New Zealand. Pictures speak louder than words could ever describe. One of the most stunning places on earth.
Sunrise on Abel Tasman trek; shadows in the evening sun; reflections of a harbor; sacred Maori pool; trekking in the Bay of Plenty
It’s hard to make a decision that you know is smart but makes you unhappy. It feels like one of those very grown up things to do, one of the things you didn’t realize would fall on your plate when you were thirteen and wishing adulthood would hurry up and get here.
On Friday, I made the final decision to stay in Jakarta one more year by signing a seemingly very final contract with Jakarta International School. The contract sat in front of me for a little while and my hands did struggle a bit to pick up the pen. Because the truth out is, while no big surprise, Jakarta doesn’t bring me joy very often and in most of my thoughts, my mind - and heart - are home in Portland. If I’m being completely honest, the closer it came to having to make this final decision, the more my anxiety heated up and the sadder I felt. Everything lately has reminded me of Portland. I have an immense amount of envy for the good friends here who are moving back to their homes. As much as I want to be 100% happy for them, I can’t help feeling bummed that it isn’t me.
None of this is to say I don’t have a good life here. For those of you in my Jakarta community reading this, you should know that you make living here as happy as I think it can get for me. You are the reason I feel like I can stay one more year. I know you will let me be sad and then cheer me up with good food, inappropriate jokes, trashy magazines, and best of all your company.
And at the end of the day, as a very good friend pointed out, one more year may not be ideal but ultimately it will make me happier. I’ll have no debt, a savings, and much more professional experience and direction. And in my logical practical brain, which I inherited from my very logical, practical parents, I know all of that and it’s why I signed that paper. But in my emotional, social heart, I feel like the next 18 months will probably go by very slowly. Which, I guess if I look on the bright side, will make moving back all the sweeter.
Sometimes its a real drag to be an adult.
A few weeks ago I took advantage of my weeklong October break to head to Pai, Thailand about 3 hours north of Chiang Mai for a yoga retreat at Xhale Yoga. I envisioned waking up to the mountains, long stretches of Hatha and Yin yoga sessions, and then exploring Pai on my downtime. The reality though was much different - and so much better.
After checking into my guesthouse, our gorgeous teacher Bhud picked up the lot of us (13 in total) and we walked up a back road to the studio, which is situated on Muk’s land, next to Muk’s house. Muk was the beautiful Thai woman who cooked all our meals out of her outdoor kitchen surrounded by her garden. Just Bhud and Muk alone make this retreat worth checking out, as both exude a sense of peace and calm, and are just a joy to be around. We kicked off the first night with introductions and a basic class, followed by an excellent vegetarian meal. The following days were made up of this schedule: wake up, drink 2-3 cups of homemade chai tea, nasal cleansing and breathe word, Hatha class, breakfast/break, Q&A and philosophy discussion, meditation, lunch/break, Yin yoga, meditation, dinner, sleep. My breaks consisted usually of me laying around on the studio floor looking out at the mountain side and napping. I did make it into town one day, and another Thai massage therapists came to us. But I was content to leave exploration of the area to another time - after the first day I let go of all my expectations and just settled into this daily routine. It was perfect.
Two things - both unexpected - made this retreat one that I will remember for a long long time. The first was just the holistic approach to yoga. I’ve practiced yoga for many years, and at this point - while I still have a lot to work towards - I feel I’ve reached a strong intermediate level practice. But that’s solely based on the asanas (physical postures). In the last few months, as I’ve studied towards getting my certification for teaching kids yoga followed by this retreat, I’ve figured out that yoga is so much more than just the physical postures and breathe work, but rather encompasses ethical components, personal habits, meditation, etc. And while I suppose I knew all of that on some level, I never knew enough about those areas to embrace them. I may consider myself intermediate with the asanas, but on all other levels I’m still a beginner and this retreat gave me a chance to experience yoga holistically. In a weird way, I feel like the Xhale retreat gave me a new - better - way to approach my life. For that I am grateful and lucky to have come to Pai.
