Tuesday, January 24, 2012

In the Life, Three Things are Important: India, Part 4

I wake to the sound of someone hacking mucus out of the their body.  I realize it has to come out, but it's four a.m.  This ashram is loud, and is built in such a way that there are little barriers between different rooms.  From my kitchen area, I look out a window into a square shaft that acts as a skylight from above, but if I stand on my tip toes, I can see someone below in their bathroom.  The tops of the bathroom wall are screens only, so every sound you make is shared with everyone in ear shot, and it echos.  I put in my earplugs and pull the covers over my head, breathing in the lavender essential oil I use to hide the mildew smell of the blankets.  I fall back to sleep, dreaming I'm riding down busy India streets on a motorcycle with a random person from my past who seems to be my boyfriend at the time.

I wake again at five minutes to seven.  This time, I hear a screeching and then the sound of many fast foot steps running across the roof.  Monkeys.  I sigh, roll over, and find my slippers.  I put on warm clothes, make my bed, and do yoga.  Shower, eat oatmeal, and join my class at 9:30.

Several Ayurvedic Medical Doctors (certified in both Ayurveda and western medicine) have flown in from Pune to teach us.  They are wonderful!  We spend the morning learning about herbs and herbal applications,  and the afternoon learning to cook herbal medicines that are both tasty and useful.  I'm adding so many tools to my Ayurvedic tool bag.

The sun has finally come out after four days of clouds and cold, and my body is shocked by the heat.  It might be 75 degrees in the sun!  At break, Cathy and I walk over the coffee shop for a small cappuccino to placate us until lunch.  Lunch isn't served until 1pm, and my stomach rumbled at 11:30.  We go for the conversation as much as the coffee, as we have met several interesting people while either walking to coffee or at the coffee shop itself.  And so while the Ayurveda is great, this is what I'm really loving about this trip: the unexpected wisdom of the locals, hidden behind jewelry store counters and large cups of coffee.

Last Sunday was our day off, and we walked the mile or so into the next town up river, shopping and taking in the sites.  This area is the gateway to the Himalaya Mountains, and the shops show a Nepalese and Tibetian flair.  We had a wonderful day meeting store owners, finding hot tea, and expanding our pallets at great local dives. One store sold the most beautiful and unique clothing we had seen yet, and we spent time there, trying on clothes and talking to two young men who run the store.  The liked us and asked us to come back, and we promised we would.  Near the end of the day, we walked into a small and unassuming jewelry shop.  As we walked in, the owner, a middle aged man, handed us each a small stone and said it was for good luck.  The look in his eyes was honest, earnest, and happy.  His small son, maybe three years old, was also there and kept handing us more stones, which the man insisted we take.

My friend bought a beautiful bracelet from him, and I asked him if he had any blue sapphires.  Personally on this trip, I have been working to face the feelings of fear, worry, and saddness that keep me in constant protection mode.  Some people have noticed this about me; that I come across as guarded and sarcastic instead of heartfelt and honest.  I have known that I carry this with me, but had become so used to it that it was my mode of operation.  I mentioned in an earlier post that on the very first night we were in Rishikesh, we met a shop owner who is also a healer and intuitive of sorts.  When he focused on me, he noticed how my heart was heavy, making my heart energy "unattractive."  Although this comment upset me at first, I realized how true it was and it lead to a wonderful open conversation with my friends and some powerful and insightful meditations since.  That man also mentioned that the proper gem stone therapy (a therapy we also use in Ayurveda) would be with a light, clear blue sapphire.  So while I know that the work I must do is within, I've been keeping my eyes out for one as my special gift from India.

After the jewelry man wrapped up Cathy's new bracelet (a beautiful piece with mother of pearl and other precious stones), he took me to his small back room, opened the safe, and took out what blue sapphires he had.  I said I needed one that was a clear, light blue.  He looked at me and said knowingly, "For your energy and your heart.  For astrological purposes."  I nodded, stunned.  He showed me what he had and I picked up a small piece that spoke to me.  "Trust that your fingers know which stone is yours," he said.  He was right.  As I picked up other, larger stones and felt them in my palm, nothing felt more like mine than the small stone I chose first.  I asked him the price, expecting something exorbitant that I couldn't possibly afford.  Instead, he first showed me what he paid for the stone.  It was written on the packaging, next to the price, per carot, that he was supposed to sell them for.  My piece weighed in at just 1.3 carots and cost him 2700 rupees.  He sat back on his chair and looked at me thoughtfully with kind eyes.  "You and your friends are nice people; students of Ayurveda, which is good.  You need this stone to help you with your energy, for astrological purposes.  Here is the price I paid for the stone, " he flashed me the 2700 on the calculator, "so why don't you pay me what your heart feels is right.  I'll make you a silver ring out of the stone for free."

