Help Less

It’s a new year, and without even trying, my theme for this year has become very clear to me… help less.

My role in life has been The Caretaker, since I was a child. Whether it was helping take care of sick family members, taking care of the emotional needs of abusive family, friends, and partners, “babysitting” wasted friends- making sure they don’t end up dead or raped in a ditch somewhere, or just a general sense of wanting to make the world a better place through volunteering and being of service, my role has consistently been The Caretaker.

It’s second nature to me. And I’ve been ok with it. In all the work I’ve done over the past few years, there is no mistaking the fact that being of service is a necessary and noble undertaking for living a fulfilling life. I tend to live by the Aung San Suu Kyi quote, “If you’re feeling helpless, help someone.”  That is without a doubt the best cure for a bad day (or week, or month, or life). Helping people gets you out of your head and out of your own experience and connects you with others.

I also avidly feel like, with all of the ugliness in the world, if you don’t like what you are seeing, do something to change it. Which means, if you don’t like seeing hatred, put more love in the world. If you don’t like seeing people starving, feed someone. It doesn’t have to be a whole country- one person is better than no one at all. Find ways to put more good in the world, to negate and remedy the problems. And I really prefer to be part of the remedy.

With all that being said, there’s the old adage- you can’t pour from an empty cup. I wholeheartedly believe that. Which means we must first take care of ourselves, help ourselves, feed ourselves, love ourselves… make sure that we are happy and healthy and whole, before we start trying to doing that for others. Make sure that we are standing steady on our own two feet before we try to pull others to their feet. Otherwise we might fall. Then we aren’t able to help anyone.

This is what I call the Oxygen Mask Theory. When you’re on an airplane, they tell you that if you are traveling with a small child, and the oxygen masks come down, you must secure your own oxygen mask before your child’s.

We must put ourselves first, especially when we are trying to help others.

All of this is a struggle for someone like me who is both an Empath and a Codependent.  I think that both Empaths and Codependents share the desire to want to save the world. But that desire comes from different places.

As an Empath, I hate to see people suffer. I feel their pain. It’s even worse if it’s someone I know and care about. I recently found out that the wife of someone I know passed away six months earlier, and I cried for three days (and felt emotionally raw and tender for at least a week). I never even knew her, but the thought of what this person and his family had been going through gutted me. I’m getting teary eyed right now thinking about it. That’s being an Empath.

As a Codependent, there is more of a gripping sense of urgency of wanting to save people who are suffering. I want give them the magic formula, say the right words, offer the right advice that makes them change their life for the better. It comes from a place of desperation and seeking validation. If I can help them, save them, push them hard enough to salvation then maybe everyone will understand that I know what I’m talking about.

Truthfully, that’s just translation for, “maybe if my abusive family members see what I am capable of, they will finally give me the credit, the respect, and the love they never gave me before.”

But the reality is, I could have a fucking Ph.D. in everything, and they still would act as if I have no clue what I’m talking about, they’d scoff and name call when I’d claim my knowledge, they’d ask everyone in the room except me about the very things that I have expertise in. Because this is what they have always done, and this is what they continue to do (yes, these specific things have all happened- minus the Ph.D.).

I cannot expect to ever get the validation I seek from my abusers, and I most certainly won’t get their validation through others. Plus, it’s not very loving and kind to “help” others in this way. It’s manipulative. And it is not at all generous. In fact, quite the contrary. It is seeking to get something under the guise of “giving”.

And I do this, still. Even after all the years of work, all of the healing, all of the self-reflection and transformation, I still find myself doing this.

I give, and I give, and I keep on giving. And when I have emptied my cup, I still try to give. Then I start finding these covert ways to try to fill my cup back up (i.e. codependence).

That is why this year I am going to try to give less, help less… and receive more. Everyone who knows me knows I love volunteering. Because I do love contributing and being a part of something bigger in this way. But I know now that I need to focus on filling up my own cup- until my cup runneth over.

It’s not that I won’t help people at all. There are people I still feel very called to help, and happy to do so. And it doesn’t mean others can’t ask me for help. It’s just that, I won’t go actively seeking to help. My energy won’t be spread far and wide with the main focus being on helping others. It’s time to help myself. And ask for help. And be ok with receiving help.

Unfortunately, asking for help is so often perceived as a weakness. Truthfully, it takes strength and courage to ask for help.

But I still have such a fear of asking for help. I come from a family where everything you say and do will be used against you. So if I ever asked for help (which, as an adult, I almost never have) that help was never given with love or even with the intention of actually helping. It was always given with condition, with the intention to control and condemn.

So that pattern has still been at play. And all that has taught me to never ask for help, or never take it if it is offered.

I keep thinking of the phenomenal book, Outliers, which goes into tremendous investigation of success. The crux of the book is that, it undeniably takes a lot of hard work- ten thousand hours to be precise- to achieve success (I’m just talking the conventional definition. We all define our own idea of what success is), but hard work alone is not enough. It also takes opportunity (which includes resources).

I have been so determined to achieve my goals and my successes on my own, without anyone’s help, but nobody can do anything solely on their own. And I am starting to wonder if I have denied myself opportunity and resources that may have helped me get ahead. If I had more money to invest in myself then I wouldn’t have as many challenges to overcome. Instead, my energy could go to simply doing the things I want to do, and contributing in the ways I want to contribute.

I know this is pretty much true of everyone- if we all only had more money, right? But my point is, that even if the resources are there, I have not allowed myself to receive them.

The catch 22 with trying to have more money is that usually in order to make more money you have to sacrifice your time. It seems that our society is set up in such a way that you can have one or the other, but not both. Especially here in the Bay Area! But when what you need is both time, to work on your goals, and money to invest in them, you’re kind of screwed. Unless you ask for help.

I have spent my entire life helping others. It’s ok for me to take a break (I need to remind myself of this because it is very challenging for me to not feel like I am helping). And it’s time to be more honest with myself. Right now I need help. And I need to ask for help, and be ok with receiving help. I’m not quite sure what that means exactly or what that help will look like for me. Sometimes it’s simply asking The Universe for guidance. Or sometimes it’s something much more specific. I just know that it is time to start asking for help- and allowing myself to receive it.

I am smart, intelligent, competent and entirely capable of having the life I want for myself. Yet I still struggle to meet my basic needs. I know at this point that a lot of this comes from the many abusive relationships I’ve had in my life, and my abusers doing their jobs very well. The classic abuser/victim pattern (though I don’t like using the word victim) is for the abuser to break down the confidence and self-esteem of their victims so that the victim becomes dependent on the abuser, thus giving the abuser a greater sense of control.

Part of becoming a true adult is realizing that we cannot go through life blaming all our problems on other people. But it’s important for me to know why I am the way I am and where my patterns come from, so that I can change them.

I have changed many of my patterns. And I continue to change my patterns all the time. I have worked incredibly and indescribably hard. I have definitely put in my ten thousand hours as a Writer. So, at this point what’s missing is the opportunity and resources.

This is more than a resolution. This is an intention and dedication to creating the life I want for myself. This year, as challenging as it will be, I am going to reserve my energy. I need it for Me. I will focus less on helping others and more on receiving help (and not resisting it). Because right now my cup is nowhere near full. And if it’s not filled full, I cannot be fulfilled.

So it’s time for me to truly fulfill myself and my goals.

Stay tuned!

