Livin’ the Dream!

“OH MY GOD! You live on a sailboat!? I am so jealous! You are living the dream!”

2016-11-03-16-12-33
Dream Pro: Rainbow. Cons? I kinda smell; it’s raining; that jacket just does not fit me; every place I sit is wet; I can’t remember the last time I combed my hair; I’m tired; I want someone to make me hot food.

I think of my friends saying this to me when, like yesterday, it was pouring down rain and to get to the post office, I had to don my ill-fitting, red foul-weather jacket and hop into the dinghy. I pumped out the rainwater that had accumulated and then prayed as I pulled on the outboard engine, because in the past somehow rain got in the gas line or something and it didn’t start and I was totally stranded and felt pathetically helpless. Well, it started but that only meant that I had to sit my butt down on the wet seat and fight what are known as “Christmas winds” to get myself to the public dinghy dock, which was super-crowded and hard to find a spot to tie up.

 

Yes, sometimes “the dream” is a soggy-butted dinghy ride in the rain, ending in a scramble to secure the boat while an entire cruise ship-full of passengers watch and wait for you to fall in.

Is this really a dream? I know, I know … I snorkel and see sea turtles, wake up on the water and generally avoid the hustle-and-bustle of consumer life. I learn to take my time, enjoy experiences more than things and find gratitude in little things, like the simple displays of love that are the sweet cards some friends and family are sending me via general delivery here in St. Thomas. Life is filled with wonder and goodness.

Actual dreams can be amazing, although the other night I roller-skated into a swimming pool in my dream. Glad I wasn’t living that dream! So I guess because sometimes I fly in dreams, I should want to live my dreams? But only the good dreams, right? Because my friends, when they say I’m “livin’ the dream,” they’re not talking about the nightmarish elements of the often harsh challenges of boat life.

In yoga, dreams are represented within the symbol of OM, which is the universal sound of

om
OM

our highest Self and a pathway to enlightenment. The main “3” shape is made of two curves: the larger bottom curve, or the jagrat, represents our waking state, and the top curve, or the sushupti, represents our deep, dreamless sleep. The little loop to the right is swapna, the dream state. (The top half-moon shape is the maya, or the entire manifestation of the world around us as we perceive it, and the top diamond is turiya, the ultimate bliss.) So, as the symbol teaches us, in our life it is easy to go around and around through waking and sleeping, basically getting caught in a maze, but really our task is to overcome all our illusions that present themselves as obstacles to rediscovering the divine within us.

 

So, dreams are a circular loop, a fantasy that life is limitless instead of it actually being so. The dream is not the end game. Bliss is the goal. Actual, honest-to-goodness limitless amazingness is what we should be living.

My waking life – a dream to so many – is filled with good and bad, stuff I am attracted to and stuff I am averse to. I have ample opportunity to show my less-than-divine self and think it’s “all about me,” especially in a 32-foot-long living space with another human. I am even sometimes

2016-11-03-16-07-03
Ever feel you just need a little space? When sailing, this is as far away as I get from my co-captain. Imagine being this close to a person. For days. It’s a dream worth waking from, I think we both agree.

confronted by the potential of death, like when our sailboat is at such a steep heel that we must clip ourselves to jack lines on the boat to avoid falling into the sea. My work is simply overcoming all these attachments, about what I think is good or bad, or scary or proof that I am not amazingly blissful creature. (These obstacles are known as kleshas.) I do this work in my dreams, when I’m on my yoga mat and even when I am in the dinghy.

 

It’s easy to escape a lot of life’s annoyances, like traffic or mowing the grass. You can hop on a sailboat or simply take a weekend getaway somewhere. But it’s not so easy to escape yourself. When people say they want to live a dream, often they believe that escaping the current troubles will make for bliss. But until you overcome the obstacles in your head and your heart, life won’t feel dreamy. If you have road rage, chances are you’ll have dinghy rage. (Seen it!) Problems will persist in the maze of your waking and sleeping life as long as we choose them.

We make our own nightmares. Wake up – and live your bliss!

Life All Around Us

Are you in your own little world, or are you part of the big world around you? If you’re like me, it’s a balance of both.

Today even more than a decade ago, Americans especially are more likely to be isolated in

suburbia
Instead of a caption, I’ll just put a link to the Weeds theme song.

their cars, private properties and even in public space – when a face in glued into a device instead of looking around. I’m guilty of this. Chances are, you don’t know all your neighbors and don’t particularly care.

Personally, I’m even more isolated. I live on a 32-ft. sailboat with one other person and a cat. That’s it. My neighbors change almost every day, except for when we need to stay in a certain place to hide out for hurricane season or to make money. Even then, it’s not necessarily an easy task to reach out to others.

In more populated boating communities, there are “Cruiser’s Nets,” which are weekly, open information sharing at a specific time. And sometimes it’s obvious that the other person at the café is a fellow “boat person” by their dress and demeanor, so it’s easy to strike up a conversation. But overall, it’s just my own little world on S/V Tortuga.

I write. I practice Yoga on deck. I pet my cat, and I read. Sometimes my mate and I will play music or listen to NPR or a podcast. I work. I meditate. Like I said, my own little world.

And yet, recently I’ve been reminded of the big amazing world all around me. Two weeks ago, we were in Vieques, an island in the Spanish Virgin Islands, which are part of Puerto Rico and owned by the U.S. It contains the brightest bioluminescent bay in the Caribbean

bioluminesence
I think they Photoshopped this, because it was impossible for us to get this on film. But it’s kind of like how it is: magical!

and possibly the world. It is nothing short of spectacular.