Two days later, my friends and I walked back to the town, stopping only at the Nepalese store to see our friends for tea and an impromptu dance party before heading back to the jewelry store to pick up the ring.  It is more beautiful than I could have imagined, and my heart felt very good with the price I paid him -- it was something I could afford, and he seemed so happy to make me a deal.  But there's more.  After the ring was paid for an securely on the middle finger of my right hand, he read our palms.  The first time we were there, my friend had asked if there was a palm reader near, and he asked for her hands and told her very accurate information about her life.  Today, he shocked us even more as he recounted details about me that he simply could not know -- including dates, people I knew, relationships, saddness and lifestyle.  He read all of us, and then served us tea of three kinds of Tulsi leaf.  The conversation turned to life, or "The Life," as these Indian men pronounce it.  How do we successfully and happily navigate life?

I flashed back to a conversation we had with Dr. Gupta on the second or third day in Vrindavan.  He said that we go around, searching for the meaning of life, spending money and time and resources, when really, the journey from the head to the heart is only 20 centimeters.  As if to expand, the jewelry man said, "There are three components to The Life.  First, desire for happiness.  Second, knowledge, and third, energy."

He expanded this.  We need to have the desire to be happy 24 hours a day.  Only then can knowledge and energy help us.  With knowledge, he means having the tools necessary to making our lives as happy as possible and learning to avoid those things which may look nice and shiny but ultimately lead to unhappiness.  For example, meditation, pranayama, eating good food prepared with a happy heart, treating others with love and respect -- these are things that bring true happiness.  And energy -- we must have the physical energy to make it through our lives and the emotional energy to seek happiness yet be unattached to how that happiness manifests (for example, happiness could come through a big change that causes chaos for a few moments, but ultimately leads to bliss).  We also need to learn to raise our energy vibration up through the chakras to keep our subtle, and thus physical, energy clear, pure and high. 

We mentioned how hard this is in the Western world.  He said, "If you have a thousand jobs to do, don't do them.  Instead, eat good food prepared with a happy heart.  If you have a million jobs to do, don't do them, instead clean the body thoroughly, inside and out.  And if you have a billion jobs to do, don't do them.  Instead, share your happiness with others through something as simple as a smile."  The basic message to me sounded like a call to stop working so hard.  Wake up and realize that this type of fast and furious lifestyle is not a happy one, it's depleting and ulmamitely leads to unhappiness.  We work so hard we forget to eat, so then our body is unhappy.  We are short of time so we feed it with fast food made by unhappy people, and our body is unhappy and even toxic.  We drink alcohol in order to go to sleep and coffee in order to wake up, and so our physical body is ill at ease (read: diseased) while our subtle body tries desperately to ground itself.

I have a lot of work to do, but I'm finally realizing why I needed to come to India.  The studying is great, and I'm very happy for the knowledge that I'm gaining.  But what's emerging from my soul is the reason I am here.  Something inside me has been working its way to the surface, to be dealt with so that I can come closer to that evasive, everlasting joy we all seek.  And it may sound strange, shallow or surreal, but I'm finding the tools I need to deal with myself in the back rooms of the shops of local people, who share their wisdom over a cup of tea and a smile.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Out of the city and into the moutains: India, Part 3

I tighten my pack as I step out of the alley and onto the main street.  I turn my gaze straight ahead and focus on my walking path as six men come near me, calling, trying to get me to buy their taxi ride.  I say no thank you, no thank you again and again, but they are persistent here.  One follows me, driving his small taxi beside me until I angrily say, "Go!  Go!" and wave him away like a feral cat. 

We're in Delhi, getting a taste of the city before moving onto our next 10 day study in Rishikesh.  We've decided to take the metro into town to see some sights.  We traveled this way last night when we arrived.  The bustling streets of Delhi are different than the rural town of Vrindavan.  The population here is over 1000 people per square kilometer, as compared to about 350, which is the national average.  I can feel it.  It feels like people are everywhere, pushing in on me, as if the concept of personal space doesn't exist anywhere.

