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I am coming to the end of The Artist’s Way, a creative self help book by Julia Cameron. There is a part of me that does not want to finish it. I get that way with books, feeling attached to them like a person, not wanting the relationship to be over. I remember reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy as a child wanting so badly to know the end, but not quite ready to say good-bye to the characters. Those last pages go so fast, and before you know it, the story is finished. The Artist’s Way is not a novel but a book to help you explore and embrace your creative potential, and while there are no characters to say good-bye to, ending this book is kind of like saying good-bye to myself as it is the story of my creative journey that will soon be coming to an end. I started reading this book after my travels in Europe, the recommendation of a young Irish woman about my age that I met at Dzogchen Beara Buddhist retreat center. Each week, the book contains reflections and tasks to be done to help you on “a spiritual path to higher creativity.” My weeks looked more like months, and I adapted the exercises to my own schedule pulling away from the book and returning to it as I felt drawn, but it always seemed that when I did come back to The Artist’s Way I found myself in a section that fit my current experiences perfectly giving me new insights. Reading this book was a spiritual journey for me of looking at my life and experiences honestly so that I could learn from them and get rid of the road blocks I had placed around me. I tapped into an unknown creative resource, drawing, and found that my writing opportunities blossomed as well. Most importantly though I realized that “discovering and recovering” my “creative self” was more than just an artistic experience but a spiritual path to healing and self love, an opportunity to forgive myself and those who had hurt me and let all the bitterness seep away. Part of the process towards the end of the book is rereading the daily “morning pages,” stream of consciousness writings done every day upon waking. Looking back on them, I am forced to come to terms with feelings and thoughts easily forgotten or left behind when traveling, but in reading them, I also come to realize how my travels have transformed me and helped me along the way as well helping me see things clearer and faster. I find myself wanting to return to Dzogchen Beara to send a thank you to this magical place and the people who inspired me there, especially the one who introduced such a wonderful source of growth and inspiration into my life. The Artist’s Way has become my daily companion, and I do not think ending the book will be the end of our relationship. I am sure this book will continue to encourage and shape me as I refer back to it and write my morning pages in the years to come.

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I have been doing a lot of thinking about my travels this past year as it is almost my one year anniversary after leaving my job in the states to start a new path within my life journey. I wrote this poem before my travels contemplating the duality and complexity we create as humans that makes everything so muddy. Clarity seems to come when we finally decide to sit still and let the mud settle to the bottom, an image I will always remember from meditations at Dzogchen Beara in Ireland. I have come back to daily yoga and meditation practice, and it is amazing how much it helps me focus myself in such a way that life just flows easier allowing me to see things as they come together instead of separate. In life, humans are constantly defining and categorizing things, myself included, all in an attempt to better understand them, but it is interesting how this black and white way of looking at the world that is supposed to provide clarity only actually does if things fit into the black and white mold. When they don’t, people get upset because they don’t feel they have the tools to understand these foreign models of life that don’t mirror what life is supposed to look like. As a result, instead of reaching beyond the black and white, people have a tendency to dismiss what they can’t understand based on their standards of right and wrong. Whether the standards of black and white and right or wrong are religious, race related, familial, cultural, political, or superstitious, they very apparently separate people from understanding the truth and beauty in those people and things they cannot understand or define. It becomes very clear to me that desire to have everything fit into a mold is one of the biggest factors in our suffering as human beings.

The Obvious Choice

“He was unacceptable to the infinite bright blankness, the clarity without edge which only selfishness fears.” ~ Lanark

Restless in calm stability
Confused amongst endless possibility
Is freedom to choose
Only a barrier to simple truth
Is the obvious choice
Really the right one
What makes it obvious?

If I am restless,
It is obvious I must free myself from that which holds me back.
If I am confused,
It is obvious I must ground myself.

Perhaps, I should do the opposite
Obvious choice is subjective to situation
Will going against the flow
Choosing what appears less obvious
Bring peace.
Hold answers.
Will the less obvious become obvious once the path is chosen?

Perhaps, I am restless because I am confused
I am confused because I am restless
The dissatisfaction comes from the desire to be satisfied
Are they not all one
How do I choose an obvious path when indeed it is not obvious?