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Mama Bear

The thing with writing about my most personal thoughts, feelings, and experiences, is that people read them. And when those thoughts, feelings, and experiences involve other people- who read them- things can get interesting.

I woke up yesterday to a message from The Handsome Indian man I hung out with in Bali. He read what I wrote about him, our interactions, and my confusion around the context. And he wanted to clear up the confusion.

He explained that he did indeed have a girlfriend, and told me why he didn’t mention it (basically he didn’t want to be presumptuous about where I was coming from). He also apologized for any way in which he may have misled me, though he was intentionally trying to not mislead me by intentionally not do anything he would normally do when trying to drop hints or make a move, which is basically just showing affection.

When I first read it I thought, Aww that’s really sweet of him to communicate that. I truly appreciated it and still do. But the more I thought about it, the more I found myself stricken by something he said. The ways in which he drops hints and makes moves. Showing affection, holding hands, touching, etc., simple, right?

It made me realize how rare it’s been for me to have men do that as a means of dropping a hint. Those few actions, which he considered dropping a hint- as in, just the beginning of what he has to offer in a relationship- have been pretty much the extent of the effort most men dudes have made for me- as in, the end point of what they have offered me- even deep into relationships. It’s more often been me to be the one to do those things as a means of dropping hints.

I started to wonder, is this a cultural thing? Are American men just lazy, unromantic, and incapable of chivalry? Probably. Is it (and I say this as a proud and avid feminist): the ways in which I think feminism has damaged modern relationship building? Possibly. Or was it just my experience with men dudes, the ways in which my own issues have played themselves out time and time again, and the men dudes that I got myself involved with being a reflection of who and how I was at the time? Most definitely.

The thing with The Handsome Indian is that he was just a handsome Indian man I became friends with, and for a moment I thought something more might be happening, until I realized that it wasn’t, and now he’s just a handsome Indian man (with a girlfriend) who I’m friends with, again. That’s all it is. But you know me- nothing is ever “that’s all it is”.

I’m always going to look for the lesson and deeper meaning in every situation (because it’s always there).

It felt so good to have him clearly communicate to me (another thing a lot of American men seem to lack). It felt so good to be in a space of unobstructed Truth. But the more time I spent in that Truth, the more I could see and feel that it was exposing a wound that still needed to heal.

See, I wasn’t even trying this time, yet I still, even if just for a brief moment, found myself in a situation where I was allured by an unavailable man and ended up feeling a sense of rejection.

I have done so much work around this. I have gotten to know that pattern well- too well. I have become very conscious of my old, detrimental ways. And I have gained so much knowledge about how to shift those old ways. I have grown and evolved and become a much healthier person. But despite all of the growth and all of the knowledge– I still hadn’t truly learned.

And this time I could feel it, deeply. I am done. In the depths of my Truth I am so done doing this to myself.

That pattern has played itself to death.

I’m an intelligent, attractive, kind, caring, funny woman, to say the least. It’s not unreasonable for me to want to be treated with a basic sense of value… to say the least.

Yet, it still tends to be an anomaly for me. And it hasn’t just been with guys either. This has existed across all genders and contexts.

And one simple, parenthetical set of words, said by one handsome Indian friend, has really gotten me to take a deeper look at all of this.

When I look back at my tumultuous past, and think about the things I permitted people to say and do to me, I am fraught with indignation like never before.

After years of inner child work I finally… truly, feel like a mama bear protecting her cub, when it comes to taking care of the innocent little Julia inside me. I can finally say- and without a shadow of a doubt mean it- “Never again.

Whether it was family, friends, lovers, co-workers, or bosses, I always found ways to say, “It’s ok.

“It’s ok for me to be treated this way.

“It’s ok for me to be underappreciated, taken for granted, walked all over, used, and abused. It’ ok for me to be disrespected and disregarded. It’s ok for me to be underestimated and over-scrutinized. It’s ok to not be shown common courtesy and common decency. It’s ok.

I’ll do it.

“I’ll be the one to treat you how I want to be treated. I’ll be the one to initiate contact. I’ll be the one to make plans. I’ll be the one to make the first move. I’ll be the one to make romantic gestures. I’ll be the one to communicate… I’ll be the one to apologize.”

And I did it again, and again.

But I’m not going to say “It’s ok” anymore. Because it’s not ok.

It’s not ok to say and do the horrifically manipulative things that so many people have said and done to me throughout my life. It’s not ok to do the heinously aggressive- and almost worse, passive-aggressive- things that people have said and done to me throughout my life. It’s not ok to antagonize and throw tantrums, then play the victim when there’s a reaction. It’s not ok to gaslight and guilt trip.

It’s not ok. None of it is ok.

I am finally, from the depths of my Truth, saying, “No more.”

I will no longer make excuses for people. I will no longer believe the lies. I will no longer take the bait. I will no longer hold out hope for others to become anything other than what they have shown me.

And that has never felt more true.

The Handsome Indian wasn’t doing any of these things- he’s a wonderful person. He just held the magnifying glass over an old wound, gently touched it, and proverbially said, “There, that’s where it still hurts.”

Had none of this happened the way it did, I would not have arrived at the profoundly important place where the mama bear within me can wholeheartedly lick the wounds of her little Julia cub, so those wounds can finally heal.

I guess I know what my current totem animal is.

mama-bear

I have no idea who owns the rights to this image, but it is perfect.

Everyday Adventures

I’m sitting here, on a slightly sunny, slightly cloudy Monday morning in Marin County, California. I’m slightly rested, and slightly tired. But I’ve made a commitment to myself to write every single day. Even if it’s terrible. Even if I don’t share it publicly.

I’ve attempted this before, but I’ve never committed to it. And I never had my energy in the right place in order to accomplish it before. I usually have plenty of things on my mind that I can write about, but this morning as I opened up my empty Word document, I had no idea what words would come out.

As I muse, I’m thinking about where my personal evolution has led me. A few years ago, when I first started this blog, I was on a determined mission. My life, and the work I wanted to do, was devoted to mindfulness and personal growth, and how to share and spread those lessons.

Part of the healing I’ve experienced in the work that I do has been letting go of perfectionism. As I’ve released the tight grip that perfectionism had around my neck, I feel like I’ve shifted direction quite a bit.

My work seems a bit less fixated, and a lot more authentic. Not that it wasn’t authentic before, it’s just that now it showcases a more full spectrum of who I am and where I’m at.

I have long considered my number one job to be: doing my work and telling my stories about it. That means it is also my job to tell my truth. The more work I’ve done, the more relaxed and vulnerable I have become in showing you who I am. Not just certain parts of me, but all of me.

Instead of just revealing the part of me that loves mindfulness and personal development and wants to help others heal and grow, I am now revealing the Julia who is passionate about women’s rights, LGBT rights, Black Lives Matter, and the atrocities that have been happening to the Native Americans at Standing Rock. The Julia who is silly and messy and real and raw. The Julia who loves hip hop and comedy and nature and art. The Julia who is still unfolding and evolving every day.

I can’t just be a one faceted person, nor do I want to be. As I get more honest with who I am, I also get more honest with you.

In my travels, both globally and internally, I have continued to learn, grow, and evolve, which has shifted my focus and re-framed my mission a little bit.

Although I think I will always consider my job to be doing my work and telling my stories about it, I think, as a Writer and Truth Seeker, the emphasis has become more on telling my stories.

When I saw the enthusiastic response I received from sharing my adventures in Bali, I saw how beautiful it was to be able to take you all with me wherever I go, and how much people seem to enjoy feeling like they are on the ride with me.