I've written about the things about India that I love.  But there are things that I don't like, too.  Every sparkling temple in the sun has it's shadow, and I found many shadow aspects of India in Delhi.  I've walked this street to the metro twice now.  Both times, an old man riding a bike towards me points at me, then touches himself as if to jack off.  I am openly gawked at as I walk.  There is not enough Indian garb in the world to keep me from sticking out here -- my blue eyes and alabaster skin give me away immediately. 

The Delhi metro is nice (thank you, England), albeit very crowded and somewhat overwhelming if you're not careful.  As we waited in a long line of men to board the train, a very kind man pointed toward the front of the train and said, "You should go to the women's cars."  We should have known -- they separate men and women all the time in India.  In each major temple and in metro security, there are always separate lines for men and women.  In the men's line, a man awaits the men through the metal detector for the pat down, and in the women's line, we greet a woman soldier for our pat down.  (Which, by the way, are the most thorough pat downs I've ever received. Let's just say it's the most action I've had in India).  The first three or so cars on each metro line are reserved for women only.  They are far less crowded and far less smelly.

Men out number women in India.  When on the streets, it's mostly men we see, probably because the women are taking care of the home.  It's considered extremely rude, taboo even, for men to touch Indian women in public.  Because of this, men turn to each other for touch and affection.  Many men also seem to consider Western women an exception to the rule, because I've had several men look at me as they pass by, then tap me with the palm of their hand. 

The streets of Vrindavan were dusty, but the streets of old Delhi were filled with black grime, smoke, excrement, spit, dirty water -- you name it.  As we exited the metro, we found ourselves in an old and more traditional part of Delhi.  We walked by very busy shops, a bus station, open urinals, and temples of ritual all smooshed together.  Our goal was to visit the Red Fort, built by the same king who built the Taj Mahal, but we were very turned around and couldn't seem to locate our place on a map.  Instead, we took our first rickshaw ride to show us the way, which was one of the most frightening experiences of my life (video footage to come).  For 30 Rupees (about 60 cents), he hauled all three of us about a half a mile. 

We walked around the outside of the Red Fort, then shopped our way back to the metro station.  We also visited a temple that day, then sprung for a fancy dinner at the Oberoi Hotel before rising at 0500 to catch a train to Haridwar, and next a taxi to the Parmoth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh, where we are currently staying.

Rishikesh is breath taking.  The Ashram is right on the bank of the Ganges River, which runs out of steep, forested mountains full of monkeys, birds, medicinal herbs and unknowns.  This town and another line the banks of the river with brightly painted buildings in pinks, yellows and blues.  It's cold here -- probably in the 40's at night and, if we're lucky, the 60's during the day.  All the buildings here, including the Ashram, are made of concrete with stone floors.  And they aren't heated.  We bought a small electrical heater and snuck it inside to make it bearable, but I'm wearing a down coat almost 24-7 and invested in a wooly Pashmina to wrap around my head and neck.

We joined a group of about 30 Brazilians to study Ayurveda.  I was not impressed the first day, as Ayurveda in Portuguese makes about as much sense to me as advanced calculus, and so that combined with the cold had Cathy and I looking to go to Kerala early!  But I'm glad we stuck it out another day.  Today, four Indian Ayurvedic doctors flew in to teach class for the duration of our stay, and not only do they speak English, but we found out that they are some of the teachers of the founder of our school in California.

Also, the people here are wonderful!  The streets here are a wonderful reprieve from those of Delhi, and even easier to manage than Vrindaban.  Shop keepers here may say hello, but the don't really bother you to come in or take a look.  It's so relaxing, I feel I can let my guard down and enjoy the people here.  We've become friends with a family who owns a jewelry and book shop, and we stop in each day for chai and shopping.  We've also been receiving some healing treatments from the father, who is an aura reader and user of vibrational therapy from Tibetan singing bowls (we all bought one).  They are our friends now, and it feels really nice to have friends here.

