“Ever drifting down the stream
Lingering in the golden gleam
Life, what is it but a dream?”
My last post was a bit different than my usual posts. At this juncture in my life, I truly feel as if time is running out and I want to pump out anything that I feel needs to be heard, even if it’s just a few people that end up resonating with what comes out of me. I have expressed my extreme fascination with all things New Age/metaphysical (i.e. Yoga, meditation, lucid dreams, astral projections, OBEs, and more) yet I haven’t talked too much about the many paranormal occurrences that have happened in my life. I have been afraid to tell many people in fear of sounding as if I have lost my mind. I am now realizing that I shouldn’t feel ashamed about my different take on things, instead I want to share the experiences and people can take it or leave it!
With that, I wanted to share a story that happened to me about two years ago which is of a paranormal nature. I have shared this story with countless friends and family members and have gotten more positive feedback than negative, most people informing me that they had chills run up and down their bodies after I shared the story with them. I have had many occurrences in my life, ever since I was a small child of paranormal phenomena, but I closed myself off to it after getting strange looks whenever I tried to share my stories with others. In my adult life, I have had my fair share of strange otherworldly occurrences, but again, I haven’t been very open to share them in fear of being labeled crazy. Well, here it goes…if you are still reading, I hope you enjoy this short story :):
I awoke groggy-headed and confused that early morning as I heard my boyfriend at the time rushing around his apartment in a frantic hurry. I tapped the screen of my cell phone and was annoyed to discover that it was only 5:00 in the morning on a Saturday. Few things annoy me in life as much as waking up earlier than 8:00am on a Saturday.
“Hey babe,” my boyfriend Chase alerted me,”sorry if I woke you, I’m putting my apartment key on your key chain, k?” I mustered up a confirmation in a frog-like tone and flipped back onto my side to try and fall back asleep. As I started drifting asleep, I heard Chase lock up his apartment and jet down the stairs rushing to work. I finally entered a blissful state of sleep, entering into dream-time only to be awoken by someone gently placing their hands on my chest and pushing down on me. I started giggling “Chase what are you doing back home already?” I asked aloud and opened my eyes.
The room was piercingly quiet, I looked around and there was no one except me and Chase’s dog Achilles sleeping at the end of the bed alongside my feet, where he had been since Chase left for work. I tapped my cell phone screen again and saw that it was about 6:30, I had only fallen back to sleep for a little more than an hour. I called out Chase’s name in the apartment and there was nothing but silence. I brushed off the strange incident and concluded that it must have been remnants of a dream. It didn’t take long for me to fall right back into a blissful state of sleep.
I was again awoken by someone pressing their hands on my chest, only this time it was a bit more forceful and I could sense them sitting alongside me on the bed. This time there was laughter coming from the person pushing on my chest and it felt very playful. I started laughing too and I knew this time for sure it had to be Chase playing a joke. I started laughing more and peeled open my eyes expecting to see Chase, but the pressure left my chest as soon as I opened my eyes and there was no one there.
I ripped the blankets off of me and ran to the apartment door, pulling at the knob, the dead bolt was locked so no one could have come in. I went back to the bedroom to find Achilles lying down at the end of the bed where he had always been, only now with his head twisted to the side wondering if I was up for good to put food in his dog bowl. At this point I texted Chase about what happened in which he freaked out wondering if someone came into his apartment, but I informed him there was no possible way. When I tried to tell him that his (newish to him) apartment was possibly haunted, he brushed off my remark as he wasn’t into those types of ideas.
Fast forward to about a month later. I had gone off to my first ever 10-day meditation retreat and when I came out of it, I turned on my cell phone and received a huge confirmation. Chase informed me that while I was away, he had befriended a new neighbor in his apartment complex that had been living there for years. After they shared a drink or two one night, the neighbor had brought up a shocking story about a young man who was struck with a hammer in the apartment complex parking lot just a couple years prior. The blow from the hammer came from an argument he had gotten into, the young man rushed up to his apartment (now Chase’s apartment) and died in his mom’s arms. I was incredibly shocked and my mind kept going back to that morning that I had felt someone on my chest. I texted Chase back “will you consider my story again now?!” 😬
Swoosh! All of a sudden I was up in the sky and not in my bed anymore. I was comforted in a blanket of light all around me, I was floating and feeling at one with everything. I realized that somehow, I had been given this opportunity to explore the vastness of the universe while still remembering who I was as a physical body. I had been given this lucky chance to explore the sky and above. I realized that I was at one with the stars. As I started to move about so freely, a loud buzzing similar to the sound of television static overcame my ears and I fell into my body again. My eyes flipped open and I realized I was lying in my bed. I closed my eyes again, drifted back to sleep and heard the loud buzzing again. I was back in the expanse of warm light and stars, but then the buzzing started and I was lying solid in my bed again.