Puerto Mosquito (where, let it be known, I saw not one mosquito) is a small body of water opening up to the ocean that happens to be filled with dinoflagellates. Those are tiny microscopic critters that, like a firefly, emit a glow when touched. We anchored in it the other day and took the dinghy through the shallows into the depths of the bay, where we jumped in under the dark of night.

Immediately, every splash translated into a fiery strike of light neon green that created trails for the delight of our eyes. I could make water angels with the glow. When my head came emerged from underwater, sparkles remained on my skin and mirrored the stars in the clear sky. There were thousands of points of light everywhere there was movement.

Life was everywhere around me, there was no doubt about it.

It was impossible to catch on film. We kept trying to take photographs and videos, but everything came out black. We were unable to capture how we were invading these little beings’ tiny world. They were just swimming along, probably looking for food or whatever dinoflagellates do, and suddenly they were bombarded by excited humans. Our wild movements likely bothered them. It actually felt like the light was them saying, “HEY! I’m ova here!!!!

I experienced a bioluminescent bay before, last time I traveled to Puerto Rico with a friend. We were lucky enough to grab a last-minute opening on a kayak tour for $50 each of another bay near Fajardo. Traveling to Vieques was tricky without a boat because the ferry departs before dark, meaning the hotel we had already booked for the week would have gone to waste. Even though the bay wasn’t as bright and I was accompanied by more than a hundred other excited tourists, I still talked about it to anyone who said anything about Puerto Rico. But that was nothing.

Swimming with just one other person made it shift my perspective on the world around me. Even when I am seemingly “in my own head” and engaged in my own spiritual development and progress, there is a lot going on. Just look at who screamed light when I moved my arm!

connection
Energy and life all around us!

And here’s the kicker: we are all connected. Every single sentient being in the universe is connected. You are connected to the little dinoflagellate guy who glowed because you read this blog. (Hey, thanks!) I am connected to your mailman who you waved at this morning, too. It’s more than the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” It’s real.

The more we recognize the inter-connectivity of life, the less isolated we will feel and – I suspect – the happier we will be. The more friends we will have (no matter how tiny, right little dino dude?) and the more we will smile. I know I was certainly smiling when I saw so many beings lighting up just at the touch of my presence. I understood how powerful touch is … imagine if we all shined our light like that!

Maybe instead of bothering the dinoflagellates, I was hugging them? Petting them? I hope so (although really I doubt it). Because I can never have enough hugs. Let’s share one now!

 

 

The Know-It-All Epidemic

It’s reached an epidemic level, and I’m not talking about Zika or obesity. I’m referring to the inability to shut up, to admit one is wrong, to listen to another person and thoughtfully consider a different point of view. With increased frequency, people are yelling over one another – or online, typing furiously so their comment can precede the response to their previous comment.

The old adage “If you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing” has gone out the

calvinargues
Some people cannot be reasoned with!

window, and we all know that the current political campaign is exacerbating it. As someone who studied political science in college, I love a good debate on politics with someone who does not agree with me. And yet time and again on Facebook or in person, when I start to discuss this campaign cycle, it inevitably ends in being called names and simply personally insulted. I “must be stupid.” I need to “learn how to read” and “put down the coloring books.” I’m a fool for the media. I’m “an idiot.” But here’s a truth we should have learned in kindergarten: Calling an opponent a name does not win a debate. (In related news, I love mandala coloring books for relaxation!)

I’ve also noticed the trend of interrupting. During the first presidential candidate debate, one candidate interrupted the other 51 times. But this has been going on for a while now. All one has to do is turn on any number of “roundtable discussions” on any news program. People yell over one another to make a point and never let anyone finish their sentence; there’s a complete lack of respect for anyone else in the room. It makes for really

kayne1
Back in 2009: “Imma gonna let you finish but …”

annoying TV or radio. Even during the vice presidential debate, I heard the moderator tell the candidates that “no one can understand you when you’re both talking” before I turned it off.

Coupled with nasty name-calling and interrupting, of course, is simply not listening. This is perhaps the most pervasive element of this epidemic. If one person is talking, chances are the other is already forming a reply in his head. Know why? Because we all seem to think that we know everything already. Of course we do! Look at all the social media and online sites we check, as our faces are planted firmly into our device screens so we are unable to take in anything or anyone around us. We check our phones on average 46 times a day! So much media is available all the time, we feel like we’ve got it figured out.

Speaking of media, today’s 24-hour journalism and unapologetically biased sites and channels are designed with the niche in mind. That is, chances are the media you consume simply reinforces your own world view. So if you’re a liberal, you are disgusted by Fox News. If you are a conservative, you never watch CNN. It takes too much energy to disagree and think, to process the bias and determine why we disagree on a particular matter of policy. And so we stay within our decidedly “right” worlds, with people only saying things that we agree with. More often than not, this is also true of our friends and also the people we are connected on social media. It becomes too much like work to engage people who disagree with us, because then we have to defend ourselves. This frequently devolves to a fight. Why fight when you can just be right all the time?

virginiaslims
Another epidemic: Smoking! And another thing I was thinking … Oh, you wanted to say something?

The sad truth, too, is that the Know-It-All Epidemic effects men to a greater extent than women. Men interrupt more than women. Men are more comfortable expressing their opinions in groups than women. Men are more likely to tell a woman she is stupid than vice versa. Lots of studies on this and lots of reasons. It’s a sexist society, despite all the advances women have made over the years. “Father Knows Best” is a mentality that is hard to break. Why? Because I said so!

