18 days in India

At about two weeks into my trip, I came very close to buying a plane ticket to return home to Texas.

I didn’t have very many expectations for my stay at Ashok Tree. At the end of September, I decided I wanted to visit Tiruvannamalai again. I didn’t really know why, but I was being called back there. I started looking into this sweet town again and gathering information about possibly returning, maybe having a retreat there sometime. As soon as I started googling, I found Yogi Ashokananda’s ashram called Ashok Tree. He would be having a few retreats in December and a teacher training in January. I saw his picture and I was drawn in. I researched him, read his book, and watched his videos. After about a month, I couldn’t stop thinking about it so I just booked a ticket. The universe conspired to help me get here.

On the day I arrived at Ashok Tree, I cried. I felt it was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen. I felt I never wanted to leave, but that would change quickly. For the first few days at Ashok Tree, I couldn’t believe how the universe had landed me in such an amazing place. I was walking around in a daze and I could see myself staying there forever. Gorgeous farm land, delicious healthy Indian food, Ayurvedic massages, yoga every day either in the yoga shala or on the rooftop, cows and dogs roaming freely, children’s laughter from the school—what a dream! My room was elegant for an ashram, with a western toilet and a fan. A cool breeze blowing through the doors every day, even when it was so hot outside. And the view of Arunachala!

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Arunachala is a sacred mountain in Tiruvannamalai. It is believed to be an earthly incarnation of Lord Shiva, the primary God in Hinduism. The first time I visited this town, I felt the intense presence of God on that mountain before I knew anything of the story about the mountain. I know, now, the mountain had called me back to it, as it does with so many people.

A few other yoginis, mostly from England, were already there, as well as Yogi’s partner and two adorable children. We all quickly bonded as we shared meals together, visited the 1000 year-old temple, practiced together, and just about a week after I arrived, the baby calf, Rainbow, was born. We watched the calf stand for the first time, how beautiful! Yogi held drumming circles by a fire in the evening. We were in an Indian dream. One of the yoginis was a kirtan leader, so we were lucky enough to have an audience with her as she sang on a few occasions, leading us in a chanting meditation.

Once the retreat started, I started questioning whether I wanted to be in this place for so long. The detox retreat was fairly intense. Detoxing wasn’t just about going on a restricted diet and practicing yoga every day. In addition to that, we were strongly encouraged to do some intense practices that for most Westerners seem counterintuitive. Specifically, we were drinking salt water and neem water, then practicing a series of postures which would help “open the channel.” Once that happened, it was best we not be far from the toilet. Yogi mentioned more than once that detoxing was about removing things, not putting new things in. You get the picture. It was not pleasant. Our diet was reduced to that of a watered down kitchari (rice and lentils) with shots of castor oil for a few days. Despite the lack of energy, we continued our twice daily yoga practice, albeit a very gentle practice. The process left me very weak, tired and emotional. Though Yogi asked us not to sleep during the day, I couldn’t stay awake and my dreams were very intense.

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I knew I’d be homesick at some point, so it wasn’t much of a surprise to be wanting to forget the whole thing and go home. That’s just the nature of wanting to be somewhere that you are not. Dvesha, as it is called in Sanskrit, which translates to aversion. This is one of the Kleshas, which are afflictions of the mind and are the root of suffering. Aversion is one I particularly struggle with. I think of it as constantly wanting and seeking something else, another sensation, another feeling, another place. In a sense, it is a feeling of wanting bigger, better, different and it is derived from ego, which is always seeking something new. Aversion can show up in yoga postures, when you cannot just hold it, but rather, make a small adjustment because it is uncomfortable. Seane Corn, one of my favorite yoga teachers, calls this being a sensation junkie. We are so accustomed to changing our circumstances when we experience discomfort.

As I was experiencing the effects of the detox, I knew that aversion was a key issue for me to confront. Especially since even when I am not detoxing, I am usually wishing I felt something other than what I am feeling. So at some moments in the three days of constant shitting, sleeping, and yoga, I definitely knew that it was temporary and I would get through it. Even though my mind was telling me how awful it was, I knew, or at least I hoped, I would begin to have a renewed energy and vitality (as was being promised). Yet, it just wasn’t happening for me. Then we were asked to drink more salt water, and this time, immediately vomit it back up. This was supposed to stimulate your second chakra and help reduce the fire in the digestive system. I drew the line. I could not participate. I just couldn’t imagine to continue to put my body through this intentional upheaval. I was too weak. I felt awful. And my aversion to this practice was real. So, that day, I stopped participating.

