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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.”

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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

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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,

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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!

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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

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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

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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:

 

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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,

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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.)

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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,

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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

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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?

Doing It Wrong

The first time I really registered the phrase, “You’re doing it wrong” was relatively recently. My friend Cord posted a picture on social media of a hilarious logo for a surf-themed clothing brand, with the surfer on top of the barreling wave. He wrote, “You don’t

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It’s possible this surfer is having fun, but he’s about to eat it. Thus, he’s doing it wrong.

want to be there, brah!” but I read it as, simply, “You’re doing it wrong.”

Why? Because there is a really right and wrong way to ride a wave. You need to get in the groove of the wave, ride the energy in an artistic and athletic manner so that you can have fun while being propelled by the sea. It was OK to say that the little dude on the logo didn’t quite grasp surfing. Physically what he was trying to do wasn’t realistic. It sure was funny.

But oh boy, it was most definitely not funny when I used that phrase recently in a sailing group for women on social media. The conversation thread originated from a woman who was planning on moving on her boat without a generator or an inverter, and wanted to know about charging her devices and equipment. Another woman listed lots of good information, especially about how some appliances surge with energy when they are turned on, which can be problematic when energy is a premium. She mentioned a breadmaker as one of the appliances.

Faithful readers of this blog will know that I’ve recently been working on making my own bread. I am super-proud to say that the last batch has been the biggest hit yet; I am starting to understand elements of the process that have been keeping me back. Each loaf I make is an improvement on the last. We eat egg sandwiches, grilled cheese and toast with peanut butter and banana slices. For pennies, the bread I bake is a staple as we live on a sailboat.

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Photo credit: The lovely Leah Voss. Notice how even the cat can’t fit in the galley with me. P.S. We gave away that box fan.

 

Understand the concept of living on a sailboat. The galley, or kitchen, is big enough to turn around in, but not that much bigger. Certainly there is not room for two people. There is a slider on the other side of the boat, which can be reached with a lean, where we store all the kitchen appliances. This includes a pressure cooker, a mini crockpot, stackable mixing bowls, a 12V blender, an inversion blender and a French press. I could not fit a breadmaker through that storage slider if I wanted. I used to own a bread maker. I know.

So when I saw the woman on social media mention a breadmaker, especially during a conversation about using electricity, I chimed in: “Lots of good information, but if you have a bread maker on a boat, I dare say you are doing it wrong.”

Outrage! Sure, some of these ladies who are members of this social networking group have huge boats, double and triple the size of the 32-foot Downeaster that I am living on with my boyfriend and cat. But if the object is to be self-reliant and self-sufficient with energy use, I’m sorry, but a breadmaker is a bad move. It takes up space, uses too much electricity and is really unnecessary. I know because I am making delicious bread without a machine! I’m not that awesome a baker; anyone can do it!

The administrators of the web page all chimed in, wagging their fingers and messaging Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 12.11.18 PMme, asking if maybe I wanted to take a break from the site. Yikes, everyone was so sensitive. How DARE I!? They seemed to believe that there was no wrong way to do something, that every way is a right way; it all depends on your perspective.

Hogwash! There’s a way to be doin’ it right  (<– Soundtrack alert!) and doing it wrong. With everything, I think. I’m all for supporting fellow sisters in a righteous feminist manner, don’t get me wrong. But every religion, every society and every small circle of enthusiasts there is outline such a dichotomy for everything imaginable. Laws of the land, in general, are pretty clear. Best practices are shared throughout communities, as we help our neighbor become efficient and effective in similar tasks.

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Didn’t get it right? That’s OK! It’s an opportunity to learn, think and grow!

When did it start that people were so thin-skinned and sensitive that we couldn’t declare certain things just plain wrong? When we were in elementary school, if we didn’t get something right on the test, it was wrong. Red check mark. No. Go back and study. No one took this personally because we didn’t have big egos to comfort all the time. We were a bunch of snot-nosed kids and learning was our job.

I know adult life shouldn’t be so institutionalized, but learning should still be our jobs. I’m not sure it’s a bad idea to help people stay on the path to success, if indeed you are further down the road. I know that I’ve benefited from elders or those who are just naturally wiser than me, regardless of years. It’s important to stay humble and open to the words of those around us.

We create our own lives, that’s just the foundation of it all. I created the situation where a bunch of sensitive older ladies were upset with me for calling out their waste of energy and space in the name of straight-up laziness.

