My Mangy New Friend

I’ll call her the lunch lady, but she was actually a nun with a shaved head (apparently all nuns in Thailand have shaved heads?). It was 11am, the last meal of the day, and I had already gotten my food and was eating in silence in the dining hall. The lunch lady picked up 2 pastries, scanned the almost full dining hall, walked to a person 3 tables away and gave one to them, then walked over to my table and gave the other to me. 

Thai pastry

“Khop kuhn khap,” I said. I didn’t know why she picked me. Maybe I looked hungry. 

Sometimes they hide strange things inside of pastries in Thailand, so I decided to break it open to see if there was anything inside. There was. A mini hot dog. 

Blech. 

Puppies that like treats

But then I remembered all the puppies that lived by the kuti I was staying in. They would love this thing! So I stuck it in my pocket and took it with me when I left the dining hall. 
The puppies were all there when I got back to the kuti. As was a pretty mangy, flea bitten, scratchy old dog. And then I reconsidered. I bet the puppies get all the love around here, I thought. And so I broke off half the hot dog pastry and gave it to the mangy dog. I walked back to my kuti and he followed me, and I decided to give him the other half as well. 
The mangy pooch

He hung out on my porch and slept there at night for the remainder of my time there. 
It was then that I started to wonder about the lunch lady nun and her intentions. Maybe she looked around that crowded dining hall, thought about giving a treat to a puppy, then decided to give it to the mangy one instead. 
I guess I’ll never know! 

Advertisements

What’s in a name?

“No matter how far you travel, you can never get away from yourself” – Haruki Murakami

Earlier in this journey, when I was in Nepal, my name was often misheard as ‘Dev’. This inevitably would make people smile, as in Sanskrit, Dev means ‘divine’ or ‘God’. It’s a good name: short, easy, although the Sanskrit meaning is a bit on the heavy side.

While in Singapore, I’ve been exploring the multitude of parks here and finding good spots to sit with my current read: Wild by Cheryl Strayed. The other day, I came to the chapter where Cheryl changed her last name to ‘Strayed’ after her divorce (Strayed was not her maiden name).

I had diverged, digressed, wandered, and become wild. I didn’t embrace the word as my new name because it defined negative aspects of my circumstances or life, but because even in my darkest days – those very days in which I was naming myself – I saw the power of the darkness. Saw that, in fact, I had strayed and that I was a stray and that from the wild places my straying had brought me, I knew things I couldn’t have known before.

I had a bit of an aha moment when reading that particular passage. I’ve been dealing with some bad thought habits for a while now that I can’t seem to shake, no matter how hard I try. Maybe this is the solution, I thought to myself.

But first, a bit of a backstory. The day that I read that passage was actually the best time to set new intentions. In the West, we typically do that on New Year’s. But actually, the first new moon after the solstice is a much better time to set intentions for the year. It’s the actual start of when the natural world, the sun and the moon, begin their dance through the skies. Once I discovered this was what day it was, it was like a sign telling me that this was what I needed to do.

People have called me a handful of names throughout my life, mostly centered around my last name, but there’s another name that really sticks out to me because of the feeling that it evokes: Davi (dah-VEE).

It’s just David without the last ‘D’, so really not all that radical of a change. But it makes me feel something very different – I feel love when I am called by that name. Plus there’s this: the meaning of Davi in Hebrew is cherished or beloved. Coincidence? I think not!

So starting now, this is how I will introduce myself to new people that I meet. It will be a reminder to myself of who I strive to be every time I hear my name called. And every time I have a thought or emotion pass through my head that I want to move beyond, I will address it as Dave, the self that I no longer am or want to be.

So when Dave starts making ridiculous assumptions about people, begins to fall into old bad habits, or generally starts thinking about behaving badly, I’ll just say to him: “Thanks for sharing, Dave” and let that thought pass.

Here’s to setting big intentions for the next year!

Lover in Transit, Part II

FullSizeRender (20).jpg
Six miles up, looking down
at the hazel that you see
when you look in my eyes
It blankets the horizon

I want to float with you
among the whispers of these misty clouds
Where once I built shelters from the tempest
and the storm was dark and heavy,
I now run into the rainy night, laughing
always seeking, sometimes finding

After the storm has passed,
the soil now fertile
Within the dormant seed that you planted
a bright new blossom awaits
for the dawn of the sun
now free to bloom fully
in the light of your gaze

My Southeast Asia Reading List

So you’re on the road for a few months and looking for some good books to read and don’t know where to start? Here’s what I’ve been reading (so far!) on my travels. A good book can keep you company when you’re missing your home, and gives continuity when you’re constantly changing spaces.  So what follows is my tried and true list.