Since I’ve been back in The States, I continue to tell my stories about my experiences, but I try to think of it less as telling my stories about my personal issues that I have to overcome, and more sharing my everyday travels with you. Whether those travels are the journey self-discovery, exploring life without anxiety for the first time, my experiences walking around town or in the woods, or whatever new adventure I plan to embark on (I have a few in the works right now), there are always lessons to learn from the experience. And there is an opportunity to share those lessons by taking you on my journey with me, which draws upon one of my favorite aspects of life- human connection.

I feel much more connected to all of you this way. It’s like I’ve broken the fourth wall. In fact a lot of my walls have come down. And I’m just here, showing you Who I Am, in various circumstances.

Another way in which I feel this new approach brings you inside the experience with me, is because instead of just generally talking about how I may have worked through a certain issue, let’s say insecurity for example, I can actually give real life, real time, examples of which insecurities I am working through and the who, what, where, when, why of it all.

I can talk about my fears, as a general concept. Or I can talk about my fears of getting money exchanged in a foreign country or riding a motorbike for the first time. I’m still confronting fears, and I’m still showing you my process and my lessons, but I’m giving life to the lessons and letting you feel the wind in your hair as you ride the motorbike with me.

I’m also allowing myself to share something else I love with you- taking photographs. In our device driven, selfie-obsessed world, I have shied away from whipping out my phone to snap a picture of everything all the time. Plus, as a mindfulness practitioner, I feel like it often takes us out of the moment. But I have always loved taking photographs. So now, I am thoroughly (and mindfully) enjoying capturing the moments of my life, and instead of just stock piling my own collection of images, I think of it more as providing you with visuals to go along with the stories I tell.

I love my life, and I love getting to share my experiences with you!

Maybe my next story will be about the answers to life questions that came to me in meditation, or maybe it will be about that incredible time I had at a Mos Def show the other night. Both experiences brought me closer to my truth. And both are opportunities to bring you inside the experience with me.

Stay tuned!

 

 

 

A New Trip

Sticking with the theme of my life lately, the lessons (and gifts) I’ve received from my experience of going to (and returning from) Bali, I’ve been really tripping out at how different I feel on a daily basis. I am different. I’ve changed, as I’m sure anyone does when they take a giant leap outside of their comfort zone in pursuit of their heart’s desire. I don’t feel the same inside and I don’t operate in quite the same way.

When I left, I was in a default state of anxiety. I’d have moments of clarity and bliss and ease, but those moments were exceptions to my default state. And now, it’s the opposite. My default state is at ease and happy and clear- even when I’m tired and foggy.

I’ve lived with anxiety pretty much my whole life, even when I didn’t realize it. So, it’s quite interesting learning how to live without anxiety. My standard operating procedures have shifted tremendously, in a very subtle way. I notice it all the time- the ways in which I approach situations- what would normally be automatic fear-based reactions, I now approach with ease and openness. And it just happens naturally. There’s no conscious effort in trying to not have anxiety. I just see that it’s not there, where it used to be, all the time. It doesn’t hang over my shoulder, controlling me like it used to.

It still shows up sometimes, but it’s not my default anymore. And when it does show up, even when it takes up a lot of space, I am able to remain detached from it.

Having that distance from it has allowed me to gain new perspective. I see more clearly where my anxiety stems from. Well, I know where it stems from. It stems from a sense of not feeling safe. But I think, for me, that sense of not feeling safe is more of its destination than its starting point.

It felt like it began with an internal conflict. Having everyone else’s voices in my head telling me what I should and shouldn’t do, what I’m supposed to do and not do, which conflicted with what felt natural for me to do or not do. It’s almost like a “should” button got pressed inside of me. Whenever it got pressed, it activated my anxiety. I might have been feeling, thinking, moving one way, then the “should” button got pressed, and I started to fear the “what-ifs?” And one “what-if?” leads to another, and another, and before you know it I was paralyzed with fear. So, I stayed put. I held back. There was a halt to my natural state and I no longer flowed freely. I contracted. And I did not do anything.

It’s funny how not doing anything can use so much energy. But it does. It takes energy to hold myself back. It takes energy to halt momentum. It takes energy to restrict energy. And that was my default state.

I remember so many times sitting in my therapist’s office in tears, lamenting, “I don’t want to keep living like this!

But I didn’t know any other way to be. I didn’t know how to not live with anxiety. It was a survival mechanism that had been programmed into me through years of abusive relationships, through years of everyone around me telling me it’s not ok for me to be who and how I am.

But when I went to Bali, and was able to have so much physical distance from all of my triggers, I got to experience what it was like to just Be– without condemnation.

I had the opportunity to just do whatever the hell I wanted to do, or not do, to be however I wanted to be. And I didn’t have to worry about old ghosts tormenting me there.

When I first arrived to Bali, I could feel myself still holding on. I knew, in the depths of my being, that there was some serious letting go that needed to happen. But I thought that the letting go and the openness would feel more defined. It didn’t though. It wasn’t like there was a specific line that I crossed that felt like, “ok, I’ve let go now and now I’m open.”

It was more of a subtle shift, where I started to notice that I was operating differently. The same old mechanisms were no longer at work. But there wasn’t a specific moment. And thank God Truth!

I’ve done the Aha! moments. And I fucking love them! When you really experience a major Aha! moment, it’s like being in altered state. Yet, it’s better than any drug (that I’ve ever tried). But the thing is, you kind of are in an altered state. A flash of insight has altered your normal way of seeing things and disrupted your standard operating procedures. More often than not though, those altered states revert back to old ways. And those are the crucial moments, when you really need to get to work, integrating the insights into your daily life and behaviors. Because if the Aha! moments aren’t supported by doing the work to shift your behavior, then that’s all they were- moments, that passed.

I loved doing that work. That work is my life’s work, in every sense. But, as I talked about in my last blog post, I have been working way too hard for way too hard, and I was exhausted. So, when I went to Bali, and finally stopped working so hard, I was still able to experience a profound shift.

So, there was no specific Aha! moment this time. The shift was subtle, yet powerful. My standard operating procedures have been dismantled and now everything feels like it runs more smoothly, flows more freely.

I catch myself in these moments, and I say to myself, “did you see what just happened there? Normally you would’ve closed yourself off to that. You would’ve reacted from fear, and you would’ve shut down. But you didn’t this time!

I have those moments all the time now. I’m pleasantly perplexed by them. I’m not used to feeling this way. When I was so used to living with anxiety, even when I’d have good days, it usually triggered even more anxiety. I’d obsessively try to figure out what caused the goodness, so I could try to make it stay. I wanted so badly to be in a default state of goodness, with anxiety being the exception.

And now, I’m there, where I’ve always wanted to be. I really wasn’t sure if it would ever happen. But I am at ease, by default. I can truly understand on a deep level now that good days just happen. And then they don’t.

Not every day can be the best day of my life. Just because I am not having a really good day, doesn’t mean I am having a bad day. I can just have a day, and enjoy it, and be grateful for it, without obsessively trying to make it anything other than what it is.

I’ve known this for so long, but now I feel it and experience it much more profoundly than ever before. I inhabit it, instead of just thinking about it.

It’s a whole new trip. And just like my trip to Bali, I am so grateful I get to take all of you on this trip with me!