I grabbed a bottle of water resting next to me on my night stand and chugged down the remainder of it. I had heard about out-of-body experiences (OBEs) before, in fact I had a few off and on since I was a child, but this one in particular seemed the most lucid. I got up out of bed and walked on the cold wooden floor toward my bay windows. I yanked on the curtain cord, dust flew about and streaks of sunlight poured into my large bedroom. I pulled my notebook off of my black dresser and started writing down the experience that I just had. I had remembered in one of the lucid dream books that I had checked out from the library years ago, it had mentioned to always write down your dreams when you wake up in the morning, no matter if they are lucid or not. By writing your dreams down, you have more of a chance to give your subconscious mind opportunities to provide future lucid dreams.
One month prior I had a different experience with an OBE while I was traveling in Southeast Asia for a month. It was in a hostel room that I was sharing with Katie, a fellow traveler from the United Kingdom who had tagged along with me and my American friends. Katie and I were sharing a twin-sized bed, as to make the already thrifty hostel even more of a bargain for us. I was lying next to the window and Katie was next to the door of the room. I had been dreaming that I was back in Minnesota visiting family and friends when all of a sudden, as if by a click of a switch, I realized that I was floating above the bed that Katie and I were sleeping on.
As I was floating above the bed, my rational mind was completely lucid, I knew that I resided in Saigon, Vietnam and what my name was. I knew that my physical body was below me, lying there alongside Katie who was snoring softly with her arm flailed above her head. I heard the construction work outside of our window, which had been going on since we checked into the hostel two days prior. I saw the white “Zen Plaza” sign on the side of the tall building across from our hostel. All of a sudden I panicked and a wave of paralysis took over my whole body. I thought to myself, I don’t want to die in Saigon, Vietnam! I haven’t lived up to what I have intended! I can’t die here, this isn’t right.
The view from my hostel room in Saigon, Vietnam.
My eyes darted open and I took the deepest breath of my life, as if I was a deep sea diver that had lost her oxygen minutes ago and finally got above water. My whole body felt so heavy, it hurt to get up. I looked over to my left, Katie was still snoring and her arm was still resting above her head just as it was when I was viewing it from above. The construction workers outside were still making noise and the white “Zen Plaza” sign was smack dab in my line of vision as I peered out the hostel’s double windows.
Before that experience in Southeast Asia, the last dream of that kind was in the fall of 2007. I had rested my eyes as I was lying down reading a book and I drifted off into a dream. In the first part of my dream, I was running around the cardiology clinic that I worked at in real life. I was feeling very frazzled as multiple doctors kept asking me to draw blood or to perform electrocardiograms on patients. I was then in the kitchen of the duplex that I rented at the time and my roommate Rachael was talking with me in the kitchen as she was grabbing food off the bottom shelf of our fridge. Then something sounded like it snapped in my head and there was a loud buzzing. I remember the distinct feeling of being very free and comforted by beings whom surrounded me. They started giving me information about the nature of reality at an alarming rate, they playfully laughed, as in “awwww, she’s just a cute ol’ human being that thinks at a slower vibration than us….”
Everything started happening incredibly fast, I was traveling through these alternate realities and in between these alternate realities, I was floating in outer space. I was surrounded by stars and comforting beings, they were palpable and they felt so comforting. They kept throwing information to me at an alarming rate, telepathically. It is very difficult to describe in words what had happened to me during this experience as there were no words being communicated—all information was being given to me in what felt like the speed of light, they would think something and in an instant I would feel what they were conveying. They kept flashing images of my life prior to up to that moment and then they started giving me images of people that I would be meeting in my future. They kept expressing immense gratitude and love towards me.