A short side note – if you’re traveling with someone, especially a romantic partner, why don’t you try this: instead of the two of you being in separate worlds on your smart phones during your down time, try picking up (or downloading) one of these books and read it out loud to each other. Take turns. Make your partner try to read in a different accent. Talk about the book as you read. Read a chapter per night. I promise you, this will be something you can’t get enough of. It’s so much better than TV. It will change your life and your relationship. Do it!

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. Part truth, part fiction. It’s sort of an embellished autobiography about an escaped convict who hides in the slums of Mumbai and creates a new life for himself. A lot of crazzzyy shit happens in this book – it’s set in India after all – but what I was really drawn to were the authors insights into love, life, loss, and our connectedness to other human beings. It’s by far by far my favorite book that I’ve read this year.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. OK, so I never saw the movie, but I found myself in Ubud, Indonesia (where one third of this book takes place) trying to figure out what the hell was wrong with me, and why I react sometimes the way that I do. And for most of the book, I was thinking..”Yes! I am Julia Roberts!” To be honest, i didn’t finish the last chapter: the ending was turning out to be too perfect. But it’s a great read if you’re in a yoga state of mind.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. I love Haruki Murakami. I love how twisted his stories are. I love his references to music and literature (The Centaur is on my reading list now thanks to this book). To be honest, this isn’t my favorite Murakami novel by a long shot, but if you’ve never read any of his work before, pick up a copy of Kafka By The Shore. You won’t be disappointed.

The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer. If you like reading books by Eckhart Tolle, you’ll really enjoy this one. Learn how to watch the voices that are constantly babbling inside your head, how to train your mind to think positive thoughts, how to live a happier life without attachment.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Wild by Cheryl Strayed. More to come!

 

Indonesia – What just happened??!

fullsizerender-19My first trip to Asia also happened to be my first trip as a solo traveler. Traveling alone does take some practice. Meeting people in Asia is nothing like meeting people in America, and people here are different than in the west.

For starters, unless your goal is to be by yourself all the time, you have to be comfortable with rejection. Some travelers really aren’t interested in meeting other people on anything other than a superficial level and don’t respond very enthusiastically when approached by someone they don’t know. Others aren’t interested in you because you’re the wrong sex, aren’t good looking enough, or the wrong age. The key is to never give up – to keep trying and putting yourself out there. You can get past that fear of rejection and truly open your heart to traveling in a foreign country, and a wonderful new world of connection awaits that is so different than the way people normally interact with one another in the West.

Keep in mind, that as with everything in life, it’s all about your attitude. The attitude that you project out onto the world is the attitude that you will find being returned back to you. If you greet the world with an open mind and an open heart, then that is what you will get in return. If you are afraid or apprehensive, you’ll get that returned back to you as well.

So first, the obvious: no staying in hotels. Stay in a hostel, in a bunk bed, in a room full of other people. Find a hostel that has lots of public seating areas.

Do something interesting while you’re there. Work on a drawing. Write in your journal. Play with some cards. Read a good book. Play an instrument. Smile and say hello to people when they walk in. Introduce yourself to new people checking in. Ask where they’re from, where they’ve been, what book they’re reading, where they’re going next. Comment on something that someone is wearing. Eavesdrop on people’s conversations and feel free to insert yourself into them. Invite people out for a meal. It’s easy!

Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t work the first time, or if there is no one that you really care to talk to or spend time with. That’s OK too!  This is the perfect time to spend some time getting to know yourself. Write, read, draw, pick up a new hobby, start a journal, take an online class.

I was able to meet all sorts of travelers by doing all of these things. But by far my favorite part of Indonesia wasn’t meeting other people doing the same thing that I was doing; rather it was the unplanned part, the part that just happens when you’re open to possibilities. That’s the part you can never plan for, and that’s the most exciting part of travel. So if you’re looking for a list of the best hostels to stay in or where to get the cheapest nasi goreng, sorry, you’re not going to find one here!

The memories that I will cherish about my travels in Indonesia have to do with goofing off diving with Harmain, getting picked up and whisked off by random strangers on a scooter to an unknown destination, meeting Zul on a local commuter boat, and getting on stage in Kuta and belting out some Eagles tunes in front of a bunch of drunk Ozzies.

Up next.. Thailand here I come! 🙂

img_6705
Zul hated my scooter driving skills and thought I was trying to kill him.
fullsizerender-18
Always say yes when random strangers offer to give you a ride somewhere
screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-2-23-18-pm
Singing Hotel California in Seminyak. People actually clapped for me!
screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-8-07-37-pm
Harmain thought it was hilarious to wear sunglasses instead of goggles underwater.