It took facing my fears, moving towards them, through them, and to the other side of them, to be able to put them behind me. It took traveling to the other side of the world to finally come home.

None Of My Busyness

In just a few more days it will be one month since I’ve been back in California. I have settled pretty seamlessly back into life here.

I was expecting more of a culture shock when I returned, but I actually felt the total opposite. I just kind of felt nothing. My first thought upon entering my driveway on the way home from the airport was, “so, like, that’s it? I’m just here now?”

Everything was exactly the same as I left it. I knew what I would be coming back to. Yet I was still surprised I didn’t feel a stark contrast in my environment.

But I did feel a stark contrast within myself.

One of the first things I noticed when I got to Bali was a deeper awareness for the senseless busyness that seemed to be everywhere in California. And it didn’t take me long at all to notice how exhausted I was with trying to keep up with it all.

When I first learned mindfulness a few years ago, I discovered how detrimental busyness really is. It’s being stuck in a state of doing instead of a state of BEing. It’s an endless chase of the next, instead of truly experiencing what IS.

So, learning all of that, and immersing myself in the practice of mindfulness, I really shifted my way of living. I retired my busyness. And it changed my life, in the most beautiful and profound way.

Unfortunately, I felt like I was the only one around me who got this. So I became passionate about wanting to pass on this new knowledge to people. I wanted others to get to experience the profound shift that I did.

But after several years, I finally realized that not many other people are that interested in it. They may be interested in what happens after the shift, but doing (or not doing) what it takes to create that shift was more than anyone was willing to participate in. I couldn’t even get people to show up- in every sense.

So, I found myself in a space where not many other people were. And that’s just it- there was space. I had created so much space in my life to be able to actually live and thoroughly enjoy my life with those I cared about, but it seemed like nobody else had created that same space. Everyone was too busy.

I started to feel judged for not being too busy. Like busyness was some sort of standard and I didn’t have enough going on in my life to actually constitute a life. But my life has been very intentional. I created space for people and things that I cared about. They just weren’t showing up.

So I’d run around trying to keep up with all of the busy people around me. But I can’t run that fast. Nor do I want to.

So when I got to Bali, and gained distance from what my life had been, I finally realized just how much I had been chasing unavailability, and how deeply exhausted I was from it.

Because I had been chasing that unavailability my entire life.

Starting from childhood with my family, then sticking with what I knew, recreating the chase in almost all my other relationships, of any context. And it all ended up directly reflecting into my career (or lack thereof), my finances (or lack thereof), and my issues with trust (or lack thereof).  It was all just a metaphor for my relentless chasing of unavailability.

I have done so much work around this stuff. I couldn’t believe I was still so engulfed in such an old pattern.

I worked so hard for the approval of abusive people who could never be pleased- people who only knew how to take and not how to give. They were bottomless pits of “not enough.”

I worked so hard to try to make a satisfying living and life for myself in a place that has never felt right for me, despite how breathtakingly beautiful it is here. I worked so hard to prove myself- to others (and therefore myself). I worked so hard to try to gain permission to just be Who I Am.

I worked so hard to heal from the years of abuse, control, and manipulation. I worked so hard at cleaning out the toxic drudge that lived within me. I worked so hard to become the best version of Me that I could possibly be.

And once I became a better version of Me, I worked so hard at trying to stay healthy. I worked so hard to try to keep good people in my life.  I worked so hard at trying to make so many other things (or people) work, when sometimes they just didn’t.

I kept working and working. And I loved that work! But I worked so hard only to find myself still working so hard.

No wonder I was exhausted. I’ve spent so much of my life working so hard.

And the grand irony is that the harder I worked and the more I chased unavailability, I myself became unavailable. I was unavailable because my energy was focused elsewhere- on unavailability. I was consumed by unavailability.  And I wasn’t available for anything (or anyone) that was available, which includes the relationships that I want, the career that I want, the bank account that I want… the life that I want.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love my life. But there is much of my life that has felt like it’s just been waiting for me to step into it. All the while my back has been turned with my energy and focus on all of the things and people that were unavailable.

And the thing is, all of the unavailable people that I have been chasing, in various contexts, are busy with their own chase. They’re not actually inhabiting their own lives.

Neither was I.

Even after all that work.

So, when I got away from all of the unavailability, and took a big break form the chase, I was able to see just how hard I had been working for so much that didn’t work for me.

I went to Bali. And I let go.

It took a couple weeks, but I settled into a flow. I didn’t have to try. At all. People and places and circumstances just showed up. Because I was available for them. Everything just fell into place with such ease. Because I let it.  The life that had been waiting for me was finally being lived.

Then I had to leave. And go back to a home that has never really felt like home to me, a place that no matter how much the sun shines has never felt warm to me, a place where no matter how little crime there is has never really felt safe for me, a place where no matter how many decades I have spent there I have never felt a sense of belonging. In fact, I have felt more of a sense of longing than belonging here.

So when I came back to California none of that felt any different. But I felt different. And therein lies the contrast.

I’ve been back for just about a month and I am still getting used to the new skin that I’m living in. I am getting used to experiencing being able to approach situations with ease instead of anxiety, with curiosity instead of fear. I’m getting used to no longer chasing the things (and people) that don’t work for me. And I’m getting used to the feeling of being completely and genuinely ok with it all.

Experiencing the contrast really helped me gain perspective on what I was really returning to. I was not planning to return to unavailability, no matter how prevalent it may be. I was returning with a renewed focus. That focus being on two things- writing (and finding a way to build a sustainable income doing that), and how to get back to Bali as soon as possible (based on finding a sustainable income that will allow me to do that). Those are pretty much the only things I have the energy for anyway.

I no longer have energy for the chase, even if I wanted it. It’s not there anymore. I have exhausted it all. That resource has been depleted.

My energy is now being spent creating, instead of working, on allowing, instead of chasing, on taking steps, instead of running… on living the life that’s been waiting for me, instead of perishing inside a life I don’t even want.

And I finally, truly feel ready and available for all that I’ve ever wanted.

~Maktub~

Bound To Bali

I already knew how this story was going to end.

But before I give it all away, let’s go back to the beginning. Where it all started with a book. And a lot of fear.

As I said before, it was so much more than a book. Buying that Lonely Planet- Bali guidebook was a step. And, as I also said before, we all know that sometimes one small step can really be one giant leap.

Every step closer I took to Bali I was also stepping closer towards my fears. The closer I got, the more anxieties I confronted. I was scared of everything from airports, to crime, to monkeys and rabies, sickness and injury. I was scared of getting lost. I was scared of language barriers. I was scared of being unsafe. And that’s really the root of all anxiety- not feeling safe.

So, I arrived in Bali with a load of fears and anxieties, and a list of things I wanted to experience.

I’ve already mentioned many of my fears (and that was just the short list), so now I will share my list of things I wanted to experience:

-Meet new friends

-Make serious, heartfelt connections

-Have great conversations

-Laugh

-Dance to music I love

-Help people

-Romance

And that’s just the shortlist.

I put “meet new friends” at the top of the list because that was probably what I was most interested in- forming deep, meaningful connections with other humans. That is one of my favorite things in life. But when I first arrived, still with many anxieties in tow, that desire was met with the fear that I might not end up meeting anyone.  But then people started showing up (or maybe it was me that finally started showing up).

I answered a Facebook post that led me to the door of The Brit and The Mini Brit. But that door was more of a portal. Because once I stepped through it, my world opened up in so many ways.