On that afternon, I had a lucid dream. They usually begin with me flying. This time, I was flying with another one of the guests from the ashram. Her name was Melissa (and she ended up being my savior.) She and I and a few others were traveling around and I found myself at a beautiful beach, with clear water, and distinctively colored boats. I thought I was in the Caribbean. I woke up and had this feeling that I should leave the ashram.

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My mind was resisting this thought because, again, I knew I was depleted energetically and I didn’t want to give up so soon. I was telling myself to push through it, despite feeling so rough, and it was starting to feel like I was pushing myself for all the wrong reasons. I told myself, I know I can’t just run from unpleasant experiences all the time, so maybe I needed to push myself. Sometimes it makes sense to stay in the discomfort and see if you can experience it as something else. But this wasn’t that. This was starting to border on torturing myself for reasons that were completely against my natural flow. It was stressful and painful and I was re-injuring myself. The resistance I was feeling was not healthy for me. Some other interactions were happening that I didn’t really like, but aren’t worth talking about now. Suffice it all to say, my mind was trying to convince me to stay, after all, it was mostly paid for, I was due to start teacher training just after the new year and if I left, where in the hell would I go? Did I even have enough money to go anywhere? I hadn’t planned to leave the ashram at all! It seemed a little crazy to even contemplate leaving. I realized leaving would mean I’d have to refigure everything, which was completely out of my comfort zone.

I vacillated for a day. I started reading the India guidebook. I checked my bank account. I called a friend. I checked in with my higher self. I talked to the ashram manager. I meditated. In my meditation, I heard a voice say, “Goa.” The next day I decided to leave.

I think you know how this has turned out for me. There is more to the story but let’s leave it here for now.

Namaste!

Anna

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Incredible India: The Journey Begins.

My flight to India was originally booked to fly into Chennai. The U.S. news doesn’t necessarily cover Indian events and just 36 hours before my flight, I discovered that this city is completely underwater due to the worst rains and flooding in 100 years (global warming, much?). The airport was closed and nearly 400 people were stranded there. I was feeling some anxiety about traveling to Chennai, even before I knew about the flooding, and as soon as I was rebooked to Bangalore, my fears were alleviated. What I had planned (and somewhat obsessed over) in the last month was unraveled in a matter of hours and an entirely new plan was in place with exactly no time to obsess whether or not the so-called plan was even a good one. (On a side note, this is just evidence that having fear and even some anxiety is normal, maybe even intuitive, but obsessing too much over what you think is going to happen or not happen or might happen is pretty much a waste of your energy because the thing you are so worried about probably won’t even happen. And believe me, the flooding and subsequent canceling of my flight never even entered my mind as a possible hitch.)

Bangalore sounded fine by me. Better than canceling or delaying my trip. Besides, I have been to Chennai, but not Bangalore. I finally started to get excited. I was behind schedule. The day spent un-booking and rebooking made it so that I’d be packing well into the night. I stayed up nearly all night, hoping that might help me be sleepier for the time travel.

The next morning as I was driving from Austin to Houston to catch my flight, having had only a few hours of rest, I realized that even though I was in my home state, I felt more out of place in rural Texas than I likely would in India. The irony was so apparent. The weeks leading up to my trip, I had spent some hours recalling how difficult India was for me last time. I was convinced I’d be uncomfortable and feel unsafe or unable to navigate the international travel details on my own. This is my first solo international journey. I told myself a little affirmation, “I am safe, healthy happy and everything is easy.” I also did a little Kaki Pranayama (thanks Genevieve!). It helped.

As I passed the World’s Largest Barbecue Pit on Highway 290 (it’s for sale, by the way , for a mere $350,000), I had this sense that I had it all backwards. I’ve grown accustomed to the U.S. and I am undoubtedly American, but the views and values which comprise my home state do not resonate for me nearly as much as those of the Hindu culture in India. At home in Texas, I passed cows being raised for the BBQ and in a few days time, I’d be driving next to cows who roam the streets and are worshipped in temples. Perhaps I was leaving the place where I was unable to fit in to return to the place that made more sense, for me. It is an epiphany I am still exploring.

The flight was great! I finally set foot on European soil and realized that it is fairly ridiculous that it took me 46 years to do that. I didn’t leave the airport in Germany so I am not sure it actually counts. All I can say about that is my next trip is definitely going to be Europe. That’s just how it is at this point. In fact, I knew I wanted to go back to India, but I felt like I was cheating on my European dream by coming here again before going there. Alas, the East just has it’s hooks in me in a way that the West does not. My goodness, Thailand is just across the ocean from me now, can I extend this trip somehow?

Overlooking Earthlings. We are all one and that's easy to see from up here.

Overlooking Earthlings. We are all one and that’s easy to see from up here.