The second piece of the retreat that I unexpectedly loved was silence. We were expected to be silent from the time we woke up until 2:00 with the exception of asking questions of Bhud during classes and the Q&A. But in interactions with each other, we were quiet. While I’m someone who likes to fill empty spaces with others with talk, I do crave silence. When I lived in Portland, I had a luxurious 1.5 hours each weekday morning where I didn’t really have to interact with other people as I got ready for work, drove to work, and then settled into my day before kids arrived. I didn’t realize how much I needed that time at the beginning of my day until I moved to Jakarta and find myself saying “Pagi” and “Terima kasih” to 20 security guards or a bajai driver before I even get to my office. To be so silent for so long at Xhale was lovely and brought on a calm in me that I haven’t experienced for a while. I thought a lot about social media during this time too. In our age of Facebook and Twitter, even when we’re not physically with others, we still feel the need to fill the silence with our words. The idea of thinking before speaking (or posting) and/or remaining silent for the better part of a day was incredibly refreshing and freeing for even just a short time. I stopped thinking about these experiences I was having with my social media brain (i.e. “I should post this on Facebook!) and just started enjoying them for what they were - personal experiences that I didn’t need everyone to know about or “like.” They were mine and I was okay with remaining silent about them. They actually felt so much more meaningful that way.
Not that any of that means I won’t talk to others in the morning or post on Facebook. My world has changed and those things are inevitable. But I have started to carve out a different silence for myself. Sundays are my days - I try not to make plans or go out, but rather I enjoy my space and the silence of my apartment. I don’t post on Facebook as much (and yeah, I get the irony that I’m about the post this blog on Facebook :)) and when I do I try to be thoughtful about who will care about what I’m saying, if its relevant and meaningful in some way, and how will it be perceived.
I feel like since I started studying more about yoga this year, my life has taken on some new meaning and direction. Maybe its also that I’m getting older and becoming smarter in my decisions, but I can’t help feeling like I’m onto to something really great. Hopefully that’s true…
Gorgeous Bhud and Muk
My “name” for the week
The studio and views
The first time I did yoga I cried. I’m not ashamed to admit that either. I was probably 23 or so, and my sister and I went to Sal Anthony’s in Gramercy Park, NYC. It was right up the street from the studio apartment we shared, her on a loft bed and me on a futon. The yoga studio had creaky wood floors and big windows that blew in the curtains and the sunshine. I don’t remember much about the actual class, but I do remember feeling tears run down the sides of my face after settling into savasana. It wasn’t for any reason and it wasn’t a big grand bawl. It was just a simple act reflecting some sort of release. Or relief. Or maybe both.
For years after, I revisited yoga periodically, sometimes for a few months at a time, once or twice a week. But it wasn’t until January 2010 that I started to embrace it as a part of my daily life. I started hardcore with Bikram for 6 months before I realized that while I was in great shape, I felt stressed out and bullied. So I shifted to a mix of hot yoga, vinyasa, hatha, restorative and anusara at a few different studios around Portland. And just as I made yoga a part of my daily life, it became a part of the daily me. Even when I was tired, or felt rushed, or it started raining just in time for my walk home, I always felt happy and content after a class. It became normal to attend 4-6 classes a week, and I felt out of sorts when things would get in the way. Over time I watched my practice, my body, and my mind changing in ways I hadn’t expected.
In July 2011 I moved to Jakarta Indonesia, land of pollution, traffic jams, and more positively a really lovely collection of people. But, limited yoga options save Bikram (clearly not an option) and Ashtanga, which also isn’t my style. I could feel those changes I had experienced slipping away slowly. After a few months, I finally stumbled into a yoga community right under my nose, down the street from school in the home of Lana, a beautiful, peaceful, gentle yogi who has become a sort of saving grace for me here. Two classes a week in her studio gives me a fix that I crave after wandering the chaotic environment of Jakarta. But even that’s not enough many weeks.
To help remedy that, even in the short term, last weekend I went to Bali for 3½ days solely to do yoga. The community of Ubud is full of healthy cafes serving local organic produce and thoughtful meals. Two yoga studios, Yoga Barn and Radiantly Alive, provided me with the perfect schedule of eight classes spread out over the long weekend. A combination of tough vinyasas, deep yin stretches, and relaxing restorative poses filled my days. The air was cool and the brightness of the Hindu culture surrounded me. Walking down the broken sidewalk one afternoon on my way to a class, the thought “I am so happy in this moment” popped into my head. Not only in my head actually, but in my core too. I could feel my whole body pulsing with the idea that, in this instant, this is life. This is happiness. It’s been a while since I’ve had that lovely feeling.