I’ve mentioned that The Brit came to Bali to do a two month “health program”, but really I was just sugarcoating the fact that she was doing a personalized, holistic addiction recovery program. It was less sugarcoating and more to protect her privacy. But now that I’ve gotten permission from her, I can be a little more candid in my storytelling. She was working with a former addict named Scott, who I’ve mentioned used to live in the small area in California where I live. He’s working on building a retreat center in Ubud to take his holistic program to the next level.

It was through Scott and that program where The Brit met The Other Brit, who became a regular fixture in our house (and hearts). The Brit and The Other Brit would attend meetings, with The Mini Brit patiently tagging along. Afterwards, I would meet up with them, and often many of the other meeting attendees, at the café next door to where they meet. And I have to say- recovering addicts might just be some of my favorite kind of people.

These are people who are really facing their shit. They are getting real and raw and doing the gritty work towards triumphing over the darkest parts of themselves in a way that I am not used to seeing from most people.  And it’s so fucking beautiful and brave and god damn impressive. There’s no way I can look at them without having massive amounts of respect.

What many of the people I met showed me is that when you truly, truly put yourself first, when you take care of your health and wellness, and get really real and uncomfortably honest with yourself, you actually become much more genuinely available for others. I’ve known this, and I’ve experienced it, but only from the inside out. I was now seeing what that looked like (and feeling what the felt like) from the outside in.

One of the people I met in those groups was a guy named Steve Wofford. (By the way, if there is any question about exposing their anonymity, I have gotten permission from everyone to use their name and story). Steve is another American and another first time traveler. Except he didn’t just travel to Bali, he moved there! I think within about five minutes of talking with him I made a friend for life. We completely understood each other’s way of thinking, so naturally. There was no need to explain our references or break down our language. We just got it. And several times he made various references to living in Truth, so he’s definitely one of my people.

Steve is a coach and an entrepreneur, who coaches entrepreneurs. Specifically entrepreneurs in recovery, though he may be branching out his demographic. I’ve seen what he does, and this guy- you guys- he could be the next Tony Robbins or Brendon Burchard. Except he never will be, because he is the first Steve Wofford.

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Our goodbye dinner. Though we never actually said “goodbye”. We said, “we’ll be in touch” and “I’ll see you when I come back”.

I only ended up meeting him a week and a half before I left, but we managed to build a strong, meaningful, and super supportive friendship in that time.

My last week was a bit tough, because I was thoroughly exhausted from the Writers Festival, I had to move house due to the person whose room I was renting was returning, and The Other Brit was taking off for six weeks to do an intensive yoga teacher training in Nepal. She was departing just three days before I was. So, it was a week of staggered steps of parting ways with people I care about and a place that I loved.

But the upside is that I ended up moving back to the place I stayed before I moved in with The Brit and The Mini Brit. I was actually booked to spend a couple of days in that beautiful spot I told you about– the compound of the medicine man from Eat, Pray, Love. But I ended up cancelling that reservation. Yep.

The compound only had 2 nights available anyway, which meant I would’ve had to move during the Writers Festival, then again a couple days later. And the place cost twice as much as the house I was in. I didn’t need to be out of the house until the 1st. So, after careful consideration, I decided to stay put and only move once.

As I went to cancel that reservation there was a small part of me that did think about getting the chance to actually see a place from inside my favorite book. But besides everything I said about not feeling the need to get any closer to that book, the place I reserved was not the place in the book. It’s obvious that the place I reserved is only as beautiful as it is from all of the money that poured into it because of that book. I can almost guarantee that is not the same place Elizabeth Gilbert experienced.

So, I cancelled my reservation, with no real regrets (I can always stay there next time, if I feel like it). I stayed in the house with The Brits a few more days, then I moved back to the last place I stayed, which was right in the center of town. And surprisingly it felt a little more peaceful and quiet than the other house that was a little more removed from town center.

The other good thing about that place (besides getting more of those green banana pancakes) is that it was right next door to the tour company where my friend Made works. So, whenever I went out, I would pass him, or his friend Wayan, whom I also got to know a little, and I’d either say hi as I passed by, or stop and hang out for a while. It was nice to have a cheerful pit stop right next door.

And remember that artist, whose paintings I bought and I wanted to be his friend, but then found out that maybe he was lying about his art? Well, the more art stalls I saw, the more I did actually see people working on similar paintings. It’s just that many of them were pretty much replicas of everyone else’s. Though I did find one guy whose art was different than most- and it was pretty incredible.

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An artist’s work in progress. Beautiful stuff, hidden away in a far corner of Ubud Market. I loved the big one behind him on the right.

Seeing people actually painting, helped me to see that the guy I bought from probably did paint the ones I bought, and being back in that spot where I first met him, I ended up running into him again a few times and he was just as sweet and adorable as I remember.

Giving me the thumbs up that he sold some more of his paintings

Giving me the thumbs up that he sold some more of his paintings

It was a really good choice for me to return to that space, and spend my last week there. And it will most likely be my landing spot when I go back.

Once I settled into that new spot, and the fact that I was leaving soon hit me, I embarked on a bit of an emotional and anxious roller coaster, thinking about having to go back to California, and having to say all my goodbyes to so many wonderful people.

My anxieties (as well as insomnia and sleep deprivation which are common manifestations of my anxieties) had significantly dissipated while I was in Bali, but knowing all that I would (and wouldn’t) be returning to in California triggered them again . The few abusive relationships I still have left in my life, the unavailability of most people around me, the collective anxieties and stress which is American life, and the uncertainty as to how I will make enough money to get back to Bali within the next year (or ideally six months), stay for much longer, and build the life and career I want for myself on top of it all- these were the thoughts that were keeping me up at night (and that’s just the short list). Yeah, I was a bit anxious.

After one particularly bad night of insomnia, I took a lazy day to myself and just hung around my room for most of the day, lamenting over having to leave. From my balcony I watched the palm trees sway and listened to the street sounds of Ubud- until I reached a point where I felt like I wanted to go out and BE with Bali. I didn’t know what to do or where to go, but I just felt the need to be out in it. So, I remembered when I arrived, how I just let myself go where I felt pulled and decided to walk out my door and see where Bali was going to take me.20161103_151456

When I passed Made and his friend Wayan, I lamented about not wanting to leave, and they reminded me, “don’t start living Monday already or you won’t get to live today.” Somehow those words have more meaning coming from a Balinese person.

I found myself being pulled toward Monkey Forest road, which of course eventually led to the Monkey Forest. The road curves around the city and so I figured I might just walk it in a loop, but when I got to the Monkey Forest entrance I felt pulled to go inside.

I love the city of Ubud, but there is definitely a lot of hustle and bustle to it. In California I’m used to hiking in the woods pretty frequently and I realized that the whole time I was in Bali I hadn’t really gotten out of that hustle and bustle much.

Even when I did get out of the city center I was on motorbikes or surrounded by people. I wasn’t able to just go at my own pace.

So, I paid my entrance fee and very slowly wandered into the Monkey Forest.

There were still tourists there, but tourism had significantly decreased after my first couple of weeks in Bali, and I found a sense of peace amidst the trees that I really yearned for. I also enjoyed the monkeys.

At one point a monkey jumped on my back and managed to get into my backpack and steal my lip balm! The irony is that I went into the forest to appease my anxieties, so to find myself literally with a monkey on my back felt pretty symbolic.

