Always here, always now

To be able to be unhurried when hurried;
To be able not to slack off when relaxed;
To be able not to be frightened
And at a loss for what to do,
When frightened and at a loss;
This is the learning that returns us
To our natural state and transforms our lives.
[Liu Wemin, 16th Century]

Found while reading  dhamma footsteps 

I see these words as a great guide as I move forward in my new job, in my resettlement into Portland. I am wary that I will, indeed, slip back into the hurried state that I was accustomed to, that I witness every day in others. Taking time to stretch, walk, write, connect – these are important to me. The balance of relaxation with obligation is an ideal I will continue to strive towards. I felt this most when I lived in Toronto and Cheonan; working hard, yet still able to appreciate my surroundings and where life was taking me.

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Taking a walk break in Toronto

In these two places I found a welcoming balance of routine and novelty; of unhurried and mandates; of relaxation and production. These were places where I went outside every day and experienced the community mindfully. Sometimes I threw myself into the bustle of humanity, while other times I would find a more secluded place and just sit. Refreshed, I would return to my computer and produce, create, or do whatever was needed. Rarely did I feel like I had to do something; I looked forward to the tasks that lay in front of me.

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A park in Cheonan, South Korea. An escape from the large buildings in the background.

 

During these times, in these places, I was able to live in the experience of now. Appreciate that every moment is now without that meaning pressure, an impending deadline. Now simply is, and always will, be.

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hOman, Chapter Two

We moved apartments – from a pretty nice flat into a non-descript concrete building that houses many teachers from the college. People thought we were mad to do it, but I think it was the right decision. Dave wanted to move sooner, but I had to admit I didn’t want to give up this:

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I had to say goodbye to my “yoga studio”

 

The main reasons we moved have to do with connection. First off, we now have internet in our home! This has made life so much easier and more pleasant. I can chat with friends, catch up on emails, and surf the web all from the sofa instead of having to cram in my online time at the school in between teaching and lesson planning. Then, in the old place, I would come home and have little to do except read and watch Al Jazeera. Unwinding is nice, don’t get me wrong, but being able to spread out my online time has been wonderful. For example, I am posting this blog entry from home as opposed to school — so much nicer.

Second, we are near “stuff.” We can walk to food stores and restaurants. Within the first week, I’ve already wandered over to the fruit and veg store (yes, they have these specialty stores apart from the hypermarkets where you can get all sorts of stuff – think mini Targets for those); it’s great not having to get into the car just because I am short on onions. The one closest to us isn’t the best, but within 10 minutes I can get to a bunch of places nearby.

Most importantly, however, is we are near other people. We have already had our friend over to shoot the breeze, been invited to the new teacher’s flat for ice cream floats, and been surprised by a gift of homemade Caribbean lentil soup, courtesy of another teacher who simply made too much. Last night, a few of us went up to the roof to have a couple of drinks and admire the view.

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I did use telephoto here, but this is so cool!

 

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A more authentic view from the other side of the roof.

So, yes, the place is not attractive (hence, no pictures of the interior). But it feels more like home. It’s smaller/cozier, accessible, and comes complete with a great neighborhood within its walls. Besides, how can you not love a place that has this crazy dress shop on the ground floor?

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I sort of want to try one of these on.

 

I don’t regret not moving in here sooner, but I am happy to spend the second half of our year more connected to people both near and far.

Space: Less is More

I wrote this post almost a month ago, but have been running around getting ready to head to Oman in a couple of days. Now that I have left my house, reduced my possessions to a large suitcase and a carry-on, I feel more relaxed than I have since I came back to the US. Less stuff, less concerns. Just a simplified life which feels wonderful.

First night in the house alone in a really long time. First night alone in a long time, really. It feels fine and all, but it doesn’t feel like home, even though I pay the mortgage. I’m in the downstairs bedroom and what remains of my furniture is arranged haphazardly in the living room, ready to be carted off to the basement. More likely a storage unit where it will remain for a year – or more – while I continue my travels.

My house March 2014

My super fancy storage unit. I moved here in 2001.

This is by far the most space I have experienced in a long time. Dave and I shared two different places, each about 250 square feet for two months at a time. Before that I lived in a one-room cottage at my cousin’s house in Auckland (I guess that was sort of being alone, but not really: an in between state of independence and cohabitation. Before that I shared a 1000 square foot condo with my aunt and uncle. Reviewing this timeline, I believe the last time I slept alone was in Taos; I even shared a hotel room when I went to a conference last October in Dallas.

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The cottage in Auckland.

The issue of space has been the most difficult for me to adjust to since coming back to the US. It took me a good four times before I was able to marginally cope going to a grocery store. They are so big and there are so many choices. The first time I went in, I felt my heart race, my brain grow confused. Yet I managed to grab a bar of soap, some shampoo and conditioner, along with a loaf of bread and hummus to sustain me – all within 10 minutes. It would have been sooner if I wasn’t paralyzed by the number of hair products.

