To Touch the Stars

“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.” ~ Patanjali

When the seed was planted to undertake raising money to build a kindergarten school in Bali, it was never my intention to go it alone. It was my desire to bring this project to my community as something we could all invest in together.

Kristin Brooks says, “Community does not mean that everyone is your best friend. Community means that you can come together to support each other and that which they hold dear to their hearts.”

There is an enormous sense of joy that comes from building a strong foundation cemented together from the simple act of supporting one another. It fills your heart up with an almost mind blowing kind of love, respect and gratitude. And when you can take that loving platform across the globe to build bridges for the future of kids everywhere, it feels as if nothing is impossible.

Friends, family, people that I have yet to meet and friends I haven’t spoken to in years are all a part of my community. And the deep devotion and gratitude in my heart for their love and backing of this enormously gigantic adventure has often times left me humbled and without words for their generosity.

Today, I am proud to announce that not only have we met the goal of raising $10k, but we have surpassed it. The Bali Children’s Project’s pre-kindergarten school will be built and the children will have not only classrooms for learning, but a playground, a library and a garden. It is my plan to return to Bali in October to see the progress and present to everyone at home what can manifest when we work together for the benefit of all.

From the depths of my heart, thank you to everyone. This life is nothing if not an amazing and miraculous gift.

The Bali Children’s Project

To Begin Again ~ Chiang Mai, Thailand

To Begin Again ~ Chiang Mai, Thailand

In May 2013, I left my life behind in Houston to set out on a   six month sabbatical through Southeast Asia. I desired to throw caution to the wind and go out into the world to see what existed beyond the confines of my American life. An eternal wanderlust with deep reverence for seva (service), I knew I also wanted to serve the global community in some way.

Delivering toys and shoes to kids in Siem Riep, Cambodia

Delivering toys and shoes to kids in Siem Riep, Cambodia

I have always possessed a passionate interest in the well being of our youth. Over the years, I have volunteered at MDAnderson Cancer Center in Pediatrics working with outpatient children, as well as being trained as an advocate with Child Advocates, Inc. Most recently, I have partnered with In-Powered, by One Significant Act, a non-profit organization to host retreats at Elm Flats Ranch. Through these retreats, we utilize the healing benefits of yoga to help empower our youth.

A month into my journey, I found myself on the enchanted island of Bali. From the moment I arrived, I felt captivated by everything around me. A sense of enthusiasm and renewed inspiration burst forth a wellspring of creativity for writing and photography and an overwhelming joy for life had re-awakened in me. The sari (essence) of this resplendent land had begun to work its healing magic on me.

Then, one jungle book morning while driving through an area of Ubud called Penestanan, my search for a seva project had ended as I discovered The Bali Children’s Project.

The Bali Children’s Project (BCP) is a tax-exempt non-profit charitable foundation registered in Bali, Indonesia. Helping children on the beautiful spirited island for almost 20 years, it is dedicated to education as a means of improving the lives of the disadvantaged youth in Bali. BCP was founded on the belief that children, empowered to realize their potential will enrich their own lives and their villages and contribute to the world we all share.

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Their wide-ranging and well structured programs include the sponsorship of children so they may complete primary and high school, classroom support, teacher training, workshops and classes for sex education and HIV-AIDS awareness, as well as health and nutrition.

Located in an unassuming building and nestled next to a coffee shop with a sign painted across the front, the sound of children’s laughter immediately drew me in. I located the director, Linda Venter and set up a meeting. We sat down for coffee and I asked her how I could be of service. Linda began listing off all BCP’s needs, from volunteering to teach the kids, to sponsoring a child, or raising money for school supplies. Dissatisfied with any of those options, I told Linda I needed bigger. I wanted something tangible and permanent I could present to my community to help me invest in. IMG_1927

Linda’s eyes lit up and she suggested that the kids need a school. The students of BCP are currently being taught in the overcrowded office front room and they need a dedicated space in which to learn. I asked her how much it would cost to retrofit a pre-existing building or build a school from the foundation up, pay the teacher’s salary for a year and maintain the school. She confirmed that $10,000 would go a long way in Bali. I told her consider it done.