I could’ve stayed in there for a couple more hours. It was so enchanting and there were so many incredible statues and walkways to discover. But I was due to go meet The Brit and The Mini Brit to say our goodbyes to The Other Brit on her last night in town.

We had a tearful last dinner where The Other Brit bestowed me and The Brit with sweet little Buddha bracelets and touching handwritten cards.20161103_185408

The bracelet went well with the one I was already wearing. It was given to me by a funny little dude I met, who worked at one of the warungs I had lunch at. He read my palm and tried to convince me to marry him. He was sweet, and funny, and totally full of shit. It was obvious he said the same thing to all the white women, hoping somone would take the bait. He talked my ear off the whole time I was there and I thought that I might have trouble getting myself out of there. But two other young white women approached him, admiring his bracelets, and as I backed out of the circle and said goodbye, he barely acknowledged me as his attention clearly had new targets. It was pretty funny.

So, I put The Other Brit’s Buddha bracelet on, alongside the one I was wearing. I thought I might want to get a few more similar bracelets like this, before I left, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of only wearing ones that were gifts.20161107_164518

The four of us finished our dinner and said our heartfelt goodbyes… and then there were three.

The day before I left, I wanted to have one more truly Balinese experience, so I went with Scott, The Brit and Mini Brit, and one other sweet man whom I met that day from the recovery program, to Tirta Empul, a Hindu water temple, famous for its holy spring water, where we partook in the prayer ritual at each water spout.

At one of our stops on the way, I got into a really great discussion with the sweet man who was with us, about addiction, recovery, addicts, doing the work, and what’s really important in life.

The thing about Ubud is that it almost feels like you are living in a self-help/personal growth conference. So many people were visiting from elsewhere, many on some kind of retreat or training. Health and wellness are the social norm, and entrepreneurship is kind of necessary. And it was so refreshing to be able to have so many fulfilling discussions with so many interesting people.

It’s not that there isn’t partying that happens there. I saw plenty of what I refer to as “Bali Bros” wandering around with their Bintangs and cigarettes. But most of the partying was happening in other towns and cities. Ubud was a much more sober place. Or maybe that was just the space I was in and what I attracted to me.

Speaking of what I attract. I didn’t find myself a Balinese boyfriend or get to kiss anyone. But for a moment I thought there was a chance for romance, or something close to it, with The Handsome Indian. We ran into each other at the Writers Festival and spent some good time together there. He also lives on my favorite street, which I wandered down almost daily, so we ended up running into each other quite a bit there as well. Plus we went to the trash cleanup together again, and the game night afterwards, and I was really enjoying the time we were spending together.

But the night I thought something more might transpire between us, I overheard him telling his friend that he was dating someone else. I don’t even know how I heard it either. The words just seemed to ring out above the social chatter, even though the volume blended in with the rest of the noise.

I felt like we were developing a really lovely connection up until that point and there was absolutely no indication that he was dating anyone. So, hearing him say that delivered a swift punch to the gut. And it stirred up a lot of shit for me (which is almost always a good thing, but almost never pleasant).

I felt like such an idiot. How could I have misread things so badly? And how I am I still attracting unavailable men? I wasn’t even trying this time! What am I still not learning? (I will say, at least the unavailable men I attract these days are really wonderful and interesting people, as opposed to the abusive deadbeats I used to attract to [with some exceptions of course]).

I slept on it and realized that I didn’t misread anything. I was possibly misled, but that might not even be true either. I only heard a tiny snippet of what was said. I don’t know the full story. I don’t even know if I heard correctly.

Maybe what he has going on is undefined and un-serious. Most of us have dated people casually and kept our options open while we figure out what is going on. That’s what dating is. You try dating different people and when something starts to gain traction you stop dating all of the other people. Maybe this was just a less formal, more organic version of that process (and since it’s Ubud it’s probably vegan and gluten-free too).

I would never knowingly try to get together with a man who is already involved with someone else. I wouldn’t do that to another woman, and I wouldn’t do that to myself. But the absolute Truth is that I don’t know what the situation is.

He truly did not seem like the type of douchey sleaze that would try to start something with someone when he is already with someone else. From what I got to know of him he seemed like a really grounded, genuine, good person.

And man, he gave good eye contact. Which is a huge deal to me, because eye contact is such a baseline for intimacy, and the last guy I dated almost never made eye contact, even in our most intimate moments.

So, I deliberated- do I continue to pull back, knowing what I kind of sort of might know? I checked in with myself, with my Truth, and my integrity. And the answer was that it’s not up to me to do the work of figuring out what his situation is. It’s his job to communicate whatever needs to be communicated.

I don’t have to try to make anything happen with him either. I can simply let him know my door is open. The rest is up to him.

I then realized that maybe what I have to learn from the situation doesn’t have to do with who I’m attracting, but how. Maybe it has to do with my past patterns of overcompensating for other people’s lack. See, me basing my actions on something I kind of overheard is actually me doing the work of gathering the information and assuming his communication, then taking the action (or inaction) based on something I don’t even totally know for sure. That doesn’t mean ignoring what I might have heard either. It just means remaining neutral until I know the full story.

So, although we did have some really lovely moments together, nothing ended up happening between me and The Handsome Indian. And maybe nothing more was supposed to happen between us, at least at that point in time. Maybe he showed up when and how he did for me, not just for the lesson I had to learn, but to simply remind me of what it felt like to have someone look me deeply in the eyes like that- and see me- in a really authentic way.

It’s probably for the best that nothing happened anyway. This was all unfolding the week before I left. I wanted romance, but had something happened between me and him (or anyone else for that matter), my trip would’ve become about an “us”, and this was an experience that really needed to belong to me, and for once not be all about someone else.

Besides, who knows what’ll happen when I go back.

We ended up saying our final goodbyes not in person, but in a really sweet message exchange. And at the very least we have a very lovely friendship.

On my final night in Bali, on my way out to get some food, I stopped by Made’s tour company to make arrangements for a ride to the airport. He had the day off but the young woman who booked the arrangements for me was really sweet. We got to talking and when I requested that Made be my driver, she asked how I knew him, and I explained to her how I became friends with him there.

I don’t even know how it happened, but she and I instantly became really good friends. I think it might have had to do with her bringing up finding me a Balinese boyfriend. I didn’t even have to tell her how attractive I found the men there. She brought it up!

She was really sweet and spunky and funny. Her name was Tiary. We chatted and laughed for a while . Then I asked if I could add her on Facebook and she insisted that we take some pictures together. She got me to pose in playful ways that I don’t normally pose in. We had a lot fun together, and she even adorned me with the rice that is part of the prayer ritual- on the top of the head, between the eyes, and on the throat, for purity of thought, purity of sight, and purity of word. Or something like that.

Then she excitedly told me to arrive early before leaving for the airport because she wanted to fix my hair Balinese style and make me “so special” before I leave.

On my way home that night, I had one last goodbye to say, and that was to my “Balinese Glam Squad” Koma, Desa, Ketut, and Wayan. I guess I should interject here and say that all of the names in Bali are the same. I forget that not everyone knows this. You are named in order of birth. If you are first born you are Wayan, second is Made, third is Koma, which Made informed me I was saying (and hearing) wrong, it’s actually Komang, and fourth is Ketut. There are some other names as well, depending on what social class you were born into and what year you were born. I guess in the eighties they added more names. But in all cases, it’s still in reference to birth order.

