts beside her.

I didn’t go on to tell her the even longer story of my history of addiction to cigarettes and pills in the past, how driving into a new state that felt like home inspired me to make major changes in the coming years. Feeling that from that point on that, Oregon would always be there waiting if I ever chose to make a new start for myself. I didn’t tell her about how just five years later, the same friend that I took that road trip with collapsed in front of me with an erupted brain aneurysm. After visiting her for weeks in a dark and dingy old hospital in St. Paul, I reevaluated the health choices I had been making since a teenager. With no family history of aneurysms and no other explanation for a 25-year old with a burst brain aneurysm, my friend’s neurologist urged her to quit smoking, attributing that as more than likely being the cause. She never touched a cigarette again and I joined her in quitting a short few months later.

The couple of hours of volunteering cleaning up cigarette butts, while sounding daunting and maybe a tad monotonous, was truly inspiring. I got to hear two people’s amazing stories, talk with passersby who were curious what we were doing (the funniest ones were the smokers themselves), got thanked multiple times and even got one “fuck you” from a bum that looked like he just walked out of one of the Mad Max movies. It made for a very interesting day and made me realize how much I love this community I live in. My nineteen-year-old self never would have imagined my twenty-nine-year-old self being a non-smoker, moving halfway across the country not knowing a single soul, and talking to random strangers without being nervous. It’s making me so excited to think of the other future transformations that will occur.

We never have to remain stuck, I can promise you that. There are things that happen that are out of our control, but with our freewill, we can choose in each moment how to react to situations. I feel so ever-blessed that my nineteen-year-old self followed her heart and took a road trip to a seemingly random destination. I am also so ever-blessed that the friend that I took that road trip with, my soul sister, inspired me to quit smoking five years later. There are so many changes yet to come, always ways to better the self as long as we’re here. We are all a beautiful work-in-progress.

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