There’s a simple antidote to end this epidemic, and it’s a big dose of humility. News flash! You do not know everything! I do not know everything! NO ONE knows everything, and no one expects anyone else to know everything. So it’s time for the world to develop a new skill: listening. Slow down and think about what is coming in. I know, in today’s fast-paced, email culture, there never feels like enough time to process anything before we are forced to act. But there is. There is a lot of time. In fact, there is more time than ever.

Life is meant as a learning process. Every person we encounter comes to us for us to learn from. Every obstacle that is presented in our lives is an opportunity for us to creatively figure out a way around it. Learning is the only way we can progress on our path, and the only way we can learn and grow is to be open to the world around us. The first step to being open is to understand that we are not self-contained units of perfection. There is simply no way we can know it all, because knowledge comes from experience. How old are you? Probably not old enough to experience it all. Been everywhere? Done everything? Doubt it.

I have a mantra I like to say when I share an opinion: “I’ve been wrong before.” Because I

wrong-way
Beep. Beep. Beep.

have, and it doesn’t make me any less of a person or any less intelligent! Sometimes I’m right. Like, I’m a pretty good judge of character. And that’s because I have put energy into trying to see people fully and with compassion. Sometimes I still fail and people disappoint me. But guess what? I’m still learning, and next time I meet someone I’ll be that much better prepared to understand them.

But how well do we understand ourselves? This is the root of this epidemic. Part of the reason folks spend so much time defending themselves is because they are not confident in themselves. We hold these truths to be self-evident. Sound familiar? The Founding Fathers of the United States all determined what the principles were for building a government, so they didn’t have to keep going back and forth about it. What are your principles?

For me, helping others is a priority. So I am not interested in ram-rodding my point-of-view down the throats of others, even when I am very confident in the validity of my opinion. Because in the end, I am not interested in ruining a relationship and hurting another person just so I can be right and “win.” At the same time, I also understand that there is no arguing with crazy. Because that perpetuates crazy behavior, which can be defined as being without basis, without a grasp of reality, without consideration of the other person. This way of being only serves as an angry mask that is usually hiding a much deeper hurt.

People are hurting. That’s the bottom line. The screaming, the anger, the total uncaring in the face of fervent conviction … so much of it is just the bricks needed to build a wall around the person. The thicker the wall, the less likely anyone will want to come inside to see the vulnerable person who was once hurt and hanging on to it. So many people hang on to the sadness, yet at the same time yearn deeply for peace. The only way to end this hurt is through love, respect and caring: Give it and receive it.

The Yoga Sutras tell us to approach an unhappy person with compassion and an unvirtuous person with equanimity. So as we use our lives to learn more about ourselves, help others as well. That’s how we’ll really get to know what we truly seek to know.

Hola Hola

I’ve been remiss on my blogging, dear reader, and for that I must say, lo siento! But I have been entirely too busy creating the life I want to live!

See, the start of hurricane season saw this 32-ft. sailboat fighting the southeastern

2016-09-02-08-24-15
Bahia de Luperon — otherwise known as my backyard until the end of hurricane season!

tradewinds to arrive in Luperon, a small village on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic with one of the best hurricane holes in the Caribbean. Its little harbour is surrounded by mangroves and mountains, and its bottom is a thick mud that holds an anchor tightly even in strong tropical winds. It was a tough, five-week sail this summer to get here from the Bahamas. Like our anchor, we’ve been settling in ever since.

There are about 100 boats in the harbour, and half of them have an international mix of sailors living aboard. These are the “gringos” – of course I am part of this group – and the vast majority spend their days lounging and laughing around the local bars, drinking “jumbo”-sized, 40-oz. Presidente beers that cost $125 pesos, or about $2.77. The beers are so big that they are served in bamboo holders that keep the green bottles cool in the extreme heat of the day. These jumbos, which are pronounced “humbos,” of course, go well with the $125-peso plate of the day, which is usually beans, rice, salad and (if you want) fried chicken. Banana milkshakes (a favorite, especially with a little rum!) is $60 pesos, or about $1.30. It is so cheap to live here; that’s part of what makes this place so attractive to cruisers.

To get food or run errands, we need to take a dinghy to the government dock, which is a broken-down pier on the edge of town. When the tide is too high, it’s a little treacherous! Walk past the often-overflowing trash bin (which we frequently add to), say hola to the immigration officials camped out in the shade and pass a completely unnecessary gate to get to town. It’s loud with Latin music, dirty and extremely friendly. It’s necessary to

2016-09-05-16-07-46
The Dominican people are SO NICE … which comes in handy, since I have the Spanish vocabulary of a 4 year old.

dodge the mysterious, neon-green water in the gutters, as well as the stray dogs and chickens that wander around. It’s also a good idea to share greetings and smiles with everyone you pass.

I do not speak Spanish well. In school, I studied the less useful French and Italian. If only I had focused on Spanish – life would be a lot easier now! It’s hard to not be able to talk with everyone, to joke around. I’ve been studying Spanish for the last few months, but I’ve got a ways to go. I can almost say basically what I need to, but then the response is usually so fast that I can’t understand it! But I can always understand the friendly people who share a hola hola.