(Actually, the interesting part about that whole “Facebook fight” is that no one admitted to actually using a breadmaker. They were just outraged that I would dare to suggest that someone was “doing it wrong.” They didn’t care about context.)

There’s a reason I created this situation for myself, and I think part of it is my understanding that words can divide. The last thing we should ever want to do is divide, and yet that has happened. I had a similar incident with a family member a while back: Words divided. One person thought the other person was doing it wrong, and vice versa.

Egos play a big role in this concept, and I recently read an interesting article about the difference between discernment and judgment is emotions. If there is no emotional component, then you have succeeded in detaching from the outcome and instead you are utilizing the viveka, or discernment that is innate in all of us.

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Newsflash: There is right and there is wrong.

That’s why I don’t feel bad about the strange interaction and personal offense taken on social media. I didn’t have any emotion associated with it, and I was able to step back and laugh. I guess those women still have lessons they are learning. I certainly have a lot of lessons that I am learning as well.

In the meantime, all I can be as right as I know how. Staying on the noble path is the best way. Sometimes I stray off the path and am wrong. That’s OK. I’ve been wrong before. Why ever would I be scared to be wrong?

The Constant Consumerism Craze

How often do you buy something? At least once a day, right. But I bet a lot more.

I know I used to: Coffee, gas, something from the drug store, lunch. I’m not judging. People need to get new clothes and all kinds of things, all the time. New toys for the quiver, new fine wines or gourmet foods – there are all kinds of things to spend money on. Even though I wasn’t big on having the newest electronic device, I still had to admit when my iPhone 4 started acting really slow. I bought the 5S and would have bought the

bigphone
What do you think of this guy’s shaved in part? Is that like tattooing on eye makeup? Anyway, the iPhone 6 Plus is really XL.

newest one if it weren’t so huge. It’s as big as a tablet! I’d need to buy a brand new, brand name handbag that matches at least some of my shoes to fit the darn thing in, it’s so big. Besides, the newest iPhone is nearly $1K. That’s a lot of coin for something that can break on a sidewalk.

We buy things all the time. Life has become expensive and there is so much to buy. Isn’t that why we’re working all the time? I had to afford everything that went into keeping up my life throughout the day, but the reality was that it was making me crazy. I have dubbed this the Constant Consumerism Craze. Do you suffer from this as well?

CCC didn’t happen back in the pioneering days, because it really wasn’t an option. People would have one change of clothes. Ma would clean ‘em with a washing board when they’re finally too dusty and dirty to stand. Or at least I think I learn while playing Oregon Trail or something in school. I hear televisions were only black and white at one time, and OMG! NO SMARTPHONE! How am I supposed to meet up with my friends so we can have

pioneerlaundry
Now imagine if that vat was what was used to make orange margaritas at Crawdaddy’s!

one of those delicious orange margaritas at Crawdaddy’s? Maybe that $1K is worth being so connected to people, if that’s really the way.

(PSA: Only have one of those orange margaritas. When you drink one, you think, “Wow, now that was a delicious drink that sure went down quickly. Yes, I think I will have another. Thank you!” When you have two of those orange margaritas, you think, “Yikes, what happened last night? Last thing I remember was ordering a second one of those delicious margaritas.” I hear Blasters at Pete’s Pub in the Abacos is the same way.)

 Before I went sailing, I made a little extra cash with a friend who cleaned houses. She hired me to help with this really rad mansion owned by this lovely, uber-intelligent and wealthy couple. Their daughter was bringing friends home from college the upcoming weekend. The home’s architecture was extremely modern with an almost Baushaus-esque style, filled with original modern artwork. The black walls and stone floors were as dirty as my house was. I am not a big fan of cleaning, but this job was fascinating.

What really struck me about the place was the MASSIVE amount of possessions these

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Would Storage Unit be a good rapper name?

people had. Piles of belongings covered every counter and bookshelf, and there were a lot of counters and bookshelves in this 9,000-square-foot mansion. A 4×5’ pile of unwashed clothes filled a huge laundry room, and the dining room table was covered with what looked like gifts and unopened mail. They didn’t throw anything out, it seemed, but they also continued to consume. Food was going bad in the refrigerator, and storerooms were overflowing with items like baskets, art supplies and clothes that needed a button sewn or something. So much stuff. In three days, we tried to organize while cleaning, and we barely made a dent. It was the Constant Consumerism Craze to the extreme.