Laughable this life we try to lead
The complexity we create out of simplicity
The grass is always greener.

The beauty will be found when it can be seen in the ugly
Peace will find us when we can see it waiting amongst the war within
Destiny is found when choice becomes fate
The obvious choice becomes the less obvious.

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In the Netherlands, my original plan was to visit Amsterdam only, but due to the generosity of many lovely people, I ended up getting to know this tiny little country quite well. Amsterdam is where my journey started with its intricate spiral of canals, inviting lights, and unshaded windows. The warm glow from within homes and businesses invites people to peer in and observe as though those within are not ashamed to show the way they live. I spent most of my time wrapped in a warm blanket drinking tea and having late breakfasts outside of Greenwoods, an English tea room and shop. The spot was right by the canal and perfect for observing the goings-on of this quaint city. Bicyclists rule the road, and the ding ding of their bells as they whir past adds a little dance to the step of those walking ahead. Streets are lined with lovely cafes, restaurants, historical buildings, “coffee shops” (places where marijuana is sold), art and music venues, and unique hole-in-the-wall places. The red light district is full of sex shops and lit rooms with scantily clad women inside. Boats occasionally drift by with families or tourists along the canals. There was an Andy Warhol exhibit of The Last Supper (Pink) in the De Nieuwe Kerk Amsterdam, a church turned art gallery. As I stared at Leonardo da Vinci’s copied work shaded in pink and duplicated, it seemed to me there was no deeper meaning, that really all Warhol did was copy a famous painting that took three years to complete and shade it in pink. I can’t help but think Warhol’s art is really just making fun of how humans are so easily swayed by advertisements and public opinion without thinking for themselves. With that said, he is one of my favorite artists for this reason. He could look at himself and all the rest of us silly human beings and find humor. The highlight of my time in Amsterdam was enjoying some good Chinese food, a scenic walk, and heart-centered conversation with a past wanderer, now laying down some roots here. It is an interesting exchange to see one in the other person’s shoes less than a year later from our first meeting. Ideas discussed then are our current realities which gives us both a certain amount of comfort and satisfaction in our opposite states of being.

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Thanks to the suggestion of a man I met at the Irish Buddhist retreat center, Dzogchen Beara, I next went to Olst where I learned a lot about pounding tires and found a new respect for dirt. Here, I helped build earthships, which are environmentally friendly homes made out of wood, dirt-filled tires, hay, and various other materials, mostly locally sourced and/or reused. Eventually, there will be 23 homes filled with families from around the area who want to build a strong community centered in an awareness of the environment. They aim to be stewards of the land by living in energy efficient homes and growing gardens and trees that will help provide food for those living there and green areas for children to play. The people in this community were inspiring and humorous, and I found I learned a lot from each individual I met. It was great to see kids running and playing in the dirt, waving at trains, and spending time with friends using their imaginations in nature. I look forward to seeing the finished product and encourage travelers, especially those who are interested in eco-friendly building, to stop in Olst and help these wonderful people build their community. You will learn a lot more than just how to build a house. Check out their project at http://www.aardehuis.nl/en.html.

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While at Olst, two people asked me to come to Den Haag to visit them. Here I got to see the sea by bicycle and learn more about permaculture and other ways to built eco-friendly homes. I also discovered hagel slag, which are chocolate sprinkles, and speculaas, which are cinnamon-ginger cookies, all of which you eat in the morning on buttered bread. My first reaction was dismay then delight at having an excuse to eat chocolate in the morning. I think you can put anything on buttered bread here and call it good.

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Next was Breda, where I met up with a woman I had met at Dzogchen Beara. We biked about the city and walked through the forest there discussing many interesting and healing topics. One night we went to a Vipassana meditation where I found myself remembering the beauty in sitting still, which I don’t do enough of during my travels. My friend was a lovely host, and I felt quite cozy sleeping in and savouring coffee in the mornings with her. She suggested I stop in Eindhoven on my way to Germany for the Glow festival, and this led to me staying with some hilarious guys, two from Lithuania and one from the Netherlands, who had me in stitches pretty much the whole time I was there.