It's evening and my hands are cold typing this.  It's time for dinner, so I'll head back to the Ashram, where I'll scoop rice, dahl, vegetables and chapati onto my plate, sit on the floor and eat in silence, as is the protocol here.  But back in our room with the tiny heater, we've sneaked in some Nutella and cookies.  We'll discuss concepts from the day, wait for any calls from the US, and finally snuggle into our beds for the night, where the glow of the heater will keep us company like a glowing fire.

Good night!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

India, Part 2: No Hurry, No Worry, No Chicken Curry!

These last nine days in Vrindavan have unfolded into a comfortable pattern. Dr. Gupta, the very traditional Ayurvedic doctor we are studying with, believes very much in creating a solid morning routine so that you are clean, grounded and fully able to experience the bliss that your day can bring.  My routine is not as involved as the other students who have been here since December, but it is a routine nonetheless. 

I wake at 6:00am,drink a large glass of water, try to empty my bowels (As Dr. G says, "Did you make the poo?), scrape my tongue, then clear my bed of its linens for yoga.  The mattresses are so firm here that I start on my bed doing supine poses to relieve my back and stretch my legs, before moving to the cold floor for standing and balancing poses.  At 7:00 am, I take a very quick shower and apply oil to my body, I dress and prepare myself for the day, and the three of us emerge from our room into the cold morning.  I'm usually bundled in a sweater and shawl or down coat, leggings under my dress, and hand warmers.  I look for curious monkeys waiting to steal anything shiny before I walk over to the apartment to make our morning tea and oats.  I toast the oats first to remove the starch, then add water and cook, adding cinnamon, cardamom, raisins, cashews, ghee and a small amount of sugar.

We have class the rest of the day, either here or 6km down the road at Dr. G's Ayurvedic Center.  Our subjects range from philosophy to herbs to practical applications and back again, in no order that makes sense to the Western brain.  I am starting to understand more as the pieces from the different days add together.  Now I wish I had more time to be here with Dr. G so that I would understand more fully what he is teaching.

On Thursday, we had a day off and decided to travel to the Taj Mahal.  Dr. G booked us a driver and unwillingly sent us off without him (he was with the other students, who had already seen the Taj, but was worried like a papa bear).  The drive was ever  terrifying, although our driver was very good, and we arrived safely.  We unloaded the car, held our purses close, and walked through the crowds of people lining the streets to the Taj, begging, selling small shiny objects, or trying to get you in their taxi.  It was overwhelming at first, but then I realized that they are people just like me, and I talked to them or joked as I passed, and we both laughed when they realized I couldn't be sold.  These streets were also lined with camels pulling carts, with cute little boys holding the reins.  Our driver escorted us all the way to the gate, where we paid the tourist rate of 750 Rupees (about $15) to enter.

The tourist ticket comes with a bottle of water, shoe covers, and a guide.  Our guide was a college age man  named Yunas, who was clean and well dressed and smelled lightly of perfume.  His English was very good, and he told us the story of the Taj as we walked around its marbled grounds.  In a nutshell, there was a king with three wives, but only one could bear children.  And she did so well, producing 14 before her death at age 39.  He was in such sorrow of her passing that he built the Taj as a symbol of his love. (After 14 births, it's the least that he could do). It's made of white marble,  and the walls and entryways are inlaid with precious and semi precious stones in a flower and vine pattern, and another in Arabic writing.  She and the king are buried below the main room. 

It was beautiful!  Luckily, we chose a good day.  The weather was just between warm and cool, and not too crowded.  All the Indians were walking around the marble barefoot, while all the tourist were wearing the ever fashionable shoe cover (pictures when I return).  It's hard to put into words what the experience of the Taj was like -- the symmetry of the building, the history, the story behind it, mixed with people of all different cultures and nationalities.  The building is a thing in and of itself, but the experience is truly special.

Afterwords, my friend Simone knew of  a place to eat lunch, so we had our driver take us there.  We ate at Zorbha the Buddha, a nice restaurant in a shopping bazar.  The food was good, and even better was the jewelry store downstairs. We looked around at beautiful earrings, bracelets, rings made of the Star of India stone while we  talked to the owners who were very nice and so excited to show us pictures of their friends who are also from America.  Two of us found pieces we loved, and while I thought about it, the owner said, "No hurry, no worry, no chicken curry!"  He was funny and I told him so. I got my first real experience bartering.  I think I did okay for my first time -- not great, but not too shabby.  I found a turquoise and silver bracelet that I absolutely adored and talked him down from 2000 Ru to 1500 (about $28), which I was more than happy to pay, given what I'd seen similar items go for in the States.  Now that I've had some experience with bartering, I'm excited to try again and do better next time. 

