August 27th, 2010

Summer Sabbatical 2010; City Lights, Temples, and Flower, Flowers, Flowers

To listen to the song Raven wrote in Bali (sung by the fabulous StormMiguel) click here

Raven wrote a poem one night, then the next day his poem blossomed into a full song in his head. He sang it into his ipad, and in a brilliant trans-oceanic partnership emailed it to our dear friend StormMiguel Florez. StormMiguel put it to music, sang and recorded it, and sent it back to Raven. All of this happened in the span of two days…. The recording is rough, and yet both Raven’s inspiration and StormMiguel’s talent shine through. We have both been singing it in our heads now for days, and it encapsulates our journey perfectly. Enjoy! Thanks, StormMiguel… and to Raven and his new song-writing muse! Check out StormMiguel’s website for his newest CD, long lost sun. http://www.stormflorez.com/

HONG KONG

On our first day in Hong Kong (where I took my first breath almost 44 years ago) Raven and I sat in the lobby of the Peninsula, an ancient British queen of a hotel that was built long before I was born, and had high tea. I remembered the thrill I felt as a little girl having tea with my parents and sister here. Raven and I talked about consciousness, truth, the impossibility of sharing the truth, and I cried at the beauty of the silver cream pot.

It has been a whirlwind, full, marvelous journey to Asia. I’m trying to take in every morsel of it, sight sounds smells tastes touch. I have always loved Hong Kong, and experiencing its energy and vibrancy once again is magical. One morning on one of our many wanderings we spotted incense billowing out of a tiny stone doorway. The many street vendors surrounding it selling candles, flowers, statues, fruit, and incense by the handfuls made it clear we had discovered a temple. We bought three roman candle-sized, red and gold incense sticks and headed in. It was a small space, about 40 feet wide by 60 feet long, crammed full of Buddha statues, offerings piled high, massive incense coils dangling like thin snakes from the ceiling, and at least twice as many people as would have been legal in the United States. As I lit my offering with the flame of an oil lamp, pressed body to body with strangers and inhaling sweet smoke, I smiled to myself and thought, “Welcome back to Hong Kong.”

One we traveled via subway, ferry, and bus to the Tian Tan Buddha; a HUGE statue of Buddha high in the rolling hills of Lantau, and island adjacent to Hong Kong. Part of my intent was to release some emotion and pray for my dad, who has been in my thoughts a lot as I travel in the countries where he raised me. So many memories. I stood inside the building that is the lotus that the Buddha sits on and wept, surrounded by hundreds of tiles of people’s ancestors that lined the walls. Some just had names, black Chinese calligraphy on white tile, some also hd black and white photographs, mostly of older moms and dads. Lining the walls were offerings to the dead: neat arrangements of real and plastic flowers and incense, porcelain kuan yin and buddha statues.

I cried for the loss of my dad. I cried for all the people who have lost beloveds and mourned them. I cried for the incredible beauty of this world, and the overwhelming knowing that it is all temporary. In the edges of my consciousness I can taste the freedom of letting it all pour through me, the wisdom of drowning in the sea of life and death and rebirth.

And as we took the impressively long cable car ride back down the mountain to the subway station and the Buddha slowly receded in the background, I felt like a bird flying free over the green hills and calm water below.

THAILAND

Even though I lived in Bangkok for several years, it was VERY helpful to have a guide when I arrived in the form of a friend of a friend. Jim Morris connected with me with his long-term friend, Jim Coyne, who lives in Bangkok. I was grateful to have him show me around my old neighborhood, which was pretty much completely unrecognizable after 28 years of growth. I did finally find two things I recognized (the hotel we lived in and the Erawan Shrine, see below), which made my heart happy and my head relieved that there was SOMETHING that linked me to Bangkok! And Jim showed me how to use the SkyTrain and subway so Raven and I could get around. Plus he filled me in on the politics and quirks of living in Thailand. I loved it.

The next morning I took Raven to a shrine that was next door to the hotel my family lived in for six months when we first moved to Bangkok in 1981; it is called the Erawan. We way overpaid for supplies: four rose wreaths, twelve sticks of incense, four packets of leaf gold, four little orange candles. There are always people praying at the Erawan Shrine, and it was so grounding for me to pray there. I’d always been drawn to it as a teenager, so what a gift to go back as an adult and be able to engage fully with the energies there. You pray at each of the four sides of the shrine, which is a white temple open on four sides with a golden statue of the god Brahma (who has four faces that look each direction) in the middle. The first side I sent my blessings to Thailand and her people and all I learned while I lived here; the second side I said prayers for my father. At each side you light incense and a candle, leave flowers, and also rub the gold leaf onto the pillars.

The Thai’s main religion is Buddhism, so I was surprised to see that the statue in the middle of the Erawan Shrine is the Hindu God Brahma. There are Hindu influences everywhere, which I learned was brought in from India by Brahman priests. Each Thai house has at least one, and sometimes two, spirit houses, that guard the land and house. Many spirit houses are empty, others have statues of the elephant-god Ganesh or the Goddess of abundance, Lakshmi.

