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.
I had my first visitor in Honduras! My lovely sister came to visit me, and it was nice to be a tourist again for a week. I ended up visiting places I didn’t even know existed and learning a lot both about myself and this little town I now call my home. It is hard to believe that it has now been a year since I quit my job, and I have been away from Portland, OR traveling and living abroad for that long. I hope others will come to visit me too!
The drive from San Pedro Sula to Copán Ruinas.
The Mayan Ruins.
Waiting for our bus to the Hot Springs.
The Spiritual Baths at the hot springs.
Met a new friend at the hot springs!
Our good luck charm to start the day off right before we hiked around Copán to all the Mayan sites.
The first stop on an all day trek circling Copán and visiting the sacred check points of the ancient Mayan city.
Notorious for my problems with customs, this is before I almost got sent to Mexico and after a delicious breakfast in Guatemala. Turns out at the airport they stamped my passport but didn’t say how many days I could stay, and I almost got deported even though it was an error on their part and not my fault. Just my luck. Good thing our guide was able to work his magic, or I might have been coming back to the United States sooner than I expected.
Yoga and meditation spot at San Lucas.
Walking up switchbacks to get an amazing view of the city.
Our guide’s little helper hanging out in the tree.
From the top of the mountain.
Walking through cornfields to return to the city.
At Rastrojón, a newly excavated Mayan site. Incredible this sculpture is still intact.
Horseback ride in the night.
My sister and I having a relaxing late breakfast at Café San Rafael.
My sister was rather popular with the kids at Casita Copán! It was so special to introduce her to all the important people in my life here, and we spent a whole day just hanging out with my Copán friends and family. It made me realize how far my Spanish has come as I was actually able to translate between English and Spanish for a whole day.
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
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.
I find traveling in a plane always gives you new perspective. Spending hours packed together in neat little rows with complete strangers feels like prison at first. If it is the red eye flight, you spend the first hour trying to get comfortable, twisting and turning violently, contorting your body into positions that will most certainly make it hard to stand up straight after your journey. If you are lucky enough, you sleep through it all. If not, after hours of struggling, you finally give up and try to read that book that has been gathering dust on your shelf the last few months. Yet, somehow, despite finally having the time to read it, you just can’t. It is too painful getting through that first chapter to delve into the good stuff. So you stare bullets into your neighbor who is sleeping so peacefully, the jealous part of you wanting to wake her up accidently and then apologize profusely while secretly beaming inside knowing that someone else will now be sharing in your suffering. You get excited when the flight attendant says a movie will be starting until you realize that you left your earphones at home and are too cheap to dish out the five bucks for a new pair. Bitterness. Yes, you feel bitter until that bitterness is pressing at every part of your being screaming to get off this damn plane. You are at bursting point when all the sudden all that frustration just melts away as quickly as it came, the last bit of energy wooshing out of you in a giant sigh. At that moment, you finally look out the window and see the beautiful view, realizing just how lucky you are to be in the sky seeing something so magnificent and supernatural, to be part of the heavens looking down on the world below. In that moment a calm suffuses your being moving through you like fresh water making everything so much clearer.
I have never done a Vipassana retreat, a silent, meditative retreat for ten days, but I feel like the inward struggle and end result are probably similar from what I have heard from others. That you have a raging battle going on inside you until the mind and body come together in a moment of acceptance and suddenly all the energy spent seems for not and the ego just falls way. For me these moments come and go. What a gift it would be to have a steady flow of acceptance and inner peace always at the very core of your being.
During Easter week an evening was dedicated to making las alfombras, which are made of colored sawdust. The streets are cleared and these sawdust mosaic carpets of religious and Mayan symbols are created only to disappear the next day under the feet of Catholic pilgrims who walk from one Catholic church to the other in a grand procession on Good Friday.
For about two weeks there was a severe shortage of running water in Copan and many houses were without water for bathing, washing, flushing, etc. Purified water for drinking was available to buy, but realizing just how important running water is and how much I need in a day to do basic tasks was a good lesson in conserving resources. Water is so abundant in Oregon, hot or cold, and I forget how precious and essential it is to our existence.