Siestas are real, by the way. Starting around 11:30 a.m. to about 2:30 p.m., do not expect to get anything accomplished in town. This is because it is so hot! The weather is pretty consistent: At night, it’s cool. In the morning, the water is glassy and it’s very buggy, with no-see-ums all over the place. By about 8:30 a.m., the tradewinds pick up and it gets quite windy. Soon, it’s very, very sunny and hot. The smart ones stay in the shade until about 3 p.m. Then the town slowly comes alive again, with music pumping and folks gathered outside to share a jumbo or say hola. It’s important to get things accomplished in the morning and then again in the late afternoon, because by the evening, it’s party time. Sometimes the town throws huge bashes in the parque central. A late-night food spot called Come Come sometimes plays 1950s American rockabilly.

I recognized quickly that I was one of the only gringos who worked for a living, since most are simply retired. And work I do! I spend hours each day in front of the computer. I am grateful to have a number of clients who hire me to write, edit, do marketing work and brainstorm over the Internet. I am so thankful for Wifi! My mother said when she was in school, she heard about the idea of working anywhere in the world, but she never thought it could actually happen. Well, welcome to the modern age.

2016-09-09-09-35-50
My Yoga class in pigeon pose. Notice the moldy pillar and leaky roof of the abandoned marina. But the view from the mat is worth a million bucks!

Along with writing and marketing work, I also teach Yoga here in Luperon. I was so excited to learn that there were Yoga classes three days a week in an abandoned marina. I immediately attended, and soon the teacher gave the classes over to me. We average about 10 people or so every class, and I’m blessed that many donate enough funds for a meal or two. Plus, I get to continue teaching and helping people. I really love that.

Along with working and yoga, fixing up the boat and slowly but surely planning the next move toward the US Virgin Islands, my boyfriend and I have also been exercising. We’ve taken a few trips into the country, including a cool surf town called Cabarete to which we hope to return soon. But we’re trying to stay within budget so we can keep this life going for a while longer.

See, I’ve come to realize that it really is possible to live the life you want. But it doesn’t just come to you. You have to work for it. No effort is wasted! So many people I know feel like they are wasting their lives away. Are you stuck in jobs you hate, in a town you’re bored with? Start planning, and make it happen. The first step is getting out of your comfort zone – a hola hola may be more comforting than you expect!

 

The Adventures of Slogging-East Sue

It feels a little like I’m Little Orphan Annie or the Lone Ranger or some other 1930s-era radio hero, the way I’ve been slogging southeast against the increasingly strong southeastern trade winds in a 32-foot sailboat.

Not that I’m a martyr or anything. The co-captain and my kitty have been doing it too.

IMG_9532
The good news is we are slogging through some of the most beautiful, aquamarine waters!

It’s just been weeks of tacking and straight-up motoring into the wind (check out the TortugaSailChart7.16) in an effort to get toward a protected anchorage in the Dominican Republic in advance of the first hurricane threat of the season. We’re more than halfway there, about to jump down to the Turks & Caicos.

Tortuga, our boat, does not point very well. For non-sailors, a quick lesson: Most sailboats with good sails and everything all tuned up can expect to point about 45 degrees from the direction of the wind. So, if the wind is coming from straight east (90 degrees), you can plan on sailing at 135 degrees or 45 degrees. That’s how you figure out tacking: You head in one direction, then switch and head in the other and you make way. But good old Tortuga, she points about 70 degrees to wind. So, it’s like north and south, baby. Going east feels like a straight-up slog.

What is a slog? Our buddies Merriam-Webster define it as “keep doing something even though it is difficult or boring.” Can you relate? Feels like the story of my life!

Why would we ever want to continue doing something difficult? Well, alas, that’s really

sisyphus
It’s the Adventures of Rock-Pushing Sisyphus! And here I’m bitching?

the only way to progress, isn’t it. Sometimes we catch a break and life progresses in this really magical and easy way, but that is so rare. Usually, it’s the no-pain, no-gain model. Things that are worth it take work.

What is worth it? Health is important, in all facets. If we want our physical bodies to be in great shape and free from disease, we need to eat nutritious foods in moderation and take regular exercise. We can’t just do it once. We have to do it all the time, even when we want to pig out on cheesecake. When we say, forget it and we eat the cheesecake, we fall off. Falling off is another sailing term: It means to allow the boat to let the wind push it away so you’re sailing on what’s known as a beam reach rather than a close haul. This is easier. You’re sailing along great, without having to pinch to keep the course. But you fall off course. And then you’re further away from your goal.

Health is just one thing that takes this type of dedication. Schooling often feels like this. Big work projects. Spiritual development can’t happen without it. So what type of person are you? Do you slog on, or do you fall off? Do you always keep the goal in mind?

I always try to keep the end game in mind. Starting with the end in mind is one of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and it’s been something I’ve done for quite a while. Being a long-term thinker means being able to slog through, doing things that kinda suck now as to reap the benefits when the goal is reached. We’re talking about willpower, about character.

No doubt, slogging can certainly suck. That’s where the attitude comes in. This is why I’ve created this radio superhero persona for myself  (it includes a theme song I sing loudly) when I’m at the wheel and I’ve just beating into the wind and trying to cover just a little more ground! (<– Yay! The blog theme song!)

In this episode, Slogging-East Sue must try to get the finicky autopilot to work so she can go to the bathroom and not wake up her co-captain! In the next episode, Slogging-East Sue wonders how her cat can so quickly go from panic to snoozing. In this episode, Slogging-East Sue dreams of completing the trip so she can enjoy a frosty glass of ice water and a cheap and delicious vegetarian meal in the DR that someone else prepares, for the love of Pete.