We live in a global world where everyone is connected. The future and prosperity of humanity and their healthy relationship with one another is dependent on the love, support and education we provide our children. In Bali, kids under the age of seven are not entitled to a free education by the government. Early childhood education is crucial to the development of social, communicative, cognitive and physical motor skills.  By providing opportunities for education, we are giving children the chance for a better tomorrow, while assuaging the burdens of today.

Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high quality early education. ~ US President Barack Obama (State of the Union 2014)

A IT DOESN'T GET ANY CUTER

Every aspect of Balinese life is rich with ritual. Every act is completed with intention and purpose, and in harmony with the fertile earth, gods, and the smiling people with which they live.

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“At BCP, we are determined to help their students know their potential and be motivated to grow and explore possibilities. Not to become western but to become limitless, to see beyond the confines of poverty and to want an education for the sake of knowledge. Great volunteers really help with that mission.”

TANGKUP 2

It is my intention to raise $10,000 to build a kindergarten school in Ubud. Will you help me and contribute $5 a day for one month? That is only $150. Your donation will be the foundation of these children’s education and will support a community for years to come. The building has already been chosen for this school. All that is needed are the funds we raise to manifest this gift of education for the youth of Bali. Our combined gift of $10,000 will go directly to funding the construction of a school in Penestanan and supplying that school with the requisite furniture, school supplies and teacher’s salaries for one year.

If you are unable to contribute monetarily, you can still help by collecting and donating:

  • school supplies: crayola crayons and markers, play-doh and pencils
  • jigsaw puzzles
  • legos
  • picture books for 4-6 year olds

It is with a heart full of love and open hands that I wish to give back to this lovely community that gave me so much. With your assistance, I look forward to watching this school be built, brick by brick and classroom to garden, as the gates open and a new learning center is created. Please join me in helping to establish this space that will contribute to building a brighter future for the children of Bali.

To donate, please go to my indiegogo campaign at: http://igg.me/at/Build-a-School-in-Bali/x/1343115

 In love and service,

Jenn

The Sari of a Friend

Her presence and attentiveness, even in the silent moments, revealed an intention for complete sensitivity to where I might be in any given instance. This kind of focus and sweetness is the epitome of generosity in friendship.

Within one week of my arrival in Asia, I met Kathy Gade. Super acro yogi, playful spirit, handstand extraordinaire, outrageous goofball, intensely serious lover of all things related to food, phenomenal scrappy chef and as it turns out, filled with an exquisite heart space for friendship and love.

I want deep friendships. I want to make a connection for a lifetime. I never want to say goodbye. ~ Kathy Gade

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Ipoh, Malaysia

I came here broken in half and traumatized by deception, heartbreak and loss of friendship. I was in complete agony, and I spent the first month in a coma like state trying to understand the why of things. The safety of my inner family circle had imploded and emotions came roaring out like ravenous monsters exposing never before seen anger and rage and metamorphosing me in a way that I had become unrecognizable to myself. Living a life of love and compassion had been replaced with darkness. I no longer trusted the people I loved most in this world. The love, passion and joy in me had burned out.

In the difficult are the friendly forces, the hands that work on us. ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Magically, however, medicine arrived for me in the form of Kathy. For a week, while on retreat in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I laughed with careless abandon. We connected through play and her silliness provided the perfect outlet for my silliness to reveal itself again. The foundation of Acro Yoga lies in cultivating trust, playfulness and community through partnership. Three of my favorite things! Generally uncomfortable with flying due to lack of exposure, Kathy flew me with patience and grace. I recall the exact moment of our first partnering together when trust was established in her and I witnessed her gift for teaching.

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Star – Om Waters, Sri Lanna National Park, Thailand

Kathy was five-ish months into her travels and had another two months to go. Unlike me, she knew exactly where she was headed after Thailand. She wanted to return to the island of Koh Rong, Cambodia where she had previously spent five glorious weeks. I was not capable of making important decisions about where to go next. I wanted to trust that time would lead me in the right direction if I listened to the messages. And it has done exactly that. No planning, just feeling my way through and allowing myself to be guided by intuition.