Landing in Bangalore was smooth and my hotel arranged for a driver to retrieve me. He had one of those little signs with my name on it, except his was hand-drawn with sharpies on a piece of wrinkled paper instead of printed like everyone else’s. It was cute and so perfectly me. He got me safely to my hotel around 4 a.m. I immediately FaceTimed Texas. Then I crashed super hard.

I didn’t want to go straight to the Ashram because I might as well see some of Bangalore while I am here. It is a 5-hour journey to the Ashok Tree Ashram in Tiruvannamalai. I definitely wanted to sleep before doing that. I spent a day sleeping, then an evening planning my touristy events since I had no time to do that prior to my trip given short notice of arrival in Bangalore. I decided to hire a taxi for the day and have him drive me to some temples and then to the shopping district. Today is Sunday so the local people were out at the temples and I slipped in, not unnoticed, rather without much ado. The Ganesha temple was high on my list and I arrived in time for the puja (a religious ritual combined with prayers, chanting, etc.) This was particularly special for me and it was again, in this moment, that I realized, as I was surrounded by faithful Hindu, without another white person in sight, that I was, indeed, more comfortable here than in many churches at home. Even the organized chaotic driving, the frenetic energy that only India can deliver, was so ordinary and comforting that I honestly wondered how I ever could have been concerned about my ability to handle it.

Bull Temple, Bangalore, India

Bull Temple, Bangalore, India

To be fair, when I came to India last time, I was a totally different person. I was resisting so much and clinging to everything in my life that this place called India was disconcerting at best; confrontational, frustrating and somewhat brutal at the worst of times. When planning this trip, that is what I imagined I was throwing myself back into. And it is, actually. But I am changed. I am in the flow now. And that’s not some BS hippie statement, that’s just my reality now. I flow. I flow with chaos or I flow with order. I am just part of it. I don’t resist. I don’t cling (well, I cling less).

I had one moment when I was finished at the Ganesha temple and I was supposed to call my driver, Mohan, to meet me. I could not remember how to dial the number and every attempt I made to call him failed. I looked around for anyone whom I might ask to help me make this call. I saw faces of many beautiful people, but none that seemed like the right person to ask. I knew I was just missing a zero or something, so I kept trying different codes. I kept getting it wrong. A little anxiousness started to creep in. I had already hired him for the day and the day had only just begun. I didn’t want to get in another cab. The road where I was to meet him was extremely packed full of people, cars, tuk tuks, and bikes and at one point, all I could hear was the incessant honking that started to make me want to scream.

Then, I realized, this is the moment. This is the moment when you stay calm and grounded despite all of the external confusion. This is the moment yoga has trained me for. Breathe. Be one with it. Move with it. Enter it and exit it. Don’t fight it. Don’t run from it. Just be with it. A solution will appear. There are so many options. Sit in this pose and take everything in. So I did. I looked at all the beauty around me. I stood in the street, with everyone else, as the cars rushed by. I turned on my data for my phone and found an email for the hotel, which had their number, written out exactly as it should be dialed. I called it. They answered and dialed my driver for me. He was there a minute later. Perfect, divine chaotic order.

Cows roam the streets in India in perfect harmony with the traffic.

Cows roam the streets in India in perfect harmony with the traffic.

The rest of the day was flawless. That affirmation works. Safe. Healthy. Happy. Easy. That’s how this trip to India is for me.

Tomorrow I take the 5-hour drive to Tiruvannamalai. I have so many reasons to return to this sacred place. I’ll save all those stories for my next blog entry. I’ll be there for seven weeks studying with Yogi Ashokananda. More about him later too. Until then, I encourage you to rediscover how you are in the flow. You already are, you know. What are you resisting? What are you afraid of? What stories are you telling yourself that may be just discomfort and unease energy that you could just set aside, knowing that it will, or it already is, ok?

I love you.

Anna

A-ha Ahimsa!

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The news in the last couple of weeks and months has really been disturbing, particularly related to unnecessary violence in our country and to our countrymen. Violence met with violence is an indication that we are mentally ill as a global community. There is a sickness happening to us, and I want to have a conversation to help us heal.

Let me digress for a moment: I’ve been motivated for some time to look at each of the yamas more closely and write about them. (If you have no idea what I am talking about, have a look at this complete list of the yamas. This will summarize the concept of yamas in yoga so I can focus on telling you about my experience of exploring them, which is a deep part of my yoga practice.) This week, I took a closer look at ahimsa, the practice of non-violence.