I have a lot of goals I’m working toward, and all involve the slog. I’ve been studying Spanish and currently slogging my way through the conjunctions of irregular verbs. I’ve been losing weight and slogging my way through two days of fasting a week (and, yes, enjoying the occasional cheesecake slice when one presents itself). I am working on my own spiritual development and slogging my way through a journal that requires me to own up to anger, sloth and other behaviors that are stopping me from progress. Accountability is a slog, man!

And so, I slog on … knowing one day the effort will pay off with an amazing experience in another country. No energy is wasted, and that’s the lesson of this episode of the Adventures of Slogging-East Sue!

Energy Strikes

There was yet another rite of passage on the somewhat-embattled S/V Tortuga this week, when a bolt of lightning struck our mast. This after a fire, a hurricane, a bug infestation, a transmission failure, a bad water pump … the list goes on. There is truth in the adage that BOAT is an acronym for “Break Out Another Thousand.”

lightning
Zoinks! It happened to us!

My boyfriend and I were out on deck, which is our norm during any heavy rainstorm. It’s a great time to rinse down both our bodies (and hair) and the deck. This storm was part of a week of windy, stormy weather in the Bahamas, where we currently are anchored. I was enjoying the soak when suddenly I heard a crash and instinctively hit the deck! Small parts of the spreader light rained down on me. I looked at them; they were charred.

Of course, we ran inside until the storm was over. Shortly, the skies were sunny, and the next day we moved to a calm anchorage to assess the damage. I hoisted my boyfriend aloft, and he confirmed that our lights were fried but the internal wiring was still OK. The only other thing that got zapped was the compass in our autopilot, a crucial item for which we promptly ordered a replacement. We were really lucky. Sometimes lightning strikes destroy the entire electrical system in the boat. Sometimes they cause the seals to leak. Sometimes they kill people!

So even though we had just replaced all the mast lights with fancy LEDs just a couple months ago, we counted our blessings as we postponed the next leg of our journey awaiting shipments.

I was within six feet of the strike, and the energy dropped me to my belly. Even though I am not necessarily scared of lightning, I respect energy. As a Reiki master, I work in energy. But Reiki is only one kind of energy, or chi, or ki.

There are actually eight kinds of energies in the world, according to the Japanese: Kekki

alexgray
Artist: Alex Gray. I used to sell rad t-shirts with his art on it. Hi Magoo! 

relates to blood; Shioke is used in acupuncture and relates to minerals and connective powers; Mizuki is the energy of water; Kuki is the energy of air and gas, as well as self-fulfillment and nourishment; Denki is the energy of thunder and masters the relationship with the ego and others, as well as emotions and trust; Jiki is the energy of magnetic power, charisma, art and beauty; Reiki is the soul force energy; and Shiki is the energy of the divine, outside the material world.

Does one type of energy work in your life more than others? I recently received my first acupuncture treatment a few weeks ago from my new friend Leigh, with whom I traded a Reiki healing energy session. The Shioke and the Reiki left us feeling lighter and freer. Living on a sailboat, Mizuki is certainly powerful in my life. Cutting through the sea by using Kuki only (no motor) is a pretty awesome activity.

Do you know someone with outstanding Jiki? I do. Can you feel the Kekki flowing through you right now? Few people experience Shiki, but I can tell you that every once in a while,

alikifarms
The Aliki Farm episode of Portlandia is one of the best. If you haven’t seen it, click the link after Jiki and thank me later.

when someone says something that is so pleasing to me, I get a sensation of vibrations up the back of my neck that subtly flushes my cheeks. It doesn’t last long, but it feels divine. I think that must be Shiki.

The trick with energy, though, is to know how to harness it. That’s what Elon Musk has been working on with solar power. Go Elon go! Energy is nothing if it can’t be harnessed and focused. How did that Denki of the lightning not destroy the guts of our little vessel? Perhaps other reflective energies saved us. It’s a mystery.

So, life aboard has not been exactly easy. A wise woman on a Facebook group I’m in wrote that being a liveaboard is “a BITCH with pretty snorkeling thrown in.” (We did enjoy some great snorkeling at Fowl Cay in the Abacos yesterday!) While all the awesome photos of sunsets may make my life seem idyllic, it’s filled with daily challenges. For one, trying to balance the Denki of the two people living in a 200-square-foot space is tough. You can feel when the energy is off between people. That’s Denki, and it’s powerful enough to destroy an autopilot … and relationships, too!

Even though I have been working with Reiki for more than a decade, I often forget the

powerback
Plug in, drop out!

power of my own energy and the energy around me. I think that’s common. We all get wrapped up in the, well, crap of the minute, and we forget that we have the power to do anything, so long as we attune to the energies around us. Once we attune, then it takes effort to harness and focus. Not everyone has that discipline. Do you? It’s not just discipline: It’s a choice. We have to choose our own energy and our own power.

The lightning strike was a wake-up call, but not necessarily about safety. Sure, I’ll think twice next time I rinse off in an electrical storm. But I mean the energy – both inside and outside. Time to harness. Time to focus. Time to reclaim my energy to become an even more powerful being for truth, love and goodness in my life and in my little boat. Is it time for you, too?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I Did On My Yoga Vacation

Since I was just living a 25-minute plane ride away, I recently decided to travel to the Sivananda Yoga Retreat in Nassau. My friend Charlie (who had been volunteering there for a three-month stint) was leaving soon, so I took the opportunity to visit her and check the place out. I had never been to an ashram, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I figured I’d take some yoga classes, hang out on the beach and chill.