We had discussed the possibility of my traveling to meet her in Cambodia, but after “Greek Tragedy” struck, it was no longer a viable option. She decided to shave one month off of her trip and go home early. I told her that I would travel with her for her last month, wherever she wanted to go. She chose Bali. Best decision ever! We spent one month living a beautiful existence in a magical kingdom of devoted devotion to tradition and soaking up everything we possibly could. We were alive, present and engaged in the world according to Bali. (More to follow on Bali in another post)

Early on, we were fascinated with the word Sari, which means “essence” in Balinese. I asked Kathy what she believed Bali’s sari to be and she responded, “I believe the essence of Bali is its healing power. I have received so many gifts from the smallest of things, which makes me want to give even more.”

And these words define her sari… gracious, loving, possessed with a wicked insight and a deep inquisitive nature of self and life, loyal, tender yet fiercely courageous, vibrant, generous and above all, present.

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Mount Batur, Bali

I have often wondered what it would look like to have my love reciprocated back to me. I showed up with no expectations. I was happy to have someone to travel with and share in some laughs to distract me and soften the shock of having uprooted my life for six months. It soon became apparent though, that I was in the company of someone like me, who freely gives their love away, expresses and pours out their feelings and who sometimes invests too much of self in the well being of those they care for.

I want to live from my heart space, make connections and risk my heart every day.  ~ Kathy Gade

Sharing space with her was like being with myself, but with a better version of me. I do not know another who has shown such an unshakable interest in me. From the moment I awoke, until the minute she would drift off to sleep, she constantly checked in with me, wanting to know, “where are you right now?” She wanted to communicate. We could be completely silent and still or fully engaged in the most philosophical and thought provoking conversations and no matter which of the two, there was always a look in her eyes telling me, I am here with you. I do not have a desire to be anywhere else.

To hold a friend in the heart without judgment, without demand – simply to care for this person because we are interested in what she thinks about our ideas and because we know she is ready to listen to and understand us and be on our side. Even though other factors are at play in friendship, its essence is loyalty. ~ Piero Ferric

How is it that a friend’s loyalty gives us strength and hope? Because in this quality we see a person’s true measure. When we show loyalty in hard circumstances, we show how much we care, we show the stuff we are made of.

Kathy forced me to confront some of my demons and requested that I view things in my life from an alternative perspective. She called me out on my bullshit, insisting on playing devil’s advocate, a position that pushed unfamiliar and uncomfortable buttons, but which are necessary in any healing process.

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Gili Air, Indonesia

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Ubud, Bali

Kathy infused me with strength to stand back up on my own two feet and reclaim MY power to be my most radiant and noble Self. She reminded me that I am love and loved and worthy of sincere and loyal friendship. My ability to rise above and persevere were hovering at the surface of my being and all I needed was to listen to my soul and stop fighting with life when things fall apart. Her friendship encouraged me that despite these most difficult circumstances, I did not have to remain shut down indefinitely and I did not have to harden my heart against others who love me. That notwithstanding the pain of betrayal and loss of trust in one friend, I could allow for another to walk into my life and love me in the most simple and kind ways. The gift of Kathy’s presence and desire to be my friend, to hear me and to tell me that she was available for me in whatever way I needed was profound.

In Hinduism, Atman is the innermost essence of each individual. It is the little voice inside that guides us. It is the knowing in the heart and if we follow its wisdom, it will guide us far better than our mind ever will. The atman and the sari of her radiates in the beauty of her face, in the kindness of her eyes, the generosity of her heart, her presence, curiosity, and interest in what I have to say. I have known very few people who truly exemplify living with the fire and passion of their convictions and who adhere to those convictions in a purposeful manner. She offers herself to the world as a work in progress and she represents the kind of truth and authenticity that mankind would do well to learn from.