When I awoke from this dream, I gasped for air and felt the heavy lump of my body lying in my bed. I took a few deep breaths and felt stunned, I felt uncomfortable in my body. My body felt so dense compared to where I just was. I glanced over at my alarm clock that was resting on my night stand. I couldn’t believe my eyes, I felt that I was asleep for hours, but I discovered that I had only been asleep for a total of ten minutes. I felt overwhelmed and went downstairs to be around my roommates, I didn’t tell any of them what happened for fear of being sent to an asylum, but I just knew I wanted to be around people at that moment. I remember smiling a lot the two days after that experience, I felt in awe and gratitude that I got to experience something so profound.
A friend in recent months told me “I’m not where I want to be in life.” Which is definitely something every human being can relate to. We all have dreams and desires, some going back all the way to when we were a child wanting to be “this” or “that” when we grew up. The only problem with dreams and desires, is that a lot of people want it right now and they don’t want to wait. Patience is for others to do, not for the ones who wants to be at a specific place right now. We are NEVER going to be where we want to be in life though if we aren’t happy with where we are right now in the moment. This is all we have, all we will ever have, this moment of now. The “not being where I want to be” attitude will get us nowhere, because that is a surefire sign that we will NEVER feel that we are where we should be.
I definitely stress and worry about not reaching goals and desires, but meditation has really awoken me to being happy with exactly where I am. For an example, one recent morning I was looking at my bank account and worrying about making ends meet. My rent is becoming much more expensive than I envisioned when I decided to move into a small studio apartment by myself and I have many upcoming travels that people are relying on me to be there for and that I am super excited for. I really started to get into this animalistic, poverty-thinking mode and then I took a deep breath and asked myself “but how am I doing right NOW?” Because really, I could get struck by a vehicle that forgets to stop at a red light tomorrow and then not even be able to go on the travels that I had planned in the coming months. I mean honestly, the more important thing is how am I doing right NOW?
Thinking in terms of being blessed where you are in the moment is a profound experience. It ends up bringing you even more blessings. That morning, I had decided to turn around my anxious thoughts about money and transformed them into being grateful in that “now” moment and it created even more positivity in my day. I went to work that morning and within a few short hours I was provided with an unexpected free lunch from business associates. Another couple hours go by and my manager asked me if I could work more hours in the coming months due to a co-worker leaving. Some could call it a coincidence, but truly I believe it’s the magic of what happens when you count your blessings. What you are thinking on the inside truly will manifest into the outer world, I state this because I have truly seen it happen….multiple times.
I feel absolutely rich this morning, sitting at my little studio kitchenette indulging in cup loads of home-made coffee, a breakfast made with fresh fruit from my fridge and food that’s filled in my cupboards. I have clothing on to keep me warm, fresh water beside me to keep me hydrated. I honestly feel like a queen right NOW in this moment of writing this and to be able to type away on this laptop, with internet connection. I have so much right now, so blessed with all of this right now. I am not concerned at the moment of what’s in my bank account or not being where I want to be in life.
Be happy with what you have right now, be happy with who you are right now, if you can’t do that now….don’t keep wishing for it to happen in the future that is non-existent. The only existence is right NOW.
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 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 grateful that my nineteen-year-old self followed her heart and took a road trip to a seemingly random destination. I am also so 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, there are always ways to better the self as long as we’re here. We are all a beautiful work-in-progress.
I was going to have my next blog post be about my Ireland adventure, but my heart is guiding me to take a little break in the adventures and share something that has been gnawing at me. I deactivated my Facebook a little over two weeks ago and I wanted to express what has happened for me in doing so. I have a few blogging friends that have also gone on the Facebook-free wagon and I’ll be featuring those lovely ladies on this post as well. First and foremost I would like to mention that while this might be a blog post that is bashing Facebook, I don’t want anyone to read this and get upset. The main reason I wanted to post this was to get thoughts from my blogging friends out there, I’m curious if anyone else has been going through similar experiences with Facebook or if I’m just possibly over thinking it all and I just need to chill out :).