I had no idea!

If, like me, you didn’t really know, ashrams are basically like monasteries for yogis. The Sivananda retreat in the Bahamas is a highly spiritual, serious place that attracts

220px-Swami_Vivekananda-1893-09-signed
Shout-out to Swami Vivekananda, considered the guy who brought Yoga to the West.

those who are ready for a major transformational shift (whether they know it or not!). There are swamis, or monks, walking around in orange robes, while senior staff wore yellow shirts and white pants. There were also a bunch of Yoga teachers-in-training, carrying stacks of books and scurrying from class to class, who wore slightly different yellow shirts and white pants. Then there were the Karma Yogis – like my pal Charlie – and folks like me, who wore anything they wanted. There were about 300 people at the six-acre facility. No one was wearing the crazy, colorful yoga pants that you see on skinny girls showing off their handstands on Instagram.

The accommodations were simple. I booked a “tent hut,” which was one of 12 tents per floor set up in a wooden structure. There was a cot, fan, lamp, dresser, a bottle of water and some bug spray in my tent. It was not luxurious, but it was really all I needed. It was a minute’s walk to the beach and just about every place in the ashram. There were rooms as well as tent spots, too. Charlie was living in a tent. After nearly three months, she was ready for a good night in a real bed, she confided.

The daily schedule was long and structured, providing extensive opportunity to

mosquito
So when a mosquito bites you, it’s because you did a violent act in a previous life or just last week. It’s karma, baby. So, do you slap it?

challenge yourself in a supportive, loving environment. I attended the “Yoga Vacation Program,” and the time there is designed to be very different from everyday life. It sure was. With the ringing of a loud bell in the middle of the ashram, wake up was 5:30 a.m. every day. I brushed my teeth and grabbed a scarf to cover my shoulders before heading to the temple, where everyone gathered by 6 a.m. for a 25-minute silent meditation, followed by the chanting of morning prayers. There were pictures of the founding swami fathers of the ashram on the wall of the temple, along with portraits of Sri Krishna and Hanuman, two Hindu gods. The chanting was in Sanskrit, and I followed along as best I could with a hymnal. Then there was a talk or a presentation. Yoga class was at 8 a.m. Then brunch at 9:45 a.m. Workshops took place at noon and 2 p.m. (One day I went snorkeling instead – I saw a king conch eating a sea biscuit! Karma’s a bitch, ain’t it, bisc-ey.) At 4 p.m. they had another Yoga class, followed by dinner at 5:45 p.m. Then there was another satsang (the meditation, chanting and lecture) at 8 p.m. I was fast asleep in my little tent by 10:30 p.m. every night.

Attached to coffee as a means of waking? You’re out of luck. There was no coffee (and no sympathy) for anyone who “needed” it there. They served lots of hot herbal tea – cinnamon tea, lemon ginger tea – that was really quite satisfying. The delicious and huge portions of food served at brunch and dinner were all vegetarian, of course. I was never hungry. Even though I enjoy a cup of French press coffee every day at home, I never had a problem waking up in the morning. There was, surprisingly, plenty of treats. Every day I was there, they had a birthday celebration complete with cake. Once I happened upon a woman handing out still-warm, homemade lemon-glazed doughnuts. Karma is pretty good sometimes too!

The week I visited, they had a Bhakti Yoga retreat. Talk about a treat! Bhakti Yoga is the Yoga of devotion and love. Basically, the Bhakti message is encouraging unconditional love and service to all living things, as everything is an embodiment of

hanuman
Hanuman is the monkey, man! His love of God allows him to amazing feats like jumping across an 800-mile-wide ocean … in a split!

the highest Self, or God. Other kinds of Yoga include Jnana Yoga, where yogis connect with God through learning; Karma Yoga, where yogis connect with God through selfless service; and Raja Yoga, where yogis connect with God through meditation. The type of Yoga you probably think of – the kind with stretchy pants (Hey Nikki! Love your pants!) where you work yourself into a pretzel – falls under Raja Yoga. The whole idea of doing all those poses is simply to relax the body so you can meditate in a comfortable, steady posture. So success in yoga class actually has nothing to do with touching your toes, but how you react and feel when you’re reaching down but not yet touching your toes.

The backbone to Bhakti Yoga is kirtan, or devotional chants and music. I LOVE live music, so I was pretty excited when the musicians (Guara Vani and As Kindred Spirits, along with their guru, Ramandath Swami) came on stage and starting jamming. They were awesome! Big smiles were everywhere as we were encouraged to sing along (thankfully they broke down all the Sanskrit lyrics). I got that same amazing high that I get in the front row of concerts at music festivals. In the afternoon sessions, we danced and flowed to the music. I felt so happy and filled with love.

I even made up a joke: You know how you’re supposed to sing “Happy Birthday” when you wash your hands? Well, Yogis are so clean because instead of singing “Happy Birthday,” they sing “Hare Krishna.” Wow, that song doesn’t end!

IMG_8621
Namaste means: The light in me sees and honors the light in you. I love you!

Toward the end of my visit, my friend Charlie presented me with a special gift: a spiritual journal. She knows I love to journal and also make lists. This journal broke down all the activities one can do to live a more spiritually fulfilling life. Although I did not realize it when I booked the trip, this was exactly what I needed to do. I had grown jaded. I had developed a harden heart because of all the challenges I had faced over the last year. I knew that my shiny self was veiled, but I didn’t know how to shake it free. The trip did just that. I left resolved to bring in more compassion for others and myself, to show and feel more love, find gratitude and be of better service for all the beautiful beings around me everyday. In other words – and I hope you do this too – let my love light shine brightly!