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The Yoga Barn, Ubud, Bali

During our time in Bali, I witnessed both Kathy’s vitality and her vulnerability. It was as if Bali had infused her with its god-like powers. In her courage to show up and let herself be seen, she was able to participate and offer her greatest strengths. In return, doors marvelously opened and provided her with unfathomable opportunities. And from there, she continued to step into her dynamic Self, while continually turning inward to inquire how she could better respond to obstacles that threw her off her game or forced her to reevaluate her position on certain situations. In this brilliant blossoming of her Self, she discovered that her passion for acro yoga, building community and fostering more loving kindness are the breadcrumbs that would guide her on her path in life.

There came a time when she said to me, “I am ready to go home and leave you to have your own experience and growth without anyone distracting you.” The words stung me, but in her willingness to admit not only that she was ready to go back to her life, but that she also wanted me to continue flying and have a legendary adventure of my own, there was nothing but kindness and sincerity in her desire for me to find my own way. I realized that this was my opportunity to practice letting go and allow for our travels together to end as naturally as they began. Our time together always had a shelf life, which unfortunately went by too quickly.

She must take the journey all on her own, from the beginning to the end, because its very purpose is that; to go alone into the flames, to burn away the illusions and to arise from the ashes with the prize of one’s true self. ~ Elizabeth Lesser

There exists an idea that nothing is born and therefore nothing dies. If everything is nothing, then nothing can be separated from anything else. So in that nothingness, we are all connected becoming everything at the same time. Kathy believes that we are each a tiny speck in the cosmos and therefore there is no need to hang onto anything, because nothing is in harmony with everything. In moments of pristine clarity, where we both found ourselves in awe of the beauty of this idea of nothingness being everything in life, an informed admiration arose in us for the opportunity to be where we were turning over rocks in remote corners of the world, and to partake in these occasions of greatness together. How could we not appreciate the wonderfully complete, brilliant, vulnerable and flawed humanity we shared? In its simplicity, these snapshots of experiences were epic. The kind of slideshows that stay imprinted on you as you scan the memory books for splendid moments in life.

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Gili Air, Indonesia

Each one of us matters, has a role to play and makes a difference in another’s life. Each one of us must display respect and love for everything around us, especially each other. Thank you for making a difference in my life and for showering me with love, helping me to heal my wounds and for honoring our friendship.

May we both continue to be love, so that the love returned by others can be received as the gift that it is. Love is its own reward. Generous, expansive, inclusive, receptive, liberating and supportive.

You are loved. You are seen. You are heard. You are appreciated. Here is to carrying around each other’s sari everywhere we go.

To love is to see yourself in another… We are reflections.

Happy continuation (birthday) day.
No birth and no death.

Of course!

What Patience Brings – A Letter of Longing

Often times when you are splayed out on the bathroom floor with a broken heart, all you can do is lay there and pray that when the wound heals, it does not lock the heart in and the love out.

Forward toward the light

Forward toward the light

The pre dawn hours have secrets to share…
I meander down the path,
Away from me and toward you.
Away from the darkness and weight of the full moon shining bright in the night sky,
Toward the cracking of the sun’s desire to awaken us to the fullness and promise of a new day.
She is begging me to follow her forward.
The longing in my heart has risen from its slumber.
It aches to feel the power of your warmth.

It yearns to feel your breath on my neck as you embrace and fold me into the strength of you.
I feel the synchronicity of our souls dancing as we breathe together.
It is a point in time where your breath and mine stop their separateness and merge as one.
That moment of release brings comfort, excitement, safety and a heightened awareness of our connection.
It is home.

Walking down the path in the darkness, there is fear and exhilaration.
You slide your tender hand in mine.

Hold onto me, I’ll hold on to you. Take my hand, we’ll hide in the corner.

There is a promise in the silence that tells me I am safe.
Lay down with me under the haloed light of the overpass and listen to the music above.
Look up at the stars with me and together, let us wonder what is on the dark side of the silvery moon.
Share with me your dreams and your desires.
Talk with me forever about everything and nothing and about our shared passions.
Love me while my eyes get heavy.
Let me soften the sadness of your heart;
The hidden pain screaming to rise up and be excised from your body, face and soul.
Pull me to you and let me place my palms over your tired eyes.
Leave me with the smell of you permanently imbedded in my skin.