What are you looking for?

fullsizerender-17It’s astoundingly easy as a gay guy to meet other guys when traveling through apps like Grindr, Jack’d, Tinder, etc. I doubt that straight people have this luxury, but who knows (Do they? Do tell me!)

There’s one question that invariably pops up any conversation you have on one of these apps: what are you looking for? Usually it means one thing: I want in your pants and I want to find the quickest way to get there. There is an expected response, details of which I’ll skip over since my parents (Hi Mom!) or friends’ children (Hi Sequoia & River!) may be reading. I usually stop responding at this point. Companionship and a partner in crime don’t usually go over very well with anyone who poses this question.

The funny thing is, I actually have been thinking about this question a lot lately, although in a completely different context.

What am I looking for?

In some ways, it’s an unanswerable question that lies in the silence of the spaces between words. It’s like the monster in the closet that disappears the moment that you turn the light on, and yet it’s still there, you know it’s still there, but it’s image fades if you try to focus on it.

What am I looking for?

In Ubud, I started reading Eat, Pray, Love. I’ve never even seen the movie (I know, shame on me), so didn’t realize that part of the story took place here until I was trolling around TripAdvisor looking for things to do. I strongly identify with the main character of the book, with her attachments to relationships, her fear of being alone, her bouts of self-induced depression. She’s trying to find herself, but we hear that phrase so often that it’s become hollow and almost meaningless.

I went to an Ayurvedic clinic yesterday and talked to a doctor there. He was equal parts psychiatrist, herbal pharmacist, and counselor. I had no problem calmly describing some emotionally charged things that have happened to me in the past which are no doubt still buried deep inside, poking at me every time I turn the closet light off. But there was one thing that he said when he was describing what sorts of changes I should make in my life that really hit home hard. I was feeling calm and centered and wondering what kinds of herbs he would prescribe, and he said one thing and suddenly I had to fight back the tears: “You get to close and give to much of yourself. You need to save room for you.”

Ohhhhh.

So I think this is what ‘finding yourself’ means for me, at least a big chunk of it. The answer lies there.

And so the journey continues!

The mountains of Nepal

FullSizeRender (16).jpgMy first trip to Asia landed me in Kathmandu – and that place is crazy! The airport was a madhouse of hundreds touts and cab drivers, all of whom try to buddy up with you and follow you if you make eye contact with them. My flight landed late on a Friday night, and thankfully I had already booked a room with a guesthouse in Thamel, and they sent a driver to pick me up and take me to the hotel for no additional charge. 

The driver tore through the dark streets with a lot of honking and without any stopping. It was my first lesson about traffic laws in Nepal: basically there are none. There are no traffic signals, and those dotted lines on the road? Those are mere suggestions. One of the things I was most impressed with in Kathmandu was that the throngs of people, motorcycles, cows, chickens, and cars all going in different directions on the narrow, often muddy streets never collided with one another.

Of course, when you mention Nepal to someone, the first thought that pops into their mind is often the staggering height of the mountains there. Nepal is home to 8 of the 14 highest mountains in the world, despite just being the size New York state.

But what I didn’t know when this trip started was that it wasn’t going to be about going new places, meeting new people, and sharing that experience with the one that I love. Rather, the trip is turning out to be a spiritual trip to the top of the metaphysical mountain instead.

Certainly, I am going to places in the world that until not too recently I had not even dreamed of going. I also opened myself up to a whole new mode of travel, with experiences meeting and working with people through sites like workaway.info & couchsurfing.com on the agenda. Those experiences are so much richer than what the typical traveler encounters when staying at a hotel in some far flung city where they know no one.

It turns out that there is more to this trip than people and places – there’s also my sometimes out of control ego and the inward journey that I’ve embarked upon. Specifically, I’m referring to the part of me that was scared to leave the comforts of home and embark on this journey in the first place.  Questions loomed under the surface, and kept bubbling up over and over again. Was this the right decision? Will I regret it? What if I end up by myself? What if I don’t meet interesting people? Am I too old to be doing this? 

Many of those thoughts come up over and over again, and the energy related to these stressful thoughts can and do build up if they’re not dealt with and released properly. They weigh you down and keep you from fully experiencing the travel experience.

So this is my first intention on the next leg of this journey in Indonesia – to acknowledge those negative thoughts when they come up, watch them, and then let them go so that they don’t continue to build up and block positive experiences. I’m already reaping the benefits of working on this intention – I’ve met people and done things that I never would have done before leaving America, and that feels good. Anything is possible.