I have moved again and am now living with a friend and adopted street dog. I met my friend through Casita Copan, a non-profit day care and single-mother support center we both volunteer at. In my new home, clothes are washed in an outside tub called a pilla. Washing clothes at the pilla while listening to blues and enjoying a light breeze blowing through the backyard has become a source of peace, self-reflection, and meditation for me. The yard is filled with mango trees and behind it are mountains in the distance. Yesterday, I hung up two hammocks and am looking forward to spending afternoons reading and writing in one. The dog adds spice to our lives with his boundless energy and playful nature. There are times I consider killing him because he drives me nuts, but then I look at his floppy ears and hopeful smile, and I fall in love with this little rascal all over again. Yesterday, I made my first batch of green mango juice which is the equivalent of fresh lemonade on a hot day, but better. It is nice to have a bigger but cheaper place now. I love to have guests, and here I could have a whole party.
I have been working at the local clinic and recently going door to door with doctors and nurses to give vaccinations. It has been interesting and fun to see how various people live here and in what conditions. When I asked the nurse how she knew which houses to go to when all she had was names, she told me Copan is small, and after twenty years working here, she knows everyone. I am finding I too am getting to know everyone and they me each day. I am starting to be less looked at as a tourist and more as a local which is a satisfying change. I started teaching English for income and have found these classes to be the biggest surprise to me. Because of them I am meeting wonderful people and forming new friendships while gaining a certain amount of respect from locals, especially men, that wasn’t there before. I am enjoying seeing my students learn and am amazed at how fast they do with so little time to study. They are extremely dedicated and eager, and seeing them smile when they speak in English is one of the best rewards.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I left Dzogchen Beara with a mother and daughter, who felt very much like family at the end of my stay at the retreat center. They were kind enough to drive me to Cork where I got a bus to Galway. I was welcomed to Galway with an amazing multi-course meal provided by a last minute couch surfer. She and all her friends were wonderfully kind and represented all parts of the world. It was awesome to see so much diversity in one room. Enjoying the company of this lovely lady and her flatmates was very comfortable. We had some good laughs and encouraging conversations. She introduced me to pickle-backs which are shots of whiskey chased by pickle juice; I was quite sceptical, but who knew that something that sounds so revolting might actually be somewhat good?
From Galway, I ventured to the Burren, Cliffs of Moher, and Aran Islands, the lanscapes of which are bizarre and mystical. There was a real sense of connection to my surroundings and a desire to be silent as though listening for whispers of ancient secrets. On the Aran Islands, there are forts and ruins that date back to the Iron Ages. In many areas, life became timeless, and I felt I was experiencing places not of this world. The limestone rock that tops hills is eerily stacked as though placed there with hands, and yet, it is from the earth and has peaks of lush grass surrounding it, almost strategically, in rows. Rock walls, many built by starving farmers during the potato famine, seem haunted by the dying men who built them. They often lead to nowhere and appear to have no purpose, just endless piles of rock caging in rocky surfaces. When one looks out upon these ageless stone walls leading to the edge of sharp ocean cliffs, one wonders if those who built them fell into madness, plunging to their deaths in the violent waters below.
Inspiration comes naturally when you are looking over a cliff and faced with your own death but welcome it. I could not think of a better way to become one with the world again than diving into a raging sea of passion, beating down the roaring rocks of history. Their battlecries melding into a painful force of green foaming mist and the shrapnel of shattered stone. How long has this war been raging between water and land? The sea relentless in its pursuit. The land resilient to the persistant force. The power of movement and stability combined into an endless ebb and flow that we call earth.
Vast is this gray, green emptiness. I feel closer to this horse, this land, this sea than human beings. They speak without words. I feel in them full-bodied emotion not hidden by endless chatter. Silence comes easy here. I welcome it in and feel whole. I like this island of seclusion. It is satisfying to sit with myself quietly. I am so social in my everyday life. Now, I realize how tired I am. I do not crave companionship unless it listens to what is. I want to share this moment, but if another human being was here with me, we would feel a need to break this holy silence, and the experience would be lost. As the sun’s rays touch the sea before the ocean devours its light, I feel god reaching to me, and I feel warm despite the biting cold around me. In a minute, it will rain. I can taste the moisture in the air. But I welcome the wet that will soon become the ocean.