As I was hiking at the beautiful Powell Butte here in Portland the other day, an inspiration hit me to create a questionnaire/survey to be taken by people that have deleted or deactivated their Facebook accounts and when a couple friends expressed interested in it, I decided to get the ball rolling. I myself answered the questions to the survey, as seen on the first one below. I also have a few blogging friends that answered the survey following mine and one friend that is not on the blogosphere that answered the survey as well. Basically I wanted to get a feel for what it might be, collectively, that is driving a lot of us to turn our Facebooks off. I wanted to get some answers and then share them so that other people out there in the world that might be going through similar feelings can feel less alone in this. Let’s face it folks, Facebook is everywhere and if you don’t have it there is a serious feel of alienation…well, take a look at my answers and see how I feel!
When did you first create your Facebook and what caused you to join? I remember my cousin talking about Facebook around 2005-2006, but it seemed to be mostly popular with kids going to big colleges/universities, so I didn’t think it was for me. I did have a MySpace and was pretty addicted to that, I loved updating my backround songs on MySpace and changing the background designs, I even met my first long-term boyfriend on MySpace, haha. It was actually that boyfriend that inspired me to create a Facebook account in about 2008 and I got hooked/addicted to it pretty quickly.
How long have you been off of Facebook now? I deactivated my Facebook about 2 weeks ago, but this isn’t the first time I have done this. I was without Facebook from about October-January last year, so the longest that I have gone without Facebook is for almost 3 months.
What motivated you to deactivate your Facebook? Wow, where do I start?! Honestly, I had a lot of reasons that motivated me to finally hit the “deactivate” button on my account. The biggest reason was that I decided it wasn’t helping me with my mindfulness practice. When I was traveling with my friends in Ireland, I got completely distracted after I put up a new picture on my Facebook account and got a ton of likes/comments…this in return took my attention away from the fact that, “holy shit I’m in Ireland!” Instead of being where I was, I was sucked into a screen. I have an addictive personality by nature, I have given up a lot of addictions, but I was definitely noticing that I was completely addicted to the excitement that I got when my phone lit up with new alerts on Facebook. I was also motivated to deactivate so that I could focus on my life, with an impending career change and figuring out where I was going to live next, I really had no time for distraction. Another motivating factor was CONNECTION, I want to feel real, raw in-your-face connection. I love intimate gatherings, I love going on hikes with friends, I love talking about weird metaphysical stuff with friends and I felt like a good majority of my “connection” on Facebook felt robotic. And lastly, I felt like my energy was being sucked away on things not for me! I would have Facebook friends that would air all of their dirty laundry on there, they’d rant about their personal lives and discuss their hatred for certain politicians. It hit me that when I scrolled down my Facebook feed, it made me physically ill sometimes just taking on other people’s negativity.
How has life been for you since deactivating your Facebook? It has been incredibly enlightening! I have gotten a ton accomplished! I got all of my affairs in order to go teach English overseas, even though it looks like that will be put on hold because Visa paperwork isn’t going through (stay tuned for that future blog post, haha) I have picked up on my writing again–finally completing TWO FULL BLOG POSTS, I found temp work here in Portland until I plan to take off, I have had get-togethers with close friends, I have had deep, soulful chats with friends, hikes/walks/runs in nature. I have cooked and baked more. I have had long phone chats with friends/family that live across the country from me. I have felt energetically clear and I feel like I’m being less pulled into things that were never meant for me. When I went on Facebook, I’d feel like my mind was kind of static-like…I don’t know how to put it in words I guess, but basically I just felt like there were too many things pulling at my energy.
What are some things that you miss about Facebook? There are friends and aquaintances that I definitely miss, people from previous jobs that I have worked at, seeing friends’ kiddos growing up, there were plenty of positive posts that I miss. But I got to thinking lately, never ever in history have we been able to stay connected with people from our past the way that we can now days….but maybe, just maybe, we aren’t supposed to stay in contact with every single person we meet. It’s all about vibration, we come in and out of each other’s lives for certain times and then we exit….letting go gives us freedom to move on and forward. I have so many memories of all of the amazing and sweet souls that I have been blessed to come into contact with in my life, but it doesn’t mean I need to know what they are having for breakfast today. Instead, I choose to smile at the memories and come fully into where I am and who I am with right now. Facebook has served it’s purpose for a time in my life, I do have gratitude for the connections it indeed brought me, but just as we have to let go of people in our life…I’m going to let go of my old attachment to Facebook. I do miss posting my blog posts on Facebook and I should come clean on that–I do have a Facebook page for my blog website, but I can’t see any other people on Facebook, it is strictly for updating my site on there. I have 111 Facebook followers (thanks guys!) on my page and I didn’t want them to miss my new posts. :). Anyhow, let’s read my blogger friend’s thoughts….