Karma garage sales

I really haven’t met many of my neighbors here in Denver. It’s very different from where I grew up, where I knew pretty much all of my neighbors and they all knew me. I suppose that’s partially my fault for not trying very hard, but it also comes with the territory of living in a big city and not having kids.

It’s funny how now that I’m leaving, I’ve met more of my neighbors in the past 2 days than in the prior 2 years. I guess used pots and pans bringing people together…

Yesterday one of the people that stopped by was Hugo, and he came with his wife and daughter, who was maybe 2 years old tops. He wanted a miter saw that I was selling, but ended up buying a couple of ladders and some of the other tools I had for sale as well. He ended up buying quite a few things, so I just told him to take 50% off of whatever price I had written on that item.

IMG_6062His wife was very sweet as well, and their daughter was running around with a big smile on her face the whole time. We chatted for a while and talked about Mexico and what my plans were, and he told me what the name of the wildflowers that were growing in the backyard are called (sique el sol) – because they follow (sique) the sun (el sol).

It was just a nice conversation. They were in no hurry, they were interested in my story, and I was interested in theirs. Sometimes that’s hard to find that around here, especially with strangers. People just want to complete their transaction and move on to the next thing. And so they happily went on their way, feeling like they’d gotten a good deal I’m sure. Which they did.

By the end of the day, I was kinda of grouchy and it became abundantly clear that I was not going to sell all the tools and would need to find another way to get rid of them. There are some great non-profits (Re-store comes to mind) that I could donate all the tools to, but that lacked any personal connection.

Then I thought of Hugo and his family.

Not because I think they were destitute or couldn’t afford things, although I’m sure raising a daughter is taxing on your bank account, but rather because he was a nice guy, he would definitely use the tools, and really because I just wanted to make someone’s day.

So this morning, I emailed him and told him that I probably wasn’t going to end up selling the tools or pots and pans and other things that I had, that I was going to end up giving them away for free on Craigslist anyways, so if he wanted anything, he could come and grab it for free.

The three of them stopped by later that morning, and I encouraged them to take whatever they wanted because I was just going to give it away anyways. I could tell they were a bit hesitant, but I really did need to get rid of everything, so they loaded up.

We talked a lot more and I learned quite a bit more about Hugo. His mom, for example, has been the head cook at El Noa Noa, a restaurant right down the street, for 20 years. He’s from a town in Mexico that I have visited twice – I actually had a bowl that I bought there that I gave to him. They ended up staying for over an hour and talking to me – I thought because his brother was going to stop by and see if there was anything he wanted – but that wasn’t why. They were just friendly and wanted to talk. Trying to figure me out, I guess. (“Why is he being so nice to us?”) And as an added benefit, I was now in a great mood.

Hugo chatted to his wife in Spanish for a bit. I understood a little bit of what they were saying. I think they felt guilty about taking things without paying for them, which I understand. So I took the money from them, even though it was supposed to be free.

After they left, Hugo emailed me one more time with his phone number in case I ever needed anything. Which was really nice.

What he doesn’t know is that tonight I’m going to go eat at El Noa Noa, and all the money they gave me for the ‘free’ stuff I was giving away is going to go right back to her.

And how appropriate it is that just as the sun makes its way from East to West across the sky, in a few days time I too will make that journey, siguiendo el sol..

 

 

Under the big tent

I had a major realization earlier this year. While visiting Seattle with Yona, I was looking for fun and different things for us to do. Since he used to do gymnastics, I thought a flying trapeze class at the circus school might fit the bill. Movie nights aren’t our thing.

There was only one problem. Really several problems. I was and am terrified of heights. Certainly terrified to hang upside down from said heights. And I’m not flexible.

There was no syllabus for the circus class, so I assumed that you would kind of just swing around like a monkey for a bit, flop on the net, and that would be that.

I don’t know what I was thinking.

When the instructor pulled us aside for his 5 minute tops instructional presentation, he informed us that we would swing out, flip upside down and put our knees over the bar on the way back, then take one more swing out, reach out above our heads to grab the person on the other trapeze, straighten our knees, and swing out hanging from his arms. I thought he was kidding. Like, maybe he dresses up like a clown ha ha funny. This is the circus. He had to be kidding.

But he kept talking. Wait. He wasn’t kidding.

Well, I thought, That’s going to make this easy. There is absolutely no possibility that I can do that. Zero.