 

 

 

What Am I Hungry For?

Just about everyone I know has some sort of issue with food. I have compassion for those who struggle with believing that food is love or that the only way to find control in their lives is to limit their calories. Those who find comfort in unhealthy foods or are constantly on a diet – I get it. I know and love so many of you.

I went on my first diet when I was in fourth grade. I remember looking down at my belly, ashamed of all the candy I’d eaten. So I watched what I ate for a week, lost seven

belly
At what point does baby fat become just plain fat?

pounds and that was the end of it. Fast forward to my first major breakup, when I was in my 20s. I was always athletic and vegetarian, so I had never really thought about my weight. But when I was heartbroken, I wasn’t interested in eating. I numbed myself to escape emotions that I wasn’t ready to address head-on. I lost a bunch of weight. Everyone told me I looked great. Enter the world of diets.

You know how everyone says when you hit 40, oh geez, it’s so much harder to take the weight off? That makes sense, even though I’m still in my 30s. As I age, I am much better at confronting my emotions, so less numbing is needed. I presume in a couple years I will also care less about what other people think of me. But I’m not there yet.

Last year, as faithful blog readers may recall, I embarked on a major fitness kick while my boyfriend was out of town for three months. I got up at 6:30 a.m. every day, ate a healthy breakfast and then hit the gym for high-intensity, personal training classes, followed by either a walk, run or sprint over the nearby bridge. I ate few

skinnyme
Wow! I look great! I was actually crying a lot and not eating, convinced I did not deserve love. 

carbohydrates and more protein, staying away as best I could from junk food. I ate mostly vegan and cut way back on the booze. I tracked my calories using My Fitness Pal and really tried. In the end, I could bust out 50 push-ups, which was something I never was able to do before, but I didn’t lose more than three pounds.

“Well, you know, one pound of muscle weighs more than one pound of fat,” everyone is saying right now. The amount of half-baked, useless and contradictory advice you can find on the internet and from well-meaning friends is amazing. It didn’t matter what they said, anyway; I wasn’t feeling good about myself.

Why? I am a Yoga teacher, an energy worker and pretty darn positive individual. But here’s the rub: I compare myself to others. Part of this is situational. There aren’t many curvy Yoga teachers out there, so I really noticed that little roll of fat presenting itself during a forward fold. I’ve also never dated a guy who was good at making me feel special in a truly holistic sense. If you are a man reading this, go tell your lady she is beautiful and smart and funny, and stop hound-dogging others. Because when my guy obsessed over other women, well, I did too. I would notice what those women had that I didn’t: a flat stomach and a gap between their thighs. So even though I am a German-Italian mix of curves that are attractive to some men, in my convoluted logic, I thought that if I could loose my little belly once and for all, then I could finally feel confident in myself.

When I told people about my interest in losing a few pounds, here’s a sampling of the comments:

 

hounddog
When lame guys see a pretty girl

* “You’re going to go into starvation mode!”

* “You’ll slow down your metabolism!”

* “You don’t need to lose weight!”

These are comments based in love, and they are usually followed by self-deprecation as a means for buoying my ego. But they are not necessary. Regardless of my mentally unhealthy comparisons, when my jeans get tight it’s time to take action. It’s OK. Americans have an obesity epidemic in part because we use food not as fuel but comfort. This time around, it wasn’t candy that I was overindulging: It was beer and nachos. I did need to lose the belly. Not because I want the attention of some guy with his own problems, but because it is healthier to be leaner.

So about two months ago, I embarked on the 5:2 Diet. It’s from the U.K., and the upshot is ladies eat normally for five days of the week and fast (500 calories) on two days. It’s been amazing. I don’t own a scale, but the jeans are fitting again. It’s also taught me a few things about my own relationship with food.

First of all, by fasting, I’ve learned to find comfort in things besides junk food or alcohol. Sometimes, when I’m at the computer too long, I think, “I deserve a treat.” Actually, I deserve a break. So I give myself one. People like to say things like, “I HAVE to have sugar in my coffee.” But this is just an example of an excuse to make food into love,

1005438_10201615918342393_719955505_n
Good coffee needs no cream or sugar, just as occasional treat needs no side of guilt.

into comfort. By really listening to myself, I am learning to love myself.

I’ve also learned to let go of the guilt that is associated with food. I really can eat anything I want on non-fast days – but I’m less likely to go crazy now because I trust myself around food. I am not so attracted to junk or beer anymore. But the other day, when my guy wanted to buy me a coconut ice cream cone, I said yes. It was delicious. It wasn’t comfort. It wasn’t love. It was just a treat. I do not need a food treat every day, because the sunset is a treat. A cool breeze is a treat. A purring kitty is a treat.

I’m learning the difference between feeling good and looking good. They’re not mutually exclusive, in this mass media market especially, but they are different. It feels good to drink more water and go to bed earlier. My interest in sugary treats has waned. While it feels good to fit in my jeans again, prioritizing my health and myself feels even better. Whether that roll of fat is there or not, Yoga still feels amazing.

I know people in my life who are losing weight in clearly unhealthy ways, and they obviously do not feel good. With all the Frankenfoods and high-fructose corn syrupy, aspartame-ridden swill on the market today, it’s easy to be removed from knowing what feeling good physically is like. With all the visions of “perfect bodies” in the media, it’s easy to compare yourself and feel bad mentally.