I don’t believe that it is possible for humans to change their violent ways overnight, or even in a single week. This kind of change takes time and dedication. I can only imagine that this is a life-long practice which may not ever be perfected. I aim to share my thoughts and revelations about ahimsa after creating intention and reflecting on how that shows up for me after seven days of concentrated awareness. As I explore the practice of ahimsa, I wonder how we humans might all be affected, and healed, by this simple practice. When I say practice, really the very first thing I mean to discover through the practice of ahimsa is simply awareness. I must be aware of when I am causing harm, in order to change that behavior.

Commonly, when referring to ahimsa, I immediately think of how to not hurt other beings. Many people practice ahimsa by becoming vegetarian or saving spiders and other bugs from their squishy deaths. I did encounter choices about what I ate this week that had me really ponder how I could live my life, every single day, without harming anyone or anything. It’s a tall order. As my mind considered ahimsa, every meal choice became a question of my practice and gave me room to think about where my food comes from and if I was perpetuating harm by my choice of food. I didn’t have any big a-ha moments in this context, and though I started out thinking about not harming animals, I ended up looking at how my food choices are harming me.

A-ha Ahimsa! Yeah, so we, as a culture, spend a lot of time looking at how we ought to be more peaceful towards others (or even more prevalent, how other people besides ourselves “should be” practicing non-violence, and spend time looking for an external source to be “fixed”, i.e. the police, the government, etc. Suffice it to say, it is always easier to see what someone else is doing wrong than how we, ourselves, may be at fault). I ask you, how often do we realize how violent we are to ourselves? 

I had an idea that I was pretty hard on myself, not just with bad food choices, but any number of other things. Cigarettes, alcohol, other substances that supposedly take the pain away…are these really helping ease some darkness inside me or am I just inflicting pain and sickness on myself? I realize that I was making choices about what I put in my body that not only deliberately made me sick, but also so I would be forced to slow down and be more gentle with myself. In essence, I was hurting myself so that I would have the opportunity to heal myself. Huh? Why would I do that to myself? I wouldn’t do that to a bug and that is the truth! As soon as this hit me I realized, ahimsa isn’t just about NOT DOING HARM, it is also about TAKING CARE and BRINGING JOY to myself and others.

It is so easy to beat ourselves up about making not-so-great choices or even deliberately harmful choices. Then the harming begets more harming as we tell ourselves how “bad” we are. It is literally a vicious cycle. I don’t know about you, but when I am down on myself about something, I go all the way down. I don’t care…and when I don’t care, I do harm.

Instead my practice of ahimsa could simply be that I forgive myself and have compassion for myself. I honor myself. I nurture myself. I treat myself to good food and plenty of rest and choose healthy, vibrant activities to encourage joy in my life. Instead of the mental beating on myself about my relapses, I could simply choose to go for a brisk walk or take a long, hot shower or go to bed early. I can drink extra water and move my body. Ahimsa is making room for all things joyful and allowing LOVE to FLOW unhindered, not just eliminating the harmful action. I don’t have to inflict harm on myself to deserve the compassionate treatment. I could easily just skip the beating and go straight to the pampering, ya dig?

I wonder if we all took a little time to really examine how we treat ourselves, and had some simple awareness that could spark a change when needed. And as we cultivate more love and compassion for ourselves, especially when we have dark and treacherous moments, then wouldn’t it be easier and just more natural to have love and compassion for our fellow humans? It seems we are so caught up in the duality of right and wrong, us vs. them, justice and injustice, blah, blah, blah that perhaps we can’t see that this constant chain of violence starts right in our very own minds. The minute I tell myself “I am such an idiot” or “I am so fat.” We kill little parts of our own psyche every hour. This slow death makes it easier to be desensitized to all the harm going on outside our comfort zone.

It is obvious that we need a big awakening to change the violent culture of school shootings, police brutality, racial injustice and riots in the streets. I think the small personal awakenings are the path to the BIG awakening that must occur. Ahimsa starts with me. Then the real stuff has room to happen. Changing who I am can change the whole world.

The Yoga Sutras say:

“As a Yogi becomes firmly grounded in non-injury (ahimsa), other people who come near will naturally lose any feelings of hostility.” (ahimsa pratishthayam tat vaira-tyagah)

Yoga Sutras – 2.35

Be Gentle.

Practice Compassion.

Peace begins with me.

Gratitude

Gratitude.

It’s easy enough, right? I am an upper-middle class, white woman who has never had to worry about where my next meal will come from or if I’ll have shelter and warmth for my body during the night. I have always been surrounded by loving family and friends and have never felt unsafe in my own home. I have made it through 45 years without much concern about my means of income, paying my bills, or my ability to sustain my above average standard of living.