It took awhile for you to find me, because I was hiding in the lime tree.

Meet me in our secret place, where the blue door beckons us to trespass and the wind blows through the black paned windows, carrying all of our worries off into the pastel colored sky.
Let’s kidnap each other and get lost on some grand adventure.
Somewhere where fear is left in the dust and we are able to move forward into the all that is.
Spend the day with me riding around on two wheels, soaking in all of the beauty of our surroundings and observing all of the magical environs waiting to be discovered.

In the morning when I wake and the sun is coming through,
Oh, you fill my lungs with sweetness, and you fill my head with you. Can I be close to you?

Breathe with me as we flow through our practice together.
Place your hand in mine while we lay in the stillness of savasana.
Teach me all of the brilliance stored away in your mind.

Come.. surprise me with some of my favorite things and I will surprise you with the kind of love and touch you have been longing for, but afraid to let in.
Where is the mounting list of all of the things we wanted to do?
Finger the strings into a melody and sing to me the songs in your heart.

You are the place I feel at home, when all my bones are tired and cold and all alone
You are the time that I seem to find that occupies most of my mind

Show me your tender, your lawless, your nurturing, your naughty, and your love.
Lift the veil from the iron wall surrounding you and reveal the vulnerability in your smile.
Drive away the brutality of all of this silence and loneliness.
Let me once again see all of you.
Gaze upon me again with sweetness.
Seat with me and be my friend.

“Meet me there, bundles of flowers, we wait through the hours of cold.
Winter shall howl at the walls, tearing down doors of time.
Shelter as we go.
And promise me this
You’ll wait for me only, scared of the lonely arms.
Surface, far below these words
And maybe, just maybe, I’ll come home.
Who am I to you darling?” ~ Ben Howard

Be A Love Ninja

This story begins with a girl who suffered a broken heart. It was death, it was grief, it was loss, it was life.

And for many years, she could not shake the sadness. Neither her friends nor her loved ones could help resuscitate her from the drowning sorrow in which she grieved.

But one day, in the depths of her melancholy and despair, while aimlessly meandering the city streets, she stumbled across a wall spray painted with the words “Don’t Give Up.”

In reading those words, something suddenly shifted in her. She felt loved. And she felt hope.

This girl experienced an incredible potion of love from people with no face and no name. The kind of people whose silent stealth left no marker and no return address for a thank you note. A faceless stranger had provided her with a gift so small and unexpected that it began to carry her through her darkest of days.

In her awakening, she desired to live passionately and creatively, love fully, experience connection and risk everything for LOVE.

And thus, the BE A LOVE NINJA community project was born.

Be Love. A Love Ninja

Be Love. A Love Ninja

The Be a Love Ninja project aims to pay love forward, ninja style. Currently, the project has been making appearances in local Houston yoga studios, with the latest one being unveiled at the Yoga Institute on Valentine’s Day. Anyone can participate in the project at any time, by creating an anonymous message with a post-it note, chalk on a sidewalk, poetry to someone sitting in a coffee shop, at the grocery store, or any kind of art your heart desires. It can be taken into the schools as a project to teach kids about compassion. Take a photo of your be a love ninja project and post it on instagram with the hashtag #bealoveninja or post it on the facebook page BEaLOVEninja.

Each of us has the power to affect another by simply living a life of love. A smile, a kind word, a hug, or any gesture that allows another person to know that they are not alone and that they are love and are loved.

In a gentle way, you can shake the world. ~ Gandhi

Pay love forward. Come be a love ninja. Happy Valentine’s Day. ♥

The Essence of Gratitude

Every morning when I meander into the kitchen, I am captivated by this quote above that sits nestled in the crevices of a cabinet door. It is a reminder that all I have is the sweetness of this moment in my life. And so, it affirms the essence with which I dutifully live my life today. And that is, every moment and every thing is to be given the utmost respect and appreciated with such a level of gratitude so that when the moment or thing is gone, I am left with no regrets for having ignored the moment. I am daring to live fully and live every minute with grace, love and gratitude.

Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world. ~ John Milton

This month I have focused my teaching on gratitude, even in the moments when we are faced with adversity or are living in darkness. I have come to learn that every situation we are presented with has something to teach us. Especially those situations that provide us with our greatest challenges and pain. And thus I ask myself, what is the lesson here? How can I be grateful for this obstacle? There is only one situation where I have been unable to see positive coming from negative. That situation is the loss of a loved one. There is simply no greater pain than the loss of life. However, I am gently made aware by someone much wiser than me, “without that loss, you would not be who you are today.” I had not considered this position before. The loss in my life was inevitable and of course I would trade that life back for whoever I might have become. But that is not a possibility. All I am left with is who I have become today because of that pain. I am grateful, for today I live a life of love.

If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with
gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul. ~ Rabbi Harold Kushner

Today, I visited with a teacher and a friend who is gracefully battling all of the unknowns of brain cancer. I was uncontrollably moved to tears, as we sat on her couch and she expressed how her life has been lived for the last seven months. Not only did I feel the past scars of witnessing my father’s battle with cancer rising to the surface, but I also felt something greater. I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude to be sitting there with her for it was the purest form of love and appreciation for the beautiful way in which she has embraced her circumstances. To be able to mindfully sit and recount learning how to let go of the unknown, of “things”, of fear… To recognize finally, that she is loved and also IS love, as well as solidifying the idea that everything is uncertain and can disappear in a moment. Maybe, it is in that radical acceptance, she sat there so peacefully and beautifully.

“Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend… when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that’s present — love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature and personal pursuits that bring us pleasure — the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience Heaven on earth.”  ~ Sarah Ban Breathnach

Capturing the beauty of a moment
On this day, my birth day, I am grateful I was born in the month of November. And that I wake up every morning to see the light of day and live a life of love and appreciation for the magic that constantly surrounds me. For the friends that sustain me; the family that loves me in spite of me; the sweet companionship of my beautiful dog Dani; the yoga that grounds me; new love that brings a smile to my face and warms my heart; the freedom to choose whatever life I want to live and the ability to share and bring sunshine to others in need of light. I am grateful that in any given moment I can look up to the sky and take in all of the beauty of the ever changing magnificence that is our world. I am grateful to spend my birthday surrounded by people I love and that every moment that I am alive is a reason to celebrate.
If gratitude is the great opener of the heart, then my heart is busted wide open to the sweetness of this moment.

The Power of the Mountain

There is a saying in Thailand that if you have not seen the view from Doi Suthep, you have not been to Chiang Mai.

Doi Suthep is a mountain in the Chiang Mai Province of Thailand and holds a dominating presence on the horizon. While immersed in the loveliness of Chiang Mai, I drew comfort knowing that if I turned toward the hazy grandeur of the mountain, I would always locate the direction of home.

Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai, Thailand

I made my way up the mountain twice. The first excursion began with a directionally challenged ride on a broken bike, which later turned into a drive up the mountain on a sorng-taa-ou (aka little red truck that fits a large Thai family inside). And the second expedition happened by way of a five hour hike. Both journeys into the mountain were powerful and shook me up, testing my will power and exposing the truths about who I have become in the last few years.

Sitting at the top of Doi Suthep is Wat Phrathat, one of the holiest Buddhist sites in Thailand. The temple of Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep is thought to be founded sometime between the years 1383-1386. According to legend, a monk had a dream that he must go to Pang Cha and find a relic of some kind. When the monk arose from his dream, he set off in search of the relic and found a bone. This bone, some believe belonged to the shoulder of Buddha and contained magical powers for it glowed, could disappear, move itself and replicate itself. The monk took the bone to the king, but the bone did not display any of its magic and so the king sent the monk and the bone away. Another king heard the story and asked to see the bone. Upon arrival, the bone split in two, with one bone being smaller than the other. The small bone is enshrined at Wat Suan Dok and the other bone was placed by the king on the back of a white elephant. The elephant was then released into the jungle and climbed up Doi Suthep, trumpeted three times, turned around three times and then promptly died. The events and actions of the elephant were considered to be a sacred sign and so the king ordered that the temple be built there.