In a later restorative class, I felt like I came full circle. As I sat draped over a bolster in a forward bend, I felt like crying. Not for any specific reason or for any sadness. But just for the release and the knowing that I was where I belong.
Okay, I am going to caveat this post before I go on. I may come across sounding a bit spoiled, maybe even bratty. Poor me, I had to go to the Philippines! But the truth is, soon after I booked this trip, I started to dread going. I should have opted to stay longer at home, which, if you read my last post, probably would have been the smart decision. I even contemplated racking up the bill to change all my travel arrangements. But at the end of the day, I stuck with my original plan.
And then it started to unravel. I realized on Thursday that I was actually getting in on Saturday, not Friday like I had thought. I had to bail on my Friday night hotel and rebook for Saturday. Change my Saturday flight to the beach to Sunday. Call my hotel at the beach and cancel my first night. Hmm – this was not starting well and I hadn’t even left the States. After one night in Manila, I headed to the beach. My first touristy activity was dolphin watching. Dolphins! They would make this trip so worth it! After a 45 minute bumpy ride through the ocean, halfway through which I realized there were no life jackets (rule #1 of boating: make sure there are life jackets), and being trashed with saltwater, the captain looked at me sadly and gave me the sign for “no dolphins.” Um, what? I commiserated with myself on the first small island we went to, sitting on the beach pouting. As we made our way to the next island, I realized that perhaps I was manifesting a bad trip. Perhaps I had even been manifesting this bad trip for a few months now. So I made a decision that, dolphins be damned, I would enjoy the fact that I was on white sand beaches in crystal clear water. So I did. The next island was gorgeous and pristine, untouched by anything really. The kids were gorgeous, running around barefoot and smiling beautiful smiles. The water was warm and calm. Feeling marginally better, I got back to my hotel, went for a swim, read, moseyed down to a kind of cruddy restaurant for lunch, and then wandered over to the beach for a while. Along the way I met a Canadian couple that were just so chipper and excited to be on vacation. My response, when they asked how I liked the Philippines, was “well, I don’t really want to be here.” Nice, right? I realized my mistake when I saw their immediate reaction, and spent the next hour trying to be more positive with them, especially considering they had gotten engaged the day before :) The next day was another tour, this time to the Chocolate Hills (lovely) and the Tarsier Sanctuary (the world’s smallest and weirdly cutest primates), followed by lunch at the Bohol Bee Farm (awesome place, awesome food), and then the afternoon swimming and writing on my balcony. All very nice and seemingly relaxing, but the truth is I was homesick and feeling blue.
The following morning I left for one more night in Manila, which proved to be uneventful. I was tired and kind of crabby, sad to not be in the US, and just feeling unreasonably sorry for myself. Blech – all really and thoroughly unenjoyable feelings and a vast contrast to what I had been feeling just a few weeks before. My hotel in Manila, strategically and unbeknownst to me positioned inside an ocean theme park, had some nice perks though. A comfy bed overlooking the bay, a flat screen with tons of channels, and room service. I was ready to be done traveling, on the go, living out of a suitcase. I was tired of moving and seeing and interacting. I was ready to be back in Jakarta, in my bed, in my apartment. So after a bit more feeling sorry for myself, I hunkered down in my PJS with the TV on and room service ordered to write this blog and edit some pictures. It was actually pretty nice.
I was feeling bad for not enjoying this trip more. Here I was in a place many people would love to visit, and I just couldn’t shake my mopey-ness. But then I realized that after all the travels I’ve done this year, all the things I’ve seen, and the adventures I’ve had, its actually okay to not really enjoy a trip once in a while. Its okay to be tired of traveling and to just want to be home, however temporary it might be.
PS. To cap this trip in the most appropriate way, I got to the airport and was told the flight from Manila to Jakarta is a regional flight, not an international flight. At $13USD per kilo over my allotted 20 kilos, I wound up paying about $600USD to get my bags home. A fitting end, I think….