It’s more than that. I have always had a car. I have always been able to find work. I always have enough money, even when I don’t. I have unlimited support. I have so many people who care about me. I have many, many homes. I have beautiful and cherished friends who I can call when I am either sad and lonely or jumping for joy. I have both my parents still alive to provide advice and unconditional love, among many other gifts. I have a large network of friends, colleagues, travelers, artists, yogis and kindred spirits that I call family, though our connection isn’t blood, it’s love! I live in pure abundance and I want for nothing.

Except when I do…want for something.

I’m human, I guess. I find myself in my own internal battles (and sometimes not so internally) of wanting something more, something different, something better, something else. I have spent years of my life wishing I had SOME THING other than what I had and if only then, when that SOME THING that I have is more, different, better or else, will I be satisfied. Except, that’s not true. Then there is the more, different, better something else that I could have….Alas, the ego never wants to believe that what I have been given is exactly enough.

And when this happens, and I feel as though I’ll never have IT, whatever IT is, I wonder if I have any gratitude at all. Do I even know what it means to have gratitude?

I meditate and remind myself of all the blessings and abundance I was just born into. I tell myself that “I SHOULD BE GRATEFUL”, those words, stinging me down deep because, down deep, I know I have never had to suffer the winter without heat or summer without air conditioning and I likely never will. I don’t know what it means to be hungry. I’ll never really be alone, ever. I will always have a home. Shelter, food, survival…all a birthright for me.

Karmically, my spiritual tasks here are about something else this time. Clearly, the so-called suffering I experience in my mind is nothing like that of the majority of the world’s population. I take a moment, a full breath, to really let that sink in. For all the “something more, better, different, elses” out there that I think I WANT, I have the luxury of wanting vs. needing. I have the dharma that allows me to create a life by design rather than have to fight for my survival. I paint the picture of my daily reality with the highest quality brush and a limitless pallet, filled only with the brightest of colors. And what an incredibly beautiful creation of life I have made!

On this day of gratitude, I choose to really allow myself to feel, see, and honor that I have been offered a life free of needless suffering. I thank my higher self for being present enough to cut through my own bullshit and acknowledge the boundless, abundance that is mine in this lifetime. I submit that my ego take a back seat and just stop the constant wanting. I move in the direction of desire that arises out of the need to evolve on a more spiritual and positive energetic level, and free myself from trappings of the more, better, different, else. I embrace the ever-present NOW and revel in my gratitude for how perfect NOW and all that I have in NOW is. I let go of circuit-like thinking of that OTHER THING that keeps gratitude at bay. I honor a higher power and driving spiritual force that must be in play here. I humbly thank that force.

I bow my head in gratitude.

Namaste!

 

Happy, Alone

Four weeks in Malibu and I can honestly say I love Southern California, which is not what I expected. Life here is sweet and inspiring. I have been spending the majority of my time working the last couple of weeks and in the afternoons I have a lot of free time. I typically spend the afternoon at the Starbucks in Santa Monica to catch up on Internet and then run any errands that need to be handled before heading back up the mountain. I’ve also been checking out some different yoga studios or just exploring the area. My friends usually don’t get home until after six p.m. so I generally have an abundance of time alone. Which brings me to the subject of this post….

I am a very social person and I typically don’t choose being alone. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it, because I actually do enjoy time with myself; it’s just not my first choice. I’d rather be experiencing life with the people I love. This past weekend, my “land-mates” went on a well-deserved vacation and I was without human companionship on the mountain for a few days. I was also nearly out of data on my phone so that meant I’d be without any virtual connections while on the land all weekend. I know there are some of you reading this that would find nothing more enticing than spending three days on a mountain in seclusion. I am not one of those people.

I had Friday off and spent the day cleaning, doing laundry, napping and generally just waiting for the next day to happen. It was my only day off that week so I was pretty tired and ready for bed as soon as the sun went down. On Saturday, I had work in the morning and I was off by 10 a.m. I had no desire to go home, though I knew the dogs would appreciate my early return, so I decided to just make a quick stop at the beach in Malibu. I found myself feeling pretty lonely. Honestly, the loneliness was creeping in for the better part of the week prior. I’d been thinking about how I wished I had a partner or a friend to be at the beach with. I told myself, “I am my own best friend.” Though I’ve had my ups and downs in life, I have learned that the best thing I can do when feeling low is to look for the beauty, have gratitude, and shift my energy in a different direction. So, I took some photos and reached out to a friend for a phone conversation, then took the long way home.

On the beach in Malibu, I thought about you.

On the beach in Malibu, I thought about you.