My main reason for visiting Thailand was to visit my first two horse-back riding instructors, Mrs. Rhodes and her daughter Puki. They live west of Bangkok in Kanchanaburi, the home of the well-known bridge over the River Kwae. (The River Kwae is where I learned to canoe and water ski! And swim with horses….) What a step back into time to see the stables and the dining room and these two dear women after almost 30 years.

It was really a trip to visit the camp; Mrs. Rhodes is now 94 years old and still perfectly sharp and present. She shared lots of amazing stories of riding her horse around Bangkok before WWII, then starting her horse riding school after she returned to Thailand from her native land of Germany after the war. Her daughter Puki is 70 years old and very active; she raised two granddaughters, who are now 14 and 16; and all total there are 8 grandkids from Puki’s two sons, Peck and Piet. They are currently starting a riding program for autistic and disabled children, which I’ll write more about soon.

We took one side trip to the Erawan waterfalls…. cool blue water, incredible curly vine trees, and fierce monkeys…

Our last day we visited a huge temple called Wat Pho; it is still in use and is the main center for teaching Thai massage. Many many buddhas; including a reclining gold buddha that is about 100 feet long. I found a statue of Buddha that at the base of it had a little statue of the Thai mother earth goddess, so it was by rubbing gold leaf on her and saying prayers that I said goodbye to Thailand.

It was perfect to leave Thailand and travel to Bali; someplace I had always wanted to visit, and that has the same energy as Thailand. Singapore, where we moved in 1982, was so sterile it was really hard on me to live there. So going to Bali was great, and my body is happy. I feel like I got to leave Thailand in a proper way, very consciously saying goodbye and sharing my love and appreciation. I do feel like I’ve reclaimed something I had left behind.

BALI

The first two weeks of our journey I was focused on experiencing; going to some of my favorite places, or places I’d never been but wanted to visit.

Bali is about integration and slowing down.

The Balinese are wonderful people; I’ve been amazed to find they are even sweeter and more loving than the Thais, more like the Thais when I first moved to Bangkok so many years ago. When I pass someone and smile I am greeted by huge grins and open hearts. So beautiful; Pixie is happy!

The whole island is based in ritual and ceremony and making offerings to the gods. As we walked the streets of Kuta when we first arrived there were small, square banana leaf plates filled with flowers and moss scattered all over the ground; Raven told me they put out offerings this way three times a day. The Balinese place them on altars that are everywhere, or on the street in front of their house or business. The altars range from bamboo woven, open-ended little boxes that hang from the eaves to tall, elaborate moss-covered stone pillars, topped by what can best be described as a throne. The one to my right is surrounded by a short wall, has two pillars on either side of the doorway, and is about ten feet tall. There is a delicately carved Buddha statue to the left of the altar; when I woke up this morning someone has already been by to put an offering in front of it. I added a flower.

The Balinese are Hindu, a very interesting thing since of all the many islands of Indonesia, only Bali is Hindu, everyplace else is Muslim. They have obviously combined the original shamanic, earth-based practices creatively with Hinduism. Yesterday at one hotel we were looking at staying at there was an altar by the pool that was a large stone slab with rocks on it, being blessed by incense and flowers. The statues that are everywhere are often fierce animal crosses from Indonesian mythology; dragons and demons and guardian garudas.

Hindus worship many forms of gods and goddesses; but they know that all the different forms are all representatives of One unnameable force. To show this most of the thrones on top of the altars in Bali are empty.

We spent long, wonderful hours sitting on the porch watching the wind lightly blow the rice, listening to the water rushing by in the canals on its way to the fields, going for long walks, and eating at our favorite hangout, the Yellow Flower cafe (Raven: lattes and banana berry pancakes, HeatherAsh: tumeric and ginger drinks and spicy veggies and eggs on toast).

One day we followed a tiny paragraph in our pocket-sized guidebook to a nearby river. Luckily we were found by Wayan, a river raft guide who had the day off and spotted us trying to figure out how to get down to the water. He cheerfully led the way, walking us across the river and across his rice fields. We traveled on tiny, muddy paths, snaking our way through jungle to cultivated areas and back again. Along the way he showed us bright red clusters of coffee beans growing in the shade of tall banana and banyan trees, tehe chubby green pods of cacoa (the mama of all chocolate), date palm where they tap the flowers for the dark, rich date palm sugar that Raven now loves, and a hidden sanctuary of temples surrounded by enormous, many-limbed banyan trees. Later we drank coca-cola at his home, which looks more temple than house. It was a delight to have a local to ask questions about Bali, religion, schooling, and more.

Our last day in Bali we walked along the looong beach at Legian and Kuta, swam in the ocean and got tumbled by a huge breaking wave, and drank neon orange mai tais as the sun set.

I feel content and blessed, and somewhat wordless around the impact of the journey. Suffice to say I feel a new level of stillness and peace in my being, and though I miss the flowers and smiles, I’m happy to be heading into Austin tomorrow to see my Thirteen Moons circle and share this energy with my sisters.

Here is a video Raven and I made from our porch:

Or watch it on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NpsbZlhKvhk

To see more photos, visit my facebook page:
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2072436&id=1298096210&l=bc9768b192

You don’t have to be on facebook to view them.

Blessings!