Already wiped out from the bike ride and the emotional roller coaster ride I had been on that morning, I gazed up in amazement at the 309 steps to the wat. I thought to myself, this must be the stairway to heaven. And suddenly, I felt a surge of energy enter my body and I began climbing my way up in synchronized step meditation. When I reached the top and stepped over the threshold, this tiny, sparkling city of gold and crimson opened up before me. The energy and vitality was magnificent. Miniature temples lined up, one after another with people kneeling before Buddha in prayer. They all bowed with a traditional offering of a lotus flower and three sticks of incense held between the palms of their hands.

I walked around in slow motion snapping photos of every beautiful sighting. Little girls dressed in traditional Thai costume, performing a dance to music played by little boys on ancient instruments; monks in their orange robes walking by in silence; white marble paving the path for my feet; yellow candles burning, leaving their melted wax in pools; Buddhist temple bells hanging in wait to be rung by visitors; and incense infused smoke casting a haze around the hundreds of statues of Buddha sitting tall, waiting for an offering.

Temple Bells

As I continued walking around the wat, my friend found me, grabbed my arm and lead me to one of the temple entrances. With sweetness in her eyes and love in her heart, she told me to go inside and let the monk bless me with holy water and then have the other monk put a white corded bracelet on my wrist for luck. I removed my shoes, stepped into the temple and knelt down in front of the monk while he said prayers and splashed holy water on me with a brush. Another seemingly powerful moment that once again brought me to tears, I felt a tremendous sense of gratitude and fortune to be sitting there. Possibly, I also felt hope that the blessing of a monk would settle my restlessness and provide guidance so I might see clearly on this clouded path I am walking on.

Be not the slave of your own past – plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep, and swim far, so you shall come back with self-respect, with new power and with an advanced experience that shall explain and overlook the old. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

After we made our way back down the mountain, I felt a need to go off by myself and wash the day’s filth off of me, but once again, my friend was at my side. She wanted me to ride to Wat Umong with her. I thought I wanted to be alone, but it turned out that exploring the holiness and serenity of the temple was exactly what I needed. As I followed on my bike, I continued to breathe in all that I could – the sights, sounds and landcape, everything in all of its magical splendor. When we arrived at Wat Umong, peace and ease, quiet and serenity set in. Historic and archaeological in the thick of the woods, Wat Umong is buiilt in the foothills of the Suthep mountain. In Thai, the word Umong means tunnel and the Wat is given its name by all of the tunnels running through it.

Chedi at Wat Umong

We walked, mostly in silence, taking in all of the activity and life surrounding the Wat. As we made our way toward the lake, it began to rain. After hearing about the torrential down pours that frequent the summer months in Thailand, this was actually the first rain I experienced. I stood under a tree for awhile listening and watching the streams of rain hit the water. I did not seem to mind being soaked for it felt somewhat cathartic.

Mr. Happy Buddha

Mr. Happy Buddha

Along a pathway, there were various covered areas, each containing a different statue of Buddha. I made my way to the end of the path where I discovered a fat and happy Buddha draped in sunkist and gold threaded silk. I removed my shoes and invited myself in for shelter. As I sat in front of Mr. Happy Buddha, I closed my eyes to listen and meditate on the beautiful sound of the rain. And when the rain subsided, I went off in search of my friend.

We made our way to the entrance of the tunnels and began our exploration into the dark and cold, clay colored caves. On occasion, a monk would glide by in such silence, he could have been a ghost. Whenever I happen upon an old and historic site, my mind always wanders to the time of its origination and peak of its life. I place myself in the middle of it and my imagination can feel what life might have looked like and felt like then. Sometimes, I wonder if my fascination with archaeology is borne out of my curiosity for my past lives. There is always a deep sense of connection and an energetic surge surrounding these places I visit.