I’ve heard from a few of my friends that they have rooms in their homes that are overflowing with possessions. Many people I know have storage units. I’ve been in garages that are so stuffed with storing things that the homeowners were unable to park in them. CCC is an epidemic.

Constant consumption has been something I’ve been studying with a current, weird job I’m doing to make some extra cash. (What is your relationship with money? I’ll come back to that.) I’ve been writing these b.s. eBay buying guides. They are actually hilarious, assigned randomly so I am asked to craft helpful guides on all kinds of things one could buy on eBay: Bike rims, professional cameras, Nintendo video games, Shiatsu chair massagers, DVD writers, lunch containers, toaster ovens, wood carving tools, small drones, laptops for children, home humidifiers, crimpers, 3D modeling software, tablets, Star War memorabilia, Steelseries headsets, casual backpacks, shine-free foundation makeup … you get the idea.

Of the 900 products I’ve written about so far, I’d estimate I purchased 4 in my lifetime. I did buy some shine-free makeup at one time, but I never really wore it. So, if you receive

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I’m pretty sure I was wearing shine-free makeup when I got this picture taken. A friend gave me the earrings, and I bought the dress from Ross or someplace else not exciting.

nothing else from this blog post, know that you cannot trust what you read on the Internet! Including this blog post!

For that eBay job, it’s all SRO, or search engine optimization. They are studying what people are searching for, and then I create guides to steer non-thinking consumers toward a product from a search. Which ends in a sale, I guess, if you’re easily led enough to read the ignorant things I write just to make a buck.

What doesn’t end in a sale? Gotta make the sale. Seal the deal. Exchange dolla dolla billz y’all!

Now, back to relationship with money. Most people think they can never have enough. That’s the crazy part of the craze! You think if you don’t work all the time, then you are going to fall behind on the upkeep of life and all the toys and fashions and high-priced wine and whatever other consumables fill your life. Isn’t that what life is all about, enjoying the finest things and living comfortably?

Isn’t that why I am writing those eBay buying guides and doing all the other freelance writing, editing and public relations work I’m doing now? I guess so. I purchased what I needed to live on a sailboat, but I sold and gave away a lot too. Not as much as that family whose mansion I helped clean really should, but a lot. Now I’m in a saving mode. I’m not entirely sure for what. I guess I’ve always been a little like that with money.

We are living in anchorages for free and eating mostly the stores that we had purchased in big box stores strategically before we left. I’m really only buying produce and alcohol,

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Guess how much this is: free!

and in limited quantities. Otherwise, I’ve pretty much stopped buying anything. I actually got annoyed when my boyfriend came back to the boat with three plastic food containers with flimsy snap-on lids. Even if they were free, the boat is too small for too much stuff.

What if you just stopped buying things as well? How long before you would really suffer? How long would it take before all your food in your cabinets gets eaten and all the clothes in your closet turn to rags from wearing them? Before everything that is purchased becomes completely unusable as the task it was purchased for. Toys and tools will break, while your shoes would get holes in them or come undone. Everything. That’s what happens when you die, eventually. My boyfriend found a used and dirty bilge pump in a pile of debris at the edge of his grandfather’s old property in the Bahamas. We needed one of those; he cleaned it and is using it now in the dinghy.

My point is, it would take a long time before suffering would really take place, especially if you plan and remain a self-sufficient being. I think a better focus of energy is back on one’s self directly, instead of bypassed through Constant Consumerism. There is no need to identify with belongings. We are not what we wear or eat. We are so much more complex and amazing than that. Money and possessions should not become a path toward happiness, because it never fully satisfies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All You Knead

Now that we’re cruising on the sailboat full-time, I’ve been baking bread from scratch. It’s teaching me about what I really knead. (I crack myself up!)

bread
Oh yeasty yummy!

I love bread, freshly piping hot loaves that melt butter smothered over its sides cut with a special serrated knife. It’s a bummer when I feel the need to diet, because I have to cut back or, more precisely, feel bad when I do partake. I’m definitely not gluten intolerant, and I feel bad for those who are. Because bread is so yummy.

I did not grow up on fresh bread. My mom bought pre-sliced wheat bread from the grocery store, because that’s what my dad liked to make the sandwiches he packed for lunches every day. My dad remains a soup-and-sandwich lunch man. But canned soups and sammies with that preserved bread from who knows what kitchen.

On special occasions, however, we might go to a restaurant – and that’s where I first learned the magic of hot, delicious bread. Not that I was ever really gluttonous and ruined my main meal, although I sure know a lot of people who do. Isn’t bread supposed to be addictive? I think I remember flour and sugar being food “triggers” for some people, so they’ll eat a little and then, oh boy, it’s all over.