When did you first create your Facebook and what caused you to join? Spring 2008. My then-fuckboi (now-husband) Jeff had just moved to Florida and it seemed like it would be a good way to stay in contact with him.
How long have you been off of Facebook now? This round of deactivation has lasted 16 days. I’ve had a few Facebook-free stints. The longest I’ve gone was four years without it (2009-2013).
What motivated you to deactivate your Facebook? In 2009, I wanted to heal following a particularly nasty break-up. Most recently, though, I have found that an active Facebook life clutters my mind in a way that I don’t appreciate. When I’m off of Facebook, my mind starts to settle. Life becomes quieter. I find it easier to live moment-to-moment without that alluring “pull” of the blue-and-white F-bomb. (Get it? That’s supposed to be funny.)
How has life been for you since deactivating your Facebook? Quiet and, at times, fulfilling. I’ve done a lot more baking and reading. I’ve posted one blog, done a few art projects, and even taken to altering a few items of clothing. I like to get crafty with my raiment; it helps me stay fashionable without impinging on my bank account.
What are some things that you miss about Facebook? Seeing thoughtful posts from co-workers and friends, links to interesting articles, photos of my BFF Katy’s kids, and the occasional invite to an event that I would actually attend. I have to keep in mind that in order to access the aforementioned items, I have to sift through tons of ego-based posts, annoying selfies (including my own – haha), photos of people’s kids whom I’ve never even met and probably never will, links to boring articles, and invites to events that I cannot or would not attend in the first place. So, finding items of quality on Facebook sometimes feels like sifting for diamonds in the rubble.
When did you first create your Facebook and what caused you to join? I first created a Facebook account in 2006 or 2007. I think it was for curiosity more than anything. Most of my friends were on it so I had to see what all the fuss was about. 🙂 I don’t think I was that addicted to it though – I remember cancelling my account about a year later.
How long have you been off of Facebook now? I’ve been off Facebook since June 2016. I’d been on and off a few times in the past few years…but this is definitely the longest I’ve been without it. I seemed to have moved past the temptation phase of reactivating my account.
What motivated you to deactivate your Facebook? So many reasons, very similar to yours. It was not only eating up my time, but I didn’t like who I was while using Facebook. I was judging and comparing a lot, and feeling bad about myself.
Now, one can argue that Facebook isn’t the cause of those things (i.e., we can’t blame Facebook!). But there’s something about the setup of Facebook, the way it provides a continuous feed of other peoples’ thoughts, opinions, and photos – many of which are negative and fear-based – that it takes a LOT of effort and discipline to not get sucked into all the ego stuff it activates. It just wasn’t worth it to me anymore. I wanted all that gone – I wanted to consciously focus my time and energy on things that were life and soul-affirming. Like reading books!
How has life been for you since deactivating your Facebook? It feels a lot simpler. I have more energy to devote to the things I really enjoy doing. Things feel more authentic – because hardly anyone is truly authentic on Facebook (including me, when I was on it).
What are some things that you miss about Facebook? Knowing what’s gong on in my city/community – I’ve missed hearing about some fun events, because most people I know communicate them through through Facebook. It’d also be nice to share my writing, blog, etc. with the wide network I had before, but…oh well! Overall, I’m happier without it.
When social media first became popular, I was going through some major challenges that had me isolated and not able to read, write or use the internet much for a few years. This was in 2000-2003. When I emerged from that, I thought people still used floppy discs. I had been on 7 psychiatric drugs and bedridden from drug induced fatigue and mental impairment for about a year…but was still a writer at heart.
When I first deactivated, I thought it would just be for a week or so, maybe a month tops. Up until then, I knew I was addicted to Facebook, but like many people, I needed it to create events, spread the word about things I was doing, market my business, share my writing, find out about events, stay in touch with new friends…the list was endless.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Strokkur Geyser doing it’s thang! It goes off every 5-10 minutes. 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 🙂
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.
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.
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 :)!
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.
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 of years and years. 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.”