The second time I went shopping was the exact opposite. I believe it took me almost an hour and a half just to buy some basic things for a 4th of July BBQ. I felt lost going up and down the aisles. I stared at the different kinds of sausages and pretty much froze when it came time to come up with salad fixings.  I don’t even remember the third time. Then I went to Trader Joes and somehow it was semi-OK again.  I know people complain about the tight corners and narrow aisles there so maybe that’s why I fared better.

So now I exist in half of my house and it’s still too big. The upstairs is empty, waiting for the carpet installers to turn this place into a bonafide rental. The bottom half is not even totally useable, with the living-room-as-storage-unit pretty much just a pass through. That leaves me with the tiny bathroom, the bedroom, and the huge kitchen. I used to love it – still do to some extent – but now I see it more as wasteful. I hope the people who live here will appreciate the space and have many hands creating feasts. Me? While I don’t quite long for the kitchen I had in Korea (that was a bit extreme), I am looking forward to my next home being substantially smaller than this one. And, once again, it will be shared. The way homes are meant to be.

I am a City Girl

Ever since at least college, I have been fascinated by small town living. On road trips, I would often wonder what it would be like to live in a place with only a few hundred, maybe a thousand, other people. See the same people, eat at the same diner, drink at the same tavern, do the same thing day in and day out. I romanticized this lifestyle, believing that it was meant for me at some point down the line. I never thought I would stay in a rural community for long, but I thought I wanted to live in a place where nothing happened. I was wrong.

In early September I went to Taos, New Mexico. I needed time to clear my head, think about what I wanted to do with my year off given that my plans at the time had fell through. The two weeks before this trip, I spent time with one of my best friends helping her move into a new home thousands of miles from her old one. She, too, was setting up a new life. We spent the days exploring her new neighborhood bit, but overall we did as little as possible. The moving van didn’t arrive for the first week plus, so there was no furniture; we slept on an air mattress in the middle of her living room floor. We ate simply – carrot sticks, hummus, and cherry tomatoes from the garden left behind from the former tenant – a couple of camping chairs and a cardboard box set up on her deck that overlooked a magnificent lake served as our dining area. There was always a bottle of red wine and conversation about our fears as to what lay ahead of us. So much unknown.

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A bottle of wine and this view. Life was unsettled, but good.

It was time for me to go as her new job was about to begin, so I flew to Colorado to reconnect with a childhood friend of mine. My goal was to stay busy during my time of uncertainty. We went camping in the mountains with her husband and a couple of friends. Again, I lived a stripped down lifestyle. We slept in tents, cooked over a campfire, and went off into the woods with a shovel to signal that we weren’t to be followed.

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Camping is always better with a dog.

The weekend and therefore the camping trip was over. I was going to stay in Denver while the rest went back to their jobs. I had work to do, but not a lot of it. My plan was to work at my friend’s house while she and her husband were away, and then hang out with them when the day was done.

“Have you ever been to Taos?” asked my childhood friend.

“No,” I replied. I think the only time I had ever been to New Mexico was when I drove through it with my brother almost 20 years ago.

“Why don’t you go hang out at my mom’s condo there for a couple of days instead of hanging out here?”

I didn’t like the idea of being alone. Yet I knew it was a good idea. I got into the rental car the next day and drove the 300 miles to get there.

It was Monday evening when I arrived. As a football fan, I sought out the nearest bar that was playing the game. I couldn’t find one. I went to several different places and they all lacked the sporting community I was looking for and frankly assumed was everywhere. I guess Taos was too arty for that. I settled for watching the game with one drunk guy at a small bar. The Eagles won to his satisfaction. I nursed one beer and headed back to the condo.

The next day I took off to visit the wine country, which, to put it mildly, was remote. One of the wineries in particular was really in the middle of nowhere – unpaved roads that were more puddle than solid surface thanks to the recent downpours. As I neared my destination, I became aware that it had been quite a while since I saw a grocery store, never mind a restaurant, gas station, or place to gather other than a church or school. I was venturing out into the very place I envisioned would be my relaxing paradise (minus the diner and tavern).

La Chiripada

I was the only patron so I got to spend uninterrupted time talking to the tasting attendant. She had moved to this part of New Mexico from Denver to “get away from it all.” I asked her how she liked it:

“Well, there’s no internet, no cell phone service, and I have to drive at least 30 minutes to get food or anything to drink other than what I pour. I have to plan my trips carefully so I don’t run out of gas. I really live nowhere now, which I guess is what I asked for. Not sure how much longer I am going to stay.”