When we were almost home, we met the rest of the group to walk through a new Durga temple in Vrndavan.  Now, if the Taj Mahal is a wonder of the world, this has to be on the list of runners up.  It's so new I can't seem to find a picture online, but it's a huge statue of the Goddess Durga riding a lion, with Hanuman at her feet.  It must be 140 feet tall and almost as wide and three dimensional.  The temple is at the base of the statue, and you walk through caves blasting music and telling her story (in Hindi).  It's spectacular!  Durga is the Warrior aspect of Shaki, which is the divine female energy of the universe.  She radiates fearlessness, patience, and a non-waving sense of humor.  She's simply divine!

We walked through one more temple as well, a Krishna temple which was very peaceful.  It was a lovely day, and I felt sun-baked and happily tired by the end of it.  I slept very well that night, except for my dreams, in which I had come home from India for some reason, I think to pick up more clothes, to find my dog was very sick and I was worried about getting him care before my flight back to India left.  On top of that, my mother had thrown out my entire closet of clothes and I was so angry at her that I called her bad names and yelled and cried.  I felt terribly guilty when I woke up, like I had committed a crime.

I love India.  I love the strangeness.  I love the shock of filthy streets mixed with the enticing aromas of local food carts. I love the brightly colored fabrics matched every which way on women, and the big smiles of the local children.  In the car one day, a boy of maybe 11 or 12 blew me a kiss and shrieked with laughter when I blew one back.  Two little girls, the elder about 7 and the younger no older than three, followed us from shop to shop, holding out their hands, as we looked at skirts and scarves.  They were so cute under the layers of dirt and grime on their skin that Cathy let them choose something from a food vendor (they chose a Sprite, but what can you do?).  I love the monkeys eying my glasses, and the dogs so relieved to hear a friendly voice and touch a gentle hand.  I love the cows who are so brave here to wander the crazy streets. I love the way the vendors smile at me as I try to bargain with them, and how everyone -- from the man calling you to a taxi to the little girl holding out her hand -- is simply trying to survive.  At home,  survival means keeping my head above water in a sea of never ending bills and the cost of living, while I'm  safely tucked in at night in a home that I own with a never-ending supply of food, and choices -- we have too many choices! I simply try to survive the choices!  Here, survival for many is much more basic.  Food.  Warmth.  Security. 

It's like Dr. Gupta says: "The lifestyle has to fit the Life (that which is within us).  You cannot mold the lifestyle around what you want the Life to feel like, it will not work!  Learn to be happy in the Life and you will be happy with any lifestyle you have."

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Shock and Bliss: India, Part I

I'm on break from our class studies in India, sitting in an internet cafe just outside of the doors of the ashram I'm staying at in the city of Vrindavan.  I'm still settling in, and it was a long road to get here.

My friends and classmates, Cathy and Simone, and I departed LAX at 6:55 am on Thursday, January 5th.  We landed comfortably three and a half hours later in Chicago, where we found some lunch and waited to board our very full plain to take us straight to Delhi.  This was my first flight overseas and I was nervous, to say the least.  Even though I've flown since I was a little girl, I often have panic attacks on plains, especially the landings.  I think my panic comes from being a little girl in my dad's plane.  We were somewhere over Wisconsin, flying above a thick layer of clouds, when Dad decided to get underneath the clouds to get a better look.  He said, "hold on," and dove the plane underneath the clouds.  I was four years old and had just opened a new toy from my mother.  As the plane dove, I lost my lunch and vomited all over my new toy.  It was terrible, and I remember feeling so vulnerable and that I had no control over the contents of my stomach.  So, needless to say, I don't like being in small, cramped places that have a tendency to bounce up and down when you're least expecting it.

So as we waited to board the plane, I was almost crying in anticipation.  I was also nervous for this trip -- a third world country, lots of expectations, fear in general of the unknown....I was freaking out.  But like the good girl that I am, I boarded the plane and shut up, opened a new book, and kept my mind focused on the present moment.  Which made me realize that I was just fine.  This was my first flight over 6 hours, and I spent the 14 hour flight to start and finish "The Hunger Games," finish knitting a scarf, start knitting some mitts, watch two movies, and sleep all of 45 minutes.  I also got up to walk around and do lunges and squats and heel raises.  We flew over Greenland, Iceland and Russia, which was cool.