As I drove up Malibu Canyon Road, I stopped to take more pictures, not unlike a tourist. I was blasting Abbey Road and singing when tears started to roll down my cheeks. I don’t really know why I was crying, I just felt…moved. Maybe it was the mountains or the amazing sunshine. Maybe it was gratitude for my place here. Maybe it was the insight of the Beatles singing, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” I don’t know, but I was suddenly overcome with a joyful creative presence. I’d been having an ongoing email conversation with my friend John about feeling blissful in every moment as the law of attraction is always aligned to our energetic vibration. His words reminded me of lessons I’ve been learning for the better part of the last five years. I KNOW, that I create my life through my thoughts and my vibration. It’s just that when I feel blue, sometimes I can’t shake myself out of it. In this moment as I arrived to my mountain home, something just shifted.

I let the dogs out and grabbed my guitar and set myself up on a chair in the meadow. I’ve been writing songs and playing guitar for a few years now without much progress. Something just had never clicked. Since I’ve been in Malibu off-grid, I’ve spent a lot more time practicing my guitar. A few new songs have emerged this year and my understanding of the chords and shapes is improving daily. I started to play some of my original songs and realized that I was having a kind of a breakthrough. Not only was I able to play with more ease and aptitude, I was able to really let it all hang out because, I was completely alone. I sang really loudly, because, well, no one could hear me except the dogs, though I imagined that the whole valley could hear me. I sang to the people in the mansions. I sang to the heavens. As I sang and sang, I felt a rush of joy take me over. I smiled, I laughed and I muttered silly things to my canine audience.

One of my canine fans, Lando.

One of my canine fans, Lando.

Something profound hit me in that moment.

I remembered all of the craziness of the last five years and all of the choices that I had made to end up right there, right then. Such a sequence of events had unfolded for me to be on that mountain, by myself, and immerse myself in my musical creation. I honored all of the people and situations that I had to let go of, somewhat painfully, to have this opportunity. I had an overwhelming sense that my own creative intent and power for manifesting the divine had brought me here and allowed an opening for me to be purely creative and in the flow, as we say. I honored Ganesha for removing obstacles that I didn’t even know were obstacles while I was so busy clinging to them for fear of being alone or unhappy. I was blissful, almost ecstatic.

I looked up and realized I had been playing for two hours. My hands were cramping and fingertips were aching. I counted how many songs I knew – at least seven, four of them originals! I gathered myself and headed back to my truck. I looked at my phone and another email from John had reached me while I was playing.

He said (in response to my expression of loneliness and general business of attracting what I desire),

“Start FEELING like you’re blissed out because the Universe LOVES you and WANTS you to experience ecstatic abandon and bliss and love and affection…The inner vision of that energy will then come to you with no effort on your part, because it’s vibrational…there’s absolutely nothing you need to do, other than FEEL REAL GOOD RIGHT NOW, and to continue to vibe out on your bliss, and it will just come to you!!!!”

Now that’s beautiful! I had just been doing exactly that. I felt like I had shined a light so brightly that it had reached John across thousands of miles and reflected right back on to me coming through the phone. I know that the blissful state I was in was not only being reflected by John, but also by the whole world. I also know that he is right and all we ever need to do is shine as brightly as we can, and often.

"And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make." Lennon-McCartney

“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Lennon-McCartney

 

My first week in Malibu

Since the time I acquired Luna back in November of last year, I’ve been imagining all the amazing places she and I would visit. I dream of opening her back doors and watching the beauty reveal itself. Most of all, I have become enamored with the idea of living in a tiny, mobile space, off the power grid, in nature. Presto manifesto: 40 acres in Malibu! My dear friends Leah and JP have invited me to stay and work in the area until we decide it’s time to move on. We plan to call this home for the foreseeable future and that is fine by me!

Sunset from the top of the hill in Malibu.

Sunset from the top of the hill in Malibu.

This is the steep mountain road up from the valley into the Santa Monica mountains.

This is the steep mountain road up from the valley into the Santa Monica mountains.

The very first week, I’ve quickly learned many little lessons about what it means to live this way. I could write several blog posts about what I have learned so far and I’ll likely go into more detail on many of these in later posts just for fun. For now, here’s a synopsis.

ELECTRICITY

Before I left, I imagined that I would have some electricity with which to run my small refrigerator. The fridge runs on either propane or electricity, though my propane tank only has a few precious gallons inside and I am hesitant to run my beloved Luna up and down this crazy hill just for propane. Upon arrival my first day, my dreams of refrigerated food were dashed when I realized our generator would only be on for about an hour a day, if that. That makes complete sense once you are out here, (it’s expensive to run with gasoline and it’s a fire hazard) though in my head, I was going to have all the chilly food storage I would need.