No, I have a healthy relationship with bread, thank you. But we are totally going out and IF I LIKE IT SO MUCH THEN WHY DON’T I MARRY IT!? Yo that loafer ain’t puttin’ a ring on this finger, what with seed-laced crackers out there.

Regardless, I’m baking bread now, and it’s really a great learning experience. I used to own a bread making machine – I think it was a hand-me-down from my mom? It was either

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Please Virginia! What is your bread recipe?

free or cheap, that I know. I baked with that all the time, but it’s a totally difference thing from baking yeasted bread. My friend Virginia perfected baking homemade bread, but she keeps the secret close to her heart. Despite my best attempts!

And frankly I never baked bread before because who has that kind of time? Doesn’t that sound like the fantasy activity that Martha Stewart and 1950’s stay-at-home moms do? My mom worked; she didn’t have time to bake bread! It’s the modern American way to just go to the store, damn it, and buy a loaf. It’s also the French way. Mais oui!

It’s not exactly the third-world way. We are cruising in the Bahamas, which is an archipelago of islands, some more inhabited than others. This country is actually known for its super-awesome breads (and conch!), so when we first got here we bought some. They’re $5 a loaf, and the bread has been light and fluffy. An absolute treat, but a little out of the price range when homemade bread is nearly as good and pennies on the dollar.

But it hasn’t been easy to replicate the amazing quality of Bahamian bread, especially for someone who really just started working to master this skill. Malcolm Gladwell says one must put 10,000 hours of practice into a skill before mastering it; I’m maybe 50 hours so far in lifetime, so I’m in the rapid learning phase.

Using a recipe from the Island Forklore Cookbook, I cut the shortening in by “worrying” it with my fingers until it “looks like rice.” At first that really didn’t make any sense, because you don’t really use THAT much. … But with time I am actually trying to channel a worrying breadmaker. Except that I’m not a big worried. Worst case scenario if the bread fails is I spend $5 on better bread. No worries, mon.

I once used the phrase “get stressed out” to my nephew, and he asked me what stress was. May you never know, nephew! At what point did we take on stress and worry? How far in the 10,000 hours toward mastering am I? Hopefully not too far.

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My arms after kneading for 20 minutes … NOT!

Kneading the bread is another skill in baking bread. At first I thought the purpose of kneading was to work the air out, but it’s totally not. It’s to work the dough and stretch it to the point of providing its potential. The more the dough is worked, you can see it slightly ripping apart and then put back together until it becomes smooth. That stretch and imagined space is what allows the bread to rise and become light and fluffy.

Imagine this process as your life: It rips apart and then it comes back together, and then with time, you start to develop extra space in your life to bring new potential in. If you don’t get worked a little bit in life, you aren’t going to grow very much. And isn’t that when you are most proud of yourself, when you stretch to a new level that you weren’t sure you could reach?

I had a dream the other night (I dream vividly on the boat, it is so great) that I was on a set of gymnast’s rings. Not the kind even rings where you balance and flip, but more like a rope of rings. I took a little gymnastics when I was a kid, and I was never good at either climbing the rope or balancing on the rings. But in my dream, I killed it! I was climbing up using the rings, and then the last one was really far out of reach. Could I do it? I knew I could reach it, and I did! And everyone was stoked! Yewww!

Now back to bread: I’m learning about myself as well as learning how to make a great loaf. It is a good thing to be kneaded! It’s the first step to growth, provided you have a good catalyst (the yeast) in your life that encourages and facilitates growth. What in your life is that catalyst? Are you providing the challenge (the kneading) you need to expand your horizons?

Time is the final factor. The dough needs to rise and rest before it is baked. I always had trouble giving myself the time that was necessary for the transformation into a fully

butterfly
Interestingly, I knew a lovely old lady who always gave me loaves of “butterfly bread.” Confidence? I. Think. Not.

developed next phase. The ole metamorphosis! Did you know butterflies have imaginal cells? These unique cells allow big change. It’s almost like kneading magically changes the yeast into imaginal cells in bread to turn from dough to delicious.

Of course I believe humans have imaginal cells as well. We have the ability to grow, change, transform and realize our dreams, but we must put in the effort (I work up a sweat sometimes when kneading!) and we must put in the time for rest and reflection. That’s really all you knead to be your highest, best self!