I still struggle with comparing myself to others, but now that I’ve lost some weight (and know that it’s not magic), I see that focusing on a stomach is as arbitrary as focusing on how long a girl’s ponytail is. As if a man falls in love with a woman based on the length of her hair. That’s not how love works.

I left out one piece of advice I hear when I talk about dieting: You have to love yourself just the way you are. That’s good advice, and it doesn’t have anything to do with numbers on a scale. That’s why every day I find a way to remind myself that I am enough. And I’m here to tell you, so are you. Sometimes we just get hungry for that reminder.

Quiet Time

OK, let’s play a game. Who can be quiet the longest? Ready, go!

Who hasn’t tried that trick with an overly vocal child? It seems some youngins never shut up, and I’m the first to say that I was probably one of the worst offenders. I would have conversations with my stuffed animals if no one was around, which typically was the situation anyway since my parents worked, my brother too old to care and the friends in my neighborhood were just a bunch of boys anyway. (No offense, boys.)

teddyruxpin
A toy that can talk = creepy!

By the time I hit kindergarten and elementary school, it was a different story. I became friends with everyone and loved the social interaction, the giggling and the non-stop talking. My friends and I would make up skits, make prank phone calls and talk about anything and everything. In fourth grade, a group of girls who were my best friends decided one day to ostracize me; that taught me that it was a smart move to be nice to everyone, because you never knew when a friend would stop being one. So I talked to everyone and made many different groups of friends. As a teenager, I had crews in local public and private high schools, from work and from my new neighborhood, which thankfully offered some super-cool chicks to run around with. Naturally outgoing, it was easy for me to say, “Hi, my name is Suzanne. What is yours? I like your shirt.”

After college, I started a career that would pay me to talk to people. As a newspaper and magazine journalist, my job was to ask people questions on a daily basis. I had to learn from them, distill their knowledge and write it in a way that everyone else would understand. I realized that the most important communication skills was listening,

IMG_7864
Part of the “girlie clique” – to be honest, I got lost in a vortex of friend photos in an effort to show you that I actually have friends and I’m not bullshitting. I really love my friends.

and during my years at the newspaper, I did a whole lot more listening than talking. After a while, I started to think that many people didn’t really care what I had to say anyway.

 

In fact, that really is the case. (Oh, you’re reading this! Hey, thanks!) But honestly, don’t most people you know think they know everything and would rather blather on about what they think they know than learn something? Try debating someone with a different political slant than you. I have very few friends with whom I can engage in this sort of discussion and remain friends at the end. That’s because most people I have met know what they know and put a lot of weight in their knowledge. It’s WHO THEY ARE. Today, what you know is shorthand for who you are.

What is knowledge (<– soundtrack alert!), anyway? I mean, how do we know what we know? Is it like obscenity, you know, where “I know it when I see it”? Experiencing things isn’t really a way to gain understanding, because I sure know a lot of people who make the same mistake over and over (raises hand).

According to the yogic teachings, there are four means to understanding:

* Sravana: That’s hearing it straight from the guru. This is interesting in modern-day culture, because sometimes it’s difficult to decide whether your source is biased. How many gurus are out there? I’m gonna put it out there that there are none on Fox News.

* Manana: That’s deep thinking. Like, think about it! Duh!

* Nidhidhyasana: This is constant meditation. It’s not easy to really stop and clear your mind, but that’s an excellent way to figure out your truth.

* Atma-darsana: Hearing it from God. What a fantastical concept, right? Those people are cray-cray, yeah? And yet … aren’t there times when your instinct is so very, very correct? Where do you think that comes from?

Here’s the thing about those four ways of understanding: They all involve being quiet and listening, either to yourself, to a wise one or to the highest spirit. With time, we see how those sources are all the same.

Being quiet isn’t easy in today’s world. We’re a little scared of it! If we are quiet, than no

quiet
Shhh … it’s around the corner. (say that fast! Haha!)

one will know how amazing we are! We can’t prove our intelligence all the time by spouting off our beliefs, what we’ve heard and what we’ve read! Look, I know ALL ABOUT what you are going to say … I heard it on a podcast the other day!

 

The 24/7 news culture and social media adds to this. The fear of missing out (FOMO) results in everyone talking all at once: spewing their opinions, what they ate for lunch, how they are feeling, what they are doing. But of course, opinions, emotions, intake and action are not knowledge. There is emotional knowledge, but we get tricked by that more than we want to admit.

Now that I live on a sailboat, I spend a lot of time by myself. Sometimes I listen to music and sometimes I partake in media. But other times I am quiet. Just this morning, I paddleboarded over to the beach to meditate. When I opened my eyes, I saw a little sea slug living in a little gray shell walking toward me. Right at the water line, this little guy was moving slowly and quietly. I wondered where he was going. I mean, really – what was this slug’s end game? There were no places to hide anywhere nearby; was it food? He was certainly on the move. I just watched him. When he reached my shadow, he froze and retreated into his shell. I picked him up and put him on the other side of me and my board and headed back toward the boat.

Sometimes life is really just that simple, just a slow walk along the water’s edge. Survival. We wouldn’t know it with all the noise around us and within us. Being quiet helps us differentiate between the chatter in our heads, the chatter all around us and the knowing. Part of the joy of sailing is turning off the motor and only hearing the waves lap against the hull of the boat. Can you turn off your motor and still find movement?