I also imagined I’d spend my nights writing or watching movies on my laptop (which, sadly, must be plugged in because of a defunct battery). That one isn’t really terribly disappointing. I actually really love having little to no screen time after sunset. I think I am sleeping better and becoming more creative because I am not looking at a dull, blue glare all night.

Basically, we run the generator as little as possible, just enough to get a charge on our phones, which, of course, is our internet source and modern form of communication between the two RVs. With a little money, ingenuity and initiative, we will create some alternative power sources relatively easily. That will likely become a priority when I have some cash under my belt.

TINY LIVING SPACE

Tiny living quarters means you must keep things extra clean.

Tiny living quarters means you must keep things extra clean.

After carefully packing all my beloved belongings into Luna’s belly, I have discovered that I have little room or use for most of what I have brought with me. This was the same on my sailboat, so I thought I had learned more from that experience. I have a bunch of art supplies, a sewing machine, tons of magazines and books, and way too many clothes. It all fits neatly under the bed, but I can’t access most of it without dismantling the whole thing. The essentials are kept within arm’s reach.  That includes underwear, socks, toiletries, hoodies, flashlights, and my guitar. Basically, I am starting to get a system down for planning my clothes for the week. I get those out and have them handy while keeping dirty ones in the back of the car.

FACILITIES

Well, there are none. By facilities, I mean, a bathroom and running water. The first task I tackled with the help of Jake and Katie, was to dig a shitter. Yep, you heard that right. We shit in a shit hole. Some might call it a direct deposit. We have an alternate bucket style shitter as well; but frankly, I don’t care for hauling my shit off the property when I can bury it. and having a hole already dug is important when you’ve got to go!

As far as water is concerned, we are barely off-grid. We have a water tank that we can use for everything except drinking. It’s a short walk to the outlet and we just fill up 5 gallons at a time. For drinking water, we take the jugs down to our nearest grocery store and fill up there. As far as I know, there are no fresh springs on the land so this is as good as it gets in this spot.

It probably goes without saying that we don’t have a shower (though Leah promises we’ll make an outdoor, solar shower when it gets a bit warmer). Luckily, we have access to one in the city. After taking bucket baths while traveling in India, I am not at all shy about using a bucket and the hose near the water tank to get myself clean. The water is cold though there is something quite liberating about being naked in the woods. 🙂

Shitter digger!

Jake is a shitter digger!

There are so many other systems that have to be set up and maintained. Cooking, trash, compost, dishes, laundry, and recycling being among the most important and sisyphean. I swore I’d have the compost heap complete by now and though I’ve been here more than two weeks, I still have my compostables in a paper grocery bag. This is high on my to-do list (why am I sitting at Starbucks?). Also we need to clear brush, chip wood, erect fencing and various other important tasks that come along with maintaining this property.

Even with all the things to do, my first order of business was finding a suitable job so I would have some income. I spent my afternoons running to Starbucks for coffee/internet and am happy to say I am employed with the coolest job in LA! More on that later.

I still managed to find time to visit the beach my first week in town. My drive to town is along the Pacific Coast Highway, also known as Highway 1 (or THE 1 as Californians call it). It’s a gorgeous drive through Malibu into Santa Monica. I got my little feet into the ocean as soon as I could! I tried using it as a “bath” but I ended up dirtier than I started!

Private beach access in Malibu.

Private beach access in Malibu.

Beach Selfy!

Beach Selfy!

I have been playing my guitar a lot and have even written a new song since being here. All in all, the weather, ocean air and nature really suits me. It’s amazing to have such a peaceful place to return to after the being in the hectic city of Los Angeles. It’s the best of both worlds, which seems to make my heart happy. I have many more stories to share so visit my blog often for more stories about living in Luna and beautiful Southern California.

Namaste!

Living Tiny While Dreaming Huge

Am I crazy? Have I finally traversed some line that makes me officially insane? This is what I asked myself this morning after starting up my beloved Luna after nearly two months of storing her in my mom’s backyard. This morning was sunny here in northwest Washington so I felt I should make good use of the beautiful weather. I opened up the propane for the engine and fired her up, to which she originally huffed and chugged without starting. A whole entire world of fears opened up to me in that moment, which I quickly put out of my mind and gently told her, “Come on sweet Luna! Let’s go for a quickie!”

I decided that even though she doesn’t have current registration and I didn’t have my ID on me, I would just drive her down to the end of the road and back, just to make sure she could get a little engine burn before the departure date. I made the arduous turns with no power steering (damn she’s hard to turn).  I started to reverse her in a smallish parking space on a decline and I could barely see the world behind me. Then, of course, I am squarely on the wrong side of the road when an oncoming gas truck appears headed down the hill towards me while I’m making herculean attempts to turn her while shifting. I can barely move her at all. “Oh SHIT!” I thought, as all my fears crept back in. After getting her turned around safely, we crept back up the hill towards mom’s street. I made the right turn back just to notice that the car at the stop sign left of me was a cop in a big, fat SUV. “FUCK!” Luckily, I just scooted down the lane and aforementioned cop drove away. My first five minute jaunt out and I was already wondering if my plan to take Luna, a 1974 Chevy Grumman RV-converted step van, from north of Seattle down to Malibu was a bad idea.