After his talk, we walked over to a big ladder with a pulley system that you could clip into to keep you from dying in case you fell off the ladder on the way up. The ladder led to a platform high above a net in the air where we would practice our aerobatic stunts. I was worried about just getting up the ladder.

A couple of regulars went first, and they made it look easy. Suddenly it was my turn. I have climbed ladders before, I can climb a ladder now, I told myself. I clipped in and carefully placed my foot on each rung, focusing my eyes only on my hands directly in front of my face. No looking up, especially not down.

I made it to the platform, where a short guy wearing striped clown socks was waiting for me. He unclipped me from the ladder safety system then took his time re-clipping me to the pulley system that I would use on the trapeze. This did not instill confidence in me. I’ve been around a lot of ropes courses – I’ve instructed on some in fact – and rule #1 is that when you’re off the ground, you’re ALWAYS clipped in. This was not a good start.

He had me stand on the very edge of the platform, and placed the trapeze bar in my hands. The bar was much heavier than I thought it would be. He stood behind me and grabbed onto the poofy PFD-like belt around my waist that connected me to the pulley system. Then I had to lean out over the edge of the platform. Waaay out over the edge. And on his signal, I was to jump off the ledge. I was fairly certain that my hands weren’t strong enough and that I would not be able to hang onto the bar, causing me to immediately fall to the net below like a sack of potatoes.

He gave the signal, and I jumped, and lo and behold.. I did NOT fall off the bar. I held on! I swung back and forth a few times, scared out of my wits. Do monkeys get scared swinging from trees? The circus people were yelling instructions at me, but I ignored them. I just wanted to swing back and forth and get used to the height and the motion.

From then on out, I did my best to not let my anxiety get the best of me.  I didn’t think about my fears and my doubts. I knew what I had do to, and I would just DO it, adding one new step each time.

First it was putting my legs over the bar and swinging upside down.

The next time I put my legs over the bar and let go of the bar with my hands.

The time after that I extended my arms over my head while I was upside down swinging.

I practiced that a few times, and then…

My world was rocked.

I was 100% certain that I would not be able to do that hand off. Nor really because of physical limitations, but because of mental blocks. I can’t think of the last time I learned such an important lesson.

Whenever I doubt myself, this experience is what I remember.

Unconditional Love

For one day, I had a very tough time when Yona & I were in Molokai. We had just spent several months apart, and he was about to make the decision to spend many more months – half a year or longer – in a remote village in Alaska.

My mind was in turmoil. What about me? I thought. I couldn’t bear the thought of spending 6 to  8 months apart and what that would do to our relationship.

Is this the beginning of the end? How will our relationship survive? Is this really the type of relationship I want? Is it worth it? Does he love me? These thoughts kept circulating in my mind over and over again, and I got caught up in this cycle of negative thoughts repeating themselves endlessly. I walled myself off and way unreachable, inconsolable.

At some point, I began to see this loop that I had allowed myself to get caught up in. I was a loop that was all about me, control, and what I wanted. I was so focused on the negative things that could happen, that I totally lost sight of all the positive things that could come out of this situation.

Is it possible for two people to support one another when they’re thousands of miles away from one another? Is it healthy or even necessary for couples to spend long stretches of time apart? Is intimacy possible over Skype, email, and text for long stretches of time? Can you learn more about a person when they’re in Alaska than when they’re sleeping next to you every night? Is the sacrifice worth it?

The answer to all of these questions is a resounding YES, but I didn’t know that at the time. I took a leap of faith, and decided to focus on all the things that could go right rather than all the things that could go wrong, and that made all the difference.

I’d brought a couple of necklaces to Molokai with me that I’d made while still in Denver. To be honest, they’re pretty corny. I’d picked up a couple of heart-shaped Rose Quartz crystals in a little Nepalese shop in Golden, then ran some cord through them and attached a clasp at each end. My original idea was that I’d give him one on Christmas and that would be that. Rose Quarts speaks directly to the Heart Chakra, is associated with compassion, peace, & letting go of fears, and allows one the capacity to give and receive love from others.

The turning point for me was when I came up with a ritual that used the qualities of the Rose Quartz to help me overcome the anxiety that I had about spending time apart.

It’s a simple ritual: every time we part, we exchange necklaces. But before we do, each of us ties a knot in the cord of the necklace. Each knot represents the strengthening of our relationship, and is a physical and visual reminder of how our love has grown stronger over time. Each time we exchange them, it’s a gentle reminder that we have survived the pain that initially arises and come out stronger on the other side – a cycle of contraction and expansion that is rooted in unconditional love and helping one another to grow even when we are separated by vast distances.