We arrived in Delhi at about 5:30 pm Delhi time.  India is 13 1/2 hours ahead of California, so it was like landing at dawn.  Luckily, our luggage arrived and as we walked out of the airport, Dr. Gupta was there waiting for us.  I recognized him from pictures.  He led us to his driver and we loaded in what looked like a very old version of a Jeep Cherokee.  I now realize that being afraid to fly was ridiculous, because driving in India is the Scariest Thing Ever.  There are lanes, but no one pays attention to the lines.  Bikes, motorcycles, and cars of all shapes and sizes elbow for position, honking and flashing their lights as if they represent some secret code of road conduct.  There are no rules as far as I can tell.  Luckily, I was so tired from being up for 24 hours straight that I fell asleep for a good portion of the 2 1/2 hour ride. 

We are staying at the MVT or Iskon Guesthouse which is next door to a Hari Krishna temple.  Apparently, the town of Vrndavan was the birthplace and playground of Krishna.  The greeting here is "Hari Krishna," and most people who live here follow that tradition.  We were greeted at the gate of the Ashram by a cow wandering the ally and some really nice people who run the house.  I am staying in a room with Cathy, and our room is nice -- two twin beds, a bathroom with shower and toilet, and a small room off to the side with cabinets.  We cook in an apartment across the grounds.  I slept through the night, woke and showered, and explored the grounds.  The grounds are meticulously tended to, and have many trees and plants and quiet spots to sit and meditate.  We were amazed to find monkeys climbing all over the buildings, which is why the rooms come with a padlock -- to keep the monkeys out.  They'll steal your glasses and your hat, so I've learned to watch my head as I walk around.  Of all the questions I've asked Dr. Gupta, the only one he could not answer was "What type of monkeys are those?"  He replied, "Huh, I've never been asked that question.  We do not pay attention to what type they are.  They are just monkeys!"  Fair enough.

It's foggy and fairly cool, so we've been taking classes inside the apartments here at the Ashram, rather than at Dr. Gupta's Ayurvedic Center in town.  Yesterday, I was so jet-lagged my brain wouldn't quite work and I felt like I had forgotten everything I'd learned.  Luckily, today I feel much more awake and able to answer questions. 

Dr. G is taking good care of us, and insisting that we stick to bottled, not filtered, water and just eat lightly of rice, dahl, and vegetables for the first several days so that we give our systems time to adjust.  I think he is right and I'm following that protocol. 

I better go, off to class now, but will fill in more as life becomes more interesting here in India.  As Dr. G said, be ready for both "shock and bliss."

Monday, January 2, 2012

A swiftly turning New Year

I went home for Christmas this year.  That is, my husband, dog and I packed up the car and drove the 13ish hours to from sunny San Diego to cold Logan, Utah.  It took us two days -- I just don't like to sit in a car for that long, and I have a rather nostalgic fondness for Mesquite, Nevada, where we can stay with our dog at the Virgin River Casino for $35.  Hallelujah!

Being back in the town I grew up in is strange, and brings out many emotions.  It's the place where I grew up, and so in many ways I know this place better than any other.  I know the shape the Wellsville mountains make on the horizon; how the air smells when cold winter air is trapped (as it often is) in the valley, causing an inversion; every inch of my beloved ski resort, Beaver Mountain, where I spent a majority of my youth skiing; and how the red-winged black bird's return to the valley wetlands is a sure sign that spring is on the way.  And although I feel welcomed by the soft hills, tree-studded mountains, and my parents sprawling spa-like house on the bench, I always feel a little abrasion from the place I grew up.  Yes, abrasion mixed with nostalgia for the past mixed with a very clear distinction between the culture of the majority and the small counter-culture that I am part of when home.