I went inside and was noticing a twinge in my right scapula after using that steering. My adrenalin was so through the roof I didn’t even go for a second cup of coffee. I pondered my choices that had led me to this moment and I was seriously wondering how all of this had come to pass. “I can do this! I can DO THIS!” I started muttering to myself.

“How in the fuck am I gonna do this again?” Then the maniacal nervous laughter began.

These are my girls, my homes on wheels!

These are my girls, my homes on wheels!

In nine days, my friend, Leah, will arrive in Seattle. We’ll leave the next morning to drive Luna, along with my  2002 Subaru Outback (affectionately called Mountain Molly after last year’s all summer camping road trip when Molly took me nearly 10,000 miles through the mountains of Oregon, California, Montana, and Washington) across roughly 1,200 miles along Interstate I-5 through Washington, Oregon and nearly the length of California. The destination is several acres of undeveloped land in Malibu that I have never seen and plan to live on for the next several months. There will be no running water. I will have power only sourced from a generator. For the most part I’ll be living outside, that’s right, without a shower or a bathroom. My food supplies will need to mouse-proofed. I will be “tiny living” in this truck for my foreseeable future so everything I have needs to fit and have a secure place.

In addition to all manner of typical road-trip preparations, I will organize my whole life into tubs and boxes and play hippy Tetris to get them all to fit inside the back of the truck in a way that is functional. Luckily, I don’t have as much stuff after the great purge of 2012 and I know this will be much more manageable than the sail boat in the way of storage. For reference, everything I own fits into the Subaru, albeit an extremely tight squeeze. Everything important will need to be easy to access and clearly labeled. Any remaining crap that doesn’t have a significant use in my day-to-day life must be parted with. This is what I am dealing with: art supplies, fabric, sewing machine, yarn, dozens of books and magazines, clothes, dishes, camping gear, cameras and electronics, recording equipment, computers, my beloved guitar, rocks and sacred things, not the least of which is sweet Zoe, my pug.

I have no idea how I still have this much stuff!

I have no idea how I still have this much stuff!

There’s only one way to do this: One step at a time.

I am pretty sure most of you reading this don’t really ever plan to live the way I do and at this point in my tale are content that you are choosing to live through me and this crazy dream vicariously. Tiny living is no joke. You have to give up a lot to make this work. Mostly materials things, though harder still, you’ll have to give up some of your beliefs about what you think you need to survive and be comfortable. Sure, I’d like to have a toilet in Luna, but seriously, I can pee outside and I plan on making some kind of compostable toilet on the land anyway, which is much more productive and sustainable than finding a place to “dump my shit.” And when summer comes, we’ll make an outdoor solar shower, or there’s always the beach! Hell, most of this stuff I’ve hung onto I haven’t even seen in about six months after car camping last summer. Do I really need it? I’ll be spending the next nine days figuring that out.

First step? Take everything out and organize like with like. Get hyper-organized! Clean Luna from top to bottom and empty her completely. I’ll start with a fresh, clean slate. As I comfortably pack it all neatly in, instead of mulling over all those crazy fears about what could go wrong, I’ll imagine myself using that mug and french press with my morning coffee while looking at the ocean from the back of my tiny, sustainable mobile home. I’ll daydream about not only the beautiful art I’ll make to sell and give away, but the creative projects I’ll do inside Luna; such as a mural on the ceiling and the refrigerator, the TARDIS doors in the back, the new shelves and sink I’ll install….

She's bigger on the inside.

She’s bigger on the inside.

This is going to be fucking fantastic! I am not scared; I am excited! I am embarking a new journey that will open me in ways I don’t even understand yet. I look forward to all the opportunities I’ll have and to all the future friends I’ll make, as well as reconnecting with my hosts who are also living small in an RV on the land. I’ll learn innumerable lessons and most likely, I’ll have some low points. It’s all part of the journey. It’s not glamorous, I always say, but my authentic life is always worth the sacrifices. Call me crazy, I don’t care. I am just crazy enough to live my life, my way!

Visit often for updates on the ride!

"A journey of a thousand leagues begins beneath one's feet."  ~ Laozi

“A journey of a thousand leagues begins beneath one’s feet.” ~ Laozi