Ever since I arrived in Taos I was beginning to reassess my plan of rural living, but her description of her life made it clear to me: I am a city girl. My feelings about wanting to live in some remote area are not tied to a way of living, but to my stress levels; and I was inaccurately equating a stimulating environment with a stressful life. During the four weeks prior to tasting the all-too-sweet New Mexican wines, I had been doing little more than putting in work hours, spending quality time with friends, and reflecting on my life. In this state of mind, the idea of being in a small community was now horrifying to me. I am an extrovert: I thrive on people, diversity, and exploration. I won’t get those things living in a place like Taos, New Mexico, though it sure is beautiful there, and I am very grateful I went there.

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This was my “office” when I was in Taos. It’s the only place I could get the internet to work reliably.

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I could stare at buildings this lovely all day.

It’s been months since I left New Mexico and I have been able to, for the most part, maintain my feelings of peace despite – or perhaps because of – my city living (Toronto, Auckland, Cheonan) and visits to other crowded places (hometown Portland, Melbourne, Sydney and Seoul). I have also learned to appreciate and respect routine and the Shambala way of discipline (or at least how I see it – I am still a novice here) as a path to awareness, joy, and authenticity. Perhaps it was these qualities I sought when I longed to wake up daily in a tiny town isolated from the rest of the world. I am happy I know that this way of life is possible among the bustle of city living.

Routine Paradox

One month in Cheonan and I am starting to get into a routine I enjoy. After spending a wonderful weekend going to the movies, sightseeing in Seoul, and just generally enjoying the start of spring, I found myself looking forward to the week. Missing the soup that I make every day for brunch. Anticipating my next meditation session. Writing, working, and thinking both in the tiny apartment as well as at the local coffee house where I can sit for a couple of hours nursing one drink and no one seems to mind.

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Coffee shop accessories. My Korean notepad where I jot down ideas and my friend’s book on teen relationships I was studying. Bringing back my inner middle schooler here!

From my experiences in Toronto and New Zealand, I’ve found it does take me this long to develop a way of living that makes me feel comfortable with myself and in my surroundings. I think I am figuring out what works for me here and it feels good.

Normally, I would think the life I am living now would be a horrible match for me – or at the very least I would have thought it undesirable.  I spend most of my day alone, work only part time, and don’t have a lot of people I can converse with other than my friends online – and even then, given the time difference, most of them are asleep while Dave is at work. I, a person who scores off the charts on extroversion with every personality quiz I take, am alone for several hours each day. Instead of dreading this seeming mismatch of life and personality I find I am truly happy. Is it because I am doing mundane things in a foreign setting? Is it because I am growing used to living at a slower pace? Although what I am doing now seems to be a drastic change compared to what I was doing less than a year ago (busy job, full social life, lots of activities), a part of me knew that slowing down was a good idea before all of my travels began.

I remember returning to the office one day last year after an offsite meeting and seeing a couple of coworkers waiting for the elevator. I was stressed that day, but I don’t think any more so than usual. I looked over at the security guard whose job pretty much consists of saying hello to people as they walk in. Maybe he tells visitors what floor to go to in order to find a particular person or organization, but as far as security goes, it’s not really needed at the building where I work. My coworkers and I got on the elevator and as the doors closed I expressed my desire for the seemingly calm, undemanding job of the security guard. One of my colleagues laughed – hard. Like a real laugh, not a polite conversational chuckle. “Are you serious? You would last two hours doing that.”

The other agreed, “I can’t believe you just said that. There is no way you would put up with that sort of job. It is so not you.”

I remember feeling surprised and mildly hurt by their strong reactions. Did these people know me better than I knew myself? I felt defensive and the need to prove I could handle a predictable low-demanding job.

“I would love to just say hi to people day in and day out. During the slow times I could read or work on things that interest me. I think it would be nice to be able to sit back and reflect sometimes.”

My coworkers didn’t buy it and maintained their position on my inability to slow down. I don’t believe they were trying to insult me, but it felt like it. I let it go with them, but their reactions and mine stayed with me for a long time (and still do have an effect apparently given that I am writing about them).

Fast forward to what’s going on with me now. I basically do the same things every day, but I do purposefully mix it up a bit. Going to the coffee shop can be a bit of a challenge given the language barrier if I order something other than my usual. Just today I ordered a sweet potato (goguma) latte, but not without the help of another customer who offered the barista a translation. A trip to the grocery store (never mind the open air market) is no small feat if I try different locations and am not sure where various items are, or even what something is. Each time I buy food, I bring home something I haven’t had before along with my usual ingredients – this last time I picked up some Korean cilantro (gosu) and added it to my soup. Delicious. When I take walks, I go in different directions so I can explore this small city to its fullest and have run across wonderful sights that I would have otherwise missed if I stuck to the same path.

I have a routine I love, but maybe because it’s not really routine.

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Note: My experimenting has its limits. I did not purchase these.