Somewhere lost in the tunnels, we happened upon two statues of Buddha. One Buddha enshrined behind a glass partition and the other sitting in front surrounded by lotus flowers, candles and a bowl of incense. This particular assemblage of Buddhist symbolism seemed to call to both of us, as we found ourselves kneeling side by side in front of them. We lit our incense and sat offering intention, prayer and quietude. We were both on our own separate, transitional pilgrimages and feeling a wellspring of sensitivity. In that moment, I became so mindful of the enormity of the encounter I happened to be sharing with my friend. It did not matter whether she noticed or not, but for me it was profound and sublime. It was in this stillness that I felt the reciprocity of abundant support in friendship.

A week later, I managed to get myself talked into hiking up Doi Suthep with the Chiang Mai Hiking Club. My friend told me it would be a “modest” hike. I am not sure what language “modest” was being translated from, but the hike felt like someone had put me on a combination treadmill-stairmaster contraption raised to its highest level and thrown me out into the jungle with swarming mosquitos and slimy, cold leeches. We came unprepared. And by unprepared I mean, no food or water. But, we had our cameras and our mozzie spray. What else could we possibly need?!

The thick heaviness of the jungle was somewhat disorienting for there was nothing to guide my way. The paths had not been maintained well and had it not been for our elder leader, I would have had to put into use all of the survival skills I learned from watching episodes of Man vs Wild with Bear Grylls. The jungle, as I call it also felt like I was lost in an episode of Lost. At any moment, the smoke monster could have swooped through and taken me down.

The Lost Jungle

As we made our way on this seemlingly neverending trek, we were able to stop so that we could scrounge for some food. I bought a cucumber and some water from a street vendor and my friend bought a bunch of bananas freshly picked from some tree. Anyone who knows me knows that I have a strong aversion to bananas. I do not know the root cause of this disgust, but it has been steeped in me since I can remember. I recall thinking, as we continued on, that if I was lost in the mountain with nothing to eat but those bananas, I would rather starve to death.  It sounds completely ridiculous, which my friend was quick to confirm. So, I contemplated on it for about a minute and decided to change my thought pattern. I told said friend that the only way I might be able to eat a banana is if I hold my nose so I can’t smell the taste of it. She egged me on and basically double dog dared me to eat the banana. Once again, my first reaction was hell no. I heard myself say no and then knew I needed a different response. This whole event happened in slow motion. I took a piece of the banana, completely repulsed that I even touched it. I tried really hard not to smell it, smelled it, then tried really hard not to open my mouth, opened my mouth while making one of my scrunchy faces and chewed it up. I will have you know, I am still alive, but I did not in any way, enjoy the taste of that banana. Said friend has photographic evidence of this event, scrunchy face and all.

At this point, we had made our way to our resting stop where we could sit for awhile. The air was damp and because we were soaked through, we were actually cold. But, there was an aura of tranquility as though something significant had happened here in this space. Somewhere in my illogical brain, as I began to make my way back down the mountain, I thought we could cut the descent time in half.  Umm, wrong. Steep, muddy hills with no footing as well as barbed wire and construction workers made the hike down a wee bit tricky.

 

Overall, the hike was quiet. There were no cackling jungle birds, no snakes or weird looking creatures and no monkeys. The jungle was a ghost town. However, there was a feeling of ancient wisdom looming.

Multiple experiences on the mountain requested that I peel back layers of myself so that I could see who I used to be, where I have traveled and who I have become. It particularly asked that I bring awareness to old reactionary patterns in comparison to how I handle discomfort today. And through this, I discovered that my threshold tolerance for life’s annoyances has increased significantly. There is a certain mellowness to me now that takes much in stride. Sabai-Sabai, mai pen rai. No worries, it’s all good the Thai will say. I have a tendency to drown in feeling everything to the highest level. So when I can move with the flow of things and not react, it feels like shelter to breathe and it is a welcome cover. Weeks later, I still feel the power of the mountain residing in me and I look forward to the day I can return.