So, I stopped by the spa and Komang and Desa were the only ones there. We gave each other big hugs and I told them I’d see them next time I was in town.

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Komang is on the left, Desa on the right. Such sweethearts!

The next morning when I checked out of my room, the man who ran the place gave me a small, carved, wooden box, to thank me for returning and for staying so long. I guess most people only stay there for a night or two, so they were happy to have me for a whole week this time. It was such a sweet gesture, and it was so Bali.20161107_113456

I went into my bag, and I grabbed that Lonely Planet guide book. I didn’t get much out of what was inside that book, and there was nothing in it that I couldn’t google. But what that book really did for me was get me to take a giant leap.

I was done with it now. I didn’t need it anymore. So, I handed it to him and asked him to give it to another guest who might need it. I don’t know if that book will have as much meaning for anyone else as it did for me, but I pray that whoever’s hands it falls into next, it leads them to something beautiful and life changing.20161107_091744

I brought my bags downstairs and sat myself on the little stool behind the counter of the tour company. Tiary had brought a bunch of extra flowers for my hair, and gifted me a hairclip that she said I have to bring back to Bali someday. She combed my hair, even though I warned her that I don’t brush my hair and my hair might break the comb. But it stayed intact. I really had no idea what she was going to do to my hair, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure if I would like it. But I actually loved it! She twisted and turned and entwined bunches of my hair, and clipped it back, pinning the fragrant Frangipani  flowers to the side. Turns out, Tiary was much more of my true glam squad. I loved it so much! And I really, truly did feel SO special!

Then she taught me how to do the daily ritual prayer and offering, and again putting the rice to my head, third eye, and throat. It was the absolute best send-off I could’ve gotten. Then Made arrived and Tiary and I gave each other a big hug and have continued chatting on FB since I’ve been back, including making plans to cook together when I return.

We loaded my bags in the car, and off we went.

When Made and I finally arrived to the airport, it was so hard for me to say goodbye. I didn’t want to leave! We hugged, took one last photo together, and I wished him and his family love and blessings until next time I come back.

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Love this guy!

All of my friends who were living in Bali full time said that they really felt that I would be back. But the person that meant the most from was Made. Because he was actually Balinese.

I absolutely love both the western culture there and of course most importantly the Balinese culture. But unfortunately I do feel like in Ubud the western culture overshadows the beautiful Balinese culture quite a bit (I am already contemplating how I can contribute and give back in a bigger way next time I go there, as to negate my western impact). So, I am sensitive to my western presence and when Made said that he sees so many people come and go, but he really feels like I’ll be coming back and staying for a while, it meant a lot to me. It was like he was giving me his Balinese blessing.

As I said, I arrived to Bali with a load of fears and list of things I wanted to experience.

I was scared of monkeys, but I ended up getting the monkey off my back.

I was scared about money, but I actually got a lot more comfortable, confident, open, and loving in my relationship with money.

I was scared of losing my luggage, but ended up getting rid of a lot of baggage.

I was scared of getting lost, but ended up finding an even deeper sense of self.

I was scared of language barriers, but I ended up amidst a community of people who really spoke the same language as me, as my soul.

I was scared for my safety, but I ended up feeling a deeper sense of safety there than I have felt since, well, I can’t even remember when.

I wanted to meet people, laugh, have great conversations, and make truly heartfelt connections, and I was doing that up until my very last night there!

I wanted to dance, to music I love, and I got to do that at the closing ceremonies of the Writers Festival..

I wanted to help people. The Brit told me that I taught her many little life lessons, which meant a lot to me. I also got to help clean up some of that beautiful island (which was less impactful in the act itself as it was teaching the children and old farmers about proper waste management).

And here’s a moment of uncomfortable honesty for me. Part of why I wanted to take this trip was because I was hoping I might find love. It’s totally cheesy, but it’s true. I’ve been single for a really long time, and even though I love being with myself, I’m really ready for a partner. Overall (with some exceptions of course), I have been very unimpressed, disappointed, and discouraged with my options in California. So, I thought, maybe if I go to someplace completely new I might find love. Maybe if I face my fears and do this for myself- this thing that I’ve always wanted to do, then as a reward, I might find love.

Well, I’ve done enough spiritual work, and I’ve seen Under The Tuscan Sun enough times to know that sometimes what we want might not show up how we thought it would.

I did get to experience a grand romance. It was with the island of Bali itself. And I did find love- with a Brit, a Mini Brit, and an Other Brit. I found love every time a Balinese person looked me in the eye and smiled. I found love in the hot, sticky air, and the warm breezes in my hair. And of course, none of that love was really outside of myself. It all came from within me.

And I knew, from the day I bought that book, that this is how the story would end.

I left California bound for Bali. I returned to California bound to Bali.

 

~Maktub~

Writers and Coffee and Gays, Oh My!

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post. Part of the reason, ironically, is because I attended a writer’s festival last weekend, and it really took a lot out of me.

When I first contemplated this trip, and bought my Lonely Planet guidebook, I was pondering what time of year to go. October was what felt right. So, I looked in the guide book to see if there were any special events happening in October, and lo and behold, there was an international writer’s festival happening. The Ubud Writer’s and Readers Festival.  That was a clear sign. So, I planned my trip for the month of October (which then became part of September and November as well).

Yet, I did not buy my ticket for the festival. I thought I might volunteer, because anyone who knows me knows I love to volunteer, plus it would save a chunk of money on the ticket. Yet, I did not apply to volunteer either. This is what I do. Or don’t do.

Actually, scratch that. Change the language. This is what I used to do. One of my forms of self-sabotage. I’d hem and haw, procrastinate (i.e. push things further away), and in the end, make it all much harder on myself.

So, I hemmed and hawed, and deliberated for five months– from the conception of this trip until a few days before the event. Then, finally, I had a moment with myself when I thought about how good the experience would probably be for me, and reminded myself of the fact that I decided to come in October because that festival showed up… and now I was really thinking about not going? Old patterns die hard, and before they do they can be quite cunning.

I looked into volunteering again, but I was too late. The application was closed. So, with loving support from the The Brit and The Other Brit, reminding me that this would be a gift to myself and an investment in myself, I charged the ticket to my visa card. As soon as I did that I realized how silly it was for me to consider not going.

And the theme was “Tat Tvam Asi”, Sanskrit for “I am you, you are me.” Which is so fitting for me

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I’m so glad I went. The funny thing about events like this is that I usually go into them looking for inspiration from others, waiting for someone to say something that pushes me in a certain direction, but often what I get out of it is not anything that anyone else says, but a yearning to be a part of the conversation. Hearing questions asked to the speakers and really wishing I could be up there chiming in my own answers. Because I have something to say. And I have valid responses to people’s questions. And that is a pretty clear indicator to me that I truly feel like I belong in that role. Not from a place of ego, but from a calling, deep inside me.

There were a lot of incredible Writers, Speakers, and change makers that I had the privilege of seeing. And a lot I missed because they conflicted with other panels I wanted to see. But there was nothing that anyone said that shifted anything for me. It was what I had to say, and the yearning to say it that brought me closer to my role as a Writer.

But I still must mention some of the highlights of the event. My absolute favorite was a guy named Mayank Austen Soofi. A gay Indian man with a personality akin to Sophia Grace from the Ellen show. I have not read a word of his work yet. I tried to buy his book at the festival, but it sold out (so happy for him!). That tells you how much people loved him. He was hard not to love. He had the most pure, raw, joyful, exuberant, and magnetic personality. I really wanted him to be my friend.  Readers, please check him out!! I plan to get his book when I get back. He is a special soul and he deserves support and success!