My parents are great.  My mom is The Most Creative Person Alive and we spent hours in the sewing room, making a dress or two for my upcoming trip to India.  She's funny and welcoming and a bit of a clean freak and keeps the best garden you could ever dream of.  My dad is a container of oxymorons: excited, loud, hard-working and too easily frustrated (read: cuss-o-ramma), but also gentle, friendly, caring and shy.  They've built a home that my husband and I affectionally call "the spa" for it's floor to ceiling windows looking out over Cache Valley toward the Wellsville Mountains.  If there was a brochure advertising their home it would say something like, "Sit in the massage chair and watch the clouds float over the valley towards you as you sip on a ginger martini.  Later, sit back and watch the stars from the comfort of your own private hot tub, set alongside our beautiful gardens."  Anywho, it's fantastic, just like my parents.  So being home is great.

Well, kind of.  Life is funny.  You know how when you are a kid, you understand the expectations put on you, even if they've never been written out?  Like, I knew when I was in maybe seventh grade that I was expected to finish a bachelor's degree in some type of science and complete a master's.  And perhaps "follow in my father's footsteps" as an environmental consultant.  So I did that, and then a few years ago I realized it wasn't as fulfilling as the expectation made it out to be, and so I switched careers for yoga and Ayurveda and a life as a person who helps others heal.  "Ahhhh!" Can you hear the sound of the universe singing when I say that?  Because I can, and it sounds good!  But, apparently it sounds more like kids banging on pots and pans to Those Who Keep the Expectations (aka Dad).  And so the days of being praised for accomplishments are over and instead I'm asked . . . well, nothing at all actually, since I seem to have chosen a career so outside of the comfort level that it is unspeakable.  To make a long story short, although I love being home, I often feel like an outsider.  

I'm eccentric.  I think.  In my world I'm normal, but I think to others I come off as a bit . . . out there.  Well, let's see . . . I have an herb cabinet instead of a medicine cabinet, I rub oil on my body everyday, I eat turmeric as a tonic and recommend herbal concoctions when people are sick.  I talk about digestion (every. part. of. digestion.), I fight online and in my community for gay and lesbian rights (and for equal rights, period), I support the Occupy movement, I'm super-super-duper sensitive, I track the moon and pay attention to astrology, I believe in fairies, I live a spiritual life that can't be defined by one book or scripture, I love cats and dogs equally, I paint my walls when I'm bored, I fall in love over and over again during the course of a day and with parts of my past and I enjoy the chaos!  But I have a hard time explaining it, and I often end up feeling like I'm trying to defend the way I live.

I love the Logan counter-culture that I feel a part of, although I wish that such a thing didn't need to exist.  We sit at Cafe Ibis and drink coffee and ski at Beaver Mountain on Sundays where we drink beer in the upper parking lot at lunch.  We tend to be liberal and accepting of others and to care about the environment and Free Choice and such issues.  My mom volunteers for a local nature center and planned their big fundraising event of the year.  She planned a lovely event she thought would entice both the main and the counter culture.  But she sent an event invitation which included the line, "Wine will be served," and received a barrage of hate mail instead of donations. So the rift remains.

But I did the best I could with the time I had there.  I met a friend from high school, and we talked for hours about life, good beer, aviation, and life's unexpected turns.  I spent a day at my favorite spots -- Cafe Ibis and The Italian Place, where I saw old friends and made new ones.  I skied a day.  I showed my Dad what YouTube is.  I spent time with my mother, who is worried sick about my trip to India.  I Skyped my grandparents.  And I made my family watch old family videos on Christmas Eve so that we can remember the time when we were so cute it didn't matter what we did.  

My Christmas vacation was too long and not long enough.  I wanted to see more people than I could and our schedules just didn't coincide.  I wanted to be able to explain to my family why what I'm doing now is important and will make a difference in people's lives.  But I'm also leaving for India in two days and this packing is making me crazy (er).  And I wanted to spend some time with the place and people that make me feel normal -- the big, diverse and embracing city of San Diego, my dearest friend who is moving away (it breaks my heart although I'm so happy for her), my pets, and my husband who also thinks that I'm eccentric but at least is along for the ride.  This transition into the new year is happening so very fast and there are so many emotions running at the same time inside of me -- excitement, fear, sadness, loneliness, nostalgia, hope, love, worry . . .  so many to where I feel almost ambivalent.  But I'll do like I always do, and figure out a way to march into the new year with a smile on my face and an oracle deck in my back pocket, ready to face whatever comes.  Happy New Year!

P.S. I'm going to India for the next month, so stay tuned for updates!