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On my train ride to Eindhoven, I sent out some last minute couch surfing requests, not expecting replies, and was rather stoked when I immediately got a reply that I had a place to stay. My couch surfer met me at the station and proceeded to bike me and my massive backpack on one bicycle back to his student house. My mouth hurt from smiling by the time we got to his place; I was quite impressed that we arrived each in one piece. That night I was taken to an international student night where I got to eat homemade food from around the world. After the feast, we sipped Prosecco from a bottle while admiring light displays about the city. Next day, we all slept in quite late to have chocolate sprinkle creations in the morning and an authentic Dutch meal before I left for Germany by carpool. I spent the afternoon getting a few dreadlocks in my hair, swapping idioms, and debunking American myths created by television. As my host rode me back to the train station by bike, my backpack precariously teetering on the front and me on the back,  I felt this was the way to leave the Netherlands in style.

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Thanks to my lovely friend back home, I found out about this amazing Buddhist retreat center overlooking the ocean. Here I met new friends, had heart-centered conversations, finished reading The Power of Now and Utopia, found peace in being still, ventured down cliffs to the sea, cuddled with orange fluffy Buddha kitties and donkeys, sat on a grassy knoll below a castle and ancient ruins reading with sound individuals, ate gourmet food by an Austrian chef, and was greeted each morning by the sun’s warmth and comforted at night by the moon’s gentle glow amongst sparkling stars.

 

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My Ireland hitching adventure began in Skibbereen waiting…and waiting. After an hour or two of giving drivers a thumbs up, the woman living in the house behind me took pity and asked I come in for coffee and biscuits. She and her family were so incredibly kind, offering to take me to the bus station since my hitching attempts seemed a bust. While I was there, the next-door neighbor came over and was told of my plight. He was excited to meet me and hear about my travels and was earnest that I must meet his son, who he made sure I knew was very available, with a twinkle in his eyes. He then had an Aha! moment and said perhaps his son could drive me to Bantry, halfway to my destination, this very day. And that is how I got my first ride. Turns out his son and I actually had a lot in common as far as interests go, and I enjoyed swapping stories about traveling, music, culture, and family. He turned out to be as sweet and friendly as his dad; I enjoyed his company very much so and was rather sad the exchange was so short.

In Bantry, I was quickly picked up by a French man who moved here because of his love for the beautiful landscape. I agreed that it drew me in as well. Our interaction was very brief, but he left me at a better intersection so I would have more luck getting a ride.

I stould outside an ice cream shop for about a half hour and had a couple people stop, but none going my direction. At one point a bicyclist rode by, and we connected with smiles. Once he passed, I contemplated an ice cream break. But no sooner was I walking in the direction of sweet, cold creamy goodness than the very bicyclist I had just seen pulled up in his car and offered me a ride. He was German and moved here to enjoy the lovely outdoors by bike and find rest and relaxation in the green hills overlooking seascapes. He was jovial and told me of his family back home, of his deep connection to Ireland and how he had always been drawn here even before he physically came to the country.

My last ride was a sheep farmer born and raised in Glengarriff, and we shared wonderful banter as he drove me towards Dzogchen Beara, the Buddhist retreat center that was my destination. Along the way, he stopped several times to make deliveries, always leaving the keys in the car with the motor running. I was amazed at how trusting he was of a complete stranger. He offered to take me on a tour of the Beara Peninsula instead of Dzogchen Beara that night and wanted me to stay in Glengarriff at his cousin’s bed and breakfast so he could show me his town he loved so much the next day. How could I say no? The hairpin curves separating verdant undulations and turbulant swells were endless and thrilling. We finished the evening back in Glengarriff enjoying live Irish music over ciders and beers. Everyone knew each other in this small village, and I felt warmly received and was excited to meet other traveling Americans at the pub, the first I had seen since coming to Ireland. He left me at his cousin’s bed and breakfast to sleep and returned in the morning to take me for a boat ride out to Garinish Island, where an Italian-style mansion and gardens of exotic beauty are preserved. When we said our good-byes at the Buddhist retreat center, I felt blessed to meet this generous soul who loves his country so much that he wanted a stranger to love it as well.

I will never forget this journey and will consider it one of my best. Never has it been more apparent to me that human beings can be truly good, that when you believe and trust in their goodness they will give you so much more than you could have ever expected.

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