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I really wish I had gotten a better picture of him

 

Another favorite was the award winning writer, Mitchell S. Jackson, who wrote a novel based on his real life journey from crack dealer to Writer, and Professor at New York University and Columbia University. I swear my affinity had nothing to do with finding him attractive, and my weakness for brown skinned men. Of course not.

I absolutely love real stories of people transforming their lives.  And from the book excerpts he read, it seems as though there’s a rhythm, almost a beat, to his writing, which is quite intriguing to me as well. Plus, anyone who knows me knows that I find the brain to be the sexiest part of the body and intelligence is a huge turn on, but I swear my attraction to him (and based on the way he looked me up and down, I think it’s safe to say the attraction was mutual) was purely professional. Yeah, totally.

My one other favorite part of the festival actually had nothing to do with writing. It had to do with something very close to many writers. Coffee. There were many food booths there, and one coffee booth hidden way back in the corner. My first few days I wanted to caffeine up before I arrived. But on the last day I just wanted to go straight to the festival and decided to get coffee there. I am so glad I did, but so bummed I only discovered this place on the last day.

Coffeenatics is a coffee company out of Sumatra. These guys came from Sumatra to Bali just for the festival. And they were not only one of my favorite parts of the festival, but some of my favorite people I have met on this trip.

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They were the best!

I walked up to the booth and one of the guys immediately said, “You look good! I like your style.” Motioning his finger up and down in the air. Now, I’m a smart, intelligent woman, a deep thinker, a spiritual being. I believe I have a lot of wisdom and insight to offer the world. I also carefully picked out my flowy Balinese outfit that day. So, it made me really happy to have my efforts recognized. After all, fashion is still a creative process.

That was a nice way to begin our interaction. Then, as I waited for my coffee to be made, I walked into the grassy area to discover a lovely, peaceful hammock, just waiting to cradle me. When I imagined coming to Bali I was hoping there would be a hammock involved at some point, when I exclaimed about the hammock the Coffeenatics said, “Go lay in the hammock! We’ll bring the coffee to you!” As if they hadn’t already completely won me over! The only thing that could’ve topped that would’ve been if they started fanning me with a giant banana leaf. I officially loved them at that point.20161030_101659

I lay in the hammock for a few minutes, but at that point I actually was more interested in hanging with them then hanging in the hammock. So, I left the hammock and sat by them for a bit. They then offered to fill my water bottle with cold water, which is a big deal for a several reasons. Hydration. Hydration is important, especially for us whities who aren’t used to this heat and humidity. Trash is a big deal here on Bali. And it really sucks to have to keep buying plastic water bottles. (That was my one real complaint about the festival- they need water refilling stations). So, it was awesome to be able to get my water refilled and not waste another plastic bottle. And it was cold! Most refillable water is in big 5 gallon jugs that of course aren’t kept cold. So, cold water is a bit of a luxury. Oh, and there was lemon in it!

Did I mention the coffee was good too? I visited them again later in the day and had my lunch over by them. In the big scheme of things I only spent a short amount of time with them, but I felt like I instantly had new friends, and they made me want to go visit Sumatra, and of course stop by their café when I do. That’ll be the next time I come here.

As far as the rest of the festival, there was a slew of intriguing writers, and amazing activists. It felt really good to be in such an intelligent environment. Some other people to highlight:  Suki Kim, the investigative journalist who lived undercover in North Korea (for I think 2 years?). She is the only person to have ever lived undercover in North Korea. But, because she is a woman, her book is marketed as a memoir and given a pink cover. I’ll just leave it at that.

There was Shandra Woworunto, a survivor of human trafficking. And holy shit. That woman is amazing. After all of the horrific abuses she experienced, she has triumphed with a bright, beautiful, positive spirit.

There was Baz Dreisinger, a New Yorker who has worked in prisons all over the world and does a lot of prison-rights activism. She was so fucking intelligent I just enjoyed hearing her brain make words.

There were some really great auxiliary events, some free and some extra charge. There were workshops, children and youth programs, movie screenings, speaking engagements and poetry slams. I attended the main festival  poetry slam with The Handsome Indian.

The event opened with an Australian Muslim hip hop group. I was excited and had high hopes because I thought their mission was pretty cool (to spread awareness and break the shame and stigma of being Muslim). I had wanted to find some hip hop since I arrived. But unfortunately I didn’t think they were that great. I still give them credit for doing what they do.

The poets, however, were fantastic! It was so marvelous getting to hear people from all over the world bring all kinds of poetry to the stage.

Another highlight for me, which deserves honorable mention, was actually one festival speaker’s partner. I attended an evening event, which was advertised as something way different than it was (there were a few of those). The speaker was pretty boring, but at the end, when he introduced his partner, that was worth it. His partner was bold Balinese man wearing a plaid sarong, platform heals, a huge wide brimmed ladies hat, t-shirt, blazer, and fanning himself with a hand fan. God, I loved him. I wanted to take a picture, but I didn’t want to be disrespectful. Remember I said I wanted to find my gays? (By the way, The Brit turned me onto a spa run by a couple of flamboyant Balinese gays, so I’ve been getting my pedicures there. If there is anything better than just any Balinese person, it’s a flamboyantly gay Balinese person).

The festival ended with a big closing ceremony celebration. I was so tired and worn out from that festival, it was really hard to drag myself out to that last event. But I’m glad I did. That hip hop group performed again, a little better this time, because they had a more of a party crowd vibe to play off of (but still not great). There were fire dancers, more poets, the most adorable MC’s who made me feel like I was at something between a high school rally and an Asian variety show. And then, to close the night, they brought out a band called The Soul Brothers, which I knew would make me happy. I was so low energy I didn’t think I could get myself to dance, but then they played Cosmic Girl by Jamiroquai (my obsession band from 2001-2006) and I couldn’t not dance.

If I don’t like the music then I don’t really enjoy dancing that much. But with the right music, it’s one of the best feelings in the world. And I’m not sure if it’s physically possible for my body to not dance when Jamiroquai comes on. Plus, one of the things I really wanted to do on this trip was dance, and I managed to remind myself of that when I was thinking about how tired I was. Just dance, my soul whispered.

They played all kinds of other disco hits, a couple more Jamiroquai songs, and closed out the night with Jungle Boogie, which was probably the most fun song they played.

The second the music ended I was out of there though. I got a ride home on a motorbike taxi with the sweetest older man, named Wayan, who enthusiastically recognized me from the last time he gave me a ride home (I did not remember, which is rare, but he knew where I lived so I guess he was right). He exclaimed what a good arura I have and how I bring good energy to Bali. He gently held my hand to his heart when he dropped me off and I put his number in my phone for when I need another motorbike ride somewhere.

I’m really glad I bit the bullet and went to that festival. It was an investment, and not something I will ever regret spending the money on.

Next year I will apply to volunteer early though.

There is so much more I have to say about my experiences over the past couple weeks, but for now I’m keeping this post just about the festival.

Today is my last day here in Bali, and if I don’t get to a blog post before I leave, I’ll have plenty of time at airports and in flight to get some writing done.

But for now, I’m off to meet up with The Brit and The Mini Brit for one last Bali experience.

~

There was also some incredible art as well.

Don’t forget, you can see more of my pics and video on my Instagram page.